Category Archives: Government Overreach

A Sacred Document of a Sacred Idea

Take a look at this document:

constitution_1_of_4_630

This is the Constitution of the United States of America. I get into tangles all the time over at Mikeb302000 about the nature of this document. Mikeb loves to point to the elements that offend the modern leftist–slavery and the Second Amendment being the predominate targets. By contrast, I see our constitution as sacred.

Understand that by sacred, I don’t mean perfect or beyond change. I have discussed here, for example, how I wish the first two amendments were written and what I see as circumstances that would justify overthrowing the constitutionally legitimate government. Certainly, the document itself has provisions for amendment, showing a recognition from the start that changes might be necessary as time went by.

That being said, there are fundamental principles of our constitution that should not be changed. It establishes a nation and defines the government that will regulate that nation, and that definition sets strict limits on what powers each branch of the government may have. It divides government into three branches to place further limits on the extent of that power. The first ten amendments enumerate rights that the Founders regarded as necessary to protect by name.

But the argument gets made that we don’t really need such protection anymore. Surely a modern, democratic society can maintain rights by the consensus of the people.

Think again. An example of the dangers of that point of view came up yesterday (20 August 2013) in an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered with Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of The Guardian. I’ve given a link to the full story, but I’m going to point out one significant statement that Rusbridger made:

And this may be – sound strange to American listeners, but there is no First Amendment in the U.K. and there is no bar on prior restraint, the idea that the state could prevent a news organization from publishing by taking back its source material.

Caught it, yes? Without the First Amendment, there is nothing in Britain to prevent the government from blocking publication of a story.

What story are we talking about? The one reported by Glenn Greenwald of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing about the American NSA’s invasions of privacy. The British government also detained Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, under powers given by terrorism legislation. This is one of those coincidences that those of us who enjoy language note, since it was another Miranda who caused a limitation of police power in the United States.

There are people who claim that all of this security theater is keeping us safe, who see what has happened in Britain as a model for what should be done here. To them, we are nowhere near tyranny, so we should just shut up and trust the government. (I’m talking to you, Mr. President.) That kind of sheepish attitude is unbecoming for people who have overthrown a government that was not respecting their rights, fought a civil war to defend rights, and who claim to love liberty today. The only way to guarantee that we don’t fall into the kind of police state that some of us warn about is to fight against every step in that direction.

A License to Insurrection?

A while ago at a gun control blog that I frequent, namely Mikeb302000, we had a discussion about whether the Constitution of the United States authorizes a rebellion against the govenerment.

This question arose because some who advocate for gun rights have argued that the Second Amendment was written to give the American people the power to rebel against a U.S. government gone agley. This line of reasoning suggests that since the Founders had just fought a war of rebellion against the British Empire, they understood the need for that option to be available to future generations.

Of course, this thinking ignores two facts, human nature and the nature of law:

1. Rebels declare themselves to be against authority precisely until they are themselves the authorities. At that point, they see themselves as deserving the loyalty of the people they rule.

2. Legal systems rarely, if ever, include permission to overthrow them, even if pressing conditions exist.

So do we have a right to rebel against our government?

Yes–with caveats.

Whenever government overreaches, it loses some measure of its justification for existing. We in the United States have been fortunate for a long time that our government has kept itself within sufficient bounds that its excesses have been remedied–for the most part, but not altogether, alas–through the courts and legislatures. The War on Terror of the last more than a decade has called into question the legitimacy of our recent and current administrations, as we have seen within the last few days, thanks to the revelations of NSA spying on American telephone calls.

Obama’s response to this news?

If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.

I do not take comfort in that. In fact, I hope that we do not come to a point at which our government loses all justification and deserves to be overthrown. But the question remains as to how such a rebellion would itself be justified. I answer that with the following two points:

1. The American Revolution was based on the premise that the new government to be created by the rebels would offer better protection of the rights of the people than the British government. It’s the equivalent of a man asking a woman to divorce her husband on the grounds that the new man can treat her better. That may be true, but the new fellow loses his claim if he falls short.

2. More than that, morality and rights are prior to law. That is to say, we are born with rights. Morality is how we protect each other’s rights while we live together. Law is a tertiary system that defends and depends upon the first two.

Governments exist to protect the rights of people living within their jurisdictions and to encourage through cooperative effort the growth in areas such as culture, technology, and so forth. Government is justified when it uses its power to the furtherance of those ends, and its legal system provides the detailed explanation of how it may operate.

Perhaps the Founders wrote the Second Amendment with these ideas in mind. But I prefer to avoid the intentional fallacy and take the text as it’s written. Beyond that, we must keep nested priorities in order and recognize that we do not justify the concept of insurrection in law but in higher sources.

Understand that this is not advocating treason or rebellion. It is instead a reminder to all of us, both citizen and government agent, that we must work within the system, so long as that system is serving its purpose. As long as we all remember that requirement, there should never be the need for anything else.

Political Software

I’m on a continuing quest to get as far away from Microsoft products as possible. Since I don’t fiddle around with i-Anythings and my telephone is a cuss-worthy box o’parts, getting away from the corporate octopus isn’t easy. Much of the world is managing, however, so there’s hope for humanity.

What I have been able to do is find good, lightweight, and functional programs that do exactly what I need them to do without arguing about it. When I want to defragment my hard-drive in a hurry, MyDefrag does the job. I do most of my writing on OpenOffice software. When Windows Media Player balked at playing what I wanted to watch, I got this.

But the title of this article promised politics, and I’m about to deliver. I look at government programs in a way similar to my take on computers. We citizens don’t exist to serve government. Government exists to work for us.

My favorite example of good government is NASA. Said agency has never had even five percent of the Federal budget, but look at all that it has achieved. And it has done this without preventing others from operating in space. Look at SpaceX and Virgin Galactic for examples. The former of those is now delivering cargo to the International Space Station.

Take in contrast the Microsoft-esque attempt at healthcare reform. That massive piece of political software is being rolled out over a period of years. The beta testing has so far given mixed results. And soon, lots of Americans are going to face the bureaucratic equivalent of a pop-up that asks, Are you sure?

I have no objection to government being helpful. But that help should be genuine. It should be effective. And most importantly, it should come with no compulsion.

What I’d like to see, for example, would be a government insurance program such as what I discussed here–in other words, a lightweight program that does only what it claims to do and does that well and without argument.

The problem is that political software developers so often are afflicted with big visions while at the same time lacking in the quality that the best engineers are blessed with–a love of simplicity. Politicians so often operate under the fear that the voters are coming, so they’d better look busy. Many of them have a heartfelt desire to do good and confuse the nature of their desires with the nature of their ideas.

The principle that I’m suggesting here is that when considering the creation or expansion of a government program, we must ask what is the smallest number of actions that will accomplish a worthy goal.

Gun Control Beliefs

1. The same government that can’t keep illegal immigrants and drugs from crossing our borders could stop firearms from doing the same.

2. The 300,000,000 + guns in America will either disappear or be turned in if the dreams of gun banners become reality.

3. The 100,000,000 gun owners will quietly accept their guns becoming illegal or will acquiesce to licensing and registration.

4. The same government that can’t make the Department of Motor Vehicles operate efficiently could make the Department of Firearms Control do so.

5. The rights of the individual are only what the government grants.

6. People who can be trusted to choose their leaders can’t be trusted to own firearms.

7. The actions of a few veto the rights of the many.

8. Signs that ban guns from the premises will stop someone from committing a Class A felony.

9. Mechanical devices have wills of their own and exercise powers over human beings.

10. Safety is more important than freedom, even when the former is illusory.

I could go on, but do we notice a pattern here?

Psst–Want Some Sugar?

Michael Bloomberg, the man who changed New York City’s term limits to buy himself a third time as mayor (because billionaires just know what’s best for us, you know) and who can’t stand the idea of good citizens owning or carrying firearms, has had a new subject gain his attention: sugary drinks.

Yup, Bloomingidiot wants to ban any drink in a restaurant, theater, or sports venue of more than sixteen ounces if it’s sweetened with sugar.

Those of us who care about gun rights have known that Hizzonor the Mayor is a control freak, but now the nation as a whole is getting to see that once you take power with the purpose of running the lives of others, there are no limits–no limits, that is, beyond what the people can apply.

New Yorkers, why did you elect this man for a third term? You are responsible for what he does to you, at least until he finds a way to ban elections.

But if you’re ready to see the foolishness of his ways, America awaits. Here in Arkansas, for example, you can buy and carry a Big Gulp and a .44 Magnum most anywhere you want. The majority of other states are the same.

To Bloomingbutt specifically, you, sir, have no need to worry. As things stand, I have no interest in visiting your city. Feel free to enjoy your fiefdom until the peasants rise up.

TSA addendum

There is a proposal for this coming Wednesday (24 November 2010) for people who are travelling on airplanes to insist on the patdown search in place of the full-body scanner.  The goal of this is to clog up the system on one of the busiest travel days in the year.  Here’s my suggestion for making this particularly pointed:  Stuff a copy of the U. S. Constitution into your pants, and highlight the Fourth Amendment in bright yellow.

Supergovernment, or Where’s My Kryptonite?

As of this moment, I have decided never to fly again.  This is not a religious conversion, so I may violate this commitment in times of great need, but I will grouse and whine through the whole process if I ever do, and I’m likely to get arrested.

Why?  Lay aside the multiple indignities that make up modern air travel.  I’m not allowed to have my .45 with me (I’d load it with Glaser Safety Slugs, I promise!).  I can’t smoke (not that I do otherwise, but the ban makes me want to light up a Cuban cigar in the head).  I know that I’d get wedged in between a great ape of a travelling businessman and a screaming child.  I wouldn’t be allowed to carry my minimum daily requirement of books (yes, I know that they’re heavy, believe me).  I’d get the flight that is held on the runway while the flock of raging spotted owls conducts a protest buzzing of the tower.  By the time that I got to the airport, checked in, waited around, boarded, actually flew through the air, landed, extracted myself, and collected any checked bags, I could have driven in often less time and with certainly less distress and vitriol.

Isn’t that reason enough?  Oh, but it gets better.  The Transportation Subversion Administration has decided to install full-body scanners in all airports.  You likely have seen the images that these infernal machines create.  If not, just imagine yourself having to strip naked in front of the operator.  It’s that bad.  The image doesn’t show hair, so you’d be bald and naked–reminiscent of a chicken being fried in a microwave.

That’s the privacy concern.  Are you ready to sign up for the revolution yet?  There’s more.  One variety of scanner uses backscatter x-rays to make the image of the person.  The claim is that the radiation dosage is low–supposedly the equivalent of flying at altitude for two minutes–but that comes with caveats.  While natural radiation is diffuse, the scanner uses a focused beam.  That beam is supposed to bounce off human skin, rather than penetrate, but there are warnings about the damage that such a beam could cause, since its radiation is concentrated in the surface layers.  I’ve read reports that the strength of the beam isn’t always set correctly and can be much more intense than it is designed to be.  The other type of scanner uses millimeter wave radio beams that may cause DNA breakdown.

I have a family history of skin cancer.  I often wear hats when I’m out of doors.  I realize that I’m arguing from a lack of evidence here, but these machines appear to be a vast experiement in how much radiation human beings can absorb without suffering irreparable damage.  There are enough concerns about the risks to make me demand better evidence of the machines’ safety before I subject myself to a scan.  I am naturally suspicious whenever the government assures me that something is safe.  Yup, we’ve heard that line from the government before.

In some way, I’m annoyed with myself that the loss of privacy that these machines represent isn’t what drove me to write this article.  Instead, I’m here worrying about the potential health risks.  I recognize that if the reports are correct, the gadgets are likely to be mostly harmless.  What really concerns me is that our intrusive government thinks that we will accept this foolishness.

Ronald Reagan said that the nine scariest words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”  These days, we need to revise that to say “I’m here to keep you safe.”  I do realize that flying is safer than driving.  I do realize that we are under threat from terrorists.  Nevertheless, unless I am compelled by extraordinary circumstances to fly, I will take my life into my own hands and drive myself.  The concealed carry license reciprocity map is a little complicated, but I don’t want to visit New York or Massachusetts anyway.  In my own vehicle, I can choose what I bring with me and who my companions will be.  On the whole, I think that it will be better for everyone if I stay out of airplanes until our country regains its senses.

Hang Up and Drive?

On Talk of the Nation today (26 October 2010), Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood argued that there need to be laws in all states banning the use of a cell phone while driving.  I tend to agree (at least idiots ought to be banned, but that’s another discussion), but LaHood went on to clarify that police officers would be exempted from these laws.

I see.  So yet again, agents of the government are able to do things that are just too dangerous for the rest of us.  The serfs must not be allowed to educate their own children, carry arms or even own them, and now use cell phones while driving.  All of those things belong to the nobility or their soldiers.

Secretary LaHood, you need to understand that there are good reasons why citizens hate the government.  Citizens insist that the law must apply equally to all.  Citizens believe that no one in a free country is above the law.  Secretary LaHood, citizens may invite you to join the rest of us out of office in the next election.