With no sense of irony to speak of, some of the biggest and most profitable companies on the Internet have succeeded in masking their pursuit of subsidy as a campaign for “an open internet.” Now, they stand ready to close the con. From the New York Times:
The Federal Communications Commission is expected on Thursday to approve regulating Internet service like a public utility, prohibiting companies from paying for faster lanes on the Internet.
Republicans had aspired to counter any such regulation with legislation, but conceded on Tuesday that they lack the bipartisan support necessary to get such a bill passed.
As a result, when the FCC moves forward with regulating the internet, big businesses will be legally empowered to violate the free association rights of Internet service providers and compel subsidy from everyone else online.
The FCC plan would let the agency regulate Internet access as if it is a public good. It would follow the concept known as net neutrality or an open Internet, banning so-called paid prioritization – or fast lanes – for willing Internet content providers.
… an avalanche of support for [the FCC] plan – driven by Internet companies as varied as Netflix, Twitter, Mozilla and Etsy – has swamped Washington.
Since the cost of providing bandwidth to these companies will not change, Internet service providers will be forced to make up the difference by charging their other customers more – customers like you. Either that, or they’ll have to trim costs somewhere else, which could translate to lost jobs and hampered innovation.
Beyond the blatant violation of free association and the negative economic impact, establishing the legal perception of the Internet as “a public good” sets the stage for further rights violations in the future. If the Internet is public, it’s not yours, and you won’t be able to claim ownership over your activity on it. At the whim of regulators or legislators, your online relationships, your online speech, and your online property will each be subject to disruption or seizure.
It’s a sad day for liberty. The world’s most practical example of market success is about to be leashed to Washington cronies.
This story may twist your political instincts in a knot. On the one hand, it’s an effort to limit government intrusion in the marketplace. On the other, it’s an assault on local control. From the Associated Press:
A Missouri lawmaker who also leads an association of grocery stores is trying to stop cities and towns in the state from restricting the use of plastic bags, bucking a national trend toward banning their use to help the environment.
The move comes as the city of Columbia, the home of the University of Missouri, considers a ban that would prevent grocery stores from offering plastic bags and would impose a 10-cent charge on paper bags.
Legislation by a state representative, who also serves as a board member of the Missouri Grocers Association, would stop that. A House panel is set to vote on the bill Tuesday.
At issue is local control, said Columbia City Councilman Ian Thomas, who is in favor of a ban on plastic bags but said it might take time to gain more community support.
“The state ban on city bans is an enormous overreach,” Thomas said. “It’s important for individual cities that maybe have a different political outlook or a more progressive tendency to be able to approve this kind of legislation.”
How’s that for an argument? A state ban on local bans is an overreach. Cities should be free to ensure their residents aren’t.
This particular appeal to local control ignores the fundamental principle upon which local control rests. That principle is individual rights. Generally speaking, people ought to be free to decide how to live their lives. When we talk about local control, that’s what we’re referencing, not an unfettered ability for local officials to bully their constituents.
The purpose of checks and balances, whether the horizontal checks of different branches or the vertical checks of different levels, is to limit the ability of government to exceed the consent of the governed. Indeed when we examine the history of racial relations in this country, spanning everything from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we note a recurring theme of higher levels of government acting to check the excesses of lower ones.
So when Councilman Thomas evokes local control in defense of his effort to limit the liberties of his constituents, he echoes the appeal to state’s rights used to defend the atrocities of Jim Crow. Put simply, you can’t rationally appeal to a “right” to violate rights.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)
It’s the kind of headline that makes you look twice. Is this guy for real? Is this from The Onion? Then you realize that indeed Time editor at large Jeffrey Kluger actually wrote “Facebook Must Shut Down the Anti-Vaxxers”:
[They] do their work at the grass-roots, retail, one-on-one level. Convince Mother A of the fake dangers of vaccines and you increase the odds that she won’t vaccinate Child B – and perhaps Children C, D, or E either. And every unvaccinated child in her brood increases the risk to the neighborhood, the school, the community – the entire herd…
One thing that would help – something [Facebook head Mark] Zuckerberg could do with little more than a flick of the switch, as could Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and the other bosses of other sites – is simply shut the anti-vaxxers down. Really. Pull their pages, block their posts, twist the spigot of misinformation before more people get hurt.
The very idea of muzzling any information – even misinformation – will surely send libertarians to their fainting couches. Similarly, people who believe they understand the Constitution but actually don’t will immediately invoke the First Amendment. But of course they’re misguided. Is Facebook a government agency? No, its not. Is Zuckerberg a government offical? No, he’s not. Then this is not a First Amendment issue. Read your Constitution.
Of course, Kluger is right about the First Amendment. Facebook’s banning or blocking of any user for any reason is not a free speech issue in the constitutional sense. That’s an important point to make in a context where mishandling of constitutional rhetoric is commonplace.
Be that as it may, Kluger’s suggestion remains a free speech issue in the cultural sense. The reason we have a First Amendment is because we believe on principle that ideas should succeed or fail in open discourse on their merits. To wield a platform on the scale of Facebook to mute one side of a conversation on public policy violates that principle, even if it doesn’t violate the law, and even if such action remains Zuckerberg’s unquestioned right.
Indeed, we might apply Kluger’s argument to any form of discrimination. For instance, we could say that white restaurateurs should be able to deny service to black customers. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similar state laws notwithstanding, such discrimination remains constitutional for the same reason Facebook banning anti-vaxxers would be. Restaurants aren’t government agencies either.
Yet, we rightly balk at the notion of such discrimination, and most of us would socially censure anyone who engaged in it. The same free association right which Kluger urges Zuckerberg to employ against anti-vaxxers can be employed by others against Kluger and Time. It’s offensive to suggest that people need to be silenced, and offers one of the weakest of possible arguments against their position – the argument from intimidation.
Kluger and Time ought to be ashamed of themselves for publishing this piece, and Zuckerberg would do well to ignore it.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)
In a move more reminiscent of Texas Senator Ted Cruz than Ohio Representative John Boehner, the House Speaker has pursued a strategy to defund President Obama’s executive action on immigration, leveraging funding for Homeland Security in the process.
Bloomberg News reports:
House Speaker John Boehner said he’s prepared to let funding lapse for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and blame Democrats if the Senate fails to pass a House-backed bill for the agency.
The Homeland Security Department faces a shutdown of nonessential operations if Congress does not reach agreement before current funding ends on Feb. 27.
When asked if he was prepared to let the funding lapse, the Ohio Republican said, “Certainly. The House has acted. We’ve done our job.”
Predictably, Democrats stand poised to blame Republicans in the event of a partial government shutdown.
“He will be responsible for shutting down a large part of the government,” [New York Sen. Chuck] Schumer said in a statement. “The American people will perceive it that way, and his party and the country will suffer for it.”
Adding to that sentiment is everyone’s favorite me-too moderate, Senator John McCain:
“The American people didn’t give us the majority to have a fight between House and Senate Republicans,” McCain said on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “They want things done. We cannot cut funding for the Department of Homeland Security. We need to sit down and work this thing out.”
In a fight between John McCain and John Boehner, which one represents the establishment? After recently claiming that he was Tea Party before it was cool, Boehner is now positioning himself to look the part.
Has he actually grown a spine, or is this too little too late? Where was this defiant opposition to Obama’s executive action when the Congress passed the Cromnibus? Does this move win you over?
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)
It seems we’ve yet to learn our lesson regarding the futility of prohibition. The limitation of sinful but otherwise victimless behavior results only in the ballooning of government bureaucracy and the suppression of economic activity.
Minnesota presents us with a prime example. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Less than two years after Minnesota raised its cigarette tax to one of the highest in the country, cigarette smuggling has become a growing business in the state. Now officials want more money to combat the problem.
Minnesota Department of Revenue officials seized or assessed untaxed tobacco products in more than 40 percent of the 374 retail inspections conducted through the first three quarters of last year. Before the cigarette tax jumped $1.60 per pack, or 130 percent, retail inspections found untaxed tobacco products only 8 percent of the time. The agency typically conducts 700 inspections a year.
It’s no wonder why increasing taxes to such a draconian level would invigorate the black market. Artificially hiking costs doesn’t change demand. When suppliers exist willing to meet that demand at a price reflecting true economic value, you’re going to see a black market.
Rather than reconsider the wisdom of the tax hike, the state reacts as states typically do, doubling down on the policies which created the problem. The Tribune continues:
Acting on the recommendations of a 2014 tobacco enforcement report, the agency said it needs $1 million annually for 11 new inspectors to crack down on cigarette smugglers and retailers selling untaxed tobacco products. Officials also want enhanced penalties for lawbreakers and a new state license for tobacco retailers that would give the tax agency authority to revoke permits.
In other words, they want to spend tax dollars to fix a problem created by raising taxes. Sounds like par for the course.
Those 700 inspections per year don’t come cheap. Those are government resources dedicated toward the prevention of economic activity rather than the preservation of individual rights – spending money to prevent people from making money. That’s the very definition of counter-productive.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)
It should go without saying that Fourth Amendment protections extend to electronic communications and data. Why would we be secure in our “persons, houses, papers, and effects” but not our phones, tablets, laptops, and clouds? Yet, when the question has come before the courts, rulings have been inconsistent.
Seeking to bolster data privacy rights in Minnesota, state legislators have crafted a bill which would provide voters with the opportunity to amend the state constitution. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
The heart of the amendment is just four words, proposing to add “electronic communications and data” to Section 10 of the state Constitution, which guarantees “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” If approved, the amendment would be placed on the 2016 November election ballot.
Opponents of bill, cognizant that opposing Fourth Amendment protections is bad politics, have taken to arguing that the proposed change is “unnecessary and redundant.”
Although the bill cleared its first House committee Tuesday, it faces a more significant hurdle in the Senate, where one instrumental leader says data privacy questions have already been resolved by the courts. Sen. Ron Latz, [Democrat]-St. Louis Park, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, refused to give the bill a hearing last month, saying he prefers to avoid legislating by constitutional amendment when he believes electronic data is already protected.
“I never shut the door completely on things, but my inclination right now is we have enough heavy lifting on our plate this legislative session in terms of real policy changes,” Latz said. “To take our limited time that we have on something which, from my perspective, is unnecessary and redundant would not be a wise use of our public resources.
Latz makes it sound like he and his senate colleagues would be digging the Panama Canal by hand. How many “resources” does it take to pass a simple non-controversial bill providing voters with an option to bolster their protections? What could possibly be more important than protecting citizen’s fundamental rights? Isn’t that what government exists to do?
Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, pointed out that [relevant] cases [the ACLU] referenced are ones where the Supreme Court said a warrant is necessary to search electronic data.
“I get concerned about amending our constitution to clarify things that the courts are already doing,” he said. “I think we need to be careful about that sort of thing.”
Why? What’s the danger? Are we going to be too secure? Will the courts feelings get hurt?
These are feeble arguments which fail to justify the continued obstruction of this bill. Folks like Latz are expending more “resources” opposing Fourth Amendment protections than it would take to passively allow their passage.
The question is why.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)
The national conversation raging over vaccination in the wake of a recent measles outbreak has conflated two issues which properly ought to remain separate.
Are vaccinations safe and effective? Should they be mandatory?
For many, their answer to the first question determines their answer to the second. Such is the case with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who told Bill O’Reilly on Monday that government ought to force vaccinations upon unwilling parents. From The Blaze:
When O’Reilly claimed that about 90 percent of parents “do the right thing” in getting their children vaccinated, Kelly said 10 percent is still too many parents allowing their children to remain unvaccinated.
“This is going to be a big issue for politicians going forward, because it’s about Big Brother. But on the other hand, some things do require some involvement of Big Brother,” Kelly responded.
It’s unclear how Kelly’s sentiment differs substantially from any call to apply government force against individual judgment “to protect all of us.” She says that some things require the involvement of Big Brother, but fails to articulate any standard by which to determine what those things are.
It’s not as though abstaining from vaccination is the only way that others’ choices affect our environment. If we’re willing to forcefully vaccinate for an alleged common good, where do we draw the line? By what principle? Why not forcefully sterilize for the common good? Why not dictate people’s diets or force them to exercise? If eliminating disease takes primacy over individual rights, why not wholeheartedly embrace eugenic prohibitions and mandates?
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently evoked a “balance” between “giving people the option” to vaccinate and “addressing parental concerns.” Of course, there is no balance between choice and non-choice. Either vaccinations are mandatory or they are not.
Whether or not vaccination should be mandatory should not be coupled to the question of whether or not vaccinations are safe or effective. These are two separate matters. By conflating the two, we lend credence to the “progressive” notion that government may properly impose upon individual judgment wherever some community benefit is perceived. And if we concede that, we concede the entire concept of rights.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)
Should school districts be able to raise taxes without voter approval to provide for critical maintenance needs? Legislators in Minnesota from both sides of the aisle think so. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
A longstanding school funding law allows 25 Minnesota school districts to raise residents’ property taxes for maintenance funds without direct voter approval. The rest of the districts… don’t have that luxury. That’s led to a big gap in funding among districts for things like carpet replacement, security upgrades and heating and cooling modernization.
State Sen. Kevin Dahle [a Democrat] wants to change that arrangement, extending the taxation power to districts statewide. He and other bill proponents call it a matter of fairness. Most of the 25 districts on the list are in the [Twin Cities] metro area…
The disparity can lead some schools stuck with poor facilities that can distract students, proponents say, and siphon funding away from things like teachers and textbooks.
“It’s not fair. A building ages the same across the state,” said state Sen. Karin Housley, a Republican who represents Forest Lake and co-authored the Dahle bill.
The bill from Dahle, a Northfield Democrat, would require Minnesota to chip in funding for districts with lower property tax bases to help equalize their take. A state facilities working group estimated last year that requirement would cost Minnesota about $300 million in its first three years.
That’s too much state spending for Rep. Steve Drazkowski, a Republican from Mazeppa. The chairman of the House Property Tax and Local Government Finance Division said lawmakers shouldn’t take taxation decisions out of voters’ hands.
Dahle and others say voters would still have a say because they elect school board members. Drazkowski dismissed that. He suggested another way to make things fair: stripping the 25 districts of the ability to tax without a ballot question.
Drazkowski has it right. If fairness is the goal, then restore the right of voters to determine whether their taxes will be raised. Don’t strip that right from everyone statewide.
As proves typical whenever government officials seek more of our money to spend, they paint an image of freezing children distracted from learning. We’re meant to perceive a dichotomy between fixing such problems (by raising taxes) and neglecting them (by not).
In this case, the bill’s sponsors imply an even starker dichotomy. The issue isn’t raising taxes so much as who gets to decide whether they are raised. What proponents of this bill are really implying is that voters won’t raise their own taxes to address critical maintenance issues, that voters will let their own children freeze.
There are two appropriate responses to that. First, if we suspend our disbelief long enough to imagine such a thing would ever happen, so what? If voters don’t want to raise their own taxes, they’ll live with the consequences. That’s their prerogative.
Of course, the notion that voters would let their kids freeze before raising revenue proves dubious on its face. In truth, voters may simply demand prioritization of some needs above others.
That’s what school districts want to avoid. So we get pitched the specter of money diverted from “teachers and textbooks,” as if that’s the only place it could come from.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)
In a struggle which proves emblematic of similar fights in states across the nation, Minnesota Republicans have long sought an end to teacher tenure. Currently, seniority trumps performance, qualification, and merit whenever layoffs occur. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Eliminating so-called last-in, first-out protections has been… opposed by many [Democrats], who count the teachers’ union Education Minnesota among its staunchest allies and who say there is value in keeping experienced teachers in the system.
But dissension has developed in the ranks. One prominent Democrat state senator has broken with her party to author a bill that would remove seniority protection.
Sen. Terri Bonoff said Thursday that “It is my belief that really in every profession merit ought to be what gets someone hired, promoted or kept. I believe especially in a profession where our teachers play such an important role in shaping the lives of our young people that we want to make sure the very best teachers are in every classroom.”
Predictably, the Education Minnesota teachers’ union criticized the move, calling for more spending as an alternative.
“Constantly improving the quality of teaching… is a goal Education Minnesota shares with many lawmakers and parents, but this relentless focus on layoffs won’t help any teacher get better,” Denish Specht, president of the union, said in a statement.
Specht said that lawmakers instead should designate more money – beyond the $75 million the state already has committed – to fully fund the evaluation process.
It’s an odd claim, the notion that removing seniority protection won’t help teachers get better. Perhaps Specht could demonstrate how protecting teachers from objective evaluation once they reach a certain level of seniority makes them better.
Common sense tells us that vulnerability to competition incentivizes any worker toward greater performance. It’s nice to find at least one Democrat who agrees.
In the midst of making an essential point about American intolerance of politically incorrect views, moderate Republican and New York Times author David Brooks took a cheap shot at the likes of Ann Coulter:
… there are some people like, frankly this show, we’re at the adult table of conversation. Some people like Ann Coulter; they’re at the kiddie-table. Charlie Hebdo, that’s the kiddie table. Let the kiddie table have the kiddie table. Because sometimes they’ll say things that those of us at the adult table need to hear. Don’t crack down on them.
Though we might appreciate his advocacy for free speech, Brooks’ characterization of certain political commentators as “kiddies” severely blunts his point. We should be tolerant, he says, especially of those immature folks who expect their government to abide by something resembling principle.
Brooks may not mention the Tea Party by name, but his dismissal certainly proves emblematic of the divide within the Republican Party separating an establishment focused on electoral victories for the sake of electoral victories and an activist base tired of compromising their liberty. The former think themselves the adults in the room, while regarding the latter as unsophisticated.
A question emerges regarding the nature of political sophistication. Is jockeying for marginal gains in hopes of blunting government’s continuous mission creep really the mark of maturity? Or does true maturity manifest in the realization that politics as usual can no longer be tolerated?
Perhaps Brooks has confused maturity with a surrender of idealism. Perhaps he thinks principles are for the young and inexperienced. Those who know better, those like Brooks, understand that the progressives won in the last century. It’s their world now, and we conservatives just live in it. Thus the “mature” politico assumes a posture of resignation, advocating for a gradual reduction in liberty and a slower march to insolvency. The idea that we might actually stop the Left, that we might actually reduce spending, that we might actually restore liberty – that’s a childish pipe-dream.
I would submit to Brooks that the real pipe-dream is believing resignation leads to anything resembling victory. Maturity is best defined as the capacity to deal rationally with the facts of reality and act accordingly in furtherance of our lives. Capitulation to tyranny and fiscal insanity doesn’t fit that bill. On the contrary, perhaps it’s Brooks and his ilk who hold seats at the kiddie table.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)
Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) has emerged as a libertarian standard in the House, explaining every one one of his votes on social media along with the principles that informed them. When the lower body took up a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline last week, Amash voted present. His explanation demonstrations just how unique this congressman is.
I support construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and holding it up for over four years (with no end in sight) for political reasons is wrong. It’s improper, however, for Congress to write a bill that names and benefits one private project, while doing nothing to address the underlying problems that allowed such delays to occur. The Constitution gives Congress the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations,” but the Rule of Law requires that legislation be of general, not specific, applicability. A proper bill would address the circumstances that allow *any* such project to be held up for political reasons, not just Keystone XL.
Amash went on to quote Austrian economist and political philosopher F. A. Hayek, who expounded upon why laws must be generally applicable to avoid being arbitrary and thus tyrannical. Amash concluded by explaining the circumstances under which he considers voting present on a bill:
… (1) when I could otherwise support the legislation, but the legislation uses improper means to achieve its ends, e.g., singling out a specific person or group for special treatment; (2) when Representatives have not been given a reasonable amount of time to consider the legislation; or (3) when I have a conflict of interest, such as a personal or financial interest in the legislation—a circumstance that hasn’t happened yet and I don’t anticipate happening.
[The Keystone XL bill] uses improper means to accomplish its laudable goal by singling out TransCanada Corporation and its Keystone XL pipeline for special treatment.
It passed 241-175-1.
Eyes may roll in response to that vote count. After all, what did Amash really accomplish with this vote.
The answer, for any genuinely seeking it, is that Amash set an example not only for his cohort but any elected legislators to follow. Reason editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie writes “I don’t believe in government funding of science, but I might make an exception if it was a project to identify what’s special in Amash and to clone the hell out of him.”
Unsexy though it may be, the principle of general applicability ensures equal protection under the law, an essential aspect of justice which trumps the benefit of any given economic project. If we had more like Amash in Congress, not only would we have Keystone XL, we’d never again find ourselves in a position where government stood in the way of getting such business done.
A broad grassroots coalition of consumers and liberty activists are making a strong push to repeal Minnesota’s ban on Sunday liquor sales. The North Star State remains one of only twelve that continues to ban liquor sales on Sunday, and the only state among its neighbors to do so. As the Minneapolis Star Tribune pointed out in a recent editorial supportive of repeal, any given Sunday sees a line of Minnesota license plates parading to border town liquor stores in Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas.
The public has long supported repeal. Up to now, that support has not manifest in much political capitol in St. Paul. Opponents of repeal have been more organized and engaged. But that dynamic is changing.
The issue has emerged as a litmus test for libertarian activists within the Republican Party. Increasingly, where a candidate or incumbent stands on Sunday sales determines how they are perceived by the grassroots, and for good reason. There may be no clearer example of special interest cronyism restricting the market and limiting consumer choice.
Strangely, there are plenty of Republicans who support the status quo and argue against repealing the Sunday sales ban. In her argument against repeal, Barbara Banaian defends it as a vanguard for small liquor stores.
The laws serve a purpose, if not for a Sunday day of rest. Ending blue laws will hurt small proprietors because it will be more difficult for them to cover extra hours than the larger stores.
In this way, Banaian demonstrates the critical difference between being pro-market and being pro-business. Republicans have a well-deserved reputation for being pro-business. Businesses produce jobs, we’re often told. And so action taken to promote and support business promotes and supports jobs.
But this brand of advocacy proceeds from a flawed moral justification. If jobs or business – particularly those fitting politically correct categories like “local jobs” or “small business” – are the primary end of government action, then a mean which violates the rights of individuals is justified. That’s precisely what we see in the Sunday sales ban.
Heading into the weekend, I filled up my tank for less than $20 for the first time in over a decade. It was surreal. I recall, in my younger and poorer days, routinely putting five bucks in the tank to get through the week on a partial fill. Six months ago, five bucks couldn’t get you two gallons. Yet, here we are, back to the good old days.
But before it gets too easy to work and raise a family, politicians are lining up with proposals to hike state and federal gas taxes. In Minnesota, Democrat Governor Mark Dayton is looking to supplement the existing 28.5 cent per gallon tax with an additional “wholesale gas tax” that would kick in as a percentage (like sales tax) when the pump price hits about $2.15.
Not to be outdone, and doing his best to forward the increasingly popular notion that no difference exists between the major parties, the incoming Republican chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee told Fox News Sunday that a federal gas tax hike is on the table. From the Associated Press:
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota says all options must be looked at to fill an enormous shortfall when the existing highway legislation expires in May.
Gas and diesel taxes haven’t risen since 1993, resulting in perennial shortfalls in the fund that pays for most road projects.
Several commissions have called for raising the taxes, but Congress has been reluctant. Instead lawmakers have dipped repeatedly into the general treasury to keep the trust fund solvent.
The chatter around Governor Dayton’s proposal boasts similar rhetoric. Roads and bridges are in tough shape and getting worse. It’s projected that far less revenue will be raised through current taxes than that needed to maintain, let alone improve, the current infrastructure. The only rational option is to raise taxes, we’re led to believe.
But is that really the only possible approach to the problem? Couldn’t we cite the same scary stats to argue for something like – I don’t know – prioritizing existing spending to focus on infrastructure instead of the gazillion other things that government wastes money on?
Governor Dayton presides over a state which will spend $63.6 billion this year alone. He says he wants an additional $6 billion for transportation over the next 10 years to “cover existing needs.” That translates to $600 million per year. We can’t shave $600 million from a $63.6 billion budget? That’s less than 1%. We’re going to raise taxes on everyone in the economy rather than divert less than 1% of the budget to transportation? Really?
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)
Reason lodged its objection to plans by the city of Bloomington to pursue criminal and civil charges against the organizers of a large Black Lives Matter protest which shutdown a section of the Mall of America on the busiest shopping day of the year. Author Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes:
[Protestors] efforts were, technically, criminal: Mall of America has long forbidden demonstrations within the shopping mega-center and, prior to the event, Bloomington Police urged protesters to choose another venue. They refused. For two hours, the peaceful but unlawful assembly marched through Mall of America with protest chants and #BlackLivesMatter signs.
In a letter to [Bloomington City Attorney Sandra] Johnson and Mall of America administrators, a group of clergy involved with the protest question why such a large security force was needed anyway. “We were shocked and dismayed to see that the Mall of America did not believe the peaceful intentions of the peaceful gathering,” states the letter.
This use of the word “peaceful” trivializes the sanctity of property rights, which seems an odd play for a libertarian publication like Reason. There’s nothing peaceful about trespass. Property matters. Those who encroach upon the rights of others by aggressively occupying private property are not acting peacefully. They’re committing an act of violence.
“Organizers said they chose to demonstrate at the mall in spite of [it constituting trespass] because it was the most high-profile location in the area,” Brown writes. In other words, the protestors sought to steal a platform which does not belong to them. They did so to gain attention which they could not otherwise earn utilizing their own resources in an appeal to reason. They placed the value of their message above the consent of those receiving it. None of this amounts to peaceful behavior.
Nearly eighty years have passed since the Minnesota legislature, acting to accommodate religious moralists disgruntled by the repeal of Prohibition, passed a ban on the sale of liquor on Sundays. The blue law has remained on the books despite the fact that every surrounding state allows Sunday sales.
In recent years, a grassroots effort to repeal the archaic ban has made the issue a perennial sleeper. Given the failure of that effort session after session, despite 62% public support for repeal, it has become evident that legislators are influenced more by special interests than consumers and voters.
So clear is the case for Sunday liquor sales that even the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a mainstream publication not known for its libertarian, free-market leanings, joined the rising chorus calling for a repeal of the ban in an editorial over the weekend.
The proverbial planets seem to be aligning in such a way that repeal could happen in the new year. Republicans just took control of the state House. Public opinion has been galvanized into a consumer-driven grassroots lobbying force. And the Democrat majority in the state Senate needs to be mindful of upcoming elections in an environment where this issue has gained visibility.
Who stands opposed to such a commonsense repeal, you might ask. From the Tribune:
The strongest resistance to Sunday sales in recent years has come from liquor retailers themselves, some of whom believe opening on Sundays would raise their costs without increasing their sales.
In the next breath, these same retailers claim that lifting the ban on Sunday sales will tempt their competition into opening the extra day, thus compelling them to open as well and lose money. But that’s ludicrous. If indeed opening on Sunday will incur extra cost without extra revenue, any store that opens on Sunday will be making an irrational and self-destructive move. If retailers really believe their own narrative, then they should be at front of the line lobbying to lift the ban so their idiot competitors take the bait and die on the market vine.
Someone was going to make the argument eventually, but this source may surprise. Reason publishes commentary by Jesse Walker wherein he challenges the claim that rhetoric from Black Lives Matter protests incited Ismaaiyl Brinsley to kill New York police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. He writes:
We’ve been through this argument before. For the last five years—heavily from 2009 through 2011, more sporadically since then—pundits have identified a (dubious) trend of “rising right-wing violence” and then attempted to blame it on rhetoric they dislike. More recently, we have been hearing about an (also dubious) “war on cops,” which again has been blamed on rhetoric that pundits dislike. Sometimes we get both narratives at once.
Walker reminds us of the shifting dynamics of political discourse during the Clinton era following the Oklahoma City bombing. He might have also pointed to the shooting of Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords, whose assault was blamed on Tea Party rhetoric in general, and Sarah Palin in particular.
The problem with Walker’s comparison is that it fails to account for the content of the rhetoric in question. When judging whether or not speech incites people to violence, it matters precisely what is being said and what actions are being advocated. As we await the video of a Tea Party crowd chanting for a congresswoman to be shot, we can sate ourselves with the above video of Black Lives Matter protestors chanting, “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!”
The absurdity of blaming the Tea Party for acts of violence emerges from the fact that violence is antithetical to that movement. The principles of the Tea Party, and the broader conservative/libertarian community, center on the sanctity of individual rights – including the right to life.
By contrast, a considerable segment of the Black Lives Matter movement has been defined by violence. We watched Ferguson literally burn as rioters expressed themselves by stealing and destroying their neighbors’ property. We’ve seen malls overrun by trespassers and interstate freeways shut down in defiance of people’s rights. The contrast with the Tea Party is night and day.
In the wake of brutal execution-style killings of two police officers in New York City as the Black Lives Matter protest movement rages on, it’s a tough time to be a cop. The Washington Times reports:
Police around the nation have gone on high alert, told by higher-ups and union representatives to wear bulletproof vests, keep off social media and make arrests only in cases most pressing and crucial to the safety of the public at large.
Such orders create a odd dissonance which has to be confusing and frustrating for law enforcement professionals. On the one hand, they’re tasked with enforcing an increasing number of laws which all levels of government remain keen to craft. On the other hand, they’re expected to show “restraint” and only engage if they really, really have to.
It’s a scenario which brings to mind the two reasons I would hate to be a cop nowadays. First, modern policing has long since abandoned the scope of protection and service to become a revenue generator for government. How much of a cop’s day is actually spent protecting people’s rights versus hunting for perpetrators of victimless crimes? We need fewer laws. Those which survive the purge should be those which objectively protect individual rights. Few modern laws would qualify.
On the same day that two New York City police officers were gunned down execution-style by a perpetrator who explicitly cited the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner as his motivation, Black Lives Matter protesters in the Twin Cities overran the Mall of America in an organized trespass on private property. Protestors were warned days in advance that their planned demonstration was not welcome and would not be tolerated. Naturally, the protestors proceeded anyway.
Only 25 people were arrested. There should have been many, many more.
More links the protest at the Mall of America and the killings of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in New York than their occurring on the same day. The commission of rights-violating protest, its endorsement by many within the culture, and its toleration by lawful authorities invite an escalation of violence. Once you entertain the notion that a sense of grievance entitles you to tread upon the rights of others, the difference between overrunning a mall, blocking traffic on an interstate, burning down a business, and executing police officers is only a matter of degree.
Consider how protest organizers justified their behavior at the Mall of America, as reported by the St. Paul Pioneer-Press:
Organizers and participants… said [the disturbance] was a necessary inconvenience to call attention to a critical issue.
“Our system disproportionately targets, profiles and kills black men and women, that’s what we are here talking about,” said Michael McDowell of Black Lives Matter, the group that organized the protest.
He cited the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York as recent examples of police brutality that he said is also happening in the Twin Cities.
“It’s not just Ferguson or New York,” McDowell said. “It happens right here in Minneapolis; we have our own Michael Browns and Eric Garners. We did this because corporations have a role in this, too.
“We wanted to show people who have the everyday luxury of just living their lives that they need to be aware of this, too.”
Put another way, McDowell laid claim to the attention of others, not earned thorough compelling argument and consensual relationship, but demanded through an organized violation of their rights. His grievance entitles him to your attention, to a mall as a stage, and to the disruption of innocent lives.
Outgoing Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) dropped a subtle hint in a recent Associated Press interview that she may be considering a 2016 presidential run. The piece highlights Bachmann’s high-profile career bucking the political establishment, even within her own party. Published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the report reads:
As she wrapped up her congressional business this past week, Bachmann said she is determined to play a role in the next presidential election. The possibility of Democrats nominating Hillary Rodham Clinton will make the voices of Republican women more important than ever, she said.
“I occupy a very unique space,” she said. “I am the only woman who has been in presidential debates on the Republican ticket.”
Her own presidential bid began in June 2011 and peaked with a win in a key Iowa straw poll, but she never found traction with voters as real ballots were cast. While she has “no intention right now of running for president,” she also won’t rule it out.
“I think it will develop as we go what my level of involvement will be,” she said.
Bachmann’s unique style attracted national support, as well as national opposition. Her last election in Minnesota’s deeply conservative sixth district proved nonetheless close. She eked out a three-point victory.
Bachmann’s opponent in that 2012 race, hotel businessman Jim Graves, was set to challenge her again in 2014 with air support from national groups. When Bachmann announced she would not seek re-election, Graves soon withdrew his name from consideration, declaring his “mission accomplished.”
Bachmann’s successor, Congressman-elect and former gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, sailed into office 18 points ahead of Democrat Joe Perske. That margin represents a 15 point improvement over Bachmann’s last performance, which could indicate that Bachmann’s negatives were beginning to outweigh her positives as a candidate.
Would the same prove true nationally? Would you support Bachmann for president? Let us know in the comments below.
On Monday’s episode of the Fightin Words podcast, I interviewed Craig Westover, a retired journalist and former communications director of the Republican Party of Minnesota, regarding a piece he wrote calling on the party to take a stand on the #BlackLivesMatter protests which have erupted around the nation. While Westover confessed to “having a dog in the fight,” he stressed that it was important for some sort of stand to be taken no matter what it is.
[These protests] are big news. This is front page news. And yet, as a Republican, if I’m talking to somebody in the inner city and I’m trying to say, “Well, the Republican position on this is—” I don’t know where to go from there.… When you’re trying to build an image of the Republican Party, and they don’t have a stance… you’ve got to know that if you’re going to try an be a Republican activist and get a message out that says this is what our party stands for, this is what you can expect from Republicans.
Nationally, Westover pointed to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who has taken a distinct stand on the legal environment which has spawned the current protests. Particularly, Paul has criticized the law against selling individual cigarettes which cops enforced in their fatal confrontation with Eric Garner.
In an op-ed published last week in the Chicago Tribune, law professor Stephen L. Carter takes Paul’s point to the next level:
The problem is actually broader. It’s not just cigarette tax laws that can lead to the death of those the police seek to arrest. It’s every law. Libertarians argue that we have far too many laws, and the Garner case offers evidence that they’re right. I often tell my students that there will never be a perfect technology of law enforcement, and therefore it is unavoidable that there will be situations where police err on the side of too much violence rather than too little. Better training won’t lead to perfection. But fewer laws would mean fewer opportunities for official violence to get out of hand.
Carter offers a good principle for evaluating legal prohibitions:
On the opening day of law school at Yale, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. Usually they greet this advice with something between skepticism and puzzlement, until I remind them that the police go armed to enforce the will of the state, and if you resist, they might kill you.
If there were to be a definitive GOP stance in answer to the #BlackLivesMatter protests, Carter’s principle stands as a worthy candidate. Let’s push for fewer laws and ensure those which remain are worth killing someone to enforce.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)
If you were on your way to work in Minneapolis last Thursday, or perhaps rushing to get to a doctor’s appointment, or maybe driving an emergency vehicle en route to provide life-saving assistance, you may have found your route blocked by a group of over 150 protestors who shut down Interstate 35W in Minneapolis. Their marching obstruction was punctuated by “die-ins” where participants lay on the ground chanting “I can’t breath” in reference to the last words uttered by Eric Garner in a now infamous confrontation with police in New York. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:
The high-profile rally had echoes of protests that have sprouted up in other cities around the country, often fueled by crowds enraged by what they say is unfair and often lethal treatment of minorities.
The protest was unlawful. Demonstrators obtained no permit. Even so, police responding to the scene were accommodating. “Minneapolis Police and Minnesota State Patrol blocked traffic and escorted the marchers for about three miles down the highway,” the local NBC affiliate reported. No arrests were made.
According to one law enforcement expert cited, such restraint in the face of unlawful protest is appropriate:
“I first learned about demonstrations and how to handle them in 1968,” commented Tony Bouza, one-time Bronx, New York Police Commander and former Minneapolis Police Chief…
“We went in there with nightsticks and tear gas and arrested them and beat them up and it was a terrible, tragic mistake,” said Bouza.
By contrast, officers and troopers around Thursday’s protest guarded and protected the protesters, even when they occasionally staged “die-ins”, laying down on the pavement. A protest organizer used a bull horn to inform the marchers and police of the movements of the marchers.
“You have to bend the law and let us face it,” said Bouza. “The mindless enforcement of the law is silly…the reality is: you have a lot of discretion and you need to use it. You need to conflict manage, understand it, negotiate and deal with it very patiently.”
Bouza went on to refer to detractors who question why the law was not enforced as “mindless.”
“In Defense of Looting.” That’s the title of an essay over at The New Inquiry which offers a glimpse into the mindset of those justifying the looting, arson, and property damage seen in Ferguson, Missouri, since last week’s announcement that Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the shooting death of Michael Brown.
The piece confirms two things I have been saying about Ferguson from the start. First, that there is no genuine desire among rioters to pursue justice, despite their flaunting the word. Second, that the ideological underpinnings of the protest reject private property as such.
Author Willie Osterweil established the first point while rebuking fellow travellers for drawing a distinction between non-violent protest and looting:
…in making a strong division between Good Protesters and Bad Rioters, or between ethical non-violence practitioners and supposedly violent looters—the narrative of the criminalization of black youth is reproduced. This time it delineates certain kinds of black youth—those who loot versus those who protest. The effect of this discourse is hardening a permanent category of criminality on black subjects who produce a supposed crime within the context of a protest. It reproduces racist and white supremacist ideologies (including the tactic of divide-and-conquer), deeming some unworthy of our solidarity and protection, marking them, subtly, as legitimate targets of police violence. These days, the police, whose public-facing racism is much more manicured, if no less virulent, argue that “outside agitators” engage in rioting and looting. Meanwhile, police will consistently praise “non-violent” demonstrators, and claim that they want to keep those demonstrators safe.
Let’s take a moment to unpack this stunning statement. According to Osterweil, distinguishing between those who loot and those who do not is a “tactic of divide-and-conquer” motivated by “white supremacist ideologies.” Police practice “racism” when sorting out the people who loot from those who do not. Looting, and we might presume arson and other forms of property destruction, is a “supposed crime” which actually stands as a legitimate form of political protest. In summary, you’re a racist if you object to theft and property destruction.
This is the context in which words like “justice” are wielded, as if anyone subscribing to a worldview legitimizing looting has the slightest grasp upon the notion. This is why dialogue, discussion, and listening are futile activities in response to the Ferguson violence. When you are dealing with people who don’t believe that theft is unjust and properly ought to be stopped by police, you have no common ground upon which to build a peaceful exchange. That’s the same reason we don’t negotiate with terrorists.
My circle of libertarian friends seems split regarding the goings on in Ferguson, Missouri. For some, the focus belongs on racial disparities in law enforcement activity, the militarization of police departments, and a futile rights-violating drug war. For others, the focus belongs on individual actions which clearly violate rights, like looting, rioting, and destroying property.
I tend to fall in the latter camp, not because the former concerns prove illegitimate, but because active violence presents a clearer threat to rights than a comparatively academic notion of systematic injustice. It may be right to question the rate at which blacks are arrested for similar crimes. But it’s definitely wrong to burn down your neighbor’s store in “protest.”
Writing last month for Rare, an online libertarian publication, editor Jack Hunter urged white Americans to “listen to the protestors in Missouri.” He wrote:
Black Americans have complained for some time about racial disparities in police shootings, abuse at the hands of law enforcement, and in how the law is applied. Last week, a study of the use of deadly force used by police published by the Pulitzer Prize winning independent news site ProPublica revealed…, “Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population.”
Might it also be true that the high frequency of police shooting young black men could potentially create an environment where police sometimes shoot African Americans even when it is not justified? Might this happen with a relative frequency in which the offending officers do not suffer any repercussions?
Is it not something worth marching in the streets over?
Marching? Maybe. But the response to the shooting of Michael Brown, both when it happened and now that a grand jury has opted not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, has been a bit more conspicuous than marching. Perhaps the question ought to be: are these concerns worth burning a city down over?
If we can’t all agree that the answer to that question is a resounding “no,” then we’re in a lot more trouble than if even the worst charges of systematic racial injustice prove true. If we can’t all agree that looting, arson, and similar acts of violence are unacceptable responses to grievance, then on what moral basis does any grievance rest?
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 opened in theaters around the world over the weekend and earned a hefty $275 million. In a year where domestic box office has been down overall, the film also earned more money in its opening weekend than any other film in 2014. The popularity of the Hunger Games series can’t be disputed, and has prompted a handful of similar franchises like the Divergent series and this year’s The Maze Runner and The Giver.
With plucky rebellion against dystopian tyrannies all the rage, an opportunity exists to draw some comparisons between these popular fictions and the real world. Indeed, the film has become a touchstone for protestors in Thailand. Fox News reports:
“The Mockingjay movie reflects what’s happening in our society. … When people have been suppressed for some time, they would want to resist and fight for their rights,” Nachacha Kongudom, 21, one of [three students detained at a screening], told AP. “Going to the cinema is the basic rights of the people. I’m here today to call for and to protect my rights.”
On Wednesday, five university students were arrested in northeastern Thailand after giving the three-fingered salute [from the film] during a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup [against the elected government] as army commander.
It’s easy to see parallels between the Hunger Games stories and reality when you live under a military dictatorship. Panem, the fictional nation where these tales are set, operates as a fascist state where the individual languishes under subjugation. Dissent is brutally put down, and the enslaved populace is forced to offer up their children in tribute to a capitol which pits them against each other in a vicious death match.
Life in the United States is far from that portrayed in Panem. However, when the root issues at stake in the Hunger Games saga are identified, it becomes clear that Americans have much worth rebelling against.
At the core of nearly every policy pursued by the current administration has been a profound subjugation of the individual to the will of the state. Young people stand particularly victimized, forced to sacrifice their present and future happiness to fund promises made to the sick or the old, promises which actually benefit those in power. How does the individual mandate in Obamacare differ fundamentally from the slave labor in Panem? Sure, instead of the lash, we have the IRS. But the effect proves the same, individuals forced to feed the state.
In these years between elections, the opportunity exists to define the stakes in such terms. Young people may be socially liberal, a fact not likely to change. But they retain a sense of individual liberty which fiction like The Hunger Games stokes into conviction. Let’s build on those themes to present a vision for the nation where the pursuit of happiness becomes sacrosanct again.
Whatever spirit swept the nation on November 4th, cleansing the political makeup of government, it passed over my home state of Minnesota. While Republicans managed to retake control of the state house, the senate and governor’s office remain in Democrat hands.
During two years of one-party rule, many radical policies were advanced and passed into law. One of those policies, seemingly innocuous compared to many others, bans employers from inquiring on initial application forms whether perspective employees have a past criminal conviction. It’s called “ban the box,” has been passed in 12 other states, and was intended to provide former convicts with “a fairer shot in the hiring process.”
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the law has been “tripping up Minnesota employers:”
The one company fined so far was Elgin Milk Service Inc., a trucking company in the southern Minnesota town of Elgin. It was fined $500 for not complying in a timely manner. The company paid up. Account manager Lynette Bruske said the company just didn’t know about the law change. The fine surprised her.
“I just thought that was real steep for just eliminating a page out of the application,” Bruske said.
Morrie’s Automotive Group, based in Minnetonka, was also fined but appealed. The fine was overturned, the applications fixed and the matter resolved, [the Minnesota Department of] Human Rights said.
So far, more than 50 companies have been harassed by the state for continuing to ask applicants whether or not they have past convictions. Most “responded favorably,” submitting to the force imposed upon them.
It may seem like a relatively minor mandate, and it is. However, that just reinforces how intrusive the nanny state has become. The answer to any perceived problem in our culture has become the passage of a new law. It’s an incredibly lazy and downright silly approach to cultural activism.
The past few days have been replete with coverage across conservative media of provocative comments offered by Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber. On several occasions, Gruber was recorded speaking to friendly audiences as he confessed intentionally deceiving the public regarding the details of Obamacare. A sampling:
If you had a law which said healthy people are going to pay in – you made it explicit, that healthy people are going to pay in and sick people are going to get money, it never would have passed.
Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically – you know, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever – but basically, that was really really critical to getting the thing to pass.
The American voter is too stupid to understand the difference.
It’s a very clever exploitation of the lack of understanding of the American voter.
Ostensibly, the exposure of Gruber’s comments stands as a big win for Republicans, although poorly timed just after the mid-term elections. However, an inconvenient truth which seems to have gone largely unnoticed is that Jonathan Gruber had his fingerprints all over another deceptively crafted socialist health care program – Romneycare. Conservative News and Views expounds:
[Fox News] also aired a clip from a nearly hour-long speech Gruber gave on 18 January 2012 to a conference at Noblis, a “think tank” at Falls Church, Virginia. (The name might derive from the French expression, Noblesse oblige.) There Gruber described the Massachusetts health-care plan, or “Romneycare.” He and others founded this plan on “a three-legged stool”:
- Forbidding insurers to “discriminate” against those with pre-existing illness,
- A minimum-coverage mandate for individuals, and
- Subsidies so those same people could afford to obey that mandate.
He said the Massachusetts plan worked well, and he always planned to have it work for the federal government.Then he made one salient admission:
The dirty secret is, the feds paid for our program.
Specifically, Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) arranged 400 million dollars in annual grants to Massachusetts to fund this plan. And again, Mitt Romney knew this.
Indeed, not only did the Republican Party’s nominee for president in 2012 endorse and sign into law a Gruber-approved policy as deceptively crafted as Obamacare, but many Republicans holding office today confess to supporting many aspects of Obamacare which they would preserve in a “repeal.” Mandatory coverage for pre-existing conditions, coverage mandates, anything politically popular, many Republicans would keep.
Here’s the real lesson from the Gruber story which needs to worm its way past “the stupidity of the American voter,” as articulated by Wrong About Everything podcast co-host and progressive operative Javier Morillo-Alicea:
No one talks frankly about legislation, period. We can sit here and act all high and mighty… What [Gruber] was saying is the kind of thing that happens in the halls of legislatures, state and federal, all the time – figuring out how [to] make [bills] palatable… that’s just part of negotiations. He just got caught talking about the sausage-making.
In other words, the Republican reaction to the Gruber story is a bit like Captain Louis Renault declaring in Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked to find out that gambling is going on in here.” The fact is, the deceptive tactics which Gruber shamelessly reveals prove non-partisan and properly ought to be attributed to the bulk of the political class, not just Obama and the Democrats.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)
In a prima facie violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Minneapolis School Board has decided to begin segregating their students into two different categories – white, and everyone else. If teachers and administrators want to suspend a white student, there will be no questions asked. But if they dare attempt to suspend a “student of color,” the act will be reviewed by the school district superintendent and “her leadership team.” BringMeTheNews reports:
The move comes after Minneapolis’ suspension policies have been under increased scrutiny from civil rights officials inside the U.S Department of Education and also follows a moratorium on suspensions of pre-kindergartners, kindergarteners and first graders that Johnson says has reduced suspensions by 50 percent.
She predicts reviews of suspended students of color could reduce them by a further 50 percent by 2016, telling the Tribune: “It’s about reducing disproportionality of student suspensions.
“Changing the trajectory for our students of color is a moral and ethical imperative, and our actions must be drastically different to achieve our goal of closing the achievement gap by 2020.”
Along with proving blatantly racist and likely unconstitutional, this practice stands as ridiculous policy. Why would your goal as an administration be to reduce the number of suspensions? Shouldn’t the focus be on reducing incidents of unacceptable student behavior? If you’re just going to arbitrarily ban suspensions or bottleneck the disciplinary process, how are you addressing students’ actual needs?
The assumption seems to be that suspensions are being handled out arbitrarily to punish children for being minorities. But that should be something you can prove. Where’s the example of a student having been suspended for being black? Where’s the example of a student being suspended without violating school policy on multiple occasions? Is there one? Or are administrators simply looking at the numbers and assuming that a disproportionate number of minority suspensions means the suspensions are motivated by race?
This idea, that racially disproportionate anything signals institutional racism, has been taken as gospel by the political left and informs policies which explicitly discriminate against white people. But how is explicit discrimination as policy better than implicit discrimination by an individual? Why should a white student be subject to a different disciplinary process than their minority peers? And how can such policy be characterized as anything other than racial segregation?
Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. While nothing can diminish the gravity of that moment, both in terms of its symbolism and its herald of the Soviet Union’s eventual collapse, we miss a vital lesson if we end our consideration at that time and place.
It’s easy to compartmentalize history, to think of events in other times and places as wholly detached from our day-to-day existence. However, to put a different spin on the old phrase, those who forget history don’t flinch as its repeated. In many ways which matter, figuratively and to lesser degrees, the Berlin Wall still stands.
Consider that the physical wall was not the real barrier to freedom for those trapped behind it. The real barrier was a set of ideas. Among those ideas was the notion that an equalitarian utopia can be crafted through the application of force. Put another way, the intellectual leaders of the Soviet Union believed in better living through less freedom. When the people placed under their boot objected and sought refuge through exodus, the Soviet answer was to lock them in.
Skip ahead in history to December 2011. Boeing, in an effort to benefit from a less restrictive business environment, had chosen to construct a new production facility in right-to-work South Carolina instead of Washington State. Their employee union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, appealed to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – an appendage of the federal government – to file a case against Boeing alleging violations of federal labor law. The case was dropped only after Boeing relented to wage increases and expansions in Washington State.
More recently, companies like Minnesota-based Medtronic pursued a tactic dryly called “tax inversion,” which essentially relocates a company on paper to a foreign country to avoid federal taxes. Robes were rent in ideological indignation as the likes of Senator Al Franken called for “closing the inversion tax loophole.” The Treasury Department moved quickly to change rules and discourage further escape attempts.
Indeed, the American people largely approve of such figurative wall-building. A Star Tribune Minnesota poll found two-thirds of respondents who believed “the government should outlaw corporate inversions.” Put another way, many of your neighbors would vote to wall you in and take your property.
Fundamentally, what is the difference between these modern American examples and the purpose of the Berlin Wall? The answer is nothing.
If we’re going to celebrate the collapse of the Berlin Wall as a herald of freedom in a century plagued by totalitarian regimes, then we better get our heads screwed on straight regarding the principles involved. It’s not enough to tip our hat to a moment in history if we fail to recognize its relevance to our time. If it was wrong for the Soviet Union to wall its citizens within its borders to subjugate under onerous laws, then it’s always wrong, no matter who is doing it or to what degree.
Men should be free to act upon their own judgment, in pursuit of their own happiness, voting with their feet and their dollars as much their ballot. Any effort to constrain that ability, to keep people from moving to or doing business in more competitive jurisdictions proves no less tyrannical than building a wall to physically imprison them.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)
The election of Jesse Ventura as governor of Minnesota lingers as a mark against the state, even more embarrassing than having elected Al Franken to the U.S. Senate. Even so, you can rely upon it being cited as evidence in any given debate regarding the viability of third parties.
“Jesse won,” the argument goes. No further context or substance is provided. We’re to believe that, because Jesse Ventura became governor of Minnesota sixteen years ago for a single term, third parties have been vindicated as a effective means to engage in the political discourse. It couldn’t possibly be that Ventura’s election was a fluke, an exception to the rule driven by his celebrity. No. Third parties are legit, brother, and you’re a tool of the establishment if you say otherwise.
It’s all fairly childish, and I say that as someone who voted for Jesse in that 1998 election. I was 19 years old, hardly world worn, motivated more by novelty and a vague sense of rebellion than critical thought. I remember thinking that this was really going to shake things up. Jesse’s going to get in there and use common sense, like a normal person, not one of these stupid politicians that’s in it for themselves. I bought into the slogan, “Don’t vote for politics as usual.”
Jesse’s term as governor was unusual. I’ll give him that. Lacking a legislative caucus to work with, being third party and all, he wasn’t able to get a whole lot done. He ended up launching a light rail boondoggle which continues to expand like a fiscally insolvent cancer throughout the Twin Cities metro. He didn’t legalize prostitution or weed, like he floated during the campaign. He did manage to eliminate the state’s vehicle emissions tests, which was cool. For the most part, however, Jesse’s term as governor was just a feather in his personal cap which utterly failed to “shake things up.” The term was such a dud that Jesse himself grew bored of it and threatened to retire early to let his lieutenant governor take the state for a spin.
I recall all this today, Election Day 2014, in a longshot attempt to sway any who may be seriously considering a third party vote. You’re not going to change “politics as usual,” whatever that is, by casting your vote for a third party candidate. First of all, whoever the candidate is, in whatever race, anywhere in the country, they’re going to lose. Okay. So there’s that. It’s a complete waste of your time. But more to the point, even in the freak occurrence where they win, what then? What’s one legislator without a caucus going to achieve? What’s an executive without legislative support going to accomplish? If Jesse Ventura’s term as governor of Minnesota stands as any indication, the answer is nothing.
Vote like elections have consequences, because they do.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)
The United States spent $296 billion to defeat the Axis powers in World War II. That figure does not include “veterans benefits, interest on war-related debt, or assistance to allies.” The conflict resulted in 405,399 Americans killed and 670,846 wounded, making it the most costly war in the nation’s history by far.
In light of that, you may be surprised to learn that American taxpayers have since shelled out potentially millions more to “suspected Nazi criminals” living in the United States. Fox News breaks down the report from the Associated Press:
The payments flowed through a legal loophole that has given the U.S. Justice Department leverage to persuade Nazi suspects to leave. If they agreed to go, or simply fled before deportation, they could keep their Social Security, according to interviews and internal government records…
Among those who benefited:
–armed SS troops who guarded the Nazi network of camps where millions of Jews perished.
–an SS guard who took part in the brutal liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland that killed as many as 13,000 Jews.
–a Nazi collaborator who engineered the arrest and execution of thousands of Jews in Poland.
–a German rocket scientist accused of using slave labor to build the V-2 rocket that pummeled London. He later won NASA’s highest honor for helping to put a man on the moon.
The AP’s findings are the result of more than two years of interviews, research and analysis of records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and other sources.
You owe it to yourself to check out the rest of the article. Among the highlights, the Justice Department responded to a request from the AP to disclose the number of Nazis receiving payments, and the amount of those payments, by claiming no such records were kept.
A further barrier, [Spokesman William "BJ"] Jarrett said, is that there is no exception in U.S. privacy law that “allows us to disclose information because the individual is a Nazi war criminal or an accused Nazi war criminal.”
That’s right. Nazis have privacy rights. This from the same federal government which takes every opportunity to spy on its own citizens without cause or warrant.
This is what happens when “need” is democratized. We can get bend out of shape over suspected Nazi war criminals living off our tax dollars. But the root problem is Social Security itself, along with any redistributive tax scheme which removes individual consent from economic transactions.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how upset you are about funding the retirement of Holocaust participants. You’ll still be funding them tomorrow, because you don’t get to choose whether you pay your Social Security taxes.
You might assume that attaining public office opens certain doors, that your calls begin to get answered and your demands for public information hold greater weight. It makes sense that, as an elected official representing a certain number of citizens, your inquires of government departments would be taken seriously.
In truth, bureaucracies tend to compartmentalize information and keep important facts from legislators. Congressman Justin Amash provided an eye-opening example in a presentation to the Liberty Political Action Conference last year. “There was no way for members of Congress to hear about these programs,” Amash said in reference to applications of the Patriot Act which, in his view, exceed the legislative intent of Congress.
What you’ll hear from the intelligence committees, from the chairmen of the intelligence committees, is that, “Well, members can come to the classified briefings, and they can ask whatever questions they want.”
But if you’ve actually been to one of these classified briefings, which none of you have but I have, what you’ll discover is that it’s just a game of twenty questions. You ask a question, and if you don’t ask it in exactly the right way, you don’t get the right answer. So if you use the wrong pronoun, or if you talk about one agency but actually another agency is doing [what you’re asking about], they won’t tell you. They’ll just say, “No, that’s not happening.” They don’t correct you and say, “Here’s what is happening.”
Amash goes on to relate, in as much detail as he legally can, an incident where a congressional colleague managed to ask the right question after several attempts. It uncovered a practice that he wanted to know more about. So he asked for documentation, and was told that there would be follow-up breifing.
Addressing the Cheltenham Literature Festival, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, called for government to include “a faith perspective” in policy deliberations. From The Blaze:
What Williams advocated was for a middle group approach between a perspective that wants religion to be the basis of all laws and one in which faith isn’t addressed at all outside of church doors.
The government’s role in this case, then, is to facilitate discussions that ensure that minority views on controversial issues — or any issue at all for that matter — are considered in the wider discussion. Rather than winning the debate, per se, religious views help round it out, he argued.
Williams presents a spectrum of authoritarianism, with hardcore theocrats on the one end and religious suppressors on the other. What does “a middle group” on that axis look like? Would they advocate for religious-based laws half the time and suppress religious rights the other half?
How about this. Instead of giving religion a place at government’s table, let’s limit government’s role to protecting the rights of each individual, whether they harbor faith or not. The best way to protect minority views is to empower the greatest minority, the individual. If government remains barred from interfering in an individual’s private judgment, then religious rights will stand unmolested.
The vague alternative which Williams suggests would only place more cooks in the statist kitchen. This idea that every different perspective must have special representation in government, whether religious or racial or any other variety, assumes that such inclusion will produce better policy. But the quality of policy depends upon its effect on individual liberty, not the diversity of its authors. A diverse body of dictators proves no more sufferable than a homogenous one.
Brittany Maynard suffers from an inoperable brain tumor which doctors expect to claim her life within months. In the face of a costly and painful defeat, Maynard has chosen to end her life. She moved to Oregon in order to legally seek physician assisted suicide.
Writing at The Blaze, Matt Walsh took issue with the praise and support which Maynard’s plan has garnered on social media. Specifically, he objected to the sentiment that we each own our lives and may therefore end them if we choose:
We are given life, we take part in life, we participate in life, but we do not own our lives. We can’t take possession of our lives like a two-year-old grabbing a toy from his friend and shouting ‘Mine!’ Our lives are bigger than that, thank God. Your life is not some incidental occurrence, or an accidental mutation, or a meaningless cause in a long string of meaningless effects.
Now, I admit, if we are nothing and we came from nothing and will return to nothing, then I suppose suicide makes some sort of sense. It returns the body to our natural state of nothingness. It brings us home into the abyss, where there is no self, no reason, no existence. But most people don’t think that. Most of us are not radical nihilists. Even Brittany Maynard is not, which is why she says she will die and go on to ‘whatever is next.’ She knows, deep down, that there is another dimension to this reality of ours, a deeper significance beneath the surface of everything. She knows, like I believe we all know, that we’re woven into the tapestry of creation — we play a role that we don’t fully understand, our decisions have ramifications that we can’t comprehend, and our lives have a meaning beyond whatever we find in it.
So if God reached out from the depths of eternity to hand us this life of ours, how can we think it acceptable — or worse, meritable — to throw it out before our time is finished?
Inevitably, that’s what this conversation comes down to. The old questions. The oldest questions. What is life? Why are we here? What’s the point of it all?
If you celebrate suicide, then you have answered these questions: life is nothingness, we are here for no reasons, and there is no point.
If you answer differently, then you must come to the conclusion that life has inherent value. That’s the concept that so many people struggle with nowadays. They scratch their heads and wonder why some of us kooky Christians get so upset about things like abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research. For some reason they won’t listen when we try to tell them: life has value. It is a thing of value. It is worth something. It is worth something beyond our feelings about it, beyond circumstance, beyond context, beyond sickness, beyond development, beyond age. LIFE HAS VALUE.
This isn’t just a Christian concept. It is the concept on which western civilization rests. Every noble ideal — justice, fairness, equity, compassion, charity — all of it, all of it, is grounded in the notion that life, human life, has intrinsic value. Not value according to its usefulness, or value according to convenience, or value according to how enjoyable it is. Value. Life is valuable because it is life. If you deny this, then you deny everything. There is no reason for justice, fairness, equity, compassion, or charity if human life has no value, or merely a value contingent upon whatever parameters we’ve arbitrarily assigned. There can be no justification even for your ‘human rights’ if we are all commodities whose stocks fall or rise like something that can be bought, sold, and traded.
Walsh presents a compelling case. It’s also a dangerous one. He conflates two spheres of human concern, religion and public policy, which have no business interfering with each other.
Perhaps the most insightful piece of satire ever written was that line in Spaceballs where Dark Helmet taunts Lone Star during their climactic duel in the bowels of MegaMaid. “Evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.”
It came to mind as I considered analysis from Allahpundit regarding Senator Ted Cruz’s latest scheme to rally support around an impossible issue. You’ll recall last year’s pointless “defund strategy” that served only to fundraise and grow mailing lists. In a similarly quixotic move, Cruz now seeks a constitutional amendment to “defend marriage,” in spite of the fact that nothing of the kind could possibly get passed or be ratified.
But that’s beside the point of this post. What I found most instructive in Allahpundit’s piece was this blurb about the strategic mindset of the Left:
In practice, of course, the amendment is going nowhere: Democratic legislators in Congress and at the state level aren’t going to jeopardize the judicial momentum towards legalized gay marriage, even if Cruz’s idea would put more power in their own hands. (Look how many liberals in Congress are happy to let Obama grab legislative power in the name of enacting a policy they like.) Lefties are highly results-oriented on this issue and right now they’re getting the result they want. They won’t mess with that, especially if it means endorsing an idea proposed by Ted Cruz.
In a nutshell, that’s why the Left always wins. They don’t care about the means. They don’t care about the process. They only care about the results.
There’s a lesson in that for Republicans and the broader potential coalition of folks who believe in the Constitution. While the ends may not always justify the means, we need to learn to be more strategic in our approach to both electoral politics and the craft of governing. Of particular relevance during this election season is the effect of third-party candidates and wedge issues on the Right.
Every time I stoop down to take a sip from a water fountain, I marvel at how far the human race has come. Something as simple as getting a quick drink of water, which we in the first world take wholly for granted, would have occupied a significant portion of a person’s day just a handful of decades ago.
Think of it. Imagine what life would be like without indoor plumbing and modern methods of water distribution. What if you had to go out and find a natural source of water to sustain yourself and your family? How different would your life look? It’s humbling to consider.
With that in mind, imagine if someone had argued at the dawn of indoor plumbing that one out of every three jobs would be lost to the scary new technological development. How would you respond? Knowing what we all do now, we would regard the claim as ludicrous. After all, what kind of jobs would we be talking about? Digging wells? Schlepping buckets back from the nearest river? Who would want to do that when you could simply turn a facet in your home and let the life-giving bounty flow? Think of all the time saved by not having to seek water, the other things we’re able to do, the quality of life we’re able to enjoy.
We should keep that in mind when regarding claims like those coming out of Gartner’s Symposium/ITxpo this week. Computer World reports:
Smart machines are an emerging “super class” of technologies that perform a wide variety of work, both the physical and the intellectual kind, said [Peter Sondergaard, Gartner's research director]. Machines, for instance, have been grading multiple choice for years, but now they are grading essays and unstructured text.
This cognitive capability in software will extend to other areas, including financial analysis, medical diagnostics and data analytic jobs of all sorts, says Gartner.
“Knowledge work will be automated,” said Sondergaard, as will physical jobs with the arrival of smart robots.
“Gartner predicts one in three jobs will be converted to software, robots and smart machines by 2025,” said Sondergaard. “New digital businesses require less labor; machines will be make sense of data faster than humans can.”
Even if Gartner’s prediction pans out, and one out of three current jobs is soon lost to the rise of intelligent machines, that does not mean life will soon get worse for humankind. On the contrary, to the extent work can continue to be automated by computers and robots, the cost of production will drop, and the ability of humans to pursue more meaningful work will increase.
New jobs will emerge which we lack the context to imagine. Someone working in the 1890’s could hardly envision a functioning world without blacksmiths, to say nothing of comprehending information technology. Yet here we are, enjoying a quality of life far in excess of theirs.
The whole notion of children growing up to be whoever they want to be, and to do whatever they want to do, is recent to civilization. It wasn’t that long ago that your occupation, indeed your entire life’s path, was dictated by the fundamental requirements survival. Advancements in automation will only broaden the horizons of future generations.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 15:12 minutes long; 14.66 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)