Monthly Archives: January 2007

What does this have to do with fighting terrorism?

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is using a provision of the PATRIOT Act to fire US Attorneys and appoint replacements. The new appointees are more politically friendly to the Bush Administration.

“It appears that the administration has chosen to use this provision, which was intended to help protect our nation, to circumvent the transparent constitutional Senate confirmation process to reward political allies,” Pryor said in the joint Democratic statement.

Not true, Gonzales told The Associated Press.

“We are fully committed to ensuring that with respect to every position we have a Senate-confirmed, presidentially appointed U.S. attorney,” Gonzales told editors and reporters during an interview Tuesday.

“We in no way politicize these decisions,” he added.


In the year since the reauthorization took effect, 11 federal prosecutors have resigned or announced their resignations – some at the urging of the Bush administration, Gonzales said. He described a range of reasons for ousting sitting U.S. attorneys, from their job performance to their standing in their communities, and noted that federal prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president.

Gonzales repeatedly cited the Patriot Act when discussing the replacements, but twice refused to say when asked whether any of the personnel changes at issue pertained to national security.

But he stressed that anyone named to replace the departing prosecutors have their jobs only temporarily, pending Senate confirmation.

Gonzales scares the hell of out me, as well as the rest of the Bush Administration.

Recently, Andrew Napolitano (a Fox News contributor) had this to say about Bush and his cronies:

George W. Bush, with a rubber-stamp Congress, has shown less fidelity to the Constitution than any president since Abraham Lincoln. At the very least, with divided government in the next two years, we should expect more constitutional government.

The Bush administration, which has treated the Congress—on the rare occasions when it failed to act as a rubber stamp—as if it were merely a constitutional nuisance, will be forced to read the supreme law of the land, and to recognize and accept the equality of the Congress with the executive branch. With the Democrats in control of both houses, we can now expect congressional interaction with the executive branch to be more in line with what the Founders contemplated.

We can also expect to learn what kind of intelligence the administration relied on and used to persuade the United Nations, the Congress, and the American people that Iraq should be invaded. We can hope to learn what kinds of activities were included in the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program and in the CIA interrogation, detention, torture, and rendition program. And perhaps we’ll discover what poor souls have unknowingly suffered the rape of their constitutional liberties silently administered through the PATRIOT Act.

I’d say that FDR was more abusive to the Constitution than Lincoln, but other than that, Napolitano nails it.

[UPDATE] Instapundit reports that it’s no different from what Clinton did when he came into to office.

Ethanol And The Law Of Unintended Consequences

The Wall Street Journal has an article today about the consequences that have resulted from the Federal Government’s decision to heavily subsidize the production of corn-based ethanol

[T]he great virtue of ethanol is that it represents a “sustainable,” environmentally friendly source of energy–a source that is literally homegrown rather than imported from such unstable places as Nigeria or Iran.

That’s one reason why, as Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren note in the Milken Institute Review, federal and state subsidies for ethanol ran to about $6 billion last year, equivalent to roughly half its wholesale market price. Ethanol gets a 51-cent a gallon domestic subsidy, and there’s another 54-cent a gallon tariff applied at the border against imported ethanol. Without those subsidies, hardly anyone would make the stuff, much less buy it–despite recent high oil prices.

That’s also why the percentage of the U.S. corn crop devoted to ethanol has risen to 20% from 3% in just five years, or about 8.6 million acres of farmland. Reaching the President’s target of 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels by 2017 would, at present corn yields, require the entire U.S. corn harvest.

The most immediate consequence of this should be pretty obvious, the price of corn has skyrocketed in the last year. That’s great news for corn producers, but it’s bad news for the rest of us, and even worse news for poor countries like Mexico:

Mexico is in the grip of the worst tortilla crisis in its modern history. Dramatically rising international corn prices, spurred by demand for the grain-based fuel ethanol, have led to expensive tortillas. That, in turn, has led to lower sales for vendors such as Rosales and angry protests by consumers.


There is almost universal consensus in Mexico that higher demand for ethanol is at the root of price increases for corn and tortillas.

What’s worse, the supposed environmental benefits of ethanol just aren’t true:

As an oxygenate, ethanol increases the level of nitrous oxides in the atmosphere and thus causes smog. The scientific literature is also divided about whether the energy inputs required to produce ethanol actually exceed its energy output. It takes fertilizer to grow the corn, and fuel to ship and process it, and so forth. Even the most optimistic estimate says ethanol’s net energy output is a marginal improvement of only 1.3 to one. For purposes of comparison, energy outputs from gasoline exceed inputs by an estimated 10 to one.

And because corn-based ethanol is less efficient than ordinary gasoline, using it to fuel cars means you need more gas to drive the same number of miles. This is not exactly a route to “independence” from Mideast, Venezuelan or any other tainted source of oil. Ethanol also cannot be shipped using existing pipelines (being alcohol, it eats the seals), so it must be trucked or sent by barge or train to its thousand-and-one destinations, at least until separate pipelines are built.

If nothing else, the continued survival of the ethanol subsidies is a testament to political power.  Forget about Big Oil, the real winner in the energy sweepstakes these days is Big Corn.

The Militarization Of The Presidency

Garry Wills writes in today’s New York Times about the disturbing way in which the President’s role has Commander in Chief of the military has expanded as the Imperial Presidency has grown in power:

WE hear constantly now about “our commander in chief.” The word has become a synonym for “president.” It is said that we “elect a commander in chief.” It is asked whether this or that candidate is “worthy to be our commander in chief.”

But the president is not our commander in chief. He certainly is not mine. I am not in the Army.

As Wills points out, the fact that President is now referred to as “our Commander in Chief” reflects not just a debasement of the language, but the fact that the Presidency itself has taken on a much more militaristic aura than it had when the nation was founded:

When Abraham Lincoln took actions based on military considerations, he gave himself the proper title, “commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.” That title is rarely — more like never — heard today. It is just “commander in chief,” or even “commander in chief of the United States.” This reflects the increasing militarization of our politics. The citizenry at large is now thought of as under military discipline. In wartime, it is true, people submit to the national leadership more than in peacetime. The executive branch takes actions in secret, unaccountable to the electorate, to hide its moves from the enemy and protect national secrets. Constitutional shortcuts are taken “for the duration.” But those impositions are removed when normal life returns.

But we have not seen normal life in 66 years. The wartime discipline imposed in 1941 has never been lifted, and “the duration” has become the norm. World War II melded into the cold war, with greater secrecy than ever — more classified information, tougher security clearances. And now the cold war has modulated into the war on terrorism.

It’s the idea of the permanent crisis, of course, that leads to the idea of the Imperial Presidency. If we are constantly under threat, whether its from the Communists, or the terrorists, or the drug runners, then, the argument goes, we’ve got to have one man with enough power to “protect” us. The fact that we’ve given that power to the branch of government most identified with the King we revolted from is both ironic and sad.

One consequence of the militarized Presidency is the suggestion that his actions are above criticism:

There has never been an executive branch more fetishistic about secrecy than the Bush-Cheney one. The secrecy has been used to throw a veil over detentions, “renditions,” suspension of the Geneva Conventions and of habeas corpus, torture and warrantless wiretaps. We hear again the refrain so common in the other wars — If you knew what we know, you would see how justified all our actions are.

But we can never know what they know. We do not have sufficient clearance.

When Adm. William Crowe, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, criticized the gulf war under the first President Bush, Secretary of State James Baker said that the admiral was not qualified to speak on the matter since he no longer had the clearance to read classified reports. If he is not qualified, then no ordinary citizen is. We must simply trust our lords and obey the commander in chief.

That’s not what the Constitution provides, and it’s not what the Founders intended.

Simon Says: I’m At A Loss…

The current crop of politicos are as vapid as they claim GWB to be.  I can’t write doggerel to match their idiocies — Shakespeare would gape, and Twain would reach for the whisky.

So, if the Muse fails me? I’ll fall back on quotations. 

Thus on the Democrats, and the Republicans, blundering towards the bottom of… well, something:

Error can point the way to truth, while empty-headedness can only lead to more empty-headedness, or to a career in politics.

Thank you, Number Ten Ox… and Mr. Hughart.


Another big government Republican files for ’08

It’s official, Mike Huckabee is running, well he at least is taking the step of form an exploratory committee.

Here is what Erick over at Red State had to say about Huckabee:


You too can support a guy who has no problem raising taxes, hiking the minimum wage, spends his time doing rice commercials, called No Child Left Behind the greatest education reform in his lifetime, wants to ban trans fats, thinks the government needs to up the funding of Phys. Ed. classes, and has a host of other nanny-statist ideas.

This “favorite of conservatives,” as the Associated Press calls him, also rated ‘dead last’ second to last among Republican governors in CATO’s 2006 rankings of the nation’s governors (and sixth from the bottom overall).

That’s right. Mike Huckabee is running. Welcome to the mediocrity Governor.

There were only two possible candidates from either major party that I could bring myself to vote for, one being Ron Paul (at this point I’m backing him)…the other is Mark Sanford from South Carolina, who is not running.

God help us.

Monday Is Milton Friedman Day

Monday January 29th has been declared Milton Friedman Day to honor the legacy and contributions of one of America’s best known and greatest free-market economists. There are a number of events planned, including a Happy Hour at a Washington D.C. bar (where, of course, there will be no such thing as a free cocktail) and the White House has issued this proclamation:

I send greetings to those celebrating Milton Friedman Day.

Milton Friedman, the 1976 Nobel Prize winner in economics, was an extraordinary economist, a revolutionary thinker, and one of America’s greatest citizens. His brilliant mind and devotion to liberty helped advance human dignity and a moral vision of a society built on human freedom. He proposed bold ideas about school choice, tax reductions, an all-volunteer army, and the role of the money supply in our economy. His innovation and intellect helped deliver economic stability and improve living standards in countries around the globe, and his work laid the foundation for many of America’s most successful government reforms. Milton Friedman Day is an opportunity to honor the life and contributions of one of the most influential economists in history and a time to remember freedom’s incredible power to transform the world for the better.

Our Nation is grateful for the talents and determination of Milton Friedman. He will be remembered as a hero of freedom, and I appreciate all those who pay tribute to his legacy of liberty.

Laura and I send our best wishes on this special occasion.


George W. Bush

It’s a nice note, but I wish the President actually practiced what Dr. Friedman taught.

H/T: Club For Growth

The Wrong Energy Policy

Commenting today on President Bush’s proposed energy program, Charles Krauthammer, who I usually like, just gets it completely wrong:

First, tax gas. The president ostentatiously rolled out his 20-in-10 plan: reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years. This with Rube Goldberg regulation — fuel-efficiency standards, artificially mandated levels of “renewable and alternative fuels in 2017″ and various bribes (er, incentives) for government-favored technologies — of the kind we have been trying for three decades.

Good grief. I can give you 20-in-2: Tax gas to $4 a gallon. With oil prices having fallen to $55 a barrel, now is the time. The effect of a gas-tax hike will be seen in less than two years, and you don’t even have to go back to the 1970s and the subsequent radical reduction in consumption to see how. Just look at last summer. Gas prices spike to $3 — with the premium going to Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chávez and assorted sheiks rather than the U.S. Treasury — and, presto, SUV sales plunge, the Prius is cool and car ads once again begin featuring miles-per-gallon ratings.

No regulator, no fuel-efficiency standards, no presidential exhortations, no grand experiments with switch grass. Raise the price, and people change their habits. It’s the essence of capitalism.

It’s unclear that Krauthammer is correct in his assumption that raising the price of gasoline will have a significant impact on demand. During the recent run-up in the price of gasoline, when prices in some parts of the country exceeded $ 3.50 per gallon, there was no apprecable impact on demand for gasoline. This isn’t to say that gasoline is immune to the laws of supply and demand, though, because it’s likely that people were simply making the choice to swallow the increased price (because they need the gasoline to power their cars) and cut back spending in other areas.

What higher gas prices will do, though, is harm the economy as a whole. Forced to pay more for the gasoline they need for their cars, people will cut back in other areas. We saw signs that this was happening last year.

Furthermore, raising taxes will increase the price, but it will be an artificial increase unrelated to real market conditions. It will divert investment toward the oil and gas industry and way from other industries. And it will take money out of the pockets of consumers.

Krauthammer goes on to advocate drilling for oil in ANWAR and reducing the regulations that prevent the construction of new nuclear power plants. Both of these are good ideas. But his first suggestion, raising the gas tax, is completely wrong headed.

What Authority Does Congress Have In Iraq ?

As Congress debates a resolution opposing the President’s plan to “surge” additional troops in Iraq, a group of legal scholars, including libertarian Law Professor Richard Epstein, have addressed the issue in a letter to Congress.

The letter is in PDF format so I can’t quote it here, but it’s well worth reading.

H/T: Lew Rockwell

A Victory For Property Rights In Maryland

Last year, a Judge in Montgomery County, Maryland ruled that Marianne and Marc Duffy, who had bought and renovated a home in Chevy Chase, would have to tear the house down because it violated county zoning laws, even though the house as constructed had been approved by the county.

This week, another judge in Maryland overruled that decision and said that the Duffy’s would not be required to tear down their home:

Marc and Marianne Duffy, cited last year for building violations in a high-profile case, will be able to resume work on their Chevy Chase home, a Montgomery County judge has ruled.

The decision by Circuit Court Judge Nelson W. Rupp Jr. overturned two rulings by a county board that said the Duffys improperly rebuilt their Thornapple Street house too close to the street and to neighbors. Those rulings had left the couple with a choice between tearing down the house or finding a way to move it a few feet.

“As far as we’re concerned, this is now over. . . . The Duffys can finish their home without the need for any more permits,” the couple’s attorney, Michele Rosenfeld, said in an e-mail statement.

What was more interesting about the case, though, is the fact that it pitted the Duffy’s against some very high-profile neighbors:

The case attracted attention because it pitted the Duffys, both securities lawyers, against a group of prominent opponents, who raised questions about how well the county was enforcing its building regulations.

The Duffys’ neighbors had watched with alarm as the early-20th-century house began to look drastically different after several months of work. They complained to county officials that the Duffys, who had obtained permission to renovate the house, were rebuilding it instead, which would require that it be sited differently on the lot.

The neighbors include two journalists who live next door — Jane Mayer, a writer for the New Yorker magazine, and her husband, William Hamilton, a Washington Post editor — lawyer Michael Eig and his wife, historic preservationist Emily Hotaling Eig, former ABC News reporter Jackie Judd and real estate agent Kristin Gerlach.

In other words, a few politically connected neighbors were trying to screw over the little guy.

This isn’t eminent domain, but it might as well be. Through zoning laws such as this, the government often restricts the ways in which property owners can use their property in manners which have a significant impact on their value, none of which is compensated. While we’re paying attention to the impact of Kelo, we shouldn’t forget that there are other laws that restrict property rights.

Thankfully, at least one judge in Maryland is on the right side of this.

Rich Atlanta Towns vs. Robin Hood

In Atlanta, there’s been a fight brewing for some time. Fulton County consists of some of the poorest parts of the city, and some of the richest. For decades, the political calculus in Fulton County ensured that those poor sections had the voting power, and thus the richer sections found themselves getting eaten alive by taxes to pay for services benefitting other parts of the city, while their own infrastructure was ignored by Fulton County’s government.

Fulton County, Sandy Springs (red)
The area known as Sandy Springs (pictured to the right), a very wealthy area that was an unincorporated portion of Atlanta, brought the issue to a head in 2005 when they voted to incorporate. Sick of seeing their tax dollars squandered on vote-buying programs in South Fulton, they decided they could do better on their own.

Now the issue has blown up again. If you look at the map of Fulton County, you can see that it doesn’t make any sort of geographic sense. Nor is there any sort of demographic cohesion, as the North Fulton area is full of rich towns like Alpharetta, Roswell, and Sandy Springs, while South Fulton includes some of the poorest areas of the city. The North Fulton folks have history on their side as well, as they were previously known as Milton County, which was absorbed into Fulton during the Great Depression.

But while the incorporation of Sandy Springs caused a small uproar, the recent secession movement of North Fulton has created a firestorm.

A potentially explosive dispute in the City Too Busy to Hate is taking shape over a proposal to break Fulton County in two and split off Atlanta’s predominantly white, affluent suburbs to the north from some of the metropolitan area’s poorest, black neighborhoods.

Legislation that would allow the suburbs to form their own county, to be called Milton County, was introduced by members of the Georgia Legislature’s Republican majority earlier this month.

Supporters say it is a quest for more responsive government in a county with a population greater than that of six states. Opponents say the measure is racially motivated and will pit white against black, rich against poor.

“If it gets to the floor, there will be blood on the walls,” warned state Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat and member of the Legislative Black Caucus who bitterly opposes the plan. Fort added: “As much as you would like to think it’s not racial, it’s difficult to draw any other conclusion.”

“Blood on the walls”?

There’s a reason why it’s easy for opponents to couch this in racial terms. It’s their only hope. The truth is far more hostile to their ends. In reality, they’ve been plundering North Fulton county for decades, spending the money in South Fulton, and ignoring the concerns of North Fulton. The numbers prove it:

Residents of north Fulton represent 29 percent of the county’s population of 915,000 but pay 42 percent of its property taxes, according to a local taxpayers group.

Now, for some people in North Fulton, race may play a part of it. It’s certainly true that the racial makeup of the two halves of the county are opposite. But it’s also true that when you’re getting mugged, you don’t care what race the mugger is. This is a lot more about money than it is about race. The people of North Fulton county want a responsive government, and want to benefit from the fruits of their labor. They don’t have either of those now, and the strange geography and history of Fulton County give them an easy option to get out.

Vincent Fort worries that this will hurt Atlanta’s reputation as a “progressive” city. I’d say it might help the reputation of the Atlanta metro area as a place where residents can actually opt out of Atlanta’s failing “progressive” government, and that’s something I’m always in favor of.

Hat Tip: The Pubcrawler

The War On Smoking Reaches Virginia

If one Virginia Senator has his way, the Old Dominion could be the latest state to ban smoking in restaurants and most other public places:

RICHMOND, Va. — Smokers in the nation’s fourth-leading tobacco-growing state would be banned from lighting up in restaurants and most other indoor public places if a bill endorsed Thursday by a Virginia Senate committee becomes law.

The Education and Health Committee voted 9-5 to send Sen. Brandon Bell’s bill to the Senate floor, where similar legislation narrowly passed last year only to die later in a House of Delegates subcommittee.

Bell, R-Roanoke, said the measure is needed to protect Virginians from the health hazards of secondhand smoke, which has been proven to cause cancer and other diseases.

“It is a powerful carcinogen,” said Dr. Antonio Longo, an Alexandria pulmonary specialist who was the only witness Bell brought before a committee that heard extensive testimony on the issue last year.

But not everyone in Virginia is caught up in the anti-smoking hysteria:

Christopher M. Savvides, owner of the Black Angus Restaurant in Virginia Beach, said he should be allowed to determine his own smoking policy.

“It’s not about smoking, it’s about my right as business to do what I need to do to attract customers,” Savvides said.

He said many restaurants have gone smoke-free voluntarily while others continue to accommodate smokers, providing plenty of options for Virginians no matter what their smoking preference.

Julia Hammond, a lobbyist for the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association, emphasized the same point.

“The current system is working,” she said. “There are several different types of smoking environments for customers.”

Give people choices. What a radical concept.

Taxpayers Pay $ 15,000 For Jell-O

As hard as it might be to believe, taxpayers in Arizona actually saw $ 15,000 of their money used to pay an “artist” to create a Jell-O replicy of the City of Scottsdale:

cottsdale’s latest public art project is a bit shaky but will definitely provide food for thought.

It is a sculpture of parts of downtown Scottsdale created from nearly 40 pounds of gelatin.

cottsdale’s latest public art project is a bit shaky but will definitely provide food for thought. It is a sculpture of parts of downtown Scottsdale created from nearly 40 pounds of gelatin.

Scottsdale in Jell-O will be unveiled to the public at 10 a.m. today in the atrium of the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

The sculpture covers two large tables and depicts much of downtown Scottsdale, including the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall and the new Scottsdale Waterfront, a retail-condominium project, along with a backdrop of Camelback Mountain. Everything is to scale.

A free artist reception is planned from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday.

Not surprisingly, Jell-O will be served.

Award-winning San Francisco-based artist Liz Hickok has been working for the past week to create the temporary, $15,000, publicly funded installation, which will run through Monday.

It’s hard to think of a more emphatically stupid waste of taxpayer dollars, no matter how small in the grand scheme of things, than to use them to pay a so-called “artist” to create a city made of gelitan. Then again, it’s hard to think of any good reason for the government to be funding art of any kind to begn with.

H/T:  Club For Growth

Maine Strikes Blow For Free Speech!

Maine has taken a strong stand against the Real ID Act. Bastions of freedom that they were, the said the act was an unconscionable infringement on civil liberties too expensive for the state to fund.

Maine revolts against digital U.S. ID card

Maine lawmakers on Thursday became the first in the nation to demand repeal of a federal law tightening identification requirements for drivers’ licenses, a post-September 11 security measure that states say will cost them billions of dollars to administer.

Maine lawmakers passed a resolution urging repeal of the Real ID Act, which would create a national digital identification system by 2008. The lawmakers said it would cost Maine about $185 million, fail to boost security and put people at greater risk of identity theft.

“We cannot be spending millions of state dollars on an initiative that does more harm to our state than good,” said Maine’s House Majority leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat, in a statement that called it a “massive unfunded federal mandate.”

Those of us who believe in civil liberties see a digital national ID card as the first step in the “show us your papers” world. To legislators in Maine, it’s only a problem if the feds don’t pick up the tab.

Moving Hosts

Some of you have noticed that we had downtime this week. Some of you probably noticed that the server got hacked last night. And our hosting company has told us that WordPress is too processor-intensive for them.

So we’re moving to a new host today. Parden our dust if things temporarily break in the process.

(Comments will be closed until the move is complete)

Louisiana Whiners

President Bush did not mention Katrina or the Katrina recovery during his State of the Union speech. Louisiana’s ruling class and the New Orleans based left-wing blogosphere are not pleased.

The incompetant so-called Governor of Louisiana, Kathleen “Maw Maw” Blank-o, who had this:

“I guess the pains of the hurricane are yesterday’s news in Washington,” Blanco said.

“But for us it’s still very real, very real, and it’s something that we live every single day,” the governor said. “But we will continue to fight, and we will continue to come on, and we will effect a recovery.”

Umm…Governor, before you ask for more money from the Feds, give out the money you’ve got. Also, you maybe may get some money if you didn’t call President Bush a partisan sexist.

When is Louisiana’s ruling class going to stop looking for a handout and start leading and rebuilding the state? It’s 17 months since the storm, it’s time to stop blaming Bush and start rebuilding.

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 and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Highest Murder Rate & Strictest Gun Laws

Yep, that’s what the mayor of DC says they’ve got. So he and a bunch of other mayors are headed to the feds for help.

Fenty (D), speaking at a news conference held by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, said local laws are not sufficient to fight the use of illegal weapons.

“We have one of the highest homicide rates in the country but at the same time have the strictest [gun] law,” Fenty said, joining other urban chief executives at the bipartisan summit on the issue yesterday on Capitol Hill. “Local jurisdictions just can’t solve the problem. You need to have the federal government have one standard for dealing with illegal guns.”

I’m sure he’s right… If only the feds would control the guns, they’d magically disappear from DC’s streets! Yes, we need a federal standard. You know, like the one they have in Britian!

Despite these figures, the number of overall offences involving firearms has been increasing each year since 1997/98. And crime involving imitation weapons was up 55% in 2004-05 compared to the previous year.

In a nice big box, they highlighted the few gun crime statistics that showed a reduction. The above bit of text, of course, follows in much smaller text.

Gun advocates have predicted this over and over and over. When you make it harder for law-abiding citizens to own guns, the criminals know that a gun gives them an insurmountable advantage. It’s gotten to the point where they feel comfortable using replica firearms, because they know nobody is going to challenge them with a real one. It only happens in the movies…

[Caution: Don’t hit play if you’re offended by explicit language]

But don’t worry, dear readers… They’re not coming after YOU.

Bloomberg said the group is not anti-gun and does not oppose the constitutional right to bear arms.

“This is about getting guns out of the hands of criminals,” Bloomberg said.

There, there… Doesn’t that put your mind at ease?

Texas Raises Taxes, Creates A Black Market

At the beginning of the year, Texas increased taxes on cigarettes by $ 1.00 per pack. Now it appears that the tax increase has helped fuel a black market in cigarettes ?

Now that Texans have to shell out $1 more to the tax man for a pack of smokes, many may look elsewhere for their fix. Like “under the counter” of some neighborhood corner stores or smoke shop, authorities say.The tax increase, which took effect at the beginning of January, means the tax on a package of cigarettes is now $1.41 — pushing the average overall price to almost $5 per pack.

Authorities predict the price increase may be followed by an increase in black-market cigarettes in the state.

Just how much of an increase isn’t known because no agency could provide statistics.

Officials acknowledge they’ve seen black-market smokes hit the streets even when Texas’ tax rate was among the lowest in the country. Before January, the state’s most recent cigarette tax increase — from 26 cents to 41 cents — was in 1990.

Of course, black markets like this don’t just exist in Texas, they’re a worldwide enterprise:

Julie Myers, assistant secretary of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told a congressional committee in July that international and domestic rings are lured to cigarette smuggling and the low risk of prosecution.

“International cigarette smuggling has become a lucrative criminal enterprise, resulting in the annual loss of billions of dollars in tax revenue and customs duties around the world,” Myers testified. “While the extent of cigarette smuggling in the United States is unknown, it is ICE’s formal assessment that the volume of this illegal trade is significant.”

The lesson seems pretty clear. Increase taxes on a product that people want to buy and some of them, maybe not everyone but enough to make it worth the while of people willing to break the law to make money, will find ways to buy the product without paying the taxes.

In other words, increasing excise taxes creates incentives that can lead to other forms of criminal behavior.

H/T: Radley Balko

The Scales of Justice Need Rebalancing

In civics class, we are taught a few lessons about the American criminal justice system: the accused is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, has the right to a court-appointed attorney if the accused wishes not to pay for his or her own, has a right to a trial by a jury of his or her peers, and jurors can only convict the accused if there is a lack of reasonable doubt in their minds. We are told that the accused is guaranteed a fair and speedy trial. We are told the burden of proof falls on the state; the accused only has to provide reasonable doubt (meaning the accused ‘probably’ did not commit the crime). We are to believe that an individual who is innocent would rarely (if ever) be wrongfully convicted because our criminal justice system is about finding the truth and rendering justice.

What the civics classes usually fail to mention is that regardless of the fact that jurors are supposed to consider the accused innocent until proven guilty, it is human nature to assume the worst of someone who is accused of committing a heinous crime. Jurors come with their own biases and world views and may find it difficult to suppress their inclinations and deal with the facts of the case. The civics lesson also usually fails to point out that if the accused chooses to go with a court-appointed lawyer, he or she will not be as likely to have an as aggressive and competent advocate as the state will. If the accused makes the wise decision to pay for his or her own defense, he or she can expect to spend his or her entire life’s savings (and perhaps the life’s savings of other friends and family members) just to have competent representation. Even if the accused has the means to pay for such a competent lawyer, there are no guarantees that he or she will be found not guilty regardless of the evidence or whether or not the accused committed the crime. And if the jury finds the defendant not guilty, then what? Sure, he or she is technically cleared of the crime but he or she still has to pay all the legal fees for his or her lawyer and the fact that he or she was ever charged will remain on his or her criminal record.

The state, on the other hand, has virtually unlimited access to technology, witnesses, forensic, medical, psychological, and other expert witnesses and a virtually unlimited budget to pay for other resources necessary to prove to a jury the accused is guilty. The state also has its own lawyers; prosecutors from the District Attorney’s office. To some, DAs have a little more clout than a criminal defense lawyer (court appointed or not). After all, the DA’s job is to ‘put the bad guys behind bars’ while the criminal defense attorney ‘gets the bad guys off the hook’ by finding some sort of legal loophole.

In many parts of the country, the DA is elected to office. What do voters want in a good DA? The answer is usually someone who pledges s/he will be ‘tough on crime’. A DA who is running for another term in office will want to have a solid conviction record; otherwise his or her opponent will attack him or her for being ‘soft’ on crime. The DA’s position is now compromised to remain in office. No longer is it his or her job to necessarily pursue ‘justice’ but to secure a conviction—regardless of whether or not they convict a guilty person.

Now enter the media. If the case becomes a compelling enough story, the media becomes a factor. The media is something of a wild card because the media can help or hurt the accused based on whatever the media wants the storyline to be. Now the job of finding an impartial jury has become infinitely more difficult. Ideally, prospective jurors should know nothing about the case other than what has been presented them by the judge. If this proves impossible, some jurors may already have an opinion based on what they have seen or read in the news.

After considering all these factors that the civics class likely did not teach us, can anyone truthfully say the process is fair? I conclude that the process is not fair, neither for the accused nor for the victims. The scales of justice need to be rebalanced.

Certainly, there is no perfect system nor will there ever be but our system can be improved. One way the system can be improved is by correcting the imbalance between the prosecution and the defense. If the DA has access to all the experts, forensics, technology, with a virtually limitless budget, so should the defense regardless of if the defense is court-appointed or not. If the government wants to continue to tell us that the goal of the criminal justice system is justice, then the accused should have the ability to have a competent lawyer of comparable competence of the prosecutor regardless of the defendant’s ability to pay. In addition to this, every time the state discovers it has wrongfully convicted an individual, the state should be required to pay that individual for every year spent in prison (something on the order of $1 million a year), reimburse his or her lost wages, and expunge both the conviction and the original charges. Putting an innocent person in prison should be very expensive for the state.

I realize that some of my fellow contributors as well as others who read this might see this as a form of welfare. To you I want you to consider the following: the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees everyone the right to a fair trial complete with legal council provided by the government if the defendant wishes not or cannot provide his or her own lawyer. I cannot imagine the founders intended a system that would allow the government to overwhelm an accused citizen with money, power, intimidation, and influence while the accused is forced to either spend his or her life’s savings or risk being represented by inferior council. Unlike most welfare programs that we are opposed to, when a person is put on trial, his or her very liberty, and life in some cases, is at stake (Note, I would not approve of government funded council for civil matters. Civil matters should be handled with a ‘loser pays’ approach). If it is truly one of government’s few legitimate functions to aid citizens in protecting their life, liberty, and property from those who would take these basic freedoms away, this seems to fall under that umbrella.

The so-called Duke Rape Case has many of these unfortunate elements of our criminal justice system. The MSM had largely made up its mind that the Duke lacrosse players David Evans, Collin Finnerty, and Reade Seligmann had raped and/or sexually assaulted a stripper by the name of Crystal Gail Magnum (the name has largely been not mentioned in the MSM). Without any trial or any kind of finding of facts, Duke students and faculty protested in favor of Magnum’s allegations holding up signs and shouting about how these boys should be neutered. The president of Duke University also reacted by canceling the remainder of the team’s games.

By March 2006, the Duke case was a big story with the following narrative: rich white lacrosse boys brutally sexually assault poor, black stripper at a drunken party. The MSM ran with this narrative without spending much time looking into the accuser’s background or the possibility that the accuser was lying. Michael Nifong, the DA who was to prosecute the case faced an upcoming election. Nifong saw this as an opportunity to prove to the voters that these privileged athletes would not get away with what they had allegedly done. Convicting Evans, Finnerty, and Seligmann was so important to Nifong that he with held crucial DNA evidence from the defense and allowed the accuser to identify her attackers in a photo lineup which only included Duke lacrosse players. Nifong even failed to personally interview the accuser!

With the MSM and any overly zealous DA, the odds of receiving a fair trial were stacked against the accused players. To receive competent council which could hold up against the media and the state, the families of the players hired defense attorneys which cost $80,000 per month. This case is already almost into its 11th month. Though Nifong is facing the possibility of disbarment and possible criminal charges, the rape charges against the players have been dropped, and that the accuser’s story continues to change, the players still face other charges. Thanks in-part to talk radio, bloggers, and others in the alternative media asking questions the MSM failed to ask, everything seems to be swinging in the defendants’ favor. Evans, Finnerty, and Seligmann may receive justice after all but no one ever said justice was free.

The Duke case is but one high-profile example of a more widespread problem. Most individuals who are accused of a crime cannot afford to shell our $80 grand a month for quality representation. In Cory Maye’s case (for details of his story click here, here, here and here), he nor his family had the means to pay for quality representation which may be the reason he is spending his life behind bars now. Justice should not be reserved only for the O.J. Simpsons and Michael Jacksons of the world and denied to the indigent. In a just society, the scales of justice should not be weighed based on affluence, influence, or the lack thereof but should be blind and balanced…just as our civics teachers promised us.

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