Monday, March 29, 2010

Score one for Constance McMillen

It's just about the best outcome possible, given the overt victimization of a high school student by the adults in charge of her education. After the Itawamba Agricultural High School in Mississippi canceled the prom rather than let Constance McMillen and her girlfriend attend together, a federal court called out officials of the Itawamba County School District as a bunch of bigots in front of a national audience, pointedly affirming McMillen's claim that her First Amendment rights had been violated.

It's hard to imagine the mind-set of people who would rather cancel a school event than let a lesbian couple attend, but maybe Itawamba school officials are getting a bit of a reality check after the wave of national support for Constance and her girlfriend: over 421,000 supporters of "Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom!" on Facebook, invitations to proms around the country, media appearances and a $30,000 college scholarship. If the tidal wave of public support for Constance hasn't hammered the message home, the yet-to-be-determined settlement to Constance's ACLU-backed lawsuit in the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Mississippi might do the trick.

The prom is still off -- parents are reportedly organizing a private event at which Constance and companion will be welcome, so the public school won't be compelled to put the dance back on the schedule. Note that the court didn't order the organizers of the private dance to accommodate Constance. As private individuals using their own resources, they would have the right to be as bigoted and exclusionary as they please, unlike public officials who draw salaries and use resources partially funded by taxes extracted from Constance's family.

As it is, Constance's future is looking pretty promising -- and the petty educrats who sought to turn her into a pariah are on notice.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

What's good for the goose ...

Many years ago, I had a law school professor who opened his very first lecture by telling us, "law is violence." His point was that any use of the law -- or of government power in general -- involves force or the threat of force. That professor and I disagreed on many issues, but we both knew that to call for the passage of a new law or the enforcement of an existing one is to invoke men with guns, handcuffs and prisons -- and, ultimately, to be willing to kill in order to achieve a desired goal. So it strikes me as absurd to see members of Congress -- professional makers of law -- get their knickers all knotted because some of the people affected by controversial health care legislation have responded with harsh words, disturbing letters and even bricks and bullets.

The apparently unfeigned outrage comes because our legal and political culture largely agrees with Max Weber's old assertion that government is defined by a monopoly on the use of legitimate violence. The state may allow others to use force (for self-defense, perhaps), but that's at the discretion of government authorities, who always retain the right to initiate force themselves to achieve their goals, and can expect acquiescence on the part of the public. Basically, that means government officials get to boss us around, and we're not supposed to fight back.

So, when people react to legislation that threatens them with fines and arrest, backed by armed men, by tossing a few bricks through windows, they're stepping out of the cozy system in which members of Congress have grown accustomed to operating. Don't they know that the peasants are supposed to just lie there and take it?

This isn't to say that threats and vandalism are wise reactions to the passage of the health care bill -- or any other of the many intrusive and oppressive policies that officials from both major political parties have foisted on us over the years. If nothing else, it's playing on the government's home turf, since lawmakers can call on large cadres of people who are trained and paid to smash and kill. It also tends to be bad public relations in a world in which most people drink the same Kool Aid as their political masters. Americans may accept thousands killed by soldiers and police, but they tend to be horrified when individuals smash a few officials' windows.

Then again, as legislators engage in violence through legislation, perhaps there's a value in reminding them that not everybody agrees that the state should be unanswered when it pushes people around.

And we can hope we'll someday achieve a world in which nobody, not even government officials, gets to initiate force to achieve their goals.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Criminal questioning of a border guard

Peter Watts, a science fiction writer and marine biologist who was arrested in December after an argument with a U.S. border guard while driving back to his home in Toronto, has been convicted by a Michigan jury of a felony. Watts faces up to two years in prison -- potentially three, if prosecutors succeed in tagging him as a habitual offender over a 19-year-old conviction in Canada.

On December 8, 2009, while returning home to Toronto after helping a friend move, Watts was stopped at the border crossing for a random search -- a warrantless intrusion common at the border, where constitutional protections for individual rights are minimal. Watts apparently stepped out of his vehicle to inquire as to the reason for the inspection. An argument ensued, during the course of which Watts was ordered back into his vehicle, beaten and pepper-sprayed -- not necessarily in that order.

Several media outlets have reported that Watts was convicted of assaulting a police officer, but that appears to be a misunderstanding; the Michigan statute under which he was charged is something of a grab-all legal bludgeon, saying "an individual who assaults, batters, wounds, resists, obstructs, opposes, or endangers a person who the individual knows or has reason to know is performing his or her duties is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years or a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both." In fact, while Watts was convicted under that law, his actual offense revolved around failure to follow orders given by a Border Protection officer, with prosecutor Mary Kelly comparing his transgression to a refusal to take off shoes during security checks in airports.

The statute under which Watts was charged is clearly very broad, and would seem to potentially allow conviction for anything that might rub a law-enforcement officer the wrong way. As Watts wrote on his blog:
What constitutes “failure to comply with a lawful command” is open to interpretation. The Prosecution cited several moments within the melee which she claimed constituted “resisting”, but by her own admission I wasn’t charged with any of those things. I was charged only with resisting Beaudry, the guard I’d “choked”. My passenger of that day put the lie to that claim in short order, and the Prosecution wasn’t able to shake that.
Watts's real crime, he says, is that the law is so inflexible as to ban simple questions.
[T]he law doesn’t proscribe noncompliance “unless you’re dazed and confused from being hit in the face”. It simply proscribes noncompliance, period. And we all agree that in those few seconds between Beaudry’s command and the unleashing of his pepper spray, I just stood there asking what the problem was.
After the trial, one person claiming to be a juror responded to a news report about the case, saying:
As a member of the jury that convicted Mr. Watts today, I have a few comments to make. The jury's task was not to decide who we liked better. The job of the jury was to decide whether Mr. Watts "obstructed/resisted" the custom officials. Assault was not one of the charges. What it boiled down to was Mr. Watts did not follow the instructions of the customs agents. Period. He was not violent, he was not intimidating, he was not stopping them from searching his car. He did, however, refuse to follow the commands by his non compliance. He's not a bad man by any stretch of the imagination. The customs agents escalted the situation with sarcasm and miscommunication. Unfortunately, we were not asked to convict those agents with a crime, although, in my opinion, they did commit offenses against Mr. Watts. Two wrongs don't make a right, so we had to follow the instructions as set forth to us by the judge.
Despite these doubts about the wisdom of law-enforcement actions, the juror in the case didn't exercise the right of jury nullification -- that is, to refuse to convict a defendant who may have broken a law that jurors find offensive or wrongly applied. That leaves Watts with a felony conviction -- and facing possible prison time. Prosecutors are trying to use a 1991 conviction for obstructing a Guelph, Ontario, police officer asgrounds for tagging Watts as a "habitual offender" subject to enhanced sentencing.

Case details are available via a search at the St. Clair County Court Website.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Could 'reform' drive doctors out of medicine?

The New England Journal of Medicine cites interesting poll numbers on the reaction of physicians to proposed federal legislation that would greatly expand the government's role in medicine. At a time when the Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting 22 percent growth in demand for physicians by 2018, "24.7% of physicians stated that they would 'retire early' if a public option is implemented, and an additional 21.0% of respondents stated that they would quit practicing medicine, even though they are nowhere near retirement.   This brings the amount of physicians who would leave medicine to a total of 45.7%"

In the case of passage of the current health care "reform" bill without a so-called public option, the number of physicians planning to flee medicine drops -- to "only" one-third.

The NEJM (which is not known as a free-market mouthpiece) notes that not all docs who express a desire to leave medicine after the passage of unwelcome legislation are likely to follow-up on their threats, but "even if a much smaller percentage such as ten, 15, or 20 percent are pushed out of practice over several years at a time when the field needs to expand by over 20 percent, this would be severely detrimental to the quality of the health care system." Demoralization of the remainder could also cause problems in terms of numbers of patients seen and the quality of medicine provided.

Why are docs unhappy? Says Medicus, the company behind the survey:
Over 50% of physicians who responded predict that a health reform would cause the quality of medical care to deteriorate in America.  When asked how health reform could affect the quality of medical care, 40.7% stated it would "decline or worsen somewhat," while another 14.4% stated that the quality of medical care would "decline or worsen dramatically".  If a public option is implemented as part of health reform, 64.1% of physicians predict that the quality of medical care in general will decline.
"Many physicians feel that they cannot continue to practice if patient loads increase while pay decreases. The overwhelming prediction from physicians is that health reform, if implemented inappropriately, could create a detrimental combination of circumstances, and result in an environment in which it is not possible for most physicians to continue practicing medicine," states Kevin Perpetua, Managing Partner for The Medicus Firm's Atlanta division.  "With an average debt of $140,000, and many graduates approaching a quarter of a million dollars in school loans, being a doctor is becoming less and less feasible.  Health reform, and increasing government control of medicine may be the final straw that causes the physician workforce to break down."
Instead of the proposed legislation, the NEJM says the surveyed physicians have alternative ideas: "Tort reform appeared repeatedly, as did patient responsibility and ownership in their health care and costs. Additionally, many physicians emphasized a need for addressing specific issues with separate legislation, as opposed to one sweeping, comprehensive bill."

The survey of a random sample of 1,195 physicians was conducted by The Medicus Firm, which specializes in physician recruitment.


Forcing everybody into the same public schools is a good idea because ...?

All Constance McMillen wanted to do was to attend the high school prom with her girlfriend. Unfortunately for her, she lives in Fulton, Mississippi, a notch on the Bible Belt where the idea of two girls holding hands gives lots of people a bad case of the ickies. One thing led to another, the ACLU got involved, and officials at Itawamba County Agricultural High School (where girl-on-girl action is off limits, but the sheep are nervous) stomped off in a huff to cancel the prom rather than let ickiness prevail. Ridiculous as the situation is, it's all too common an outcome when disfavored minorities in public institutions come up against the preferences, prejudices and rank stupidity of the majority who run things.

Minorities and individuals believe nasty and stupid things, too, of course, but they are less likely to dominate political institutions. And make no mistake about it: public schools are political institutions that reflect the wishes of whatever faction controls the levers of power -- often representing majority whims, at least on hot-button issues, in democratic systems. In Tucson, Arizona, this means apartheid-ish racial and ethnic quotas for school discipline, in my stomping grounds it means a prevailing disdain for actual learning, and in Fulton, Mississippi, it means hating the gays.

You can't escape the prejudices of the people who run the show unless you can escape the institutions that they run.

This seems to be the strongest possible argument for decentralizing education and empowering families and students. If Constance McMillen attended a tolerant school chosen and supported by her family, the way they choose their grocery store and their housing, she'd be attending her prom instead of ... err ... being feted in Hollywood. So, OK, things aren't working out badly for her. But most put-upon teens don't end up with celebrity advocates -- even if they win, they battle for years and go through hell in the process.

Why should every kid have to joust with dragons -- and usually lose?

Every community includes minorities whose lifestyles, religious views and ideologies are sufficiently at odds with those of the majority that they can't be accomodated within institutions controlled by the majority without breeding conflict. Having to pay taxes to support those institutions not only adds insult to injury, but deprives people of the resources they might use to pay for alternatives. That leaves these minorities at the mercy of people who have completely incompatible values.

It's odd -- nobody suggests that we nationalize grocery stores and put them under the management of militant vegetarians or Atkins Diet fanatics, yet it's deemed OK to force gay and lesbian students to attend schools run by homophobes.

There's no reason to victimize Constance McMillen. She ought to be educated by people chosen by her family -- people who treat her with respect instead of disdain. Then she could attend her prom with her girlfriend without a moment's worry about other people's prejudices.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

The ethical omnivorean

Oh sure, we all jump through hoops to cook up the grains and greens when our vegetarian friends pop by, but when the shoe is on the other foot ...


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

No, mandatory drug treatment is not the answer

Most of the drug debate takes place over the clear-cut issues: should the government be telling people what they can put into their bodies or shouldn't it? But beyond overt prohibition -- and with the potential to outlast repeal -- is the vast, mushy middle-ground where the government "helps" those poor souls who just can't handle their drugs. Surely, pushing addicts into treatment to help them with their abuse is an act of compassion, not an authoritarian intrusion. Ah, but who is an addict, and what's abuse? And who is to say we don't all run the risk of a bit of compassion in our lives if we award our would be saviors with the power to intervene?

In his guest post, "Leave my drugs alone," Denny Chapin, Managing Editor at, writes:
People will always abuse drugs, always disrupt families, and always harm others in pursuit of a high. And people will always defend their abuse, deny its effects, and bring themselves and others down with them. If we accept this reality, we can still act for a future of change, bring hope to families, and shake the dirt from career drug addicts. And to that degree, we must take action. Never is it 'just their problem'; it's ours.

Chapin concedes that "many drug users casually use drugs without negatively impacting those around them," but he asserts that the government may have a duty to intervene and force drug users into treatment when their drug use negatively impacts those around them -- particularly children -- and that it "must enforce mandatory drug treatment" when drug use leads to criminal activity.

There's truth in what Chapin says -- particularly about the ability of many people to casually use drugs "without negatively impacting those around them." While getting solid statistics about addiction is difficult, Reason magazine's Jacob Sullum pointed out in 2003, "A survey of high school seniors found that 1 percent had used heroin in the previous year, while 0.1 percent had used it on 20 or more days in the previous month. Assuming that daily use is a reasonable proxy for opiate addiction, one in 10 of the students who had taken heroin in the last year might have qualified as addicts." By contrast, when it comes to perfectly legal booze, according to the National Institutes of Health, "[a]bout 15 percent of those who experiment become alcohol-dependent at some point in life. This compares to a dependency rate of 25 percent in those who experiment with smoking tobacco, and around 4 percent in marijuana smokers."

Most users, then, do so without becoming addicted, and Chapin quotes Alan I. Leshner, Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, to the effect that addiction is "uncontrollable, compulsive drug seeking and use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences."

Chapin is also correct that abusers often do deny that they're abusing drugs and that their behavior is problematic. Then again, so do people accused of addiction and abuse who are actually just engaging in recreational behavior. The difficulty lies in separating use from abuse and in distinguishing criminal behavior caused by an intoxicating substance from criminal behavior caused by a criminal's innate unwillingness to respect the rights and property of others. For starters, what is drug abuse?

That strikes some people as a silly question, but it's absolutely fundamental. And there's no fixed definition of "abuse." Asked whether he thought drug abuse should be illegal, the prominent psychologist, lawyer and drug researcher Stanton Peele replied, "The answer to the question depends on what you mean by drug abuse—whether any use of illicit drugs, extreme or addictive drug use, or illegal behavior associated with drug use or extreme drug use."

Chapin seems to flirt with the first definition, suggesting that the mere act of ingesting certain intoxicants is, itself, abusive:
Does our government have a responsibility to get heroin out of households? "They're my kids, so what if they see a few needles or a joint around? I'm not forcing them to do anything." This disposition is far more dubious, with the potential to truly harm the future generations of Americans, our youth.

Does seeing a few needles or a joint really harm kids? If it does, does it really harm kids so much that their parents should be forced by armed men into drug treatment programs? If that's the case, mandatory treatment for drug abuse becomes something of a tautology, with all ingestion defined as "abuse" and evidence of a need for a forcible response. Drug treatment, then, is less of a medical response than an ideological one, and those providing treatment are acting less as psychologists, physicians and therapists than as agents of state policy.

But what if we go to Peele's second definition: illegal behavior associated with drug use? And by "illegal behavior" we mean real crimes against people and property. It's this definition that Chapin addresses when he says, "many criminals are forced into treatment programs because their crime was caused by, or related to their addiction, resulting from their uncontrolled, compulsive, and harmful behavior."

Since many crimes are a result of drug use, mandatory treatment, we're told, is the obvious response.

Peele differs, saying "addicts—or any drug users—should be liable for any crimes they commit, whether committed while intoxicated, in the pursuit of their addiction, or under any other conditions. In this regard, I differ from many advocates for addicts, who may say that—since addicts are out of control of their behavior—they should not be liable for their actions, at least while intoxicated." (Peele, by the way, also takes issue with the way many 12-step programs go about their business, especially with coerced participants.)

The idea here is that people are responsible for their actions -- the devil didn't make them do it, and neither did the booze or the methamphetamine. Yes, a criminal may have alcohol or drugs in his or her system when he knocks over a convenience store, but that was the culmination of a series of choices. Treatment might be offered to criminals in the same way as other medical and educational services are offered, as a means of maintaining or improving their health and changing their circumstances. But pursuing drug treatment would have to be the choice of the criminal who is responsible for his or her own actions in all circumstances.

Fundamentally, the argument for mandatory treatment comes down to two fundamentals: all drug use is abuse, and drugs make people do bad things they wouldn't otherwise do. But not all use is abusive -- in fact, most drug use is not. And an asshole who does bad things and takes drugs is, at the end of the day, just an asshole.

Forgetting those points creates an invitation to the government to intervene in our lives if we simply engage in behavior that rubs officialdom the wrong way -- and it also allows the powers-that-be to let real criminals off easy for their bad decisions.

Chapin argues that, with mandatory treatment, "[a]t their worst, an addict won't benefit from treatment, simply going through the motions." But that's not the worst; the worst is that people living peaceful lives will lose their freedom and become subjects of forcible government intervention.

If you want to be compassionate toward those who use intoxicants to excess, that's great. Just don't arm that compassion with handcuffs and guns.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Guest post: Mandatory treatment for drug users

As part of a continuing series that I just started and will repeat whenever I feel like doing so, below is a guest post from a reader who takes a position contrary to my own on at least one topic -- in this case, mandatory treatment for drug users who are perceived to have crossed a line and so necessitated government intervention. The author is Denny Chapin, Managing Editor at

Wait with eager anticipation for my response.

'Leave My Drugs Alone'
by Denny Chapin

As citizens of the United States, we want two things: first to be protected against the Hobbesian Leviathan of governmental power and second, to be protected by that governmental power when other citizens are threatening our freedom. We ask our government to stay out of matters that don't concern them, while demanding they protect us from irate citizens that diminish our quality of life.

In practical terms, we want freedom from government oppression when we want to do something our government does not allow, like taking drugs, and we also want protection from the government when a drug addict breaks into our home to fuel his addiction. The question we must ask is this: when, how, and what actions should our government take to ensure the protection of its citizens? and when is this protection oppressive and negative? How do we weigh these two forces against one another? Is there a satisfying solution, or is will this balancing act always produce argument and dissatisfaction?

Real World Example: Drugs

Alan I. Leshner, Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, defines addiction as "uncontrollable, compulsive drug seeking and use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences." Drug addicts, by their nature, act in uncontrolled, compulsive ways, having a negative impact on their health and the social atmosphere around them.

Many drug users desire to be protected against governmental prosecution for using illegal drugs. They say "let me smoke marijuana in peace, it's my body I'm hurting, not anyone else's!" or "I'm less crazy when I take a hit of heroin, otherwise I'd be messing up even more peoples lives". And to a degree, there is some merit to their arguments, since many drug users casually use drugs without negatively impacting those around them.

But what about those drug users who cannot--does the government have a responsibility to step in and demand some form of action when an alcoholic completely ignores, or worse, physically abuses their children? Does our government have a responsibility to get heroin out of households? "They're my kids, so what if they see a few needles or a joint around? I'm not forcing them to do anything." This disposition is far more dubious, with the potential to truly harm the future generations of Americans, our youth.

Landing in Jail

In America, many criminals are forced into treatment programs because their crime was caused by, or related to their addiction, resulting from their uncontrolled, compulsive, and harmful behavior. When it gets to the level of incarceration, our government has a duty to intervene, not for the sake of an addict, but for the sake of the people that addict is surrounded by. It is at this extreme degree of action that we must enforce mandatory drug treatment, irregardless of the intentions of the addict. At their worst, an addict won't benefit from treatment, simply going through the motions. But hopefully, at its best, treatment will give them some perspective, showing them a window of sobriety to look through and see the world as they've built it up, and the world they could have.

There will never be a satisfying answer. People will always abuse drugs, always disrupt families, and always harm others in pursuit of a high. And people will always defend their abuse, deny its effects, and bring themselves and others down with them. If we accept this reality, we can still act for a future of change, bring hope to families, and shake the dirt from career drug addicts. And to that degree, we must take action. Never is it 'just their problem'; it's ours.

My response is here.

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Judge Jim Gray calls B.S. on drug prohibition

"The government has as much of a right to control what I as an adult put into my body as it does what I put into my mind. It's none of their business." So says Jim Gray, who recently retired as the presiding judge of the Superior Court of California for Orange County. A former drug warrior as a prosecutor and then a judge, Gray came to see that prohibition of disfavored intoxicants was a perverse and impractical policy -- and one with serious moral and economic consequences.

Gray was unusual among government officials who have turned against prohibition in that he started speaking out while he was on the bench, making public appearances calling for changes in policy, including full legalization, and authoring a book making the same case.

He presents his arguments in short form in the video below from ReasonTV.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hüsker Dü -- Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely

Apropo of not a goddamned thing, Here's Hüsker Dü's "Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely." (The video is here, and if you can figure out how to embed that, let me know.)

A lot of Hüsker Dü fans dismiss Candy Apple Gray -- the album that featured "Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely." I disagree, finding the album mature, but still angry, and connected to real life. There's a reason I keep coming back to it, again and again. Warehouse, on the other hand ...

These guys, the Pogues and the Replacements largely defined my musical life in the '80s. Interestingly, they all continue to sound good to me and multiple albums by each band are loaded on my Sansa Clip. After listening to a lot of jazz and lounge singers recently, I've been turning back to punk, at least partially because my four-year-old has Sinatra on a continuous loop and refuses to listen to "that yelling music." Yeah, really. Maybe we can compromise with Sid Vicious's take on "My Way."


Monday, March 1, 2010

Watch out for 'Tea Party terrorists' -- like Paine and Thoreau

You'd think that, after a couple of centuries of major American figures describing government as, at most, something to be tolerated, political pundits would have made their peace with the idea that skepticism toward state power has a core place in American political life. If your toes tingle at the thought of more coercive programs, laws, politicians and bureaucrats, you're the (very) odd duck, not the folks with anti-government views. And yet, we still get the likes of Frank Rich throwing high-profile hissy fits because "the unhinged and sometimes armed anti-government right that was thought to have vaporized after its Oklahoma apotheosis is making a comeback," as heralded by ... Andrew Joseph Stack III's Kamikaze-style airborne attack on the Internal Revenue Service building in Austin, Texas?

For those not in the know, Stack, like many people, had a bone to pick with the I.R.S. and with the federal government. But the manifesto he left behind also accused drug and insurance companies of "murdering tens of thousands of people a year," charged that poor people get to die for the mistakes of the wealthy, and quoted Karl Marx. Anti-government Stack was, but his ideology, such as it was, doesn't appear to have been coherently right-wing or left-wing so much as ticked-off and populist.

Rich does appear to be aware that Stack isn't a very logical stick with which to beat the Tea Party movement that has him and his government-cheerleading chums so knicker-twisted. At least, he concedes "it would be both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier or a 'Tea Party terrorist.' But he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner."

Nice how Rich works that gratuitious "Tea Party terrorist" bit in there, eh? But even as he smears his political opponents as guilty by distant and tortured association, he manages to overlook the fact that the anti-government sentiment he so regrets is neither a wholly owned subsidiary of the Tea Party movement and the Right, nor an aberration coughed up every decade or two by by unenlightened neanderthals briefly emerging from the philosophical swamps.

Frank Rich is a well-educated man with an Internet connection paid for by a respected news organization that has a vast historical archive of its own, so it's impossible to believe that the New York Times scribbler is unaware that Thomas Paine wrote in one of the more popular political tracts of the revolutionary period that "government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one." Nor can we believe he's unaware that James Madison hedged on Paine's sentiments only to the extent that he wrote, "It has been said that all Government is an evil. It would be more proper to say that the necessity of any Government is a misfortune." And certainly he knows about Thomas Jefferson's warning that "[t]he natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground."

And Rich must surely be aware that he's skipping over a bit of context when he drops the overworked Joe Stack connection to shriek in shock that "[t]he Tea Partiers want to eliminate most government agencies, starting with the Fed and the I.R.S., and end spending on entitlement programs. They are not to be confused with the Party of No holding forth in Washington -- a party that, after all, is now positioning itself as a defender of Medicare spending. What we are talking about here is the Party of No Government at All." Surely, if only in high school, he read Henry David Thoreau's open hostility to the power of the state:
I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe--"That government is best which governs not at all"...
The United States of America was founded on anti-government sentiment. The shapers of its institutions and many of its major thinkers have always clearly viewed the state as something like the equivalent of a portable kerosene heater in a Wisconsin winter -- you might need the damned thing, but be very careful.

True, the fact that the heart and soul of American political history is thoroughly skeptical of government power doesn't mean that Madison and Jefferson were right and that Rich is wrong. Maybe he and his buddies are correct and we should stop worrying and learn to love big, well-armed institutions that claim a monopoly on the use of force and slaughtered 262,000,000 people over the course of the 20th century alone. (It's for the children, don't you know?)

But history shows that anti-government sentiment is in the mainstream of American political life, and Rich and his buddies are the out-liers. No shrieking effort to paint skeptics of state power as kamikaze terrorists -- shoe-horning Joe Stack in with Thomas Paine and Henry David Thoreau -- can change that fact.

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