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The Preposition Is “Of”

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom from (disliked) speech. One contradicts the other.

Not that legal strictures against “offensive” speech would be consistently enforced even if the First Amendment were formally rescinded. In practice, whoever had the most political pull would be issuing the shut-up edicts. Although victims might well be offended by the uttering of those edicts, censors would be undeterred by the contradiction.

These thoughts are occasioned by Greg Lukianoff’s new book Freedom from Speech, and the review of same by Allen Mendenhall at Liberty. Lukianoff heads the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which fights the good fight for civil rights on campus. His book, says Mendenhall, is “a vigorous and cogent refutation of the increasingly popular notion that people have a right not to be offended.”

Lukianoff agrees that hypersensitivity to controversial speech in private institutions, too often punished by private sanctions that are arbitrary and unjust, does not per se violate anyone’s First Amendment rights. It nonetheless undermines the cultural tolerance needed for open discussion. “Only through the rigorous filtering mechanisms of longstanding deliberation and civil confrontation can good ideas be sorted from the bad. Only by maintaining disagreement at a rhetorical and discursive level can we facilitate tolerance and understanding and prevent the imposition of ideas by brute force.”

That is to say, cultural values and political values are not two isolated realms. One influences the other.

Who can disagree? I wouldn’t dare.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Not Witches

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

We all know about the Salem Witch Trials.  But much more recently another, not-dissimilar-enough anti-witch craze plagued us. Remember “recovered memories”? Mass child sex abuse? Satanic rites?

Most of it was nonsense.

Frances and Daniel Kellar operated a day care business, and found themselves on the wrong end of this particular crowd madness. They were successfully prosecuted, as a fascinating Austin-American Statesman article relates, without any real evidence,

after three young children accused them of dismembering babies, torturing pets, desecrating corpses, videotaping orgies and serving blood-laced Kool-Aid in satanic rituals so ghastly, their names became synonymous with evil.

It was the early 1990s, when a cottage industry of therapists, authors and investigators argued convincingly — and, in hindsight, absurdly — that a national network of secretive cults was preying upon day care children for sex and other horrors.

Why fall for such tall tales?

Over at Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown characterizes the age in which the Kellars were railroaded as “at the height of American moral panic over just who was watching the children.”

So: guilt. Parents rightly feel a duty to care for their children. Outsourcing that job makes us uncomfortable. Those who feel guilty tend to lash out at others, imputing a far greater guilt.

It’s a theory, anyway.

The truth is that the Kellars were not guilty. Their accusers recanted; the evidence against them proved spurious or mistaken.

Released from prison last year, they now seek to be completely exonerated, declared innocent. It’s hard to get folks in government to admit they were wrong.

We, on the other hand, can honor their innocence by not allowing mass hysteria to corrupt justice under our watch, today and tomorrow.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Dead Document?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Could it be? We do not live under the Constitution of the United States. The document has been a dead letter for a century, maybe longer.

Ours is a Post-Constitutional America.

Surely, there have been great moments of executive usurpation.

Andrew Jackson, in defiance of the Supreme Court, and against all normal principles of law and justice, removed the Cherokee from their agrarian holdings in Georgia and contiguous southeastern United States, sending them marching to Oklahoma. The Supreme Court said his order was unconstitutional. Jackson’s response? Not really much different from “nyah nyah, nyah nyah, nyah nyah.”

Much of the Civil War and Reconstruction was undertaken on the shakiest of constitutional grounds. And then came the “great progressive” presidents.

Republican Teddy Roosevelt and Democrat Woodrow Wilson defied the explicit intent of the Constitution’s authors — as written in The Federalist as well as in the state houses that adopted the new compact. Both presidents construed the Constitution as authorizing the federal government to do pretty much darn near anything not explicitly forbidden in the document.

That was not the original understanding.

And then there is war. The U.S. Congress hasn’t declared an explicit war since World War II. But we’ve been in a never-ending string of wars.

With Obama, the post-constitutional prevarication has reached new . . . effrontery. The current president says that, though he had previously declared the “Iraq War” a done deal, over, finito, he now says his new attacks upon ISIS are constitutionally justified by 2002’s Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq.

“Post-constitutional”? It means our leaders are liars, beyond the law.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Against Protester Brutality

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Most people agree about the wrongness of police brutality, if not about whether a particular police action is an example of it.

But what about protester brutality? Again, most oppose it. Still, skeptics on this point have been particularly loud and insistent lately. Some even suggest (or scream) that violence against the innocent is fully justified if that’s what it takes to protest injustice.

But the existence of police brutality does not justify protester brutality, protester vandalism, protester indifference-to-evidence, or any other violence or irrationality.

The grand jurors in Ferguson were not dealing with injustice in the abstract, but with a particular incident and the relevant evidence. They were not asked to determine whether police ever wrongly shoot or kill, but whether there was evidence that a particular officer had done so, enough to justify a trial. Even assuming legitimate grounds to disagree with their conclusion, too many commenters declaim as if the evidence is irrelevant and the jurors’ motives not possibly honest. The man had to be indicted regardless.

Of course, had Officer Wilson been tried, on this assumed-guilty approach only one outcome would have then been deemed acceptable, regardless of evidence: conviction. Absent that conviction, violence against the innocent would still have been rationalized.

No injustice is properly fought by either sweeping aside facts or by attacking the innocent in the name of protecting the innocent. If we ignore the requirements of justice in order to advance a Cause, how can that Cause be justice?

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Thankful for Tomorrow

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Tomorrow will be a day of Thanksgiving, a wonderfully unpretentious holiday in a terribly pretentious time.

Thanksgiving is a national celebration about simply having enough food to eat and about eating it together . . . and recognizing, at least for a moment, how great that is.

The “dining together” part is so important that enormous controversy has erupted in recent years as retailers jump the next day’s usual start of the Christmas season, “Black Friday,” by daring to open up on Thanksgiving Day itself. Many complain that stores are frustrating the feast by “forcing” their workers to work.

Last year, I made the point that families truly committed to eating a meal together could find a way to do so, and that workers are not “forced to work,” but actually enjoy a meaningful degree of freedom in when they work. And I remember being very grateful for the opportunity to earn a living by working on a holiday.

In fact, the abundance on our Thanksgiving tables every year is only possible through the freedom to work and produce and trade with each other. This American holiday is also about giving thanks for that freedom.

Freedom has, like it or not, led to long lines of eager customers waiting for those retail doors to open. I’m no big fan of shopping, but more power to those who are.

Still, freedom has also led to a full-throated public discussion — and backlash. A New York Post article credits social media with mobilizing public sentiment against stores opening on the holiday and causing some stores to roll back their hours.

Brian Rich runs Boycott Black Thursday, a Facebook page with over 100,000 likes. “We are not anti-capitalism,” says the Idahoan, who suggests shoppers spend to their hearts’ content on Friday, but celebrate “a good old-fashioned holiday at home” on Thursday.

I’m thankful stores can open if they wish and that customers have money to trade for products they want. And I’m mighty glad that we don’t have to shop if we don’t want to and that we can speak out freely against stores opening and in favor of folks spending more time with loved ones.

On Thursday, I’m grateful for all those in my family and my wife’s with whom I’ll get to break bread. On Friday, well, my youngest daughter will get me up way too early to take her shopping.

And, doggone it, as painful as it is: I’m thankful for that, too.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.


Return to Federalism

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

As we make sense of this week’s sea change — of the Great Shellacking Democrats took on Tuesday — some caution is in order.

In 2006, voters did not choose the Democrats because of what they were or what they promised, but because of what they weren’t: corrupt, clueless Republicans. Now, Republicans should remember that they were mainly chosen because they aren’t Democrats: that is, hopelessly narrow-minded, self-righteous, and corrupt.

So, what should Republicans do?

Maybe it’s not to start out of the gate by repealing Obamacare, which its namesake would simply veto.

In Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana use. In California, with Proposition 47, Golden State voters ushered in a new regime, downgrading many, many drug violations and former felony crimes to misdemeanor status.

This is the people of the states leading.

They are rejecting the “get tough” approach both parties have supported for decades, an approach that has had the dubious result of being most popular with public prison workers’ unions and the private prison lobby

Opposing drug use may be socially “conservative.” Politically speaking, however, granting government nearly unlimited police powers, and without regard to objective results, is not.

If the Republicans want to lead in Washington, they should follow the people in these bellwether elections. Back them up. End the Drug War and, with it, the Prison-Industrial Complex. Return criminal justice back to the states, where the Constitution originally put it. And where modifications can be more easily made.

Return to federalism. Return to reason.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Military vs. Weather

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

The purpose of a military — unless invading places for the hell of it — is to wield violence against violent threats to your country. What else are all the tanks and guns for?

The putative threats haven’t normally included . . . the weather.

But that’s been changing.

We probably shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is on board with scare-mongering about catastrophic “climate change,” supposedly wrought by mankind’s industrial contributions of carbon to the atmosphere. But Chuck needs to study harder if he thinks that hurricanes, tornadoes, and other rotten weather — or, for that matter, changes in average global temperature — are anything new on this planet.

He also credulously accepts the most dire predictions about melting glaciers, rising sea levels, islands sinking under the ocean, rising emigration and global unrest, etc. And without a touch of irony avers that we must be “clear-eyed” about “the security threats presented by climate change, and . . . proactive in addressing them.”

How are soldiers supposed to “address” variations in weather except, like all of us, by proactively wearing coats, carrying umbrellas, turning on air conditioning, moving away from eroding shorelines, building arks, etc?

Drop bombs on coal plants?

Not quite.

Secretary Hagel wants defense ministers to start attending UN climate-change conferences, for starters.

In other news, scientists say the rate at which plants are absorbing carbon dioxide (green things love the stuff) has been substantially underestimated in climate models.

Just when you think you’ve got the enemy figured out. . . .

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.