Arbitrary Legality Makes Bad Laws

Recently, out of curiosity, I scanned the daily jail log for Curry County. I had never done so before and probably won’t do it again. Afterward, I felt guilty and was ashamed of myself.

I learned something interesting, though. Half of the people — five out of 10 — booked into the jail that particular day weren’t even accused of having done anything wrong; only things that have been arbitrarily declared illegal.

What’s the difference?

An act that violates an individual’s life, liberty, or property is wrong; a real crime, whether or not the law considers it a crime. These acts are wrong in and of themselves. The Latin term for this is “mala in se.”

Those booked into the jail that day and accused of having actually harmed someone were claimed to have either harmed others physically or to have violated someone’s property rights. Your main responsibility as a human is to respect the rights of others, so I have no sympathy for anyone who chooses to violate others.

This is assuming they actually did what they are accused of, which isn’t necessarily a reasonable assumption to make these days.

The other half of those jailed weren’t even suspected of harming anyone. The only justification for caging them was that they had offended the government in some way. Either they refused to identify themselves to a government employee, didn’t have the required permission papers, had forbidden substances, or tried to avoid being apprehended and kidnapped by an armed government employee. This makes these inmates political prisoners, not criminals. Even if I believed in punishment and imprisonment instead of justice, I wouldn’t believe these people deserved it. They are the real crime victims.

I understand why government would like for you and me to think of those things as crimes, but they aren’t They can’t be. Instead, these acts are “crimes” only because someone wrote legislation designating them so — a made-up rule with no ethical foundation. “Crimes” only because government employees say so. The Latin term for these acts is “mala prohibita.”

If you get aroused by punishing others, you probably don’t care. “It’s the LAW! It has to be obeyed,” you might insist.

Still, if you want your laws to be respected, you’ll first need to make them respectable. A good beginning is to get rid of all those laws based on nothing but the empty opinions of politicians.

This would eliminate all of your counterfeit mala prohibita “laws.”

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Policing the Public Schools: How Schools Are Becoming Even More Like Prisons

In his book, Free To Learn, Boston College psychology professor Peter Gray makes the connection between school and prison. He writes: “Everyone who has ever been to school knows that school is prison, but almost nobody beyond school age says it is. It’s not polite.” It’s a prison in that young people are compelled to attend school by law, are unable to voluntarily leave, are told what to do and when, and are required to consume a standardized curriculum.

As if schooling was not already jail-like enough, adding armed police officers to the mix confirms the metaphor. In public schools across the country, police officers are increasingly present, costing taxpayers millions of dollars for a vague notion of safety. In fact, some estimates suggest that over two-thirds of high school students currently attend a school with a police officer on site.

Increased School Security

While some school districts, particularly urban ones, have had school safety officers present for a while now, concern about school shootings is driving an increase in numbers. Tennessee, for instance, is dedicating $50 million to put a police officer in every school, reaching beyond populated districts into rural communities. The Tennessee bill received bipartisan support and was signed into law by the governor this month, joining the ranks of other states that are implementing similar policies.

After the horrific Parkland school shooting in Florida last year that left 17 people dead, the state legislature mandated an armed guard in every public school. Nevermind that Parkland actually had an armed guard at its school who didn’t enter the school to engage the gunman during the shooting. He subsequently resigned.

Armed guards and police officers at schools are no guarantee of school safety and, in fact, may cause more harm than good. Northeastern University criminology professor James Alan Fox explains in his recent USA Today commentary: “Transforming schools into armed camps does more to elevate fear than alleviate it.” He adds that while school shootings are devastating, they are incredibly rare. “Although the sense of safety of schools has been shaken,” says Fox, “it is important not to view such occurrences as the ‘new normal,’ as some have suggested.”

Over-Criminalizing Students

Rather than deterring mass shootings, armed guards at schools often end up over-criminalizing students. Some studies have suggested that police presence at schools leads to more arrests for non-violent crimes and does not improve student behavior. These arrests and other extreme disciplinary measures can thrust children into the criminal justice system at a very early age, helping to fuel what is known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Often, it is poor and minority children who are fed into this pipeline by school personnel at startling rates and at young ages, making it difficult to ultimately escape the path to prison. In 2016, for example, 50,000 preschoolers were suspended or expelled from school, with black preschoolers expelled or suspended at twice the rate of their peers.

Prison-like schools may be just the latest factor prompting more parents to opt-out of public schools altogether. How similar to prison do schools need to become before it’s polite to call them what they really are?An article in this week’s Seattle Times explains that more black families in the Seattle area are choosing to homeschool their children, at least partly due to the over-criminalization of black children in Seattle schools, where they are six times more likely to be expelled than white children. Other areas are seeing similar upsurges in homeschooling.

In Tennessee, the most recent state to pass the universal school police officer law, public school enrollment rose by less than 1 percent between 2012 and 2017. According to data I obtained from the Tennessee Department of Education, the number of homeschoolers nearly doubled during that same time frame, from 4,614 homeschoolers in 2012 to 8,843 in 2017.

Parents may be increasingly choosing education freedom over force for their children. That is, when they can choose. In their just-released study, Corey DeAngelis and Martin Lueken find that school choice improves school safety. They write: “We find that private and public charter school leaders tend to be more likely to report ‘never’ having safety problems at their schools than traditional public school leaders.” Providing more choice mechanisms that enable parents to opt-out of assigned district schools could ensure school safety better than armed guards and locked classrooms.

How similar to prison do schools need to become before it’s polite to call them what they really are?

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You Don’t Make the Tax Laws, but You Do Pay the Taxes

The Internal Revenue Code is a massive part of the laws of the United States of America. It is complex. I daresay no single human being, even the most expert tax lawyer, understands all of it, and most people understand none of it. Many provisions are almost incomprehensible except perhaps to that most expert tax lawyer, and even he is probably uncertain about many details. Highly paid tax accountants and tax lawyers constitute a large industry, spending their time trying to tease out the meaning of the tax code and to divine how the IRS will interpret its legislative power.

Yet one thing is certain: virtually nothing in the code is there by accident. Every incomprehensible provision is there to serve the interest of someone who made it worthwhile for a politician to direct his staffers to put it there at an opportune point in the legislative process.

You didn’t determine any of these provisions. Unlike those who did put them there, often with billions of dollars at stake, you don’t count. Your role in the entire taxing affair is simple and normally boils down to two things: one is to pay the amount that the IRS tells you to pay, and the other is to be punished with penalties and interest if you don’t satisfy the IRS.

A third, of course, thankfully never reached by most people, is to go to prison for tax fraud. Imagine that: tax fraud. The mind rebels at the very concept. It’s as if Jesse James and his gang rode into your town, took everyone’s wallet and watch, and then shot a few people for failing to hand over everything the gang demanded.

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Lawmakers Want to Give Voting Rights to Teens They Treat Like Toddlers

Newly-elected US Rep. Ayanna Pressley caused a stir this month when she filed an amendment to lower the legal federal voting age from 18 to 16. While Pressley’s amendment failed to pass, the action brought attention to the place of teenagers in society. Regardless of how we may feel about the role of the voter, many of us would argue that teenagers should have more autonomy and agency and be more active, productive members of their communities. The irony, however, is that at the same time legislators seek to empower teens by expanding voting rights, they are increasingly infantilizing them in other pernicious ways.

Confining Teens through Compulsory Schooling

For instance, the call to lower the voting age comes at a time when more states are tightening compulsory schooling statutes, requiring teenagers to stay in school longer under a legal threat of force. As of 2017, 24 states plus the District of Columbia had raised the minimum age at which a young person can legally leave school to 18. Lawmakers in Oregon announced legislation last month to lower the voting age to 16, but the state also raised its compulsory schooling age to 18. Sixteen-year-olds may get permission to vote, but in school, they still need permission to use the bathroom.

The alleged goal of expanding compulsory schooling laws is to lower drop-out rates and improve academic and social outcomes, yet research shows no clear benefit in raising the compulsory school attendance age. In Pressley’s home state of Massachusetts, a Boston city councilor recently proposed offering an optional 13th year of public schooling, prolonging the state stewardship of teens.

More time in compulsory school settings means less time adolescents spend working or otherwise constructively engaged with their larger communities. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a sharp decline in teenage labor force participation from a high of 57.9 percent in 1979 to just 34.1 percent in 2011. Much of this decline is due to the increased emphasis on time in school and academic performance while devaluing the critical life skills, mentoring, and real-life problem-solving that teens can experience through work and community involvement. Even summer jobs have been by replaced by school. According to the BLS, 42 percent of teens were enrolled in school in July 2016 compared to only 10 percent in July 1985.

Psychologist Robert Epstein points out how our society harms adolescents by stripping them of responsibility and authentic immersion into adult life. In his book, Teen 2.0, he writes that “high school is little more than a prison for many of our teens, and the time has come to explore bold new approaches to education that will allow our young to reconnect meaningfully with the adult world they are about to enter.” Dr. Epstein argues that the “artificial extension of childhood” past puberty is why so many US teenagers today are in turmoil.

The Power of Self-Education

The concept of adolescent empowerment and greater participation in the larger community is not new. For decades, social reformers have been advocating for more freedom and responsibility for teenagers. Paul Goodman brought these ideas to the forefront in his books, Growing Up Absurd (1960) and Compulsory Mis-education (1964). Goodman influenced John Holt, who took the ideas a step further. In his 1974 book Escape from Childhood, Holt promotes extending children’s rights, including allowing children the right to vote, as well as to direct their own education. The self-directed learning principle is critical for Holt. He writes in Escape from Childhood:

“A person’s freedom of learning is part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech. If we take from someone his right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought. We say, in effect, you must think not about what interests and concerns you, but about what interests and concerns us.”

Holt went on to coin the term “unschooling” in 1977 as part of the nascent homeschooling movement, urging parents to remove their children from institutional schooling in favor of non-coercive, self-directed learning. Today, unschooling continues to gain popularity, particularly as more self-directed learning spaces provide alternatives to school for children and adolescents.

Lowering the voting age is a reasonable proposition. Indeed, it’s something worth considering as a mechanism for inviting adolescents into the larger discourse of our society. But lowering the voting age while forcing these same teens to spend additional years in mandatory schooling environments, cut-off from authentic, inter-generational community interactions, is nothing more than a political ploy.

Teenagers are capable of being valuable contributors to civil society. They should be granted greater freedom and responsibility. Lowering the voting age while trapping them in compulsory schooling gives teenagers neither freedom nor responsibility.

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Chelsea Manning: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Again

One of the 21st century’s greatest heroines is behind bars again, held in contempt by federal judge Claude M. Hilton for refusing to help prosecutors trump up charges against the journalists who published information she paid dearly for giving them.

Chelsea Manning spent more than six years in prison —  854 days of it in pretrial confinement, violating the military’s “speedy trial” maximum of 120 days — for the fake “crime” of showing the American people evidence of actual crimes committed in our name by the US government.

President Barack Obama commuted her sentence three days before he left the White House. That, however, turned out not to be the end of her mistreatment at official hands.

Manning, who testified about  her interactions with WikiLeaks during her illegal 2013 court-martial, refuses to do so again before a grand jury targeting WikiLeaks and its founder/leader, Julian Assange, for their work in bringing hidden truth to light. Under Hilton’s order, she may be held for up to 18 months, or until the grand jury’s term ends, or until she gives in. Her history says she won’t do that.

Grand juries usually function in harness to the wishes of prosecutors. A defense lawyer famously told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in 1979 that “the district attorney could get the grand jury to indict a ham sandwich if he wanted to.”

But in actuality, grand juries enjoy sweeping powers to look beyond what prosecutors show them. Should that ham sandwich — or that prosecutor — happen to attract their negative notice, they can indict the sandwich, or the prosecutor, whether the prosecutor likes it or not.

Federal prosecutors and judges are weaponizing the grand jury system to attack freedom of the press and freedom of information in support of a fortunately dying ethic of government secrecy. This particular grand jury should punish that behavior instead of rewarding it.

The grand jury should indict federal prosecutors Tracy Doherty-McCormick (who represented the government at the contempt hearing) and Gordon D. Kromberg (who requested the Manning subpoena) as well as their bosses for, among other crimes, conspiracy against rights (US Code 18, Section 241) and deprivation of rights under color of law (US Code 19, Section 242).

In the meantime, those who value truth, justice, and the American way owe Chelsea Manning a massive debt. One way to partially repay that debt is to contribute to her legal fund at https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/chelsea-manning-needs-legal-funds-to-resist-a-grand-jury-subpoena. I hope you’ll join me in doing so.

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Free Will

Is free will a real thing, or is it not?

Statists like to believe in free will because that way they can feel OK with imprisoning and murdering people for the crimes they commit. Even many statists who admit they don’t believe in free will say that to govern they have to pretend it exists– otherwise, no one could really be accountable for his actions; they are predetermined. I see that as a cop-out.

People who view the Universe as deterministic– where each particle interaction affects other particle motions in ways which are predictable according to the laws of physics– mostly believe free will is an illusion.

I believe they are forgetting a critical branch of physics.

Quantum physics, with its fuzziness and indeterminacy, seems (to me) to leave room for free will.

So, yes, I believe in free will, even while acknowledging that the laws of the Universe acting on every atom in our bodies (including in our brains) can push us toward certain actions. Embrace your quantumness and reject archation. You do have the choice.

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