Government Intrusion Laid Bare

Government Intrusion Laid Bare

In Utah, a woman is being charged with three counts of lewdness involving a child and may have to register as a sex offender for the next decade because her stepsons walked in on her while she was topless.  Is it the responsibility of government to ensure a moral rearing of children, and if so, based on whose morality?

Tilli Buchanan and her husband were hanging drywall in their garage, near the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018.  They both stripped down to their underpants to limit the amount of gypsum dust they would need to clean from their clothes.  While they were working, Tilli’s three stepsons, aged 9, 10 and 13, entered the garage. Tilli and the children’s father sat the boys down, and Tilli spoke with them about gender equality and how people should not be ashamed to show skin if they choose.  They finished their work, showered and had dinner.

Your first question is probably who reported this event to the authorities.  My initial assumption was that one of the children must have told a friend and another parent or a teacher reported the incident.  My podcast partner, Liberty Larry, said he was certain it had to be the boys’ mother. Point to Liberty Larry!

Social services spoke with the boys’ mother while conducting an unrelated investigation.  I could not discover the nature of that investigation, but I suspect it relates to a custody dispute.  As Liberty Larry said, parents will use anything they can as ammunition in divorce and custody battles.  (If our assumptions are correct, this would be an extreme example of a rarely-discussed aspect of divorces:  parental alienation.)  Needless to say, she took this opportunity to report the event to the authorities, leading to the current case.

Think of the implications.  Can any parent in Utah be prosecuted for lewdness if one of their children walks in on them changing, or in the bathroom or engaging in sexual activity with their spouse?  Be sure to lock those doors! Maybe prosecution would only be brought against stepparents. Does that make it any better?

I think her real crime was not responding to the children walking in with the appropriate amount of shame.  If she had dived behind something or quickly covered herself with a piece of drywall, it would have just been one of those funny, embarrassing incidents that, while not forgotten, is rarely mentioned.  Instead, Tilli committed the crime of taking the opportunity to talk to her stepchildren about gender equality, why they shouldn’t have to be ashamed about their bodies and why they should be free to choose what of themselves they wish to share with the public.

In a letter to the prosecution, demanding that the case be dropped and Tilli Buchanan’s record be sealed, her attorneys make the case that Tilli is being prosecuted because she is a woman:

Because Tilli Buchanan is a woman, says the state of Utah, she is not allowed to strut shirtless through her own home.  Because Tilli Buchanan is a woman, she is not free to display her body with pride, but must instead conceal it in shame, even in the privacy of her own home.  Because Tilli Buchanan is a woman, her bare chest is censured as being inherently pornographic and perverse, while her husband’s bare chest is celebrated as an emblem of strength and pride.  Because Tilli Buchanan is a woman – an only because she is a woman – the State now seeks to condemn her as a child sex offender for engaging in the exact same non-sexual conduct as her lawfully faultless husband.  Tilli Buchanan is being singled out for prosecution solely on the basis of sex.

Most Americans can agree that the State stepping into your home to this degree, regulating the way you dress and what you teach your children, is a step too far.  But what of the more general case? The attorney, David Lane, has represented the Free the Nipple movement, which promotes gender equality through protests and civil disobedience related to gender-biased public nudity provisions.  Their crusade focuses on allowing women to breastfeed in public (babies gotta eat, too), and the inherent gender discrimination of not allowing the same privileges or enforcing the same restrictions on both men and women.

I can get behind that.  Public indecency laws used to restrict men from baring their chests in public, too.  Men protested in very similar ways and got the laws changed, but only for men.  Perhaps you worry about an epidemic of public nudity. However, social mores already limit the acceptable places for any person to go shirtless.  This is a problem easily handled by a respect for private property rights. Any business should be able to allow or disallow guests based on their dress.  In the South, we already see the signs in the windows:

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service.

Would it become discrimination to refuse service to nude people or topless women?  We have already seen the government enforce prohibition on discrimination for lifestyle choices, when they can be connected to other protected classes, such as religion or race.  Would nudists or naturists (or whatever they call themselves these days) suddenly become a protected class?  As already stated, this question is easily resolved, if you remove government from the equation, by private property principles.

But won’t someone please think of the children?!  If public nudity were legalized completely, that would apply to children, as well, lest we become ageist.  Gasp! There is already a fear of pedophiles and sexual violence against children. Would children and teens going nude in public exacerbate this problem?  I certainly wouldn’t want my children to go naked in public. The question becomes, is it the responsibility of the State to protect your children from these presumed dangers.

Also, children would witness public nudity, and not all parents are content with their children seeing naked people.  We have a conflict between those who want the freedom to choose for themselves what they want to show the public and those who do not wish to see it – a problem which already exists, by the way.  Consideration of a proscription should always err on the side of personal liberty. Those claiming the freedom to choose take precedence over those claiming freedom to not witness the results of the others’ choices.  Just because I oppose and would not engage in a particular activity, does that give me the right to prohibit that activity of you, as well?

It is reasonable to demand my tolerance of an activity of which I disapprove, as long as it does not cause harm to me.  There is a thin line, though, between requiring tolerance and requiring approval. Public nudity provides an interesting example, in this regard, because tolerance of public nudity is tacit approval, since permission would almost certainly put me in a situation where I was forced to be a part of it, even if I do not engage in the activity myself.

I recently read a suggestion that the purpose of government is to resolve incompatible goals.  (I believe I read this in Thomas Barnett’s The Pentagon’s New Map, but I cannot recall.)  I do not agree with this assertion, rather I believe that government’s purpose is to protect our individual rights and liberties.  A resolution, however, lies in self-government.  Local control of these kinds of questions gives people the opportunity to settle or move to the place where their values are most closely reflected in the law.

If the puritanical town in which I live enforces strict public nudity laws, they are free to do so; and those who wish to avoid public displays of nudity may settle, shop or recreate here with confidence.  Meanwhile, the neo-hippie town next door can choose to permit public nudity on any scale. Those who approve may settle, shop or recreate there freely. It is much easier to relocate to an amenable polity when the polities are small or local than when a large, federal – or even state – government settles these disputes.  It is easier to move to the next town or county than to leave the state or the country.

But here’s the rub:  the attempt to legislate morality.  Luckily, it has the same resolution.  Robert Heinlein wrote:  “It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics.”

We have a history of morality legislation in the South.  Blue laws (or Sunday laws) were widespread until recently and are still maintained in counties across the South.  In college, some of my friends, drinking through Saturday night and into the following morning, drove to Tennessee, two hours away, to buy more beer, because alcohol sales were forbidden on Sundays in Georgia.  Setting aside this reckless behavior, morality legislation has more insidious effects, like those predicted by Heinlein.

I grew up in the Episcopalian church, where wine is served with Communion.  One Sunday morning, it was discovered that there was not enough wine to serve Communion for all of the church services.  Our priest, in his vestments, went to the local grocery store to buy wine for the church and was refused. Generously, one of the assistants brought wine from home to supplement what was at the church; so Communion could be served to everyone.  You see the irony, though, of a priest being denied purchase to supply his church in pursuance of a law rooted in religious morality.

Through the power of government, the primarily fundamentalist population had made the new commandment:  Thou shall not buy alcohol on the Lord’s day. And, it is a short step from thou shall not buy to thou shall not imbibe.  Imagine the agents of government waiting outside every Catholic, Episcopalian or any other church that serves wine with Communion to arrest, harass or fine anyone who leaves with the smell of alcohol on their breath.  Imagine, again, if the State takes the enforcement of this legislation to enter your home. A neighbor calls the police because they think they saw you pouring a glass of whiskey or opening a beer to enjoy a football game.  Next, you receive a hard knock on your door….

Again, the purpose of government, as laid out by the US Founders, is to protect the natural rights and liberties of the people.  If morality legislation is inevitable, it should be confined to communities, acting in the same manner as any other social mores.  Legislation becomes redundant, as social pressure is more effective at regulating behavior than law. More importantly, reliance on private property rights and self-government introduces more options in resolving disputes over personal behavior.  In this case, as well as so many others, the State will most effectively resolve incompatible goals by stepping out of the way and letting communities decide how they wish to govern themselves.

The Scandal of Coercive Charity

The Scandal of Coercive Charity

Amidst the brouhaha surrounding the impeachment inquiry, where the US government and citizens will be challenged to determine whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump is more corrupt, an issue deserving of far more attention by the American public is brushed to the wayside.  Much has been made of President Trump’s early attempt to withhold $450 million in military aid to Ukraine, but the corruption inherent in the payment has been ignored.

The Trump administration has seen significant reductions in the total budget for foreign aid.  The final budget for the Obama administration included $42 billion for foreign aid and the FY 2020 budget includes only $31 billion.  Most Americans are unaware of the plethora of corrupt practices and waste involving dispensation of foreign aid, believing the term to refer only to humanitarian concerns, disaster relief or some other form of benevolence.

Even these forms of foreign aid, however, are tainted with corruption.  There is an observed correlation between the amount of aid given and a country’s membership in one of the rotating positions on the UN Security Council.  US foreign aid to temporary members of the UN Security Council increases by almost 60% during their tenure and returns to normal levels after their departure.  The study also shows much more significant increases during years when important votes are taking place.

Even the best of intentions can result in unintended consequences.  In the 1990s, food aid to Somalia helped to empower local warlords, when the aid shipments were hijacked and traded to surrounding countries for weapons.  For the US, this culminated in the failed attempt by the US military to capture the warlord, Mohammed Farrah Aidid, and the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident.  It is not unusual for a local strongman to use humanitarian aid to solidify their own position by either profiting from it or denying aid to antagonistic groups.

In the case of Venezuela, the US government used aid as a bargaining chip to achieve its own political goals.  Aid was offered only to Juan Guaido, the political leader of the opposition group declared by the US government as the rightful President of Venezuela.  Then, aid was offered dependent on the condition that the elected President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, resign.  The US government’s offers of aid, ostensibly humanitarian, were used as a political weapon; and it was recognized as such by the International Red Cross.

Furthermore, there is no real consensus on whether foreign aid is effective at achieving goals.  By far, the most successful foreign aid spending is in the health category, which garners $6.8 billion of the $30.7 billion 2020 budget.  It is clear that foreign aid spending for health services, such as President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), anti-polio campaigns and President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), have had a positive impact, saving countless lives.  Even these largely beneficial public-private partnerships can end in scandal, with private companies profiting off of public spending.

Unfortunately, one-third of the foreign aid budget goes towards military and security aid, topping $9 billion, and accounting for a majority of the spending for the two biggest recipients of US foreign aid in 2017 (the most recent year fully reported):  Iraq ($3.7 billion) and Afghanistan ($5.7 billion).  Large civilian protests are occurring in Iraq, because even 15 years after Saddam Hussein was removed, they still lack infrastructure and public services.  Meanwhile, a civil war persists in Afghanistan with no end in sight.  It would be hard to argue these have been successful investments.

Moreover, the US government has given aid to militia groups descended directly from the groups that planned and executed the 9/11 attacks in the United States.  Originally used to fund Houthi groups in Yemen, who were fighting against ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Obama administration, through the CIA under John Brennan, shifted funding to the AQAP militias fighting against the Houthis in order to “placate the Saudis” for the Iran nuclear deal.  In Syria, the US attempt to foster an overthrow of Bashar al-Assad saw them arming and funding fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as al-Qaeda in Syria (AQS).

Meanwhile, the American people were being told that the US was supporting “moderate” opposition in Syria.  Moderates have no need for military assistance.  I suggest that, once you take up arms for your cause, regardless of the justness of that cause, you are no longer a moderate.  Being willing to kill for a cause is definitively radical.

So, what of the $450 million in military aid to Ukraine?  This brings us back around to President Trump’s conversation with President Zelenskyy, during which the Ukrainian President expressed interest in purchasing Javelin light anti-tank weapons.  This is just another way of privatizing public funds.  The US government coerces funds from the American public through various forms of taxation and sends it to Ukraine, who then purchase weaponry from American companies.

The Javelin is produced by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, at a cost of about $125,000 for the launcher and $75,000 for each rocket; and here lies another dirty secret of foreign aid.  I’ve written before about lobbying expenditures by the big defense contractors in the context of criticizing the US Congress for their refusal to accept their constitutionally prescribed duties related to war.  Foreign aid includes the extra step of gifting the money to another government, before it is paid to these contractors; but this is where that lobbying pays off.  They have effectively used taxpayer dollars to feed the revenues of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.

Coercive giving is not charity.  It is not generosity.  Whether funding enemies of the US, empowering dictators, buying votes or lining the pockets of US defense contractors and pharmaceutical companies, spending on foreign aid engenders a wide range of negative consequences and corrupt practices.  While we are distracted by the political theater, our representatives in government are being poor stewards of our interests.  Foreign aid may be a small percentage of government spending, but it is illustrative of a much broader problem.

Americans are certainly capable of determining for themselves who is deserving of their charity.  US citizens are more generous with their money than the citizens of any other nation.  Aware of the poor track record of benevolence by our government, isn’t it time to reclaim the right for each of us to decide for ourselves who will receive our money?

The Last Man

The Last Man

Sergeant First Class Elis Angel Barreto Ortiz could have been the last American serviceman to die in Afghanistan.  Could have been. After the Taliban took credit for the attack that killed Sgt. Ortiz, President Donald Trump called off his meeting with the Taliban last weekend.  This week, he announced that peace talks are “dead.”

The peace deal was done.  With only a signing ceremony remaining, the US military was prepared to draw down.  The Taliban continued to press their war against the Kabul government, and a car bomb detonated in Kabul on September 5, killing 12, including Sgt. Ortiz.  President Trump appears to perceive this attack as a strongarm tactic intended to give the Taliban more leverage in the negotiations – negotiations which were reportedly complete.  

Of course, the US military had, likewise, continued military operations during the negotiations.  In fact, the US military’s bombing campaign and drone war have escalated this year, and UN statistics state that more Afghan civilians have been killed by the US and Afghan National Army than have been killed by Taliban attacks.

So, the war will continue. But to what end?

I have news for you, Mr. President:  The Taliban has the upper hand. They are on their homefield, literally.  Nearly 18 years of war has left the Taliban controlling more territory than they have since the war began, although the US military stopped issuing those reports when the losing trend became clear.  In many ways, the Taliban is the political organization representing the plurality Pashtun people of Afghanistan, and the US has supported those people in the past.

The Afghan War is an exercise in futility.  The US had no valid reason to invade Afghanistan, because the Taliban had offered to turn over Osama bin Laden to any other government.  Even so, bin Laden is dead, now. What reason have we to stay? The military experts and hawks cannot even define what a victory would be, let alone conceive of a situation which would allow the US military to completely withdraw from the country.  Even a peace deal would have left US troops in Afghanistan.

Many people who support the US intervention in Afghanistan and maintain that ‘those savages must accept Western-style democracy’ are the same people who are terrified of Muslims settling in the US and instituting Sharia law.  Therefore, we must restrict immigration or bar Muslims from entry, they argue, because we must prevent them from fundamentally changing the character of our nation.

Now, apply that logic in the other direction.  The US government is attempting to fundamentally alter the character of Afghanistan; and not through winning at the ballot box, rather at the point of the sword.  From the Taliban’s perspective, they are defending against an invasion.

It will not be easy to revive peace negotiations, as both sides will likely step up their military activities.  If the death of a single soldier is enough to trigger President Trump to withdraw from negotiations, what of the loss of dozens?

Whether the reasons to remain engaged in Afghanistan are grounded in reckless interventionism, imperial aspirations or path-to-hell type do-gooderness is irrelevant.  Nothing will be gained by prolonging this war. Months or years down the road when the US is forced to revisit a peace agreement with the Taliban, nothing will have changed.  President Trump or a future President will not find themselves in a better negotiating position, and it is likely they will find themselves in a worse position. All that will have changed is that more Taliban fighters, more US servicemen and more Afghani civilians will have died.

As I sit at my computer writing this on September 11, I wonder at how it is that we became embroiled in a war in Afghanistan in response to that tragic event.  I wonder why, 18 years later, we are still fighting in a country which had no direct involvement in those attacks. And, I fear Sergeant Ortiz will greet more of his brothers and sisters sooner, rather than later.

Michael Reeves hosts The Liberty Mic podcast with his friend Liberty Larry; and his occasional scribbles, along with their podcasts, can be found at thelibertymic.com.

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