Category Archives: Strategies For Advancing Liberty

The Challenge of Creating an Economically Sound, Simpler, and More Just Tax Code (Part 2 of 3)

Part 1

Is an economically sound, simpler, and more just tax code even possible?

The truth of the matter is that there are too many people on the Left and the Right who do not want a simpler tax code that treats everyone equally.
It’s probably not because the defenders of the existing system necessarily think the existing code is good economic policy nor does a better job funding the federal government. The most likely reasons why there is so much resistance have to do with political pandering, vote buying/special interests, and social engineering.

It’s not too difficult to figure out why the Left panders to the working poor because the poor always outnumber the wealthy regardless of how well the economy is doing overall. What would happen if there was such a tax code where everyone paid the same rate without any tax credits or loopholes and without any hidden or embedded taxes? I’m guessing it would be more difficult to raise taxes on the evil rich if it meant that everyone received the same percentage tax hike. When it comes to the tax code, equality is the very last thing the Left wants.

If there is anything I agree with the Occupy Wall Street crowd or the Left more generally it’s the special treatment politically connected individuals and businesses receive via the tax code and/or subsidies. So you say you want to get money out of politics or do something about the role of corporate lobbyists in Washington?

I do too.

The simple answer IMO is to eliminate all taxes on business and all subsidies that benefit business. If there are no taxes or subsidies, there is no reason for businesses to lobby for special tax treatment or subsidies; the main reason most industries send lobbyists to Washington in the first place. If we would like to go any further in limiting influence of special business interests, maybe just maybe we should get the government out of regulating just about every aspect of business* and restrict the government to its limited constitutional powers. What a novel concept!

Finally there’s the social engineering aspect of the tax code. Frankly, I’m not sure if those on the Left or the Right are worse when it comes to using the tax code as a tool to encourage the American people to engage in particular activities. Even with Perry’s flat tax plans, there are a handful of deductions that are sacred cows. The home interest, charitable giving, and state and local taxes are preserved for those who earn up to $500K. Those who earn under $50K can choose not to file under the 20% rate with a $12,500 per family member deduction (which would eliminate all if not most tax liability under the existing rate for those in this tax bracket). With these deductions as part of the plan, the Perry plan can hardly be called a flat tax.

While I’m critical of keeping these deductions in place (he probably could get by with a smaller rate without the deductions), it’s not difficult to figure out why Gov. Perry keeps them in place. Voters would raise all sorts of hell at the thought these deductions would go away. Maybe there’s a good argument to make that charitable giving should be deducted since these funds help people who might otherwise be on government assistance.

But the home interest deduction? Why is that held sacred? Is there some sort of right for homeowners to get a break because they choose to buy a home rather than rent? I suspect that the realtor and home building lobbies and those in government who truly believe that every person should buy a home perpetuate this notion to a point to where now home owners think they are entitled to this special treatment.

Perhaps the most sacred cow of all of the deductions is the child tax credit. This deduction is a feature of every tax reform I mentioned in part 1 (even the Fair Tax prebate is based on family size). In the last presidential debate, Rick Santorum said in so many words that the federal government should promote families via the tax code.

Is this really the sort of thing the government should be concerned with? Should the amount of taxes an individual pays have anything to do with marital status or number of dependents s/he is supporting? Is it fair to make a single person pay more taxes because s/he doesn’t have dependents?

I don’t think there is an answer that will satisfy everyone.

Part 3
» Read more

Peter Schiff to OWS: “I Am the 1% Let’s Talk”

Here’s a very fascinating video taken at New York’s Zuccotti Park where Peter Schiff has a dialogue with some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Schiff brought a sign that read “I Am the 1% Let’s Talk,” and talk they did.

One of the things that occurred to me watching this was how little true discussion is going on between the OWS movement and their critics. Notice how some of the protesters say things like “you rich people” or “you Republicans” etc. Just as its unfair for these protesters to lump everyone into these groups is a mistake, I think it’s also a mistake to assume that all of these protesters are clueless and don’t have some legitimate grievances.

Kudos to Peter Schiff for going out among the protesters and having this much needed conversation. There seems to be some common ground concerning these grievances; the real differences are what the solutions should be.

The Challenge of Creating an Economically Sound, Simpler, and More Just Tax Code (Part 1 of 3)

If there is one positive thing Herman Cain has contributed to the national debate it would be this renewed discussion about tax reform. While I am skeptical of some of the specifics of his 9-9-9 plan, if nothing else, Cain has forced the other candidates to come out with proposals of their own. Gov. Rick Perry in a seemingly desperate move to remain relevant proposed an alternative 20% flat tax – a single rate that’s less than the sum of all of Cain’s 9’s.

Before I was aware of and became a supporter of the Fair Tax (a 23% consumption tax that would replace the income tax, payroll tax and all other federal taxes; Gary Johnson and Herman Cain* both support the Fair Tax) I was a supporter of the Flat Tax as proposed by Steve Forbes in his 2000 presidential bid. If we must be subject to an income tax, it seems only fair that everyone pay the same tax rate. None of these proposed plans are perfect but at least everyone is subject to the same rates.

But apparently my definition of “fair” differs quite a bit from those who think a “progressive” tax (i.e. the more you make, the more the government will take) is fair. Take this article from Politico for example:

Taxing the poor has become a badge of honor among conservatives. When Occupy Wall Street protesters launched their cry of “We are the 99 percent,” the right-wing blogosphere responded, “We are the 53 percent,” meaning the 53 percent of American households that they say pay federal income taxes.

Conservatives have become fixated on the notion that largely because of the Earned Income Tax Credit — passed under Ronald Reagan and expanded under Bill Clinton — almost half of all Americans pay no income taxes.

Perry launched his presidential campaign expressing dismay at the “injustice that nearly half of all Americans don’t even pay any income tax.” And he was not alone. Every major candidate — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Mitt Romney and Cain — has suggested that too many of the working poor aren’t paying income taxes, a position The Wall Street Journal describes as “GOP doctrine.”

[…]

The argument is disingenuous. Working poor people do pay taxes. They pay a larger portion of their incomes in payroll taxes and sales taxes than the wealthy. And they pay property taxes indirectly in their rental costs. Poor workers pay about one-eighth of their incomes in taxes, on average.

For the sake of argument, I will assume that the author’s assertion is correct that the working poor pay a greater share of their incomes than the wealthy counting both direct and indirect taxes. Indeed there are all sorts of hidden taxes that are embedded in every good or service we all buy.

Regulations on business (which the author of this article undoubtedly supports) that contributes to the overall cost of employing a worker** are potential earnings the worker might otherwise be paid. » Read more

Ron Paul Unveils “Restore America” Plan

LAS VEGAS – Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul unveiled his economic “Plan to Restore America” in Las Vegas Monday afternoon, calling for a lower corporate tax rate, a cut in spending by $1 trillion during his first year in office and the elimination of five cabinet-level agencies.”

[…]

Paul does get specific when he calls for a 10 percent reduction in the federal work force, while pledging to limit his presidential salary to $39,336, which his campaign says is “approximately equal to the median personal income of the American worker.” The current pay rate for commander in chief is $400,000 a year.

Based on Dr. Paul’s speech, there’s not a whole lot not to like. Cutting $1 trillion of government spending in the first year would be a very good thing IMO.

As a Gary Johnson supporter, I can’t help but get more than a little annoyed each time one of Paul’s supporters, member of his campaign staff, or the congressman himself makes the claim that Dr. Paul is the only candidate in the race who would balance the budget. Gov. Johnson has promised a balanced budget, not merely in his first term but in his first budget in virtually every debate, interview, and speech he has given since he announced his candidacy.

That criticism aside, I hope this plan is given serious consideration by the primary voters and debated among the candidates.

Gary Johnson and Ron Paul CPAC Speeches

The 2012 G.O.P. candidates each gave speeches at CPAC following the debates. Below are the speeches from Gary Johnson and Ron Paul. The first video is Johnson’s presentation before perhaps the largest audience he has had in awhile. Johnson spends a good part of his presentation introducing himself before giving an overview of his proposals. In the second video, Dr. Paul who is no stranger to CPAC, gets right into his prescriptions for fixing the economy and restoring lost liberty.

A Ban Worth Drinking To

For the first time ever, reason.tv is cheering their “Nanny of the Month.”

That’s right, starting September 1 , more than 500 Michigan restaurant and bar owners will begin turning state lawmakers away from their establishments. State Senator So-and-so wants a brew? Too bad. Politicians won’t be served until they revisit the state’s 2010 smoking ban, which, owners say, has devastated business, and left bars like Sporty O’Tooles on the verge of collapse.

Okay, “nanny” is a bit of a misnomer in this case as these bar owners are reserving their freedom of/from association rights in their own establishments but good for them for standing up to these busybodies in the legislature. These are the kinds of bans I would love to see more of.

I Didn’t Even Know Gary Anderson Was Running in 2012!

I came across this in this discussion thread at the Agitator that I thought was too good not to share:

I’m pretty sure “Thom” wasn’t referring to Gary Anderson, the former kicker of the Minnesota Vikings (who to my knowledge isn’t running for president) but rather Gary Johnson the former governor of New Mexico (who is running for president).

I think this is exemplifies one of Gov. Johnson’s problems with name recognition. Both “Gary” and “Johnson” are such ordinary, everyday names. There’s a Gary Johnson who is an insurance agent who has an office not far from where I live. His name could just as well be Bob Smith or Bill Jones. If he were elected president, he would be the third President Johnson in U.S. history.

Names like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum are uncommon enough that they stick in your memory once you have heard or seen the names in the media. I mean really, I have never met anyone who had a name like Mitt or Newt. These names are uncommon enough I don’t even have to hear someone say the last name to know s/he is referring to the former governor of Massachusetts and former Speaker of the House respectively. As for Ron Paul, while in isolation both names are quite common, he has the whole two “first names” thing going on.

Maybe the best thing Gov. Johnson could do is do what another famous Johnson did… » Read more

Montana Firearms Freedom Act: Tilting At Windmills

While I laud any state trying to expand the freedom of its residents while simultaneously thumbing it’s nose at Washington, I can’t see this ending well:

On October 1, 2009, Montana passed the Montana Firearms Freedom Act, the purpose of which was to regulate guns manufactured and kept within Montana state lines under a less restrictive regulatory regime than federal law provides. That same day, to ensure that Montanans could enjoy the benefits of this less restrictive state regulation, the Montana Shooting Sports Association filed a declaratory judgment claim in federal court.

The lawsuit’s importance is not limited to Montana, as seven other states have passed laws similar to the MFFA and 20 states have introduced such legislation. The goal here is to reinforce state regulatory authority over commerce that is by definition intrastate, to take back some of the ground occupied by modern Commerce Clause jurisprudence.

The district court granted the government’s motion to dismiss, however, and MSSA appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Now on appeal, Cato has joined the Goldwater Institute to file an amicus brief supporting the MSSA and arguing that federal power does not preempt Montana’s ability to exercise its sovereign police powers to facilitate the exercise of individual rights protected by the Second and Ninth Amendments. More specifically, for federal law to trump the MFFA, the government must claim that the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses give it the power to regulate wholly intrastate manufacture, sale, and possession of guns, which MSSA argues is a state-specific market distinct from any related national one.

The general question here is whether modern Commerce Clause jurisprudence should be upended for this case. I believe it should, but I believe it won’t. The manufacture/sale/possession of firearms, while declared to be purely intrastate matters, would seem to “substantially affect” interstate commerce in the same way as the Court found in Wickard & Raich. On the question of whether the activity affects interstate commerce, I don’t think there can be any debate should current Commerce Clause jurisprudence hold. Under such jurisprudence, the Feds can reasonably claim that their more stringent requirements for firearms is Necessary to effectively regulate firearms in an interstate manner.

The actual brief (linked above) submitted by Goldwater & Cato draws more narrow inferences than the quoted text above, however. They recognize the current precedent of Wickard & Raich, but push a state sovereignty angle which seems much more substantial. The argument seems to be that in areas traditionally regulated at the state level, rather than the federal level, and where the state action is protecting individual liberty rather than restricting it (i.e. no 14th amendment privileges & immunities issues here), the level of scrutiny required by the Feds to override State law should be significantly higher. However, I suspect that such efforts will still either fall short, or require Supreme Court gymnastics to carve out a VERY narrow exception here (i.e. emanations & penumbra gymnastics).

It’s telling that one of the cases used as justification here is a case [Massachusetts v. Sebelius] where Massachusetts argued against the DOMA, on the grounds that Massachusetts more libertarian law upholding same-sex unions was infringed upon by DOMA. Effectively DOMA made it impossible for certain federally-funded programs which would traditionally go to “married” couples (or survivors thereof) could not be extended to same-sex couples. Because the regulation of marriage was traditionally within the purview of the States, not the Feds, and because DOMA violated the State’s liberty-protecting equal protection clause within the Massachusetts Constitution, for the Congress to intervene here was shown to be a violation of Massachusetts sovereignty.

However, I don’t think the Massachusetts case will be applicable here. While it is traditionally the purview of the States to regulate marriage, I don’t think it can be shown here that Massachusetts recognition of same-sex marriage substantially affects interstate commerce. The portion of DOMA that would have protected states from being forced to recognize same-sex marriages from other states was also not at issue. While it might be within the general police powers of the States to regulate some aspects of firearms manufacture/sale/ownership, I believe the Court would find the Commerce Clause precedent more binding than a finding of state sovereignty.

Another aspect of the state sovereignty argument appears in section I-A of the brief [p7-11]. Several points are raised:

  • That the Federal government cannot force a State legislature to legislate as directed by the Feds. In this case, I don’t believe the point applies, as the Feds are not demanding the States implement this regulation for them, but rather declaring such regulation to be a Federal matter to be decided by Congress rather than the States.
  • That the Federal government cannot commandeer State resources for the execution of federal regulation. Again, they are not forcing State police to enforce a more strict version of firearms regulation, and various drug decriminalization (and State medical marijuana initiatives) have created a situation where, while a State may [unconstitutionally] declare certain activities legal that the Federal government deems illegal, the States are within their rights to limit the use of State resources for investigation and prosecution of Federal crimes that they deem unwieldy. California can simultaneously hold the position that while medical marijuana is Federally illegal, the State does not consider it criminal, and thus the Feds themselves must enforce it if they so choose.
  • That the Federal government may not regulate/criminalize wholly intrastate activities with no economic impact. I think Commerce Clause jurisprudence would suggest that manufacture/sale/possession of weapons cannot be shown to be wholly intrastate, and it certainly includes economic impact.
  • Finally, that the Federal government may not subject State government employees to the dictates or working regulations of the Federal government — I think this one is so far removed from the case at hand to not warrant discussion.

To argue that this is a matter of state sovereignty is to argue that regulations of firearms has been a long-standing matter of the states themselves, and that for the Federal government to step in and demand more stringent regulation under Commerce Clause grounds requires such heightened scrutiny that cannot be supported here. However, Federal firearms laws have been in force since 1934, and while this is not proof that the regulation of firearm manufacture/sale/ownership should be a Federal matter, it certainly cuts some strength from the argument that this is purely a matter of state sovereignty.

It seems to me that this lawsuit is a bit of a hail mary. For it to succeed, we would need to see a sea-change in Commerce Clause jurisprudence (almost impossibly unlikely), or for the Brady Bill and/or National Firearms Act to be struck down as Unconstitutional (because both would infringe on state sovereignty). A greater likelihood, based on current conservative makeup of the court, would be a VERY narrowly worded decision involving some legal gymnastics. However, given the deference to Federal power I’ve seen from Roberts & Alito, and given that they would need such a narrow crafting to ensure that they wouldn’t open up whole hosts of other State sovereignty challenges to Federal law, I don’t see much likelihood there. Fundamentally the plaintiffs are pushing for a general large change in Federal/State interaction, one which I doubt the Supreme Court is ready to uphold.

Of course, that’s all assuming it ever makes it to the Supreme Court, itself an unlikely prospect.

While I have great sympathy for the plaintiffs here, I can’t say I’d be laying strong odds on their success.
» Read more

Gary Johnson Makes his Case for President for Libertarians and Libertarian Leaning Republicans on Stossel

In case you missed it, John Stossel dedicated the whole hour of his show last Thursday to answer the question: Who is Gary Johnson? When Stossel took Johnson’s picture around the streets on NYC, only one person knew who he was. I think this could be one reason why his poll numbers are so anemic at this point.

The studio audience, mostly libertarian leaning (which is normal for Stossel), seemed to like most of what Gov. Veto had to say as he was routinely interrupted by applause.

It wasn’t a complete love fest, however. Stossel brought on guests to challenge the governor from both the Left and the Right to ask him some of the same asinine questions he would have likely been asked had he been invited to the N.H. debate. Johnson also got to debate a Barack Obama impersonator (which was kind of cheesy if you ask me).

I won’t go into anymore of my impressions from the program but I look forward to reading the comments section to see what some of your impressions are.

Controversial Organization Admonishes Soldiers and Peace Officers to Defend the Constitution

Every soldier and every police officer swears an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” but as a practical matter, what does this mean? What happens if the CO issues an order that violates the Constitution; is soldier or peace officer still required to carry the order out? What if the order in question comes from the President of the United States?

Stewart Rhodes, the founder of an organization established in 2009 called Oath Keepers, says that not only do soldiers and peace officers have a right to refuse to carry out an order that violates the U.S. Constitution but a sworn duty to disobey the order. Rhodes, graduate of Yale Law School, veteran, former firearms instructor, and former staffer for Congressman Ron Paul’s D.C. office, started Oath Keepers in response to what he perceived as an erosion of civil liberties that has escalated since 9/11.

Oath Keepers’ critics (particularly on the Left) believe the organization to be a Right wing “extremist” organization full of Birthers, Truthers, militia members, hate groups, and various other conspiracy theorists. In this article in Reason, Rhodes clears the air. Also, found in the organization’s bylaws:

Section 8.02
(a) No person who advocates, or has been or is a member, or associated with, any organization, formal or informal, that advocates the overthrow of the government of the United States or the violation of the Constitution thereof, shall be entitled to be a member or associate member.

(b) No person who advocates, or has been or is a member, or associated with, any organization, formal or informal, that advocates discrimination, violence, or hatred toward any person based upon their race, nationality, creed, or color, shall be entitled to be a member or associate member.

So what specifically makes Oath Keepers so controversial? My guess would be their list of 10 “Orders We Will Not Obey”:

1. We will NOT obey orders to disarm the American people.

2. We will NOT obey orders to conduct warrantless searches of the American people

3. We will NOT obey orders to detain American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” or to subject them to military tribunal.

4. We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a “state of emergency” on a state.

5. We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.

6. We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.

7. We will NOT obey any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.

8. We will NOT obey orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people to “keep the peace” or to “maintain control.”

9. We will NOT obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies.

10.We will NOT obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.

Imagine how much freer our country would become if everyone in law enforcement and in the military adopted this creed and took their oaths seriously?

Gov. Johnson Takes on Hannity

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary “Veto” Johnson made a recent appearance on Hannity last week (see video below). I have to say I was pleasantly surprised both with how Sean Hannity conducted the interview and how Gov. Johnson responded. I haven’t really watched Hannity since before the “& Colmes” was dropped a few years ago; from what I remembered he didn’t normally allow guests he disagreed with explain their position (especially on topics like drug legalization). I was also happy that he gave Gov. Johnson 20 plus minutes of some very valuable air time on a program widely watched by Republican primary voters. There’s just no way Gov. Johnson will ever be given that much time in a primary debate.

For Gov. Johnson’s part, I thought he communicated his message very skillfully. His cost/benefit approach that he is campaigning on, especially on issues that the G.O.P base generally disagree (ex: non-intervention and drug legalization/harm reduction) will be helpful in advancing libertarian positions in the long run (much as Ron Paul did in 2008 and since). When Hannity finally broached the war on (some) drugs, Johnson was able to get Hannity to concede that marijuana ought to be considered in a different category from harder drugs (i.e. heroin, crack, etc.). This in of itself is very encouraging.

Disturbed Offers New Single Download to Support ‘West Memphis 3’

The heavy metal band Disturbed has stepped up in a big way to not only educate their fans of the miscarriage of justice that occurred in West Memphis, Arkansas in a new song entitled “3”, but also to give their fans an opportunity to help. Their new single is available for download only for $.99 ($1.03 after taxes); all proceeds for this single will go toward Damien Echols’ legal fees.

From Distrubed’s official website:

It all began May 5, 1993 when three eight-year-old boys were found mutilated and murdered in the Robin Hood Hills area of West Memphis, Arkansas. Under tremendous pressure to find the killer despite physical evidence pointing to anyone, West Memphis officers coerced an error-filled “confession” from a mentally handicapped teenager, Jessie Misskelley Jr., questioning him for hours without counsel or parental consent, only audio-taping two 46-minute fragments. Jessie recanted his statement the same night but it was too late: Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Misskelley all were arrested on June 3rd, and have been incarcerated ever since.

Local media said the murders were part of a satanic ritual; human sacrifices in the wooded areas of West Memphis, Arkansas. The police assured the public the three teenagers in custody were definitely responsible for these horrible crimes. There was no physical evidence, murder weapon, motive, or acquaintance with the victims so the State stooped to presenting Damien’s black hair and clothing, heavy metal t-shirts, and Stephen King novels as “proof” the children were sacrificed to the devil. In early 1994, Echols was sentenced to death by lethal injection, Baldwin received life without parole, while Misskelley got life plus 40 years.

[…]

With the steadfast support and financial help of their supporters, there is now factual, scientific evidence of their innocence. Damien, Jason and Jessie still must fight to gain their freedom but there are major differences now: the “satanic cult sacrifice” motive is now an embarrassment the prosecution doesn’t even embrace. More important, forensic technologies have progressed to the point where previously untested items yielded definitive results: Not one molecule of DNA from the crime scene matches that of Damien, Jason or Jessie. The DNA does match of a pair of individuals (one of them a victim’s stepfather) that were admittedly together on the day the children disappeared.

[…]

In November of 2010, the State Supreme Court of Arkansas finally ruled in the WM3’s favor for the first time, ordering new hearings wherein all post-conviction DNA, forensic evidence or testimony that could lead to their exoneration will be heard. Judge David Laser was assigned to be the judge of this evidentiary hearing which will begin on December 5, 2011.

While it’s true the WM3 can see the light at the end of this tunnel, they still desperately need your financial help. Judge Laser ordered all remaining DNA is to be tested and we must pay for it, as well as additional forensic investigations and legal work. Please visit wm3.org for more information on the case and make your tax-deductible donation to the defense fund.

The case of the West Memphis 3 is one of the most disturbing cases I’ve ever followed; this is a worthy cause. If you are unfamiliar with this case, in addition to visiting wm3.org, watch the HBO documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, the follow-up Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, and the 48 Hours Mystery episode “A Cry for Innocence.”In closing, here are the lyrics to the new Disturbed single entitled “3” below the fold. » Read more

Preference Voting — Darling Of The LP, But Does It Work?

Anyone who’s read my work here over the years will have realized that I’m not very interested in political horse races. It’s not to say that I don’t think there is some importance to them (as several contributors here do pay close attention), but that others can cover that stuff far better than I can, and at the end of the day it interests me not at all.

What does interest me is structures and incentives. I don’t think we’ll be able to make a meaningful change in the direction of this country unless we find a way to get the Republican/Democrat “Beast with Two Asses” to relinquish control and have actual diversity in Congress.

The structure of our government is such that it naturally trends towards a two-party system. The centrism of the American populace aligns those two parties into a nominal one-party system, standing a few steps for and a few steps aft of the mast of the Big Government yacht, but all riding in the exact same direction. Anyone who would dare rock the boat is purged.

So how do we fix this? Well, one option is replacing “first past the post” voting with ranked balloting. The sad truth of standard plurality elections in a dominant two-party system is that voting for a third party is a vote against your preferred of the two candidates. If you want the LP to win but could live with the Republican, voting Libertarian makes it more, not less, likely a Democrat will be elected instead. In ranked voting, you rank your acceptable candidates by preference, so ranking your LP candidate first and the Republican candidate second allows your second vote to stand should the Libertarian lose.

The question is — would it make a difference? The answer, unfortunately, is likely no:

But instead, the version being offered in Britain will allow voters to write in a first preference, and leave all others blank: the professor calls this practice “plumping.”

This is very significant, Mr Bogdanor argues, and he has the data to back this up. He notes that the stated purpose of AV is to avoid the anomaly by which a candidate can win a constituency on a minority of the vote.

However, he explains, it is not correct to say that AV ensures every MP is elected by a majority. In the Australian states of Queensland and New South Wales, “plumping” is allowed in elections to state legislatures. And where it is allowed, it is very common. He records:

The greater the degree of plumping, the more an alternative vote election turns into a first past the post election…In Queensland, in 2009, where the Labor Party advised its supporters to “Just Vote 1″, to give Labor their first preference and not to give a preference to any other candidate, around 63% of voters plumped. Even where a party does offer advice, that advice may be ignored. In Queensland, the Greens advised that second preferences be given to Labor, but 46% of Green voters decided to plump

There are many arguments for and against AV. Many will be rehearsed here over the next few weeks (you lucky people). But for now, consider this possibility: by avoiding a dreadful form of AV (one which would make the use of all preferences obligatory), British backers of AV may have chosen a system that amounts to a gussied-up form of FPTP with added complexity and aggravation.

In a system built to be dominated by two parties at the Congressional level (not at the district level), we don’t have a system requiring multiple minority parties to work together to “create a government”. That’s more of a parliamentary system with proportional representation. Nor do we, as Americans enamored with representative democracy, seem to want that — we want to elect AN individual to represent OUR OWN interests in Washington [not that this actually happens, of course].

So it’s quite likely that Republicans and Democrats will each put their own party and zero other candidates on a ranked ballot. Those of us outside the two main parties will put our third-party preference and our second choice on a ranked ballot. And at the end of the day, you’ll end up with a Congress filled with the same Republicans and Democrats we started with. In the few cases where a minority party candidate is elected (say, for example, where a popular main-party candidate is skewered in the primary and goes third-party), it may make it easier to end up in office, but still isn’t a major change to the system.

I’m a fan of changing structure, and I see the allure of preference voting. In fact, I think preference voting is a worthy change. But I think that preference voting, in and of itself, would have effectively zero impact on the American political landscape. For it to be important, it would have to be paired with other structural changes that would improve the likelihood that minority parties would end up with a seat at the table. Like most things with the $3.5T Leviathan, it’ll take more than preference voting to make a real difference.

Last Call to Meet Our $500 Goal/Life After Exoneration

Disclaimer: The views expressed here at The Liberty Papers either by the post authors or views found in the comments section do not necessarily reflect the views of The Innocence Project nor its affiliates.

In support of our fundraising efforts for The Innocence Project, I had tried to dedicate at least one post per week over the last four weeks to the cause of criminal justice reform – many of which are the very reforms The Innocence Project are working to bring about. With today being the last day of this fundraising campaign, 228 “Innocence Partners” combined efforts has raised nearly $15,000 of the $20,000 target. As of this writing, you readers have already donated $375 – 75% of our $500 goal! Thanks to everyone who has donated so far or plans to donate. Remember: your donations are 100% tax deductible.

Believe it or not, in the time we joined this campaign nearly a month ago to help The Innocence Project, 2 individuals have been exonerated as a direct result of The Innocence Project’s help!

In case you are wondering what $20,000 can accomplish (the overall campaign’s goal), this is how far The Innocence Project says the money can go:

• Pay for post-conviction DNA testing that may prove innocence for 4 clients.

• Provide 16 exonerees with basic needs including food, rent, and transportation for the first month after release.

• Cover the costs to send 20 exonerees to testify before state legislatures to reform the criminal justice system.

• Send 25 local advocates to an Innocence Project training to learn how to advance wrongful conviction reforms in their state.

• Allow a staff attorney to represent 5 clients.

• Enable staff to advocate for wrongful conviction reforms in 6 states.

In this series of posts, I covered some of the reforms and issues The Innocence Project has been trying to bring to light such as compensation for the wrongfully convicted, eyewitness misidentification, and false confessions. Rather than doing a rush job writing a final piece for the series, I encourage everyone to follow this link for the Frontline episode entitled “Burden of Innocence” (I couldn’t find a nifty player to embed the episode into this post but you can watch the episode in its entirety there). This episode deals with life after these individuals have been exonerated and their struggles to reenter and rejoin free society. It seems that there is much work that needs to be done here as well.

You Would Never Confess to a Crime You Did Not Commit? Don’t Be So Sure

Disclaimer: The views expressed here at The Liberty Papers either by the post authors or views found in the comments section do not necessarily reflect the views of The Innocence Project nor its affiliates.

In support of our fundraising efforts for The Innocence Project, I have decided to dedicate at least one post per week over the next four weeks to the cause of criminal justice reform – many of which are the very reforms The Innocence Project are working to bring about. With just 2 weeks left of this fundraising campaign, 208 “Innocence Partners” combined efforts has raised over $10,000 of the $20,000 target. As of this writing, you readers have already donated $375 – 75% of our $500 goal! Thanks to everyone who has donated so far or plans to donate. Remember: your donations are 100% tax deductible.

One more brief note before I get into this post’s topic of false confessions. Just three days ago, Thomas Haynesworth became The Innocence Projects’ 267th exoneree and was released from prison after serving 27 years for three rapes that DNA tests and other evidence prove he did not commit (well, technically he was paroled; The Innocence Project is now trying to have his conviction overturned via the Virginia Court of Appeals or by a pardon from the governor who says he will consider pardoning Haynesworth).

False Confessions

A skilled interrogator knows all sorts of ways to persuade individuals guilty of committing a crime to confess. The problem is, the same interrogator’s methods can often persuade individuals who are innocent to confess as well.

But why would an innocent person confess to crimes as serious as rape and murder, you ask? This is some of what The Innocence Project has learned:

In about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.

These cases show that confessions are not always prompted by internal knowledge or actual guilt, but are sometimes motivated by external influences.

Why do innocent people confess?
A variety of factors can contribute to a false confession during a police interrogation. Many cases have included a combination of several of these causes. They include:

•duress
•coercion
•intoxication
•diminished capacity
•mental impairment
•ignorance of the law
•fear of violence
•the actual infliction of harm
•the threat of a harsh sentence
•Misunderstanding the situation

The documentary series Frontline episode “The Confessions” (below) profiles a case where eight individuals were charged in large part due to five confessions for a rape and murder of a Norfolk, Virginia woman. Only one of the five confessions turned out to be true and the actual perpetrator admitted he acted alone.

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

How can false confessions be minimized? One common sense reform The Innocence Project is pushing is simply passing laws which would require all interrogations to be recorded. If the men in the above case had their confessions recorded, the interrogators wouldn’t have the ability to have each rehearse their confessions until it fit with their theory. Every lie and every threat by the interrogators would be replayed for the jury to hear. Only then could the jury have a more complete context of the interrogation.

Additional Thoughts on Recording Interactions with the Police

In response to the above post, Tom Knighton made some very good points in a blog post of his own regarding mandatory recording of interrogations that bear repeating here:

Littau suggests simply recording interrogations as a tool for preventing false confessions as the jury would hear the whole situation and perhaps make up their own minds regarding the so-called confession. I’m going to go so far as to suggest this as a tool for protecting law enforcement officers, as well as suspects. Recorded interrogations can also tell that an officer didn’t coerce a confession, assault a suspect, or anything else they may be accused of.

Transparency is always preferable to non-transparency when it comes to government, even in the law enforcement sector. By recording interviews, an agency opens a window on the process and protects everyone involved.

As the old saying goes, there’s three sides to every story. In the criminal justice system there’s the suspect’s side, the state’s side (or referred sometimes to as “the people’s” side), and the truth. Recording all interactions between the police and the suspect provides something very close to the truth (I say close because even video evidence can be limiting due to a variety of factors).

Really I think that all police interactions should be required by law to be recorded if the person doesn’t have access to a lawyer at that particular moment (and even then, the interaction should be recorded unless the lawyer wishes otherwise). Every police stop, every search warrant, and every raid on a person’s home should be fully* recorded; resulting video should be kept unedited** so both sides can examine the evidence fairly.

Of course, this all assumes that the purpose of our criminal justice system is to get to the truth.

*In the case of police raids, something that Radley Balko advocates (which I agree with fully) is that every SWAT or police officer who takes part in a raid should be required to have a camera mounted on his/her person – preferably helmet mounted. This would present the events how they happened from multiple points-of-view.

**Editing, destroying, or omitting such a video should be considered a crime akin to any other tampering or destruction of evidence.

Good Work — Almost There

Merely a week ago, I posted about a fundraiser for the Innocence Project.

The Innocence Project is a non-profit group working to offer legal services to convicts claiming innocence who have a chance to prove it. Living in as free and just a country as we manage to have, there are still mistakes — many more than we likely realize. Those on the wrong end of those mistakes often have nobody willing to fight for them, even if they are truly innocent.

The Innocence Project hoped to get 200 individuals to set up web pages attempting to raise $100 each for a total fundraising goal of $20K. Given the modest but wider reach of this blog, I set up our page with a goal of $500, and I think it’s a good one, because we’re over 60% there.

If you haven’t rattled the cup yet, I highly recommend you do so. You’re working to help people who have been unfairly beaten by the system clear their name. If that’s not enough, it’s tax deductible, so every dollar you donate reduces the amount the system has to railroad others.

We’re less than $200 from the goal. Go help out someone who needs it.

Eyewitness Misidentification: Revisiting a Previous Discussion

Disclaimer: The views expressed here at The Liberty Papers either by the post authors or views found in the comments section do not necessarily reflect the views of The Innocence Project nor its affiliates.

In support of our fundraising efforts for The Innocence Project, I have decided to dedicate at least one post per week over the next four weeks to the cause of criminal justice reform – many of which are the very reforms The Innocence Project are working to bring about. As of this writing, you readers have already donated $310 – 62% of our $500 goal! Thanks to everyone who has donated so far or plans to donate. Remember: your donations are 100% tax deductible.

With that out of the way, now I will turn your attention to the topic at hand: Eyewitness Misidentification.

Back almost three years ago to the day, I wrote a post about Troy Davis who had his death row appeal denied despite seven eyewitnesses recanting their testimonies (this case is still winding its way through the courts; here is an update on where the case stands today). As is often the case whether here at The Liberty Papers or at other blogs, the discussion that followed my post was actually a great deal more interesting than the post itself IMHO. Jeff Molby, a person who comments on a somewhat regular basis, really got the discussion going with several Liberty Papers contributors and readers.

The part of the post that Jeff believed to be “misleading” was the following statement I took from The Innocence Project webpage that dealt with the role eyewitness misidentification plays in wrongful convictions:

Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.

While eyewitness testimony can be persuasive evidence before a judge or jury, 30 years of strong social science research has proven that eyewitness identification is often unreliable. Research shows that the human mind is not like a tape recorder; we neither record events exactly as we see them, nor recall them like a tape that has been rewound. Instead, witness memory is like any other evidence at a crime scene; it must be preserved carefully and retrieved methodically, or it can be contaminated.

This was Jeff’s response:

Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.

That’s a misleading stat. The relevant stat would be the percentage of convictions based on eyewitness identification that were later overturned due to DNA testing.

Comment by Jeff Molby — March 17, 2008 @ 12:51 pm

Perhaps the reason Jeff found the quote was misleading was my fault rather than The Innocence Project’s. The page that I took the quote from goes into greater detail complete with links for further reading. From my reading of their material, it seems to me that the statistics they are dealing with are from their now 266 exonerations. As the discussion unfolded, this forced me to do some additional research outside of The Innocence Project [Thanks a lot Jeff : ) ] to see if I could find more data to support –or refute The Innocence Project’s claim. Fellow contributor and lawyer by trade, Doug Mataconis also weighed in with his thought about the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

The highlights from this discussion are below the fold.
» Read more

The Scales of Justice Need Rebalancing

In support of our fundraising efforts for The Innocence Project, I have decided to dedicate at least one post per week over the next four weeks to the cause of criminal justice reform – many of which are the very reforms The Innocence Project are working to bring about. As of this writing, I am pleased to announce that in this very first day of fundraising, you readers have already donated $285 – 57% of our $500 goal! Thanks to everyone who has donated so far or plans to donate. Remember: your donations are 100% tax deductible.

The post below is one I originally posted back in November of 2007 and my first post of any substance here at The Liberty Papers. I’m also very honored to say that this post was chosen by my peers (who I have such a great deal of respect for as thinkers, writers, and individuals) as #5 on the list of the “Top 10 Liberty Papers Posts of the last 5 Years” marking The Liberty Papers 5 year blogiversary. At the time I wrote this post, I had never even heard of The Innocence Project nor its aims to make one of the very reforms suggested in this post: compensation for the wrongfully convicted. The Duke Lacrosse case was also one of the hot issues when I wrote the post (and therefore may seem somewhat dated).

As ‘unbalanced’ as I thought the scales of justice were back then, I now know its much worse than I realized even back then. The Innocence Project is working hard to correct this imbalance but they cannot do it alone. Be part of the solution and help us reach our goal and if you feel so motivated, you can even set up your own page to help The Innocence Project reach their $20,000 goal by April 7, 2011.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here at The Liberty Papers either by the post authors or views found in the comments section do not necessarily reflect the views of The Innocence Project nor its affiliates.

    The Scales of Justice Need Rebalancing


In civics class, we are taught a few lessons about the American criminal justice system: the accused is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, has the right to a court-appointed attorney if the accused wishes not to pay for his or her own, has a right to a trial by a jury of his or her peers, and jurors can only convict the accused if there is a lack of reasonable doubt in their minds. We are told that the accused is guaranteed a fair and speedy trial. We are told the burden of proof falls on the state; the accused only has to provide reasonable doubt (meaning the accused ‘probably’ did not commit the crime). We are to believe that an individual who is innocent would rarely (if ever) be wrongfully convicted because our criminal justice system is about finding the truth and rendering justice.

What the civics classes usually fail to mention is that regardless of the fact that jurors are supposed to consider the accused innocent until proven guilty, it is human nature to assume the worst of someone who is accused of committing a heinous crime. Jurors come with their own biases and world views and may find it difficult to suppress their inclinations and deal with the facts of the case. The civics lesson also usually fails to point out that if the accused chooses to go with a court-appointed lawyer, he or she will not be as likely to have an as aggressive and competent advocate as the state will. If the accused makes the wise decision to pay for his or her own defense, he or she can expect to spend his or her entire life’s savings (and perhaps the life’s savings of other friends and family members) just to have competent representation. Even if the accused has the means to pay for such a competent lawyer, there are no guarantees that he or she will be found not guilty regardless of the evidence or whether or not the accused committed the crime. And if the jury finds the defendant not guilty, then what? Sure, he or she is technically cleared of the crime but he or she still has to pay all the legal fees for his or her lawyer and the fact that he or she was ever charged will remain on his or her criminal record. » Read more

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is — The Innocence Project

[To skip my blather and go straight to The Liberty Papers’ page at the Innocence Project, go here.]

It’s been said before that a conservative is simply a liberal who’s been mugged, and that a libertarian is a conservative who’s been mugged — by his own government.

I know that for me, it wasn’t *exactly* that, but not far off. I spent a good portion of my life as a bit of a law-and-order conservative — or given that I was never on board with social conservatism, a law-and-order libertarian. What has really changed my outlook as I’ve delved deeper into the world of politics is that I’ve lost faith in the government’s ability to fairly and responsibly exercise even these powers. I’ve completely lost faith in the death penalty, because while time can never be restored, it’s a lot easier to free a wrongfully convicted live man than a dead one. I do believe that our government in America, as screwed up as it is, generally is willing to correct judicial system errors when beaten over the head with them.

But who is going to beat them over the head? The convicted are not a naturally sympathetic interest group. The “law-and-order” crowd will typically give the benefit of the doubt to the law-and-order crowd. There aren’t a lot of people who are going to stand up for a convicted rapist or convicted murderer. And it’s not as if proclaiming one’s innocence is something only the innocent do, so it can be tough to determine which convict is worth fighting for.

But none of that changes the fact that the government wrongfully convicts innocent people, and that justice demands that someone stand up for them. That someone is the Innocence Project:

The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.

To date, 266 innocent prisoners have been exonerated by DNA testing, 17 who were on death row at the time. The criminal justice system tends to be reticent to accept the possibility of their own mistake, so it often takes outside pressure to have DNA testing performed on “cold” cases. The Innocence Project provides pro-bono legal representation to people trying to prove their innocence. Getting innocent people out of prison? I don’t see how you can argue with that. Note also that The Innocence Project is spending their time and money on the ground, helping actual convicts. This is not an activism organization lobbying your legislators, it exists to actual help individual convicts trying to prove their innocence.

Because of that, I have opened a page on behalf of The Liberty Papers with the Innocence Project, who happen to be running a fundraising drive right now.

The Innocence Project is pushing for $20K in donations by April 7, and are hoping to get 200 individual people to set up pages with a goal of $100 each. I think we here at The Liberty Papers can do better, so I’ve set a goal of $500. Our readers come from many walks of life, and I know that for some of you, $10 might be a suitable donation, and for others, $50 or $100 might be more palatable. Either way, remember that your contribution might help to get an innocent person out of jail for a heinous crime that they didn’t commit.

Also note that your contribution is tax-deductible. For every dollar you donate, you reduce your tax liability by whatever tax bracket you’re in. Not only do you support a quality organization fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves, you help to starve the beast as well. Win-win!

War and Peace

No, seriously, War and Peace. I found it on the top 100 lists of free Kindle books, and decided that reading War and Peace was one of those things I probably had to do in my life to call myself a serious reader.

Bad decision. As I remarked to a good friend, it was meandering, it seemed to lack any true central conflict about any particular character, and it was infused with a very particularly Russian fatalism. At the end of the day, I had no real emotional attachment or involvement in the story, and the last 20% or so was simply a slog through to be able to say I finished it. To thus my fried replied, “yep, that pretty well describes Russian literature.”

However, one specific attribute of that fatalism I found quite interesting, and possibly timely:

That the peoples of the west might be able to accomplish the military march upon Moscow, which they did accomplish, it was essential (1) that they should be combined in a military group of such a magnitude as to be able to withstand the resistance of the military group of the east; (2) that they should have renounced all their established traditions and habits; and (3) that they,should have at their head a man able to justify in his own name and theirs the perpetration of all the deception, robbery, and murder that accompany that movement.

And to start from the French Revolution, that old group of insufficient magnitude is broken up; the old habits and traditions are destroyed; step by step a group is elaborated of new dimensions, new habits, and new traditions; and the man is prepared, who is to stand at the head of the coming movement, and to take upon himself the whole responsibility of what has to be done.

While I’m not a believer in either the societal or personal fatalism espoused by Tolstoy, one can make an argument that what “had to be done” was to crumble the final vestiges of feudalism’s legitimacy in society. This can’t occur by overthrowing a single despot. Political change of that magnitude must be jarring enough to destroy even the memory of what came before it. Society, like a phoenix, must be destroyed and rise from its own ashes to build anew.

Britain, while still a monarchy, had largely transitioned from a feudal society to a mercantile society. America was still a pre-teen on the world stage. Europe, though, was still fighting the final stages to break off the chains of feudalism and monarchy. The slaughter of the French Revolution produced Napoleon, and Napoleon slaughtered Europe.

Is this what “had to be done”? Millions dead, cities burned, the entire existing social hierarchy torn from its roots? Perhaps it did have to occur. Feudalism and monarchy are stories of powerful entrenched interests and a complacent underclass. It is not enough to cast those bonds off on paper; they must be cast off in the soul. This is not easy to do without a jarring blow.

At the end of the French & Russian war, swaths of Europe had been destroyed, and the people were prepared to accept peace — peace on different terms than had existed previously. Society could now be built on a foundation other than feudalism and monarchy. It needed to occur, but it was only the jarring blow that allowed people to come to terms with what was needed.

War is messy. War is hell. War is cruel and painful. But war works.
-John Fuller, my high school AP US History teacher

At the end of the US Civil War, hundreds of thousands of Americans lay dead, essentially to right a wrong that had been building since before the Declaration of Independence. Was war truly necessary to free the slaves? No, but war was probably necessary to settle, in the minds of America, that the freedom had been won. The Civil War was a black mark on the history of America, but nobody can say that the question of slavery was left unsettled at its conclusion.

Anyone who clings to the historically untrue — and — thoroughly immoral doctrine that violence never solves anything I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler would referee. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor; and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and their freedoms.
-Robert A. Heinlein

The thesis that a jarring blow is necessary to effect the inevitable social changes that occur over time, though, is troubling to me. It’s troubling because I see significant social changes on the horizon.

Technology has brought us global, immediate, and zero-cost-of-entry communication, cutting the information stranglehold of governments and destroying entire business models in the process. Modern communication and modern transportation have made the world smaller, perhaps finally putting the lie to economic mercantilism. Governments have been debasing fiat currencies for decades since the end of Bretton Woods II, and global financial stability appears to be solely based on nations’ ability to lend to each other [especially to the US].

There seems to be a palpable tension building in the world and it’s unclear where it will lead. Much of that tension has already been seen in Iran, Greece, Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. There is tension both within China and in America’s trade/debt relationship with that nation. Unlike some hyperbolic pundits, I won’t quite put Madison in a category as serious as those just discussed, but a fight between fiscal reality, monetary stability, and the promises of government is certainly brewing — and that fight won’t be pleasant.

The world 25 years from now may very well be a place that people alive today don’t quite recognize. But there are a lot of people invested in this one, who will be very upset to see it change. So there’s only one question, and a troubling one, to ask. What sort of jarring blow is on the horizon to cleanse us of the old ways?

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