Monthly Archives: July 2010

Innocence Project Press Release: House Passes Bipartisan Bill to Review and Reform the Criminal Justice System

House Passes Bipartisan Bill to Review and Reform the Criminal Justice System

Innocence Project praises the House of Representatives’ leadership and urges the Senate to enact this legislation as soon as possible

(Washington, D.C.: Wednesday, July 28, 2010) – Late yesterday, the House of Representatives passed critical bipartisan legislation, “The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010” (H.R. 5143), to improve the fairness and reliability of the nation’s criminal justice system. Lead cosponsors of the bill include Representatives William Delahunt (D-MA), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Tom Rooney (R-FL), and Bobby Scott (D-VA). This historic legislation, originally championed in the Senate by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), would create a national commission to examine and reshape the criminal justice system.

Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, a national organization affiliated with Cardozo School of Law that uses DNA testing to exonerate innocent prisoners and pursues reforms to prevent wrongful convictions, praises House leaders for championing this badly needed legislation and urges immediate Senate action.

“The Innocence Project congratulates the House of Representatives today for passing this historic and crucial legislation. Thanks to the leadership of bipartisan cosponsors, including Representatives Delahunt, Issa, Fudge, Rooney and Scott, this critical commission would improve the underlying fairness and reliability of the criminal justice system. We urge the Senate to pass this legislation quickly so that comprehensive review and reform of the system can begin in earnest.”

For the first time since the Johnson Administration, the commission would review the criminal justice system and recommend key reforms that would improve the system’s effectiveness and efficiency, resulting in increased public safety and confidence. The legislation, which has passed out of the House of Representatives and the Senate Judiciary Committee, now awaits final passage in the Senate. There is significant bipartisan support for the bill, as well as support from a range of interest groups representing law enforcement, academicians, criminal justice reform advocates, and faith-based organizations.

Nationwide, 255 people have been exonerated through DNA testing since 1989, according to the Innocence Project. Those cases are a window into the causes of wrongful convictions. For example:

• More than 75% of wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing involved eyewitness misidentification;
• In about 50% of the cases, unvalidated or improper forensic science was a factor;
• More than 25% of the cases involved false confessions, admissions or guilty pleas;
• In 15% of the cases, informants provided unreliable information.

The National Criminal Justice Commission could look more closely at these and other causes of wrongful conviction and recommend improvements that would help to prevent such miscarriages of justice. Since the commission would be comprised of highly respected figures from throughout the justice system – including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, crime victims and other experts – the recommendations would carry significant weight with decision makers. Texas, California, Illinois, Wisconsin and other states have created similar commissions on the state level, and they have led to concrete improvements in those states’ systems of justice.

For additional press inquiries please contact:

Alana Salzberg, Innocence Project
Asalzberg@innocenceproject.org
212.364.5983

This is very good news. Call your senators and tell them to pass this very important legislation so we can begin to repair our broken criminal justice system.

Quote of the Day: Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider on Al and Tipper Gore’s Marriage Woes

“Let’s cut to twenty-five years later, I’m still married – none of my kids have been busted for drug possession. Can Al and Tipper Gore say the same thing? I don’t think so – oh, snap!” — Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider

We’re not gonna take it,
No, we ain’t gonna take it
We’re not gonna take it
ANYMORE!!!!!!!

Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Sugar Tariffs

I wanted to link over to a recent article I wrote at the blog Voice of the Migrant, where I talk about the distinguishable products and services that America’s Hispanic immigrants bring to our society:

In a New Yorker article from 2006, James Surowiecki explores how sugar producers in the United States lobbying for “special favors” has resulted in the blocking out of competition and the subsequent degeneration of sugar-laden products:

But American sugar producers aren’t satisfied with supplying the most sweet-hungry population in the world. They’ve relentlessly sought—and received—special favors from the federal government, turning the industry into one of the most cosseted in America today. The government guarantees producers a fixed price for domestic sugar and sets strict quotas and tariffs for foreign sugar. Economically speaking, this has many obvious bad results. It keeps sugar prices in the U.S. at least twice as high as the world average. It makes it harder for companies that use lots of sugar to do business here—in the past decade, an exodus of candy manufacturers from the U.S. has eliminated thousands of jobs. And import restrictions make Third World countries poorer than they’d otherwise be.

The artificially high price of sugar has resulted in the adoption of high fructose corn syrup as a replacement. High fructose corn syrup is rife with many dangers which are not in cane sugar, including high levels of mercury:

In my previous blogs I discuss the findings that there is mercury in a percentage of the hfcs that inhabits so many of our foods and drinks. This is caused from the mercury grade caustic soda that is used in the processing, leaching mercury into the finished product.

Since the introduction of high fructose corn syrup in the 1970s, obesity rates in the United States have skyrocketed dramatically. Sugar cane, which is used in Coca-Cola and Pepsi in Mexico and in high-end American sodas such as Jone’s Soda, contains several naturally occurring health benefits.

Magnesium, calcium and riboflavin can all be found within cane sugar. While soda is not meant to be a “healthy” beverage, ingestion of a naturally sweetened carbonated concoction is nevertheless a much better route to go than the watered down corn syrup that is found in American drug stores.

Apart from Jones and other high end sodas, one of the best places to get cane sugar sodas is at your local taco truck. Fortunately for Californians especially, these amazing testaments to the entrepreneurial spirit can be found throughout working class neighborhoods. At the Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland, there are two taco trucks nearby, with vendors recently opening up in the small shopping center next to the station.

Wayne Allyn Root: Religious Freedom And Property Rights ? Not For Them Muslims !

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I’ve written before about the questionable libertarian allegiances of Wayne Allyn Root, the LP’s 2008 Vice-President nominee and currently an At-Large member of the Libertarian National Committee. Now, Root is out with a blog post about the so-called “Ground Zero” Mosque that is anything but libertarian in it’s sentiments and it’s conclusions, and it should be of concern to anyone who thinks that Root represents the direction the Libertarian Party should take in the future.

Root starts out with the same sort of milquetoast paeans toward religious liberty and property rights that we saw in his book, but he quickly goes off in a direction that makes it clear that, on this issue, he is more in line with Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich than any Libertarian (or libertarian):

This proposed building of a mosque on hallowed ground is an ATROSITY towards America. To build a celebration of Islam within steps of 9/11 does nothing to increase religious freedom…it inspires hatred, divides our cultures, and increases the odds of violence and hate crimes. Common sense suggests this mosque, being built in this specific location, is NOT being built as a sign of friendship between Muslims and Americans…but rather as a sign of the lack of respect…a belief in our weakness…and an attempt to embarrass and belittle us. The financial district of Manhattan is not a residential area with a large number of Muslim residents for the mosque to serve. Therefore common sense suggests that the only possible reason to build it there (rather than in Brooklyn or Queens where there are large Muslim populations) is to show Muslim contempt for Americans by building a monument to Islam in the shadow of the site of their greatest triumph over America.

It is an offense to build a mosque in that location- an offense to all Americans (including Muslim Americans), all Christians and Jews, all relatives of 3000 dead heroes at the World Trade Center.

First of all, Root is just completely wrong on the facts here. The Cordoba House isn’t at all what he and the project’s critics have represented it to be:

The building’s planners, the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, have said it’s modeled on religious and community centers such as the YMCA, and that the 13-story, $100 million building would also include an arts center, gym and a swimming pool, as well as a mosque. It would be two blocks away from Ground Zero.

Two blocks away and nowhere within line of sight of the area where the attacks actually occurred.

The attempt by Root, Palin, Gingrich, and other opponents of this project to call this a “Ground Zero” mosque are therefore a complete misrepresentation of the location of the project. A misrepresentation obviously intended to lead people to think that a mosque is being built on the location of the World Trade Center rather than being constructed inside an already-existing decades old building as part of a larger project that would be open to the public as a whole. For that reason alone, Root’s appeals to emotionalism and the supposed “atrocity” that this project represents should be rejected as silly and, quite frankly, dishonest.

Root goes on:

Yes, private individuals and organizations have the right to build houses of worship with their own funds. But one has to wonder where the money is coming from to build a 15-story building on some of the most expensive real estate in the country. We Americans believe in the separation of Church and State. If it turns out that this project is sponsored by a foreign government — either directly or through a state-sponsored organization that engages in terrorism — than the idea of this being an issue of religious freedom is a sham and an argument can be made that our Constitution would actually prohibit this mosque from being built.

Except, of course, for the fact that there is no evidence that this is the case. More importantly, there is no connection between the organization that wants to establish the center and anyone associated with the September 11th attacks.

In the end, Root falls into the same anti-Muslim hole that Palin, Gingrich, and others have. All he’s really saying is that we can’t let them scary Muslims build what they want to in a building they own. While he doesn’t go as far as Gingrich and Palin in calling for government action to stop the project, he adopts the same attitude of religious intolerance and, for any libertarian, that’s just unacceptable.

Let’s contrast Root’s paean to fear-of-Muslims with something published this past weekend by Libertarian National Committee Interns Marissa Giannotta and Josh Roll:

The attacks on 9/11 and its victims should not be ignored, however, we cannot lay blame on the entire Islamic community for the terrible acts that occurred on that day. The Islamic cultural center would be a great way for others to learn about Islam and ultimately build bridges between the United States and the Muslim World. Islam by principle is not an extremist religion and not all Muslims should be portrayed in such way.

More importantly, those who have ownership of the site should have the freedom and the right to build what they wish. Property rights should be respected as a right for all citizens, not just a few. Our platform clearly states, “The owners of property have the full right to control, use, dispose of, or in any manner enjoy, their property without interference, until and unless the exercise of their control infringes the valid rights of others.” The Islamic cultural center does not infringe on the rights of others.

As Steven Chapman describes in his article at Reason, “Palin is not a slave to intellectual consistency. Change the church to a mosque, and put it a couple of blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, and she suddenly loses all patience with the rights of religious believers.”

Libertarian Party candidate for New York State Governor, Warren Redlich, also weighed in on the issue stating, “…I have asked some people if they would object if it was a synagogue, church, Jewish community center, or YMCA. All of them say that wouldn’t bother them. So the reason for opposing this facility is because it’s associated with the Muslim religion. That violates freedom of religion under the First Amendment.”

As Thomas Knapp notes, this is a litmus test for all libertarians (Big-L, or small-l):

If you don’t support private property rights and freedom of religion, you aren’t a libertarian.

Period.

Cordoba House, the project being fraudulently referred to as a “mosque” by those attempting to prevent its construction, is planned for construction on private property and with private funds.

The opponents of Cordoba House are attempting to stop its construction by persuading a government board to declare the building currenly standing at the project’s prospective location “historic” so that the owners can be forced to “preserve” it and forbidden to demolish it and build a structure more to their liking there.

The opponents of Cordoba House oppose private property rights. Their opposition to private property rights stems from their opposition to freedom of religion. They are, therefore, not libertarians.

That, Mr. Root, is libertarianism. Perhaps you’re in the wrong party.

Update: Jason Pye has weighed in with his own take:

Property rights and religious freedom are among the principles of a free society, basic liberties are supposed to be protected from the mob. To hear of anyone casting them aside is concerning. For a libertarian to do it is a betrayal of these core values that we are supposed to believe in.

Indeed.

I Was Wrong About the War in Iraq

The following is a post I started a little over 2 years ago explaining my 180 concerning the war in Iraq. This is easily the most difficult post I’ve ever written because of the life and death nature of the subject matter and admitting being on the wrong side of this issue for so long. As tempting as it has been to continue to ignore this issue, I felt that I owed it to the readers of The Liberty Papers to finally explain myself before moving on to other posts.

I think that most Americans on both sides of the Iraq debate have the best interests of America at heart (to the extent there even is a debate anymore).

Much of the Iraq debate seems to be based on emotion rather than reason. Emotional talking points from the Left such as “Bush lied, people died” (though I do believe he over sold the threat), “Bush wanted to be a war time president,” and “the Iraq war is really about Halliburton” or “BIG oil” remain unconvincing to me. I took great exception to war critics who resort to calling anyone who supports any war for any reason a “war monger” or a “chicken hawk” (and I still do).

I also took great exception to those on the Right who would say that “you can’t support the troops if you don’t support the mission.” Such a claim is obviously ludicrous because some of the troops themselves do not support the mission. That would mean they do not support themselves! Arguments that individuals should not criticize the president because “we are at war” have always seemed Orwellian and scary to me.

Though I like to think of myself as a man of reason, reasonable people will fall into emotional traps from time to time; no one is 100% logical or reasonable 100% of the time on each and every issue. I fell into the emotional traps that many on the Right (and most everyone else for at least a short time) fell into in the aftermath of 9/11: anger, hatred, and fear.

Why I supported the War in Iraq

My immediate response to the aftermath of 9/11 was anger, hatred, and fear (and I’m sure I wasn’t alone). I was angry that these religious extremists attacked my country, I hated them for their reasons for doing so, and I feared more attacks would come at any moment. I wasn’t interested in justice for those responsible for the attacks, I wanted vengeance!

Though I never believed that Iraq had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks, I believed that it was time to rethink my positions on how America should deal with rogue states such as Iraq. While I would not have supported invading a nation, overthrowing that nation’s government, and rebuilding a nation prior to 9/11, it seemed that America needed to be proactive and “preempt” such nations from even the possibility of attacking America first. I supported the invasion because I truly believed the WMD threat was real and that overthrowing Saddam Hussein would lead to liberty spreading throughout the region and thus would make America safer.

For a short time, this theory seemed to becoming a reality. U.S. and coalition troops defeated the Iraqi forces in record time. The cable news channels showed Iraqis pulling down Saddam Hussein’s statue and in broken English saying such things as “Thank you America” and “Thank you Mr. Bush.” Shortly thereafter, President Bush made his infamous tail-hook landing on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln which had a large banner which read “Mission Accomplished.” I thought for sure that this meant the troops would be coming home and that the critics of the war had been proven wrong in their dire predictions. Sure, Saddam Hussein and his sons were still at large, there was still some violence in the immediate aftermath, and no stockpiles of WMD had been found but all these things would be taken care of in a matter of time. A few more months perhaps?

It all made a great deal of sense in theory but the reality seems to be quite different.

What Changed?

It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly when I began to realize the invasion and subsequent occupation Iraq to be a mistake. When weapons hunters failed to find the WMD in the first couple of years after the invasion, my thinking was that perhaps the “preemption” approach was wrongheaded but because the troops were already there, the damage had already been done. I believed that because American foreign policy lead to the chaos that followed the invasion, it was the duty of our government to clean up the mess (i.e. the “you broke it, you bought it” argument). I further believed that if coalition troops pulled out of Iraq “the Islamofascists will follow us home” unless the Iraqi government was stable enough to handle the violence itself.

The truth of the matter is my reasoning was clouded by fear. This post I wrote in early 2007 illustrates this fear . We could not afford to allow our enemies to claim victory in Iraq as they would become “emboldened” and be encouraged to carry out future attacks both on American soil and abroad. This is not a war we could afford to lose; failure was not an option.

But when I was challenged by readers and fellow TLP contributors define exactly what “victory” in Iraq would look like, I struggled in vain to find a satisfactory answer. I now realize that if American troops were to leave tomorrow, next year, or 100 years from now, the radical Islamists will claim victory no matter when the troops leave. They are master propagandists and those who follow their ideology do not allow facts to get in the way of their beliefs. Some of these people don’t even acknowledge that the Holocaust even happened despite all of the mountains of documentary evidence to the contrary.

The first thing that has changed in my thinking is the fear factor. The whole purpose of terrorism is to cause people to be terrorized. When we overreact and do such things as pass the Patriot Act, surrender liberties we otherwise would not, or send troops to fight undeclared wars against countries that might have WMD and may directly or indirectly use these weapons against the U.S. or her allies, the terrorist act has accomplished its intended goal.

The second big change is my understanding of contemporary history. My thinking was that America’s military might would be enough to transform the Middle East from a region of oppression to a region of freedom. These were people yearning to be free. All that needed to happen was for the despots to be deposed, the people liberated, and our world would be more peaceful as a result.

In the Point post “A Case for Non-Intervention,” Brad correctly pointed out the flaws of this logic of fatal conceit: that man can shape the world around him according to his wishes. By the time I wrote the Counterpoint to Brad’s post, I was already beginning to see the error of my thinking but still holding out hope that somehow we could avoid the “reverse King Midas effect” this time.

But why would this time be any different?

At least since President Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. has been intervening in internal affairs of other countries allegedly to “make the world safer for democracy.” But rather than making the world safer, in most cases it seems, American foreign policy has created more enemies rather than less. The conditions that led up to the adventures in both Iraq and Afghanistan are in many ways the result of American foreign policy. The continued presence of American troops occupying and nation building in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere fosters resentment among these populations.

Lessons Learned

One argument I used to make was that leaving Iraq as a failed mission would mean that those troops who had died for the cause would have died in vain. I no longer believe this necessarily has to be the case if we as a people learn the right lessons of Iraq.

There were people who opposed the war in the very beginning for very principled reasons (and I’m not talking about the so-called anti-war Democrats who seem to have nothing to say about Iraq now that their guy is in office). Others like me, unfortunately, had to learn the lessons of Iraq the hard way. I was naive and trusted that the government was acting in such a way that would make its citizens safer but I now see the error in this thinking. Neither North Korea nor Iran seems to be slowing down their WMD programs as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom. And despite the anti-terror policies that have been enacted since 9/11 and despite this war, our cities are likely as vulnerable if not more so than before 9/11. Our own government is a much greater threat to our liberties than al Qaeda ever will be.

It’s really the open-ended nature of this “war on terror” and failure on the part of our government to define who exactly the enemy is that makes the concept of victory unobtainable. Who specifically is our enemy? Is it just al Qaeda and/or the Taliban or is it anyone and everyone the U.S. government calls a “terrorist”? If we cannot even define exactly who our enemy is, how is victory even possible?

Once the enemy has been identified, the congress (not the president) should debate whether or not to declare war on the enemy. Any declaration of war should include not only who the enemy is but define in precise terms the meaning of victory (as opposed to making it up as they go along). The idea of going into another undeclared war in the future should be considered a complete non-starter (and the notion of “preemptive” wars of choice in particular).

Now What?

Its time for the people of Iraq to decide for themselves what kind of future they want. Our brave soldiers have done the heavy lifting for far too long. Its time for our brave troops to come home to their families and let them move on with their lives.

Ditto for Afghanistan. The only troops that should be left behind should be those with the sole mission of hunting Bin Laden and his extremist followers. The nation building mission should be brought to an end.

Its time to completely rethink the American foreign policy of the last 100 years or so. Has the presence of American troops made the world, and more importantly America safer? Is it still necessary to our national security to have so many troops stationed around the globe? (Was it ever?) What ever happened to the “walk softly” part of “walk softly but carry a big stick”?

Its time to move beyond the Cold War posture and allow other nations to determine their own futures.

In the mean time, we should be doing all we can to secure our own futures and help our wounded war veterans put their lives back together.

Oh Noz! Unintended Consequences!

A few months ago, when Pelosi crowed about the immediate effects of Obamacare, I pointed out a long list of them and my responses. My thoughts:

6. NO DISCRIMINATON AGAINST CHILDREN WITH PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS—Prohibits health plans from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. Effective 6 months after enactment. (Beginning in 2014, this prohibition would apply to all persons.)

Again, an increase to private health insurance premiums. But hey, who’ll complain? After all, it’s for the children.

Today, it looks like one is becoming even worse than I’d thought:

In Florida, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Aetna, and Golden Rule — a subsidiary of UnitedHealthcare — notified the insurance commissioner that they will stop issuing individual policies for children, said Jack McDermott, a spokesman for McCarty.

The major types of coverage for children — employer plans and government programs — are not be affected by the disruption. But a subset of policies — those that cover children as individuals — may run into problems. Even so, insurers are not canceling children’s coverage already issued, but refusing to write new policies.

The administration reacted sharply to the pullback. “We’re disappointed that a small number of insurance companies are taking this unwarranted and unnecessary step,” said Jessica Santillo, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services department.

Starting later this year, the health care overhaul law requires insurers to accept children regardless of medical problems — a major early benefit of the complex legislation. Insurers are worried that parents will wait until kids get sick to sign them up, saddling the companies with unpredictable costs.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida issues about 9,000 to 10,000 new policies a year that only cover children. Vice president Randy Kammer said the company’s experts calculated that guaranteeing coverage for children could raise premiums for other individual policy holders by as much as 20 percent.

“We believe that the majority of people who would buy this policy were going to use it immediately, probably for high cost claims,” said Kammer. “Guaranteed issue means you could technically buy it on the way to the hospital.”

Of course, I’m being generous here in my suggestion than muscling private insurers out of providing coverage is truly an “unintended” consequence.

H/T: Jason Pye @ UL

Double Standard

Idaho:

A police dog in the central Idaho resort town of Sun Valley is back on duty after serving a “suspension” for an unprovoked attack on a small schnauzer.

Sun Valley Police Chief Cameron Daggett says the 5-year-old German shepherd named Dax took a few weeks off the job after the incident. The dog will receive more training to prevent a reoccurrence of what Daggett says was an unfortunate situation.

Would there have been a suspension and retraining if it had been a human officer filling the schnauzer full of lead?

Westboro Baptist Church: God Hates Nerds

The Westboro Baptist Church seems to be deadset on creating a gospel based on an ideology of high school populism, picketing all those who would have been outcasts during their teenage years. First it was “God Hates Fags” at the funerals of fallen military men and women and now it is the more comical and less sickening “God Hates Nerds” outside of the San Diego Comic Con.

Here is their bizarre rational:

They have turned comic  characters into idols, and worship them they do! Isaiah 2:8 Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made…

The destruction of this  is imminent – so start calling on Batman and Superman now, see if they can pull you from the mess that you have created with all your silly idolatry.”

Honestly, that rhetoric sounds an awful lot like the reasoning for no artistic rendering of the Prophets (which, taken to a strict theologically consistent route, should actually forbid renderings of Jesus and Abraham in addition to Mohammed) by many Islamic scholars.

On Islam, A Fine Line Between Criticism and Xenophobia

There are serious concerns about radical Islam and political Islam as a movement. It’s something we should be seriously conscious of. I’ve written about this extensively here at TLP.

Given that, there is a very, very fine line between critiquing the retrograde nature of radical Islam and outright xenophobia. I honestly find it hard to discern this line myself, since I am fully ready to call out efforts by Christians, Muslims or any other group to insert religious dogma into politics. Wherever that line is, it is more than readily apparent that many who are protesting the building of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York have crossed it.

There’s a part of the constitution that I’m especially fond of. It’s called the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The “free exercise thereof” doesn’t just mean free exercise of Roman Catholicism, the faith of mosque critic Newt Gingrich, or Lutheranism, the denomination of Michelle Bachmann, another critic. It counts for Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists or Hindus.

Activists Protest Proposed Church Next To NARAL Headquarters

July 22, 2010
WASHINGTON, DC — Picketers holding anti-Christian placards marched near NARAL headquarters in Washington today, denouncing plans to erect a right-wing Christian church within a block of the abortion rights group. Heated words were exchanged between supporters of the place of worship; luckily physical altercations were avoided in this escalating battle.

Tension has been brewing since late last year, when plans for the Lutheran-denomination church were unveiled in planning commission meetings. NARAL-friendly Councilwoman Diana Matthews had been quietly working to stall the plans, requesting additional information about the parking and infrastructure requirements of the planned structure, but the architect and engineer on the project quickly provided evidence that the demands of the new structure would not materially change from the property’s previous structure.

As the project has neared breaking ground, opponents and supporters have taken to the streets. “It’s an affront to the freedom that NARAL protects that these Christo-fascists would try to base their hate so close to our headquarters,” said Susan Colona, a NARAL employee. “It’s clear that they’re moving so close in order to threaten and intimidate the workers here at NARAL. It’s chilling, in the wake of the senseless murder of Dr. George Tiller, that they’re willing to escalate their actions.”

Protesters carrying signs with slogans such as “Go Back To Kansas” and “Keep Your God Out Of My Uterus” marched outside the headquarters. Supporters of the church countered nearby with opposing signs, “Abortion Is Murder — An Eye For An Eye” and “We Protect Those Who Can’t Protect Themselves.”

Pro-choice US Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) sides with NARAL. “The actions of the picketers in support of this church are a clear example of hate speech. We are a country that values freedom of religion, and I don’t believe we can legally stop this congregation from forming, but I am deeply saddened that the church would choose such a site for their home.”

Pastor Elijah Williams, who would be heading the proposed church, doesn’t understand the fight. “While we as a church are generally against the practice of abortion, many within the ELCA are willing to make exceptions for circumstances such as rape and the health of the mother. In fact, Dr. George Tiller was a member of the ELCA, and we have publicly condemned Scott Roeder for his unconscionable actions. We are a peaceful church, and chose the site of our church because we thought it was the best place for our home, not because of its proximity to NARAL.”

Pastor Williams even suggested that the extremist protestors antagonizing NARAL were not from the ELCA, but rather sent by the Westboro Baptist Church, an organization known for sending protestors to funerals of US Servicemen killed in combat.

The fight doesn’t appear to be waning. NARAL has been searching for legal ways to fight the church, including potentially having the entire block declared a historic landmark due to its age. Stephen Simpson, a lawyer who had previously advised the ELCA on other matters, doesn’t see this as cause for hope. “What should have been a very simple process of building a home for a budding congretation is now likely to be derailed. Once national politics and the legal system become involved, this will become a circus. I hope the church and NARAL can come to some agreement to avoid this outcome.”

Given the contention between the parties, though, this appears unlikely at this time.

From the Left and Right, Marijuana Legalization Faces Opposition

At this point in time, there is reason to be optimistic about marijuana legalization. Andrew Napalitano was able to get Sarah Palin to back the “lowest criminal priority” position on his show, while Oakland, California seems to be positioning itself into a future marijuana growth mecca with a local ordinance allowing industrial marijuana production in the city:

Oakland’s City Council passed a resolution late Tuesday night, which could make it the first city in the state to give official permission to the industrial marijuana production. The move is considered groundbreaking as it will ensure commercialization of a crop that is mainly cultivated in hidden gardens. “This is a monumental step forward,” said Dale Gieringer, an Oakland resident and the longtime head of California NORML, which backs the legalization of marijuana. “It really means moving into the era of industrial-scale operations, and Oakland means to do it big.”

Meanwhile, liberal politicians from California, predictably disappointing on this issue, such as Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, are coming out in opposition to legalization:

Democrat Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior U.S. senator, has thrown her weight behind the effort to defeat Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Initiative of 2010. Apparently Feinstein believes that California’s present pot prohibition, which was initially enacted in 1913 yet has done nothing to reduce the plant’s availability or use, is worth keeping.

If the double-headed behavior of the Left weren’t enough to give marijuana legalization supporters an aneurysm, the support of Ron Paul, Andrew Napolitano and maybe even Sarah Palin isn’t enough to guarantee right-wing support to a final end to the failed drug war:

“Angry old Republicans are not our friends,” warned Dale Gieringer, executive director of the California chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). He predicted “a very tough campaign” ahead for Tax Cannabis 2010, even without a right-wing rally. As libertarian and small government as they purport to be, the Tea Party-types are all-but-guaranteed conservative votes, votes that could tip the balance against Tax Cannabis 2010 — which in latest polls is scoring about “50-50,” according to Gieringer, who dropped the news Sunday during day two of the International Cannabis & Hemp Exposition at the Cow Palace on Saturday.

It’s unfortunate to see how unpredictable this initiative is. For bureaucratic educational reasons, I can’t vote while I’m here in California. I’m still registered in Washington state, so I have no voice on this issue except to urge people to go out and vote for Proposition 19. Our state already failed on same-sex marriage. We’d better not fail on this one.

Marxism And Libertarian Exploitation Theory

I tend to be a stickler for definitions and proper usage of terms. One of those that stick in my craw is the use of “Marxism” to describe a lot of systems that Marx wouldn’t have supported. Marx, as an intellectual, had quite a few pretty strong insights economically, but he had some social beliefs on human nature that led him down the wrong path. While I’m no Marxist, by ANY stretch of the imagination, I find myself sometimes defending Marx from the unfair criticisms. There’s enough about his beliefs that are fair to criticize that it makes no sense to add falsehoods.

The Marxist philosophy, as I understand it, can be boiled down into theories of exploitation. He dealt first with mankind’s defeat of feudalism. Feudalism is the exploitation of the masses by the aristocracy, where all property was owned by the traditional power elite, and the masses (subjects) were given pittance as reward for toiling for those masses. Marx viewed capitalism as the proper, and beneficial, opponent of feudalism. Capitalism offered levels of freedom for the masses that feudalism before it did not, but he believed that it created a new and different type of exploitation. Capitalism offered a more free exchange of labor for property, but there were typically two classes still — the capitalists and the workers. The capitalists had enough of a stranglehold on the means of production that they extracted a surplus from the workers; they paid them too low of a wage compared to the value* those workers produced.

Thus, Marx believed that while capitalism was a positive marker on the road of human social evolution, he didn’t believe it was the end point. Marx saw an end point where the “capitalist class” ceased to exist. At that point the “worker class” would own the means of production, and thus there would be no exploitation of the surplus value. The workers would retain this surplus. But Marx’s vision DID NOT include a totalitarian state to divide the spoils of production. He saw, rightly, that the state itself could easily be an exploitative entity, and thus the Marxist communist vision of society was really anarcho-socialism.

Marx saw that to break the capitalist stranglehold on the means of production, there would likely need to be a period of state socialism. The capitalist class was not willing to give up their surplus freely. They would need to be broken, and to do so an entity with the power to carry out that duty must exist — a state. Once the capitalists had been broken, though, he believed the state itself would wither away out of lack of necessity.

Marx made what I would consider to be three critical mistakes in his analysis:

  • Humanity has far too close of a relationship with property to function in an anarcho-socialist system.
  • The state, once breaking the capitalists, had too many perks to let itself “wither away”.
  • Much of his goals for workers “owning the means of production” are already beginning to occur within capitalism.

The first point is a bit of my own conjecture, but stems from Marx’s treatment of classes as classes rather than the more individualist libertarian treatment of classes as collections of disparate individuals. Marx saw the proletariat seizing the means of production and then finding harmonious sustainable ways to equitably distribute the fruits of such production. The analysis does not take into account individual goals, which is a very human desire to maximize gains for one’s self and one’s own. Humans are cooperative, but we are cooperative individuals. Cooperation can be sustained in a system of mutual benefit, but humans typically have a difficult time sacrificing for the collective over the long haul. Anarcho-socialism relies on such mutual cooperation (and sacrifice) in the absence of a coercive entity, and thus relies on human nature to be compatible with such a system. I do not believe human nature is so constituted — which, of course, is why I’m an anarcho-capitalist.

The second point has been demonstrated in nearly every society which has taken a serious stab at state socialism. The rulers become quite fond of being the rulers, and enjoying the material and societal perks of being at the top of the food chain. Rather than dismantling the exploitive class, they replace it with themselves. If faced with the choice of “withering away” or putting down their opposition by whatever means necessary, they usually opt for the latter. Lord Acton’s old adage about power corrupting holds sway.

Finally, Marx discounted capitalism’s ability for the working class to own the means of production without seizing it — they may merely buy a piece. American corporations don’t limit stock purchases to fellow robber-barons, they let any old average Joe with an E*Trade account have a piece. In 2000, America passed the tipping point, with 50% of households owning stock. The 401K is widely used as a wealth-building vehicle, and rather than discourage this, corporations compete as to how much of a matching contribution will be added. Further, larger corporations often have employee stock purchase plans where, at discounted rates, employees can buy directly into their own company. Modern economics is blurring the line between the “working class” and the “capitalist class”. But in the reverse of Marx’s prediction, it is the inclusion of workers into the capitalist class that is blurring the line.

Interestingly, a recent paper written by Ralph Raico of the Mises Institute (and printed by the Campaign for Liberty here) compares some of Marx’s writings on the exploitation of the state over the masses to those of classical liberals. Marx saw the potential for government to stand independent and against the interest of its subjects; one wonders why he thought a transition through state socialism to pure communism would ever work:

Every common interest was straightway severed from society, counterposed to it as a higher general interest, snatched from the activity of society’s members themselves and made an object of government activity, from a bridge, a schoolhouse and the communal property of a village community to the railways, the national wealth and the national university of France…. All revolutions perfected this machine instead of smashing it. The parties that contended in turn for domination regarded the possession of this huge state edifice as the principal spoils of the victor …under the second Bonaparte [Napoleon III] …the state [seems] to have made itself completely independent. As against civil society, the state machine has consolidated its position …thoroughly. [Quoting Marx from Raico’s piece]

At the same time, classical liberal writers denounced the warmaking powers of government as tools of the elite and financial interests, operating on the backs of the masses:

The degree to which one finds the concepts of classes and class conflict used in this sense in 18th- and 19th-century liberalism, once one looks for it, is astonishing. To take two examples: this is clearly what Tom Paine is talking about in The Rights of Man, when he speaks of governments making war in order to increase expenditures; and what William Cobbett is getting at when he terms gold the poor man’s money, since inflation is a device utilized by certain knowledgeable and influential financial circles.

As [John] Bright put it:

The more you examine the matter the more you will come to the conclusion which I have arrived at, that this foreign policy, this regard for “the liberties of Europe,” this care at one time for “the Protestant interests,” this excessive love for the “balance of power,” is neither more nor less than a gigantic system of out-door relief for the aristocracy of Great Britain.”

Later in the century, Bright identified other classes as the promoters of imperialism. In the case of the British occupation of Egypt in 1882, Bright (who resigned from the cabinet on account of it) believed that the City of London (i.e., financial interests) were at work, and, according to his biographer, “he did not think that we ought to involve ourselves in a series of wars to collect the debts of bondholders or find new lands for commercial exploitation.” He agreed with his friend Goldwin Smith, the classical-liberal historian and anti-imperialist, who wrote him that it was simply a “stock-jobbers’ war.” This was long after Cobden had died, but the latter would doubtless have agreed. He once wrote: “We shall offer no excuses for so frequently resolving questions of state policy into matters of pecuniary calculation. Nearly all the revolutions and great changes in the modern world have a financial origin.

It is thus interesting that those today who would call themselves “Marxists” support the very oppressive governments that Marx himself derided, while attacking the classical liberal underpinnings of Adam Smith and the classical liberals, who were likely very influential to Marx’s own thought.

I have little love for Karl Marx and his theories. I do, however, have great interest in him. He has become a caricature of both the left and the right, celebrated or opposed for fictions about what he believed and espoused. As I’ve said, I think there’s a lot to teach about Marxism and its flaws as a theory. It offers the ability to further highlight the classical theories that led to Marx, and show why his “improvements” on said theories are bunk. But if the left equates Marx to Ghandi, and the right equates Marx to Stalin, we’re not going to get anywhere.
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Chavez Running New Gambit To Break Opposition Media

This doesn’t sound good:

Chavez said the authorities have determined that 25.8 percent of shares in Globovision belong to one of the owners of the Banco Federal, which the government took over last month citing financial problems and irregularities.

With that minority ownership stake, the government will have a right to name a board member of Globovision, Chavez said.

“We’re joining the business,” he said.

Globovision takes a consistent anti-government stance, and its broadcasts have been a frequent target of the president’s wrath.

Chavez also suggested the government could take over an additional 20 percent stake that belonged to a shareholder who recently died, which would raise its ownership to 45.8 percent.

“If someone receives a concession and dies, the state recovers that concession,” he said.

Chavez has been fighting for years to fully consolidate the media in state hands. I’m not sure he’s got enough power to walk in the front door, but he just might have found an unlocked window.

Quote Of The Day

Not sure how it ended up this way, but I’ve got three posts coming this morning on socialism/communism. First we’ve got Friedrich Engels, communist intellectual, opining on the American government in an 1891 work:

Society had created its own organs to look after its common interests…. But these organs, at whose head was the state power, had in the course of time, in pursuance of their own special interests, transformed themselves from the servants of society into the masters of society…. Nowhere do “politicians” form a more separate and powerful section of the nation than precisely in North America [i.e., the United States]. There, each of the two major parties which alternately succeed each other in power is itself in turn controlled by people who make a business of politics…. It is in America that we see best how there takes place this process of the state power making itself independent in relation to society …we find two great gangs of political speculators, who alternately take possession of the state power and exploit it by the most corrupt means and for the most corrupt ends — the nation is powerless against these two great cartels of politicians who are ostensibly its servants, but in reality dominate and plunder it.

His cure isn’t right, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t nail the symptom cold.

A little inisight as to why the Democrats are losing so badly this election

It’s because they don’t realize that the elements of their “turnaround plan”, are what is causing them to lose in the first place:

From Mark Halperin, writing in Time:

“What has kept the easily panicked denizens of Capitol Hill from open revolt until now was a shared confidence that there was still plenty of time to turn things around, and that the White House had a strategy to do just that. (Comment on this story.)

The two-part scheme was pretty straightforward. First, Democrats planned a number of steps to head off, or at least soften, the anti-Washington, anti-incumbent, anti-Obama sentiment that cost them the Massachusetts seat. Pass health care, and other measures to demonstrate that Democrats could get things done for the middle class; continue to foster those fabled green shoots on the economy, harvesting the positive impact of the massive economic stimulus bill passed early in the Administration; heighten the contrast between the two parties by delivering on Wall Street reform and a campaign-funding law to counteract January’s controversial Supreme Court decision.

Use all of those elements to contrast the Democrats’ policies under Obama with the Republicans’ policies under Bush, rather than allow the midterms to be a referendum on the incumbent party. “

…. Soooo their plan is basically “Wow, it didn’t work, let’s do it again only HARDER”.

What a work of utter fantasy and self delusion…

We call this “believing your own bullshit”.

See, the Democrats really honestly think that “the middle class” is all for their program, and they just aren’t executing well enough etc… That the mass of voters frustration is about their inability to get things done.

In reality, the mass of voters are CHEERING because they caren’t getting things done. They don’t WANT this healthcare boondoggle. They don’t want more restrictions on free speech. They don’t want more government control and interference in their lives and their businesses.

The far left, and the idiot youth (and yes, they are useful idiots as far as the Democractic political machine is concerned) are disappointed (At best) and riled up (at worst) by the Democrats failures, but they make up a small minority of the voting electorate (no more than 20 percent, and most years a lot less). Most of them are reporting to pollsters that they won’t be voting this time around.

The Democrats don’t realize, it’s not their lack of execution, it’s their program itself that’s killing them; because “the middle class” recognizes that said program is really going to hurt them, to benefit the non-taxpaying class, and the Democratic political establishment.

“The Middle Class” recognize when someone is trying to steal from them, they don’t like it, and when it comes down to protecting their wallets, THEY VOTE.

It’s why whenever the left wants to pass some big social legislation, they have to lie to the people and tell them that it won’t increase THEIR taxes, just those rich fat cats up the hill, and those evil corporations…

Only they’ve beaten that horse to death now, and the truth is obvious for anyone who wants to look. The lefts agenda will directly hurt the wallet of everyone who actually pays taxes.

The people may be apathetic about most things, and they may be uninformed and unobservant about politics… but they aren’t stupid. Hit’em in the wallet, and they will hit back.

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 NFL And Los Angeles — Which Taxpayers Get Screwed Worst?

Being a football junkie, engineer, and overall nerd, one of my favorite sports websites is Advanced NFL Stats. They delve into the minutiae of the game at a level relatively unseen elsewhere, in addition to regularly linking commentary about the sport elsewhere that tackles strategy and tactics at almost a “football coach” level rather than ESPN talking-head level.

There’s usually not much overlap with politics, but today the purveyor of the blog, Brian, is discussing whether it’s better for the NFL to have a team in Los Angeles or to have it as a lucrative bargaining chip for other cities:

It may be that the NFL would be foolish not to take advantage of such a large market, but perhaps the current 32 teams are better off leaving LA wanting for a team.

Without a team there, they sacrifice the exposure and revenue LA can provide. On the other hand, a team-less LA might provide the 32 NFL teams much more. As it currently stands, any team trying to wrangle a new stadium or other major concession from its home city and state has a credible threat of a lucrative destination.

If Vikings owner Zigi Wilf wants a new stadium, with LA in the mix, he’s likely to get more cooperation from Minnesotans, fans and government alike. If Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver is seeking deep discounts on his lease or a bigger share of the stadium concessions, he’ll get a better reception with LA as a suitor than if Portland or Oklahoma City were the next best alternatives.

Based on this analysis, I would think that the taxpayers of cities with NFL stadiums are desperately hoping that LA gets a team. After all, as the actual victims of the extortion that local team owners foist on city officials, they’ve got the biggest dog in this fight.

What’s sad in this analysis (and I don’t discredit Brian for leaving it out, as he’s not — to my knowledge — a libertarian, and even if he were his blog is not a political policy blog in any way) is that it is merely a foregone conclusion that team owners can expect cities to bend over backwards to build stadiums if the teams merely have a credible threat to leave.

In a sane world, stadium funding wouldn’t have anything to do with city government, except maybe for zoning and traffic planning considerations. In fact, to the extend that infrastructure needs are stressed by the stadium, a city/state would be justified in extracting money from the team to help cover the externalities imposed upon neighboring residents due to the impact of the new stadium. But we don’t live in a sane world. We live in a world where local officials have an ego-driven need to keep teams in the city, and are willing to spend a lot of money in order to do so (it is easy since it’s not their own money). Team owners know this, so they’ll do whatever it takes to shunt the cost onto the taxpayer as well.

If this is the way the game is played, I hope for the rest of the country’s sake that LA gets at team. It would be nice to have professional football here in addition to USC.

Voting For Smaller Gov’t In November? Good Luck

As Chris pointed out last week, Republicans might be able to get us to at least a divided Congress in November. One expects that if they do, they’ll stand athwart the tracks as the big-government train approaches, yelling STOP!

But their bark is worse than their bite:

Yeah! Go Red team! Go Democracy!

via TJIC, who as always gives it the extra flourish that a graph like this really needs.

Tweet Of The Day

@ezraklein

Downside of #topsecretamerica: It’s watching everything you do. Upside: It doesn’t know what it’s seeing.

I believe that’s intended to be reassuring. What I’m not sure Ezra understands is that this is probably WORSE, because it’s less likely to be indiscriminately applied. Rather, it’s far more likely to be abused for political or personal ends.

Think of it this way. Let’s say you’re an average joe who gets a bit creative on your income tax return. You casually invent a few things, casually omit a few things, and end up maybe increasing your refund by $1K. All this data probably won’t mean that you’ll get caught for your transgression. You can go about your merry way without worry, because the government doesn’t have the ability to filter out and recognize based upon all the data that reality isn’t congruous with what’s on the form.

But let’s say that there’s a reason for government to target you. Let’s say, for example, that you’re a political blogger who is a thorn in the side of one of your state legislators. That legislator has a few connections. They work to mine the data looking for something to damage your credibility. All of a sudden they find that your weekly golfing buddy just happens to have 2nd-level connections to guys who are tied to fundraising for an Islamic “charity” group that’s on the state department list of terrorist groups. And you’ve become acquainted with them through email, facebook, etc. All of a sudden it doesn’t matter that you barely know these guys, it doesn’t matter that those guys think they’re contributing to a charity helping people. All of a sudden you get blindsided by rumors that you’re tied to terrorist groups, and have to dig out of that with your extended family, your neighbors, your boss, etc.

I’m not saying this is an exceptionally likely scenario. But all this data ensures that if someone in power has a reason to target you, they can find something that you’ve done wrong, or manufacture enough circumstantial evidence to destroy your reputation. The mountains of data probably won’t help them find you — government isn’t competent enough for that. But if they know you and hate you, the mountains of data will give them all the ammunition they need to destroy you.

Venezuela: Ruled By A Complete Madman

If it wasn’t already evident that Hugo Chavez is a complete madman, the exhuming of the long dead revolutionary Simon Bolivar should prove that to you:

(Reuters) – Venezuela exhumed the remains of 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar on Friday and will test them to see if he was poisoned by enemies in Colombia.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez rejects the traditional account that Bolivar, a brilliant Venezuelan military tactician who freed much of South America from centuries of Spanish rule, died of tuberculosis in Colombia in 1830.

He insists Bolivar was murdered by a Colombian rival, and Venezuela’s newly inaugurated state forensics laboratory is taking as its first case the death of the hero some call Latin America’s George Washington.

The insanity continues considerably with Chavez’s ramblings as he seems to orgasm and faun over the skeleton of Bolivar:

“What amazing moments we have lived tonight! We have seen the remains of the Great Bolivar,” Chavez wrote on his Twitter account, @chavezcandanga, after the casket was opened before dawn.

“My God, my God … my Christ, our Christ … I confess we have cried, we have sworn. I tell them: this glorious skeleton must be Bolivar because you can feel his presence. My God.”

This is sick stuff. Meanwhile, the Hard Left in the United States has been acting in accordance with this sick puppy as he utilizes populist sentiment to expand power and enrich himself. Food is being rationed for the Venezuelan people while Chavez, who had a very trim figure in his revolutionary days, is well fed and plump.

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