Freedom Friday: Freedom Briefs

high resolution 3d rendering of a compass with a freedom icon

high resolution 3d rendering of a compass with a freedom icon

For this Friday, we’d like to celebrate with five quick celebrations of freedom. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the news these days and feel that the world is on a downward track to oblivion (who are you voting for in November: bad, or worse?). Even though blood is what sells, we thought we’d end the week on a positive note by highlighting some of the more celebratory stories we have encountered. It’s good to know there are still lots of instances of increased human freedoms despite everything else going on.

A Civil Forfeiture Victory

For those not familiar, civil forfeiture is when the government decides it has the right to grab property or money that belongs to an individual. Usually, this occurs when an individual is pulled over or discovered to have large amounts of cash. Law enforcement often assumes the worst and confiscates the cash, subscribing to a guilty-until-proven-innocent philosophy. The government is many cases does not have to even prove the owner’s guilt )or even bring charges) in order to keep the property. Critics (which should include everyone!) of civil forfeiture note that departments often seem to be on the lookout for large assets to seize as a way to raise revenue. It often affects cash-only businesses, such as restaurants, often with the least ability (time, resources) to fight the red tape that allowed their money to be stolen in the first place or to recover their property from the government.

In a recent case, The Institute for Justice launched a case on behalf of a Burmese Christian rock band against police in Oklahoma—and the case was dropped in record time—that same day. In this case, the band was raising money for charities in Burma and Thailand and was found with $53,000 of cash in their car. Although no drugs were found in the car, police jumped to the conclusion that the band had made that money selling drugs, and seized the group’s assets.

According to the Institute for Justice, Oklahoma has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws: in some cases, they can keep 100% of the proceeds from these forfeitures. This case required international outreach and knowledge of the law. We’re glad, as always, for organizations like the Institute for Justice, fighting for rights and reform that support individual freedom, property rights, and due process.

Human Progress

HumanProgress.org is a fun site to read if you are looking for reminders of all that is good in the world. A favorite section of the site is the “data” feature, in which you can access interactive maps that compare various elements of human progress over the last several decades. For instance, you can view this handy chart to see how deaths from cancer among males has been declining.

Labyrinth

And speaking of human progress, we’d be remiss if we didn’t recognize this week as the 30th anniversary of the release of Labyrinth, starring David Bowie, of course. At Freedom Forge Press, we love stories almost as much as we love freedom (which is why we believe freedom-themed stories are so vital!). Labyrinth is such a fun, whimsical film while still fulfilling all the tick-boxes of an archetypal journey. We especially like how protagonist Sarah falls prey to her life of relative privilege but learns by the end to appreciate what she has.

And Speaking of Appreciating What We Have…

We enjoyed reading in Reason magazine that in absolute terms, the upper-middle class has been growing since 1979. There seems to be a myth perpetuated by vote-grabbing politicians in this country that Americans are getting poorer and it’s the fault of the rich. But the numbers just don’t support that.

And thinking about it, we have made progress in the last forty years. Computers used to be room-sized devices for geeky men in laboratories. Now, almost everyone can afford one, and they’re small enough to fit on your wrist. We can access information in record time, and we can usually acquire food, gas, and entertainment on-demand without shortages or lines.

As much as we hate the idea, we sometimes feel that Americans don’t or won’t appreciate what they have until it’s gone.

And this:

There’s really nothing more we need to say :)

Censoring the Past to Make a Comfortable Present Leads to a Dark Future

This Friday, we celebrate some common sense in the defense of genuine academic freedom.

We tip our hat to Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal for taking on the clueless insanity that has manifested itself at Columbia University’s student paper. The paper penned an op-ed recently decrying western classical literature as

Triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.

In the styling of the inner party of Orwell’s 1984, liberal students winding through the halls of academia (and liberals and progressive statists in general)  seem to want thought based on emotion – how you feel in relation to an event or idea rather than worry with ages-old tried and true approaches such as…logic or reason. And this is good. Provided that you feel the same way and react the same way as your betters. (Compare “bellyfeel” and “duckspeak” from the Newspeak Dictionary.)

Noonan’s response is the serious wake up call college students need before turning over any more of their minds to The Party.

At last year’s Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference, our editor Val Muller was lucky enough to hear Aranka Siegal speak. Siegal is a Holocaust survivor and was asked to attend the conference many times before she finally agreed. Now in her eighties, Siegal was encouraged not to travel, and her family discouraged her.

When she spoke at the conference, recounting her experiences in Hungary leading up to her time in Auschwitz, she cried. When she spoke of the last time she saw her mother–as her mother stood in line for the crematorium, she cried. When she spoke of nearly starving to death, of witnessing atrocities in the kitchens, of rape and abuse and death–she cried. There was no emotional safety in sharing these memories.

And yet she emphasized to all at the conference that she thought it important enough to speak to the room of educators not because she wanted their pity, but because she did not want the past to die. As horrific as those experiences were, and as painful as it was for her to recount them again, she wanted to share the pain of history so that it would not be repeated. So that the educators in the room would share her experiences – painful as they were – with the next generation of thinkers.

Avoiding history because it brings up unpleasant memories; bleaching out words of literature because they cause pain; or eliminating literary works to make people feel better about themselves in their present state of being is cowardice and weakness. But it is far more dangerous than that.

The Columbia student paper is advocating for censorship. At first it may appear to be benign – even benevolent. Why not wipe clean the sins of the past in order to spare a few tears or unpleasant moments during our present?

But it is the future that suffers from such folly. The level of censorship of works needed to wipe the past clean enough to accommodate the hyper-sensitivities of our current time would leave the next generation incapable of experiencing texts that can teach us to distinguish good from bad.

If our only reference point for unfairness is imagined exclusion, then we might overlook things like the federal government’s blatant dishonesty in saying it will only use mass surveillance to protect us from terrorists. Meanwhile we find out that federal agencies engage in “parallel construction,” bringing criminal cases against individuals constructed with bits of information obtained illegally and without a warrant.

If our only reference point for corruption is imagining that free market entrepreneurs only amass wealth and success by stealing it from poor people, then we become immune to widespread government theft of private property through civil forfeiture where a government agency seizes cash and property without ever filing charges against an individual – leaving the legal burden on the person to take the government to court to reclaim their own property.

If our only reference point for discrimination is sloppy math and dishonest studies used to politically decry a pay gap for women and to declare a “war on women” is on, then we might miss actual discrimination whereby the US government systematically abuses its power to discriminate against political opponents of the current administration.

And all of these examples are real and happening right now in the Land of the Free. And if the public tolerates these abuses, how much longer will it be before an all-powerful government can detain (even claim to kill) US citizens without trial.  (Oh, wait, it can do that too!? Yes we can…says the President’s Attorney General)

Americans already tolerate the above abuses of their freedoms by the federal government – in the name of security, of course.  And if we have already come this far, then how far away is an experience like Aranka Siegal’s – right here in the United States? Adolf Hitler became Chancellor in 1933. Mass deportations of Jews into extermination camps and the eastern ghettos of Europe began with Operation Reinhard in 1942 – not even a decade later.

We believe sharing a painful past helps to prevent an even more painful future. Telling stories of suffering, of abuse, and yes, even of rape and the evil that Aranka Siegal endured, is strength. Recognizing the evil in those stories helps us identify it and know it when we see it instead of becoming numb and dumb to the world around us.

Perhaps we need to tell students painful stories more often, not less.

The Federal Government Insists Pot Laws Are To Protect You…From Stoned Rabbits

WARNING: if you read this blog post, you may experience any or all of the following symptoms: lightheadedness, dizziness, uncontrollable rage, uncontrollable laughter, and/or pain from the sudden impact of an external object, such as a hand or table, hitting your forehead.

You have been warned!

For Freedom Friday, we thought we would have just a bit of fun at the federal government’s expense. As of today, 36 states allow for some form of legal marijuana use. There’s considerable diversity within “some form.” Compare Colorado and Washington, for example, where marijuana use is largely legal to states such as our own Virginia where it is legal to use, with medical necessity, with restrictions on usage, with no psychoactive elements permitted. And anything in between.

US Map - Some Form Legal Marijuana

US States with Some Legal Usage of Marijuana

(No, this map is not admissible as a defense exhibit. If you get busted with pot in one of the green colored states, you’re on your own.)

But you’ll notice Utah is colored in blue, and that is where today’s bizarre tale begins.

It seems the federal government is not liking the state of things when it comes to states forging their own marijuana laws and essentially thumbing their noses at federal restrictions.

Utah currently has no form of lawful marijuana usage – medical or otherwise. So as the legislature there was considering a law to permit medical marijuana use, the Drug Enforcement Administration decided it needed to pull out all stops and really get ahead of this thing before it “took root,” if you know what we mean.

The last thing the federal government wants is for adults to be able to make their own decisions outside of what the government desires. Perhaps the next to last thing the federal government wants is for states to make their own decisions regarding the criminality of marijuana usage.

With that in mind, the DEA dispatched Special Agent Matt Fairbanks to give testimony at the Utah Senate committee hearing where the bill was being considered. Fairbanks argued prohibition prevented cultivation of marijuana. And cultivation would attract wildlife, such as rabbits who “cultivated a taste for the marijuana” reports The Washington Post who covered the story. (If you go to the story and want to listen to the audio to see that we are indeed not making this up, the Fairbanks testimony begins at about 58:00 and the good stuff begins at about time stamp 1:02:00.)

We wondered if the agent’s story was true, so we used a FOIA request in order to obtain the actual video from the agent’s field work that corroborates the testimony given to the Utah Senate committee:


Okay, we were pulling your leg about the video, but one thing we’re not making up is the federal government’s determination to impose its will over states and individuals when it comes to drug enforcement. We suppose if the best argument the feds can muster for continuing this practice has come down to stoned rabbits, then maybe the feds are running out of reasons to keep up with their “War on Drugs.”

At Freedom Forge Press, we favor limited government. That means allowing individuals to make decisions on their own without being coerced by heavy-handed laws. Is marijuana addictive? Is it “bad”? Does it bring relief from chronic pain and medical conditions? We can’t answer that. And based on the quality of the DEA’s testimony, it seems like the federal government doesn’t know the answers to those questions either.

So in the face of that uncertainty, as long as people are not harming others with some medical or recreational marijuana use, and as long as people are self-funding their own habits, then we say leave well enough alone.

Freedom Friday: Freedom for Shaneen Allen!

shaneen-allenFor this week’s Freedom Friday, we are happy to share that New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, has issued a full pardon to Shaneen Allen.

Allen, a Pennsylvania resident, was in possession of a firearm for which she held a valid and legal conceal carry permit from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Her crime was crossing the Delaware River into New Jersey, home of some of the strictest gun laws.

At a traffic stop, Allen informed the officer that she had a firearm in the car which she was licensed to carry. This triggered her arrest, 40 days in jail, loss of her job, and perhaps most devastatingly, the loss of custody of her children. Due to New Jersey’s Byzantine gun control laws, which some gun control activists continue to push for, Allen would also face felony charges preventing her from owning a firearm in the future as well as a mandatory minimum 3 year prison sentence.

All for exercising what is a black-letter right guaranteed by the Constitution via the 2nd Amendment. In addition to this right, the Constitution requires states to give “full faith and credit…to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.” This should certainly apply to the permitting process whereby states allow law-abiding citizens the right to “conceal carry” firearms.

Allen’s situation is not isolated. And many law-abiding citizens can find themselves in a similar predicament and be victim to overzealous prosecutors and a patchwork of state agreements making a gun permit of one state accepted in a collection of others. To know every possible permutation of what states honor which other states’ permits, you need an interactive map, like this one.

No state has the right to unleash this kind of prosecutorial terrorism on law-abiding citizens. That goes for those who hold the legal right to possess a firearm, and are visiting their state, as well as their own citizens. We prefer to leave it to states to run their own affairs, but each state admitted to the Union shares one federal Constitution. And that Constitution guarantees citizens the right to keep and bear arms.

We tip our hat to the governor of New Jersey and hope that Shaneen Allen’s story will become a call for other states having similar over-the-top gun control laws, like New Jersey (we’re looking at you, Maryland!), to reform their criminal codes to decriminalize the lawful exercise of Constitutional rights!

Freedom Friday: Questioning Climate Change

climate change

For Freedom Friday, we were heartened to read about a recent victory for the First Amendment. The Wall Street Journal editorial “Climate Free Speech: Dissenters push back against political intimidation” explains how Senators Barbara Boxer, Ed Markey, and Sheldon Whitehouse sent out over 100 letters to organizations disagreeing with the President’s stance on climate change. The letters demanded information about these groups’ funding. Following a similar inquiry by House Democrat Raul Grijalva, these inquiries are clearly an attempt to intimidate and to silence rational debate on the issue of climate change.

We have long felt that the debate on climate change is not settled and should be kindled rather than silenced. Scientific inquiry requires a constant testing and retesting of hypotheses in order to confirm or disprove scientific “facts.”

There are simply too many variables in the climate change phenomena to jump to a weakly-supported conclusion that human activities are solely responsible for climate change—and that the only cure for this is government regulatory policies that are harmful to the US economy. There are too many factors yet to be examined, such as natural patterns in climate change (the Little Ice Age, for instance, happened before massive industrialization), solar activity, action and reaction of carbon and heat energy in the atmosphere, and the extreme impact of volcanic eruptions, which can negate our miniscule efforts to limit our own gaseous outputs.

But regardless of your opinion on climate change, the more important point is this: “’singling out’” scientists ‘based solely on their interpretations of scientific research’ is a threat to free inquiry.” That’s a statement from the American Geological Union, and we agree. One of the elements that makes this country great is free speech. Unlike other nations, we don’t have to be afraid of our government if we choose to express our opinion—or, at least, we shouldn’t be.

Because of the fear-mongering and intimidation, the climate change debate has once again seated itself largely on party lines—with one party adamantly accepting climate change and another adamantly arguing against it. As usual, such debate clouds the issue in question, causing emotion rather than reason to prevail. So we support any organization that stands up for the right to hold and express one’s opinion without fear of intimidation or reprisal.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial staff puts it quite nicely:

“Democrats and their allies have failed to persuade Americans that climate change is so serious that it warrants sweeping new political controls on American energy and industry. So liberals are trying to silence those who are winning the argument. We’re glad to see the dissenters aren’t intimidated.”

Freedom Friday: Congratulations Wisconsin!

Wisconsin-Break-Chain

Governor Scott Walker signed a bill into law in Wisconsin that prohibits unions from collecting mandatory union dues. We say “Congratulations, Wisconsin!” Wisconsin joins 24 other states, becoming the 25th in the Union to enact such a law.

Employees can still join unions. Employees can still pay union dues if they feel that their unions are providing a worthwhile service. Unions can no longer exact payments from members who don’t want to be part of the union.

President Obama was quick to condemn the new law as “anti-worker,” but what could be more anti-worker than taking someone’s wages against their will to support an organization that does not represent their workplace desires, and more often than not, makes contributions to political parties that may not represent their values.

At least one recent poll suggests the law is a pretty solid hit for the people of Wisconsin. They’d have voted for the law themselves by a margin of 62-32.

Suppose by virtue of living in a town, you were required to join the local gym and pay dues. What if the gym doesn’t have the newest equipment? Doesn’t have very good locker rooms? And management doesn’t much care to improve anything because, well, they’re guaranteed their mandatory dues whether they fix up the place or not.

All of a sudden a new mayor comes to town and says, you don’t have to join the local gym anymore – you are still free to stay if you want, but our guess is the gym management will have a new-found interest in providing value to members in exchange for voluntary, rather than mandatory, dues.

Employees own their labor, not unions. So an employee should have a right to sell his/her labor to the employer of his or her choosing without having to pay a cut to a union boss for the privilege of working. That’s un-American; that’s wrong.

So today on Freedom Friday, we salute YOU Wisconsin!

Freedom Friday: The DC Sled-In

Capitol SleddingWhile we were stuck at home yesterday for a heavy DC-area snowstorm, we couldn’t help but smile to learn that DC-area children and their parents were staging a “sled-in,” protesting a law that prohibited them from sledding on United States Capitol Grounds.

Though efforts were made to seek an exception to the rule, the bureaucrats would not cave. However, we were pleased to see that despite the numerous children caught breaking the law, no one was arrested for doing so—or even prevented from having fun.

While we don’t encourage lawlessness, we do love a common-sense approach to making and enforcing laws, and it seems that even though these young’uns had a day off from school, they still got to learn a lesson in civil disobedience, common sense, and freedom.

You can read more here:

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Freedom Friday: Promoting Freedom by Transcending Party Politics

At Freedom Forge Press, we’ve always been bothered by politics and the way the two-party system tends to divide people along rigid, artificial lines: much like a high school pep rally, it’s “us” versus “them” with no room for dissent. Clearly, this mentality becomes destructive when trying to use rationality to solve important issues.

We were heartened to view the following video, put out by Reason (link to http://reason.com/reasontv/2015/02/19/what-we-saw-at-isflc-2015), about last weekend’s International Students for Liberty Conference. The liberty movement seems to attract individuals who express disagreements with the two major political parties, namely with the Republican and Democrat propensity to limit freedoms. Each party seems happy to limit freedoms, as long as those limits serve the party’s best interests.

The students featured in this video seem to transcend the limits of the two-party system, focusing on liberty and freedom for all. Seeing young people so involved and already using critical thinking skills to question policies that govern their world is heartening indeed. They can envision a world with greater freedoms, and imagination is the first step to achieving.

It left us feeling just a little brighter about the future.