Tag Archives: tyranny

Snowden is on Twitter

Edward Snowden joined Twitter at noon today and garnered 167,000 followers in his first hour. So, maybe there’s hope. Article here, on The Intercept. Souvenir first tweet, below. That one account he’s following is the NSA.

Snowden

In an earlier post on Snowden, we observed that Germans came out on the street in protest, whereas Americans largely believe the shtick about “privacy versus security.” Since then, the NSA has been proved guilty of illegal surveillance activity.

You may recall White House staffers being fired over this, the Senate investigation, the impeachment. No? That’s because not a damned thing happened. Some starlet got her boobs adjusted and our entire brain dead country forgot the whole thing. Meanwhile, Ed is a fugitive.

Update: People taking action in Germany, while here in America the authorities blithely conduct another illegal search and seizure.

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Filed under Civil Rights

When America Fails

The natural state of man is slavery. Throughout history there have always been the rulers – and the ruled. Depending on your tradition, you may say serf, or peasant, or even proletarian. Jeremiah prefers the more personal slave. Occasionally, the slaves rise up and … choose new masters. Even in supposed democracies, like the Roman Republic and the American, people want a Caesar.

When fascists write about utopia, they imagine themselves on the throne.

When fascists write about utopia, they imagine themselves on the throne. From the pyramids to Versailles, we marvel at what slaves have built for the glory of their masters. Classical democracy meant power sharing only among the nobility. England still has a governing body called the House of Lords.

GovernmentWork

In America, our revolutionary struggle against tyranny was illuminated by a bold, new idea. This was the idea that all power ultimately comes from the people. The people grant to the government only such power as is needed to maintain an orderly society, and no more. The power of the government is constrained by laws, and the people elect the lawmakers.

This idea lasted for roughly two hundred years. It seems apt, historically, for the light of liberty to fail at the millennium. It is fashionable to say that we were duped by the phony war on terror, but there was a phony war on drugs before that, and a phony war on poverty. The statists will always find a phony war to fight when, of course, the real war is against the people.

Two hundred years of liberty, for a tiny fraction of humanity, was just a flash in the darkness. When Rome fell, no paragon of liberty, humanity endured one thousand years of darkness – backward, anarchic mayhem. Liberty was difficult to imagine, and unbearably difficult to create. It may never come again. The natural state of man is slavery.

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Filed under Liberty

Land of the Free

PassportSomewhere along the line, the Constitution became associated with the political right. This was not a good move for the Constitution. Maybe it has something to do with partisan attitudes toward domestic surveillance, as we discussed here.

The right likes old timey language. They see the depredations of the IRS, for example, as “tyranny.” Jeremiah, his political sensitivities formed in the Sixties, sees fascism. The blog has tags for both. Libertarians are for liberty, broadly construed, while the left will settle for “civil rights.”

You would think that protecting our, um, freedom would be a concern for all Americans. Everyone in government takes an oath to defend the Constitution, and President Obama was a professor of Constitutional law.

The first ten amendments to the Constitution are the Bill of Rights, one of history’s most profound statements of human freedom. Other charters are merely aspirational. The UN declaration wants us all to have good jobs, with time off and a health plan.

The Bill of Rights is more pragmatic. Instead of what the government should do for you, it lists what the government may not do to you. Readers will have noticed a theme lately, as we have chronicled the erosion of your personal freedoms.

  • The Fourth Amendment, against unlawful search and seizure, was the first casualty in our Orwellian “war on terror.”
  • The First Amendment, freedom of speech, has been replaced by a censorship regime with potent sanctions.
  • Even the Eighth Amendment, against cruel and unusual punishment, has been shredded by a prison industry that is paid on volume.

Those are (were) the big ones. Ilya Somin has even found a violation of the Third Amendment. Six and Seven are pretty much toast, too. You can play this game at home by following the news, and tracking how many of your Constitutional rights are still standing.

The stated purpose of this blog is to explore solutions for America’s problems. If no one is going to defend the Constitution, though – despite having taken the oath – then it’s not really America anymore. It might be time to go Simon Black, and start working on that second passport.

See also:  Rule of Law

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Filed under Civil Rights, Liberty

Taking Your Stuff

Police-might-shoot-you-during-a-traffic-stopBelow is an abridged transcript of the Fifth Amendment. Not too bad, is it? The government is not allowed to take your stuff, much less kill or imprison you without due process. Plus, we have habeas corpus – the right to our day in court, with a jury of our peers.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury … nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

It’s just as well that you never learned this in public school, because it’s obsolete. Not only can the government take your stuff – and they are constantly dreaming up new ways to do it – but they can outright kill you with no “due process” at all.

We have covered extrajudicial killing previously. That’s the doctrine that if you are merely accused of being a terrorist – by a properly anointed government official, of course – your own government can murder you, and never present evidence to anyone. If that sounds paranoid to you, there is plenty of backup on the ACLU web site.

The U.S. targeted killing program operates without meaningful oversight outside the executive branch, and essential details about the program still remain secret

Short of taking your life, the government can absolutely take your property. This used to be called eminent domain, as in the famous Norwalk case. True story – the city turfed these people out of their homes so that they could build a mixed-use retail block.

Eminent domain is passé now, because city governments are getting desperate. Now the police can rob you in broad daylight, like some banana republic. It’s not true that Loretta Lynch invented civil asset forfeiture but, as New York’s D.A., she was a big proponent. Lynch is now America’s “top cop,” the Attorney General of the United States.

… civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement agents to take property they suspect of being tied to crime even if no criminal charges are filed. Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.

Perhaps you have heard of deposit structuring. This is a truly Kafkaesque money grab, as if the IRS were not already omnipotent. If you deposit more than $10,000 cash into your bank, you might be a terrorist, or laundering drug money. You might also be depositing the week’s take from your hair salon, but never mind – you have to fill out Form 8300.

Here’s the Kafkaesque part. If you deposit less than $10,000, you do not have to fill out Form 8300 … and now the IRS seizes your entire bank account! That’s because you are apparently dodging Form 8300. Good luck suing the IRS. You are guilty until proven innocent, plus you’re broke.

The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint, and the owners are left to prove they are innocent.

The list goes on and on – the DEA, IRS, ATF, the Patriot Act (or whatever), RICO, FINCEN, and the DHS. Government agencies have more power to deprive you of life, liberty, and property than was ever dreamed of in 1791.

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Toward Better Democracy

The Greek people voted, fair and square, to receive more bailout money from Germany. If Chancellor Merkel does not accede, that means she lacks respect for “democratic values.” Obviously, the Germans don’t see it that way.

Buttonwood wrote a nice article on the limitations of democracy. You cannot vote to have manna fall from the sky (or Germany). Many economic factors lie outside a nation’s control. The best we can do is elect leaders who are competent to play the hand we are dealt, and honest enough to tell us where we stand (see President Superhero).

Jeremiah happened to be passing through Hong Kong at the time of the protests, and heard many cynical things said about democracy. One that stands out is the idea that people would begin voting for government handouts, and mighty Hong Kong would become a welfare state. No kidding – it was exactly like the famous (and apocryphal) quote from Professor Tytler.

The majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy.

Additional cynicism about democracy can be found in the Chinese press, or Chinese comments on Western news sites. We found this gem, below, among the comments on FT. Danny Quah quips that not all American elections are swayed by money – only 94% are.

Democracy is about giving the dictatorship mandate to the winner of a money backed popularity contest.

Those of us who would defend democracy, and especially those who would advocate democracy in other countries, need to be a little more discriminating in our arguments. We are used to thinking of democracy, freedom, and prosperity as a package deal. Jeremiah believes that there is synergy among the three, but the causal relationships are not clear cut.

Policy

Plenty of people would be willing to accept a dictatorship, as long as it delivered consistent improvements in their quality of life. This is basically the deal the Chinese Communist Party has. Many Americans are oblivious to the problems in our republic, for the same reason. They will sit up and take notice only as each one, individually, starts to feel the pinch.

The fatal problem with democracy is the fiscal one – people voting themselves largesse from the public purse – but we may dispossess our fellows in other ways, too. The majority may vote to rob from “the rich,” and rob from future generations. We may also vote to abridge the civil rights of any group that is a minority, from gays to atheists. This makes democracy the tyranny of the majority.

Democracy is also open to tampering. There is the obvious influence of money, and the fiendishly clever marketing it can buy. Domestic money is bad enough, plus we have illicit foreign money. We have incumbency bias, and gerrymandering. We have voter fraud. The mere ceremony of voting does not even deserve to be called “democracy,” witness the sham elections held by dictators around the world.

Accountability is all we ask of political leadership. Everything else is just narrative.

What we really want is freedom, and the rule of law. We accept democracy as a reasonably effective way to change leadership without the trouble of a revolution, which is what Danny Quah means when he says that “every government, every ruler, must be daily insecure.” He makes an intriguing argument that Western democracies are less accountable than the CCP.

So, in the spirit of removing the mote from our own eye, here are some ideas to make democracy safe for the world:

  • Representative democracy – As everyone knows, direct democracy is unworkable. That’s why we vote to elect legislators, who in turn vote to make laws.
  • Picked candidates – Hong Kong will have free elections, among four or five candidates picked by the CCP. Of course, no one elected the CCP. On the other hand, come 2016, we will have only two choices for president, and – who picked them?
  • Weaker executive – We should not be electing a dictator. America has only two parties because of the Manichean struggle to control the White House. Our executive branch has far more power than befits a “democracy.”
  • Restrict voting on fiscal matters – This would address the Tytler problem directly, and you can read it implicitly in Art. I, Sec. 2 of our Constitution. States that pay less tax, have fewer votes. For individuals, this could mean that if you are not paying taxes, you don’t get to vote on how taxes are spent.
  • Restrict advertising – Jeremiah would like to see political advertising banned from television. That would eliminate a big cost factor behind money politics. Even if people see the same stuff on YouTube, they would at least be more actively engaged.
  • Smaller scales – Chinese democrats, take note. Democracy doesn’t scale! People seem to have forgotten this since 1787. Nothing in our Constitution contemplates a national government. The States were intended to be sovereign. Most of our fiscal (and social) problems come from federal overreach.
  • Fewer elections – Limiting elected officials to a single term in office would prevent them trying to make a career of it, and avoid having to raise funds for reelection. Congressional terms might need to be increased, say, to six years.

The charm of democracy is the idea that each individual, making his mark in the voting booth, has some say in how we are governed. Rather than cling to the trappings and the rhetoric, we should start working on the reality.

See also: The People’s Ice Cream

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Just Plain Dumb

IdiocracyJeremiah differs from Ilya Somin, who writes that political ignorance is a rational choice – leaving others to do the work of electing an honest government.  That may be true for Somin’s lawyer buddies.  Jeremiah is more inclined toward Jim Quinn’s view, that we have developed a culture of ignorance.

Quinn’s post is long.  You might at least skim it for the statistics and the block quotes.  Here is our favorite, from Martin Luther King:

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance

We have reported on the TIMSS study, the PISA study, and the PIAAC study, along with other OECD studies and the European press.  There is an undeniable connection between good schools, smart people, and successful economies.  Smart people are not only more productive, they elect better governments.  It’s a virtuous cycle.

The cycle also spins in the other direction.  Ignorant voters elect corrupt leaders, who have little incentive to improve education.  Jeremiah’s estimate, among others, suggests the process has been ongoing since the 1960s.  That means many of you, reading this, have never seen quality education.

Conspiracy theorists worry about Prozac in the water supply, or whatever.  Destroying the schools was much simpler, and it’s a perfectly natural process.  That’s why we have breathtaking corruption in America, a bubble economy, and a police state.  The people are too dumb to protest.

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Filed under Education, Liberty

Bow Down, Peasants

KingJoffreySen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has proposed a Constitutional amendment that Congress must be bound by its own laws.  Critics say this is all about Obamacare, and their exemption therefrom.  Opinions are divided on that, but – this is not the only special privilege Congress has.

Critics also say that the language of Paul’s amendment is vague and could backfire.  That’s probably true, in its rough draft – but we hope that our nation’s lawmakers can clean that up.  The only reason this language is not already in the Constitution is that no one ever imagined Congress would be handing down laws for the rest of us to obey.

No one ever imagined Congress would be handing down laws for the rest of us to obey.

Finally, critics say Paul’s idea is quixotic, because Congress will never vote to curtail its own privilege.  Can this be true?  Are we serfs now?  A better question is – who are these critics?  The logic of Paul’s proposal, if not the details, is unassailable.  So, why assail it?

As usual, it’s the partisan charade.  Because Sen. Paul is a Republican, the left reads this as an insult to Obamacare.  If he were a Democrat, it would somehow be a threat to national security – or baseball, or some damned thing.  Like domestic surveillance (which Sen. Paul also opposes) this is another case of partisans willing to be ruled.

See also: No One Is Above The Law But Congress

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