Friday, December 20, 2013

Of Course NSA Mass Surveillance is Illegal



The recent decision of Federal Judge Richard Leon, that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ communication records does violence to the Constitution, demonstrates a rare convergence of elite jurisprudence and common sense.

While this is by no means the last word on the matter – Judge Leon stayed his own ruling, noting that the debate will likely end up before the Supreme Court – it is encouraging to see prominent legal minds alight upon the self-evident conclusion that mass surveillance of Americans is very wrong.

The propriety of the NSA’s conduct is not a difficult question. What is the meaning of life? Does ensoulment occur at inception? What is the appeal of white chocolate? These are difficult questions.

Should the government of a supposedly free country help itself to the private communications of its citizens? That’s a gimme.

Ah, but they say, we are at war! Always, it seems, we are at war – with drugs, with poverty, with terror, with common sense. (Herewith, I propose America’s next domestic battleground: a War on Bureaucracy). The NSA’s data collection, like the militarization of police or the TSA’s busy hands, supposedly bolsters the noble campaign to keep us safe.

This is rhubarb of the first order. The average American, going about his daily business, has more to fear from power-drunk cops or “Knockout Game” enthusiasts than from al-Qaeda. And increasingly, he has more to fear from his own federal government – the most powerful and omniscient force on the planet – than from all of these combined.

As a moral matter, there is little defense for the NSA’s ubiquitous snooping. At times, the edification of law by morality is clear. It is often noted that murder is not wrong because it is illegal; it is illegal because it is wrong. Nevertheless, there is frequently a chasm between what is legal and what is right.

In such cases as these, there’s always some Harvard Law legerdemain, mystifying to the rest of us rubes, whereby the plain language of the Constitution somehow doesn’t mean what it says and, if only we’d read the Nosey vs. Parker decision, we’d appreciate the applicable precedent.

Nuts to that. America aspires to have a citizen government, not a lawyerly oligarchy. Yet time and again, from the wells of Congress or across the airwaves, self-styled experts defend the indefensible to us, in slow and measured tones, as though they were explaining civics to a small child, or a Golden Retriever.

Any politician, left or right, Republican or Democrat, who offers rationale akin to, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” should be hooted out of public life. Notwithstanding the emotional satisfaction inherent to the defenestration of an adult who pronounces something so dunderheaded, such a politician plainly misunderstands who reports to whom in a representative government. To wit, the onus is not on free citizens to ensure their records are spotless for inspection; it is on the authorities to show why they need to see them, and under what suspicion.

It is reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a heated exchange with President Obama over the NSA tapping her mobile phone, compared the agency’s tactics to those of the Stasi during the Cold War. Indeed. East Germany, the Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – these were but a few of the modern states where citizens took it for granted that the government monitored their communications.

America purports to be different, and better. But by what criteria can the country make that claim, as it pertains to the privacy of its people? The high-minded words calligraphed on 18th Century parchment, or the actions of its government today?

Some choose to believe NSA assertions that only so-called metadata are being collected (as in, which numbers call each other, from what locations, etc.), rather than the actual content of phone conversations and emails. What a dark, dreary place the world would be without such sanguine, trusting souls. Careful not to crush their innocence, in light of the mendacity we have seen to date, one wonders whether the simpler explanation is that the NSA, having been exposed, is simply admitting to the least objectionable conduct they can.

If the NSA is only applying serious scrutiny to a couple hundred people, as its Director claims, very well – let them get warrants for each of those folks. Even by the standards of government inefficiency, the idea of gathering the data of over 300 million citizens – or tracking 5 billion phone records a day worldwide – to isolate a crowd slightly larger than a Wheel of Fortune studio audience seems a bit much.

In his decision, Judge Leon noted the NSA cannot point to a single instance in which its Peeping Tom routine has thwarted a terrorist attack. Just so. The NSA’s rejoinder would be that their successes, like their methods, are highly classified and so cannot be marshalled in their defense.

This has been the song of shady bureaucrats for ages – information is exquisitely sensitive, intensely personal, completely private – but if you knew what we know, boy howdy, you’d be right on board with whatever it is we’re doing, though we can’t tell you that, either.

Yale Professor James C. Scott has demonstrated that it is the nature of governments to seek to render citizens “legible.” Inherently, the state is possessed by an urge to monitor, codify, analyze and regulate the behavior of its population.

But when that appetite becomes too rapacious, it is the duty of free-born people to resist.



Theo Caldwell can be reached at  theo@theocaldwell.com

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Youth Need Social Media like their Parents Needed TV



Most anything that is popular, or ubiquitous, is bound to have a dark side. This is the way of the world, manifest in the madness of crowds.

Whatever the mania, you can be certain that credentialed egg-heads, professional do-gooders, and compulsive busy-bodies will claim access should be curtailed, controlled or even cut off, “for the children.”

A generation ago, it was television. Today, the culprits are the Internet, and social media in particular.

Nevertheless, social media are essential to young people today, just as television was a necessary evil for those of us who came before.

In 1961, in his first address as President John F. Kennedy’s Chairman of the Federal Communications Chairman, Newton Minnow famously referred to television as a “vast wasteland.” Indisputably, the same can be said about much of the Internet.

Recent news stories of “cyber-bullying,” sometimes with tragic consequences, are reminders of the cruelty with which humanity infects most any creation, no matter how miraculous. Likewise, the career-threatening conduct of some young people online is worthy of concern.

The Internet unbridles society’s id, with results relatable to the axiom that it is unwise to discuss politics or religion in polite company. To wit, people take all their frustrations from the entirety of their lives and try to jam them, camel-like, though the eyes of those needles. This is the principle on display in most any Internet comment thread that runs more than a couple-dozen entries.

This informs the decision taken by some to divorce themselves from the entire enterprise.

Doubtless, you have seen some friend post a manifesto as to why they are taking leave of social media, written as though they were Washington bidding farewell to his troops. These pledges rarely last and are a fairly nascent happening, much like the medium itself.

The forswearing of TV, however, has a long and irksome history.

Something about not having a television makes people decide they are experts on everything. For instance, some of the harshest opprobrium I have heard regarding, say, Fox News, has come from people who simultaneously boast they do not own a TV.

That sort of illogic speaks for itself, and if adults wish to strike the supercilious pose of know-it-all hippies, so be it. But children deserve better.

Parents who impose television-free regimes presumably imagine their liberated offspring prancing, fawn-like, across some bucolic meadow, perhaps playing the pan-flute, pausing only to recite lengthy passages of Dickens by heart.

Conceding that “data” is not the plural of anecdote, I cannot help but reflect on my own contemporaries for whom television was prohibited, or severely restricted.

As adults, I have found them to be socially stunted, frustrated by their inability to converse fluently in the language of their generation.

For example, if you were born in the 1970s and require Mr. Carlson’s “I thought turkeys could fly” subterfuge to be explained to you, then you find yourself at a disadvantage. Likewise, if you cannot identify the genesis of “jumping the shark,” you are at a loss. One can only imagine how baffling an episode of Family Guy must be to such people.

This is not to aver, retroactively, that appreciation of the Seth MacFarlane canon or the scripted witticisms of Gordon Jump would be sufficient reason to permit increased television viewing (although that case could be made). Rather, it is to suggest that denying access to the common communications of one’s day, however well-intentioned, limits a person’s capacity to relate to his or her peers.

To modern youth, therefore, my unsolicited advice is to continue to embrace social media, or at least participate, such that you are somewhat literate in its argot and aware of its phenomena. Social media are where today’s causes are championed, its jokes are told, its hoaxes perpetrated and revealed, and its stories played out.

Most of it is perfectly idiotic, but it’s what’s happening. You don’t have to join causes, sign petitions, or even approve – but you ought to know.

In this way, as you grow old together, you will be able to relate more fully, sharing points of reference and speaking a common tongue.

Such commonality can smooth all manner of relationships, including and especially when affection or high regard are otherwise absent. In my own case, I have a number of friendships based largely on shared appreciation of The Simpsons. We freely admit that we do not much care for one another’s personalities but, in a vast and changing world, knowing the proper response to “Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star?” is like a secret handshake.

For older people, social media can be helpful in promoting a business, preserving long-distance friendships, or simply forestalling the inevitable day when we are pronounced “out of touch.” For today’s youth, however, social media are not only useful, but necessary.

My generation is just past the point where we are required to partake of “The Twitter,” in Betty White’s parlance. But it’s different for us, we already know turkeys can’t fly.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.  Contact him at theo@halfgreat.com

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

America's Next President Must Restore Freedom


It was easier for Arthur Fonzarelli to say he was “wrong” than it has been for many to admit that President Obama “lied” when he repeatedly stated his eponymous health care law would allow people to keep their insurance, or their doctors, if they so wished.

Of course the president lied. Politicians lie. And birds go tweet. If some of those placard-hoisters who spent eight years accusing George W. Bush of lying on a military-industrial scale could summon the same clarity of language now, we could dispense with this semantic silly-bears and move on to more important matters; namely, the continued dismantling of personal liberty in America, of which Obamacare is just a recent and conspicuous example.

The Supreme Court upheld Obamacare’s individual mandate, calling its sanction a “tax.” Finding this appellation politically inconvenient, the White House and an obliging media continue to refer to it as a “penalty” (thereby contravening the very Supreme Court they point to for validation of their favored law – discuss).

Abortion advocates have insisted for two generations that politicians should not come between a woman and her doctor. Today, thanks to Obamacare, you’ve got the IRS poking around in there. Happy now?

The point is, even in making the most personal of life choices, you must do as the government deems best, or you will be punished. While Obama’s mendacity should be as shocking as the discovery of gambling in Rick’s Café, the paternalism this represents is true cause for alarm.

Modern America is a land in which most everything is mandatory or forbidden. Columnist Mark Steyn often notes that the essence of such tyranny is not iron-fistedness but caprice. No one can know when or how the rules will be enforced, or even what they are. But rest assured, whatever you wish to do in pursuit of your American Dream, there is a law to demand or prevent it.

Laws run thousands of pages; and their attendant rules, tens of thousands. The authoritarian convention affects everything from health care, to education, to taxes, to just getting around.

Entering the United States, or even traveling within it, requires interaction with an ever-growing army of “security” personnel, whether actual law enforcement or not (who can tell, nowadays?), who imagine every border crossing, railway platform and airport gate to be Checkpoint Charlie. Hopped up on a noxious cocktail of Red Bull and self-regard, utterly convinced of the institutional rhubarb that they “put their lives on the line each and every day” to keep people “safe,” these costumed paragons of self-parody are the most conspicuous sign that liberty has been banished from the Land of the Free.

Islamist terrorists will continue to wish harm upon the American citizenry, but so long as it is easier to corral the latter group as a pretense to combating the former, this conduct will continue, and worsen.

This is not merely a function of laws and mandates; it is also a mindset. If America’s is truly a government of, by, and for the people, a president is a reflection of the nation’s condition. The fact that America elected a person like Barack Obama, twice, says more about the country’s civic bankruptcy than it does about him.

The question becomes, then, are the American people ready to reconsider the nature of government to which they give their consent?

Many are still forming an opinion on men like Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, but they bear mentioning because, among the oft-discussed presidential candidates for 2016, these are the only ones from whom you’ll hear a peep about abolishing the ubiquitous IRS or the odious Department of Homeland Security, or shuttering the Eye of Sauron known as the NSA.

Yes, every Republican contender will find new and exciting ways to tell you how he’ll disembowel Obamacare, such that they sound like ranting professional wrestlers (or perhaps Rob Ford). But how do they feel about government collection of private communications, or the IRS demanding taxes from Americans who do not live in America, or a prosecution system so aggressive the United States, with barely 5 percent of the world’s population, holds 25 percent of the prisoners on the planet?

If they object, they do not say. And if they cannot perceive the momentous threat to liberty in the land, they have no claim to be called Leader of the Free World.

In 1920, Warren G. Harding ran to replace Woodrow Wilson, America’s original progressive president who, like Obama, considered the Constitution an inconvenient anachronism and believed the will of the people subordinate to the wisdom of bureaucrats. Harding’s winning slogan was, “A Return to Normalcy.”

To win the White House in 2016, America’s next president should offer a Return to Freedom.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.  Contact him at theo@halfgreat.com

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Toronto Mayor is Not a Victim



I voted for Rob Ford. Normally, I embrace the sanctity of the secret ballot and disdain columnists who announce their personal choices as if they were somehow important. But in this case, an exception is in order.

Having recently described to a largely American readership how the mayor of Toronto brought Canada’s largest city to its current condition of international punch-line, I heard about it from the hometown crowd. While there were some who have never much liked Ford and were happy to agree with my criticism, many Ford supporters were animated that I had joined the media chase-group that has hounded him for years.

Ford’s defenders aver that people do not appreciate all the mayor’s good works. Some repeat the Clinton-era trope that a politician’s personal life – in Ford’s case, this includes a growing video library of bizarre antics, aided by various substances, controlled and otherwise – has no bearing on his ability to do his job. This is bollocks on stilts, always has been, and willfully disregards the fact that a public leader’s personal conduct is, by definition, part of the job (more on which below).

It bears repeating that Ford won an overwhelming victory in 2010, claiming almost half the vote in a crowded field. Oftentimes when a conservative candidate triumphs in a left-leaning locale, which includes almost all urban centres like Toronto, it is a reaction to spendthrift, nanny-state liberalism evinced by his predecessor.

This was the case with Ford, who replaced an unreconstructed socialist who had caved to unions one too many times to mount a credible bid for re-election. Many voters were aware of Ford’s outlandish behavior in the past but, as a sitting member of city council with a clear message of fiscal responsibility, he was given a mandate.

All that is tickety-boo, right up until the point when your mayor starts smoking crack. After denying a report by the Toronto Star in May of 2013 that he had been videotaped doing just that, Ford has since been contradicted by the chief of police, and other unflattering footage of the mayor has recently surfaced. Nevertheless, his supporters insist this is yet more unfair media targeting of an otherwise effective limited-government advocate.

Having been a right-of-centre participant in public discourse since the dawn of this century, I get it. We are routinely subjected to greater scrutiny, harsher criticism, and reflexively portrayed as stupid, evil and always, somehow, racist. All that said – this isn’t that.

I am acutely familiar with the phenomenon of journalistic swarming (I eschew the word "bullying" as it seems a modern day catch-all for every politically correct fetish), particularly of conservative figures. I pointed this out in my earlier column, with passing reference to George W. Bush. But Ford's conduct bursts the dam of mere liberal media bias.

Some have suggested that the latest video embarrassment to emerge, showing Ford raging around a private residence, issuing profanity-laced death threats against some unidentified unfortunate, is in fact an impression of Hulk Hogan, pertinent to their public arm-wrestling match.

Now, having wasted more weekends than most watching the WWF in the 1980’s, such that I could recite the history of the Intercontinental Title from its inception with Pat Patterson (note, also, that I would rather die roaring than call it the “WWE”), I testify that Ford’s rendition of Hogan is so terrible as to call the entire subterfuge into doubt. But, to be charitable, let us assume it is true.

While poor impersonations of professional wrestlers are no basis on which to judge politicians – although, I am reliably informed that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s impression of Randy “Macho Man” Savage is impeccable – Ford’s raving strengthens the consensus that he is deeply troubled.

Many who are urging Ford to “get help” have not the slightest concern for his well-being and are merely using modern-therapeutic shorthand to call him a drunk and a reprobate. This is cousin to how a Southern conservative might patronize, “I’ll pray for you.”

Personally, I am no more than somewhat concerned about Ford. Yes, I should cherish him as a child of God, whose fate makes all Heaven weep, but readers can pore over my oeuvre until their eyes fall out and find no passage in which I claim to be a good person.

As an estimate, my worry over whether Rob Ford gets help is considerably less than my concern for the Leafs to make the playoffs and slightly above my angst over whether the Jonas Brothers patch things up.

Others have suggested Ford should be commended for finally admitting what he has done (sort of), confronting the fact that he has a problem, and floating the idea of entering rehab.

Candour is good; self-examination is also good. But doing the job you were elected and are paid to do, on behalf of a whole city of folks whose jobs require them to maintain a higher standard of conduct than you have shown is also good; indeed, crucial.

And it is not as though Ford’s record is so stellar that it cancels out any shortcomings. Perhaps, in theory, there is a level of public stewardship so outstanding that it entitles one to smoke drugs, maunder about and embarrass one’s constituents on a global scale. If such a status exists, Ford has not attained it.

As mayor, Ford has done a fairly good job – but no more than that. While he has kept taxes from the preferred and demented trajectory of others on council, they remain high, streetcar lanes still snarl major streets, environmentalist commissars demand costly compliance of property owners to combat “climate change,” the increasingly militarized police treat the public as the enemy, and driving in the city remains a dog's breakfast.

But of particular relevance to this imbroglio is the portion of the job that includes representing the city. There is a reason we have mayors cut ribbons at openings and greet dignitaries. Mayors stand for us. It does not suffice to say he has behaved poorly, but since he saved tax money he is, ipso facto, a good mayor. Representing the city to others is part of the portfolio and, while arguably not the most crucial element, its significance is not eliminated by the pecuniary aspects of the job.

Herewith, a policy for Toronto: You can smoke crack, or be mayor, but not both.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.  Contact him at theo@halfgreat.com

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Toronto Mayor Brings Unwanted Attention



Sometime during my adolescence in my hometown of Toronto, municipal do-gooders began referring to the place as a "world class city." The Canadian self-consciousness of the appellation was immediately apparent to critics, who pointed out that, say, Paris doesn't bang on about being "world class" because it's, y'know, Paris.

To wit, if you have to say you are a "world class city," you probably aren't.

Even so, Toronto is a splendid spot, the 4th-largest city in North America, and has plenty of which it can be proud. While it has been almost 50 years since Toronto won a Stanley Cup (that's hockey), it boasts a couple of World Series' and some Grey Cups (that's football, played properly). It also has an NBA team, named during the heady 90’s when it was assumed people would never, ever cease to be fascinated by Jurassic Park.

At last, however, Toronto is receiving the attention it craves, but for none of the reasons it wanted. City fathers (or “city parents” as they would likely prefer to be called) wish they were being recognized for their nonpareil recycling programs, or for banishing automobiles from the roads in favor of streetcars and bicycle lanes, or for a flawless, carbon-neutral hosting of the Olympics (they have had to make do with something called the Pan Am Games instead).

But no, the eyes of the world are fixed, albeit briefly, upon this sleepy Hogtown (as Toronto was known well before this current pig-fest) because its mayor has admitted to smoking crack.

To the uninitiated, it may seem incredible that a character like Rob Ford could have been elected mayor in the first place. But, as urban dwellers across North America are aware, modern cities are overtaxed and hyper-regulated, with precious few leaders willing to be frugal with public funds and prioritize the prosaic needs of municipal governing, such as ensuring snow gets cleared and trash gets collected. In Toronto, the usual parade of horribles toward the mayor's chair consists of tearful, lefty, bike helmet weenies who make New York's Bill de Blasio look like Edmund Burke.

In this context, Ford was a welcome contrast. Since winning about half the vote in a crowded field in 2010, Ford has been the bete noire of the city's leftists (essentially, the half who didn't vote for him). Unable to claim his overwhelming victory was illegitimate, they have obsessed over and magnified his failings, real and perceived.

I recall attending a home game of Toronto's NBA thunder-lizard squadron with a prominent liberal journalist pal a couple years back. Between educating me on player biographies and lamenting that they don't call traveling anymore, he peppered me with questions about my feelings on Mayor Ford. I mostly shrugged in response and my left-wing interlocutor was flabbergasted that I was not as preoccupied and outraged by the man as he was.

At that point, while we could agree Ford's bombastic style and nose-painting were a bit much, I never considered limited-government reforms at City Hall worthy of hyperventilation. In fact, I agreed with them. And, like many observers of the media, I am familiar with the phenomenon of journalists lambasting someone whose ideology they despise, while lionizing lightweights who share their values (example: George W. Bush is smarter than Barack Obama – discuss).

But smoking crack, lying about it, then claiming victimhood while clinging to your job like grim death are several bridges too far.

In May of 2013, the Toronto Star published explosive reports of a video showing Ford smoking at a known crack house. Things got very ugly, very quickly. Ford denied the allegations, saying he had not seen the video and it did not exist. During the intervening months, accusations of perfidy and harassment were hurled between both sides until, last week, Toronto’s Police Chief Bill Blair stepped forward to corroborate the Star’s claim.

Specifically, Blair says that in the course of a criminal investigation of which Ford was a target, police have obtained video footage, "consistent with what has been described in the media,"

Now, confronted with this powerful testimony, Ford allows that he “may” have smoked crack, "in one of my drunken stupors."

Ford's Homer Simpson, "I thought the cop was a prostitute" defense should be plainly problematic. The subterfuge is, in essence, "Sure, I may have smoked crack but, in fairness, I only did so because I had gotten so knee-walking plastered, as you do, that I didn't know what I was up to." Oh, well then.

In a press conference this week, Ford lamented his misfortune and said he would not wish for anyone to endure what he has had to go through. Apart from the egregious conduct itself, this attitude of Ford’s is perhaps most troubling – as though his difficulties were some disembodied quirk of fate, rather than the result of his own behavior.

Some recent polls have shown a rise in Ford's approval ratings, likely owing to sympathy among those who feel he has been hounded by the press. These people are correct, up to a point.

He's "only human" and "a man of the people," Ford’s defenders insist. These claims are true, but irrelevant.

Botching a speech, snapping at a constituent – these are the all-too-human mistakes of a prominent politician. We’re none of us perfect, but Ford’s conduct exceeds the foibles of an overworked public servant, and breaks the boundaries of liberal media bias. How many of you readers would keep your jobs after behaving in this way? (Marion Barry, you are excused from this question, sir).

Nevertheless, Ford insists he will stay on, and even seek re-election in 2014, evincing that even small-government politicians can give in to the conceit that they are somehow irreplaceable.

Toronto is tasked with navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of finding a leader who respects the value of a taxpayer dollar, but who also doesn't smoke crack. It should not be so difficult.


Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.  Contact him at theo@halfgreat.com

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Obamacare is Settled Law like Climate Change is Settled Science



“The best way to get a bad law repealed,” Abraham Lincoln advised, “is to enforce it strictly.”  Republicans who wish to undo Obamacare may hope for a milder remedy, but Barack Obama’s re-election, along with the imprimatur of the Supreme Court, have given rise congressional Democrats’ ubiquitous defense of the legislation: It is the settled law of the land.

The huffy finality with which this is commonly pronounced is oddly familiar.  On what other issue do we hear that debate is closed?  More on that below.

What is “settled law,” precisely?  As Professor Gerard Magliocca of Indiana University recently wrote: “Lawyers use the term ‘settled law’ to describe court decisions that clearly establish a rule or a doctrine. Yet settled law also refers to legal actions that are accepted by society.”

In the summer of 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Obamacare’s individual mandate and, to the casual observer, this would seem like an end to the law’s judicial challenges.  But this is just one of the legal concerns to which the legislation has given rise.

For example, as attorney Andrew C. McCarthy and others have noted, if the Obamacare mandate is a tax, per Chief Justice John Roberts, then the fact that the law was written in the Senate presents a problem.  New taxes, and indeed all “money bills,” must originate in the chamber closest to the people: the House of Representatives.  This is a function of Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution (“All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills”), derived from centuries of tradition, dating back to King Charles II, if not the Magna Carta of 1215. 

On this count alone, notwithstanding persistent opposition to Obamacare among the public on which it has been inflicted, the law is not settled.

But let us suppose, for a moment, that Obamacare were crafted and passed with impeccable adherence to every legal tradition right back to Runnymede; and let us further suppose that Obamacare’s recent bump in popularity on the heels of the government shutdown brings its approval rating out of the 30s.  Would that render Obamacare inviolate and “settled”?

Lots of inane things are and have been the “law of the land.”  At a Massachusetts wake, mourners are prohibited by law from eating more than three sandwiches.  In Alabama, it is illegal to wear a false mustache that causes laughter in church.   And that’s before we consider that slavery, segregation and the restriction of voting rights to white males were all once the “law of the land.”

Law is never “settled” just as science is not.  They are both in constant flux, as new realities emerge. 

To this, some might say, “Ah-ha!  You are citing the settled nature of old law – the Constitution and beyond – to suggest that law can never be settled.”  That’s fair enough, but the US Constitution has been amended and interpreted many times to change its practical applications.  Why should Obamacare be immune to such treatment?  Indeed, President Obama has unilaterally amended the law several times already, absent any legal authority to do so, which begs the question why it seems egregious that duly elected members of Congress may wish to write some changes of their own, perhaps including a repeal.

But this “settled law” stuff is merely the anodyne expression applied to the current crisis (much like the “clean” spending bill Democrats have demanded).  It is emblematic of the Left’s called-it, stamped-it, no-erasies, Black Magic, infinity-plus-one approach to policy.  To wit, once they get the result they want, it’s frozen in carbonite like Han Solo and hung in Jabba the Hutt’s palace, with no hope of rescue by rebel forces.

And that’s what seems so familiar about this (the freezing and carbon twigged our memory, and Jabba’s palace put us in mind of Al Gore’s stately pleasure-dome).  To its supporters, Obamacare is a closed case akin to the “settled science” of climate change. 

Attendant to both, of course, is the anger.  That is, the spittle-flecked fury directed toward those who dissent.  Born of a Manichean worldview, one wishes its adherents would consider the possibility that people oppose Obamacare or question man-made global warming out of something other than a desire to deny health coverage to the poor or watch the world burn. 

In addition, imperviousness to reality and refusal to countenance opposing views are common traits.  Obamacare remains unpopular and is thus far a mess; similarly, despite decades of warnings that we are one SUV away from birds bursting into flames in mid-air, there has been no increase in global temperatures for at least 15 years.  These are facts that can be advanced, and considered, in good faith.

Ironically, many people who embrace atheism will brook no deviation from environmental liturgies, and laud the exclusion of such heresy from civilized discussion.  Likewise, they will protest or bring suit to maintain the unblemished secularism of the public square, while insisting their faith-based interpretations of nature be foisted on every schoolchild in America.

In such a mindset, everything is open to interpretation, personal belief, free expression – except climate change and Obamacare.  Those matters are “settled” and if you offer a differing interpretation or belief, you are a fool, or in the pay of Big Oil, and probably a racist.

There is no need for this.  Any theory worth its salt, or any law worthy of the name, should welcome challenge.  “Question Everything,” as the bumper sticker says.  Americans, who enjoy the fruits of a nation founded on an idea, should not foreclose hearing the ideas of others.

Furthermore, in a nation where all are meant to be equal before the law, legislation ought to apply evenly to everyone.  If the president wishes to exempt businesses and other favored groups from law that is “settled,” then this relief ought to apply to regular people, too.  Similarly, if environmentalists insist upon restrictions and regulations for the rest of us, they should hold themselves to the same standard.

Significant to Obamacare, the politicians who passed it have effectively liberated themselves from its clutches.  Why should such a thing be a law?  Those who reference our legislative system in arguing for the “settled” nature of Obamacare should consider whether laws that bind the citizenry but not Congress are consistent with the American way.  Who works for whom, exactly?

“Change is the law of life,” observed John F. Kennedy, another president to whom Obama aspires.  If Obamacare is indeed a bad law, perhaps Lincoln’s prescription is its only remedy.  Then again, faint hope though it may be, Democrats could embrace JFK’s nostrum that some things are not so settled after all.

Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at at theo@theocaldwell.com

Friday, August 9, 2013

What is Legal and What is Right



In defending the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone records and emails, proponents have relied heavily on the argument that these actions are legal.

Let us stipulate, for the sake of argument, that the NSA program is utterly consistent with the letter of the law. That doesn’t make it right.

When one delineates between right and wrong, the reflex of today’s relativist zeitgeist is to demand, “Who are you to judge?” The answer, which one wishes were forthcoming from more people, is, “I am (or was) a free citizen, with a God-given capacity, and duty, to make decisions.” That’s not to say every decision you make will be correct, nor is it unrestricted license to judge other people, but no amount of PC browbeating can deprive you of your innate sense of propriety.

And the government collecting telephone and email records of every citizen is just plain wrong.

To be sure, the NSA’s advocates have tried other tacks, such as claiming that only “metadata” are collected (that is, numbers, locations and durations of phone calls, excluding voice content), and that emails are not being read without a warrant. But besides that these claims strain credulity (and polls consistently show Americans do not buy them), they conflate what is permissible with what is possible.

As the Guardian newspaper has meticulously demonstrated, only a few forms and protocols stand between NSA employees and contractors and the content of online communications. While the letter of the law may mandate individualized warrants (and this is in no way clear), reading your emails requires no further infrastructure and would constitute a breach of rules without consequences.

One of the most forceful defenders of the NSA’s actions is Andrew C. McCarthy, a columnist for National Review and PJ Media, whom I have quoted favorably in other contexts.

As a lawyer, McCarthy evinces an occupational propensity to substitute precedent for common sense. To his credit, he recognizes that stressing the program’s legality has made it a tougher sell in the marketplace of ideas. Even so, his enthusiasm for NSA surveillance remains undiminished, and he avers that his side’s foundering is less a failure of philosophy than tactics.

Quoth McCarthy: “most Americans have internalized the ‘expectation of privacy’ contrivance; they now believe the Constitution gives them enforceable privacy rights in the property of others if it reflects on aspects of their personal lives. More importantly, the Fourth Amendment was never the end of any privacy argument anyway. It merely defines the minimal ambit of privacy government must respect.”

McCarthy’s precedent-based mangling of the Fourth Amendment, insisting its proscriptions against unreasonable searches of “persons, houses, papers, and effects” do not apply to phone records, since lawyers have decided those belong to “third parties”; i.e., phone companies, is a prime example of how accomplished legal minds can eschew basic reason.

Besides that telephone companies keep certain records because the government requires them to, such as which towers convey which calls (making it a bit rich for the NSA to turn around and claim those records belong to the companies, thereby justifying their untrammeled collection), the Constitution predates the telephone by almost a century. Do McCarthy and others enraptured by precedent really think the Founders would be okay with NSA surveillance? Honestly? If James Madison had a cell phone, you can bet the Bill of Rights would have been even clearer.

The question comes down to the proper role of government in a free society.

Commonly for Democrats, the government’s role could be Hamlet-sized, but they’d still want it bigger. As more of them object to the NSA’s conduct, however, including Rep. Jared Polis, who co-sponsored a House amendment to rein in the surveillance program, one wonders if their liberty-minded principles will prevail.

Republicans, meanwhile, are in the midst of a well-publicized dust-up between their traditional, security-minded old guard and their younger, libertarian wing, led by Sen. Rand Paul. The outcome of this kerfuffle could be dispositive for the future of the party, if not the nation.

The overarching rationale for NSA surveillance, of course, is to prevent terrorism, and those who support the program insist there are many successes we simply don’t know about (this is reminiscent of jazz fans who tell you to listen to the notes NOT being played).

Some, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, have summoned the spectre of 9/11, as though one horrific instance were an evergreen rationale for ubiquitous government surveillance.

But so long as our government collects and monitors every personal thing we write or say, what freedoms are left to defend?

It may be legal, it may even be well-intentioned, but it isn’t right.

Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at at theo@theocaldwell.com

Monday, August 5, 2013

Chris Christie or Rand Paul?



“Every man is more than just himself.” –Herman Hesse

Mathematically, the odds are against either New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul becoming president of the United States. Of all the millions of eligible Americans throughout history, including many thousands of successful politicians, the number of individuals who have achieved the alchemy of talent, timing and luck to attain that high office is a mere 43 (counting Grover Cleveland twice).

Even among the dozen or so preferiti who get talked up on a quadrennial basis, there can be only one.

And while it seems plausible that one or both of Christie and Paul will run for president in 2016, their prospects for success are less significant than the philosophy each man represents.

As the recent, well-publicized squabble between them demonstrates, while these two men share a party, they embody vastly divergent views of America. Christie sounds much like a robust Republican of the recent past, prioritizing security and strength to counter foreign enmity; Paul, meanwhile, avers that many of the direst threats facing the nation are domestic in nature, including and especially the power and intrusiveness of our federal government.

In short, they have very different ways of defining danger, and defending freedom.

The shorthand has been that Christie represents the Republican “Establishment,” while Paul champions its “Libertarian” or, if you like, “Tea Party” faction (though the latter moniker carries sufficient misapprehensions so as to cloud discussion).

In modern parlance, you will find defenses of Christie in the columns of major publications, whereas Paul’s supporters can be read in the “Comments” section.

The recent brouhaha was touched off by comments Christie made at a governors’ forum in Colorado, in which he called Paul’s brand of libertarianism a “dangerous thought,” termed his objections to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs “esoteric,” and dared NSA critics to present their case to the “widows and orphans” of 9/11.

Paul responded by offering Christie a dictionary, since a program that monitors every person in America is something other than “esoteric.” From there, the spate descended into unbecoming silly-bears about bacon and who has time for a beer with whom, but their initial disagreement represents a crucial question for their party, and for America. To wit, have we sacrificed too much freedom in the name of security?

This is a discussion that Republicans, and the country, must have.

Many will say that Republicans did not object to the security state when it was being constructed by President George W. Bush, and that’s fair enough. But as government surveillance expands and the militarization of American life increases in the second term of a Democratic president, perhaps we can shoulder bipartisan responsibility and ask: What would we like to do next?

“Remember 9/11” is a worthy and, one hopes, eternal commemoration of those who were killed that day, but it cannot serve as an indefinite rationale for egregious conduct. As a matter of course and reason, rallying cries are temporary. Were they not, some Canadian could say, “Remember the War of 1812” and punch you in the face.

The difference between September 10 and September 12 is less about capabilities than mindset. We were not attacked because the government was unable to track the phone calls and emails of every American. Rather, on an institutional and individual basis, Americans had taken a holiday from history through the 1990s, not recognizing that the terrorist acts of that decade represented a war already underway.

As others have noted, by the time the passengers of Flight 93 learned the fate of the other planes, and opted to overpower their hijackers, Americans had already twigged to the new reality, and inoculated themselves against similar attacks. The passengers who subdued underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day 2009 reinforce this view.

Notwithstanding these instances, are the terrorist threats we face really so vast and various that we must countenance ubiquitous government surveillance?

Freedom is the issue. As conservatives and liberals disagree over where market failure occurs, demarcating the point at which government should intervene, Paulites and Christocrats differ over which approach is most effective to safeguard liberty.

Must the security state be maintained, as Christie argues, or is that very state the principal threat to the freedom it purports to defend, per Paul?

Which man’s approach is more consistent with America’s values, and which will preserve its liberty for the future? Can there be reconciliation of their views?

For the GOP, perhaps the strongest option would be a genuinely articulate candidate who can speak the language of traditional Republicans, while embracing the vision of a rebirth of freedom (Sen. Ted Cruz, please call your office).

Then again, maybe none of this will matter. In 2016, as in 2012, perhaps Americans will opt for more of the same and send another Democrat to the White House (having said all this, watch Christie-Paul win, like, 48 states).

But regardless of who is on the ballot, the visions embodied by Chris Christie and Rand Paul present Americans with a momentous choice.

Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at at theo@theocaldwell.com

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why the Surveillance State Must End



In this era of tone-deaf leadership, it seems the National Security Agency is the only government outfit that actually listens.

Congress certainly pays no mind, either to its constituents or to the words of the nation’s Founders. In narrowly defeating a House amendment introduced by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), members of both parties evinced they do not comprehend individual freedom as codified in the Constitution, or as demanded by a growing number of modern Americans.

The Amash-Conyers amendment would have reined in the NSA’s indiscriminate collection of Americans’ phone records. Specifically, it would have limited such surveillance to people subject to investigation, per Section 15 of the Patriot Act.

The amendment was championed by liberty-minded legislators like Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), yet both Republican and Democrat leadership made it their business to see it defeated, which it was, by a vote of 217 to 205.

(Pause for a moment and consider: The Patriot Act, which for a dozen years has served as shorthand for all that offends liberal politicians, suddenly does not go far enough for Nancy Pelosi.)

And so, for now, the federal government will continue to track the phone calls of all Americans – in the form of so-called “metadata” – without probable cause and, thereby, without regard for the Fourth Amendment.

Some, including my Daily Caller colleague Julie Borowski, have averred that the relative closeness of the vote represents a partial victory for civil liberties, auguring complete success in future efforts. Here’s hoping they’re right.

A recent Pew poll found that 50% of Americans approve of the government collecting phone and Internet data for anti-terrorism purposes, while 44% disapprove. In that same poll, however, 56% of respondents say courts do not provide adequate limits on what is collected, 63% believe it is the content of calls and emails being harvested (rather than just “metadata”), and a whopping 70% believe the government is using this information for purposes other than combatting terror.

Time and again, when questioned about “anti-terrorism” government programs, people approve in the abstract, but their enthusiasm wanes when they are confronted with their practical applications.

Proper leaders do not govern by polls, but one expects them to apply common sense. And that is what is so dispiriting about this action in particular, and the national security state in general. One wishes politicians would take a step back, assess that a country constantly banging on about how free it is collects the phone records and emails of all its citizens, searches them like super-max inmates when they seek to travel, demands taxes and financial records even if they live overseas, and ask themselves one, simple question: “Are you KIDDING me?”

In defending NSA practices, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) insisted, “Somebody leading up to the September 11 attacks who was a terrorist overseas, called a terrorist living amongst us in the United States, and we missed it because we didn't have this capability.”

What crippling nonsense this is. Besides that the US government had already “missed” repeated opportunities to nab Osama bin Laden during the 1990s, are we to believe we can only stop terrorists by monitoring absolutely everyone? And incidentally, when was this fateful phone call we missed, and how would we have found it among every other call across, into and out of the country? The Congressman does not say.

A notable defender of the NSA regime is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is often mentioned as a front-runner for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Christie called the bipartisan strain of libertarianism that objects to such programs a “dangerous thought” and challenged those opposed to make their case to families of those killed on 9/11. Quoth Christie: “I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation.”

What’s “dangerous” is another potential president who sees nothing wrong with expanding the surveillance state, and whose ready argument in its defense is a shameful appeal to victimhood.

Christie’s argument is a non sequitur, much like the policy he purports to defend. What, exactly, does he dare us to say to these widows and orphans? “Sorry for your loss but, not to worry, we will collect the phone records of every single American to honor your loved ones”?

There will always be people, from somewhere, who wish to harm us. This is an historical maxim. Another is that you cannot prevent bad things from happening. One takes precautions, certainly, but evil does not rest, screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place. The issue becomes one of degree: How much security will we tolerate in order to mitigate risk?

Security expert Bruce Schneier has observed that terrorism itself cannot end our way of life – only our reaction to it can.

If it helps, think of the War on Terror as a bad cold – the worst one you ever had, lasting 12 years with no end in sight. The most unpleasant symptoms – stuffy nose, chest congestion, etc. – are not caused by the virus, but by your own immune system going Balzac trying to protect you.

This column does not dispute that al-Qaeda and other Islamist terror groups wish to do us harm, and they have succeeded on occasion. But a greater danger is posed by the world’s most powerful government, with unlimited resources, including an unsurpassed arsenal and the literal ability to print its own money, making vassals of its citizens in the name of security.

The question we must ask ourselves is: How do we wish to live, day to day? Will we accept that not every aspect of life can or should be controlled, and still go confidently in the direction of our dreams? Or will we yield our liberties, incrementally and indefinitely, to a centralized power that offers vainglorious promises of safety?

If we choose the latter, by what right do we call ourselves Americans?

And this is why these surveillance state silly-bears must end: Because so long as they persist, this is not America – at least, not in the freedom-minded sense it has always been perceived. It will remain a grand expanse, with a rich history, but with none of its founding ideals of liberty, and lacking any aspiration to them. To avoid this fate, we must tolerate less from our government, and expect more of ourselves.

Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at at theo@theocaldwell.com

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Securing the Canadian Border



America’s recent obsession with border security provides politicians with plenty of opportunity to engage in populist rhubarb. Most often, Republican lawmakers clamor for robust policing of the US-Mexico demarcation, as they have done throughout the current immigration debate in Congress.

Sometimes, however, a legislator opts to be contrarian, for political or pecuniary reasons. Such a one is Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who recently enthused to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about the prospect of deploying “low-level radar” and in-ground security defenses to secure America’s northern border.

Alas, the proposition that America’s borders with Canada and Mexico are equally problematic is dunderheaded political correctness, often deployed by the willfully benighted. We were inured to this sort of thing by the outgoing Secretary of Homeland Security, the breathtakingly ignorant Janet Napolitano, who entered that disgraceful office claiming the 9/11 hijackers came through Canada.

This is how the Left gets tough – rather than confront actual problems or genuine malefactors, they hyperventilate about invented ones, at the expense of innocent people.

As to Tester, he presents an object lesson for red state voters: When you elect a down-home, g-droppin’, deer-skinnin’, ramblin’ man like Jon Tester, you’re still getting a Democrat. That means, for example, when it’s time to cast the deciding vote in favor of Obamacare, Tester will be there. His Grizzly Adams façade is just that; silly-bears leftism is his guiding principle.

Perhaps, in this case, the goal is simply to bring federal dollars to Montana. This is equally disquieting.

The more one scrutinizes Congress, the more dispiritingly clear it becomes that decisions are almost never made for the good of the American people. Instead, it is usually nonsense like this, pertinent to local favors or fundraising, with little defensible value to the country. This is a bipartisan condition, often noted, and overdue for correction. To wit, it’s almost never about you, it’s about them.

To those of us from the northern side of the border, this talk of beefing up security seems a tad ungracious. Canada and the United States enjoy the largest bilateral trading relationship in the history of the planet and, notwithstanding some unpleasantness about 200 years ago, the dynamic has been largely cordial. We gave you the telephone, Velcro and Bryan Adams (you’re welcome).

Entering the United States from Canada by land, sea or air is already one of the most miserable border crossings in the civilized world.

One need not plumb the documented horror stories of US Customs officers’ rough treatment of foreigners, including journalists, or their institutional obsession with confiscating Kinder Eggs, to outline this point. Even Americans returning home are struck, with rare exceptions, by the imperious and dyspeptic default of their own border agents. It bears questioning where such people come from, and if they are aware that other First World nations do not treat travelers in this way.

Someone told these Eugene Tackleberrys at their sleep-away camp training weekend that they are the last line of defense, or the first, or some nonsense that makes them behave as though they’re guarding the Gates of Vienna against Ottoman hordes.

We Canadians are not a violent race. Our civil war took place in a Tim Horton’s and was over in about 20 minutes. No one was injured, and afterward we all went curling.

Absent any physical danger from septuagenarian snowbirds or day-shopping hosers, how to explain the excesses of America’s over-caffeinated sentries? Do they suppose they’re halting illegal immigration?

What Canadian would be sneaking into the US today? And for what, exactly? Higher unemployment? Steeper taxes? Violent crime? Obamacare?

Having gone through every stage of the US immigration system, from visitor to citizen, I contend that America needs to get over itself. The presumption that everyone, from anywhere, would crawl over broken glass to partake of the American Dream is decades out of date.

This anachronistic stance is reminiscent of leftists and academics who used to insist the Berlin Wall was erected to keep those in the West from breaking into the East and availing themselves of the many free services in the socialist paradise.

Sometimes it takes someone from overseas – or at least, from across Lake Ontario – to provide perspective. And this comes not a moment too soon, before some Northeastern member of Congress gets it in his head to appropriate DHS funds for sharks with laser-beams attached to their heads to secure the Great Lakes.

For a self-styled Land of the Free, America seems awfully intent on erecting barricades. Tester says enhanced Canadian border security, “could prevent drug smuggling and terrorism.” Ah, of course: The nebulous “War on Terror” and “War on Drugs” are used to justify most every tin-pot crackdown on daily life.

Even on the southern border, the proposed fence is unbecoming a nominally free nation. It would be a hideous scar across the landscape; a grotesque contradiction, visible from space.

America has problems, but a lack of security is not among them. As some free advice from an immigrant: The last thing the US needs is more walls.

Also, you can keep Jim Carrey, no charge.


Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at at theo@theocaldwell.com

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Non-Compliance Revolution



“This is America – everything’s illegal.” – New York City attorney

With Independence Day come and gone, and in light of populist uprisings elsewhere in the world, some have asked if America might undergo its own revolutionary upheaval. Specifically, with the exponential growth of government, including the regulating or outlawing of ever-more areas of daily life, liberty-minded Americans wonder when and if their countrymen will say, “enough is enough.”

But armed insurrection is so 18th Century. It went out of style with muskets and pantaloons. It is possible, however, that America’s rebirth of freedom could take a more benign form – that of citizens simply refusing to obey the encroaching demands of their government. There is a surprising amount of power to be found in two little letters: “no.”

Alas, “no” is hard to come by. When security check-points appear at subway stations during morning rush hour, or federal workers indecently paw at passengers boarding a plane, or natural resources officers demand licenses before you can drop a line in your favorite fishing spot, almost no one resists.

When free-born citizens capitulate in this way, one expects they do so out of surprise at the officious overkill, or they make the quick calculation that compliance will minimize immediate hassle and allow them to go about their day.

But ever-expanding government makes it more and more difficult to comply, even if citizens want to. This applies to all manner of bureaucracy, seen and unseen. For just one example: You, gentle reader, cannot know if you filed your federal taxes correctly.

You cannot know this because the tax code is simply too complex and arbitrary. Within such a system, there can be no objective verification. Therefore, if it comes up for review, the accuracy of your return will be determined on a subjective basis by a bureaucrat who will not deign to divulge their first name.

When compliance becomes impossible, well-meaning citizens may just stop trying. Precedent can be found in the government’s own behavior. When IRS agents refuse to answer questions about their conduct, even as they spend taxpayer money on “business expenses” that would not survive one of their own audits, citizens rightly wonder why they should bother keeping their own books in order.

Or when the Obama administration decides to suspend problematic portions of its own health care law – as though legislation were a buffet, from which the Executive can take or leave what it likes – citizens may decide it’s too onerous to fill out that 20-page form, or apply for that required license, and they would have a valid point.

At times, non-compliance can carry a heavy price, exacted by authorities whose dearest hope is that you will not comply: namely, over-eager officers of the law.

As a law-abiding citizen, and a law-and order conservative, I have a hard time trusting the police. This applies particularly to today’s ubiquitous, militarized variety, outfitted in “the full Robocop,” as Mark Steyn puts it.

My mistrust has been a long time coming. Bit by bit, seeing abuses of petty authority and the relentless transformation of police departments into paramilitary units, I have ceased to see them as keepers of the peace. Instead of disrupting crime, it seems they prioritize controlling and harassing innocent people.

Specifically, as noted in Radley Balko’s new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop, militarized police increasingly see civilians as the enemy, rather than the employers they are paid to protect. SWAT teams are dispatched to serve warrants on non-violent suspects, or to perform routine safety inspections.

My jaundiced eye is also directed at the quasi-constabulary brigades assembled by every federal, state and local agency, patrolling all aspects of American life from the airport to the fishing pond.

These are government apparatchiks who, by their wardrobe and mien, falsely claim the authority of law enforcement. Perhaps the most obvious example are the blue-shirted Paul Blarts of the TSA, who prowl America’s airports dressed as though they’re about to invade Poland, complete with tin badges blaring “Officer,” strongly implying they are police when, in fact, they are nothing of the kind. And always, always, we are told their excesses are about keeping us “safe.”

As a handy reminder, be suspicious whenever someone says they’re doing something “for your safety.” Doubtless, there are situations in which the statement is sincere. But in today’s nanny-cop America, “safety” is the elastic subterfuge employed to confiscate freedom.

More directly, whenever someone claiming to be a policeman, or some other kind of enforcement “officer” comes hulking up to you in the full get-up – knee-pads, Kevlar, Velcro and so on – you, as a free citizen and inheritor of God-given, enumerated liberties dating back at least to the English Bill of Rights of 1689, if not the Magna Carta of 1215, have an obligation to laugh in that person’s face. If the best you can do is laugh into their Bane-mask, so be it.

Don’t get angry, or go for one of their many guns. That could get ugly and, in many cases, they hope it does (as Leonardo DiCaprio cynically exclaimed of cops in The Departed, “They signed UP to use their guns!”). Someone who feels the need to weaponize themselves in order to interact with the general public may be monumentally insecure, but they can also cause tremendous damage. Think of Barney Fife in an Iron Man suit. Or, for younger television viewers, imagine Dwight Schrute’s later iterations of Recyclops, only with live ammunition.

Compliance is demanded daily of Americans, accompanied by the implicit or overt threat of force. One should neither expect nor desire violent insurrection in response. But, as a people to whom freedom was bequeathed by generations who pledged their lives to win it, today’s citizens need only learn to say no.

Does the spirit of 1776 abide within modern Americans? Or will they continue to cede their liberties, preferring simply to get through their days – that is, until they awake to find their days are no longer their own?


Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at at theo@theocaldwell.com

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Rubio Disappointment



As a matter of political philosophy, conservatives avoid granting messianic status to politicians – notwithstanding Republicans’ recent penchant for re-naming every rest stop, park bench and sinkhole after Ronald Reagan.

Ideology that embraces citizen government should eschew the deification of political leaders. Human beings are fallible, politicians perhaps most of all, and Republicans ought to know this.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was, for a time, an exception to the rule. From his shocking upset of then-Gov. Charlie Crist in the 2010 senate primary, to his election that November, to the fluid way he served up Tea Party tenets, he caused conservatives to swoon. Throw in the fact that he speaks Spanish and still has most of his hair, and that was it. Rubio was the Next One, the Republican Obama.

For conservatives, this was intellectually inconsistent. Lately, it seems they know it.

Disenchantment began gradually. There were picayune rumblings over whether Rubio had embellished his parents’ history as Cuban exiles, he was passed over for the vice presidential spot on the 2012 Republican ticket, and he mangled a key passage in his address to the GOP Convention, calling for more “government over more freedom.”

Serious image trouble started with his response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in February of 2013. He looked awful – not Bobby Jindal-awful, but awful nonetheless.

For a GOP presidential aspirant, this simply isn’t good enough. Democrats have the luxury of being able to look bad, get things wrong, and still win elections with the help of a cordial press. Republican candidates, meanwhile, as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell was once advised, “need to be doing it better and cleaner than the other guy.”

These are largely optics, which are important in politics. But the real Rubio letdown has come from his befuddled and baffling support of the 1,200-page immigration bill working its way through Congress. To his erstwhile supporters, the fact that Rubio would champion this legislation shows how quickly he has become a creature of Washington, DC.

Politicians and journalists care deeply about “immigration reform.” Regular Americans, by and large, do not. Polls consistently show Americans are more concerned about the economy, deficits, health care, the growth of the federal government, and a host of other issues than they are about immigration.

Rubio’s disaffected fans sent him to the Senate to champion their beliefs, not to focus on what the New York Times thinks is important. And if he were to stray, they wish he would be right, or effective. This effort seems like amnesty, decorated with promises of “border enforcement” that will go unfulfilled.

History does not support the oft-repeated nostrum that Republicans must embrace this sort of thing to woo Hispanic voters. Hispanics account for about 8.4% of the electorate. Had the GOP captured 70% of their votes in the 2012 presidential race, Obama would still have won. Further, the last time outright amnesty was enacted, in 1986, Republicans’ share of the Hispanic vote declined in the next federal election.

If Rubio ever did aspire to win the White House, these leftward moves have been unwise, no matter what Lindsey Graham might be cooing in his ear. There is an appetite in the land for what Rubio was meant to embody – a rebirth of individual liberty.

Democrats overjoyed at their ascendancy may cluck that America has rejected conservative politics. The reality is that, on the national level, true conservatism has not been offered for some time.

The last two cycles at least, Republicans have had to settle for presidential candidates that provoked something less than unbridled enthusiasm. Indeed, in 2008 and 2012, Republican enthusiasm was very, very bridled. This was a function of a weak field in 2012, and a misbegotten nomination process in 2008.

Mitt Romney might have been a competent manager, but nothing in his record or rhetoric suggested he would undertake real reform, such as many Republicans crave.

As for Sen. John McCain, from authoring legislation that contravenes the First Amendment, to obsessing over fashionable silly-bears like “climate change,” he represents Washington Republicanism at its worst. Even if he had somehow been elected, one suspects his act would have worn thin after one term. (Question: If McCain had won in 2008, would Hillary Clinton be president today? Discuss.)

Rubio emulates McCain, if not in cantankerousness, in senatorial detachment from the actual concerns of Americans. Witness the appalling contrast between Rubio’s 2010 self and the more recent, Schumer-snuggling version, flailing to defend what he himself calls a “laundry list” of immigration expenditures.

As syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer says of the proposed legislation, “it’s all inputs.” Rubio trumpets the 20,000 new border patrol agents, the 700-mile wall, the drones, and, most of all, the money being spent. After barely three years in the Senate, he imagines this is a strong argument.

In this way, Rubio demonstrates why America has only elected three of its presidents directly from the self-described “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.”

Marco Rubio was never the answer to America’s problems, and conservatives should not expect any politician to be.


Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at at theo@theocaldwell.com

Monday, July 1, 2013

Canada: Land of the Free



“It’s so clean and bland – I’m home!” –Marge Simpson, on arriving in Canada

With its mild manners and measured expectations, Canada has long served as North America’s straight man. From Michael Moore’s Canadian Bacon to The Simpsons to South Park, American comedy has tapped this area like the oil sands.

On one of their several sojourns to the Great White North, the Simpson clan pass by the set of a film called Canadian Graffiti, in which a street punk spray-paints three words on a wall: “Obey the rules.”

And this is largely the rap on Canadians: Even when they try to be edgy, their deference and decency win out, such that their rebellious affectations have all the authenticity of a hard-core Christian rock band.

But Canada is far from American stereotypes of socialism, centralization and obeisance, at least in relative terms. By almost any measure, Canada is a freer country than the USA.

Economically, the contrast is stark, for those who care to see. While folks reflexively state that Canadian taxes are higher than those of the United States, corporate and personal rates are lower up north, as is effective treatment of investment income. Moreover, Canadians and their families who reside abroad are not subject to the worldwide taxation and reporting requirements imposed on Americans by the IRS.

When Canada was spared the worst of the 2008 economic collapse, American liberals spoke wistfully of comprehensive Canadian financial regulations, as though this were what preserved Canucks’ multi-colored money. In reality, Canada’s good luck was a function of culture, not laws. Canadian banks had limited their exposure to misguided mortgage-backed securities, consistent with the country’s generally cautious investment philosophy.

Meanwhile, America responded to the crash by providing its oppressive Sarbanes-Oxley financial legislation with an equally Byzantine follow-up, Dodd-Frank.

For decades, Americans have debated the merits of Canada’s “socialized” health care, yet much of what Americans think they know about the Canadian system is wrong. Yes, Canada nominally maintains a single-payer plan, with taxpayers footing the tab for universal coverage, and there are prohibitions against the private purchase of services. In reality, about one-third of medical procedures are purchased privately and Canadians with the means often go to the United States for treatment (which has lately begged the question, if Obamacare is implemented, where will Canadians go for their health care?).

Ironically, in this era of mass communication, freedom of speech is hard to come by, and Canada is no exception. Even so, with the abolition of the Canadian Criminal Code’s Section 13, which punished so-called “hate speech,” Canada leads the Western world in reclaiming the right of individual free expression from the ravenous maw of political correctness.

Such legislation was nowhere near unique to Canada, as charges of “hate speech” are a ubiquitous tool of the worldwide Left, intended to silence opposition while elevating their approved opinions to the level of law. But the fact that Canada has abolished this shameful codification of censorship reveals a tendency toward renewal of liberty that the United States, and other nations, would do well to emulate.

As to day-to-day freedoms, and the likelihood of encounters with armed agents of the government, Canada is not immune to excesses by its authorities. Two quick examples: In 2010, during the G20 conference in Toronto, police brutalized civilians and conducted mass incarcerations of innocent bystanders; and, subsequent to the recent floods in Calgary, police were observed entering private homes and confiscating legally owned firearms.

But these are, thankfully, notable exceptions. Canada lacks the institutional and cultural predilection for ubiquitous policing and routine incarceration, such as exists in the United States.

As the greatest columnist in the world, Mark Steyn (also a Canadian, not coincidentally), has repeatedly observed of the US, “every tinpot makework paper-shuffling bureaucracy now runs around pretending to be Seal Team Six.”

The Department of Education dispatches SWAT police to enforce student-loan compliance, the IRS sends militarized thugs to make collections, and that’s before even contemplating the enormity of the Department of Homeland Security, the NSA, and so on.

While representing five percent of global population, the United States holds twenty-five percent of all the prisoners in the world, and incarcerates people at a rate 13 times greater than the nation’s population growth. Canada, meanwhile, reserves harsh criminal penalties for crimes like murder and holding up the Tim Horton’s drive-thru lane.

The relationship between Canada and the United States, while imperfect, represents one of the great successes of international affairs. Even so, relatively speaking, the true Land of the Free is the Great White North.


Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at at theo@theocaldwell.com