Are Term Limits an Admission that Democracy is Flawed?

By Tate Fegley and Jackson B. Archer

To many people, the re-election of many US Senators and Congressmen is a mystery. How could it possibly be the case that, with approval ratings nearly in the single digits, incumbents maintain control over their seats the vast majority of the time? What’s going on here? Isn’t democracy supposed to make sure “the will of the people” is being done?

Grade school presentations of democracy lead us to believe that allowing the people to vote on what politicians are in office ensures that government is responsive to their needs. But with such low congressional approval ratings, it would appear that such a naïve view of democracy isn’t entirely accurate, at least not on such a large scale as the US nation-state. Perhaps what we have here is a “democracy failure” that needs to be corrected by intervention. Continue reading

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Localism, Federalism, and the 14th Amendment

I recently wrote a guest post for an Arizona-based website called Western Free Press. The proprietor there shares many of the ideals of The New Polis and has graciously shared his growing platform so that they may have a wider audience.

What I chose to write about is the complicated issue of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and whether incorporating the Bill of Rights’ restrictions on the powers of the US Congress (or perhaps I should say ‘clarifications’ as Jefferson would argue that the power to abridge the freedom of speech, for example, was never enumerated to the federal government in the first place) to the state and local governments has increased or decreased individual liberty. I argue that the application of the 14th Amendment has unambiguously expanded the power of the federal government to the detriment of both localism and federalism. Also questionable in this shift of the balance of power between the states and the federal government is that while the federal government is seen as having the ability to overturn the decisions made by state and local governments, the common position is that state and local governments have no corresponding power to overturn the abuses of the federal government (even a Cato scholar claims that state nullification is “discredited” and “a nonstarter in the 21st century.” I will address these claims in a future post). Even so, many friends of liberty see this check on state governments an unambiguously good thing for freedom. What are we to do if the state governments violate individual rights? they ask.

One of the best analogies for this, I think, is whether one would be comfortable with the UN intervening and overturning the unconstitutional decisions of the US government. I would hope the answer for those who value individual liberty would be a resounding “No!” as even if the UN made the right decision in a few cases, it is generally anti-liberty and anti-localism. Furthermore, the times where it is wrong would be much more destructive, just as when a bad policy is made at the national level rather than the state level. It is harder to escape or mount a political battle against it. Thus, we should be wary of large, unaccountable powers that are long distances away having the ability to overturn governments that are more local, even if they may be right sometimes. The question isn’t which level of government tends to be right, but rather which one is more dangerous when it is wrong.

So, I request that you check out that post here and let me know what you think.

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Micron, Money, and Morals

Earlier this month, a federal court approved a $311 million dollar settlement against DRAM manufacturers on behalf of consumers. Boise-based Micron Technology, one of the firms involved, will pay an exorbitant $66.7 million to the “victims.” The crime? “[E]ngaging in unlawful anti-competitive practices to inflate prices,” according to The Associated Press. Sounds simple enough; the companies conspired to rip-off the public and will be forced to pay it back. Who could argue with that?

As with most things in an age where so much is beyond the scope of what can be perceived and understood locally, there is more to the story. From the AP report we learn not that a settlement was reached, but that the court ruling means “consumers can start filing claims” – the actual settlement took place in 2007. That means it took the court seven years just to figure out how consumers could get the money Micron (and others) already agreed to pay. The answer? Anyone can simply ask for free money! Really – it took them seven years to come up with that; the settlement site explains:

You don’t need any documentation to file your claim. So don’t let that stop you… You can still get paid even if you don’t have any documentation.

The likelihood of any actual justice being served under these conditions is slimmer than Idaho’s starving wolves.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden

But it gets sillier. The AP story doesn’t mention that the antitrust violations took place between 1998 and 2002, and the minimum “recovery” amount is $10. So the government agents who brought the suit – Idaho’s Attorney General Lawrence Wasden was one of them – have dedicated countless hours and millions of dollars in lawyers fees to returning $10 taken from consumers fifteen years ago. Of course, no one was forced to buy any DRAM and certainly most had no idea they were paying too much at the time. But even granting that illegal activity took place, have Americans really become so petty and childish that fifteen years isn’t long enough to get over losing a few bucks?

Antitrust laws are a lot like invasions of Iraq – a great idea until you examine the results.

The cost to Micron is nearly $67 million, but the actual impact to Idaho will be much greater. How many Treasure Valley jobs could have been saved or created by Micron with all that money? When Micron agreed to the settlement in 2007, Idaho’s unemployment rate was below 3%. (After housing went bust, it nearly tripled.) Perhaps at the time Attorney General Wasden thought little harm could be done.

And perhaps this is another lesson in communities paying the price for a government too expansive to be genuinely representative.

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Inviting Fraud, Banishing Freedom

KTVB reporter Justin Corr

The most disappointing thing about Justin Corr’s piece at KTVB.com called “More drug dogs help Idaho cops battle traffickers“ isn’t that its author expresses unwavering faith in the hopelessly failed “War on Drugs”; it’s that Corr misses a great opportunity to do some actual reporting and thereby potentially improve the Treasure Valley. Rather than question even a single claim made by government officials, Corr chose to act as a mouthpiece by simply parroting the conventional wisdom of current drug policy that has done very little to actually protect and improve our communities. Continue reading

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Jackson in the Valley, Feb. 9-15

Water Rights and Wrongs

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is gearing up to regulate “literally all streams, no matter the size, within the United States,” according to IdahoReporter.com. And this new power to dictate the use of canals and that tiny stream on your back forty comes from which new law, you ask? Why, none at all. It comes from an old law – specifically, the EPA’s reinterpretation of the Clean Water Act of 1972. In other words, a Washington, D.C. agency of unelected bureaucrats created by Congress will redefine a 42-year-old law on a whim.  Continue reading

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Jackson in the Valley, Feb. 2-8

Idaho lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow anyone with Idaho’s enhanced concealed-carry permit to carry a gun on campus. In spite of my devotion to firearm freedoms, I am hardly moved by the predictable knee-jerk reactions on both sides. I embrace the right to self-defense, but the 2nd amendment – along with the rest of the Bill of Rights – was only meant to restrain the federal government, not state governments. Recognizing this would go a lot further toward increasing the freedom of Idahoans than blind ideological devotion to a certain conception of political or natural rights. Continue reading

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Secession: Ideology and Common Life

Note: This article is the fourth of a series on the political concept of secession. The series will explore some historical aspects, and we certainly welcome comments on the historical record. But it will largely focus on contemporary questions of a theoretical and practical nature, striving to shed light on how the principle of secession relates to political life today.

Blue counties have every right to protect their inherited values and way of life through secession.

Secessionist of all stripes – yes, they exist across the entire political continuum – are sometimes thought of as (or accused of) having a “secessionist ideology.” But to defend secession in principle and to hold a secessionist ideology are two very different things. Principles are the reasonable, meaningful general ideas that guide action, but ideologies should be recognized as corrupted principles detached from reality.

 

The distinction is a meaningful one. Principle and ideology are meaningfully distinguished, and we ignore the difference at our own political peril. Continue reading

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Does Majority Rule Make Us Impotent?

I wanted to share this insightful piece by Michael Munger, originally published in the Freeman magazine and addressed to libertarians, explaining how democracy can destroy democratic values. What do I mean by this? Well, I think we can define democratic values as those that empower the individual to self-govern. I don’t think anyone who speaks of “democratic values” favorably thinks literally of what democracy often ends up being in practice: a tyrannical majority voting for someone so that he or she can tell us all how to live.

I <3 Majority Rule ShirtAlexis de Tocqueville wrote about this problem in Democracy in America, where the problem he saw in French democracy was that people were so isolated and therefore ineffective because they had few intermediary institutions between themselves and the state. Most French came to see the government as the only organization that could affect change.

Here is the money quote by Munger:

Tocqueville criticizes his countrymen in France. He had seen, in the legacy of the French Revolution, the damage that political democracy and a reliance on majority rule could do.
But when I read his critique today, I get a sick feeling. His criticism of France in 1831 is an even more scathing indictment of American society today. We have become a political democracy: Voting is the extent of civic action, and interest-group lobbying for power and wealth is the only route open to solve civic problems.
The American spirit does not allow for sitting back and waiting for the State do it. If you are my neighbor, I’ll help you, and you’ll help me. We have direct, powerful, voluntary connections based on a thickly woven moral fabric of reciprocal obligations, complex organizations, and intricate relationships voluntarily negotiated and voluntarily ended.
Democracy, to the extent that it substitutes votes for action and taxes for charity, enfeebles the natural impulse people have to help each other. State action crowds out voluntary private associations. If the government is supposed to take care of all of us, then I have no moral obligation to pitch in, to help out. I see you attacked, and I look up and down the street and cluck to myself, “Why don’t the police do something?” If I see a bad school, I wonder why the state doesn’t improve it. If I see a broken pump, I wait with my neighbors, and we watch our children play in the dust. The great Murray Rothbard diagnosed the problem perfectly when he said that leaping from the necessity of social connection to claims about the necessity of State action is the world’s greatest non sequitur.
This is why in addition to advocating freedom, The New Polis also supports community, by which we refer to families, churches, fraternal organizations, and any other private association. The state attempts to crowd out and supplant these layers of community and reduce us to atomistic individuals unable to undertake any collective action not under its auspices. By strengthening community we strengthen our personal autonomy and decide for ourselves how we want to live.

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The New Polis Podcast 5 – Voting and Political Participation

Tate and Jackson B. discuss different philosophies about voting, both in the context of the nation-state and at a more local level. Is it your duty to vote? Do you have a right to complain if you don’t vote? Or, are you endorsing the system by voting? Find out what we have to say and let us know what you think!

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Filed under Government, Local Politics, Podcast

Federal Drug Policy, Local Consequences

by Chris Felt

On April 23rd, while Lindsey Rinehart was on camping trip with her husband and others, her two children were taken from their home by Boise City police officers and forced into foster care. This police action was preceded earlier in the day by a fifth grade boy consuming a “leafy green substance” and becoming ill. The boy happened to be a friend of Rinehart’s oldest son, Laustin. After the illness was reported, Laustin was taken to the principal’s office and questioned about where he had gotten the substance and if he was responsible for bringing it to school. Laustin was driven to tears and denied knowing anything about the substance. The police were called and were led to believe that the substance was marijuana. It was later in the evening when Rinehart’s home was raided and her children taken away. Because her children were separated from her, they were subsequently diagnosed with PTSD.

Marijuana was found by the police who believed it was “accessible” to the children and put them in “imminent danger”. This belief is what led to the children being removed from the home. The police found marijuana in Rinehart’s bedroom night stand and inside a refrigerator that Rinehart claims was locked. What is believed to have initially led the school to question Laustin and the police to raid Rinehart’s home was her prominence as a medical marijuana advocate.

The path that led Rinehart to activism began in 2007. That year, Rinehart was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease that attacks the spinal and nervous system and causes spasms of intense pain. For Rinehart, her episodes came in the form of a burning sensation felt all over her body. She told Ladybud.com that, “It feels like (I’m) being dragged across hot pavement in 90-degree heat by a semi truck (sic).” The pain was so debilitating that she would not move for fear of aggravating the symptoms. She refused to touch or be touched by anyone because that would cause the pain to be unbearable. Her husband and two children could not show their affection for her by embracing, hugging, or even holding her hand. Because of her intense pain, she was denied the comfort of her family.

Before Rinehart began using marijuana she was treated with pharmaceutical medication. Her monthly bill for the medicine reached between the amounts of $5,000 – $6,000. Besides the overwhelming financial burden, another disadvantage to taking prescribed pharmaceuticals was the amount she had to take. At one point, she was taking thirteen pills to manage the various symptoms of MS. After doing research on the internet, Rinehart decided to try marijuana to help her cope with the painful symptoms caused by MS. After using marijuana, she did not experience as many spasms and only needed to take four pills instead of thirteen. Also from her inquiries, she found that marijuana may slow the progression of the disease.

Shortly after she started using it, Rinehart quickly became a prominent activist for the legalization of medical marijuana. She held drives for signatures that would put legal medical marijuana on the ballot in Idaho. She also became the director of Compassionate Idaho (a medical marijuana lobbyist group) and a member of Moms for Marijuana.

Rinehart and her children are some of the most recent victims of the Federal War on Drugs. It is a war that has taken away the right of states to decide what their drug policy should be. It is also a war that has proven to be unnecessary, ineffectual, and very harmful to vulnerable segments of the public. The Federal War on Drugs stifles free speech, hampers research into alternative medical practices, punishes those who are harming no one, and gives those in the federal government greater scope for coercion and control. If marijuana had the same legal standing as prescription drugs, then Rinehart would not have had to endure the hardships imposed on her. She could have spoken freely about the benefits of marijuana without having the school authorities and police taking her children from her.

If medical marijuana was legal, Rinehart and many others could freely choose how to treat their ailments instead of being forcibly medicated by the government sanctioned pharmaceutical monopoly. It is unfortunate that the people in Idaho don’t live in a state where medical marijuana is legal. Instead they live in state where a mother can be tormented for using a substance that eases her pain enough to allow her to embrace her children.

After three weeks of traversing the obstacles of the legal system, Rinehart was able to reunite with her children. However, it is unclear whether or not she will be criminally charged. Rinehart has since moved to Oregon where she is free to use medical marijuana. She is still dedicated to making medical marijuana legal in Idaho where she has, until recently, lived her whole life.

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