Happy National Tired And Grouchy Week

On Sunday, March 8, 2020, millions of Americans woke up an hour early, having set their clocks ahead by an hour the night before, and dug in for a week or so of bleary -eyed, irritable attempts to tweak their bodies’ natural sleeping and waking rhythms.

This fatuous semi-annual “spring forward, fall back” ritual, called “Daylight Saving Time,” ranks high on my personal list of “dumbest ideas in the history of mankind.”

Why do people put up with Daylight Saving Time and obediently change their clocks twice a year? You may have heard that it has to do with saving energy, or making sure children don’t arrive home from school after dark or have more time to do farm work when they get home, or other such nonsense excuses.

In reality, the practice was first proposed by a George Hudson, a New Zealand postal worker and entomologist who wanted more daylight after his regular job to catch bugs, then later by William Willett, a British builder who hated having his golf games cut short by darkness.

More than a century later, is it fair to say that Willett’s tee times and Hudson’s bug hauls were worth the 30 additional deaths (and associated $275 million in costs) that come with “springing forward” every year (according to a 2017 study in American Economic Journal: Applied Economics)?

Or the billions of dollars in other costs, including, it turns out, increased rather than decreased energy use? Or, for that matter, the cost of the extra cups of coffee I have to add to my morning intake to jolt myself awake for the first week or two of getting up an hour early?

I don’t think so. But then, I’m grouchy this morning. I wonder why that might be?

Changing our clocks back and forth on command doesn’t magically alter the passage of time. Basing our schedules on periodic changes to the markings on those clocks, or vice versa, won’t make our day/night-based circadian rhythms go away, or even become less relevant (ask anyone who’s worked “graveyard shift” for an extended period— the body doesn’t easily adjust).

As an alternative to conscripting everyone into these silly back and forth “Saving Time” games, individuals and groups should be left to adjust their own schedules to fit their own needs. Since I don’t collect bugs or play golf, I don’t need to get up an hour earlier in the spring and summer.

Free Speech Just Isn’t That Complicated

It’s hard to believe we need to have this conversation in this day and age. But if we don’t keep having it, at some point we might not be allowed to have it.

Question: What is free speech? Or, rather what is NOT free speech?

In 2017, former Vermont governor, presidential candidate and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean informed the American public that “[h]ate speech is not protected by the first amendment.” That’s one variation of the “hate speech is not free speech” claim.

Yes, “hate speech” is free speech— and yes, it is protected by the First Amendment.

On July 12, 2019, speaking at a White House “social media summit,” President Donald Trump opined that “free speech is not when you see something good and then you purposely write bad. To me, that’s a very dangerous speech, and you become angry at it. But that’s not free speech.”

Yes, calling something “bad” that Donald Trump calls “good” is free speech too, and yes, it is also protected by the First Amendment.

This shouldn’t even be an “issue.” It’s just not that complicated, folks. But for some reason we’re still MAKING it complicated.

Ever since the framers enshrined freedom of speech in the Constitution, Americans have struggled with what, if any, limits can be legitimately placed on that freedom.

The law and the courts have carved out limited exceptions for things like speech “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action,” “true threats of violence,” and knowingly false speech aimed at defaming a person’s character or defrauding others in a commercial sense (e.g. “I’m selling you one ounce of gold” when it’s actually one ounce of lead with gold paint on it).

There are plenty of reasonable arguments to be had about what, if any, exceptions to unfettered freedom of speech might make sense.

But when it comes to matters of opinion, the only reasonable position is that you’re entitled to have opinions, and to express them, period.

Even if Howard Dean thinks they’re “hateful.”

Even if Donald Trump thinks that he is “good” and that you’re making him look “bad.”

Even if they make someone feel angry or to use the latest non-specific catch-all complaint, “unsafe.”

We don’t have to agree with others’ opinions. We don’t have to like the manner in which others express their opinions. We don’t even have to listen to other people when they express their opinions. But we don’t get to stop them from expressing their opinions. Not even if we’re Howard Dean or Donald Trump.

In anything resembling a free society, that’s just not negotiable. And no politician who argues otherwise should ever win an election to the position of dogcatcher, let alone governor or president.

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.

This Too Shall Pass: ‘Birthright Citizenship’ Kerfuffle, Mostly A Get Out The Vote Tactic

In a late October interview with news website Axios, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to sign an executive order doing away with “birthright citizenship”— the notion that persons born on U.S. soil are citizens from birth with no need for any naturalization process.

It’s not exactly an “October surprise.” Trump used birthright citizenship as a rallying complaint on the campaign trail in 2016. He has done nothing about it in the nearly two years since.

Now he is weaponizing it again, along with fear-mongering about a migrant caravan wending its way through Mexico toward the U.S., in a last-minute effort drive an extra (and possibly decisive in places) fraction of a percent of Republican-leaning voters to the polls for the 2018 midterms.

After which he will almost certainly go back to doing nothing about it for another two years, until he trots it out a third time when seeking re-election in 2020.

Will he issue the threatened executive order? That seems unlikely, as does the passage of regular legislation ending birthright citizenship. The matter is too clearly settled, and has been for far too long, for a change to pass muster with the courts on any basis other than a constitutional amendment.

Birthright citizenship has been U.S. citizenship doctrine since the country’s founding, in keeping with the English common law tradition of jus soli (“right of the soil”). It was codified in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, then enshrined in the 14th Amendment, then upheld by the Supreme Court in the 1898 case Kim Wong Ark v. United States.

Its likely resistance to easy change is a good thing for at least two reasons, even if you oppose “birthright citizenship.”

First, letting the president discard parts of the Constitution at will, or Congress at a lower legislative threshold than the required 2/3 of both houses of Congress and 3/4 of the state legislatures, is inherently dangerous. If they can do it with the 14th Amendment, they can do it with the 1st Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, and assembly); the 2nd Amendment (gun rights); the 22nd Amendment (limiting the president to two terms)— where would it end?

Secondly, with respect to citizenship in particular, does anyone really want to give an ever, changing government discretion to tinker with the longstanding definition? Right now the threat is to “children of illegal immigrants.” Release the genie and who’s to say that three-years from now it won’t become “people with fewer than three generations of American ancestors?” Or, for that matter “people who aren’t registered to vote as [insert political party here]?”

Like many libertarians, I hold the whole concept of “citizenship” suspect. No less a light than Thomas Jefferson argued against the notion that a compact entered into in 1787 by one set of people could bind subsequent generations who haven’t explicitly consented.

That said the Constitution is the set of rules on which the American political class stakes its claim of legitimacy to rule us. If they won’t abide by it, why should we recognize their authority at all?

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.