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.

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