Friday, March 06, 2009

Government makes you stupid.

Government makes you stupid. I can prove it. Let me explain with this illustration.

Currently the New Zealand government, now being run by conservatives after the much-deserved defeat of Helen Clark is doing what conservatives love to do—prove they are tough on crime. I’m not opposed to being tough on crime but the typical conservative is stupidly tough on crime. Let me give an example of how stupid hurts when it comes to being tough on crime.

Now and then some monster kidnaps a child. So conservatives argue that kidnappers should be executed. That doesn’t stop snatching children anymore than it stops murders. Both will continue. But it will mean that the penalty for the two is pretty much the same. If a child snatcher kills the child the penalty can’t get any worse. They won’t execute him twice and if they did, he wouldn’t care. On the other hand, a dead child can’t testify against you. So the benefits, to the kidnapper, increase if he kills the child. That sort of measure would give the kidnapper every reason to kill his victim. Sometimes increasing the penalty does more harm than good.

Fighting crime doesn’t require knee-jerk reactions that sound good with voters. I would suspect that there is an inverse relationship between popular positions and positions that work.

The National Party government came up with the idea of banning “gang symbols”. Apparently this will reduce crime somehow. Exactly how it is supposed to do that doesn’t come immediately to mind. But it sounds like these conservatives a “doing something” and politicians are infected with the belief that “doing something,” no matter how absurd, destructive, counter-productive, is better than not “doing something”.

Let us note that this immediately regulates freedom of expression. Symbols are made criminal. I don’t think that is a good idea. It is a clear violation of rights. Let us also note that symbol wearing itself is a victimless crime. Sure, the gangs themselves might be violent. But the mere act of wearing a gang symbol is not the violation of the rights of any other person. Like all rights, you are free to do this provided you used your own property. So, if an employer asked you to remove a symbol that you were wearing, while at work, it is his right to do so. Restaurants should be free to tell people with said symbols they are not welcome. But it plainly is not a concern of the government’s.
I’m not sure why gangs, which are not worried about the penalties for killing one another, will suddenly become fearful of the symbol law. And from what I can see of New Zealand’s sentencing policies for violent offenders, they have little to fear at all from incarceration. Clearly New Zealand is too lenient when it comes to real crimes. But inventing fake crimes, like a ban on certain symbols, is not the answer to the defects in the Kiwi criminal justice system. On the contrary, it will only make matters worse.

I have yet to see the actual legislation so perhaps they manage to define gang symbols in such a way as to be absolutely precise. Why shouldn’t people be allowed to wear that symbol? If my elderly aunt happen to like the symbol for some reason, and were to walk around with it on, while visiting our Kiwi friends, apparently she would be a criminal. Under what definition of crime? Certainly it is not a crime in the sense of violating another’s rights. It is only a crime because some silly politicians concocted this nonsense law. Personally, if I knew what the symbol was, and were I in New Zealand, I’d wear said symbol in front of parliamentarians and urge them to have me arrested for it.

This brings me to the real disappointing aspect of this silly legislation. The relatively decent ACT Party recently was asked by National to form part of the government. They stupidly agreed to do that. I guess they were tired of the opposition benches and honestly believed they could do some good by accepting. As part of the government, that means National can put pressure on ACT to abandon principles and abandon them they have.

In its previous incarnation ACT opposed this bill. ACT Party leader Rodney Hide accurately depicted the legislation as an attack on freedom of speech and something unlikely to do any good. Mr Hide and his party now voted for the same legislation. The reason was simple. One of the ACT MPs is a conservative who likes to be tough on crime. To get the support of the hardcore anti-crime lobby Hide gave this man a list position high enough to get him into parliament. From what I can see the guy is a first-class jerk. As part of that ACT has proposed a badly thought-out piece of legislation modeled on the three-strikes-you’re-out laws in the US.

National told ACT that unless they caved on the gang symbols legislation then National will kill the three-strikes-you’re-out legislation of act. In other words, ACT traded a vote for really bad legislation so that National would vote for mildly bad legislation. National gets what they want. ACT gets what they want. Freedom gets shafted in the process.

One of the last measures of the evil Labour government in New Zealand was a monstrous piece of legislation, which regulated every single way a person could support a candidate. It made virtually all campaigning illegal unless it was reported to the state and followed all sorts of procedures. One absurd example of it was when Rodney Hide was charged with the violating the law. His crime was wearing a suit jacket that had the ACT party logo and slogan above the breast pocket. Please note that the jacket was not illegal because of the awful yellow color but merely because of the patch on the front.

The patch was deemed a campaign advertisement. As such the jacket had to have the name and home address of the person authorizing the jacket printed on it. And the cost of the patch had to be reported to the government. Of course, people found the idea that even a patch on a jacket was being regulated to be absurd and an attack on freedom of speech. Clearly the measure Labour passed was a desperate one meant to try and hobble the opposition going into an election. And that law is now gone under the new government. It was so obviously a bad law that even Labour, who wrote it, voted against it.

But really, what is the difference between Labour making Hide’s patch illegal because it was a political patch and National wanting to make a “gang patch” illegal? The wearing of patches does not violate rights. Hide knew that when it came to patch on his ugly, urine colored jacket. I suspect he knows it now. But he sold out on the principle because National pressured him. It’s a shame really. As I have long said: everyone is more libertarian in the opposition than in power. That is, I fear, also true of libertarians. Rodney’s patch was a free speech issue. Now that the jacket is on the other guy, however, it appears to be something else.

I also find this measure odd in that it really gives gangs a lot of power. The real legislation of banning a gang symbol is not in the hands of lawmakers. In this case, it is in the hands of criminals. A “symbol” becomes a “gang symbol” when a gang says it is. If they were to adopt a black skull on a red background then it becomes a “gang symbol.” So, it is the gangs who decide which symbols become illegal. Strictly speaking they could make any symbol a crime by adopting it for themselves.

So let us saw we have two rival gangs in town. The one gang decides to adopt the cross as their symbol while the other retaliates with the Star of David. Now, we have violent criminals with crosses and stars of David on their leather jackets. Under the logic of this absurd legislation those symbol would become “gang symbols” and would be open to prosecution.

To comply with the normal principles of the rule of law it would then be illegal for anyone to wear those symbols, not just gang members. Apparently a couple of elderly grannies, on the way to Mass, with a rosary in their hands, could then be arrested as gang members for carrying a “gang symbol” in public. And if you think about it, the cross certainly is a symbol of violence. It was a means of execution and not a pretty one mind you. Of course, through out history people have been burned to death with this symbol pushed against their lips. And the racist Klan burns crosses on people’s lawns and use it as a symbol of their hate.

I’m not advocating this sort of legislation. I’m trying to show how stupid it is. If a Kiwi gang adopts a cross as their symbol then exactly how would one ban that?

Politics is an ugly business. There are good people who try hard. I think Rodney Hide is one of them. But sure as shit even someone as good as Rodney can be pressured to do what he knows is wrong just to play the game called politics.

And while the government is wasting time legislating “gang symbols” the problem of real crime is not being addressed at all. I am astonished that governments, everywhere, manage to concentrate on inconsequentials while constantly neglecting their core functions. Regulating patches doesn’t protect life, liberty or property. And every minute spent on that is a minute diverted from real measures to protect people from real crimes (that is crimes that violate life, liberty or property). If anything, we’ll have the police and courts spending time pursuing prosecutions over a patch. Meanwhile robberies continue, rapes continue, murders continue, child abuse continues. Why can’t politicians ever get their priorities right.

My thesis was that government makes you stupid. Previously Rodney Hide got his position on this legislation correct. His retort to it was principled and intelligent. But then he was in the opposition and not in government. Now Rodney Hide is in government and, on the very same issue, he gets it very wrong. Government apparently made him stupid. It caused him to forget his principles. Long term that is deadly for the a minor party. Mr Hide may have disliked the opposition benches but his party's reason for being disappears when he acts this way. Those who approve of his abandoning previous principles are likely to want to vote for National anyway. And those who don't approve are now less likely to vote for ACT.

I note that when Guido Westerwelle refused to take his Federal Democratic Party (similar to ACT) into Angela Merkel's "Grand Coalition" government support for the FDP jumped dramatically. While in New Zealand, minor parties that join government tend to lose their identity and soon lose their support. As I said, government can make you stupid.

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