Thursday, October 16, 2014

Houston control

The internet is abuzz over the subpoena of sermons and communication records of five Houston area Pastors. There is merit to the assumptions that the move by the Mayor of Houston is intended to have a "chilling effect" on speech from the pulpit, or intimidate preachers into staying out of political issues. Unfortunately, there is a deeper issue that should not be lost in the larger discussion. How is the information sought by the subpoena intended to be used by the Mayor's legal team?

When the City of Houston passed an ordinance expanding gay rights it ran afoul of public sentiment over bathroom access for transgenders. Similar ordinances in other places have resulted in young girls being forced to deal with naked men in women's locker rooms or saunas. What we thought was crazy in Seattle a couple of years ago, is now on the verge of becoming "normal" in Houston. A Houston petition drive gathered several times the number of required signatures to have the removal of the ordinance placed on the November ballot. The city is now responding to a law suit over its rejection of the petition. The rationale behind that rejection is what needs some serious scrutiny.

The City of Houston is asserting that the petition was rejected because the signatures were improperly collected. In order to bolster their case that the signatures were improperly collected they now want to know how involved churches were in the process. The point of their argument is that signatures collected at church, or collected by drives organized at church, or even signatures resulting from the persuasion of church leaders are invalid. To have this type of thought process coming from elected officials is deeply disturbing. If the City of Houston's argument is successful, the ramifications for the 1st Amendment are profound.

Elections have consequences at every level of government. Local races often get little attention from voters, but the impact that these races have on our society can be dramatic. Whether a candidate is running for school board, or President of the United States, that candidate's philosophy regarding individual liberties and constitutional government must be an essential part of the vetting process. Remember to vote the entire ballot this November.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Presidents sans frontieres

"Borders? We don't need no stinkin' borders." - Barack Obama 2014.

Okay, it's not an actual quote. But it should be clear to everyone by now that an unsecured Southern border - in addition to being a great plot element for an American disaster film - is not much of a concern for our sitting President. Actually, the list of people that aren't concerned about America's borders seems depressingly long. For the past several years it has been pretty common to hear people use words like "de-facto" when describing the open border policies of the United States. I think the pretense can now be dropped.

At what point do we stop considering the imaginary boundary between the United States and Mexico, or the customs desk at points of entry, or the walls of a U.S. consulate, to represent borders of a sovereign nation? We are faced with the bitter reality that the interests and concerns of American citizens weigh no more heavily on the minds of many U.S. government officials than the interests and concerns of the citizens of other nations. Even more unfortunate, the leaders of the branch of government responsible for controlling America's borders are of one mind about keeping them wide open.

It's easy to blame politics on the ongoing refusal to stem the flow of illegal immigration. From George W Bush's bizarre comments that immigration reform was necessary to help fund social security, to broad political interests in keeping wages down, to the democrat efforts to recruit future voters from beyond our borders, elements of both Parties have demonstrated conflicts of interest in serious border security. There has always been a troubling inconsistency between government acknowledgement of the very real threat of islamic extremism and an obsessive insistence on tolerating ridiculous amounts of illegal immigration. The response to the Ebola outbreak provides yet another lens through which to view the issue.

To most of the American people it is clear that restricting non-aid related travel out of the Ebola zone would be prudent. The response to such assertions by numerous government officials has been nothing short of strange. The dismissive, condescending, attitudes with which the director of the CDC flatly rejects any notion of travel restrictions has been startling. We can say with 100% certainty that Nina Pham would not now be fighting for her life in Dallas if travel from Liberia had been restricted months ago - as it should have been. Yet we are expected to accept daily stories of hazmat teams boarding airplanes, or urgent care centers being locked down, as the new normal (to say nothing of scabies, TB, EV-d68, etc. flowing across the southern border).

There are people in the government that are good at math. The fact that they understand the potential threats of the Ebola outbreak just makes the response that much more surreal. The projections out of Africa are alarming. It is possible for the situation to be brought under control before the more nightmarish predictions have a chance to come to pass, but this isn't the type of thing a crisis manager banks on when planning a response. In light of the predictions, it is the height of understatement to call the current state of the Ebola response "inadequate". If the outbreak continues to ramp through the end of the year, there is zero chance that it will not jump to other areas of the world - giving the virus new paths into the United States through uncontrolled land, sea and air routes.

Is the U.S. border nothing more than a line around a geographical area in which an arbitrary set of people live, or is it the demarcation of a unique and valuable culture? If we look to our President for answers to that question we look to a man that has publicly dismissed the concept of American exceptionalism, a man who's first act as President was to apologize to the world for American arrogance, a man who turned his back on traditional friends of America and offered "flexibility" to others, a man who promised to fundamentally transform America. The meaning and value of a border depends on one's opinion of what lies within it or beyond it.

If one believes that what lies beyond his borders is better than what lies within, then the border becomes an obstacle to excellence. If one believes that what lies within his borders represents the plunder of victim nations, then the border becomes an obstacle to justice. Obama's inability to acknowledge American exceptionalism says something profound about his view of the nation's place in the world, the value of our borders, and the purpose of immigration policy. When a President can't distinguish between his obligation to Americans and his obligation to the people of the world, protecting Nina Pham is no higher priority than making sure that Thomas Duncan has access to American health care. 

When Reagan referred to America as a "shining city on a hill" he was not talking about the geography of the United States. He was talking about the idea of America. Reagan recognized America's unique value as an example and source of encouragement for the world.  He recognized the idea of America as something worth protecting, and exporting. The borders of the United States must be first, foremost, about protecting the idea of America as the founders delivered it. It is not an accident that the idea of America is the first victim of an open border immigration policy.

Over time we have seen the borders of the United States come to have more to do with the geography they circumscribe, and less to do with the culture, heritage, and exceptionalism contained within. Considering the fundamental transformation that was promised begs the question if there is any more fundamental transformation than taking the idea of America and transforming it into dirt.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Post-modern Liberty

Just an observation, it's not really a great idea for self-proclaimed libertarians to celebrate judicial activism. Assaults on the rule of law in the United States are not victories for liberty. The week didn't get off to a great start with the Supreme Court letting lower court gay marriage activism become the law of the land, and the post-modern confusion sprinkled throughout internet articles and comments by professed libertarians and conservatives in favor of the ruling is simply salt in the wound.

It might be fashionable in some circles to be libertarian and atheist, but I'd also like to suggest that it might be a good idea for the right-leaners in the crowd that incessantly insists on equating opposition to gay marriage with demands for government to cram Christianity down people's throats to kindly put a sock in it. Unless you are a leftist-radical, you're singing from the wrong song book. Thousands of years of human experience inform us of the value of traditional marriage. Cultures throughout the world and throughout time, Christian and non-Christian, have recognized the unique value of the role that the traditional nuclear family plays in propagating a stable and productive society.

Contrary to popular belief, judgement and discernment are not bad things. They are in fact necessary things in a free society where the people themselves are supposed to be the authority. It is unfortunate that such statements are controversial, but post-modernism has taught us that the only thing that may be judged is judgement itself (unless it comes from government). Too many younger libertarians have latched onto this idea in willful disregard for it's incompatibility with the very concepts of limited government they espouse. Strong traditional families have proven to be one of the most powerful enablers of limited government.

Laws are written to provide an identifiable benefit for society. They aren't written to express acceptance for a particular "lifestyle" choice, or to make people feel better about the behaviors they choose to engage in. The traditional family is the ideal arrangement for raising children to be well adjusted and productive members of society. "Ideal" is just another way of saying "best". In other words, it's better than the alternatives. That's a judgement, and it makes people uncomfortable, but this is the reason that the traditional institution of civil marriage existed in the first place - It provides a unique benefit to society. It's not because our government has been cramming Christianity down everybody's throat for 200 plus years.

Marriage as a civil institution is not going away. It is certainly in the process of being completely redefined, but the Utopian idea of government getting out of the marriage business isn't reflected in any potential near-term realities. Custody, adoption, estates, rights of survivor-ship, etc., are bound up in the civil institution of Marriage. The fact is that the government will become more committed to marriage as a civil institution than ever before, now that it has evolved into a lever for reshaping society. What has been achieved is to take something special, an institution that we have traditionally placed on a pedestal, and turn it into a relationship participation trophy. The achievement of the post-modern alchemists is to change gold into lead.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Of, by, and for

Somewhere along the way, the fundamental relationship between the American people and their government has changed. Where we were intended to elect representatives, we have chosen to elect rulers. Where the people were intended to be the authority, they have settled for the role of subjects. The creation, and existence of the American political class required the complicity of two parties - the elected politicians, and the American voters that enable and tolerate it. This dysfunctional relationship has permeated government from the lowest level to the highest.

At the local level we see increasing effort by city managers to implement agendas of far away global strategists. The philosophy, and direction, of government increasingly comes from beyond the community rather than from within. The increasing militarization of local police departments and federal agencies reinforces an "us vs. them" mindset. "No knock" SWAT style raids are more frequently arriving at the doorstep of innocents - sometimes with terrible consequences. We see stories of the abuse of citizens through misuse of asset seizure laws,  leaving work-a-day Americans pitted against the infinite resources of government simply to retain their personal property. Imminent domain authority has been abused to take the property of one private individual and give it to another so that the recipient and the government can benefit financially. In some cases that imminent domain authority is even given directly to a private enterprise. This is not the behavior of governments subject to the authority of citizens.

The nature of the relationship between the average American citizen and his government no longer reflects the ideas of citizen authority and public servants at any level. As a society we have chosen to be the subjects of rulers that increasingly wield an anti-American authority. Today's federal government openly acts against the interests of American citizens. Our President openly dismisses the concept of American exceptionalism, and he has built a cabinet of similarly minded individuals. Our courts consult foreign law in their decisions. Our Congress ignores its Constitutional duties regarding separation of powers. All three branches use the Constitution when it suits their agendas, and disregard it when it does not. We are increasingly governed by elected officials that regard themselves citizens of the world first, and Americans second.

The reality of how deep this problem runs is illustrated in the current left/right schism in views about stopping non-aid related flights into and out of the West African Ebola zone. The lack of seriousness regarding border security and immigration policy in recent decades has revealed a pervasive lack of interest in preserving American culture. Not terribly surprising coming from those that scoff at the idea of American exceptionalism. But concerns over the health of American citizens within American borders is a deeply perplexing subject in which to find a right/left divide. When the director of the CDC makes a statement that travel restrictions to the United States would make the Ebola outbreak worse, it uncovers a view that places governments of the world together in one category and lumps the peoples of the world into another. The director's comments are shockingly devoid of logic and present a condescension that leaves one wondering if the only border he considers is the one between those in authority and the world's masses.

Just as we have seen a significant increase in illegal immigration from Latin America, we have also seen a significant increase in illegal immigration from West Africa at our Southern border. As desperate people seek to escape the horrors of Liberia, they will take any available route to first world medical care. The open invitation of the U.S. Southern border is a beacon for potential disaster in third world nations of our own hemisphere. Routes to the United States through central America, or Mexico potentially provide more time for viral incubation, and more time exposed to fellow travelers after carriers become symptomatic. This doesn't even begin to touch on the risks posed to other countries in our hemisphere that are much more vulnerable to viral epidemics than is the United States.

To placate fears about the spread of Ebola, officials talk about airline departure screening efforts. And to show us that they are taking things seriously they offer to consider arrival screening efforts. How effective is this? The screening amounts to an honor system questionnaire, and a temperature scan. The first symptom of Ebola is usually fever, but sometimes it is headaches, or a sore throat that will not be detected by a temperature scan. A passenger can be contagious without having a fever. Assuming a passenger is symptom free at boarding time, the length of these trips typically range from about 24 to 36 hours. If the arrival screening identifies an Ebola case, what will then be the procedure for dealing with the victim's fellow passengers, the flight crew, the plane, and whatever portion of the airport the ill patient has passed through? These screening activities are simply not serious efforts.

Among a minefield of risks the U.S. open border policy remains untouchable. Within our government lies a pathological inability to secure our borders or restrict the free flow of people into and out of the United States in even minor ways. It probably shouldn't surprise us. If the threat of terrorists sneaking into our homeland, and the health risks of re-introducing long eradicated diseases is not enough to secure the border, why should the threat of a viral epidemic spur our elected officials to act in defense of the American people? This betrayal makes it clear that a government of, by and for the people has become a myth that the people themselves have had a hand in creating. It's past time for the people to make it a reality again.