Free Markets, Free People
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Usually I try to keep this day as a non-partisan, non-political day in which I wish everyone of every ideological persuasion the blessings of the day (and I still do!). But as it happens, the day provided me with one of the best examples of the differences between libertarians and liberals I’ve seen in a while. Two separate postings concerning Thanksgiving. One from a liberal blogger, Ezra Klein, and one from a blogger who is a visitor at the American Enterprise Institute (Mark Perry).
Klein reprints a food section column (one assumes he does so approvingly) all about controlling behavior:
I asked Ariely how he would set up his Thanksgiving feast to limit overeating without having to exercise self-control. His answer was to construct the “architecture” of the meal beforehand. Create conditions that guide people toward good choices, or even use their irrationality to your benefit.
“Move to chopsticks!” he exclaimed, making bites smaller and harder to take. If the chopsticks are a bit extreme, smaller plates and utensils might work the same way. Study after study shows that people eat more when they have more in front of them. It’s one of our predictable irrationalities: We judge portions by how much is left rather than how full we feel. Smaller portions lead us to eat less, even if we can refill the plate.
There it is in a nutshell – the liberal propensity toward trying to control the behavior of others. The writer decides it is his or her job to make it more difficult for you to “overeat”. Instead of just deciding to put on a great feast in keeping with the day and butt out of the affairs of others, the writer approvingly decides it is incumbent upon the server to construct an “architecture” to control the eating of others. Really – “move to chopsticks”! Or put the mashed potatoes in the kitchen!
Speaking of which, Ariely suggests placing the food “far away.” In this case, serve from the kitchen rather than the table. If people have to get up to add another scoop of mashed potatoes, they’re less likely to take their fifth serving than if they simply have to reach in front of them.
Some people can just suck the joy out of an occasion, I swear. But this seems perfectly in keeping with my observations of the more liberal among us.
On the other hand, Mark Perry decided on focusing on a completely different thing for the day – a celebration of a miracle that occurs daily all over the world that is rarely acknowledged. Thanksgiving provides the perfect day to note it:
Like in previous years, you probably didn’t call your local supermarket ahead of time and order your Thanksgiving turkey this year. Why not? Because you automatically assumed that a turkey would be there when you showed up, and it probably was there when you showed up “unannounced” at the grocery store to select your bird.
The reason your Thanksgiving turkey was waiting for you without an advance order? Because of “spontaneous order,” “self-interest,” and the “invisible hand” of the free market – “the mysterious power that leads innumerable people, each working for his own gain, to promote ends that benefit many.” And even if your turkey appeared in your local grocery stores only because of the “selfishness” or “corporate greed” of thousands of turkey farmers, truckers, and supermarket owners who are complete strangers to you and your family, it’s still part of the miracle of the marketplace where “individually selfish decisions lead to collectively efficient outcomes.”
Thanksgiving is epitomized by the process Perry describes. Our holiday is indeed as much a miracle of the market as anything. It enables everyone who wants too to have what they need or desire for that day – and every day. It is truly something to celebrate.
Free markets. Free people.
Call it a hunch .., because, well, it is … but I have this sneaky suspicion that the balloon boy and his family will turn into the new Schiavo case for the GOP. None of us know what actually happened, and anybody with an ounce of human dignity can only be happy that the child was not actually an errant passenger in that derelict dirigible. All the skepticism seems to hinge upon an offhand comment from a six-year-old, whom I know from experience are less than reliable sources of information (“What did you do in school today, son?” “Nothing.” “Did you play with any of your friends?” “I don’t remember.”). Yet, the way this story is being pressed, I fully expect that some Republican upstart is going to seize the opportunity to turn the attention on him or herself, turning what should be a passing tale of tragedy averted into a crusade for (yet more) state control over the task of parenting.
I truly hope that I’m wrong. That cooler heads will prevail. That, if indeed the parents set this whole thing up as a publicity stunt, the local authorities will handle it sternly, yet quietly. “We” don’t need to be involved, and even more importantly, there is no reason at all that Congress should be sticking it’s nose into the situation.
But I can’t help but think, given how the GOP so successfully delegitimized itself in the now-infamous Terry Schiavo case, somehow or another they will find a way to do so here. The perceived moral high ground will be too tempting, once again, and the party that used to believe in limited government (at least, during the Reagan years) will find a way to insert itself into a place that no limited-government advocate would ever want to be. When all we should be thinking is, “thank God that kid is safe.”
With the current challenges to the entrenched Republican power, I can understand why taking up the banner for poor Falcon’s safety will seem so irresistible. After all, establishment candidates are having a difficult time with the conservative base, and anyone whose been paying attention knows that the boiling Tea Partiers are not particularly keen to just toss out Democrats in the next election. Republicans who continue to support the profligate ways of Washington are just as vulnerable.
All the more reason then to show how the Grand Old Party cares more about life and death than those dirty Democrats, just a they did with Schiavo, by meddling in the affairs of a local issue that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans for the rest of the country. Hey, those votes aren’t going to buy themselves!
This is one of those times that I really hope I’m wrong, and that reasonable minds prevail. But politics being what it is, I think there is a very real chance that some idiot Republican is going to start a movement in Congress to save the Falcons of the world. Because Lord knows that when there’s a problem to be solved, only the federal government can provide the necessary answers.
It couldn’t possibly be independents and libertarians objecting as well could it?
School districts from Maryland to Texas are fielding angry complaints from parents opposed to President Barack Obama’s back-to-school address Tuesday – forcing districts to find ways to shield students from the speech as conservative opposition to Obama spills into the nation’s classrooms.
The White House says Obama’s address is a sort of pep talk for the nation’s schoolchildren. But conservative commentators have criticized Obama for trying to “indoctrinate” students to his liberal beliefs, and some parents call it an improper mix of politics and education.
“The gist is, ‘I want to see what the president has to say before you expose it to my child.’ Another said, ‘This is Marxist propaganda.’ They are very hostile,” said Patricia O’Neill, a Democrat who is vice president of the Montgomery County School Board, in a district that borders Washington, D.C. “I think it’s disturbing that people don’t want to hear the president, but we live in a diverse society.”
The White House moved Thursday to quell the controversy. First it revised an Education Department lesson plan that drew the ire of conservatives because it called for students to write letters about how they can help the president.
One more time for the slow and stupid, i.e. the media – this is about a president presuming to speak directly to our children without our permission. It’s not so much about the message, it’s the presumption. To me that’s a presumption which he has no right to make. If he wants to speak to the nation on national TV I, as an adult, have the ability to choose whether or not to watch him or instead a Braves’ game. If he wants to talk about education and address children, I’ll put mine in front of the TV if I think what he’ll have to say is useful and necessary. That’s a parent’s job and a politician – any politician – presuming he is above such parental control or choice is just flat wrong.
As this was originally planned, although it appears some school districts are now going to provide an alternate activity for those who object, this was to be a captive audience forced to watch the message. Many parents, not just conservative parents, understand the ability for something like this to be abused. Again, it’s not so much about the message as it is about the precedent.
Lastly, many of the objections haven’t been focused on the speech but the fact that this is an organized event with a lesson plan that, until the outcry, had some portions where were obviously political. And that’s the opinion of more than just conservatives (the White House dropped some of those more obvious portions from the lesson plan).
So to boil it down so even the media can figure it out – it isn’t just conservatives objecting to this. More importantly, it’s about the 3 “p’s” – presumption, precedent and politics.
Oh, and concerning the tu quoque?
Obama isn’t the first president to be criticized this way. O’Neill recalled President George H. W. Bush made televised address to students in October 1991 as campaign season was heating up. A handful of Democrats denounced Bush’s address as pure politics. Bush asked students to “take control” of their education and to write him a letter about ways students could help him achieve his goals, strikingly similar to Obama’s messages.
Yeah, that was wrong as well. Okay? This president as with any president has more than enough to do without presuming he’s welcome to become the national daddy. Why don’t we refrain from centralizing that too and concentrate on taking over another car company or something instead?
UPDATE: Speaking of outrage (and disengenuousness) – I have to ask, given this bit of outrage from the left (and speaking of tu quoque), would this line of reasoning have survived an attempt by George W. Bush to do the same thing?
More broadly, Obama is the leader of this entire nation. It doesn’t matter if you voted for him–or even if your head threatens to explode every time you think about him. He is the president, and, as such, it’s a big deal that he’s speaking directly to students about the importance of education.
Nope, not another post about the kiddie speech. Instead the title is from an old protest song from the ’60s (by Buffalo Springfield I believe). The sound is the sound of real, honest to goodness change being driven by government excess – not the veneer of change pushed by a certain candidate in the last election.
Daniel Henninger writes about it today in the WSJ. He sees it happening everywhere (he uses Japan as an example) and he believes it all pretty much boils down to this:
No matter the ideological cast of these governments, they all hold in common one policy: the inexorable upward march of national indebtedness. It has arrived at the edge of the cliff.
It is the point the liberal left in this country still doesn’t understand. The looters have finally been noticed by looted and the looted aren’t at all happy.
That’s it. That’s the problem. And that’s why there’s so much unrest.
As measured by the OECD, the growth in gross debt as a percentage of GDP since the dawn of the new century is stunning. The data isn’t exactly comparable across individual countries, but the trend line is unmistakable.
In the U.S., debt as a percentage of GDP rose to 87% in 2009 from 55% in 2000. In the U.K., to 75% from 45%; Germany, to 78% from 60%; France, 86% from 66%. There are exceptions to this trend, such as Canada, New Zealand and notably Australia, whose debt has fallen to 16% of GDP from 25%. But for all the countries in the OECD’s basket the claim of indebtedness on GDP grew to 92% from 69% the past nine years.
In short, the lumpen electorate works, and the lumpen bureaucratariat spends. They get away with it because they have perfected the illusion that no human hand causes these commitments. The payroll tax just happens. Entitlements are “off-budget,” presumably in the hands of God. This is government without the responsibility of governance.
Unable to identify who or what has put them in hock to the horizon, national electorates are attempting accountability by voting whole parties out of power.
That, among other reasons, is why the Republicans are out of power. And, if the Democrats continue down the path they’ve charted, is why the Republicans may find themselves back it power. And it wouldn’t at all surprise me, given the gawd-awful track record of the Republicans, that they too will misinterpret their reinstatement and be gone again in 2 years.
It is about the size, cost and intrusiveness of government, stupid!
The “lumpen electorate” has finally had enough. They want to keep what they earn. They want less government. But that’s an anathema to politicians who have built whole lives and careers on providing more government. It’s like an addiction – they can’t stop what they’re doing or how they’re doing it.
And, unfortunately, even though the masses seem unhappy with the size and cost of government, they too are addicted to a certain level of government. They too have an addiction to break.
The question, of course, as far as libertarians are concerned, is how these two addictions can be addressed and overcome so that government’s size and cost can be scaled back to a proper and legitimate size? And where are the leaders to do this?
Until they emerge – and there is nothing to say they will – this cycle of unrest which sees the swapping out of political parties will continue. But you have to believe that at some point, the disenchantment with the current political regime (and both parties make up that regime) will come to a flash point. What that flash point will entail – the range of possibilities is vast – is anyone’s guess.
When it is reached, politics and government as we know it now, will change forever. I cautiously believe we’re moving in that direction. When and where are anyone’s to guess, but I’m beginning to believe we’ve moved beyond “if” and have a “when” in our future. Or at least I hope so – because it seems obvious that we need some very drastic changes in direction.
What we’ve got to work toward is a change that emphasizes freedom and enhances liberty. And that isn’t by any means the only possibility such change would bring.
The old Chinese curse seems to be in full bloom right now – “May you live in interesting times”. I can’t think of times, during my life, that have been any more interesting.
Michael Barone recently wrote an article in which he pointed out, “there are more conservatives than Republicans and more Democrats than liberals”.
Let that soak in for a minute and then consider today’s Paul Krugman article in which he seems a bit surprised by the Obama administration’s surprise that liberals are furious with him about the goings on in the health care debate.
A backlash in the progressive base — which pushed President Obama over the top in the Democratic primary and played a major role in his general election victory — has been building for months. The fight over the public option involves real policy substance, but it’s also a proxy for broader questions about the president’s priorities and overall approach.
This is where “progressives” always go off the track. It is a large dose of hubris which allows them to convince themselves they’re a bigger group than they are, they’re a more influential group than they are and they have played a bigger role than they have.
While Krugman’s point about primary victories has some substance (activists turn out in primaries), in the general election, compared to George Bush and the economy’s one-two combo, they were a non-factor.
Rasmussen took a look at how Americans view themselves in terms of liberal, conservative and moderate. He found that those who consider themselves liberal range from 12% to 30% depending on the issue. On social issues 30% had a more liberal view, which could be the inclusion of libertarians – who normally share the progressive principles on social issues – boosting that number.
But when it came to the the issues of taxes, government spending and the regulation of private business, only 12% claim to be liberals – libertarians would and do not share liberal principles in that regard. And it is within that realm that the health care reform (and the cap-and-trade) debate is taking place.
The 12% are the hard-core “progressives” who, as I stated, think they’re a much larger group than they really are. And it is the political desires of this 12% – reflected in a Congressional leadership which is proportionately completely out of synch with the rest of the country – that is being resisted by the rest country that does not share its principles or ideals.
So there’s a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked. And that’s why the mixed signals on the public option created such an uproar.
And they’re shocked and surprised by this? Two points. One, Obama knows progressives have nowhere else to go. So in a hunt for support for this legislation, where should he make his appeal? Well not with those who have nowhere else to go. He’s going to fashion his appeal to attract those who do have an option. Politics 101 for heaven sake.
Two – they elected an entirely political creature who “punked” them from the very beginning of his candidacy. The right has neither been shocked or surprised by anything Barack Obama has done since his inauguration, although they have certainly enjoyed pointing out how Mr. Hope and Change is the consummate old-style Chicago pol. It is fun to watch the so-called “reality based” community begin to figure out they’ve bought into a fantasy. In actuality, they “punked” themselves.
So progressives are now in revolt. Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it. And now he needs to win it back.
Really? Does he? See points one and two above. Winning their trust back, given the reality of the situation would most likely guarantee him a one-term presidency and Congressional Democrats an electoral shellacking in 2010. That is if he did what was necessary to actually win back their trust.
Face it, progressives – you’ve played your part, you’ve served your purpose and, in the big scheme of things, you’re a 12% constituency with no other place to go. This is big-boy politics and Obama knows he has to move away from much of what you demand to get this passed. And at this point, he’ll take just about anything that can be called health care or health insurance or whatever it’s called today. Or said more simply – the reality is politicians focus on gaining and maintaining power and they will throw anyone under the bus to do that if the situation requires it.
So lay down and take your medicine – Greyhound is ready when you are.
Michael Shermer has a very interesting post over at the HuffPo, surprisingly. It’s entitled “The Case For Libertarianism”. His thesis is that there actually are agreements in moral principle between conservatives and liberals and those agreements should be exploited to put a system together that would be mostly satisfying to both sides. Read his explanation as to how he arrives at that conclusion – it’s interesting.
But the list below is what he concludes would do the job. Surprisingly, or actually unsurprisingly since I gave you the title of his piece, it’s libertarian at base. Here’s his ideas of the limited governmental functions that would, or should, if they actually believe in their avowed moral principles, satisfy both sides (and libertarians as well):
1. The rule of law.
2. Property rights.
3. Economic stability through a secure and trustworthy banking and monetary system.
4. A reliable infrastructure and the freedom to move about the country.
5. Freedom of speech and the press.
6. Freedom of association.
7. Mass education.
8. Protection of civil liberties.
9. A robust military for protection of our liberties from attacks by other states.
10. A potent police force for protection of our freedoms from attacks by other people within the state.
11. A viable legislative system for establishing fair and just laws.
12. An effective judicial system for the equitable enforcement of those fair and just laws.
For the most part, his list is ok, but, being a libertarian, I disagree with one of them outright and disagree with the wording of a couple of others.
The one I outright disagree with is “mass education”. No. Not under the auspices of government. We’ve seen how that works – it doesn’t. Let’s not continue something that is obviously beyond the government’s capability.
10 – A military robust enough for protection of our liberties ….
11 – A police force potent enough ….
As for the banking system – yes, the point is valid and yes, I know that we’re pretty much stuck with what we have right now because it is a global system, but, given the last few months, I’m not at all sure it is the system I want in the future because I’m not at all sure it is either stable or secure. But that’s a topic for another time.
Last, but not least, yes, I understand that many infrastructure projects become reality because the people see their benefit and empower the government to use the power of taxation to fund them. My problem, of course, is how easily that power gets abused. Yes, I’d like a “reliable infrastructure”. But I’d also want strict controls over the government entities in charge of that. Again a topic for another time.
Notice, given the list, that he’s not talking about a large government. In fact, he’s talking about a “night watchman” type. One that would be pretty much limited to preventing the use of force or fraud by bad actors.
As much as I’d love to believe his conclusion that this would satisfy both conservatives and liberals, the last 40 years have a tendency to disabuse me of that notion.
One of the questions constantly posed as the debate over health care insurance reform rages is, “if we have such a great health care system, why is our life expectancy lower than countries with socialized care?”
Well apparently it is our propensity to murder each other and die in car accidents which obscures the fact that with those factored out, we actually enjoy the longest life expectancy. James Joyner provides the numbers and a handy little chart.
But the bottom line is when you remove homicide and car crashes, we jump from number 15 with a life expectancy of 75.3 to number 1 with a life expectancy of 76.9.
So we must be doing something right in the medical field wouldn’t you say – certainly more so than anyone else if you want to hang your hat on life expectancy data that only focuses on what medicine can help. Drive safely and avoid getting on the losing side of a gun fight and you can expect to be around for longer than any of those in the so-called “more advanced” countries.
And, as Dodd points out, there’s even a way to improve the homicide numbers:
Homicide, however, we could impact immediately and irrevocably right now simply by decriminalizing most (or all) currently illegal drugs. Remove the artificial, government-created scarcity, and the profits and incentive to engage in underworld violence that goes with it, and the homicide rate would fall significantly. More of our young men would survive to middle adulthood, hundreds of thousands of prisoners would be freed (or never created) to engage in productive work, and our life expectancy at birth would jump immediately and permanently. All without the government having to nationalize one-sixth of the economy and expropriate trillions more dollars from the private sector to pay for the hope that the outcome will be improved.
He’s right, of course – remove profit, remove incentive. The drug market today is a government created market. And it reacts to the distorted incentives prohibition introduces into such a market.
We know how to regulate such markets legally. We do it fairly successfully with alcohol. And we don’t have booze gangs shooting it out in turf wars or finding bunches of bodies from bootleg deals gone wrong.
Why we don’t consider reform in this area is beyond me. Life expectancy numbers would certainly see an increase if we did. So would our freedom and liberty numbers.
That’s the basic message of a post by Melissa Clouthier blasting those who voted for Bob Barr.
Here, let me quote her:
Don’t blame me!” Bellowed one of my redneck relatives,” I voted for Ross Perot!” Did ya now? And that vote wasn’t a “screw you” vote, that felt inwardly satisfying while it also served Bill Clinton the presidency on a nice, silver platter (the one taking a prominent position on a shelf in his sprawling residence out on Long Island)? Oh no! It was a vote of conscience. It was a morally superior vote. Sniff.
Have conservatives, libertarians, and other factions on the Right learned nothing from history?
So now, people are coming out of the woodwork saying, “Don’t blame me! I voted for Bob Barr!” I ask you, Is that something to be proud of?
You know, when you start something like this, it is usually best to have the facts at hand so you don’t say something silly like:
President Obama is a disaster for America and I hold those who voted for Bob Barr every bit as accountable as if the so-called principled person voted for Barack Obama himself. It was a vote that aided and abetted an enemy of freedom. How can a freedom-loving person be proud of this?
Bob Barr pulled all of 511,324 votes. Statistically that’s 0% of the electorate. Had every Bob Barr voter voted for John McCain, he’d have ended up with 58,854,995 votes instead of 58,343,671 to Obama’s 66,882,230.
Apparently Clouthier believes that libertarians are a wholly owned subsidiary of the GOP and due a righteous lecture for their lack of support.
It may be time for a little reality check for the good doctor.
A) Obviously if every vote Barr got had gone to McCain, it wouldn’t have increased McCain’s final count by even a percentage point. So the attempt to blame your abysmally poor GOP candidate’s abysmally poor showing on Barr voters is technically a non-starter.
B) The reason the GOP sucked so badly in the last election has absolutely nothing to do with Bob Barr and/or libertarians. It had to do with how poorly your party governed. Like most libertarians I haven’t voted for a Republican since Reagan. And frankly what happened to the size of government under Reagan is one reason why. Bush compounded the problem (Medicare Part D? “No Child Left Behind”?) and the eternally squishy McCain promised more of the same.
C) The only reason libertarians even somewhat identify with your party is because it sometimes pretends to be concerned about less spending and smaller government. Unfortunately, as I imply above, the GOP mostly just talks the talk and rarely walks the walk.
D) The GOP picked John McCain, not libertarians. John McCain was the worst of all worlds and your party gave him the nod. He was a candidate who had once been considered as a VP pick for John Kerry for heaven sake! He proved he was an enemy of the 1st Amendment with his campaign finance bill. His definition of “compromise” was to give the Democrats what they want.
E) Libertarians don’t owe the GOP a damned thing. You want libertarian support? Then quit whining and lecturing and earn it! Put up candidates that actually do what you claim to want to do in terms of spending and the size of government. Yeah, that’s right – cut spending drastically and reduce the size of government radically and then you can start asking why libertarians aren’t supporting the GOP. Then you’ll have grounds to do so. But until then – we owe you nothing.
Barack Obama sits in the White House not because of Bob Barr or the libertarian vote. He sits there because the GOP has completely and totally failed to live up to its claimed philosophy and its word for decades. John McCain’s nomination told libertarians all they needed to know about the lack of seriousness within the GOP to remedy that situation.
If the GOP wants libertarian votes, then it had better mend its ways. We don’t do “tents” and we don’t do “plantations” and we don’t belong to the GOP. You want us, you’d better do what it takes to get us – and you’re not even close right now.
UPDATE: Melissa Clouthier graciously acknowledges my criticism and for the most part understands the reason for it. She does, however, ask a couple of questions that deserve an answer and make a couple off remarks that deserve comment.
A Barr vote did nothing except register discontent.
Really? So those who voted for Barr couldn’t conceivably have been voting “for” something, only “registering discontent”?
With that bit of disrespect as a preface, here are the questions:
What about the next election? You know, when there are more impure Republicans? Do the libertarians plan to vote for an independent or vote for a Democrat?
Well now that it is hopefully clear that libertarians will actually vote for something and not just “register discontent”, the answer should be obvious. So here’s a question for the GOP – who do you plan to run that will cause us to vote for you? The ball is in your court, not ours.
All I’m saying is that McCain WOULD be better than Obama and I don’t want to see the Right fracture into delusion that nets us socialists in charge. That is worse. Much worse. It is worse right now.
In the case of McCain, “would be better” is really a non-starter of an argument for him among libertarians. In defeat, of course, he’s suddenly sounding Republican again, but McCain is a Snowe/Collins “Republican” from way back. Frankly I think you’ll find most libertarians believe that Obama and McCain are equally awful, just in different areas.
But the Libertarians don’t help anything by flopping around at the edges and indulging in third party fantasies. Libertarians needs to put their formidable energy into the Republican party at the bottom and take the party back to constitutional greatness.
Fixing the GOP is your job, not ours – you need to quit trying to outsource it. Libertarians have no desire to be a part of the GOP per se because there is enough not to like to keep us away. But libertarians will support a GOP that commits itself to the principles of less spending, smaller government and less government intrusion. But only when the GOP actually does something about them – find and run a candidate who actually believes in those principles and elect Republicans to Congress who will help he or she act on those principles.
Until then libertarians aren’t going to support the GOP. You can call it “flopping around the edges” or whatever you wish, but that won’t change the fact that until the GOP actually does the hard work of recreating itself in alignment with its stated principles it can’t expect support from libertarians just because the GOP thinks the Democrat’s candidate is worse than theirs.
Obviously, as one with a severe bent towards freedom, I think it is always advisable to keep a close eye on what our government is doing. Especially when it comes to said government granting itself extraordinary powers over the conduct of our lives, and/or over our liberty, in light of particular opinions we might hold, or because of the people we hang around with. The danger in allowing the government latitude to impinge upon our liberty in such cases should be apparent. However, sometimes people start seeing a red under their bed, or a little yellow man in their head, and act just a wee bit paranoid about actions that the government has proposed.
… legislation quietly making its way through Congress would give the White House power to categorize political opponents as hate groups and even send Americans to detention centers on abandoned military bases.
Rep. Alcee Hastings – the impeached Florida judge Nancy Pelosi tried to install as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee until her own party members rebelled – introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill that gives Attorney General Eric Holder sole discretion to label groups that oppose government policy on guns, abortion, immigration, states’ rights, or a host of other issues. In a June 25 speech on the House floor, Rep. Trent Franks, R-AZ, blasted the idea: “This sounds an alarm for many of us because of the recent shocking and offensive report released by the Department of Homeland Security which labeled, arguably, a majority of Americans as ‘extremists.’”
Another Hastings bill (HR 645) authorizes $360 million in 2009 and 2010 to set up “not fewer than six national emergency centers on military installations” capable of housing “a large number of individuals affected by an emergency or major disaster.” But Section 2 (b) 4 allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to use the camps “to meet other appropriate needs” – none of which are specified. This is the kind of blank check that Congress should never, ever sign.
It’s not paranoid to be extremely wary of legislation that would give two unelected government officials power to legally declare someone a “domestic terrorist” and send them to a government-run camp.
In support of author Mark Tapscott’s ipse dixit argument that this isn’t paranoia, he points to the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. That’s a fair enough point (i.e. it has happened before here), but the analogy between Hastings’ amendment and the WWII internment camps is still pretty weak. For one thing, the internments were not done on the sly, as Tapscott suggests is being done now, and secondly, rounding up a relatively small number of people during WWII, is a lot more plausible than attempting to imprison half the country.
Ed Morrissey also pours some cold water on Tapscott’s theory:
To be fair on the second point, most legislation includes phrases similar to the “meet other appropriate needs” as a means of allowing flexibility in using facilities commissioned by Congress. Under unforeseen circumstances even apart from creating concentration camps for abortion opponents, the six national emergency centers might need to get some use other than housing military personnel or civilians evacuated from a disaster area. That language allows the Pentagon and Homeland Security leeway to adapt for other issues without having to worry that lawyers will descend upon them like locusts for not strictly limiting use to the statutes.
Nevertheless, I decided to delve into the Hastings amendment that Tapscott referred to, and which can be read in its entirety here (pdf). This is the pertinent language that woke some people up feelin’ kinda queer:
‘(2) DEFINITION OF HATE GROUP.—In this subsection, the terms ‘group associated with hate-related violence’ or ‘hate group’ mean the following: …
(G) Other groups or organizations that are determined by the Attorney General to be of a violent, extremist nature.
First of all, note the qualifier “violent” in that definition. Just being pro-life or anti-tax would not bring one under the aegis of this provision unless you also advocated violence in support of the cause.
The other part that seems to have been missed by some, is that this entire amendment is aimed at rooting out hate-group supporters from the military:
(1) PROHIBITION.—A person associated or affiliated with a group associated with hate-related violence against groups or persons or the United States Government, as determined by the Attorney General, may not be recruited, enlisted, or retained in the armed forces.
In other words, the worst thing that can happen as a result of this bill is that someone could be unfairly kept out of the military. I don’t want that any more than I expect anyone else does, but it’s sure a far cry from rounding up Republicans and throwing them in gulags.
That’s not to say that there aren’t problems with the amendment. As many of you probably already know, the military already has several provisions on the books prohibiting associations with extremist hate groups. Moreover, as Rep. Franks noted in arguing against the amendment, when viewed in light of the recent DHS report, allowing unelected and unaccountable officials to determine on their own who is an extremist or not seems like a pretty bad idea:
I take extreme offense that the federal government – through a report issued under the authority of a Cabinet-level official – would dare to categorize people who are “dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition or abortion or immigration” as “right-wing extremists” and it begs the question of whether the Attorney General, under Mr. Hastings’ Amendment, can look to the Napolitano report to decide who is an extremist, or can make the same categorization of the majority of Americans as extremists who may then be kept from joining the military, or who may be discharged.
The desire to risk one’s life on foreign soil for one’s country may well be considered “extreme.” To spill blood on a foreign battlefield in the name of freedom requires extreme devotion.
This amendment could have been written in a way that is more consistent with current DOD policy, which prohibits military personnel from participating in “organizations that espouse supremacist causes; or attempt to create illegal discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, religion, or national origin…”
So, not only is Hastings’ amendment redundant, it’s also an undesirable (and perhaps unconstitutional) grant of power to the Attorney General. Clearly the amendment as drafted could use some work, and it should be watched and commented upon. However, none of it suggests that Hastings is planning on helping the Obama Administration to unilaterally declare “groups that oppose government policy on guns, abortion, immigration, states’ rights, or a host of other issues” hate groups and then have them carted off to Guantanamo-on-the-Mainland.
heck, even Franks didn’t go so far as to suggest that Democrats want to literally wall off their political rivals. Instead, he claimed that the real intentions of the House were not being reflected in the amendment:
The military has many laws and regulations in place to counter racism and the enlistment of racist militants. Recruits must be thoroughly vetted, and must even explain the symbolism behind their tattoos, body markings and writings. I understand that there is concern that the rules and regulations governing vetting of recruits are not being followed as vigilantly as they could be, and this is a legitimate cause for concern. At the same time, this is a call for better enforcement of the laws in place, rather than a sweeping categorization of persons as “extremists,” as we saw in Janet Napolitano’s agency’s report.
I want to state unequivocally that I believe that it is not the intent of this Congress to label pro-lifers, federalism proponents, and pro-immigration enforcement groups and their affiliates as extremists under the bill. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle should make a strong effort to assuage these concerns and make our intentions clear.
Is this an example of poor legislative drafting? Sure. Is the Hastings amendment really necessary in light of existing military rules and regulations? Probably not. Is it a good idea to give unaccountable officials the power to label groups of Americans as extremists simply because of some opinions that they might hold? No, no it isn’t. Does this amendment represent an empowerment of the federal government to intern a large swath of conservative America? Don’t be so paranoid.
Calling the government to account for straying outside it’s bounds of power is always a good idea, but being paranoid about it doesn’t help your cause, and may in fact hurt it. You’re blowing it all with paranoia. You may be feelin’ guilty, feelin’ scared, seeing hidden cameras everywhere, but you’ve got to Stop! Hold on. Stay in control.
‘Cuz paranoia is the destroyer.
One of the single most important reasons we’ve been railing against the push for universal health care around here is because, at bottom, it will result in a massive loss of individual freedom. Aside from the physicians who will be treated like slaves (the only possibility if their services are considered a “right”), government will have every reason to control how we live our lives since, after all, if its paying for our health care then it has a vested interest in how we live our lives. Too much sugar, Tylenol or cigarettes? Well you’ll just have to quit or pay heavy fines or even go without health care altogether. Indeed, this is how virtually all bureaucracy works — i.e. once the state has responsibility for some part of your life, it starts taking over greater and greater portions thereof. As it turns out, cap-and-trade will be no different:
Let me introduce you to a little section of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill called the “Building Energy Performance Labeling Program”. It’s section 304 [ed. - It's actually Section 204] of the bill and it says, basically, that your house belongs to the state. See, the Federal Government really wants a country full of energy-efficient homes, so much so that the bill mandates that new homes be 30 percent more energy efficient than the current building code on the very day the law is signed. That efficiency goes up to 50 percent by 2014 and only goes higher from there, all the way to 2030. That, by the way, is not merely a target but a requirement of the law. New homes must reach those efficiency targets no matter what.
But what does that have to do with current homeowners like you? Well, I’m glad you asked. You’re certainly not off the hook, no way, no how. Here’s what the Democrats have planned for you. The program requires that states label their buildings so that we can all know how efficient every building (that includes residential and non-residential buildings) is and it requires that the information be made public.
First, a couple of corrections: (1) The “Building Energy Performance Labeling Program” is in Section 204 of the bill; (2) Section 304 of the Energy Conservation and Production Act (42 U.S.C. 6833) is amended by Section 201 of this bill to mandate the efficiency standards set forth above.
Taking these in order, the labeling program essentially coerces the states into adopting the federal standards set forth in the bill for identifying and reporting the energy efficiency of each structure, whether residential or commercial. Essentially this means that Uncle Sam will get all the information it wants about your energy use in the home by strong-arming the states into gathering it for them.
That’s bad enough, but it’s the amendment to Section 304 of the Energy Conservation and Production Act that really inserts the feds into your life. That’s where the efficiency mandates are laid out in Congress’ attempt to create a national building code:
(c) State Adoption of Energy Efficiency Building Codes-
‘(1) REQUIREMENT- Not later than 1 year after a national energy efficiency building code for residential or commercial buildings is established or revised under subsection (b), each State–
‘(i) review and update the provisions of its building code regarding energy efficiency to meet or exceed the target met in the new national code, to achieve equivalent or greater energy savings;
‘(ii) document, where local governments establish building codes, that local governments representing not less than 80 percent of the State’s urban population have adopted the new national code, or have adopted local codes that meet or exceed the target met in the new national code to achieve equivalent or greater energy savings; or
‘(iii) adopt the new national code; and
‘(B) shall provide a certification to the Secretary demonstrating that energy efficiency building code provisions that apply throughout the State meet or exceed the target met by the new national code, to achieve equivalent or greater energy savings.
If states or localities fail to adopt measures implementing or exceeding the efficiency standards promulgated under this bill, then the federal standards simply become the law of that land:
(d) Application of National Code to State and Local Jurisdictions-
‘(1) IN GENERAL- Upon the expiration of 1 year after a national energy efficiency building code is established under subsection (b), in any jurisdiction where the State has not had a certification relating to that code accepted by the Secretary under subsection (c)(2)(B), and the local government has not had a certification relating to that code accepted by the Secretary under subsection (e)(6)(B), the national code shall become the applicable energy efficiency building code for such jurisdiction.
This is a massive arrogation of power to the federal government, and an intolerable invasion of individual property rights. In order to avoid a fairly blatant exercise of unconstitutional authority, the bill essentially denies federal funds to states that do not comply. However, it also leaves wide open just how compliance will be enforced:
‘(f) Federal Enforcement- Where a State fails and local governments in that State also fail to enforce the applicable State or national energy efficiency building codes, the Secretary shall enforce such codes, as follows:
‘(1) The Secretary shall establish, by rule, within 2 years after the date of enactment of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, an energy efficiency building code enforcement capability.
‘(2) Such enforcement capability shall be designed to achieve 90 percent compliance with such code in any State within 1 year after the date of the Secretary’s determination that such State is out of compliance with this section.
‘(3) The Secretary may set and collect reasonable inspection fees to cover the costs of inspections required for such enforcement. Revenue from fees collected shall be available to the Secretary to carry out the requirements of this section upon appropriation.
‘(g) Enforcement Procedures- (1) The Secretary shall assess a civil penalty for violations of this section, pursuant to subsection (d)(3), in accordance with the procedures described in section 333(d) of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (42 U.S.C. 6303). The United States district courts shall also have jurisdiction to restrain any violation of this section or rules adopted thereunder, in accordance with the procedures described in section 334 of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (42 U.S.C. 6304).‘(2) Each day of unlawful occupancy shall be considered a separate violation.‘(3) In the event a building constructed out of compliance with the applicable code has been conveyed by a knowing builder or knowing seller to an unknowing purchaser, the builder or seller shall be the violator. The Secretary shall propose and, not later than three years after the date of enactment of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, shall determine and adopt by rule what shall constitute violations of the energy efficiency building codes to be enforced pursuant to this section, and the penalties that shall apply to violators. To the extent that the Secretary determines that the authority to adopt and impose such violations and penalties by rule requires further statutory authority, the Secretary shall report such determination to Congress as soon as such determination is made, but not later than one year after the enactment of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.
Subsection g above appears to empower the Secretary to assess civil penalties against individuals for noncompliance. I say “appears” because the italicized portion does not actually show up when you view the bill, only when you cut and paste it as I’ve done here (I never considered the idea that “transparency” in law-making meant “making the law transparent”). Of course, even without that italicized section, it’s pretty easy to see where this is going. If your home isn’t as efficient as the federal government wants it to be, then you will probably be facing some sort of civil penalty. How that could possibly be constitutional I have no idea.
In addition to the outrageous invasion of our homes represented by this bill, the mandates set forth are sure to drive up the costs of new homes in ways that will probably make them unaffordable for a great many people. For example, I would guess that if homes are to be 30% more efficient in just a few years, then they will likely be roughly 30% more expensive. It may be less, it may be more, but either way those prices are going up. That’s not exactly the best prescription for an ailing home market.
The bottom line of all this is that you had better be sure to tidy up your home because the federal government is coming to stay awhile and it’s bringing an awful lot of demands with it. It’s going to make having your mother-in-law over for a spell seem like a Bahamian resort vacation.