Author Archives: Stephen Littau

Atlas Shrugged Part II in Theaters This Weekend

Atlas Shrugged Part II is opening this weekend. Want to check it out? Follow this link to find a theater near you.

And now, the official Atlas Shrugged Part II trailer:

Quote of the Day: Small Things Edition

[I]f you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things.

And you know what? It’s worked before, because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn’t work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it’s best to stop hoping and settle for what you already know.

That was then Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. This (below) is President Obama’s campaign in 2012:

If ending the federal subsidy to PBS doesn’t qualify as a “small thing” being used to distract from a failing president’s record, I don’t know what does.

Hat Tip: Jason Pye at United Liberty

In the U.S. State Department’s De-listing of MEK as a Terrorist Group, the “War on Terror” Loses All Meaning*

“In this world, there are good causes and bad causes, and we may disagree on where that line is drawn. Yet, there is no such thing as a good terrorist. No national aspiration, no remembered wrong can ever justify the deliberate murder of the innocent. Any government that rejects this principle, trying to pick and choose its terrorist friends, will know the consequences.” -President George W. Bush speech to the U.N. General Assembly on November 10, 2001

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists”- a refrain we have heard from many American presidents and American politicians over the years. But anyone who has taken even a cursory look at history knows that this is a lie. Not only does our government negotiate with terrorists and state sponsors of terrorism, the uncomfortable truth is that the U.S. itself is a state sponsor of terrorist groups when the group in question uses its tactics against enemies of the U.S. or her allies.

The latest example is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement that Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (a.k.a. MEK) will be de-listed as a “foreign terrorist organization.” MEK has been on the list since 1997. For those who are not familiar with MEK, this organization was once aligned with Saddam Hussein** and allegedly responsible for killing at least six Americans in the 1970’s along with a failed kidnapping attempt of U.S. Ambassador to Iran Douglas MacArthur II in 1971 and a failed assassination attempt of USAF Brig Gen Harold Price in 1972.

Lest there be any partisans on the Right trying to accuse the Obama administration giving in to terrorism, its worth pointing out that the campaign to de-list MEK has been a bipartisan effort. Rudy Giuliani, Tom Ridge, Fran Townsend, Michael Mukasey, Andrew Card of the Right have joined MEK advocates of the Left such as Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Bill Richardson, and Ed Rendell. Many of these advocates have been paid to speak out on MEK’s behalf; a crime of “material support” of terrorism under normal circumstances but apparently A-OK if done by prominent politicians.

So what exactly has MEK done to ingratiate itself to the State Department to be de-listed as a foreign terrorist organization? Has MEK ceased its terrorist activities or paid restitution (to the extent it could be paid) to its victims? According to Glenn Greenwald, its quite the opposite:

What makes this effort all the more extraordinary are the reports that MEK has actually intensified its terrorist and other military activities over the last couple of years. In February, NBC News reported, citing US officials, that “deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by [MEK]” as it is “financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service”. While the MEK denies involvement, the Iranian government has echoed these US officials in insisting that the group was responsible for those assassinations. NBC also cited “unconfirmed reports in the Israeli press and elsewhere that Israel and the MEK were involved in a Nov. 12 explosion that destroyed the Iranian missile research and development site at Bin Kaneh, 30 miles outside Tehran”.

In April, the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh reported that the US itself has for years provided extensive training to MEK operatives, on US soil (in other words, the US government provided exactly the “material support” for a designated terror group which the law criminalizes). Hersh cited numerous officials for the claim that “some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today.” The MEK’s prime goal is the removal of Iran’s government.

Despite these reports that the MEK has been engaged in terrorism and other military aggression against Iran – or, more accurately: likely because of them – it was announced on Friday the US State Department will remove MEK from its list of terrorist organizations. This event is completely unsurprising. In May, I noted the emergence of reports that the State Department would do so imminently.

Greenwald goes on to point out five lessons we should learn from MEK’s de-listing: 1. There is a separate justice system in the US for Muslim Americans, 2. the US government is not opposed to terrorism when its beneficial, 3.“terrorism” is a meaningless (and often manipulated) term, 4. legalized influence-peddling within both parties is what drives DC, and 5. there is aggression between the US and Iran, but it’s generally not from Iran. It’s quite a scathing indictment of what the U.S. government’s stated policy is regarding terrorism and what its actual policy is.

Over at Popehat, Ken writes his thoughts about MEK’s de-listing. Ken recalls how as a young lawyer, he was on a prosecution team responsible for prosecuting someone who had ties with MEK. By Ken’s account, there was “no doubt” that this person was guilty of running an immigration fraud ring as the evidence against him was “overwhelming.” Ken points out that this occurred before 9/11 and “Bob’s” sentence wasn’t any worse because of his involvement with MEK, though the prosecution team worked very hard was very proud of connecting “Bob” to the terrorist organization.

Needless to say, Ken isn’t very pleased with MEK’s de-listing either and for some very good reasons:

The six people the MEK killed in the 1970s are still dead. They were dead when the State Department designated the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization and they have been dead all the years since and they won’t get any less dead when the State Department removes the MEK from its FTO list. The MEK is the organization that once allied with Saddam Hussein; that historical fact hasn’t changed, although its political significance has. No — what has changed is the MEK’s political power and influence and the attitude of our government towards it.

[…]

The United States government, under two opposed increasingly indistinguishable political parties, asserts the right to kill anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror. It asserts the right to detain anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror, and to do so based on undisclosed facts applied to undisclosed standards in undisclosed locations under undisclosed conditions for however long it wants, all without judicial review. It asserts the right to be free of lawsuits or other judicial proceedings that might reveal its secrets in the War on Terror. It asserts that the people it kills in drone strikes are either probably enemy combatants in the War on Terror or acceptable collateral damage. It asserts that increasing surveillance of Americans, increasing interception of Americans’ communications, and increasingly intrusive security measures are all required by the War on Terror.

But the War on Terror, unlike other wars, will last as long as the government says it will. And, as the MEK episode illustrates, the scope of the War on Terror -the very identity of the Terror we fight — is a subjective matter in the discretion of the government. The compelling need the government cites to do whatever it wants is itself defined by the government.

Glenn Greenwald and Ken are both right on what the de-listing of MEK should tell us about the so-called war on terror. Our government is not serious about fighting terrorism, it condones it even as we surrender our liberties at home. This is especially true if the target of the terrorism is Iran or another “state sponsor of terrorism” we are all supposed to be afraid of and eventually be at war with.

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Rand Paul on Why Foreign Aid Should be Cut to Libya, Egypt, and Pakistan

On Saturday, September 22, 2012 Rand Paul’s S.3576, a bill that would have “provide[d] limitations on United States assistance” (i.e. placed conditions on aid to Libya, Egypt, and Pakistan) was soundly defeated by a 81-10 vote. On the day before the vote, Paul gave an hour long speech (truncated, 10 minute version in the video below) on the Senate floor explaining to his colleges why sending tax dollars to foreign countries is a terrible idea, particularly foreign countries which are openly hostile to the US in word or deed. In the speech, Paul reminds us that the foreign policy of recent history that has far too often been forgotten by the American public pointing out that some of the recipients of our aid eventually became our enemies. The notion of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has been counterproductive. Saddam Hussein, Omar Qaddafi, the Mujahideen anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Resistance is Not Always Futile

There’s no question that the 2012 campaign has been full of disappointments for those of us who want less government, more liberty, and more prosperity in our lives. Very clearly, the game is rigged in large part due to the establishment media, powerful special interest groups, and the political parties themselves. It’s very easy to become disillusioned by the entire process and sometimes it’s tempting to give up and say “to hell with it!”

But rather than bring down you readers out there (as I often do), I want to share something very inspiring with you from Cato’s David Boaz (below). In Boaz’s lecture, he explains how everyday heroism hastened the demise of the Soviet Union. We libertarians complain – often with good reason, about how difficult it is for our voices to be heard in the two party system. For all practical purposes, the U.S.S.R. had only one political party and dissent was strongly discouraged…to put it mildly.

Yet somehow, ordinary people were able to rise up, demand the liberties we all too often take for granted, and prevailed! How did they do it? What can we learn from how these ordinary people brought down the Evil Empire, and more importantly, how can we apply these lessons here in the US?

Innocence of Jackbooted Thugs

Today may be Constitution Day but given the repeated assaults on this document and those who take their liberties seriously, today doesn’t seem like much of an occasion to be celebrating. Over at The New York Post, Andrea Peyser refers to the treatment of the no longer obscure film maker Nakoula Basseley by the very government that is supposed to protect his individual rights as “appeasing thugs by trampling rights.”

In an episode as shameful as it is un-American, obscure LA filmmaker Nakoula Basseley. Nakoula was picked up by Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies acting like jackbooted thugs.

Nakoula was paraded in front of a hostile media, his face hidden behind a scarf reminiscent of Claude Rains in “The Invisible Man,’’ and delivered into the hands of federal authorities for interrogation. Ostensibly, officials wanted to know if a cruddy, little film Nakoula created on a tiny budget violated terms of his probation for financial crimes — because he was forbidden to use the Internet.

Okay, so maybe the film maker violated his probation but I can’t help but think that if he wasn’t on probation, the government wouldn’t find some other law he would have violated. It’s not too difficult to trump up charges against any person living in this “free” country as there are over 27,000 pages of federal code and more than 4,500 possible crimes…surely he would be guilty of committing at least one!

As despicable as the actions on the part of the government are though, what I have a difficulty with is the cheerleaders in the media supporting the government’s actions rather than standing up for Nakoula Basseley’s First Amendment rights or at least questioning the authorities as to whether this was really about his probation violation.

Nakoula Basseley isn’t the only target of the government in this case, however. Peyser continues:

The government also went after YouTube, asking the Google-owned company whether “Innocence’’ violated its terms of usage. To its credit, YouTube refused to take down the film’s trailer in the West, although it yanked the offensive video from several Arab countries.

[…]

“Innocence of Muslims’’ tests an American value that liberals and conservatives alike claim they revere: the First Amendment guarantee to freedom of speech, no matter how rude and obnoxious. If you don’t like a work of art — as I despise the famous photo of a crucifix dunked in urine — you have every right to complain. You don’t have the right to burn the infidels who put it there.

Yet under the administration of President Obama, the United States has gone down a dangerous path by appeasing the horde.

“Appeasing the horde” may be part of the Obama administration’s motivation for going after this YouTube video but I think it has as much to do with deflecting responsibility from his disastrous Middle East foreign policy* in an election year. Whatever the administration’s motives, these heavy handed tactics ought to be challenged and exposed by anyone who cares anything about free speech/expression. Kudos to Andrea Peyser for writing an article in such a high-porfile newspaper as The New York Post to expose this assault on this 225th anniversary of the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention. Sadly, she shouldn’t be too surprised if the jackbooted thugs knock on her door next.

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Are the Striking Teachers’ Demands in Chicago Reasonable? You Tell Me

The teacher strike in Chicago has entered its third day. This is one of the few facts the MSM is reporting along with the fact that the city and the union are far from reaching an agreement. What is missing from much of the coverage is what are their demands? Sure, the MSM reports that the teachers want to be “respected,” paid more, and have smaller class sizes, among other demands but compared to what?

According to NRO’s John Fund, the average annual salary of Chicago teachers is $76,000 before benefits. The highest teacher salary in the nation. Oh, but maybe the cost of living is higher than the rest of the nation! Maybe, maybe not but it also might be worth noting that the average Chicago family earns about $47,000 annually. The teachers were offered a 16% raise over the next four years – a salary of $88,000 by my math*, and the teachers rejected it as it’s still not enough. This doesn’t even take into account that the teachers only pay 3% of their healthcare costs, work 9 or so months out of the year, and are eligible to retire in their fifties with a pension. Yet we are told these poor, poor public servants are underpaid.

Okay, maybe these teachers are actually worth $88,000 a year. Maybe the Chicago teachers are just that good? Fund also points out that 15% of fourth graders can read proficiently and 56% of Chicago area freshman graduate. The U.S. Department of Education reports that 79% government educated Chicago eighth graders cannot read at grade level and 80% not grade-level proficient at math.

Are these government school teachers really getting such a raw deal? You tell me.

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9/11 Open Thread

As everyone is fully aware, today marks the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Due to this passage of time, I’m somewhat conflicted about whether today should be strictly about remembering the victims and celebrating the heroism of the first responders (as well as how ordinary Americans came together donating their time, money, blood, and etc.) or if it’s appropriate to focus on the causes of this horrific violence (in the aftermath, people started asking the question: why?).

On his radio show today, Neal Boortz challenged listeners to look for MSM articles or broadcasts that would make any mention of the words “Muslim terrorists” or “Islamic terrorists” as opposed to simply “terrorists.” In addition to this challenge, for those who would like to take this up, I would be very interested if any MSM article has made any mention of the term “blowback” or anything referencing a response to American foreign policy as a reason for the attacks (Lest I be accused of making excuses for these Islamic terrorists, understanding the motivations for why they attacked WTC and the Pentagon is not the same as justifying their reasons or the attacks themselves).

I’m sure that some of you have some thoughts you would like to share on this very tragic anniversary, so feel free to offer your thoughts here in this open thread.

Delegates at the Democratic Convention: “We all belong to the government”

During the 2008 campaign I wrote a post about the real reason why Barack Obama would be dangerous for our country. These reasons had nothing to do with a long-form birth certificate or that he was some sort of Muslim Manchurian candidate intent on destroying our country from the inside. Now that Obama has an actual record to defend, there isn’t any real need to watch Dinesh D’Souza’s movie “2016” to discover why he holds the big government anti-capitalistic/big government/anti-liberty policies and views (the important thing is recognizing that he is trying to make them law of the land, the origin is irrelevant).

Actually, I think Obama’s views are well within the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Take this video for example where the interviewer asked what rank-and-file delegates to the 2012 Democratic Convention thought about a video that was played at the convention that argues “we all belong to the government.”

I don’t have to tell readers here how dangerous this mindset is. This is a philosophy that goes well beyond Barack Obama and his alleged pro-communist and anti-colonialist views. The Democrats may have taken “god” out of their party platform but it seems very apparent to me that it is very much a religious document replacing one god with another (i.e. government). And just like in 2008, Barack Obama, the Chosen One, is their messiah.

Ron Paul Will Never Be President But He HAS Made a Difference

Those who support the establishment of the Republican Party tend to be irritated that Ron Paul’s supporters kept trying to put his name up for nomination against Mitt Romney at the convention in Tampa even though Paul had no realistic chance of winning. Even very early in the campaign, establishment whores such as Hugh Hewitt were arguing that Ron Paul along with Herman Cain and Gary Johnson should be “exiled” from the debates because they didn’t have “a prayer of winning” the nomination. But are political campaigns, especially presidential campaigns, only about winning the nomination and ultimately, the presidency?

As someone who supported Ron Paul in the primary, I believed his winning the nomination would be the greatest upset in political history to say nothing about becoming the next president. When Terry Moran asked Paul the question: “When you lay your head on your pillow at night, do you see yourself in the Oval Office?” Paul replied “not really.” This is not a typical response of someone who is making a serious run for president.

This isn’t to say in any way that Ron Paul was not making a serious run for president, I think he was. Paul made three unsuccessful runs for the presidency but has succeeded in changing the political conversation. He advanced the ball in ways that he otherwise would not have had he not made these runs for the White House.

The most obvious example of how Paul has changed the political debate would be his call for a full audit of the Federal Reserve. As recently as 2006, the following was written about the Federal Reserve in a book by Richard Brookhiser entitled What Would the Founders Do (Our Questions, Their Answers)*

Everyone likes the Federal Reserve System these days, partly because it seems to work so well. (Not one person in a thousand ever thinks of it, a rough definition of working well.) But suspicion of public banks could revive at any time, for the same reasons that many of the founders were suspicious of them — most people (the founders included) do not understand banks or banking, and some bankers are in fact crooks. (p.92)

Back when this paragraph was written, I don’t think the Federal Reserve was even on my radar and I don’t think I was alone. Maybe the Fed isn’t the top issue for the average voter even now but I do think it’s safe to say more people are skeptical of the Fed especially in the era of bailouts and quantitative easing (i.e. printing money out of thin air). The mere mention of Ben Bernake or the Fed, especially at Ron Paul or liberty oriented rallies bring about boos and chants of “End the Fed!” “End the Fed!” This in of itself isn’t that big of a deal; these are true believers. What is a big deal, however; is that language to audit the Fed has made its way into the 2012 Republican Party Platform. Even more importantly, Paul’s Audit the Fed bill passed the House by an overwhelming 327-98 vote margin. Every single Republican but one supported the legislation along with 89 Democrats.

The bill wasn’t brought to a vote in the Senate but pressure will mount on Harry Reid if the Democrats maintain control to schedule a vote. If the Republicans take the Senate, a vote is even more likely to happen and Audit the Fed would be more likely to pass. If it gets to the president’s desk, the president – be it Obama or Romney will sign the bill, I believe.

A bipartisan bill authored by Ron Paul – who would have thought?

Ron Paul, one man who prior to the 2008 campaign wasn’t a household name, has changed the conversation within the G.O.P. concerning the Fed, spending, constitutional government, taxation, and civil liberties. Though his delegates were mistreated in Tampa, the RNC saw fit to at least try to mollify them with this tribute to the congressman’s career.

Missing from the tribute video was Paul’s anti-war/anti-interventionist views that he has espoused throughout his political career. Paul challenged people to do their own research concerning American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. He openly challenged the notion that policing the world trying to “make the world safe for democracy” and nation building was in America’s national security interest. Though the Neocons and war hawks are still firmly in control of the G.O.P., more voices in the party are challenging the prevailing view and cautioning Americans about blowback – a term invented by the C.I.A. but popularized by the Texas congressman.

Most important of all, Ron Paul is leaving a legacy behind him as he retires from congress. What will become of the rEVOLution in his absence? A small but growing number of individuals are being elected to the House and the Senate who share many of Paul’s small government/pro-liberty views. Ron Paul’s son Sen. Rand Paul along with Sen. Mike Lee, Sen. Mark Kirk, Rep. Justin Amash among others will lead the movement into the future. If the Paul activists continue to fight the establishment from inside** the G.O.P., there is at least a chance that the party will actually live up to its more small government ideals it purports to stand for.

*Basic Books, New York.

**While I understand why some Paul supporters might be tempted to leave the party due to how they have been treated by the party establishment, I would advise against this. The G.O.P. is ripe for a hostile takeover BUT the establishment isn’t going to give up control so easy. If you drop out, you are allowing them to win; this is precisely what they want you to do. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Focus on the Senate, House, and races at the state and local levels and vote your conscience for president (the wonderful thing about voting is that you don’t have to tell anyone who you voted for). After this election, regroup and continue to fight for liberty.

Gov. Gary Johnson Speaks at Paul-Fest to Woo Disaffected Ron Paul Supporters

Over the weekend, former New Mexico governor and current Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson spoke to a mostly supportive crowd at Paul-Fest. Johnson praised Rep. Ron Paul for everything he had done for the liberty movement and pointed out their many areas of agreement as he asked for Paul’s supporters to vote for the Libertarian ticket. Johnson also made reference to the “exclusionary process” that is the Republican Party’s nomination process. Ron Paul had qualified to have his name considered for nomination at the convention and an opportunity to speak at the convention but the RNC had changed its own rules, to prevent any challenge to Mitt Romney’s nomination to give the impression to those watching at home that the G.O.P was united behind Romney. Gov. Johnson was also a victim of this process as he was only allowed to participate in two of the televised debates when he was running for the G.O.P. nomination.

The Johnson campaign has already cut a new ad – “Gary Johnson – Ron Paul REVOLUTIONARY” using the same lines from the speech.

I think Gov. Johnson makes a persuasive case. If you are a Ron Paul supporter, what better way is left to give the middle finger to the establishment than to vote for Gary Johnson?

Anti-Choice* Extremism in Conservative Movement Lends Credence to the Left’s “War on Women” Mantra

One of the ways the Obama campaign and Democrats in general have been deflecting attention away from the poor performance of the economy has been to change the subject to social issues. Democrats know that independent women are reluctant to support Republicans because of this perception that Republicans do not care about the concerns of women. Democrats are doing all they can to reinforce this perception asserting that Republicans have engaged in a “war on women.” Among their talking points are that Republicans are opposed to “equal pay for equal work” laws, contraception coverage mandates for health insurance, and abortion even in the cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother (I have already debunked the alleged gender pay gap here and explained why there is no “right” to free contraception here). Republicans tend to lend credence to being anti-woman when they say things like the following:

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

That was Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s response to a question concerning whether or not a woman should have the legal right to terminate a pregnancy that was a result of a rape. How might a pregnant woman who was raped conclude from this statement? Was Mr. Akin implying that she wasn’t “legitimately raped” otherwise, she wouldn’t be pregnant? Why, every woman in America who has become pregnant who thought she was raped must not have actually been raped! No, these women must have enjoyed the experience, or at the very least consented according to fertility expert Todd Akin.

One would hope that some of the Republican men, especially those who are running for office, would have moved on past the misogynistic attitudes revealed in comments like these. Unfortunately, it seems that some continue to hold on to a similar attitude as Clayton Williams who once joked about bad weather and rape “As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”

Beyond idiotic statements like these, anti-choice activists have been pushing so-called “personhood” laws in various states to give every fertilized egg full legal rights that all people have. Personhood goes beyond the abortion issue and has some very bad unintended consequences. The Dominican Republic has such laws already on the books; just a few days ago, a teenager died most likely because doctors were afraid of running afoul of the law.

CNN reports:

(CNN) — A pregnant leukemia patient who became a flashpoint in the abortion debate in the Dominican Republic died Friday morning, a hospital official told CNN.
The 16-year-old, who had been undergoing chemotherapy, died from complications of the disease, said Dr. Antonio Cabrera, the legal representative for the hospital.

Her case stirred debate in her country, as her life was potentially at risk because of anti-abortion laws in the Dominican Republic.

Doctors were hesitant to give her chemotherapy because such treatment could terminate the pregnancy — a violation of the Dominican Constitution, which bans abortion. Some 20 days after she was admitted to the hospital, she finally began receiving treatment.

The patient, whose identity has not been released because she’s a minor and because of the hospital’s privacy policy, was 13 weeks pregnant.

Oh, well that’s the Dominican Republic. That would never happen here in the U.S., right? Don’t be so sure. Back in April, the Tennessee House passed a bill that would make every woman who has a miscarriage a murder suspect. The Georgia legislature considered a similar bill that would have required women to prove that their miscarriages “occurred naturally.” Having a miscarriage, a very common occurrence, is traumatic enough without being interrogated by some asshole detective downtown!

While some of these “war on women” attacks on Republicans are unfair in my judgment, Republicans don’t do themselves any favors by some of their more extreme anti-choice proposals and comments. Good people can disagree about abortion but those who are opposed to abortion need to do a better job of making their case without making women second-class citizens with fewer rights than “the unborn” whenever they happen to be pregnant.

***UPDATE***
The Republicans have added a “human life” plank to the draft of their party platform.

CNN reports:

Tampa, Florida (CNN) – The Republican Party is once again set to enshrine into its official platform support for “a human life amendment” to the Constitution that would outlaw abortion without making explicit exemptions for rape or incest, according to draft language of the platform obtained exclusively by CNN late Monday.

“Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” the draft platform declares. “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

Sigh.

My Republican friends: if you lose to Obama in November, don’t blame Libertarians. If you focus on these divisive social issues instead of the economy (and it IS the economy, stupid) you will lose and you will only have yourselves to blame.

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Quote of the Day: Modern Day Witch Hunts Edition

If you haven’t been over to The Agitator recently to read what Radley Balko’s guest bloggers have been writing in his absence over the last several weeks, you are missing some grade A quality posts. This post from William Anderson “Costs and Benefits of Modern ‘Sex Crime’ Witch Hunts” is the creme de la creme.

In this post, Anderson details how easily innocent people can be charged, tried, and convicted of sex crimes due to federal laws such as the Child Abuse Protection and Treatment Act of 1974 (A.K.A. the Mondale Act) and rape shield laws which disadvantage the accused by lowering the normal criminal standard of proof guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to a preponderance of evidence. Not only does the accused have to try to prove a negative (ex: that s/he did not sexually assault the accuser) but also pay out of pocket for legal defense that can cost in the millions of dollars to do so (meanwhile, the state can easily bear the costs of prosecuting the case with taxpayer money).

People who are accused [of sex crimes] either must depend upon a public defender or must pay for legal representation from their own resources, and it does not take long for the money spigot to run dry. Tonya Craft literally had close to a million dollars to spend on her defense, and she still ran out of funds before the case even came to trial. In the infamous Duke Lacrosse Case, each of the three defendants had to spend more than $1 million apiece just to try to debunk what were transparently-false charges.

[…]

The costs can be substantial. I know one attorney who specializes in such cases who requires a down payment up front of $100,000. Since few people keep $100K in spare change, getting the funds is very, very difficult. Then there a experts in forensics, interviewing, and the like who also do not testify for free. One of the reasons that so many people plead to something in such cases is that they do not have the personal resources to fight the charges.

Surely, this could not have been the criminal justice system the founders of this country envisioned!

Liberty > Democracy

Far too often, people use the terms “liberty” and “democracy” as if they were interchangeable. President Woodrow Wilson justified intervention in other countries to “make the world safe for democracy.” Most if not all of the presidents who have followed have made similar arguments as an excuse to place military bases on every continent. Democracy in of itself is no guarantee that the people will live in a free society.

One thing that drives me nuts is this notion that everything needs to be “put up for a vote” whenever the item in question is not at all the business of the would-be voters. Sometimes communities have meetings to decide if the people should “allow” a Wal-Mart to be built. Those who oppose the building of a Wal-Mart in their community argue such things as Wal-Mart won’t allow their workers to unionize*, Wal-Mart will drive out existing businesses, and Wal-Mart imports too much of their “cheap,” “inferior” products from China rather than American products. These might be valid reasons for you to decide not to shop at Wal-Mart but what makes you think you have the right to deny me that choice by holding a vote?

Perhaps a less sympathetic target to some here in Colorado are the medical marijuana dispensaries. These dispensary owners set up shop and followed the existing rules but in the back of their mind they know that community activists can shut them down if they can gather enough signatures to force a vote**.

Then there are those who believe in wealth redistribution. The “rich” need to pay more taxes to benefit the “less fortunate” we are told.

What about economic liberty? Is economic liberty somehow a lesser liberty than any other liberty? The people from Learn Liberty argue that economic liberty is of more value to the individual than any right to vote. There are just some freedoms that ought not be voted away.

*This is more of a selling point for me.
**I’ve yet to hear of a vote to shut down a Walgreens because its within 1000 feet of a school even though they dispense drugs that are many times more dangerous than marijuana.

Additional Thoughts & Further Reading:
Brad reminded me of a great post he wrote nearly 6 years ago along the same lines entitled: Libertarianism and Democracy. After re-reading my post, I realized that I might have left the impression that democracy is of no value to those who value individual liberty. Brad does a much better job explaining that “liberty is an end, democracy is a means to an end.”

In truth, democracy is often better for making decisions than monarchy, or aristocracy. After all, what can empower people more than to allow them to have a hand in making their own decisions? The key is that democracy can be used in ways that don’t reduce liberty, but it can also be used in ways that do.

So it’s not really democracy that libertarians fear, it is force. The sentiment that elicits anti-democratic quotes, though, is the fear that democracy will marshal government to impose force that destroys our liberty.

I think the important thing that people need to recognize is that there are limits to what a government should have the power to do even if the process is a democratic one. What are the limits? Simply the recognition that the individual has the natural rights of life, liberty, and property that cannot be taken away provided that s/he does not infringe on the same rights of another.

Recovered from the Memory Hole: Rep. Paul Ryan Urges Congress to Pass TARP

Mitt Romney has selected Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate with great fanfare among conservatives. Paul Ryan, someone with some fiscal sanity on a major political ticket who can offer an alternative to President Obama and his big government, big spending ways.

Well, not so fast. Not too long after the news of Ryan being selected as Romney’s running mate hit the wires, this little gem was recovered from the memory hole:

Well, maybe this is an anomaly. I wish it were. In addition to supporting TARP, Ryan supported the auto bailout, Medicare Part D, and voted against repealing Davis-Bacon. Ryan is also a war hawk and his record on civil liberties isn’t any better. Extending the Patriot Act, supporting the indefinite detention of American citizens provisions of the NDAA, and voting to create the Department of Homeland Security are but a few examples.

To put it another way, Paul Ryan is no Ron Paul, or even Rand Paul for that matter.

What if President Obama Told Michael Phelps “You Didn’t Win That”?

Like many people, I found the idea that athletes for Team USA receiving a tax bill for any prize money that goes along with a gold, silver, and bronze medal an outrage. These athletes worked very hard to get where they are. They made sacrifices. They spent many hours getting their bodies in shape so they might one day stand on the podium. Why should the IRS get one cent from any of this?

When I first learned of the bipartisan effort to correct this outrage with a bill dubbed the Olympic Tax Elimination Act, a tax cutting measure President Obama actually says he will sign, my first thought was that this is something all Americans should support. After giving this some additional thought, however; I couldn’t help but think of President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line when he was extolling the virtues of government and how those who have been successful are only successful because “somebody else helped out along the line.”

If President Obama was being consistent, rather than supporting the Olympic Tax Elimination Act, he would say something like the following:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great coach somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to reach your athletic potential. Somebody invested in roads and bridges that your parents drove on to take you to practices and competitions. If you’ve got an Olympic medal, you didn’t win that. Somebody else made that happen.

Notice, the above sentences are exactly what Obama was saying about successful business people except I replaced the business references with athletic references. Now imagine the president actually saying that these world class athletes didn’t earn these medals and that someone else “made that happen.” How would most logical thinking people respond to such a nonsensical statement? Even in this “everyone gets a trophy because everyone’s a winner” culture we have now, I would expect that most people would be put off by the president’s lack of appreciation for all the hard work that goes into becoming an Olympian who has reached the full potential of human athleticism.

What the president and his supporters fail to understand is that it’s not just Olympic athletes who work very hard to be the best at what they do. Businessmen and businesswomen who aspire to achieve the American dream make sacrifices, spend many hours educating themselves, and take risks so they might someday be financially secure. Why aren’t these job creators worthy of being celebrated like athletes representing Team USA? Why don’t these entrepreneurs deserve a tax break?

While I still support the Olympic Tax Elimination Act, I would prefer to one day see an Income Tax Elimination Act in my lifetime. No one should be taxed on earnings regardless of whether the earnings come from cleaning a swimming pool or from cleaning up with gold medals at the London Olympic Games in most of the swimming events.

Comment of the Day

The following “Comment of the Day” from Rebecca was in response other comments responding to Brad’s satirical* post entitled: ‘Wendy’ Condemns Chick-fil-A President Remarks On Gay Marriage.

1. Attn: Bible-thumpers: If you haven’t read your Holy Book in the original un-pointed Hebrew and Aramaic, you have no idea what the Bible actually says. Also, if you haven’t read the Talmudic commentaries, or those of other respected Biblical scholars, you’re missing a lot of data that you kind of *need* to speak about what the Bible means with any authority.

2. “Traditional Marriage” is in the eye of the beholder, given that there are huge numbers of *freaky* “marriages” in the Bible, and given that historically marriage was a property, inheritance, procreative, or political arrangement for hundreds or even thousands of years before anyone came up with the notion of “romantic love” having anything to do with it. Moreover, traditionally, it was arranged for the children by the parents. Choosing your own spouse is an extremely modern twist on marriage.

3. Real and measuarable harm is done to LGBT individuals whose partnerships are not recognized by the state. No harm is done to your church if they marry, or if my church chooses to marry them. No harm befalls your family if theirs is united before God, or a judge. No one is going to make gay marriage mandatory.

4. Living your values is Freedom. Forcing others to live your values is Tyranny.

Comment by Rebecca — August 4, 2012 @ 10:25 am

Though I agree on all of Rebecca’s points, I believe that point 4 is the most important in terms of living in a free society.

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DEA Uses Truck Under False Pretenses; Refuses to Pay Truck Owner $133,532 in Repairs Resulting from Botched Sting Operation

In the era of Fast and Furious, nothing should come as much of a surprise with how incompetent and reckless federal agencies can be but here, the DEA reaches a new low.

The Houston Chronicle reports:

The phone rang before sunrise. It woke Craig Patty, owner of a tiny North Texas trucking company, to vexing news about Truck 793 – a big red semi supposedly getting repairs in Houston.

“Your driver was shot in your truck,” said the caller, a business colleague. “Your truck was loaded with marijuana. He was shot eight times while sitting in the cab. Do you know anything about your driver hauling marijuana?”

“What did you say?” Patty recalled asking. “Could you please repeat that?”

The truck, it turned out, had been everywhere but in the repair shop.

Commandeered by one of his drivers, who was secretly working with federal agents, the truck had been hauling marijuana from the border as part of an undercover operation. And without Patty’s knowledge, the Drug Enforcement Administration was paying his driver, Lawrence Chapa, to use the truck to bust traffickers.

Chapa, who was working on behalf of the DEA paid with his life. It’s bad enough that someone was killed in one of Patty’s trucks but the story doesn’t end there.

The article continues:

But eight months later, Patty still can’t get recompense from the U.S. government’s decision to use his truck and employee without his permission. His company, which hauls sand as part of hydraulic fracturing operations for oil and gas companies, was pushed to the brink of failure after the attack because the truck was knocked out of commission, he said.

Patty had only one other truck in operation.

In documents shared with the Houston Chronicle, he is demanding that the DEA pay $133,532 in repairs and lost wages over the bullet-sprayed truck, and $1.3 million more for the damage to himself and his family, who fear retaliation by a drug cartel over the bungled narcotics sting.

[…]

Copies of letters and emails from Patty’s insurance company state that it won’t pay for repairs because the truck was part of a law-enforcement operation. Patty drew from his 401K retirement fund to repair the truck, which was out of operation for 100 days.

“I was not part of this,” he said. “I had absolutely no knowledge of any of it until after it happened.”

[…]

Houston lawyer Mark Bennett, who is advising Patty, said if Patty’s initial claim is not resolved, the next step would be to sue.

I sincerely hope the DEA is taken to the cleaners on this one. Beyond the financial hardship the DEA has caused to Patty, he now fears for his family’s safety.

Perhaps most unnerving, Patty says, is that drug mobsters now likely know his name, and certainly know his truck.

Panic at the Patty home these days can be triggered by something as simple as a deer scampering through the wooded yard or a car pulling into the driveway. One morning as his wife made breakfast, one of his young sons suddenly bolted across the house yelling, “Get the guns!”

This is no way to live. And for what? To keep a little marijuana from reaching people who will just as easily find another supplier?

The war on (some) drugs is no joke. There are real casualties in this idiotic and unrealistic goal of a “drug-free America.” Chapa and Patty are only among the war on (some) drugs latest victims.

Hat Tip: The Agitator

Quote of the Day: Following Orders Edition

Agitator guest blogger Maggie McNeil made some very good points in a post she titled “Godwin’s Law” that dovetail nicely with a point I was trying to make in another post about government enforcing immoral laws. Prior to reading the post, I wasn’t familiar with Godwin’s Law (“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”) but very familiar with the phenomenon. When someone, regardless of political persuasion, makes comparisons to the Nazis or to Hitler, I generally start tuning them out because the comparisons are rarely appropriate, shows the commenter has little imagination, and most importantly, trivializes the Holocaust. Maggie does find there are some occasions when the comparison is appropriate, however; and does a fine job in her post making the appropriate distinctions (you need to read the rest of the post to understand the full context about what she wrote in the excerpt below).

At Nuremberg, Western society established the legal precedent that “I was only following orders” is not a valid defense against wrongdoing even if the offender was only a low-level functionary in an authoritarian system, yet how often do we hear police abuses (especially against prostitutes) defended with phrases like “they’re just doing their job” or “cops don’t make the laws, they just enforce them”? If a cop is tasked with enforcing a law he knows to be immoral, it is his duty as a moral man to refuse that order even if it means his job. If he agrees with an immoral law then he is also immoral, and if he enforces a law he knows to be wrong even more so. The law of the land in Nazi-era Germany was for Jews and other “undesirables” to be sent to concentration camps, and the maltreatment of the prisoners was encouraged and even ordered by those in charge; any German soldier or policeman enforcing those laws was the exact moral equivalent of any soldier or policeman under any other democratically-elected government enforcing the laws enacted by that regime. Either “I was only following orders” is a valid defense, or it isn’t; either we agree that hired enforcers are absolved from responsibility because “they’re just doing their jobs”, or we don’t. You can’t have it both ways, and sometimes Nazi analogies are entirely appropriate.

I think the same applies if you are called for jury duty. If you find that the accused is being charged with a crime that the law itself you find to be unjust, I don’t believe “following jury instructions” is an appropriate defense for finding the person guilty. We all have a moral duty to do what we believe to be right regardless of what the law is.

Random Acts of Violence Can Be Mitigated But Not Prevented

In the aftermath of the senseless killing that occurred last Friday in Aurora, CO at the premier of the latest Batman movie, the question on most people’s mind is how this kind of violence can be prevented. What is the appropriate public policy that will prevent something like this horrible event from ever happening again?

Unsurprisingly, those who favor stricter gun control laws and those who favor less have come to very different conclusions. If the shooter had to jump through additional legal hoops to acquire the guns, the ammunition, the body armor, didn’t have the ability to purchase high capacity clips (because they were outlawed), etc., would this have certainly prevented this tragedy? If the movie theater didn’t have the “gun free zone” policy and one or more of the movie patrons with a CCW and a hand gun to return fire, would this have certainly prevented this tragedy?

In a word the answer is no to either approach.

Others blame the “coarsening of our culture” due in part to violent movies, video games, music, etc. The pervasiveness of pretend violence inspires real life violence, some might argue. If the entertainment industry toned down or eliminated violence in their respective art forms (whether voluntarily or by government censorship), would this have certainly prevented this tragedy?

Again, the answer is no.

There is no public policy nor security approach that will certainly prevent another random act of violence such as this. When you think about it, the question is quite absurd. The question should not be whether these acts of violence can always be prevented but whether they can be mitigated or reduced.

Is it possible that with additional gun control laws, this individual wouldn’t have been able to perpetrate this evil? While I oppose additional gun control laws, I have to concede that it is possible that if obtaining these weapons were more difficult, that this wouldn’t have happened. By regulating the type of firearms and ammunition the average person can purchase, certain criminals would be otherwise prevented from using a firearm in an unprovoked, violent fashion. But as the NRA likes to point out, criminals by definition don’t care about the law (the Aurora shooter didn’t change his mind when he walked by the “gun free zone” sign that would have notified him about the theater’s policy). Those who are determined to commit crimes with guns will acquire them through the black market. Would the killer in this instance gone through the trouble to seek out these weapons on the black market? Probably, but it’s impossible to know for sure.

While I agree with John Lott Jr.’s arguments he outlines in his book More Guns, Less Crime* and can be found making his case at various media outlets, I think it’s a bridge too far for some of my fellow travelers who support the right to bear arms to say that a single person with a gun in the theater would have prevented 12 people from being murdered and dozens more from being injured. The truth is, we cannot know for sure because there are too many variables. It’s entirely possible that a CCW holder who was properly trained might have reduced the body count and the injuries. I certainly think the odds are that more people would have survived, but given the circumstances of this event, I doubt seriously that the whole tragedy would have been averted.

So if random acts of violence cannot be prevented regardless of the security measures or public policy reforms, the question necessarily becomes: just how much risk of being a victim of a random violent act are we willing to tolerate and at what cost**?

With all the murders and scary things reported in the news, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that our culture is more violent than ever. The thing is though, it’s just not true. With the news of a mass shooting occurring on school campuses, at the grocery store in Tucson, and the latest shooting at the theater in Aurora, it might seem that there is a lunatic with a gun around every corner ready to do carnage. You may be surprised to learn then, that every school campus is due to be the place of an on campus murder…once every 12,000 years.

You may be even further surprised to learn that our world as a whole is a much less violent place than any time in the history of humanity. According to research by Harvard’s Steven Pinker, the 20th century was less violent than the previous centuries even considering all the death and destruction from the world wars, the cold war, Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Mao’s China.

You are less likely to die a violent death today than at any other time in human history. In fact, violence has been on a steady decline for centuries now. That’s the arresting claim made by Harvard University cognitive neuroscientist Steven Pinker in his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

Just a couple of centuries ago, violence was pervasive. Slavery was widespread; wife and child beating an acceptable practice; heretics and witches burned at the stake; pogroms and race riots common, and warfare nearly constant. Public hangings, bear-baiting, and even cat burning were popular forms of entertainment. By examining collections of ancient skeletons and scrutinizing current day tribal societies, anthropologists have found that people were nine times more likely to be killed in tribal warfare than to die of war and genocide in even the war-torn 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was 30 times higher than today.

So despite the “lax gun laws” and despite the “coarsening of our culture,” somehow we are less likely to be a victim of a violent act than at any time in history if we are to believe Steven Pinker. Of course, I realize that this probably isn’t much comfort to those who have been victims of these violent acts. We must remember, however; that if we succumb to fear that follows these horrific acts, we risk surrendering our privacy and our liberty*** for very little net benefit. We must recognize that there will always be those who want to harm his fellow man. Be alert, be vigilant, but under no circumstances allow yourself to live in fear.

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