Free Speech Is Hard. Its Alternative Is Worse.

It’s hard to hear ideologues spouting ideas you know are fully wrong, even harder when you know that the implementation of such ideas would hurt people, including you. Hardest is listening to a message full of hate, vitriol, and name-calling, especially when it’s directed against you personally.

It’s therefore natural to declare that there is no place in a civil society for such ideas, and shut them out for our own and others’ protection.

Yet America’s Founders, having just concluded a contentious, violent, and most uncivil revolutionary war, marked by high feelings and powerful propaganda on both sides, recognized the power of their superior ideas in building support for their cause, and concluded that suppression of free association and free speech poses an existential danger for a free society. They thus enshrined protection of both in the First Amendment that was a necessary condition of the ratification of a Constitution conferring powers in government—therein also ranking an armed citizenry as the second-best defense against tyranny.

Yet, as Judge Napolitano observed in his recent column “Trump’s Speech Is Protected Speech,” even these men fell prey, just ten years later, to our natural inclination to silence those by whom we feel threatened. Congress in 1798 passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, among which

made it a crime to utter ‘false, scandalous, or malicious’ speech against the government or the president, or to utter speech in opposition to the government’s efforts to shore up defenses from a war with France that never came about.

Subsequently fearing that their political opponents might use the Acts against them, Congress repealed them before Jefferson took office. (Today’s statesmen might take heed that power granted to your friends remains available for the use of your foes, and think twice before granting sweeping new powers to rulers.)

Fast forward to the midst of World War I, and Congress’ passage of the Espionage Act. It was brought to bear against five Russian anarchists living in New York who had published and distributed anti-capitalist pamphlets—the Facebook and Twitter of the day—exhorting workers in armaments factories to lay down their tools, and for the American public to withdraw their support of the war.

Convicted, the men appealed to the Supreme Court on the basis of Free Speech. The court upheld the conviction in Abrams et al. v. United States, observing

the plain purpose of their propaganda was to excite, at the supreme crisis of the war, disaffection, sedition, riots, and, as they hoped, revolution, in this country for the purpose of embarrassing and if possible defeating the military plans of the government in Europe.

In his dissent, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:

the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.

And therein lies the rub: while we all enjoy the benefits of competition, letting us choose what we like best among many alternatives, we don’t much like it for ourselves. It’s so much nicer not to have to face the threat of someone else being chosen for our job; someone else coming along with a product that people like better than our own; and worst of all, the pain of hearing hateful or dangerous ideas antithetical to ours.

Protecting against each threat means having to work harder: making sure we stay on top of current knowledge and training to perform our jobs as best possible, paying attention to our customers to make sure we continue to meet their needs well, and honing our own thoughts and expression of our ideas in compelling and effective means.

Writing about today’s college “cancel” culture, ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Lee Rowland observes in “We All Need to Defend Speech We Hate“:

Our Constitution protects hateful speech, yes—but on the theory that truly free speech means the best ideas will win out. We need students trained to really listen to ideas they hate—and respond with better ones.

Today’s suppression of social media accounts, and threat of legislation that would censor the expression of ideas deemed “dangerous” and the people who hold them are nothing but the result of decades of Americans too lazy to study and defend—or deprived of a proper educational grounding in—the principles and ideas of a free society.

As Benjamin Franklin observed and has been oft repeated, especially in our 21st century aftermath of the USA PATRIOT Act:

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Glenn Greenwald, among others, is sounding the alarm against today’s calls to deplatform Trump and other “ideologues,” pointing out that in the aftermath of the Capitol incursion, “every War on Terror rhetorical tactic to justify civil liberties erosions is now being invoked in the name of combatting Trumpism.” Further:

That is because the dominant strain of American liberalism is not economic socialism but political authoritarianism. Liberals now want to use the force of corporate power to silence those with different ideologies. They are eager for tech monopolies not just to ban accounts they dislike but to remove entire platforms from the internet. They want to imprison people they believe helped their party lose elections, such as Julian Assange, even if it means creating precedents to criminalize journalism.

Our best defense against such authoritarianism is codified in our very First Amendment. Free speech for all is our most essential liberty. Suppressing it secures only those who feel superior to and thus want to be unaccountable to us: Politicians and their Big Tech bedfellows.

The Jim Crow Legacy of Southern Military Bases

The U.S. Congress passed a military defense spending bill with a veto proof majority in December. Yet, President Trump has vetoed the bill setting up a to-the-wire showdown with Congress. Trump’s objections included a provision in the bill to rename U.S. military bases honoring confederate generals. While Congress overrode Trump’s veto – its first – on New Year’s Day, the fact Trump and other Republicans considered base renaming initiative a political loyalty test is both significant and unfortunate. Yet, the so-called heritage critics of base renaming want to protect is probably not the heritage Republicans want to claim, unless they favor a return to Jim Crow America.

The main public objection to bases carrying the names of ex-confederates is that U.S. military bases shouldn’t be named after traitors. These are men who took up arms against the government. There is, however, perhaps a more sinister motivation behind the nomination of the particular generals at the time these bases were established.

Venezuela Goes Digital–It Won’t Fix the Problem

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro recently announced that the country will be moving toward a “fully digital” economy. The South American nation has struggled in recent years with rampant shortages of staple goods, civil unrest, and hyperinflation. According to the opposition-controlled National Assembly, consumer prices rose more than 65 percent in November, placing the interannual inflation rate up over 4,000 percent. (The Maduro regime stopped publishing official data.)

Federal Burden of Regulation to Increase

Next week, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the next President of the United States. With the Congress narrowly divided, his supporters don’t expect much of his policy agenda to gain traction. But he can follow the example of President Obama, who used his pen and phone to bypass the Congress and put many of his policies into effect.

For Obama, that meant using federal regulations to achieve in fact what he could not achieve through legislation. That is unfortunate for American businesses and for citizens, because federal regulations impose a heavy burden.

Voice, Loyalty, Exit, and BLM

Like many Americans, I watched the events at the U.S. Capitol last week in disbelief. My husband, an immigrant, commented that what we witnessed was “why [my family] left Venezuela. This doesn’t happen in the United States.”

He and others have also remarked at the stark difference between the police response to the mostly white pro-Trump mob and the predominantly black Black Lives Matter protests across the United States over the summer. Photos emerged of Capitol police taking selfies with protestors as they broke into Congress. A video surfaced of police holding the door as the same protestors left the building.

Is It Time for Republicans to Move Past Trump?

People have different ideas about the appropriate role for government. Democratic political institutions allow citizens to express those ideas, albeit imperfectly, by campaigning, contributing monetarily, and voting for candidates and parties whose ideas correspond closely with their own. The troubling thing about many Trump supporters is that they appear to be supporting the man himself rather than the ideas he stands for.

Some people consider themselves conservatives, others view themselves as progressives, some as socialists, others as libertarians. They support candidates and parties based on the ideologies behind those labels. Republicans (mostly) self-identify as conservatives, and political institutions give them the opportunity to join with others to further those views on the appropriate role of government.

Powerful, Unaccountable Senior Executive Service Calls for SOS from Taxpayers

“Did you know that the top-level bureaucrats who are doing the most to increase the negative impact of federal government spending cuts to the American people are in line to get big bonuses this year?” That was the intrepid Craig Eyermann back in 2013, in his sole post on the federal Senior Executive Service. This elite outfit was wasteful and redundant, right from the start. 

The Bureaucrats of the Year

If you were to give out an award for Bureaucrat of the Year, how would you pick the winner?

For example, 2020 had a lot of contenders. If you chose incompetence as the main criteria for picking a winner, you might choose the bureaucrats at the Centers for Disease Control. These are the highly educated and trained federal government employees who botched the rollout of their coronavirus test kits. Because they did, their failure allowed the coronavirus to spread undetected in the U.S. for months after it arrived.

Invoke the 25th Amendment?

There has been some talk about using the 25th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States to remove President Trump from office. The Amendment enables the vice president to do this with support from a majority of “principal officers of the executive department.”

This is not going to happen, but I would not be unhappy if it did, and my opinion has little to do with President Trump. It would set a precedent making it easier to invoke the 25th Amendment in the future, which would reduce the discretionary power of the president.

2024: California Provides a Peek at What’s Ahead for U.S. Under One-Party Rule

Americans who may be curious about what life under Democratic party control will bring don’t need a crystal ball. Having lived under 1-party progressive rule for years, California can provide them a full picture—but they may not like what they see:

The End of the Middle Class

California is home mostly to the very rich and the poor. The primary cause of its high inequality is the cost of housing, according to The Economist: California’s inequality problem is not “the stagnation of low incomes per se. It is stagnation relative to costs—in particular, the cost of housing.” According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, the gap between California’s home prices and those in the rest country started to widen in the 1970s, going from 30 percent above U.S. levels to more than 80 percent by 1980. The LAO blames public policies that suppressed construction when the rest of the country underwent a housing boom. Today, it’s virtually impossible to build new construction in California, as, thanks to regulations like the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), literally anyone can challenge any development, anonymously, with no legitimate cause. As if housing weren’t prohibitively expensive enough, the legislature’s solar mandate passed last year adds another $20,000 or so to each unit’s cost.

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