Friday, October 31, 2014

Liberty in Halloween

Halloween is a delightful holiday where the free market takes over.

With minimal government interference, kids and adults across America engage in cultural speech through artistic expression in their costumes.

Private security firms and neighborhood watch groups mobilize for public safety, while parents make arrangements with other parents regarding supervision and safety in numbers.  Many parents will carry pepper spray or a gun while they protect their kids from real-world creeps.  It's the one night where the police don't have the monopoly on public safety and force.

The candy industry booms and people distribute thousands of pieces of candy to kids for what's basically a front-porch fashion show.  This is done without the FDA, Department of Agriculture, and Department of the Interior jumping in and blocking the exchange.

Fans of creepy stories can talk about witches, ghost, and demons--and sell spooky merchandise--without the IRS jumping down their throat for violating tax codes for religious groups.

Many adults are throwing parties where people will drink, laugh, and be merry until the wee hours of the morning.  Party-goers meet new people, some people "hook up," and others party with their old friends.

In essence, the festivities of Halloween Night are the epitome of voluntary exchange and association.  Indeed, there is liberty in Halloween.

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Jack-o-Lantern image by Toby Ord, used via CC BY-SA 2.5 license, and obtained from Wikipedia.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Frankenstein (1931): A Libertarian Film Review

Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to take my nephew to see Universal’s timeless classic, Frankenstein, on the big screen.  It was a great time and we both enjoyed the movie.  I felt privileged by the fact that both of us were seeing it for the first time in theaters, and that it was the boy’s first time seeing an eighty-three year old masterpiece.

Seeing Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s “monster” for the first time in years had a powerful effect on me.  With the limited audiovisual and special effects capabilities of the time (1931), this movie is entirely driven by individual performance.  Even Karloff’s almost-comical simplicity in portraying the monster is driven by emotion and strong character acting.  I could sense desperation both in the monster and the humans who hate him.  Beyond that, the movie touched on my values, especially the sanctity of human life.

In Henry Frankenstein’s obsession with creating life from dead tissue, he likens himself to God for giving life.  This is the ultimate arrogance in a human being, and such arrogance wreaks deadly consequences on the community once the “monster” escapes.  At first Frankenstein is committed to preserving and cultivating the life he has artificially brought into the world.  Over a short amount of time, Frankenstein’s monster proves to be beyond control, killing at least four people in the creation’s short existence.

This image terrifies us deep down, knowing that people’s final resting places were disturbed, their corpses violated and mutilated without their consent.  Even the dead have rights; this is something we recognize in people’s final will and testament, by which their exact instructions for their persons and property are enforceable by law.  Living life in a world where people’s rights are violated every day, it’s disturbing to think of our civil liberties and property rights being violated after we pass on.  Even worse is the idea of your own corpse being used—without your consent—to create something that will brutally kill innocent people.

Quite honestly, it was also very uncomfortable to see the monster in its moments of despair and anguish.  It’s known that the creature possesses an abnormal (developmentally stunted and homicidal) brain and warrants his own destruction by his deadly actions.  At the same time, the viewer knows this new life—while possessing some form of memory in its formerly dead, damaged brain—knows next to nothing but torture.  While it should never have been created—Frankenstein had no right to do so—the creature is alive and awake.  This new life enters the world and is kept in shackles and darkness, a scene directly from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.  When the angry mob comes to destroy the creature, this child-like life form will know fear, pain, agony, and true suffering.

The way Dr. Frankenstein degrades human life to the subject of a science experiment reminds me of the ways governments are run by men who play God with their citizens.  The history of the world reveals numerous episodes wherein lives, liberty and property were taken away, wherein people suffered and died, because governments made grand experiments.  These episodes are filled with lives and fortunes destroyed via public policy.

Furthermore, nation-states like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Red Cambodia are symbolic of monsters—created on lofty ideals and mad delusions—out of control and causing untold death and destruction.  Moreover, the illusion painted by governments, in which there is a monster lurking in the bushes, countless times served as the justification for keeping citizens in a political state of bondage.  The recent NSA mass-surveillance scandal is a painful indicator that our American Constitutional republic can also slip into something decent people regard as evil.

Films like the 1931 adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein serve to entertain audiences, in no small part through prompting an emotional response (hence the inspiration for this review). Scary tales like this one serve as powerful metaphors, ever reminding us of the sanctity of human life. They also remind us to teach our children the value of life, and to respect that which does not belong to us nor is ours to violate.

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Universal Studios' photo of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster is in the public domain and was obtained from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

CitizenFour (Edward Snowden) film review

Last night was an incredible experience which included me getting together with some great libertarian friends in Los Angeles, where we saw the documentary film CitizenFour at the Landmark Theater.

CitizenFour is Laura Poitras’ third documentary film about civil liberties and human rights in the post-9/11 world.  It also features journalist Glenn Greenwald, who was credited for bold investigative journalism when the NSA scandal hit the fan in 2013.

However, the main attraction is the famous—or infamous—whistleblower, Edward Snowden.  When I say this film is about Snowden and his shocking revelations to the world, I don’t mean it simply talks about him.  The film features an eight-day marathon of interviews with Snowden in his hotel room in Hong Kong (filmed in April 2013).  For nearly two hours, Edward Snowden tells Poitras and Greenwald his story, motives, and objectives.

Says the film’s official website,

“Poitras had already been working on a film about surveillance for two years when Snowden contacted her, using the name ‘CITIZENFOUR,’ in January 2013.  He reached out to her because he knew she had long been a target of government surveillance, stopped at airports numerous times, and had refused to be intimidated. When Snowden revealed he was a high-level analyst driven to expose the massive surveillance of Americans by the NSA, Poitras persuaded him to let her film.”

The viewer gets an up-close look at Snowden’s personality and quirks—not just the one photograph and video clip the world has seen—is how the documentary is filmed like a thriller, with drawn out shots of concerned faces, suspenseful music, etc.  It definitely helps suck the viewer deeper into the story and message.  I won’t spoil some of the big surprises Snowden reveals on camera; I will share a personal testimony.  Before seeing this film, I’d spent over a year sitting on the fence as to whether Snowden was a patriot or had sold out and used the whistleblower story to cover his tracks.  After seeing the film, I’m convinced that Snowden was right to do what he did.

Snowden was, and is, a patriot for whom the Fourth Amendment and the Constitution are NOT negotiable.  The framers of American government meant for those first ten Constitutional amendments—the Bill of Rights—to be non-negotiable.

It’s just not right to spy on—so heavily invading the privacy of—American citizens (nor foreign citizens) who have done nothing wrong.  It’s also a slap in the face to all the troops in the armed forces, the police officers, firefighters, medics, and emergency workers who died to protect the lives, liberty, and property of their fellow Americans.  It does these fallen heroes the ultimate dishonor, having died for freedom and then their own government dissolving that freedom with a click of a button and a line of code.

This film is highly recommended for any libertarians, and anyone else interested in learning more about civil liberties, mass surveillance, and the idea of police states.  Even for those who disagree with and oppose Snowden, it’s important to see this film.  Anyone who possesses the ability to have an intellectual conversation—a comparison and exchange of ideas—and who can take an ideological position, has a responsibility to get their opponent’s arguments in his own words.  One must be familiar with their opponent’s arguments if they ever hope to deconstruct and refute them.  Otherwise, ideology becomes not an informed decision, but a blind “us-versus-them” mentality, and such a mentality has driven men to kill each other over thousands of years for the pettiest of reasons.

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Movie poster image courtesy of Hollywood Reporter.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Five Libertarian Ideas #28 - Libertarian talking points

Intellectual property and crony capitalism
Part of the reason DVDs and Blu Rays are expensive to buy is due to the MPAA and major studios successfully lobbying Congress for evermore anti-piracy legislation, which artificially decreases the supply of movies on discs. When I was a teenager and spending money was very limited, I used to go to Chinatown and buy crystal-clear bootleg DVDs for $5 a pop. The utility of a store-bought DVD or bootleg DVD was the same, so I maximized my spending power by buying multiple cheap DVDs rather than spend $20 on one store-bought. This was before lightning-speed downloading and streaming.  Regulation of the black market didn't, and doesn't, work. –10/16

Mao Zedong (left), Ho Chi Minh (right)
Intervention in Indochina
The endless ironies of foreign intervention and foreign aid boggle the mind at times. In 1945, an anti-Japanese guerrilla leader was dying from malaria and dysentery. US intelligence agents nursed him back to health. The guerrilla leader would later be known as Ho Chi Minh, responsible for the deaths of 58,286 Americans, 3 million Vietnamese, and untold numbers of Cambodians and Laotians. –10/19

Libertarians and pre-libertarians
Those who identify as libertarian do so because of a conscious decision to live by libertarian principles. The numberless masses who either sympathize with libertarianism, or who agree with the Golden Rule and personal responsibility without knowing libertarianism, are pre-libertarian. They are great minds waiting to blossom. The most fanatical statists who insist on maintaining omnipresent government are simply anti-liberty. –10/20

Rocky Mountain fur trapper
Liberty and survival
The history of westward expansion in America is the history of individuals carving out a livelihood where there was yet no government. They were solely responsible for producing, or trading for, the means for their own survival. I have the ability to do the same; the benefits of the division of labor, and my need for social interaction, compel me to choose to live in an area over which a government rules. However, only the most fanatical statists actually need government to keep them alive. Others can do it on their own, regardless of government. –10/20

Obamacare and changing the dialogue
It's hilarious that emails from Barack Obama's website are calling government-run health insurance "Obamacare." This shows that after years of bashing the Affordable Care Act and President Obama, Republicans have finally changed the dialogue (albeit in an immature way). While the neocons spent years getting people to hate "Obamacare" (which I call Son of Romneycare), libertarians spent years discussing auditing and ending the Federal Reserve, abolishing the IRS, and bringing our troops home. Now it's taking hold! –10/21

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Mao and Ho picture by the government of North Vietnam, c. 1955.  "Old Bill Williams" painting by Alfred Jacob Miller, c. 1839.  Both images are in the public domain and were obtained from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

UnFair: Exposing the IRS (film review)

Note: The movie was billed as UnFair: Exposing the IRS but the official website calls it UnFair: The Movie.

Last Tuesday I accompanied some friends to see the documentary film UnFair: Exposing the IRS on the big screen.  This was a breath of fresh air, as I’m used to consuming politics hunched in front of a computer screen rather than at posh movie theaters.  It was an interesting experience and the movie was worth seeing once.

I left the theater critical of the film, but it does have its merits.  The film features in-depth interviews with American citizens who have been directly targeted and victimized by the IRS for political purposes.  Among those affected are:

  • Conservative grass-roots organizations, including tea parties and women's groups
  • Various churches and Christian ministries
  • A non-partisan veterans support group
  • Adoptive parents of a foreign-born baby
  • Non-partisan pro-life groups

What did all the groups have in common?  Two things: 1) All either held or applied for 501(c)3 or (c)4 tax status; 2) All of the above engaged in some kind of activity that went contrary to public policies under the Obama Administration.

The first credit to the filmmakers is that they blew the whistle on the IRS for serious abuses of power and rampant violation of the First Amendment—every one of the individuals or organizations targeted was engaged in a form of speech, expression, or voluntary association.

The second good thing about the movie is the inclusion of an exposé on Lois Lerner.  The filmmakers shine the spotlight on the former IRS Director of Exempt Organizations and her history of misusing her power in various federal agencies to persecute conservatives.

Whether or not one agrees with conservative (neoconservative) ideas, it’s absolutely wrong, illegal, unconstitutional, and a gross injustice for the government, and/or rogue government agents, to target and persecute people for expressing opposing ideas.

Despite the positive credits to the film, UnFair has its downsides.  For starters, it features (in my opinion) far too many clips from Fox News shows.  Though there are clips from other news networks, Fox News is the most used source.  One doesn’t have to be a libertarian to know that only dedicated neoconservatives take Fox News seriously as an unbiased source for information.

Also, the film dedicated over seventy minutes to complaining about abuses of power in the federal government, but less than ten minutes to the Fair Tax (which the film was a ruse to promote).  The last section only vaguely explained that the Fair Tax would replace the income tax and be a flat rate sales tax.

Here we find a problem.  Even if the Fair Tax is lower than the income tax, all it does is transfer compulsory taxation from earning money to spending money.  It could be a positive first step toward economic recovery, as long as the tax is a very low rate.  Theoretically, people could avoid paying taxes through paying cash and/or “making donations” in the underground market.

However, in that scenario exists a breeding ground for more abuse of power and a police state.  Instead of instantly drawing tax money from a paycheck, the IRS would demand access to receipts for a person’s possessions.  If the owner can’t provide receipts for everything, tax audits could end with the IRS having people’s possessions appraised for their value and then taxed.

The only fair tax is no tax; let the working men and women of America save or spend every penny they earn as they see fit.  And regarding persecuted churches, they shouldn’t have a 501(c) tax status… they should have NO tax status.  For the IRS to regulate churches and ministries goes against the separation of church and state.  End of story.

UnFair: The Movie is worth seeing once with a group of friends to encourage some discussion on tax reform; if not, it’s worth seeing once alone if anyone wants details on how the IRS is stunting the growth of the economy and depriving citizens of their civil rights. The producers also are releasing a companion book by Craig Bergman for further reading.