Category Archives: Free Speech

The Basic Premise Behind Campaign Finance Laws

A great deal of ink (or film, or bits) has been expended this election cycle, primarily on the far left (though some on the right… particularly with the more populist factions), decrying the actions of “independent” political action committees, superPACs, and “issue advocacy groups”; as somehow corrupt, evil, anti-democratic etc..

The rhetoric on the left, is that the “citizens united” decision has basically given “shadowy actors” like say, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers, effectively a blank check to “buy elections”.

Of course, the idea that we need to “get the money out of politics” has been a political meme for approximately as long as politics has existed…

… and to a degree, there is a point there. ACTUAL political corruption, in the sense of directly buying influence or buying votes; is certainly something we need to combat as much as possible.

We’ll never eliminate it of course, humans have an endless capacity for venality, greed, and self interest. That’s just the way it is…

Frankly, the only way to get money out of politics; is to get politics out of money.

By which I mean, that so long as politics has an impact on my business and my life (and it always will); if I have money, I’m going to have a strong incentive to spend it, to make the political process work to my advantage… Or even just to hurt me less.

And that’s the way it SHOULD be… I SHOULD be able to spend my money to reduce the harm that government does to me, or to try to make government come out to my advantage; so long as I am not actually bribing a legislator to vote the way I want, committing fraud etc…

There’s a simple way of combating this; and that’s reducing the power of government to impact the individual, such that they no longer have any incentive (or really, so that their incentive is lower… since you’ll never get that little political interference) to spend their money in that way.

But that’s not what these folks are decrying from the hilltops.

What they are screaming about, is essentially free speech they don’t like.

Make no mistake, money IS speech. If you don’t have money, you can’t buy media air time. If you can’t buy media air time, then you can say whatever you want, but you’ll be speaking to an empty room.

One of the basic principles of free speech, is that you have the right to say whatever you like (short of libel, slander, fraud, or incitement to crime); so long as you are not infringing on others rights by doing so.

Another one of those basic principles is that you have the right to say it… But I don’t have to listen to it, and you don’t have the right to make me.

It’s up to me, to decide who and what I listen to, and to use my own judgement and experience in doing so.

So, you may not like what these people are saying; but so long as media companies are willing to sell them airtime, you have no right to restrict that. By attempting to do so, you are attempting to regulate free speech (conversely, you also have no right to force those media companies to sell time to opposing viewpoints; another leftist canard about “fairness”).

Makes sense right?

Well, it does to me… and to the supreme court; and when it’s causes that leftists agree with they’re perfectly OK with it.

The REAL argument, comes down to this:

“We can’t allow these bad evil people and groups to speak, because although I’m smart enough to know the difference between lies and truth, the general population are too stupid to do so”

So, rather than actually convince the people of their own side of the argument, they seek to prevent the other side from even speaking.

It’s entirely consistent with the historical leftist narrative that the “proletariat is fooled by the comfortable goods of the bourgeoisie and the lies of the ruling class” etc… etc…

Their basic premise here being that if the people could only hear and understand the truth, that the leftists ideas would be universally acclaimed as true and necessary, and immediately put into place (with the leftist elites themselves in charge of course… after all, who better to lead than those who understand the ideas the best).

They can’t accept the idea that maybe people don’t WANT more government, with more power over everyone’s lives and businesses… Because that would go entirely against the ideas they have based their entire lives and identities on; and that simply can’t be possible.

…but that’s another argument entirely.

Oh and I should note that there is a “right wing” authoritarian narrative that is nearly identical in principle, that the people are too stupid, lazy, corrupt etc… To be trusted to make their own MORAL decisions; and that the force of government must be used to make people “do the right thing”. That’s equally as bad; it’s just not what we’re talking about right now.

Now… I hate these ads as much as everyone else… But not because I decry “those fools actually believe these foul lies” (though they may be foul lies, and “the people” may believe them); simply because they’re REALLY IRRITATING.

If the people actually are so stupid that they believe “foul lies”; and the other side isn’t smart enough, or doesn’t have a good enough argument to convince them otherwise…

Well, so be it.

That’s the problem with a democratic representative republic. You have to live with the representatives the electorate choose, and the things they vote for.

It’s also why it’s so critical that we have a strictly limited government of enumerated powers only… Or rather, that we return to that; as we haven’t actually had such a government since 1861.

Our government was intended to provide protection against the tyranny of the majority… Unfortunately from the first day that government was put in place, people with “good ideas” have attempted to (often successfully) use the force of government, to have those ideas implemented, without regard to the legitimate powers of government, the desire of the people, or the rights of those being governed.

The left are perfectly willing to crow about how great democracy is… until the people refuse to vote for what they want; at which point they try to get the courts to make the people do what they want anyway.

Because, as we all know, when it comes to leftist causes, they are all “moral imperatives”…

Or as a very smart man put it once “The ends justify the means”.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Atlas Shrugged Part II in Theaters This Weekend

Atlas Shrugged Part II is opening this weekend. Want to check it out? Follow this link to find a theater near you.

And now, the official Atlas Shrugged Part II trailer:

Resistance is Not Always Futile

There’s no question that the 2012 campaign has been full of disappointments for those of us who want less government, more liberty, and more prosperity in our lives. Very clearly, the game is rigged in large part due to the establishment media, powerful special interest groups, and the political parties themselves. It’s very easy to become disillusioned by the entire process and sometimes it’s tempting to give up and say “to hell with it!”

But rather than bring down you readers out there (as I often do), I want to share something very inspiring with you from Cato’s David Boaz (below). In Boaz’s lecture, he explains how everyday heroism hastened the demise of the Soviet Union. We libertarians complain – often with good reason, about how difficult it is for our voices to be heard in the two party system. For all practical purposes, the U.S.S.R. had only one political party and dissent was strongly discouraged…to put it mildly.

Yet somehow, ordinary people were able to rise up, demand the liberties we all too often take for granted, and prevailed! How did they do it? What can we learn from how these ordinary people brought down the Evil Empire, and more importantly, how can we apply these lessons here in the US?

Innocence of Jackbooted Thugs

Today may be Constitution Day but given the repeated assaults on this document and those who take their liberties seriously, today doesn’t seem like much of an occasion to be celebrating. Over at The New York Post, Andrea Peyser refers to the treatment of the no longer obscure film maker Nakoula Basseley by the very government that is supposed to protect his individual rights as “appeasing thugs by trampling rights.”

In an episode as shameful as it is un-American, obscure LA filmmaker Nakoula Basseley. Nakoula was picked up by Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies acting like jackbooted thugs.

Nakoula was paraded in front of a hostile media, his face hidden behind a scarf reminiscent of Claude Rains in “The Invisible Man,’’ and delivered into the hands of federal authorities for interrogation. Ostensibly, officials wanted to know if a cruddy, little film Nakoula created on a tiny budget violated terms of his probation for financial crimes — because he was forbidden to use the Internet.

Okay, so maybe the film maker violated his probation but I can’t help but think that if he wasn’t on probation, the government wouldn’t find some other law he would have violated. It’s not too difficult to trump up charges against any person living in this “free” country as there are over 27,000 pages of federal code and more than 4,500 possible crimes…surely he would be guilty of committing at least one!

As despicable as the actions on the part of the government are though, what I have a difficulty with is the cheerleaders in the media supporting the government’s actions rather than standing up for Nakoula Basseley’s First Amendment rights or at least questioning the authorities as to whether this was really about his probation violation.

Nakoula Basseley isn’t the only target of the government in this case, however. Peyser continues:

The government also went after YouTube, asking the Google-owned company whether “Innocence’’ violated its terms of usage. To its credit, YouTube refused to take down the film’s trailer in the West, although it yanked the offensive video from several Arab countries.

[…]

“Innocence of Muslims’’ tests an American value that liberals and conservatives alike claim they revere: the First Amendment guarantee to freedom of speech, no matter how rude and obnoxious. If you don’t like a work of art — as I despise the famous photo of a crucifix dunked in urine — you have every right to complain. You don’t have the right to burn the infidels who put it there.

Yet under the administration of President Obama, the United States has gone down a dangerous path by appeasing the horde.

“Appeasing the horde” may be part of the Obama administration’s motivation for going after this YouTube video but I think it has as much to do with deflecting responsibility from his disastrous Middle East foreign policy* in an election year. Whatever the administration’s motives, these heavy handed tactics ought to be challenged and exposed by anyone who cares anything about free speech/expression. Kudos to Andrea Peyser for writing an article in such a high-porfile newspaper as The New York Post to expose this assault on this 225th anniversary of the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention. Sadly, she shouldn’t be too surprised if the jackbooted thugs knock on her door next.

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Random Acts of Violence Can Be Mitigated But Not Prevented

In the aftermath of the senseless killing that occurred last Friday in Aurora, CO at the premier of the latest Batman movie, the question on most people’s mind is how this kind of violence can be prevented. What is the appropriate public policy that will prevent something like this horrible event from ever happening again?

Unsurprisingly, those who favor stricter gun control laws and those who favor less have come to very different conclusions. If the shooter had to jump through additional legal hoops to acquire the guns, the ammunition, the body armor, didn’t have the ability to purchase high capacity clips (because they were outlawed), etc., would this have certainly prevented this tragedy? If the movie theater didn’t have the “gun free zone” policy and one or more of the movie patrons with a CCW and a hand gun to return fire, would this have certainly prevented this tragedy?

In a word the answer is no to either approach.

Others blame the “coarsening of our culture” due in part to violent movies, video games, music, etc. The pervasiveness of pretend violence inspires real life violence, some might argue. If the entertainment industry toned down or eliminated violence in their respective art forms (whether voluntarily or by government censorship), would this have certainly prevented this tragedy?

Again, the answer is no.

There is no public policy nor security approach that will certainly prevent another random act of violence such as this. When you think about it, the question is quite absurd. The question should not be whether these acts of violence can always be prevented but whether they can be mitigated or reduced.

Is it possible that with additional gun control laws, this individual wouldn’t have been able to perpetrate this evil? While I oppose additional gun control laws, I have to concede that it is possible that if obtaining these weapons were more difficult, that this wouldn’t have happened. By regulating the type of firearms and ammunition the average person can purchase, certain criminals would be otherwise prevented from using a firearm in an unprovoked, violent fashion. But as the NRA likes to point out, criminals by definition don’t care about the law (the Aurora shooter didn’t change his mind when he walked by the “gun free zone” sign that would have notified him about the theater’s policy). Those who are determined to commit crimes with guns will acquire them through the black market. Would the killer in this instance gone through the trouble to seek out these weapons on the black market? Probably, but it’s impossible to know for sure.

While I agree with John Lott Jr.’s arguments he outlines in his book More Guns, Less Crime* and can be found making his case at various media outlets, I think it’s a bridge too far for some of my fellow travelers who support the right to bear arms to say that a single person with a gun in the theater would have prevented 12 people from being murdered and dozens more from being injured. The truth is, we cannot know for sure because there are too many variables. It’s entirely possible that a CCW holder who was properly trained might have reduced the body count and the injuries. I certainly think the odds are that more people would have survived, but given the circumstances of this event, I doubt seriously that the whole tragedy would have been averted.

So if random acts of violence cannot be prevented regardless of the security measures or public policy reforms, the question necessarily becomes: just how much risk of being a victim of a random violent act are we willing to tolerate and at what cost**?

With all the murders and scary things reported in the news, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that our culture is more violent than ever. The thing is though, it’s just not true. With the news of a mass shooting occurring on school campuses, at the grocery store in Tucson, and the latest shooting at the theater in Aurora, it might seem that there is a lunatic with a gun around every corner ready to do carnage. You may be surprised to learn then, that every school campus is due to be the place of an on campus murder…once every 12,000 years.

You may be even further surprised to learn that our world as a whole is a much less violent place than any time in the history of humanity. According to research by Harvard’s Steven Pinker, the 20th century was less violent than the previous centuries even considering all the death and destruction from the world wars, the cold war, Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Mao’s China.

You are less likely to die a violent death today than at any other time in human history. In fact, violence has been on a steady decline for centuries now. That’s the arresting claim made by Harvard University cognitive neuroscientist Steven Pinker in his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

Just a couple of centuries ago, violence was pervasive. Slavery was widespread; wife and child beating an acceptable practice; heretics and witches burned at the stake; pogroms and race riots common, and warfare nearly constant. Public hangings, bear-baiting, and even cat burning were popular forms of entertainment. By examining collections of ancient skeletons and scrutinizing current day tribal societies, anthropologists have found that people were nine times more likely to be killed in tribal warfare than to die of war and genocide in even the war-torn 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was 30 times higher than today.

So despite the “lax gun laws” and despite the “coarsening of our culture,” somehow we are less likely to be a victim of a violent act than at any time in history if we are to believe Steven Pinker. Of course, I realize that this probably isn’t much comfort to those who have been victims of these violent acts. We must remember, however; that if we succumb to fear that follows these horrific acts, we risk surrendering our privacy and our liberty*** for very little net benefit. We must recognize that there will always be those who want to harm his fellow man. Be alert, be vigilant, but under no circumstances allow yourself to live in fear.

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