Free Speech: Ted Wheeler is the Enemy He Invokes

English: Occupy Portland participants in Pione...
English: Occupy Portland participants in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Oregon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ted Wheeler, the mayor of Portland, Oregon, wants to control who can say — and hear — what.  He’s asked the federal government to cancel one permit and deny another, both for “alt-right” demonstrations at Portland’s Shrunk Plaza.

His excuse: Portland is “in mourning” and its “anger is real” over an incident in which an anti-Muslim bigot,  Jeremy Joseph Christian, allegedly harassed two women on a commuter train and then stabbed three men who came to their defense, two of them fatally.

Not a bad excuse as excuses go, I guess, but no excuse can be allowed to trump our rights of free speech and peaceable assembly. On this matter, Mayor Wheeler is objectively taking the same position as Christian: The position that it is acceptable to use force to suppress ideas one disagrees with.

There are two  metaphorical ways to describe a world in which various ideas compete for our attention and allegiance. Each of those metaphors has consequences.

Metaphor 1: A “marketplace of ideas” in which the best product wins out because it is sold with good arguments and people like it better. In this marketplace, any idea can be offered at any time by anyone who supports it. Hopefully the better ones get enough “market share” to be implemented; if an idea doesn’t work out, its supporters can move on to another.

Metaphor 2: A “war of ideas” in which things take a darker turn. The competing sides each conclude that their ideas cannot win out unless the alternatives are excluded not just from adoption, but from discussion and consideration. At some point, force inevitably becomes the instrument of that exclusion. The war ceases to be metaphorical. America is clearly at such a point now with the increasing frequency of riots and street fights over politics.

Even scarier than ad hoc riots and street fights, though, are calls by government officials for suppression of political speech through government permit schemes, police action to disperse demonstrators, etc.

The difference between Ted Wheeler and an “alt-right” agitator with a baseball bat is that Wheeler has a full-time police force, armed with lethal weaponry and effective legal immunity for its actions, at his beck and call.

We’ve seen societies in which the likes of Wheeler lay down a party line and the police break out their tear gas and truncheons to suppress all opposition to that line. For example, the Soviet Union, Italy, and Germany before, and eastern Europe after, World War Two.

I don’t want to live in such a society. Hopefully you don’t either. The events in question shouldn’t even require a permit — or the permission of Ted Wheeler. Freedom is our path away from the war and back to the marketplace.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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The War on Drugs is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, North Carolina Edition

Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum) found at Chat...
Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum) found at Chatsworth House, a large country house eight miles (13 km) north of Matlock in Derbyshire, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apparently this month’s crop of stabbings, armed robberies, rapes/molestations and teacher/student sex scandals in Catawba County, North Carolina aren’t enough to keep the sheriff’s department busy. Or maybe they just have too many deputies on the payroll. Something’s obviously out of balance: They have time to go after gardeners.

“A man was arrested after deputies found nearly an acre of opium poppy in a Catawba County field,” Charlotte’s WBTV News reports. “Deputies spent the day pulling plants and loading them into their trailers.” According to the Charlotte Observer,  the uniformed bandits also stole the victim’s pets and livestock.

Our fearless flower thieves estimate the value of their haul at an insane $500 million. That’s a goody from the American drug warriors’ bag of dirty tricks: Their guess is based on the total weight of the plants, not on the tiny amount of opium that might eventually have been extracted from each flower. They also love to do this with LSD, which is measured in micrograms, including the weight of the paper the chemical is embedded in. Bigger numbers make for harsher charges and more publicity. In reality, if those poppies were destined for the street market, the take would have been closer to half a million dollars than half a billion.

A few  other numbers to put this circus into perspective:

According to Statista, approved pharmaceuticals are a $446 billion per year industry in America, a country accounting, per CNBC for about 80% of global prescriptions of opiates. Call that particular market $20 billion per year.  And its giants don’t like competition.

Then there are the tens of billions of dollars in tax money spent every year on the “war on drugs,” which has over time become a make-work program to pad the budgets and payrolls of law enforcement at every level.

Meanwhile, as I note above, there are actual criminals committing actual crimes in Catawba County. But solving those crimes and busting those criminals isn’t nearly as sexy or lucrative as trampling a guy’s garden, seizing his other property, and talking smack about it on TV.

If you’re a taxpayer in Catawba County or anywhere else, you’re paying for this “drug bust” in two ways: Higher taxes and higher crime.  Every dime and every minute spent busting pot-smokers, heroin junkies and flower farmers is a dime taken out of your pocket and a minute spent making you less, not more, safe from real crime.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION  HISTORY