A Great Civics Lesson

Just a quick police state update – I first saw this story on the invaluable Photography Is Not a Crime website. I’m not exactly sure which part of me is most offended by the news. The photographer? The parent of a Cub Scout? The rational human being living in the United States? Who could choose just one?

According to the news report, a group of Boy Scouts from Iowa were going into Alaska for a camping trip. One of the Scouts committed the non-crime of snapping a picture of an on-duty Border Patrol agent (a public servant [sic] who was in the process of doing his taxpayer-funded job…in public). Despite numerous court rulings upholding the rights of citizens to photograph people (government workers included) in public, police forces around the country routinely threaten and intimidate those same citizens for doing just that. In this case, the agent threatened to charge the teenager with a felony, punishable by a $10,000 fine and 10 years in prison (again, for taking a picture). He then ordered the entire troop to undergo a search. In the course of submitting to the search, one Scout began unloading his luggage, at which point the agent pulled his weapon from its holster and pointed it at the kid’s head.

When asked for comment, Charles Vonderheid of the Mid-Iowa Council of the Boy Scouts of America said, “We want to make sure they follow the rules. A Scout is a good citizen. It would be a great lesson in civics for that young man and that troop.”

A great civics lesson, indeed, and perhaps the Boy Scouts of America’s definition of “good citizenship” should be amended accordingly – obey the arbitrary made-up rules barked out by the man with the badge or he might shoot you just for taking his picture.

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Lagniappe – July 2014

The Whited Sepulchre May (or May Not) Be Back - He’s been packed with work lately, but he did manage to write this piece about the odious Elizabeth Warren, whom I suspect was created in a government lab for the sole purpose of making Hillary Clinton look reasonable by comparison.

Sprechen Sie NSA? – I don’t speak German, but I understand this piece to be a protest of the NSA’s global spying program. I was most impressed by the reaction of the German police in the following clip. At no point did they beat the holy Hell out of the photographers and videographers in the group – to the contrary, they behaved like rational human beings (as opposed to their American counterparts).

Who Is John Galt? – Find out September 12, 2014.

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Feeling Better About Obamacare? – You’ll be glad to know that the Feds are now taking steps to tighten controls after the press got wind of systemic security lapses by government labs handling things like bird flu and anthrax. And they found a few vials of smallpox lying around.

Whom Do You Believe? – The government’s CPI statistics or your own lying grocery bill? Government-subsidized economists say inflation is under control. People who shop in grocery stores disagree.

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Mises West

One of the many things I miss about living in Texas is the roadtrip I’d take each year to attend the Mises Circle in Houston. I heard great presentations from prominent libertarians and stocked up on lots of autographed books and Mises Institute swag.

Fortunately for us SoCal residents, the Mises Institute will be heading out west this year. On Saturday, November 9th, Ron Paul, Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, Lew Rockwell, Jeff Deist, and David Gordon will be in Costa Mesa – and you can bet I’ll be there, too.

The topic for the seminar is Society Without the State: Law and Order in a Free World, and the panel “will examine the institutions of a stateless society and explore topics such as private defense, private police, privately produced money, the role of markets, and how stateless legal systems would work.” I cannot wait! I’ve never met Gary and Nina Turpanjian, but I’d like to thank them both for pulling this event together.

Hope to see you there…

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Gingrich: The Dogs Won’t Eat the Dog Food

In light of the upcoming Independence Day holiday here in the United States, former congressman Newt Gingrich paused to reflect on the attitudes of the American populace, and he is deeply concerned. Citing a recent poll indicating Americans’ trust in their benevolent overlords has fallen to dangerously low levels, Mr. Gingrich asks, “On America’s birthday, do we still believe in America?

I guess it all depends on one’s definition of “America.” Judging from the Gingrich piece, I can only conclude that he thinks the words “America” and “government” are actually synonyms:

Only 30% had “a great deal” or “quite a lot of confidence” in the Supreme Court. Just 29% felt that way about the presidency. And an abysmal 7% had faith in the Congress.

Think about what this means. Our most trusted national institution, the unelected Supreme Court, has the confidence of almost (but not quite) one out of every three Americans. The presidency is slightly weaker and the Congress collapses to fewer than 1 in 10 Americans.

Gallup also did some comparative analysis using findings from its World Poll and the trends regarding Americans’ views on government are even more sobering. In the poll, 79% of the American people believe corruption is widespread in government. That is a jump of 20 points since 2006, when 59% of the country thought government was corrupt (a year when the country was dissatisfied enough that the ruling Republicans lost control of both the House and Senate).

The Gallup analysis demonstrates that Americans are more likely to believe their government is corrupt than people in Brazil, Hungary or Tajikistan, to cite just three examples.

In January of this year, Gallup found that more Americans picked bad government and corruption as our biggest problem than picked any other challenge, including the economy and unemployment. These are stunning numbers.

When four out of five Americans believe government is corrupt, something is profoundly wrong. It is a lot bigger than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or for that matter George W. Bush.

Under the weight of this negativity, there has been a dramatic decline in satisfaction with the freedom we have to choose how we live our own lives. The number of people saying they are dissatisfied has jumped from 9% in 2006 to 21% in 2013.

This 12-point jump in dissatisfaction tied the United States for No. 10 among countries suffering the most rapid decline in satisfaction. The other countries that have experienced drops of that scale are seriously troubled places, including Pakistan, Yemen, Cyprus, and Spain (where youth unemployment is approaching 60%).

To put this in context, the Gallup numbers show that in 2006 the United States was one of the top countries in the world when it came to satisfaction with freedom. By 2013 it had dropped out of the top 25% of all countries.

A country in which 4 out of 5 people believe their government is corrupt is a country teetering between a populist uprising and a collapse into cynicism, passivity, and fatalism.

Mr. Gingrich reads these statistics with alarm, but shows a remarkable lack of curiosity about the underlying causes of the low scores. Americans don’t trust the Supreme Court? Maybe they heard about the Kelo decision, or noticed the way the Court twisted itself into knots in order to avoid striking down the Affordable [sic] Care Act as unconstitutional. They don’t trust the presidency? Maybe that’s because the President spies on us and even claims the right to assassinate American citizens without due process. Congress’s numbers are down, too? Maybe it’s because the legislative branch has abandoned its constitutional duties while burdening multiple generations of taxpayers with a crushing national debt. And as Reason magazine’s J.D. Tuccille recently pointed out, if Americans feel less free this Independence Day it’s only because they are. On just about every quantifiable measure of freedom – economic, press, and Internet – the United States has plummeted in the rankings over recent years.

Throughout the CNN article, Mr. Gingrich commits the standard statist fallacy of conflating government with society, which leads him to construe Americans’ lack of faith in government as some sort of national calamity. Those of us who understand the distinction between the rulers and the ruled, however, can interpret the very same polling data as reassuring evidence that Americans are not nearly as ignorant and gullible as Newt Gingrich would like them to be.

The piece reminds me of an old joke about a dog food company. No matter what they did in terms of advertising, sales of their new dog food just didn’t materialize. Exasperated, the CEO of the company demanded an answer from the VP of Marketing, who explained that the packaging was great, the advertising was fantastic, and the distribution was flawless. The problem was those darn dogs…they just wouldn’t eat the dog food. Mr. Gingrich sounds like the befuddled CEO, closing his article with a flourish of statist pabulum in lieu of sound advice:

These results suggest we will either renew our commitment to the rule of law, the punishment of corruption and the insistence on honest self-government or we will cease to be America as the land of the free and the land of opportunity.

This Fourth of July weekend, we need to remember what our Founding Fathers did to create the liberty we enjoy and dedicate ourselves to a new burst of freedom and a new wave of political reform that cleans up the corruption and re-establishes the right of every American to dream and to work to fulfill that dream.

This is the purest nonsense, of course, directed as it is to CNN’s readership. Our commitment to the rule of law, our desire to see corruption punished, our insistence on honest self-government, and our dedication to freedom is not in question. The poll results Mr. Gingrich laments indicate precisely that the American people do value those things – but that the American government has failed utterly to provide them.

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Ann Coulter on Soccer

I’m almost never interested in Ann Coulter’s opinions, but her recent musings on soccer (Any Growing Interest in Soccer a Sign of Nation’s Moral Decay) caught my attention. Granted, this topic is about as far down the list of impactful political issues as it gets, but that’s probably why I wanted to write about it – this blog can’t always be about war, warrantless surveillance, and broken windows.

Coulter outlines a number of arguments as to why she doesn’t like soccer. Some of them are valid criticisms; others just show how little she understands. That is not what interests me, however. I get why many Americans don’t like soccer – the low scores, the tie games, the diving, etc. That being said, anyone watching the current World Cup matches (especially Brazil/Mexico and US/Portugal) should at least be able to appreciate why many others (Americans included) do like it.

But Coulter’s takedown of soccer seems most strange in light of her own standards. Her column’s basic point is that soccer sucks because foreigners are good at it. But shouldn’t Ann Coulter of all people be happy – purely from her own rabidly nationalistic flag-waving perspective – that the United States national team is showing that it can hold its own against those same foreigners in their national pastime? The US was in the “Group of Death” (again), and they have advanced to the next round – a feat that traditional soccer powerhouses like England and Spain were unable to match under much more favorable conditions. Instead of complaining that there aren’t enough injuries in the game to satisfy Coulter’s bloodlust (and short of Roman gladiators fighting to the death, what sport could?), shouldn’t she be crowing about how tough American players like Clint Dempsey are? The guy got kicked full-on in the face, his nose was broken, and they didn’t even bring in a substitute. And not one American player resorted to biting his opponent – the US team advanced fair and square, impressing fans and pundits all around the world.

Again, it is not my intention here to convince anyone that they should like soccer. I just find it strange that someone should complain about its popularity – particularly someone who claims to be pro-free market** as Ann Coulter does. Surely one more option in the world of sports is a good thing, even if that additional choice isn’t one she personally wishes to consume. I don’t like lemon sherbet, but I’m glad the market is large enough to allow others who do to enjoy it. I don’t watch most of the three hundred television channels I receive, but I’m glad they’re there nonetheless. Ever-expanding consumer choice is one of the many blessings of the free market, and should be celebrated, not condemned.

**Yes, there’s plenty of government interference in sports and public funds are used to construct stadiums and host major international tournaments like the World Cup, but that’s a post for a different day.

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Panem Civics Lesson

President Snow explains that Panem is just another word for the things we choose to do together – and that the consequences for choosing not to do them will be severe.

The odds are never in our favor. #OnePanem

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One More Reason to Hate Obamacare

Sprint’s Wes Anderson-esque “Framily” commercials are no longer the absolute worst advertisements in the country. Enroll America and the Ad Council, with support from La Comunidad and Razorfish, have teamed up to inflict the following atrocity on us all:

It’s their money so they’re free to waste it as they see fit, of course, but I’m saddened to think that it took $1.5 million to come up with a campaign that the average five year old child would find too stupid to tolerate. To add insult to injury (is that covered under Obamacare?), media outlets donated $30 million a year to run the ads – that’s a lot of time and space that could be used to inform us of useful goods and services instead.

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