Until early 2010, beekeeping was illegal in New York City. The city’s health department maintained that bees caused both a public nuisance and a potential health crisis. When stung, about 2 percent of people have a life-threatening reaction to bee venom, which would require immediate medical assistance and in a worst case scenario, could result in death. Despite the illegality of beekeeping, hives were hidden amongst community gardens and on the roof tops of apartment buildings for years. Penalties for maintaining these secret hives could result in fines of thousands of dollars. While it’s of course important to protect vulnerable citizens from potentially lethal insects, much was lost when beekeeping was banned.
Beekeeping was made illegal due to a combination of both legitimate and illegitimate fears. Safety concerns were legitimate but probably exaggerated. At one point, health officials considered honeybees to be just as dangerous as hyenas and poisonous snakes. “The real danger,” according to Andrew Cote of the New York City Beekeepers Association, “is the skewed public perception of the danger of honeybees. People fear that if there’s a beehive on their rooftop, they’ll be stung. Honeybees are interested in water, pollen and nectar.”
Since beekeeping was made legal, perhaps as many as one thousand people have been trained and licensed by beekeeping associations. As a result, New Yorkers are making money selling honey and in some instances, even creating a business around what might have once been an illegal hobby. Honey is unique in that it tastes different depending on its environment. As a result, dozens of different honey flavors can emerge from just downtown Manhattan alone. The potential to make and sell a vast array of honey is putting money in people’s pockets, creating both part-time and full-time jobs, and contributing to the culture and food of the city.
The misunderstanding of bees and the risks associated with beekeeping resulted in several consequences: the restriction of an everyday freedom to partake in a hobby and enjoy life, the loss of part-time and full-time jobs, and the loss of a local honey industry. The cumulative effect of making beekeeping illegal is not necessarily devastating to a city, but it is certainly hurtful. Today, beekeeping is legal and beekeepers “must register with the health department and maintain the hives so that the bees are not a nuisance.” In other words, the practice was legalized, regulated, and restricted.
What can we learn from this? Perhaps that it’s wrong for our government to so often ban and criminalize things they don’t fully understand. Perhaps that making an activity illegal does not make it disappear. Perhaps that it’s better to regulate and control an industry that may, in some instances, have dangerous consequences, rather than hand over complete control to criminals. Perhaps that it’s wrong to treat average citizens as if they’re a threat to society for engaging in a relatively harmless activity.
One might think there’s a lesson to be learned here but something tells me the insane impulse to criminalize and imprison will continue.
Recent news that Sofia Coppola and Emma Watson are making a film about the “Bling Ring,” a gang of rich kids who robbed Hollywood celebrities, inspired me to read this outrageous Vanity Fair article about the crimes.
Here’s an excerpt from the article where one of the young thieves describes how and why they robbed Paris Hilton. It sounds like it’s torn from the pages of a Bret Easton Ellis novel…
One night in October of 2008, he says, he and Lee entered Hilton’s sprawling tile-roofed mansion in a gated community in the Hollywood Hills, opening the front door with a key they had found under the mat. “Stupid,” Prugo said, shrugging. He said he found the sensation of suddenly being in Hilton’s home “horrifying. There was that percentage of ‘Wow, this is Paris Hilton’s house,’ but as soon as I put my foot in the door I was just wanting to run out.” He says he served as a lookout at the top of the stairs while Lee went into Hilton’s bedroom to search for valuables. “I was sweating unnaturally. Every five minutes, I was yelling, Let’s get the fuck out of here. She was like, It’s fine, it’s fine, let’s keep going.” Lee took some expensive bras and a designer dress that night, he says (he can’t remember which; there would be so many). They took a bottle of Grey Goose vodka from Hilton’s “nightclub room.” They took “crumpled cash,” he claims, “fifties, hundreds,” from Hilton’s purses. The idea was to take so little that the heiress wouldn’t notice—and so they could come back again. Hilton actually didn’t notice or at least didn’t report any of the Bling Ring burglaries until December 19, 2008, when Roy Lopez allegedly stole close to $2 million worth of her jewelry, stuffing it into one of her Louis Vuitton tote bags. Lopez has been charged with one count of residential burglary. His lawyer, David Diamond, says his client “did not steal anything” from Hilton.
One night in October of 2008, he says, he and Lee entered Hilton’s sprawling tile-roofed mansion in a gated community in the Hollywood Hills, opening the front door with a key they had found under the mat. “Stupid,” Prugo said, shrugging. He said he found the sensation of suddenly being in Hilton’s home “horrifying. There was that percentage of ‘Wow, this is Paris Hilton’s house,’ but as soon as I put my foot in the door I was just wanting to run out.”
He says he served as a lookout at the top of the stairs while Lee went into Hilton’s bedroom to search for valuables. “I was sweating unnaturally. Every five minutes, I was yelling, Let’s get the fuck out of here. She was like, It’s fine, it’s fine, let’s keep going.”
Lee took some expensive bras and a designer dress that night, he says (he can’t remember which; there would be so many). They took a bottle of Grey Goose vodka from Hilton’s “nightclub room.” They took “crumpled cash,” he claims, “fifties, hundreds,” from Hilton’s purses.
The idea was to take so little that the heiress wouldn’t notice—and so they could come back again. Hilton actually didn’t notice or at least didn’t report any of the Bling Ring burglaries until December 19, 2008, when Roy Lopez allegedly stole close to $2 million worth of her jewelry, stuffing it into one of her Louis Vuitton tote bags. Lopez has been charged with one count of residential burglary. His lawyer, David Diamond, says his client “did not steal anything” from Hilton.
“We found about, like, five grams of coke in Paris’s house” on another night, Prugo told police; he says they snorted it and left. Then they “drove around Mulholland, having the best time of our lives.”
It is fashionable, in the wake of ill advised and poorly conceived wars, to be opposed to any intervention by the U.S. military, NATO, or any Western armed forces. This popular belief is, while understandable, reactionary and, in some instances, preventing the safety and happiness of millions of people.
The most common argument in support of noninterventionism usually sounds something like this:
Yes there are terrible acts of mass murder occurring in various countries at the hands of brutal dictators, but we can not intervene in all of these countries, nor can we predict the outcome of our intervention, therefore we should not intervene at all.
Let’s take the basic moral argument of the above statement and apply it to other scenarios. Would any reasonable person say that we should not attempt to cure any disease because, after all, there are many diseases and we cannot cure them all? Would any reasonable person say that we should not attempt to provide assistance to the poor because, after all, there are many poor people and we can’t help them all? Furthermore, would any reasonable person say that because our assistance to the poor or our attempts to cure a disease could have bad side effects, we should therefore never try to cure a disease or help the poor?
Unless you are a sociopath, you should have a basic desire to see poor people no longer poor and to see sick people no longer sick. The difficulties of helping the sick and the poor should not make you want to stop trying to make the world a better place. Granted, intervening in a foreign conflict can be a more complicated issue than trying to cure a disease. Nonetheless, the basic point has been established that the potential side effects of intervention are not good reasons to avoid intervention all together in all circumstances.
One can easily rattle off examples of American led interventions that went horribly awry. Iraq and Vietnam quickly come to mind. But one can also rattle off instances of nonintervention which resulted in the deaths and suffering of millions: Rwanda and Nazi Germany, to quickly name two. In both of these instances, American politicians and indeed the public at large argued that neither of these genocides were any of our business and therefore we should do nothing about them. (Obviously we did eventually fight the Nazis but we did so reluctantly and only after millions of innocent people were already dead…believe it or not there are still some noninterventionists like Pat Buchanan who argue that even this tragically late entrance into WWII was “unnecessary”).
By supporting the idea of humanitarian interventionism, I am not saying that we should intervene in every single country with a dictatorship or oppressive government. I do not support invading North Korea. I do not support invading Iran. I do not support massive military interventions in Africa. But, I do support tactically intelligent interventions in emergency situations. Our intervention in Libya is a prime example. We helped take out a mass murdering dictator at a relatively small financial cost and we didn’t sacrifice a single American life to do it. This is what a successful intervention looks like and we should use it as a model for any future excursions into the Middle East.
In his book Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman makes a brilliant comparison between a military and a police force. A military, just like a police force, can be corrupt, brutish, dangerous, and oppressive. However, in dealing with corruption or abuses of power in a police department, nobody ever argues for destroying the department as a whole so that there are no longer any cops patrolling the streets. Similarly, we should not ban the American military or NATO from intervening in the rest of the world just because of their past mistakes.
There is no problem with opposing a specific intervention on practical grounds. Sometimes we simply will not be able to help no matter how much we might want to. The problem is opposing the prevention of genocide in all circumstances, which is a basic tenet of noninterventionism.
Plainly stated, the philosophy of noninterventionism is not conducive to the long term health and happiness of our world.
Stockholm, Sweden. The dystopian capital of evil government coercion.
The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic created by the United Nations Development Programme that measures a country’s standard of living. It takes into account life expectancy, education, adult literacy, years of schooling, and income. Based on these figures, lists can be created that rank countries by their standard of living. The countries with the best HDI scores also tend to have the lowest crime rates and happiest citizens. In other words, the countries with the best HDI scores are, generally speaking, the best places to live on planet earth.
Although numbers can sometimes be inaccurate, the great thing about combining all these different statistics into one number is that even if a few figures are off, on the whole we can still make a fair assessment of which countries provide the highest quality of life for their citizens. The development index also allows us to cut through ideological arguments and examine the simple facts.
Since the rankings change a bit each year, I will not pay too much attention to which country is 4 or 5 or 6, etc. Instead, I’ll look at the countries in groups of ten. The top 10 countries in the UN development index for 2011 are:
4. United States
5. New Zealand
There is also a second HDI ranking, which takes economic inequality into account. Some would argue that this is a better evaluation of the overall standard of living for a country. When adjusted for inequality, the top 10 countries are:
Notice the United States does not appear on this second list. When adjusted for inequality, the U.S. ranks at number 23.
The countries that appear in the top 10 on both lists are:
These 6 countries will be called our “All Star” nations. So what is it about these All Stars that makes them so successful?
Let’s start by looking at health care, since the topic is hotly debated in America today.
Here’s a list of countries with universal health care systems. It specifies the start date and exact type of health care system (single payer, insurance mandate, or two tier). How many of our All Star nations have universal health care? All of them.
1. Norway (1912, single payer)
2. Australia (1975, two tier)
3. Netherlands (1966, two tier)
4. Ireland (1977, two tier)
5. Germany (1941, insurance mandate)
6. Sweden (1955, single payer)
Notice that universal health care was implemented in all of these countries decades ago. In Norway’s case, a single payer system has been around for 100 years. This shows, at the very least, that a country can prosper for generations despite a “big government” solution to health care.
Health care is certainly not the only indicator of a country’s political philosophy. So let’s now look (courtesy of Wikipedia) more broadly at the type of government policies and economic models that exist in some of our All Star nations.
Netherlands: Both trade unions and employers organisations are consulted beforehand in policymaking in the financial, economic and social areas. They meet regularly with government in the Social-Economic Council.
Germany: The country has developed a very high standard of living and a comprehensive system of social security. Germany has a social market economy with a highly qualified labour force, a large capital stock, a low level of corruption, and a high level of innovation.
Sweden: Sweden has the lowest Gini coefficient of all countries (0.23) which makes Sweden the most equal country on earth in terms of economic division. Sweden is an export-oriented mixed economy…Sweden is currently leading the EU in statistics measuring equality in the political system and equality in the education system. Sweden has the second highest total tax revenue behind Denmark, as a share of the country’s income.
Please take note of some of the key terms and phrases in those descriptions, such as “Nordic welfare model,” “universal health care,” “subsidized higher education,” “comprehensive social security system,” “trade unions,” “social market economy,” “mixed economy,” and “highest total tax revenue.” None of these things, in theory or in practice, are consistent with the policies of small government conservatives and libertarians.
The two All Star nations not included above are Ireland and Australia. Both of these countries are much more similar to the United States in their political philosophy, but neither could be considered as being exemplars of limited government (again, both countries instituted universal health care decades ago). It should also be mentioned that Ireland is currently suffering from 14% unemployment and is dealing with the consequences of deregulated markets, just like America.
Having pointed out the correlation between liberal governments and high standards of living, I should add that correlation does not necessarily prove causation. Perhaps there are other factors at work here that are not obvious to outside examiners. And by no means am I suggesting that capitalism doesn’t work (it generates vast amounts of wealth) or that the market is never effective (Ireland grew substantially thanks to decreased protectionism) or that government should run everything (Cuba…need I say more?).
What I am suggesting is that all the world’s most developed and modern countries have found that government intervention and regulation, in a variety of areas, can work quite well, especially when combined with a competitive marketplace.
So while I will always be willing to debate the merits of specific taxes and regulations, I will never be able to find merit in the idea that government should sit on its hands and do nothing. The modern world is center-left on the political spectrum and it’s time that the enemies of active governments start admitting it.
Iran has threatened to respond militarily to any country that either attacks it or provides aide to countries attacking it. Many will speculate as to how much damage the Iranian military could do, but the signs are clear: Iran will go to war with Israel, the United States, and any other country that attacks it.
Of course we would win this war, but the potential benefits are not clear. Iran is not respecting the rules of the UN or the international community regarding its uranium enrichment program. Iran does not believe they owe anyone anything and it’s probably safe to say they would have no problem lying about their nuclear ambitions. The fact that they literally bury their nuclear facilities underground is also not reassuring.
Iran is probably stronger than Iraq was when we invaded. It is probably not on the cusp of revolution or civil war as Libya was when we intervened. So, it is probably safe to assume that a war with Iran would be very difficult, very costly, and clouded with uncertainty.
Given that the Middle East is changing, for the better, so rapidly, would it not be wise to continue placing restrictions on Iran and essentially waiting out the regime? The Green Movement is strongly supported by younger Iranians, which makes the long-term success of Khomeini and Ahmadinejad impossible. These dictators will eventually die or be overthrown, but either way they will be disposed of. When this happens, we can expect a more rational and democratic Iran, which would make their acquirement of nuclear weapons far less worrisome and thus eliminate the need for harsh restrictions or military intervention.
I am fearful of the religious subtext of this conflict as well. This is fast becoming a Judeo-Christian war against the evil Muslims. The kind of insanity that such a war would inspire is frightening to imagine. This would not be, as it was in Libya, an alliance with Democratic forces. It would be all-out war with a country. When Iranians opposed to the current regime witness Israeli and American forces decimating their homes, what will they think of us? Will they be eager to unite with us against the old guard? I think not.
The stated goal of our military escapades in the Middle East has been the promotion and spread of democracy. But surely no one believes that constant warfare is the best way to bring about peace. Dorothy Thompson defined peace not as the absence of war, but as the presence of the rule of law. Using her definition, it is clear that there is no peace in Iran right now. But the future, thanks to the Green Movement, looks hopeful. A war with Iran would make this hopeful future at the very least much more uncertain and at the very worst much more bleak.
True racism in this country is in the judicial system. The percentage of people who use drugs are about the same with blacks and whites. And yet the blacks are arrested way disproportionately. They’re prosecuted and imprisoned way disproportionately. They get the death penalty way disproportionately.
If we truly want to be concerned about racism, you ought to look at a few of those issues and look at the drug laws, which are being so unfairly enforced.
- Ron Paul
The war on drugs, as Barack Obama once admitted in 2004, has been an utter failure. As we know from alcohol prohibition and now marijuana prohibition, making a popular substance illegal is a poor strategy for both decreasing use of the substance and for decreasing the potentially harmful effects of the substance. Some research has suggested that laxer drug laws may actually decrease the use of drugs. Portugal, for instance, has lower drug usage rates than the United States.
Despite the evidence which at the very least warrants an open debate about reforming America’s drug laws, few if any politicians are willing to embrace the issue. This is not the case with Ron Paul. For all his faults, Paul is the only candidate who seems to understand the far-reaching, dangerous effects of our strict drug laws and one of these effects is blatant racism.
The evidence strongly backs Paul’s statements. We know that there is a wildly disproportionate number of black people in prison, based on statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Justice.
We also know that two-thirds of federal inmates are incarcerated due to drug offenses. The number of people incarcerated in America has increased dramatically since the 1980s when Ronald Reagan began imposing a series of harsh laws and tactics to combat drug use. The passage of his Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986 caused an unprecedented rise in the number of incarcerated Americans.
Within that act, Reagan imposed much harsher punishments for users of crack than users of powder cocaine. It should come as no surprise that powder cocaine was widely associated with rich white people, whereas the less expensive crack cocaine was associated with poor black people.
Although we have Richard Nixon to blame for starting the war on drugs, it was in fact Reagan who became the war’s true champion. While Democrats may have a slightly better record of loosening drug law punishments, both parties have by and large supported the status quo when it comes to drug laws, even though a majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana.
Ron Paul, and to a lesser extent Barney Frank, has been the only prominent politician calling for an end to the war on drugs. Although Paul is marginalized because of this, he is bringing the topic up for consideration and debate at a national level. The first step towards gaining more support for reforming our drug laws is to force citizens, politicians, and law enforcement officials to explain and justify their positions on the issue. I have no doubt that when people are confronted with the evidence, slowly but surely things will change.