Sunday, July 29, 2012

There's no explanation for senseless violence

It can be argued that mankind is nature's perfect contradiction. We seldom consider issues for which there are logical conclusions. Yet when confronted with senseless violence we'll make vain attempts to rationalize irrationality. But no matter how hard we work, satisfactory results are unachievable. Explaining the unexplainable is like pushing breakers back into the ocean. So it goes in the aftermath of the Aurora massacre, as pundit after pundit blames firearms and the Second Amendment for the carnage.

While some people might gain momentary peace from blaming guns, or the Constitution, for deranged criminality, it is the ultimate nonsense. Firearms are no more responsible for violent crimes than Food Network is for gluttony. Guns are inanimate. They can't act of their own volition, determine right from wrong, or differentiate between just and unjust persons. Like knives, axes, and other tools, guns perform at their user's discretion.

True, a madman with a firearm can inflict more immediate casualties than one armed with a knife or an axe. But capability doesn't change the basic nature of a tool. Since tools are incapable of distinguishing good and evil, we must examine the operator. This simple truth forces humanity to face an unpleasant reality. Evil exists not in the objects we create -- guns, knives, axes, nuclear missiles, etc. -- but in us. Evil will survive as long as mankind survives.

Even so, there's no shortage of kneejerk responses from shortsighted and self-serving politicians who manipulate tragedy to enhance their power and that of the State. Those calls are thus far falling on deaf ears, which is quite refreshing.

Yes, the Aurora murderer used guns for an evil purpose. But thousands, perhaps millions, of like firearms are used for legitimate reasons, or not used at all, every day of the year. Privately held arms are intrinsic to liberty, their value far outweighing the evil found in the random lunatic. However, the peaceful use or nonuse of arms generates neither media headlines nor political opportunities. Those who offer vain explanations for senseless violence are hoping the country will favor their emotionalism over common logic.

Evil acts begin in an evil heart. Firearms, knives, axes, and clubs are just tools for expressing the evil within. Since one man expressed his evil with a gun, and many people died quickly because of it, it's easy to blame the tool. However, many people have died slowly, over time, at the hands of serial killers who used no gun. Those crimes are just as bewildering, the victims just as dead, and the perpetrators just as evil as if the crimes were committed with a firearm.

There's nothing defeatist in recognizing that evil won't be eradicated or fully understood this side of the Pearly Gates. To accept that fact is to choose reason over emotion and liberty over servitude. In Aurora's wake the fact that reason has thus far trumped emotion is about the best result we can hope for.

Tragedy of tragedies and no Shakespeare in sight

Any debate centered on the greatest tragedy writer in literary history will invariably include William Shakespeare. Tragic theatrical literature is as integral to the Elizabethan Englishman's legacy as stately political analysis is to Thomas Jefferson's. However, while tragedy is a favored tool of adept playwrights, it's downright indispensable for political tyrants.

Playwrights benefit from weaving suspense into their scenes. Tyrants benefit from weaving dependence into the law. Of course, the playwright's and the tyrant's motives are as different as night and day. But their base tactic is analogous. Tragedy creates empathy, and empathy captivates an audience. The scene plays frequently on today's political stage. Emotional stories generate compassion among a sympathetic but uncritical audience.

Ohio was the stage for a recent installment of this perpetual drama, where President Obama received tearful praise for enacting the Affordable Care Act. The emotional appeal came from a young woman whose sister succumbed to colon cancer four years ago. No one can argue that the scene isn't sad, even tragic, or that it's repeated far too often. But then life is filled with tragedy, and with people willing to use another's suffering for personal gain.

Admittedly, it seems crass to think a woman's death would be manipulated for political purposes. Yet the very nature of contemporary political discourse compels us to question scenes such as the one in Ohio. Was it genuine or fictional? Either way, it makes for prime political theatre.

Anyone who questions the scene's authenticity is quickly dismissed as the worst villain since Iago. What kind of person would suspect another of lending the death of a sibling to a political agenda? Only a cold-hearted boor could conceive such a conspiracy. However, the Ohio woman herself needn't be the actor for her tragic story to become an unintended performance.

Remember Henrietta Hughes, a woman of unemployment, homelessness, and assorted woe? Oh, how the sympathy did flow. Hers was a supreme tragedy, with the leading politician -- President Obama -- basking in the spotlight. Right on cue, Obama promised to alleviate Henrietta's suffering. On stage he played the hero. Behind the curtain he did nothing to alleviate Hughes' problem. Hughes herself was but a role player, a dispensable character in an endless political tragedy. The same can be said for Cindy Sheehan, the late Rodney King, and everyone who has "fainted" during an Obama speech. Each and every one became part of the political script.

Stephanie Miller, the aforementioned Ohio woman, is now on stage. Whether she's a plant or a heartbroken sister grieving for a lost sibling is material only to her. On the grand stage Miller plays a bit role. Yet she's indispensable to the overall drama, which serves to enhance the State's image. Presenting Ms. Miller's grief to government's leading man promotes a relationship between personal suffering and government relief. The public's allegiance to the State builds upon such tragedy.

Ms. Miller believes she wouldn't be grieving today had the Affordable Care Act been in force when her sister fell ill. But Miller's dialogue contradicts the confidence she, or anyone else, should have in government healthcare delivery. Ms. Miller's sister, upon diagnosis, applied for Medicaid. Guess what? Her request was denied. And what is Medicaid if not a government healthcare program? Thus the gut-wrenching scene of a weeping woman thanking a politician for expanding the State's bureaucracy even after the existing State bureaucracy had failed the prior need. It's like taking a second dose of poison and expecting to be cured.

I believe Ms. Miller's grief is legitimate. But a politician's empathy is not. She is the latest in a long line of role players whose real life dramas fertilize the State's growth. Just as playwrights achieve success through the staged suffering of their characters, tyrants also capitalize on tragedy to enhance their stature.

British statesman Edmund Burke said, "The people never give up their liberties, but under some delusion." Tragedy, or its perception, is the most effective delusion available to political tyrants. Tragedy, often of the tyrants own making, dissolves personal responsibility and undermines liberty, resulting in a population becoming more dependent on the State to meet its basic needs.

How shall we be secure from mortgage foreclosure and monetary devaluation if not for government bank regulation? Where will we find jobs if government doesn't subsidize industry? Will we be fed, housed, and clothed if not for entitlements? Can we receive medical care without a government bureaucracy? Political playwrights have spun these scenes into individual tragedies, thereby focusing the audience's attention on government solutions. No matter what happens to the supporting characters tyranny grows and the State is empowered.

Liberty necessarily declines when personal sovereignty submits to political rhetoric. Yet an increasing number of Americans are submitting to political tyrants who promise more of an increasingly insolvent bureaucracy. We are active players in an epic political tragedy, one Shakespeare himself couldn't have written better.

The preceding article was first published at American Thinker.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dropping the "i-word" ignores reality

A simple strategy for winning a political debate is to ignore evidence and blur reason. Denial and obfuscation often frustrates an opponent into surrendering. The "Drop the I-Word" campaign has adopted this technique, apparently believing it offers the best defense for illegal immigration. However, while dropping the "i-word" in reference to illegal immigrants is long on rhetoric, it is short on good sense.

According to Drop the I-Word activists, referring to an illegal immigrant as illegal is racist, dehumanizing, contrary to accepted law, and detrimental to reasoned debate on the immigration issue. However, if there were but one hurdle to logical discourse on immigration, it would be this kind of nonsense. Illegal doesn't indict an alien's character; it identifies their status.

Illegal means contrary to law or statute, or forbidden by same. Collins Dictionary defines illegal as a person who has entered a country illegally. Under these terms, anyone of any race, religion, ethnicity, or background can illegally immigrate, thereby becoming an illegal immigrant.

Genuine racial epithets identify persons or peoples according to skin color or heritage, not actions. For example, the "n-word" is a derogatory phrase used exclusively toward black Americans without regard to their character or status. The same can be said for the "c-word" in regard to Asians and the "s-word" for Hispanics. Each term identifies and denigrates based on nothing more than skin tone or ethnic heritage.

Illegal describes a person who has violated accepted legal procedures, nothing more. Thus illegal in terms of citizenship identifies someone whose immigration has violated the law. I'll go as far as saying "illegal" is completely race-neutral. Germans, Chinese, Kuwaitis, Mexicans, and Americans can all become illegals simply by moving from one country to another without navigating the appropriate bureaucratic red tape. Since the word can be equally applied to any race, heritage, or ethnicity based on their status, how can it be racist?

Actually, we have killed two birds with one stone. Since illegal describes the status of the immigrant whereas immigrant, or alien, describes the person, illegal is neither racist nor dehumanizing. The only time racism and dehumanization can be equated with immigration status is when someone with an axe to grind does so for political purposes.

Another issue Drop the I-Word raises is the legal accuracy of illegal. This, too, is misleading. We're not determining guilt in a civil or criminal sense, but in the court of public opinion where the burden of proof is miniscule. Even so, does illegal pronounce guilt without trial, or inhibit a person's ability to defend their rights? We can answer an unequivocal "no" to the first question and a conditional "yes" to the second.

I can't recall a single instance of widespread deportation without the benefit of a hearing. The closest example I can cite is the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Even then, Japanese-Americans weren't deported. Now, I'll admit that an illegal immigrant might have difficulty protecting basic liberties, such as reporting crimes committed against them. But the situation isn't unique to illegal immigrants; the same can be said of anyone engaged in an illegal activity. Such people naturally fly under the radar. Why? Because their actions are illegal, they recognize that fact, and they fear discovery.

If illegal is a slur, how should we identify immigrants who ignore both our borders and immigration laws? According to the campaign, "unauthorized" and "undocumented" are acceptable alternatives. But for how long? If the definition of illegal can be transformed into a racial, subhuman epithet, you can bet the farm the "u-words" won't be far behind.

Understand that Drop the I-Word isn't presently seeking a legislated speech code whereby offenders are held civilly or criminally accountable. Their goal is to convince journalists to drop the "i-word" from their lexicon. And frankly, the journalism community possesses the right to determine what words and phrases are acceptable in their writings and publications. But opponents of using "illegal" to describe illegal behavior should be intellectually honest about their attempt to change the word's definition to fit their political stance.

Dropping the "i-word" allows journalists to feel warm and fuzzy about their tolerance and open-mindedness. But they're ignoring the elephant in the room. If journalists won't admit the obvious fact that illegal immigrants have immigrated illegally, they have little to contribute toward solving the issue.

This article was first published in Creative Loafing - Charlotte.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Congress threw a wild pitch

Roger Clemens' trail is over and he has been cleared of all steroids and perjury charges. The verdict opens the door for the "Rocket's" detractors to cry foul while his defenders validate his storied career. So it goes with celebrity trials. Each side remains convinced of their rightness no matter the evidence or the jury's decision.

The Clemens debate will turn to his place in baseball history. Has the seven-time Cy Young winner been irreparably tarnished? Is his name honored or disgraced? Will he enter the Hall of Fame or set-up shop at the Cooperstown city limit with Pete Rose? If Clemens is enshrined what happens to other tainted players from his era: Bonds, McGuire, Sosa, and Palmeiro? It'll make for interesting hot stove discussions next winter. But the Clemens trial raised a far more important issue than a ballplayer's legacy.

Clemens landed in hot water because he allegedly lied to Congress about allegedly using allegedly banned substances. That's a lot of alleging, especially since the jury's verdict proves Congress possessed no convincing evidence for their allegations. Maybe that's why the public trusts and supports Roger Clemens more than it does Congress.

Rasmussen polling finds only 20-percent of Americans would bar Roger Clemens from the Hall of Fame, which means 80-percent see no issue with him entering Cooperstown or simply don't care. Conversely, only 7-percent approve of Congress' performance while 63-percent disapprove and 68-percent would like to throw the bums out. Make what you will of those numbers; it's quite clear that Roger Clemens is more trusted than Congress, and with good reason.

Would the same jury that found no convincing evidence that Clemens lied to Congress find ample evidence to convict Congress of lying to us? I think so. Despite taking an oath to "bear true faith and allegiance" to the Constitution, Congress has a long history of passing legislation that conflicts with that pledge, and then lying about it.

When passed, the Social Security Act included no adjustment criterion for future income or inflation variations and capped payroll deductions at 3-percent of the first $3000 in annual income. Today's employees pay 6.2-percent on all income, and their employers' "match" is actually part of the employee's earned income that's never seen. The central government's authority to withhold taxes from payroll was initiated during World War II as part of the Victory Tax. The war ended 67 years ago, yet taxes are still withheld. The Great Society promised to alleviate poverty and strengthen families. In reality, it spawned dependence on government above family and coincides with a 50-year rise in illegitimate births. Congress argues that healthcare "reform" isn't a tax and then hails the Supreme Court for upholding the law as part of Congress' taxing authority.

Roger Clemens threw 143 wild pitches during his career. But if government lies were scored as wild pitches, Washington has far outpaced Clemens. So, will taxpayers continue tolerating such legislative "chin music?" Or will we "charge the mound" come November?