Shifting My Tactics

Dear Readers:

After five years of writing a weekly blog, I am taking a hiatus. No worries, I will still be writing for the cause of liberty, but I see a different need emerging and I will be using such writing skills as I possess in a different way.

I believe that there are plenty of good current events pundits to go around right now, but not enough writers who explain libertarian principles in a thorough but understandable way. Before making this decision, I drafted what will hopefully be either the first chapter in a book or first in a series of libertarian essays available on Kindle. It is hard work, even more so that writing a blog. After seeing the results, though, I was convinced that it will be worth the effort.

Common Sense Liberty will still be available in case you wish to examine the archives or even comment on older posts. My deepest thanks goes out to all of you who have read my posts over the last five years.

Yours in Freedom,

Terry

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Art, Underwear, and Taking Offense

Females at Wellesley College apparently got their panties in a twist over some art depicting a man in his underwear. The issue appears to be that it makes some people “uncomfortable.” To be fair, it may not have been all females who signed the petition to have it removed. I am sure some males are rendered uncomfortable as well, much as I am when I see those ridiculously cut-up UnderArmour models.

Just kidding. I am perfectly comfortable with being past the age where people want to sculpt me in my underwear.* I am also comfortable with art that depicts things I don’t like, don’t understand, or disagree with. In fact, I cannot imagine feeling threatened by art, unless it’s a performance piece with machine guns spraying real bullets into the crowd at the end.

These days, however, it is not good enough to talk about a piece of art that disturbs some people; we must get rid of art that evokes discomfort. Thus the petition to rid the campus of Underwear Man** now, well before he is scheduled to depart anyway this summer.

Just where along the line we supposedly acquired the right not to be made uncomfortable is a mystery to me. Art confronts, pleases, aggravates, provokes and inspires. It is rarely benign, though Underwear Man comes close to qualifying. (The vapid nature of contemporary art is another subject entirely.) And the fact that it is art is, well, beside the point.

Sleepwalker statue

Any society that flourishes does so because its inhabitants are free. Tyrannies come and tyrannies go, but the reason is always the same–human beings require freedom to prosper, both materially and spiritually. Take away the most fundamental of those freedoms, expressing what one thinks, and collapse is sure to follow. I have to wonder if the current petition-signers will feel the same way when their speech gets squashed by right-wing fundamentalists. No doubt some of them feel threatened by godless heathen who want reproductive rights.

And who is teaching these young people that life is supposed to be insult-free? Is that a point of view? I mean a real one? I suppose I should not ask. Years ago, I attended a workshop on effective teaching, part of which dealt with gender and racial bias. A perfectly legitimate subject, by the way. At least it can be when the point is to recognize when we may be unconscious of our own unfairness. In this case, though, one of the attendees noted that she felt uncomfortable–borderline threatened–by the presence of males in general anywhere.

Now, I don’t know if you have ever seen a room full of male graduate students, but they aren’t exactly savage biker-types bent on snorting coke and shooting up the place. Most wouldn’t know a spur from a spittoon. One of us (another guy beat me to it) asked incredulously if she felt threatened by…us. Yes was the answer, and it was then that I understood just how far out in the weeds feminism had strayed.

At least some campuses get it, like the University of Alaska Fairbanks. After dubious attacks on student-published material a faculty member deemed “sexually harassing,” the system President Mark R. Hamilton made it clear that the First Amendment protected speech is not subject to investigation. Kudos to Hamilton, a rare commodity in academia.

The lesson here is plain, but some people are refusing to get it. Susie’s feelings do not define the limits of Jane’s speech. State-supported campuses run afoul of the First Amendment when they act as the state and enforce speech codes. The only people who are never confronted with uncomfortable ideas are those who do not allow others to say anything without their approval. As Philosopher Stephen Hicks notes, this is not feminism, it is Learned Infantilism.

Higher education is about growth, not regression. Growth requires psychological and intellectual disruption–pain, actually–and our institutions of higher learning should be the last place on Earth where the value of free speech is questioned as a means to that end. May the authorities at Wellesley summon some of the University of Alaska’s courage and let the Sleepwalker wake some people up.

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*But if you do, contact me at terrynoel@commonsenseliberty.com. Modeling fees reasonable. Serious inquiries only.

**The piece is actually entitled “Sleepwalker,” but I like my title better.

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Do You Want the Government To Design Your iPad?

An iPad is something that shouldn’t exist. By touching its screen, a user can access billions upon billions of collections of information displayed in crisp, vibrant color with nary a cord in sight. What sort of magic results in such a wonder?

We know, of course, that there is no magic involved, at least not the kind that involves puffs of smoke and incantations. The iPad, along with millions of other technological accomplishments, came from the minds of talented and dedicated people. It is the result of free people, privately employed and massively motivated. What arrangement could possible top that?

The answer is “none,” but the government, that bastion of justice, fairness, and know-it-all-ness has decided it knows better than Apple how to design a tablet interface. At issue is a feature with which most of us are familiar. When making online purchases, one need not enter a password every single time a purchase is made. The password permission stays on for a time–usually 15 minutes or so. Some Apple users complained that their children had been able to make purchases within that time window without parental consent. Apple contacted every one and offered a refund.

Eddie Murphy new sheriff in town

That was not good enough for the FTC, which laid out design parameters for the next twenty years. This without, as far as we know, a single qualification among the agency’s commissioners to design computer interfaces.

This is not the first time our government has attacked success. Some of us recall them gnawing at the ankle of Bill Gates when Microsoft was changing the world for the good. Or the NLRB trying to tell Boeing where to locates its new plants. Or CAFE standards resulting in more expensive and less safe cars. Let no good deed go unpunished.

Good design results from bad design modified with experience. The first model of virtually anything is less than perfect. Succeeding models require feedback, but only a certain kind of feedback works. When customers find that their children buy stuff they aren’t supposed to, they either teach the kids (by making them do chores to pay off the bill) or if the offense is great enough they complain to the company from which they purchased it. Likewise for literally millions of design features. The market is the perfect mechanism for finding out what features most people want and how much they are willing to pay for it.

When government is the feedback provider, a small panel of people who may have little to no actual experience with the product decide what is best for the millions who do use it. Is this the way we want our computers to be designed? Our cars? Our educational system?

Government wants to control everything because that is how people in government get paid. The less they control, the less they are needed and the more they are required to do honest work. For every economic initiative, there are now thousands of people appointed by politicians to screw it up. This is the end game of government now–control without purpose and arrogance in spades.

While I understand Apple’s decision to settle the case, I am disappointed. Only when victim’s of regulatory overreach start to fight back will agencies retreat from their destructive offensive against economic freedom.

In the move 48 Hours, Eddie Murphy plays a convicted con man sprung from jail to help Nick Nolte’s character catch a crook. One scene has Murphy trying to get information in a redneck bar. Finding himself the object of derision, he hurls a glass through the bar mirror. They start listening. It’s about time companies like Apple threw a glass.

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The Pen Is Not Mightier Than the Law

If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.” –Neils Bohr

So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.” –Barack Obama

In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour – because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.” –Barack Obama

I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.” –Barack Obama

If you are not profoundly shocked by Barack Obama’s political tactics, you haven’t understood them yet.” –Terry Noel

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The State of the Union Address was, as these things tend to be, a tedious narrative of self-praise. Barack Obama is not the first nor will he be the last President to attempt applying lipstick to a pig. Unfortunately for him, this one is starting to squirm.

The President did not formally shut down Congress, nor did he invoke martial law. He did not actually crown himself King, nor did he whore out the wives of our Senators as did Caligula. The President refrained from nationalizing all businesses with over seven employees and did not explicitly outlaw profit. He did not announce a plan for confiscating all firearms held by private citizens. In short, for anyone who still believes anything the President says, it was a victory for freedom and prosperity.

What the President did do in his address was nearly as disturbing. He let us know without a doubt that he takes a dim view of our Constitutional system of governance, invoking multiple times his desire and intention to bypass Congress and make law himself. Lest we all think this an empty threat, the President has received nine unanimous Supreme Court upbraidings for trying to expand federal power since January 2012. Something tells me he is sincere in his efforts to upend our constitutional system of governance.

Woodshed

The most tightly-bundled package of questionable assertions of Presidential power has come recently in the form of the ACA–the Affordable Care Act. The President has materially altered the plain intent of the law numerous times with nary a blush. It is, of course, the President’s job to execute the law. Changing the law is quite another matter. We may quibble over what is legitimately a prudent decision necessary to smooth implementation–that is one of the reasons we have a President. The Chief Executive, though, must honor the Constitutional bounds placed on him in so doing. Presidents are wont to ignore this irritating hindrance and occasionally they run afoul of the Constitution. In some cases, they declare war on it.

Barack Obama has reached that point.

At issue is a part of the law that requires people to buy insurance. Some people cannot afford insurance, and thus must be subsidized. The subsidy is directed toward an exchange “established by the state.” As George Will notes, these four words may spell the end of the ACA. Taken as written, they mean that the federal government is not authorized by law to subsidize insurance purchases in the 34 states that elected not to have an exchange.

The Democrats defense of this troublesome detail is that it was the equivalent of a typo. The IRS, charged with implementing the law, thus has “interpreted” the phrase to include federal exchanges. The problem is that there is a documented history of discussion about that very point and it is quite clear that the wording was chosen carefully to include only state exchanges. Refer to the Will article for details.

In part, this is just the rough-and-tumble of American politics. It is designed to work that way and it is the reason we have three branches of government. On another level, something much more disturbing is happening–something sinister and malevolent.

The Left has become something dark and vicious.* I notice it most in the people for whom Barack Obama is the answer to every slight against the downtrodden since Christ was a corporal. They seem today less like principled fighters for the needy and more like revenge-seeking vigilantes. There has been a tangible shift from loving one’s neighbor to hating one’s rich neighbors. Even people who claim to found their values in love for all are starting to sound like they would love to castrate a couple of conservatives before lunch.

Fighting for our principles is precisely what we should be doing. Fortunately, the Founders recognized that we all have a tendency to foist upon others our particular notions of what is good, especially if they have to pay for it. Our system of checks and balances ensures that we each are able to voice our own opinions and work with like-minded others to promote those values through legislation.

That system means that it is difficult to push through ideas, a mechanism diametrically opposed to the liberal agenda. Since liberals continually want the government to do more, they are continually frustrated that it is so hard to get it done.

The darkness descending over our political landscape has less to do with the content of the Left’s agenda than it does with its willingness to tear down those checks and balances. I do not exaggerate when I say that some of my liberal friends are starting to look at their President the way a subject looks to his King. The gaze I see is not one of polite deference to the office, but a worship of the person who now holds it.

We all at times become taken with our own brilliance and awed by our own goodness. Barack Obama is for some, I think, a personification of the Left’s longing for a dream world of fairness and plenty, unencumbered by the harsh economic realities of actually creating things people need.

Present-day Leftists cannot abide thinking about such mundane matters because it interrupts their childish games. An accidental glance beyond the boundaries of the playground reminds them that the real world is rough and dirty and no fairsies. They play until exhausted and sleep until energized, dimly if at all aware that an adult built the bed.

While the dreamy-eyed indulge in reverie, the clear-minded build businesses and are castigated if they do it too well. The President and his minions look at business the way finicky people look at their evacuative functions–a necessary but disgusting element of human life. 

No matter how charmingly it is dressed up, paraded across a teleprompter, and delivered into our living rooms, the message of the Left is destructive and hateful. It is a childish fascination with a man and an idea that cannot be. And should not. The Children of the Left have become the Children of the Corn. No longer content with sniping at adults, they are conspiring with a red-eyed monster to do them in. The One will make it right. He would heal the sick and feed the poor were it not for the Evil Ones who oppose Him with…phtttttt…the law.

These children need to be spanked and sent to their rooms for a while. They need to be told firmly and unflinchingly that the rest of us will gladly listen to polite talk and cogent arguments, but we will not tolerate tantrums. The Left must learn that they will abide by the rules our Constitution lays out and that we are not in the least intimidated by their leader. They will learn to work for their ideals like adults and not force them on the rest of us by executive fiat. If we fail to discipline them now, they will destroy everything that makes it possible to live like decent humans. Go out into the backyard and fix up that old woodshed. You may need it.

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*My regular readers know that I despise the Right as well, but for different reasons.

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Look At Little Sister

As President Obama gears up to tell us all to shut up and do what his Administration says tomorrow night, one mighty foe will dog his every word–The Little Sisters of the Poor.

In the tangled mess that is Obamacare there are upwards of, oh, a billion rules for how one is to buy, sell, and administer health care. The Little Sisters have accomplished what few groups of any kind for any reason have: They earned an emergency junction from the Supreme Court. It is unusual in two ways. First, such permanent stays pending appeal are rare. Second, there was no recorded dissent among the Justices.

The specific issue involves a form the nuns would have to sign to gain an exemption from the mandate. They believe that signing the exemption instructs others to do in their name what they will not do directly–provide contraceptives and abortifacients.

Progressives are fond of telling the rest of us how chock-full of social goodness they are. The Little Sisters of the Poor beg to differ. In their minds, they should not be forced to endorse that which they find morally objectionable. I agree, not with their particular view of contraception, but with their right to refrain from behavior that is morally repugnant to them.

Nun stops a bulldozer

Much has been made of the mechanics of the Rube Goldberg-like health care machine the Democrats have foisted upon us. For good reason–it will not work because it cannot work, unless we mean by “work” a precipitous degrading of our healthcare system. Not so much has been said about its moral implications, though.

Whenever money is taken from one to support another, the element of moral choice is destroyed. Few of us think that roads are evil or that stoplights are an abomination in the eyes of our favored deity.* There is no reason to get worked up about the moral implications of such as this. Abortion and contraception, however, are a different matter. They involve weighty decisions about when life begins and to what degree the law should accommodate our individual opinions.

The Little Sisters of the Poor would, like others now being sucked into the system, have to provide insurance for these things. The Supreme Court seems inclined to say “not so fast.” And with good reason. How came the government to dictate that people engage actively in behavior that is morally repugnant to them?

It should come as no surprise to those who have been watching the steady degradation of our private lives in favor of our public selves. The progressive agenda cares not for those who object to their enlightened view of what is good for all of us. Compliance is all that is necessary. Until Obamacare, the offended were usually conservatives–those who at least in principle advocate for smaller government and larger individual leeway.

The interesting thing about this case is that a constituency that normally supports these communitarian/socialistic forays into the private sector is now in the awkward position of tearing it down. If the nuns win, and I hope they do, it brings into question the degree to which either the Right or the Left is willing to have their personal morals trounced to make way for the morals of Obamacare.

A free nation limits its laws to those things that are genuinely a danger to other people and their individual rights. A nation bent on imposing law after law after law will eventually find that it has hit the limits of what some people will do in good conscience.  We have found that limit in a big way. Hopefully the Supreme Court will side with the nuns. If not, I hope the Little Sisters of the Poor refuse to comply. Let’s see the Administration deal with that one.

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*I am almost sure someone believes this somewhere, else I would have said “no one.”

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Defending Free Speech When It Hurts

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday morning concerning free speech around and near abortion clinics. At issue is whether a 35-foot “buffer zone” within which abortion objectors are not allowed is constitutional. The named plaintiff, Eleanor McCullen, offers “calm, peaceful, and non-threatening” speech to try to talk women out of having abortions. She claims the zone violates her First Amendment rights.

Abortion continues to be a contentious issue in this country, and that is what makes this case newsworthy. It shouldn’t. That is, it shouldn’t matter whether the speech is about abortion or favorite recipes. The First Amendment is foundational to our freedom in general. Judging free speech cases on the basis of content only serves to weaken a principle of governance that protects us all.

This would not even be an issue were it not for a couple of areas in which it is legitimate for the state to limit “speech.” It would be more correct to say that some acts that involve speech violate other individual’s rights. The most cited example is shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. To be precise, this phrase, coined by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in the Schenck v. United States case concerned falsely shouting “Fire!” The difference is critical.

We should hope that someone seeing a fire would alert others. The avoidable mayhem of shouting fire comes only when someone does it to cause panic. A real fire may cause a panic as well, but the person shouting cannot be said to have harmed anyone. In the end, he/she may well have saved their lives.

Bound-and-gagged

In 1969, this ruling was overturned in favor of a more restricted understanding of the legitimacy of limiting speech in the Brandenburg v. Ohio case. Where Holmes had reasoned that distributing leaflets protesting the draft during WWI could be restricted by the state because it caused a “clear and present danger,” Brandenburg amended this view to include only speech that threatened “imminent lawless action.” (And Holmes later came to change his views, thinking his former opinion too restrictive of speech.)

The Brandenburg decision helped draw the line between voicing an unwelcome opinion and advocating or causing tangible harm. Most of us have no trouble with this idea. We know that freedom of speech does not include the freedom to use a bullhorn at 2:00AM in an apartment complex. Likewise, shouting that you are going to kill someone while arching over them menacingly is not covered.

For these restrictions to work while we still maintain freedom of speech is simple–in theory. The state has a legitimate interest in controlling speech in a very tightly circumscribed set of circumstances–protecting people from immediate harm–but those circumstances must be content-neutral. It should not matter what the speaker is talking about.

In practice the distinction is sometimes hard to make. This particular case is interesting because of the blurred line between a protest (which has to be managed for public safety) and regular old plain vanilla speech (one person talking to another non-threateningly). Underneath, though, lies a more fundamental issue. Are we each to be protected from hearing things we don’t want to hear?

The hullabaloo over Fit Mom, which I wrote about recently, is one example of a disturbing trend: if it upsets me, I should try to silence the speaker. Fortunately, the government did not try to silence Fit Mom, other Facebook users did. In the case of so-called “hate speech,” though, that is precisely what happens. The government has taken it upon itself to designate some types of speech as illegal even when no harm is imminent. The same holds for university “free speech” zones. Until we had them it never occurred to me that any place on campus was not a free speech zone.* The implication is dark and sinister–we need permission from government to speak our minds.

How can anyone justify wanting to silence others with whom they disagree? For the same reason that people spend when they should save, eat ice cream when they should get a salad, and sit on the couch when they should be exercising. Our present-moment impulses routinely overpower our long-term intentions. If people constantly shared with me their negative views about bald men–that they steal souls, have bad tempers, and are related to Lucifer–I would probably be annoyed,** but I don’t think it would occur to me to advocate making it illegal to say those things.

One reason is that the whole notion is just silly. People that easily offended need to grow up. Not everyone is going to like you. Some will have stupid excuses for not liking your near-perfect, lovable self. Get over it. The best reason, though, is that I know who is next on the list when baldies lose power. One fine day I know I would find myself arrested for poking fun at someone’s dreadlocks.***

When government acts within its legitimate boundaries, it protects each of us from tangible harm by others. It cannot and should not protect us from getting our feelings hurt when others express their opinions, no matter how offensive. Those who support a woman’s right to choose will often be tempted to silence those who wish to deny it, and vice versa. Both sides should remember that the same mechanism works both ways.

Freedom has a price, but it is a bargain. Each of us must grow up. No government can simultaneously make us free from insult and free from tyranny. Liberty requires a keen mind and a stout heart. I wonder how many of us are still willing to pay the price.

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*Note that this only applies to public universities, which are quasi-governmental institutions. A private university has every right to ask someone to leave the premises for any reason whatsoever. That is not a violation of free speech, but certainly violates the sensibilities of anyone who still believes that higher education should teach people to understand all sides of an issue, not protect them from hearing other points of view.

**Or not. I find it easier by the day to ignore idiots.

***For more information on the Anti-Dreadlocks League, please contact me directly.

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Common Sense for 2014

Dear Readers:

Thank you for allowing me another wonderful year blogging in the cause of freedom. WordPress now gives us bloggers a pretty handy summary of our yearly activity (below). A couple of things to note: 1) I had 5100 views this year–please help me make it to 10,000 in 2014, 2) My blog has been read in 75 different countries–I am shooting for 100 this year. You can help by taking the time–now is always good–to refer one person to http://commonsenseliberty.com who probably is not reading it now.

I did notice a couple of weird things in the report. First, my busiest day was in January and the most-read blog that day was Death by President. Second, one of the most searched-for words that led people to my blog was “dominatrix.” Since I am into neither death nor domination games, I have to suspect that the NSA is poisoning the well. Bastards.

Anyway, if you came here looking for something gory or naughty, that’s my other blog. (Just kidding–it’s one of my friend’s blogs.) If you came here looking for some ideas on making all of us better off by defending and regaining our basic liberties, help me spread the word. I’ll do the writing if you’ll do the spreading.

Have a wonderful 2014. See you in next week’s blog.

Terry

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,100 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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