Archive for the Grand Junction Free Press Category

Liberty Is the Greatest Inheritance

The following article originally was published June 8 by Grand Junction Free Press.

When I was a small child I always thought my grandpa was nuts for saying the older you get the faster time goes. But it’s true. My dad Linn [shown in the photo] and I started writing this twice-monthly column for the Free Press back in July of 2005. For seven yearns we’ve written about free markets, free speech, political races, taxes, gun rights, and a host of other topics. Our main goal has been to advocate individual rights and political liberty.

The time has gone fast. Now it’s time for us to move on to other projects. Now that my dad is in semi-retirement, he’s busier than ever; among other things, he teaches classes on workplace safety and emergency response to violence. I’ve started writing more for The Objective Standard, where you can read my blog posts and occasional article for the print journal.

I wanted to take this opportunity to say farewell to our Free Press readers. But we’re not going anywhere geographically; we’ll continue to advocate the ideas we believe in (though some of our critics might wish we’d simply shut up). See my web page at AriArmstrong.com for ways to stay in touch. Perhaps you’ll see my dad around town.

My dad and I considered writing a farewell column together but decided against it. However, with father’s day coming up, I thought this would be a good opportunity to write a solo column about my dad. I mulled it over, and it strikes me that my dad taught me five main things in my life.

First, my dad gave me an appreciation of history. He has always been something of an amateur historian; for example, he’s done a fair amount of research about the old stagecoach trail near Mt. Garfield. Though it took me a while to pick up this interest in history—for years I didn’t see much point in studying the past—finally I caught on to its importance.

Even my name carries historical significance. “Ari,” a common Jewish name, in my case comes from Leon Uris’s book Exodus, a novelization of the founding of the modern state of Israel. Of course I read this novel, along with another historical novel of Uris’s, Mila 18, which pays tribute to the resistance fighters in Poland who struggled against Nazi oppression.

So my dad taught me that we can’t really understand ourselves unless we understand those who came before us.

Second, my dad always encouraged my healthy respect for the U.S. military. My dad served in Vietnam (and you can find video interviews about this if you Google “Linn Armstrong Vietnam”). [See also my dad's article about July 4 in Vietnam.] My dad was not my only influence in this regard; both of my biological grandfathers served in World War II, so I consider myself lucky even to have been born, with all the warfare in my family’s past. (A great-grandfather of mine also served in WWI.) I did not have to fight in any wars, but through my elders’ stories I am aware of the dangers and heartaches of war.

This respect for the military was important for me ideologically because it helped me resist the worst impulses of libertarianism, which at its worst becomes indistinguishable from the “blame America first” left, so far as foreign policy goes. Now I reject both the “nation building” of the neoconservatives and the strict noninterventionism of the libertarians, advocating instead a robust military defense of American lives and liberties.

Third, my dad gave me an appreciation for philosophy. When I was a kid he read Ayn Rand’s Anthem to me, and the story of individualism stayed with me and influenced my development. My dad also handed me Atlas Shrugged when I was in high school. I continue to take an interest in Rand’s philosophy (as well as in other schools of thought), and as I matured so did my understanding of those ideas.

Fourth, my dad also helped me develop an interest in economics. In addition to giving me Atlas Shrugged (which itself contains some interesting insights into economics), my dad handed me Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose. Though I have since come to disagree with some of Friedman’s positions, he introduced me to the basics of economic reasoning.

Fifth, my dad helped give me a lasting appreciation for liberty. Not only did he give me various pro-liberty books that strongly influenced me, he led by example by staying active in politics and helping to build up a great gun training program.

My father shared with me the ideas of liberty, as many fathers before him shared them. That is the reason why America’s founding principles remain a living force in our culture, whatever insults and setbacks those ideas have endured. Other fathers could learn something important from my father: the greatest inheritance you can bestow to your children is the living tradition of liberty.

Ari Armstrong writes for The Objective Standard as well as for his web page at AriArmstrong.com. For seven years he coauthored a column for Grand Junction Free Press with his father Linn.

Why We Don’t Need Avengers

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published May 25 by Grand Junction Free Press.

There’s a great scene in the Avengers film where the villain demands that a group of people kneel before him. One elderly gentleman refuses, saying he remembers what happened last time a dictator demanded the people kneel. Just as the villain prepares to kill the man, Captain America intervenes with his protective shield. The symbolism is moving.

But in the real world we don’t need magical shields and hammers, super strength born in a laboratory, or super-powered suits of armor to protect us from those who would do us harm. For we have the firearm.

Because we remain largely free, our society has the wealth to outfit our military with the best tanks, airplanes, rockets, and other machinery to protect us from foreign aggressors. Still, the basic tool of the soldier remains the rifle. The men and women in uniform serve as our real-life “avengers,” not in the sense of taking revenge, but of protecting the innocent from aggression. And they do an amazing job; the real Captain America walks among us. (Indeed, our military’s biggest obstacle is not the enemy but Washington’s policies and rules of engagement that often prevent soldiers from acting in America’s self-defense.)

Domestically, firearms allow civilians to defend themselves against burglars, rapists, and would-be murderers. Guns are the great equalizer, empowering the smallest women and those with disabilities to successfully defend themselves against the strongest criminals.

Even if superheroes existed, they could respond only to a small fraction of crimes in progress, as is the case with the police. Those at risk of attack don’t need Thor’s hammer if they have a reliable Glock 9 mm or Colt .45 and know how to use it. Notably, the mere possibility that a potential victim might carry a gun deters many criminals. And, once a criminal realizes his intended victim carries a gun, usually the criminal flees without a shot fired.

If we were to plan our own movie featuring these tools of self-defense, we might include a couple scenes based on real-life events.

Picture a lonely agricultural road on a beautiful spring day. Our heroine enjoys a lovely walk. But as she rounds a street corner, two large pit bulls come within feet of her. Just that morning she had seen the news that a pit bull had mauled a woman to death in a neighboring city. The dogs become aggressive. Our heroine draws her pistol and aims it toward the dogs.

Later she recounts, “I don’t know if they smelled the gun oil or could smell that I was fearful but determined to defeat them, but they backed off. I was shook up, and I don’t know how I would have reacted if I hadn’t had the pistol. I knew that if I had tried to run the dogs likely would have pursued me.”

Next picture a dark moonless night in the Colorado mountains. A couple pulls their car into a lonely restroom at the top of Vail Pass. As the husband walks out of the restroom, he encounters three terrified young women. They say young men in another car had been harassing them as they drove along the interstate, and they had stopped seeking help. The husband tells the women to go into the women’s restroom and come out with his wife. While they are in the restroom, three hot-headed men park at the facility and storm out of their car.

The husband later recalls, “The three men eyeballed me up and down, but I just stood there against the wall calmly. I had my pistol safely concealed, so I knew I had the ability to protect myself and the others if I needed to. My wife and the three young women came out of the restroom. My wife and I never so much as mentioned that we were armed. We escorted the young ladies to the next town, and that was that.”

If our movie were a documentary, we might interview John Lott, author of the book More Guns, Less Crime. His findings suggest that the high rates of gun purchases in recent years is nothing to fear but rather something to welcome, as armed civilians deter crime. Moreover, he finds that minorities and women tend to benefit the most when legally allowed to own guns for self-defense.

We also might interview Alan Gottlieb, author of Politically Correct Guns. He reports a variety of interesting facts. For example, gun-banner Dianne Feinstein got her own permit to carry a .38-caliber revolver. Nancy Reagan sometimes slept with a .25-caliber handgun on her bedside table. Other famous Americans to have obtained gun permits include Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Howard Stern, and Joan Rivers.

Thankfully, civil arms are not fantasy but reality. Guns are not restricted to an elite few with special powers; rather, any peaceful citizen may obtain one (though some American cities continue to make that extraordinarily difficult). So go and enjoy the movies, but then appreciate the real-life tools of self-defense.

What Skeptics and Conservatives Can Learn from Each Other

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published May 11 by Grand Junction Free Press.

What do skeptics from Denver and conservatives from the Heritage Foundation have in common? More than you might initially guess.

We suppose Ari is one of the few people to have attended both a Heritage event and a Skepticamp (a day filled with talks critical of mysticism and the paranormal). He may be the only one to have done so on back-to-back weekends.

During the last weekend of April, Heritage sponsored a two-day event in Colorado Springs for free-market activists. On May 5, Denver-area skeptics organized a Skepticamp in Parker. Ari attended both events, and the juxtaposition of ideas merits some discussion.

Of course the huge disagreement between the conservatives and the skeptics concerns the reasonableness of believing in a supernatural entity. Most of those who attended the Heritage event believe in the Christian God. Probably everyone at Skepticamp, on the other hand, believes that no god exists, and that neither the evidence nor any rational argument supports a belief in God’s existence.

That is a huge debate, and one’s beliefs on the matter impact one’s entire worldview. By the time people reach adulthood, they usually settle their beliefs on the matter; we doubt that anyone who attended either event will seriously consider changing positions.

While we cannot understate the importance of the debate over God’s existence, nevertheless beyond that issue many conservatives share much in common with many skeptics. And we think the similarities are just as interesting.

We hope the skeptics would have been impressed by much of what Heritage historian Matthew Spalding had to say. Spalding sees America’s founding as rooted in the Enlightenment, a movement that recognized the power of human reason to advance science and governments. Spalding described the core principles of America—equality under the law, a recognition of the facts of human nature, and government rooted in the consent of the governed—and argued that everyone, whether pagan or Christian, can discover these truths through reason.

True, skeptics would disagree with Spalding’s view that “reason and revelation agree” about such things. Nevertheless, Spalding resisted the views of some that American principles flow only from the Christian tradition. Spalding pointed out that the Constitution is not a sectarian document, and that Jefferson and other Founders drew on the ideas of Aristotle, Cicero, and other pre-Christian thinkers.

Spalding also spoke about the profound importance of religious liberty and freedom of conscience, ideals many skeptics also support. For example, Spalding praised George Washington’s “Letter to the Jews of Newport,” written early in the great man’s term as president.

Washington wrote, “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.”

We are proud to call ourselves liberals in this Washingtonian tradition. And both conservatives and skeptics who follow Washington in supporting freedom of conscience are to that degree liberals in the truest sense.

Many skeptics could learn a thing or two from Spalding about the profound importance of economic liberty. While skeptics claim to be critical thinkers, some unthinkingly embrace leftist political goals emanating from the disturbed mind of Karl Marx and the so-called “Progressive” movement that he inspired. To take but one example, some skeptics seemed to support censorship of political speech by individuals interacting voluntarily in groups (“corporations”).

Spalding spoke eloquently of the Founders’ respect for property rights, economic liberty, and the rule of law that protects equality under the law, not “equality” of resources that others produce. As Spalding argued, such liberties flow from natural facts about people and the use of reason to recognize those facts and their proper political implementation.

Unfortunately, sometimes skeptics and American Christians make a comparable error. Some skeptics see the cause of economic liberty as bound up with the religious right and reject both. Some Christians think that the problem with Communism was its atheism, rather than its reliance on a secularized version of religion that treats the collective as a mystical superentity. Capitalism—the system of individual rights (including economic liberty)—finds its defense in reason based on the evidence of the natural world.

But many skeptics do indeed endorse economic liberty. Last year Barry Fagin, a free-market writer for the Independence Institute, spoke at Skepticamp. This year, Robert Zubrin spoke about his new book, “Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism.” Strikingly, while some of the conservatives made disparaging remarks about Charles Darwin, the greatest biologist of human history, Zubrin explained how leftists misapplied Darwin’s ideas to promote programs involving eugenics and population control.

If every conservative would attend a Skepticamp, and every skeptic would attend a lecture by the likes of Spalding, the world would be a much more interesting place—and we think a much better one.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari blogs at AriArmstrong.com in the Denver area.

Note: Heritage paid most of Ari’s expenses for the event in question (not that that made any difference to the contents of this article); see Ari Armtrong’s Disclosures Unjustly Compelled by the FTC.

Image of Matthew Spalding from the Heritage Institute

Progress Means Respecting People’s Rights

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published April 27 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Last week self-proclaimed “progressives” rallied at the state capitol for higher taxes. But there’s nothing progressive about forcibly confiscating other people’s wealth. Real progress comes from respecting people’s rights and banning coercion—the initiation of force—from social relationships.

The tax-hikers build their case on obfuscation. Consider an email distributed on Tax Day by the absurdly named ProgressNow Colorado, more accurately identified as CoercionNow. This group led a “proud to pay” taxes campaign, claiming that taxes produce “smart, educated kids,” fix “potholes and shaky bridges,” leave the state better than we found it, and affirm that “we’re all in this together.”

Somehow CoercionNow failed to mention that its members are “proud to pay” taxes to finance corporate welfare, bail out banks and auto unions, finance “nation building” exercises around the world at fantastic cost to U.S. life and productivity, incarcerate fellow citizens for actions that violate nobody’s rights, persecute ebook publishers, enforce wage controls that devastate employment opportunities for the poor, stop grocery stores from selling regular-strength beer (and enforce thousands of similarly absurd “regulations”), and create widespread dependency.

But let us focus on the more positive tax expenditures that CoercionNow cherry picks. The idea that government-run schools produce especially “smart, educated kids” is laughable, especially in relation to the enormous cost. What we’re really producing are rich, politically powerful “public” unions that back the “progressive” agenda.

True, some teachers in government schools are excellent, and some classes help students learn what they need. But U.S. schools regularly lag behind those of other nations, and often they utterly fail the poorest students. If we want to see education thrive and effectively serve the needs of students, we must introduce free markets in education. Then parents, who normally will finance their own children’s education (rather than pay a lifetime of taxes to educate other people’s children), will have both the ability and incentive to ensure their children end up in great schools. And individuals can contribute to voluntary charity programs to expand the opportunities available to the poor.

As for roads, the gasoline tax is supposed to link use of the roads with their financing. Insofar as the government operates various services (and the matter of whether it should operate roads lies outside the scope of today’s column), it should finance them through use taxes. Those are far different from the redistributionist schemes of the “progressives.” CoercionNow’s reference to roads is merely a bait-and-switch: the group advertises the paving of roads for the purpose of expanding the welfare state.

Beyond education and roads, CoercionNow turns to bromides and vague generalities. “I want to leave Colorado better than I found it.” Who doesn’t? The best way to do that is to expand liberty. “We’re all in this together.” Does the “this” refer to a free republic or to the Greek-style socialist hellhole the “progressives” wish to create?

Notice CoercionNow’s biggest lie: they claim to be “proud” to pay their own taxes, but what they’re really after is to force others to pay more taxes. After all, nothing is stopping members of CoercionNow from paying as much of their own money as they want to the government. Nor is anything stopping them from financing any private charity.

Let us return to fundamentals. The source of all significant human progress has been the growing recognition of the rights of the individual, however sporadic that has been. Unfortunately, no government anywhere on earth has ever fully protected individual rights—though the United States, grounded on the individual’s “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” has come the closest. It is time for us to complete the task our Founders started.

The protection of individual rights and the banishment of coercion are flip sides of the same coin. In order to protect individual rights, we must keep the individual safe from the initiatory force of others. In a proper society, no one may murder another, rob from another, claim the property of another through fraud or broken contract, bind or restrict anyone except to lawfully protect others’ rights, or damage another’s property.

When government protects individual rights, prosperous civil society can thrive. Individuals can live their own lives by their own judgment. They can remain alone when they want and join others when they want. They can work and produce as they deem best, using their own resources and those others grant them through voluntary contract. They can keep the fruits of their labor to spend, save, invest, or give away as they deem best. The only legal restriction is that no individual may initiate force against another.

We’ll know we’ve made real progress when no one dares express “pride” in calling for the initiation of force against others. True champions of progress, prosperity, and peaceful human relations proudly advocate the abolition of coercion and the consistent protection of individual rights.

The Renaissance of Liberty Begins in Colorado

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published April 13 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Over the last century the federal government has claimed sweeping powers over our lives. It has spent the nation into debt that races past yearly productive output, continued its decades-long march to nationalize health care, and seized control of our economic and personal lives far beyond the powers enumerated in the Constitution.

Unfortunately, the typical individual can exercise little if any meaningful control over national politics. Sure, we can try to elect better people to Congress and then hold them accountable. But congressional districts are large, the District of Columbia is far away, and national politics is dominated by special-interest groups seeking political favors. What, then, is the alternative?

Citizens of the original states created the federal government to handle national defense, prevent the states from imposing economically damaging protectionism, and handle a few other jobs beyond the capabilities of the state governments. The federal government was never supposed to turn into the monolithic power it has become. Indeed, the Tenth Amendment explicitly reserves “powers not delegated” to the federal government “to the states respectively, or to the people.”

Every school child learns that the Founders separated powers among the branches of the federal government, but, just as importantly, they separated powers among levels of government. Federalism—the separation of state and federal powers—is a central doctrine of American government. It is high time we fought to restore American federalism, not as an end in itself, but as an important means to protecting individual rights. We in Colorado can and should play a pivotal role in that fight.

A good indicator of the loss of federalism is the role of federal spending in state budgets. Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee reports that, for fiscal year 2011-12, federal funding accounts for over $5 billion of the total $19.6 billion budget, or 26 percent. Over half of that federal spending goes for health care.

But why should we in Colorado have to beg the federal government to hand over a portion of our own money to our state government? Such federal spending turns federalism on its head. Every year we witness the grotesque spectacle of Colorado’s elected officials dancing like marionettes to the demands of federal politicians who hold the purse strings.

Imagine a league of independent state governments that stood up to such federal tyranny. Imagine state legislators who grew a spine and said enough is enough. We look forward to the day when state legislatures routinely pass resolutions condemning federal abuses, then start passing laws to the reaches of their authority to stop those abuses.

To take one possible strategy, Colorado could pass a law saying that we will turn down all federal funding in our state, once a certain number of other states have passed a comparable law.* Then we can demand that the federal government reduce its tax burdens and simply let citizens keep their own money.

Of course, the goal is not to replace federal tyranny with state-level tyranny, but rather to turn all governmental entities into protectors of individual rights rather than the biggest threat to our rights. The same state governments that would stand up against federal abuses of individual rights would also be more amenable to protecting rights themselves. So how do we achieve that?

We must continue to develop a culture of liberty in Colorado. We must stand up for individual rights to life, liberty, property, and voluntary contract and association. We must unflinchingly defend freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and religious worship, and freedom to use the fruits of our labor as each individual decides. We must demand that government act to protect individuals from the coercion of others, from murder, theft, assault, fraud, and every form of force that one person might initiate against another. At the same time, government must cease acting as the primary instigator of coercion, stripping us of our wealth and our liberties.

Many of the seeds of our future liberty renaissance have already been sown. Many new liberty-oriented groups have arisen in the last few years, and older groups have gained a new vitality. As a single illustration, last week over fifty people gathered at Denver Liberty On the Rocks to listen to philosopher Diana Hsieh explain why, yes, people deserve what they earn, contrary to the nonsense of John Rawls. We are starting to return to the tavern-style, take-it-to-the-streets, energetic and principled activism that marked the work of such American legends as Sam Adams, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine.

We must make the principle of individual rights a living force in the minds of our countrymen. We must make coercion—the initiation of force—something that the people denounce, despise, and reject. Then we must elect pro-liberty state legislatures that protect our rights and stand up to federal abuses.

As F. A. Hayek wrote, “We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage.”

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari blogs at AriArmstrong.com in the Denver area. 

* Obviously we’re talking about federal funding funneled through state legislatures, not federal funding for legitimate federal programs that happen to have a presence in Colorado. Here is a related tidbit I came across: “[F]or every $1.00 the feds send to the states, states increase their own future taxes between $0.33 and $0.42.” —AA

Drug Reform Bill Favors Treatment Over Felonies

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published March 30 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Politicians trying to save people from the consequences of their own stupidity is itself stupid. The effort breeds invasive, Nanny State laws that undermine individual responsibility. The ultimate effect is to encourage stupidity rather than curb it.

Whether we care about personal health, responsible living, or responsible governance, what we need above all is a people capable of thinking for themselves and taking responsibility for their own actions. A government that attempts to do people’s thinking for them undermines responsible action.

Politicians trying to save people from the consequences of their own stupidity by threatening to destroy their lives with felony convictions is outright insanity. Yet that is precisely how Colorado law currently treats low-level drug offenders.

Thankfully, Senate Bill 163 would bring a touch of sanity to Colorado’s drug laws. Fox31 reports that the bill would “reduce the crime of possession of 4 grams or less of a schedule I or II controlled substance or 2 grams or less of methamphetamine from a felony to a misdemeanor.” The bill pertains to possession only, not distribution.

Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC) and a supporter of the bill, explained the measure would alter criminal penalties for “everything from heroin and cocaine to methamphetamines,” drugs whose abuse often involves serious addictions. The bill would not impact marijuana, she added.

Those tempted to think of this as a weepy leftist “soft on crime” bill should consider that two of the bill’s sponsors, Shawn Mitchell and Don Beezley, are perhaps the legislature’s two most stalwart defenders of economic liberty.

In a remarkably personal moment, Mitchell said during a media conference (as reported by Fox31): “My younger brother has been a meth addict for nearly a decade. He’s has been in jail in more than one state, he has a felony conviction. He got a treatment program in a county jail in Utah that helped him see things differently and my family is filled with love and hope for his turnaround.”

Representative Claire Levy, a Boulder Democrat (if we may repeat ourselves), also talked sense: “Going to prison does not help someone with a drug problem. They don’t get treatment in prison, and it’s a tremendous waste of taxpayer resources. This bill is not only about being smarter on crime, but it’s about saving taxpayer money and devoting those resources to better purposes.”

In an email alert, CCJRC added, “A felony conviction is a lifetime punishment, resulting in significantly reduced ability to obtain housing and employment, the basics of productive life. Low-level drug possession does not warrant a lifetime of diminished opportunity.”

To be sure, the bill is not perfect. While the bill would pay for drug treatment out of savings from reduced incarceration, we’re not convinced the government should be in the business of financing drug treatment with dollars forcibly taken from taxpayers. We’d rather see voluntary efforts to fund drug treatment. But the bill wouldn’t spend any additional taxes, and its positive effects far outweighs our concern here.

Of course, the bill will do nothing directly to reduce the problems of criminal violence, toxically tainted drugs, and property damage associated with the criminal distribution of drugs. The simple fact is that all the worst problems associated with drugs result directly from the prohibition of those drugs, not the drugs themselves.

The largest and most obvious problem is all the gang violence surrounding the drug trade. As during the prohibition of alcohol, drug prohibition confers enormous wealth to violent criminal gangsters.

Moreover, we think it’s very likely that the nasty methamphetamines of today never even would have been invented but for the prohibition of milder amphetamines that pharmacists sold over the counter until a few decades ago.

But we don’t expect the legislature to embrace our radical views for at least a few more years. As a matter of practical politics, Bill 163 represents a good-faith effort by the bill’s sponsors to bring incremental but meaningful reform to the state’s drug laws.

We should not confuse a reduction in criminal penalties for possessing these drugs with any sort of sanction of the drugs’ abuse. Obviously these drugs can be extremely harmful to those abusing them. We personally know people who have seriously harmed their lives by abusing these drugs. Chances are good that you do, too.

But we’re not doing people with drug problems any favors by locking them up with hardened criminals or slapping them with a felony record. As Mitchell said, “If we’re trying to stop people from ruining their life with poison, it doesn’t make sense to ruin their life legally with the permanent consequences of a felony conviction.”

Those with drug problems deserve the chance to straighten out their lives, get on a good career path, and move on. For many, Bill 163 would give them that chance.

How the Left Paints the Right as Anti-Woman

The following article originally was published March 16 by Grand Junction Free Press.

The birth-control mandate that forces insurance companies to provide “free” birth control is an extensive forced wealth transfer scheme, compelling everyone who doesn’t use birth control to pay for others to use it. It is blatantly unjust, violating the rights of women and men as consumers as well as the rights of religious organizations that condemn the use of birth control. So how is it that Republicans are losing the issue so spectacularly? How is it that the left so successfully paints the right as “anti-woman?”

Some have suggested that the Obama administration shoved the birth-control mandate down the throats of religious institutions specifically to get a rise out of Republicans. It was a conscious political strategy, in this view. Whether or not Democrats intended that result, they achieved it. The Democrats left the animal skins and clubs lying about, and many Republicans gleefully dressed the part of troglodyte.

Rather than clearly and consistently answer, “Women have every right to purchase and use birth control, but they don’t have the right to force others to pay for it,” Republicans managed to come up with a rather different set of claims. Consider:

• Rick Santorum said that birth control is “harmful to women” and “harmful to society.” Birth control is “not okay,” he added; it is “counter to how things are supposed to be” because sex should be “for purposes of procreation” and not “simply [for] pleasure.”

• When law student Sandra Fluke publicly endorsed the birth-control mandate, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” and suggested that she make sex tapes available. (He later apologized.)

• Newt Gingrich condemned “post conception birth control”—which notably can include the standard birth control pill—and endorsed banning it.

• Gingrich, Santorum, and Ron Paul all have supported the so-called “personhood” movement, which would totally ban all abortions from the moment of conception, ban the birth control pill, and ban standard types of in vitro fertility treatments.

The reason the left is able to paint the right as “anti-woman” is that there is more than a grain of truth to the claim.

The left successfully used the “anti-woman” tag in 2010 against Ken Buck, who lost the U.S. Senate race in Colorado. After Buck endorsed a “personhood” measure in Colorado (before backpedalling), Planned Parenthood ran ads proclaiming, “Colorado women can’t trust Ken Buck.”

Given the background debates, many voters found it easier to interpret even Buck’s innocuous comments in a sinister light. In response to the blatant gender-based attacks by his opponent Jane Norton, Buck joked that people should vote for him he doesn’t “wear high heals.” Attacking Buck over that comment was a cheap shot, but it was also a shot that Buck himself invited by entertaining the “personhood” agenda.

Now the Democrats are trying to beat the Republicans by “Ken Bucking” the lot of them. Democrats think that by winning the votes of independent women, they can win. And they’re probably right. As Rachel Maddow writes for the Washington Post, “Today’s Republican candidates are all Ken Buck now.” If Democrats can make the charge stick—and Republicans are making that all too easy—the Democrats win.

Unfortunately, rather than focus on individual rights, distracted Republicans allow the left to get away with various absurd lies about the mandate. One lie is that birth control paid through insurance is “free.” It is certainly not free for those forced to pay higher insurance premiums.

Another lie is that declining to force people who don’t use birth control to pay for others to use it somehow limits “access to birth control.” We think red wine is good for our hearts, but that doesn’t mean we should be able to force others to stock our wine cellars or that our “access” to red wine is limited if they don’t. There is a huge difference between having the freedom to buy something and having the “freedom” to help yourself to somebody else’s cash.

Yet another creative lie is that not forcing religious institutions to provide birth control would somehow impose “theocracy.” Every person, including those who join religious groups, properly has the freedom to voluntarily enter into contracts. Theocracy means imposing religious doctrines by force of law; the birth-control mandate imposes the comparable injustice of forcibly interfering with religious groups. (Of course, much of the controversy regarding religious groups arises from the phenomenon of employer-paid insurance, a relic of inane tax policies. But that is a separate discussion.)

The unfortunate fact is that neither the left nor the right defends the rights of individuals to control their own resources and bodies and contract by mutual consent. Where is the political leader who will take a pro-choice, pro-individual rights stand across the board?

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari blogs at AriArmstrong.com in the Denver area.

Search for Missing Friends Brought Out Heroes

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published February 17 by Grand Junction Free Press.

The Widegren family, with nine children and eight grandchildren ranging in age from a few months to over 40 years, has long been a pillar of the Palisade community, with connections spanning much of the west and beyond. That’s one reason why, when Mark Widegren and his friend and coworker Brian Axe went missing near Price, Utah, dozens of people responded to the emergency, driving and flying in from around the country to meet in Price to help with the search. Family and friends of both men played key roles in the search.

When the young men’s vehicle finally was found on February 5, the news was tragic: their vehicle had crashed down a steep cliff a week previously on Saturday night, and the sheriff’s department deemed the crash “unsurvivable.” Mark and Brian were driving through the treacherous Cottonwood Canyon, off of Nine Mile Canyon, northeast of Price on their way to their base camp. They worked for an energy company there.

The one silver lining to the horrible tragedy was seeing dozens of the men’s family, friends, and coworkers heroically join the search. Todd Widegren, Mark’s oldest brother, told reporters, “These guys were friends and family of a huge, huge number of people. And everybody that is here is here for the love of those guys.”

Because Ari went to school with several of the Widegrens and has long known the family, he too traveled to Price to witness the search (and perhaps in some small way to help with it). In retrospect, the efforts of the searchers pay tribute to the memory of the lost friends. We won’t mention their names here because we don’t want to make anybody feel uncomfortable, but we wanted to describe their valiant efforts to the broader community.

Volunteer ground searchers first discovered the secluded vehicle and hiked to it, giving the family and friends at least the comfort of learning what happened. Obviously the hope had been to find the men alive and assist them. Finally we learned that had been impossible, but the fact that, at the time, we thought they might still be alive made it crucially important to find them as quickly as possible. As terrible as the news turned out to be, at least the news allowed the recovery effort to proceed, and it gave the family and searchers a bit of peace from the constant anxiety and stress of not knowing.

Two young men from Grand Junction first spotted the vehicle by scrambling down a steep, snowy decline and then peering down the face of the cliff. The vehicle had been difficult to see from the air because it was crumpled and it blended into the surrounding rocks. After those men called in the news, another group, consisting of two family friends from Denver and two family members, drove and hiked to the vehicle, again through heavy snow, to check for survivors and help guide the recovery effort.

For several days, other search teams had covered the area extensively by ground and by air. One group of friends and family searched throughout the night with spotlights.

At the Holiday Inn hotel in Price, which was very accommodating to the search parties, others organized the search, verified that everyone returned safely from searching, organized written reports from the searchers, reported to friends elsewhere and to the media, and worked with the local authorities.

Local law enforcement agents helped track down credit card receipts, cell phone data, and security camera footage that helped narrow down the search area. Carbon County Deputy Sheriff Wally Hendricks helped organize the search and bring updates to the family.

Of course the search took money and resources, and many people responded with donations of food or money. One local “cage” fighter even donated his fight purse to the recovery effort and raised additional funds from sponsors.

Plenty of others also helped out. The Abby and Jennifer Recovery Foundation sent representatives from Grand Junction to Price to help. Several Price locals also joined the search with their ATVs and other vehicles. The owner of a small air company paid for the hotel rooms of the searchers. Pizza Hut delivered an order of free pizzas to those involved. (No doubt we’ve inadvertently left some people out.)

When the emergency hit, many people from the Western Slope, Utah, and beyond answered the call. Their efforts are an inspiration and a credit to our communities.

We only wish the final outcome had been the one we had hoped for. Mark and Brian will be deeply missed.

Related:

Grand Junction Free Press Archives

See the archives of the Grand Junction Free Press articles by Linn and Ari Armstrong.

Suit Seeks to Lobato-mize Colorado’s Constitution

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published March 2 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Do “we the people” have a say in how politicians spend our money, or not? That is the basic issue at stake in a legal case currently winding its way through the courts.

Lobato vs. State of Colorado seeks to overturn Constitutional restraints on government spending so that judges can compel legislators to spend tax dollars on government schools to the teachers unions’ satisfaction.

First some context: In 1992, the majority of Colorado voters passed the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) to restrain government spending and better protect people’s rights to keep and use the fruits of their labor. Last fall, an astounding 64 percent of voters rejected Prop. 103, a tax hike loosely tied to education funding.

On December 9 of last year, Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport spit in the faces of Colorado voters by essentially throwing out the fall vote and reinterpreting the state Constitution—throwing out the parts she doesn’t like—to suit her own political agenda.

Colorado’s Constitution (Article IX, Section 2) states: “The general assembly shall . . . provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state. . . . One or more public schools shall be maintained in each school district within the state, at least three months in each year. . . .”

Judge Rappaport fixated on the phrase “thorough and uniform” and ruled she gets to unilaterally decide what that means, the rest of the Constitution be damned. Of course she decided that the legislature must spend more tax dollars on education, regardless of what the people earning that money may think about it, and regardless of the fact that Colorado’s government schools already spent $8.7 billion in 2009-10 for over $10,000 per student (as Ben DeGrow reports for the Independence Institute).

Obviously the context of the phrase grants wide latitude to the legislature to decide what constitutes a “thorough and uniform” education. The language explicitly says three months of school each year would be perfectly fine; obviously the legislature provides far more than that.

But of course the Constitution contains not just that one section, but many others as well, including TABOR and other spending restraints. As is obvious to everyone except, apparently, Judge Rappaport, one must interpret each Constitutional provision in the light of the others.

For example, while the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to “regulate commerce . . . among the several states,” the First Amendment explicitly prohibits Congress from doing so in a way that abridges “the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Likewise, Colorado’s Constitutional language regarding education must be interpreted in light of the provisions concerning other legislative responsibilities and spending restraints.

Judge Rappaport’s biases showed through clearly in her viciously dishonest attack on John Andrews, the former state senator and now the director of the Centennial Institute. Andrews testified as to the meaning of the Constitutional language; Rappaport’s decision summarizes that Andrews believes “a ‘uniform’ education means that any child in Colorado, regardless of his or her family background or geographic location, receives the same learning opportunities and is within reach of the same educational outcomes as any other child in the state.” Fair enough, so far.

But then consider Rappaport’s snarky editorializing: “Some of the State’s witnesses hold extreme views on education. . . . Senator Andrews’ vision for the future is a separation of schools and state similar to the separation of church and state in our nation. . . . He reveres the educational system we had in this country in the 1700s because there were few government operated schools. He fails to mention that our schools did not educate whole segments of the population, including women and people of color, at that time.”

It is true that Andrews advocates the ultimate separation of school and state. So do we (and the comparison to the separation of church and state is apt). But that has no bearing on the meaning of the Constitutional phrase in question. Obviously Andrews recognizes that the Constitution imposes particular requirements that the legislature and the courts must meet. Obviously he wants every child to enjoy a superb education. For Rappaport to essentially call Andrews a sexist and a racist, despite his explicit comments to the contrary, is quite contemptible—and it illustrates the tenor of her politicized ruling.

Thankfully, on January 23, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers announced his office’s intent to appeal the ruling. He correctly said “the constitution, including TABOR, really is under attack in this case” (as DeGrow reports). He further said, “We are going to suggest… the question of what’s thorough and uniform has to be looked at in the context of subsequent constitutional amendments.”

Let us hope that the next judge to hear the case puts Colorado’s voters and Constitution ahead of the judge’s personal political agenda.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari, edits FreeColorado.com from the Denver area.

See also Spending Limits Protect Against Factions, regarding Kerr vs. State of Colorado.

With ‘Cake Bill,’ Have Your Freedom and Eat It, Too

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong was originally published February 3 by Grand Junction Free Press.

“Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man. Bake me a cake just as fast as you can!” But if you’re a Colorado cottage baker: “They’ll stop you and they’ll fine you, and if you don’t pay, they’ll throw you in the pokey, that’s the bureaucrats’ way.”

Thankfully local State Representative Laura Bradford sponsored a bill (1027) to legalize cottage bakeries. By the time you read this, the fate of the bill may have already been decided, so see Ari’s web page FreeColorado.com for updates. (You an also find a video there of Ari performing the opening rhyme.)

We called Mande Gabelson of Ava Sweet Cakes to ask her why she supports the bill. (Ari released most of the interview early online.) She said that working out of a professional kitchen works great for large-scale caterers, but it isn’t cost effective for smaller operations.

Gabelson said that, under current law, you “can’t bake a cake and sell it to your neighbor.” If you’re running a bake sale and “the money goes to a school, that’s okay,” but bakers “can’t put the money in their back pocket.”

“I couldn’t even sell a cake to my mom,” she added; “That would be against the law.”

And why shouldn’t she be able to sell her gorgeous cakes? Gabelson said, “You have to think about the man hours that go into something like that. I’m an artist. The typical wedding cake takes between 15 and 20 hours, and I should be paid for my skills. People come to me because of my abilities, and they want to pay me… and I should be able to take that.”

We asked her how she settled on a name for her business. She replied, “That’s my daughter. When I was 7 months pregnant with her my husband got laid off from Halliburton.” She took baking classes, and “that’s when I discovered I have this talent. When Ava was six months old I decided to name it after her.”

We first learned of the “Cake Bill” from a Republican release, which summarizes: “House Bill 1027 allows cottage industry food producers to directly sell nonpotentially hazardous foods to consumers at off-premise sites—like farmers markets and roadside stands—without being commercially licensed.

“Under the bill’s guidelines, cottage food producers would still need to register with a county or district public health agency for a fee up to $100 and carry home baker liability insurance. Their products would also need to be labeled and include specific information, like the producer’s name, ingredients and a disclaimer.”

We agree with what Bradford said in the release: “This is a common sense bill. Freeing the cottage industry from regulatory burdens intended for large-scale producers helps them grow their businesses and helps their local economy.”

This bill isn’t perfect. People should be able to sell baked goods without registering with the county or paying fees. But on the whole this bill moves us closer to economic liberty and legal sanity.

We suspect that different groups might oppose the reform. Larger-scale bakers who want to forcibly limit their competition may try to keep the law in place. Frankly, we wouldn’t trust any baker who needs to use political force to wipe out the competition. Any baker worth his salt will have enough pride to bake goods that people want to buy voluntarily in a free market.

David K. Williams, Jr., a liberty lobbyist with the Gadsden Society, said, “I think the opposition is going to come from the baker industry that wants to minimize their competition. They want to keep the consumer from buying from somebody else. From a liberty position, if someone bakes a cake, and someone else wants to buy it from them, they should be able to. A regulation preventing that kind of option is harmful to the consumer and the economy.”

Some of the professional kitchens might oppose the reform, as the law would no longer compel small-scale bakers to use their facilities. Again, the law should protect people’s rights, not give some businesses an unfair advantage.

Finally, the Nanny State whiners hate liberty and want to shackle everyone with bureaucratic controls.

Gabelson offered the appropriate answer to them: “If you don’t want to eat cottage food, you don’t have to.”

Williams pointed out that consumers direct the market: “Obviously anybody selling bad cake isn’t going to be in business anymore.”

Today, far too many stupid laws impede entrepreneurs and give politically-connected businesses unfair advantages. Such laws squash economic progress and kill jobs.

The “cake bill” is a bit of welcomed yeast to help leaven the spirit of liberty here in Colorado.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari, edits FreeColorado.com from the Denver area.

Update: See also my February 2 note, as well as today’s article on the topic by the Independence Institute’s Krista Kafer.

Also check out my sweet video:

Natelson Brings Original Constitution to Colorado Activists

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published January 20 by Grand Junction Free Press.

As Americans we live under the greatest Constitution ever devised. Unfortunately, few Americans know much about what our foundational legal document means or how it properly applies to modern life. And those who do study the Constitution often abuse (or artfully ignore) its text to advance a narrow political agenda.

Rob Natelson aims to remedy those problems. Natelson, one of the world’s foremost scholars on the original meaning of the Constitution, taught law at the University of Montana for over two decades. Now he has returned to Colorado, where he once practiced law, to serve with the Independence Institute. In recent months Natelson has lectured on the Constitution in Denver and Colorado Springs, most recently attending a meeting of Liberty In the Books (which Ari moderates).

Recently Natelson’s book “The Original Constitution” came out in a second edition. We encourage you to buy a copy and read it (search at Amazon), then share it with your friends. We are among the most fortunate people ever to walk the planet, because we have inherited the intellectual and legal traditions embodied in the Constitution. It is up to us to keep that heritage alive. We know of no better place to start than with Natelson’s book.

“The Original Constitution” embodies Natelson’s findings from years of research into stacks of documents, many in Latin, that informed the Founders. Yet the book is widely accessible and beautifully written. Natelson also offers a few hundred well-placed footnotes, as well as a descriptive bibliography, for those who wish to study further. The Constitution is a document for “We the People,” and so is Natelson’s book.

We especially admire the book’s integrity: “Among other academics, law professors are notorious for writing works of special pleading and calling them ‘scholarship’ — a practice I actively resisted during my long career in legal academia. I can assure the reader that this book is not a work of special pleading, but a depiction of a slice of history: the legal force of a particular legal document at a particular time.”

Natelson dismisses the notion, as expressed by Barack Obama, that it is “unrealistic” to “somehow discern the original intent of the Founders or ratifiers.” Instead, Natelson writes, “Competent Founding-Era scholars largely agree on what most of the original Constitution’s provisions mean. Much of the disagreement among constitutional writers results from unfamiliarity with the historical record or with eighteenth-century law.”

To offer an example of how Constitutional clarity can resolve today’s debates, consider what one writer claimed in the Washington Times: “Mr. [Herman] Cain’s 9 percent national sales tax simply isn’t constitutional.” Wrong. While we think a national sales tax is a really bad idea, it passes Constitutional muster. The Constitution grants Congress the power to impose “indirect” taxes such as a sales tax, as Natelson makes clear. In aninterview he confirmed, “A national sales tax is clearly constitutional, so long as uniform throughout the country.”

During the Liberty In the Books meeting, Natelson debunked another view of the Constitution that we have expressed. The idea is that the “commerce clause” grants Congress the authority only to “make regular” (regulate) interstate commerce, not restrict commerce. Not so, says Natelson. Instead, that clause gives Congress power to restrict commerce. However, Natelson explains, the “commerce clause” was intended to grant much less power than is commonly assumed today. For example, properly interpreted it would not allow Congress to force people to buy insurance, as ObamaCare proposes.

We are not convinced, however, that original intent always should dictate Constitutional interpretation. The literal meaning of the text also matters, as do the logical implications of the text.

Natelson offers an example in his book that we think supports this line of reasoning. Originally, Article III established that the “judicial power of the United States” extended to “controversies… between a state and citizens of another state.” Natelson convincingly argues that the Federalists thought this would not overturn “sovereign immunity,” or the power of states not to be sued by individuals. But the Supreme Court decided to read the text literally and allowed a man from South Carolina to sue Georgia. This unpopular decision quickly led to the passage of the Eleventh Amendment, which affirmed that a state cannot be sued by “citizens of another state.”

As Natelson pointed out, Chief Justice John Jay helped decide the Georgia decision. Jay, you’ll recall, was an author of the Federalist Papers. If even Jay looked to literal meaning over original intent, might that justify us doing the same?

It matters very much whether we look strictly to original intent, or whether we also examine literal meaning and logical implications, in evaluating the significance of the First Amendment, “due process of law,” and other key Constitutional provisions.

Yet, regardless of where we may ultimately end up in that debate, we acknowledge that it is critically important to understand the original intent of the Constitution. We thank Natelson for helping us do that.

Take Responsibility When Carrying a Gun

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published January 6 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Colorado residents suffered several horrific murders recently. In one case,a man shot his ex-wife to death outside a restaurant in Parker as their two children sat inside. She was pregnant and engaged to be married. Besides the murders, two five-year-olds died from unintentional shootings.

In the wake of such horror, those with an aversion to guns may wonder why interest in gun ownership and concealed carry remains so high. Practically every day someone asks Linn (a National Rifle Association instructor) his opinion of various training programs required to obtain a concealed carry permit in Colorado.

CBS (of all sources) published a recent article, “More and more women embracing gun ownership.” We especially enjoyed a quote from Deirdre Gailey: “I’m a yoga instructor, I work at a vegan bakery — and I also like to shoot guns.”

Yes, some people do very bad things with guns. But stripping law-abiding citizens of their ability to keep and bear arms only further empowers the bad guys. Particularly in cases of domestic violence, attackers often can physically overpower their victims. Besides their sporting value, guns are extremely useful for self-defense.

Horrible stories get the most media attention. Often the defensive use of a gun results in the bad guy running away without a shot fired or a drop of blood spilled. Thus, while papers typically devote many follow-up stories to each murder, usually they give defensive gun uses little or no mention.

The ability to carry a concealed handgun constitutes an important part of the right of self-defense. It’s worth reviewing the history and benefits of concealed carry (CCW) here in Colorado.

Mesa County gun owners and officials became important leaders in the effort to achieve a more fair and objective permit process.

Former Sheriff Riecke Claussen ran his first campaign in 1990 by promising to institute a concealed carry permit in the county. True to his word, Claussen worked with different training groups to develop a permit. One of these groups later evolved into the Grand Valley Training Club (which Linn cofounded).

Initially Grand Junction would not sign off on any city resident applying for a county permit. Linn and others pointed out the problem to then-Police Chief Gary Konzak. The city even denied a permit for a firearms instructor who had certified several Grand Junction police officers for a Utah CCW. The chief conferred with the sheriff to resolve this problem.

However, while the county permit was valid throughout Colorado, other states recognized only state-issued permits. When former Governor Bill Owens signed a state-wide CCW bill in 2003, that system looked remarkably like what Claussen had established years before. See [the NRA's web page] for a description of states that offer CCW reciprocity. We think Bill Buvinger was the last local to offer classes for the Utah permit for its validity in other states; now the Colorado permit offers the same advantages.

Colorado’s constitution strongly supports the right to keep and bear arms, though it is ambivalent about concealed carry. Denver outlaws open carry anyway. In some cities open carry may result in a conversation with law enforcement. Once you get a CCW permit, then, you’re freer to carry a gun for self-defense.

Carrying concealed offers several tactical advantages. If you carry openly, not only might a criminal target you first, he might try to capture your weapon. Criminals often are deterred when they think somebody may be carrying a gun but they don’t know whom.

Carrying a gun concealed offers protection outside the home (except where legally restricted). Moreover, if your handgun is secured to your hip, it cannot be picked up by a criminal, child, or irresponsible adult. Concealing a gun may be important especially for women, who tend to be smaller and who may have children and grandchildren to care for.

One of the debates over the CCW bill was whether to mandate training. Our attitude was that, while training should not be mandatory, if a mandate allowed the bill to pass it was an acceptable compromise. A relative asked Linn what he thought of classes that promised only four hours of instruction with no live shooting. To some surprise, Linn responded, “I do not have a problem with it.”

Don’t get us wrong: we’re all for extensive firearms training. We agree with the NRA that those who own defensive guns should take the responsibility for getting trained. Grand Valley Training Club offers over 16 hours of instruction with numerous live-fire exercises. True, in an emergency, having a gun with little training usually trumps having no gun. But don’t let it come to that: get your training before an emergency arises.

Ultimately, the goal is to prevent emergency situations. Thankfully, the more people carry guns for self-defense, the less often people need to use them. Criminals hate the thought of their intended victim pulling out a gun and knowing how to use it.

Read more about this issue:

Joey Bunch Misstates Gun Statistics in Denver Post
(The Post corrected the article in question.)

The Tragedy of Fatal Hazards for Children

‘Twas the night before they occupied the North Pole

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published by Grand Junction Free Press.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has found a new place to protest. But instead of camping out in tents they “community organize” from hastily-constructed igloos. Participants call it “Occupy the North Pole,” or ONoP for short. Their primary target: Santa Claus.

We contacted Invidia Elf, declared ONoP’s spokesperson by unanimous uptwinkles, to discuss the group’s goals. Following is her statement.

“We’re sick and tired of that so-called Jolly Old Elf reaping all the benefits of Christmas magic. While Santa lives in his grand Christmas castle, 99 percent of elves live in tiny huts or workers’ quarters. Some elves in the wood-toy construction department have even had to set up triple bunk beds due to lack of space.

“Santa owns 60 percent of the North Pole’s developed property, and he controls 80 percent of the Pole’s wealth. Nearly the entire North Pole economy is based on the production of Christmas toys, and who controls that entire enterprise? You guessed it: Santa Claus. He’s nothing but a Robber Baron monopolist.

“I won’t even get into Santa’s dietary habits. He eats more calories every day in cookies and milk alone than most elves eat all week. And his clothes! How many fluffy red tailored suits does the man actually need?

“Don’t even get me started on Mrs. Claus, dashing around in her fancy, stainless-steel sleigh like the Queen of the town. She even gets her own chauffeur. Did you know it takes a whole division of elves just to tend the reindeer? The Clauses’ barn alone is ten times the size of an average elf house, and it consumes fifteen times the electricity.

“Santa himself doesn’t actually do any work; he merely oversees and directs all the work of thousands of other elves. We’re the ones who do the real work around here, and I say it’s about time we got to call the shots. It’s high time to subject the means of production of Christmas toys to a more democratic process.

“A ‘living elf wage?’ Ha! There’s no law whatsoever setting wage standards. Sure, we don’t have the unemployment problem you have in America, but at least there workers are protected by laws that force employers to spend more on wages. Did you know that until about a decade ago a new elf employee got paid only room and board? Not even a stipend!

“I tried to unionize the workers a while back, but Santa said ‘Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas’ and everybody started feeling all cheery again. It’s like a Jedi mind trick or something. A lot of these elves don’t even know how bad they’ve got it; they’re deluded into thinking they live a wonderful life. It’s just a good thing I’m here to educate them.

“The Nog Party? What a bunch of drooling dwarves. Laughably, they think it’s a good thing if some people get super rich; it’s like they think their so-called ‘free market’ is guided by invisible magic or something. We know what’s in their nog! But here in the real world people have to fight for their lick of the candy cane.

“Oh, sure, Santa spends most of his time making toys to give away. But does he give to everyone equally according to their need? No. Instead, there he sits in his office, day after day, going through his list not just once but twice, checking to see who’s naughty and who’s nice. And if for no good reason he puts you on the naughty list? Too bad for you! You get nothing but coal.

“It’s not the naughty kids’ fault. They were not born with the same advantages of nice kids. Why should the nice kids get all the rewards? They already have plenty. Instead, Santa should give the naughty kids most of the gifts to help make up for their disadvantages in life.

“Santa delivers free toys to all the (nice) children of the world, but he does that only one day a year! Here’s Santa, the most magical elf of all time, this guy who’s been building up his powers for centuries, and all he can manage is a single day of holiday bliss? You’d think Santa could have worked himself up to delivering gifts at least two days a year.

“Just this last winter Santa took a trip with the missus to the Caribbean. Do you know how many times I’ve relaxed on Caribbean beaches sipping pina coladas? That’s right: none. Santa has more inborn ability than fifty other elves together, so what’s he doing taking all that time off? ONoP demands that, henceforth, each elf contribute according to his ability, as decided by a democratic process.”

To us, it seems an awful lot like Invidia is attacking Santa for his virtues.

We called up Santa for a reply, but all he said was, “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas! And to all a good night!”

Gessler Emerges as the Free Speech Secretary of State

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published December 9 by Grand Junction Free Press.

True, Secretary of State Scott Gessler has made some public-relations missteps, as when he attended a Larimer County Republican fundraiser in September to cover campaign-finance fines that Gessler’s office oversaw. On the whole, though, Gessler deserves praise for having the guts to stand up and take heat for what he believes in: the principles of free speech. Indeed, Gessler deserves the national title as the Free Speech Secretary of State.

Gessler has done the best he can to make sense of the contradictory, often-ambiguous mish-mash of Colorado’s campaign finance laws and court rulings about them. His job in that regard is not an easy one: the voter-approved section in Colorado’s Constitution gives him one set of directives, while judges give him another, and he must craft the rules guiding the process.

The problems begin with the campaign-finance laws, which inherently violate rights of free speech. As we wrote back in May, those laws specify that, to speak out for or against any ballot measure while spending over $200, you “must first register with the proper authorities, then report to those authorities the names and addresses of every significant donor to your cause, as well as all of your significant expenses… on penalty of daily fines, and in accordance with a hundred pages of dense legalese.” Obviously those laws undermine free speech and discourage civic participation.

The courts should throw out the entire mess on First Amendment grounds. Instead, last year the 10th Circuit Court ruled that the $200 “trigger” for reporting is unreasonably low. But the court declined to specify a more reasonable amount, leaving Gessler to implement the rules without clear guidance. Gessler reasonably drafted rules setting the “trigger” at $5,000, meaning if you don’t spend that much, you don’t have to file and comply with the paperwork requirements. Gessler did the best he could to protect free speech within the constraints of the campaign laws and the court decision.

But on November 17, Denver District Court Judge Bruce Jones threw outthe $5,000 trigger, recognizing Gessler’s “conundrum” but again declining to offer any clear guidance.

Thankfully, Gessler announced he’d appeal Jones’s ruling. In a news release Gessler described the problem precisely: “Under Judge Jones’ ruling, we have one threshold for $200 and another threshold for ‘some other amount.’ We want to encourage participation in our political process but the ruling today only further confuses an already complex process.” In other words, without a clear “trigger” for reporting, activists have no idea when they have to file or whether they’ll get sued for not filing. Such ambiguity leads to after-the-fact rulings that violate citizens’ rights and undermine the rule of just law.

In a December 15 meeting, Gessler will reassert the need for the $5,000 “trigger” and offer numerous other rule changes as well. The Denver Postsummarized two other major proposed rule changes: limit to 180 the number of days the $50 per day fine accrues, and confirm that groups must “expressly advocate” a candidate or measure in order to fall under the campaign laws. (Rich Coolidge, spokesperson for Gessler’s office, confirmed that those three rule changes will be on the table; those wanting more detail can find the 58-page document on the Secretary of State’s web page.)

Regarding the fine limit, it’s just not fair for hostile, political attack groups to be able to sue somebody long after the fact and keep racking up daily fines.

As for the language about “express advocacy,” our ability to speak out on candidates and issues goes to the heart of the First Amendment. The legal issue is that some groups run ads praising or castigating some candidate or issue without actually suggesting how people should vote. If you tell people how to vote, you use the so-called “magic words” that trigger the campaign laws. Incidentally, the Colorado Supreme Court will hear a caseabout this, though the mere fact that we’re discussing “magic words” illustrates nicely why the campaign laws by their very nature violate free speech.

Unfortunately, Gessler has been been relentlessly attacked by leftist activists who champion censorship of political speech, including Luis Toro of Colorado Ethics Watch and Jenny Flanagan and Elena Nunez of Colorado Common Cause.

The left is obsessed with the idea that, somewhere, someone may spend their own money to advocate their political beliefs. But free speech is central to our liberties, and that right is meaningless without the physical means to advocate our beliefs. Often that requires spending money. Yet many on the left would restrict our political speech in many contexts and open the door wide to more far-reaching forms of censorship.

When Flanagan debated Ari on television earlier this year and Ari brought up the First Amendment, she retorted, “That’s not part of the conversation right now.” Thankfully, Gessler is doing what he can to change that.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari, edits FreeColorado.com from the Denver area.

Note: See also Diana Hsieh’s detailed summary of the proposed rule changes in a first and second post.

Offer Gifts of Liberty This Season

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published November 25 in the print edition of Grand Junction Free Press.

Why fight the crowds when you can buy liberty-promoting gifts from your computer? We have several suggestions for you.

The final Harry Potter movie will make a popular gift. So will all of J. K. Rowling’s novels, which chronicle Voldemort’s rise to tyrannical power and Harry’s struggle to defeat him. Ari’s book Values of Harry Potter makes an excellent companion to any Potter-related gift for teens and adults.

Ari’s book reveals the heroes’ fight for values in the Potter novels and their fierce independence. A chapter on free will describes how the heroes forge their own character, while the villains bring themselves to corruption. The book’s discussions of religion take on the controversies of sacrificial love and immortality. The new 2011 edition contains essays on the novels’ rich psychology as well as their politics, journalism, and more.

Ari has also started writing regularly for The Objective Standard, a journal influenced by the ideas of Ayn Rand. (Ari gets paid for that work.) For example, you can find Ari’s October 19 article, “The Justice of Income Inequality Under Capitalism,” on the publication’s blog.

The journal’s editor, Craig Biddle, reviews Rand’s objective theory of rights for the Fall 2011 edition. Rights don’t come from God, Biddle argues, but neither do they come from society. Instead, he writes, “they are conceptual identifications of the factual requirements of human life in a social context.” That article is available for free, as is a piece by John David Lewis on the Islamist threat to American security; both merit your attention.

You should subscribe to the journal to access all of its articles, and you should consider buying subscriptions for your active-minded friends. You can buy subscriptions to the print version or for audio, online, or ebook versions. A subscription to the journal makes an especially great gift because its benefits extend throughout the entire year.

Any of the films shown at the Free Minds Film Fest in Colorado Springs last month would make wonderful gifts. We recommend three in particular.

The dystopian short film 2081, based on Kurt Vonnegut’s story “Harrison Bergeron,” imagines a society in which everybody is finally equal. People are no longer merely equal under the law, but they are made physically equal by political force. The strong must wear weights, the intelligent must wear shrieking headphones, and so on. But the hero of the story, not content with suffering chains and imprisonment for his strengths and virtues, stages an “occupation” event of his own, and one with a very different message from today’s Occupation protests. This film would make a great addition for everyone on your list.

We also recommend two films about Soviet Russia. The first, Soviet Story,reveals the brutal slaughter and oppression of the Soviet regime. The film demonstrates that the Communists paved the way for genocidal mass slaughter, while the Nazis (National Socialists) followed the same path. The film features a segment in which the socialist George Bernard Shawspeaks candidly of killing off those deemed undesirable (by the socialists).

Moreover, the film reviews, before and during WWII the Communists actively collaborated with the Nazis to slaughter Jews and oppress most of Europe. It’s a brutal film, but one everyone should watch, lest mankind be doomed to repeat the horrors of totalitarian slaughter.

A much happier film showing the collapse of the Soviet regime is The Singing Revolution, the story of the valiant and nonviolent Estonian uprising. The Estonians used singing, long a central part of their cultural traditions, to express their rebellion. It is a magnificent film, and one perfect for holiday viewing. But be warned: you won’t be able to watch it with dry eyes.

If you’re looking for something more practical, you can buy a gift certificate for those 18 and older for a Grand Valley Training Club Basic Pistol and Personal Protection in the Home Course. These are NRA certified classes taught by outstanding local NRA volunteer instructors, and the classes meet the qualifications for concealed carry. Whether somebody is new to handguns or needs a refresher course, this class offers first-rate training, and for $100 it offers a great value. (For more information call Linn.)

For the readers in your life, anything from the Liberty In the Books list (www.LibertyInTheBooks.com) would make a great gift. (Liberty On the Rocks pays Ari a bit to run this program.) Our last three titles are How an Economy Grows and Why It CrashesWhy Businessmen Need Philosophy, and The Right to Earn a Living.

The great thing about giving the gift of liberty is that it benefits not only the recipient but all of us, including future generations of Americans.

Thank the Industrial Revolution for Longer Life

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published October 28 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Growing older comes with its problems, but, as we’ve all heard, it surely beats the alternative. Earlier this month Ari turned 40. (We don’t need to go into details of Linn’s age.) An interesting fact about the age of 40 is that it’s older than the average lifespan of almost all of human history. So if you’re older than 40, or hope to be, thank the industrial revolution, which radically extended human life.

The industrial revolution, fueled by the philosophical Scottish Enlightenment, gained steam in England in the late 1700s. This was right around the time of the founding of the United States, which, as the freest country in the history of the earth, soon adopted the industrial revolution as its own and created unparalleled prosperity.

Modern humans have walked the earth for roughly a quarter of a million years. So you are extremely lucky to have been born during the tiny fraction of human history in which you have a good chance to live to see old age as we now understand it.

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, one nation still has a life expectancy less than 40: Angola. Several African nations still have life expectancies less than 50. Why the difference? Much of Africa remains ravaged by tribal warfare, political corruption, and an almost total lack of industrial progress, exacerbating such problems as famine and the AIDS epidemic.

Throughout almost all of human history, most people faced conditions roughly comparable to those of the poorest regions of modern Africa. Violence, starvation, and disease were the normal conditions of life.

The Wikipedia entry on “life expectancy” offers some good leads; for example, it cites a recent text on American history that discusses England in the early 1600s. That book summarizes, “Life expectancy was only about thirty-five years, and two-thirds of all children died before the age of four.” Today children rarely die. Throughout much of human history, many or most children died, and that was considered normal.

In the industrial world, life expectancy has risen into the upper 70s and 80s. The United States comes in only 50th on the CIA’s list with a life expectancy of 78.37. (Monaco tops the list at 89.73.) But the U.S. suffers relatively high rates of auto fatalities and homicides; adjusted for those factors, our country approaches or hits the top of the list.

But how could early industry, with its dirty coal and poor working conditions, so dramatically extend human life? Prior to industry, most people lived in abject poverty, and even the few wealthy of the time had relatively few of the amenities even America’s poor now take for granted. (Andrew Bernstein does a good job of reviewing early industrial advances in Capitalism Unbound.)

Prior to industry, people had to walk wherever they went; the lucky few had horses and carriages (which left stinking, pestilent messes in city streets). Steam-powered boats and trains, then petrol-powered automobiles, gave mobility to the masses. Today we can ride by helicopter to a far-away hospital if we need urgent medical care. We can jet around the world in the time it used to take to traverse a state. A relative recently flew to Europe for discretionary health care.

In the good old days, often you were luckier if you did not have access to a doctor with his leeches and concoctions. If you got an infection, often you would die. Today advanced machinery can scan your bones or peer into your heart. We have access to mass-produced drugs effective at alleviating a wide range of ailments. We have access to heart surgery and advanced cancer treatments.

At America’s founding, roughly 90 percent of all working people farmed. Eking a living from the dirt without the aid of tractors and trucks, irrigation pipes, and modern fertilizers imposed severe hardships. Today less than three percent of the workforce raises all our food—freeing up the labor of others to provide our other wants and needs.

Prior to industry, people made their few items of clothing by hand. With industrial production of cotton clothing, the masses could afford to buy clothes and subject them to the rigors of routine cleaning. Today, we can clothe ourselves modestly for perhaps a couple hour’s worth of labor.

True, industrial progress requires legal stability and relative freedom. Capital formation—the development of the tools and machines that expand our productivity—drives our improving standard of living. People don’t invest in capital when others loot or destroy the products of their effort. The prosperity of capitalism derives from the political protection of people’s rights. To the degree we stray from that standard, we undermine our prosperity and threaten our futures.

If you value your high standard of living and your potential to live into your 70s and beyond, live in gratitude for the industrial revolution—and help protect its future.

A Parable of Shoe Stores and Bureaucrats

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published October 14 by Grand Junction Free Press.

The following discussion took place in an alternate universe very much like our own, but different in a few important respects. Any resemblance to real persons in our universe, living or dead, is purely accidental.

The scene is a coffee shop in a town called Great Junction, a town nestled between the Federal Monument, the Bookcliffs, and the Great Mesa. Ralph sits at a table, sipping his brew, sharing a quiet conversation with a few friends.

“Here’s how it went down,” Ralph began. “For three years my son John and I tried to open a shoe store over at the strip mall by Urban Market. We developed a great business plan and lined up our funding, and John finished up his degree in business while working in a shoe store on the side to earn experience in the industry.

“We did all the basic work in the first year. But then John reminded me we had to apply to the state Shoe Utility Commission, or SUC. I guess their job is to ensure that shoes meet their standards of utility, whatever that means. SUC required us to ask permission from the other shoe store in town, Shoe Central, before we could go into business.”

At this point Ralph’s friend Henry barged in, “Now hold on there, Ralph, you mean to tell me SUC wanted you to get the permission of your competitor to go into business? That can’t be right. That’s just insane! When I opened up my burger joint I didn’t have to ask permission from McDoogle’s! What’s next: are they going to make Cameron here ask permission from Orange Cabs to keep his own cab up and running?”

Cameron snorted at the absurdity.

Ralph took a breath, pushed up his shoulders, and continued, “Well, SUC uses pretty fancy language to describe asking permission. SUC says new shoe stores have to ‘show a public convenience and necessity’ before they’ll issue a shoe-store license, all to prevent ‘ruinous competition.’ And SUC was pretty keen on hearing Shoe Central’s claim that it already met the local demand for shoes.”

Henry could not contain himself. “‘Ruinous competition?’ What the hell does that mean? Most businesses compete for customers; that’s part of what makes them work hard to offer good service. Shouldn’t people have a choice about where they buy their shoes?”

After a pause Cameron asked, “So what happened next?”

Ralph continued, “At least SUC let us ask some local residents whether they’d benefit from a new shoe store in town.”

Henry started turning red in the face. “But wait a minute! Doesn’t a customer say he wants to shop at a store every time he walks in and spends some money? People say lots of things, but when they put their money on the counter, that’s what counts, right? How can a bunch of pencil-pushing bureaucrats predict where people want to shop? Isn’t that what the marketplace is for?”

“That’s what I always thought,” Ralph replied.

“So did SUC give you a permit to open a shoe store?” Cameron asked.

“SUC finally signed off on our shoe store, after forcing us to waste tens of thousands of dollars waiting around,” Ralph said.

Henry exhaled sharply.

“Unfortunately, Shoe Central then took the matter to court so a judge could make the decision.”

Henry jumped to his feet, spilling his coffee. “You mean, once you kiss the backsides of SUC bureaucrats for a few years, then you’ve got to start all over with a judge? What country did you say we’re living in, again?”

“Take a seat, Henry, it’s over,” Ralph said. “Amazingly, the judge also signed off on our store. But then SUC got to work again. SUC said we could carry only five types of shoes, and only in three sizes. Also, only people who lived within six blocks of the strip mall could shop at our store. SUC also dictated the prices we could charge for shoes. So we couldn’t charge more for better shoes, and if our stock piled up or dwindled we couldn’t raise or lower our prices. We’ll see if we can make a go of it.”

Henry said nothing. He sat hunched over, a single tear welling in his eye, staring at his cap with the emblem of his military service.

After a few moments of silence, a perky young lady walked up to the table and said, “I couldn’t help but overhearing, but I for one am grateful that SUC protects the consumer from the anarchy of the marketplace. Shoes are just too important to society to let just anybody sell them. Who would protect us from too many shoes and unfair pricing?”

The woman turned up her nose, spun on her Shoe Central high heels, and walked away. Ralph stared into his coffee.

Those of us living on the alternate side of the universe can only thank heaven that nothing as crazy as the SUC exists in our world.

Prop. 103. Would Hurt Working Families, Kill Jobs

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published September 30 by Grand Junction Free Press.

They’re ba-a-ck, and they want to raise your taxes, again. They always do. Yes, it’s “for the children.” It usually is.

But Proposition 103, the tax hike brought to this fall’s ballot by Boulder Democrat Rollie Heath and the teachers’ unions, is really about taking more money out of the pockets of working families to enrich those unions. Throwing more tax dollars at government-run schools hardly would improve the quality of education.

If you really want to help “the children” (and everyone else), you will vote no on the job killer Prop. 103. Taking even more money out of the voluntary economy would only make it harder for working families to put food on the table and afford other necessities.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that the economy remains weak, with unemployment nationally hovering at around nine percent and Colorado not far behind. The mortgage bust and the bipartisan political bungling that followed hit Grand Junction especially hard. Politicians have already burdened the economy with myriad taxes and reams of controls — how much more can it take?

Taking more money from working families for taxes would dry up private-sector jobs. While the cost of the tax hike would depend on the state of the economy, Legislative Council estimates the measure would suck around $2.9 billion out of the voluntary economy by raising sales and income taxes for five years. Think about how many salaries that represents.

Prop. 103 devotes the money to “public education” from preschool through college, taking the 2011-12 budget as the base level. Legislative Council estimates that base at about $4.3 billion (which includes only state funding, not local and federal). Thus, the added taxes would raise state spending by around 12 to 15 percent per year. Of course, how the legislature would adjust education spending absent the tax hike remains anybody’s guess.

Even those who want to raise taxes may question a hike specifically for education. If you think state government should spend relatively more on roads and criminal investigations instead, you may not like Prop. 103 so much. On the other hand, those with particular ideas about how the state should fund education may not see the measure as specific enough.

We think state legislators should prioritize better, cut spending, and lower tax rates so people can keep more of the money they earn. Then people could spend their own money on what they find most important, whether education, a new business, health care, or whatever.

Would spending more tax dollars on education even improve the quality of education? We think not. The Joint Budget Committee notes total Colorado spending on education has jumped from just over $5 billion in 2004-05 to $7.2 billion in 2011-12, a 44 percent increase, while student enrollment has climbed 10 percent. Has education gotten proportionately better over that period? Hardly.

Taking a longer view, Ben DeGrow of the Independence Institute notes, “Since 1970 per-pupil spending in Colorado and the U.S. have more than doubled after counting inflationary changes — even given the real modest freezes and cuts many Colorado K-12 schools have experienced over the past two years.” (Note: Ari has written for the Institute, in one case on a contract basis.)

Coloradans already spend tons of money on education. The NEA recently estimated per-pupil spending here at over $9,500. Education spending already consumes around 37 percent of the state’s total operating budget of $19.6 billion, dwarfing spending for corrections and transportation combined.

What do we get for all that spending? “Adding more tax dollars to K-12 systems on a large scale has no connection to improving academic results,” DeGrow summarizes. As Andrew Coulson reviews for the Cato Institute, as U.S. per-pupil funding has skyrocketed over the last few decades, reading, math, and science scores have virtually flatlined.

Rather than throw more tax dollars at the teachers’ unions and the political cronies they finance, we need to instead find better value for our education dollars. Schools need greater ability to fire dud teachers without incurring union lawsuits. Most districts can get by with fewer administrative paper-shufflers. Schools should stop following the latest expensive fads and get back to teaching the basics.

Over the longer term, we should look at ways to reduce political involvement in education, not expand it. We are heartened by the success of various charter schools throughout the state. Ultimately we’d like to see real choice in education. We prefer universal tax credits over vouchers. Eventually we’d like to see truly free markets emerge in education, with parents, educators, and voluntary charities assuming the basic responsibility for organizing and financing education. Get politicians and bureaucrats out of it.

This fall, though, we face an immediate choice. Should we divert even more money from the hard-pressed voluntary economy to the teachers’ unions, or should we demand greater accountability and better prioritization for the tax dollars we already turn over? Only the latter option comports with economic sanity and your liberty to spend your money as you choose.

Let’s Eliminate the Sales Tax

As my dad and I argued last year, Colorado should eliminate the sales tax (along with the use tax) even if done in a revenue-neutral way by increasing the income tax rate.

Consider a few of the many problems with the tax:

Interstate commerce has created huge problems for collecting and administering sales and use taxes.

* Paying the sales tax over small-scale intrastate commerce is incredibly difficult. For example, I can directly sell my book, Values of Harry Potter,practically anywhere in the world, but I cannot afford the paperwork nightmare of selling it directly in Colorado. (You can still buy it on Amazon!) In my experience, many small businesses simply ignore the sales tax laws.

Paying the use tax is an absolute nightmare, and the fact that hardly anybody does it turns most Coloradans into criminals.

* Sales taxes disadvantage local stores, yet forcing out-of-state businesses to collect sales taxes would create “as many as 15,000 tax rates to administer” — a bureaucratic nightmare.

The obvious solution to all these problems is to simply eliminate the sales tax.

Thankfully, the Joint Budget Committee has placed the Colorado budgetonline starting with 2004-05. Looking at the budget for fiscal year 2011-12, we can learn what eliminating the sales tax would mean.

Page 6 of that document reveals that total “excise taxes” (sales, use, and related taxes) bring in $2,184,400,000 (let’s say $2.2 billion). Income taxes bring in $4,692,200,000 (let’s say $4.7 billion). So, very roughly, eliminating the sales tax in a revenue-neutral way would require an increase in the income tax of somewhere less than fifty percent. Of course I’d rather see net taxes decline, but I could live with a revenue-neutral shift in order to get rid of the onerous sales tax.