Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Enemy Mine

 There are a variety of ways to make an enemy. Some folks excel at it, and could provide a nearly unending list of things you can do to make an enemy of someone, whether intentionally or not.

One of the less obvious ways to make an enemy, though, is to simply tell someone you're their enemy. Declaring that you represent a danger, a threat, a risk, an abomination, and need to be dealt with in the most serious, harshest manner possible is a tremendous way to instantly make you actually become an enemy, and perhaps become some of those things you've been accused of. 

In the end, shouting 'You're my enemy!!!' at someone is, reciprocally, shouting 'I'm YOUR enemy!!!', and needs to be considered in that light. And declaring someone-or, let's say, half a country-your enemy is a wonderful way to ensure they will become, and remain, your enemy.

One has to wonder what the strategy the current administration is using by slicing off about 50% of the country and declaring them 'an enemy' of not only them, their party and their views, but the future of the country as a whole. Some ideas present themselves, but all are at least disturbing, and some are terrifying:

  • The strategy is to message the administration's political base, and let them know there is now 'permission' to become as hateful and violent as 'necessary' to defeat their political opponents. We're back to 'declare your opponent Hitler and you can justify anything you do to them.'
  • The plan is to widen the political division in the country to the point that the hyperbolic, rancorous screeching that has replaced political debate can escalate further, driving us toward that messy divorce we certainly seem to be headed for.
  • There is a twisted hope that by declaring so many people who simply disagree with them as 'terrorists' or 'a threat to democracy', they'll find the few (there are always a few in any group) riding the shoulder of the road and push them over. Shouting 'you're a threat!!!' at some folks will potentially convince them that they are being attacked, slandered or otherwise threatened themselves. And someone who's under attack will either submit, or fight. Could the administration really be trying to provoke an act that would, circularly, work to prove their point? Horrifying, but I'm no longer able to discount this level of Machiavellian machination from the current administration, something that's horrifying itself on a whole different level.
So who is the enemy of whom? If it used to be difficult to tell, it's certainly become easier; it's the person pointing at you and shouting, 'You're my enemy!!!!'

 


Saturday, August 20, 2022

The Disadvantage of Being a Libertarian in Today's Politics

 There isn't anyone who's turned on a television or checked out a news site in the last ten years who doesn't know today's America is strongly divided along party lines-party lines which are based on important philosophical differences. Many of these likely can never be resolved-gun freedom, abortion, forced language-as the opposing views don't simply differ, but diametrically oppose each other.

This presents problems and opportunities for folks with strong beliefs; political maneuvering, media content bias and other 'weapons' in this war of ideas are brought to bear with the intent of having your views carry the day. And more and more, it's become a dirty war, with no Geneva convention to put limitations on the actions of either side.

As disappointing as that is, it has another side effect; the further the national discourse strays from one of debate and rational discussion, and the closer it gets to outright lies, government coercion and misinformation, the more it favors the side who WANTS to control everyone else. The folks with a strong tendency to dictate how you should think, speak and act have a built-in advantage here over the folks who simply want government to leave them alone; the first is essentially playing 'offense', and the second is permanently playing defense. 

As John Steinbeck put it:

"This is the law. The purpose of fighting is to win. There is no possible victory in defense. The sword is more important than the shield, and skill is more important than either. The final weapon is the brain. All else is supplementary.“

A libertarian, if they're genuinely committed to the philosophy, has essentially NO desire to direct the actions of others. Not only do they want the government, the corporate conglomerates and society to leave them alone, they feel just as strongly they have no right to use any of those levers of power to control others. It is the closest political philosophy to 'live and let live' in America at this time, and that may well be their downfall; while the political left is constantly on the offense, pushing restrictions, changing norms and dictating which beliefs are acceptable and which are not, libertarians are restricted to simply resisting these attacks. They push back, and as Steinbeck taught us, pushing back is not a scheme for victory.

Those committed to freedom are unlikely to weaponize the government to crush their enemies, unlikely to burn a city to get their way; their predisposition to 'live and let live' seems like it could, ironically, lead to their destruction. 


Saturday, August 13, 2022

We Missed Our Chance

 It's looking more and more like our opportunity to have an amicable separation between the two opposing viewpoints in the country has passed, and we're doomed for something like a bitter, lawyer-strewn court battle with the kids in the middle. How did we get here?

Well, for one thing, we've managed to mainstream hyperbole into political discourse; if your opponents are 'literally Hitler', there isn't much you can't justify doing about them, or to them. Constant screaming about an existential crisis to 'our democracy' (or, less commonly, the more accurate 'our Republic') creates the urgency, the sense of imminent doom, that focuses folks more on the end than the means; and focusing on the end, rather than the means, is almost the perfect OPPOSITE of what a Republic is supposed to be.

One of the means that's become more popular (although it's certainly not new) is using the apparatus of government against your political rivals; rivals who, conveniently, you consider a 'threat to democracy' and thus worthy of any efforts, legal or not, to bring them to a non-threat. 

When you're living in the most prosperous, most free nation that's ever existed and yet loathe the very principles and philosophies that made that country possible, I'm not sure if there's any other rational outcome; you can't try to reach higher by cutting off your legs.

I suppose the most realistic hope now is that this messy, furious divorce happens in a courtroom, though finding a fair venue, jury and judge seems impossible; alternatives will be far, far worse. 

So that's what we're reduced to; pining hopefully that this will 'only' be a devastating, extraordinarily expensive and overtly hostile divorce. Not optimal. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

And....more.

 It feels good to look back and see that you were able to predict the future with at least a reasonable degree of accuracy, doesn't it? If that foretelling resulted in you buying Amazon stock at $4 or Apple at $20, you can justly feel that Nostradamus really wasn't all that, compared to your demonstrated precognitive abilities.

Of course, it's less fulfilling when what you foresaw was bad news, and you weren't only right, but grossly underestimated how quickly those bad things would happen. Foreseeing the iceberg an hour beforehand only works if you can turn the Titanic in that time, and we couldn't; or at least we didn't. 

"Once we roared like lions for liberty, and now we bleat like sheep for safety..." is a Norman Vincent Peale quote that seems particularly apt at this point in history, and it's ironic that the man who wrote 'The Power of Positive Thinking' should have so accurately captured the dire problems we find ourselves struggling with. And ultimately, I think this IS the fundamental issue in America; half of the country doesn't want to be told what to do, and the other half wants to tell them what to do.

Only it's not quite that simple, since the halves aren't clearly defined; there are 'conservatives' more than willing to use the apparatus of government to compel compliance with their beliefs, just as there are authoritarians on the left who want to force people to use words, particularly pronouns, that aren't based in objective reality, among other things. Essentially the fight for America is a fight between two (actually many, roughly divided into two) factions vying for access to the levers of power only to impose their will on the other side.

What few are saying is that the levers of power themselves are actually the root of the problem; the idea that compelling behavior, whether it be who can be called what, or what beliefs can be discussed publicly, or what people can do in their own homes, is fundamentally unAmerican. 

We are a country founded by those who left; we left authoritarian Britain, we've fled dictatorships around the world, we've fled societies that didn't offer opportunities, just to come here and prosper. We didn't build our greatness by dictating every aspect of people's lives, but by mostly getting out of their way and letting them get things done, but that's no longer the case. Want proof? The permits to open a restaurant in San Francisco run around $22,000; let that sink in. You're working to start a business, and before the government will 'allow' you to even begin, you need to hand over the price of new compact car. And the most damning part of all that? Outside of some quiet grumbling, there is no uproar; there is no rebellion. We've come to accept that the government is a drag upon every aspect of our financial lives, taxing our businesses, our wages, our savings, our purchases and even our deaths. The problem isn't really that the government is doing this; the problem is we're complacently allowing it.

"But what can you do? It's the way the rules are structured." Yes, yes it is; NOW. Keep voting for people who want control of your business, your lives and your future, and it will continue to be, and worse. Find the few people running for office who want to remove regulations, reduce the number of laws and reign in government power, and there just might-might-be a chance for a future that's more like what our founders envisioned; a country run by it's people, and to their benefit, not a nanny-state who believes it knows best what we should be doing, and controls us until we do it. 

Until we howl, rather than bleet, Americans will get the government they tolerate; and today, that seems more like a life with parental restrictions enabled by our government than real freedom. 

Separation, Divorce or Troubled Marriage?

 My dad and I were reminiscing the other day about family friends from when I was young. It was interesting to hear, as an adult, my dad's description of some of them and compare it to my childhood impressions.


For some of them, particularly the ones I recall from when I was very young, my impressions seemed to settle into (unsurprisingly) some simplistic themes; one of my dad's friends from that time I recall as being very tall (dad said he was about 6'4", so not exactly NBA fodder), and another as 'really cool.' It was interesting to hear more details about their family and work lives from an adult perspective ('very tall' was a truck mechanic, and 'really cool' went on to be a successful computer programmer, for instance.)


When I asked my dad about what these folks' politics were, though, he thought for a long moment; "I really don't know. It never really came up back then; we were just friends."


That started us talking about just when someone's politics became so central to their identity, and when it became something that was discussed so relentlessly that it was almost impossible to know someone and NOT know their politics. Was it when the 24 hour news cycle made grinding political discussion into a fine powder every day the norm? Was it when Nixon blackened the eye of Republicans so severely? We didn't manage to pin down a cause, or even a a rough date that the change took place, and could only agree that it had.


Reflecting on that, I began to wonder; are we simply too mature a country to be so innocent about politics ever again? And is that maturity the type of maturity that gets you a discount on your auto insurance, or the kind that gets you put into a home with someone to make sure you eat your pudding? 


Is it possible that in the nearly 250 years since our founding, we've managed to work through the peripheral issues of how to manage a country and dug down to the bedrock, fundamental questions of how we want to live? Is America in that stage of the final exam where, having answered all the questions we're sure about, we're now slowly working through the ones we're uncertain about, and spending time considering and weighing which answer is most likely correct? It seems to me that might be the case...


There aren't many issues more fundamental for government than protecting its citizenry from harm; government is, at its best, the oil in the gears of society, keeping the grinding and squeaking to a minimum, keeping friction from burning up the machine; a buffer between each of us and our neighbors who would harm us.


But what happens when we reach the point of having to decide which of us actually IS one of us; when we have to decide if a baby in a womb is the 'property' of the mother, to be disposed of at will, or an independent life, owed the protection of the state even against its own mother? We're down, with this one, to a core, fundamental question that can't, on this final exam, be left blank. Compromise between those who believe they are protecting a woman's fundamental right to control her own body (something which, in any other instance, is essentially as non-controversial as a political topic could be) and those who believe they are protecting an innocent child from murder seems impossible.


And that might be our issue, and eventually our undoing. As a society, we've solved many of the easy questions a country must face, and we're down to the real stumpers; the ones that seem a genuine toss-up, and which reading the textbook hasn't really provided an answer for. 


There's a reason most citizen-centric governments don't last, and why Benjamin Franklin, asked what kind of government the Constitutional Convention had decided upon, answered "A Republic, if you can keep it." That reason may well be that there are questions that simply cannot be agreed up, and which, in a country where every citizen has the duty to participate in the decision-making process about how we structure our society, cannot ever be resolved. Our country could be confronting those fundamental, unsolvable problems now, and their debate could be one that continues until it creates a rift so deep, and so profound, that it forces us to choose sides again, just as we did 150 or so years ago.


If that is the case-and I think it might well be-we'll again have to decide if America stays together for the kids, separates and lives apart in reasonable amiability, or goes through a nasty, potentially bloody, divorce. 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

So...I was right. Frighteningly, horribly right.

 We're now ten years on from my last posting, and some remarkable things have happened. 

1. Openly socialist candidates are running for, and often winning, national offices. 

2. There are people in Congress calling for changing or simply abandoning the Constitution.

3. Mainstream media is advocating for censorship in the guise of 'preventing disinformation.' 

I'm not sure how we got this far down along the road towards abject tyranny, but we have. I wish this were isolated to certain areas or demographics, but it's not; a whole cross-section of the populace is now 'bleeting like sheep for safety, rather than howling like wolves for liberty.'

There are some things that seem to be driving this, although it's certainly not possible to narrow them down to any real specifics. In general, though:

1. It seems our colleges have become centers for advocating for socialism and collectivism, while failing to teach personal responsibility and accountability. A huge variety of fields of study have grown up to support this, with names that seem largely derived more from social justice gibber-think than scholarship.

2. There is, especially among young people, a view that government isn't an obstacle to freedom and happiness, but the means to attain them. Rather than a monster that must be kept tightly leashed, it's now the first alternative solution to any manner of (real or perceived) problems; and this in spite of it's demonstrated, repeated inability to even cope with the basic governmental duties of keeping the roads in shape and protecting people from criminals.

3. There seems to be a strong current in major media to support the Socialist agenda. Driven by concern for clicks and ad revenue, hyperbole and speculation have supplanted journalism and information gathering and distribution. Every event is 'catastrophic', every disagreement a fight to the death. 

4. We now hear people refer to opponents as 'literally more dangerous than Hitler' and 'a danger to all life on the planet.' With rhetoric like that in play, the reasonable debate of different philosophical positions is no longer possible; rather than someone you disagree with, your opponent is now a James Bond villain. Cooperation or compromise becomes impossible, and both sides polarize harder toward the extremes.  

The truly disturbing part of all this is I don't see a way to actually *fix* any of it. The media continues to drive much of the national narrative on various topics, and the two sides are more and more insulated in echo chambers that reinforce their own beliefs. On the other hand, when one side is attempting the overt, stated deconstruction of America, I'm not sure how that could be avoided.

I think it's possible-maybe probable- that America has finally outlived the Constitutional Republic that once made us gloriously successful. It's a form of government that requires a moral, virtuous population, and more and more, we simply don't seem to deserve it. I'm scared, though, of the form of government we DO deserve; because it seems like very shortly, we're going to get it. 


Sunday, September 18, 2011

How Bad Can it Get?


While preparing a trip to England recently, I tried to research what would, and wouldn't, be legal in the former land of Churchill.
Guns, obviously, were out of the question. Britain has outlawed almost all firearms, even hunting oriented ones. They've started on replica guns and airsoft guns, too. They will, I'm sure, eventually ban the word 'gun', at which point they should have achieved complete and utter safety.

I was more interested in bringing a sensibly sized pocketknife; nothing huge or tactical, but simply a handy little knife for opening stuff. Nope-Britain has determined that ANY locking knife is an 'offensive weapon', and cannot be carried in public. (Seriously. They've even banned ADVERTISING a knife as a weapon...Holy jiminy.)

So I tried to find a pocket knife in the house that didn't lock. Couldn't do it. All the pocket knives I own lock, and for a simple reason; we discovered long ago that a knife that locks is less likely to close accidentally and hack your fingers off. They're-wait for it-safer than knives that don't lock.

So the poor Brits have surrendered their right to have a knife that won't close on their fingers because some bad guys used knives to hurt people. Presumably, their 'free' health care will cover reattaching their fingers, so I guess it's all fine.

I don't even know where to start. I could cite all the statistics that show British crime on the rise after they've banned darned near everything that could hurt someone, but don't really want to bother. It's just sad that the land of Churchill has somehow become the land of Chamberlain....

Saturday, November 27, 2010

When is Assault NOT Assault?

Why, when it's committed by a police officer. Here, take a look at this video of a Denver police officer grabbing, punching and body-dropping a man talking on his cell phone: Video Link

Now, stuff happens, and every profession has those that fall short. And among real professionals, there are times even the best fail to live up to the standards set for them. So seeing a police officer lose his temper isn't really earth-shaking.

What you might find just a little bit....well, terrifying, is that this officer was given three days off without pay for 'submitting an inaccurate report.' No, he's not in jail for his unlawful assault. He's not even on indefinite leave, while the department waits for the indignation to die down. He's back out on the streets of Denver, presumably ready to do that to someone else's kid at this very minute.

And despite the outrage of Denver's citizenry, despite the publicity that's been given to this, despite the actual police camera video that shows the officer committing an assault on a citizen, the decision, as of this date, stands.

The failing of an individual trusted to police us is sad. But the failing of the system designed to oversee and check that individual is another symptom of having crossed the line between government and oppression.

No logical person would argue that this is right. The citizenry's being unable to change it is proof that we're no longer a government 'of the people', as the people don't approve.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Anarchy?

Titling a blog "Government, Anarchy and Chaos" sounds fairly radical, doesn't it? And perhaps today it is.

But anarchy, or at least a social organization that leans much more heavily toward some of anarchy's basic principles, doesn't sound quite so different, quite so scary, when you look at what the word really means, rather than the shorthand assumptions often made about it.

One definition of anarchy is, "A social state in which there is no governing person or group of people, but each individual has absolute libery (without the implication of disorder)." (Wikipedia.)

A perfect example of this use of the word anarchy is, ironically, Wikipedia itself. Essentially unregulated 'from the top', but kept orderly and informative from the collective actions of an empowered user base, Wikipedia exemplifies what happens when you let people do something without getting in their way; to wit, it works.

And works pretty well, too. Various surveys of technical topics within Wikipedia continue to demonstrate that it generally offers information as, or more, accurate than dedicated journals and publications. In fact:

Because Wikipedia is open to anonymous and collaborative editing, assessments of its reliability usually include examinations of how quickly false or misleading information is removed. An early study conducted by IBM researchers in 2003—two years following Wikipedia's establishment—found that "vandalism is usually repaired extremely quickly — so quickly that most users will never see its effects"[1] and concluded that Wikipedia had "surprisingly effective self-healing capabilities".[2]
A notable early study in the journal Nature suggested that in 2005, Wikipedia scientific articles came close to the level of accuracy in Encyclopædia Britannica and had a similar rate of "serious errors".[3] This study was disputed by Encyclopædia Britannica.[4]
By 2010 reviewers in medical and scientific fields such as toxicology, cancer research and drug information reviewing Wikipedia against professional and peer reviewed sources found that Wikipedia's depth and coverage were of a very high standard, often comparable in coverage to physician databases and considerably better than well known reputable national media outlets. Wikipedia articles were cited as references in journals (614 cites in 2009) and as evidence in trademark and higher court rulings. However, omissions and readability sometimes remained an issue – the former at times due to public relations removal of adverse product information and a considerable concern for fields such as medicine.

Essentially, Wikipedia is a microcosm of an anarchist society; few rules, great freedom, mutual self-interest at the heart of chosen collective endeavors. It almost smells a bit like communism, until you realize that there is no 'uber-comrade' behind the curtain somewhere, and then you realize it's just about the exact opposite; a society without a powerful overseer.

We live today with a tacit acceptance of the fact that government and society are the foundation of what we've achieved, but think: does the 'government' actually make anything? Does it innovate, does it press forward into the future with vision and foresight? No, people do that. And people, when crushed into a society designed by bureaucrats and politicians, generally do it less well than when left to their own devices.




Friday, October 29, 2010

The Truth Is What We Say It Is

Recently the NSSF launched a new campaign to try and rebrand assault rifles "modern sporting rifles." As in past rebranding efforts--let us not forget "black rifles," "tactical rifles," and longstanding industry efforts to conflate assault weapons with standard semiautomatic firearms--the real-world use of assault weapons, from mass shootings to attacks on law enforcement, has a way of undermining the NSSF's efforts.
Josh Sugarman, at it again. If you don't know who Josh is, he's the man who kicked off using the term 'Assault Rifle' incorrectly when referring to semi-automatic, civilian firearms.

Now anyone with an internet connection, or even a relatively up-to-date firearms reference library, could tell you that an 'assault weapon' is defined as a weapon capable of full-auto or selective fire, and firing a round heavier than a pistol cartridge but lighter than a main battle rifle cartridge. Anyone, that is, except Josh Sugarman, the Executive Director of the mis-named 'Violence Prevention Center.' 

Josh is, perhaps, the world's most mis-informed man about guns, the way guns work, how guns are used and what they can, and cannot, do. Or perhaps he's not. After all, Josh says things that are so bizarrely inaccurate, one has to wonder if he's really that unwilling to check a few simple facts, or whether his misstatements are less innocent. After all, it's Josh we've got to thank for the media describing every rifle as either a 'high-powered rifle' or an 'assault weapon.' So maybe he's not quite so naively uninformed, but rather a modern day master of the simple proposition that if you repeat something untruthful often and long enough, it becomes fact.

We can use the quote above to illustrate this. We all know what an 'assault weapon' is, right? It's...well, it's got a grip on the stock. And maybe a flash hider, or a bayonet mounting lug. And it holds big magazines-and usually, it's black. So the NSSF is trying to 're-brand' what Josh likes to call assault weapons-in direct contradiction to what the world has called assault weapons for fifty years-as something else.

Which they are. Something else, that is. And for proof, look at the weapons sold during the 'Assault Weapons Ban.' Functionally identical to those sold before and after that ill-fated gun-grab attempt, they demonstrate that, stripped of its rhetoric and inflammatory value, 'assault weapon' really means 'fully auto light rifle', and all the convoluted attempts to define them otherwise are exposed as undefinable. Even with folks genuinely dedicated to taking your AR-15 away from you working hard at it, they never could quite tell anyone how an AR differed from any other semi-automatic rifle.

Of course, words have power, even when they don't really have meaning. Maybe that's why Josh's 'Violence Prevention Council' doesn't really want to prevent violence, but rather is focused solely on banning guns. Calling it 'The Gun Banning Council', while decidedly more accurate and truthful, wouldn't be so visceral. And Josh would rather you didn't think too much about that, because when you pay attention to ALL the words, as well as what they actually mean, Josh's arguments start to fall apart.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Governed or Oppressed? Part IV-Oppressing Ourselves

If there's one thing the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us, it's that an entrenched, determined foe is extraordinarily difficult to dislodge from their homeland. Inspired by one of the most basic of human desires, the desire to preserve one's home, people can become ultimate warriors, and masters of espionage and deception.

Of course, that's if the people preserve the spirit of independence, the strength of will, required to resist those who would overcome them. But what happens when a population becomes complacent, too lazy to suffer the risks and sacrifices needed to maintain their freedom?

A perfect example was provided recently by Marc Thiessen, writing for the Washington Post. If you'd rather not click through, I'll summarize; Thiessen wants the US government to commit an act of terrorism against the website Wikileaks, who's been embarrassing it for months now with the release of classified war documents.

Perhaps you consider 'an act of terrorism' too strong? Perhaps...so maybe I should just say that Thiessen proposes using military capabilities (in this case, cyber-capabilities) to accomplish what the government cannot accomplish through the courts. Essentially acting unilaterally against an enemy that can't legally be brought to bear, using the 'might' of the military to destroy them.

Wow, when you put it like that it sure SOUNDS like terrorism, doesn't it?

But it represents the views of a number of Americans, apparently. Those who feel that, lacking legal 'right', might should be used. Who feel that the government should crush something it disagrees with. Who feel the US military should work outside the legal framework of what is still, in theory, a nation of laws.

So we see that people are difficult to genuinely oppress in their homeland-until, perhaps, they start calling for their oppression themselves, and inviting the government to do it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Welcome to Our Future

As we prepare to swear in an extraordinarily young (in supreme court terms) justice to the court, there is one thing we know for certain about Elena Kagan: she's a lawyer, through and through.

How do we know that? Because she was asked one of the simplest, most straightforward questions it's possible to ask a human being, much less a supreme court justice, and her answer was utterly and completely meaningless. She has enough legal education swimming around in her head, apparently, that she can over-complicate and obfuscate anything.


Asked if the right to own a firearm for self defense  existed before the constitution was written:
Grassley: The court said in Heller, quote, “It has always been” — and I guess I would put emphasis upon the word “always” — “It’s always been widely understood that the Second Amendment, like the First and Fourth, codified a pre-existing right.” Do you believe that the Second Amendment codified a pre-existing right? Or was it a right created by the Constitution

Kagan: Senator Grassley, I’ve — I’ve never really considered that question, as to whether the Second Amendment right…
(Really-never gave it a thought? If not in all the constitutional law classes you've taken, all the classes you've taught, even all the prepping for these hearings, at least, you'd have think this came up ONCE, maybe. Right... )
Grassley: Well, it’s basic to our Declaration of Independence that says we’re endowed by our creator with certain — certain individual rights, among them, you know, what it says, and we aren’t endowed by our government. So the question here is, are we endowed by our Constitution with this right or did it exist before the Constitution existed?

Kagan: Well, Senator Grassley, I do think that my responsibility would be to apply the Constitution as understood and previously applied by the court, and that means as understood and — and interpreted by the court in Heller, and that’s what I would do. So I think that the — the fundamental legal question would be whether — that a case would present would be whether the Constitution guarantees an individual right to bear arms, and Heller held that it did, and that’s good precedent going forward.
 And there we have it folks; a question too simple to answer, apparently, when you have the education and background of a Harvard law school dean. A stupid non-lawyer like me would have just said, "Of course", or maybe, "Yes" and been done with it.

This is what we're putting in charge of our country-this woman will have an impact on our lives for the next 30 years, in all likelihood, and she doesn't want to admit that the right to own a firearm existed before it was written down on a paper. Presumably, she believes that about all the other 'rights' that the constitution apparently conferred, rather than acknowledged.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Law-Abiding Citizen? Maybe Not.

The expression 'law-abiding' or 'law-abiding citizen' has been in common use since 1859, at the least. It's often used as shorthand for a productive, non-criminal, tax paying member of the public.

But being a 'law-abiding citizen' is harder than you think. Current laws, regulatory agency rules and other restrictions with the force of law upon a citizen are profoundly, almost overwhelmingly, lengthy and complex. Let's look at some examples:

The federal tax code, formally known as 'Title 26' of the United States Code, is actually a complex of law, regulatory interpretation and addendums, all of which makes the task of estimating the total size of the tax code in itself a difficult proposition. That's right, it's hard to even find out how big it is. One U.S. Representative is on record as stating, "
"The income tax code and its associated regulations contain almost 5.6 million words -- seven times as many words as the Bible. Taxpayers now spend about 5.4 billion hours a year trying to comply with 2,500 pages of tax laws...."
If correct, (and I haven't been able to find any refutations or challenges to that quote) this means that the average citizen is subject to about 2,500 pages of laws before we even move on from the tax code. And while much of that code is directed towards corporations and businesses, you have to know it to know that. And many of us, particularly the employed, will never be able to peruse such a document in our spare time.

While this might not seem particularly earth-shaking news, I'll point out one simple fact that may disturb the average 'law-abiding citizen'; you don't really have any idea if you're law-abiding or not. How can you, if you can't possibly know the law?

Another shining example of a law that can't really be understood by the average citizen is regulation 922(r) of the U.S. Code, which regulates the importation and ownership of certain types of firearms.

922(r), as we will refer to it, runs to just over 8,700 words, or about 15 pages in 12 point font. It defines, among other things, what firearms can and cannot be legally possessed, and violation of it is not a trivial matter; most sanctions contained within it are federal felonies, carrying prison terms of a year or more. It's not jaywalking, by any means.

So can we assume that this voluminous, very serious law about a serious subject is clear and forthright? No.

As an example, one provision makes it legal to own a gun which is completely identical to another, except for the country of origin of some of its small internal parts, parts which would only be visible when the weapon has been completely and thoroughly assembled far beyond what the average owner would ever attempt. Further, it does not require that you be the person who configured the gun that way; simply owning a gun with parts from the wrong country in it makes you a felon.

Now keep in mind, we're talking about identical guns here-identical down to the last pin. The only difference is where that part was made. Imagine it this way; you go to buy a reconditioned vacuum cleaner at a shop, or perhaps on Craigslist. You look it over, it works fine and the price is right, so you decide to buy it. When you do, the seller grabs you and arrests you; it turns out he was a federal agent trying to find someone looking to own an illegal vacuum.

At trial, the government presents a small internal part of the vacuum cleaner, and shows through some means that the part was made in England, not the U.S. And based on that, you're sentenced to several years in prison. As astonishingly bizarre as this sounds, it's absolutely the case with 922(r) and the guns it regulates. And yes, people are going to prison because one small part or other was made in the wrong country. And those who aren't going to prison are working very, very hard just to remain 'law-abiding citizens.'

Another law that makes criminals of thousands of people each day is Chicago's knife ordinance, which makes it illegal to carry a knife with a blade more than two inches in length anywhere in the city. That's right, something as innocuous as this in your pocket will make you a criminal in this city of two million. So are you still so sure that you're really a law-abiding citizen? And what does it mean to be 'law-abiding' when it's impossible for us to know even a fraction of the laws we're subject to?

America was founded on the premise that the people formed the government, that whole, "of the people, by the people, for the people" thing you may dimly recall. But the simple fact is that today, even a lawyer can't possibly know the laws thoroughly.

The larger question is this; do we really want a country with laws so voluminous, so complex, that we can't understand them? And are you willing to go to prison because of it? Because people are....

Monday, July 5, 2010

Governed or Oppressed? Part III-The Price We Pay

While the actual trigger for the Revolutionary War was a move to confiscate the weapons the colonists had cached, there's no denying that a strong component of the decision to rebel was unreasonable taxation. And while 'reasonable' is an integral component of our law, and the British common law it descended from, it's always a difficult term to define. But perhaps some simple facts will help us judge whether we're taxed at a 'reasonable' rate:

  1. In 2010, the average taxpayer will work until April 9th, the 99th day of the year, simply to pay his taxes. In other words, you'll spend more than a quarter of the year working without anything to show for it; your labor gains you nothing, except the ability to pay your taxes. 
  2. In downtown Chicago, a can of soda is taxed at 14.75%; you are taxed at roughly 1/7th the cost of the product.
  3. Cigarettes, a particularly unpopular and difficult to defend product, are taxed at a rate of $3.66 per pack of 20 in Chicago and $4.25 in New York City . Average pack prices in New York are about $11, giving a tax rate of over one third the cost of the product.
  4. In 2010, Americans in the highest income tax brackets will pay 39.5% in income tax, up from 35% previously.
First, I would like you to consider what would happen if your income rose by about 28% right now. Because that's what would happen if you didn't pay income tax. Your standard of living, ability to invest and save, would all be impacted. Never forget that the difference between your current financial condition and that hypothetical one is one thing-taxes. And before we blithely let our leaders vote for larger and more expensive bail-outs, increased entitlement programs and other social welfare programs, ask yourself if you are willing to work one, two, three or ten more days for free to pay for them. Don't allow the disconnect between what is spent in government and what you lose to exist in your thinking, as it does for so many. Whenever government spends money, you're working longer for free-nothing more complex than that.

Secondly, I want you to consider the way in which taxes 'stack'. If we're in downtown Chicago and decide, rather unwisely, to buy that can of soda, the 14.75% tax you pay comes from an income already reduced by a third due to income taxes. You're paying sales, property and other taxes out of what remains of your earnings after income taxes are paid, taxing the remnants of your pay again each time you purchase something with your own money.

Third, and a sticking point for many, is the concept of a 'sin tax', as exemplified by the rate of cigarette taxes in Chicago and New York we noted above. Smoking is unhealthy-I personally abhor it-and obnoxious. But it's legal. And while legislators could never survive banning smoking, they can make it a whipping boy and revenue source without much political backlash. While completely legal, smokers can be punished for their choice to smoke, all the while adding revenue to the seemingly insatiable appetite of the government for more cash.
As I mentioned, I'm not a smoker. But I also realize that taking something unpopular and singling it out for incredibly high tax rates is not a scheme limited to cigarettes. Liquor is also taxed at what can only be a punitive rate, and even we non-drinkers pay it when hosting a party. But more chilling is that the concept of selective, punitive taxation, will likely not stop with tobacco and alcohol.

As the government becomes our health insurance provider, we'll probably see unhealthy things begin to suffer punitive tax rates, if only 'for the good of society.' Butter, bacon, eggs; all of these contribute to heart disease, and increase medical costs. Will we be asked to pay extra for the privilege of eating these things? From what we've seen with other unpopular activities, there can be no doubt.

Retaining the product of our labors, the fruit of our effort and time, is one of the most fundamental aspects of liberty. There are few more effective ways to reduce a person's ability to act, to enjoy life and to impact their society than by taking their money, the lifeblood of our current society. And when we're taxed enough that we can no longer live the life we're earning, can no longer turn our effort into personal gain, have we crossed from citizen to subject, from voter to cash cow? And if we're reduced to being fuel for the engine of government, are we being governed, or oppressed?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Governed or Oppressed? Part II-Lies Without Consequences

Most lies have consequences, whether they're personal, professional or legal. But some lies apparently don't-lies told to the American people, in public and on record.


Let's watch a Supreme Court nominee lie to us when she's being questioned about the Second Amendment:

The committee's chairman, Patrick Leahy, first told Sotomayor that he enjoys target shooting on a regular basis back home in Vermont and then asked, referring to Heller, "Is it safe to say you accept the Second Amendment is an individual right?" Sotomayor answered plainly, "Yes sir," and added, "I understand how important the right to keep and bear arms is to many people; one of my godchildren is a member of the NRA."

To the SenateJudiciary Committee, Justice Sotomayor repeatedly averred that Heller is "settled law." The Associated Press reported that Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, "said Sotomayor told him during a private meeting that she considers the 2008 ruling that struck down a Washington, D.C., handgun ban as settled law that would guide her decisions in future cases."

How do we know she was lying? Easy-just look at one of her first major decisions after being seated as a Justice, joining the dissent against the McDonald decision that affirmed that the second amendment was an individual right:

The Breyer-Sotomayor-Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissent urged that Heller be overruled and declared, "In sum, the Framers did not write the Second Amendment in order to protect a private right of armed self defense."

(Of course, it's terrifying that a Supreme Court Justice doesn't believe you have a constitutional right to armed self defense, but that's a different story. We're just focusing on the lies here.)

So what are the consequences for this lie-nothing. Unlike what would happen if you or I lied under oath to Congress, Justice Sotomayor went home and probably ate dinner, maybe watched a little TV. She wasn't arrested and charged with perjury.

And when the laws that apply to you and me don't apply to 'them', are we governed-or oppressed?

Governed or Oppressed? Part I-A White House Above the Law

The line between being governed and being oppressed is a fine one, indeed, and everyone draws it in a different-sometimes wildly different-place.

One thing to consider is whether the administration continues to play by the rules of government that have been put into law; essentially, the rules we, the governed, have agreed to.

The division of powers says the judicial, executive and legislative branches serve as checks and balances on each other. But only if each plays by the rules:

Interior Secretary Ignores a Judge's Order- Salazar said he would renew the moratorium despite the judge’s decision:
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday called the six-month halt on deepwater drilling “needed, appropriate and within our authorities” in announcing he will issue a new order on a moratorium just hours after a federal judge blocked such a mandate.

Of course, this is after Salazar falsified a document to make it look like a panel of experts, all of whom opposed a drilling moratorium, supported it:

Members of a panel of experts brought in to advise the Obama administration on how to address offshore drilling safety after the Deepwater Horizon disaster now say Interior Secretary Ken Salazar falsely implied they supported a six-month drilling moratorium they actually oppose.
Salazar's May 27 report to President Barack Obama said a panel of seven experts "peer reviewed" his recommendations, which included a six-month moratorium on all ongoing drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet. That prohibition took effect a few days later, but the angry panel members and some others who contributed to the Salazar report said they had reviewed only an earlier version of the secretary's report that suggested a six-month moratorium only on new drilling, and then only in waters deeper than 1,000 feet.
"We broadly agree with the detailed recommendations in the report and compliment the Department of Interior for its efforts," a joint letter from the panelists to various politicians says. "However, we do not agree with the six month blanket moratorium on floating drilling. A moratorium was added after the final review and was never agreed to by the contributors." 

So when the government can't get what it wants by lying to us, it ignores the judiciary and does what it wants anyway. And the line gets crossed?

The History of America-The Parts We Weren't Taught

At some point, you realize that your education was not orchestrated by people without an agenda, not managed and directed by truly impartial or altruistic people. You start to realize that the history you were taught has been, at best, carefully selected; at worst, edited.

As an example, here's something that no class, no movie about the American Revolution ever taught me; it was about gun confiscation. I'd been taught it was about taxes. I'd heard about the Tea Party and the stamp tax and other taxes. I knew it was about a lack of representation. I'd never heard anything about guns or gun control precipitating the revolution itself, never saw it referenced anywhere.

We learned about the Battle of Lexington, of course. And learned that it was that 'Shot Heard 'Round the World' that signaled the start of the war, and the birth of America. We may have even learned that one precipitating factor was an order to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams, now founding fathers, but then instigators and criminals.

What we didn't learn was that the actual trigger (sorry, I couldn't resist) of the battle was an order from Thomas Gage, military governor of Massachusetts, to seize the weapons being stockpiled by the rebels. They fought to preserve the means of resistance, their weapons. While they were willing to negotiate and debate, they realized that any debate had to be backed by the ability to resist, meaningfully resist, the British orders that might be issued. And so when the British ordered their weapons seized, they realized that they could no longer talk, no longer negotiate, and had to stand and prepare to fight.

This was an enormous omission in my education. Speaking to others, I wasn't alone; this isn't taught in schools, at least among those I've met. And one wonders why...

Could it be because it puts perspective on the Second Amendment? Because it makes plain that the colonists would not be disarmed, not by the British and not by the government they went on to create? Could it be because it would, quite rightly, put the 'bearing of arms' in context as one of the primary rights-perhaps THE primary right-the colonists wished to defend? Could it be because it shows, clearly and succinctly, that resistance without the means to resist can be no resistance that matters?

Surely, the message has been lost. Look at this quote from Chicago Aldermen Lorraine Dixon regarding the Supreme Court's affirmation that the second amendment confers an individual right to bear arms:

“No Supreme Court judge could live in my community and come to the same conclusion they did,” said Ald. Lorraine Dixon (24th).

This lack of understanding of what the constitution represents, coming from an elected leader, is appalling. Appalling, but not surprising. And sadly, not uncommon:

I have to say it: I think the Supreme Court is wrong, just like they’ve been wrong before,” said Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th. “

We're losing our history, and dooming ourselves to repeat it. The last revolution was about gun confiscation; only time will tell if the next one will, too.

Govenment, Freedom and All That Stuff

Founded on the fundamental concept that we should be largely free of, and certainly protected from, government interference in our lives, America has changed course.

From the insidious danger-yes, real danger- of politically correct speech, to red light cameras and tollways, this space will be dedicated to one simple concept: There is a line between being governed and being oppressed, and we've crossed it.