The First Amendment Protects Ex-Politicians Too

Most Americans loathe “lobbyists,” and most Americans think “bi-partisanship” sounds like a good, moderate idea representing compromise and common ground for the public good. So a surprise “bi-partisan alliance” between US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), with the proclaimed goal of passing a bill to ban politicians from working as “lobbyists” — maybe for life, maybe just for some long period — after leaving Congress was bound to get some good press.

It’s a bad idea. It’s an unconstitutional idea. And it’s yet more evidence that “bi-partisanship” is almost always less about the common good than about the one value that America’s two largest political parties share: The desire to have the heavy hand of government make everyone else do things their way.

What’s a “lobbyist?” Someone who “lobbies.” That is, someone who attempts to influence public policy.

If you call your district’s US Representative or your state’s US Senator to ask for a yes or no vote on a bill, you’re lobbying that official.

If you write a letter to the editor hoping to bring public pressure on government officials on an issue you care about, that’s lobbying too.

Suppose you make a sign with a slogan on it and join a crowd in front of a public building to have that sign read by the media and, hopefully, by politicians with the power to act on it? Yep, lobbying.

It’s lobbying if you do it on your own. It’s lobbying if you do it as an activist with a grassroots group. And it’s lobbying if you’re paid to do it by a corporation, a theoretically “independent” policy institute, or a foreign government.

What’s the problem with banning former members of Congress from “lobbying?” Try this on for size:

“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

That’s most of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. It clearly protects your phone calls, your letters to the editor, and your public protest outings in one fell swoop. It includes no exceptions for former members of Congress, or for people who are paid to speak, write, or protest.

Yes, powerful entities with lots of money like to hire former members of Congress to lobby on their behalf.

Yes, there’s a “revolving door” between Congress, the federal bureaucracy, and those lobbying jobs that lends itself to corruption and sweetheart dealing.

Yes, that’s a problem.

No, a ban on those practices isn’t the solution. It’s unconstitutional, it won’t solve the problem, and a threat to the rights of one American — even a former member of Congress — is a threat to the rights of all Americans.

The only practical, constitutional, and moral way to reduce the influence of powerful lobbies over Congress is to give Congress less  power over the things those lobbies care about — a prospect sure to elicit “bi-partisan” horror among politicians.

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Trial and Error

Nobody asked but …

Almost two months ago, I wrote a blog article in which I felt gratified that my teen granddaughters were experimenting with civil disobedience.  They participated in the worldwide climate strike.  It is OK if they took the wrong side, because they were right to speak out.  Experimenting is good.  The worst thing that can happen is that they might favor a wrong philosophy, but never re-examine that decision.  People who never re-examine their positions are candidates for the Darwin Awards.

In a more recent blog, I admitted to some egregious naivete, in the past, and I promised to address it directly in a future post.  In retrospect, I have always been an individually conscious voluntaryist, but I admit to the following mistakes along the way:

  • I liked Ike, but was too young to vote,
  • I would have gone all the way with JFK, but was still too young to vote,
  • I was atracted to the non-authoritarian hippy lifestyle, but I was anti-war (for the wrong reasons),
  • I was pro LBJ, before the Gulf of Tonkin incident,
  • I voted for Nixon, in the mistaken hopes that he would quickly end the Vietnam War,
  • I voted for Carter, in hopes of ending White House corruption,
  • Until 2008, I voted, believing in the system, and that the right POTUS would not be incentivized toward war, irrationality, and corruption,
  • Until 2000, I believed that history could show us examples of successful POTUS’es.
  • Now I know, beyond believing, that no human can be a successful master of other human beings.

Each of these mistakes taught me a lesson.  I will continue to try, and err, but I will not forsake my hard-won principles of anarchism.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Triple Standards: The Dollar, the Throne, and the Altar

The last chapter of Tyler’s Big Business is called “If Business Is So Good, Why Is It So Disliked?”  At risk of seeming narcissistic, this passage put a big grin on my face:

Perhaps in part because we cannot do without business, so many people hate or resent business, and they love to criticize it, mock it, and lower its status. Business just bugs them. After I explained the premise of this book to one of my colleagues, Bryan Caplan, he shrieked to me: “But, but . . . how can people be ungrateful toward corporations? Corporations give us everything! Corporations do everything for us!” Of course, he was joking, as he understood full well that people are often pretty critical of corporations. And they are critical precisely because corporations do so much for us. And do so much to us.

Does my colleague’s outburst remind you of anything? Well, immediately he followed up with this: “Hating corporations is like hating your parents.”

Hmm. Your parents too (usually) have done lots and lots for you, but—especially in America—large numbers of people are unhappy with how that all turned out, or at least some parts of it. For all of their gratefulness, they resent what their parents have done to them.

On reflection, though, my “Hating corporations is like hating your parents” quip misses a crucial point.  Namely: In the absence of extreme abuse or neglect, virtually every society condemns hating your parents!  When you retrospectively rate your parents, you’re supposed to forgive even serious character flaws and obvious cruelty with, “Well, mom did her best” or “Well, dad loved us in his way.”  When you rate a business, however, almost no one expects you to give it the benefit of the doubt.

You could object, “Well, we hold large impersonal organizations to higher standards than familiar individuals.”  But that’s utterly wrong.  Governments are large impersonal organizations, and people hold them to absurdly low standards.  They’re even willing to brush mass murder under the rug.  Churches, too, are large impersonal organizations, and people also hold them to shockingly low standards.  Many Catholics briefly punished their Church after massive sexual abuse scandals, but virtually none cried, “These child molesters can go to hell; I’m finding a new religion!”  Note, moreover, that government and organized religion aren’t two itsy-bitsy counter-examples.  They are by most measures the oldest and largest kinds of large impersonal organizations.

Tyler spends many pages developing a specific version of the “higher standards for large impersonal organizations” story:

[P]eople tend to anthropomorphize even when such attributions are inappropriate. Along these lines, we tend to think of corporations as being like people and we tend to judge them by the same standards that we use to judge people, whether we seek to do so consciously or not. To some extent we are bound to talk that way, but we need to understand that it can mislead us, and it is a kind of shorthand that has pitfalls and hazards if we take the metaphors too literally or allow them to drag around our emotions too much. It is simply very hard for most people to think about corporations without investing them with the personal attributes of human beings or at least the attributes of those small groups of social allies and enemies we evolved to obsess over.

Since the general story is utterly wrong, however, there’s no hope for Tyler’s specific version.  If he were right, people would also anthropomorphize governments and churches, leading to unfairly harsh judgment.  In fact, however, governments and churches enjoy overwhelming deference even when they’re engaged in vile crimes.  We damn the dollar, yet honor both throne and altar.

What’s really going on?  I’ve spent many years highlighting mankind’s anti-market bias: our irrational pessimism about the social benefits of markets.  I’ve even argued that this bias provides the common core of leftist ideology.  Scapegoating business and the rich comes naturally to psychologically normal humans – and big (≈ “rich”) business is one of the best scapegoats of all.  The only better scapegoat, really, is foreign big business – those beastly multinational corporations you keep hearing about.

Why do human beings have this corrupt emotional make-up?  I sincerely don’t know.  While I’ve heard Darwinian explanations, most seem like shaky just-so stories to me.  All I know is that human beings do have this corrupt emotional make-up.  And that’s why we I hope Big Business inspires a chorus of imitators – because our emotional corruption is not going to fix itself.

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Trade Peer Pressure for Past Pressure

“Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. . . Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Peer pressure is shockingly sneaky. Despite all the warnings against it, I’ve ended up falling into many of the lifestyle choices (high-consumption, etc) of people around me – even while being able to break the mold of peer pressure in other ways (skipping college, etc).

I want to try to live my own life, as fully as possible without the (unconscious) rule of following the masses. Maybe that’s possible for me. Maybe I’ll fail. But I have discovered at least one way of thinking about peer pressure that’s helping me on my way:

Even if it is impossible to break free of the sway of others, why settle for such a poor pack of peers?

There’s no particular reason I have to let the pressure of my 21st century late millennial, city-dwelling, and social-media driven peers be my only guiding light and influence.

I’m looking a little further back – and biographies have been helping to change my perspective on who my peers can be.

With the great “cloud of witnesses” of those long-dead I can pick and choose a much better cross-section of peers to pressure me.

I can look to people like Cato to learn how to resist corruption and face death bravely.

I can look to people like Frederick Douglass, who stood up to claim his manhood and freedom from slavery.

I can look to Richard Winters (of the 101st Airborne, Band of Brothers fame) to learn how to lead people well.

I can look to Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and other Americans of the Enlightenment era for inspiration on becoming a learned and accomplished man.

I can look to Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Sophie Scholl or Pino Lella to learn how to act from faith and justice against a system of darkness.

Spend enough time around the good and dead people of the past and you will grow in their direction – just like you might grow in the direction of your millennial peers. Our brains don’t seem to mind treating the dead recorded as if they were living. Several hours listening to an audiobook about Benjamin Franklin might have much the same effect of spending time with the man himself, and being influenced by him.

Listen to the words of wise, good men and women. Read their biographies. Imitate them – play-acting if you must. This past pressure is a far better and far more productive kind of peer pressure.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC

Washington’s political establishment went berserk when US Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) publicly noted that US-Israel relations are “all about the Benjamins”  — slang for $100 bills, referring to money shoveled at American politicians by the American Israel Public Affairs Group (AIPAC).

Omar was accused of antisemitism — immediately by Republicans, shortly after by members of her own party — and bullied into apologizing. She may or may not be prejudiced against Jews,  but even if she is, that wasn’t her real offense.

Her real offense was  publicly mentioning the irrefutable fact that many members of Congress take their marching orders from a foreign power’s lobbying apparatus (an apparatus not, as required by law, registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act), at least partly because those marching orders come with promises of significant donations to those politicians’ campaigns.

AIPAC itself doesn’t make direct donations to political campaigns. But AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbying groups like Christians United For Israel punch well above their weight in American politics, largely by motivating their supporters to financially support and work for “pro-Israel” candidates in general elections and help weed out “anti-Israel” candidates in party primaries.

By the way, “pro-Israel” in this context always means “supportive of the jingoism of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party,” and never “supportive of the many Israelis who’d like peace with the Palestinian Arabs.”

One AIPAC supporter  alone, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, spent $65 million getting Republicans elected, including $25 million supporting Donald Trump, in 2016.  But that $25 million was only put into action after Trump retreated from his early position of “neutrality” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, publicly prostrated himself to AIPAC in a speech at one of its events, and pronounced himself “the most pro-Israel presidential candidate in history.”

But: We’re not supposed to talk about that. Ever. And it’s easy to see why.

If most Americans noticed that many  members of Congress (as well as most presidents) are selling their influence over US policy to a foreign power, we might do something about it.

For decades, howling “antisemitism” any time the matter came up proved an effective tactic for shutting down public discussion of the “special relationship” under which Israel receives lavish foreign aid subsidies, effective control of US foreign policy in the Middle East, and lately even state (and pending federal) legislation requiring government contractors to sign loyalty oaths to Israel’s government.

The Israeli lobby’s power to prevent that discussion seems to be slipping, however. Why? In part because the lobby’s money and political support, which used to be spent buying both sides of the partisan aisle, has begun tilting heavily Republican in recent years, freeing some Democrats to not “stay bought.” And in part because the newest generation of politicians includes some like Ilhan Omar who aren’t for sale (to Israel, anyway).

Decades of unquestioning obedience to the Israel lobby has drawn the US into needless and costly conflicts  not even remotely related to the defense of the United States. We’ll be better off when the “special relationship,” and the corruption underlying it, ends.

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Judicial Secrecy: Where Justice Goes to Die

The traditional depiction of Lady Justice is a woman wearing a blindfold to demonstrate impartiality. In her right hand she wields a sword (symbolizing swift punishment for the guilty). Her left arm holds aloft a scale to weigh the opposing sides’ cases — publicly, for all to see.

Over time, American judges have become increasingly inclined to demand that the public itself wear the blindfold, and that the opposing parties wear gags.

Headline, New York Times: “Supreme Court Stays Out of Secret Case That May Be Part of Mueller Probe.”

The Court refused “to intercede in a mysterious fight over a sealed grand jury subpoena to a[n unidentified] foreign corporation issued by a federal prosecutor who may or may not be Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating the Trump-Russia affair.”

Headline, Sacramento Bee“California judge will keep Planned Parenthood names sealed.”

The judge says he’ll “punish” anyone who reveals the names of the alleged victims in the prosecution of two anti-abortion activists charged with secretly taping them in conversations regarding procurement of fetal tissue.

Headline, CNN: “‘El Chapo’ Guzman jury will be anonymous, judge rules.”

Before the trial even began, the judge pronounced Guzman guilty of “a pattern of violence” that could cause the jurors to “reasonably fear” for their safety.

Headline, ABC News: “Federal judge warns she may impose gag order on Roger Stone, prosecutors.”

The judge doesn’t want the flamboyant Stone, charged in the Mueller probe, treating his prosecution as a “public relations campaign” or a “book tour.”

Secret proceedings. Secret subpoenas. Secret juries. Secret alleged victims.

Always with excuses, some more or less convincing than others.

And all flagrantly in violation of the First Amendment’s free speech clause and the Sixth Amendment’s public trial clause.

Nowhere in the Constitution is there mentioned any prerogative of government to operate in secret or to forbid public comment by anyone.

From what source do these judges claim to derive the powers they’re exercising? Certainly not from the taxpayers whose expense they operate at. Nor from the public they claim to serve.

To allow such secret judicial proceedings invites corruption and makes a mockery of the conception of justice the courts supposedly exist to uphold.

Paired with secret police operations (how many times have we heard police chiefs refuse to answer simple and germane questions to “protect an investigation?”), such proceedings constitute the necessary elements of a police state as ugly as any in history.

If American freedom is to stand a chance of survival and recovery, judges who engage in this kind of misconduct must be removed from their benches, stripped of their robes, and punished harshly — after the speedy, and very public, trials they’re entitled to, of course.

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