Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Column on Liberty not being Easy

Liberty Isn?t Easy

Tibor R. Machan

Sometimes I find myself enchanted with what I should reject. That?s true
both in my personal and public concerns.

For example, I am a fan of rail travel?just finished several legs of it
in England and Europe. When I can afford first class, reserved tickets, I
am especially delighted. I settle into my comfortable state subsidized
seat, look out the window all the time, enjoy as we rush by scene after
scene, some familiar and some new to me. I am fond of all those little
villages in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but I also enjoy watching
the great variety of vehicles racing up and down the Autobahns or
Autostradas next to the tracks. And then there are all those lakes and the
beaches and whatnot?I can never get enough, except when I begin to have to
deal with the bureaucracy that seems to be present everywhere, with its
endless dilly-dallying and inefficiency that taxes my patience.

But I feel conflicted, too, because, after all, nearly all of these
trains run at the expense of the population that no longer really wants to
ride trains a lot. Not only trains, either. Buses are running about
throughout the continent with hardly a soul using them other than at some
peak hours. And all those ?public? realms throughout the continent bother
me because I realize how used people become to them, how they tend to
induce complacency about privatizing it all, as it should be.

Even in the USA, of course, this attachment to what statism has and had
to offer someone is difficult to overcome. People are often so fond of
their public education, public TV and radio, public parks, forests and
beaches, and a whole lot else, that the idea of possibly changing these
into private sector provisions sets them virtually permanently against the
idea of a truly free society.

I recall many occasions when, while defending the privatization of
education, the emotional response, aside from how this would affect the
poor?yes, it usually beings with the poor and their children and ends with
subsidies for massive inefficient industries and professions?involved,
mainly, how everyone in the audience went to public schools and how
unlovely it would be to abandon them all.

Most of us have lived in the shadows of major and petty tyrannies and
have become quite used to how things are done in such regimes. Few of us
knows anything else, really. In Europe the suggestion that broadcasting,
for example, should all be private is met with near total disbelief on the
part of a great many folks, so much so that someone who thinks this is a
good idea can be shaken and will tend toward cynicism about the prospects
of full liberty.

Yet, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has succeeded recently in
persuading Japan's lower house of Parliament to narrowly approve
legislation to transform the state-run postal savings and insurance system
into a private enterprise over the next 12 years. So, it?s not really
impossible, only difficult, to make headway toward greater freedom. When I
consider that I, who am fully committed to the radical transformation of
the world?s legal systems toward the limited function of the protection of
individual rights, find this transformation difficult to fathom, at least
emotionally, how can all those who don?t give a hoot about such principled
reforms get on board with the program?

It is here that education, persuasion, argument, advocacy and the other
peaceful roads to reform must be carried out with the utmost vigilance and
on innumerable fronts, with all the talents and specialization available
for the task. It is a bit like when one must quit some destructive habit,
even though one likes it a lot but the greater importance of a longer and
healthier life make the change imperative. It?s not easy, no, but a
sensible, reasonable person will usually take up the challenge,
nonetheless. Pick any such habit that?s turned against you and you will
grasp the problem immediately.

It is necessary, then, for revolutionaries to understand that millions of
people are not likely to be eager to part with their habits, even once
they found them to be bad ones. Statism is a very ancient bad habit
indeed, the ?governmental habit? (as Jonathan R. T. Hughes called it in
his book by that name). Vigilance is of the utmost importance in the face
of this realization.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Column on Peter Jennings RIP

Peter Jennings, Not A Champ Journalist
Tibor R. Machan
It is always sad when a fairly young and well liked celebrity dies and
that?s true even with Peter Jennings, the long time ABC-TV News anchor who
succumbed to lung cancer at 67 the other day. Major media editors and
reporters tended to like him, as they have liked Dan Rather, in part
because of his very appealing demeanor, in part because he tended to share
their left of center values. You couldn?t miss it, although it was rarely
put into words. Mostly, Mr. Jennings indicated his partisanship by means
of body language?his frowns, head shaking, condescending smiles, and
similar gestures?so viewers and listeners could hardly miss where he stood
when he reported on some politically or socially hot topic.
As The New York Times reported in its Monday, August 8th, edition, ?Mr.
Jennings was not without his detractors. Some critics contended he was too
soft on the air when describing the Palestinian cause or the regime of the
Cuban leader Fidel Castro?charges he disputed. Similarly, a July 2004
article in the National Review portrayed him as a thinly veiled opponent
of the American war in Iraq.?
Despite his denials, there is little doubt of what National Review
reported. But never mind, it?s not really malpractice for major or minor
reporters to be partisan. They are human beings with values, whether they
admit this or not, and holding values cannot but be in evidence,
especially in the role Mr. Jennings held.
There is, however, something to be noted about a statement Jennings is
quoted to have made in the National Review piece, as well as The New York
Times article. He, in denying his on air partisanship, claimed: "That is
simply not the way I think of this role. This role is designed to question
the behavior of government officials on behalf of the public." Is this
really so? Was Peter Jennings conception of his own journalistic duty
First of all, no one designed the role he held?it emerged as a fluke and
side effect of the distorted network news phenomenon, one that was
sustained for decades by the FCC?s perverse policy of making the three
networks into a broadcast oligopoly. No free, competitive press in
broadcasting would have sustained this institution.
Second, and more importantly, no one has designated Mr. Jennings & Co. as
the inquisitors of government officials ?on behalf of the public.? No one
could, and it is gross presumption to think that somehow one has such a
role, no matter how hefty one?s paycheck and popular one?s face before
viewing audiences.
There is nothing wrong, of course, with questioning government officials,
but that questioning is not on behalf of some fictitious public but on
behalf of one?s producers, oneself, one?s idea of what is important and so
forth. Certainly millions and millions who are members of the public did
not share Mr. Jennings? framework within which his questions were the ones
he kept asking.
I, for one, would have wanted him to ask something of all government
officials which he never did, namely, ?How come you believe it is
justified to rob Peter and hand the loot over to Paul, as you do routinely
in your role as a government official?? No, this question, a question not
just one member of the public would have liked to be asked over and over
again, wasn?t asked by Mr. Jennings or, indeed, by most of his colleagues
in network TV News. (The one exception is John Stossell, and reportedly
Mr. Jennings wasn?t fond of his colleague at ABC TV News.)
It?s time these celebrity journalists recognize they aren?t messengers of
God or the public but professionals who are supposed to do competent
reporting. We might get better coverage then. We might also get a frank
admission from them that, yes, they, like other people, have values that
guide their actions, namely, their reporting, and viewers better watch out
for this.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Column on Those TSA Folks

Those Eager TSA Folks

Tibor R. Machan

Maybe I am seeing things but my impression from going through hundreds of
airports since 9/11/05 is that too many TSA folks are plainly gung ho.
Yes, they perform their jobs eagerly, often seeming to relish that bit of
power it gives them to order people around. (One of my daughters
speculated, recently, that these have personalties attracted to such work!)

I am not one of the most cooperative folks at these security checks,
mainly because I believe most of it fits the motto, ?Closing the barn
doors after the horses have fled.? All this might have made sense before
9/11/05 but afterwards it doesn?t, as far as I can understand it. But
that?s by no means all.

The inconsistency with which these security checks are carried out
suggests to me that these folks are rather lost about what they should be
doing in the first place. Take sneakers, for example. In one airport they
must come off, in another they can stay on. And when you point this out to
a TSA officer, you risk getting barred from the airport because they are
so convinced that they are God?s little helpers. If you say anything, you
are definitely a bad guy who is just about to undermine world peace and
good will to all.

Not all these people are the same way, of course. Some have good days and
will show it. But too many seem to have this attitude that questioning
anything about what they do amounts to enthusiastically serving Osama bin
Laden, which is just BS. After all, the bulk of us haven?t done a thing
wrong, didn?t act suspiciously, are indeed not guilty of anything
pertaining to national security, yet we are being treated by these TSA
folks as if we had been tried and convicted of treason. Why? Because the
federal government is trying to show that it?s doing something, anything,
to cope with terrorism.

No, I haven?t got some great alternative but do I need to in order to
notice that there?s something amiss with the way the matter is dealt with?
Here a coat must come off, there it doesn?t matter; here you should remove
your glasses, there it?s unnecessary. Here the wrist watch needs to be put
into that little tray, there it can stay on your wrist. And it goes on
like that, from one airport to the next. And if you assume you have a clue
what the next one will demand of you, you are in for a surprise. And for
threatening looks, even words, should you make mention of the fact.

Yes, words. Several times, after I make polite mention of the
inconsistency of their procedures, a gruff TSA official has told me to
?shut up.? Other times I have been told that if I say another word, I will
be arrested. And I do not mean a word like, ?I am about to carry some
bombs on this plane,? but, rather, ?Why is there no consistency in how
this procedure is being administered??

But then I am not really surprised. I recall when I was a cop in the US
Air Force and manned the main gate at Andrews AFB night after night, I,
too, had (though resisted) the temptation to lord it over some poor bloke
who came on base at 3 AM. I recall wanting to stop the car, look into it,
check for IDs, etc., all out of sheer boredom, certainly not necessity,
and just a little sense of superiority. Even at the gate of some hospital
or similar facility, the guards routinely exhibit this tendency to indulge
their tiny power, never mind that there?s no reason for it at all.

But then it is not for nothing that we recall Lord Acton?s saying, ?Power
tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.? Here, then, is
the full context of this wonderful bit of understanding: "Liberty is not a
means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political
end...liberty is the only object which benefits all alike, and provokes no
sincere opposition...The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to
govern. ~ Every class is unfit to govern...Power tends to corrupt, and
absolute power corrupts absolutely."