Monthly Archives: May 2006

Un-American

I saw this beautiful post by Individ about what patriotism really is. From what I gather, like me he’s a trained scientist, and that scientific background informs and strengthens his commitment to classical liberalism/libertarianism. Making him one of the handful of scientists able to apply their methods to political thought.

Anyway, I just had to riff off of it. Here’s a teaser:

But worst of all they try to tell us that rather than remaining true to being a country founded upon Freedom From Government, we should become a country that espouses ‘Freedom’ Through Government. They are not patriots, they do not think like Americans. Now, their heart might be in the right place, and in a couple of instances they might even have a point, but that doesn’t change the fact that what they believe in isn’t the America that men have fought and died from 1776 until today. They want to change every principle that defines our country as they vilify those of us who remain true to its ideals. If that’s love, I don’t want to see what hate looks like.

I would’ve just cross-posted it in full but I got all self conscious, being the new guy and all. I didn’t want to have 2 of the 3 newest posts and seem like I was trying to take over the place.

Are Politics Getting Nasty?

If you listen to most people, you’d think so. After all, we’re reaching a point where Democrats are bitter about being a minority party for 12 years, while Republicans have taken on an air of aristocracy, as Nick points out. To some extent, politics has become a fight between two clubs who want more to beat each other than to do what they believe in. The cry to bring back the “decency” of past politics is fuel for folks like McCain & Feingold.

But what are we really trying to bring back? Is there any evidence, other than pure nostalgia, to think that politics were less nasty and inimical in the past?

I say no. Look back to the days before the Civil War, when a Senator was savagely beaten by cane whilst sitting on the Senate floor:

The inspiration for this clash came three days earlier when Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts antislavery Republican, addressed the Senate on the explosive issue of whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state. In his “Crime Against Kansas” speech, Sumner identified two Democratic senators as the principal culprits in this crime—Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. He characterized Douglas to his face as a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator.” Andrew Butler, who was not present, received more elaborate treatment. Mocking the South Carolina senator’s stance as a man of chivalry, the Massachusetts senator charged him with taking “a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean,” added Sumner, “the harlot, Slavery.”

Representative Preston Brooks was Butler’s South Carolina kinsman. If he had believed Sumner to be a gentleman, he might have challenged him to a duel. Instead, he chose a light cane of the type used to discipline unruly dogs. Shortly after the Senate had adjourned for the day, Brooks entered the old chamber, where he found Sumner busily attaching his postal frank to copies of his “Crime Against Kansas” speech.

Moving quickly, Brooks slammed his metal-topped cane onto the unsuspecting Sumner’s head. As Brooks struck again and again, Sumner rose and lurched blindly about the chamber, futilely attempting to protect himself. After a very long minute, it ended.

Dare I ask if “Chimpy McShrubHitlerBurton” really rises to this level? Or the references to the beached whale from Massachussetts, Teddy ‘glug’ Kennedy? Or, even, Cheney telling Leahy to “Go f*ck yourself”. And, of course, it’s not like these were obscure, little-known politicians. The politician referred to as a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal” was none other than Stephen Douglas, who had quite a few famous debates with one Abe Lincoln.

But, I’m sure I can be accused of cherry-picking my example. After all, the run-up to the Civil War was anything but civil. If there could be a time when people would violently disagree, that would be the time. So perhaps I should go back a little farther, just over 200 years ago, to 1804, when the Vice-President of the United States was involved in a duel:

The animosity between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr had roots in their past that included the following:

  • The two men were rival political leaders in New York, Burr the Republican and Hamilton the Federalist
  • Hamilton had prevented Burr from possibly becoming president in the disputed Election of 1800
  • Hamilton had maneuvered to deny Burr the governorship of New York in 1804
  • The feud became intensely personal with an exchange of insults; Burr dredged up a long-forgotten sexual indiscretion of Hamilton’s while Hamilton reacted by publicly attacking Burr’s character.

Burr issued a challenge for a duel after learning of Hamilton’s disparaging remarks. Hamilton was personally opposed to dueling, especially since the recent death of his son in such a confrontation.

Nevertheless, early on the morning of July 11, 1804, the two men crossed the Hudson River and met on the heights near Weehawken, New Jersey. The two exchanged pistol shots; Hamilton was hit in the stomach with the bullet lodging in his spine. He lingered for 30 hours, then expired and left behind his wife, seven children and a host of debts.

Really… Just ask yourself, when was the last time that a sitting Vice President, having won power in a bitterly disputed election, actually shot somebody?

But it goes back further. What I consider to be the greatest miracle of the American Revolution is not that we defeated the British and won our independence. Given the difficulties of fighting a war with 3000 mile supply lines to retain colonies that you know will cause problems in the future even if you defeat them, we had much more invested in the fight than they did.

No, when you look back at our Founding Fathers, you see interesting characters all around. Often you’d have bitter fights between pamphleteers, or newspapers owned by one influential figure completely slandering another.

The miracle of the Revolution is that a bunch of men with different opinions, different backgrounds, and often internal feuds and hatred for each other, could craft a nation as well-designed as the United States. When people point out the problems with our Constitution (such as the three-fifths compromise), it’s important to realize that the Founding Fathers weren’t some lofty, perfect intellectuals, designing a perfect nation. They were businessmen, farmers, merchants, and aristocrats, who had come together in the chaotic time of the Revolution, and did the best they could to craft a nation. All things considered, they did a miraculous job.

People today, when they claim that politics have lost all civility, use this as an excuse to throw up their hands and absolve themselves of responsibility for trying to change it. When politicians claim that politics have lost all civility, it is usually a way to tar their opponents, or restrict the speech of those who might criticise them.

But viewed through a historical lens, politics today are no different than politics throughout history. And there’s an important lesson in that. The people who created our Constitution were bickering, fighting for power, and managed to craft one of the finest systems of government the world has ever seen. If imperfect, argumentative people, in an imperfect process, can change the world to the extent they were able to, can’t a bunch of bloggers, writers, media personalities, and political folks like us improve upon it?

The Aristocracy Returned

You know, the first thing that went through my head when the news erupted with the William Jefferson mess was the bit in Animal Farm where the pigs learn to walk on their hind legs:

There was a deadly silence. Amazed, terrified, huddling together, the animals watched the long line of pigs march slowly round the yard. It was as though the world had turned upside-down. Then there came a moment when the first shock had worn off and when, in spite of everything — in spite of their terror of the dogs, and of the habit, developed through long years, of never complaining, never criticising, no matter what happened — they might have uttered some word of protest. But just at that moment, as though at a signal, all the sheep burst out into a tremendous bleating of —

‘Four legs good, two legs better! Four legs good, two legs better! Four legs good, two legs better!’

A representative is believed to be taking significant amounts of bribes. The FBI file a request for a warrant, they get the warrant. And then they find the evidence they expected to find all along. Some 90,000 dollars hidden in a freezer. A corrupt government official, a man who did not represent his constituency or the people of the united states, but merely his own pocketbook. Outrage, now one would definitely expect outrage over this. And indeed that’s what we saw, from both the people and the government.

What we couldn’t expect is that while our ire was (rightly) directed at Jefferson–and at corruption in the legislature at large–our supposedly representative officials had taken umbrage that one of their own was treated like an ordinary citizen. Note that, one of their own. They reacted not as stewards of our will and desire, but as people in power. A ruling class. As Hastert, Santorum, and Boehner raise their voices in objection, they also herald in all-too-certain terms that they see themselves as above us. I’m particularly upset about Boehner. The man certainly seemed to have integrity and be serious about reform. It’s why I gave my thumbs up to him way back in the day.

But I guess it should come as no surprise that the only time we ever seem to have bipartisan support for a bill is when it has to do with government privilege. Continued hidden earmarks? Pay raises? Perks? Immunity? Might as well send it to committee. But even when an overwhelming majority of American citizens support such things as a hardline stance on border control or a simplification of the tax code, nothing ever happens. Likely never will.

Of course, none of these observations or thoughts are anything particularly new. But it’s nice when something you’re fairly certain of is writ large for all to see. And as a behavioral ecologist, I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m not surprised at the fact that congress seeks to serve themselves. What I’m surprised by is how brazen they’ve gotten. To so openly declare that they should have immunity from the law, that they should be able to get away with taking a bribe in order to not do their job.

But more than that, that they would offer up such a pathetic justification as ‘separation of powers’. These people increase the scope of the federal government every day they’re in office: This, more than anything else, has become their job. More Federal money to their state, to the people who donate to them, to the people who bribe them. And considering they are the ones who vote on the budget and taxation, it’s not such a difficult thing to increase taxes so everyone (or at least the aristocrats) win.

Legislators see themselves as above us. They believe they shouldn’t be treated as ‘ordinary citizens’. And like the feudal lords of old, they see citizens as merely serfs. Sources of power and nothing more. Republican? Democrat? All the same. All power-mongers, all insincere, all parasites.

The moral of the story? I try to visit India every couple of years. The mosquitos down in the southern part are killer. Literally. So when I was a kid we used to use this extremely strong smell menthol-ish repellant. And it worked darned well. But if you missed a spot, you’d invariably be bitten, no matter how small the uncovered area was. Parasites are good at finding openings, and the more they find, the more they’ll take. A big government is like a bare spot the size of your back. Not the best idea. This recent mess has shown that whether we’re talking about a ‘selfeless’ Democratic or ‘small governemnt’ Republican elected official, what we really have is someone who will suck you dry given half the chance. So don’t give them that chance.

Government represents nothing more than the sovereignty that you surrender. The more power you give to others in the form of government, the more power they can use against you.

And I’ll end with another excerpt from Animal Farm:

But they had not gone twenty yards when they stopped short. An uproar of voices was coming from the farmhouse. They rushed back and looked through the window again. Yes, a violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously.

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Just Call Me Token…

My Blog

I make it my business to understand what makes people tick. In high school, by virtue of being big, older-looking, and trustworthy, my peers laid upon me the mantle of lay psychologist. In undergrad, I studied the biology of the brain itself. And then on a lark I went off to england to get a master’s in human evolution and primate behavio(u)ral ecology. Now, at 22, I’m trying (mostly failing) to keep playing primatologist as I enter my second year of medical school, eventually to become a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Understanding a man’s political ideology is in many ways merely a matter of understanding his psychological mindset. Understanding the nuts and bolts of how a person interacts with and within a political system merely an extension of behavioral ecology (of which economics is a subfield).

I blog because I love to write and I love to think. I love writing about why I think the way I do (philosophy). I blog because I think I have an interesting take on the world, being a broadly educated guy who attempts to apply the lessons of evolution and ecology to human interaction. I blog because you can only have one (1.25 in my case) career, but you can have many interests. And, of course, I blog because it’s a good ego boost.

Words and Numbers. That’s how I see the world. Words are important, they define what we experience, they help us categorize and systematize it. They help turn the infinite complexity around us into an intelligible construct. And numbers. Whether Newton’s Theory of Universal Gravitation or the Laws of Supply and Demand, numbers are a powerful predictive force, even when it comes to understanding the choices that as complex a being as a human makes.

I call myself a classical liberal because I’m dissatisfied with both groups claiming to be the tradition’s ideological heirs. Libertarians deify self-interest in an almost Randian way while failing to acknowledge that the market has limitations. Progressives on the other hand, posit that freedom and comfort are interchangeable and close their eyes to the evidence that humans are and will always be self-interested. One group takes too superficial a view of a valid concept (the efficiency of the market). In addition to its oxymoronic motto of “greater freedom through increased regulation!”, the other posits a political system based upon assumptions known to be completely invalid (group selection). Both are childish.

As a classical liberal I believe government’s role should be minimal, to protect our inalienable rights and to intervene where self-interested individuals acting in a self-interested manner will fail to do what is necessary to preserve their rights and maintain their liberty(Tragedy of the Commons). It’s what Chris calls minarchy. The market isn’t perfect. If it was we wouldn’t need any government. I will from time to time talk about where government intrusion may be necessary (education for instance…although not as it is now), but I will never say the state intrusion is good, merely necessary. Just like an amputation that could save your life.

Oh. For those of you who don’t get the joke in the title, here you go. I’m not black, but I do own a few do-rags, can rap along with Twista and Busta when I feel like it, and…I can dance.

Auto Registration: Soak the Rich

When I was younger, I lived in Illinois. When it comes time to re-register your vehicle, it’s a flat fee, regardless of what sort of vehicle you drive (within certain classes, i.e. all passenger vehicles are identical). When I went to Purdue, I was shocked to find out that Indiana wasn’t so simple. The more expensive your vehicle, the more you pay in registration fees. You drive a beat-up old pickup? Your registration is cheap. You drive a brand-new Porsche, though, and be ready to bend over…

Something about this has always irked me. Now, a flat fee I can understand. Or, a graduated fee, based on some sensible reasoning, might even be understandable. But I don’t see how making people pay more just because their car is worth more makes any sense whatsoever.

Now that I’m in Georgia, we have what are called “ad valorem” taxes. To register my POS truck, not so expensive. The wife’s new Volvo, not so cheap. What sense does that make, other than to punish rich people for buying expensive cars? As if that’s not already taken care of by the sales taxes on such purchases?

I’ve got a better idea. For the same reason that I’m not opposed to gasoline taxes being a primary funding mechanism for road maintenance and construction, why don’t we index registration fees to vehicle weight? Just as gasoline taxes are a way of funding roads through users fees, heavier vehicles are more punishing to roads than light ones, and thus it makes perfect sense to charge heavier vehicles more than light ones.

Of course, leftists and environmentalists have no reason to oppose such a measure, since most large SUV’s are quite expensive to buy (hence you’re still punishing rich people), and tend to be more environmentally damaging through road damage and pollution than small cars. And for a guy like me, who views the optimal vehicle as a motorcycle weighing under 500 lbs, it’s especially cheap.

What are the possible objections to such a system? First, that somehow more expensive cars get more benefit from the system (i.e. police, etc) than cheaper cars. I think this is patently false, and any additional benefit is paid for by an owner’s insurance premiums, rather than society. Second, you could claim that owners of large vehicles are being double-penalized, as they’re currently paying more gas taxes per mile due to lower fuel efficiency. Of course, if they’re being charged sales tax on the purchase of the vehicle, and then inflated registration fees due to the value of the vehicle, they’re double-paying anyway. If anything, it’s an argument for a flat registration fee to cover adminstrative costs of maintaining the records, and full funding of maintenance through gas taxes.

Either way, there is no justification for making more valuable cars more expensive to register than pure class envy. I know there aren’t many people in this country who actually object to soaking the rich, but we should at least point it out for what it is.

New Orleans Run Off Liveblogging

Welcome to liveblogging of the runoff for the 2006 New Orleans municpial elections. These elections are being billed as the most important elections in New Orleans’s history and are also being watched by the world. The races up for grabs are the mayor, city council at large, city council seats for Districts A, B, and C, Criminal Clerk of Court, and two assessorships. I will spend the half hour before the polls close describing the various races and who’s running. So sit back and pull up a chair, this will be a long night.

7:30 PM: One website I will be monitoring tonight is the Secretary of State’s Elections Central and the TV station I will be watching mostly is WWL-TV because I’ve found their elections coverage to be the most comprehensive.

Now for the races, first up is the mayor’s race.

Mayor Ray Nagin is taking on Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu. I don’t think very highly of either one because I believe Nagin is incompetant and Landrieu is an old style machine politician with ties to some of the most corrupt mayors in New Orleans history such as Marc Morial. I have no hope for either of these two if they win, so I’ll be watching the city council races to see if New Orleans goes in a reform-minded direction.

Second up, City Council at Large:

Arnie Fielkow, former New Orleans Saints executive, is running against City Councilwoman Jacquelyn Clarkson. The choice here is very clear, Clarkson must be defeated. She has been in government for 16 years with little to show for it, her patting herself on her back not withstanding. Although I don’t agree with much of Fielkow’s beliefs, I think he will be a wonderful voice for change in New Orleans city government.

7:55 PM: Some turnout reports I’ve gotten both from the news and antedoctal evidence. High African-American turnout while white turnout is anywhere from light to moderate. There are also 24,000 absentees in, that’s up from 21,000 in the primary. I would have to say that the turnout pattern benefits Nagin.

8:00 PM: Polls closed.

8:08 PM: First numbers in, Mitch Landrieu 64%, Ray Nagin 36%. This must be a mostly white precinct. WWL-TV is also showing the first numbers from District A, which is the mostly white council district so it is the case.

8:13 PM: Numbers are coming in much quicker than last time. Seven precincts are already in.

8:26 PM: I’m also monitoring the Nola.com forums and the politicsLA.com forum as well. Posts on both forums say that Nagin is meeting and beating his threshold for white votes. There are also rumors of massive vote fraud from the evacuees.

8:30 PM: Landrieu 54%, Nagin 46% with 17% of precincts in. Fielkow is wiping the floor with Clarkson with 63% to 37% with 17% of precincts in.

8:38 PM: With 28% of precincts in, Landrieu has 55% and Nagin has 45%, but these are still mostly white and mixed race precincts.

8:51 PM: WWL election analyst is predicting the voting pattern is benefiting Nagin with over 80% of the African-American vote going to him and Nagin is picking up more than 20% of the white vote.

9:05 PM: Landrieu at 53% and Nagin with 47% with 45% precincts in. Only a few of the black precincts are coming in.

9:06 PM: Landrieu’s lead continues to narrow to 52% and Nagin is up to 48% with 46% of precincts coming in.

9:12 PM: WDSU-TV is reporting nearly 800 absentee ballots were thrown out.

9:17 PM: WWL-TV is reporting Landrieu at 51% and Nagin at 49% with half of all precincts in.

9:21 PM: WWL-TV still reporting from mostly white precincts. These close numbers in these early precincts cannot be good news for Landrieu.

9:23 PM: WWL-TV reporting Landrieu up by less than 300 votes with 52% precincts in.

9:26 PM: WDSU-TV analyst Silas Lee “those 800 may make a difference”, referring to the thrown out absentee ballots. There will be lawsuits and that’s unfortunate.

9:27 PM: Landrieu beginning to pull ahead, back up to 52%.

9:29 PM: According to the Nola.com forum, WVUE-TV has called the race for Nagin. I’m seeing if this is true.

9:31 PM: WVUE-TV has indeed called it for Nagin. I want to see their reasoning for this call. They’re making the call with 59% of the precincts in. They’re also calling the Council at Large race for Arnie Fielkow.

9:33 PM: WDSU-TV and WVUE-TV are calling Assessor District 1 for incumbant assessor Darren Mire. Mire has supported consolidating the seven assessors down to one so this is not a big loss. However, I want to puke over the results in Assessor District 4 where incumbant assessor, Betty Jefferson, the sister of the corrupt Congressman William Jefferson, has won handily.

9:38 PM: No other TV station is following WVUE-TV’s lead and calling the race for Nagin.

9:40 PM: I’m going to go along with WVUE’s call on Fielkow. The long and undisguished political career of Jacquelyn Clarkson has come to an end.

9:48 PM: WGNO-TV, according to PoliticsLA.com’s forums, has joined WVUE-TV to call the race for Nagin.

9:51 PM: WWL-TV is reporting Nagin is recieving 51% of the vote with 83% of precincts in. Also, their analyst is again saying the trends favor Nagin.

9:56 PM: Absentees in, Nagin won the absentee vote by 68 votes.

9:58 PM: WWL-TV is calling it for Nagin. With the absentees in and more of the African-American vote coming in, I’m now comfortable in supporting the call. Ray Nagin has been reelected mayor of New Orleans.

10:04 PM: Nagin has won reelection apparently with the damndest coalition ever seen in Louisiana politics. Middle and low income African Americans voting mostly on race and white conservatives voting for Nagin because of his pro-business politics and against Landrieu and his ties to Marc Morial and Governor Blanco.

10:14 PM: Criminal Clerk of Court race has been called for the ethically challenged Arthur Morrell, who has steered contracts to relatives. Another major disappointment tonight.

10:15 PM: City Council District C has been called for James Carter. I would have been happy with either Carter or his opponent Kristen Palmer. They’re both newcomers and have done excellent work in the community and the business world.

10:22 PM: Mitch Landrieu speaking now. He is conceeding defeat. WWL-TV is projected Shelly Midura in City Council District A has defeated incumbant Jay Batt. Batt was the sole Republican on the New Orleans City Council and this has to be another disappointment for the Orleans Parish Republican Party. This was a very nasty race and unfortunately, both of them couldn’t lose.

10:48 PM: An amazing victory speech by Ray Nagin. When he mentioned President Bush, the majority African-American crowd applauded loudly. When he mentioned Governor Kathleen Blanco’s name, the majority African-American crowd booed. Ray Nagin owes no one this victory tonight. Not the Louisiana Democratic Party, not the media, not the political machines, not the ministers, not the business community, no one but the average citizens of New Orleans. He’s also got a reform-minded city council with the defeat of three incumbants tonight. He has no excuses now, but to push for reform now.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

So Long, Farewell, Adieu

As mentioned on Eric’s Grumbles a few weeks ago, my time in the blogosphere is coming to an end. Over the past 18 months I’ve had a tremendous experience as an amateur writer and political commentator.

Of everything I’ve done, the thing I’ve enjoyed the most is creating this blog and the Life, Liberty, Property blog community. They’ve been great chances to get to meet a lot of other great bloggers who have similar political and philosophical beliefs. And to interact with those folks and a lot of commenters. Even the commenters who are consistently negative or reflexively opposed to anything that doesn’t fit their ideal were fun and interesting.

Brad will be taking over The Liberty Papers. He’s a great writer and a lot of fun to interact with. I’m sure he’ll keep this going and The Liberty Papers will do well, by whatever definition is important to Brad and the other contributors.

Because of the position I’m moving on to in my professional life, I can’t continue to blog. But I plan to continue reading blogs when I have time. Blogs are, as I’ve said before, the modern pamphlet. And the pamphleteers of an earlier era were instrumental in bringing about the single greatest event to occur in the advancement of liberty and individualism yet. So, don’t despair fellow pamphleteers, keep working at it and you can change the world too.

Security executive, work for Core Security, veteran, kids, dogs, cat, chickens, mortgage, bills. I like #liberty #InfoSec #scotch, #wine, #cigars, #travel, #baseball

… To be hanged by the neck until dead

“I hereby direct the sherrif of this county to remove you from this courtroom forthwith, and to transport you to the gallows, where before sundown this day you are to be hanged by the neck until dead; your body left to be picked at by the crows, until the Sherrif directs it to be cut down, drug to a shallow grave in unhallowed ground, and burried face down in the dirt.”

— Purported death sentence in the American west, attribution unknown

Penn and Teller have a show called “Bullshit!” in which they take various elements of our society and culture and expose them as… bullshit.

My favorites so far are the gun control, and recycling episodes; but on the NoR forums yesterday someone brought up the death penalty show saying :

“Their Anti death penalty show used the ONLY good anti death penalty argument I have heard.

Do you REALLY trust the government to kill people?” — Yogi

Which is the only major reason I’m not sure about death penalty.

I have no existential crisis of governmental nature with regards to the death penalty. I don’t believe the “Sinking down to their level” or “The government shouldn’t be a murder” arguments. I think they are sheer sophistry in their nature, and used to disguise the true problem that these people have with the death penalty; in that ultimately the death penalty is the responsibility of the people, and if they are of the people then the responsibility for that persons death is theirs. Most of these folks don’t feel responsible enough to take care of a CAT nevermind having a life and death decision for another person.

Obviously I don’t have that problem. When a member of a society egregiously violates that societies rules, he must be cast out of that society by the other members. This can be done temporarily through prison or banishment, or permanently through execution or exile. The death penalty is simply the ultimate sanction in a society that has no permanent exile.

But I still have reservations.

I believe the death penalty is just in nature, but heavily laden with pitfalls in application.

What it comes down to is, do I trust the government to have the authority to kill it’s own citizens for criminal offenses. This is a question on which I am troubled and conflicted.

These are people who can’t get fixing the streets right, and I expect them to get life and death right?

note: I also have no problem with the death penalty for unlawful combatants; which is not a civil criminal matter, but a military one. That is as morally clear and just as can be, presuming the definition of unlawful combatant is clear, and consistent.

To answer that some would say “It’s not the government, it’s the people” to which I say bullshit.

Yes philosophically this is true as I describe above, but again, I have no philosophical objection to the death penalty. The people have the right to protect themsevles from those who violently violate their rights, even by death. My objections are entirely practical, as is the example.

The next answer is usually “Let the jury decide”, but you all know as well as I do that juries are fickle and often stupid things (Moussaui anyone). A jury trial often ends up with the side who the jury “liked” more winning, without regard to truth or justice.

The technique to combat this? Confuse and overwhelm the jury as much as possible so they can’t come to a decision.

Oh my goodness yes, that’s completely just right there, sure it is.

The adversarial nature of our legal system is structured so that within the rules, the best LAWYER wins, not the best case. This is oviously not always true, a very bad case will generally not be won by even the best lawyer, unless he is coming up against the worst opponent. However death penalty cases are most often prosecuted by politically ambitious ADs or AAGs, and they are most often defended by public defenders, and lower scale lawyers doing pro-bono work. This generally comes out as the best against the worst (at least in trial phase, in appeal the big anti death penalty types come to play, and they are generally VERY good lawyers).

Additionally, death penalty cases are often extremely brutal, horrific crimes. By painting the nature of the crimes vividly, it is ofetn possible to bring up mob mentality in the joury, a “someone must pay” attitude, which can make a defendant a target, whether he deserves it or not.

Given this, I have very little confidence in the jury system. In fact I think if a defense attorney thinks his case has any merit at all, and he has a black, multiple offender as his client, he may be better off facing a judge alone; who will be more likely to deal with the technical merits rather than social and emotional factors (at least in theory).

What do I mean by this?

Black men disproportionately commit death penalty offenses. Black men are disproportionately charged in death penalty cases. Black men are disproportionally sentenced to the death penalty when such sentencing is either discretionary to the prosecutor, or decided by the jury (any non-mandatory sentence really).

When I say disproprtionately, I mean that they are charged, convicted, and sentenced more than the percentage of crimes they commit which would be eligible for the death penalty as compared to other racial groups. If they commit 40% of all death penalty offenses (and that is generally the number you see), but they are charged in 60+% of all death penalty cases (and that’s also the number you see), that is disproportionate.

Why is that? Is the system racist? Are the prosecutors?

Not exactly explicitly racist no; but prosecutors know it is far easier to convict a black man of a death penalty offense. This is both for practical reasons: most death penalty offenders are multiple past offenders; most black offenders are poor; most poor offenders have bad lawyers; and more emotional reasons, such as people as a whole are more willing to believe a black multiple offender deserves to die.

Even black people.

In fact an all black jury is more likely to convict a black man of a crime than an all white one is. This has been informally called the “That niggahs just crazy” theory.

The quote is from a black juror in the retrial of a very famous murder case (Rubin “Hurricane” Carter). The black jurors had apparently made up their mind very quickly in the case that the defendant did it, because they thought he was mean, nasty, uppity, crazy, and capable of it; based on their past experience with other men like him in their lives; and their own social normalizations.

Sidebar: They were right in that Carter was a violent and unstable man with a past criminal history; but based on the evidence – and the mishanding thereof – there was no way he should have been convicted, guilty or not. THe same goes for OJ, except in that case the jury made the right decision, if most likely for the wrong reasosn. O.J may or may not have commited the murders, but the police mishandling of the case and the evidence, compounded by a near totally incompetent prosecution, and a judge who was more concerned about looking bad on TV… well there is no way that OJ should have been convicted under those circumstances. Which I think underscores my point about trials not being about truth or justice, but gamesmanship.

White jurors on the other hand are more likely to feel that voting guilty, or voting for the death penalty is a subconscious act of racism or fear on their part, and are in fact more likely to vote guilty, but vote DOWN the death penalty (especially younger to middle aged women if they havent been the victim of a violent crime – if they have they are more likely to vote for the death penalty – and catholics).

Setting aside all that, these are the practical realities on the ground, without regard to their root causes:

1.The government screws up a lot. If they cant get most things right…
2. The best lawyer often wins, not the best case
3. Prosecutors are jsut as good at twisting things as defense attorneys, often better
4. When facing a multiple offender the prosecutor has a natural advantage. The jury KNOWS the defendant is a criminal it’s not a big leap to think him a killer.
5. Black men are more likely to be convicted, justified or not
6. Black men are more likley to be sentenced to the death penalty, justified or not
7. Juries are fickle, emotional, and irrational
8. Poor offenders generally have bad lawyers
9. Bad lawyers generally do poorly with juries
10. If a jury doesnt like the defendant, and doesnt like the lawyer, he’s probably gonna die whether he deserves to or not

Now I’m not saying there arent mitigating factors on the other side, like people who are just naturally reluctant to vote for the death penalty (liberals, catholics, anti-government types etc…), and the high burden of proof that is in theory necessary for a conviction (though in practice not always so if the defendant is poor, a repeat offender, and has a bad lawyer). It’s just that all these factors give me pause.

I DO believe in the death penalty. I believe it is just and right. I believe that it is useful and effective, not as a deterrent but as permanent removal from society. In fact, I believe the death penalty should be expanded to aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, child molestation, and other charges.

I just worry greatly about how it is administered, and think we absolutely must use the utmost circumspection in doing so.

It’s funny how catholic teaching stays with you isn’t it. Many people believe that catholics and the church are against the death penalty; but this is not striclty speaking true. The churches position, and my position; is that the death penatly is the ultimate act of members of a society protecting themselves from individuals who would do them harm. Like a just war, there are just executions; but we must use the greatest care in embarking upon either.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Run, Newt, Run!

Gingrich Says Hillary Clinton Is Beatable

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich agrees that Sen. Hillary Clinton is the Democratic front-runner should she make a bid for president in 2008. But winning, he says, is another matter.

“But I think, you know, she has a lot of challenges, and there’s a question whether or not there’s a ceiling, that when you got down to the Hillary/anti-Hillary, whether or not she can break 50 percent in primaries,” Gingrich said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Calling Clinton “formidable” as a presidential candidate, Gingrich said: “If we beat her we’re going to beat her with better ideas. We’re not going to beat her with some kind of negative campaign.”

That might be tough. The Republicans haven’t been espousing any real ideas lately, so there will need to be a strong figure out there who can articulate positive ideas. And with George W. Bush in office, the Republicans haven’t had someone who can articulate, either.

Hillary can win in 2008. Going negative against Hillary won’t really work, because the people who hate her aren’t going to be persuaded, and the people who don’t hate her may even feel sorry for her. Nope, to beat her, we need a strong candidate. I don’t think the Republican party is ready to get behind Giuliani, so that leaves McCain & Gingrich.

Gingrich downplayed suggestions that he might be plotting his own run for president.

“I doubt it at this point,” he said. “I’m not ruling out running, but I’m also saying we have real things to do in ’06. We have real things to do in ’07. And it’ll be nice to have a couple of years of talking about solutions, not just talking about ambitions.”

That makes things difficult. Much like Doug, I can’t see myself voting McCain. We need Newt in this race. He’s a Republican that can salvage the Republican/Libertarian coalition that Bush has nearly destroyed. He has enough credibility amongst real conservatives (something McCain doesn’t have), is a very inspirational speaker, and has been out of office during the most recent stint where the Republicans have imploded— thus he is not tainted by their failures.

If Newt runs in 2008, I will do everything I can to see him get elected. I can’t say that about every Republican on the short list, and wouldn’t even vote for a couple of them. While most politicians are quick to demagogue, Newt offers solutions. And that’s what we need these days.

» Read more

Taking The Leftist Test

There has been a list going around the blogosphere written by Atrios and made readable by Kevin Drum. As someone who considers themself a liberal (albeit a classical one, not a socialist/leftist like Atrios and Kevin Drum) and someone who is disgusted with the “leadership” of the Republican Party and possibly looking for alternatives in 2006 and 2008, I figure I need to take this test to see if I should consider the Democratic Party and consider becoming a left-libertarian.

Note: the questions will be in normal text, my answers will be in bold. I will give myself 1 point for anything I agree entirely with, 0.5 points for anything I agree partially with, and 0 points for what I disagree entirely with.

1)Undo the bankruptcy bill enacted by this administration. Not entirely, but there need to be exemptions to the new restrictions for those who became bankrupt as a result of health reasons and old age and there need to be some revisions to the means testing provisions. I’ll give myself a 0.5.

2)Repeal the estate tax repeal. No. I firmly believe in the principle “no taxation without representation”. I’ll give myself a 0.

3)Increase the minimum wage and index it to the CPI. No. I’ve got a better idea, get rid of the minimum wage. I’ll give myself a 0.

4)Universal health care (obviously the devil is in the details on this one). No. All universal health care does is lead to equal access to poor quality health care. I give myself a 0.

5)Increase CAFE standards. Some other environment-related regulation. No. The free market will do a better job than government command and control edicts. I give myself a 0.

6)Pro-reproductive rights, getting rid of abstinence-only education, improving education about and access to contraception including the morning after pill, and supporting choice. I support keeping birth control legal, including the morning after pill. I oppose state-funded sex education, including abstinence-only education, because this is the responsibility of the family. However, I am absolutely opposed to legalized abortion for birth control reasons, however I am open to keeping exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother. However, I believe abortion should be a issue regulated by the states. I give myself a 0.5.

7)Simplify and increase the progressivity of the tax code. I support a national retail sales tax with one flat rate. You cannot simplify the tax code and make it more “progressive” at the same time. I give myself a 0.5.

8)Kill faith-based funding. Certainly kill federal funding of anything that engages in religious discrimination. I don’t support Bush’s faith-based initiatives because they are merely another welfare program, but I don’t oppose faith-based funding in principle. I support the latter entirely. I give myself a 0.5.

9)Reduce corporate giveaways. I agree on principle. I give myself a 1.

10)Have Medicare run the Medicare drug plan. I have a better idea, kill the Medicare drug plan. Better yet, kill Medicare. I give myself a 0.

11)Force companies to stop underfunding their pensions. Change corporate bankruptcy law to put workers and retirees at the head of the line with respect to their pensions. No. Again, the leftists don’t understand the concepts of personal responsiblity and the free market. Jane Galt has more. I give myself a 0.

12)Leave the states alone on issues like medical marijuana. Generally move towards “more decriminalization” of drugs, though the details complicated there too. I agree, though I would support continued Federal regulations of antibiotics and antivirals because their implications for public health and I would continue to support criminialization by the states of certain drugs like meth. Since this question does allow disagreement on the details, I give myself a 1.

13)Paper ballots. I agree because they are more secure than electronic ballots and harder to use to commit vote fraud with. I give myself a 1.

14)Improve access to daycare and other pro-family policies. Obiously details matter. No since the leftists are talking about more government spending on daycare and other “pro-family” welfare programs. I give myself a 0.

15)Raise the cap on wages covered by FICA taxes. No. Small businesses will be ones who get hurt under this program. I give myself a 0.

16)Marriage rights for all, which includes “gay marriage” and quicker transition to citizenship for the foreign spouses of citizens. In an ideal world, we should separate marriage and state and leave marriage to the private institutions. In the real world, I support marriage rights for homosexuals under a civil union type arrangement while not forcing churches and other private institutions to accept them. Marriage should remain under the jurisdiction of the states as long as government is involved in it and I oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment, but I do support the Defense of Marriage Act since it only covers Federal law and does not interfere with the states on this issue nor does it force states to recongnize homosexual unions if their laws do not allow it. As for foreign spouses, I agree. I give myself a 0.5.

My overall score is 5.5 out of 16 or 34.375% so that means I won’t be putting a Hillary Clinton for President bumper sticker on my car or getting a diary on Daily Kos anytime soon. I would be curious how my fellow contributors and the readers do on this test.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

I Always Feel Like, Somebodies Watching Me

Let’s talk about the current NSA surveilance brouhaha. Liberals, conservatives, AND Libertarians are all entirely up in arms about this subject; which for the reasons I’m about to discuss is patently silly.

First things first, I’m an information security consultant and architect, with extensive government, financial, medical, telecommunications, and military security experience. I do some of this stuff for a living. For those of you who are familair with federal contracting, I have several GSA contracts under my belt. In my daily professional life, I deal with the legal and technical issues surrounding this subject quite a lot. I have in fact conducted, and assisted in, trap and trace operations; as well as created solutions for trap and trace access.

Next, this IS NOT WIRETAPPING, nor in fact is it any kind of invasion of privacy (as legally established).

The data the NSA is collecting are called pen-trace records or pen-register records(technically its a “pen register trap and trace device record”, even thugh there is no such thing as a pen register anymore. I usually call it a pen-trace because it’s a more complete abbreviation, and because the operations are generally referred to as “trap and trace” oeprations. In most references it is more often referred to as a Pen Register). These are the records which indicate what calls were initiated from what number, to what number, when, for how long, how the call was routed, and what charge classes apply to each stage of call routing.

These records are legally semi-public information, not private. It is legal to collect these records without a warrant, so long as they are not used to SPECIFICALLY TARGET an individual without a warrant (there is a specific pen register warrant for that purpose), or used beyond basic identifying characteristics. Once a trace of interest is found, a warrant can then be applied for for further surveliance.

It has been legal for the government to do this since the very first telephone telecommunications laws in 1936, and it continues to be reaffirmed as such. The last law regulating this was passed last year, others that I know of in 2001, 1998, 1996, and 1994, ’88, and two HUGE ones in ’84 and ’86. The supreme court has repeatedly reaffirmed the legality and constitutionality of this, because of the third party exemption to private communications if for no other reason (and there have usually been other reasons).

Under the third party exemption, if a third party is allowed to setup or witness what is otherwise a private communication between two parties, the expectation of privacy of the existence of the communication is breached (if it existed at all which in many cases it does not), and the existence and external characteristics of that communication can then be compelled and used as evidence without a warrant.

This is settled legal doctrine, and has been for literally hundreds of years, back to english common law.

For further information, refer to Smith v. Maryland which is controlling in these situations, and which was decided under ’36 ’48 and ’78 statues. A pen register is not a search under these criteria.

There is additional controlling legislation, the electronic communications privacy act of 1984. This established certain privacy protections for electronic surveilance, as well as enforcing access to records and techncial means by the government at the providers cost (as a cost of doing business, any company defined as a pblic telecomunications utility must give the government access to tap and trace).

Under current law and precedent, so long as there is not an individual target, privacy provisions of ECPA ‘84 don’t apply; but the access provisions do. It’s a case of the government having its cake and eating it too.

Further, USAPA ‘01 (the patriot act) CLEARLY defines that global pen registers conducted through electronic means are NOT an unlawful search. Or rather it clearly correlates them to earlier definitions of pen registers which were also held not to be unlawful searches.

If there IS an individual target, then there is a low burden of proof threshold to obtain a pen register, to wit the capture of any information likely to be pertienent to a criminal investigation. Additionally, no warrant is necessary even for specific targeting, if one end of the conversation initiates or terminates outside of the country. Also there are certain standing exemptions (communications from anywhere within the country to certain known individuals or locations – official arms of the chinese government for example).

Also, it has been held that there is no warrant necessary for the disclosure of LUDs (local usage details) by telephone companies to investigative agencies; again because of the third party exemption.

Now there is an additional issue here, as to whether it is legal to capture glocal pen-trace data without a specific target, and then run traffic analysis on it which produces specific targets which were not present before the data collection…

Well so far the courts say yes; and have several times and at several levels; but I’m not sure this is technically correct.

Once the data is collected in a legitimate way, it is generally assumed that any analysis done is legitimate; even if the results of that analysis would be the same as those which would have required a warrant to produce without that analysis.

It may or may not be allowed as evidence depending on the judge, and the court; but the agency doing the analysis wouldn’t be under any sanction for doing so.

This is clearly a case of the law not being properly costructed to handle unforseen technological circumstances. The spirit of the laws (and there are more than just one, in fact more than a few) may be violated here; but in general it has been held that this IS legal.

All of these issues have additional implications in a national security context, and I’m not sure if there is a controlling decision or even controlling legislation; in part because some of the decisions that may be controlling are classified. Also some cases that may have produced controling decisions were instead vacated or dismissed by national security exemption.

Basically there are a lot of things that an NS or NCA initiated investigation can do that a criminal investigation can’t and still be legal; in some cases without the authorization of courts.

That is an executive powers question, and one that the courts have been EXTREMELY reluctant to enter into. The constitutional law (as opposed to a straight reading of the constitution – a distinction that I find distasteful but it is very real today) issues here are somewhat convoluted.

Given all this, it should be clear that in fact, telephone and electronic communications have far less LEGAL privacy protection than do face to face conversations. You may not LIKE it, it may feel creepy, but it is legal, and has been basicaly since the phone companies were first set up.

What the NSA is doing WITH this information is called traffic analysis, and it is legal, even on US. Citizens. Traffic analysis doesn’t tell you what is being said, but who is talking to who is a still a valuable source of intelligence.

More importantly, LEGALLY traffic analysis is not surveilance, it is the gathering of open intelligence; and thus does not require any specific justification or authorization.

Now as to whether it should be or not; that’s a much thornier subject. The fact is, we have allowed but the government, and business, to do this since the inception of communications technologies.

By law the telephone networks are only semi-private (as are the airways BTW). There is no dejure expectation of privacy as to the routing of your calls, because that information is both used by third parties for purposes directly related to the call itself (billing and QOS); and by third parties not realated to the call (marketers).

Just to illustrate one case, the phone companies use the info for marketing purposes, and sell it to others for marketing purposes.

People in high income zip codes will be identified, and marketers will look at their magazine and catalogue subscription info, which they either have already or purchased from some other companies. The comapanies then send those catalogues and subscription offers to the people that the high income folks called. That’s just one example.

The same thing happens with shoppers cards, credit cards, magazine subscriptions… hell some libraries sell your data, and all major bookstores (in fact all major retailers) do.

That data may or may not be personally identifiable, depending on exactly what business is selling it to what business.

Hell, the post office sells your magazine and catalogue subscription records to other magazine and catalogue publishers as well; so those publishers can send you more offers. Additionally the post office will use data on who sends you mail, and who you recieve mail from, to conduct investigations into mail fraud, terrorism, and transportation of contraband, obscenity, and child pronography through the mails, WITHOUT ANY WARRANT.

The post office is a semi-government agency, and for some reason no-one makes the connection between pen trace and this behavior; which is legally IDENTICAL; and which has been going on for decades.

So if a commercial entity can sell it to another commercial entity, can’t the government collect this data on its own?

Or should ALL of that be made illegal?

The fact is, people have a false expectation of privacy in far too many venues. The only real privacy lies in that behavior which is that which is conducted exclusively on your private property; or that which is conducted by ALL parties to a contract during which agreement is made by all parties to maintain all desired aspects as private (which lawfully guarantees your expectation of privacy. This at the core of privilige).

This isn’t a recent developement; it’s legally, and often socially been this way… well pretty much forever. You don’t have the legal expectation of privacy you FEEL you do. Perhaps you do have a moral expectation; but the law, morality, and basic rights unfortunately diverged a long time ago.

Again, I’m a Libertarian, these issues get kind of thorny with me. Do I WANT the government to do this? No I don’t; however we have constructed a government that CAN do this, both legally, and technically. I disagree with it, I’d like the laws changed; I’d even like to see a constitutional guarantee to certain privacy beyond that which I outline here; but it simply doesnt exist now (nor likely ever will).

As to a so called right to privacy; no there is no right to privacy if you mean that all others must repsect YOUR privacy and not use the means they have available to abrogate it. That so called right simply does not exist.

A right is something that can only be abrogated by force, or willful consent. Privacy of your telephone calling records need not be forced, nor does it need your consent to be abrogated; because it is already shared with a third party; the telephone company.

That said, we have the right to HIDE anything we want (presuming we control that thing legitimately), from whomever we want, for whatever reason, using whatever means we choose. It is others responsibiltiy to find it if they want to. This includes criminal evidence; and it includes lying to investigators and law enforcement (though not in court providing one swears the oath).

Additionally and related to that, we have the right to not be COMPELLED to share information we do not wish to share; assuming we hold that information alone, or in concert with other parties who also agree to keep that information private. However if there is a party to the information who does not agree, than if we continue to share information with that party, we no longer have any legitimate expectation of privacy.

Privacy is not an inherent right, it is a social construct. It is a useful, and important construct; but the only privacy we have an absolute right to is the privacy of private property; and whatever occurs entirely therein.

The problem is that peoples understanding and expection of privacy doesn’t keep pace with either their understanding and expectations of technology; or their general acceptance of technologies.

The only reason this is coming to light NOW (in the general sense – in the specific sense its so the press can use it against Bush), is because now the technical means exist for governments, and businesses, to collect and analyze this data on a global scale. That makes EVERYONE feel like they are being watched. People were fine with it when they could only track and analyze a few data streams at a time, but now they can track and analyze everyone, they feel naked, violated.

You may feel in your gut that your rights are being violated, but you never had this LEGAL right you feel you had in the first place. You had a de-facto illusion of privacy, simply because people weren’t able to do this yet.

Now they are, and your illusion of privacy no longer exists.

UPDATE: Some commenters questioned my accuracy on the law, so I included more detail. I also inserted clarification of my personal moral position on the issue. Oh and if you want privacy, here are Six-ish words: Encrypted IP Telephony, Pre-paid Mobile Phone.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Bias, Moral Relativism, and Hipocrisy

A commentor at The Other Side of Kim Forums calling himself Raucous recently posted this tolerably well written, but I think ultimately blind post, positing the question what do we want out of our reporters with regard to bias, and support of the American (or any other) war effort.

“As an aspiring journalist I note with some dismay the frustration, animosity and anger with which the media is seen by many on this board and others. Which leads me to the question, what do the people want from their press?

Much of the frustration, it seems, stems from reporting of controversial issues. For example, should the enemy in Iraq be referred to as insurgents or terrorists? This, I supposit , is not as easy as people may think. There are, certainly, clear cut examples – car bombings in public markets are easily labeled as terrorist acts. But, how should we refer to the man who takes up arms against what he perceives as an illegitimate invader? If he is shooting at U.S. soldiers engaged in military operation on his homeland is he a terrorist, a militant, an insurgent, a fundamentalist?

Our own empathy with the men and women of our armed forces will steer us to the conclusion that anyone who stands against them must do so for nefarious reasons, but we must look beyond emotion. We can note that words such as terrorist have been used throughout history to illicit ill feelings toward a group. The Czech and Ukrainian partisans of World War II, even the Minutemen of the American Revolution were cast in a similar light. The projection is effective, because we KNOW what a terrorist is – and castigating someone in the light of “terrorist” brings us, for a moment, to the images of September 11th . It is easy to hate someone when we associate them with men and women jumping to their death to avoid flames, it is easy to despise them we recall the grieving widows of the FDNY.

But do we want the media to assume a role that validates our emotions, and if so which ones?

As journalists we are, by necessity, careful as to what we write. Printing a quote incorrectly or forgetting to put “alleged” in front of murderer means that we can have our asses hauled write to court. It could be an honest mistake, that doesn’t mean it won’t cost us lots and lots of money. This care spills over into choosing between such terms as “migrant worker” and “illegal alien.” I shall admit that print journalists worry too much about political correctness and semantics, but as I’ve said one word can make the difference in our increasingly litigative society.

So, from what I gather “insurgent” and “militant” are not a strong enough words because they somehow lend validity to the act and the personcommitting it. “Terrorist,” however, labels both the person and the event in a negative light, and should be the standard.

Imagine then, this imaginary headline. “Terrorists open fire on U.S. military killing four.” This, we would say, is accurate regardless of who the “terrorist” are or what their motives might be. Our affinity for our fellow Americans rallies us to their side.

Imagine now, this imaginary headline from a different perspective. “U.S. terrorists open fire on Iraqi fighters killing four.” This, we would say, IS TOTAL @#$%ING HORSE#(&^ WHERE DO THOSE &!@#SUCKERS GET OFF CALLING US TERRORIST?!

The editorialising is exactly the same – simply from a different perspective. If we are to say that one is desirable then we should also accept the other as fair. Do we?

To reach further back in time to Oklahoma City, and even Ruby Ridge, we may recall when these mantras worked to the distinct disadvantage of members of the gun culture. Suddenly, everyone who owned a gun became a McVeigh – we all became “militants,” “extremists,” “fanatics,” “gun-nuts.” Randy Weaver was a “racist,” and a “white supremacist .” Poor reporting and more poor reporting. But reporting in the same vein as what many seem to want – biased towards their own perspective.”

Some good points there, but I think some basic misunderstandings.. perhaps even a moral blindness that I wish to address.

First, my thought on bias is simple. The U.S. press should be as biased as it wants to be, and stop pretending to be objective or neutral.

The fact is people are biased. While it is possible to be objective about some things, once you have formed an opinion that you are confident and justified in, you WILL NOT BE unbiased about things which either strongly support, or strongly contracdict your opinion.

You may force yourself to appear unbiased, but even then, the bias will still be there. It will color what you think, and what you write, no matter how much you think it does not. Subtle elements such as word order, punctuation, basic elements of tone and style will be different when you are writing about things you have strong opinions on… at least if you are any good as a writer.

Unbiased reporting is either unifnormed, or passionless. It is inhuman in nature… Human nature is passionate, and it is baised.

In times past here, and in most other countries today, reporters dont even pretend to be unbiased. They acknowledged they are biased gleefully and dove into their bias with gusto. So long as they do not lie, alter, or distort FACTS, and seperate FACT from their own OPINIONS, then I think that is just fine.

IF THEY ADMIT IT.

The U.S. press is in a situation today where not only are they radically biased, but they continue to lie about, and deny that bias exists; or worse, pretend that the bias is exactly opposite of what we all kow to be true. Read Bernie Goldbergs “Bias” and “Arrogance” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

I am an informed, passionate reader; and I want a passionate, informed writer writing my news, and just as important, I want him to admit what his opinions are about what he is writing, rather than pretend they aren’t there, when so clearly they are. Then I can judge if he is being reliable or not, just as I do with any man talking with me on the street.

Now, I wanted to address the main illustrative thrust in the piece, and that is the editorial judgement of writers as described in this sentence discussing calling Iraqi bombers terrorists, vs. calling U.S. soldiers terrorists:

But do we want the media to assume a role that validates our emotions, and if so which ones?”

“The editorialising is exactly the same – simply from a different perspective. If we are to say that one is desirable then we should also accept the other as fair. Do we?”

Only if one assumes moral equivalency, and moral relevancy are valid philosophies.

It is my (and many Americans) explicit rejection of these philosophies that is the genesis of our dislike of such politically correct usages as calling terrorists anything but that.

A terrorist is one who uses forcible terror without legitimate authority for the use of force, and without hope of military or political victory through legitimate means; to effect a social or political change that they desire.

This is the very definition of the so called “insurgency” in Iraq. It does not, never has, and never will apply to conventional military forces.

Though there are certain circumstances when special operations use terrorist tactics, it would be unfair to call those executing them terrorists. They are using those tactics because they are appropriate to the situation, and as part of a larger overall plan and goal WHICH THEY ARE CAPABLE OF ACHIEVING, through legitimate means.

If however it would not be possible for a group to do so, or that group was not acting under the color of legitimate authority (either in just rebellion, or as agents of a legitimate government) then it is plainly fair to call them terrorists.

The Israeli spcial operations forces, and intelligence services, are well known for using terrorist tactics against terrorist groups. This doesn’t make them terrorists. There is a very clear definitional difference, in that they are operating under the color of legitimate authority, and in concert with the principles by which that authority is derived.

Now as to whether one is using terrorist tactics, there can be no question. As to whether one using force outside of the color of recognized legitimate authority is a terrorist, there is only one moral question, “what is a just rebellion”.

It may be morally acceptable to promulgate terrorist acts in support of a just rebellion (or other just war), but what is a just rebellion?

At this point it is necessary to make a moral judgement. Morally, a rebellion is just if it is against a government which does not recognize or protect the basic rights of the sovreign man; or if it is against no government at all but against those who would abrogate those basic rights; and if that rebellion is dedicated to instituting a government which does. There is no other legitimate moral justification for either a government to base itself on, or for a rebellion to base it’s opposition.

Of course moral relativisms core principle is that all moral judgements are invalid; thus a writer who cannot make a moral judgement cannot call someone a terrorist, and someone else a freedom fighter.

I make the moral judgement that the so called insurgents in Iraq are not in legitimate rebellion, and therefore they are terrorists. They are not insurgents, freedom fighters, militas, minutemen, or anything but terrorists. As terrorists they are unlawful enemy combatants, and subject to summary execution upon capture, and to unlimited prosecution of conventional force to effect that capture.

If you cannot make a moral judgement, then you also cannot condemn me for making a moral judgement against a terrorist, or against you for that matter. Of course it seems that moral relativsts principles do not extend that far. They will remain free of judgement until they come up against someone who disagrees with them, and then their judgement is applied with great force.

This is the grossest form of hipocrisy; which coincidentally is the most frequent accusation of the moral relativist against those who do not share their views.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

The FairTax and Enforcement

As many of you know, I’m a huge proponent of the FairTax. Given that I’m a contributor to The FairTax Blog, I don’t normally post much about it here.

But I threw up a post over at The FairTax Blog about how it will be enforced, and thought some of the readers here who are interested in the FairTax might be interested… Check it out. I think it answers some questions that aren’t addressed elsewhere.

What Justifies the Constitution

A commenter over at Kims blog left this comment:

— What justifies the Constitution in the first place? — John T. Kennedy

It is a very important question, and one that people don’t ofetn think about. Even constitutionally minded folks who should know better havent really thought this one through.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The constitution is justified, because that, was ratified by the folks referred to, and contructed by the principles laid out in this:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Importantly, these documents, and the structure they create, are valid only because they re-affirm and limit what governments instituted among man can do to abrogate or limit those rights inherently posessed by the sovreign man.

The constituion is imperfect; any document is, any government is. Imperfect as it is however, it is the single greatest, and most important political document in modern history. It has established the form and structure of governance, for the greatest nation that has ever existed.

If we the people should ever decide that necessary change cannot be accomplished from within the structure defined by the constitution; it is our right as men to change it from without.

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

That is the safety valve. That’s what says “Ok, if this doesnt work, we get a do-over”.

But how does one fight against a government? How do you abolish the entrenched powers, and institute a new form of government as shall seem most likely to effect your safety and happiness?

Well the folks who wrote those documents above thought about that two, so they wrote this as well:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

As so many have said before me, the reason we have the second ammendment to the constitution is in case the government should ever decide to ignore the rest of the document.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Moussaoui Life Sentence is Not The End of The World.

This morning Al-Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. This brings to an end a trial that featured the rantings and ravings of Moussaoui hen he denounced America and attacked the 9/11 victims. There are many around the blogosphere who did not support the verdict yesterday, denouncing it as a sign of weakness.

I respectfully disagree with the vast majority of the blogosphere. While I would have liked to see Moussaoui executed, I don’t have a problem with him spending the rest of his life in a Supermax. This denies the jihad a martyr to lionize and take hostages and commit attacks in the name of. For example, how many hostages have been taken in the name of Richard Reid or other jihadist scum in prison? To claim that the life without the possibility of parole sentence will only put Americans in harms way is nonsense. The jihadists will try and kill Americans and other Westerners regardless of whether or not Moussaoui gets a needle. Also, there is the fact that American justice has prevailed by giving Moussaoui a fair trial with a fair sentence that is permitted by law. This will be helpful in debunking the arguments by those both here in America and overseas who claim that America railroads Muslims and others in the justice system.

Finally, I think this exchange between the presiding judge and Moussaoui states why this verdict is not the end of the world:

Judge Leonie Brinkema, who presided over his trial at a federal courthouse in Alexandria, firmly rejected his claim that he had won, making clear that his six life terms in one of America’s notorious “supermax” prisons was a hideous way to spend the rest of his life.

“Mr Moussaoui, when this proceeding is over, everyone else in this room will leave to see the sun. . . hear the birds. . . and they can associate with whomever they want,” she said. “You will spend the rest of your life in a supermax prison. It’s absolutely clear who won.

“You came here to be a martyr in a big bang of glory. But to paraphrase the poet T S Eliot, instead you will die with a whimper.”

As the Moroccan-born French Islamist tried to interrupt her – as he has done endlessly in the more than four years of court proceedings – she raised her voice and said: “You will never get a chance to speak again and that’s an appropriate ending.”

Moussaoui has been denied his martyrdom. He will not be a hero in the Middle East. He will not get his 72 virgins. He will not get videotapes of him aired on Al-Jazeera. He will instead rot in a Supermax, alone and forgotten.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.
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