Archive for the ‘individual liberty’ Tag

Lela on Slavery and Individual Rights   1 comment

Thom StarkLast week, Thom Stark expanded upon his centrist views. And, I’m still hung up on the idea of government being obligated to pursue policies for the greatest good, while also protecting the rights of minorities. I still don’t think it’s possible.

Again, we agree on quite a few points.

Slavery and US slavery particuarly are huge topics we could discuss. How a country could claim, on the one hand, that all men are created equal but allow some men to own others is incomprehensible. It’s tempting to say the Civil War was fought for wholly moral reasons and therefore was a “good” war, but I know too much about what was also going on besides the issue of slavery to agree. Just the fact that Lincoln didn’t free the slaves until halfway into the war suggests there was something more going on than slavery.

And, then you also have to deal with the repression that grew from the Union victory in the Civil War. Reconstruction was a brutal and immoral period that raped the South economically, forced it into a subservient role for the next century, and led to Jim Crow and the eventual need for the Civil Rights movement, but worse, the abrogation of states rights has had profound negative effects on individual rights throughout the nation in subsequent years. It has been used as an excuse for repression of regionalization ever since. In effect, the moral crusade to end slavery empowered the federal repression of states and gave structure to Plato’s Republic in modern America.

But that would be a later discussion, I think.

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedI still believe strongly that the individual is the smallest and most powerless of minorities and that government generally is the antithesis of protecting the rights of the individual. We could certainly delve into how various minorities groups have banded together to create a statistical majority bent on forcing others to fall in line with what they want. A case in point would be the Masterpiece Cake Shop, which shows that minority group power overrides the individual right of freedom of faith.

Or we could tear an example from the headlines.

Eric Garner was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on the streets of Staten Island — coincidentally only blocks from one of the neighborhoods my husband grew up in. First a single police officer confronted him with the victimless crime. I’ve seen the video. He was agitated and loud, but never violent toward the officer, but it quickly escalated into four officers holding him on the ground, one with his knee in Garner’s back and another with his hand pushing Garner’s face into the concrete. Yes, very much police brutality, but while we’r freaking out over a symptom of government repression, I want to look at the cause.

I hate cigarettes. They’re stinky, unhealthy and produce trash that I usually end up having to clean up.  I hold similar attitudes toward marijuana and alcohol. I do not see these things as societal goods. I can understand why folks would ask their politicians to regulate them for the “maximum good”. I also think all such attempts at prohibition are stupid ideas.

That “societal good” zeitgeist and desire to prohibit or regulate individual liberty is the root cause of Eric Garner’s death. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — vices like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs fall under either the liberty or pursuit of happiness clause. When society tries to tell individuals they can’t do something (usually because it’s unhealthy), individuals find a way to continue doing it. Unable to prohibit tobacco, people who hate cigarettes asked their government to do something to curtail its usage — make it difficult for individuals to smoke by increasing taxes. Sounds good. You let those individuals continue to smoke, but you give the do-gooders a warm-fuzzy feeling of having done something to discourage them. Except ….

Every time they walk by a group of smokers and get their panties in a knot that their efforts have not made everyone stop that vile unhealthy habit, they lobby their legislators to raise the tax a little higher … which led to a market for untaxed cigarettes. Had there been no market for “loosies” the New York Police Department would have had no cause to harass Eric Garner that day and he might be alive today (I say “might” because he was obese and that’s another do-gooder target for societal improvement). Yes, you can blame Garner’s death on lesser causes like police brutality and racism, but if government had not been given the power to restrict individual liberty for “societal good”, any racism in the hearts of the cops would have been moot because they would not have been given permission to deal with Eric Garner.

I think it’s these little compromises with individual liberty — usually under the guise of something good for society as a whole — that lead us toward full scale repression. It happens gradually and so we don’t object until we see it working to kill citizens, but far too often when we seek to fix what our policies have wrought, we don’t acknowledge the cause, but try to fix the symptoms while leaving the cause in place. You can modify police training and try to modify police racial sentiments, but those efforts will be of limited effect because the real cause is inherent lack of respect for individual rights that is part and parcel with majority rule. When a societal consensus has been reached on any given issue, government feels it has a mandate to repress the individual for the greater good.

I wanted to talk about capitalism here, but I’m hitting my 1000-word guideline, so I may post something about it later.

I Did Not Consent, I Will Not Comply   1 comment

In an election where nobody showed up, the borough was given control over wood burning. They are planning to require thosemof us who burn wood to heat our homes to not heat our homes with wood for about a third of the winter. That will cost us an additional $1500 a year in a budget that is already stretched to the maximum. So, Here’s what I have to say about this.

I DID NOT CONSENT, I WILL NOT COMPLY.

I celebrated the defeat of individual freedom at the ballot box with individual freedom in my backyard. I took delivery of another two cords of firewood.

THE Liberty Amendment   Leave a comment

Looking at the 9th amendment, it’s interesting how you can work out what constitutes a natural (or unenumerated) right.

We’re all familiar with the 2nd amendment. We get lathered over the perceived infringement of it.

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

That can be interpreted to say that we have a right to own guns and use them in an organized fashion to maintain the security of our freedom, as a nation and as a state. Wow, you could drive a truck through some of the perceived exceptions in that interpretation!

Now look at the 9th amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. Interpreted it says, natural rights exist and we are enouraged to use common sense and good judgment to discover (or rediscover) them. I have a natural right to my own property. I do not have a natural right to the property of my neighbor. But do I have a natural right to own a semi-automatic rifle with a detachable 30-round magazine? There are people who would argue that, under social contract theory, society has a right to protect itself from the actions of unstable individuals by removing certain items from the possession of all citizens (or at least the ones “the experts” deem “unstable”). Our elected representatives or a majority vote of “the people” can, therefore, restrict our rights when it is deemed necessary for the protection of society.

We do all agree to a certain give-and-take in society in order to live near one another. I call that civility and I subscribe to it for the purposes of living near grocery stores and employment, but I disagree that the social contract can force me to give up certain natural rights.

Property rights are guaranteed by nature, though not specifically spelled out in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. Property rights are easily discovered because without them, there can be no true liberty. Property includes ownership of my person, my lands, my home, my private papers, my thoughts, and my personal prooperty.

Now, some of my wants attached to those rights might need to be sacrificed in order to maintain a safe society. After all, I accept a limit on my ability to build a nuclear reactor on my suburban home lot so as not to irradiate my neighbors. So why can’t society require me to give up my claim to high-capacity auto-loading firearms so as to increase the safety of my community? That is all gun control advocates are asking, for me to give up a want to protec the children.

I disagree. I voluntarily subscribe to civility because I find social interaction has value, but the social contract is only valuable if it retains individual liberty. The right to protect myself and my family against those who would destroy liberty and enslave us or our neighbors is a natural right which we cannot give up without endangering liberty. Some would say that guns are not an essential part of that freedom. I may never need to use a gun to defend my family, but my mother did 40 years ago, so why should it be assumed that I will never need to exercise the freedom, so it is not an essential freedom? If I don’t have the freedom to exercise that liberty when that liberty is not endangered, then when that liberty is endangered I will be without recourse, and therefore be denied liberty … and possibly life since the inability to defend oneself can result in death.

To be perfectly honest, the topic of gun control has far broader implications than just firearms. The real question is:

are people allowed to control one another without our consent for the theoretic safety of others?

The 9th amendment says “no”. Government has a delegated authority to take actions that ENHANCE the liberty of the source of that authority – the people – but it does not have any authority to DIMINISH our liberty and we the people have a right to the means to protect our liberty from encroachment by our fellow citizens AND (most especially) our government. Yes, that entails risks to public tranquility and safety. Unstable or dangerous people might be able to possess guns in a liberal society. That is the risk inherent in liberty.

The converse is that unstable or dangerous people, unable to access guns in a totalitarian society, may still endanger public tranquility and safety. You don’t need a gun to commit violence on others. When I was a reporter , a man in one of our Alaskan villages beat someone to death with the shoulder bone of a moose. I interviewed the detective investigating the case and I asked if the victim unable to access a gun to protect himself. The victim didn’t own a gun because he was a felon who had served his time, but was still restricted by federal law.

Ah, liberty! What we lose when we restrict it is something we may not even recognize until it is too late to reclaim it.

Amending the First Amendment   Leave a comment

When the Citizens United case stripped the state of a powerful censorship tool, many progressives began discussing amending the First Amendment.

While I don’t believe the First Amendment would be at risk of major revision in a convention of the states to propose amendments, I’ve decided to deal with the issue more squarely than when I wrote my series on this six months ago.

Autumn of 2013, Senate Democrats (Jon Tester of Montana and Chris Murphy of Connecticut) proposed a constitutional amendment as an attempt to reverse the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. FCC, which struck down restricts on political speech by corporations, unions and nonprofits. Many legal scholars at the time said that the amendment would eliminate all constitutional rights for nonprofit groups and many religious organizations. It would, some legal experts contended, also allow the National Security Agency to seize information on Americans at whim. It would have authorized Congress, states, and local governments to restrict what most newspapers publish, what most advocacy groups (including the ACLU, Sierra Club and NRA) say, restrict what is said and done by most churches, restrict the speech of labor unions, and seize the property of corporations without just compensation.

Does that sound hyperbolic? Hmmm ….

Nearly all major newspapers, magazines, book publishers, movie studios, record labels and broadcasters are owned by corporations. A company cannot participate in the stock market to raise investment capital if  it’s not an organized corporation. Most nonprofit organizations are organized as corporations, including most churches (though some states allow churches to hold a special type of corporate status). Many ordinary businesses (the feed store I buy my flour and dog food at and the locally-based bookstore, for example) are corporations who would have been affected by this proposed amendment.

At least that was what was claimed –

Here’s the wording of the Joint Resolution

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to clarify the authority of Congress and the States to regulate corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state.

The following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States:

  1. We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.
  2. The words people, person, or citizen as used in this Constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected State and Federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the State under this Constitution.
  3. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, freedom of association and all such other rights of the people, which rights are unalienable.

The funny thing is, philosophically, I agree with this. Corporations are not people and so should not hold individual liberty. That would be completely off the topic, however.

My point is that there are already attempts to amend the 1st Amendment. The proposal is languishing in committee and will probably never see the light the day, but if Congress passes it …

Do we seriously think that 38 states (75 separate legislative bodies) are going to ratify it?

Which is not to say that a convention of the states could not discuss whether individual rights really protect the liberties of mega-corporations. That might, given Citizens United, be a good conversation for us to have.

Our current government no longer follows the Constitution. It acts as if portions have been amended already. More tellingly, only slices of the population are up in arms about it. I’m going to go through the Bill of Rights and examine whether these acknowledgments are at any risk of being repealed or revised by a convention of the states and whether they haven’t already been effectively revised without our permission.

A convention of the states might make it clear that these rights remain with the people and Congress … and the Executive and Judicial branches — may not infringe upon our rights.

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