Posts Tagged ‘You be the Judge’

As part of my “You Be the Judge” series, I periodically share stories that presumably create moral quandaries for libertarians and other advocates of limited government and individual liberty.

It’s not easy being libertarian!

Though I’ve been lax in this regard since my last iteration in the series was about drug legalization back in April.

Time to atone for this oversight. Today’s thorny topic deals with the reasons that government must provide before taking children from their parents.

We had an example of this type of quandary earlier in the year, which actually resulted in parents fleeing to Cuba.

Our new example comes from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Here are some details from a story in the UK-based Daily Express.

Britain’s obesity epidemic…sees NHS hospitals dealing with 1,000 cases every day… Increasingly social workers find youngsters being fed a high-fat, sugary diet, which can be just as bad for their health. The phenomenon is known as “killing with kindness” because the child craves the unhealthy food and a loving parent feels unable to say no. Professionals say they have to make complex decisions in care proceedings and a family’s gross over-eating can be one of the factors that leads to them losing their children. A Sunday Express survey of councils found that in the past year five children were taken from their families for that reason: two in Wake-field, West Yorkshire, one in Oxfordshire, one in Salford and one in Hounslow, London. The previous 12 months saw five similar cases in Sheffield, Portsmouth, Lincolnshire, Slough and Harrow, London. …Ex-Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson warned in 2006 that health chiefs would look at removing children from their families if they became super-sized, risking their health. The first reported case took place in 2007 when an eight-year-old girl from Cumbria, who had to wear size 16 clothes, was taken into care.

I confess that this story leaves me conflicted.

Since I surely would favor the government taking kids if they were being starved to death, shouldn’t I support taking kids if they’re being fed to death?

Even if they’re not being fed to death, they are probably being condemned to lives of obesity, which is associated with all sorts of bad outcomes. Don’t I want to save them from that fate?

On the other hand, do any of us think that kids generally are better off in a foster care system?

Moreover, do you trust the government to make wise decisions? That’s an especially relevant question in the case of the United Kingdom, where kids actually have been removed from a home because the parents didn’t believe in unlimited immigration.

And what’s the cut-off point? Maybe if the government starts with seizing grossly obese children, that eventually will lead to raiding homes with mildly chubby kids.

These slippery slope arguments are important because most examples of government abuse have relatively benign beginnings (today’s monstrous income tax, for example, began in 1913 as a very simple, two-page tax with a top rate of just 7 percent).

I don’t know the right answer, but I look forward to reading the comments.

P.S. If you want additional challenging examples of “you be the judge,” peruse this list.

P.P.S. On a separate matter, I gave a speech earlier this year while visiting the Citadel in South Carolina. I gave it the grandiose title of “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Economic Policy.”

I don’t know if this is a positive sign, but that video has been translated and posted in China. Considering that my blog is blocked in China, I assume this is progress of some sort.

You won’t be surprised to learn, though, that I have no idea how to embed this type of video, but if you have a bizarre desire to watch me pontificate with Chinese subtitles, feel free to click on the image.

China Citadel

I have no idea whether I’ll change any minds in China, but I hope the country moves more in a free-market direction. As shown by Hong Kong and Singapore, Chinese people are very productive when freed from the shackles of big government.

Moreover, some Chinese bigwigs seem to understand. I was very impressed, for instance, when the head of China’s sovereign wealth fund made some very accurate observations about the failure of the European welfare state.

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Here’s a new edition of my “you be the judge” series.

These are posts designed to explore some of the more challenging aspects of a pro-libertarian philosophy.

Today’s example comes from Colorado, which had displayed a libertarian streak on issues ranging from school choice to drug legalization.

But the latter issue is the source of today’s quandary. Should marijuana be legal if it means more tax revenue that will be used by the political elite to expand the burden of government spending?

Here are the details from the Denver CBS station.

A draft bill floating around the Capitol late this week suggests that a new ballot question on pot taxes should repeal recreational pot in the state constitution if voters don’t approve 15 percent excise taxes on retail pot and a new 15 percent marijuana sales tax. Those would be in addition to regular state and local sales taxes. …Marijuana activists immediately blasted the proposal as a backhanded effort to repeal the pot vote, in which 55 percent of Coloradans chose to flout federal drug law and declare pot legal in small amounts for adults over 21.

If my math is correct, the politicians want a 30 percent special tax on marijuana, which is on top of the regular taxes that would be imposed.

That would be fine with me – if the proposal specified that the additional tax revenue was offset by a tax cut of equal size.

But as I explained in my “starve-the-beast” post, higher taxes usually finance bigger government.

Indeed, some politicians openly admit that they want the new revenue to expand the budget.

Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, said the whole purpose of legalizing recreational marijuana was to raise money for education and other programs. “So if there’s no money, we shouldn’t have marijuana,” Crowder said. …In Washington state, the only other place where voters last year approved recreational pot, the ballot measure set taxes at 75 percent, settling the question. Both states are still waiting to find out whether the federal government plans to sue to block retail sales of the drug, set to begin next year.

Though I didn’t realize that the state of Washington imposes a 75 percent tax on marijuana. How…um…French!

More Money for Government? The Ultimate Buzz Kill

So what’s the bottom line? If I lived in Colorado, would I vote to keep pot legal even if it meant more money from the buffoons in the state capital?

Since drug legalization is about 990 out of 1000 in my list of priorities, I’m tempted to say no.

On the other hand, it would be nice to reduce the onerous burden of the War on Drugs, which has been used an excuse to expand the size and scope of government.

What do you think?

P.S. If you want more examples of “you be the judge,” previous editions are listed below.

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The previous edition of “you be the judge” asked whether restrictions on aggressive panhandling are justified.

I thought that was a bit of a quandary, but I’m more conflicted by today’s question about the bizarre episodes of the Hakken family.

As explained in this CNN story, they have kidnapped their own children and fled to Cuba. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

The Hakkens have been on the lam after they allegedly snatched the two boys from their grandmother’s home in Florida. The couple lost custody of their children last year. There is an international manhunt for this family, and here they are, blending in among the other boats.

So why would parents have to kidnap their own kids and flee to what most people would consider a socialists hellhole?

…the police department in Slidell, Louisiana, issued its own statement offering background on the Hakkens and why the boys were taken from the parents last year. In June of 2012, Slidell police responded to a disturbance report at a hotel where Josh and Sharyn Hakken were staying with their sons, the police statement said. “When police arrived, both Mr. and Mrs. Hakken were acting in a bizarre manner that alarmed officers. They were talking about ‘completing their ultimate journey’ and were traveling across the country to ‘take a journey to the Armageddon’,” the Slidell police statement said, adding, “Let it be noted that both of their children were present in the hotel room at the time.” Because of the parents’ behavior and “the fact that narcotics and weapons were located inside of the hotel room,” the children were taken by child welfare officers, and Joshua Hakken was arrested on drug charges, the statement said.

Which brings us to recent events.

At some point over the past few months, the children were sent to live with their grandmother, Patricia Hauser, the mother of Sharyn Hakken. Sheriff’s investigators say Josh Hakken entered Hauser’s home at 6:30 a.m. last Wednesday. She told police that he tied her up and fled with the children… Those investigators told CNN they believe Hakken joined up with his wife, who was waiting in their pickup truck, and the family drove to a parking garage. A short time later, investigators said, Hakken is believed to have taken a sailboat out of a private slip in nearby Madeira Beach.

And, as you already know, they wound up in Cuba.

I first saw this story in the Miami Airport, and it referred to the Hakkens as being anti-government. Naturally, I immediately took their side.

Unfit parents?

But as I’ve learned more details, I’m conflicted. There’s nothing wrong with the parents having firearms, though one hopes they took steps to make sure the young kids didn’t have access to the guns.

On the other hand, I think there is something wrong with drug use, particularly in front of the children. Nonetheless, that’s not a sufficient reason in my mind for the government to seize someone’s kids unless there’s some evidence of genuine endangerment.

I am weirded out, though, with regards to their alleged language about taking an “ultimate journey” to “the Armageddon.” Are they suicidal nutcases? Are they mentally unstable? Those would be reasons for intervention.

Assuming, of course, that we can trust that the cops and other government officials provided an accurate rendition of events.

But assuming that’s the case, do you think the state had the right to take the kids from the Hakkens?

And if you want more challenging examples of “you be the judge,” peruse this list.

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It’s both difficult and easy to be a libertarian.

It’s difficult because the corrupt Washington establishment of politicians, lobbyists, bureaucrats, and interest groups almost always is allied against us.

But it’s easy since you have strong moral principles that put liberty over statism, so at least you don’t need a lot of time to figure out whether class-warfare tax policy is desirable, whether the federal government is too big, or whether government should be throwing people in jail for victimless crimes.

But not every issue is black and white.

About two years ago, I made fun of the bureaucrats in Montgomery County, MD, for proposing a plan to require that bums and panhandlers get government permits.

Afterwards, someone from that community told me that the goal wasn’t more bureaucracy, but rather to give local authorities a legal excuse to take action against vagrants who supposedly harass other people.

I don’t know if that was an accurate assessment, but it does raise an interesting question of whether the government should have any laws to limit panhandling and discourage people from becoming bums.

The local government in Houston seems to use this approach. As reported by the Daily Mail, you’re not supposed to feed vagrants, and it’s also against the law for bums to rummage through garbage.

A homeless man has been given a ticket for rummaging through a trash can in the downtown area of one of America’s biggest cities. …The summons he was issued cites his violation as: ‘disturbing the contents of a garbage can in downtown central business district.’ …the city’s laws which ban the feeding of homeless people… In most other cities homeless people are able to rely on the kindness of strangers for food and those who have fallen on hard times are free to dive through the garbage at will, but in Houston even that source of food is banned.

By the way, this issue isn’t limited to government actions. Some business owners in normally liberal California have become so irritated by aggressive mooching that they have distributed stickers saying “Please don’t feed our bums.”

So what’s the right policy? Is there an unlimited right for people to be bums and aggressively pester others for money? Does that include a right to sleep on the sidewalk, even if that undermines local businesses?

I confess that my gut instinct is to oppose such laws. On the other hand, I don’t like being harassed by able-bodied men who don’t want to get jobs. And I would be very irritated if I owned a small business and was losing money because bums were driving away customers and causing property values to decline.

If you like these “you be the judge” quandaries, here are other examples of difficult-to-decide issues.

I tend to be guided by the sentiments in this amusing poster, but many of these questions defy easy answers.

P.S. If you want a good chuckle, check out this entrepreneurial bum.

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Normally this blog focuses on big issues such as the economic damage of government spending and the self-defeating foolishness of high tax rates.

Today, though, it’s time for another edition of “You Be the Judge.”

In this game, we look at stories and issues that require us to balance common sense, the principles of a free society, and justice.

Previous editions of this game include: Putting politicians on trial, vigilante justice, brutal tax collection tactics, child molestation, pay levels at government-owned firms, sharia law, healthcare, incest, speed traps, jury nullification, and vigilante justice (again).

Our latest example comes from Alaska, where someone with very questionable judgement was busted for floating down a river while consuming vast quantities of alcohol. Here’s some of the story from the Fairbanks Daily News.

A Juneau man faces a rare DUI charge for allegedly having a 0.313 breath-alcohol content as he floated through Fairbanks on an inflatable raft Sunday night. Alaska’s driving under the influence law applies to people operating motor vehicles, water craft and airplanes. …when Alaska State Troopers received a report of a “heavily intoxicated” man floating down the Chena River near the Parks Highway bridge at 6:40 p.m. Sunday, a wildlife trooper boat responded and arrested 32-year-old William Modene. …At 0.313, Modene’s breath-alcohol content was almost four times the legal limit for operating a vehicle, 0.08. …Under Alaska’s DUI law, operating a water craft means to “navigate a vessel used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water for recreational or commercial purposes on all waters, fresh or salt, inland or coastal, inside the territorial limits or under the jurisdiction of the state.”

So here’s the issue we have to decide: Mr. Modene doesn’t sound like a model citizen, and he may be swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool, but the question on the table is whether the government should have arrested him for DUI?

From a legal perspective, is it accurate to say that he was “operating” a water craft or “navigating” a vessel?

I’m not an expert on such matters, but it seems to me that he was doing nothing more than floating down a river. There’s nothing in the story, for instance, to indicate he had a motor on his raft.

From what we know, Mr. Modene posed zero danger to other people. He was merely a drunk, minding his own business as he floated along.

My gut instinct is that this case should be tossed. The government would be in a much stronger position if it had charged him with “being drunk in public” or something like that. But even in that case, floating down a river may not meet the test of being “in public.”

There’s a separate issue, of course, about whether the government can and should intervene if someone is engaging in self-destructive behavior. If there’s a report that someone has just taken a bottle of sleeping pills, most of us presumably would agree that it would be okay for the government to break down his door and tote him to a hospital to have his stomach pumped.

But the self-destructive behavior has to pose an immediate danger. We’d hopefully all reject, for instance, the notion of some Bloomberg-esque ban on unhealthy food because people sometimes shorten their lives by overeating.

Since I probably average one beer a month, I’m not competent to make sweeping statements about alcohol, but it’s my understanding that a blood alcohol level of .4 is when people begin to die. Since Mr. Modene was already above .3, perhaps there’s some argument for police intervention.

But set that aside. Pretend you’re on the jury and you have to vote on whether Modene is guilty of DUI. What’s your verdict? And if you also want to weigh in on whether the government had a right to interfere with his raft trip, don’t be bashful.

For me, that second question is more challenging. That’s why I like sticking with simple questions of right vs. wrong, such as whether I side with Switzerland or France on the issue of whether fiscal sovereignty and financial privacy should be undermined to help high-tax nations impose their bad tax laws on an extraterritorial basis.

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Whenever I find a story that involves a thorny issue of right vs wrong, I like to see what readers think.

Indeed, this has become a semi-regular feature of this blog. I’ve cited some tough cases in previous posts, dealing with difficult topics such as vigilante justice, brutal tax collection tactics, child molestation, Sharia law, healthcare, incest, jury nullification, and vigilante justice (again).

Today’s episode of “You Be the Judge” features a legal case in Florida involving whether motorists can be ticketed for warning other drivers about speed traps.

When the Florida Highway Patrol pulls someone over on the highway, it’s usually because they were speeding. But Eric Campbell was pulled over and ticketed while he was driving the speed limit. Campbell says, “I was coming up the Veterans Expressway and I notice two Florida Highway Patrol Cars sitting on the side of the road in the median, with lights off.” Campbell says he did what he always does: flashed his lights on and off to warn drivers coming from the other direction that there was speed trap ahead. According to Campbell, 60 seconds after passing the trooper, “They were on my tail and they pulled me over.” Campbell says the FHP trooper wrote him a ticket for improper flashing of high beams. Campbell says the trooper told him what he had done was illegal. But later Campbell learned that is not the case. He filed a class action suit which says “Florida Statue 316.2397” — under which Campbell was cited — “does not prohibit the flashing of headlights as a means of communications, nor does it in any way reference flashing headlights or the use of high beams.” …Since 2005, FHP records show more than 10,429 drivers have been cited under the statute. …Campbell says FHP had no right to ticket him or anyone under the current law and he adds the agency is not being honest when it says it doesn’t write tickets to increase revenue or punish people, but rather to get the motorist to slow down on the highway. If that were true, Campbell says the FHP should be delighted with him, because drivers did slow down before troopers could give them a ticket.

I despise the use of speed traps, particularly since they always seem to be set up in places with inappropriately low speed limits, so it won’t surprise you that my gut instinct is to side with the motorists. And since there apparently isn’t any law in Florida against flashing your high beams, this is a slam-dunk issue.

But let’s take this to the next level: Should there be a law against flashing high beams?

Presumably not, but I confess this example raises broader issues. Let’s say the cops are doing something completely legitimate, such as searching for a murderer. I assume all of us would view it as wrong for an otherwise innocent person to warn the murderer the cops were about to search a certain area.

In cases like that, an obstruction-of-justice charge (or maybe aiding-and-abetting, I’m not a lawyer, so I’m guessing) seems appropriate. But where do you draw the line? If you know your friend is smoking pot, should you be liable for not ratting him out? Hopefully not, but what if your friend is a rapist? In that case, I hope we would all agree it would be right to inform the cops. But keep in mind the real issue is whether you should be subject to arrest if you don’t.

These are hard issues, and they underscore the importance of having laws that are just. It’s much easier to support strong enforcement if we know the government isn’t using the law to generate revenue or harass people engaged in victimless behavior.

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