BrianGarst.com

Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.

Wednesday

21

January 2015

Celebrating Gridlock

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Liberty & Limited Government, Waste & Government Reform

There was, predictably, a lot of end-of-year handwringing about Congressional gridlock and a lack of legislative productivity. In my recent column at EveryJoe, I explain why we should be celebrating gridlock instead of whining about it.

Chastising a session of Congress as “unproductive” due to gridlock has become a sort of tradition for statist media. Whenever a new year roles around, columnists and editorial boards begin wagging their figurative fingers at Congress for failing to meet some arbitrary threshold of activity, before sagely calling on the next session to do better.

…These arguments are not new. The same stories were written last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. They are also fallacious, suffering from flaws both logical and methodological.

…The whole exercise comes off as little more than poorly disguised concern trolling, where those with ideological axes to grind seek to discredit opponents without having to engage in the messiness of debating what policies are right or wrong.

You can read it all here.

Tuesday

13

January 2015

The Case for Criminal Justice Reform in the 114th

Written by , Posted in Legislation, The Courts, Criminal Justice & Tort

I don’t see much getting done in the next two years in terms of major legislation. The reforms Republicans want aren’t likely to be signed by President Obama, and his proposals will have a hard time finding traction in Congress, even among Democrats. That said, there’s one major issue that has at least a slim chance of advancing. I explain why in my most recent column at EveryJoe.

…Recognition of serious problems in the criminal justice system spans the ideological spectrum. The left has long had its concerns, though often narrowly focused on issues of race. Libertarians, too, have been consistent in criticizing the excesses of the drug war and the police militarization it has enabled, as well as the appalling practice of civil asset forfeiture. Gross abuse of the latter, which allows police to seize property without ever charging – much less convicting – an individual with a crime, has also contributed to a growing conservative awareness of the need to address the nation’s criminal code and its enforcement.

…The organization Right on Crime has made strong inroads among conservatives in making the case for reform…

Meanwhile, libertarian Charles Koch has  trained his sights, and deep pockets, on criminal justice reform, and has stated plans to ramp up his efforts in 2015. Typically treated as a boogie-man by the left, Koch has even forged alliances with the more liberal ACLU and progressive king-maker George Soros to bolster his efforts.

Taken altogether, these groups represent a rare and potent coalition.

The rest is available here.

Sunday

11

January 2015

The War on Personal Offense

Written by , Posted in Culture & Society

There’s a lot that could be said about the attack on Paris-based satirical publisher Charlie Hebdo. It’s a horrific demonstration of Islamist barbarism. It’s also provided opportunity for western outlets like the New York Times to demonstrate their warped priorities and edit their own stories that accidentally reveal too much truth, and to cravenly refuse to print the Hebdo cartoons that so riled the terrorists despite their obvious newsworthiness.

These are important topics, but I won’t be addressing them here. Others are doing so quite well already. I want to focus on another aspect of the story, and that is its place in the liberty threatening war on personal offense.

Free speech is a required ingredient for a free society. It empowers citizens to be a check on both government and other social institutions that might overwhelm the individual. Through communication, individuals can combine their dispersed power to become a potent collective force.

The obvious threat to free speech is government, protection from which being secured by the First Amendment. But government is not the only threat. As much as there is a legal and protected right to free speech, there must also be cultural respect for free speech. And that means recognizing the value in letting others speak and be heard, even when you don’t like what they say. That doesn’t mean ideas cannot be criticized, merely that the exercise of speech should be respected and honored.

Unfortunately, there are strong currents developing aimed at devaluing speech. That they are cultural currents and thus do not implicate the First Amendment make them no less troubling, or the threat no less serious. The core of this threat is the growing belief that individuals have a right not to be offended, discomforted or otherwise upset by the speech of others.

And like most bad ideas, this one seems to be emanating most strong from universities, where a new generation of students insists that respect for feelings is more important than respect for speech. For instance, the University of Iowa pulled an anti-racism display because it featured newspaper coverage of racial tension and violence over the last century on a klansman sculpture. UI’s School of Journalism director even said that, ”If it was up to me … I would follow the lead of every European nation and ban this type of speech.”

It’s not just administrators and eggheads, either. Students are often times leading the charge to censorship. Michigan State University students demanded that George Will be disinvited as commencement speaker because he wrote a column about the college victim culture and the absurdity of “micro-aggressions.” When students fail to prevent hearing thoughts they don’t like, they heckle and scream to drown out the speaker and ensure no one else can hear them either. It’s not just the US, either. Stepford students are busy halting dialogue and preserving their hugboxes in the UK as well.

These are deeply disturbing trends of which I’ve only just barely scratched the surface.  It’s disturbing because valuing comfort over the give and take of ideas first leads to stagnation as militant orthodoxy prohibits new ideas, and then eventually to oppression when majority views are no longer able to be challenged.

For free speech to have any meaning, there must be a right to offend. And for it to be effective, the right to offend must be absolute.

Monday

5

January 2015

Who Wants an Internet Running at the Speed of Government?

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Government Meddling, Liberty & Limited Government

My most recent column for EveryJoe explains why the most recent proposals in the name of “net neutrality” are a bad idea.

Most agree that it would be bad for the internet if the service providers (ISPs) that connect users to the internet arbitrarily blocked or throttled access to certain sites. The internet has thrived as a bastion of freedom, and no one who appreciates the vast economic and social benefits derived from its emergence wants that to change. Yet due to their misunderstanding of both the architecture of the internet and the government’s interest in it, it is those who claim most loudly to want to save the internet that have put it in jeopardy.

By seeking to make the government arbiter of the net, agitators for regulation to enforce net neutrality would put responsibility for the net’s protection in the hands of those least capable of dealing with its complex and continuously evolving nature. To make matters worse, they would do so to fight off a largely imagined problem…

Read the rest here. I should add, because I may not have done a good enough job of this in the piece, that specific legislative proposals are not the same thing as ideas. You can get the warm and fuzzies over net neutrality (though as I argue in the piece there’s a lot of misunderstanding over even existing internet rules), and still not believe that government regulation is the way to go.

I also want to direct anyone looking for more info to TechFreedom.

Saturday

27

December 2014

Perhaps the Most Important Issue for the New Congress to Get Right

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Economics & the Economy, Liberty & Limited Government, Taxes, Waste & Government Reform

My column this week at EveryJoe argues the need for reform at CBO and JCT. It may seem like inside baseball type stuff, but it is critically important if we ever want to be able to shrink government.

Imagine you were participating for years in a high stakes contest that was consistently rigged in favor of your opponent. Specifically, the contest hinges heavily on the verdict of third-party judges that claim neutrality, but in fact choose to interpret the rules in a way that tilts the field in favor of the opposition.

Now, image you have the opportunity to replace those judges with new ones, as well as to make their deliberations more transparent and accountable. Would you take advantage and replace the judges, even if the opposition cried foul? The answer to this question may seem obvious, but for Congressional Republicans it’s not just a hypothetical, and they are pondering once again making the stupid choice to accept the status quo.

The organizations represented by the biased judges in this scenario are the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), which score policy proposals and predict the impact of legislation on the economy. They’ve typically held tremendous power over what does and does not make it into law, and for years have been actively hostile to the limited government agenda.

With current CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf’s term about to expire, Republicans not only have the power to name a better replacement, but also the opportunity to make some much needed rule changes that will ensure a fairer, more accurate, and more accountable legislative scoring system.

You can read the rest here.

Since I wrote the piece, news has leaked that Republicans intend to replace Elmendorf. This is good news, but it’s only a start. As the article explains, much more needs to be changed than just the man at the top. This Washington Examiner editorial also makes the case for moving toward accurate scoring.

Saturday

27

December 2014

Critics, Not Uber, Should Apologize

Written by , Posted in Economics & the Economy

I recently sent the following letter to the Washington Post:

To the Editor:

Many reacted with disgust to the story about Uber’s use of surge-pricing during the recent hostage taking in Sydney [“Uber backtracks after jacking up prices during Sydney hostage crisis”]. Yet if actions are to be judged by outcomes rather than intentions, it is these critics and not Uber who should be forced to apologize.

When catastrophic events happen and people desperately require food, water, batteries, or transportation, higher prices encourage more suppliers to put themselves into danger and meet critical needs. Uber’s surge-pricing, in other words, encouraged drivers to help people escape the danger area by providing the extra incentive necessary to justify putting themselves in jeopardy.

Moral preening that results in rules to cap prices in times of emergency deny those most in need of a good or service precisely that which could save their life. Uber may be guilty of a callous disregard for the delicate sensibilities of those never quite comfortable with the functioning of a free market, but at least they don’t put the preservation of an emotionally-driven moral comfort zone above the welfare of their fellows.

Brian Garst
Director of Government Affairs
Center for Freedom & Prosperity

Friday

19

December 2014

A Moral Panic Over ‘Rape Culture’

Written by , Posted in Culture & Society

The folks at EveryJoe have been kind enough to offer me a platform for a weekly column under the title Free Radical. It will feature many of the same topics I address here, though are likely to be a bit more in-depth.

The first column is up today, and takes a look at the troubling emergence of a new moral panic:

Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Erdely’s sensational tale of a gang rape at a University of Virginia frat house has been unraveling practically since the day it was published. From the beginning, the article’s parade of sociopathetic characters – both the alleged perpetrators and the friends of Jackie, the pseudonymous accuser – were hard for many to believe. Other claims, such as the idea that Jackie was rolled around on broken glass for three hours without sustaining serious injuries requiring hospitalization, were simply nonsensical. It took only minimal scrutiny and the kind of basic fact-checking that should have preceded publication to poke major holes in the story, eventually forcing Rolling Stone to repeatedly backtrack and apologize.

Perhaps the final blow to the sordid tale came in the form of a Washington Post story featuring interviews with Jackie’s friends, who despite never being contacted by Erdely were portrayed as more concerned with their social status and popularity than getting Jackie help or justice. Not only do they refute that account, but they also claim that Jackie identified her alleged attacker to them, only to have it turn out that no such person attended the university or met the description provided.

Even more interesting than how Erdely botched the facts is why it happened.

Simply put, Jackie’s tale was too good to verify. It fit neatly the “rape culture” narrative that contends not only that the nation is suffering an epidemic of sexual assaults, but that the public is grossly indifferent to the plight of female victims, particularly on college campuses.

The rape culture narrative has become so ubiquitous that it has reached the level of a moral panic, with ideologues seeing signs of its influence everywhere. And like the moral panics that have come before, it is becoming a major threat to individual liberty.

You can find the entire piece here.

Wednesday

10

December 2014

Uncle Sam’s Global Tax Web is Indefensible

Written by , Posted in Taxes

I recently sent the following letter to the The New York Times. They indicated it would run, but I’ve given them enough time and it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, so I’m publishing here.

To the Editor:

Roger Cohen offered a valiant defense for the United States’ global tax web (“Get Real, Boris Johnson!” Nov. 28), but in the end proved only that it is indefensible. In his effort to shame American expat and London Mayor Boris Johnson for rightfully defying Uncle Sam’s greedy fiscal imperialism, the strongest argument he could muster was that “it’s the law.”

Thankfully, modern man has long progressed past the stage of believing that questions of right and wrong, or moral and immoral, can be so easily dispatched through consultation with lawyers. Cohen is correct, to be sure, that Uncle Sam has proclaimed the entire globe his financial playpen, but that is to our shame, and not Johnson’s for daring to stand on the very same principle upon which this nation was founded.

It’s also true that Johnson could renounce his American citizenship, but Uncle Sam has thought of that too. Yet even double taxing through an exit tax on after-tax earnings, plus an outrageous $2,350 fee, has not prevented record numbers from saying enough is enough.

Brian Garst
Director of Government Affairs
Center for Freedom & Prosperity

Update 1/5/15: They ran it after all.

Tuesday

25

November 2014

Case for Criminal Justice Reform Goes Well Beyond Ferguson

Written by , Posted in The Courts, Criminal Justice & Tort

Last night’s announcement that Officer Darren Wilson would not be charged in the shooting of Michael Brown has been followed by violent riots in Ferguson, as well as more peaceful demonstrations throughout the nation. Opinion among the commentary class has unsurprisingly polarized and cleaved along traditional lines, with the left all in an identity politics and the right firmly entrenched in a law and order mentality. Both, I think, are missing the significance of the events taking place.

First, I want to make clear that the looting, destruction and violence taking place in Ferguson should not and cannot be excused. The responsibility for these crimes rests entirely with the individuals committing them, and in an ideal world they would be held firmly accountable for their actions.

Second, I think the specific facts of the incident in question must be separated from the broader social and policy questions. On the facts, I’ll just say that I think the overall outcome that Officer Wilson will not be criminally punished is probably correct, though the standard for gran jury indictment is typically so low that allowing a trial would have been acceptable, even welcome, under the circumstances.

The evidence suggests that officer Wilson was indeed attacked inside his vehicle and that, at some point, Brown disengaged and Wilson pursued. The crux of the case is whether Brown was surrendering or turning to fight at the time he was shot. Perhaps no one knows with absolute certainty whether the shooting was unavoidable, not even Wilson, but the forensic evidence from my understanding is consistent with Wilson’s story, and most of the evidence ambiguous to the point that Wilson would have most likely been acquitted, and rightly so according to the high standards we ought to require for actual conviction.

Regardless, the grand jury verdict has not settled the discussion. While the divisive voices of identity politics are wrong to break this episode entirely down to that of a racial injustice, so too are their critics who see in Ferguson’s aftermath only mindless riots and a need for the restoration of order through force and escalation.

That the right decision was most likely reached in the case doesn’t change the fact that, as Walter Olsen says, “our system for dealing with police use of deadly force is broken.” Illustrating the point, consider the typical outcome for a grand jury. The old saw is that a good prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, and in federal cases (where data is available), grand juries opt to indict 99.99 percent of the time. The single variable that turns the statistic completely around is when a police officer is the potential defendant. Under those circumstances grand juries almost never indict. Possible explanations include excessive deference on part of jurors to police, or disinterest on the part of prosecutors at potentially angering the very police upon which their profession relies on having good relations. In either case, the number of incidents of police misconduct that go unpunished poses a serious problem.

We are seeing the consequence of that problem play out now. The communities that most often come into contact with the police – poor, urban, and minority – trust them the least. This not only makes policing those communities more difficult, but when tensions reach a high enough level it can boil over into social unrest and violence. Simply put, if the police were more believable, and public perceptions generally indicated faith in the ability of the criminal justice system to punish police misconduct, what’s happening in Ferguson right now would not be occurring.

Because the thin blue line works more often than not to protect incompetent, corrupt or malicious officers, broad swaths of the public simply do not trust the system to return a just verdict, even in a case such as this where the outcome was seemingly appropriate. That’s a problem that requires serious institutional changes both in terms of what the law says, such as ending the Drug War, and how it is enforced, including reversing the militarization of police forces, ending practices such a civil asset forfeiture that pit the interests of police against the public, building better relations between departments and the communities they serve, and, perhaps most importantly, consistently and transparently punishing officers who break the law. Until these things are done, we can expect what has occurred in Ferguson to happen again and again.

Friday

21

November 2014

Ignoring the President is Healthy for the Republic

Written by , Posted in Culture & Society, Liberty & Limited Government, Media Bias

President Obama’s immigration speech wasn’t carried live on the four major networks – NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox. He never officially requested the time from the networks because initial inquiries suggested the requests would all be denied. The White House is peeved, and its freelance propagandists in the media are none too happy either.

John Nichols of The Nation, for instance, is livid that networks didn’t jump at the opportunity to upend their schedules and force the President’s speechifying down their viewers throats. Inexcusably, networks chose “relentless profiteering” over being dutiful agents of the President’s political apparatus. That, he says, is “one important part of why this great democracy is not working as well as it could.”

Balderdash. The fact that private life goes on largely undistributed by the political machinations of a self-indulgent President is a sign of a restoring vitality in our republic.

A king might expect citizens to drop whatever they are doing to attend to every egotistic whim of the crown. An American president not only needs no such luxury, but ought not seek it. Except in the most serious of emergencies, the proper role of the president is to attend to enforcement of the law. Outside military affairs he is simply a chief executive, a glorified bureaucrat putting the ideas of Congress into practice. Certainly, he has a role in crafting law as well, but more so by exercise of political power than granted authority. But that political power has limits, as President Obama has experienced.

Americans should not have much tolerance for a President who seeks to grab society by the horns and steer it wherever he pleases. That has never been the American way, where individual rights and preferences are held in reverence.

Nichols ties the decision of the networks into what he sees as a broader battle for civic engagement:

Former Federal Communications Commission member Michael Copps has repeatedly warned in recent years of the threat posed to democracy by the “diminished and too often dumbed-down civic dialogue” that emerges when those who broadcast on the people’s airwaves fail to serve the people’s interest.

Copps explains, “Our country confronts challenges to its viability in some ways reminiscent of the 1930s, making it a national imperative that every American be empowered with the news and information essential for knowledgeable decision-making. Without that, the challenges go misunderstood, untended, unresolved. When our media, our press and our journalism catch cold, democracy catches pneumonia.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, sees the network neglect of a particular presidential address as just one measure of a broader crisis for democracy that results when media are no longer “educating the American people so that we’re debating the real issues.”

When these elites worry that Americans are no longer being educated about the “real issues,” what they mean is that they are no longer having their thinking done for them by those who know better. There is more information available than ever before, and it is no longer filtered through a regimented point of view. In a world of cable television and 24/7 news stations, the “network” distinction is all but irrelevant. Those who cared to see the speech easily could do so. What troubles Nichols and his ilk is that there were other choices available at all.

What they see as evidence of some crisis in political engagement, I see as a healthy awareness of the limited importance of collective action. What has always made America great is recognition that the everyday decisions of millions of free and productive people outweigh the preferences of a tiny, centralized few. The private must maintain supremacy over the public. The more that people tune out Washington’s self-indulgent and excessively frequent demands for attention, the more time is available for them to live their lives, exercise their liberty, and pursue their own happiness.