Confidence Game

 

Danny DeVito’s slimy Sid Hudgens in L.A. Confidential worked for a tabloid and gleefully reminded people that gossip from his paper was always, “Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush.” Of course, this was nonsense. He worked for a newspaper. But revealing information a reader perceives as secretive or confidential can inject it with a sense of authenticity, and of course, sensationalism. Legions of click-bait internet ads contain phrases like “secrets to . . .” and “what so-and-so doesn’t want you to know” because it appeals to our desire to have inside information.

ScreenHunter_12 Jun. 01 13.12
From Indiana’s DCS website.

Still, some confidences are designed to stay confidential, and when they don’t, the consequences can be disastrous. Consider Indiana’s toll-free hotline to report suspected abuse or neglect of children, which received 202,493 calls in 2015. The identity of someone who reports abuse or neglect using this system is supposed to remain confidential. But what if that information is not held in confidence? What happens when the identity of a CPS caller is discovered, in spite of state law and DCS regulations?

First, remember that confidential does not mean anonymous. Although a report can be made anonymously, DCS Investigators must speak with the caller in detail to advance an investigation and the identity can be useful. The law requires that the name of the person who alerts CPS, (the “reporter”), if known, be redacted from documents shared with others, like the parents that are the subject of the investigation. The DCS website contains the following information:

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From Indiana’s DCS website

As you might imagine, if DCS is processing a few hundred thousand reports annually, it’s not unthinkable that one might slip through the cracks, resulting in the name of a reporter being unintentionally disclosed.

In John Doe v. Indiana Department of Child Services, Doe (whose real name was withheld in the lawsuit for obvious reasons) reported suspected abuse or neglect to the DCS. During his phone call, he expressed reluctance at sharing his identity, but was assured by a DCS representative that it would be kept confidential and that no one would know that he had made the report. Sadly, it didn’t stay confidential. The Court of Appeals described the consequences:

About a week [after Doe’s report], on July 3, 2013, Doe was confronted in his front yard by Heather Ditton, who lived across the street and was one of the neighbors Doe reported. While screaming and yelling obscenities, Ditton angrily accused Doe of calling DCS. Ditton had in her possession an unredacted copy of the DCS report, which identified Doe as the reporting source. Other neighbors quickly became aware of the report Doe made. Upon realizing the report was not kept confidential, Doe felt like “somebody ripped [his] heart out.” * * * From that point on, the Doe family no longer felt comfortable outside their house. They wanted to relocate but could not afford to move. Doe indicated that he was “stared at, glared at, mooned, flipped off, yelled at, you know, every day, forever.” His daughter, Jane Doe #2, was bullied by other children. Both Doe and his wife missed work due to stress and lack of sleep.

Doe v. Indiana Dep’t of Child Servs., No. 49A02-1506-CT-682, 2016 WL 3013989 (Ind. Ct. App. May 26, 2016), p. 3 (Internal citations omitted).  In what the Court called an “issue of first impression,” meaning it had not yet been addressed before an Indiana appellate court, the Court examined whether a person who calls to report abuse or neglect has a right to sue DCS for revealing of his/her identity. DCS did not dispute that it violated the statute by disclosing Doe’s identity. However, in examining Indiana Code § 31-33-18-2, the Court stated that “[n]ot every breach of a statutory duty provides plaintiffs with a right of action.” Since the law here does not make a private right of action explicit, the Court examined whether the legislature intended to make it implicit.

Naturally Doe and DCS did not agree on what the legislature really intended. But rather than answer this question directly, the Court decided to “leave that issue for another day” relying instead on the special duty that occurred when Doe spoke with the DCS representative and specifically voiced concern over confidentiality, and was assured that DCS would protect his identity. The Court of Appeals concluded:

Justifiably relying on the DCS employee’s explicit assurance that such information would be kept confidential, Doe then provided the information. The reasonable foreseeability of harm to Doe and his family upon improper disclosure of this information was evident, as implicitly recognized by DCS’s own policies and I.C. § 31-33-18-2. Ultimately, the Does were left in a far worse position after Doe called the hotline and relied on DCS’s promise.

(p. 10). Although the litigation has yet to end, the Court allowed the lawsuit to continue. However, the decision of the 3-judge panel was not unanimous. Chief Judge Vaidik disagreed with the majority’s decision to side-step the issue of legislative intent, preferring instead that the Court address it, and arguing that the legislature did not intend to allow for a private right to sue DCS for disclosure. The dissent reasoned that: (1) the purpose of the statute is to encourage reporting of suspected abuse or neglect of children, not to protect reporters; (2) there is already a statutory consequence to wrongfully revealing a reporter’s identity (the public employee can be charged with a Class A infraction); and (3) courts have already held that victims of abuse or neglect cannot sue those who failed to report the abuse, and it’s logical to conclude that if abuse victims don’t have a private right to sue, then reporters don’t either.

Given the division of the Court and the importance of the issue, I think it’s very likely the Indiana Supreme Court will grant a request from the DCS to take up the issue later this year.

 

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With Great Powerball Comes Great Responsibility

[T]he damage done by earning less interest in a savings account is minuscule compared to lottery spending and the financial risk for families that have no savings.

The Powerball is a multi-state lottery based in Florida, which I’m told is still a thing. Florida, that is. I knew Powerball was a still thing because I own several media devices which regularly dump media all over me. This week, the Powerball prize was large enough that if there had been a single winner, that winner could’ve become Batman.

Lotteries tout the contributions they make to citizens through expenditures on road construction, road signs, orange road signs, orange blinking road signs, and really big orange road signs with blinking text that drivers can read as they are driving, with helpful themes like “Don’t text and drive.” Sometimes, these signs are hacked by obnoxious teens to say obnoxious teen things like “Han Solo dies.”

In 1964, the first modern U.S. State-run lottery began in New Hampshire. Today 44 States and D.C. have lotteries, and the first multi-State lottery began in 1985. Since then we’ve learned a couple of honest-to-goodness facts about lotteries. First, poor people buy lottery tickets as a much larger percentage of their income than the middle-class. Second, lotteries really hate competition. (And not just State lotteries. Nevada’s gambling industry has successfully prevented a State-run lottery there.)

It’s easy to categorize the poor as being victimized by State-run lotteries. After all, the poor can least afford to lose discretionary income, right? But before you lament a low-income earner falling into mathematical quicksand as a result of ignorance or government predatory schemes (or both), consider the possibility that the poor are rational actors in playing the lottery. The argument goes something like this: a low-income person with a big mountain of debt who plays and loses the lottery still has a big mountain of debt. This same person who doesn’t play the lottery at all still has a big mountain of debt.  A chance of winning, however small, is the only chance of climbing atop the debt mountain. Depending on factors such as income and interest rates, this may be completely accurate. That’s not to say most poor aren’t objectively (financially) worse off for playing the lottery—they are. But lotteries would be broke if we were all objective. Humans, not calculators, buy lottery tickets.

Yep, they’re goats. In trees.

Americans also have a bad habit of not saving money. Sure, in a world where you can buy a 2016 Goats in Trees Calendar, who wants to save money?  I get it. Still, most of us know we should save more, but our national vices—including the lottery—seem to be an obstacle.

Some countries have harnessed the public’s desire to play a lottery to combat poor savings habits. The result is a Prize-Linked Savings (PLS) account. The concept is pretty simple. Suppose a regular savings account pays 3%. A PLS account pays less than 3%, maybe even nothing. But in exchange for foregoing all or part of the interest, the account owner is automatically entered into a lottery. PLS accounts have grown in popularity in the last 10 years.

Some critics of PLS accounts suggest that the cut in the interest rate hurts the poor. Would the poor be better off earning interest? Sure. Objectively.  But considering low-income household finances, the damage done by earning less interest in a savings account is minuscule compared to lottery spending and the financial risk for families that have no savings. Governments should not open candy stores and then feign shock when diabetics walk in the front doors, ignoring the “eat responsibly” signs.  Offering sugar free options might be a better response.

The PLS idea has caught on in such exotic, far off locations as Sri Lanka, Japan, and Michigan. How much does it help people save? The research of Peter Tufano, Dean at Oxford’s business school, noted that 56% of the participants in Michigan’s “Save to Win” PLS program were first-time savers.  At present, 12 states, including Indiana, do allow PLS accounts, but more states should. Even if it means fewer traffic signs.

O Brave New [Digital] World

 

The phrase “Digital Assets” has come to describe both assets purchased through a digital marketplace, such as songs in Apple’s iTunes store or placed into a cloud-based storage service, like Dropbox, as well as the pictures and comments we make on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The legal status of “Digital Rights” is in flux. Since at least 2007, Indiana has recognized the right of an executor of an estate to retrieve digital records from the holder of the records after someone’s death. See I.C. 29-1-13-1.1.

Shatner
You haven’t lived until you’ve heard his cover of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and after that, you won’t want to.

Apple’s iTunes Store doesn’t really sell a user ownership of a song, at least not in the way that most people think about ownership. Instead, iTunes sells a license for a user to play a song during his/her lifetime. Contract law allows Apple broad discretion in determining the terms of its contracts with users.  As a result, Apple can prohibit a user from allowing a friend or relative to access his digital assets if the user is ill or unable to function. These types of digital rights, by contract, essentially evaporate upon the user’s death, and the executor or personal representative of an estate would have nothing to access. Some social media outlets, like Twitter and Facebook, have developed their own policy to classify an account as inactive or terminate it entirely, after receiving some documentation, such as a death certificate.

But what if someone is not acting as the executor of a deceased person’s estate, but merely acting under a Power of Attorney for a still-living person—does that person have the same right of access? Although Indiana’s Power of Attorney statutes, particularly I.C. 30-5-5-19, could be broadly interpreted to include a right to access digital assets, there has historically been another hurdle: licensing agreements.

Without a law that forces the data holders to recognize the authority granted in a Trust or Power of Attorney, the Terms of Service with the original user will control the assets.  The result is that if Tom signs a Power of Attorney to allow Jerry to access his assets while he is ill, that will work fine for the brick-and-mortar bank, real estate agent, or brokerage firm, but it may be impossible for Jerry to help Tom handle his purely-digital assets.

This all may seem like a silly, academic discussion. After all, how valuable are my digital William Shatner spoken-word albums or pictures of last summer’s road trip to see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine?  For now, perhaps it does seem a bit superfluous to think of access to my online assets as anything approaching an essential part of my estate planning. (And that’s exactly what it is: estate planning. Dead or alive, your stuff is your estate. Deciding who controls it when you can’t is the heart of estate planning.) But consider how many creative assets (songs, movies, books, pictures, etc.) you only have in a digital format.  Is it more than half yet? Next, consider how many more of these you have in digital-only formats than you did 10 years ago. If this digital category is growing, then every year that someone can’t help you manage these assets is a year your estate plan is less effective than it used to be.

Indiana’s upcoming legislative session will bring with it an attempt to expand the ability of fiduciaries (a term which includes trustees and those granted authority under a power of attorney—not just executors of estates) to access digital assets. The bill will attempt to adopt the Revised Uniform Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA). Similar attempts in 2015 failed, but the bill’s language has been amended to address privacy concerns, and many expect it to become law. This would pave the way for a Power of Attorney to clearly convey authority to access both digital—and conventional—forms of assets.

 

 

Should States Stop Playing the Marriage License Game?

An Alabama bill proposes a solution to the debate over the definition of marriage that, while not unique, is at least new to modern audiences: get government out of the way. The bill would end the practice of issuing marriage licenses. Instead of government telling you that you may marry, you would tell the government that you have married.

Some will argue that this bill is simply a response to the Supreme Court’s recent gay marriage ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. They’re not wrong. It’s hard to think that this bill would even exist without the Obergefell case bringing matters to a head. But so what? Legislatures routinely change laws in response to court decisions. Even if some supporting it are motivated by no more than the bitter taste of sour grapes, that’s hardly an argument that the proposal lacks merit.

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What should–and shouldn’t–the state do for the people? (Asheville, NC)

Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history at Evergreen State College has pointed out that marriage without the blessing/permission of government is not a new idea. Not until the 16th Century in Europe did the state take an active role in permitting marriages. Prior to that time the vow–not the law–created marriage. Even marriages that the church considered illicit (an exchange of vows outside the church) were still deemed marriages.  Coontz also notes that American colonies generally required only that marriages be registered. Until the mid-1800’s American States would still allow mere cohabitation as proof of marriage. Indiana continued to recognize common law marriages well into the 1950s.

People willing to leave public comments on the interwebs tend to say not-so-nice things about others as a rule, and opinion about the Alabama proposal was no different. “Stupid,” “1950s social values” and the inevitable comparison to separate drinking fountains dominated a recent comment section of a local news article. One commenter even said that the bill was an attempt to “dehumanize us.”  I assume this meant dehumanize gays, not dehumanize internet comments, which I don’t believe is even possible.

Is it really so surprising that proposed legislation would follow in the wake of such a landmark SCOTUS decision? Courts are not supposed to be active institutions, but reactive ones. Is judicial activism now so commonplace, and legislative complacency so rampant, that when a legislature—the entity actually elected to make changes to the law—engages in activism of its own the populace must cry foul?

*** On a side note, “Judicial activism” as an insult is quickly approaching Red Scare status. At some point after 1990, calling someone a socialist in polite society meant that reasonable people should question the accuser, not the accused. But at least that name-calling could be criticized as one-sided, since a socialist represented a particular political viewpoint, and so his attackers had an opposing view. “Judicial activism” is politically neutral activity in theory (if not in practice), and can apply equally to the substitution of any judicial view for the will of the legislature. But no matter. Like many perfectly accurate phrases before it, it’s sure to be deemed an antiquated, unfashionable dog whistle signaling some evil and unspoken larger meaning–though deciphering the meaning always seems to need a Rosetta Stone of political correctness. Its detractors will be sure to replace it with a slur far a more gentile, if less lucid. I, for one, will lament its complete unavailability at some point in the near future. So long, “Judicial activism,” we hardly knew ye.***

So who are the winners and losers if States start getting out of the marriage business entirely?

For some conservatives, a more passive role for the state may prevent them from choosing between violating their consciences and keeping government jobs. (Though if former IRS chief Lois Learner’s actions are any indication, righties aren’t much welcome as civil servants anyway).  For some liberals, the proposal would give them the freedom they seek, and then some. Not only would any two people be allowed to marry, it would be nearly impossible for the state to regulate how the marriage contract is entered into or who solemnizes it. And despite what an hour of MSNBC or FOX News would suggest, I suspect most gay couples aren’t really interested in using their wedding ceremony as political theater—knowing in their sunset years they will fondly think back on the day they tied the knot, expressed their commitment, and made that redneck probate clerk the subject of some serious HuffPo clickbait. No, for most people, it doesn’t work like that. Non-deranged folks want to marry surrounded by people happy for them, not someone resentful because the bronze bust representing the enduring legacy of Justice Kennedy needed polishing. (Just kidding! There’s no bust. It’s a life-sized Ronaldo-esque statue and on the first Monday each October, it is appeased with sacrifices of clerks from middling law schools.) It’s not sacrilege or lunacy for honest people on all sides to seriously consider removing the appendix of licensing marriages from the corpus of government. What does anyone have to lose?

The casual observer might assume that the Supreme Court’s decision ended the issue, and any further legislation is unhealthy because it keeps us fighting. The Obergefell decision does seem, on its face, to require states provide marriage licenses. However, the Court did not seem to contemplate a State not giving marriage licenses to anybody, but the Due Process implications of providing licenses to some citizens and not others.

Besides, the issue wasn’t even over when it was over. Despite the canard that plural marriages (polygamy) had no logical correlation to the gay marriage issue, such a debate is coming. Chief Justice Roberts anticipated as much in his dissent:

It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage. If “[t]here is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices,” . . .  why would there be any less dignity in the bond between three people who, in exercising their autonomy, seek to make the profound choice to marry?

In fact, the other shoe has already dropped. Less than a month after Obergefell, a Montana man, Nathan Collier, already voiced his intent to sue if he is denied a marriage license to marry a second wife, a contest he considers his own fight for “marriage equality.” More plural marriage proponents are sure to follow. USA Today recently cited a 2012 survey of 4,000 polyamorous individuals, and 66% reported being open to plural marriage. In the not-too-distant future, a trial judge with a polygamous marriage license application in one hand and Obergefell in the other may have only two choices: invalidate the state’s unconstitutional exclusion of plural marriage folks from marriage licensing requirements, or become . . . a judicial activist. (McCarthyism!)

But there are factions on both sides of the issue that won’t tolerate States bowing out of the marriage license game. Some gay marriage advocates won’t like this at all because it’s not freedom that they’re after. It’s state-sanctioned acceptance. To them, it’s not enough that their relationships merely be allowed. They must be approved. Like the bratty teenager who refuses to simply raid the liquor cabinet the weekend her parents are away, her self-worth demands she badger them with sophomoric rationalizations about why no sane society would restrict a sixteen year-old from downing Mad Dog 20/20 while Mom enjoys her after-dinner sherry.  Dad eventually gives in, though more from battle fatigue than persuasion. Her victory parade is complete when she boasts to her friends that she convinced her parents to finally see the righteousness of her cause.

Likewise, some gay marriage opponents will also oppose the new proposal. They remain committed to believing that official legal rejection of gay marriage is the only acceptable answer, however diminishing its chances. If the state licensing requirement disappears entirely, the clock will have run out on their cause, and the scoreboard’s tally is not in their favor.

For these loudest voices in the echo chamber, social reformation must trump personal freedom, for social reform cannot be a private affair. For them, the Alabama bill must be opposed. Angered at the prospect of winning without continuing the fight, (or losing without a rematch) their identity depends on dragging their opponent back onto the field for humiliation. No, this proposal just won’t do. The contest for marriage equality cannot be won by forfeit.

Finally, to libertarians, this may be a panacea. Imagine what society could do if government could just get out of the business of moralizing and back to legalizing weed. Wait–on second thought, forget libertarians. Maybe we should let the adults continue the conversation.

To Tailgate or Legislate? That is the Question.

Rep. Dave Ober of Albion, Indiana, has proposed language be added to a motor vehicle bill at the General Assembly this week that would clarify the responsibility of drivers not to lollygag in the passing lane. Including police authority to ticket a slow driver. That’s a ticket for not letting someone pass you fast enough. Pardon me while I assume the get-off-my-lawn cranky old guy stance.

When I learned the rules of the road, a slow poke in the passing lane was irritating, but not so problematic that police action was necessary. Slow-laners suffered from a lack of social awareness, a form of bad manners. Like cousin Billy with his elbows on the table, these folks needed education in the customs of polite society. Pulling up behind a Sunday Driver so that you occupied most of his rear-view mirror politely signaled the desire to pass. This reminded him–kindly, but firmly–that the passing lane has a purpose.  In rare circumstances where we needed a more noticeable signal, a quick flash of the headlights would catch his eye and bring the point home.

Alas, gentle social rules of the road seem to be giving way to the long arm of the law. It’s a measure of how much abrasiveness society tolerates that we eschew subtle Emily Post-style methods of communication with fellow drivers in favor of Tony Stewart bluntness. Instead of whispering suggested behavior, we scream for it. Instead of leading with the carrot, we raise the stick of punishment.

Ticketing our way to an open road?
Ticketing our way to an open road?

While police officers certainly must pursue both dangerous (speeding) and criminal (drunk driving) activity, behavior that is merely impolite should stay outside the scope of an officer’s duties. The use of police to get slow-movers out of the passing lane certainly risks overburdening police with trivial matters. One lawmaker supporting the amendment admitted that it was a “pet peeve” to be behind slow drivers in the passing lane, which is a pretty low standard for lawmaking.

Ticketing slow passing lane drivers would subvert cooperation in favor or rule-enforcement. There is a reason you’ve never seen a zebra-clad referee on the fairway of the 18th hole. That’s not to say golf has no rules. But golf rules are meant to be self-enforced. And like the passing lane slowpoke, a golf cheat is either an ignorant doofus, a cad, or a bit of both. Either way, dealing with him is everybody’s job, and outsourcing it would change the nature of golf. Likewise, Ober’s amendment would change the nature of road rules, at least at the margins, pushing more undesirable behavior from irksome to illegal, thereby leaving us with less to do corporately, socially.

It used to be considered a sign of patience–even inner strength–to tolerate boorish, impolite behavior. Not “tolerate” in the modern sense. Modern toleration is unfettered celebration, the way one must tolerate being handed a revolting craft beer because he’s too chicken to say out loud that pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg just don’t make good dance partners inside a beer. Rather, tolerate in the sense that being able to endure the ill-treatment of others without ruin (to us) or retaliation (to them) makes us better people. What grandad called “building character.” But building character is hard and takes time. Think of the time I could save if only cops could fix all my pet peeves:

Somebody in the slow lane is in my way. It’s the skinny pedal on the right, Einstein!

That moron is writing a check for groceries and digging around for coupons. They are just groceries, lady!

This idiot in front of me is actually reading the McDonald’s menu–it’s the same at every McDonald’s, buddy, stop wasting my time!

Driving has become an inherently social activity. We spend more time interacting with each other as fellow drivers than we do as fellow neighbors, shoppers, sports fans, or church-goers. Even though it’s not deep interaction, it is frequent. Several times each day, we trust our safety to others, communicating through turn signals, head nods, speed variations, and hand gestures–some more expressive than others. We acknowledge both approval and disapproval in the way others drive, and those expressions are not invalid simply because they are not enshrined into law. The law is not the sole method by which society approves or disapproves of behavior, and there’s an argument to be made that it is not the most effective method, either. Each time we add to the law’s burden by banning behavior which is merely rude or inconsiderate, it’s a sign (and perhaps a reason) that we have given up influencing better behavior ourselves.

 

When I Want Your Opinion, I’ll Give it to You.

I’m all for a law that bans annoyances, as long as I get to decide what’s annoying.

Last week, Grand Rapids, Michigan made news by repealing its “annoying” law.  That is, the law that made it illegal to be annoying, not that the law itself was annoying.  But then I suppose it would have been annoying for anyone prosecuted under the law.  The City attorney thought the law was unworkable, and she was right. Subjective standards tend to work about as well in courts as they do anyplace else, which is to say, not well at all.

NFL Fan: “Wait a minute, he caught that ball!”

NFL Rules Nazi: “No, he has to make a ‘football move’ after he catches it.”

NFL Fan: “What the heck is a ‘football move’!?  He has to bring a handgun to a nightclub before it’s a catch?  That seems arbitrary.”

Not that annoying behavior should be condoned in a civilized society. I’m all for a law that bans annoyances, as long as I get to decide what’s annoying.  To that end, I would humbly suggest the following behavior as falling well within any legal definition of “annoying”:

1.    Using the word literally in a way that demonstrates you clearly do not know what the word means.
2.    Selfies. Because friends don’t let friends hold their own cameras.
3.    Air quotes.
4.    Commenting on someone’s Facebook status about yourself. That’s what your status update is for.
5.    Refusing to make a McGriddle at 10:35 A.M. It’s only 10:35, lady!.
6.    Claiming in public to have “moves like Jagger” without, in fact, having moves like Jagger.
7.    Using the term “hashtag” out loud in everyday conversation.
8.    Kale.
9.    Pretending any of the following are words in the English language: guestimate, irreguardless, ginormous, or (my new personal favorite), flustrated.

But since nobody made me the benevolent dictator today, I’ll have to have a somewhat smaller role in shaping laws–a single vote among many.  And as long as Americans run a representative democracy, laws will reflect society’s values, albeit imperfectly.  Like a fun-house mirror, there are always some distortions.

Why must everyone be so annoying?
Why is everyone so annoying? There should be a law.

American history in general, and its legislative history in particular, is a mish-mash of discarded experiments that we recall with equal parts nostalgia and embarrassment–like looking back at a high school yearbook. 

I can’t believe that mullet I had!

I should’ve been better friends to that guy.

Did he really wear MC Hammer pants to the homecoming dance?

Sometimes our law-making past can seem unfathomable in the harsh light of the present day. The 18th Amendment, passed in 1919, ushered in an era of Prohibition. Not because the tiny but powerful minority of interests represented in the cabal of Big Tea wanted it that way, but because many Americans wanted it that way. While Prohibition is widely considered a failure because so many people circumvented the law, and because it likely contributed to crime rates, it did not fail to represent the will of many Americans.  By the same token, its repeal by the 21st Amendment was also a fair representation of the views on alcohol over a decade later. Sometimes law-making demonstrates how fickle we are.  Or how flexible we are, depending on whether one considers it a vice or a virtue.

Sometimes the rear view mirror of law-making presents a lesson about culture.  Blue laws, such as the ban on the sale of automobiles on Sunday in Indiana, suggest a time before religious convictions were deemed categorically ineligible as a basis for expressing public opinion.  Sometimes, it’s a lesson about shame.  Many parents in the last thirty years have awkwardly explained to their kids why some Americans had separate lunch counters in the later half of the twentieth century.

There’s nothing unpatriotic about hindsight that brings regret. It’s part of maturation. But let’s regret our decisions, not our freedom to make them.  Most places on earth only know laws through the eye of the despot, or the boot of his will. If you think a law that bans annoying behavior is subjective, then imagine the cruel arbitrary nature of laws selected by just one person–instead of the representatives of two-hundred and fifty million.  Imagine every law, rule, or regulation coming down to the personal preference of the one with the most guns. Or oil. Or food. Now that’s arbitrary. But for most of the world’s inhabitants, that’s reality.

A couple of years back, the UK magazine The Telegraph ranked the world’s worst cities to live in.  The dubious honor of making the top ten went to such Shangri-La destinations as: Tehran (Iran); Tripoli (Libya); and Harare (Zimbabwe).  I can only assume that Pyongyang (N. Korea) didn’t make the list because the Telegraph figured that having Dennis Rodman as a semi-permanent house guest was punishment enough and they didn’t want to pile-on.  It’s no coincidence that the arbitrary law-making process in despotic regimes produces oppression and misery.

Democratic law-making is no guarantee of success, but it has the capacity for self-correction and it shields against impulsive laws.  Something tells me that Kim Jong-Un could make a law requiring everyone to wear REO Speedwagon muscle shirts on Tuesdays and still nobody would call him out.

I know if that happened here, I would be very, very flustrated.