Monthly Archives: August 2010

Point: Nullification Is The Civil Disobedience of Federalism

This post is a part of our continuing series Point/Counterpoint. I am taking the position that state Nullification of federal law is a legitimate action, and Doug Mataconis will respond tomorrow with a rebuttal. In memory of James Kilpatrick, we’ll dedicate this installment to him.

In federal politics, states are party to an uneasy compact with other states under the guise of a superior government.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

As such, they cede many powers to that national government, but one must think that they do not cede all of their own powers. Something must be held in reserve. The question is what? After all, this “Supremacy Clause” Constitution only grants supremacy to those laws made in pursuance of the Constitution itself — anything not permitted by the Constitution must not be considered to be Supreme. The real question, then, is who decides what is Constitutional?

Since 1803 and John Marshall, half of that question has been decided. The US Supreme Court is the arbiter of what is, and what is not, Constitutional. Further, a critical tool of state protection against the overreaches of the national government, the state appointment of Senators, was stricken in 1913 by the Seventeenth Amendment. Thus, the only legal method of appeal to Constitutionality available to the States is appeal to the Supreme Court, a body that hasn’t found many overreaches of national government since the New Deal.

Nullification, the doctrine that states can disregard federal laws, declaring them unconstitutional, is a provocation somewhere between fighting a battle at the Supreme Court level and secession.

Appeal to the Supreme Court is basic and need not be addressed here. Secession is a far more drastic measure, far more controversial, and an area where I believe Doug and I disagree, so it does require some treatment. Secession is often equated with violence, and treated as “violent revolution”, but I would say that most instances of violence were continued by the government trying to retain their subjects, not by those trying to withdraw. In the American Revolution, nothing that I’ve seen suggests that had the British peacefully withdrawn their troops, the colonists would have had any cause for continuation of violence. Even in the US Civil War, it is unlikely that, had the North allowed the South to secede, that the South would have ridden on Washington to impose slavery back upon the North. Secession is not overthrow of the government, it is withdrawal therefrom. Of course, Doug and I agree that, whether they had the right or not, the South’s secession was for morally unconscionable reasons — the continuance of the despicable practice of slavery. But the South’s secession was no different than the American Revolution in that they were NOT attempts to overthrow a government outside of the territories that wanted their freedom, they could have been peaceful separations. The breakup of the Soviet Union is a good example. While it was only peaceful because the Russians didn’t have the power to hold it together, it was a peaceful secession nonetheless.

So at this point we’ve sketched out two responses to potentially unconstitutional overreaches by a national government. The first is the relatively weak appeal to the Supreme Court — asking the government to self-regulate. This is a difficult option. A Senate prior to the Seventeenth Amendment might take seriously their “Advice and Consent” role in judicial nominations to only nominate those who would respect state sovereignty and Constitutional limits, but that ship has sailed. In its wake, it’s left a court with an expansive view of national government authority. Secession, on the other hand, is all-or-nothing. And while it may not be a violent act, history has shown that it often will be. As Doug pointed out in all three posts I read of his referencing secession, Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence said that taking to arms should not be done “for light and transient causes”.

Leaving only these two options is a fool’s game. Secession will only be legitimate in the face of absolutely unconscionably abuse, and appeal to the judiciary is impotent and unlikely to succeed [and further, the structure of the direct election of Senate and the Supreme Court nomination process makes it unlikely this will change]. If one wants to give the national government limitless power, asking only that it police itself, having only these two options is the roadmap…

…which is why we need nullification.

Nullification is the civil disobedience of Federalism. Is it legal? No. After all, the Supremacy Clause and judicial review see to that. But it wasn’t legal for Rosa Parks to sit at the front of the bus, or for black students to sit at a “Whites-only” counter at Woolworth’s. Sometimes, the law is a ass. Sometimes, you need to disobey to make a point.

I’ll give an example. Here in California, we have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. This is in DIRECT contradiction to the Controlled Substances Act, an act that empowered the regulation to be written that declares marijuana a Schedule I drug — with no medical use whatsoever. This is nullification in action. This is civil disobedience. California is not denying the Federal government’s power to enforce the drug laws — but it is denying its compliance with those laws and its assistance to the Feds in such power.

What will the result of this action be? Well, this (and potentially the follow-on Proposition 19) forces the people of California address the question of marijuana. Several states have followed on with their own medical marijuana laws. We now have a body of medical marijuana users which can be called upon to testify that marijuana does have medical use. We have families who have watched their loved ones, battling horrible diseases which sap their appetite, who have been able to eat enough to keep their strength. Hopefully the result of this action will be the government backing down and taking marijuana off Schedule I.

Viewed this way, nullification is less about disobedience as it is about changing policy. Nullification is a tactic in a wider strategy. It is a way to register unhappiness with federal dictates without necessarily going full-bore and threatening secession. Further, it is a way to demonstrate, by direct example, that changes in policy are preferable to the way Washington demands.

Undoubtedly, Doug will respond that nullification can be used for nefarious purposes, much like secession. I cannot disagree. Arizona is willing to prove that, as if there haven’t been enough historical examples already. Nullification is a tool, and it is the one who wields the tool who is important.

The national government appropriates power to itself, and it has built structures to weaken or remove legal impediments to that power. In response, we need illegal, but peaceful, impediments. Non-violent resistance carries with it a moral weight that legal Supreme Court wrangling never will, and that is a tool that we in the fight for liberty do NOT want to cede.

Nullification may not be legal, but it is legitimate.

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Quote Of The Day

From the Irvine Housing Blog:

Borrowers who took out enormous loans during the housing bubble never intended to repay these loans from their wage income, they always intended to pass this debt to some else. Somewhere along the way this subtle paradigm shift took place. It seems very reasonable that one could merely service debt for a while and resell the property to someone else and pay off the debt then. Like any Ponzi Scheme, it works until there is no greater fool to come along and assume the debt.

Enter the government! Biggest fool of them all!

Quote Of The Day

Karl Smith on taxes vs. regulation:

On the other hand barrels of ink and the fates of political parties are determined over debates about the taxation of labor. Its a generally accepted principle of Public Economics that taxes are less damaging than regulation and in either case the broader and more uniform the restriction the less damage it does.

As such its not immediately obvious that whether we tax labor at a high marginal rate of 35% or 39.6% has larger supply side effect than whether a young entrepreneur faces a gauntlet of unnecessary classes and fees. In fact I am being too coy. I would be shocked if the taxes mattered more.

The rest is worth reading as well (discussion of health care freedom).

But the point is too often neglected. The combination of nanny-statism and corporatism leads to a government dominated by meddlesome bureaucrats, too often captured by the industries they regulate. Their actions are as harmful as those of the taxman, but far less visible.

Hat Tip: Ryan Avent @ Economist Free Exchange blog

Obama: Judge, Jury, and Executioner in Chief

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” – Amendment V of the U.S. Constitution

I don’t know how I missed this, but apparently the 5th Amendment was repealed a few months back with very little concern on the part of the media. Or maybe this was a big story back in February and I just wasn’t paying attention. I have been quite busy lately but I still don’t see how I missed this most disturbing power grab on the part of the Obama administration to date: the power for the president to order the assassination of American citizens without trial*.

If you missed this like I did and have read about this for the first time here, you may believe this sounds like some kooky black helicopter Soldier of Fortune conspiracy propaganda. When I heard about this the first time from Glenn Beck (of all people) on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s Freedom Watch, I thought it was probably another one of Beck’s over the top Obama boogey man theories. I thought surely if a president, even this president, were to do such a thing as order CIA snipers or perhaps Predator drones to take out an American citizen without trial, even the media on Left would be scandalized by such a policy.

As it turns out, Beck was right. When I entered the phrase “Obama can assassinate Americans” into a Google search, I did find at least one Left wing blog, Democracy Now! podcast hosted by Amy Goodman back in February explore this issue. And to Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s (D-OH) credit, he made an appearance on the podcast to explain why he isn’t giving President Obama a pass.

Kucinich:

Well, I think its incumbent upon the Attorney General to explain the basis in law for such a policy. Our Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, our Seventh Amendment, our Fourteenth Amendment all clearly provide legal protections for people who are accused or who would be sentenced after having been judged to be guilty. And what’s happened is that the Constitution is being vitiated here. The idea that people are—have—if their life is in jeopardy, legally have due process of law, is thrown out the window.

And, Amy, when you consider that there are people who are claiming there are many terrorist cells in the United States, it doesn’t take too much of a stretch to imagine that this policy could easily be transferred to citizens in this country. That doesn’t—that only compounds what I think is a slow and steady detachment from core constitutional principles. And once that happens, we have a country then that loses its memory and its soul, with respect to being disconnected from those core constitutional principles which are the basis of freedom in our society.

Not everyone on the Left is as willing to hold the Obama administration accountable though. Salon.com writer Glenn Greenwald (also a guest interviewed in the above podcast), one of the few columnists to give this policy the condemnation it deserves, wrote a very disturbing piece to remind those who were (rightly) critical of the Bush administration’s policies concerning extraordinary rendition, holding “enemy combatants” indefinitely without trial (including American citizens), warrantless wiretapping, and so on, should be at least as critical of Obama’s policy which goes even further.

Greenwald writes:

“Today, both The New York Times and The Washington Post confirm that the Obama White House has now expressly authorized the CIA to kill al-Alwaki no matter where he is found, no matter his distance from a battlefield. I wrote at length about the extreme dangers and lawlessness of allowing the Executive Branch the power to murder U.S. citizens far away from a battlefield (i.e., while they’re sleeping, at home, with their children, etc.) and with no due process of any kind.

[…]

And what about all the progressives who screamed for years about the Bush administration’s tyrannical treatment of Jose Padilla? Bush merely imprisoned Padilla for years without a trial. If that’s a vicious, tyrannical assault on the Constitution — and it was — what should they be saying about the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s assassination of American citizens without any due process?

[…]

When Obama was seeking the Democratic nomination, the Constitutional Law Scholar answered a questionnaire about executive power distributed by The Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage, and this was one of his answers:

5. Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?

[Obama]: No. I reject the Bush Administration’s claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.

So back then, Obama said the President lacks the power merely to detain U.S. citizens without charges. Now, as President, he claims the power to assassinate them without charges. Could even his hardest-core loyalists try to reconcile that with a straight face? As Spencer Ackerman documents today, not even John Yoo claimed that the President possessed the power Obama is claiming here.

Even though I did not vote for Obama in 2008 and was very critical of his policy positions at the time, I thought he would at least be an improvement in the area of civil liberties. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It seems that rather than rolling back these Bush era unconstitutional power grabs, Obama has grown accustomed to them and decided to take these powers to the next level: killing Americans he believes to be enemies of the state.

Perhaps there is room to debate whether or not foreign suspected terrorists deserve all the legal protections of our courts but the idea of killing American citizens without trial most certainly is not debatable. If our government does anything well its identifying individuals and putting them in prison and/or sentencing said individuals to death. This is done successfully every day in our criminal justice system. We need not worry that many actual terrorists will escape going through the criminal justice system provided that the prosecutors have a minimum standard of proof and a jury of average intelligence.

Even as badly broken as our criminal justice system is, this is our system. Ordering the killing of American citizens even in an “emergency” is not among the powers provided to the president under the Constitution (I just double checked) and is not a suitable substitute.
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Quote Of The Day

Ezra Klein, on marriage, and the fight for “traditional” marriage:

In other words, America does not currently conceive of marriage in the way that Douthat and Tushnet would like it to conceive of marriage, and in the way it would need to conceive of marriage in order for there to be a good reason the institution can’t accommodate gays. So to oppose gay marriage, Douthat and Tushnet must first construct an alternative version of marriage, and then argue that if real marriage opens to gays, that’s another step away from the idealized marriage that would be closed to gays. It’s like partisans of VCRs opposing improvements to DVDs because they make the widespread resurrection of VHS unlikely.

This is the sort of thing I think about when I hear thrice-married Newt Gingrich talking about the sanctity of marriage. It almost seems like he’s fighting not to protect the type marriage that exists in America, but to protect the marriage that he wishes existed in America.

The Whys And Wherefores Of Armed Rebellion And Beer

Over at Popehat, Ken has posted a very thought-provoking question about the American Right’s rhetoric lately regarding armed rebellion. He delves into two topics, first exactly what the reasoning, scope, and result of revolution might be, and secondly into why the rhetoric tends to follow very similar paths to rhetoric of the socialist revolutionaries of the last century. It’s worth reading for the post, and there’s been a pretty good discussion in the comments section as well.

TJIC responds with a very long post of his own, laying out not only a justification for what conditions make rebellion morally acceptable, but also a bit of a “how-to” guide to destroy the state without obscene collateral damage. Again, very interesting.

In particular, though, I personally (for several obvious reasons) was struck by this visual question/response in TJIC’s post:

Ken: [After revolution] When do we get free elections again?

TJIC: Why would we want elections when we can have freedom?

In a mere two pictures, this illustrates my beliefs on democracy, anarcho-capitalism, and [of course] beer.

Democracy is a choice of rule, of whether you will have Left or Right, Republican or Democrat, Bud or Miller. It is both limited and binding. If the populace chooses Miller, the shelves are stocked with Miller Lite. Or more accurately, in our current system the shelves are stocked with ONLY Budweiser and Miller, in proportion to the vote count. At the top (President), perhaps the decision is that only one of them is then allowed to advertise on the networks [to strain the analogy well beyond its breaking point]. This situation is great for Budweiser, and great for Miller, regardless of where they fit along the spectrum of 60/40 split or 40/60 split of market share. The situation isn’t so good for the folks who don’t like either — but this is a democracy and they’re stuck with it.

In such a situation, would you say that the people who don’t like Bud or Miller are fully enfranchised? After all, they have every right to vote alongside the B party and the M party. After all, if they really want to drink something else, why don’t they just convince the rest of the voting public to join them.

That answer isn’t suitable for beer, that answer isn’t suitable for restaurants (imagine if McDonald’s vs. Burger King were your only choices), or for musical taste (imagine Lady Gaga vs. Jay-Z as your only choices), or for automobiles (Ford vs. GM). Yet we allow that answer to be suitable for something far more important, our governance.

When it comes to beer, I want freedom. I don’t want to stop people from drinking Bud & Miller, even though I find both of them to be a bit bland and boring. After all, bland and boring works for some people. My sister-in-law rarely eats anything more exciting than spaghetti or grilled cheese, and while I often chide her in a good-natured way, I have no interest in forcing her to eat sushi. With freedom, though, the people who want Bud/Miller can have it, and the people who want wide selections of craft beer can have it. Bud/Miller/Coors make up about 90% of the US Beer market share, but that leaves a lot of room for us on the “long tail”. And when I want a beer that no brewery can make for me, I just fire up the burners, grind some grain, and make it myself. That’s freedom.

Likewise, when it comes to governance, I want freedom. My right to vote for the Bud party or the Miller party doesn’t mean I get anything close to the government I want or find legitimate. Democracy has its advantages over many other forms of government, but it still forces everyone into a lowest-common-denominator one-size-fits-all political system. Those of us who don’t fit that mainstream get crushed right in with the masses. Like beer, I don’t really care what governance *you* want — if you love the Republicans or Democrats, you’re welcome to them. The problem in Democracy is that if 90% of the people in this country want Republicans or Democrats, the other 10% don’t have a chance at getting Libertarians. Your vote only matters if you have popular interests. There is no long tail. Freedom and liberty shouldn’t be subject to a vote, but unfortunately that’s the world we’re living in.

We’re On The Left Side Of The Laffer Curve…

…but on the right side of the supply-side argument growth curve.

I’ve posted about this several times, but I think the Laffer Curve is presented in such a way that it becomes highly misunderstood. Today that was made perfectly clear by Ezra Klein, who asked economists, political leftists and political rightists what tax rates would maximize revenue on the Laffer Curve.

The “neutral” economists all pointed to tax raters higher than we have today. Unsurprisingly, the political leftists agreed. Surprisingly, though, a number of the political rightists suggested a tax rate higher than we have today, but brought up an argument completely unrelated to the Laffer Curve in their response.

Here is one response that nails my criticism of “Laffer Curve Analysis” to a T:

Stephen Moore, senior economic writer and editorial board member, Wall Street Journal:

“The revenue maximizing rate is probably around 40 or 50 percent. But the growth maximizing rate, even given the current deficits, is probaby about 20 percent. So the goal is to get the rate down to 20 to 25 percent. For cap gains the revenue maximizing rate is between 15 and 20 percent.”

Interesting. The problem is the second sentence, describing maximizing the growth rate, has nothing to do with the Laffer Curve. The Laffer Curve ONLY describes the revenue-raising rate. It has nothing to do with long-term economic growth. In fact, any presentation of the Laffer Curve plots as related to economic growth are entirely the wrong shape, as economic growth doesn’t fall to zero at 0% taxation!

I think the below is a lot more representative:

laffer

Now, we can quibble over specifics (i.e. growth probably falls below 0% at high tax levels). But I think the shape is more representative of what you would expect from economic growth plotted vs. tax rates.

Economic growth and short-term revenue maximization are a trade-off, and that trade-off is NEVER represented in the Laffer Curve. Many suggest that revenue maximization is a lot closer to European tax levels than our own, but I’d state that the anemic economic growth seen in Europe suggests that they’re sacrificing economic growth for today’s tax receipts. America doesn’t really follow this, which is why our economic growth (and over time, now, our per capita GDP) are much higher than Europe.

But I think it’s clear that we’re below the maximizing revenue rate, but that we have a VERY GOOD REASON for remaining below that rate — we want to make a better world for our children and grandchildren through the possibilities that high GDP growth will open up to them.

Christopher Hitchens On The Campaign Against The “Ground Zero” Mosque

Christopher Hitchens may be battling cancer, but he hasn’t lost his talent for saying exactly the right thing in exactly the right way. Take, for example, his new Slate column regarding the ongoing and seemingly endless controversy over the “Ground Zero” mosque:

Take, for example, the widely publicized opinion of Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Supporting those relatives of the 9/11 victims who have opposed Cordoba House, he drew a crass analogy with the Final Solution and said that, like Holocaust survivors, “their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.” This cracked tune has been taken up by Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, who additionally claim to be ventriloquizing the emotions of millions of Americans who did not suffer bereavement. It has also infected the editorial pages of the normally tougher-minded Weekly Standard, which called on President Obama to denounce the Cordoba House on the grounds that a 3-to-1 majority of Americans allegedly find it “offensive.”

Where to start with this part-pathetic and part-sinister appeal to demagogy? To begin with, it borrows straight from the playbook of Muslim cultural blackmail. Claim that something is “offensive,” and it is as if the assertion itself has automatically become an argument. You are even allowed to admit, as does Foxman, that the ground for taking offense is “irrational and bigoted.” But, hey—why think when you can just feel? The supposed “feelings” of the 9/11 relatives have already deprived us all of the opportunity to see the real-time footage of the attacks—a huge concession to the general dulling of what ought to be a sober and continuous memory of genuine outrage. Now extra privileges have to be awarded to an instant opinion-poll majority. Not only that, the president is urged to use his high office to decide questions of religious architecture!

Nothing could be more foreign to the spirit and letter of the First Amendment or the principle of the “wall of separation.

Although he doesn’t come right out and say it, Hitchens hints that he’s not at all happy about the idea of this mosque being located so close to the site of the September 11th attacks. Unlike Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and all the others who have taken up the anti-mosque banner in this matter, though, Hitchens recognizes demagoguery when he sees it and, for an Englishman, has more respect for our First Amendment than many Americans do.

Hitchens ends up in about the same position that I am in this fight. I don’t necessarily favor the project, but these people own the building, they’ve complied with all applicable laws, and there doesn’t appear to be any legal means remaining to stop them. Those who want to use government force to stop them are nothing more than thieves motivated by religious bigotry rather than financial gain. The rest ? Well, they seem to think that having “feelings” and are “offended” means they have some special right to be heard. It’s really all rather sad and pathetic.

Well, Well, Well. Looks Like Somebody Forgot There’s A Rule Against Alcoholic Beverages In Fraternities On Probation!

Rules, rules, rules. You try to do something nice. You try to organize a little competition for homebrewers where they can have their craft evaluated, judged, and [even for those who don’t win] provide valuable feedback on technique. It’s done in private events, county and state fairs, organized by major breweries and by national brewing-centric organizations. As a regular competitor, I know how valuable that feedback can be in improving my beer.

This year, however, they dropped the hammer in Oregon, over a stupid law that nobody even realized was on the books:

When the 2010 Oregon State Fair opens on Aug. 27, there won’t be an amateur beer-brewers competition for the first time in 22 years.

An overlooked, 80-year-old statute that says Oregon home-brewed beer can’t leave the home has forced fair organizers to cancel the competition, which had 335 entrants last year, says Oregon Liquor Control Commission spokeswoman Christie Scott.

Brewers were reminded of the statute after the Oregon Department of Justice clarified the law for a pub seeking to serve home brew at an event, Scott says. “As long as this is the law, we have to enforce it,” she says, adding that the commission hopes to see the statute changed in time for the 2011 fair.

Nationally, federal regulations allow homebrewing as long as the beer is not sold and is subject to a 200-gallon household limit per year. (As an aside, one of my personal goals is to exceed that limit at least once.) The federal regulations say nothing about transportation of the beer, so this is purely an Oregon thing. Which is especially sad, since Oregon is one of the leading states driving the craft beer movement.

People romanticize government as our protectors, but forget that their meddling ways (and incompetence about what laws even exist) can be arbitrarily used to shut down a good time, despite the fact that nobody at the Oregon State Fair Homebrew Competition wanted or needed protection.

What’s next, shutting down a little girl’s lemonade stand because she doesn’t have a business license? Too late

Hat Tip: Reason

Medicare ‘Waste, Fraud, and Abuse’

Obama on Saturday:

“We’ve made Medicare more solvent by going after waste, fraud, and abuse – not by changing seniors’ guaranteed benefits”

Really? And how aggressively have you been “going after” them?

It took private sleuths hired by Medicare an average of six months last year to refer fraud cases to law enforcement.

According to congressional investigators, the exact average was 178 days. By that time, many cases go cold, making it difficult to catch perpetrators, much less recover money for taxpayers.

A recent inspector general report also raised questions about the contractors, who play an important role in Medicare’s overall effort to combat fraud.

Out of $835 million in questionable Medicare payments identified by private contractors in 2007, the government was only able to recover some $55 million, or about 7 percent, the report found.

Medicare overpayments – they can be anything from a billing error to a flagrant scam – totaled more than $36 billion in 2009, according to the Obama administration.

7%, huh? That’s about the percentage of people in the Obama administration who’ve actually held a real private-sector job!

PS – Numbers are tricky, but the article states that in 2007, $55M was recovered. The article also states that in 2005, the contractors were paid over $100M. Even when they’re looking for waste they appear to be creating more waste!

I’m Not A Fan Of “Joe Boxer”, But…

In Canada, there’s terror afoot. Young girls, late at night, are just BURSTING into flames! It seems they’ve been buying unapproved underpants, and the bodies are piling up.

Only, they’re not. Nobody to date has burst into flame. And they were approved, but they just got reclassified, and apparently the difference between calling them underwear and sleepwear is enough to pull them off the shelves:

Sears Canada is recalling thousands of young girls’ Joe Boxer underwear sets sold over the past four years because they’re not safe to be worn to bed as pyjamas.

The clothing meets Health Canada’s flammability tests for underwear, but not if worn as sleepwear. Sears Canada has removed the two-piece camisole and underpants sets from their stores. The cotton product is made in India.

Although no incidents have been reported, the company issued a news release to inform customers the clothing does not meet flammability test standards for pyjamas.

When people suggest that businesses are scared to invest in an environment where the rules constantly change, this is what they’re talking about. Getting moved from bin A to bin B can completely destroy your business.

Here’s Lenore Skenazy from Free Range Kids with her take on it:

Somehow, they have been reclassified as “sleepwear,” and sleepwear must hold to a higher non-flammability standard than undies. So now they are not fire retardant enough.

I’ll tell you what IS retardant enough…

I’m not so sure. I don’t think we have enough hard data on the fire retardant properties of the average politician or bureaucrat (the economic retardant properties are well understood).

I suggest we find a representative sample (not sure why, but the number 535 seems an appropriate sample size), light them on fire, and record the results.

It’ll be a win for freedom, and for science!

Religious Freedom Is What Makes America

We live in weird times. There is still plenty to criticize radical Islamists about, and we really should be wary of efforts to bring political Islam special favors and acceptability in the United States and elsewhere. These rational arguments, however, are doomed to be misunderstood thanks to the efforts of Newt Gingrich, Bill Kristol and other right-wingers. Thanks to them, anyone who critiques political Islam will be faced with the assumption that they’re a reactionary who wants to forbid Muslims the freedom to worship. Thanks alot, Newt.

Columnist Richard Cohen took Gingrich to task in a recent column:

Gingrich noted that there “are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” True enough. However, it is not the government of Saudi Arabia that seeks to open a mosque in Lower Manhattan, but a private group. In addition, and just for the record, Saudi Arabia does not represent all of Islam and, also just for the record, the al-Qaeda terrorists who murdered nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001, would gladly have added the vast Saudi royal family to the list of victims. In recompense, the Saudis would just as gladly apply some dull swords to the necks of al-Qaeda’s leaders. It is the way of the desert, or something like that.

The fact that Muslims can set up shop freely in America shows how different we are. Would conservatives rather we be more like Saudi Arabia? I honestly wonder, with their talk of “moral crusades” and other creepy religious window-dressing, if perhaps they should. It’s often said that people tend to hate those that are the most like them. In this regard, Islamic and Christian fundamentalists share a great deal in common.

Bill Kristol was equally incendiary:

Contemporary liberalism means building a mosque rather than a memorial at Ground Zero—and telling your fellow citizens to shut up about it.

Goodness gracious. The case of the NYC mosque is religious freedom on private property. If that’s not something conservatives support, then conservatism literally stands for nothing anymore apart from being ridiculous.

Additional: It looks like Hezbollah is more religiously pluralistic than our boy Newt:

Gingrich seems determined to drag Saudi intolerance into the debate over the Cordoba Center. I’ll bite. Three years ago, I was studying in Israel and took a trip to Beirut to see the city for myself. There I encountered the Magen Avraham Synogogue in Wadi Abu Jamil, a neighborhood that used to be the Jewish Quarter in Beirut. The synagogue was dilapidated and decrepit. Plants grew through the floor and the building looked as if it were about to fall apart.

Recently, with Hezbollah approval, what remains of the Lebanese Jewish community and several outside sources have begun a restoration project. You can read about the project here and here. You can follow it on facebook here. If even Hezbollah allows a synagogue to be built in Beirut, maybe Gingrich should lay off the mosque in lower Manhattan. Surely that’s not too high a standard.

I Scratch Your Back, You Give Me A Reach-Around

Who says government can’t coordinate their actions?

Local governments, hard hit by the recession and a loss of tax revenue, are loosening restrictions at airports regarding the sale of liquor. This will help them better fleece serve travelers who just need a lil’ sumpin’ to take the edge off before they step foot on that flight, and to help bury the shame at the violation of their bodily orifices they suffered from the TSA.

At the same time, FAA penalties for passengers stuck on the tarmac are spiking, leading to many more flight cancellations. This will fill those airports with a lot of passengers with time to kill and frustration that can be worn down with some nice tasty alcohol.

It’s win-win, baby!

Hat Tip: Balko @ Reason

A Critique of the ACLU

It takes considerable skill to be able to write from both ends of a political issue, and I’m happy to say that that is the task I am going about with the ACLU. For my defense of the ACLU, click here.

The ACLU frequently backs itself up as being in favor of the Constitution. If one frequents an urban center, fundraisers for the ACLU can be located with pins that say “I’m A Constitution Voter.”

Despite their fervent claimed support for the Constitution, however, the ACLU stands in direct support against the Second Amendment:

“The ACLU agrees with the Supreme Court’s long-standing interpretation of the Second Amendment [as set forth in the 1939 case, U.S. v. Miller] that the individual’s right to bear arms applies only to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia. Except for lawful police and military purposes, the possession of weapons by individuals is not constitutionally protected. Therefore, there is no constitutional impediment to the regulation of firearms.”

There is a paradox deep in the constitutional anti-gun position. A people’s militia, of the Switzerland variety, is not one in which large stocks of munitions are held in government custody to be used by hired contractors. This is quite obviously not the intention of the writers of the constitution. There is a layer of intellectual dishonesty to shield yourself with the constitution while advocating an argument that runs counter to it.

A more troubling case comes with the case of New York v. Ferber. In this case, the ACLU defended Paul Ferber, who was arrested after he was found to be selling footage of boys masturbating at his adult bookstore. His bookstore was located in Manhattan, and therefore subject to New York State laws governing the sale of pornography, which banned any pornography with anyone below 16 years  old.

As a progressive organization, the ACLU was started by socialists reacting not only in outrage to the policies of intervention in Europe but also to anti-communist sentiment in the United States following the Russian Revolution. For an organization slated towards artificial economic reorganization to utilize selective defense of businessmen is one disappointing, but to use that selective defense to defend the indefensible is beyond the pale. Sexual abuse of minors in any form is an inexcusable crime.

Point: The ACLU Is A Friend of Liberty

It takes considerable skill to be able to write from both ends of a political issue, and I’m happy to say that that is the task I am going about with the ACLU. For my critique of the ACLU, click here.

The Left and Right political labels are pretty useless at a certain point, but for the sake of convenience, I’ll use the Left wing label in order to defend the ACLU.

The political Left has at its core both a democratic and an authoritarian side. George Orwell, Lionel Trilling and Christopher Hitchens are among some of the most prominent intellectuals to have split with the Left on occasion in order to speak out against tyranny. This dichotomy is one I like to call the “Napoleon-Snowball dichotomy,” after the characters from Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Napoleons don’t simply show up in third world countries like North Korea or Venezuela – they also have their place in the United States. Despite his coming to the mainstream fore speaking of the need to defend civil liberties, Barack Obama has accelerated the authority of the government to new heights. Obama has grabbed the authority to kill American citizens anywhere in the world. He has put closing Guantanamo on the back burner. Obama’s civil liberties problem was made clear as well by his firing of Shirley Sherrod on the grounds of a sloppy hit job by Andrew Breitbart. Any administration that would fire a public servant so quickly on such shaky grounds must have some sort of anxiety about its power.

For Obama’s Napoleonism, the ACLU has acted as a modern day Snowball, defending against the frightening precedent of a president being able to eliminate Americans by executive order.  In a suit filed against the government, the ACLU argued that the Obama administration had “asserted authority to use lethal force against US citizens located far from any battlefield without charge, trial, or judicial process of any kind.”

The ACLU is also victim to a lot of misinformation, including the urban legend that they had filed suit to have crosses removed from graveyards. In fact, in 1999, they did precisely the opposite:

WEST PALM BEACH, FL — In the first case to be filed under Florida’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida goes to trial today on behalf of seven families seeking to prevent the removal and destruction of religious symbols placed at the gravesites of their loved ones.

At issue is the City of Boca Raton’s threat to remove various vertical memorials, including Christian crosses, Stars of David and other religious symbols, from cemetery plots at the Boca Raton Community Cemetery. The ACLU will argue that under the new law, passed in 1998, removal of religious items from grave sites would constitute a substantial burden on religion.

The brilliance of the American constitution is not anarcho-libertarianism – it’s a balance of power through checks and balances. The ACLU is a great bulwart against granted authority becoming too powerful.

State Debt A Problem Well In Advance Of Great Recession

I saw a chart today that took me aback. At the Cato @ Liberty blog, a look at aggregate state debt over the last decade:

I had well expected that state governments were growing their budget in accordance with the boom economies of the past decade (especially rising property tax collections through the boom), but hadn’t realized that they were piling on loads of debt ON TOP OF that new spending.

Of course, I don’t labor under the false belief that state governments are fiscally responsible, but one would have thought that they might have been happy to spend merely the new windfalls they were reaping in revenues, not far outstrip those windfalls with added debt-fueled spending.

Napoleon said “Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.” I certainly think there’s incompetence involved, but I’m not sure the explanation is adequate.

Quote Of The Day

On taxes in Boston:

The business of the Town is still decaying, the taxes are not at all lessened, but continue very high — A great many of our industrious inhabitants are gone into the country, the burden now falls on a small number; and they less able to bear it than ever — This number is still decreasing; the rich complain of their rates, and some have moved and others are about moving into the country towns, where they are greatly eased. For my own part, I have a love for my native Town, but as my taxes are so large, I am resolved to move my family into the country.

That, of course, was June 1755, on a front-page letter to the Boston Gazette.

Today’s equivalent would be moving production of goods to low-cost business climates (Nevada, Tennessee, or offshore) rather than just a few towns away, but the economic laws are no different today than they were 255 years ago.

Quote from Samuel Adams: A Life by Ira Stoll [p.27].

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