Freedom to live or freedom to deceive?

Melvyn Magree

“Freedom” is a slippery word that can mean whatever certain speakers want it to mean.  To too many it means free to do what they damn well please regardless of the consequences to others.  Freedom of speech becomes distorted to mean free to yell whatever in the middle of the night.  Freedom of movement becomes distorted to mean free to drive whatever speed regardless of the danger to others.  Freedom of religion becomes distorted to mean free to pick and choose who you serve in a public establishment.

These distortions of freedom lead to chaos, just the kind of chaos that dictators use to justify their restrictive rule.

The First Amendment prohibits Congress from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”  Taken literally, this means that Congress cannot stop any group whose religion claims that women should not be educated or that girls should undergo genital mutilation.  But what were the assumptions of the writers of the Constitution?

They assumed that there were Baptists and Methodists and Calvinists and Quakers and …  They assumed that each would meet in their own churches and conduct their traditional services, which would involve sermons, hymns, and prayers.  Congress could not make a law that all religions would use the same prayer book.

I doubt they even considered that a Methodist shopkeeper would consider stopping a Catholic customer from entering his shop.  But now we have shopkeepers that don’t want to serve gays.  As for public officials, they are to serve all the people, not just those they approve of.  Could a Jewish food inspector refuse to inspect restaurants that served pork?

A young man died in Minnesota this past week after eating too many chocolates with peanuts or labeled as made with machinery that was exposed to peanuts.  He and his twin brother were both extremely allergic to peanuts, but not so much that an occasional chocolate sickened them.

I used to think that some of these labels were a bit of an overreach, but now I am not so sure.  How many people have read those labels and avoided products that would harm them?  I know my wife cannot tolerate soy lecithin, and so she is limited to only a few brands of chocolate that do not use soy lecithin as a stabilizer.

Given that what you don’t know can hurt you, why do so many argue against GMO labeling and even object to products that say non-GMO?  What plants are used in creating these GMO plants?  Does a peanut-allergic person have any idea if a peanut gene was used to create a seed, say for corn?  If a peanut gene was used, did the seed company test whether the GMO corn would produce an allergic reaction in those allergic to peanuts?

If the seed company didn’t test for an allergic reaction, shouldn’t it at least identify the seed as containing peanut genes?  Shouldn’t those who grow the corn let the processors know this?  Shouldn’t the processors who put the corn in various products let their customers know: “May contain peanuts”?

As I’ve railed so many times in this column, too many corporations believe the free market means that they should be free to do as they wish but that it is an imposition to provide their customers with all the information the customers need to make a buy decision.

We see it with companies withholding safety information from their customers.  It took years and many deaths before Takata was taken to task for lethal automotive air bags.  Volkswagen is in deep trouble for deceiving customers about diesel engine efficiency.

Mining companies tout their job creation, but they try to hide the jobs lost in other sectors because of pollution.  They also hide that mining jobs are not secure.  If the market for the mineral goes down the miners get laid off.  Do the executives take a pay cut before laying miners off?  Do pigs fly?

If you want a good read on mining that covers many viewpoints, read “Boom, Bust, Boom: The Story of Copper” by Bill Carter.  We can’t do without copper, but can we live with some of the long-term damage that copper mining causes?

“The price of liberty is eternal vigilance” was part of Barry Goldwater’s Presidential campaign, but it is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson.  Some say that a variation went even farther back.  Unfortunately, Goldwater’s campaign was against what he didn’t like government doing; I don’t think he applied it to what corporations were doing.

And what we should be vigilant about is the way that many Republicans are working at the grassroots to take control of state and local governments.  They are active in the veterans groups, religious groups, business groups, and other community-based groups.  Republicans are working at being communitarians even when their agenda is elitist.  They are proclaiming to be for individual freedom even as they promote the wealthy taking freedom away. The Democrats are losing control of much government because they expend too much effort at the national level.  See “The Republican Party’s 50-State Solution”, Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times, 2016-01-13.

And what do we have at the national level?  We have a bunch of basket cases who are going to take us to hell in a hand-basket.  Do you think any of them are really aware of scenarios for the ending of eras that Thomas Friedman warned about in “What If?”, New York Times, 2016-01-20?  Among these what if’s is “What if our 2016 election ends up being between a socialist and a borderline fascist – ideas that died in 1989 and 1945 respectively?”  One reader pointed out that it was communism that “died” in 1989, not socialism.  And “communism” as an excuse for dictatorship does still exist in a few countries.