Thursday, May 24, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ruling by Ruse

The Founding Fathers who disdained partisan politics were absolutely right to do so. In their small scale society in which the exclusive electorate knew personally the candidates, there could have been little reason to run big, expensive campaigns.

Fast forward to today, and the vast majority of the greatly expanded electorate has virtually no knowledge of the candidates. The rather absurdist result is that sound bites define the candidates. That being the case, millions of dollars must be spent blanketing the public with sound bites intended to reflect what the focus groups indicate they want.

We poor money into polling, mailing flyers and decorating lawns with campaign signs, phone calls, websites, photo shoots, photo ops, traveling across the country to glad-hand in an attempt to convince poor sods that you are just like them. The party apparatus serves to give structure and function to this giant machine as it rumbles towards election day.

Personally, I doubt that any meaningful democracy can long survive such an approach to politics.

As campaigns get longer and longer, and more and more money is laid out in efforts to blind the American public to the glaring flaws of the one while hyperbolizing the minute problems of the other, cynicism will grow. As people know less and less about their candidates--and consequently their elected representatives--they will care less and less about the result. Why bother voting when we neither know the candidates nor can reliably know that for which they stand?

The end result, which we see plenty of today, is that candidates stake out positions that sound really good to their base but which do nothing meaningful in terms of either advancing discourse or achieving long-term goals. Want to pass a Buffett Rule? Go for it. But do not pretend that it will solve our budget problem. Want to slash entitlement spending? Go for it. But do not pretend that it will not drastically alter the economy. Want to balance the budget? Try raising taxes AND cutting spending. Any other proposition is a disingenuous ruse to mollify the electorate.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Freedom of Speech

To some extent, freedom of speech is meaningless without some freedom to be heard. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, it does not matter whether or not it makes a sound.

But there are rational limits to the extent to which people have the right to be heard. Free speech is a wonderful thing, but easily abused. When it is abused, we all suffer.

In an organized society in which people respect each other, me exercising my freedom of speech need not infringe upon the rights of my fellow citizens. I can picket in front of the state capitol building, but creating a situation in which it is impossible for someone who works in that building to be able to enter it is patently inappropriate. I can make a sign and go march alongside the road, but once I step into the road and impede traffic I have rudely forced myself upon those who are unwilling to listen. Along with freedom of speech comes freedom to not listen.

Would we allow a group to commandeer all radio stations for their own propaganda efforts on the grounds that precluding them from doing so violates their freedom of speech? Of course not. Quite simply, freedom of speech is not freedom to force yourself to be heard: it is the freedom to put yourself out their so that you can be heard. You may have the right to hand out pamphlets, but you do not have the right to paint messages on people's front doors.

Protesters either know or should know this. The clever ones get themselves arrested or tear gassed because they hope to raise public sympathy for their cause. The dense ones believe that they actually have a right to make life miserable for non-protesters. Either way, they hope that public authorities will come off looking like authoritarian goons who enjoy squelching the rights of the people.

And this is where the Occupy Wall Street folks have begun to lose mainstream Americans. Most of us appreciate free speech and many of us agree to some extent that corporate greed is hurting America; but most of us do not find shutting down urban traffic, monopolizing public spaces, or antagonizing the police to be appropriate means to the desired end. Want to see a breakdown in civil public discourse? Go watch OWS protesters treat law enforcement officials like trash, milk the system for all it is worth while decrying it as perverted, and belittle hard-working Americans for going about their business.

The following are a few suggestions of things that OWS could do that might be more effective than their literal physical occupations:
1) boycotts
2) raise children who understand that no CEO is worth 2,000 times the average
employee. If you have multiple children and they have multiple children
of their own, this one pays off exponentially.
3) use gentle logic and mild persuasion to encourage fellow citizens to
understand the harm that corporate greed can do. Please wear deodorant and
a clean shirt when doing this.
4) don't let slobs and potheads represent you in front of the cameras. Whether
you like it or not, you will be judged based upon your appearance.
5) if all else fails, emigrate. I hear Burundi is looking for some experienced

America is a great place to live. It is a great place to protest. The protests of the few should not forcibly impose themselves upon the lives of the many. When they attempt to do so, they are almost assuredly doomed to failure.

Friday, October 21, 2011


I am fascinated by the view that justice can only be done via courtroom proceedings.

No doubt that is a good rule of thumb. But it in no way approximates an absolute truth.

Take the statement,"the Yankees are better than the Red Sox." It may be true in the broader context, yet will often be untrue in the specific context. The Yankees have won more baseball titles than the Red Sox and in many years will have a better record than the Beantowners. But then there will be the anomalies: for example, a year when the Red Sox win the World Series.

When it comes to justice, the only real question should be "Did that person get what he deserved?" Or, in other words, "Did that person do that of which he was accused?" Anything else is little more than a procedural safeguard intended to ensure the correct answer to those two questions.

So, as much as it unnerves me that Colonel Gaddafi was brutalized and killed by his captors, I am not devoted enough to procedural niceties to insist that an injustice has been done. Using assassination to eliminate political dissent, that may be an injustice. Slaughtering your own people in response to their opposition to your policies, that may be an injustice. Killing an oppressive tyrant who rapaciously and ruthlessly imposed his government on the people through violence and terror, that is not an injustice.

When the punishment fits the crime, the only thing left to ask is whether or not one can make a plausible argument that the accused did not commit the crime. If the answer is no, then a courtroom is little more than form. Perhaps not gratuitous, but certainly not necessary.

So please forgive me if I find there to be nothing disturbing about Gaddafi's killing at the hands of a Libyan mob. The man had it coming. Justice has been served.