Thursday, January 06, 2005

Why 'Help' Sometimes Is Not Help

Last week, the City Council of Houston passed a new law, which requires the immediate towing of any disabled vehicle on the highways and freeways in Houston. The law has not been well-received. The Mayor, to his credit, has stepped up in person to face the criticism and displeasure of the citizens, but he has unfortunately confirmed that the only voice that matters is his own. He is, however, surprised by the unhappiness, explaining that he's doing this for our safety. The man is pathetically unaware that this very attitude is part of the problem.

Mayor Bill White considers himself to be a businessman, and so he approaches city matters as a business matter. The problem is, while a man may own a business and have the sole right to decide what is reasonable, the mayor is not the owner of the city, but only a servant of the people. In this case, the City should have set up a referendum, and asked for legal advice on the advisability of this action (the rights of the city to designate only certain tow trucks, to be used on state roads, to remove vehicles not hindering traffic from designated emergency lanes against the owner's will, especially where the matter is as simple as changing a tire or restarting the vehicle, is already in question). And no matter what, the Council should have known better than to deliver the decision as if it wer ean imperial edict. When a mayor arbitrarily decides not to listen to the people about the way the city should be run, he is ignoring his duties and subverting the rights of the citizens. And that's why people outside the city of Houston should consider this issue.

I have been exchanging e-mails with a couple readers, about the emerging realignment of American voters. A recent Gallup poll confirmed what the last three Federal Elections indicated; more Americans consider themselves Republicans than Democrats, and many more consider themselves Conservatives than Liberals. Some on the Right believe this means that the Democratic Party is in crisis, and may even cease as a political force within a generation. It occurs to me, however, that there are cracks in the foundation of the Republican Party as well, and there is major work for both parties to tend to, if they want to remain as relevant in 2024, as they were this year. And part of that crisis of confidence is a simple matter of job performance. Far too many politicians do what they like, and impose unreasonable burdens on the people, often in the name of "helping".

Here in Houston, it is now illegal to drive without a seat belt. Wearing a seat belt is a good idea, and people should be encouraged to wear one whenever they are in a car or truck. But it is not the state or city's place to declare it illegal to not wear one; they do not hold the moral authority to pass such a law. After all, if I am foolish enough to drive w/o wearing a seat belt, I am not driving recklessly as a result of that omission, nor am I endangering any other driver or passenger. Ethically, not wearing a seat belt is the same as driving while smoking - a bad idea, but not one which needs to be outlawed. Further, the state does not take away your license or restrict when you can drive, if you are caught not wearing a belt; you are simply fined, proving it's really nothing more than a revenue grab. That takes the action from stupid across the line to immoral. No authority has the right to penalize a person for doing something which is not directly harmful to anyone, and which is not a violation of anyone else's rights. Laws passed simply to generate revenue are not simply unreasonable, they create a sense of promoted injustice, using the law for immoral purposes.

Another law recently passed, sets up cameras at streetlights to catch red-light runners and speeders. The problem is, it violates the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, specifically the part about the accused having the right to face his accuser. The submission of the citation is presumption of guilt, which directly runs against the rights of Americans. Now, I'm not opposed to catching red-light runners and speeders and reckless drivers, but this law is bad in every way. That's because the city has tried to evade the 5th-Amendment concerns by treating the tickets as civil actions rather than criminal actions. There are many problems created by that stunt. First, the insurance companies point out that doing this will allow violators to pay a fine and not have it show up on their driving record, which prevents insurers from discovering who is reckless. The industry has already said this will force them to raise rates on everyone, which means that the city's actions will result in punishing good drivers. Further, if you receive one of these tickets, you will be expected to pay the fine, so the effect remains the same; if you are not guilty, you will be denied the right to challenge the charge in court. That is, you can plead 'not guilty', but the chances you will win are remote, given the starting presumption of guilt.

It goes further than driving infractions, of course. The trend over the past couple decades to protect non-Christian freedom of religion, while punishing public displays of Christian faith, is reaching a boiling point. A key example this year, was the banning of any Christian symbol or music at a New Jersey School District, while Hannukah and Ramadam celebrations were encouraged and supported with city funds and specifically noted at official celebrations. Schools have granted exceptions to their dress codes for Muslim students, while punishing Christians for Christian symbols and dress. The hypocrisy of such actions is clear, and the increasing publicity of such anti-Christian oppression by city and state authorities will sooner or later generate consequences.

But the heart of the crisis could reasonably be said to rest in Washington, D.C. In the generation following the Revolution, the Congress of the United States would meet for a limited amount of time, after which the Congressmen and Senators would return to their home states for their regular work, and to be accessible to their constituents. Those days have long been supplanted, by the permanent D.C. residences of Congressmen and Senators, who only see their home state on campaign tours, and who are no more accessible to the people who are supposed to be their bosses, than the Politburo of the old Soviet Union was. More and more laws are passed which do little more than bring in money, and window-dress the ambitions of the Congressmen and Senators. Issues vital to Americans are ignored, while billions are spent to create friends for the politicians when they leave office and want to become high-paid lobbyists. Republicans and Democrats both tend to see themselves as elite, and answerable only to each other. That attitude, while pervasive on Capitol Hill, is near Treason in its contempt for the duties and responsibilities these men and women pretend to accept, and at some point will reap a bitter harvest from the nation.

From time to time, this elected official or that wil lopine on the meaning and significance of the First Amendment, the Second, the Fourth, or the Fourteenth. I think we all ought to remind our city and county officials that we will vote according to their actions, responsible and irresponsible, our state officials that Gray Davis was not that isolated an option, and our federal officials that the Tenth Amendment is very valid, and we will demand it's application.

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