The Right to Peaceably Assemble makes us not North Korea

Constitution of United StatesCongress shall make no law respecting … the right of the people peaceably to assemble …. That particular part of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States has been buzzing around my head for the last few days. Likely because of all the people marching up and down in my neighborhood, blocking traffic, smashing windows, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

As I peruse the delightful and polite discourse that flies across the wall of my Facebook feed much like poop flies gently through the air in a full blown, alcohol fueled, chimpanzee brawl, I’m forced to consider why it is we are allowed to assemble and protest what we perceive as wrongs perpetuated by the government. Why did the Founding Fathers include the aforementioned language in the Constitution?

The answer is quite simple. It’s so we don’t end up like North Korea. There is only one effective way to prevent people from assembling to air their grievances; arrest them for doing so. Arrest anyone that doesn’t like the way the government is doing business. Arrest them for stepping one foot off the sidewalk. Arrest them for marching in the street and blocking traffic. Arrest them and throw them in jail for breaking a window. That’s certainly the tenor of much of what I read from those who don’t like the protestors or their cause. This certainly seems to be the attitude of a lot of people in this country.

This path is frightfully dangerous for two reasons. The first reason is that people who feel they have no voice, people who cannot assemble and cause inconvenience, people who think they have no recourse to their complaints are much more likely to become violent. They will attack and kill police officers instead of marching in the streets. I don’t have to argue this point; the evidence is stark and mounting. Police will become afraid of the people and start shooting them at the slightest provocation. Again, I feel no need to support this point. Look around. It is manifestly happening.

The second thing that can happen is that we simply arrest everyone who dares speak out against the government. At that point, the United States will no longer exist in a way the Founding Fathers imagined. We are no longer a nation of laws when we can throw out those parts of the Constitution that cause us inconvenience. We are no longer free.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate seeing broken windows in establishments I frequent. I hate waiting in my car for a long line of protestors to clear the intersection. I might well sympathize with their cause but such behavior makes me less likely to look upon such protestors kindly. Still, I quite clearly understand to prevent them from doing so is a grave danger to this country and to my personal safety.

Terrorism is the child of repression. It was born in the most oppressive nations in the world and thrives when people try to violently destroy it. Where people have nonviolent means to address their government, terrorism has a hard time taking hold.

When we do not allow people to assemble and cause inconvenience we beget violence and rage. When we say arrest them all, we sign the death warrant of our nation.

You may not like the protestors. You may not agree with the protestors. You might find their methods troublesome and inconvenient, but trust me when I say you’ll like the alternative far less.

If protestors plan their marches to coincide with rush and happy hour to make our lives more inconvenient; we must resist the urge to call out law enforcement with riot gear and weapons. We must let them march to wherever they want to go. We must allow them to march where it causes problems because if we don’t, we take away their hope for progress. And people without hope do horrible things.

That’s why the Founding Fathers expressly gave us that particular freedom. I concur with their judgment.

Tom Liberman

Pay Frank Giaccio for Mowing the Lawn

Frank GiaccioThere’s a feel-good story making the rounds about a fellow named Frank Giaccio who wanted to mow the White House lawn. There is a lot of good in the story but there is one small thing that bothers my Libertarian sensibilities.

Giaccio mows local lawns in the Washington D.C. area and contacted the White House about his desire to perform the service for them. Someone read the letter and invited the young, he’s eleven-years-old, man out to do the job. He was loaned a mower by the National Parks Service and went to work.

I applaud Giaccio for his entrepreneurial spirit and his eye toward publicity. I congratulate the White House and the Parks Service for setting up the event. The young man got a personal visit with the president. All this is great. However, what he didn’t get was paid.

I understand the publicity about the event was worth more to Giacco than any small remuneration, but I’m telling you if I had been president, I would have insisted on paying his normal fee. That’s the message I think is missing in all of this. I’m reminded of the events of Atlas Shrugged when Dagny Taggart and Jon Galt go sightseeing in The Valley. They rent a car from a friend. It’s a small but important moment in the long novel. They don’t borrow the car, they rent it. When services are rendered, payment should be given. If you do something for someone, even a friend, they should pay you for your efforts.

This is the heart of capitalism.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this is some major transgression by the White House, the Parks Service, or even young Giaccio. I’m not triggered. I just think it would have been a good lesson to insist on paying the lad. He did the job, pay him.

Tom Liberman

In My World Jason Stockley has a Job and Anthony Lamar Smith is Alive

st. louis stockley protestsThere’s bit of a hubbub going on here in my hometown and right down my own street in regards to the fact that former police officer Jason Stockley shot and killed suspected drug dealer Anthony Lamar Smith.

There’s a lot of people talking about various things in the news and up and down my social media platforms. My conservative friends rail against protestors who broke windows. My liberal friends argue against the verdict in the case. Both sides assert angrily, and often with threats of violence, their moral superiority. I think there are interesting and pertinent arguments to be made from both sides but I’m going to take this moment to interject my Libertarian perspective. I think it’s something people on both sides of this issue should take into account, not that I would ever force them to do so.

In a Libertarian world, adults are allowed to put whatever chemicals into their body they want. There are no laws against certain kinds of drugs. Heroin is just as legal as Oxycontin. It can be purchased at the local pharmacy for an extremely modest amount of money. Stockley is still working as a police officer and has never been tried for a crime. Anthony Lamar Smith is alive and well. There are no windows broken in the Central West End or University City, one a place where I currently reside and the other my old home. Traffic is flowing normally without disruption in downtown St. Louis. That’s my world. Sadly, it’s not the world we live in.

It’s important to understand that heroin and prescription opioids are, in fact, pretty much the same thing. Law Enforcement Officers are busy risking their lives in order to control the competitors of the pharmaceutical market, not for the safety of the community. The laws against drugs are inarguably making our communities less safe, they are making life more dangerous for everyone. They are funneling huge amounts of money into the hands of violent criminals.

To everyone out there protesting either in physical form or via social media, arguing back and forth with friends and family, saying horribly insulting and threatening things to those on the other side, filled with self-righteous certainty; ask yourself this question: Am I partially responsible for what has happened?

Do you unconditionally support the War on Drugs? Do you support Law Enforcement Officers under almost every circumstance? Do you oppose such officials almost always? Do you hurl nasty and violent insults at those on the opposing side? Do you prefer to pat yourself on the back assuring yourself of your moral superiority rather than looking into real solutions? If you answer yes, you are part of the problem.

There is a simple solution. End the War on Drugs. It’s a War on Us.

Tom Liberman


Best Intervention for Fyre Festival of Pizza

pizza-festivalA fellow named Ishmael Osekre organized a pizza tasting festival in New York City which is being compared the failed Fyre Music festival held in the Bahamas. I’m not going to get into detail on the failings of the festival, suffice it to say serving tiny slices of cold, miserable pie to a New York pizza savvy crowd is going to be a disaster. What I’d like to discuss is the best remedy to this situation? Social Media? Government?

The first avenue is that of Libertarian dreams, Social Media. Such Gotham users are in an uproar about the event. Facebook, Twitter, and more are alive with people complaining about the scam and demanding their money back. The organizers eventually promised to create a makeup date but that is doing little to appease those wronged. As one of those aforementioned Libertarians, I’m quite pleased with this turn of events.

That being said, there are realities to embrace. Osekre might well pack bags and depart, leaving everyone out not only the money they paid but also the time they spent attending the event. In addition, such visitors might well have done something else that day of greater value. Social Media can certainly shame such a fraudster. It can spread the word so that the perpetrator will have a difficult time attempting the same in the future.

However, it is still quite possible for Osekre to change names, move to another city, and attempt the scam yet again. Each time he might steal money from those who want to attend such festivals. I think Social Media makes this far more difficult, but it is still possible. This is where government enters the picture.

Alerted to the travesty by Social Media, the Attorney General of New York is investigating and considering charges. Legal remedies are something beyond the power Social Media. If Osekre collected money but did not provide the expected service, that is a crime called breach of contract. Even if the festival was created in good faith but Osekre simply underestimated the popularity, the people who paid money were still defrauded.

My question then becomes; what is government going to do about it? The courts might well find Osekre guilty of a crime and sentence him to prison. They might order him repay the festival goers. The thought of punishing Osekre with imprisonment certainly appeals to the vengeance part of my brain. The possibility of people getting their money back is certainly a reasonable outcome. I’m not convinced people will ever get their money back. The money is probably already largely spent and there is little way to recoup the losses.

It seems to me there is room for both remedies and one creates justice where the other fails, they complement one another. We live in this brave new world in which the collective has far more power than it ever has in the past. Prior to the advent of the Internet and the rise of Social Media, scam artists like Osekre could simply travel from place to place perpetuating the same crime again and again. It was up to government to stop such fraudsters.

In the past government often failed to do so. In fact, government not infrequently became complicit with the fraudsters as long as they were cut in on a share of the profits. This sort of thing still happens on a fairly regular basis. Social Media can force government to be held accountable in a way never before seen in human history with the notable exception of violent revolution. In the same way, Social Media can hold criminals such as Osekre accountable for their crimes, or at least make it far more difficult for those like him to continue on with their nefarious schemes.

To my mind, this is a wonderful synergy. Government and the people working together to implement justice. This dual defense brings us perhaps as close as we’re ever going to get to true justice. Count me in.

Tom Liberman

Hurricane Irma and Government Hysteria

hurricane-irmaHurricane Irma has run much of its destructive course and I wanted to take a moment as a Libertarian to discuss the government reaction to the approaching storm and why I think it was a ridiculous overreach.

The storm was huge, it caused massive amounts of damage as it approached the United States. A number of people on islands in the Caribbean were killed. There was and remains danger. The question becomes what is the responsibility of government in situations like this? The moment I was pushed over the Libertarian Rant Cliff was when avowed small-government Republican Governor Rick Scott declared in no uncertain terms, “You cannot survive this.” He was referring to the storm surge that could potential swamp many areas with water.

I’m quite comfortable calling that statement a hysterical lie spewed by a politician who has completely lost track of what it is he is supposed to be doing. Hurricanes are inherently unpredictable. There was a chance the surge would be relatively small, which it ended up being. Many people, of course, survived the surge. Not only was the statement completely wrong, hey we all make mistakes, but it was clearly a lie designed to frighten people into behaving the way the governor thought they should act.

This is what government has become in our nation. People in positions of power not only think they know better than us, but feel the need to frighten us with hysterical proclamations and enact draconian legislation. I’m happy to say at least the police and national guard were not marched through neighborhoods forcing people from their homes. At least the governor has that amount of decency left.

Let’s discuss what a responsible politician should have said. The storm is extremely dangerous. If you decide to remain in the area, here are some are some websites that show you how to properly protect your house. Here is a list of items you should purchase based on the size of your family. Emergency crews are going to be overwhelmed and cannot be counted on to rescue you in a timely fashion if the worst predictions come true. You are in charge of your own life, not me. You have all the information available and I trust you to make the best decision possible.

The danger of Governor Scott’s proclamation is there is certainly going to be another hurricane in the future. The fact that many people hunkered down and survived makes it clear his proclamation was fear-mongering idiocy, those people are likely to ignore warnings in the future. Those stupid politicians are always preaching disaster and it’s never as bad as they say. The reality is sometimes the worst predictions do come true. Sometimes there is horrific danger. If politicians create an environment where they are considered overreacting fools, people stop listening to them when there is real danger.

One of the main Libertarian mantras is that the job of government is not to save us from ourselves. I have no problem with the government issuing warnings, explaining the dangers that confront us, but I draw the line at hysterical nonsense like that Governor Scott spewed. You, Governor, do not know what is best for me. Even if you did, it’s not your responsibility to force or frighten me into doing what you want. I’m an adult, treat me accordingly.

Tom Liberman


Pascal’s Wager is all about Integrity

pascal's wagerI was watching my favorite Atheist Based show, Atheist Experience, when they once again took on the topic of Pascal’s Wager. For me it all comes down to integrity. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. What is Pascal’s Wager?

The idea is an interesting study of probability and decision theory. The premise is that a belief in god will bring an almost infinite reward, eternal happiness in heaven. If, on the other hand, you do not have such belief, you suffer eternal damnation. This is where the wager becomes a true bet rather than a religious argument. What is there to lose or gain in belief or lack thereof?

Let’s say you could wager a penny to win a million dollars. No matter how long the odds of the bet, you’d most likely take that gamble. It’s essentially the same thing as spending a dollar on a lottery ticket when the reward is hundreds of millions of dollars. The single dollar you spend has no real effect on your life and the reward is so enormous, it’s worth taking.

Even if you are almost certain god does not exist, the reward of believing and the punishment for not believing makes it silly to do anything else. Why not believe? You don’t have to go to church, you don’t have to express that belief to others, your life doesn’t really have to change all that much. You just have to believe to get the reward and barely give up anything at all.

Well, that is if you don’t value your integrity. For me the loss in believing is that I’m lying to myself, I’m lying to my family, I’m lying to all my friends. I don’t believe in god. I think the very idea is rather silly. I am certain there is no heaven and if it existed, I wouldn’t want to go as it is run by a misogynistic, murdering, despot.

If I decide to believe in god in order to get a reward although it is against everything my rational mind derives; I have no integrity. What won’t I do? Lying, stealing, cheating, raping, murdering are now on the table, as long as doing so likely benefits me. Why wouldn’t I kill my parents to get the money I’d inherit, particularly if I was certain to get away with it? Here is some news for you; I wouldn’t seek to murder anyone, or rape anyone, or steal from anyone; no matter how certain it was that no one would ever find out. Because doing that to other people is wrong, just as if they did it to me.

Pascal argues that believing in god doesn’t hurt me in any way. That is where he is wrong. Stating that I believe something that I do not destroys my own sense of self-worth. I would be living a lie. My integrity would be gone. If I were to do such a thing I would loathe myself for the rest of my life.

The idea behind the wager itself is worth discussing. The concept of risk-reward is something you should think about when making decisions in your own life. What have I to gain and what is there to lose? Those are questions that should be answered before making major life decisions.

In this case the potential loss is greater than the reward, at least for me. The question is valid, I hope my answer is clear.

Tom Liberman



Krysten Ritter and being a Celebrity in One Minute and Forty-Six Seconds

krysten ritter celebrityI’m a big fan of Krysten Ritter and I admit to watching more than a couple of her videos on YouTube. I stumbled across this one the other day and it reminded me why I’m fairly certain I’d make a horrible celebrity, and why Ritter is such a good one.

Fame seems like a wonderful thing when viewed from a distance and I think there are many people who enjoy the non-stop adulation. I, however, am not such a person. Introvert, socially awkward, whatever you want to call it; it’s hard for me to believe I could tolerate such incessant access to me. I would be a lousy celebrity. Much as I like to think I’m a pretty decent fellow, there is no question people intruding into my life so boldly and ceaselessly, would drive me insane.

Part and parcel of being a celebrity and all the good things that come with it; is the simple fact that you are well-known and recognized wherever you go. There will be an essentially never-ending line of people wanting your autograph. They will line up to take selfies with you until you are forced to leave. The lines will go on forever. They will scream your name and tell you to be still so they can take pictures of you.

There are compensations. I’m certainly not suggesting the life of a celebrity is misery and pain. I’m just saying that such a life comes with particular and sometimes onerous obligations. If you don’t like strangers standing next to you and taking pictures with flash after flash after flash, the life of a celebrity might not be for you.

There is an assumption here that I have enough talent to become a celebrity. That my novels have any chance at all of generating enough interest to make me desirable as a selfie mate. I have no illusions of this, but it is something that crosses my mind. If my novels were to become popular and made into movies would I have the patience of Ritter? Would I have the ability to smile and say thank you endlessly?

I think the answer is no. I think I’d have to take a path similar to that of J. D. Salinger or Emily Dickinson although that is not particularly appealing either. Perhaps I could find some sort of happy medium wherein I lived a relatively normal life and avoiding many of the trappings of celebrity. I wonder how many of the people I know would make good celebrities. Would you?

Tom Liberman

Trump: Tweet in All Caps and Drop the Stick when Challenged

president donald trumpPresident Theodore Roosevelt was fond of what he called a West African saying, Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick. It largely meant policies designed around negotiation, openness, forethought, and careful proclamations but backed by a willingness to fight if the people on the other side of the table are not willing to treat you with equal respect. President Trump seems to believe in the polar opposite of this strategy. He Tweets loudly, rudely, in all caps, with brazen threats, but when presented with real opposition backs down.

There are two important aspects to Roosevelt’s political philosophy and the Speaking Softly is a critical element of success. It is this idea I would like to examine today. If you’ve ever watched an action movie, we almost universally see the humble hero trying to avoid a fight and working towards reasonable solutions while the villain uses brute force, taunts, and bullying to get her or his way. The reason for this is obvious and a diametric visualization of the difference in styles between Roosevelt and President Trump.

The problem with President Trump’s abandoning the Speak Softly part of the equation is that it largely destroys the Big Stick. When you antagonize and attack anyone that opposes you, they have several options. They can back down before your threats, they can ignore your threats and carry on with their business, or they can become belligerent back at you with their own sticks.

The Tweet in all caps strategy ensures that more and more nations and domestic opponents of President Trump are going to test the big stick. There is no doubt the United States has the biggest stick on the playground; that being said, the more you use the stick the better chance there is that it will break. You don’t want to resort to such unless it becomes absolutely necessary. President Trump relishes in threatening to use the stick. Whether he carries through with the threat or not; the stick inevitably becomes smaller and weaker.

Another problem occurs when your stick isn’t nearly as big as you think it is. President Trump doesn’t have many, if any, good options in dealing with North Korea. His bluster simply emboldens them to do things like shoot ballistic missiles over Japan. This is everything except a declaration of war. Trump promised the stick if North Korea continued firing missiles and not only did they do so, but they did it in a much more dangerous fashion, actually crossing over the territories of Japan. Imagine if Russia fired a nuclear capable ballistic missile that crossed over part of the United States!

Another problem arises from the fact that Japan, and other allies, begin to see us as impotent. Japan has the ability to become a nuclear nation with an aggressive military. The fact that they should take such steps is something they must consider seriously at this point. If we can’t be counted on to protect them, they must do it themselves. Some might argue that as a good thing but there is a history of Japan as a military state that you might want to consider.

Turkey is currently angry at us over the arming of Kurds in the attack against ISIS in Syria. Without the Incirlik Air Base our options in the region become severely limited. Russia is currently courting Turkey in hopes of strengthening relations.

I don’t want to get too far afield from the point I’m trying to make here. To summarize; the Big Stick part of the equation doesn’t work nearly as well if you are unwilling to Speak Softly. President Trump appears to be incapable of Speaking Softly. It’s all bluster and threats. This has dangerous repercussions. Either he is forced to use the Big Stick far too often or he backs down from the inevitable challenges.

In either case it cannot possibly be a foreign policy that will result in safety and security for the citizens of the United States or the world.

Tom Liberman

All Female Lord of the Flies Taking Heat

Lord of the FliesWilliam Golding wrote a book entitled Lord of the Flies which was later made into a movie and remade years later. There is a new movie in the works in which the children stranded on the island will be girls instead of boys. The script is being written by two men. Triggered!

Well, I’m not triggered. I think it’s an interesting idea. However, other people are pretty upset. The three main complaints seem to be that two men cannot possible write the script about girls, the idea the main plot of the boys degenerating from peaceful intentions to violent war wouldn’t happen with girls, they would be peaceful and nice to each other, and the story was about boys and should remain so.

I have sympathy for rage at the fact two men are writing the scripts. There is some merit to the idea men don’t have the personal experience of being a woman and therefore can’t write as good female characters as would a woman. That being said, I think there are plenty of wonderful female characters written by men. Wonder Woman comes to mind but there are many others. Would there be uproar if two women wrote a remake of Lord of the Flies with the original all boy survivors?

The second complaint is baseless. The children stranded on the island in the book and movies are all preadolescent boys. To some degree there is no real difference between boys and girls until sexual maturity. I have a number of friends and they have daughters. I’ve seen preteen and young teen girls in action. If anyone is under the insane delusion they can’t be as vicious and nasty as boys, well, you need to look a little closer. Perhaps the way they carry out their violence is subtler than a group of boys but I think that is interesting fodder for the new movie.

The third argument is likewise nonsense. There is no reason a book that originally had male characters can’t swap them for female characters.

The complaints seem to perpetuate sexist ideologies rather than dispel them. Two men can’t write a screenplay about preadolescent girls is as sexist as saying two women can’t write one about such boys. The third argument is similar to complaints about the 2016 Ghostbusters movie which had an all-female cast.

I’ve got a crazy idea. Let’s wait until the movie comes out and judge it then. Perhaps the two male writers will create a wonderful screenplay. Perhaps it will be awful. Perhaps an island populated by girls won’t end as horrifically as the original. Perhaps they will be worse.
All the judgment going on is sexist, from both sides.

And, by the way, I saw Lord of The Flies as a ten-year-old boy and remain traumatized to this day. I see no reason why ten-year-old girls shouldn’t be likewise disturbed. It’s only fair.

Tom Liberman