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“Guns Are a Right”: Yet, The Idea That A Citizenry Free To Bear Arms May Impose More Of A Threat To Freedom Than It Guarantees

We are at a point in the debate over gun control where these are dueling headlines: “At Least 71 Kids Have Been Killed With Guns Since Newtown” versus “A march on Washington with loaded rifles.” Given the status of gun control legislation in Congress, they’re equally infuriating, but one gives insight into why this debate is stalled.

Libertarian radio host Adam Kokesh is planning a gathering of gun owners and gun rights activist where they will…maybe it’s best to read him in his words. From the Facebook page:

On the morning of July 4, 2013, Independence Day, we will muster at the National Cemetery & at noon we will step off to march across the Memorial Bridge, down Independence Avenue, around the Capitol, the Supreme Court, & the White House, then peacefully return to Virginia across the Memorial Bridge. This is an act of civil disobedience, not a permitted event. We will march with rifles loaded & slung across our backs to put the government on notice that we will not be intimidated & cower in submission to tyranny. We are marching to mark the high water mark of government & to turn the tide. This will be a non-violent event, unless the government chooses to make it violent. Should we meet physical resistance, we will peacefully turn back, having shown that free people are not welcome in Washington, & returning with the resolve that the politicians, bureaucrats, & enforcers of the federal government will not be welcome in the land of the free.

Currently, 3400+ people on Facebook have stated their intention of participating (an admittedly shoddy means by which to gauge likely attendance), but it makes me wonder if anyone involved is reading the same news that I am.

What’s telling is the language used to promote this action. On May 3, Kokesh tweeted: “When the government comes to take your guns, you can shoot government agents, or submit to slavery.”

It’s not that he doesn’t know the horrors of guns, but that he views his right to own guns as integral to his freedom as an American. That’s the strain of thinking among pro-gun folks that’s difficult to defeat.

It’s why Glenn Beck doesn’t flinch when co-opting the message and symbolism of Martin Luther King Jr., to promote a pro-gun rights agenda. King’s nonviolent philosophy isn’t as important to Beck as the fact that his life represents a fight for freedom and Beck sees his crusade in the same light.

Here’s a thought this group may want to consider: the rights we have can, and do, have and will continue to change.

Slavery was once a right. Now-outdated notions of privacy and property allowed marital rape as a right. But the costs of those rights were the violation of others’ rights, and we reached a point as a society (through much debate, struggle, blood, sweat, tears and more) where we decided that protecting rights like slavery and marital rape was no longer worth the damage they inflicted. Alcohol was a right, then it wasn’t, and then it was again because prohibiting drinking caused more trouble than we were able to tolerate. However, when the right returned it did not go unchecked. This is how we negotiate rights in a democracy.

But on guns, we seem unwilling to even consider the idea that a citizenry free to bear arms may impose more of a threat to freedom than it guarantees. I understand why that is, as guns are tied into our national identity, our sense of masculinity, our desire for power, and it frightens some of us to think who we would be without that. And then more headlines read “13-year-old Florida boy shoots 6-year-old with handgun at home” and I just want us to pause to consider: Is the right to bear arms worth the deaths of our children?

We may well decide that it is, but a debate about guns that is afraid of that core question isn’t one worth having.


By: Mychal Denzel Smith, The Nation, May 10, 2013

May 12, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“From Poor Regulation To Terrorism”: Texas’ Wild West Approach To Protecting Public Health And Safety

You might think the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, that leveled the town and killed 14 people would have given pause to those conservative policymakers and boosters in the Lone Star State who proudly boast of a “Texas Way” in which job-creators aren’t hassled by pointy-headed bureaucrats and regulators or income taxes or any of those other new-fangled socialist devices. But no: under the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry, we learn from a New York Times story today, Texas government and business officials are going out of their way to reiterate that this is a place where the Bidnessman walks tall, and poor living standards and high workplace risks are just the price of keeping job creators fat and happy.

Texas has always prided itself on its free-market posture. It is the only state that does not require companies to contribute to workers’ compensation coverage. It boasts the largest city in the country, Houston, with no zoning laws. It does not have a state fire code, and it prohibits smaller counties from having such codes. Some Texas counties even cite the lack of local fire codes as a reason for companies to move there.

But Texas has also had the nation’s highest number of workplace fatalities — more than 400 annually — for much of the past decade. Fires and explosions at Texas’ more than 1,300 chemical and industrial plants have cost as much in property damage as those in all the other states combined for the five years ending in May 2012. Compared with Illinois, which has the nation’s second-largest number of high-risk sites, more than 950, but tighter fire and safety rules, Texas had more than three times the number of accidents, four times the number of injuries and deaths, and 300 times the property damage costs….

“The Wild West approach to protecting public health and safety is what you get when you give companies too much economic freedom and not enough responsibility and accountability,” said Thomas O. McGarity, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and an expert on regulation.

So I’d bet today’s news that Texas law enforcement officials have launched a criminal investigation based on reports that federal agents found bomb-making materials in the possession of a paramedic who was on the scene in West is going to generate a lot of excitement in the state’s conservative circles. True, the suspect who was arrested by the ATF isn’t an Arab or even a Chechen, and no one knows at this point if he had anything to do with the explosion, and if so, what his motives might have been.

But Lord a-mercy, wouldn’t it be nice if it was a terrorist and not an industry or lawmakers or regulators we ought to be looking at in connection with this tragedy? The very possibility must be worth toasting in certain circles during today’s Texas happy hours.

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 10, 2013

May 12, 2013 Posted by | Public Health, Public Safety | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Conservative Defense Of Government: You’re A Fan Of Government, So Stop Pretending Otherwise

Everyone knows that Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” But as Ramesh Ponnuru recently pointed out, there is a “less famous yet crucial beginning of that sentence”: “In our present crisis.”

Conservatives rightly hate nanny-state government and big-spending bureaucracy. But too often, the word “government” has become unfair shorthand for what is actually only bad or oppressive government.

Conservatives aren’t anarchists, after all. We don’t want Big Brother, but none of us should want to live in a Hobbesian state where every person is absolutely and entirely for himself, either. Instead, we believe in ordered liberty via limited government.

Certainly, the size and scope of government has increased over the years. But still, we shouldn’t conflate all government with bad government. We need a functioning state, and yes, there is such a thing as a government that is too weak.

This is a lesson that goes back to our founding. And it’s one conservatives should appreciate. Judging from their colonial garb and tri-cornered hats, Tea Party activists are fond of the Constitution and its Founders. So you might expect that they, of all people, would appreciate the importance of having a government that isn’t laughably weak.

As Baylor professor and Patrick Henry author Thomas Kidd tells me, “Most of the major Founders became convinced that Americans needed a stronger national government to coordinate trade policy and protect against domestic and foreign threats.”

Under the Articles of Confederation, the government was impotent. “Major decisions — declaring war and signing treaties — needed the approval of nine states,” writes Richard Brookhiser in his book James Madison. Congress couldn’t even tax, and “as a result, the United States was perpetually broke,” Brookhiser adds.

To be sure, some patriots, like Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams, opposed the Constitution precisely because they feared big government. But as Kidd points out, “the majority of the best-known Founders believed that the new republic needed a bigger, stronger government for the United States to survive and compete on the world stage.”

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” wrote Madison, who (in fairness) added, “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

So, a natural question: What should a limited government do?

For starters, preserve law and order, ensure the rule of law, enforce contracts, provide for our defense — and yes, control the border. (I’m also partial to clean water, but that’s just me.)

Max Weber said the government has a “monopoly on legitimate violence in society.” This is needed to enforce law and order. Otherwise, whoever has the biggest gun — or the most brothers — takes your property.

“Government is the most common form of hierarchy,” Robert Kaplan recently noted. “It is a government that monopolizes the use of violence in a given geographical space, thereby preventing anarchy. To quote Thomas Hobbes, the 17th-century English philosopher, only where it is possible to punish the wicked can right and wrong have any practical meaning, and that requires ‘some coercive power.'”

But government functions don’t just keep us safe, they also make us prosperous. Sure, overregulation can be a job killer. But consider the extreme alternative. If you believe that someone could steal your business if he wants to, then you are much less likely to start one. If you believe that someone can break a contract with you — or steal your invention — without fear of punishment, that might make it less likely that you will go into business or to invest in research and development.

In their 2012 book Why Nations Fail, economists Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson provide a largely free market argument for why some nations succeed. For example, Acemoglu and Robinson fault protectionist policies instituted to avoid the process of creative destruction as a primary reason some nations fail.

But interestingly, they also frequently cite a lack of a strong central government as a prime reason nations fail. For example, the authors lament Somalia’s “lack of any kind of political centralization, or state centralization, and its inability to enforce even the minimal amount of law and order to support economic activity, trade, or even basic security of its citizens.”

I can’t imagine that any conservatives who decry government would prefer this sort of extreme chaos to our current, albeit imperfect, government.

So maybe the answer is to be more specific about our concerns with government. Attempting to do just that, Nobel Prize-winning economist James M. Buchanan distinguished between the productive state, the protective state, and the redistributive state.

Essentially, the productive state would constitute infrastructure like roads and bridges, the protective state would encompass the police, criminal justice, etc., and the redistributive state is obviously the entitlement state.

While most conservatives concede that we need some social safety net, they are mostly worried about the out-of-control growth of the redistributive state. And yet, too seldom is that distinction made. Instead, the criticism is usually directed at “government.”

When it comes to government, a lot of conservatives are probably too obsessed with size. Grover Norquist famously wants to shrink government to such a small size that you can drown it in a bathtub.

But I’m not sure most Americans want that. And trying to force it via draconian cuts doesn’t work, especially if they don’t address the specific problem, such as the need for entitlement reform. “You can’t make a fat man skinny by tightening his belt,” observed John Maynard Keynes.

Whether you’re a conservative who cares about preserving law and order, or a free marketer who appreciates the importance the rule of law plays in providing confidence and incentives to entrepreneurs, you’re a fan of government. Stop pretending otherwise.


By: Matt K. Lewis, The Week, May 9, 2013

May 12, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Government | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Defying The Laws Of Political Reality”: No Dirty Politics In IRS Investigations Of Tea Party

The conservative blogosphere is all-atwitter this afternoon over the revelation that the Internal Revenue Service targeted various Tea Party groups in the days leading up to the presidential election of 2012.

Sadly for the critics of the president, things are not always as they initially appear to be and the effort to paint the improper IRS activity as a White House directed political dirty trick is unlikely to gain the traction opponents would like to see catch fire.

Keep in mind that the kerfuffle does not involve the targeting of groups for audits seeking evidence of a failure to pay taxes. Rather, the problem involved the IRS’s review of applications filed by the various entities seeking tax-exempt status under the law.

At the time in question, many newly formed political organizations were seeking IRS certification that would allow them to  avoid paying taxes on funds raised—the overwhelming majority of these organizations being Tea Party related groups. As the IRS believed that many of those filing for exemptions were stretching the limits of qualification, some low-level staffers at the agency’s Cincinnati, Ohio office decided to target for closer review those organizations with “Tea Party” sounding names, such as “patriot” and, of course, “Tea Party”. In the effort to dig deeper to determine if these groups qualified, the agency people involved asked many of the filing organizations to disclose names of those who had made contributions along with other data they deemed necessary to determine if the group qualified for tax free status.

The problem is that the agents involved were not randomly conducting these checks on all the political organizations seeking tax free status and were specifically targeting the Tea Party related groups.

This was, clearly, improper activity which is why the IRS issued today’s apology.

What’s that you say? You still don’t believe that the White House was not involved in this?

That’s what I thought.

Maybe then, it will interest you to know that there are only two officials at the IRS that are political appointments—the commissioner (who is the boss) and the chief legal counsel.  And while you may be thinking that it would be a piece of cake for the White House to place a call to the Commissioner and nudge him into putting a little heat on Tea Party groups so that they would be kept busy defending themselves from government annoyance rather than putting their energies into defeating the President, it would not have been quite so simple a task for the White House to accomplish.


Because the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service during the period in question was Douglas Shulman, a political appointee of President George W. Bush.

In fact, not only was Commissioner Shulman a Bush appointee, he would certainly have had no motivation to do the political bidding of a Democrat president considering that Mr. Shulman had already announced prior to the election that he would be stepping down from his post in November.

If you imagine that the President’s staff had the ability to go around the top political appointee at the IRS and attempt to influence the civil servants who work at the agency, consider how many levels of civil servants the White House staff would have had to persuade to do their bidding given that those who pursued the policy were well down the totem-pole of seniority, working away at the Cincinnati office.

Indeed, to suggest that the White House could get career civil servants to do its political dirty work would truly defy the laws of political reality.

If you doubt this—and you are someone who believes that the State Department behaved improperly in the Benghazi matter—consider the inability of State to direct the three highly placed State Department civil servants who testified before Congress this week to do as the politicians asked. This should give you some indication as to just how impossible it is for elected or politically appointment officials to get government civil servants to participate in their political schemes—let alone keep it all a secret heading into a presidential election.

Of course, all the obvious and logical explanations in the world for what really happened here will prove insufficient when it comes to  persuading some Tea Party groups that this was not the work of the White House.

As proof of what we can expect, check out what Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin had to say when calling for President Obama to personally apologize—

“It is suspicious that the activity of these ‘low-level workers’ was unknown to IRS leadership at the time it occurred. President Obama must also apologize for his administration ignoring repeated complaints by these broad grassroots organizations of harassment by the IRS in 2012, and make concrete and transparent steps today to ensure this never happens again.”

Clearly, Ms. Martin has very little grasp on how widespread the activities of the IRS are if she imagines that, in the big picture, the relatively small number of reviews of Tea Party related applications in the Cincinnati office was going to somehow capture the attention of the IRS Commissioner…who happens to be a Republican appointee.

One wonders if Ms. Martin’s indignation has anything to do with the fact that she and her husband were indebted to the IRS in the amount of over half a million dollars when they filed bankruptcy in 2008? Maybe it is Ms. Martin who owes the apology?

Still, the opportunity to make some political hay over the error will likely prove irresistible to the GOP.

So, let the Congressional hearings commence! I can’t wait to see Darrell Issa’s movie-style poster hyping these hearings as he did in this one posted to his Twitter site to get us jazzed about his Benghazi hearings—

Maybe this time he’ll spring for full-color art


By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, May 10, 2013

May 12, 2013 Posted by | IRS, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Through His Own Arrogance”: Dick Cheney Opens Himself To Subpoena Regarding 9/11, Iraq, Torture And Valerie Plame

When a former member of the Executive calls for Congress to subpoena another former member of the Executive, it is a game-changer. No longer can he rely on “Executive Privilege” to block his own testimony.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has suggested that the GOP subpoena former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton again on Benghazi.

Fine and dandy. Let us first subpoena Mr. Cheney to testify about 9/11, Iraq, torture and the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Unlike former Secretary Clinton, who has testified to Congress for hours on Benghazi, Cheney has never testified for one minute before Congress on any of these matters.

Indeed, Congress never really investigated 9/11. It appointed a commission more than a year later to determine what changes needed to be made in U.S. security, not to assign accountability. One might ask Cheney who is accountable for 9/11, who lost their jobs over it. That is what Senator John McCain (R-AZ) keeps asking about Benghazi, yet I have never heard the official answers to those questions regarding 9/11/2001.

Regarding 9/11, Cheney had been chosen (in the same way that he was ‘chosen’ to be VP nominee) by Bush to be in charge of security. The most important point to recall is that, despite all the warnings from January 25 from the then-White House counterterrorism advisor, Richard Clarke, Cheney never even called a meeting of the “principals” responsible for national security to discuss those warnings until 9/4/2001, and that meeting was perfunctory. (Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke, p. 237). It is also worth noting that New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who had no classified information, called it in a June 26, 2001 column, “A Memo from Osama bin Laden.”

Regarding Iraq, the Committee could probe how Cheney and his staff used Judith Miller to publish articles in the New York Times on Saddam’s WMD that were sourced from Cheney and that Cheney then quoted without revealing he was essentially quoting himself. They might ask him about the certainty of his public pronouncements when the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) expressed serious doubt about many of its own findings. The Committee might ask him about his references to Mohammed Atta in Prague, and, well, one would scarcely know where to begin, or end.

Regarding torture, there is recent bipartisan report that the Bush Adminstration engaged in torture and that the highest levels of government (read, Cheney and Bush) bear direct responsibility. Even the commission’s co-chair, NRA apologist and former Republican Congressman Asa Hutchinson, agreed with that finding.

The report has gone almost unnoticed. Perhaps the Cheney hearings can bring it to the fore where it belongs.

And then, of course, there is Valerie Plame. The Committee might ask him the justification for revealing classified information at all, and, by so doing, providing aid-and-comfort to enemies of the United States.

So, here’s the deal. Hillary Clinton has already testified on Benghazi once. When Dick Cheney appears before Congress to answer questions about his actions that caused the death and maiming of hundreds of thousands of people, some from incompetence, some as a result of outright lying- — then he can come talk to us about Hillary Clinton testifying again.


By: Paul Abrams, The Huffington Post, May 10, 2013

May 12, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Dick Cheney | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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