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.)
All other things being equal, if you were to hear of a grown man cussing out a little old lady, you would most likely sympathize with the latter. In this case, however, you may find yourself more sympathetic toward the man. The Blaze summarizes the scene:
A furious Oklahoma City man was caught on video confronting an elderly panhandler after he apparently saw her get into a “2013 car” after previously seeing her begging for money in the street.
The profanity laced tirade conveys the man’s frustration at having been swindled out of a few dollars a day for an unspecified period of time. He even claims to have gone without food himself for the sake of the panhandling elder woman.
The man takes his objection too far, threatening to bust out a window on the woman’s vehicle if ever he sees it again. He probably could have dispensed with the language as well. But the frustration motivating him certainly seems justified.
The scenario provides a good case study for marking the difference between charity and altruism. Typically, we regard those as one and the same. However, an important distinction separates them, namely choice.
In raising his objection to the panhandler’s circumstances, this man utilizes his judgment as to whether she proves worthy of his charity. Altruism, by contrast, demands tribute to others regardless, and even in spite of judgment.
In our political discourse, advocates of the welfare state commonly assert that charity proves inadequate to provide for all those in need. The knee-jerk response may be to deny this. But when we take a cold hard look at the reality, charity is inadequate to provide for everyone in need. The relevant question becomes: so what? By what moral principle does someone’s need place a claim upon another’s life?
The actual means to provide for need is not charity, but productivity. The elderly woman may be hungry, even at the wheel of her 2013 automobile. That need can only be satisfied by productivity, whether hers or someone else’s. Altruism calls upon those with the ability to help her, whether they judge her worthy or not.
In short, you can be charitable or altruistic, but not both. Those who advocate altruism do so through the state, because the state removes individual judgment from consideration. It’s because this man was charitable that he gets to choose whether to continue giving. If the lady were getting his money through the state, he would have no choice, a condition altruists regard as a virtue.
Note: See video of the confrontation, along with some additional thoughts on altruism and my podcast commentary, on the next page.
On the Fox News program “The Five,” left-wing contributor Bob Beckel got a little heated in an exchange with his fellow panelists when Dana Perino and Andrea Tantaros asserted that President Barack Obama has “intentionally” prioritized political correctness above national security interests. Beckel was censored by the network, apparently swearing at his cohort in response to what he called “unbelievable” comments.
The episode coincides with news that outgoing United States Attorney General Eric Holder will soon announce changes to Department of Justice policy eliminating the national security exemption on a ban of racial and religious profiling. Holder’s decision comes almost immediately after the Council on American-Islamic Relations publicly called upon him to do so.
Is it hyperbole to suggest that Obama values political correctness above the safety of American citizens? It’s kind of like asking whether a drunk driver values getting home in his car over the lives of innocents on the road. No drunk ever gets behind the wheel thinking they’re about to kill someone. Rather, they minimize the threat that their intoxication poses. In a similar way, Obama may not intent for American citizens to be harmed by Islamic militants. But his administration clearly minimizes the objective relevance of racial and religious identity to the operations of groups like ISIS.
Co-host Greg Gutfeld puts it this way:
[Obama] has actually expressed a desire to quell this hypothesized backlash of Americans against any kind of threat to us. He’s always been concerned with Islamophobia. So the idea that [political correctness] trumps safety – he would almost agree with it, because that’s his belief. He believes that there’s an American potential for backlash, and that might affect our appeal worldwide. That’s what he’s worried about… I’m not saying that he’s not interested in our safety. But he is more interested – his priority has always been about our reactions to an external threat as opposed to the external threats [themselves].
Obama sees a greater evil in the minds of Americans than in the deeds of Islamic totalitarians. That’s clear from the conduct and posture of his administration.
Note: Watch video of Bob Beckel’s breakdown, along with my expanded podcast commentary, on the next page.
Race seems to be a major theme of the moment. The events in Ferguson, Missouri have brought race relations to the surface of the political and cultural discourse.
Now, among his final acts as outgoing Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder stands poised to expand a ban on racial and religious profiling in federal investigations, eliminating a national security exemption. The news hits immediately after the Council on American-Islamic Relations called upon Holder to do so. Fox News reports:
The expected ban comes amid heightened concerns of Islamic militant groups executing a terror attack on U.S. soil and was reportedly opposed by national security officials.
A Justice Department official told Fox News on Monday that outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder will announce the policy change in the coming weeks and that it will also put an end to profiling based on ethnicity and sexual orientation.
Holder intended to announce the policy change several months ago, but the White House ordered a last-minute hold so the Department of Homeland Security could review the national security implications, a congressional aide told The Los Angeles Times, which on Saturday first reported the story.
Either the DHS review concluded that policy change would make sense in the midst of an ongoing investigation into the beheading of a woman in Oklahoma by an apparent Islamic militant, or the administration doesn’t care what its national security experts think. Either way, the feds stand set to consider white Catholic nuns as no less likely to commit acts of terrorism than Arab Muslim totalitarians.
The practice of profiling bears an unfair negative connotation. Profiling has been an integral part of law enforcement and national security operations for as long as such endeavors have existed, and for good reason. When a crime is committed, investigators could proceed randomly. Or they could proceed based upon the trends evident in past cases. The latter method does not model an irrational prejudice.
Factors such as race and religion may prove critical to an investigation. The Fox News article cites “the monitoring of some religious groups and surveillance on mosques without evidence of suspected criminal activity” as being of particular concern to Holder and the DOJ. But what if criminal activity proves part and parcel of your religious beliefs? If you adhere to a religion which preaches the killing of non-believers, doesn’t that make you suspect in and of itself?
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 10:43 minutes long; 10.36 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
Evoking the shooting death of Michael Brown and the subsequent unrest in Ferguson, President Barack Obama focused on the intersection of race relations and law enforcement at a Sunday awards dinner hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Fox News reports:
Obama addressed the matter carefully but firmly, saying the young man’s death and the raw emotion that sprang from it had reawakened the country to the fact that “a gulf of mistrust” exists between local residents and law enforcement in too many communities.
“Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement — guilty of walking while black or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness,” he said.
He said significant racial disparities remain in the enforcement of law, from drug sentencing to applying the death penalty, and that a majority of Americans think the justice system treats people of different races unequally.
Real leadership on this issue would call for progress on two fronts. First, we should promote objective analysis of these perceived disparities. Far too often, raw statistics are cited as prima facie evidence of institutional bias without regard for case-by-case context or mitigating factors. The Ferguson case stands out as an instance where the community’s prejudice against the police fueled demands for “action” without due process. When we presume that a cop must be a racist, we prove no less prejudicial than when assuming a black man must be a criminal.
The second area where much progress remains to be made is the law itself. We need to take a hard long look at the drug war in particular. Why do we continue to pursue a legal crusade against acts which do not violate individual rights? We have the historical example of alcohol prohibition, which demonstrates the fiscal and cultural folly of criminalizing stupid behavior.
If the laws we commissioned officers to enforce dealt only with violations of rights, that would go a long way toward restoring trust, since all would know that police are there to protect us instead of bust us.
Note: More thoughts on the drug war and racial disparities in law enforcement on the next page.
Be careful. Associating voluntarily with others and pooling resources to express your political views could get you sent to prison. That’s the reality of campaign finance law, though it’s rarely articulated so plainly. The Blaze reports on the sentence just received by the director of America: Imagine the World Without Her, Dinesh D’Souza:
Conservative author and Obama critic Dinesh D’Souza has been sentenced to eight months in a community confinement center, five years probation, one day of community service a week during that probation and ordered to pay $30,000 for breaking campaign finance law during the 2012 election.
D’Souza pleaded guilty in May to charges he arranged for straw donors to contribute to New York Republican Wendy Long’s failed U.S. Senate bid.
“It was a crazy idea, it was a bad idea,” D’Souza told Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan before sentencing, according to Reuters. “I regret breaking the law.”
D’Souza’s contrite posture proved successful in avoiding prison time, but disappoints in so far as it lends legitimacy to the rights-violating travesty of campaign finance law. The moment could have been leveraged as an effective exercise in civil disobedience.
Though a tactic typically associated with the political left, acts of civil disobedience retain some virtue. When a law proves inherently unjust, disobeying it can serve a worthy purpose in protest. It worked for Martin Luther King and other practitioners during the civil rights movement, though it does come with the consequence of legal penalties.
The choice to engage in civil disobedience proves as personal as any, as the consequences to one’s future must be weighed against other values. For that reason, no one may rightly say that another should break the law in protest. That said, it would have been encouraging to see D’Souza challenge the moral legitimacy of the law he confessed to breaking.
What country would you think was being described if it were said that, as its resident, you could not lawfully join with neighbors in expressing your political views with all the resources at your disposal? Soviet Russia? Communist China? Castro’s Cuba or the statist nightmare of Venezuela? As it turns out, that description fits these United States. It’s a travesty of justice which needs to be put right.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 12:09 minutes long; 11.74 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
In what appears to be a strategy to broaden his appeal beyond libertarians to more traditional Republicans, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is promoting a provocative approach to ending legalized abortion. The Blaze reports:
[Paul] is raising money for an anti-abortion organization that plans to push his plan to end abortion without the need of overturning a Supreme Court decision or a constitutional amendment.
Instead, Paul is arguing for using the words of the Constitution and the very language from the Roe v. Wade decision.
… If passed, Paul’s bill would define the unborn as persons protected by the 14th Amendment at the federal level.
Paul argues that the Roe ruling itself opens the door for legislative action if law recognizes the unborn as people, thus protected by the Constitution, because even the ruling did not create the right to an abortion.
Taking into consideration language from the Roe v. Wade ruling which indicates that a future determination of personhood beginning at conception would extend constitutional protection to the unborn, the introduced Life at Conception Act would reinvigorate the several states with the ability to police abortion. The bill would not create a federal prohibition, and explicitly states that “nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child.”
If passed into law, the Life at Conception Act would effectively neutralize the Roe v. Wade decision without overturning it. Pro-life states would presumably rush to secure new protections for the unborn, inviting a fresh cycle of lawsuits which would inevitably percolate up to the Supreme Court.
That’s where the real drama would unfold. How would the Court rule on a challenge to new state prohibitions on abortion in light of the precedent it set in Roe v. Wade? As Paul sees it, that precedent would ironically support those prohibitions under his new law? To restore abortion on demand, the Court would have to invent some new interpretation.
Of course, inventing interpretations is something the Court does very well, as evidenced by the Roe v. Wade ruling itself. In it, the Court discovered a “right to privacy” which had never previously existed. So the whole exercise might prove futile, depending on the Court’s fickle mood.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 14:07 minutes long; 13.61 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
My social media feed has lit up with cyber-angst and the digital rending of robes in response to comments made by Ann Coulter in her most recent column. “Ann Coulter Wants to Drown Libertarian Voters” reads the headline over at Before It’s News. “Ann Coulter just told libertarian voters that she wants to drown them,” echos the libertarian publication Rare. Reason piles on as well. Even some lefty publications have jumped on the bandwagon.
The problem with these headlines, and some of the writing which follows them, is the attention they deflect from the vital point she made. If you take time to soberly read Coulter’s column, it becomes clear her comments were benign and even in libertarians’ best interest. She wasn’t addressing libertarians as such, but voters who throw their vote away on third party candidates. The relevant excerpt:
The biggest current danger for Republicans is that idiots will vote for Libertarian candidates in do-or-die Senate elections, including Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Colorado. (That’s in addition to the “Independent” in Kansas who’s a Democrat.) Democratic candidates don’t have to put up with this crap — they’re even trying to dump the official Democrat in Kansas to give the stealth Democrat a better shot.
When we’re all dying from lack of health care across the United States of Mexico, we’ll be deeply impressed with your integrity, libertarians.
Which brings me to my final assignment this week: If you are considering voting for the Libertarian candidate in any Senate election, please send me your name and address so I can track you down and drown you.
I won’t waste time defending Coulter’s rhetorical choices. Suffice it to say, she’s read widely due in large part to her antagonistic style. But when you push past that to the substance of her argument, where is she wrong?
Indeed, a few cycles back, the Democrats did a fair job of browbeating their third party competitors into towing the line for the sake of “the greater good.” Remember Michael Moore and Bill Maher getting on their knees to beg Ralph Nader not to run for president in 2004?
On the next page, you’ll find the most cogent analysis of what fueled the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and why we now find ourselves facing a new iteration of the same enemy. Elan Journo, fellow and director of policy research at the Ayn Rand Institute, talks with interviewer Steve Simpson about the confused foreign policy which has led to the longest war in American history.
Journo begins by accurately identifying the enemy, an essential prerequisite to engaging and defeating them. He tells Simpson:
ISIS originated as one of the insurgent groups in Iraq. And they, like a lot of the insurgent groups – the ones that survived were the ones that were better at killing Americans and better at doing savagery. They went into Syria and they became stronger. They are basically now marching to the beat of the Islamist goal, which is to create a regime based on Allah’s laws on Earth, which is what the Taliban did, which is what the Iranians see themselves as doing. So, in that sense, [ISIS is] not unique. They’re basically part of the same enemy.
Indeed, in failing to accurately identify and destroy the enemy which attacked us on 9/11, we merely “scattered them,” as Journo puts it. That’s why we find ourselves facing ISIS today.
The question becomes: why have we failed? How has the most powerful military force on Earth been unable to defeat the relatively ragtag practitioners of Islamic totalitarianism? Journo attributes the failure to our self-crippling morality:
The conventional morality that people take for granted is that you should be selfless.
Now, that sounds crazy in the context of war, because obviously – most people’s healthy reaction is, if [enemies] come after you, you have to defend yourself. [Most people] have self-respect enough to believe in that. But when push comes to shove, [most people] are conflicted, because a lot of people accept the ideas of altruism, of self-sacrifice as a moral idea. Now, put that [idea of altruism] in the context of trying to defend yourself. In fact, that is the doctrine that colors the [conventional] views of how to conduct war…
So take Iraq. The goal there was not to eliminate whatever threat Saddam Hussein posed… It was to rebuild Iraq so that the Iraqis would be lifted out of poverty and would get elections and so-called freedom. That was to serve the Iraqis. That did not serve American interests. Our interests are served by eliminating those who want to kill us.
… People don’t realize that the rules under which the [American] soldiers operate are so restrictive that sometimes they cannot defend themselves, let along eliminate the threat. And so, we put our soldiers in harm’s way. We tie their hands. And then we’re surprised that there’s an insurgency that grows fiercer and more bold, and that Iraq is a mess. Well, you have to look at the ideas that shape the policy.
Since World War II, the West has pursued a policy of restraint in the face of aggression, fueled by various altruistic notions. One of those notions is that we need to free populations under oppression and teach them the virtues of democracy.
That, in essence, was the Bush doctrine. It proceeds from the presumption that, given the opportunity to vote in free and fair elections, people will elect a state dedicated to liberty and justice. Journo swats that presumption down with ease:
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a small-scale version of the West versus the Islamist movement… Under the Bush doctrine of bring democracy all over the place, the Palestinian territories were subject to that. The Bush administration pushed for Hamas to be allowed to run in elections. And Hamas in fact won by a significant margin, enough for it to be unequivocal. And it was a free and fair election… So, in effect, the Bush doctrine here is illustrated in its failure, in ushering Islamists [our enemies] into power.
Simpson responds, “So much for the wonders of democracy.” Indeed, democracy provides only that a voting majority gets their way. It does not ensure that the way they pick will be just.
Check out the whole video, plus my podcast commentary, on the next page.
“Saratoga Springs is not Ferguson.” That from Randall K. Edwards, lawyer to the family of Darrien Hunt, a 22-year old black man killed by white police officers last week in the town south of Salt Lake City. Hunt’s mother told media on Monday that her son was killed “because he was black,” a claim which fans embers of protest surrounding the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The two cases bear stark contrasts, despite their thematic similarity. As Edwards points out, the population of Saratoga Springs differs from Ferguson in its racial composition. That may contribute to the relative lack of protest surrounding Hunt’s death. Another contrast, the Hunt family’s claim holds more weight in light of developing evidence. The New York Times reports:
According to [Edwards], the family paid for an autopsy that found that Mr. Hunt had suffered six bullet wounds — two to a leg, and one in a hand, an elbow, a shoulder and mid-chest. All of the bullets entered Mr. Hunt’s body from the back, Mr. Edwards said. “It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile that with the reports that he was lunging at them,” he added.
Official autopsy findings from the Utah state medical examiner will not be available for several weeks. If it comports with these independent findings, the Utah County Attorney will have some explaining to do. The office’s current position is that Hunt wielded at 2.5 foot steel bladed samurai sword and lunged at the officers who shot him. But as Edwards points out, “…it seems unlikely that you brandish a sword, you jump toward the officers, lunging toward them and end up shot in the back.”
The Hunt family claims the sword Darrien carried was a plastic toy. That’s a pretty dramatic deviation from the police claim. And even if Hunt carried a real sword, eyewitness accounts and a photograph taken by a bystander (shown above) indicate a relaxed interview. What led to the shooting, we just don’t know.
Fortunately, despite the family’s statements, no violent protest has broken out in Saratoga Springs to rival that seen in Ferguson. The community, while vocal and understandably impatient, seems content to let the system work.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 10:53 minutes long; 10.51 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
As you may have read, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had this to say when Bill Maher asked about the prospect of Republicans retaking the Senate in November:
It would be very important for the Democrats to retain control of the Senate. Civilization as we know it today would be in jeopardy if Republicans win the Senate.
Building the ever expanding case against Pelosi’s sanity, this comment also raises some relevant questions regarding the effect of public policy upon civilization. First, we must understand what civilization is, and what distinguishes it from the wild. Then we must ask what conditions are required for civilization to exist.
The word “civilization” holds a variety of definitions when used in different contexts. It could mean little more than a community of people living together in one place, or could imply a high level of sophisticated culture.
Certainly, civilization stands apart from the wild in offering some level of protection. Living in the wild means enduring the constant threat of attack from predatory animals or hostile human beings. At its most basic level, civilization provides some barrier, if even just a wall or a herd, to protect against those threats.
Since the Enlightenment, we should infuse our definition of civilization with the recognition and protection of individual rights. After all, it’s possible to live behind the walls of a city or under the “protection” of a king who feeds off your life and labor. The wild proves preferable to oppression in most contexts. By that standard, a country like the United States represents civilization, while a nation engaged in oppression, negligence, or corruption proves uncivilized.
So if we’re going to play the game of which major political party most threatens civilization, it seems clear that Pelosi and her Democrat cohort deserve the most scrutiny. Just consider what the Senate majority is focused on at this very moment. They’re pursuing student loan refinancing, a euphemism for redistribution of wealth, placing a great burden upon taxpayers. They’re pursuing campaign finance reform, undermining the freedoms of speech and association. Meanwhile, they’re ignoring the threat posed by ISIS, refusing to take up legislation to revoke passports from known ISIS collaborators. In other words, rather than protecting citizens from rights violations, they’re engaging in them.
Taking the floor of the Senate to debate a proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz laid out an ironic case. The amendment, which would effectively overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, has been championed by Democrat Senator Al Franken. The junior senator from Minnesota, who faces his first attempt at re-election this year, built his name working as a comic performer on Saturday Night Live. Yet, if Franken’s proposed constitutional amendment enabling arbitrary limitations upon corporate speech were to be ratified, SNL’s political satire – a staple of the program for decades – could potentially become illegal.
Cruz goes on to compare the proposed speech limitations to the banning of books, stating that “advocates of government power, statists, have long favored silencing the citizenry.” It shouldn’t surprise us then, Cruz argues, that “the party of government power over every aspect of our lives would take [that idea] to the final conclusion of giving government the power to silence political speech and to [effectively] ban books.”
Cruz strikes the right tone with his incisive remarks. Indeed, the intended effect of Franken’s proposed amendment is the restriction of both speech and association, sacred freedoms protected by the First Amendment. “Money isn’t speech,” the argument goes, a strawman which imagines that someone somewhere thinks cash is literally a statement. Yet, the effect of restricting campaign spending is unquestionably restricting speech.
In his advocacy for the amendment, Senator Franken likes to wield anti-corporate rhetoric, as if corporations are alien invaders from another planet rather than the collective agency of several individuals exercising their rights as human beings. Like the “money isn’t speech” strawman, we constantly here some variation upon “I’ll believe a corporation is a person when Texas executes one.” Yet, not one person anywhere has ever claimed that a corporation is a literal natural person. Instead, the claim of corporate personhood has always been that, as a product of voluntary contractual agreement between individuals with rights, corporations ought to be regarded as persons under the law. But hey, when you’re out to “ban books” as Cruz puts it, you’re probably not going to let little facts like that get in the way of an effective piece of fraudulent rhetoric.
Check out the video on the next page.
Local government may be too small to address its citizen’s problems. That’s the case made by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Tuesday’s All In. Hayes opened his commentary outlining perceived flaws with local government:
You hear it over and over again from politicians, particularly on the Right. “Big government is bad. Small, local government is good…”
But there’s no smaller government more closer to its citizens than local municipal government. In Ferguson, we saw that the reality of “small government” is often very different from the reality of it. We saw a local government that was not accountable to its residents and was simply not equipped to deal with the problems inside its municipal borders.
Part of that has to do with accountability. In last year’s municipal elections in Ferguson, just over 12% of eligible voters cast ballots, and just 6% of African-American residents voted. Ferguson is not unique in that respect. Turn out in local elections is famously low, and accountability is often hard to come by – part of the reason why Jonathan Chait wrote in New York Magazine, “The myth of localism is rooted deep in our political psyche. Left and Right alike use ‘small’ and ‘local’ as terms of approbation, ‘big’ and ‘bureaucratic’ as terms of abuse. None of us is equipped to see that the government that actually oppresses us is that which is closest to us.”
The discussion which followed with guest contributor Brian Murphy expounded on these points, arguing that local government proves inadequate to serve citizens. The heavily implied position which Hayes and Murphy advocate is that these perceived local inadequacies argue for more power to higher levels of government.
Of course, there’s quite a few unspoken premises upon which that case is built. Before you can judge government’s adequacy, you must first grasp its purpose. The debate over the “size” of government often misses that point. The real issue is government’s proper role, not its size. Indeed, the role of government should dictate its size in any given context.
Do you want a small police force, or an effective one? Do you want a small military, or a strong one? Do you want smaller, fewer court rooms, or as many as necessary to handle your district’s case load?
If you believe government exists to protect individual rights and administer equal justice under the law, then you want a police force that protects you from criminals, a military that protects you from foreign aggressors, and a court system for enforcing contracts and resolving disputes. You want those institutions “big” enough to work, not “small” for the sake of smallness. If you’re Chris Hayes, on the other hand, your intrusive vision for government can’t be so easily satiated.
It’s odd to cite low voter turnout as evidence of poor accountability in local government. It’s not as though people aren’t allowed to vote, and thus incapable of holding their local officials accountable. Rather, eligible voters choose not to participate.
Perhaps a key reason for low interest in local elections is the relative impotence of local government. In my suburban city outside the Twin Cites, our school district receives the lowest allocation of per pupil funding of any district in the state. Yet, neither our city council nor our school board have any control over that whatsoever. If you want to increase interest in local elections, return true autonomy to local governments.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 13:44 minutes long; 13.26 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
Update (1:15pm PST) – Lawyer and political activist Harry Niska points out that the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, along with their fellow religious organizations signed to the friend-of-the-court brief referenced below, have petitioned the Court to remand the issue of marriage to the states, not to impose their own definition of marriage nationally.
In his book Power Divided Is Power Checked: The Argument for States’ Rights, former talk radio host and political commentator Jason Lewis lays out a compelling case for restoring the Founders’ intended federalism. He notes that what began as a “layer cake,” with clearly defined jurisdictions and powers, has been slowly muddled into a “marble cake,” where local, state, and federal levels intertwine incestuously.
Much has been made in recent years of the polarization of American politics. It seems as though partisans and ideologues across the political spectrum have become less tolerant and more vitriolic. Lewis points out the likely reason for this. As the government of the United States becomes less federal and more national, the stakes of political contests escalate. As the stakes escalate, so does the tension as all stakeholders have more to gain (and to lose) with each successive election, legislative session, or court case.
The solution, according to Lewis, is decentralizing authority and returning powers to the states. That way, if you lose your issue in a given state and feel particularly sore about it, you can move to another state. Additionally, states can compete with each other for the most attractive political and economic environment.
One major obstacle to pursuing this solution is the tendency on both ends of the political spectrum to seek one-size-fits-all national dictates of any given policy. Fox News brings us a timely example:
The Mormon church and four other religious organizations are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and settle once and for all the question of whether states can outlaw gay marriage.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a statement Friday, said it joined a friend-of-the-court brief asking the high court to hear Utah’s marriage case.
“The time has come to end the divisive national debate as to whether the Constitution mandates same-sex marriage,” the brief states.
Multiple organizations and governmental entities on both sides of the debate have filed similar briefs asking the court to take up the issue.
Whatever your position on an issue like gay marriage, you should be far more concerned with the fact that nine individuals retain the power to dictate the legal definition of a social institution for over 300 million. That obscene power, embodied to a slightly more defuse degree in the Congress and a slightly more unilateral degree in the executive, attracts those who would wield it against their enemies. Like the One Ring, no one ought to bear it for long, and it ultimately should be destroyed.
Instead of asking the Supreme Court to “settle gay marriage” as if they properly may, groups on both sides of the issue ought to be calling for the division and separation of powers so that Americans may then choose under which laws to live, by voting with their feet.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 11:47 minutes long; 11.38 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
It’s fair to bet that the contemporaries of Leonardo da Vinci had little sense of how enduring his life and work would become. Da Vinci’s friends, neighbors, colleagues, and critics may have recognized him as important in some regard. But how could they know the extent to which his name would resonate through the centuries? Surely there were many in his time thought to be more noteworthy. We tend to be nearsighted when it comes to our recognition of profound achievement.
In light of that, I believe that we today live too close to Ayn Rand to fully appreciate what she accomplished. Her ideas were so radical, so deviant from the widely accepted norm, that we cannot easily digest them without reassessing many of the premises we typically take for granted.
My first meaningful exposure to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, known as Objectivism, occurred in 2010 when I attend a lecture by Objective Standard editor Craig Biddle at the University of Minnesota. The talk was provocatively entitled “Capitalism: The Only Moral Social System.” It was meant primarily for students, but I attended out of piqued curiosity. As a professing conservative, I had always felt that my views were morally defensible despite mainstream assertions to the contrary, but lacked a firm grasp upon how to defend them.
Biddle’s presentation was brutal in its deconstruction of popular morality, and laid out an alternative based upon objective consideration of reality. Among the radical assertions was a case that altruism is wrong and selfishness is good. I stood flabbergasted, as you may now. Coupled with a rebuke of religion, these ideas were so far outside the scope of my accepted worldview that I rejected them outright. I even took to my blog at the time to refute Biddle’s claims.
In the years since, after taking the time to study and understand the philosophy which Biddle introduced me to, I have learned that my initial response was impotent. A prerequisite of disagreement is understanding, and I did not fully understand the philosophy of Ayn Rand after a forty minute lecture from Biddle.
PJTV contributors Andrew Klavan and Bill Whittle proceed under the same handicap when they criticize Rand in their most recent episode of Klavan and Whittle, embedded above. It’s tough to blame them for a clumsy handling of her ideas, because I’ve been there. Indeed, it’s fair to expect that the vast majority of people stand largely unequipped to handle Rand’s philosophy. It is so radically different from anything else before or since, and has yet to be widely taught and understood.
Speaking during a Labor Day event in Detroit, Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd of hundreds that union employees deserve a “fair share” of corporate profits. The notion goes, if companies earn more, so should their employees. From Fox News:
Biden spoke Monday on the grounds of the former Tiger Stadium ahead of organized labor’s annual parade Monday. He stuck with populist themes, criticizing corporate pay and companies that leave the U. S. for lower taxes.
He says workers don’t want a handout. Biden says, “Just give them a chance.”
Yet, a handout is precisely what Biden’s advocating for. By virtue of the fact that you work for someone, your success should track proportionally with theirs. Never mind the true value of a given contribution. If your boss gets richer, you should too.
Like so many attractive notions, it falls apart upon deeper examination. Realize that wages, salaries, and other forms of employee compensation are essentially prices. Like all prices, employee compensation needs to reflect the actual market value of the service being provided. To charge different prices to different buyers based on their individual income would negate the entire function of price.
You don’t have to be rich to appreciate this point. Imagine you go to the grocery store and pay $25 for a loaf of bread because you make more money than someone else who only has to pay $3. Such a system would collapse in short order. Yet that’s the kind of silliness dispensed by Vice President Joe Biden and lapped up by his allies on the political Left.
If companies earn greater profits in a free market, it’s because they produce greater value. To the extent individual employees contribute to that value, they will be compensated, as the countless examples of jobs paying higher than the minimum wage and earning raises demonstrate. But to simply mandate that people earn more when the company does, which is the implied policy Biden here advocates, would necessarily take from those producing extra value to give to those who aren’t. In other words, it is a handout. Worse yet, it would disincentivize value creation. Why work to build value if you can’t reap the rewards? Likewise, why work to build value if you’ll be rewarded regardless?
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 12:12 minutes long; 11.78 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
A state department in Oregon has denied a crucial permit to coal export company Ambre Energy. The permit would have enabled construction of a new barge dock to meet anticipated demand in Asia.
Environmental activists opposed to the project are doing their happy dance, once again celebrating the obstruction of industrial progress and – by extension – the furtherance of human life. Fox News reports:
Brett Vandenhuevel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, a river watchdog group that fought against the Ambre dock permit, said the project’s impact on air and water quality cannot be minimized, and that is why “the opposition was unprecedented,” with thousands of people attending the rancorous public hearings.
Concerns ranged from dirty coal spilling out of trains and onto the land and in the water, to the impact on the habitat and endangered species like native salmon. They warned of coal dust during transport, but also pollution and climate change, as a result of long-term fossil fuel burning.
“People really took a stand and said they don’t want to be a conduit for dirty coal,” said Vandenhuevel.
Of course, all that “dirty coal” translates to essential energy for the furtherance of human civilization. That might not mean much to a hand-wringing environmentalist in the Pacific Northwest. But it means a hell of a lot to developing nations in other parts of the world who strive to achieve a quality of life comparable to the West.
Therein lies the supreme irony of the environmental movement. While its activists tend to identify with the political Left, and thus pay lip service to wealth inequality and the plight of the poor, they also stand obstinately against development which provides direct opportunity for individuals the world over to advance.
But hey, salmon. Gotta save the salmon.
There’s also a disturbing air of pre-crime to Vandenhuevel’s comments which speak to the illegitimacy of so many governmental regulations. Coal might spill out of trains, so we should punish Ambre ahead of time by denying them the right to use their own property. If Ambre’s practices resulted in a true tort against an actual party, the matter could be resolved in court, where such matters belong.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 12:07 minutes long; 11.69 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
This November will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yet, many living among us today would eagerly help rebuild it. Take Fox News’ Howard Kurtz as an example. His Thursday rant against Burger King’s choice to move its corporate headquarters to Canada and benefit from lower taxes brims with Soviet-style angst over escaping slaves. He writes:
70 U.S. companies have engaged in similar maneuvers, known by the stupefyingly boring name of “inversions,” and the media have collectively yawned, relegating the debate to the inside business pages…
Why have journalists and commentators failed to bang the drum over this outrage?
Outrage? What’s so outrageous about people voting with their feet?
The difference between corporate tax inversions and immigration from East to West Berlin is a matter of degree. In either case, those moving have sought escape to freer pastures.
Like a good Soviet, Kurtz longs to erect a legal wall boxing people in. Because nothing conveys the prosperous effect of a nation’s policies like barring folks from leaving.
Despite his portrayal of an ambivalent media and impotent government, Kurtz should recognize that his tyrannical desire to herd people into oppressive jurisdictions retains plenty of support. It wasn’t that long ago that the National Labor Relations Board harassed Boeing for moving part of its operations to a right-to-work state. More recently, Walgreens succumbed to similar pressure applied by the Obama administration and chose not to proceed with a proposed inversion.
This should be remembered come November, when politicians and media figures feign reverent remembrance of the Berlin Wall’s collapse. Unless they fully support the freedom of association, including the freedom to vote with your feet against restrictive regulations or debilitating taxes, they have no business pretending they’re better than Soviets.
Recently, Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly clashed over the notion of “white privilege,” debating the root cause of statistical disparities between white and black Americans. The Blaze summarizes:
Among the facts Kelly shared is that black unemployment in Ferguson is three times what it is for whites and that a black child in the U.S. is four times more likely to live in a poor neighborhood than a white child.
While O’Reilly didn’t dismiss these figures, he said that “families, culture and personal responsibility” are the real issues at hand.
But Kelly didn’t agree that O’Reilly’s assessment addressed the full picture.
“It’s not just families or culture,” she said. ”Look at that stat about the black children four times as likely to live in poor neighborhoods as white children, and in the St. Louis area there is documented white flight … the whites take off, these become black neighborhoods. The schools they get forgotten and the black population feels forgotten, Bill.”
Whether Kelly intended it or not, she echoed a disturbing premise which carries demeaning paternalistic overtones. Consider, why should an exodus of white people leave blacks destitute? Are we not speaking of adults? Are we blacks not endowed with the same human capacity to conceive of values and pursue happiness? To speak of blacks as “forgotten” is to speak of us like children lost at the mall, wholly incapable of assuming responsibility for ourselves. In this way, “white privilege” seems to mean productive capacity, and those wielding the phrase seem to argue that blacks have none.
The other disturbing aspect of the “white privilege” conversation is an implicit attack upon the freedom of association. Whites moving out of a neighborhood commit an “injustice,” it’s said. How? What has been taken from me when you move from the house next door? What right of mine does a neighbor’s change of residence violate? Again, the argument seems to be that white people – by virtue of an implied superior natural endowment – hold a paternal responsibility to care for black people.
Indeed, the notion of “white privilege,” as propagated in the modern academy and throughout the media, stands as a vile remnant of past institutional racism. It implies black inferiority, while donning the guise of paternal concern.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 15:28 minutes long; 14.91 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
During a wide-ranging interview on the topic of Ferguson on The Midday Show on KFAB radio in Omaha, host Clint Bellows offered the following remarkable insight:
You know, Walter, back in the fifties, one of my favorite actors – Gregory Peck – played Atticus Finch in the film adaptation of Harper Lee’s great novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch defended Tom Robinson, an African-American man in the deep south who was accused of assaulting a lower-middle class white woman… of course, he was found guilty and he was sent to prison. Along the way, the officers that were holding him claimed that he tried to escape and they shot and killed him…
This [situation in Ferguson] is To Kill a Mockingbird in reverse, isn’t it? We’ve got a white police officer who has been found guilty in the court of public opinion, including the former attorney general and governor of the state who says the Brown family needs justice. What about this police officer’s situation? We don’t know what happened there, do we?
Indeed, the rush to prejudgment regarding the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson demonstrates precisely the same form of racially-fueled bias critiqued by Lee in her novel. Unchecked, such prejudice portends injustice. It should not matter whether the victim of such injustice is white or black. What should matter is the recognition and protection of each individual’s rights, regardless of their background.
As articulated in the interview, which you can listen to at the link below, the blatant politicization of a criminal justice incident should chill the blood of anyone concerned with the essential guarantees of due process and equality under the law. The adoption of a mob mentality by many in the mainstream media, and – worse yet – highly placed government officials like Attorney General Eric Holder, flies in the face of each institution’s purpose. Government and the press each exist to cut through bias, administrating blind justice and reporting objective fact respectively. When they fail to do so, they become no different then Tom Robinson’s racist persecutors.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 32:16 minutes long; 31.05 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
The formation and execution of foreign policy can be complicated. Yet, the principles which inform those tasks are not. Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson reports on the awkward relationship emerging between the United States and the Assad regime in Syria as both find a common enemy in the Islamic State (ISIS):
“The Obama administration can’t partner with Assad overtly at this time, but the logic and trajectory of White House policy in Syria leads in that direction,” Tony Badran, a research fellow specializing in Syria and Hezbollah at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Fox News. “White House policy in Syria is predicated on preserving so-called regime institutions.”
In public, the administration is not changing its position on Assad. And State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf disputed that the U.S. and Syrian governments share a common goal in defeating ISIS.
“I would strongly disagree with the notion that we are on the same page here,” Harf said on Monday, while later admitting to Fox News, “We may be looking at some of the same targets.”
We need not wring our hands with concern over whether action taken against ISIS in defense of American lives places us in alignment with Assad on certain objectives. Moral clarity can be found by recalling the proper role of our armed forces in defending American citizens. Anxiety over “helping” Assad by undercutting his opposition in ISIS seems based primarily on concern over the death of innocents in Syria. But if ISIS presents a threat to American citizens, then failure to neutralize the aggressive Islamic totalitarian horde potentially sacrifices Americans for the sake of Syrians. That’s not a trade our government may properly make.
The other way to potentially view this, if we conclude that Assad also presents a threat to America, is that fighting the enemy of an enemy does not necessarily make friends. Certainly, when we recall the inclusion of the Soviet Union in the Allied Forces rallied to defeat the Axis, we would not in retrospect claim that common purpose made us lasting friends.
Imagine, if you will, a young white unarmed man shot to death by police under ambiguous circumstances like those which have sparked riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Imagine that, in response to that white man’s death, white militia men, white Tea Partiers, and white professing Christians rallied to the town where it occurred. Imagine they began burning buildings, looting businesses, and defying measures by local law enforcement to maintain order. Then imagine that a charismatic political celebrity, say – Ted Nugent, showed up with an army of conservative activists leading a voter registration drive and said:
Five thousand new voters will transform the city from top to bottom…. Nobody can go to the White House until they stop by our house.… Elected officials don’t have to care about white citizens as long as they don’t fear us at the ballot box.
How would the media and the government respond? Would Attorney General Eric Holder be traveling to the town to personally oversee a civil rights investigation unprecedented in scope? Would reporters wring their hands, pleading for understanding?
It’s fair to guess that the rioters, along with any peaceful protestors, would be categorically labeled racists. Their political allies would be tarred and feathered with political ads and vitriolic media commentary. If the federal government responded at all, it would probably look more like Waco or Ruby Ridge than the restraint which has been shown in Ferguson.
In other words, we are witnessing evidence of a racial double-standard in America. But black people and others of color are not its victims. White people are, along with any of color (like myself) who dare to dissent from the mainstream consensus that historical injustice justifies modern rights violations.
The intervention of Holder in Ferguson stands particularly alarming, because he has demonstrated time and again a blanket disregard for justice wherever race is concerned. Let us not forget, this was the same attorney general who refused to prosecute members of the New Black Panther Party for blatant voter intimidation (standing right outside a polling place with clubs in hand) among other things, and in 2011 implied that white people cannot be the victims of racial injustice.
You want to have a conversation about race? Let’s have it, and let’s cut right to the chase. We are witnessing a regime of institutional racism in this country directed not against blacks, but whites. When the institutions of government and media stand eager to apply a double-standard to one group of people over another based upon skin color, what else do you call it?
Folks like Eric Holder, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and other agitators racing to forge political capital from the unrest in Ferguson have no interest whatsoever in equality under the law. Indeed, they have made it clear on several occasions that they advocate for and actively pursue a public policy which treats individuals differently based upon their racial identity and ethnic background. In a word, they seek injustice.
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 13:23 minutes long; 12.92 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)
In the above video from Reason.tv, protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, rationalize the looting and property destruction which has taken place in the wake of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police. Asked “Do you see a problem with the destruction of private property…,” one protestor stated unequivocally:
No. I believe that the only reason we have this attention is because of the looting and rioting.
Another expounds with a unique perspective:
I’m a business owner. So I understand both sides. Of course I wouldn’t want my – any of my businesses burned down, broken into. But without these businesses broken into, none of y’all would be out here, because that’s the only reason people tweeted. People Facebooked. People Instagramed. If it was just a peaceful – everybody get together – you know, “Justice for Mike Brown” and everybody leave, we wouldn’t have the national attention we have now, and it would be swept under the rug.
It’s an attitude toward violence which has been more overtly articulated by agitators on the political left. Consider this Salon article covering Occupy protests in Oakland back in 2011. Protest organizer Michael Spencer rationalized rioting in much the same way the above protesters have:
“Property damage is not violence,” said Spencer with a frown. “The reality was, no cops got hurt. It looks like more than it was. They were just burning shit in the street.”
Such is the quality of thought which manifests in riots like those seen in Ferguson. Whether Michael Brown’s killing was justified or not, the question will not be settled by stealing things, breaking stuff, or “burning shit in the street.” Indeed, any legitimate criticism of police conduct losses its impact when coupled with open disregard of justice as such.
So, sure, you might get more attention from looting than you otherwise would. But it does no favors for the cause.