Category Archives: Privacy

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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Quote of the Day: Obscene Edition

The sweater vested theocrat Rick Santorum has struck again, this time promising to “vigorously” enforce obscenity laws. Tom Knighton at United Liberty thinks that there are higher priorities facing the next president than lax enforcement of pornography statutes writing:

Take a look around for a moment. We have a nation that is falling apart. The constitution is practically on life support, and Congress is doing it’s best to pull the plug on it. American citizens can be detained indefinitely thanks to the NDAA. There are constant assaults on the internet through laws like SOPA. Now, the Secret Service can declare anywhere it wants as being off limits to free speech, and speaking your mind can constitute a felony. And where does Rick Santorum’s line in the sand fall? Apparently, on yet another action that involves consenting adults.

[…]

He’s talking about preventing me and my wife from watching something that was created by consenting adults, for consenting adults, sold to a willing customer who was also a consenting adult. That’s where this man’s priorities are?

I couldn’t agree more! Santorum’s priorities may be in line with some of the evangelicals in the GOP but I’m quite certain that most voters in the general election have very different priorities. This is yet another example of why if Santorum wins the nomination, Barack Obama will serve a second term as president.

Katy Bar the Door: Social Conservatives Want in Your Bedroom Too

Last week, I wrote a post about how the Left wants in the bedrooms of the people by mandating health insurance coverage for contraceptives. On the other extreme, we have Rick “every sperm is sacred” Santorum talking about the “dangers of contraceptives” and how non-procreative sex is somehow bad for society (as if concerns about “society” should trump the rights of the individual). I intended to write a full post devoted to making the opposite point (Does anyone really think that millions more unplanned births would actually be good for society?) and referencing a very interesting conclusion Steven Levitt made in a chapter his book Freakonomics called “It’s not Always a Wonderful Life.”

But I’m not going to do that. Santorum and his supporters’ antipathy for individuals making their own value judgments about sex has been documented on other blogs and I don’t know that I can really add much that hasn’t already been written. Having said that, I think Rick Moran at PJ Media nearly perfectly captures my concerns about Santorum and Social Conservatives more generally in his post: “The GOP’s Problem with Sex Could Cost Them in November.”

[Social Conservatives’] outdated, even primitive, critique of human sexuality that denies both the science and the cultural importance of sex and the sex act. Their main target appears to be women, and women’s sex lives, although the act of love itself is also to be placed in a strait jacket. No doubt the right will argue that their criticisms are only meant to help women, and nurture “healthy” attitudes toward sex. Nonsense. First of all, women don’t need that kind of help. They are capable of making their own choices without a bunch of ignorant busybodies telling them how to govern the most intimate and personal aspects of their lives.

Secondly, there is inherent in this critique a 19th century — or earlier — view of sex that seeks to keep the act of love within the confines of the marriage bed, and believes that physical intimacy should be primarily for one reason, and one reason only: procreation. At the very least, sex outside of marriage should be severely proscribed and limited to those who plan a long term relationship or eventual matrimony. Having sex because it’s fun, or because you’re bored, or because you crave physical intimacy, or for any other reason beyond traditional notions of “love” is grounds for disapprobation.

Certainly religion has much to do with this assault on sex. And if the extent of their critique stayed in the pews and pulpits of conservative churches, there would be no problem whatsoever. Christian denominations can tell their adherents how to live their lives, citing chapter and verse from the Bible, and nobody would care.

But when Republican politicians, and others associated with conservatism or the Republican Party, start echoing the various criticisms of contraception, of casual sex, of sex outside of marriage, the perception cannot be dismissed that the imprimatur of the entire party — and consequently, the government if they ever came to power — has been granted and that somebody, somewhere, might want to do something about it. As a voter making a political calculus on how to mark one’s ballot, the GOP is kidding itself if they don’t think this affects the decisions of millions of citizens.

Where do these people get off? Apparently they don’t…unless it’s for the purpose of procreation. No wonder they are so uptight!

Either You Want Government Out of Your Bedroom or You Don’t

One way we libertarians often describe ourselves are individuals who don’t want the government in our bedroom or our boardrooms. Those on the Left typically agree with the former while disagreeing with the latter while those on the Right typically believe the reverse. Yet when it comes to the federal government mandating that all health insurance policies provide “free” contraception via Obamacare, suddenly the Left wants the government in the bedroom while the Right correctly wants no part of it.

President Obama seems to believe (or more likely, wants us to believe) that by decreeing that contraception be free that it will be. No, birth control devices cost no money to develop, test, produce, or distribute; somehow these products are immune from the notion that there is no such thing as a free lunch*. This is the kind of policy that causes health insurance to go up in price because now everyone pays just a little more on their premiums whether everyone wants or needs contraception or not.

Much of the debate on this mandate has centered around the idea that Catholic and other religious organizations should be forced to either directly or indirectly provide contraception in their healthcare plans. Like Brian Lehman writes at United Liberty, this is missing the point. As a pro-choice libertarian atheist, I too am offended by the notion that I must pay for coverage I don’t want or need**. Why don’t I have a right to choose the level of coverage that suits my family’s healthcare needs?

Some healthcare providers may determine that offering the coverage is more cost effective than covering unplanned pregnancies and all that entails. Others may come to a different conclusion. In a more perfect world, individuals would be able to shop around for the right coverage independent of employers or the government. This would take the politics out of the issue except for those who insist that contraception is a right. (Here’s a hint: it isn’t.)

Contraception is a good thing and we are very fortunate to live in a time when we can better plan if or when we want to have children but those who choose to be sexually active should take responsibility for providing it. Is it really too much to ask to buy your own condoms, pills, shots, or whatever? If for some reason you cannot afford contraception, there are organizations that offer these products and services at little or no cost. When did your orgasm become my responsibility?

I think it’s time for my friends particularly on the Left to make a decision: do you really want the government in your bedroom? I sure as hell don’t!

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SCOTUS: Police Placing GPS Tracking Device on a Vehicle Without Warrant Violates the Fourth Amendment [or Does it?]

How about some good news on the civil liberties front to kick off the week for a change? Robert Barnes writing for The Washington Post reports that SCOTUS ruled 9-0 in United States v. Jones stating that the police placing a GPS tracking device on a person’s vehicle and tracking said vehicle over days, weeks, or months without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police must obtain a search warrant before using a GPS device to track criminal suspects. But the justices left for another day larger questions about how technology has altered a person’s expectation of privacy.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the government needed a valid warrant before attaching a GPS device to the Jeep used by D.C. drug kingpin Antoine Jones, who was convicted in part because police tracked his movements on public roads for 28 days.

“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search’ ” under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, Scalia wrote.

[…]

Alito’s point was that it was the lengthy GPS surveillance of Jones itself that violated the Fourth Amendment and that “the use of longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy.”

“For such offenses,” he wrote, “society’s expectation has been that law enforcement agents and others would not — and indeed, in the main, simply could not — secretly monitor and catalogue every single movement of an individual’s car for a very long period.”

The only disagreement among the Justices was whether or not the decision went far enough to protect individuals in a 21st century world based on a 18th century law (i.e. the Fourth Amendment).

Hey, even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in awhile and in even rarer cases, 9 Supreme Court Justices.

***Correction/Further Analysis***
If you followed the link to The Washington Post article, you might notice that the parts I quoted don’t match up exactly. This is because the article has since been edited with a more complete explanation of what United States v. Jones really means. It appears that I put entirely too much trust into what was being reported in the media here and elsewhere (and I still haven’t gotten around to reading the opinion for myself).

Doug Mataconis (who is a lawyer; I am not) was the first to point out that the coverage of this ruling isn’t quite as good from a civil liberties perspective as the media would have us believe:

I think all you can really say is that, under circumstances of this case, the Court found that the use of the tracking device without a warrant was impermissible. As the majority opinion notes, however, the Government attempted to raise in their arguments to the Supreme Court the theory that the search was supported by reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause to believe that Jones was the leader of a drug gang. Under such a theory, the use of the tracking device would have theoretically been justified even without a warrant.

You can read a more detailed analysis from Doug here Outside the Beltway.

Doug also pointed me to this article by Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy post entitled “What Jones Does Not Hold”

It seems that I wasn’t the only one mislead about the true impact of this ruling. Even Radley Balko at The Agitator had to make some corrections to his post regarding this case and made reference to the same post by Kerr as well as an even more discouraging analysis from Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog.

Rick Santorum, The Anti-Libertarian

Until Rick Santorum’s recent surge in the polls, I didn’t consider him much more than a nuisance. Since the beginning of the campaign, I thought he had the most anti-libertarian agenda in the 2012 race but I didn’t think he was as realistic of a threat as say Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich. The best way to approach Santorum was to ignore him and not give him the attention he desperately craved.

But since Santorum is polling in the top three in Iowa, I think it’s time use his own words to illustrate why he is the most anti-liberty candidate in the race. He actually makes Barack Obama look like a civil libertarian (which is quite an accomplishment).

First, in this interview, Santorum says (among other things) that the pursuit of happiness somehow harms America.

Then, David Boaz writing for Cato@Liberty shares this quote from Santorum taken from a 2006 interview on NPR:

One of the criticisms I make is to what I refer to as more of a libertarianish right. You know, the left has gone so far left and the right in some respects has gone so far right that they touch each other. They come around in the circle. This whole idea of personal autonomy, well I don’t think most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone. That there is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.

Silly me. I thought the American Revolution and this grand experiment in republican constitutional governance was precisely about “radical individualism” and liberty. To the extent our society hasn’t succeeded is due in large part to moralistic busy bodies just like Rick Santorum.

As if meddling in the affairs of Americans were not enough, Santorum also wants to continue to meddle in the Middle East and elsewhere. Santorum told “Meet the Press” that he would bomb Iran via airstrikes if Iran failed to allow inspectors verify that the regime isn’t developing a nuclear weapon (essentially, Iran is guilty of developing a bomb until proven innocent). “Iran will not get a nuclear weapon under my watch” Santorum proclaimed.

It seems that Rick Santorum inhabits another planet from those of us who believe in liberty, small government, and a humble foreign policy. This might explain why in the debates Santorum has the look of bewilderment on his face when Ron Paul speaks (in a foreign language apparently) about common sense principles of life, liberty, and property.

If the idea of a President Santorum doesn’t frighten you, it should.

GRANDMA GOT INDEFINITELY DETAINED (A VERY TSA CHRISTMAS)

Lyrics:

Grandma got indefinitely detained now
coming home to visit Christmas Eve
You could say she had a right to counsel
but some folks in the Congress disagree

she was flying home to our house
when she got checked by TSA
thought she might be Abdulmutallab
when they looked at her X-ray

Her hair had recently been colored
she paid cash for her Christmas gifts
two things apparently the Congress
says just might make you a terrorist

Grandma got indefinitely detained now
coming home to visit Christmas Eve
you could claim there’s no right to due process
but check the 5th amendment and you’ll see

they say they need to have these powers
to help protect this free country
but if it takes these steps to do so
what is it we are protecting?

Now she’s an enemy combatant
as if that makes any sense
the only thing that she’s combating
is her unpredictable incontinence

Grandma got indefinitely detained now
trying to come visit Christmas Eve
they took her rights in order to…protect rights..
the most genius plan ever in history

Grandma got indefinitely detained now
never made it home on Christmas day
she always wanted to live in Miami
at least now she’s 90 miles away

Quote of the Day: Bill of Rights 220th Anniversary Edition

December 15, 2011 marks the 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights – at least what is left of them. Anthony Gregory’s article at The Huffington Post runs through the list of violations of these precious rights from the Adams administration’s Alien and Sedition acts all the way to the present day violations of the Bush/Obama years via the war on terror. I encourage everyone to read the whole article and reflect on what these rights mean to you on this Bill of Rights Day. If you read nothing else from the article, at least read Gregory’s conclusion:

Clearly, we fall far short from having Bill of Rights that we adhere to and that was designed for our future posterity over 220 years ago. In the end, it is public opinion that most restrains political power — not words on paper, not judges, not politicians’ promises. A population that is not decidedly and passionately against violations of their liberties will see their rights stripped away. If we want to have a Bill of Rights Day worth celebrating, we must demand that officials at all levels respect our freedoms — and not let the government get away with abusing them.

Gregory is right: preserving the Bill of Rights ultimately rests with all of us.

Institute for Justice’s Bone Marrow Donor Compensation Legal Challenge Prevails

Here’s a follow up to a story I linked back in 2009 concerning the Institute for Justice’s legal challenge to the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 and the act’s applicability to bone marrow transplants. This is very good news for the roughly 3,000 Americans who die every year while waiting to find a bone marrow match:

Arlington, Va.—The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today issued a unanimous opinion granting victory to cancer patients and their supporters from across the nation in a landmark constitutional challenge brought against the U.S. Attorney General. The lawsuit, filed by the Institute for Justice on behalf of cancer patients, their families, an internationally renowned marrow-transplant surgeon, and a California nonprofit group, seeks to allow individuals to create a pilot program that would encourage more bone-marrow donations by offering modest compensation—such as a scholarship or housing allowance—to donors. The program had been blocked by a federal law, the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA), which makes compensating donors of these renewable cells a major felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Under today’s decision, this pilot program will be perfectly legal, provided the donated cells are taken from a donor’s bloodstream rather than the hip. (Approximately 70 percent of all bone marrow donations are offered through the arm in a manner similar to donating whole blood.) Now, as a result of this legal victory, not only will the pilot programs the plaintiffs looked to create be considered legal, but any form of compensation for marrow donors would be legal within the boundaries of the Ninth Circuit, which includes California, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and various other U.S. territories.

[…]

Rowes concluded, “This case isn’t about medicine; everyone agrees that bone marrow transplants save lives. This case is about whether individuals can make choices about compensating someone or receiving compensation for making a bone marrow donation without the government stopping them.”

National Defense Authorization Act Passes Complete With Indefinite Detention Provisions

Despite some valiant efforts of a handful of senators, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012 passed by an astonishing 93-7 vote. Earlier today, Sen. Dianne Feinstein offered yet another amendment to the bill that would have limited the military’s jurisdiction to detain suspects captured outside the U.S.; the amendment failed by a narrower 55-45 margin.

In the first video below, Mark Kirk (R-IL) in his floor speech explains how Sections 1031 and 1032 violate the principles of the Bill of Rights by reading the applicable amendments. Sen. Kirk makes some geography based distinctions in determining whether U.S. citizens have due process rights (which I disagree with; geography should not matter) but otherwise does a great job of explaining to his fellow senators why keeping these sections in the bill is a terrible mistake.

Though he voted against the offending sections of the bill, Sen. Kirk ultimately voted with the majority in supporting the overall legislation.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on the other hand supported neither. Paul’s floor speech is equally compelling and perhaps even more chilling than that of Kirk’s. Could you find yourself an innocent victim of this bill? Do you have any missing fingers? Do you have more than a seven day supply of food? How many firearms do you own and if so what kind of ammunition do you use? Depending on your answers to these questions, it’s possible that you could find yourself detained, perhaps at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere, indefinitely with very little legal recourse according to Sen. Paul.

Related Posts:

The Late David Nolan’s Indefinite Detention of U.S. Citizens Fears One Step Closer to Being Realized

Are You or Someone You Know a Victim of the Drone Mentality?

Nolan Exposes McCain’s Antipathy for Civil Liberties in Arizona Senate Debate

Quote of the Day: Americans Cheer the Assassination of the Fifth Amendment Edition

Obama: Judge, Jury, and Executioner in Chief

Call to action: Stop the police cyber-state

There is a scary bill working its way through Congress right now: H.R. 1981 – the Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011

While this sounds like a worthy goal, the bill features a repressive data retention requirement that would open ordinary Americans to abuse from government as well as cyber-criminals. Specifically, the bill requires that the temporary IP address of users of commercial ISP access be retained along with identifying information for 18 months.

Here’s a quick primer on how your computer gets on the internet with the average commercial ISP:

  1. You plug the phone line/TV cable into this modem.
  2. The modem establishes a connection with the ISP through the phone line/TV cable.
  3. The modem is assigned an IP address (e.g. 71.119.121.143)
  4. You hook a computer or a router into the modem.
  5. This computer or router is assigned an IP address (either 192.168.xxx.xxx or 10.xxx.xxx.xxx)
  6. If you hooked up a router, then the computers hooked to it will be assigned IP addresses by the router.

The important thing here is that only the IP address of the modem is visible to the ISP. There could be one, five, or fifty computers sitting behind that modem, but to the ISP all that traffic would be coming from a single IP.

Let’s look now at a couple of cases in which child pornography might be requested by a machine behind an IP without the ISP customer’s knowledge:

  1. The WiFi Stealer: The customer is running a poorly-secured wireless access point. A neighbor looking to download child porn cracks the security and uses the access point to download the material.
  2. The Virus: A computer virus makes it on to one of the customer’s machines. It is programmed to fetch data from child porn websites and relay it to the virus creator.

Note that in both cases, the customer of the ISP and those living in his household wouldn’t even know their connection had been used to download child porn until they got the knock on the door. Aside from the thousands of families each year whose lives would be disrupted by purely mistaken prosecutions, setting this standard in law would make it possible to deliberately set people up to undergo a time-consuming and costly legal battle.

If that weren’t bad enough, the requirement to retain “identifying account data” is troublesome as well. What could be so bad about keeping the name of the customer for 18 months? Nothing, except keeping the name alone won’t do what the bill wants. As someone who’s designed software to match identities, I can say with certainty that in practice this requirement would force retention, at a minimum, of customer name, address, and date of birth. Most ISPs would probably go farther and retain a unique ID number such as a Social Security Number or a financial ID number such as a credit/debit card number or checking account number.

But wait a minute, you say. Don’t ISPs already have all this?

Yes, they do. Today, they are not required to relate the assigned IP addresses for the last 18 months to it. This requires storing the customer data in such a way that it can be related to the IP addresses, as well as being recalled later for use by law enforcement.

The simple fact of making it usable for law enforcement makes it less secure. The logs have to be linked to the customer accounts, meaning that the data is likely exposed to the internet. All the data has to be recalled as plain text, meaning that weaker encryption practices must be used. Even if everything is done perfectly right, an interface must be built to get the data out and to law enforcement, meaning that a bad actor inside an ISP has a ready-made portal to all sorts of personally-identifiable information.

Sounds pretty bad, right? It’s worse than you think. Corporate records are not subject to the same Fourth Amendment protections as individual records. Currently, to find out everything an ISP user is doing, law enforcement needs to prove its case and get a warrant. Under this bill, your internet activity would be pre-existing corporate records. No more warrants. Government wants to find out about your IP address, they subpoena the ISP for that record and they get information about you without having to prove a thing.

This bill is bad, folks. We need each of our readers to step up and contact your Representative and encourage them to say NO to this bill that treats all internet users as criminals.

The Family Leader’s Pledge Provides Litmus Test for Social Conservatives AND Libertarian Leaning Republican Primary Voters

Just last week, a “pro-family” group that calls itself “The Family Leader” laid out a 14 point “Marriage Vow” pledge for G.O.P. presidential primary candidates to sign as a condition of being considered for an endorsement from the organization. Among the more troubling points of this pledge, at least for those of us who care about limited government and individual liberty: vow support for the Defense of Marriage Act and oppose any redefinition of marriage, “steadfast embrace” of a Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would “protect” the definition of marriage in all states as “one man and one woman” and “Humane protection of women” from “all forms” of pornography. Another point of the pledge reads “Rejection of Sharia Islam and all other anti-woman, anti-human rights forms of totalitarian control” which I find quite ironic in that many of the 14 bullet points would be almost perfectly in sync with Sharia Islamic law.

In the introduction to the pledge, there was language that suggested that black families were better off during slavery and more likely to be families that included both a mother and a father than “after the election of the USA’s first African-American president.” This language was later struck from the document that included the pledge.

For most of the G.O.P. field, candidates were reluctant to sign and offered no comment. Mrs. Tea Party herself, Michele Bachmann, however; couldn’t sign the pledge fast enough – even before the reference to black families was removed. Rick Santorum also signed, Jon Huntsman said he doesn’t sign pledges, Newt Gingrich reportedly won’t sign the pledge unless there are additional changes to the language (How could he? Isn’t he on wife number 3?) Mitt Romney rejected the pledge calling it “inappropiate for a presidential campaign” and a Ron Paul spokesman said the congressman “has reservations” about the pledge and “doesn’t want the government to dictate and define traditional marriage.”

Gary Johnson, true to form, effectively vetoed the pledge.

Actually, this is an understatement. Gov. Johnson blasted the pledge calling it “un-Republican and un-American.”

Government should not be involved in the bedrooms of consenting adults. I have always been a strong advocate of liberty and freedom from unnecessary government intervention into our lives. The freedoms that our forefathers fought for in this country are sacred and must be preserved. The Republican Party cannot be sidetracked into discussing these morally judgmental issues — such a discussion is simply wrongheaded. We need to maintain our position as the party of efficient government management and the watchdogs of the “public’s pocket book”.

This is exactly what this so-called marriage vow is: a distraction. The Tea Party movement was successful in the 2010 elections because the focus was on the economy, limited government, and liberty NOT divisive social issues.

Gov. Johnson continues:

This ‘pledge’ is nothing short of a promise to discriminate against everyone who makes a personal choice that doesn’t fit into a particular definition of ‘virtue’.

While the Family Leader pledge covers just about every other so-called virtue they can think of, the one that is conspicuously missing is tolerance. In one concise document, they manage to condemn gays, single parents, single individuals, divorcees, Muslims, gays in the military, unmarried couples, women who choose to have abortions, and everyone else who doesn’t fit in a Norman Rockwell painting.

Maybe The Family Leader has done as all a huge favor? By pressuring candidates to sign the pledge in hopes of receiving The Family Leader’s precious endorsement, those of us who want to have some idea of how serious these candidates are about limited government and freedom now have a litmus test of sorts. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum receive an F, Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich maybe a B, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul an A, and Gary Johnson an A+. The rest who have yet to respond get incompletes.

Obviously, for so-called values voters, the grades would be awarded in the opposite way (i.e. Johnson gets an F and Bachmann an A+). This pledge exposes the divide within the Republican Party and the battle for the party’s soul. Will G.O.P. primary voters nominate someone who will welcome individuals (especially independents) who aren’t necessarily found in a Norman Rockwell painting or will they once again nominate someone who panders primarily to white Christian men who want to tell you what to do in your bedroom?

If they win, we might as well get used to the idea of 4 more years of President Barack Obama.

Will Individualized Medicine Increase Health Inequality?

Ezra Klein has a rather thought-provoking post today about human genome sequencing and its ability to allow doctors to better-tailor treatment to the specific needs of an individual patient. It presents a phenomenal opportunity to both make medicine more effective, and IMHO to make it cheaper by spending less time and energy on substandard treatments. Ezra raised a different point, though, and I think makes a logical error that warrants further discussion:

If that’s the path that medical advances ultimately take, one byproduct will be an immense explosion in health inequality. Right now, health inequality, though significant, is moderated by the fact that the marginal treatments that someone with unlimited resources can access simply don’t work that much better than the treatments someone with more modest means can access. In some cases, they’re significantly worse. In most cases, they’re pretty similar, and often literally the same.

But as those treatments begin to work better, and as we develop the ability to tailor treatments to individuals, we should expect that someone who can pay for the best treatments for their particular DNA sequences to achieve far better health-care outcomes than someone who can’t afford the best treatments and has to settle for general therapies rather than individualized medicine.

I believe Ezra makes assumes the premise that the “best” treatments are also the most expensive treatments. I believe this to be unsupported by evidence.

Suppose 10 different people all happen to have the same malady. To use a common one, let’s say that the malady is hypertension. Multiple drugs today exist for the treatment of hypertension. Some of them may be specific variants (branded or generic) of medications all within a specific class, but often multiple classes of drugs may be used to treat hypertension. Those multiple classes will affect different people in different ways, but my guess is that a typical doctor will offer a “standard” treatment regimen for hypertension and only deviate from that standard if something doesn’t appear to be effective. What’s further important to note is that different doctors may have different “standard” regimen, based on their own experience rather than exact current medical literature.

What the idea of genome sequencing may bring to the table is that medical research can form stronger predictions of a particular person’s response to certain medicines based upon their specific genes, and it is easier to tailor the treatment to the patient. This doesn’t mean that the rich person’s treatment will be more expensive than a poor person’s, but it does mean that someone who has genome sequencing will likely have more effective treatment than someone who does not. What it also means is that someone who has genome sequencing may actually have less expensive medical treatment than someone without, as less effort and dollars can be used adding treatments that are statistically likely to be ineffective.

And herein lies the rub. Will a rich person have better access to genome sequencing than a poor person? Not if we have Ezra’s wet dream: government socialized health care. Once effectiveness at reducing costs is shown, government in its awesome authoritarian-ness will undoubtedly use the desire for cost-cutting in medical treatment to demand genome sequencing of anyone participating in Obamacare. Sure, we civil libertarians will soundly object to government getting access to everyone’s DNA, but I’m sure they’ll tell us, much like they do with the TSA pornoscanners and told us with our social security numbers, that there’s NO CHANCE the genome information will ever be used for anything other than our medical care, and will be completely confidential. And since nobody listens to us civil libertarians today, they’ll get it done.

If Ezra looks at the potential from this angle, I think he’d change his tune. If he sees genome sequencing as a potential cost-cutting measure, rather than an inequality-increasing measure, I’m sure he’d actually push for wider adoption of it. And like any government authoritarian impulse, if something is good [and if we’re paying for it with tax dollars], we might as well make it mandatory, right?

The saving grace of federalism

Were it not for our federalist system, the debate over Real ID would have been over long ago. Fortunately, it’s still going:

The political problem for the GOP committee chairmen is that the 2005 Real ID Act has proven to be anything but popular: legislatures of two dozen states have voted to reject its requirements, and in the Michigan and Pennsylvania legislatures one chamber has done so.

That didn’t stop the House Republicans from saying in a letter this week to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that “any further extension of Real ID threatens the security of the United States.” Unless Homeland Security grants an extension, the law’s requirements take effect on May 11.

Hopefully this comes to a head, and hopefully the Republicans pushing this get an education in federalism. It’s going to come in mighty handy in resisting Obamacare.

USA PATRIOT Act Extension Provisions Passed the House; Time to Name Names

Just yesterday, the GOP led House, after failing to do so last week, renewed three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act concerning government agents snooping private business records, so-called “lone wolf” individuals suspected of being a terrorist, and the roving wiretap provision. Despite glaring civil liberties concerns, the bill was rushed through with virtually no debate and no hearings.

Now it’s time to name names. But rather than name the names of those who betrayed the Constitution, instead I decided to name the names of those 117 Democrats and 27 Republicans who actually upheld their oath and voted against extending these provisions of the so-called Patriot Act. If you do not find your congressperson on this list s/he either voted in favor of the extension or didn’t vote at all. To see the entire roll call, click here.

***UPDATE***
The U.S. Senate also overwhelmingly renewed the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act 86-12. Of the 12 that opposed the bill, 9 were Democrats, 2 Republicans, and 1 independent (Click here for the complete roll call vote). Below are the names of those who opposed the extension:

Max Baucus (D-MT)
Mark Begich (D-AK)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Mike Lee (R-UT)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Patty Murry (D-WA)
Rand Paul (R-KY)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Jon Tester (D-MT)
Tom Udall (D-NM)

Reason.tv’s Tim Cavanaugh Interviews Steve Silverman of the Flex Your Rights Foundation

Money quote from the interview:

“Asserting your Constitutional rights is not a trick in any way. What the police officers do is a trick […] police officers are legally allowed to lie.”

You can watch the 10 Rules for Dealing with Police series in its entirety here (which I highly recommend whether you are one who rarely encounters the police or a “cop magnet”).

For more additional information on how you can flex your rights, go to flexyourrights.org

Back to First Principles: An Excellent Primer on the Rights of Life, Liberty, and Property

In beginning the 112th Congress, House members took turns reading the Constitution aloud to a nearly empty chamber. While I in some ways appreciate members at least uttering the words, I believe that the members would have been better served not by merely reciting the words but by studying the philosophical roots of the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights. This two part video does an excellent job explaining the meaning of the Bill of Rights as the document related to the times it was written as well as how it continues to aid us in the difficult times we currently live.

Part 1 deals with the philosophical foundations that came out of the Age of Enlightenment.

Part 2 explains the reasoning behind each of the ten amendments we call the Bill of Rights

As the narrator went through each of the amendments, I couldn’t help but think of the many instances where these very rights have been violated and continue to be violated by federal, state, and local governments throughout the country. For those of you who want to really know what we are about and the larger liberty/small government movement is all about, these are the very principles we are trying to restore. These are our guiding principles.

If ever you are perplexed by a position that we write about be it our opposition to the war on (some) drugs, opposition to conscription, support for sound money, support for the right to bear arms, opposition to ObamaCare, opposition to the so-called Patriot Act, etc. , you might find it helpful to refer back to these first principles.

I would like to encourage others to share these videos because I would like to see these videos go viral to remind our friends on the Left, the Right, and the middle about why these rights are so important and worth fighting for.

Related: The Philosophy of Life, Liberty, and Property Explained

Open Thread: Successes and Setbacks for Liberty in 2010/Hopes for 2011

Was 2010 a good year or bad year for liberty and why? Like most of you will likely respond, 2010 was very much a mixed bag IMHO.

On the positive side, the mandate section of ObamaCare was found unconstitutional, the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was repealed, Wikileaks exposed the federal government for the corrupt organization it is, the Democrats took a beating on election day, and the Bush era tax cuts were extended (though with the return of the death tax, extension of unemployment benefits, and other compromises in the bill, I’m not yet sure if this was a good or bad thing).

On the other hand, Republicans gained ground on election day (I’m not optimistic that they have changed much since the last time they ran things), the vast majority of incumbents in both parties were easily reelected, government spending is way out of control, the Fed wants to pump some $600 billion into the economy by printing more counterfeit money, unconstitutional invasive searches continue to take place at airports in the name of safety, both Democrat and Republican politicians consider Wikileaks to be a “terrorist” organization, and President Obama believes he can assassinate American citizens where they stand with no due process whatsoever.

On the criminal justice front, The Innocence Network (part of The Innocence Project) exonerated 29 individuals in 2010 for crimes they did not commit. Back in March, Hank Skinner came within an hour of being executed when SCOTUS halted the process. Skinner’s case continues to wind its way through the courts. In other death penalty news of 2010, Kevin Keith’s death sentence was commuted to life by Gov. Strickland, Anthony Graves became the 12th death row inmate to be exonerated in Texas, a key DNA sample was determined to not be a match for another Texas man, Claude Jones who was executed in 2000, and Texas continues to stonewall inquiries into the likely wrongful 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. As these questionable death penalty cases pile up, hopefully this will be the beginning of the end of the death penalty in Texas and elsewhere.

In a couple of other cases we never quite got around to at The Liberty Papers but deserve to be mentioned: Cory Maye was granted a new trial by the Mississippi Supreme Court because the trial judge failed to give jury instructions to consider a “defense of others” defense and in Arkansas, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a new hearing for the so-called “West Memphis 3” to consider newly discovered DNA evidence and juror misconduct from the original trial (if you are not familiar with this case, I urge you to follow this link as a starting point. The more I have looked into this case the more disturbing I find it to be…a perfect example of what is so terribly wrong with the system).

Hopes for 2011
Rather than offering predictions for 2011, here are some of my hopes:

– I hope that the justice will be served in the above cases.

-I hope I am wrong about the Tea Party Republicans and that they will actually be a force of positive change for more liberty and smaller government

-I hope that Ron Paul decides not to run for president for the 2012 campaign but instead puts his support behind former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (I’ll get into my reasoning in a future post).

-I hope by this time next year, I’ll have far more successes than setbacks for liberty to report.

Now it’s your turn. How do you feel about the state of liberty in 2010 and how do you feel about the year ahead?

TSA Update: More Strip and Grope, Opponents are “Domestic Extremists”

Strip and grope to come to boats, trains, and more?

“[Terrorists] are going to continue to probe the system and try to find a way through,” Napolitano said in an interview that aired Monday night on “Charlie Rose.”

“I think the tighter we get on aviation, we have to also be thinking now about going on to mass transit or to trains or maritime. So, what do we need to be doing to strengthen our protections there?”

Opponent’s of strip and grope are “domestic extremists”:

Following the publication of my article titled “Gate Rape of America,” I was contacted by a source within the DHS who is troubled by the terminology and content of an internal memo reportedly issued yesterday at the hand of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. Indeed, both the terminology and content contained in the document are troubling. The dissemination of the document itself is restricted by virtue of its classification, which prohibits any manner of public release. While the document cannot be posted or published, the more salient points are revealed here.

[…]

The terminology contained within the reported memo is indeed troubling. It labels any person who “interferes” with TSA airport security screening procedure protocol and operations by actively objecting to the established screening process, “including but not limited to the anticipated national opt-out day” as a “domestic extremist.” The label is then broadened to include “any person, group or alternative media source” that actively objects to, causes others to object to, supports and/or elicits support for anyone who engages in such travel disruptions at U.S. airports in response to the enhanced security procedures.

Fabulous, now I’m a domestic extremist. Well, as Barry Goldwater said: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” On second thought, when it comes to opposing an agency dedicated to controlling and intimidating American travelers, I will wear the extremist label with pride. Will you?

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