Monday, January 30, 2006

The Commerce Clause Is Not A Smoke Screen

Being a law student in the process of writing a journal article on the unconstitutionality of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the lonely libertarian is very familiar with the intricacies of the Commerce Clause. Listening to talk radio on the way into school this morning I heard a caller urge that Judge Alito should be filibustered. The reasoning of this caller was that Alito was in favor of unchecked executive power and didn't support the individual freedoms that our Constitution stood for. According to this caller, discussions about the Commerce Clause was a smoke screen.

Glossing over the Commerce Clause is a sure sign in the lonely libertarian's mind of a disregard or misunderstanding of the Constitution and the law. Anyone who claims to be a supporter of the Constitution can not ignore the fact that our national government is one of limited enumerated powers. Many laws are passed under the auspices of the Commerce Clause, regardless of whether or not they actually are passed to "regulate commerce amongst the several states."

Far too many Americans are fearful of the over reach of the executive branch, while at the same time remaining blissfully ignorant or unconcerned with the legislative over reach of Congress in the name of the Commerce Clause.

There are no easy answers to any Constitutional question. Take for example the 4th Amendment provisions against "unreasonable search and seizure." The lonely libertarian tends to find fault with those who take absolute positions on such a term, even when the underlying issue is international terrorism and national security, while at the same time having no problem with the twisting and bending of the term commerce to allow for virtually any federal regulation imaginable.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Rational Response Is, "There Is No Health Care Solution."

From Washington Times columnist Robert Samuelson, on the Health Care Fix-It Myth.

Not all that much to say that's not said in the column. Mostly, it's what the lonely libertarian has been saying for years. It's not about your political ideology, it's about the search for rational solutions to health care, which most politicians and pundits seem to avoid in the search for the quick fix.

Just one other point, that's not often made in discussions about health care. One of the reasons costs have risen is uncontrollable no matter what your political outlook. The fact is, that we have far more medical technology, medical equipment, and medical treatment techniques available to us than ever before. Compare medicine for instance to another necessity, food. Food has gotten cheaper and cheaper because of efficient new techniques in manufacturing, packaging, and shipping. The food we eat has remained the same (at least the building blocks of what we eat). But in the realm of medicine, virtually everything has changed, and everything has changed for the better. Health care costs would be a great deal cheaper if we could be treated the exact same way a patient from the 1950's would have been treated.

The lonely libertarian has never seen a study of healthcare costs that takes these technological factors in to account, but they must represent some percentage of the increase in health care costs, and that percentage is basically the price we pay for progress.

Thoughts On "A Living Wage"

Worth reading, from the New York Times Magazine from a couple of weeks ago: What Is A Living Wage?

The article attempts to take the living wage debate into the realm of the rational and the scientific. That is, beyond the fact that we'd all like people to make more money, what are the actual effects of living wage laws? According to the article, contrary to popular economic wisdom living wage laws do work. The piece cites to a study done by economists David Card and Alan B. Krueger;

[I]n 1995, and again in 2000, the two academics effectively shredded the conventional wisdom. Their data demonstrated that a modest increase in wages did not appear to cause any significant harm to employment; in some cases, a rise in the minimum wage even resulted in a slight increase in employment.

This study looked into New Jersey having raised their minimum wage to $5.05, while neighboring Pennsylvania's minimum wage remained at $4.25. Common sense tells us that focusing on low wage and minimum wage employment in the fast food industry in the short term is not really the issue. Just think of the fast food giants. McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendys are not going to change their employment policies in response to a slight hike of the minimum wage. Such a hike is like a light increase in taxes. Sure, they won't like it, but there not going to drastically changed their business practices because of it.

The real questions about both minimum wages and living wages remain unanswered. Mainly how is it possibly useful or efficient to force companies to pay a single mother of two, a high school teenager from a wealthy family, and a retired senior citizen the same hourly salary? The point is, how can you legislate "fairness." The other question of course is just what are the long term effects of such policies?

The article attempts to use the city of Santa Fe's experiences with living wage laws as indicative of the success of the living wage. Santa Fe is a wealthy, tourist oriented city ... Perhaps not the best example for the rest of the world to follow. For one thing, when many employers are paying "the living wage" already as the article indicates, the effects of the legislation are not all that drastic.

The real problem with the Santa Fe example, and the whole thrust of the piece really, is an extreme disconnect from the realities of poverty. Sort of like comparing Starbucks and McDonalds. It doesn't take an economist to figure out that Starbucks can provide benefits and pay higher wages when they charge $4.00 for a cup of coffee. It also doesn't take an economist to figure out McDonald's needs to pay lower wages in order to charge $1.00 for a double cheeseburger. In the long run, what would living wage laws do to corporations like Wal-Mart or McDonalds, which rely on their low prices as part of their business model? If they have to raise prices in response to these laws, how do such higher prices benefit the poor? And if such laws cut in to their comparative advantedges, how does driving low-wage based companies out of business benefit the poor?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Just What Do They Teach Law Students These Days: Yale Students on Roe v. Wade

The lonely libertarian wonders whether the New York Times would publish an op-ed by a second year law student equally as intellectually dim if the argument had been anti-abortion, and anti Roe v. Wade. Evidently being a Yale Law Student has its benefits.

The gist of Mr. Baude's piece is this: Roe v. Wade can't be overturned on principled grounds because of the disastrous consequences of such a reversal. What are those consequences?

1) States could make it illegal to cross state lines in order to abort a fetus.

2) If states can decree that life begins at conception, they might also be able to use child custody laws to curtail the movements of pregnant women.

3) Anti-abortion states could forbid their residents to obtain or perform abortions, even while out of state.

4) Just as Utah could make it a crime for a resident to go to Rhode Island for an abortion, Rhode Island could forbid Utah's law-enforcement officials from interfering with her decision to get one. Similarly, if an anti-abortion state places a fetus in protective custody, an abortion-rights state might do the same for the woman.

Before even delving in to the substance of these claims, it's interesting to note that Mr. Baude, a law student, makes no effort to defend Roe on any principled grounds. Utilizing similar logic, that overturning Row would lead to chaos, one could make the exact same argument in regards to Brown vs. Board of education overturning Plessy v. Ferguson. In fact, Brown did lead to a great deal of chaos, but that doesn't change that it was right in both a moral sense and a legal sense. Abortion is undoubtedly divisive morally, but the thought that abortion is Constitutionally protected is a fatally flawed premise.

On to the substance of Mr. Baude's claims. Basically, all of his concerns about chaos stem from worries that states would pass laws restricting the ability of woman to obtain abortions outside of their particular state of residence. Even assuming the worst, I can imagine ways to skirt such laws- mainly through the use of woman's shelters and the like, and the tinkering of notions of residency. (Just imagine the following claim- "No, I intended to move to California, and I just happened to have an abortion while I was staying at the Planned Parenthood there. Then I changed my mind, and decided to come home to good ol' red state America.")

In reality, such measures would not even be needed. First, there are the practical concerns of enforcing such laws. Would doctors have to report all pregnant women in non-abortion states? Would such states have to actually monitor the activities of all pregnant women? Beyond being a complete waste of time and resources, such thoughts are beyond the pale of the rational world.

Secondly, there is the legal matter-of-fact that no Court would ever allow a single abortion banning state to behave so drastically. For those of us remembering our history, the situation Mr. Baude describes, with states feuding over large scale moral issues amounts to a sort of reverse Dred Scott type of case. But rather than the issue being the rights of the party with questionable legal standing, the issue would be the rights of the woman accused of committing a crime. And as opposed to the horribly decided Dred Scott, in which fugitive slaves were forced by law to return back to the South, any Court today would repudiate any principle that would allow for criminal prosecution of an activity that was perfectly legal in the state where it occurred. There is a very important difference between Mr. Baude's example of kidnapping and murder, which are illegal in every state, and abortion. The point is, there is no justice today that has articulated logic that would allow for anything remotely approaching the concerns that Mr. Baude articulates.

The worst aspect of Mr. Baude's piece is its fundamental misunderstanding of the pro-life movement. Mr. Baude assumes evil motives from those who would restrict abortion. He assumes that those opposed to abortion are primarily motivated by the persecution of women. This of course, is preposterous. The concern for pro-lifers is saving what they believe to be human lives. It's very tempting to say something about blue state Connecticut liberals who attend Yale Law, but I'll hold my tongue. Fear mongering and irrational assumptions should hold no place in any debate about abortion, be it in the legal or the moral realm.

The lonely libertarian is a second year law student and a Constitutional scholar at Quinnipiac University School of Law.

More Of The War On Alcohol

To follow up on last week's post about the war on college drinking here in Connecticut, an article from the Hartford Courant telling the story of University of Hartford President Walter Harrison's own problems with drinking while in college. According to Harrison,

"I think I had the same struggles that all college students have. My father had died two weeks before I went to college. Kids drink and get depressed and get suicidal. I don't think I was that way normally, but I think having had a lot to drink, I was."

Not to play the role of the pop psychologist, but my guess would be that Mr. Harrison was depressed because his father died, not because he drank alcohol. The lonely libertarian doesn't think all, or even most college students are depressed. And those that are depressed, are not depressed because they drink alcohol. This is not to brush aside the fact that many people in college may be dealing with near crippling stress and emotional trauma. If anything, these are the sorts of issues in student's private lives administrators should be involved in.

What's amazing is that even the most intelligent among us still resort to the tactics of blaming alcohol for personal problems. Alcohol abuse is a symptom, not a disease. Maybe if college administrators realized that, they could start asking real questions about what drinking on college campuses actually means.

(And what does the lonely libertarian think? If we, as society, taught responsible use, rather than demonized alcohol, maybe it wouldn't be such a controversial issue in the first place.)

No We Won't Lend You Money For That!

Via the Volokh Conspiracy; A statement from BB&T stating that the financial holding company will not lend to commercial developers looking to abuse the eminent domain process.

The lonely libertarian is just crossing his fingers that large eminent domain abusing companies don't try to make claims of lender discrimination. But is all seriousness, this is a good sign. Who would have thought, a market based solution to eminent domain abuse.

You say Po-tay-to, I say Po-tah-to

The Bush Administration wants to make it clear: It’s a terrorist surveillance program, not domestic spying.

Putting aside partisan political differences, it's interesting the note the fundamental role language plays in setting the terms of political discourse and debate. It begs the chicken-and-egg question, is our language determined by our political viewpoints, or are our political viewpoints shaped by the language use and hear on a regular basis?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The War On Drugs and Alcohol

In the local headlines, colleges in Connecticut band together to combat drug and alcohol abuse.

The lonely libertarian doubts that the administrators of these schools have any clue what they're talking about. They likely want a nice photo op, and they'd like to create the impression that they are doing something about this "truly serious" problem.

"We're facing an enormous challenge," said UH President Walter Harrison. "The culture of alcohol is very prevalent in our society."

Funny- I thought in college we were supposed to learn to respect and value other cultures- not to eradicate them.

This article doesn't mention the term, but you know for that "binge drinking" is on the minds of all concerned parties. The problem is, to administrators, drinking a 6 pack in one evening may be considered binge drinking. To college students that constitutes "Friday Night." This country does have a major problem when it comes to alcohol and drugs, but that problem comes from the well-intentioned concerned folks, and not from the majority of users.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I Am Uncle Sam

Leave it to the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page (and editorial features editor Tunku Varadarjan) to turn Dr. Seuss into a model American. Hopefully the Cat in the Hat is visiting Mr. Varadarjan's children while he's at work.

What Would Google Do?

Google is resisting a subpoena requested by the Justice Department to turn over millions of search records.

Mr. Miller [a Justice department spokeperson] declined to say exactly how the data would be used, but according to the government's filings, it would help estimate the prevalence of material that could be deemed harmful to minors and the effectiveness of filtering software.

If Google would like to help the government, then good for them. But if they don't want to help, it's unclear as to what basis the government would have for demanding Google's private records. Can the government pour through confidential business records on the sole basis that they are on a fact finding mission in an attempt to solve a "national problem?" What's frightening is how reasonable the government's logic seems. And I beleive that the Justice Department wants the information for precisely the reason it says it wants the information.

The problem is just how damn accepting the American public is of the nanny state. Thank God for the people who think that the Bush administration and the Justice Department is up to no good. Without them, I'm not sure anyone would be left to stand up to this sort of nonsense.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

What Would Wal-Mart Do?

Wal-Mart is apparently considering a legal challenge to a new Maryland law that would require the retail giant to spend at least 8 percent of payroll on health insurance, or pay the difference to the state. According to the ABC piece;

Supporters say the law is needed because Maryland is underwriting the cost of health care for many Wal-Mart employees who can't afford to pay their share of insurance premiums.

The lonely libertarian believes that a legal challenge is the wrong approach. Why not just play hardball? If Maryland doesn't like paying for the health care costs of some Wal-Mart employees, I wonder how much they'd like paying the full health care costs of thousands of the unemployed former Wal-Mart employees that would be left behind if Wal-Mart was to shut down all of its operations in Maryland.

Not that such a thing would ever happen, but we can dream, can't we? And I wonder what the state would do under such a scenario. It just goes to show that this is not at all about worker rights and every bit about attacking a powerful, successful corporation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Beating A Dead Horse: Would The Rules Of The War On Terror Please Stand Up?

As the debate over the War on Terror and civil liberties rages on, we remain in the dark. With each new revelation of government counter terrorist activities, yet another debate is fostered. Conservatives tell us that we must do what has to be done to stop the threat of global terrorism, while liberals and civil libertarians warn us that we should not sacrifice our freedom in the name of fighting terrorism. The cycle continues, as it has ever since those with the guts (or gall, depending upon your point of view) to challenge the Bush administration finally emerged clear from the shadow of 9-11.

The arguments remain the same, and nothing is accomplished. Each specific issue is comprehensively debated, but few opinions are changed, and no mention is made of the much larger question that looms over head; Legally, morally, and philosophically, what are the rules by which the War on Terror is to be conducted?

Consider that we have rules for conducting traditional war, and rules for fighting traditional crime. International terrorism falls somewhere in between the two, yet no one, not politicians, not policy makers, not even academics have begun to weigh in on defining just what the rules are for combating international terrorism. Quite simply, the debate we're having today is getting us no where, while the debate we should be having isn't occurring anywhere.

The problem is that terrorism of the sort that was witnessed on 9-11 is still a relatively new phenomenon. Terrorist groups who hold allegiances not recognized by traditional political boundaries can't be fought using traditional notions of warfare. They have no physical infrastructure, and no traditional political leadership. They also have no real distinction between soldiers and civilians. And while the war analogy does not work, the crime analogy does not work either. Our system of Constitutional law that protects the rights of the accused was not designed for literal enemies of the state.

What also seems uncommonly silly is to urge that terrorism be combated overseas as would a war, while following traditional rules of law enforcement while fighting terrorism at home. That's not a compromise or a solution, it's just plain ignorant of all the factors involved.

New rules for fighting terrorism need to be formulated, debated, and discussed. This is not just an American issue, but an international issue. The more the free world can agree on these sorts of rules, the better off we all are. But at the risk of beating a dead horse, someone needs to get the ball rolling. What we need now is not to be bogged down in procedure and specifics of individual cases. What we need is sweeping declarations of individual rights, and sweeping declarations of morality, of right and wrong.

The question is, will anyone answer the call, or will we continue to bicker?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Right to Privacy Test

The lonely libertarian has strategically avoided most of the Judge Alito confirmation hearings- listening to Democrats scream for answers they don't really want the answers too while Republicans scream equally as loudly about harassment is hardly my idea of a good time. As always, abortion and the right to privacy has been a subject of discussion. (At least from what I've heard.) Add in to the equation the ever looming presence of all the issues raised by the Patriot Act and the War on Terror, and the phrase "the right to privacy" is ever present in the lexicon of today's "informed citizens."

I've blogged about the right to privacy before- Basically, despite however much I may personally like the idea of a right to privacy, there is no real Constitutional basis for the premise. Most use of the term "right to privacy" is strictly political. It's about supporting abortion rights and any other number of specific agendas and not about supporting any true right to privacy.

Observe here, with the lonely libertarian's very own right to privacy test:

If you believe in a Constitutional right to privacy, please explain, on a philosophical level, which of the following are protected by a right to privacy and which of the following are not protected by a right to privacy. Explain your answers for each, and if your answers differ from each other, explain these differences. (For example, why would a right to privacy protect #2, but not #3?) This is not an exercise in Constitutional law, but an exercise in logical thinking.

1) The right to engage in sexual activities with a consenting adult in the privacy of your own home.

2) The right to purchase contraception.

3) The right to purchase sexual companionship in the privacy of your own home.

4) The right to produce and use drugs (such as marijuana) in the privacy of your own home.

5) The right to purchase drugs (such as marijuana).

6) The right to obtain a medical procedure (such as an abortion) from a doctor.

7) The right to obtain a medical prescription for pain relief (for a drug such as marijuana) from a doctor.

(For those of you with a favorable view of marijuana, replace marijuana with heroin or cocaine and see if it changes your answers.)

8) The right to make a private phone call overseas.

9) The right to receive a phone call from an Al-Qaeda operative from overseas.

If you think a right to privacy protects all of the above examples (except for perhaps #9), than you truly are a libertarian. If there was a right to privacy in the Constitution, I think it would have to protect the first eight of the above rights. And believe me, I'd be very much in favor of such Constitutional protections, but the fact of the matter is, it's just not there. Playing out this exercise makes that painfully apparent.

The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that a true right to privacy is an extremely libertarian sort of right- one that a vast majority of the American public would not be in favor of. How do you protect some of these rights and not all of them without placing moral restrictions with legal force upon the individual choices of others? (Choices that stand to harm no one but the individual making them.)

The additional point is that none of the issues in regards to the war on terror have any real connection with any right to privacy. They are procedural issues dealing with the 4th Amendment (Search and Seizure issues.) It is quite obvious that any right to privacy does not provide protection for otherwise illegal action. The right to privacy prevents certain activities from being criminalized in the first place.

Those who seek to protect the precedents of Roe (abortion), Griswald (contraception), and Lawrence (sexual privacy in the bedroom) while at the same time limiting the meaning of a right to privacy are engaged in quite an uphill battle, at least in a philosophical sense. It's also interesting that any discussion of privacy rights only refers to criminalization. There is never any discussion of why the government should have any role, even a regulatory one, in what is a "private matter." But that's just it: privacy is a political term, not a legal one, and it does libertarians no good to jump on a privacy band wagon that beneath the surface reveals a gigantic philosophical disconnect.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Things That Worry Me More Than Illegal Wire Taps

Man mistakenly targeted in drug raid, blares yet another headline that flies under the radio of the national media and most of the blogosphere. (Thanks to Randy Balco for pointing this out last week.)

But just ask yourselves who you would rather be?

1) Mr. Buerosse, whom the story says was thrown into a closet door, knocked down, and hit with a shield before the SWAT team realized they had the wrong apartment.

or 2) Joe Schmo, whose conversation with his grandmother was accidentally recorded by the NSA in an illegal manner.

On one hand you have a government violation of privacy in the name of combating international terrorism. On the other hand you have a government violation of privacy in the name of arresting a few men for small amounts of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

As I've mentioned time and time again, defining the rules of fighting the war on terror is a drastically important, often ignored exercise. And none of my positions should be taken as a wholesale endorsement of illegal government spying. But any debate on the war on terror should not put us in the position of forgetting the everyday war on the American people that is the War on Drugs.

Just Where In The Constitution Does It Actually Say "There's Only One Way To Skank" (And It's Universal)?

Judge Alito once attended a ska festival. (This news courtesy of the Volokh Conspiracy.)

This of course raises all sorts of troubling questions. For one thing, does Judge Alito know how to skank? Is he, or has he ever been a fan of Connecticut's greatest ska band ever, Spring Heeled Jack?

As the intersection of two of the lonely libertarian's favorite subjects, law and alternative music, this is most definitely post worthy. And just perhaps, this raises hopes that the lonely libertarian could still be the nation's first "Emo-President." Or perhaps some sort of punk judge.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Conservatarian Part II (The lonely libertarian takes the Pro-War libertarian quiz)

Matt Welch over at Reason has a quiz for pro war libertarians like myself. The lonely libertarian figured he would give the quiz a shot.

1) Should the National Security Agency or CIA have the ability to monitor domestic phone calls or e-mails without obtaining judicial approval?

Under certain circumstances, yes. It’s not the monitoring that concerns me so much as what’s done with that information. It’s amazing the technicalities that have been raised over this issue. There already are programs to obtain warrants in these national security types of cases after the wiretapping has occurred. And no, the administration hasn’t done that in a number of circumstances. My response is, so what- technically, the privacy of the monitored parties had already been violated, so even in if the warrants were somehow denied, the government would still have the illegally obtained information. And if that information was related to terrorism, it’s obviously not going to be ignored for the mere fact that there was no warrant. In an era when surveillance and spying has become a fact of life, the real issue is what is being done with that information.

2) Should the government have the ability to hold an American citizen without charge, indefinitely, without access to a lawyer, if he is believed to be part of a terrorist cell?

This is probably the most controversial of controversial issues in the War on Terror. The thought of holding any American citizen indefinitely without charges should be disturbing to everyone. Yet at the same time, if an American citizen is some part of and impending terrorist attack, typical concerns about due process (or even dare I say it, concerns over torture) just don’t seem to apply. This is the very crux of the debate, one that few people seem willing to offer rational and workable solutions. Clearly, some sort of process is needed, both short term and long term. And just what that process is, is precisely what should be discussed, rather then the mudslinging we have to listen to now. Libertarians that join liberals in the “blame Bush” vein of civil liberties concerns are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Criticism is much needed, but criticism without solutions gets us nowhere.

3) Can you imagine a situation in which the government would be justified in waterboarding an American citizen?

Yes- see the ticking time bomb scenario. In other cases, probably not. But the real answer to this question feeds directly in to the discussion of question 2. What are the rules in fighting the War on Terror, and what are the procedures that are to be followed? Anyone?

4) Are there American journalists who should be investigated for possible treason? Should Sedition laws be re-introduced?

No and no, of course not. Although it should be kept in mind that regardless of the reasoning behind it, illegally disclosing classified information is a crime, and should be prosecuted. To journalists who believe they are doing the right thing by disclosing such information, they can go to jail and serve their time in the noble tradition of civil disobedience.

5) Should the CIA be able to legally assassinate people in countries with which the U.S. is not at war?
No- morally it’s a tricky issue, but the reality is that it’s much too messy, and would rarely, if ever, actually solve any problems.

6) Should anti-terrorism cops be given every single law-enforcement tool available in non-terrorist cases?

Shouldn’t anti-terrorism cops have more tools at their disposal than the regular cops? At least, I would hope they do.

7) Should law enforcement be able to seize the property of a suspected (though not charged) American terrorist, and then sell it?

No, no, no, absolutely not.

8) Should the U.S. military be tasked with enforcing domestic crime?


9) Should there be a national I.D. card, and should it be made available to law enforcement on demand?

No, never.

10) Should a higher percentage of national security-related activities and documents be made classified, and kept from the eyes of the Congress, the courts, and the public?

It’s hard to come up with a meaningful answer to this question. After all, how are any of us supposed to really know the answer. It does sound horribly un-libertarian of me, but national security is one area where you just have to hope for the best. What else can you do. It’s difficult to imagine any government protecting national security without keeping some things secret. If you think too much is being kept secret, that’s when you vote that administration out of office. But the truth is, it’s all guesswork.

Matt Welch said that his answer to every question was an unequivocal no. I can offer up 5 “no’s”, 3 “maybe’s”, 1 “not enough information” and 1 “I don’t understand the question.” But lets go back to question one for a second, that of wiretapping without judicial approval. Matt wonders if the CIA or the NSA should have the ability to conduct such surveillance. His choice of words is a bit off, as they clearly do have the ability. The question is, how should they use that ability and to what extent should it be used. The process of obtaining a warrant is just that- merely a process. And I’m sure Matt would agree that such a process in no way ensures that no wrong is being done to you. One need only scroll down in my blog to read the Corey Maye story to see that for yourself. Personally I truly am more concerned with 1- the discretion being used to only tap hone calls (with or without a warrant) that impact national security and 2- that such monitoring while being used in combating terrorism is not used to wage war on the American people.

Maybe I’m the naïve one for thinking that this is at all possible. That’s a point I’d be willing to debate. But to hold such strong “no’s” as Matt Welch and many other libertarians do to everyone of the controversial issues raised above seems merely to ignore the fact that we have no rules for combating terrorism and such rules are desperately needed.

Stupid Advertisements, Part II

There’s a billboard right down the street from where I work, telling me in big black letters that, “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.”

Obviously, driving while intoxicated is dangerous. So is driving while sleepy, or driving while emotionally unstable. And driving a stick while eating a foot long Subway sandwich and talking on the telephone is just as dangerous as all of the above. (And the lonely libertarian had no idea who would ever do such a thing – really.)

But sometimes it seems like the anti-drunk driving movement wanders from reasonable to the ridiculous. Ask any young person what it means to feel a buzz. They’ll tell you a buzz is what you feel after a few drinks. Maybe even one drink. Equating buzzed driving with drunk driving sends the message that if you’re going to have a drink, don’t drive period. Which is really just plain silly.

What’s the most common response to the phrase “drinking and driving?”

“Don’t do it!”

Of course, that ignores the thousands if not millions of people who drink and drive responsibly everyday. You know, the drinkers who have a glass of wine or two while at a friends or while out to eat. Or the guy who enjoys a dark lager while eating at his local sports bar and grill. But the lexicon encourages us to be fearful of all drinking and driving, regardless of what common sense may tell us.

The worst part of these advertising campaigns is that they actually go against any meaningful concept of personal responsibility. Many of us from personal experience can remember occasions when we were too drunk to drive. Many of us can also probably remember stumbling over our words in a slurred voice, “I’m waaaaayyyyy to drunk to drive.” That drunken statement was very much a statement of personal responsibility, knowing oneself and one’s abilities. Meanwhile, the idiots that drink a 12 pack and decide to drive themselves home are not responsible.

The point is that personal responsibility with regards to alcohol and driving means knowing when one is capable of driving and when one isn’t capable of driving, and knowing when to err on the side of caution. Listening to every overly cautious warning we are given is not the same as taking responsibility for oneself. Once again, it seems as though those with their hearts in the right places are capable of doing the most damage.

Stupid Advertisements, Part I

Perhaps those of you who listen to the radio have heard the following advertisement:

A fake news story or traffic report is read by a fake radio newscaster. Just as the story gets to the really important facts, the fake story is cut off. That beeping sound you hear when you dial a disconnected number is played, followed by the voice of a fake operator telling you to deposit twenty five cents for the next three minutes. Finally, the deep baritone of another radio voice is heard. “Radio – Some things just ought to be free. This advertisement brought to you by America’s thousands of local radio stations.” (Or something along those lines)

The lonely libertarian is just baffled as to the point of the advertisement, and baffled as to why anyone would make such an ad in the first place.

Obviously, it’s supposed to be a jab at satellite radio, which has grown in popularity as of late, mainly because of the move of Howard Stern to Sirius. Obviously, people willing to pay for satellite radio are willing to do so because they believe that both the amount and the quality of the content they receive via satellite is far greater than what they can receive via free traditional local radio. And equally obvious is that local radio will always have a niche in providing local news, weather, and traffic. So once again, what is the point of this ad? The point seems to be that radio should be free, not that local radio is more worth listening to than satellite. Soooo … if we’d like to listen to Howard Stern on Sirius, we shouldn’t because …. Radio should be free?

I don’t get it either.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Losing Site of the Big Picture

The lonely libertarian is a bit pissed off, seeing as his libertarian-ness is exactly what is being questioned at Hit and Run and here on Conservatarian indeed.

The point seems to be that any true libertarian should be overflowing with outrage over the Bush Administrations use of warrantless wiretapping on phone calls coming in to the United States from known terrorist phone numbers overseas. Sifu Tweety's piece goes on to describe a scenario that’s supposed to outrage. The problem is, the hypothetical utilized in the piece is in a word, ridiculous. The initial premise itself seems a bit farfetched, that somehow one call from former (not current) terrorist phone number from overseas combined with the purchase of a calling card in Mexico is enough to warrant special national security attention. Oh wait. Did I just say warrant? That’s right, I did. Because a warrant is exactly what would be needed to pursue any charges for any of the other matters raised in this completely off-the-wall hypothetical.

It’s fairly simple actually. Let’s say the government does tap into a private phone conversation because of terrorism suspicions, without first getting a warrant. Such a phone tap does not give the government a carte blanche to pry in to every other aspect of your personal life. Anything else they’d like to look in to- your computer, your e-mails, other phone calls- still require a warrant. So throw the rest of that wacky hypothetical out the window. And what if the government discovers non-terrorism related criminal activity while conducting a warrantless tap? I’m not sure what would happen, nor can anyone be quite sure just what would happen. After all, such a situation has not actually happened in the real world. If it did, the lonely libertarian would be firmly on the side arguing, “You can’t use evidence obtained in warrantless terrorist surveillance in a routine criminal prosecution.”

If you want to debate just how the War on Terror should be conducted, and what the government should and shouldn’t be allowed to do, that’s just fine. But don’t scare people with half-baked tales about how government spying is going to take away the freedoms and liberties of the average American.

The fact of the matter is that this is primarily an issue of national security and more importantly, a question about the lengths the government and its intelligence branches should go to while conducting its spying operations. And it should be discussed as such, not as some convoluted civil liberties issue. If you’re truly concerned about civil liberties, why don’t you discuss the hundreds or thousands of violations that occur every single day throughout this country in the name of the War on Drugs? You know, the sorts of scenarios you can read about in the paper or see on the evening news, the scenarios that are actually based in fact.

And don’t, don’t, don’t question my libertarian-ness. Does government spying concern me? Of course it does. But I am a firm believer in the Exclusionary Rule as the primary means of protecting our civil liberties. After all, any government, even an ideal libertarian government is bound to overstep its authority and some point, and violate someone’s privacy. The true test of a free society is not whether or not these boundaries have been violated, but what is done with the information obtained while violating these boundaries. Regardless of the procedures used in government spying as a measure against terrorism, I don’t want the information obtained during this spying being used in non-terrorism criminal prosecutions, and I do want such information used to prevent future terrorist attacks. Quite simple really.

This hypothetical is really quite telling. Rather then dealing in reality, libertarians with their heads in the sand would rather spend their time concocting stories that are too far out for even Oliver Stone. And of course, the big question is constantly avoided. Forget about the Bush Administrations wiretapping program for a minute. What if a completely illegal domestic wiretapping project was to uncover another terrorist attack before it had the chance to unfold, and various members of an Al-Queda cell in the United States were captured. Should we exclude all that evidence and let the terrorists go? What say you Mr. Self-Righteous libertarian?

Intelligent people with their hearts in the right places get bogged down in these civil liberty questions, while the basic question of how to conduct a “War on Terror” gets continuously avoided. The worst part is, it gives the Bush Administration a pass on just about everything they do. Fighting terrorism is not like fighting domestic crime, nor is it like fighting a traditional war. New rules and new standards need to be created. Personally I think the Bush administration has done an admirable job, flying by the seat of its pants. But that doesn’t mean there’s neither room for improvement nor room for criticism. The problem is these smart people with the hearts in the right places have yet to delve into the issue of the morally correct way to combat terrorism. Sifu Tweety entitled his article “Libertarianism for dummies.” The lonely libertarian would argue that a libertarianism that trivializes the big issues while focusing on minutia is perhaps the most masturbatory form of libertarianism possible; Feels good, but means next to nothing.