jasonbwatson

November 6, 2014

Freedom is not an entitlement

The Facebook page of the organization called The Federalist Papers posted an image of an American flag today with the caption, “The only entitlement I expect from my government is freedom.” The Federalist Papers is an organization with this purpose: “The mission of The Federalist Project is to get people the history and the civics lessons public schools don’t teach to motivate them to push back at the erosion of our liberties and restore constitutionally limited small government.” The organization relies primarily on social media to communicate its message. What is ironic about its post from today, however, is that freedom is not an entitlement at all.

An entitlement, by definition, is the right to guaranteed benefits under a government program. Such programs–Social Security, for example–are called entitlements because those who are qualified for the benefits are entitled to them. That entitlement, however, and the conditions qualifying one to become entitled to those benefits, are determined by the laws made by the government. Congress, for example, has been gradually increasing the age at which one becomes entitled to Social Security. I do not have a real problem with that, but it is clear evidence that entitlements are created by the government and can therefore be changed by, or even eliminated by, the government. Accordingly, referring to freedom as an entitlement is probably not a good idea.

Ironically, the very source the Federalist Papers claims as its name–the original Federalist Papers penned by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay–would have had very serious concerns about referring to freedom as an entitlement or as something which comes from the government at all. John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government articulated the idea that humans enter into a social contract through which they surrender some natural rights and freedoms in order to establish a government that will protect their other rights and freedoms. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote in the Declaration of Independence that man is endowed by his Creator with certain unalienable rights–meaning that the government does not give them and the government cannot take them away. And then the authors of the Federalist Papers, written to encourage the ratification of the Constitution, vehemently argued that the Constitution gave the federal government only those powers that were enumerated in the Constitution. So passionately did they feel about this that they argued against the need for a Bill of Rights, demanded by the Anti-Federalists, because articulating that the government did not have the powers prohibited in the Bill of Rights would imply that the government had had those powers prior to having them forbidden.

Maybe its semantics, and I understand and appreciate the point the Federalist Papers post was trying to make, but we need to be careful with our words…and the last thing we want to do is suggest that our freedom is an entitlement we receive from the government!

April 30, 2014

Being Stupid Isn’t Against the Law

I suppose I shall weigh in on the Donald Sterling fiasco if for no other reason than that I have been asked by a few people what I think about it.

Honestly, I am not going to say too much because I think this topic is being addressed at length by plenty of other people. I am not a fan of the NBA, by the way, but I do not think that really has any bearing on this issue. What it comes down to ultimately, I believe, is an issue of freedom of speech, freedom of belief and right to property ownership.

I have not read the entirety of what Mr. Sterling said in his recorded conversation with his girlfriend. I have read enough to know that what he said was racist, offensive and indefensible. However, various individuals from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Allen West, have pointed out that (1) Sterling’s views did not just suddenly come to light, and (2) the recording that sparked this firestorm was apparently made illegally.

Abdul-Jabbar states in his opinion column posted on TIME’s web site on April 28 that there has plenty of evidence of Stirling’s racism before this recording emerged. In fact, he suggests that the outrage over these recent comments is absurd given that they do not reveal anything new. “What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism,” he wrote. “I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff…has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?”

Both Abdul-Jabbar and West, in a post on his web site posted today, highlight that the outrage over Sterling’s comments has thus-far vastly outweighed the fact that the recording containing these comments was apparently made illegally. “Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way?” asks Abdul-Jabbar. “The national outrage against Mr. Sterling has come from an act that could be illegal and inadmissible in a court of law. Nevertheless, the court of public opinion has tried and convicted Mr. Sterling of being a jerk,” writes West. According to West, “the taping of a conversation without consent of the other party is illegal under California statute.” I do not know if Stirling knew he was being recorded or not, but I highly doubt it.

All of above, however, is not my biggest concern in all of this. If Sterling is a racist and the jerk that he appears to be based on the recording then I find that sad and even reprehensible, but I believe we have the right to think and say what we want in this country. Should people who are offended by it make their voice heard by boycotting Sterling or his team? Sure. That’s another great right we have. Should sponsors pull their support for the Clippers because of Sterling’s comments? Again, entirely within their rights. Should Sterling be banned from the NBA for life, as was announced yesterday by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver? I could even support that decision. I have a serious problem, however, with the effort Silver intends to make to force Sterling to sell the team.

According to the AP report issues yesterday, “NBA Commissioner Adam Silver delivered the swiftest, strongest penalty he could, then called on NBA owners to force Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell the team for making racist comments that hurt the league. … If three-fourths of the other 29 owners agree to Silver’s recommendation, Sterling will be forced to sell the team he has owned since 1981.”

The Declaration of Independence says that there are inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. John Locke, whose writing heavily influenced the Founders, originally wrote of life, liberty and property. There are many legal protections for the right to own property. If Silver and the other NBA owners are successful in their stated aim to force Sterling to sell the team–in essence, taking his property from him by force–I think we have a real problem. There are plenty of ways for Sterling to be influenced and even pressured to sell the team, and if the boycotts and loss of sponsorships and other pressures are used properly he will, if he is a shrewd businessman, recognize the wisdom in selling. But force him to sell? As West asks in his column, “have we come to a point in America where being a jerk is grounds for confiscation of a private property?” If so, I think there are a lot more people in trouble than Donald Sterling…and you or I could be next!

My understanding is that Sterling was at home when he made the comments that have sparked this outrage. My understanding is that he thought he was having a private conversation. If Adam Silver, the other owners of the NBA teams, or any other person or group of persons in the United States can strip any individual of private property because of comments made at home in private–and said comments are not even criminal–then we are in serious trouble. The very rights we hold dear will slip through our fingers like sand. If anyone has a right to free, unfiltered speech anywhere–regardless of how ugly, offensive or stupid it may be–it should be in the privacy of their own home. After all, being stupid still isn’t against the law.

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