Monthly Archives: May 2006

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 The Hayride.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

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