Thursday, September 20, 2018

Note to #FREEPRESS: A Free Press Derives from Freedom of Speech

The New Jersey Star-Ledger joined a coordinated global editorial campaign to defend freedom of the press “in light of President Trump’s frequent attacks on the media.” Led by The Boston Globe’s #FREEPRESS campaign, the global barrage aims to push back against Trump’s labeling of the mainstream press “the enemy of the people.” In Think your enemy is the press? So does every tyrant and corrupt politician, the Star-Ledger gives a spirited defense of a free press, saying:

Like Putin, or Stalin, Trump knows he doesn't need to convince his base that everything he says is true; just that everybody else is a liar, including the press that fact-checks him. Because when people believe that the real truth is unknowable, they grow cynical, and prefer to tune out and believe no one.

And so we have "the enemy of the people," a phrase straight out of George Orwell's dark imagination. But the real enemy of the people is never a free press, which holds the powerful accountable. It is a government that wants to be the sole arbiter of truth.

My emphasis. I left these comments:

A free press is a derivative of free speech, which belongs to everyone. Yet free speech is under attack, including by much of the press. The attack masquerades as fighting “fake news”--a term that came to us courtesy of the left after Trump’s win. The attack comes as “net neutrality,” “campaign finance reform,” calls to ban “hate speech,” fear mongering about so-called “dark money,” and other gimmicks. It comes in the form of political threats, such as when Senator Diane Feinstein told Facebook, Google, and Twitter that their platforms were being “misused,” "and you have to be the ones who do something about it—or we will”--which is censorship by proxy.

Much of the press, including the Star-Ledger, supports these free speech restrictions. That’s shocking. You can't have freedom of the press without freedom of speech, which makes freedom of speech the more fundamental right. Restrict freedom of speech for non-press individuals, and sooner or later the restrictions will be extended to the press. It is truly disingenuous to lecture us on the importance of press freedom while supporting free speech restrictions on everyone else.

Journalists are not some privileged elite. Their free speech rights are no more important than anyone else’s. Except in very narrow cases where speech is directly and imminently linked to violence or fraud—which are really not free speech issues—no one’s freedom of speech and expression should be restricted. All free speech is vital to individual liberty, to a free republic, and to truth-seeking.


There’s no question that a free press is a vital means of holding the government accountable. But who holds the press accountable--especially a press that is complicit in supporting a statist political faction that seeks to roll back individual rights not just to speech but gun ownership, free association, and property? The rest of us--the non-press masses--through our rights to express ourselves at our own expense, that's who. Who the hell is the Star-Ledger to stop us from holding them accountable?

Note the precision of the Framers. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” First speech, then freedom of the press. It’s obvious that speech is the broader principle. Press is a form of free speech, but not the only form. If this is not clear enough, observe that a journalist reporting on a President’s policy is practicing freedom of the press, but also necessarily practicing freedom of speech. But someone giving a speech in a lecture hall on that policy is necessarily expressing her freedom of speech, even though not press freedom.

It’s shocking that so much of the press, especially on the Left, so strongly fights to restrict freedom of speech for the rest of us, when a few moments of thought should tell them that there is no way to restrict others’ speech and claim that such restrictions shouldn’t be applied to the press, as well.
Related Reading:

The First Amendment

Freedom of Speech and Press are Linked

Obama Urges Amendment to Overturn the First Amendment

Anti-First Amendment Democracy for All Amendment Introduced in Senate

Citizens United and the Battle for Free Speech in America—Steve Simpson

Steve Simpson on Continuing Threats to Corporate Free SpeechTOS interview

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

16 Year Old Voters? How About 21?

There is a movement to lower the voting age to 16. In a New Jersey Star-Ledger guest column, We see the power of mobilized youth. Now lower the voting age, Rutgers-Camden professor Dan Hart argues the case. “Sixteen- and 17-year-olds,” Hart argues, “have the capabilities necessary to vote effectively.”

I left these comments:

Lower the voting age to 16? Aren’t the schools mediocre enough already?

You’ll get uneducated teenagers who haven’t learned to articulate their own viewpoints--in fact, likely haven’t even developed their own viewpoints--being sent out to vote. That’s completely backward. Far more important to a free society than the vote is freedom of speech. Foundational to free speech is the ability to think objectively and independently, so one can use one’s intellectual freedom most effectively. From what I’ve observed, schools don’t educate. They indoctrinate--especially on politically charged issues.

Given that America’s schools are dominated by a political action group, the so-called Teachers Union, this is not surprising. Giving 16 year olds the vote is in effect giving the teachers extra votes. Unless, of course, the parents de-program their kids, in which case the parents most likely get an extra vote.

Even politicized schools aside, politics has no place in the schools. On what basis do children form opinions that are actually their own? Informed political opinions begin with a firm and BALANCED foundation in political philosophy, not just civics. And in economics. Where do they get that? Most of what kids learn, especially about current political events, comes after the high school years, in their adult years when they begin to get real life experience. The schools should be focussed on training young minds how to think and analyze, and gain a love of learning. Schools shouldn’t be corrupted by politicization. If anything, it’d be better to raise the voting age to 21.

Related Reading:

Voting Rights are Not the ‘Most Fundamental Right’—or Even a Fundamental Right

Why It’s Time To Raise The Voting Age Back To 21—Robert Tracinski

Sunday, September 16, 2018

On This Constitution Day, Remember the Declaration of Independence

230 years ago, on September 17, 1787, the Constitutional Convention ended and the Constitution of the United States of America was signed. This day is officially known as Constitution Day.

It was also an occasion for one columnist to declare that the US Constitution is "broken." The New Jersey Star-Ledger's Tom Moran wrote five years ago:

Kids in America are taught to venerate the Constitution, almost as if it were the word of God.

And that’s exactly what Thomas Jefferson feared. He believed it was flawed, that experience would teach each generation new lessons and that it should be redone every 19 years.

But Jefferson lost the argument. And so the Founders signed a Constitution 225 [230] years ago tomorrow that is an impregnable fortress, firmly set against the forces of change that Jefferson welcomed and almost impossible to amend.

Does that make sense? Haven’t we learned valuable lessons over the past few centuries about how democracies thrive, and how they stagnate? In a day when our federal government is so dysfunctional, shouldn't we at least consider fundamental changes?

University of Texas Professor Sanford Levinson is advocating a series of such fundamental changes to the US Constitution, which Moran discusses in his column. Levinson's proposals include instituting a direct popular vote for president and measures to greatly weaken the checks and balances that limit the power of any one branch of government. In essence, Levinson's purpose, according to Moran, is to expand the power of majority rule and break Washington's political "gridlock," which has made our federal government "dysfunctional."

Moran approvingly cites Thomas Jefferson who, as Moran strongly implies, would welcome these constitutional changes, or any changes suited to any generation.

Before we discuss ways to expand the power of electoral majority rule so as to enable the government to get more done, we need to have a conversation about what the government's proper job it is to do.

The American constitution's basic function is to limit government's power to the protection of individual rights. This is spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, the philosophical blueprint for the constitution. Any discussion about the constitution has to begin with the Declaration--which, incidentally, was written by Thomas Jefferson:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .

In its essentials, this 55 word statement of proper government says:

  • Rights are held equally and at all times by all people.
  • Rights belong inextricably to the individual by virtue of his nature as a human being.
  • Rights are guarantees to freedom of action; to the pursuit of happiness, not to happiness guaranteed by the labor or wealth of others.
  • Rights precede government.
  • Government is created exclusively to “secure”—i.e., protect—rights.
  • Government’s “just powers” being authorized by the people, through a popular vote.
  • “Just powers” being only those powers required for government to fulfill the purpose for which it was created to begin with—to legally protect the people’s unalienable individual rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

Of course, this is not the "Word of God," to be accepted uncritically. Each of these points requires extensive philosophical backup. None of these "truths" are in fact "self-evident." They must be learned and validated scientifically; i.e., morally and philosophically, as determined by the observable facts of reality concerning man and his requirements for survival and flourishing. But these are the essentials, as I see it.

The Founders did not intend to create a democracy, despite Moran's devious attempt to smuggle in that premise. They created a constitutionally limited republic protective of the liberty and rights of the individual, under which the constitution "carefully limits the power of the majority by drawing a legal boundry around it" (P. 113)—a boundry that stops majority and elected officials' power where individual rights begin. The Founders understood that government presupposes individual rights. So the constitutional discussion must begin with the questions: What are rights, and what is the proper function of government?

As the Declaration states, every individual is "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Since productive work is the only means of sustaining one's life and achieving happiness, it's obvious that the Founders understood--including in Jefferson's own words--that property rights are among those rights. The Declaration then states "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men." Rights—which in fact are not endowments by either nature or God but moral principles derived from observations and facts about human nature—are sanctions to freedom of action in a social context, not a claim on the lives and property of others or a government guarantee of material well-being and happiness. Notice that the constitution does not authorize government to redistribute private wealth.

Moran is wrong. America hasn't stagnated. It has "progressed" from what was a largely free country a century ago to a burgeoning regulatory welfare state—a dangerous regressionary trend. Why? Because the fundamental principles upon which the constitution rests have been largely abandoned, opening the door to the piecemeal progression toward unlimited majoritarian rule, a manifestation of totalitarianism. Consequently, our best short-term protection against further encroachments on individual rights--and it's a weak protection--is political gridlock. I can't think of anything more dangerous to America's future than to begin tampering with the basics of the constitution in today's cultural environment. Before we consider unshackling majority rule, we must rediscover our Founding principles, roll back the regulatory welfare state, and provide ironclad guarantees that no one's rights be alienated by majority vote; i.e., respect the original intent of the constitution.

The Founders did not intend to replace absolute monarchy with absolute majority rule unconstrained by the principle of individual rights. As Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) asked during a debate over the propriety of the Revolutionary War in the movie "The Patriot", "Why should I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away? An elected legislature can trample a man's rights as easily as a king can."

The answer: We shouldn't. As Jefferson said, "the majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society." The Founders were not primarily concerned with giving the people the right to vote. They intended to liberate the people from predatory government, whether monarchistic, theocratic, or democratic.

There are those who would invert the original concept of Americanism—that the individual is sovereign and his life belongs to him—and replace it with the idea that the collective—i.e., the state—is sovereign over the individual. It is an attempted transition from republican constitutionalism to democracy; from individualism to collectivism. We cannot let the reactionaries succeed. The fight to defeat the reactionaries and restore and renew Americanism can start with this: As we celebrate Constitution Day, remember what I call the Constitution’s philosophic blueprint, or what has also been called the Conscience of the Constitution—the Declaration of Independence.

Related Reading:

Friday, September 14, 2018

QUORA: ‘How do capitalists justify the inequality/high disparity part of a capitalistic society that a socialistic system tends to stop?’

I posted this answer:

First of all, let’s define “inequality/high disparity.” Political inequality is unequivocally bad: It means the absence of equal protection of the law. Capitalism is the system of political equality—that is, the inalienable individual rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness and its corollary, the equal protection thereof under the law.

Second, let’s be clear that we are talking about when we say “capitalists.” I am answering as a capitalist in the broad philosophical sense, not in the narrower sense as a businessperson or investor.

Economic inequality/high disparity is a sign of a healthy and highly moral society where each individual is free to rise economically as far as his own personal attributes—his rationality, ability, ambition, values, goals, interests, temperaments, natural potentialities, personal circumstances, moral character, et al—will productively carry him. How high any productive individual’s attributes will carry him is determined not by central state planners (physical coercion) but by the market—that is, the cumulative voluntary choices of the individuals the producer trades with.            

Why “highly moral?” Because in a capitalist society, where force is banned from human relationships and government protects individual rights equally and at all times, the only way to advance economically is to earn (make) money is through voluntary trade; that is, to produce a value that others, by their own judgment, willingly pay you for.** Trade is the win-win exchange of value for value. To make money is to create value for others. Those who make a lot of money are those who produce a lot of value for a lot of people. Those who make mega-fortunes improve the lives for millions. I love my Dell computer, which I’m typing on right now. It’s made my life better. Should I resent Michael Dell his fortune, just because there are tens of millions of other similar individual Dell owners? But it doesn’t end there. Michael Dell benefits once—my payment--and in an incalculably small way. I benefit every time I turn on my Dell computer, for as long as I have it. It’s more than five years worth of benefit, and counting. Inequality? You bet. I benefit vastly more from my one Dell computer than Michael Dell does. Dell’s fortune results from the fact that there are tens of millions of beneficiaries just like me. What great humanitarians the Michael Dells of the world are!

Capitalist economic inequality is not bad. It is capitalism’s virtue. What can be more virtuous than a social system whereby the rich build their fortunes by lifting everyone they deal with.

Socialism is immoral precisely because it seeks to equalize people in direct contradiction to the rich diversity across the individual spectrum of society. Socialism is thoroughly utopian--that is, contrary to human nature--by philosophical design. By design, socialism—in the name of stopping inequality—forcibly prevents people from expressing their personal desires and attributes through economic activity, impoverishing everyone. Stop someone from making money, and you stop his would-have-been customers from improving their lives. Perhaps the worst part of socialism is not that it prevents the best and brightest from flourishing and making the world a better place. The worst part of socialism that it kills aspiration and hope of ever flourishing and prospering, sacrificing upward mobility on the altar of economic equality.

Capitalism—of which I mean laissez-faire, not today’s cronyistic, mixed economy regulatory welfare states—naturally results from freedom, which means the right of each individual to pursue his own happiness, for his own sake, by his own effort, so long as he respects the same rights of others, dealing with others by voluntary consent to mutual advantage, in a free market, without government favors. Such human interaction results in economic inequality. Capitalists do not have to “justify”  economic inequality/high disparity, because it is not a flaw. Inequality/high disparity should be celebrated. It is the economic justification of capitalism. The only way to kill inequality is to cripple individual achievement by force, which is why socialism always leads to economic paralysis and collapse, and ultimately to totalitarianism of one form or another (e.g., communism, national socialism, etc.). Political equality and economic inequality are corollary, mutually reinforcing hallmarks of capitalism, which is why capitalism is the only moral social system. Socialism is capitalism’s antipode.

Related Reading:

* [Quora is a social media website founded by two former Facebook employees. According to Wikipedia:

Quora is a question-and-answer website where questions are created, answered, edited and organized by its community of users. The company was founded in June 2009, and the website was made available to the public on June 21, 2010.[3]Quora aggregates questions and answers to topics. Users can collaborate by editing questions and suggesting edits to other users' answers.[4]

You can also reply to other users’ answers.]

** [NOTE: money “earned” through fraud is not truly earned, and laws against fraud are vital to capitalism. Also, I am leaving aside the issue of gifting or inheritance, which is irrelevant to the current discussion.]

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Zuckerberg Announces Coordinated Attack on Intellectual freedom

Is that dramatic title justified? Let’s take a look at what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed. In the following rather long excerpts, pay attention to the emphasized portions, which are mine. In Mark Zuckerberg: Protecting democracy is an arms race, Zuckerberg wrote:

Key to our efforts has been finding and removing fake accounts — the source of much of the abuse, including misinformation. Bad actors can use computers to generate these in bulk. But with advances in artificial intelligence, we now block millions of fake accounts every day as they are being created so they can’t be used to spread spam, false news or inauthentic ads.

Increased transparency in our advertising systems is another area where we have also made progress. You can now see all the ads an advertiser is running — even if they aren’t targeted to you. Anyone who wants to run political or issue ads in the United States on Facebook must verify their identity. All political and issue ads must also make clear who paid for them, in the same way as TV or newspaper advertisements. But we’ve gone even further by putting all these ads in a public archive, which anyone can search to see how much was spent on each individual ad and the audience it reached. This greater transparency will increase responsibility and accountability for advertisers.

As we’ve seen from previous elections, misinformation is a real challenge. A big part of the solution is getting rid of fake accounts. But it’s also about attacking the spammers’ economic incentives to create false news in the first place. And where posts are flagged as potentially false, we pass them to independent fact-checkers — such as the Associated Press and the Weekly Standardto review, and we demote posts rated as false, which means they lose 80 percent of future traffic.

We’re not working alone. After 2016, it became clear that everyone — governments, tech companies and independent experts — needs to do a better job of sharing the signals and information they have to prevent this kind of abuse. These bad actors don’t restrict themselves to one service, and we shouldn’t approach the problem in silos, either. That’s why we’re working more closely with other technology companies on the cybersecurity threats we all face, and we’ve worked with law enforcement to take down accounts in Russia.

“Governments, tech companies and independent experts.” “independent fact-checkers — such as the Associated Press and the Weekly Standard.” What’s missing from this list? We the individuals that make up the general public, who will never get to analyze for ourselves the “misinformation” or “false news.” What we will be allowed to see will be decided by “the experts.”

Now, private companies like Facebook have the right to manage their networks, even if it involves bias reflecting management’s political leanings (although that would be stupid business). But this goes beyond that. Straight from the horse’s mouth, we see that there is an unholy alliance between governments, big companies, the established big media, and who knows what other “independent experts.”

There may be regulatory extortion going on, such as when Senator Dianne Feinstein warned Facebook, Google, and Twitter, "You created these platforms, and now they're being misused. And you have to be the ones who do something about it—or we will." Or when Sen. Al Franken criticized these companies because they "failed to take commonsense precautions to prevent the spread of propaganda, misinformation, and hate speech." Given the regulatory power these politicians have, these statements can only be taken as threats. And how much pressure is being applied behind the scenes--and in what manner?

But however this unholy “fact-checking” alliance has come about, it’s a major threat. Governments can censor directly, or through the regulatory apparatus. This is not to say that private companies should not cooperate with law enforcement when legitimate laws are broken, such as laws banning foreign governments from interfering in our elections. But putting an “expert” elite in charge of being the arbiter of truth is a power associated with dictators, not American law. In America, intellectual freedom is the law, and is codified in the First Amendment--freedom of religion (conscience), speech, press, association, and petition. Free countries leave everyone--truly everyone--free to express and debate and get at the truth, as Americans always have--free from expert information and news gatekeepers. Wasn’t that Facebook’s original mission?

Related Reading:

The Life and Death of a Hollywood Blacklist: Sometimes censorship is a public-private partnership.--Jesse Walker for Reason

The Banning of Alex Jones: Facebook Choice or Regulatory Extortion?

Note to Net Neutralityists: Be Careful What You Wish For

The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech--by Kimberley Strassel

The Anti-Free Speech Fallacy of ‘Dark Money’

Making Private Donations Anonymously is a Right

Monday, September 10, 2018

Is the Russia/Trump Probe the Democrats’ Version of the ‘Birther Movement?’

In response to Paul Mulshine’s July 2017 New Jersey Star-Ledger op-ed 'Unhinged' anti-Trumpers are Russian to conclusions, I left this brief comment:

Russia is looking more and more like the Democrats’ version of the “Birther Movement,” which spent eight years trying to get Obama impeached based on the notion that he is not a natural born citizen. It’s looks like the “Russianer Movement”—or whatever we want to call it—is going to spend the next eight years trying to get Trump impeached.

I think it still holds true today, more than a year later. And yes, I believe Trump will be reelected in 2020 especially if the Democrats take one or both houses of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Why the Flag Belongs in the New Neil Armstrong Movie

Why the Flag Belongs in the New Neil Armstrong Movie
Homer Hickam writes in the Washington Post about a new movie celebrating Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon. In  The new Neil Armstrong movie is about more than the lunar flag-planting, In his positive review of the movie, Hickam focuses on the fact that the planting of the American Flag by Neil Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon was omitted from the film:

More than a few Americans are fed up with Hollywood and want no part of what the industry produces. For a while now, once-unifying entertainment awards shows have become minefields of woke declarations and Trump-bashing, which are perceived by many Americans who voted for the president as insults directed not just at him but also at them.

This has now thrown “First Man,” a major new movie about one of America’s greatest heroes, into the path of some hard cultural head winds. Back in 1969, in the real world, Neil Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin spent some 10 minutes raising the American flag on the lunar surface. But in the film version the flag scene is nowhere to be found. When the question of why came up last month at the Venice Film Festival, Ryan Gosling, the actor who plays Armstrong in “First Man,” stumbled with his answer, explaining that the landing was a “human achievement” and that Armstrong didn’t view himself as an “American hero.”

The result was outrage, especially from many of the folks who’ve felt insulted by Hollywood’s recent history. Although I count myself among those who think Hollywood should stay out of politics, I think the folks railing against “First Man” are wrong.

The history here is instructive. Although the lunar flag-planting may seem like a given in hindsight, for months before the flight of Apollo 11 there was a debate within the federal government and in the press as to the wisdom of doing it. The argument for the flag was that the voyage was an entirely American effort that was paid for by American taxpayers, who deserved to see their flag planted in the lunar regolith. The argument against was that it could cast the landing in the eyes of the world as a nationalistic exercise, diminishing what was otherwise indisputably a triumph of American values and ideals, not to mention a demonstration of our technical superiority over our great adversary, the Soviet Union.

My emphasis. But aren’t those ideals universal? Aren’t those ideals exactly what the flag stands for? Aren’t all men, not just Americans, equal in their rights to their life and liberty, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.? Don’t all men have the right to pursue their own happiness under a government designed not to rule but to “secure these rights?” Shouldn’t all men be free to live by their own conscientious beliefs; to express themselves through speech and press without fear of governmental retribution; to associate freely and be free to criticize his government; to work and keep property earned through his own efforts; to be considered innocent until proven guilty?

What is it about American ideals that do not apply equally to all people everywhere? The Declaration of Independence says “all men.” Those words have been an inspiration the world over, for good reason. Neil Diamond said it best in his song “America”: “Every time that flag’s unfurled, they’re coming to America”--any time, anywhere, people can be American.

America is unique. It is more than a country. Count me among those who believe the flag-raising should be included. Not because of collectivistic nationalism. And not because American taxpayers footed the bill--although that is certainly important. But because the economic political, and intellectual freedom represented by the flag made it possible for government to fund the moon venture: Without free enterprise--free minds and free markets--to draw on, the moon landing would never have happened. The argument for the flag is precisely that it is “indisputably a triumph of American values and ideals.” Americanism is universal. It stands for freedom everywhere.

Hickam says he “personally would have included the flag-raising,” but that if First Man the movie is true to the book of the same title it is supposedly based on, “It is not the story of the moon-landing but of the world-famous astronaut himself.” Maybe. Maybe the flag was omitted for innocent reasons. But Hickam himself “personally would have included the flag-raising.”

Hickam observes many Americans’ disgust at Hollywood’s blatant politicizing, and he himself acknowledges that “I count myself among those who think Hollywood should stay out of politics.” I haven’t read the book. But if I have time to go see the movie, maybe I’ll come away with a different take. But given Hollywood’s overt one-sidedness, I strongly suspect that the flag was kept out of the movie precisely because Hollywood stands against American ideals--ideals rooted in individualism. Hollywood is predominantly collectivist/socialist/Marxist in its political leanings in direct opposition to the Declaration of Independence. It wants to push the myth that the moon landing was a collectivistic “human achievement.” It was not. It was an achievement of the cooperative efforts of free individuals united by choice to a common purpose and goal. The only sense in which the moon landing was a human achievement is that it shows what individual humans are capable of when left free--when they are individually treated equally before the law, based on their unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Related Reading:

Our Republican Constitution: Securing the Liberty and Sovereignty of We the People--Randy E. Barnett