This category contains original editorials, rather than brief comments with a link or an extended response to another article.
I've had it out with the Detroit News before over their firearms bias. It's not exactly an uncommon sentiment in the media, but few papers are willing to spend almost a week doing a "special report" on firearms liability without putting it in the editorial section. So it didn't surprise me when I ran across this account on the snopes website.
The "painted cows" story has made it past fact checkers and into the news on a few occasions. In 1985 Michigan farmer Tom Guthrie became a media celebrity after a photograph showing one of his heifers with the word 'COW' spray-painted in orange on its side was ingested without the requisite grain of salt, and the photo was taken by the Detroit News and run under the headline "Truth in Packaging." From there the picture was picked up by the wire services, leading many readers to believe the labeling of cows to deter hunters was on the up-and-up. Yet the photo had been staged, as Guthrie freely admitted. He was not experiencing problems with errant hunters, nor had any of his livestock been harmed ? he'd merely been obliging someone who'd asked for a favor.
No doubt mistakes are made occasionally, but this is going a step or two beyond "reporting" the news and into "creating" it instead. And since the story is dated from 1985, it's clear that the media's problems with bias and fact-checking are not a new phenomenon. The only thing that's new is the ability of the people who actually DO know what they are talking about to find the truth and get the word out.
But I'll take this legislation
in a pinch.
It seems that a pair of Democratic senators are trying to get an anti-gun bill through the Senate. It's an obscure bill covering an obscure area of law, and it probably won't make much difference to anyone's life whether it passes or not. So why are they pushing for it? And why should we consider letting them pass it?
Sens. Jon Corzine and Frank Lautenberg (both D-N.J.) said yesterday they have proposed legislation aimed at dissolving a program that allows convicted felons to purchase guns if they obtain a federal waiver.
The senators said such a waiver has not been granted in the past 12 years because they have managed to cut off funding for the program, administered by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
What they are talking about is a program, run by the BATFE, that allows a convicted felon who has been released from prison to apply for a restoration of firearms rights from the federal government, if they meet certain criteria. The program is intended to operate for non-violent felons who are not career criminals, or who have re-established life as a law-abiding citizen and regain the respect of their community.
The article describes this provision as having been created to allow Winchester (a firearms manufacturer) to continue in that business after their parent company was convicted of a felony. I'm not sure that the program was created explicitly for that purpose, but the intent of Congress was to allow for special cases like that, rather than to provide a general restoration of rights for all felons after release. So, bear that in mind: we're talking about a small program not intended for widespread use, but rather to allow the special cases and the victims of a legal technicality to regain their rights.
Well, if it's such an innocuous law, why do the anti-gun forces want it struck down, rather than inserting a provision to de-fund it each year? Obviously, they are a little concerned that a pro-gun Congress might not include their provision defunding the program. That's OK as far as it goes, but still, why make an issue of it? It's not like gun owners are eager to make use of a program for felons; most gun owners are not felons and do not anticipate ever becoming felons. Most felons do not deserve to have their gun rights restored. So, it's not really a big issue on either side.
The gun control crowd is pushing this issue for political reasons. If they can get their opponents in the Senate to vote on something that the papers will spin as "granting criminals access to firearms!", then they may be able to use that against pro-gun members of Congress; either by misrepresenting the issue to the general public, or by discouraging pro-gun people from voting if their candidate goes the wrong way on the issue. Either way, if there's a vote, we lose.
The political solution would be to handle it like the assault weapons ban. Let it go by without an vote, and continue not funding the program. That's a minor loss for our side, but it denies the anti-gun politicians any effective ammunition. I'm willing to let that happen. But there's also a more interesting possibility, and that is to let the issue come up for a vote -- and vote to kill the program.
Why should we even consider such a thing? Let's examine the case of US v Bean. The case was decided in 2002, and involved an attempt by Bean to obtain a restoration of his rights. Because the BATFE has no funding for processing these requests, he filed a lawsuit seeking a judge's order restoring his rights.
As described in his lawsuit, Bean crossed the border into Mexico while in possession of 200 rounds of .22 ammunition (one box, in plain sight). He had instructed his subordinates to remove all firearms and ammunition from his vehicle before the trip, but that one box had been missed. In Mexico, possession of ammunition is a felony; he was coerced into signing a confession (in Spanish, a language which he does not speak) and jailed. For that simple mistake, something which is not a crime in the United States, he is considered a felon in the United States and is thus forbidden to own firearms.
In the district court and the Fifth Circuit appeals court, he won. But Ashcroft's Department of Justice appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court granted certiori and ruled unanimously against Bean, overturning the 5th Circuit and denying Bean's firearms rights. (This is one reason not to take claims that Bush is pro-gun very seriously; had the DoJ let the 5th Circuit ruling stand, we would be much better off).
From US v Bean:
The absence of an actual denial by ATF of a felon s petition precludes judicial review under §925(c). The Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to grant relief from a firearms disability if certain preconditions are met, and an applicant may seek federal-court review if the Secretary denies his application. Ibid. Since 1992, however, the appropriations bar has prevented ATF, to which the Secretary has delegated this authority, from using appropriated funds to investigate or act upon the applications. Section 925(c) s text and the procedure it lays out for seeking relief make clear that an actual decision by ATF on an application is a prerequisite for judicial review, and that mere inaction by ATF does not invest a district court with independent jurisdiction.
In other words, there is an explicit catch-22 here. The BATFE cannot act on the application for relief, and the courts cannot act on the ATF's inability to act, even though the provisions for relief remain law. To break the catch-22, one of two things must happen: the BATFE must be granted funding to process applications, or the program must be completely repealed.
If the program is funded again, we gain very little. Some firearms enthusiasts or businesspeople will regain their firearms rights at the pleasure and discretion of the BATFE. We'll take a PR hit any time one of those people whose rights were restored commits a crime with a firearm.
If the program is eliminated completely, however, we gain something a little different. We gain the ability to make court challenges to felon-in-possession laws that won't fall victim to the catch-22. Why? Well, instead of a law that provided for due process review of felony convictions allowing for a restoration of a Constitutional right, we are instead left with explicit denial of a Constitutional right in cases like the Bean case; that is, cases where justice clearly was not served.
Given another case like Bean's, and with no due-process review permitted by the law, we are suddenly in a different situation. On the one hand, we have a Constitutional right; on the other hand, a law that denies exercise of that right without due process of law in cases like Bean's. Rather than oh-sorry-there's-no-funding, we have the chance to strike directly at the law, and potential secure a ruling that acknowledges the 2nd Amendment as an individual right, which places corresponding restrictions on government. And Bean has already proven that cases like his can be won.
It's a gamble, make no mistake about that. We can't be sure we'll get a good case; even if we do, we can't be sure we'll win. We'd be trading away a relatively easy fight to restore funding to the program for a risky gamble in the court system. Yet, Congress has already proven remarkably fickle regarding our 2nd Amendment rights. We need judicial recognition of an individual right to keep and bear arms more than we need this program funded.
Do I know that I'm right about this? No, of course not. But it's an interesting thought. And with a Bush win in November, and several justices potentially retiring during his term, we may be able to press our case before a Supreme Court better inclined to hear our arguments. It might be worth taking the hit now in order to improve our case later.
Attorney General Phill Kline filed suit today against a Florida company for alleged violations of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act. The suit is the result of an undercover investigation conducted by Attorney General Kline?s Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division.
The suit alleges that on October 8th, Meds-Stat proposed to deliver and sell a vial of five doses of flu vaccine to a Kansas City, Kansas pharmacy for $900 with the knowledge that the vaccine was to be used in a ?nursing home.? On October 1st, the price for the same vial was listed as $85.
The only thing a politician does when he files a lawsuit against "price gouging" is prove that he doesn't understand the basic operation of free market economics. Read the extended entry if you have the same problem, and then you will understand why price gouging is what makes capitalism possible.
A market exists when there are both buyers and sellers interested in buying or selling a particular good. You have to have all three (buyer, seller, and good); ideally, in fact, you have more than one of each. If you have only one buyer or only one seller, you have a monopoly; with only one good, you have an auction. The desirable characteristics of a free market occur only in the presence of competition for each component.
People participate in a market because they want to profit. Not simply by "making money" (that is the role of a capitalist), but by making a profitable exchange of value. Profit is the difference in value between what you started off with, and what you ended up with (assuming that difference is positive). And the beauty of the free market is that if you aren't going to make a profit on a particular trade, you don't have to. In the absence of overriding necessities or coercion, people won't make trades that don't benefit them.
The usual objection is that the people in the market are trading the same good, with the same value, at a price they negotiated. How can profit exist if they are both paying the "market value" of the good? The answer lies in the difference between the market price of a good and it's perceived value. The buyer perceives that he is paying less than the value of the good to him; the seller perceives that he is receiving more than the value of the good. They both profit because of the difference in perception. Absent that perception, there can be no valuation; the "market price" is merely the expression of the aggregate perceptions.
Markets that are functioning properly are dynamic. They change in response to conditions, because the perceptions driving the participants change. There are many different factors that can affect those perceptions, but the one that is relevant for this scenario is scarcity.
Scarcity is one of the basic drivers of trade. The famous caravan trails of the medieval and renaissance period were driven by the scarcity of spice and silk in Europe. Caravans were able to charge high prices in the European marketplace because their goods were scarce; few caravans could make the trip. The demand of the buyers exceeded the available supply of the sellers, resulting in buyers paying higher prices because of the limitted quantity of available goods. In addition to simple scarcity, the caravans would typically not arrive all at once; each one would enjoy a brief monopoly on goods from the East.
That's the same basic issue with claims of price "gouging" with reference to the flu vaccine; scarcity drives an increase in market price, while a temporary condition prevents effective competition, resulting in a single seller.
But the buyers of silk and spices still felt the trade was profitable. So do the buyers of the higher-priced flu vaccine. The free market is still operating, it's just adjusting to the new condition of scarcity for a particular good by adjusting the price. The fact is, at the lower prices, supply is insufficient to meet demand. Price is therefore increased, and that increase seeks to differentiate between buyers -- those who are willing to pay the most (ie, have the highest perceived value for the good) are those who gain access to the limited supply of the good.
The free market, in this case, operates to ensure that the greatest increase in perceived value is realized. The seller makes a large profit on his good, which increases the quality of his life; the buyer whose perceived value is the highest has also profitted in terms of his own quality of life. Those buyers whose perceived value for the good is lower do not trade, or make different trades which they consider more profitable.
Obviously, there are people who weren't able to afford the prices of spices and silk from the East off of the caravans, or who were able to afford the prices but would prefer them lower (who wouldn't?). Noting the continued high prices, they decided that they saw an opportunity in the marketplace for cheaper goods -- and so they funded the naval explorations that eventually led to the discovery of America.
And that's part of the reason that objecting to price gouging is detrimental to society. Without the high prices resulting from a scarce good, there is less incentive to invest in attempts to increase the supply. In other words, price gouging on the flu vaccine provides an incentive for researching ways to make the vaccine more cheaply, or with less chance of a mistake ruining the batch. Reduce that incentive, and you increase the chances of having more problems.
There is one additional component to most claims of price gouging. The good involved is usually not a luxury good, but something considered a necessity, or (as in this case) a medical treatment that a large number of people can benefit from. In other words, there is a perceived "need" for the good that renders the buyers unable to discriminate on price or to choose not to buy.
This gets back to the basic concept of fairness and equality under the law. If lives or legal rights are at stake, money should not be an issue; the poor have the same legal rights as the rich, and being unable to pay a lawyer to enforce them should not represent a barrier to exercise of those rights. Similarly, few would argue that a baker should deny his bread to a poor man who would otherwise starve.
This works because legal rights and the basic necessities of life are not a scarce good; bread is a commodity and legal rights (as opposed to entitlements) are intangibles that cost nothing to extend. The value of the baker's bread is deemed less than the value of the beggar's life to society; society is not forced to choose who receives the bread, but can afford to provide bread to all (at least for the present). If forced to make a decision about who receives bread and who does not, under conditions of scarcity, the equation changes.
And that's exactly what's happening with the flu vaccine. We have a medical good, which registers as a necessity of life to many people because they conflate truly lifesaving treatments with treatments that merely improve quality of life. And that good is perceived as a commodity; over many years the production system has functioned reliably, and everyone who wanted a flu vaccine could get one at a reasonable market price.
But under the new condition of scarcity, the supply is dramatically reduced. Where we once had, say, 10 caravans of spices in the market selling goods from the East, we suddenly awaken one morning to realize that 9 of those caravans have been burned to the ground. The remaining caravan doesn't have enough goods to replace those lost by the other 9. In the short term, he can't get more (caravan trips take a long time). Scarcity exists, and the market adjusts. The price of the good increases to serve as a differentiator between buyers, ensuring that those who obtain the goods are those who value them the most.
Some will say this is not fair. This is true. markets are not about fairness. Markets are about profits, not only to individuals but also to society. Remember that the profit is a function of the difference in perceived value; society is better off when the high prices are paid on a scarce good because both individuals are better off than they would be under a different trade.
Fairness is a fine principle when speaking of commodity goods with an ample supply, and the free market produces fair results in that case. But fairness does not work under conditions of scarcity, because not everyone will be able to make the trade they want. Buyers must distinguish themselves somehow, and price is the discriminating factor (in the abstract). This results in the maximum benefit to society.
The other key point to understand here is that flu vaccines are not necessities; they are luxuries. There are no dire consequences to not receiving a flu vaccine. (At worst, you get the flu, and there are good chances you won't even without a vaccine).
Markets are simply mechanisms for determining the allocation of resources. Price fluctuations in response to changing conditions simply ensure that the trades most beneficial to society are made when conditions of scarcity exist. As an example, let us consider the hypothetical case of a man who is severely allergic to the flu. If he gets the flu, unlike 99% of the people who get it, he will die. He has a strong case for getting a dose of the vaccine -- a very high perceived value. And he's willing to pay a very high price.
But if the price of the vaccine remains at the pre-scarcity levels, and the vaccine doses are distributed to anyone who pays the (low) price, he may not get a dose of the vaccine at all, because he has no way to express his perceived value -- and the doses may well run out while he is waiting in line. The flu vaccine that could have saved his life will instead keep someone else from getting sick for a few days.
And that's why we need to let the market work. Those who need the vaccine will pay the higher prices. Those who don't will hold off until the supply is available once more. In the short term the increased prices will help allocate the vaccine properly, and in the long term, those increased prices will motivate improvements in the suppliers.
The Volokh Conspiracy has issued a challenge to pro-war bloggers to justify the war. I intend to take up that gauntlet. The challenge is in the form of three questions:
First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?
I did, in fact, favor the invasion of Iraq at the time, and my opinion on that matter remains the same. Here are my basic arguments, in order of importance:
- The potential for active cooperation with terrorists, in order to employ weapons of mass destruction against the United States.
- The evidence of continuing attempts to further the development of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear.
- The continuing refusal to account for and dismantle weapons of mass destruction and their accompanying development programs.
- The continuing state of effective, if not declared, war between Iraq and the United States, in that US warplanes regularly patrolled Iraq airspace, were regularly shot at by Iraqi forces, and regularly retaliated by bombing Iraq air defense emplacements. Simply put, Iraq under Saddam was a continuing problem that required resolution.
- The potential to use Iraq as a strategic lever to create and maintain a democratic nation in the Middle East with a secular government, and thereby provide a visible example to the region, in the hopes of encouraging reforms within other governments and improved relations with the general population.
- Providing an attractive, easily-reached military target for terrorists and sympathizers, on the principle that it is better for the enemy to attack our military than to attack our civilians.
- The evidence of ties between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government, even if those ties did not extend to operational knowledge or assistance regarding 9-11.
So far as I am concerned, the plan is working. Although we have not found substantial stockpiles of WMD, we have found: evidence of violations by Iraq of many different agreements and UN resolutions; evidence of WMD programs either in operation or preparing to resume operation following the end of sanctions and inspections; evidence of limited stockpiles of WMD that had been concealed rather than declared or destroyed; evidence of corruption within the Oil-for-Food program administered by the UN; evidence of corruption within the government of France relating to Saddam's government.
So the absence of headline-worthy WMD finds does not change my opinion of the decision to go to war, because that decision was based on the potential for such finds rather than their actual presence, and also included many other considerations entirely unrelated to WMDs.
How does this square with the libertarian principle of non-initiation of force? Quite simple: since the invasion of Kuwait, America has effectively been in a constant state of war with Iraq. Although an official cease-fire was in place, both sides were still shooting at each other (or dropping bombs) regularly. In short, in Iraq, we were effectively operating in self-defense against a nation of demonstrated hostility and ill intent.
Even granting that Iraq had no official involvement in 9-11, with that as an example Saddam Hussein would certainly have taken that success as an object lesson in the effectiveness of terrorism. We can no longer afford to allow an openly hostile nation with the capability and intent to develop or acquire weapons of mass destruction to exist.
Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?
Nothing that I have seen in the media makes me regret the decision.
I consider media accounts of Iraq untrustworthy. The media in Iraq are hampered by a language and cultural barrier, unable to perform real investigative reporting due to the continuing security threat, and have a prominent political bias against the war. They are not a trustworthy source of information regarding anything more than specific, verifiable events.
I understand that, having invaded and destroyed the present government, America has a responsibility to stay the course in Iraq, providing the resources necessary to ensure the formation of a stable democracy. At this point, this is not a choice; it is a duty.
The Iraqis are understandably unhappy about being governed by an occupying force and accurately view US troops as such. We invaded their country and removed their government, and we are currently occupying their nation. It is our responsibility to establish a legitimate government that has the consent of the Iraqi people, and we are well on the way to doing that.
One of the articles linked to was referring to a poll taken in June, before the official transfer of authority to a provisional government. Polls taken after that transfer tell a different story. Our role in Iraq is now to support the Iraqi government, to provide knowledge and resources for reconstruction, and to exercise a stabilizing influence.
If you want to truly know what is going on in Iraq, read the blogs posted by our soldiers there, or by Iraqis. Those sources paint a much different picture; not a rosy one, necessarily, but one where optimism is not unknown.
Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?
I consider the Iraq invasion to already be a success. We have deposed the tyrannical dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, which was responsible for the decisions that prompted the invasion in the first place. We have removed a rogue government capable of and determined to produce weapons of mass destruction, and which would likely have given such weapons to terrorists once constructed. That was our goal, and we have accomplished it. It was not a complete success without setbacks; there is speculation that some weapons were slipped out of the country, for example. But it is a success, and no new weapons of mass destruction will be built in Iraq.
What would be more appropriate would be specific criteria for success in the reconstruction of Iraq. I feel it is far too soon to begin looking for either success or failure here. It takes time to allow the people to understand their new situation and to accept it. Nevertheless, criteria are appropriate. Here are those I would choose:
- Free and fair elections in 2005 throughout the entire nation.
- The establishment and ratification by elections of a constitutional republic in Iraq that protects the rights of the Iraqi people. The establishment of a government that assumes dictatorial powers or a religious foundation of authority should be considered failure.
- The transition of authority and operations in Iraq from our own military to Iraqi government and forces.
- Establishment of law and order under an elected Iraqi government throughout Iraq within 5 years.
As should be obvious, America is involved in Iraq for the long haul. If we are still engaged in guerilla warfare in 5 years, then we can talk about quagmire. But if the problem has been reduced to an essentially criminal one, which the Iraqi government is capable of handling without US troops, we will have succeeded.
Alien Vs Predator: The Politics of a Action Movie
Well, I went into this movie expecting... well... something exciting, maybe a little suspense, not as good as the first two movies (obviously), but which might offer an hour's diversion. What I didn't expect was to walk into something that might be better titled "The Primitivist Manifesto". Fair warning: spoilers lie below that will probably destroy your enjoyment of the movie. I'm not saying you shouldn't go out and see it if you want to -- but what I'm about to tell you will for damn sure prevent you from enjoying the movie, so if you're going, go before you read this post.
That means stop reading now if need be.
OK, everyone gone who's going? Here we go.
The setup in the movie is simple: the Predators have created a temple in Antarctica, where in ancient times humans worshipped them as gods. The Predators treated us as cattle, using us to breed Aliens in a ritual sacrifice. The Predators would send three warriors of their own race into this temple, where they would battle the Aliens and hopefully emerge victorious -- a rite of passage, in other words. Into this ancient temple to wake the two evils come a small team of humans lead by a rich asthmatic and a spunky ice-climber who doesn't like guns.
"Never saw one of those save a life on the ice" is what the lead has to say to an unnamed spunky female who prominently packs a handgun into unexplored territory. Those words turn out to be prophetic, as the spunky unnamed female dies by chest-burster -- without firing a shot. The message? "Guns don't save lives."
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The whole temple is part of a timelock, you see. If you turn the appropriate ancient clockwork dials, three appropriate and ancient but very high-tech firearms emerge. "Wait -- don't!" shouts the spunky female protagonist, as the over-eager bodyguard types eagerly yank the firearms from the crypt. Like children, they don't recognize them as firearms, they just want to pick them up and play with them. So to speak. Of course, removing the firearms triggers another clockwork mechanism that traps the chosen sacrifices in their chamber to be facehugged. The message? "Don't leave firearms lying around, because ignorant children will pick them up without knowing what they are and then bad things will happen."
Granted, that's not bad advice. But it goes a step beyond that, as the spunky unarmed female slowly puzzles out. You see, those guns weren't meant for the humans. They were meant for the alien overlords -- excuse me, Predators -- who would use them in their ritual combat. Humans taking those guns early somehow disturbs the order of the universe, ensuring that the humans and their alien overlords will die at the hands of the Aliens.
Let's let that one sit for a while and ponder what's happening on the surface, while the idiots in the temple are setting themselves up as a living obstacle course for predatory teenagers. You see, "only the chosen ones" can be allowed to enter the temple, so the predators have to kill off anyone left on the surface. Apparantly their very presence is somehow cheating.
Now, if you'll recall, in the original Predator, our dear Governator was the sole surviving member of an elite combat team, and he managed to kill the single Predator sent after his team. He did it mano a' mano, hand to hand, with primitive weapons after his team tried their firearms and failed. There's a message there, too, but their firearms weren't entirely ineffective. At any rate, my point is that an elite combat team with their firearms is at least in the same league with a Predator.
But that's in the first movie. In this movie, the battle on the surface lasts no more than 2 or 3 minutes, and the firearms carried and used prominently by the elite military unit are basically worthless. That's not really a surprise, since the script pretty much demands it, but it's also another message: "Guns aren't useful for self-defense."
So let's go back down under the ice, where we left our spunky unarmed protagonist wondering what to do with the ancient firearms belonging to our alien overlords now that she has realized there are beasties eager to eat the tasty humans and that little interlude from the surface has reminded the audience that firearms aren't useful for self-defense. While she's been thinking about this, all the members of the elite military team with their fancy firearms in the temple have been killed by Aliens or Predators, usually without firing a shot, and universally without doing anything effective.
The only member of the team other than the spunky protagonist to rate more than a contemptuous death is the aging asthmatic, who turns his inhalor and a flare into an improvised blowtorch. That's effective enough to get the Predator to notice and bestow a quick death -- apparantly because it's not a firearm.
Shortly after this incident, the spunky female protagonist sees the light. She realizes that, by taking the guns from their time-locked safe, the humans have interfered with the master plan of the alien overlords to use them as cattle. The only way for the humans to make it right is to give the guns back to their alien overlords, who will use them to defeat the Aliens and protect their
cattle human friends.
Amazingly, when she proposes this idea, none of the surviving humans shoot her. Of course, they didn't have any guns at the time, so I can't blame them. And by the time she is in a position to put her brilliant plan into action, there are no other humans to protest.
So, she kneels before the alien overlord and offers it back its gun, which as
a child an ordinary human she is unworthy to possess or wield. (In point of fact, she made no effort to do so before handing it over). Of course, since she is following the script, the alien overlord accepts her offering of submission and sexual gratification warrior comradeship and spares her life so they can fight the Aliens together.
An exchange of lives saved and ritual scarification later, the sole surviving Predator and it's human
cow pet companion fellow warrior go off in search of the Alien lair. You know, the inevitable place with all the eggs and the inevitable enslimed human. But before they can do that, the human -- now an anointed warrior by our alien overlord and permitted to possess weapons -- must find some sort of weapon.
But never fear, our alien overlords have the traditional weapons for victorious human warriors: a spear made from the Alien's tail and a shield made from it's head! Yes, that's right, our
spunky female protagonist lickspittle to the alien overlords is privileged to fight Aliens with a spear and a shield! Privileged to do so, when there are two perfectly good alien-overlord firearms still around.
I should mention that the alien overlord's restored firearm lasted about five minutes and verifiably destroyed only a single Alien. Apparantly, firearms aren't useful even for the the alien overlords.
So it's off to the Alien lair. But before they arrive, there's a cut scene to the token sympathetic but doomed human in the Alien lair, who wakes up entombed in slime and watching his designated egg open. But wait! There's hope! One of the other, mercifully unconscious, enslimed humans has a handgun still in their holster, and it's just barely within reach! Let the drama build as the human stretches for the gun while the egg opens, stretches, stretches... and gets it! A human with a handgun! And he fires! And the facehugger is splattered in mid-leap! Score one for the armed humans!
But this is Hollywood. You see, firing the gun sets off all the other eggs... and there are only 4 bullets left in the gun. The message: "Guns don't save lives; firing a gun in self-defense only makes things worse."
Our alien overlord and his pet human arrive just in time for the sole human to make effective use of a firearm to explain that they have to kill him, he's got an Alien about to burst his chest. Did I mention that this was the only other sympathetic character? The pet uses the last bullet in the gun (convenient, that) to execute her friend before the Alien can emerge. Except it doesn't work, and the alien overlord must rescue his pet human from the proto-alien when it emerges.
The message: "If you get a gun, you'll only use it to shoot someone you care about and/or commit suicide. Although someone you care about will die, the gun and their death won't actually solve anything." (The dual shoot-your-friend and suicide angle is especially subtle propaganda; I was impressed).
After that bit of emotional heartstring-tugging, the alien overlord drops a bomb into the Alien nest and the familiar countdown-until-nuclear-detonation takes place, with the Alien queen escaping the blast as usual. The predictable final battle takes place on the surface, with victory being achieved only due to the
spunky female protagonist alien lickspittle having the wits to tie the Alien queen to a collapsing tank -- none of the alien overlord's guns or sharp pointy things (or, for that matter, the pet's spear and shield) are of any particular use. The message? "Weapons don't win fights, your wits do."
The alien overlord died in the battle, of course. He used a gun, and everyone who used a gun in this movie died horribly. But his alien overlords are watching from their invisible ship, and give their pet a spear of the alien overlords as their form of honor, thus demonstrating the worthiness of their human lickspittle who betrayed her species and got her whole team killed because of her inane attitude towards firearms.
In case you're wondering, the game on which this movie was based was a first-person shooter that included a human marine who could obtain firearms and try to blast his way out of the trouble area. Firearms were the human's big advantage, being unable to compete in close combat with either type of aliens. But Hollywood has never worried too much about sticking closely to its source material.
I can't say I was surprised to get this sort of propaganda effort from Hollywood. I was surprised to find it in an action movie, where the bad guns using guns are offset by the good guys using guns. And I was surprised to find it so extreme. This movie goes far beyond the casual anti-gun efforts common to television and movies; it reveals a deeply pathological fear of taking responsibility for your own defense, preferring to preach an almost religious submission to a brutal dictator race. Combined with the message of dependency and reverance for the spear-and-shield of tribal cultures, the telltale odor of Luddite sympathies is clearly present.
The message being pressed upon us by this film is that remission to our tribal past in a life of deliberate technological ignorance is the only thing that can save us from a horrifying threat that we ourselves have created. And it's scary how easy it is to accept that message, when it is cloaked in the drama of an action film. Like all good propaganda, the message is obvious to all those who watch, and so outrageous when stated forthrightly that none would accept it. Yet when cloaked in entertainment, it goes down so easily that few notice the message they are swallowing along with everything else.
Blame the Agency, not the Figurehead
Recently, I pointed to an article contrasting the position of John Ashcroft and John Kerry on civil liberties issues. Surprisingly, Ashcroft has better credibility than Kerry on many civil liberties issues. As the Attorney General on 9-11, it's easy to understand how Ashcroft's position on these issues may have changed. Kerry's primary motivation for stumping about civil liberties (despite his lousy record) is the election: the Bush administration is vulnerable on civil liberties, and so Kerry must attack on those grounds. That the Democratic party nominated someone with so little depth on this core issue is a serious tactical error, but that's not what I'm here to talk about.
I think the juxtaposition of Ashcroft and Kerry reveals something interesting about politics. Not so much about Kerry's position, but more about Ashcroft's. That shift in opinion on civil rights leads me to believe that there may be something more going on... something as simple and obvious as serving as the head of a federal agency.
When Ashcroft was responsible for opposing the privacy invasions of the FBI and the Department of Justice during the Clinton Administration, he was an elected member of Congress. His political opponents were in power. They wanted more power for the government, so naturally he opposed it, and did so on civil liberties grounds.
But when his party is in power, and his agency is requesting legal authorization for many of those same things, Ashcroft's response has changed. All of a sudden he's on the other side of the issue, pressuring Congress to pass empowering legislation to support his agency's agenda. In a way, that's his job -- but it's revealing that someone who previously resisted such efforts could be turned around so completely.
It almost leads me to question who is setting the agenda. Is it Ashcroft, or is it the career DOJ employees?
Although the political appointees theoretically have the power to set policy, it is the career employees who actually know in depth what the job entails. Those employees are the people with the real interest in expanding the power of their agency; they set their own policies, with regard to what they tell and ask the political appointees who are nominally in charge. Unless the appointee is unusually experienced or competent, the supposedly-subordinate employees will have the ability to control what the appointee learns about "his" agency, and manipulate that information in order to push for their own policies.
In other words, the politicians take the blame, while the agency itself sets the agenda. The invisible man in government policy discussions is the government itself -- advocating to a captive audience for increased funding, increased authority, and increased prestige. And it's a not so insignificant factor that those increases will also benefit the appointee's career.
It's time America realized that the Presidential election is a relative sideshow. The greatest advocate for increasing the size and power of government is government itself. Party based opposition is naive; we must recognize and oppose the real opponent, regardless of the figurehead at the top.
The report by the September 11 commission is missing one obvious way the U.S. government could reduce the chance of another terrorist attack, Libertarians say: Quit meddling in foreign nations.
"The intelligence reform needed most right now is a more intelligent foreign policy," says Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik. "Pulling U.S. troops out of nations where they don't belong would make America much safer than appointing a thousand new intelligence czars."
The present Libertarian party holds two positions relative to war. It holds that war, in general, is not a good idea, and specifically that the war in Iraq is a bad idea that should be ended as rapidly as possible. The latter position grows from the former; the Libertarian party does not call itself the Party of Principle for nothing. And it is also indicative of the problems within the party, in several ways.
Fundamentally, the Libertarian Party does not expect to win. The party, and their candidates in most cases, expect to make speeches about libertarian principles, collect donations, needle both of the parties in power, and generally try to attract attention from the media and the public. This is done primarily in the hope that attracting attention will result in votes, and votes will result in more attention the next time around, and more attention will result in more votes, until eventually the party can mount a significant challenge to the established parties.
This is a reasonable long-term strategy, except that it's been 30 years since the party was founded, and it hasn't worked. It's time for some new thinking.
Being "the Party of Principle" has its downside, especially when you consider the principles of the party. While they are good principles, morally and Constitutionally right, they are also unfamiliar and even radical to the majority of the public. (This shouldn't surprise anyone; the Founding Fathers were radicals even in their time). And the voting public is nervous about a party that talks about principles when those principles involve shutting down most of government. If you elect a libertarian as your Mayor, will you even have a government by the next election?
If you elect a libertarian as your President, will you have a nation left by the next election?
A Libertarian presidential candidate might proclaim that, if elected, he would shut down the IRS by executive order. That's a principled position. But there are millions of government employees and contractors who will ask, "But where will my next paycheck come from?" To the candidate, that's the point; government will have to shut down many of its unconstitutional operations when the revenue source for those operations is removed.
But telling millions of people they will be out of a job if you win is not going to get votes.
The same applies to the situation in Iraq. The Libertarian Party takes to heart the admonition of our Founding Fathers to trade freely with other nations, but form no entangling alliances. The foreign policy of the Libertarian Party is basically nonexistent: free trade, bring the troops home, and you're done. And that's the right policy in general.
But sometimes a specific situation requires actions contrary to the general principle. Just as surgery requires cutting the patient open, inflicting wounds in order to heal others, so does the situation in Iraq require specific actions contrary to the general principles. There are many reasons for this, but foremost among them is responsibility: the Libertarian Party did not make the decision to go into Iraq, but now that we are there, we owe it to the people of that nation to repair the damage we have done and give them a leg up to a proper democracy.
Like a doctor on the operating table, we as a nation cut the patient open. In doing so we assumed a responsibility to them. If we walk away now, the patient will die on the operating table, and it will be America's fault.
That, in large part, is why the Libertarian Party cannot afford to take the principled stand on Iraq in this election. We are the party of principle, and one of those principles is responsibility. By the same token we cannot endlessly proclaim our intention to eviscerate the government immediately upon election: such actions are in accordance with principles but demonstrate no responsibility.
If the Libertarian Party seeks to win elections, we must assume that we are going to win, and we must present a plan to the public: a plan for practical implementation of Libertarian principles. The general public will not vote for a candidate who promises to trash the IRS unilaterally, but they might vote for a candidate with a detailed plan to phase it out over time. The public will not take seriously a candidate who proclaims a unilateral retreat in the face of adversity, but they will listen to a candidate who understands responsibility.
Until Libertarians can demonstrate that they are trustworthy in positions of power, by advocating specific, gradual implementations of Libertarian principles, the general public and the media will continue to marginalize our candidates. It's not enough to proclaim our principles; we must also proclaim how we will implement them, and we must reassure the public that we can do so without throwing our nation -- or the Iraqi nation -- into chaos.
A New Foundation for Liberty
Through the history of mankind, we have endured many forms of government. Everything from tyranny (consent by lack of revolution) to democracy (consent by majority vote) has been tried, and many shades in between. The Libertarian principle of government is based on the concept of a necessary evil; there must be a government to protect the citizens in the ways that only concerted action and compulsive force can, but that compulsive force it itself evil; therefore the use of force is minimized to the extent that the government remains able to carry out its functions.
Advocates of anarchy propose complete individual freedom with no central authority, but history tells us that anarchy is unstable; government will arise from within or be imposed from without. The Libertarian goal must then be to minimize government without surrendering to anarchy; sufficient power must be concentrated in the government to repel foreign invaders and protect the rights of the citizens from each other, but that power must be strictly limited to prevent tyranny.
The history of America is the history of a Libertarian government hamstrung by the inability to obtain true consent from its citizens. Without the resources to obtain affirmative consent to the Constitution from every citizen, our founding fathers were forced to elect representatives as proxies, and employ the strategy of federalism to retain the local flexibility and accountability necessary for a government to respect the wishes of the people. The use of representatives elected by majority vote, subordinate to the law, restrained in their powers by a written Constitution, and separated into smaller, nearly-autonomous regions directly responsible to their citizens was a tremendous leap forward for Liberty. But inevitably, there were those who did not agree to the new social contract.
Some were conquered. Some were never granted the right to vote. Some owned no property. Some were enslaved. Some were women. Some were children. And some were simply outvoted. But they all had a new government imposed upon them against their will, and were faced with a choice: leave your home and return to lands which you prefer, under a government which you prefer, or submit to our government. In those days, it was still possible to leave your nation and join another. Today, it is much more difficult.
But now, with computer and communication technology our forefathers could never have dreamed of, we can do better. Indeed, we must do better. There is no frontier left; no place where the malcontents can flee to in order to escape an oppressive government. The federal government of the United States has absorbed the powers of the states into itself, turning what were once very nearly separate sovereign nations into mere arms of a many-tentacled beast. It is no longer possible to choose the government you live under by moving from state to state. The long arm of the Federal government will reach you throughout the states, and even into the other nations upon the earth, should you attempt to escape (without paying your taxes).
We must therefore respect rights of the individual far more than in the past, where the frontiers offered the opportunity to escape and begin anew. We can now implement a government that functions on the principle of affirmative consent, and therefore, we must: it is the least intrusive government still capable of protecting its citizens. The Leviathon of the United States has abandoned the remnants of its Libertarian foundation, and those who yearn for freedom must begin anew.
To understand the Libertarian principle of government as applied in the American Revolution, read The Consent of the Governed. To understand how a government based on affirmative consent can be established, read Obtaining Unanimous Consent. And to understand how such a government might function in a liberty-maximizing fashion, read Governing by Consent.
Governing by Consent
In The Consent of the Governed I explained why a Libertarian State might wish to obtain unanimous consent to the laws it seeks to enforce. In Obtaining Unanimous Consent I explained how this could be accomplished on a hypothetical deserted island, in a manner which could be applied to almost any form of government or territory; the only requirement is a blank slate within that territory (no other legitimate government authority, and no existing population). In this article I intend to explain what a government based on unanimous consent and libertarian principles might look like. This is a thought experiment rather than a specific proposal, so many areas are left vague. This is the nature of a libertarian government: limits are relatively few so that the processes are adaptable.
If a government intends to operate by consent, it needs some facility to know what its residents have agreed to on an individual basis, not merely what their representatives have agreed to. Computer technology has advanced sufficiently that this capability is now within our reach. It is now possible to build a secure system for registering contracts, a system that can ensure that signatures on those contracts cannot be faked or the terms of the contract changed (without mutual consent of the parties). I won't describe the technical aspects in detail; take it on faith that it can be done, and the technology to do so is publically available. Yes, there is a privacy tradeoff with this; I may write about that later.
So, assume that our government has the capability to record agreements between any two legal entities (a legal entitity is a citizen, a corporation, or the government). Assume it can do so for each individual citizen cheaply (much more so than a ballot referendum; more like mailing an agreement, and getting it back with a signature). Obviously the first agreement that will be recorded is the basic social contract; how can we structure that contract to support the maximum possible freedom while maintaining individual, affirmative consent?
The first element of the social contract is simple: new citizens must agree to all provisions of the social contract that all currently-existing citizens have already agreed to. This forms the core of the social contract: all provisions universally accepted become a requirement for all new citizens. Provisions that do not have universal acceptance are binding only upon those that agree to them, and new citizens need not agree to them in order to become citizens.
This core idea provides immense flexibility. The most basic elements of the social contract can be defined at the beginning of the nation, when only a few people need to agree. Those people have the opportunity to shape the legal system for those they hope to entice into their new nation. Yet, with so few people, if their terms are too onerous, no one will join.
Following the principle of liberty maximization, then, let us set down some basic principles for the initial contract (in simple terms):
- Thou shalt not murder, nor threaten murder.
- Thou shalt not steal, nor threaten theft.
- Thou shalt not injure, nor threaten to injure, any person, save in the defense of self or others against injury or murder.
- Thou shalt not interfere with the lawful actions of others, save to enforce the lawful judgement of a court.
- Thou shalt impose no obligation without the uncoerced consent of the obligated.
- Thou shalt abide by the lawful judgements of the courts, as rendered by a unanimous jury of 12 citizens selected at random, in accordance with the laws thou hast signed.
- The courts shall have the power, by unanimous vote of a jury, to nullify any contract deemed deceptive, or to which agreement was made under coercion or false pretenses.
- All contracts between private parties shall be subject to a yearly review by those parties, at which time any party may withdraw; but a penalty may be specify for the exercise of this clause.
This basic code of behavior covers, in broad terms, most of the serious crimes as understood by a modern nation, as well as securing an agreement to abide by the judgement of the courts. While this is not intended to be a working model, merely an example, there are simple subtleties to note:.
- "Murder" is distinct from "kill"; to kill accidentally, or in self defense, or in times of war, is not murder.
- "Steal" is distinct from "take property". If a citizen has agreed to a financial committment they refuse to follow, a court could enter a judgement ordering that goods or funds in the appropriate amount be seized, and the police could seize the goods or funds without violating the social contract. The offender in that case would have consented to the use of force, if necessary, to meet the obligations he voluntarily entered into.
- The prohibition against injury specifically includes the use of violence to enforce the law; the only exception is defense of self or others. Thus, a government agent has no power to do harm, only to enforce agreements without violence. Of course, if a citizen responds to an enforcement attempt with violence, it is just to respond in kind; and there are ample means available to apply force without inflicting injury.
Upon this foundation we can build the structures usually associated with government, and we can do it voluntarily. I will use the basic model of government provided by the United States Constitution, since it has worked reasonably well. So, with that understanding, consider a three-branch federal government (legislature, executive, and judicial) with regional subgovernments.
The structure is the same as in the United States, but the purpose is subtly different.
The Executive Branch
- Nominate ambassadors and set foreign policy
- Administration of existing laws
- Administration of required infrastructure and personnel to implement laws
- Veto power over acts of the legislature
- Commander-in-chief of the military
The executive branch remains mostly the same, with the purpose being to administer the operations of government in general, to provide a figurehead for diplomatic purposes, and to operate as commander-in-chief of the military forces in wartime. As in the US, the head of the Executive Branch is the President, who has the power to sign a legislatively-passed law into effect (in other words, to set up necessary infrastructure; such laws are not binding on those who do not sign them) and to veto such laws subject to a 2/3rds override in the legislature. Elected by popular vote.
The Legislative Branch
- A single house of 100 members
- Declare war (with a 2/3rds majority)
- Overide Presidential vetos (with a 2/3rds majority)
- Propose laws by majority vote
- Ratify ambassadorial appointments
- Ratify treaties with foreign nations
- Issue subpeonas for investigative purposes
Unlike the traditional legislative role, legislatures in this form of government do not pass laws. Instead, they write proposed laws and pass them to the people, who choose to sign (or not to sign) as they wish. The primary distinction between a legislatively-passed law and a citizen initiative is that the legislatively-passed law could make use of government infrastructure; in particular, the executive branch (after the law is passed by the legislature and signed by the executive) can set up offices or other facilities to implement a law, whereas a citizen initiative would need to arrange its own infrastructure.
The legislature's role would be to initiate new laws for public signature and fine-tune the older laws. To create a new agency, for example, the legislature would write a law for public signature specifying the structure of the agency, any obligations that existed between the general public and that agency, and a funding mechanism. The executive would then set up that agency (according to the structure in the law) and the general public would have the opportunity to sign the law or refuse it. Only those citizens signing the law would be bound by the dictates of the agency, and only those signing would be obligated to provide funding. But based on the vote of the legislature, resources could be spent to establish the agency.
Ratification of ambassadorial appointments is straightforward; it does not confer upon the ambassador the power to make enforceable agreements. The ambassador is merely a negotiator. Similarly with ratification of treaties; even ratified treaties can be enforced only against those of the general public who sign the treaty themselves. As with proposed laws, however, the majority vote of the legislature is sufficient to set up infrastructure.
The Declaration of War serves a special function. As with other laws, it must be individually ratified before any individual can be bound by it; but the legislative declaration is sufficient to allow offensive action by the military or individual citizens without legal sanction.
Legislators are selected by contract, not by election; that is, individuals sign contracts stating that a particular person is their chosen representative. The 100 people with the most signed contracts at the start of each legislative session constitute the elected legislature for the duration of the session.
The Judicial Branch
The judicial branch revolves around the concept of a jury. Rather than judges interperting the law, the jury itself directs the trial by majority vote, with a lawyer of their own provided (at the cost of the court system) to advise on points of law. Prosecution and defense lawyers are provided by the parties, if desired, or the court system if not. Expert witnesses, if any are required, will be selected by the jury and paid equally by all parties. The relevant law for the trial is the agreements both parties have signed.
The result of the trial is a verdict. If the verdict is signed by all three parties, indicating an agreeable resolution, they are bound by the verdict and share court costs equally; if it is signed by one party and the jury, the non-signing party is responsible for all court costs; if the suit is withdrawn (eg, a settlement) then the party that brought the suit is responsible for costs. The appeals process is best designed by the legislature to match the real conditions of the chosen territory.
The primary benefit of this system is to place power in the hands of the jury, rather than the judge. Rather than laws being written for a judge to interpert and lawyers to twist, laws would be written for juries to read, understand, and apply.
Local governments are formed by the simplest possible means: collect a group of contiguous landowners and have them sign a contract, similar to a state Constitution, that defines the rules for that local government. If you want to expand the territory, get the landowners on your borders to agree to the contract. One of the rules of the contract should be that no one can sell land or rent a residence to anyone who does not, as part of the transaction, sign the local government contract.
Such a government would have no special power over visitors, but would have whatever powers the contract granted over residents that did not violate the foundation contract itself, for so long as the resident remained a resident. Those who desired could form a religious community, a Moslem enclave, a communist commune... whatever they desired and could sustain. Those subject to the government could free themselves from the agreement by moving their place of residence elsewhere, and if the government failed, then the contract could be dissolved by unanimous consent of the landowners.
What are the benefits of this form of government?
First and foremost, liberty. Unlike all previous forms of government, no one is coerced. All obligations incurred are voluntarily agreed to.
Second, inertia. The larger a government becomes, the more difficult it is to enact a universal law; the more universal laws there are, the harder it is for a new citizen to join. This turns the current balance of power on its head; under a representative system, the larger a government becomes, the more vulnerable to corruption and collectivism it is, because each individual has a smaller voice in the whole; under a system based on consent, each law is individually evaluated for the personal situation of each individual.
Because new citizens (including children of present citizens) are asked to evaluate and consent to the entire social contract, a system that does not work well will not grow. Consent to the system of government is not assumed, but granted only after sober reflection by a mature adult. The growth of malignancy is halted, as no one will consent to a hostile form of government; they will instead choose the best government under which to live. Choice, over coercion.
Third, efficiency. Anyone can write a "law" and circulate it for signatures. Good laws will succeed in the free market; poor ones will fail. Government services have a natural framework for competing privately-managed providers, creating competition within the government itself.
Fourth, honesty. The legislature has the power to propose, not the power to rule. There is relatively little advantage to expending effort on convincing (or bribing) a legislator; you have to convince each individual to agree before they are bound by anything you can get a legislator to pass. And if a corrupt actor manages to persuade a legislator to slip in a loophole or the like, people will stop signing the proposed contract once the loophole gets out.
Fifth, stability. Once a basic legal code is laid down, change is slow and gradual. Any new proposal will be operating within a pool of first-adopters long before the rest of society considers the proposal. If there are problems lurking within the proposal, they will become apparant as more people sign -- and that will slow adoption.
Sixth, adaptability. The executive and legislative branches allow for a rapid response to problems or threats as they appear; technology allows a new proposal to be written and proposed to the people very rapidly. Implementation of the proposal can begin at once for those who sign. Yet the rapidity of response is not coercive; those who prefer to sit on the sidelines can do so.
Seventh, diversity. Many different systems can be built on top of the same basic social contract. For any problem facing the nation, people can look at different communities and observe how each community dealt with the problem -- and whether the solution worked.
What are the potential problems?
Among many others, there's no bill of rights. We had that argument when we wrote the Constitution of the united States, so such a bill should probably be included in the foundational contracts of this government. However, that is a topic that I will address at a different time.
How can government be funded voluntarily?
Simply include a funding measure for basic operations in the founding document, of course. I have not done so because there are so many options, and which one you use depends on the specific situation in which your government needs to operate. However, one obvious source of funding is a registration fee for contracts that you wish enforced by the government, either a flat fee or based on the value of the contract. This mechanism ensures that those making the most use of the system are also contributing towards its upkeep.
This essay is designed to provide a basic insight into the organization of a theoretical government based on the principle of unanimous consent. Consider it a thought experiment; one that has time yet to evolve. Most likely, nothing will come of it. But just in case, if you like the idea, please leave an encouraging comment.
Knights in Shining Armor?
As a cop- I think the national concealed carry permit is GREAT. I'm sorry to hear the resentment though--- as a citizen I see this as a step toward a national concealed carry permit for everyone. It's a first step- maybe it isn't fair that it's only for certain people, but once it's in place it gives a good place to start lobbying for concealed carry permits for everyone.
One of my readers posted this as a comment to my brief article on what I call the Armed Knighthood Restoration Act (aka, "National Concealed Carry for Cops"). I thought it deserved an explanation, since the idiom isn't necessarily obvious.
Standing alone, independent of everything else, I don't really have any problem with cops carrying concealed firearms -- or with anyone else, for that matter, until they decide to become a threat to me. The problem that I have with this issue is simple: police can, normal citizens can't.
So what's wrong with that? All sorts of things.
I use the analogy to knights because I think it gets the point across quickly and easily, and (as an avid reader of medieval fantasy novels, collector of swords, etc) it's one that comes naturally to mind. Knights are warriors, considered better than the common peasant. Knights have more rights than peasants; they are allowed to carry arms where a peasant would be denied that right. Even in areas where a peasant is technically allowed arms (say, a bow for hunting, or a sword) the knight is subject to fewer questions and challenges for his decision to go armed.
Furthermore, in many cases a knight could kill a peasant with impunity: simply invent an imagined threat or insult, and the nobility (which in that time usually acted as judges) would accept the explanation. Only the most notorious of knights could expect censure for their actions. The Samurai, for example, are widely known to have tested their swords (and their own skills) with human victims; mostly corpses or criminals, but "execution by sword tester" was not unknown.
In short, knights were "like us, only better". That theme is even echoed in the media; we have endless tales of "knights in shining armor" protecting damsels in distress or oppressed peasants. In most of the orders of knighthood, there is an oath sworn to behave with honor, bravery, and righteousness. Knights were supposed to defend the realm from dragons and evil knights.
But the truth doesn't match the propaganda. There were some good knights, some mediocre knights, and some bad knights. The special training doesn't change a person's character; it changes only the tools they have available to express that character. The oath of knighthood doesn't erase evil from the knight's heart, and the shiny armor just means he's harder to stop should he decide to act on evil, or even merely corrupt, motives.
The closest analogy to knighthood we have today are police officers. Like knights, they are considered a protected class; nearly all gun control laws exempt law enforcement. Like knights, they have a positive public image intended to present them as defenders of truth and justice. Like knights, they expect to be addressed as "Sir". Like knights, they have the right to go armed where mere peasants cannot. Like knights, they wear armor that the weapons available to most peasants outside their home cannot penetrate. Like knights, they can strike, shoot, and even kill a peasant with impunity in most cases, even if there is a technical review of the action. Hell, in some cities they even ride horses.
Police officers are our modern knighthood, and they are being treated as one. Some of them, I'm sure, live up to the propaganda. But police officers are just humans, not infallible and not special. And one of the things we rebelled against when we founded this nation was the idea of knighthood -- the whole idea of nobility, for that matter. We spent our blood to create a nation where all men are created equal: no knights, no nobles, no kings. Just men.
I wouldn't care too much about this if the issue in question wasn't the fundamental human right of self-defense. We're not talking about some trivial sinecure or meaningless title. We're talking about the right to defend your life with deadly force. The consequences of not having this privilege, which is reserved to the new nobility, are serious -- perhaps even deadly -- if attacked by a criminal.
My reader makes the argument that national concealed carry for police officers is a step towards national concealed carry for all citizens. I wish that were true; if anything, though, the passage of the bill will have the exact opposite effect. Where, once, we could have put forward a "national concealed carry reciprocity bill" that would allow anyone able to legally carry a concealed firearm in their home state also be able to carry a concealed firearm in another state, that option is no longer available to us.
To put it in practical terms, the police officers, police chiefs, and police lobby have all obtained what they want. When the citizen lobby starts pushing for a national concealed carry bill, do you think we'll see a lot of support? Probably not: those organizations already have the privilege for their members. Why waste time and lobbying cloat on a measure that won't benefit a single member? They'll go back to lobbying for the Assault Weapons Ban.
And when push comes to shove, how many police chiefs will speak out in favor of abolishing their special privilege of self-defense? To get an idea, just find out how many police chiefs spoke out in favor of shall-issue concealed-carry before it passed in their state. The issue gets a lot of after-the-fact conversions because there aren't many problems. But before it passes... know any? No? Neither do I. (If you know of one, please let me know in the comments!)
Even if most police officers are honest, hardworking folk who just want to save some lives, police chiefs are political animals. They won't support national concealed carry for ordinary folk unless there's something in it for them. And thus, passing this bill cuts off the peasants from their support.
... but he's not ranting about it in a Libertarian fashion. Actually, he's complaining that he doesn't subscribe to the open-borders position. And he's got a point; the official libertarian position on immigrants and border control only makes sense if the rest of the libertarian platform gets enacts, or something fairly close to it. So, with that in mind, let me explain how it is supposed to work:
First, under a libertarian government, the government would not be responsible for providing things like welfare or health care to those who can't afford them. Under the current system an illegal immigrant has access to all sorts of government benefits without any obligation to pay the taxes that supposedly fund those benefits; if you remove those benefits you remove one of the things that makes illegal immigrants an economic drain on the country.
Second, under a libertarian government, taxes on personal income would be much lower, or even eliminated completely. This effectively removes the economic conditions that make employing an illegal immigrant so much cheaper than employing an American citizen. Restore parity in the cost of labor, and you're back to a free market again.
Third, under a libertarian government, many of the enforcement difficulties for immigration law are reduced. It's easy to get into the country, so smuggling people in becomes much less of a problem; the only people being smuggled in are people who would be denied legal entry, and those people would only be the ones we really want to stop -- that is, terrorists. So anyone getting smuggled across a border becomes fair game for severe enforcement efforts.
Fourth, under a libertarian government, the people are generally responsible for their own defense. (This is also true under the present government, of course, but in a libertarian government they would be told this and expected to arm themselves accordingly). This reduces the crime problem posed by illegal immigrants, since they are among an armed people expecting to defend themselves. Since many illegal immigrants are also legalized, there's much less of an incentive to commit crimes. The combination should be very effective.
Finally, in times of war, no one seriously expects even a libertarian government to maintain a completely open border policy.
Overall, he's right -- a libertarian immigration policy doesn't make sense with our current government and legal system. But it makes perfect sense once you replace our current policies with libertarian policies.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden has three questions about the "Torture Memo"; it is probably worth prefacing this discussion to note that I am not a lawyer, and this is not a legal opinion, just a layman's speculation:
1. What are the odds that it?s always been within the law that the President has the right to flat-out ignore the law, but we?ve just never noticed it before? Wouldn?t Richard Nixon have noticed it, at the very least? All things considered?
(Sometimes, in extraordinary circumstances, Presidents have bent or broken the law, and had to square it afterward. There?ve been times when it didn?t square. Those were, not surprisingly, handled under the law. But there?s an unbridgeable gap between (a.) acting outside the law and having to answer for it, and (b.) declaring that you?re not answerable to the law for your actions. That second one is a breach of our entire legal system.)
While I understand the point she's trying to make, our Constitution does in fact set the President outside the law, to a certain extent, by way of the Presidential Pardon. To whit:
The President [...] shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
Now, there are obviously some tricky definitional questions here, but it's clear that the President can legitimatize any "Offence against the United States" by pardoning the offender. Most Presidents make some use of this power in the interests, more or less, of justice for people wrongly convicted or harshly sentenced. However, it could be wielded as a much more potent weapon should a President choose to do so. While the President can not pass a law legalizing torture without the assent of Congress, he can order soldiers to torture someone and prevent any punishment of their actions by means of a pardon.
The limitations on the power of the pardon are open to interpertation. In cases of impeachment, obviously, the President cannot pardon himself; but the phrasing could also be read to prohibit pardons more tangentially related to an impeachment proceeding. (Ford's pardon of Nixon, after the latter resigned, would be arguable under this interpertation). But if the President is not impeached, he can order criminal actions and issue pardons with impunity.
The other potentially tricky area is the definition of "Offences against the United States". Pre-Civil-War, I would think that the President would not have the power to pardon a state crime; the governor of that state would be the office of final appeal. In the modern day, that's clearly not an actionable interpertation.
It's also possible that the term would preclude pardons for civil matters, as those are offences against an individual. It's even more likely that this clause would exclude offenses against another government, and arguable as to what would happen if the President tried to pardon someone for actions that violated an international treaty (as such would be an offense against the other signatories), although I understand that the usual practice for treaties is to pass "implementing regulations" which would probably themselves be amenable to pardon.
In the specific case of torture, there's potential interaction with the 8th Amendment (which forbids "cruel and unusual punishments"). Clearly, Congress has no power to authorize torture. But a violation of the Constitution would presumably constitute an offense against the United States, and as such, would lie within the power of the President to pardon.
So how does this play out? Well, the Guatanimo Bay prisoners are on foreign soil (not within a state jurisdiction), on a US military base (United States legal system), and are probably not protected by the Geneva Conventions (not being uniformed military). Thus, I believe the President could order torture and then pardon those committing it if he was so inclined and if he was not impeached for doing so.
Abu Gharib would be a similar case if the soldiers involved were acting under orders and the President chose to give them the protection of a pardon, at least until the handover of power to the Iraqi government takes place. After that point the territory would be under the authority of a functioning foreign government and, thus, crimes committed would no longer be solely offenses against the United States, but also against the local jurisdiction.
It's worth noting that this is a legal argument, not a moral one. There is no moral justification for torture; it's a really, really bad idea for lots of really, really good reasons. Not least among them that we do not want to sink to the level of murderous terrorists.
As an aside, in my moral system, the question of torture is not a simple dispute over justification. Nothing justifies torture. An action that is wrong is always wrong. But just because an action is wrong does not mean it should never be done. An individual can make the choice to take an action that he knows is wrong, and willingly accept the consequences of that action, because he feels the action is worth the moral and legal cost to himself. That doesn't make the action right, but it does provide a framework for dealing with extraordinary situations. I think it's that framework that
Teresa is referencing above in (a).
At first, that sounds like the ends justifying the means... but there is no justification involved. The individual on the scene has to make his own judgement and bear the consequences. Only that person can decide whether to sacrifice his own moral standing, and suffer the legal consequences of his choice, in order to preserve something else of value to him. Not an easy choice to make at all.
If that means tortoring prisoners in the hopes of stopping a terrorist attack, the person who makes that choice should understand the sacrifice they are making and calmly accept a conviction and full punishment in the appropriate venue.
I believe that the idea of a pardon by the executive is based at least in part on this idea: that the capability to legitimatize illegal actions after the fact, even in the face of public criticism, is an important one. The law cannot foresee everything.
The question in (b) is also worth considering. The pardon puts the President and his agents outside the law in at least some respects, but within a legal framework. We have had Presidents declare themselves entirely outside the law in the past (with the most significant example probably being Lincoln during the Civil War). Other Presidents in the past have packed the Supreme Court until it gave rulings acceptable to the administration. I'd say that a President declaring himself outside the law is not entirely unheard of, albeit thankfully rare in our history so far. I do not think it is a breach of our legal system so much as an intended avenue for emergency actions, balanced by the power of impeachment.
2. When your local returns been tabulated on Election Day, what action can you take if you think the voting machines in your area have been rigged to give false results? Any suggestions?
To state the obvious, demand a recount under whatever existing laws and procedures allow for it, and file a lawsuit if you don't trust the results of the recount either. It should not be hard to convince a judge that electronic "recounts" aren't actually "recounts", they are just the same count done over again.
To state the less-obvious, and in full appreciation that Teresa may not appreciate this idea... there's the solution employed in the Battle of Athens, Tennessee.
3. Given that (a.) anyone who has any expertise in intensive interrogation knows that tortured prisoners will tell you anything they think will get you to stop hurting them; and (b.) given that it?s a disastrously stupid move to plan your operations and allocate your resources on the basis of such worse-than-nothing ?intel?; and (c.) given that we have a fair number of experts who know all those things who are working in our government and military who know all those things in detail, what do you suppose was the actual point of getting advance permission to torture prisoners?
Well, I've got a couple points to make in response to this. First, though, I don't have any expertise in intensive interrogation, and I don't think Teresa does either. The idea that someone (well, short of a saint) being tortured will tell you anything they think will make the torture stop is undoubtedly valid to some degree, but how far does it go? Clearly, someone who knows nothing cannot provide useful information under torture, and so it's pointless to torture them. But what about someone who does have valuable intelligence?
Even if that person tells all sorts of other lies, torture seems likely to bring out the truth along with anything made-up. The victim is probably going to be saying anything, including the actual intelligence information being sought. The question then becomes how to weed truth from falsehood, and this requirement is not a terribly difficult one. Certain things -- names, phone numbers, addresses, bank account numbers -- can be verified. The results of an interrogation can be compared to the results of other interrogations along with existing intelligence, signal intercepts, known agents, past movements, etc.
In other words, I don't think anyone with expertise in intensive interrogation would be taking everything he was told at face value. Even the stereotypical villians in the novels Teresa edits know the classic interrogation trick of asking some questions you already know the answers to. Sifting the wheat from the chaff is just part of the job.
Secondly, on basing operations around information gained by interrogation: given the verification procedures above, it's not as crazy as it might seem. Once you have figured out which results of the interrogation are credible, then you can decide how to act on the information, factoring in the perceived reliability. Again, assuming a naive analysis is a mistake. The question of handling information from an untrustworthy source is not a new one in the world of intel, and there are undoubtedly many ways of addressing it that laymen would not be aware of.
Of course, in order to not be wasting your time, you don't want to be torturing someone who actually doesn't have any information. But snatching someone off the street at random is a definite no-no; interrogate only your high-certainty targets.
Third... while the media has been spinning this memo as some kind of permission slip for torture, I doubt that is even close to the original reason behind the memo itself. Knowing how the government leaks information, would you, as President, be stupid enough to commission a permissive opinion on torture and trust that it would not get leaked?
It's much more plausible to me that an administration dealing with the consequences of 9-11 and detaining a number of known-or-suspected terrorists would want a legal opinion defining where the line is. That is to say, what forms of interrogation are legal, and what forms are not. I can easily picture an official requesting a legal opinion on what would constitute illegal torture and what is a permissible interrogation technique.
In fact, I can easily picture such an official requesting multiple opinions, on a matter this weighty, and probably assigning the authors to deliberately slant their opinions; for example, tell the first lawyer to write as broad a recommendation as possible, the next one to write the middle case, and a third to write something narrow and certain. The combination provides many more options and much more nuanced information than what has been presented in the media as little more than a permission slip for torture.
To be honest, I would be much more concerned about a President who denied requesting any legal opinions on permitted interrogation techniques while undertaking the interrogations that we know are going on. An administration that requests a legal opinion, even an arguably strained one, is an administration that has demonstrated some concern for following the law. An administration that used intensive interrogation techniques either without an opinion on their legality or outside of the bounds of that opinion would be demonstrably rogue.
With no way of knowing whether the administration is remaining within those guidelines, the fact that guidelines were requested is far more comforting than imagining an administration that did not bother to ask the question. It's clear to me that asking the question is not an absurd thing for an administration to do at all.
On the other hand, I don't defend the answer that was given at all. I hardly need to go into the details of why.
In the past two days, the Warren Tribune Chronicle (Trumbull Co.) and Elyria Chronicle-Telegram (Lorain Co.) have begun punishing the citizens of their respective counties as a means of protesting Ohio's new concealed carry law.
Both news outlets, known for a history of publishing vehemently anti-concealed carry editorials, published the names of every person who has been issued a CHL in the county.
This is a clear case of the journalistic class forgetting their duty to the people in favor of putting forward their own biases. In other words, these two papers have abandoned honor and abused their privileged position. While this may not sound like a big deal at first, it's significant because rarely have people in their position been willing to display their biases blatantly. Their power and influence derives from the perception of integrity -- that is, the idea that a journalist makes an effort to sort out the facts from the opinions and to responsibly present the major points of view.
When that respect is lost, so is the power. The media in general has already lost the trust of the people, who generally perceive the bias more clearly than they are given credit for. As their influence wanes, the media pundits -- like the editorial board of these papers -- will be driven to become even more shrill in attempting to force through their policies; all the while their readers will be slowly seeking alternatives sources of news.
That's the Internet, folks. It destroys the media influence block by providing alternative sources for information -- allowing people to doubt the accounts fed to them, and seek out better sources for themselves.
Ganging up on the People
We have a two-party system. Fans of this system say it gives us the benefits of an antagonistic system without the relentless coalition-building that often seems to force foreign nations (with stronger minor parties) into crisis when conditions change. Opponents say that it denies third parties a significant voice in the government of their nation. Both are correct; the two party system acts to mute dissent and provides the illusion of broad consensus around the party positions. But increasingly, the two-party system is providing another illusion: an illusion of conflict.
As originally intended, our nation's government could be best characterized as obstructionist. For a law to be valid, it was required to pass through the House of Representatives, and thus gain the approval of the people; then it would pass through the Senate, and thus gain the approval of the state governments; then the President himself would be asked to sign the bill, and he also has the power to block it unilaterally, representing the interests of those who would be required to enforce the law. If a law is passed and signed following that procedure, it must still be enforced by the court system, which can declare it unConstitutional, and by the people individually in each case (in the form of a jury).
The two-party system is an unofficial echo of this theme. A functioning two-party democratic system ensures that the two parties remain approximately equal in strength; the parties themselves act as coalition builders. This approximate equality has consequences in the resulting government. Representative bodies (the House and the Senate) will tend to be closely matched between the parties; as elections are also spread out over time, it will be difficult for a single party to gain control of both legislative bodies. Changes are gradual, with ample time for a party that finds itself losing ground to change strategies and recover. The Presidential race drives the parties further to the center, as they need votes from more than just their own committed party activists.
In theory, the minority party will still be strong enough to put up effective resistance and threaten to take back control from the majority party. The majority is thus encouraged to pay attention to the views of the other side, as they risk strengthening the minority party should they abuse their present position.
In practice, the results have been somewhat different. Unusual situations, such as the Great Depression and the Civil War, have produced great change in our nation; invariably these changes have been in the direction of more and more powerful central government. Once the extraordinary situations have passed, the new balance of power is preserved as if it was the original. Thus, the great barriers to change set in place by the founding fathers to preserve liberty have been perverted to preserve oppression. And public opinion has shifted, too; no longer do we have angry mobs up in arms about taxation, despite the fact that the Stamp Act (which prompted the Boston Tea Party by imposing certain taxes) provided for far smaller levels of taxation than currently exist.
That's bad enough to be more than a little depressing for liberty advocates. But it gets worse.
Common wisdom says that the Democratic party advocates for the First Amendment and other civil liberties issues. The Republican party advocates for the Second Amendment and economic liberty issues. This neatly divides the liberty-oriented voters in half. The implicit assumption is that you can't support both free speech and free access to arms; you must pick one or the other when you vote. It's a false dichotomy, but it's a powerfully effective one,
and the major parties actively encourage it.
This strategy, when used militarily, is termed "divide and conquer"; if you can split your enemy into separate forces, then you can bring your own forces against the pieces separately rather than facing the entire, unified force. It's a little startling to see such a strategy being used by both the political parties, in unison, against the cause of liberty -- and it is enlightening, too.
Imagine a boxing match with three people in the ring: the two contenders, and the referee. The idea is for the two contenders to duke it out, and the referee decides who wins (in a political boxing match, the only analogies to a knockout are both rare and unpleasant). The referee is also supposed to enforce the rules of the game, so that the final result can be considered a fair one.
Now, anyone who's actually watched a boxing match knows that sometimes the referee has to get in between the boxers and separate them. Normally that happens when they are clinched, too close to punch, but sometimes they are still punching when the referee has to interpose himself. The boxers aren't supposed to hit the referee, but sometimes it happens. This is usually an accident and really isn't worth worrying about, but there are rules against it; those rules prevent the boxers from threatening the referee. When both boxers are relatively decent and honorable folk, it works well, and the only injuries are all in the name of the sport.
But what would you think if you watched a boxing match where the boxers displayed casual indifference to the referee's rules? Most of the time they pretended to follow the rules, but not very carefully or very closely. Maybe you rarely saw a boxing tournament without some serious violations of the rules, and you knew that the rules had been changed repeatedly to allow the boxers less and less freedom to hit each other, but more and more freedom to hit the referee? Maybe you wouldn't be surprised when you started to notice the referee getting much more of a pounding than you would attribute to chance.
If both boxers are attacking the referee, deliberately, than the referee can't put a stop to it by declaring a winner because his opponent broke the rules. Maybe a referee in a boxing match could disqualify both boxers, but if the boxing match is an election, the result would be anarchy. That's the problem the people of America are facing: we're trying to referee a boxing match that we can't win, since both boxers are giving our precious freedoms a legal pounding. What does it matter if the Republican party only slugs the left side of our body, and the Democratic party only slugs the right side? We're getting pounded by both sides, and our whole body hurts.
Maybe it's time the referee put on some gloves and started hitting back. That's what the Libertarian party is all about: putting liberty back into the fight. Putting forth candidates and viewpoints that make a difference, that reduce the amount of government interface in the lives of honest citizens. Providing a candidate who isn't attacking the people's liberties at all, and delivering a few punches in the other direction while he's at it.
That's something the two major parties can't do. They've neatly divided up the electorate while making a backroom deal to keep their hands off the other guy's programs. To any career politician, government must always be grown, never shrunk; and the two major parties feel that in their bones, however their lips might move when they want your vote. The established power structure will never vote to reduce the power of government while they control a large portion of it.
Instead, they trade off the role of boogeyman and savior.
They can play those roles until freedom is little more than a lost memory if we don't stop them. And the only way to stop them is to upset their false dichotomy: vote for a third party. Voting for a write-in won't ever add up to enough to matter, and not voting at all is as good as inviting both sides to abuse you; they don't even have to pretend to protect you then.
So when you go to the polls this November, vote Libertarian. Land some punches of your own. It's past time we stood up for ourselves.
It's an election year. As usual, articles are being published endorsing candidates, declaring preferences, and generally asking people -- more or less directly -- to vote for or against a particular person. If you are a liberty activist, like I am, or someone otherwise inclined to the views best expressed by third-party candidates, a lot of these articles will be directed at you. Most of them will cover the same theme: if you vote for a third-party candidate, you will be wasting your vote, because they don't have any chance of winning. Some of them will, in addition, claim that your vote for a third-party candidate may actually hurt your cause, by removing support for the major candidate otherwise closest to your views.
I'm going to talk about wasting your vote, too, but there's a catch. I'm going to tell you that, unless you live in a closely-contested state or district, voting for either major-party candidate is wasting your vote. The conventional wisdom on third-party candidates is wrong -- and here's why.
America is currently in an unusual political situation. Only a few percentage points separate the Democratic and Republican sides in most states -- and those are the percentage points in the center. The activists of both parties, on the other hand, are entrenched; the division there is sharp and angry. Whichever side you examine, the activists are infuriated by the people on the other side and contemptuous of their own politicians who continually seek advantage by moving closer to the center.
But that contempt doesn't matter. Because of the bitter discord between committed conservatives and committed liberals, those votes are ensured. A Republican activist will never cross party lines to vote Democratic, and the same applies in reverse. The politicians don't need to cater to those viewpoints. All they need to do is win their party's nomination; once that has been achieved (and doing so, for an incumbent, is child's play) they can ignore whatever promises they made to their core party faithful in order to play for the center.
What that means is that the election will be decided in large part by those voters in the center; those who haven't thought about the issues, haven't been paying attention, and probably vote more with their gut than with their head. The political machine for the rest of the country, though, has been finely tuned. In many states, redistricting has ensured that most incumbent politicians will not face a serious challenge. In only a few areas are the outcomes in serious doubt. The same applies to the Presidential race; most of the states that were red in 2000 will be red in 2004. Only a few swing states are seriously contested. The politicians know which states and districts are at risk, and they are concentrating their efforts there.
It's sad, but true, that third-party candidates don't get a lot of attention and, thus, don't get a lot of votes. But remember those few percentage points in the center? Politicians win or lose by the same low percentage points that third parties can give or receive, when an election is closely contested.
Be assured that the major parties are watching the third parties closely. They want that support if they can get it, but they also want those middle-ground votes. And they know that they are much more likely to lose middle-ground votes than potential third-party votes; most third-party voters will hold their nose and vote major-party rather than risk a major-party opposition candidate being elected. The lesser-of-two-evils doctrine rules in close elections.
But what if the election isn't close?
What if you live in a deep-red state or a navy blue state -- one that has a margin of, say, 5-10% in favor of one party over the other? Suppose, for example, that you live in Texas; that's a deep-red state, almost certain to go for Bush in 2004 by a fair margin. The Texas legislature passed a redistricting plan that practically ensures a heavily-republican majority for the foreseeable future in the state legislature. Suppose you are a libertarian type -- you dislike Kerry on guns, healthcare, taxes. You like Bush on taxes and his lipservice on guns, but don't much like his views on civil liberties. Suppose you are considering holding your nose and voting for Bush, though, because you think Kerry's views on Iraq and terrorism would be a disaster.
Since you're a single voter in a relatively uncontested state, your vote is unlikely to swing the election one way or another. No matter who you vote for, Bush will probably carry Texas, and the Republicans will probably retain their majority in their legislature. That's right, a vote for Bush in Texas is a wasted vote; so is a vote for Kerry. Neither party knows how or why you, specifically, voted. Neither party knows you were holding your nose. They just see the vote in their column. If a conservative type votes for Kerry, they can't tell that vote apart from a normal Kerry supporter unless a lot of people do it -- and a lot of people won't. They're afraid of "wasting their vote". And the same applies in the other direction.
Neither party can see how you vote, or why you vote... unless you vote for a third-party candidate. That third-party vote tells the world what you, as a voter, stand for. It tells the world that you are not going to hold your nose for the lesser of two evils. And that's something that will make the major parties sit up and take notice, because it means their core supporters, the activists, the people who really care about the issues... are defecting.
That's a real, positive impact. And it will make the party pay even closer attention to you, and your views, because you have demonstrated that you aren't willing to compromise your values. You have gone from a dependable, secure vote -- one that can be bought with marginal lip service -- to a vote that must be earned.
But what about the election? What if, in this example, Kerry wins Texas?
The first thing to realize is that this is extremely unlikely to happen. Kerry isn't trying to appeal to Texans; he's written off the state. His supporters in Texas know they are going to lose and aren't likely to put forth a major effort to contest the state. Republicans can get their voters to show up by portraying Kerry as a major threat, without mentioning the fact that the race probably won't even be close. So, even if you vote for a third-party candidate, you won't change the outcome of the election in your state or in the nation. The same applies, on a smaller scale, to most Senate races and congressional districts.
But your third-party vote shows the major parties where you stand. Your opinion registers. Regardless of the outcome of the election, you, as a voter, gain bargaining power by differentiating yourself from the masses of major party voters. Your "lesser of two evils" major party candidate will pay more attention to you as a result. Your "greater of two evils" candidate may also pay attention -- and start tailoring his own views to match yours, if possible, to encourage a split in his opponent's constituency. If he does that, your vote gains even more bargaining power, and so do the views you are espousing.
But if you vote for a major party candidate in an uncontested race, the party will take you for granted while they focus on the swing voters in the middle. That's what I call a wasted vote.
Check out this map of the 2004 swing states (and Google's cache if it's slow). Are you living in a swing state? If not, you can vote for a third party with a clear conscience. You won't be wasting your vote; you'll be investing it.
The Silent Majority: Apathy or Wisdom?
A common factor in American politics is the idea of a "silent majority" as a significant, sometimes even dominant, factor in American politics. These are the people who don't get worked up about politics; they go to their jobs or take care of their families and vote according simple, almost subliminal criteria: who they like, who they trust. The issues of the day are factors in that opinion but not necessarily dominant ones; the silent majority judges the whole range of issues on feel rather than analysis.
Some would say this is ignorance in action; others would say that it is prone to tyranny-of-the-majority. But I would say it's something else -- something that many Americans grasp in principle as the foundation of peaceful coexistance. I'll call it minding your own business. Which is to say, you don't bother someone unless they are bothering you. You don't try to stop them from doing what they want to do; you don't try to take their money for some cause; you don't interfere with how they want to spend their time or develop their land. You mind your own business, and everyone else does the same, and only where "your business" intersects "my business" do we need to interact.
That may be in activities that we both choose to conduct in public -- such as driving. Traffic laws, in the abstract, define a framework for interaction. That definition is a public good. We are better off having a set of rules that everyone agrees to operate by. It's more efficient to define the rules ahead of time than to argue about whose fault a particular crash really was. Particular rules may be poorly thought out or poorly implemented, but having a basic framework is better than not having one. (For the anarcho-capitalists: private roads can implement private rules just as easily; go build some and come back when you have).
But for activities that don't threaten someone else's life and health, we tend to fall back on the basic principle of leaving each other alone. And this principle extends to politics. I believe that the "silent majority" in America, the people who aren't vocal about politics except at the polls, and even the growing number of people who don't vote at all, are practicing this principle. They don't see a need for government to become involved in their lives, and so they don't involve themselves in politics.
Unfortunately, that leaves the political discourse to two groups of people: people who have something more that they want government to do, and people who want it to be a lot less involved. The average American doesn't see the thousands of regulations that businesses need to follow, doesn't see the large tax bill taken out of his paycheck, and doesn't see the need to change anything. It's not really interfering with his life, so he doesn't feel the need to interfere himself.
Most advocates for liberty are those who have had government interference in their lives. Maybe they have tried to run a small business, and noted with dismay the huge number of regulations imposed upon them. Maybe they were audited by the IRS at a young and tender age. But they have felt the heavy boot of government in their lives, and so they respond in kind.
But most people have the government interference carefully shuffled out of sight. Draw the taxes out of the paycheck, so that most people's interaction with the IRS comes only once a year, and many people get money back. "Hey," they think, "the government gives ME money!" Impose the regulations upon businesses, which can hire accountants and lawyers, then pass the cost along to the customer hidden in the cost of goods they buy. Do whatever is necessary, in short, to make government interference in the average person's life invisible.
Most people feel they are left alone by government, and so they leave it alone in turn. But it's interesting to look at what happens when that isn't the case.
Take security measures at airports. Everyone who has gotten on a plane since 9/11 has been searched more closely than before -- in many cases, substantially more closely. Government has interfered in lives directly. And people respond -- by getting angry at abusive security guards, by demanding armed pilots rather than intrusive searches, by creating such a public uproar over CAPPS-II that it's been renamed and reshuffled to avoid the attention.
But many things that don't interfere are, in practice, just as stupid and intrusive. They get ignored because they aren't on most people's radar screen.
For years, politicians have assumed that the "silent majority" supports the government status quo. After all, if the people wanted something different, they would vote differently, right? Since they elected us, they must support us. If they aren't voting at all, well, it means they support us enough not to want us out of office.
But that assumption is wrong. Silence is not support and silence is not consent. Silence means leave me alone, and I'll leave you alone.
But leaving the government alone until it infringes upon your personal liberty is no longer enough.
Conflicting interests: Taxation, illegal immigration, and liberty
Kevin at The Smallest Minority
points us to this story
about determined minority high-school students competing against the
best-and-the-brightest from MIT in a robotics competition -- and
winning. It's an excellent reminder that the results you get
from our school system are hugely dependent on what you bring to the table in terms of brains, and more importantly, enthusiasm.
Schools do not fail because their students are undermedicated or
genetically incapable of learning. They fail because the students
don't want to learn, or can't be bothered to work hard at
learning. All other obstacles can be overcome by determined
students regardless of supposed cultural, financial, or genetic
barriers. (Hiring incompetent teachers
doesn't help, and is in fact one of the few things we can probably fix, but it's not the core problem).
So with that said... most, if not all, of the students described in
that article were illegal immigrants, or the children of illegal
immigrants. One, in particular, wanted to join the military as a
career option -- but could not, because his family was in the US
illegally. It seems cruel to deny these students the same
education benefits granted to ordinary citizens when they are clearly
capable, deserving individuals who would probably make good use of the
opportunity America not only offers, but represents
, to the poor and oppressed across the world.
They do not say, "I want to work hard and have a fair chance to
succeed." Even though that is what they mean, they say it
differently in the rest of the world. They say it like this: "I
want to go to America."
And yet America is becoming increasingly insular. Our
society is often divided along racial and ethnic lines, in large parts
due to efforts by the Democratic party. We are facing tough
economic choices regarding education, social security, health care, and
other entitlement programs. And we are facing a terrorist threat
that cannot be ignored.
Our citizens do not want to work at the low-skill, low-pay jobs taken
by illegal immigrants. Nor do they want to pay more for goods and
services. Those low-pay, low-skill jobs are given to illegal
immigrants because no one else wants them, and they are kept off the
tax books because it keeps costs -- and thus consumer prices --
down. Many of those jobs would become economically
insupportable if they were taxed and regulated the way that
on-the-books jobs are treated.
We deny many benefits of American society to illegal immigrants.
It's not quite second-class citizenship status; call it second-class
residency. Yet this flies in the face of our history, because
America has thrived by providing a haven for those who want to work
hard, take risks, and seek in return not government benefits... but
America is not the land of the free college education. America is the land of opportunity
And we have some hard choices to make if we want to keep that
title. We cannot allow the flow of illegal immigrants to
continue. What was an acceptable security risk before 9/11 is now
unsupportable. We need to know who is entering our country, and
we need to stop terrorists and criminals at the borders. Once
inside our country they can disappear into the population, and locating
them after that requires intrusive measures that threaten our cherished
tradition of liberty. Better to stop them at the border.
And yet we cannot simply stop them all. It's hard to measure the
effect it would have on our economy, but it's easy to understand the
effect it would have on our principles. If America is to remain
the land of opportunity, we need to continue to offer opportunity to
the world. More practically, it's politically impossible to
muster the required resources to close our southern border.
People will sneak through no matter what we do.
If we can't stop them, we need to know who they are. That's what
Bush is driving at with his various not-quite-an-amnesty immigration
programs. It's not something his Republican base is terribly
happy with. I have a certain amount of sympathy for those
views. The problem of illegal
immigration affects people in the southern border states personally and
viscerally. The same routes that smuggle people also smuggle
drugs, and the people running those routes are criminals willing to
threaten violence to protect their interests. How long before
those same routes begin to smuggle terrorists?
But those problems are associated with illegal
immigration. Make the immigration legal
and the honest folks who just want a piece of the American dream will
participate. The illegal smuggling routes will become the domain
of criminals only -- and there will be no political cost to cracking
down on those.
Once you've done that, though, there's still a problem. Do you
provide all the benefits of citizenship to these now-legal
immigrants? Or do you maintain a second-class status? If
you prefer to offer them the same benefits, how do you fund those
benefits? Remember, if you tax those jobs at the same rate as
other jobs, many of those jobs will go away entirely -- and you are
left with legal immigrants on welfare rather than illegal immigrants
struggling to make the American dream come true.
The solution is to recognize reality. Our politicians have
created a government wherein the costs of compliance (in the form of
taxation, regulation, and so on) are high enough to exclude the vast
majority of unskilled laborer jobs. Quite simply, we can't afford
to provide welfare, social security, health benefits, and free
education to low-income workers, because the cost of providing those services is greater than the revenue that can be derived from taxing the workers
Hard choices indeed.
The people who created those programs have a ready answer. "Raise taxes on the rich!"
they cry. "Redistribute the wealth!"
Well, the graveyard of history is filled with the corpses of communist
and socialist nations that tried exactly that and found out that it
doesn't work. More importantly, in America the market has spoken,
and the market has decreed that it is better to import undocumented
workers in violation of the government's tax laws than to pay the
Do you doubt me?
Some people made a stink
last year because the Libertarian candidate for President was a tax
protester. But Badnarik is just one man. The real tax
protestors are companies like Wal-Mart
who refuse to pay taxes on their employees in favor of employing
illegal immigrants. We're not talking wild-eyed libertarian
lunatics picketing the Internal Revenue Service here. We're
talking rational corporate actors making decisions to break the law.
The current tax regime is unsupportable, and the trends all suggest
that it will continue to get worse. We can't afford the
pseudo-socialist state that 60 years of Democratic dominance has given
us. They mortgaged our future
to pay for it, stealing the money
we contributed from a mythical trust fund, and now the bill is starting
to come due. We see it in jobs that go to illegals because they
can be kept off the books, and we see it in the looming social security crisis
The solution is to tighten our belts, abandon failed programs funded by fraudulent pyramid schemes
and return to a government of limited size and limited means.
Once we remove the excessive taxation, regulation, and red tape from
the economy, the jobs presently held by illegal immigrants can become legal
jobs held by legal
immigrants. Those jobs will still face a tax burden, but a
dramatically reduced one. The people working on those jobs will
not have to live outside the law. They won't get a free ride to
college, but they don't anyway; they will
get the opportunity to work their way through college, which they are
presently denied, even if they want to. Most important of all,
they won't be terrorists.
True, ordinary Americans will have to give up some of the benefits they receive. But that is both fair and inevitable
as the behavior of companies like Wal-Mart demonstrates. And it
will put pressure on the educational system to return to a sane pricing
structure, rather than demanding that our students mortgage their own future
to support professorial frauds like Ward Chuchill
Rather than taxing only the rich to support programs for the poor in an
unsupportable cycle, taxes will be low, fair, and applied to everyone
equally; prices for education will be low, student choice will force
schools to compete for students (resulting in better quality education
for everyone), and the American Dream will remain an opportunity available
to anyone willing to work hard for a fair wage.
UPDATE: This posting was included in the Carnival of the Capitalists
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