February 11, 2014
February 4, 2014
Jonah Goldberg makes a case (that might not sit well with many SoCons) that social conservatism is actually more fundamentally libertarian than modern liberalism:
I guess where I’d disagree with Siegel’s formulation (and Vin’s) is the idea that liberalism is necessarily “radically civil-libertarian” about much of anything. Of course, individual liberals may be civil-libertarians. I can certainly think of plenty who are. But as an intellectual, cultural and political project, I think liberalism is better understood as a competing value system. Think of it this way. Social conservatism is very libertarian about all sorts of things, and not libertarian about other things. Constitutional considerations aside, where it believes the State shouldn’t interfere it is because non-interference advances a cultural agenda of traditional conservatism.
The same goes for liberalism. It celebrates certain lifestyles or cultural choices because it likes the content or fruits of those choices. It is a mistake, it seems to me, to say liberals are libertarian about much of anything. They are outraged about alleged intrusions into our privacy when it comes to the NSA, but utterly dismissive of potentially far greater intrusions into our private lives via things like Obamacare.
Consider gun rights. Yes, conservatives believe in second amendment rights because they are in the Constitution. But they also value a culture of self-sufficiency, self-defense and a traditional understanding of individual sovereignty. (Relatedly, I think it’s fair to say that hunting culture is inherently conservative and, very broadly speaking, anathema to much of liberal culture). Liberals dislike gun rights, because they detest gun culture (their Constitutional arguments in this regard have always struck me as nearest-weapon-to-hand debating points and rationalizations given their general disdain for Constitutional literalism in nearly every other regard) and see gun violence as a kind of public health issue, which means the State should have an unlimited license to deal with it. The right of armed self-defense also offends the State’s monopoly on violence, and liberalism is a jealous guardian of State power. Liberals talk a great game about being libertarian when it comes to sexual politics, but have no problem politicizing other, equally personal, choices: like what you can eat, or what you can say (I’m thinking of things like campus speech codes). Moreover, the recent push to socialize the provision of birth control (and abortion) is hardly a libertarian enterprise.
Oh, a quick addendum, lest I be greeted with the usual scoffing at the suggestion that social conservatism is more libertarian than liberalism.
I would argue — and have argued for years — that mainstream conservatism is vastly more libertarian than liberalism for a number of reasons. I’ll list four. Law, Metaphysics, Economics and the Family.
1) Mainstream conservatism actually takes the Constitution seriously, which means that written into conservatism is a very real limit on what the State can do to advance a cultural agenda.
2) Metaphysically, conservatism draws heavily on Judeo-Christian values, and therefore has a constrained vision about the limits of social and individual perfectibility and the power of the State to achieve such things. Liberalism, as Bill Voegeli, Thomas Sowell and others have argued, has no such limiting principles because at its core it is an unconstrained vision.
3) Economically, conservatism and libertarianism while not entirely identical overlap considerably. This means we actually believe that there’s a very limited positive role for the State to second guess the allocation of resources in the market place or to spend money better than the people who earn it.
4) Conservatism, unlike liberalism, considers the family a near-sacrosanct institution that should be an oasis from government meddling (barring instances of abuse and the like). The family, for liberals is the last nut to crack. Which is why people like Melissa Harris Perry can talk about “public ownership” of children or in the words of Hillary Clinton talk about how we need to move away from the idea there is any such thing as somebody else’s child.
I could go on, but I think those four should do for now.
January 21, 2014
It’s been many years since I watched an episode of Coronation Street, so I was a bit surprised to find that the show’s writers are “political”, at least on some issues:
Many a soap-opera storyline has created a news story in itself. So it was in the case of Hayley Cropper, a character on a British soap, Coronation Street. News of what happens to Hayley, in an episode to be shown tonight, created a furore when the press release for the story went out last Tuesday. The dilemma for the writers was how to kill off a character who had been a mainstay of the programme since 1998, when she was introduced as the first transsexual character. The answer, provided by producer Stuart Blackburn, was to have the character dying of pancreatic cancer, but finishing herself off with a cocktail of drugs in an on-screen suicide.
Julie Hesmondhalgh, the actor who plays Hayley, called for a discussion on legalising assisted suicide. She was backed by Sara Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, who praised the show’s ‘sensible and sensitive handling of assisted dying’. Lord Falconer, whose Assisted Dying Bill will be introduced in the House of Lords in the coming months, penned an article in the Sun. The Sun’s editorial called for a change in the law and the newspaper published the results of a poll indicating that 69 per cent of Britons support the legalisation of assisted suicide for the terminally ill.
It is difficult not to suspect – despite the even-handedness of the treatment of the issue (the character’s on-screen husband, Roy Cropper, opposes Hayley’s decision) – that the programme is part of the well-funded campaign to legalise assisted suicide. Stuart Blackburn had previously explored the same issue while at a rival soap, Emmerdale. (He perhaps risks becoming the Jack Kevorkian of the soap world.) Hesmondhalgh was forthright about her support for a change in the law in several interviews, and many journalists seem poised to call again for the legalisation of assisted suicide.
But it is entirely appropriate that a fictional plotline is used to promote legalising assisted suicide. The reason that so many people wish to have the ‘right to die’ is based on the morbid imagination of the ‘worried well’, traded on so effectively by right-to-die campaigners. ‘What if it happened to YOU…?’ is the plotline of Dignity in Dying and other organisations that campaign for legalised assisted suicide.
There are arguments on both sides of this issue (personally, I’m in favour of making it legal), but there are concerns that less-than-scrupulous family members might attempt to “hurry” an elderly or infirm parent or relative to a decision that wouldn’t really be voluntary.
It’s also an issue that came up this weekend, as one of my online acquaintances (we’d never met in person, but we both belonged to a special interest mailing list and had had several email discussions) committed suicide with his wife last week. Maarten and Irma apparently faced an unpleasant future in their declining years and mutually decided that their time had come. While euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, it does not seem that Maarten and Irma followed the letter of the law in their case:
Euthanasia in the Netherlands is regulated by the “Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act” from 2002. It states that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are not punishable if the attending physician acts in accordance with criteria of due care. These criteria concern the patient’s request, the patient’s suffering (unbearable and hopeless), the information provided to the patient, the presence of reasonable alternatives, consultation of another physician and the applied method of ending life. To demonstrate their compliance, the Act requires physicians to report euthanasia to a review committee.
The family is, understandably, not providing a lot of detail but said that they were found in bed, hand in hand and “together, peaceful and loving” but did not specify how they had died.
Becoming dependent on whomever or whatever, or seeing your partner slowly fading away, are situations we do not ever want to contemplate, therefore we have, in good health, clear of mind, together 150 years old, in our own bed, hand in hand, ended our lives.
At risk of sounding trite, I’m saddened that they chose to do this, but I respect their right to make that decision. It cannot have been an easy one. Rest in peace.
December 3, 2013
In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith provides a thumbnail sketch of the reasons for the first amendments to the US constitution:
While some of this nation’s Founding Fathers — Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Mason — were intent, first and foremost, to create a new country in which individual liberty and free enterprise would be the order of the day, there were others, like Alexander Hamilton, who regarded the fledgling America as his personal piggy bank.
You will have been taught that the Articles of Confederation, our first “operating system” were deeply flawed, The truth is that they provided for an extremely decentralized governance that stood as an obstacle to the vast fortunes Hamilton and his cronies had hoped to amass.
The Articles had to go, and it is revealing that among Hamilton’s first acts as Treasury Secretary under the Constitution that replaced them was a national excise tax on whiskey that, as readers of my novel The Probability Broach know, very nearly sparked a second American Revolution.
Corn farmers of western Pennsylvania long accustomed to turning their crop into a less perishable, more transportable product, were among the first victims of democracy American-style, the kind where three coyotes and a lamb sit down to debate on what’s going to be for dinner.
Nevertheless, that’s why a few stiff-necked libertarian-types, like Jefferson, held out for a Bill of Rights to be added to the new Constitution, and it was written, more or less to Jefferson’s order, by his close friend, James Madison, one of the few Federalists who was genuinely interested in assuaging the Anti-Federalists about the new document.
The Bill of Rights was, unfortunately misnamed. It was not a list of things Americans were allowed too do, under the Constitution. It was and remains a list of things government is absolutely forbidden to do — like set up a state religion, or steal your house — under any circumstances.
The Bill of Rights was the make-or-break condition that allowed the Constitution to be ratified. No Bill of Rights, no Constitution. And since all political authority in America “trickles down” from the Constitution, no Constitution no government. And, since the Bill of Rights was passed as a unit, a single breach, in any one of the ten articles, breaches them all and with them, the entire Constitution. Every last bit of the authority that derives from it becomes null and void.
November 30, 2013
The Electronic Frontier Foundation explains why you should worry about omnipresent government surveillance:
There are a few ways to respond to this, depending on what you think will work best for the person raising the question.
- Point out how mass surveillance leaves you at the mercy of not only the NSA, but also to the DEA, the FBI and even the IRS. We know that the government claims that any evidence of a “crime” can be sent to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.
- Tell them that, even if you don’t think you have something to hide, it’s possible the government thinks you do, or can create some concern about you (or your friends or loved ones). There are so many laws and regulations on the books, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner said the Congressional Research Service did not have the resources to count them all. One legal expert has argued that the average person likely commits three felonies a day without ever realizing. So, you may be technically breaking a law you have no idea about.
- We all benefit from a system that allows privacy. For example, when journalists can speak to sources without the specter of surveillance, helping fuel investigative journalism and the free flow of information. And this is not just a hypothetical — the Department of Justice subpoenaed the phone records of Associated Press journalists in an effort to track down government whistleblowers. And it’s not just journalists. Activists, political organizers, lawyers, individuals conducting sensitive research, businesses that want to keep their strategies confidential, and many others rely on secure, private, surveillance-free communication.
November 29, 2013
Brian Lilley is against a new bill that would provide the police with the power to demand that drivers submit to breath testing even when there’s no evidence that they’ve been drinking:
It’s the latest attempt to crack down hard on the ever-shrinking problem of drunk driving. The news release touting Bill C-556 states that, if passed, it would, “amend the Criminal Code to allow police officers to perform systematic random breathalyzer testing regardless of whether or not the driver shows signs of impairment.”
That means police don’t need a reason to give you a test.
They don’t need to see dilated pupils, smell booze on your breath or even have you admit you had a beer while watching the game.
The bill would give police a big increase in power and that’s not a step I want to take.
No one supports drunk driving, no one that I know anyway. And attempts to deal with the issue have largely been successful.
Statistics Canada is clear — drunk driving has been on the decrease for years now.
“The impaired driving rate generally declined from the mid-1980s to 2006, when it reached its lowest point in over 25 years, at 234 incidents per 100,000 population,” reads a report from the agency.
Back in the mid-80s there were roughly 600 incidents of impaired driving per 100,000 of population; in 2011 the Canadian average across all provinces and territories was 262 incidents per 100,000.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees all Canadians are protected from unreasonable search and seizure.
This bill would shred that protection.
This bill isn’t a slippery slope. It’s a steep hill greased up with lard and those in favour of ever expanded police powers are just waiting for Parliament to step on it.
Canadians need to say no to drunk driving and they need to say no to this bill.
November 28, 2013
I begin rather skeptical of most gun-control proposals. The ones that are pitched in the aftermath of mass shootings are particularly cynical, as they often attempt to regulate circumstances unrelated to the shooting. I still grind my teeth at Mayors Against Illegal Guns running ads in my state citing the Virginia Tech shooting, and talking about the need to shut the “gun show loophole” — even though the shooter didn’t obtain his weapons at a gun show. These sorts of arguments strike me as one part craven opportunism, one part feel-good placebo. (I wanted to say “panacea,” but panacea actually means a genuine cure-all.)
If someone wants to propose a new restriction on gun ownership after a tragedy, and cites that tragedy as a reason to pass it, it’s necessary to show how that new restriction would have prevented, mitigated, or impacted that tragedy. For example, almost none of the gun laws proposed after Newtown would have changed much of anything in that awful shooting, as that disturbed young man stole his mother’s legally purchased guns.
I suppose there are two potential changes to the law that would have significantly altered events in Newtown. First, a total ban on private ownership of firearms, which our friends in the gun-control movement keep insisting isn’t their goal.
Second, a restriction on gun ownership by people who live under the same roof as a person who’s deemed mentally incompetent or a threat to himself or others. Of course, then you get into the questions of what constitutes, “mentally incompetent or a threat to himself or others,” what constitutes “under the same roof”, etc.
Then there are the proposals to limit how many rounds each gun can fire before reloading. Almost every spree shooter — we need a better term for this — has had more than one firearm when they’ve launched their attacks. Instituting 10-round limits would mean that future shooters would get off 20 shots before pausing to reload, presuming they only brought two guns. It’s reasonable to conclude future mass killers will just bring three or four guns when they begin their rampage. This strikes me as a quite modest mitigation in the danger of these shooters, too modest to seriously consider.
Jim Geraghty, “Why Post-Shooting Gun-Control Debates Are So Insufferable”, National Review Online, 2013-09-18
November 22, 2013
November 12, 2013
At Popehat, Ken White discusses the fascinating case of the public affairs office of the Boston Police department as a “victim” of “intimidation” from callers:
The story begins typically for Photography Is Not A Crime with a story about a Boston Police Department sergeant thuggishly assaulting a photographer recording a traffic stop. A PINAC fan and journalism student named Taylor Hardy called the Boston PD’s Bureau of Public Information on its public line to ask about the story. Hardy spoke with Angelene Richardson, a spokesperson for the Boston Police Department who provides information to the media and public. When Hardy published a recording of that call, the Boston Police Department arranged for him to be charged with wiretapping. Hardy claims that he informed Richardson that he was recording the call (though he did not successfully record that part of the conversation), apparently Richardson claims that he did not.
Even assuming that Hardy didn’t disclose that he was recording (and it would be foolish to take the BPD’s word on that), it’s very dubious policy for the government to charge a citizen with a crime for recording a call with a police department’s public information officer on the phone line the department identifies as its public information line. Any such communication can’t possibly be regarded as private. There may be constitutional problems with a wiretapping statute that allows prosecution of a citizen under those circumstances. But the BPP wasn’t done doubling down yet.
When Carlos Miller wrote about the wiretapping charges against Hardy, he encouraged readers to contact Richardson at her BDP telephone number and email address, which the BPD published online:
Maybe we can call or email Richardson to persuade her to drop the charges against Hardy considering she should assume all her conversations with reporters are on the record unless otherwise stated.
In other words, Miller encouraged his readers to petition the government for a redress of grievances, as protected by the First Amendment.
Detective Nick Moore also assured me he would do the same to any PINAC readers if they continue to contact departmental spokeswoman Angelene Richardson as they have been doing since yesterday.
“I can go and get warrants for every person who called her,” he said during a telephone conversation earlier this evening. “It’s an annoyance. It’s an act of intimidation.”
Indeed — an act of intimidation is involved. But it’s an act of intimidation by the BPD, which is sending a clear message about how it will handle citizen dissent.
What a accomplishment: the Boston Police Department has discovered a way to make it a crime for citizens to contact the person it designates to talk to citizens.
November 2, 2013
In Maclean’s, Erica Alini tries to explain just what the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) is, and why Canadians should be very concerned about it:
To say that FATCA is controversial is an understatement. The law is so complex and onerous to implement that some foreign banks have reportedly kicked out their U.S. clients in order to avoid dealing with it. Americans living abroad are queuing to give up their U.S. passports over it. The other problem with FATCA is that it asks foreign banks to do things that are often illegal in their home countries, such as passing on certain private information.
It has caused a stir in Canada as well, but the press here generally portrays it as something that affects only dual citizens and green-card holders. Given the number of Americans who live in Canada, that would be enough to make it a big issue (and a big headache for Ottawa). But the truth is FATCA has the potential to touch a much larger number of unsuspecting Canadians.
In general, what you get for signing an agreement to enforce FATCA is a pledge that the U.S. will do its best to share some of its information on your country’s potential tax cheats. You read that right: Not a duty to reciprocate your efforts, but a lame “we’ll try hard” promise. That’s because the U.S. government does not, at the moment, have permission to force U.S. banks to share information with foreign governments. Only Congress can change that.
That sounds bad enough, but it gets worse for Canada. We are the exception — the only country with which the U.S. has an automatic information-sharing agreement. Now, the trouble with FATCA is that it demands some new information: Not about the Canadian assets and incomes of people who live in the U.S. but about the assets and incomes of people who live in Canada but might have some ties to the U.S. While Canadian taxation, thankfully, is based on residency — you owe the CRA if you’ve been living in Canada — the U.S. has started demanding that its citizens file taxes regardless of where they live.
One of the unforeseen effects of this legislation is that it’s been making it much harder for US citizens to do business in other countries or to work in other countries for extended periods of time. If foreign banks refuse to allow US citizens to open accounts, you’re imposing significant costs and extra inconvenience on people who are in no way attempting to hide assets or income from the IRS. As with so many government initiatives, it probably won’t inconvenience actual criminals all that much, but will primarily impact ordinary — innocent — US citizens.
October 28, 2013
On October 26, 2013, protesters from across the political spectrum gathered in Washington, D.C. to take part in the Stop Watching Us rally, a demonstration against the National Security Agency’s domestic and international surveillance programs.
Reason TV spoke with protesters — including 2012 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson and former Congressman Dennis Kucinich — to discuss the rally, why people should worry about the erosion of privacy, and President Barack Obama’s role in the growth of the surveillance state.
Correction: Laura Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, was incorrectly identified as Susan N. Herman, ACLU President.
Produced by Joshua Swain, interviews by Todd Krainin.
September 28, 2013
Alex Tabarrok links to a Wall Street Journal article (paywalled, unfortunately) about the Indian court decision that will allow Indian voters to cast their ballots against all the candidates on offer:
Excellent news. Bear in mind:
Nearly a third of the members of the lower house of Parliament are facing criminal charges, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms, a New Delhi-based advocacy group for transparency in governance.
Even if that were not the case, however, one of the problems of democracy is that there is too little feedback and information transmission, due both to rational ignorance and the bundle nature of politics. Allowing for “none of the above” provides, not a panacea, but a little bit more feedback. Many people vote but have to hold their noses to do so. Many others don’t vote but do they not vote because they are satisfied or dissatisfied? None of the above gives the dissatisfied a chance to reveal their views and in so doing it may encourage more and better candidates.
At present, voting none of the above is just informational, i.e. none of the above is never “elected” even if it gets a majority, although the option to vote NOTA may change the outcome of the election. In the future a NOTA majority might signal a new election.
There have been a few elections here in Ontario I’d love to have had the option of voting “None of the above”.
September 19, 2013
There isn’t much of a culture-war component of discussing mental illness, other than a few folks on the Right who blame the Left for deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill in the 1960s. I suspect that there is no real constituency in favor of the Second Amendment rights of the mentally ill — provided, of course, the definition of “mentally ill” is clear, explicit, and taken seriously. (If you think there’s a stigma to admitting you’re seeing a therapist, a psychologist, or getting mental health treatment now, just wait until some of your legal rights can be restricted because of it.)
Thankfully, I’ve never known anyone who has had violent episodes or threatening mental illness. My sense of reading coverage and the literature is that people rarely “snap” and become dangerous killers overnight. As you’ve probably found in your research, there are certain common threads: withdrawal from others and lack of a support network; hostile behavior and temper control, outbursts, etc. It is maddeningly infuriating to hear friends and acquaintances of past shooters describe behavior that seems, in retrospect, to be a warning sign or red flag.
After Columbine, many school administrators tried to institute a new “If you see something, say something” approach to individuals behaving in a threatening manner. Then we saw in Virginia Tech that many, many students reported the gunman for strange and threatening behavior, including stalking. School administrators ultimately couldn’t do enough to stop him — either from fear of lawsuits or from overall bureaucratic inertia.
It’s not clear how effective a program like this would be; one would hope that people would already know to report strange, troubling, or threatening behavior to authorities. In past writings, I’ve emphasized that the only authority that can put someone on the federal firearms restriction list is a judge, and so that these sorts of concerns are best sent directly to the cops, not to a school administrator or company HR department.
However, a country where more Americans are trained to spot signs of serious, untreated and potentially dangerous mental illness strikes me as a better path than yet another effort to restrict the rights of 40 million gun owners because of the actions of a handful.
Jim Geraghty, “Why Post-Shooting Gun-Control Debates Are So Insufferable”, National Review Online, 2013-09-18
September 12, 2013
The lesson I remember best from my religious instruction as a youth in the Catholic church came from a nun who was explaining the ten commandments. She asked me to explain the prohibition of taking the Lord’s name in vain; I said it meant I should not curse using God’s name. She corrected me — ultimately the commandment means we should not invoke God’s name for our own power or glory or purposes rather than His own, she said.
9/11 — like every great and terrible thing and event that has ever come before it — is invoked to demand and justify a wide array of ends and prove a confusing jumble of conclusions. Many of those ends and conclusions were sought by their advocates well before 9/11. It has ever been so. People will seek power, seek prominence, seek money, seek their religious and ideological goals by invoking events — by trying, as I suggested in #4 above, to blur the line between the thing and our reaction to the thing. This has been a constant theme on this blog: the government has sought more and more power over us, and more and more limitations on our rights, by invoking 9/11, only to use those new powers to fight old fights unrelated to terrorism and to suppress things they didn’t like before 9/11. The PATRIOT ACT was an incoherent jumble of law enforcement wet dreams and wish lists, components of which had been floating about for decades. But though the government’s efforts to use 9/11 has carried the most weight, the invocations have not come only from the government — they’ve come from everywhere, left and right, seeking to use the tragedy to prove preconceptions about America and its foreign policy.
Ken White, “Ten Things I Want My Children To Learn From 9/11″, Popehat, 2011-09-11
August 22, 2013
Jon, my former virtual landlord, sent me this link and said “Does this sort of thing really matter any more? Aren’t all governments doing this?”
Under Tocqueville’s Influence, China Chooses Despotism
Paul A. Rahe
In the last few days, the national press has been full of reports suggesting that China’s new President, Xi Jinping, is orchestrating a revival of Maoism and a crackdown on those in China who would like to introduce within that country the procedures, practices, and institutions that distinguish the West: the rule of law, constitutionalism, freedom of the press, judicial independence, civil associations, and “universal values” – which is to say, a respect for human rights. The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story on Saturday, claims that Xi is receiving strong support from former President Jiang Zemin; and on Monday The New York Times filled in some of the details:
Communist Party cadres have filled meeting halls around China to hear a somber, secretive warning issued by senior leaders. Power could escape their grip, they have been told, unless the party eradicates seven subversive currents coursing through Chinese society.
These seven perils were enumerated in a memo, referred to as Document No. 9, that bears the unmistakable imprimatur of Xi Jinping, China’s new top leader. The first was “Western constitutional democracy”; others included promoting “universal values” of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market “neo-liberalism,” and “nihilist” criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.
Even as Mr. Xi has sought to prepare some reforms to expose China’s economy to stronger market forces, he has undertaken a “mass line” campaign to enforce party authority that goes beyond the party’s periodic calls for discipline. The internal warnings to cadres show that Mr. Xi’s confident public face has been accompanied by fears that the party is vulnerable to an economic slowdown, public anger about corruption and challenges from liberals impatient for political change.
The evidence now suggests the contrary — that Wang Qishan is by no means alone in his convictions, that Xi Jingpin and his lieutenants take quite seriously the possibility that China is in a pre-revolutionary situation, and that they are intent on putting a lid on everything. Where Tocqueville might have suggested that the way forward was for the country’s leaders to embrace the “seven subversive currents,” to carry out a revolution from above, and to gradually introduce into the country the rule of law, constitutionalism, freedom of the press, judicial independence, civil associations, and a respect for human rights, they have decided in this year — the 120th anniversary of Chairman Mao’s birth — to return to the path he charted more than 60 years ago.