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Posts Tagged ‘rights’

Flex your rights has four videos up on Youtube. You should definitely watch these if you live or have plans to live in America.

The intro and the music at the beginning is a bit jarring, and the acting could have been more professional, but overall these videos are well-made. They are an excellent primer on your rights when dealing with police and strategies for asserting these rights effectively but sensibly.

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Officers’ safety comes first, and not infringing on people’s rights comes second.

So spake Lt. Fran Healy, special adviser to the police commissioner of Philadelphia, in response to questions about the police arresting and detaining 9 people who had committed no crime.

Sometimes I wish I was a vigilante, with power and means to confront the Healys of the world and deliver some well-deserved comeuppance.

(Hat tip: Radley Balko)

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The Atlantic has a fascinating — though not wholly sympathetic — article on Dignitas and its founder Ludwig Minelli.

I have written on Dignitas before. They believe that people have an absolute right to die on their own terms and they help some of those people (those suffering from a terminal disease) achieve it. There are all kinds of horror stories associated with botched suicide attempts — people who have been paralyzed for life, or those who suffered a extended painful death weeks later. Dignitas helps those who have decided to take their life do so with dignity.

Switzerland’s libertarian law on the issue certainly helps:

Assisted suicide is also legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, as well as in the American states of Oregon, Washington, and Montana. But in all those places, the practice is restricted to people with incurable diseases, involves extensive medical testing and consultation with physicians, and requires that applicants be permanent residents. By contrast, Switzerland’s penal code was designed such that, without fear of prosecution, you can hand someone a loaded pistol and watch as he blows his brains out in your living room. And there is no residency requirement. There are only two conditions: that you have no self-interest in the victim’s death, and that he be of sound mind when he pulls the trigger.

Minelli is passionate about the cause. He views himself as fighting for a fundamental human right, and he does not care who he offends in the process. His employees mostly agree.

“Minelli always tries to motivate people to make more of their lives,” he continued. “That’s why I work for him, his human approach.”

But Dignitas is concerned with not life but death—a fact Luley not only accepts, but promotes with enthusiasm. “Suicide is not bad,” he explained. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to end your life. Sometimes life is great, sometimes life is shit. I have the right to say that I’m pissed off with my life, and I want to end it.” Fine, I said, but why involve others in your self-destruction? Why not just sit in the garage with the engine running?

Luley smiled. Late-model cars won’t do the trick, he said. In the early 1970s, auto manufacturers began installing catalytic convertors that filter out as much as 99 percent of the carbon monoxide from exhaust fumes. You might cough, but you’re not likely to die. Other do-it-yourself methods can be even more problematic. Luley described some of the people who, having failed in their own suicide attempts, had contacted Dignitas to finish the job. “One lady jumped eight stories down to a paved parking lot. Now she is in a wheelchair. Then there was a man who shot himself in the face, but survived. Another leapt in front of a train and lost both his legs.” Dignitas exists to prevent these outcomes, to see to it that those wishing to kill themselves may do so without fear of pain or failure. The fact that most people lack legal access to a death like this is the group’s organizing principle. “Our goal is to make ourselves obsolete,” Luley said. “It should no longer be that one has to travel from his home country to Switzerland to end his life.”

Assisted suicide — suicide in general — carries a stigma today. (It didn’t two thousand years ago when it was normal for Athenians to drink hemlock when they viewed their life had not sufficient meaning left.) Minelli and his organization are fighting for the right to do with one’s life as one wishes, and end it when one wants. He is a brave man, and while not many share his ethical beliefs, I happen to do so completely.  To me, Dignitas represents freedom as few other things do.

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Via Volokh,  one learns that a bill that would have allowed domestic partners the right to provide for the burial of their loved ones, has been vetoed by RI governor Donald Carcieri.

The legislature passed the bill after hearing testimony from a man whose partner of 17 years went unburied for months while state officials rejected his requests to cremate the body as the dead man wished.  State officials were unmoved by the couple’s wills, living wills, powers of attorney, and a marriage certificate from Connecticut.

The pure libertarian position on marriage is that the government should not be in the marriage business, gay or straight; instead any two people should be allowed to draw up whatever contract they wish in order to solidify their relationship. But we are far from such an ideal, and given present reality, it is hard to take seriously those who oppose gay marriage today either from the pure libertarian rationale or from an idea — false, as the above incident shows — that gays in a domestic partnership can have all the same rights if they fill up the right forms. As for those who oppose gay marriage on religious grounds, I don’t take them seriously anyways.

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In an earlier post, I wrote about Amazon’s deletion of unauthorized copies of ‘1984’ from some users’ Kindles and the companies subsequent gracious apology. Well, it appears the story is not quite over. A lawsuit has been filed in Seattle that seeks class action status for Kindle owners and Orwell readers, claiming that Amazon breached it’s contract with Kindle owners when it deleted the e-books.

I had earlier expressed my disappointment with Amazon’s intrusive action. However, I had then assumed that the terms of use allowed Amazon to do what it did, in at least some specific cases. In other words, while Amazon’s actions were stupid, scary and against the spirit of liberty, I did not think they were actually violating anyone’s rights.

However, if it is true that Amazon’s actions were indeed not authorized under the terms of use, which say that “Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times,” then Amazon violated the Kindle owners’ rights and liberty not just in spirit but in very tangible terms. I continue to admire Amazon as a company and I will still do business with them; but in the light of this information, I hope that whoever brought the lawsuit wins substantial damages.

Aside: It appears that Amazon similarly deleted e-copies of Ayn Rand’s novels earlier. Heh.

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This is sad.

Four members of the Final Exit Network, including its president and its medical director, were arrested Wednesday and charged with assisted suicide in the death of 58-year-old John Celmer last June at his home near Atlanta. Investigators said the organization may have been involved in as many as 200 other deaths around the country.

[…] The arrests came after an eight-month investigation in which an undercover agent posing as someone bent on suicide infiltrated the Final Exit Network, which bases its work on “The Final Exit,” a best-selling suicide manual by British author Derek Humphry.

Members of the Final Exit Network are instructed to buy two new helium tanks and a hood, known as an “exit bag,” according to the GBI. In court papers, investigators said the organization recommends helium because it is undetectable during an autopsy.

Final Exit is a book I possess and have read. I think it is a tremendously important work and, along with the eponymous network,  performs an invaluable service. As I have often stated on this blog, I view right to suicide on par with the right to life — the most fundamental right of man.

Of course, most don’t view it that way and my advice to others like me who wish to have complete control over their moment of exit is: buy those helium tanks and bags now and keep them in multiple locations. Have sensible backup plans. Don’t wait till you are so weak that you need assistance to get that stuff — for there will always be people who will fight to deny you liberty. And needless to say, before you take any irreversible decision, think long and hard.

And to those noble members who were arrested today: you were punished for doing good, for helping a man exercise his most precious freedom. You are not the first to face such injustice nor will you be the last; but the work you were doing will be carried on by others in your absence and your contributions and deeds respected and fondly remembered.

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This is pathetic.

I hope the guy has a forgiving temperament, because if it was me, the `ex-girlfriend’ would have very bad things happening to her for the rest of her life. I can comprehend murder, abuse or theft for revenge or gain. I can comprehend the most terrible act of tyranny for a selfish cause. Of course I do not condone them, but at some level, I do understand — without necessarily sympathising with — those things and recognize the possibility of forgiveness and redemption. 

Using the force of law to take away another’s liberty just because you think that would be good for him I cannot understand. Or ever forgive.

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It is a controversial, much maligned organization. Lots of people find their work loathsome. What they do is illegal in almost every other country of the world.

Dignitas. It’s a beautiful name. And they do beautiful work. To me, they represent freedom as few other things do. Imagine a world where organizations like Dignitas aren’t an exception but a common sight in every major city. A world where the concept has been taken even further: anyone capable of coherently expressing their wish can end their life with dignity at the time of their choice for any reason whatsoever.

Such a day is far away. So, till then, let us celebrate the existence of a group of professionals who care enough about others that they help them exercise their most fundamental right; one that society has always denied them.

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As I wrote in the comments following this post, I believe parents — being responsible for the birth and day to day care of their children — should also have considerable freedom in how they choose to raise them. Short of physical abuse or gross neglect, they have an absolute right to bring their children up in the way they think is best and teach the kids their religious and moral beliefs or whatever else they feel strongly about. Nothing will convince me that the state has any business interfering in those matters or that telling your kids about heaven or hell (or the superiority of socialism) amounts to “child abuse”.

However I draw the line when the parents’ beliefs actually lead them to deny their children vital medication or other fundamental assistance the lack of which may lead to death. Thus, I agree with every word Andrew Sullivan writes here:

We rightly understand sexual abuse to be horrifying and a legitimate reason to intervene. But withholding vital medication from a child out of religious or ideological reasons strikes me as no less abuse. I’m reminded of this acutely by the case of Christine Maggiore, a woman I met and interacted with as another person with HIV. Christine adamantly denied that HIV was related to AIDS and refused anti-HIV medication on those grounds. She died last week. Of AIDS. That was her choice, it seems to me, however tragic it is.

What was also her choice, however, was to refuse anti-HIV meds when pregnant and then to refuse HIV meds for her daughter when she was born. Eliza Jane lived three years before succumbing to HIV-related pneumonia. Magiore was never prosecuted for negligence, since she had taken Eliza Jane to doctors. One of those doctors suffered mild professional consequences.

What rights did Eliza Jane have to protect her very life from her own mother? What rights did Jett Travolta have under the control of Scientologist parents? I find it hard to believe they had none; and I find the sympathy for parents under those circumstances to be misplaced.

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A new Georgia law requires anyone convicted of a sex offence in the past to hand over all their user-names and passwords to the government.

Mind you, this law isn’t aimed only at child rapists and suchlike. It will cover everyone who has ever been convicted of a sex related offence. In essence, what this law says is, if you err sexually once — however minor your crime is — you lose all  privacy rights for the rest of your life. Oh — and did I mention that past laws have already made it impossible for these people to find a home or get a job long after they have finished serving their sentences?

Actually, I think these are great laws. For they further a very important principle: offenders must never ever be allowed to reintegrate into society.

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(Post updated)

In my earlier post on this theme, I expressed my opposition to using coercive legal means to advance social goals and my moral abhorrence for laws which censor expression, ban consensual behavior or limit freedom of association. I wrote:

Any rational system of morality that makes the basic libertarian distinction between the personal and the political must conclude that laws [which restrict individual liberty] are immoral.

To give another side of the issue, I am also surprised when people think that it is ‘unlibertarian’ to attempt to modify other people’s behavior — for good or bad — through non-coercive means. A controlling husband who does not want his wife to dance with other men, a guy who ‘makes’  his girlfriend eat healthy foods, a friend who tries to emotionally pressurize you to give up smoking or a lover who makes you give up something you love as a precondition of being with you are not in any way violating the non-aggression principle. Such behavior can be sensible or irrational, helpful or counter-productive but as long as they do not involve actual coercion, they are neither libertarian nor unlibertarian.

Let me focus on the cases when the controlling behavior is generally seen as bad or unfair. In those examples, the offending party may not often act in an understanding or considerate manner. However they certainly have the right to be inconsiderate. I most definitely have the right to demand that my partner do things in a certain way. The partner also has the right to refuse. At that point, each of us has the right to suggest a compromise, let the other’s wish prevail or end the relationship. As a general principle, I think such controlling behavior is a terrible idea because even if the other person acts as you wish, she will usually resent it and if you do it often enough, end the relationship with you. However, simply because an idea is terrible does not mean it violates another’s liberty. When private, consensual relationships are involved, everyone has the right to stay in it strictly on their terms.

For instance I would never date a deeply religious person. I would also prefer that my partner’s tastes and convictions are compatible with mine. I might attempt to persuade her to do things in a certain way if they are important to me, even if those things are essentially her personal matter. If the matter is core and non-negotiable, I would even make it clear that we cannot be together if she does not change. These actions may or may not be the best thing for the relationship but they certainly are a natural consequence of my liberty to live my life (which includes my associations and relationships) on the exact terms I wish.

Libertarianism deals with the legal and the political. The meme that it also governs one’s behavior in a purely social or personal setting  is misguided and display a lack of understanding of the underlying philosophical principles. That is not to say that social and personal behavior is not important or that the pros and cons of a particular kind of behavior should not be discussed; merely that such discussions (or any ethics/principles underlying it) are distinct from the principles that underlie individual liberty. Using pressure and emotional leverage to make a friend change his behavior is fundamentally different from having a law that mandates this behavior change. Social pressure is on an entirely different plane from legal coercion. Friendships, marriages and relationships can be ended by either party for any reason, rational or irrational; an oppressive law can never be escaped from.

The personal is not the political. Period.

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Popular blogger and premier gay rights activist Andrew Sullivan writes:

So I oppose hate crime laws because they walk too close to the line of trying to police people’s thoughts. I support the right of various religious associations to discriminate against homosexuals in employment. I support the right of the most fanatical Christianist to spread the most defamatory stuff about me and the right of the most persuasive Christianist to teach me the error of my ways. I support the right of the St Patrick’s Day Parade to exclude gay people – because that’s what freedom of association requires. In my ideal libertarian world, I would even support the right of employers to fire gay people at will (although I am in a tiny minority of gays and straights who would tolerate such a thing). All I ask in return is a reciprocal respect: the right to express myself freely and to be treated by the government exactly as any heterosexual in my position would be treated.

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I fully agree with all those people who think captured terrorist Ajmal Amir should not be have the right to a lawyer or a proper trial.

Rights like these might make sense in countries with an excess of freedom but they have no place in our nation. There may be some people who believe that the rule of law is too important to be set aside for emotional satisfaction and others who like to spend their ink writing about jurisprudence and the perils of setting bad precedents and suchlike. I say, screw them!

We Indians are an emotional lot, we prefer to express our outrage in the old fashioned way. When have we cared that much about foreign concepts like civil liberties anyway? You can’t talk of proper legal procedures when there is no rule of law to begin with. All this talk about presumption of innocence is pure baloney in a country where so many people die at the hands of criminals everyday. So I  say, torture Ajmal Amir for three days and then hang him in broad daylight without a trial. In fact also slap sedition charges on any lawyer who has declared an intent to extend legal help to that bastard. Such people do not deserve to live among us.  Mahesh Deshmukh, if you think the beating you got at the hand of Shiv Sainiks was bad, wait till you see how prison feels!

And let’s not stop at Ajmal, henceforth hang anyone who a majority of people in the country want to kill at some given moment. After all, we are a democracy and an emotional one to boot.

(Here’s a related post by Aristotle the Geek)

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(Post updated)

I haven’t had time to post much of late but here are excerpts from two posts today that express accurately what I feel about those matters. Isn’t the internet great?

Todd Seavey on why the ambiguity of property rights at the boundaries does not mean that the concept becomes less important or that we should reject it as the basis of libertarian philosophy:

Now, a few very bright, well-informed commenters over the past few weeks who consider themselves more or less libertarians have said they think libertarianism is as guilty of being amorphous as feminism (and, crucially, that’s not my biggest complaint about feminism), with one noting that even hardcore anarcho-capitalist David Friedman (son of Milton) points out tough cases such as whether the photons from someone’s flashlight falling upon you constitute trespass. But such examples were meant to address ambiguities in a property rights system, not ambiguity about whether property rights are central to his/our philosophy, as Will Wilkinson at least seems to think is debatable. [..] It’s important to distinguish between saying property rights are 100% rigid and unambiguous (which I’m not really saying) and saying property rights and property rights violations are the central concerns of the philosophy and provide the traditional litmus test for what is or is not considered permissible under a libertarian regime (and this I certainly am saying, as are plenty of other people).

I couldn’t have put it better. The system of property rights form the moral basis of libertarianism. Like any other system, there are potential intellectual riddles associated with its application to certain areas. The existence of certain complexities and ambiguities at the boundaries of a system does not mean that there is something fundamentally wrong with applying the system in the vast majority of cases where it is well-defined. It simply means that in those extreme cases, a bit of subtlety and intellectual care is needed. (*)

Next, here is Radley Balko (‘The Agitator’) on the recent ridiculous standoff in Boston where a SWAT team surrounded a woman’s house because she bought too many Christmas presents for the poor. Apparently, they feared she was mentally disturbed.

We’re seeing this more and more. Mentally unstable people who present an immediate threat to others is one thing. But sending the SWAT teams after someone who’s depressed, or even suicidal, is absurd. Even if Michalosky was contemplating suicide (and it appears she wasn’t), why is that any of the police department’s business? And who thought pointing a bunch of guns at her head would be an appropriate course of treatment?

Radley’s point, and I whole-heartedly agree, is that even if the police had just cause to believe that she was mentally disturbed (and in this case they didn’t, unless they think philanthropy is a mental disease) they had no business coming after her. As John Stuart Mill put it, the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his or her will, is to prevent harm to others. Period.

(*) Another example of where property rights become hazy is when we are dealing with a commons (such as the environment) that can be altered by the actions of our private property (such as cars) and that in turn can affect other private property detrimentally (by injecting polluted air into another’s lungs, or by flooding towns). Once again, this is a situation that calls not for abandonment of our freedoms and property rights but for intellectual care. Unlike some other libertarians, I do not doubt that anthropogenic global warming is real; however any solution must strike a balance between the various interests involved, both moral and economic. For instance, systems like cap-and-trade or carbon tax are less freedom restricting than blanket bans or other government mandated strict regulation. Unfortunately, some environmentalists and politicians are prone to making wildly exaggerated claims and advocating coercive methods on this topic. That is destructive — both to liberty and to science.

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It is a sign of how far anti-discrimination laws have gone when a dating website is sued for not including homosexuals in the matchmaking service. I completely agree with Jacob Sullum:

In a settlement with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, the online dating service eHarmony, until now limited to heterosexuals, has agreed to start matching men with men and women with women. The deal resolves a complaint by a gay man who claimed that eHarmony’s failure to accommodate homosexuals violated New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.

[…] I’ve never bought the argument that gay marriage—i.e., the government’s evenhanded recognition of relationships between couples, without regard to sexual orientation—is a way of forcing “the gay agenda” onto people who object to it. But this coerced agreement, compelling a private business to provide a service it did not want to provide, certainly is. As Michelle Malkin notes, “this case is akin to a meat-eater suing a vegetarian restaurant for not offering him a ribeye or a female patient suing a vasectomy doctor for not providing her hysterectomy services.”

Also read this old article by Jason Dixon.

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