Sunday, November 22, 2009

Guns for Hire

In the Old West, young men with fast hands and no scruples could make a living hiring themselves out as private enforcers. It didn't matter what they were enforcing; matters of justice were irrelevant to the business of enforcing. With the general lack of peace officers spread over large areas, these young men filled the power vacum and became, defacto, the law.

One hundred and thirty years later, those young gunmen with no scruples have become respected officers of the court. They still carry guns, but they wear blue uniforms and a shiny badge. What are they hired to do? Whatever the law tells them to do, no matter how wrongheaded. Their mantra is that they are Law Enforcement, not Peace Officers.

Whatever the law says, that is what they will enforce. There are easy examples: arresting peaceful people who have inhaled smoke that they law has proscribed, even though they have hurt no one and damaged no property. Arresting people who choose to pay for their sexual pleasures. Arresting people by setting speed traps. Arresting people for not wearing seat belts. They live to arrest. It really does not matter what the law is.

Because of this, and because there are literally thousands of laws that one can violate without even knowing it, the police have become feared and hated. A wonderful Youtube entitled "Never Talk To The Cops" includes a presentation given by a former cop who said he merely needed to follow someone in his car long enough...they WILL commit a crime for which he will pull them over, legitimately, and begin the process of interrogation in order to ticket or arrest them. This is scary: when a cop believes there can be no such thing as an innocent citizen, then it is understandable that they would feel free to push, prod, threaten, and harrass you because, after all, you HAVE DONE SOMETHING. You just don't know it yet.

The response to this point of view is that cops are the ones that rush to the scene of accidents, put their lives on the line when responding to robberies, and help find and arrest murderers. My response: not quite. Yes, they rush to accidents...but it is the EMTs who provide the life saving care. Yes, they rush to scenes of violence, like robberies, but it is rare that they arrive in time to do anything about it except take down information and write up a report. Ditto for murders. I don't mean to belittle the importance of their contributions to solving crimes, but let's not make their contribution out to be more than it really is.

Few of us will experience violence in our lives. Those of us who do will find the cops generally are not there to do anything except take the report. On the other hand, we are all, daily, confronted by the very real possibility of being arrested or ticketed for violating one law or another, few of which are designed to protect life and property. The fines generated will fund some government body, and a cop will get another notch in his career belt. We, on the other hand, will have to deal with the fines, the increased insurance rates, and the public record.

In this day and age of innumerable and unknowable laws, Law Enforcement Officers are NOT our friends. They are the enemy. Tell your children.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Capitalism: The Unknown Definition

I don't have a clue what Capitalism is.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I've got a pretty good handle on the ins-and-outs of Friedman, Mises, Rothbard, Rand, and Hayek. The people with whom I discuss issues, political and economic, have read the New York Times, Krugman, Keynes, Marx, and Samuelson. I may as well be speaking Hindu, and they are probably speaking Gaelic. I'm not sure, because I can hardly understand a word.

I often argue with my favorite self-described "socialist." Mind you, we both work for a retail company, buying and selling consumer products, trying to produce a profit in a very tough environment. We agree on business issues to the extent my job overlaps with his (his is in IT, I'm a merchant). Me, the Capitalist and, he, the Socialist have made common cause to run a for-profit business. My socialist friend is worried we won't make a profit this year. Odd, eh?

Yet when we discuss what is going on in the larger economy we can find no common ground at all. Over the years we have had numerous heated debates which sometimes resulted in each of us resolving to go to our respective corners of the office and avoid further conversation except for the most banal pleasantries. The more serious the issue, the deeper the disagreement.

Today, we discussed elements of the current credit meltdown that are putting our company in jeopardy. The discussion quickly spiraled into a debate over Capitalism and whether or not it is doomed to failure unless it is carefully regulated. I could see that this was going to be another unproductive sharing of views, my Hindu versus his Gaelic, so I did something I usually cannot do: I shut up and listened.

My friend trotted out his parade of economic criminals: corporate robbers, lobbyists for corporate interests, Wall Street insiders, lapdog regulators, etc. In other words, "Capitalists."

Normally I would have bristled at his distorted view of my "Capitalism." A fight over the proper definition would have ensued. Just as I was about to launch into my tirade, I said instead: I don't believe in Capitalism, because I don't know what it is.

He was stunned. I continued.

"I believe in a Free Peoples' Market, where everyone is entitled to keep or trade the fruits of their labor, freely."

"Ahhhh," he said with a smirk, "Communism!"

"Ok, Communism! Whatever word you like. If that means we're free to live our lives without coercion, then I am a Communist."

Amazingly, the argument was diffused and the discussion turned to the Federal Reserve, Fractional Reserve Banking, and the gold standard. We disagree about these things, too, but at least they are more concrete and can be discussed with some precision. Oddly, the socialist was defending the central bankers, and the Free Peoples' Market person was arguing against the current monetary system.

We didn't get very far in our discussion today. I'm sure there will be longer and deeper conversations in the future. I can guarantee, however, we won't be debating definitions.

Death to Capitalism, whatever the hell it is!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mr Officer, arrest me...I am a criminal

I am a drug user. The law requires a fine and jail time, and in the interest of solidarity with my fellow druggies, I'm asking the law to come and get me. Now. Before more time lapses.

My story is an old one. Weak will. Peer pressure. Low self esteem. A comely woman. How many have gone down this path that led to fines, jail, embarrassment, and a failed life? Millions. No matter how I try to dress it up, I am one of them. The veneer of respectability is a lie.

It began during my college years. My roommate sold drugs, mostly pot, to friends and acquaintances to help fund his education. He would buy large wafers of pot from a supplier, then spend hours carefully weighing out one ounce bags for sale. Despite being a drug kingpin in our dorm, he was scrupulously honest with his weights and measures. After all, his reputation, such as it was, depended on it.

I did not smoke during college. My roommate and the guys next door threatened violence on me to get me hooked (they would look at me a little askew as they took hits from the bong, then through the clenched teeth of carefully controlled exhaling they would say that, dude, we ought to put a bag on your head and pipe it in. Then they would giggle. OK, maybe it wasn't real violence they were talking about, but technically....) My roommate even tried to grow some pot in the room, but I was not careful about who I let in and I was afraid that some maintenance workers saw the plants. So I helped hide the plants all over the dorm until the danger of arrest had passed. That was the beginning of my long slide down the path of law breaking.

(As a footnote, I would mention that just because my old roommate and the guys next door survived their pot addiction and their raging hormones to become a CPA, a doctor, and a dentist, does not excuse them for breaking the law. After all, the law was the only thing between them and the gutter.)

When I quit college, I dated a girl in my hometown who popped pills. I can't say what kind, nor can I say that I knew when she used them because I really couldn't tell any difference in her behavior. When my old college roommate came to visit, she and he hit it off right away, and soon the conversation turned to getting high on a little weed. None of us had papers to roll joints, and I did not have a bong, of course, so I was taught the finer points of creating a "shotgun" out of an empty soda can. At least I think it was soda. Maybe it was beer. I don't remember exactly.

My old roommate and my girlfriend traded hits on the soda-beer-can-shotgun until I felt they were getting a little too close and I was feeling like an uncool dweeb. So I took my first hit. Suddenly, I was one of them. I took more hits (one? two? I don't remember) before the small stash of pot was burned up. No cares; my girlfriend liked me again. My roommate thought I had gained some cool.

I was an official druggie. I had inhaled, held in the smoke to maximize the effects, and went back for more. I can't say that I got high that day, nor did I particularly like the taste the pot left in my mouth, but I very much liked the fact that I was liked. It was a pattern I would repeat.

A few months later, at a party in the next door apartment, a joint was passed around and when it got to me I sucked on it. My fellow partiers ooooooh'ed and aaaaaaah'ed, and in their low-key-mellowed-out way they applauded me. Even the man of the house, who was a cop in real life, smiled a little. He didn't smoke. Those days were behind him, and besides, smoking dope could end his career. Nevertheless, as an ex-druggie, he did not arrest kids for having pot. He would confiscate it, then dump it on the ground. He would give them a little warning about the law and the likelihood that some other cop would not do as he had done, then send them on their way. No record of the stop. No punishment. He was the personification of graft and corruption in the local police department.

I continued down the path of drug dependence by becoming a groupie for a rock band made up of old high school buddies, one of whom, the lead singer, made no secret of liking her pot. Once, during a break between sets, the woman and I went out to her Subaru parked behind the bar and lit up a joint. I remember being paranoid of being discovered, since it was a very public place. She, however, was calm and cool. She thought I was, too, since the last time she'd seen me was when I was an uptight dork in high school in buttoned down shirts and plaid polyester dress pants. I liked that she liked the new me. I didn't much like the paranoia, however. Sadly, my friend, the lead singer, died of cancer a couple of years later. I must be truely twisted because I cannot help forever treasuring that moment in her car, sharing a joint.

That is my story. I never touched the stuff again, not because I had learned to reform my scofflaw ways, but because I didn't see much point to it. My experimentation was over. I had other things to do, like make some money, go back to college, and get a career going. I had been a late bloomer my entire life, but my time had finally come.

My use of pot ended around 1980. I can't remember exactly, since those years were stewed in alcohol. The legal drinking age was 18 at that time, so that's one thing the cops can't bust me for.

I am tired of living the lie. Bust me. I need to atone for my wicked druggie ways. Then maybe I won't feel bad for the 800,000 people who get busted, booked, charged, and punished every year for what I got away with scot-free.