Category Archives: Civil Liberty

Low Hanging Fruit

With the recent shooting in San Bernardino national attention has again returned to that eternal yin-yang conflict between the gun banners and the gun lovers. Or should I say those who promote “sensible gun laws” and those that do not believe their rights should be curtailed because of the actions of others. Truth be told the former believes “sensible” = “total ban”– because, obviously, making things illegal always eliminates the problem (cough, drug war, cough, prohibition). Banning all guns because of the senseless acts of a few crazed lunatics makes about as much sense as castrating all men because some have raped. The ban-wishers realize that a total ban is not feasible, so they couch their rhetoric in innocuous sounding terms like “sensible” and “common sense” when referring to proposed legislation. The only problem with these proposed laws (if you can actually manage to get any of them to divulge exactly what they might entail) is that not a single one of them would have stopped any of the mass shooting rampages in recent memory. Not. A. Single. One. Calls for background checks to include the presence of psychological issues don’t help if one has never done anything crazy before. Barring felons from obtaining a weapon don’t help if one has never been convicted of a crime. Waiting periods don’t help if one has owned a weapon for years and then commits an atrocity or simply “borrows” it from a family member. In short it is a human problem, not a gun problem. Humans can do anything at any time and as much as we might all wish it to be true (oh, please let there be a Santa Claus!) it is metaphysically impossible to predict the behavior of any one person so as to shut them down pre-crime style.

Now some may object at this point and point to a number of “peer” countries with draconian gun laws who have lower homicide rates than the US. What this simpleminded analysis leaves out is manifold. First of all the use of the arbitrary distinction “peer” is simply a ploy to omit countries with lower gun ownership than the US but with much higher gun deaths. One prominent example is Mexico.  “Oh but that is left out because of the violence stemming from the drug war,” they will say. Oh really? That is interesting, because the US is currently involved in a massive drug war as well, so I suppose to be fair we should subtract those numbers out in the same way they deem it valid to leave Mexico out of the comparison. When you make that adjustment the estimates are that the US homicide rate drops precipitously from 4 per 100,000 down to as low as 1 per 100,000  – the same as all these other “peer” nations with their draconian laws. The other part of the analysis left out is a lot of these “peer” nations are extremely small, culturally homogeneous groups (e.g. Japan or Norway). If one were slice up the US the same way and break it down by state or city rather than as whole you find even without drug war adjustments the regional numbers are on par or lower than those very same “peer” nations. In other words 1% of US cities are responsible for the overwhelming majority of gun violence.

If those that want to “do something” about gun violence are serious then they would be well advised to examine what factors are driving the violence in these cities. They are the low hanging fruit as it were since most gun deaths occur within their borders. Since most (Chicago, Detroit, etc) already have strict gun control laws, that is obviously not going to be a solution. To solve the problem one must understand the source of the problem. That source is overwhelmingly the drug war. It is not simply mere shoots out between gangs that factor in here but all the other social and economic factors that drive one toward violence when a prohibition is placed on some arbitrary article of commerce. Like a cancer the prohibition infects the community and destroys it from within. But it all starts with the prohibition. Remove the drain stopper that is prohibition and all the other violence inducing factors will drain away as well. Will this solve all instances of gun violence? No, but wouldn’t solving 75% or more be a glorious first step?

The constitution says we have a right to keep and bear arms. Changing that fact would be incredibly difficult if not impossible. The constitution does not say drugs are illegal. Its implementation was unconstitutional, thus its termination would likewise be constitutional. We can end the drug war tomorrow with the stroke of a pen. Why not take that easier path and achieve the greatest good? Or is it more about ideology than about actually saving human lives? Prohibition never solved anything.


If you were to visit a friend’s house and they asked you to take your shoes off before entering, or requested you leave your wet umbrella outside, would you comply? If you entered a business and they asked you to not play loud music or to wear shoes, would you comply? I think the answer virtually anyone would give in these scenarios is “yes”. Now consider this: if any of the people from the prior examples entered our home and requested the exact same things would we not, after staring at them quizzically, tell them to go fly a kite? Why the difference? Why in the former examples are the requests completely reasonable but in the latter they strike each of us as, if not entirely nuts, at least fairly rude? The difference is authority. Authority over a resource is an inherent right flowing from its legitimate ownership. We honor the request of our friend or proprietor because we recognize their ownership as legitimate. We desire the same respect of our authority and so we conform our behavior to a system where in order to receive such respect, we must give it as well. We are free to refuse the request but it is understood that necessitates exiting from that sphere of authority (ownership).

When someone connected to the state (i.e. government) is said to be an “authority” over us there is a rather sinister implication here: everything, even our very selves, is owned by the state. If the state did not truly own all, then one could at least safely retreat to their home and not fear an invasion by state agents. But alas that is not the case. Call us what you will; serfs, slaves, inmates – they are all treated the same by their owner. In every case of “authority agent” violence toward a citizen, the “respect authority” crowd offers the perennial excuse that if the victim had simply followed the orders of the agent, then their fate (often death) could have been avoided. It is the victim’s fault for not recognizing that they are not free men and that they have an obligation at all times to assume a supplicating prostrate pose if so requested. The slightest deviation from this principal is worthy of a death sentence.

The land of the free indeed: on some streets you can be stopped and searched for no reason whatsoever, you can be pulled over and have your car searched and all electronic devices seized if you happen to be within 100 miles of the US border (that includes the coasts) – no warrant necessary,  the contents of your home are subject to search and seizure on the mere suspicion of a whole litany of victimless “crimes” – or none at all if they get the address wrong, any “substantial” amount of cash is subject to confiscation for no reason whatsoever if it happens to be in your car if you get pulled over. These are experiences of livestock, not free people. Indeed, no one would regard it as unusual at all if a farmer treated his animals this way.

But even the farmer will treat his livestock better than the state treats us. If his animals misbehave he doesn’t just pull out a gun and shoot them. He doesn’t shove them to the ground and beat them into submission. Even if you believe we must give up some (or all) of our rights in order to have safety and “order” there should still be respect for the concept of proportionality. That is, if someone punches a cop, he can punch back, if someone shoots at a cop, he can shoot back. It does not mean a cop gets to shoot pets or people because they “might” pose a threat. If they can’t adequately evaluate risk, then they should find another profession; no one is drafting people into policing. Proportionality does not mean if someone is pulled over for not having their physical driver’s license on them they should end up dead from 7 bullets.  Instead send a ticket to the car’s owner (easily looked up by the license plate). It does not mean if a student refuses their teacher’s instruction they should be slammed to the floor and thrown across the room.  Instead drag the recalcitrant student’s chair into the hallway and close the door.

Even if one accepts the notion that we are but mere guests on the state’s plantation, it is doubtful such a person would accept having a bat swung against their skull as an appropriate response for refusing to wear shoes at a McDonalds. So if you are inclined to feel guilty about not supporting every single police action against the citizenry, remember, it is ok respect their authority if you choose to do so while still not respecting the disproportionate means they sometimes use. The “authorities” should never escalate non-violent encounters into violent ones merely because they are too shortsighted to find any other means to their ends.

Living Under the Mirage of Law

Respect for “the law” held by liberals and conservatives alike is entirely a consequence of their own personal stance on its validity. For example, the Supreme Court found in Citizens United that free speech protection does indeed extend to corporations, but since that didn’t sit to well with liberals (who are eager to selectively muzzle corporations they disagree with) they applaud any attempt to undermine that decision. The second amendment guarantees a right to individual gun ownership, but again liberals will hardly shed a tear when local officials defy that right with onerous restrictions. Likewise, Roe v. Wade and Obamacare are settled constitutional law (according to the Supreme Court) and yet conservatives will do whatever they can to subvert the spirit and intent of these laws. With conservatives the cognitive dissonance of unconditionally supporting cops (even when throwing grenades into a baby’s crib) but opposing taxes creates unexpected results. Last year Eric Garner chose to ignore New York’s laws regarding selling untaxed cigarettes and paid the ultimate price for his impertinent obstinacy in not bending to the will of the state (death by cop). And what did the putatively tax-averse conservative do? Rather than commending his act of tax-rebellion, they hid behind a wall of cowardice in proclaiming, “well, the law is the law and it must be followed.” I guess they’re only opposed to onerous taxes that affect them.

Religious conservatives are now all too happy to do a full 180 on the principal of “follow the law” and heap accolades upon someone who defies the law – because they happen to agree with her. Kim Davis, clerk of the court for Rowan County Kentucky, is being held up as a noble heroine for her staunch refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. There aren’t many things one can be sure of in life but of this I am most certain: had the court ruled the other way and we now had a clerk issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in defiance of that decision, conservatives would be quite vocal on the sanctity of the “rule of law” and that officials have a solemn duty to carry out the law despite their own personal misgivings.

At one time the Fugitive Slave Act, Jim Crow, and Japanese internment were law but I dare say you’d be hard pressed to find anyone today who would view people that ignored those laws as being guilty of anything other than heroism. So where does this leave us? If sometimes it really is ok to ignore the law and sometimes it (supposedly) isn’t, then perhaps the problem is not with a societal lack of unwavering respect for “the law” but rather with the laws themselves. This lack of solidarity over what constitutes valid law is merely a reflection of the fact that society is composed of individuals who don’t all agree on everything. That is ok. I have some shocking news: it is possible for people to live together and not be forced to live the exact same way.

Laws of nature cannot be broken; laws of man can. By labeling the latter with the same appellation as the former, society deludes itself into believing the two are equivalent in their capacity to govern human behavior. Man’s laws are that fiction that implies human behavior can be constrained by mere ink. And if ink alone doesn’t work then we now have our excuse to “enforce” its edicts by any means necessary. Law is not protection from aggression but rather an excuse to engage in it – “look, he broke the law, go get him!” Laws against murder, rape, or theft are not what potentially protect us from such acts, rather feedback does. That is to say, contained within the act itself is the basic natural right to reciprocally respond to it (the right of self-defense). The real and certain potential for instantaneous reciprocity is the actual deterrent that keeps criminals at bay, not mere laws.

Rules (laws) are acceptable if one has affirmatively consented to them (and consent does not mean merely being born within invisible walls), but without consent mere ink can not convey the right to aggress against others because they choose not to follow particular rules concerning taxation, social behavior, or other non-aggressive behavior.

There is nothing mistaken in thinking this law or that law is unjust and should be ignored; all non-property rights violation laws are but mere opinion enforced with guns. The real crime here is engaging in the hypocrisy of believing we must live under a rule of law while simultaneously ignoring the laws you don’t like. Don’t be a hypocrite; admit that forcing others to live according to your beliefs is dishonorable and in that moment you will have earned the right to live unmolested by the beliefs of others. If you espouse aggression against others, then don’t come crying when others aggress against you.

Anchors Away!

Donald Trump has finally brought up a legitimate point in the ongoing debate over illegal immigration (as opposed to his usual economically illiterate xenophobic racially-tinged fear mongering). The courts have long used the 14th Amendment as a justification for birthright citizenship, that is, the notion that one instantaneously acquires US citizenship merely by being birthed within US territory. This interpretation has created the phenomenon known as “anchor babies”, that is, the children of immigrant women (legal or otherwise) who enter the US merely to give birth. By virtue of the citizenship status of the newly birthed, the entire extended family may to varying degrees be granted residency status. Unconditional birthright citizenship (‘Jus soli’, right of the soil) is a peculiarity of the New World. It is almost exclusively found in the Americas. Everywhere else it is unknown or exists only with many conditions. The rest of the world follows a system of ‘jus sanguinis’ (right of the blood) which means that citizenship flows from the citizenship status of the parents. On its face this does seem to be the more practical approach. Would you want your child saddled with the citizenship of some foreign land you just happened to be travelling through at the time of her birth? Indeed that has happened to a number of “accidental Americans” who have never lived in the US but are labeled as tax cheats by the IRS because of an accident of birth location.  Birthright citizenship seems to be primarily a legal artifact found among those former New World countries that sought to rapidly increase populations. In the US the amendment merely codified what was already common law practice at the time while also unambiguously establishing citizenship for former slaves.

Contrary to popular opinion, birthright citizenship in the US is not entirely unconditional. The condition it hinges on is normally ignored as its meaning in modern parlance is somewhat opaque to those without a legal or history background. The amendment states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and The States wherein they reside.” The key clause here is “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” So citizenship requires not only that you be born within US territory but that you also be subject to the jurisdiction of the US government at that time. You could only be subject to such jurisdiction if your parents (your legal guardians) were subject to such jurisdiction. At first glance it would seem that applies to anyone in the US, citizen or not. After all, anyone who kills someone or rob them, is “subject” to US laws against it, right? Well yes that is true, but the key word our modern ears need is the one that was obvious and thus unspoken for those in the 19th century. The latent word is “complete” as in “the complete jurisdiction thereof”. “Complete jurisdiction” is redundantly the same thing as “jurisdiction” because both stand in contrast to “partial jurisdiction”. Partial jurisdiction means one is subject to laws against murder, theft, etc., but likewise are not subject to laws related to the obligations of citizens. A foreigner (or more legally precise, an alien) is a citizen of another state and thus by virtue of that foreign allegiance cannot be subject to the complete jurisdiction of the US. (e.g. an alien is not required to serve on a jury, may not vote, may not be drafted, etc).

So, in short this means the proper interpretation of the “citizenship” clause of the 14th amendment is that if both parents are already citizens of another state (owe allegiance to another state, thus not subject to the complete jurisdiction of the US) then one does not acquire US citizenship at birth. If the parents are stateless (or one is orphaned) then one could acquire US citizenship. The proof that this is the proper interpretation is found both in practice and via first hand accounts on the drafting of this amendment. In practice, American Indians, who were not subject to the complete jurisdiction of the US but who were nevertheless born in US territory, were not made citizens after this amendment was passed. Indeed it was not until 1924 that the Indian Citizenship Act made them US citizens. If the 14th amendment were interpreted the way it is today then no such law should have been necessary. Clearly there has been a change in interpretation. But don’t take my word for it, let’s hear what the author of the citizenship clause, Senator Jacob M. Howard (MI) had to say on it in 1866: “This amendment which I have offered is simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already, that every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States. This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons.”

Fantasy Island

Consider the following scenario: You have just received an invitation in the mail from a friend. He is inviting everyone he knows to his beautiful tropical island. All are welcome to visit any time and stay as long as they want. There is just one catch: marauding pirates will attack anyone that comes near the island. The pirates patrol the skies above and the waters below as well as the surface. If you somehow do manage to outwit the pirates and make it to the island, your friend offers an additional warning: he has armed guards that will shoot anyone seen crossing the perimeter beaches. But – if you can make it past all of that – you are quite welcome there.

Now as schizophrenic as this sounds – “please come visit me, I’ll kill you if you try, but please come visit me” – it is not too far removed from the scenario that the government of the state of Georgia has just put into play with the passage of HB1 (also known as “Haleigh’s Hope Act”) and subsequent signing into law by Governor Nathan Deal last week.  HB1 legalizes the “possession” of medicinal marijuana. But only in the cannabis oil form. And, only if it is under 20 ounces. And only so long as it contains less than 5% THC. Caveat, conditions, and exceptions – “you can have this…except when… and only if…and as long as…” The politician’s lawmaking cookbook – liberally sprinkled qualifying conjunctions.

Ok, ok, well at least there is now a glimmer of hope for those that have a medical need for it, right? Well, almost. As long as one’s medical condition is on the short “approved” list of ailments: cancer, ALS, seizures, MS, Chrohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s disease and sickle-cell anemia. Funny, I thought Republicans were opposed to the government interfering in the doctor-patient relationship. In any event, if one is unlucky enough to suffer from one of these ailments that still may not be sufficient to qualify. A patient’s case must be considered severe or terminal… not in the opinion of one’s doctor mind you, but rather in the opinion of some faceless state bureaucracy to whom your doctor must now, on bended knee, plead your case whilst kissing its ring.

If a patient makes it past all those hurdles, then they can qualify for a registration card. This is their de facto “get out of jail free” card if they are ever found by police to be in possession of sub-20 ounce 5% dilutions of cannabis oil. But don’t get caught with 21 ounces or a 6% solution, otherwise it’s off to the big house you horrible menace to society you!

So while HB1 offers an invitation to an oasis of potential pain relief (the tropical island) it does not eliminate the marauding pirates or the armed guards. It is still illegal to grow or buy marijuana in Georgia (you know, the stuff you need to actually make the cannabis oil). It is likewise a violation of both Federal and Georgia state law to cross state lines to buy cannabis oil or have it shipped into the state. So to be clear on this: it is legal, pursuant to numerous conditions, to possess cannabis oil, however, all methods of actually acquiring the oil are still illegal. Well, magic as a method is legal. Perhaps the legislature envisions patients performing a Harry Potter style invocation to acquire their needed oil?

I will assume that the bill’s author (Rep. Allen Peake) and its sponsors did not set out to write a bad bill. I suspect they truly do want to help people suffering from the above (and many other unlisted) conditions. The problem is the compromises one must make in politics that whittle otherwise well intentioned legislation down to hollowed out cores of absurdity. This bill is a prime example of the fallacy that compromises are de facto evidence of a principled balancing of interests. If you believe all illegal aliens should be shot and I believe none should, then it is hardly a principled balancing of interests to say we shall only shoot half of them. Likewise if I believe that any substance that can relieve pain and suffering should be obtainable without artificial barriers but you believe that the risk of even one person getting “high” outweighs the pain and suffering of millions, then it is a meaningless compromise indeed to say patients can legally possess those substances but that actions aimed at possession are illegal. Empty, hollow rhetoric – nothing more.

Mix one part irrational fear with one part representative democracy and you get a society with needless pain and suffering. None should ever be allowed to suffer because of fears of what might be, lest we become prisoners entombed behind the bars of potential acts.

Immunity From Choice

It is deeply ironic (in the dramatic sense) that the most vociferous opponents of Indiana’s recently passed version of the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) are through their very actions making the case for why their beloved anti-discrimination laws are unnecessary. This is the argument libertarians have been making for years: boycott, shun, exclusion. If anyone, whether an individual or business, behaves in some socially unacceptable way, then everyone else is free to point out this boorish behavior to others, to refuse to associate with them and/or cut off other ties. That’s what happened here. As soon as Indiana passed this law there were cries from across the country to boycott the whole state. Their hearts were in the right place, but their brains are a few hours behind. Or perhaps it does make sense if one is immersed in the statist worldview, that is, that the government under which one lives technically “owns” you. For example, if an employee at a restaurant made some racist remark, people would boycott the restaurant with the belief that the owners of the restaurant are the ones with the ultimate responsibility and control over what goes on in their restaurant. So in the same way they view the Indiana government as being the “boss” of every state resident. Of course their grievances are merely about what might occur, not anything that has actually happened.  Considering that our governments don’t actually own us, the more logical approach would be to wait until some discriminatory event takes place and then boycott, protest, etc, that particular business. Why punish an entire state because of a fear of what a few individuals might do? Well if the ends justify the means then I guess it doesn’t matter. Let’s put millions out of work from businesses going under to ensure that maybe a gay couple will not have to suffer the indignity of being unable to buy a cake from someone that doesn’t like them very much. Yes, that’s who I want to get my edible items from; someone that really dislikes me. Trust me, never be rude to the person taking your order at a drive-thru; you don’t want to know what they do to your food if you tick them off (no it’s not what you think, this is second hand information).

But when it comes right down to it, that’s what anti-discrimination laws are all about, the right to be served by people that possess a range of negative emotions concerning you. Why on earth would you want to give money to someone that hates your guts? Or someone that espouse hate in general? Anti-discrimination laws simply drive those feelings below the surface. It doesn’t make them go away. It doesn’t make the world into a utopian Kumbaya handholding ring of love. It creates more of a Potemkin village where the false façade and the real are indistinguishable.

The RFRA is a step in the right direction but for totally incorrect reasons. There is nothing unique or special about “religious” beliefs. This outlook holds all other forms of belief in contempt and makes a mockery of religion in general as everyone figures out if they just slap the word “God” or “Church” on their belief they can get into the fast lane of doing what they want without state intervention (e.g. The First Church of Cannabis). ALL beliefs (whether religious, political, or philosophic) should be immune from state interventions.

The state has no right to interfere between the peaceful interactions of two people, even when one of those people is behaving like a jerk (regardless of what belief system is motivating said behavior). Likewise you have no right to not be shunned and boycotted when you behave like a jerk. That is how a free society works. The immune system cells (activists) will quickly identify and rally attention on the growing cancer cells (jerks, racists, homophobes, etc) quickly, cleanly and without violence. The state on the other hand is like chemotherapy, it bathes the whole organism is a poison that while killing the cancer also kills non-cancer cells and makes the organism that much weaker for it. Stop the chemo and get the state out of all aspects of our lives.

Minority Report

It would appear that the Georgia General Assembly is under the impression that police officers in this state are endowed with wizardry skills, namely the ability to divine the future and see beyond this physical realm into the invisible and incorporeal dimensions. The Georgia House voted last week (the Senate similarly approving it a month earlier) to approve Senate Bill 94.  In broad terms this bill’s stated purpose was to modernize many of Georgia’s statutes under Title 17 relating to criminal procedures. There do appear to be some genuine improvements to the law in this piece of legislation. For example Section 17-20-2 covers procedures for witness identification lineups. It is now forbidden that the person conducting the line up have any knowledge of the identity of the actual suspect. This ensures a true “double-blind” outcome free of unconscious cues directing the witness to the “correct” choice.

However there are other aspects to this legislation which take a decidedly two-steps forward one-step back approach to improving the state of criminal law in this state. Perhaps the most egregious is Section 17-5-22, which now includes language that warrants may be issued if probable cause can be shown that a crime is about to be committed. Yes you read that correctly – about to be committed. Taking a page out of the movie “Minority Report,” Georgia now has a “pre-Crime” clause in its criminal code. We are fortunate that police officers in this state can now exercise a power none of us mere mortals posses: the ability to see into the future. Nostradamus would be proud. So, that leaves an open question – can the state get a conviction for a crime that was about to be committed but then because of the warrant was not? What are the standards of evidence? Is merely possessing a weapon “proof” you were about to commit a crime? If I have a gun or knife on me does that mean I am about to commit the crime of murder? Armed robbery? Assault? Which one? All three perhaps? If I own an analytical balance does that mean I’m about to commit the crime of drug distribution? I wonder how much easier it will be for the police to harass someone they have it in for if any of a number of innocuous items could be used to commit a crime. Let me just interject here now to say I don’t mean the Oconee County Police – they are the best and would never do anything like this! Ok, that was mean to be a bit of levity, but I’m also serious, I am fortunate to live in a county with a police force that does not engage in the sort of shenanigans you sometimes hear about on the news – they truly are top-notch.  So, what am I complaining about you might say, none of these legislative games affect or are likely to affect me? Because I can see beyond my own little world, and I can see how although some officers would not abuse the power granted in this new law, I can also see how it could easily be abused by those with personal vendettas or discriminatory inclinations. We’ve all heard the phrase “driving while black” – can you imagine how much easier it will now be for officers with racist inclinations to concoct suspicion of some “pre-crime” when they fail to find any evidence of an actual crime? I believe the question answers itself.

On the lighter side of inanity contained in this bill, there is a change in the definition of “property”. Section 17-5-1 now defines property to encompass “intangible, … incorporeal… or invisible” things. Hmmmm… so are they going to confiscate my invisible friend? That doesn’t seem very respectful of the rights of invisible, incorporeal beings. Ok, I know what they mean; they are referring to digital media (well I hope that is what they mean, otherwise someone let Casper know about this). The intent here is unclear but one could imagine that it allows them to now collect a physical device (phone, hard drive), copy all the data off, and then erase it and return it to you empty. That way they can say they returned your physical goods and kept as evidence the “incorporeal” digital evidence. Of course if making a copy of someone’s property” is supposedly a crime then haven’t the police just committed the same crime by copying your copy? Perhaps if the General Assembly used the correct definition of property, e.g. scarce, rivalrous resources, it would free up police manpower to go after actual property crimes (theft, rape, murder) rather than acting as referee in disputes that amount to nothing more than schoolyard disputes over who said something first.

Free Market Vaccination

The recent outbreak of measles cases in the US in the last few weeks has brought into stark relief the result of what happens when one forgoes vaccination. The measles vaccine was introduced in the mid 1960’s when cases averaged around 400,000 per year. It quickly dropped to nearly zero and remained there until 2014 when it shot up to over 600 cases.  The anti-vaccine movement is having an effect, and it is not a good one. I would like to believe that the anti-vaccine folk do understand and accept the principle behind vaccine enhanced immunization (which has been convincingly demonstrated since the days of Edward Jenner) but rather that they want that which has never been and never will be: absolute 100% elimination of all risk. Nothing in life is 100% risk free. Vaccines are not perfect and they do have side effects for some. But those side effects pale in comparison to potential outcome of the disease itself (death).

The anti-vaccine movement is right in one respect but for the wrong reason. The anecdotal cases they cite are likely correct at face value. But this does not prove all vaccines are bad. It merely proves some people are allergic to some things (duh). The problem is not the vaccines but the humans it is administered to: we are all different. In nearly any metric one might choose to measure, populations can be plotted into a bell-shaped curve where the bulk are in the middle “normal” range and a small percentage occupy the “tail” portions (e.g. really fast and really slow). For most there are no issues, no side effects and they work great. But under one tail there are those that have an allergic response while under the other tail the vaccine does nothing at all to enhance their immunity.

One area where the anti-vaccine movement is correct for the right reason is the one of government mandate. The part of Chris Christie’s opinion on vaccination that was omitted allows us to see how the true statist thinks, “parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.” Yes, government is the true owner of our children and it up to them to decide what is best. Shudder.

It’s not that parents shouldn’t vaccinate their children, they should. Rather the government should not force parents to do so because it precludes any ability for the individual to ignore bad choices by those in charge. Government interference in the vaccine market distorts it and leads to outcomes more deleterious than we would see in a free system. For example it is often cited that the mere existence of the “National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program” established by the government is proof enough that vaccines are not safe. Not really, however it is evidence of how government mandates can incentivize a less safe outcome. It is a classic case of moral hazard. If the government orders the entire nation to buy your product you are happy because of the increased sales but you are sad because the government sets price ceilings on what can be charged. You know your product will have population dependent differential outcomes that can result in lawsuits and the low prices won’t support defending such suits. So the government steps and “immunizes” you from all suits as long as you pay a premium into this Compensation Program fund. Now you have less incentive to devote resources into figuring out why certain people may react negatively to a particular vaccine or how to predict that outcome so it can be avoided. Why bother, the government has protected you from all liability?

The solution to this whole “should the government force parents to immunize their children” debate is so obvious the only reason it has not been implemented is there must be some sort of obscure law forbidding it. Insurance companies should require certain immunizations as a condition of continuing health insurance coverage (and by “should” I don’t mean in the “pass a law mandating it” sense). Since the insurance companies have an incentive in their customers not being injured by a vaccine (as opposed to the government which has no such incentive) you can bet that parents would be more willing to accept scientific evidence of safety from the insurance companies.

If you don’t want to get your children vaccinated then switch to another insurance carrier that either does not require it or that requires fewer vaccines or with a different schedule. Or simply opt to not have health insurance. Oh, right, you can’t do that anymore because of government.

Voluntary choices would help foster a marketplace of alternatives. Yes, vaccination is a sound principle and has been highly effective. But that fact does not necessarily rule out the possibility that an alternative vaccination schedule would also not work equally as well.

Sticks and stones

The Charlie Hebdo massacre this week left the world in shock. What sort of barbarous evil would drive someone to kill – over a cartoon? Apparently emotions – emotions fed by the infallibility of one’s beliefs. Infallibility is immune from reason, logic, and rational discourse. Infallibility is a necessary, although not sufficient, prerequisite for evil done in the name of the “greater good.” The nature of the belief is irrelevant – all that matters is the perpetrator thought themselves infallible. How then does one fight infallibility? It is a belief not in ideas, but rather the egoism of one’s perfection. Honestly, I do not know. To be sure, one can harmlessly think they have it all figured out and the rest of us are just fools. But, how badly would such a person feel that if for the greater good of advancing their obviously correct beliefs, it became necessary to initiate aggression toward another? Not very, it would seem. How many of us are guilty of not objecting to the passage or existence of some law that we happen to agree with but which restricts the rights of others who are harming no one? How many of us support wars because of the unstated patriotic truth that one’s own country can do no wrong? If the state is defined as social aggression, then any given citizen is a passive-aggressor.

The beliefs of these particular Muslims led them to interpret the Koran in such a way that it was their infallible belief that they had every right to take such actions. Obviously (being infallible myself!) they were wrong in that belief. But, as crazy as it might seem, their belief is not far removed from the laws in France (and many other “Western” countries) as well as the opinion of a good number of Americans. Abstractly, the belief is that one has the right to not be offended by other people, and, if such an offense occurs, one has the right to cease further offenses, by any means necessary. Well it just so happens that France has a law against insulting people based on their religion. Violation of this law includes severe fines and jail time. It also happens that Charlie Hebdo was sued under this law in 2006 by the Paris Grand Mosque and the Union of French Islamic Organizations. Charlie Hebdo won that suit, however the precedent was set. It is ok for society to say “we think that is offensive, you must stop or else.” Had they lost the case and resisted being dragged off to a jail cell, the outcome would have been similar; a gun standoff between agents of the state (police) and Charlie Hebdo. The only difference this week is that the two gunmen didn’t get the memo: violence is only ok if a majority of people approves – morality is a function of a popular opinion don’t you know.

In other words, if Hebdo had lost their case, and the two gunmen had hypothetically been part of the French police force sent in to drag them off to prison and had killed them in the process, then instead of lamenting the deaths people would be excusing it with platitudes like “well that’s what happens when you break the law.” Just to be clear – I am in no way excusing the actions of the gunmen. I am pointing out that the actions of a state, any state, that would compel its citizens to stand trial for the crime of insulting someone’s sensibilities are equally abhorrent.

As Americans you would think we would be immune to this sort of idiocy – home of the 1st amendment as we are. Apparently not. Rapper ‘Tiny Doo’ is facing life in prison in California over his lyrics. And a recent YouGov poll found not insignificant support for “hate speech” laws (36% of all respondents and 51% of self-identified Democrats!). Yes, hate speech is vile, ugly and worthy of being ignored. However, mere words, mere ideas, should not be punishable by fines or jail, lest we fall into an Orwell novel where “thoughtcrime” is equivalent to action-crime. Ron Paul summarizes this most succinctly; “We don’t have the First Amendment so we can talk about the weather. We have the First Amendment so we can say very controversial things.” We should not be so afraid of bad ideas that we drive them into the shadows; rather, we should endeavor to annihilate them under the scorching light of our own ideas, in the marketplace of ideas that is a free society.

Look at the flowers…

The release this past week of the Senate’s “Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program” has exposed the dark underbelly of intelligence gathering to the bright daylight of public opinion. This is a good thing (the exposure, not the torture). The release of this information and subsequent national soul-searching reflects the somewhat schizophrenic nature of the American soul (insofar as a country can have such a thing). We, as a nation, are able to strike out and destroy anything that might be harmful while simultaneously being filled with remorse for doing so. “Look at the flowers… look at the flowers” (Walking Dead reference).

So while it is heartening to see the justifiable outrage of those who have learned of the sadistic crimes committed in the name of their “safety”, it is equally discouraging to witness a vigorously jingoistic defense of these crimes. The most common defense offered is a plausibly reasonable one: it produced actionable intelligence that saved lives. You know, the greater good and all. Unfortunately for that narrative, according to the published report, that is not the case. At best the torture only confirmed information that had already been acquired elsewhere using non-torture means.  At worst, people were tortured to prove a negative. That is, the CIA didn’t think the detainees knew anything of value, but they tortured them anyway just to make sure. Let me repeat that so the enormity of that evil sinks in. They tortured people they thought were innocent and of no intelligence value.

The more reprehensible torture defense is the “I just don’t care” defense. This is most succinctly portrayed in a burgeoning Internet meme depicting a person falling from the World Trade Center with the text overlaid “This is why I don’t give a damn how we gathered information from terrorists.” Yes, 9/11 was an awful, horrific, tragic event, but it is a complete non sequitur to conclude that anything done in the name of preventing something similar or finding those responsible is justifiable. For example, the US could nuke every country on the face of the earth except ours – that would definitely prevent another 9/11 and kill the perpetrators – but that doesn’t make such an action “ok”. So if we rightly repudiate the notion of killing billions of innocents to punish the guilty, we should also repudiate the killing (or torture) of even one innocent. It’s not worth it. Why? Well ask yourself how you would feel about that proposition if you were the one innocent person. Not so gung ho now.

Did the CIA likely have some really bad people in custody? Yes. But they also (based on the report data) had a lot of totally innocent people as well. The reason we don’t (or shouldn’t) engage in torture is the same reason we have an innocent until proven guilty court system; it is not out of concern for the guilty, but rather concern for the innocent. This protects you and me from being thrown in prison or tortured on the mere word or hunch of somebody; “so you say Jane’s a witch (terrorist) do you? Well that’s all the information I need, let’s go kill her.”

Should the suspected terrorists have a trial? Yes, every last one in custody. Otherwise how can anyone know if they are actually terrorists? If there is proof, then there should be no problem getting a conviction. But, if you subscribe to the notion that we won’t always have concrete proof, that sometimes we just have to go on conjecture, hearsay, or hunches, then here’s hoping you never end up in a prison of a like-minded country.