Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Of Pigs and Congressmen

Of Pigs and Congressmen
©2017  Ross Williams

The issue in a nutshell: David Pulphus, a high school student from suburban St Louis, created a piece of artwork depicting cops as pigs — and maybe a horse as well, it's hard to tell — arresting a black guy depicted as a wolf.  For some reason this artwork won the Congressional Art Contest, and it was transferred to the ownership and control of Congress, and was hung outside Congressman Lacy Clay's office.  Lacy Clay [D, MO] is the Congressman of the district in which the artist lives.   Clay also represents the district of the Ferguson riots, to which the artwork is apparently alluding.

Another Congressman, Duncan Hunter [R, CA] objected to the painting as offensive to his law and order sensibilities, and took it down.  Clay objected to Hunter's objections, and has spent the ensuing time prattling on about the artist's First Amendment, and is claiming to seek theft charges against Hunter.  The painting, not stolen but merely removed from display, is once again hanging outside Clay's office.

There's so much wrong with this entire tempest in a pisspot that it's hard to know where to begin.  So let me just start.

First, the Congressional Art Contest is supposed to be an annual affair for budding school-age artists to draw purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain; the rules specifically prohibit "sensational" or "current events" depictions.  It is natural for me, as a libertarian, to be on board with the anti-police-state theme of the amateurish artwork, even if the specific event it alludes to is unworthy of that criticism.  But let's be realistic: under the rules of the contest that this painting won, it should never have been in the contest in the first place.

Second, the painting does not now belong to Pulphus; it belongs either to Congress or to Congressman Lacy Clay — I do not know, nor do I care, nor does it matter.  The First Amendment issue, to the degree it exists at all, is no longer Pulphus's, but the artwork's owner's.  It is not Pulphus who had his free expression taken down; it was either Congress's or Clay's expression that was removed.  Congress is the government; Clay — in his capacity as a Congressman — is an agent of the government.

But the First Amendment does not protect the government's expression … or in this case re-expression; it only protects the expression of the individual citizen.  The First Amendment cannot protect artwork that Congress, as an institution, displays, nor artwork a specific Congressman shows.  The First Amendment became irrelevant the moment the artwork won the Congressional Art Contest, and Lacy Clay needs to review the nature and purpose of the Constitution he is sworn to uphold.

…this is a consistent criticism of Mr Clay's positions on virtually everything, by the way.  He is one of the many, many, many elected officials in either party who believes that the federal government has, and is designed to have, the authoritative latitude of a Soviet Politburo.

Clay attempting to level charges of theft against Hunter also displays Clay's complete unfamiliarity with law and the definition of theft.  If Clay had tied his pig to a lamppost on a public sidewalk, and the pig was removed by a shopkeeper for being in the wrong place and driving away business, leaving behind a note saying "You can retrieve your pig at …" some address, that is not theft; there is no intent on keeping the property.

Instead, if the artwork was controlled by Congress and was removed by a single Congressman, then it likely violates one or more Rules of Order created by the House of Representatives to scold its members who misbehave.  If the artwork was under the specific control of Clay, then Hunter's removal of it likely violates the same Rules of Order.  Criminal charges are little more than another of Clay's self-important, "Dig me! I'm a Congressman!" narcissisms that those of us who live near his district have grown exceedingly weary of hearing about.  Clay needs to seek sanction against Hunter through the parliamentary rules of his chamber.

And sanction is warranted.  Hunter is behaving as the very model of tightass conservative that idiot liberals love to despise — and for good reason.  Whether you like the thought of cops being depicted as pigs, it is, in our police-state nation, a common assessment.  They are used as the point-man for every government solution to problems that government was never given permission to solve.  The results have been nothing but predictable, even for those circumstances where cops do have a legitimate role.  And the problems remain unsolved in any event.

If we don't like cops being depicted as pigs and being shown the disrespect they deserve, then stop giving them multiple reasons to jump in citizens' faces multiple times a day and bossing them around.

Fewer laws defining criminal behavior, for starters.

We're supposed to be a free country, remember?  Free people in free countries don't have the government criminalizing stupid behavior, or self-indulgent behavior, or suicidal behavior, or immoral behavior.  Criminal activities, in a free society, are limited to those which take things from others — their lives or their property.  Behaviors which simply take others' patience, or dignity, or tolerance, or sympathy is known as liberty.

Liberty is frequently stupid and self-indulgent, rather like the actions of both Congressmen in this episode.  However, under our Constitutional Republic Congressmen aren't given liberty; citizens are.

Monday, January 09, 2017

First Things First

First Things First
©2017  Ross Williams

Libertarians believe a lot of things, and they wish to politically lead others with those beliefs.  Most of those beliefs — virtually all of them, actually — are worthy of acceptance.  The one thing that libertarians believe that I simply cannot abide, though, is their insistence on pretending that their political philosophy is separable from the reality which it purports to be the best option for guiding.

Libertarians, by and large, live in their navels, a condition which permeates virtually every aspect of their solutions to life's and society's conundrums.  Libertarians don't simply live in their navels, they count the whiskers on the navel-lint bunnies they construct, and perform other epistemological masturbations. 

Libertarians are — as I have been telling the rest of them for years — long on theory, short on practicum.

Political theory which does not offer practical solutions to the real issues facing a society will never be acceptable to the masses in any society which has governance built upon democracy; theories are useless.  "People" don't want theory; they want — and need — jobs, quality education so their kids can get jobs, roads to get to and from their jobs and school, civic protection so they can get to and from in relative safety, and national defense so the barbarian hordes don't interfere with it all, besides … and to just generally be left the hell alone the rest of the time.

Frankly, all people regardless of their political stripe hold the same views.  It's just that most people from shhhh! those other political viewpoints want the government to leave them alone but pester everyone else.  Libertarians usually, but not completely, declare that the government is not to pester anyone.

But a government that doesn't pester anyone is a government that doesn't exist — a reality that anarchists happily celebrate, without the consequential understanding that the nonexistent government can therefore not protect well-meaning anarchists from their less noble neighbors, or from the barbarians.  Anarchy is proto-monarchy, a historic reality that anarchists refuse to reconcile to their preferred delusion.

To be safe from the ignoble and the Huns, there must be government.  When government, it will pester.  The idea is to pester only in ways that the masses, at least at one point, gave their permission for.  "The consent of the governed", to put it in terms of US history.

Not pestering anyone, though, is the basis of the theoretical libertarian ideal of both open borders and free trade.  In most respects, there is nothing wrong with these notions … in theory.  As I often have to remind people, though, when theory comes face to face with reality and the two disagree, reality wins.  Every time.

Much has been said and, given recent circumstances, much more is being said and will be said about free trade and open borders than at any time in recent history.  This discourse is due in no small part to the election of President Cheeto.  His election is due in no small part to the utter failure of false free trade put into practice and the mostly-closed borders creating porous border realities.

In other words, what libertarians want and how reality handles them are two different things, and reality informs anyone paying attention that libertarians are never going to get what they want in the ways that they are being provided.  To be fair to libertarians, it is not libertarians who are providing porous borders and false free trade; libertarians don't have political clout.  But the political terrain is so littered with Other Peoples' Politics that there is no way to get what libertarians want in any direct manner.  As the down-eastern saying goes, "Ya can't get theh from hyuh."

Most libertarians, when asked about the open borders they idolize, will point back to the immigration policies this nation had in the last third of the nineteenth and first quarter of the twentieth centuries.  Yet those were not open borders; this nation — as a nation — has never had open borders.  There have always been rules for immigrants to follow before being allowed in.  During the heyday of immigration, the rules were simply very few and easily accomplished: sign your name [in English] and don't be carrying any infectious diseases.  Tens of thousands of immigrants who got off the boat in US ports died without setting foot outside the entry port hospital.

And then the borders closed.  They were virtually airtight during the Depression, and only reopened slightly after World War Two, mostly to war refugees and ex-nazi rocket scientists.  Today, thanks to the liberal legislative moronitude of the 70s, the rules for immigrants are cumbersome, inexplicably complex and so arcane that it's simply easier to risk death by diamondback in the Sonoran Desert than to obey the law.  And immigrants by the millions have done exactly that.

Porous borders — anyone who wants to can sneak across the border.  And they do.  Among them are drug dealers and criminals and jihadists, and those who do not work, even under the table, and then live off the support of the American Taxpayer.  As many criminals and jihadists as the paranoid closed-border types claim?  No, but still there are some.  It is dishonest and counter-productive to claim otherwise as the liberals do.  As many government benefit leeches as some wish to claim?  Again, no, but there are still some, and it is still dishonest and counter-productive to join the liberals and deny it.

Of course the libertarian response would be to say, "but we should also end the War on Drugs, be able to deport unnaturalized criminal immigrants, and those who act out Sharia Law rather than simply believe in it.  And we have to end the Welfare State as well.  Then those problems wouldn't be problems."  And of course they are correct.  But therein lies the disconnect; libertarians only concede these after being beaten over the head with reality.  Left to themselves, most libertarians want open borders first, before ending the disastrous War on Drugs and the equally disastrous War on Poverty, double-checking Syrian civil war refugees, and closing down sanctuary cities.

We effectively have open borders already since foreigners who wish to come here but not fill out reams of paperwork are still arriving.  What are the results?  Black market drug turf wars and thousands dead, hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually on policing, prosecuting and paroling, hundreds of billions more in government handouts, and self-righteous liberal twit mayors flopping their arms across their chests, pouting, "they may be criminals, but they are MY criminals and you can't send 'em away!"  The libertarian solution is already in effect and it doesn't work.

Being unable to send anything away is, coincidentally [or not], the basis of what passes for free trade in America today.  Every other nation on the planet makes stuff very cheaply and most of the trade agreements the US enters into permits those goods to be imported, duty-free, for consumption by American consumers.  The United States, on the other hand, makes stuff very expensively and we have a hard time getting rid of it anywhere but in the US.

Yes, it is true that, in general, US-made products are better quality, but that is not as universal a reality as free trade enthusiasts would like everyone to believe.  The quality difference between domestic products and foreign competition accounts for a very small fraction of their large price differentials.  Long gone are the days of snickering at Made in Japan; that luxury died with the invention of the Plymouth K Car, Chevy Monza, and anything Ford churned out in response to the Arab Oil Embargo.  Hecho en Mexico is, today, just as good as Made with pride in the USA.  Generally because the company who hechos in Mexico is probably the same one who used to make it in the US.

There's a commercial floating around now about cell phone service that asks if you'd really pay 50% more for 1% more reliability.  The answer is no you wouldn't.  And, well, neither do foreign shoppers when they have the option of buying an American product versus the one they make themselves.  Product quality is largely irrelevant.

What is not irrelevant is the price.  Price is determined, in large part, by the costs of production.  These costs, in the US, are astronomical.  Most such costs are needless and are imposed by the government for the purpose of furthering government.  These costs consist of mandatory minimum wages, mandatory minimum employee benefits, contracted wages and benefits made mandatory because government requires union participation, regulatory costs, fees, taxes …

Other nations, including declaratively socialist nations, have nowhere near the same government impositions upon businesses that the US does.  As a result, US goods cannot compete with foreign goods because the consumer will nearly always choose the less expensive foreign-made item.  US products enter the free trade debate at a severe disadvantage. 

As a direct result of this disadvantage, any free trade agreements the US enters into has the net effect of selling US jobs to other nations, either through the free market preference of lower-cost foreign production, or because US manufacturers move their operations out of the US where they can make the same things the same way but far less expensively.  What passes for free trade is, therefore, not free but suicidal.  This is seen in the true rate of unemployment standing between 15-20% despite nearly a decade of Great Recession Recovery®, and a Labor Force Participation Rate hovering at a historic low of around 60%.

The way to address this false free trade is to remove the government-perpetuating Cost of Government from US manufacturing, or — number two — to force all our foreign nation trading partners to adopt the same cost of government intrusions into their own manufacturing, or — third — ham-fist a price-equalizing tariff on goods imported into the US.  I don't think I need to remind anyone what our newly-elected orange snack food with a bad comb-over wants to do.

Yes a tariff on imported goods will — at least in the short-term — do little more than increase the drain on Americans' wallets; it will take time to increase US manufacturing to compensate, and put the 20% unemployed, and the 40% underemployed Americans back to work so they can afford the price increase.  And it may inspire a tariff war with some of the foreign competition who have been subsidizing their own manufacturers.  But at least it's something, and it's significantly better than the option offered up by navel-gazing libertarians, which is to stick their fingers in their ears, and squawk their theories about free trade at the tops of their lungs.

Before there can be free trade there must be freedom TO trade as one sees fit, without government interference and having to pay the government for all that helpful interference.  The US government does not permit a freedom TO trade; they insinuate themselves into every aspect of commerce, driving up cost and driving away freedom.  Not to mention driving away manufacturing.  The libertarian solution cannot be accomplished without committing economic suicide.

More-open borders and free trade are the libertarian end-game, not the path.  Eliminate the War on Drugs and the welfare state first and then — but not before — we'll talk about more-open borders; end hyper-regulation of wages, benefits, and taxes first and then — but not before — we'll talk about free trade.  Few libertarians can be bothered with the necessary order of events reality requires to get what they want.  Most libertarians would rather stroke their navel-lint bunnies.