Category Archives: Freedom

Why Conservatives and Libertarians Should Oppose the Death Penalty

"Old Main" NM State Penitentiary

Are you pro-life? Opposed to big government? Do you believe in reducing government spending? Do you support the death penalty? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you may want to re-think your position on the death penalty. As supporters of life, liberty, property, and limited government, I believe that all conservatives and libertarians should oppose the death penalty.

Conservative Death Penalty

I used to be a staunch supporter of the death penalty. I firmly believed that one should repay an “eye for an eye” or a “life for a life.” I can remember exactly where I was when I reformed these beliefs. It was on January 23, 2006 and I was participating in the March for Life in Washington DC. As I was walking down Pennsylvania Ave, I noticed a sign that read: “Pro-Life No Exceptions.” I thought back to the many debates with my girlfriend at the time, when she would ask me how I could be pro-life but still support the death penalty. Being pro-life, I had to ask myself, “how could I say that I support life, but support the state-sanctioned taking of life?”

Cost of the Death Penalty

Furthermore, as someone who believes in limited government, I also had to ask myself another important question. “If I don’t trust the government to make decisions about my wallet, how can I trust the government to make decisions about killing people?” Crazy, right? Oftentimes, we conservatives and libertarians rail against government spending, and rightfully so. So why do we still overwhelmingly support a policy that costs taxpayers about four times more than cases where the death penalty is not involved?

This figure only takes into account the cost of trial. We also have to take into account the costs for appeals and to house prisoners. According to Forbes:

And let’s not forget about appeals: in Idaho, the State Appellate Public Defenders office spent about 44 times more time on a typical death penalty appeal than on a life sentence appeal (downloads as a pdf): almost 8,000 hours per capital defendant compared to about 180 hours per non-death penalty defendant. New York state projected that the death penalty costs the state $1.8 million per case just through trial and initial appeal.
It costs more to house death penalty prisoners, as well. In Kansas, housing prisoners on death row costs more than twice as much per year ($49,380) as for prisoners in the general population ($24,690). In California, incarceration costs for death penalty prisoners totaled more than $1 billion from 1978 to 2011 (total costs outside of incarceration were another $3 billion). By the numbers, the annual cost of the death penalty in the state of California is $137 million compared to the cost of lifetime incarceration of $11.5 million.

 

The Death Penalty and Crime Deterrence

I often hear the argument that the death penalty is the best method of reducing the murder rate. After all, if one is facing the threat of death, one would be less likely to commit murder, right? Well, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, states which impose the death penalty had an average of 4.4 murders per 100,000 people as opposed to only 3.4 murders per 100,000 people in non-death penalty states.

Death Penalty

Furthermore, let’s look at the murder rate based on region. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the South consistently has the highest murder rate per capita, yet they have, by far, the most executions (as the chart shows below) since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976.

MURDER RATES PER 100,000 PEOPLE

REGION 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 EXECUTIONS SINCE 1976(As of 11/19/14)
South 5.3 5.5 5.5 5.6 6.1 6.6 7.0 6.8 6.6 6.6 6.9 6.8 6.7 1133
Midwest 4.5 4.7 4.5 4.4 4.6 4.8 4.9 5.0 4.9 4.7 4.9 5.1 5.3 170
West 4.0 4.2 4.2 4.2 4.6 5.0 5.3 5.6 5.8 5.7 5.7 5.7 5.5 85
Northeast 3.5 3.8 3.9 4.2 3.8 4.2 4.1 4.5 4.4 4.2 4.2 4.1 4.2 4
NATIONAL RATE 4.5 4.7 4.7 4.8 5.0 5.4 5.6 5.7 5.6 5.5 5.7 5.6 5.6

If the death penalty is a deterrent for crime, shouldn’t the states with the most executions have the lowest murder rate per capita?

The Death Penalty and The InnocentJackson Innocent

According to the Innocence Project, at least ten people have been executed in cases where there is evidence that may exonerate them. Since 1973, 150 people on death row have been exonerated through new evidence and been pardoned, acquitted by a new trial, or had their charges dismissed. In 2014 alone, seven death-row inmates were exonerated including Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman, who were convicted of murder in 1975. These men spent 39 years on death row, their entire adult lives. Yet if supporters of the death penalty had their way, these men would have been executed 38 years ago.

I prefer to adhere to the saying by conservative jurist Sir BlackstoneWilliam Blackstone that “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

 

Albert is a licensed attorney and holds a J.D. from Barry University School of Law as well as an MBA and BA in Political Science from The University of Central Florida. He is a conservative libertarian and his interests include judicial politics, criminal procedure, and elections. He has one son named Albert and a black lab puppy named Lincoln. In his spare time, he plays and coaches soccer.

NYC Cop Rebellion Highlights Complicated Interplay Between Freedom and the Rule of Law

MLK

Some laws are so egregious they ought morally be resisted, however destabilizing such resistance might be. Only the most mindlessly authoritarian would disagree.

The hard part is knowing where to draw the lines.

New York City cops are in rebellion, taking a de facto hiatus from policing victimless “crimes.” Whether this is an “important step” toward improved safety and constitutional policing, or a dire threat to the rule of law, seems all a matter of perspective. Cops being as diverse as humans generally, their motivations presumably range from “[a]cting like a bunch of high-school jocks protesting a ban on keg parties” all the way to heartfelt questions about the legitimacy of a system that leaves a man dead for the “crime” of selling loose cigarettes.

Either way, the reduced issuance of petty crime summonses and parking violations will starve the city of revenue, while endangering no one. This strategy, of hurting the mayor’s budget without turning a blind eye to real crime, exposes an unpleasant truth about modern policing: that cops are sent out armed with guns to risk their lives ginning up revenues needed to cover budget shortfalls.

Let that sink in.

I understand the importance of the rule of law. But morality dictates consideration of a system that encourages forceful interaction over such trivialities as selling loose cigarettes, and for the purpose of insulating politicians from the consequences of overspending.

The rule of law is but a means to an end, not an end in itself.

A provocative law review article entitled “The Myth of the Rule of Law” asks the reader to consider the following:

“Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; . . . .”

On the basis of your personal understanding of this sentence’s meaning (not your knowledge of constitutional law), please indicate whether you believe the following sentences to be true or false.

_____ 1) In time of war, a federal statute may be passed prohibiting citizens from revealing military secrets to the enemy.

_____ 2) The President may issue an executive order prohibiting public criticism of his administration.

_____ 3) Congress may pass a law prohibiting museums from exhibiting photographs and paintings depicting homosexual activity.

_____ 4) A federal statute may be passed prohibiting a citizen from falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.

_____ 5) Congress may pass a law prohibiting dancing to rock and roll music.

_____ 6) The Internal Revenue Service may issue a regulation prohibiting the publication of a book explaining how to cheat on your taxes and get away with it.

_____ 7) Congress may pass a statute prohibiting flag burning.

After exploring ways in which seemingly clear rules of law are malleable to reach different ends, based on the perspective of those with the power to apply them, the piece returns to those initial questions:

If your response to question one was “True,” you chose to interpret the word “no” as used in the First Amendment to mean “some.”

If your response to question two was “False,” you chose to interpret the word “Congress” to refer to the President of the United States and the word “law” to refer to an executive order.

If your response to question three was “False,” you chose to interpret the words “speech” and “press” to refer to the exhibition of photographs and paintings.

If your response to question four was “True,” you have underscored your belief that the word “no” really means “some.”

If your response to question five was “False,” you chose to interpret the words “speech” and “press” to refer to dancing to rock and roll music.

If your response to question six was “False,” you chose to interpret the word “Congress” to refer to the Internal Revenue Service and the word “law” to refer to an IRS regulation.

If your response to question seven was “False,” you chose to interpret the words “speech” and “press” to refer to the act of burning a flag.

Why did you do this? Were your responses based on the “plain meaning” of the words or on certain normative beliefs you hold about the extent to which the federal government should be allowed to interfere with citizens’ expressive activities?

My own answer would have been that the First Amendment neither permits nor prohibits anything. The First Amendment is nothing more than words on paper, incapable of doing anything. It is only our collective willingness to enforce, expand or modify it that has any function; that sufficient numbers of us agree, consciously or not, to permit the exercise of collective force to do one or the other; and that sufficient numbers more passively do not resist.

We are unavoidably a nation of both laws and men, and needed change comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes because democratically elected representatives vote for it. Sometimes it comes because one person stops allowing her complicity to lend legitimacy to a bad law.

It bears remembering that enforcing the rule of law was what five New York City officers were doing when they placed Eric Garner in a grapple hold for the “crime” of selling loose cigarettes. As Professor Stephen L. Carter eloquently wrote:

It’s unlikely that the New York legislature, in creating the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes, imagined that anyone would die for violating it. But a wise legislator would give the matter some thought before creating a crime. Officials who fail to take into account the obvious fact that the laws they’re so eager to pass will be enforced at the point of a gun cannot fairly be described as public servants.

*    *     *

Of course, activists on the right and the left tend to believe that all of their causes are of great importance. Whatever they want to ban or require, they seem unalterably persuaded that the use of state power is appropriate.

That’s too bad. Every new law requires enforcement; every act of enforcement includes the possibility of violence. There are many painful lessons to be drawn from the Garner tragedy, but one of them, sadly, is… : Don’t ever fight to make something illegal unless you’re willing to risk the lives of your fellow citizens to get your way.

Some of the loudest complaints about police misconduct are from the same people who demand a leviathan government exercising control over vast areas of our lives. Such control must of necessity be exercised in the form of laws, laws that must be enforced at the point of a gun.

We all draw lines somewhere, between the laws we think ought be enforced, however misguided they might be, for the sake of preserving the legitimacy of the system; laws so egregious and vile in nature, that they must morally be resisted; and those that fall somewhere between, the close calls and grey area where good faith disagreement can be tolerated. The criteria we use, the lines we draw, are inherently subjective.

We should not ask cops to enforce laws that we are unwilling to have them kill to enforce. We should not risk lives enforcing prohibitions against victimless crimes.

If a rebellion by New York City cops is how this change comes—I can live with that.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

A Public Service for Our Readers Regarding Federal Drug Enforcement

We are posting this as a public service and informational notice, for our cannabis using, interested, curious, or just plain liberty oriented readers and friends…

Contrary to articles such as this:

Congress Effectively Ends The Federal Ban On Medical Marijuana
HighTimes

It seems the controversial $1.1T spending bill that is preventing the U.S. government from shutting down is chock full of surprises.

As you may know, much to the dismay of marijuana activists and lovers of democracy everywhere, the bill smacked down Washington DCs referendum that legalized recreational marijuana in the nation’s capital. What you may have missed (because those shifty politicians are doing everything under the table) is that the bill also quietly, but effectively lifted the federal ban on medical marijuana.

Let us be VERY clear… NO the federal government has not legalized, or ended the federal prohibition of medical marijuana.

No, really, they didn’t, no matter what High Times says.

Manufacture, distribution, transportation, storage, sale, possession, and use, of Marijuana are all still federal crimes. Further, they are automatic disqualification on a background check, or a drug test, or a security clearance etc… etc…

They also make one a prohibited person with respect to firearms, explosives, and destructive devices.

Yes… even in Washington and Colorado. 

All they did in this omnibus appropriations bill, was to partially defund and deprioritize enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition, against medical marijuana dispensaries only (NOT grow ops, or users) in those states with medical marijuana, between January and September.

That’s it. 

Here is the actual text, of the portion  of the bill in question:

“Sec. 538. None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. Sec. 539. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used in contravention of section 7606 (“Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research”) of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-79) by the Department of Justice or the Drug Enforcement Administration.”

There has been no real change in the law, there is just a change in the administration of a small subset of enforcement.

In fact, this action makes getting the changes we need in the law harder and less likely.

Far worse though, it furthers the toxic notion that we can just arbitrarily, capriciously, and disparately, choose to not enforce the law, when we feel like it… But then any time we change our mind we can go ahead and start enforcing it again.

This disrespects and debases the very foundation of rule of law.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Community Conservatism – Choosing Education that Works

MortarBoard

Making Education Work for the Middle Class

A) Simplify the Department of Education by Block Granting Most of its Budget to the States

Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Herman Cain all tried appealing to conservatives in the primaries in 2012 with the simple-minded proposal that we should simply abolish entire Federal departments. There is a certain libertarian appeal toward deleting expensive and useless departments with good-sounding mandates but bad results. We get that. But the public – the conservative public – rejected such notions and elected the guy that wanted to streamline the government and increase state power in an attempt to make government work properly, rather than giving up on government entirely. We believe most in the middle class want to see their government achieve results, rather than gambling that the results will happen naturally without government interference. We believe the GOP must embrace the notion of governing. One way to do that, is to let the states make decisions about education policy by handing them the money and reducing the role of the Federal department to that of balance sheet management and effectiveness monitor with a mandate to make sure that state programs are producing results and striking state policies that fail. We recognize that much of the spending is already block granted to the states – we are proposing to further shrink the Federal budget and return that money to the states with fewer restrictions on how it is spent.

B) Pass Federal Legislation Protecting the Right of Parents to Choose Homeschooling

There is a move afoot in some states to ban homeschooling – we have seen the same sort of movement in the EU and elsewhere in the developed world and it has led to some frightening limitations on liberty that no one should wish to see replicated in the US. The middle class, in particular, is interested in new and innovative education solutions including massive open online courses (MOOCs) at all educational levels and a variety of other homeschooling models – let’s get on the right side of history and liberty before we find ourselves unable to act decisively.

C) Incentivize States to Enact School Choice Laws

It is not within the appropriate jurisdiction of the Federal legislature to mandate open school choice, in our opinion, but we can encourage the states to accept that school choice is in high demand by the lower and middle classes by increasing federal awards to states that back successful public charter, public magnet, private, parochial and homeschooling alternatives monetarily and favor successful schools over bad ones in the distribution of education budgets, and by giving states bonuses that are efficient with their education funds (generate better performance to dollar ratios).

D) Back Trade Schools, MOOCs and Private Colleges with Oversight

One of the biggest problems with the alternatives to public colleges that prevent employers from giving much value to job applicants who obtain certifications and technical degrees from private technical schools, MOOCs and trade schools is that it’s the wild west for these colleges and they are under no obligation to provide a useful and quality education. Take a note here – because you will rarely see us asking for more federal regulation, but this is one such case. The Federal Government must promote alternatives to expensive public colleges to help ameliorate the growing higher education bubble and keep young people out of debt (and, in so doing, grow the future middle class). In order for us to break our addiction to student loans, we must empower high school kids to choose high school and college curricula that lead to technical certifications and trades, and we can’t do that until we can guarantee that our private and technical/trade colleges meet basic standards of educational value that will convince employers to hire people certified and degreed by such institutions. The standards need not be identical to the public system, but quality assurance should be required.

E) Encourage States to Enact Reforms that Limit Public Degrees that Do Not Produce

Here again, it would be beyond the scope of Congress to start outlawing college degree programs that do not produce expected revenue that justifies their existence – what we can do, however, is increase the available federal assistance for students who are majoring in a STEM, manufacturing, or technical field (and any other degree program with a solid history of wealth creation), decrease federal assistance for less productive or overrepresented majors, and tie interest rates to risk (a risky degree like puppetry or cultural studies should come with much higher interest rates than a STEM degree). Federal student loans should be treated like the investment they were billed to be, not like a pipeline of money that students may use and abuse to heart’s content. College degrees should improve the US economy, not burden it.

F) Pass a Law Requiring a Government Census of College Degree performance and Making Info Available Online

Openness and transparency in financial outcomes and expenditures usually has the immediate impact of change the demand for products based on rational financial decision-making. College degrees are a bit more emotional than the average investment opportunity, so having good data on which degrees are good investments and which are not will not stop bad degrees from existing, but I believe it will alter the number of students falling for them (because it will cause parents to deny their children’s requests to attend expensive colleges in order to study something that has a poor earning potential, along with making some students think twice about choosing bad or, at least, over-saturated, degrees). So require the department of education to conduct a census of colleges and universities and their various degree programs and report information such as the default rate on student loans for each school, each degree program and each combination of the two, the graduation rate, the employment numbers, and the net earnings of students (per capita) by degree program at each school. If a college degree is an investment, we should know what the investment is worth.

G) Pass a Law Guaranteeing the Right of Refusal to Parents

One more thing that Congress cannot tackle directly, but must move to address in what ways it can is ‘Common Core’. The concept of a Federally mandated curriculum is not compatible with liberty and the GOP should move to guarantee the right of all families to refuse to participate in common core and choose a different standard. This won’t help parents who are currently stuck in public schools and don’t have a viable alternative, but as GOP governors work on the problem of school choice, it will be crucial that alternative programs have the right to opt out of common core and use different teaching methods and standards.

Education is a state problem for the most part, as it should be, and in spite of efforts by leftists to nationalize and further institutionalize learning – but that doesn’t mean the legislature can’t take certain steps to lead on education policy and encourage the states to be bold and innovative o their own. Middle class families are aching for a better way forward for their children ad Congress should show that this is a priority for them as well.

Vote Libertarian, Because Not All Politicians Are Smart, But All Politicians Can Count

libertarian-party-logo

Thus proclaims Arvin Vohra, Vice Chair of the Libertarian National Committee and a candidate for Maryland’s fourth congressional district. Vohra and I are in agreement that the only effective way to tell politicians they must shrink the size and scope of government is to vote for libertarian candidates (“small l” intended).

Not voting at all accomplishes nothing more than making one’s opinions irrelevant to the people who hold political power. Voting for the “less bad” of the two contenders is guaranteed to continue the policies of the last two administrations.

In contrast, consistently voting only for libertarian candidates pulls the two major parties toward more libertarian positions. That, standing alone, is reason to vote libertarian.

We know the strategy works because it is working! Twenty-five years ago, mainstream journalists rarely mentioned libertarians. Now, not a day goes by that the word is not featured in the headlines of big-name publications or crossing the lips of mainstream commentators.

Google the words “libertarian moment,” and witness how shrilly both the left and the right deny that one is occurring.

Their foot-stamping to the contrary, Republicans are fundraising for openly gay candidates. Donors are pressing the party to stay out of marriage altogether. Republican candidates are campaigning to make birth control available over the counter. The first U.S. Senator has come out in favor of marijuana legalization.

Thanks for these shifts goes in some degree to the people who consistently prove their motivation to visit the polls, while simultaneously refusing to cast votes for statist candidates in either party. More people today identify as independents than either Republicans or Democrats. Fifty-nine percent of voters self-identify as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” Even under conservative estimates, 15% of voters can be treated as consistently “libertarian” in their positions.

Libertarians (“small l”) have become a swing-voting block as powerful as the religious right.

The best use of that power is to end the conspiracy of false choice and emotional partisanship that operates to keep the two-party oligarchy in power.

The Republocrats have given us federalized schools; a morass of unfunded entitlements and dependency; wild inflation in the cost of education and healthcare; the Drug War, the highest incarceration rate in the world, militarized police, and asset forfeitures; welfare and cronyism for corporations, agribusiness and green energy; a national debt in the trillions; the surveillance state and the erosion of the fourth amendment; expensive, immoral, ineffective and deadly interventions overseas; and restrictions on political speech.

If the foregoing is not convincing enough, consider the following. When Republicans are in power, Democrats support balanced budgets, oppose unfunded spending and resist increases to the debt ceiling. As then-senator Barack Obama said in 2006:

This rising debt is a hidden domestic enemy, robbing our cities and States of critical investments in infrastructure like bridges, ports, and levees; robbing our families and our chil- dren of critical investments in edu- cation and health care reform; robbing our seniors of the retirement and health security they have counted on.

*     *     *

Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘‘the buck stops here.’’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.

When the Republicans are in power, they simply trade positions. Republicans complain about spending and Democrats oppose balanced budgets.

Or consider this example from Robert Sarvis, Virginia’s libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate:

In 2008, when Republicans were the ones supporting the Export-Import Bank, candidate Barack Obama called it little more than corporate cronyism, but in 2014, it was Democrats lining up to support it. Virginia’s Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine introduced the reauthorization bill, and President Obama signed it.

Republicans are keeping the bank going until 2015 when they can figure out who is is in power, so they know which position to take.

How anyone keeps falling for this shtick is beyond me.

Spoilerism is a feature of third party voting, not a glitch. It communicates to mainstream politicians that we’re here, we vote, and if they want to beat their opponent, they need us to do it. The libertarian moment is nigh. Stay the course.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.
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