Category Archives: The Nanny State

The Limits of Campaign Finance Law Abridgement of the First Amendment Tested in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission

During the 2008 presidential campaign, an organization called Citizens United produced an anti-Hillary documentary called “Hillary: the Movie.” The movie was available on pay-per-view cable channels until the FEC pulled the plug claiming that the broadcast violated campaign finance law. The case, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, is now being considered by the Supreme Court.

During oral arguments, the government’s attorney revealed that campaign finance law as currently written could be interpreted to restrict not only documentaries such as “Hillary” but any other political speech “broadcast” during a campaign. A banned “broadcast” could include a store advertising the sale of candidate dolls, toys, or action figures. Even if the advertisement makes no direct endorsements nor advocates the defeat of a candidate, the mere mention of a candidate’s name or likeness would violate current election law.

But surely books would be safe…right?

Not if the book is “broadcast” on a device such as a Kindle, says the government’s attorney. While the FEC believes “dead tree editions” are currently safe from FEC regulation, former Chief of Staff and Council of the FEC Allison Hayward, says that such regulations could be imposed if congress brought such an interpretation into the law.

In the very beginning of the video below, Steve Simpson, Senior Attorney for the Institute for Justice says something which bears repeating here because he captures exactly the First Amendment problems found in current campaign finance law:

“The problem is not too much money in politics; the problem is too much power in government. Government regulates everything and of course, people want to affect the course of the government. So the campaign finance reformers ultimately what they want to prevent is that. It’s the ability to affect the course of our government; it’s the ability to affect which way people vote. That’s the dirty little secret of campaign finance law. They don’t just want to control money, they want to control speech.”

I would like to believe that free speech will ultimately prevail in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, but given SCOTUS’s history, ruling on the side of the Constitution is by no means sure thing. I also can’t help but wonder how an Obama appointed Justice would rule if this case was before him or her. Which side would receive the most “empathy,” the federal government or a private organization or individual citizen? We already know that such a judge would not be considering “abstract legal theories” such as entailed in the First Amendment.

A new libertarian line-of-attack when debating medical marijuana issues with Republicans

For years, activists have been trying to pass federal legislation which prevents the feds from arresting patients (or doctors, growing clubs, etc.) when they’ve been prescribed medicinal marijuana by a physician in the states where such prescriptions are allowed by law.  Libertarians have often made valid points about Republican hypocrisy regarding federalism when it comes to medical marijuana.

Loretta Nall provides a brand new argument to use with Republicans on the matter:

I am sick of hearing Republicans scream about ‘socialized medicine that would put the government between you and your doctor.’ Just what the hell is the difference here? The Republicans want to be involved in your health care decisions if they seek to prevent you and your doctor from discussing/using marijuana as medicine…and that is the same thing. Socialized medicine. HYPOCRITICAL FUCKS EVERY ONE OF THEM! […]

[…] Mention that it is socialized medicine for Republicans to stand between a doctor and patient….no matter what their ‘justification’. Human suffering shouldn’t be used as a political football.

Let’s take a look at some recent Republican stands on socialized medicine and compare them to the views of the very same people on medical marijuana.

“In any serious discussion of health care in our nation, this should always be our starting point — because the goal, after all, is to make the best care available to everyone,” said Senator John McCain in a 2008 presidential campaign speech. Later on, he added: “[With nationalized health care, ] we’ll have all the problems, and more, of private health care — rigid rules, long waits and lack of choices, and risk degrading its great strengths and advantages including the innovation and life-saving technology that make American medicine the most advanced in the world. The key to real reform is to restore control over our health-care system to the patients themselves.”

“Families also place a high value on quickly getting simple care, and have shown a willingness to pay cash to get it,” noted McCain, surely aware that the cost of home-grown marijuana is significantly less than the cost of Marinol. “Government can provide leadership to solve problems, of course. So often it comes down to personal responsibility — the duty of every adult in America to look after themselves and to safeguard the gift of life.”

When asked about medical marijuana on the very same campaign trail, McCain responded, “Right now my answer to you is no.”

On the same presidential campaign trail, Rudy Giuliani had a moment of libertarian lucidity when he stated that “government cannot take care of you. You’ve got to take care of yourself.”

Here are some of Giuliani’s views on socialized health care:

Charging that Democrats’ health care proposals would lead to “socialized medicine,” Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said Tuesday he wants to give American citizens more control over their health care.

“We’ve got to do it the American way,” Giuliani said during a town hall forum in Rochester, New Hampshire. “The American way is not single-payer, government-controlled anything. That’s a European way of doing something; that’s frankly a socialist way of doing something.”

McCain and Giuliani weren’t alone on the GOP presidential campaign trail regarding these issues. No stranger to hypocrisy regarding health care issues, Mitt Romney piped in, as well:  “[Senator Clinton’s health care] plan is crafted by Washington; mine is crafted by individual states.”

Of course, Giuliani and Romney both opposed medical marijuana from both a federal and state perspective.

Let’s take it off the presidential campaign trail for a moment and pick on perhaps the most hated drug warrior in Congress.   Here’s Congressman Mark Souder’s take on health care (from his website):

Every American deserves affordable and quality health care, not government control. I support a patient-centered approach to health care reform that provides every American, regardless of health or financial status, access to the affordable health care coverage of their choice. Nobody should go bankrupt because they get sick.

I will continue to fight to make health care family-focused and patient-centered. I think that patients, in consultation with their doctors, should have control over the health care they receive. The government, your employer or a health care plan selected by your employer should not decide what health care you receive. The road to affordable health care for all is not easy or simple but, by implementing more consumer choice, cracking down on frivolous law suits and lessening the bureaucratic paper work it is achievable. Forcing Americans into a government controlled health care plan will not solve the problem. I believe that it will only make things worse.

Here’s Souder calling for a non-patient-centered “approach to health care” which is neither family-focused nor “patient-centered.”  Here’s a direct contradiction to “I think that patients, in consultation with their doctors, should have control over the health care they receive.”  Here’s a crystal-clear example of the hypocrisy to which Nall referred.

If passed, this amendment would put people in danger of shysters and quacks willing to recommend a dangerous drug, marijuana, in place of federally approved safe and proven medicines. You can get Marinol. We have got other ways by taking a pill to treat this. There are multiple chemicals in marijuana. It is not medicine. Marijuana is just as much medicine as the carbolic smoke ball from the later 19th century was medicine…. The rhetoric about marijuana as a ‘treatment’ for medical purposes… probably was dreamed up at some college dorm…

[L]et me state that my mother and father-in-law both recently died of cancer as well. Compassion is not limited to either side, but there is science and there is not science. In fact, the Carbolic Smoke Balls and the snake oil is very similar; getting high is the same as getting splashed….

Furthermore, we have heard kind of a silly argument here on the House floor today that physicians should be making up FDA law. Physicians do not do trials of a different drug when they come to market. Physicians do not have big testing agencies. That is why we have a Food and Drug Administration. This is in effect asking to repeal the Food and Drug Administration.

Imagine being in the audience the next time a local Republican congressional candidate gives a speech.  When it comes Q&A time, it might be fairly easy to ask the following:

Congressman Smith, I applaud your view that the federal government shouldn’t be able to tell states what to do.  Furthermore, you are to be applauded for your views that the government shouldn’t stand between a patient and a doctor, that individuals should be empowered to make their own medical decisions, that federal bureaucracy harms the health care process, that when patients have the responsibility to make their own decisions health care costs are drastically reduced, and that health care choices should be made in a free market.  Since it’s so obvious that you agree with how I feel about these issues, I’m pleased that you’ll be supporting both the Hinchey-Rohrabacher bill and our state legislation to treat cancer victims and AIDS patients with a bit more compassion.

The Constitution really DOES mean what is says

This morning, the 9th circuit court of appeals confirmed that the 2nd amendment is indeed incorporated against the states under the selective incorporation doctrine, in the case Nordyke Vs. King.

This means that the 2nd amendment has a lawful status equivalent to that of the first, fourth, fifth, and other amendments which explicitly protect our fundamental rights.

Of course, that is only lawfully binding within the 9th circuit; but it is expected that other circuits will take judicial notice of the 9ths ruling.

If you aren’t familiar with the Nordyke Vs. King; this is the case where a gunshow operator was denied access to use country fairgrounds for their gunshows, because a county ordnance prevented the possession of firearms on county property by anyone other than law enforcement.

The facts of the case as presented to the court are as follows (emphasis in bold and red are mine):

Russell and Sallie Nordyke operate a business that promotes gun shows throughout California. A typical gun show involves the display and sale of thousands of firearms, generally ranging from pistols to rifles. Since 1991, they have publicized numerous shows across the state, including at the public fairgrounds in Alameda County.

Before the County passed the law at issue in this appeal, the Alameda gun shows
routinely drew about 4,000 people. The parties agree that nothing violent or illegal happened at those events.

In the summer of 1999, the County Board of Supervisors, a legislative body, passed Ordinance No. 0-2000-22 (“the Ordinance”), codified at Alameda County General Ordinance Code (“Alameda Code”) section 9.12.120.

The Ordinance makes it a misdemeanor to bring onto or to possess a firearm
or ammunition on County property. Alameda Code § 9.12.120(b).

It does not mention gun shows.

According to the County, the Board passed the Ordinance in response to a shooting that occurred the previous summer at the fairgrounds during the annual County Fair.

The Ordinance begins with findings that “gunshot fatalities are of epidemic
proportions in Alameda County.”

At a press conference, the author of the Ordinance, Supervisor Mary King, cited a “rash of gun-related violence” in the same year as the fairground shooting. She was referring to a series of school shootings that attracted national attention in the late
1990s, the most notorious of which occurred at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

But the Nordykes insist that something more sinister was afoot. They point to some of King’s other statements as evidence that she actually intended to drive the gun shows out of Alameda County.

Shortly before proposing the Ordinance, King sent a memorandum to the County Counsel asking him to research “the most appropriate way” she might “prohibit the gun shows” on County property.

King declared she had “been trying to get rid of gun shows on Country property” for “about three years,” but she had “gotten the run around from spineless people hiding behind the constitution, and been attacked by aggressive gun toting mobs on right wing talk radio.”

At her press conference, King also said that the County should not “provide a place for people to display guns for worship as deities for the collectors who treat them as
icons of patriotism.”

Without expressing any opinion about King’s remarks, the Board of Supervisors adopted the Ordinance. County officials then exchanged several letters with the
Nordykes.

The General Manager of the fairgrounds asked the Nordykes to submit a written plan to explain how their next gun show would comply with the Ordinance.

As the County Counsel had told the General Manager, the Ordinance did not
expressly prohibit gun shows or the sale of firearms.

An aside from the the blog author: This is in fact a false statement. California statute in conjunction with federal law (i.e. the sum total of requirements imposed by both sets of statutes combined; not each set individually), requires that firearms transfers occur face to face, through an FFL; that the FFL conduct a background check and in person identity verification of the person they are delivering the weapon to at the time of sale, AND at the time of delivery if those times are separate; and that the sale be conducted at the FFLs place of business, an organized gun show, or a licensed auction.

Effectively, the only way they could conduct a gun show, would be to have pictures of guns available, at which time prospective gun purchasers could arrange to meet the FFL later at their place of business to purchase a firearm. It would not even be lawful to explicitly arrange for a sale at the show and then complete the transaction later.

The county counsel knew, or should have known, that this was the case.

The Nordykes insisted then and maintain now that they cannot hold a gun show without guns; perhaps because they thought it futile, they never submitted a plan.

During the same period, representatives of the Scottish Caledonian Games (“the Scottish Games”) inquired about the effect of the new law on the activities they traditionally held on the fairgrounds. Those activities include reenactments, using period firearms loaded with blank ammunition, of historic battles.

After the inquiries, the County amended the Ordinance to add several exceptions. Importantly, the Ordinance no longer applies to [t]he possession of a firearm by an authorized participant in a motion picture, television, video, dance, or theatrical production or event, when the participant lawfully uses the firearm as part of that production or event, provided that when such firearm is not in the actual possession of the authorized participant, it is secured to prevent unauthorized use.

This exception allows members of the Scottish Games to reenact historic battles if they secure their weapons, but it is unclear whether the County
created the exception just for them.

By the time the County had written this exception into the Ordinance, the Nordykes and several patrons of and exhibitors at the gun shows (collectively, “the Nordykes”) had already sued the County and its Supervisors under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for various constitutional violations. The amendment did not mollify them, and their lawsuit has wended through various procedural twists and turns for nearly a decade.

I just want to highlight again one particular passage:

King declared she had “been trying to get rid of gun shows on Country property” for “about three years,” but she had “gotten the run around from spineless people hiding behind the constitution, and been attacked by aggressive gun toting mobs on right wing talk radio.”

At her press conference, King also said that the County should not “provide a place for people to display guns for worship as deities for the collectors who treat them as icons of patriotism.”

Disgusting.

Unfortunately the result here is mixed. The circuit has ruled that the 2nd is incorporated against the states; but that it did not overturn the statute in question… I’m not really sure I agree with or follow their reasoning on this one.

The ruling provides that the second amendment is explicitly incorporated against the states, in plain language:

We therefore conclude that the right to keep and bear arms is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.”

Colonial revolutionaries, the Founders, and a host of commentators and lawmakers living during the first one hundred years of the Republic all insisted on the fundamental nature of the right.

It has long been regarded as the “true palladium of liberty.” Colonists relied on it to assert and to win their independence, and the victorious Union sought to prevent a
recalcitrant South from abridging it less than a century later.

The crucial role this deeply rooted right has played in our birth and history compels us to recognize that it is indeed fundamental, that it is necessary to the Anglo-American conception of ordered liberty that we have inherited.

We are therefore persuaded that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment and applies it against the states and local governments.

There could not be a better, and more unambiguous, declaration of right than this.

What is puzzling to me is how they decided that the county ordnance did not then violate the second amendment.

Yes, they make clear that laws which make exercising fundamental rights more difficult do not automatically infringe upon them (from a legal standpoint); but it seems to me this is a clear cut case of a local government, promulgating a complete ban on the possession of firearms on land controlled by that local government.

Such a ban should be clearly unconstitutional under this analysis.

It would be like saying free speech did not apply on county property, which IS clearly prohibited. Yes, there can be reasonable restrictions, but total prohibition should be right out.

Given the relative weakness of argument supporting the ordnance, and complete lack of precedential support, I can only conclude they were desperately hunting for a reason not to invalidate ALL gun control legislation in one stroke.

Now, the real question, is whether either party is going to continue appealing, and file a petition for certiorari before the supreme court.

Both parties have grounds, and standing to file; and both parties have both incentive and disincentive to do so.

If they do, and the court decides to take it, it would be the second most significant second amendment case ever, after Heller (Heller clearly supersedes Miller, and is therefore more significant)

By the by, if you read the whole ruling (and I recommend you do) there is some extensive discussion of Cruikshank, Presser, and Slaughterhouse. I believe that Heller provided an explicit foundation for all three to be overturned (at least partially).

Actually I believe that proper jurisprudence suggests they should be overturned as having had no facial validity in their initial rulings, being clearly against the principals engendered in the constitution; but Heller gives a precedential foundation for this).

Although I’m generally not a big fan of Hugo Black; I think he had the right concept on the 14th amendment. In fact, I believe it should have been clear without the fourteenth amendment, and merely through the supremacy clause that ALL elements of the constitution as directly related to the people and the protection of our rights (as opposed to the structural components of the constitution) applied to the states.

Also contained therein, is an analysis of the right to keep and bear arms as a fundamental individual right, and commonlaw right from before the founding of this nation through the passage of the 14th amendment and beyond; including a discussion of the racist nature of gun control.

The footnotes and citations too contain a wealth of information, this lovely nugget being my favorite:

we do not measure the protection the Constitution affords a right by the values of our own times. If contemporary desuetude sufficed to read rights out of the Constitution, then there would be little benefit to a written statement of them. Some may disagree with the decision of the Founders to enshrine a given right in the Constitution. If so, then the people can amend the document. But such amendments are not for the courts to ordain.

In all, the incorporation portion of the ruling and opinion are so well researched, and reasoned, in such depth; that I cannot see how a credible argument could successfully be made against it, given an honest arbiter.

Conversely, the section (only a few paragraphs of a 40 page ruling) arguing that the ordinance did not violate the second amendment was so poorly argued that I can’t see how a successful argument COULD NOT be made against it, given an honest arbiter.

So I say, Alameda County, PLEASE appeal this to the supreme court on incorporation grounds; and to the Nordykes, please appeal the decision to uphold the law.

Thanks ever so much.

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

A Question For The Tea Partyers

It’s fairly clear what your against and, by and large I agree, but what, exactly, are you for:

Protesting government spending is meaningless unless you say what you’d cut.

(…)

All protests against spending that do not tell us how to reduce it are fatuous pieces of theater, not constructive acts of politics. And until the right is able to make a constructive and specific argument about how they intend to reduce spending and debt and borrowing, they deserve to be dismissed as performance artists in a desperate search for coherence in an age that has left them bewilderingly behind.

It is, I think, an entirely fair question.

C/P: Below The Beltway

The Trouble with Involuntary Collectivists

… and in fact leftists of any stripe (and some on the far right for that matter), is that everything they believe is wrong.

Yes, I mean that directly, literally, and completely. Everything they believe is wrong. Incorrect. False.

Everything they believe in is wrong, because it all flows from absolutely wrong first principles, which can best be summarized as:

  1. If it makes me feel good, it must be alright
  2. If it makes me feel bad it must be wrong
  3. If I can get enough people to go along with me, we can do whatever we want, because we say so
  4. If someone is very intelligent, and gets a lot of people to agree with him, I should agree with him too or there’s something wrong with me
  5. If we want something to be true bad enough, no matter what, it is true, because we say so
  6. Anyone who disagrees with any of this is wrong and bad
  7. Everything we do is right because we say so, and anyone who disagrees with is wrong and bad; therefore anyone who wants to stop us is stupid or evil
  8. Anything goes so long as we get what we want

These are not principles at all of course; merely an attempt to rationalize doing what they want to do.

This, fundamentally, is evil, because it abnegates human liberty and the human spirit; and because it recognizes neither morality, nor ethics (one cannot call such notions ethics). Not only does it allow for the tyranny of the majority, it requires it. The will of the collective outweighs all.

Oh and never mind the inherent contradictions there. They are obvious and irreconcilable to a non-collectivist; but somehow not to a collectivist (though at least some distinction has to be made here between involuntary collectivists, and voluntary. The voluntary are still incorrect, but they aren’t forcing anyone else into it, so that’s OK).

Simply put, the coercive restraint of human liberty is inherently evil. Control of ones person, property, and behavior should be the exclusive province of the sovereign man. The only legitimate limitation of liberty is that which prevents transgression on the liberty of others, or which compensates those transgressed upon.

Collectivism purports to advocate for human liberty; but it does so through restraining it for the good of the collective? Only by giving up your freedom to all can you be free?

Doublespeak, and nothing more.

All they are really saying is, “Give up all your freedom and liberty to us, and we’ll LET you do, what WE think you ought to do, when WE think you should do it”.

It is entirely about command and control; just as is fascism, or any other kind of totalitarianism. They believe that if you give the “right” people, total control, then all the “right” decisions will be made, and everyone will be better off and happier.

This, frankly, is evil.

Intelligent leftists then spend all their intellectual energy creating increasingly convoluted, twisted, circular, and inductive arguments… no, to call them arguments gives them too much credit, they are in the main, mere tautologies; to justify what they believe in, and why they believe in it; even though reality shows again and again that their ideas are incorrect.

Amazingly, they often reach the same point as non-leftists do, by twisting their reasoning enough to reconcile their false first principles with the way the world really works. After all, at some point you have to say that an orange is an orange, don’t you?

And that really is the proof of the thing. Leftists ideas simply do not work. They are not true. They are false. Reality disagrees with them.

When your theory does not match the facts, you must change the theory. Reality doesn’t give a damn about your feelings.

The collectivist theory fails utterly. It doesn’t match the facts at all. Twisting both the theory and the facts out of all semblance to reality to “prove” your pet theory, does not make it true.

Individualism in a relatively loose collective (a society, no matter the size), is the natural state of man. We are social individuals, but we are individuals.

We may band tighter together at time, when it is to our advantage to survive; but we do so out of enlightened self interest, not of a collective nature.

We may sacrifice, so that others might live, or live better lives; but we do this for the benefit of other individuals, and for that which we believe in; not for the collective.

In all things, we are individuals.

Capitalism is what naturally happens when people get together freely to exchange goods and services.

Private property and competition are what naturally happens when people seek to improve their lives, and their situations.

Unless people are artificially restrained from doing so, their natural condition is one of competition, and markets.

Yes, there are those who will seek to gain advantage by restraining competition, gaining monopolies, imposing laws and regulations… but those are not failures of liberty, failures of markets, failures of capitalism; they are the failures of command and control.

Command and control will always fail. It cannot succeed, because in order to work the commander and controller must have perfect information and perfect reason. Such a thing does not exist. There is no perfect man, nor any perfect collective of men, and there cannot be.

Not only that, but humans by nature are both rebellious beasts, and greedy beasts.

Yes, many are content to be… even crave to be… controlled. Many crave to control others (even if it si only as part of a collective). This is proven to us more and more every day. It was proven quite convincingly just a few months ago; when the great masses voted for a “perfect man”, “the one”; the man on a horse, coming to simply sweep in and “heal us all”.

There are always enough however who are willing to take advantage, or gain a little extra comfort, or just get a bit ahead, a bit more power, a bit more advantage… On the other side of things, there are always enough who chafe at the yoke, who jump the fence… There are always enough who refuse to be controlled, that the “perfect” system will be taken down from within.

Collectivists, your very foundational ideas are evil and wrong. They don’t work. They are proven false every moment by the reality we live in. imposing them on us inevitably fails, and causes incredible misery, death, and destruction along the way.

Of course, this only makes them all the more dangerous. A man who is proven wrong at every turn, but who simply WILL NOT give up… well that is man who will do ANYTHING.

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

Reforming America’s Prison System: The Time Has Come

Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) in his recent article calling for a major reform of America’s prisons in Parade Magazine brought some very disturbing, eye opening, statistics about America’s prison system to light. In summary this is some of what he found:

-Since 1984, America’s prison population has quadrupled from 580,000 to 2.3 million

-Though the U.S. accounts for 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for 25% of the world’s reported prisoners

-Local, state, and federal spending on corrections costs the U.S. taxpayer about $68 billion annually* (California spent nearly $10 million on corrections last year by itself!)

-16% (350,000) adults in prison or jail are mentally ill

-3/4 of drug offenders in state prisons are non-violent offenders or in prison solely for drug offenses

-47.5% of all drug arrests in the U.S. were fore marijuana offenses

-Despite insignificant statistical differences regarding drug use among races, Blacks (accounting for 12% of the U.S. population) account for 37% of all drug arrests, 59% of which are convicted and account for 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison

Perhaps for the “tough on crime” types, this is all good news but for anyone else who thinks critically of these statistics, I would expect that most would be concerned if not horrified. In response to these statistics, Sen. Webb makes the following observation:

“With so many of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world, there are only two possibilities: Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something different–and vastly counterproductive.”

For regular consumers of the evening news, it may seem that the first possibility could be true. Without fail, the evening news reports stories of violence, vandalism, kidnapping, rape, child molestation, and murder both locally and nationally. There is also no shortage of true crime programs** detailing the most heinous crimes one could imagine being committed against other human beings; it’s all very disturbing. Our jails and prisons surely must be overflowing from these creeps!

One would think that roving bands of murderous thugs are on every street in America, yet we each almost always make it to and from work, to and from running errands and eating out unmolested. Our odds of being killed in an auto accident*** are many times greater than being victim to this roving band of murderous thugs. How can this be?

While we should each be vigilant and aware of our surroundings and always use common sense, the perception that our prisoners are overflowing with mostly violent criminals just isn’t true. Figure 1 shows the U.S. prison population under the purview of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The BOP population accounts for 202,493 of America’s 2.3 million prisoners.

Figure 1

Source: Bureau of Prisons as of February 2009

Source: Bureau of Prisons as of February 2009


» Read more

Open Thread Question of the Day: How Can We Fix Our Prisons?

Our prison system, holding nearly 25% of the worlds reported prisoners, may seem like an April fool’s joke but certainly is not a laughing matter. I’m in the early stages of writing a post in response to Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) recent article in Parade entitled: Why We Must Fix Our Prisons.

Sen. Webb is looking for some recommendations on how to reform the prison system so I thought it would be interesting to solicit some ideas from readers and fellow Liberty Papers contributors. The following is the specific questions Sen. Webb wants to answer:

I am now introducing legislation that will create a national commission to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom. I believe that it is time to bring together the best minds in America to confer, report, and make specific recommendations about how we can reform the process. This commission will be tasked with giving us clear answers to hard questions, including:

Why are so many Americans currently in prison compared with other countries and our own history?

What is this policy costing our nation, both in tax dollars and in lost opportunities?

How can we reshape our nation’s drug policies?

How can we better diagnose and treat mental illness?

How can we end violence within prisons and increase the quality of prison administrators?

How can we build workable re-entry programs so that our communities can assimilate former offenders and encourage them to become productive citizens?

How can we defend ourselves against the growing scourge of violent, internationally based gang activity?

The more specific your answers, the better. I’ll refrain from posting here as I will answer these questions and more in my upcoming post.

The Liberty Papers Welcomes Fellow “Militia Members” and Enemies of the State

Are you an enemy of the state? Chances are if you are reading The Liberty Papers, you are! According to a new report from the Missouri Information Analysis Center, “The Modern Militia Movement” authored by Governor Nixon and Attorney General Koster, signs that you may be a domestic terrorist or militia member include:

– You supported Ron Paul or 3rd party candidates such as Chuck Baldwin or Bob Barr in the 2008 election (Guilty!)

– You have “anti-government,” Campaign for Liberty, Gadsden Flag, and “libertarian” bumper stickers on his or her vehicle or possess other related literature (Guilty!)

-Anyone involved in The Campaign for Liberty (I’m sure that anyone associated with the Tea Parties or those in the “Going Galt” movement should also be considered a threat)

-People who frequently visit or participate in libertarian related blogs, discussion boards, or websites (Guilty!)

-Those who write about or talk about the coming economic collapse of the U.S. (Guilty!)

Basically, anyone who distrusts the state on any level could be profiled as a potential militia member, domestic terrorist, or enemy of the state.

I first learned of this report from the video clip below (Glenn Beck with Penn Jillete as his guest).

So what does Chuck Baldwin, Bob Barr, and Ron Paul think about being associated with domestic terrorism?

Chuck Baldwin’s response:

Can you imagine the fallout of this preposterous report had the names Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Maxine Waters been used instead of the names Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin, and Bob Barr?

Accordingly, Ron Paul, Bob Barr, and I wrote a formal letter to the above-named Missouri officials demanding “that the following-described document be immediately removed from any and all websites associated with or maintained by the state of Missouri or any agency thereof, including the MIAC; that the said document no longer be circulated by the state of Missouri or any agency thereof or associated therewith; and that the state of Missouri repudiate its references to the three of us contained therein.”

Bob Barr seems to be content with the response he co-wrote with Baldwin and Paul, at least for now (I haven’t found any response so far from Barr other than the aforementioned letter)

Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, however; is not taking this laying down and is circulating a Citizen’s Petition for Redress of Grievance

Both Ron Paul and Campaign for Liberty champion principles of freedom, peace, and prosperity. We believe that the Founder’s vision for America can be reclaimed through education and peaceful activism.

Simply supporting the Constitution does not make you worthy of a watch list; it makes you a Patriot.

I find it interesting that some (mostly Democrats) who when Bush was president said that dissent was patriotic now get nervous when anyone dares to question the policies of “The Messiah” a.k.a. “The Chosen One” a.k.a. President Obama. To be against this enlightened being is to commit heresy and obviously should be considered a wild-eyed, dangerous enemy of the state.

Well, believe it or not, not everyone believes that the direction Obama and the Democrat controlled federal government are in the best interest of those who value the rights of life, liberty, and property. The State has become an enemy to these very basic human rights.

Does this make me an enemy of the state? Well, I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as a “friend of the state.”

To those of you who have my name on a watch list and reading this, you can take that statement however you like.

Don’t Tread on Me!

Obama’s Policy to Fight Mexican Drug Cartels is Doomed to Fail

The Obama administration, rather than dealing with the root cause of the violence along the Mexican border, has decided to adopt a policy to deal with the symptoms. The problem is that this policy will neither alleviate the symptoms nor come close to treating the problem.

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration promised Tuesday to help Mexico fight its drug war by cutting off the cartels’ supply of guns and profits, while resisting the Texas governor’s call for a troop surge at the border to ward off spillover violence.

Let’s assume for a moment that Obama’s policy to prevent Mexico bound firearms from leaving the U.S. 100% successful. Given the fact that the drug cartels can acquire firearms from other sources (such as corrupt Mexican government agents with access to firearms among other sources) the only difference would be that the firearms are no longer coming from the U.S.

The Obama administration correctly identifies that the drug cartels are so powerful because of the profitability of the illicit drug trade. It’s this ability to make enormous profits, particularly in an impoverished country as Mexico, that attracts players into the business and makes corruption on the part of government officials almost irresistible. Unfortunately, though the Obama administration has identified the profitability of the drug trade as the source of the drug cartels’ power, there is clearly a profound misunderstanding of the way basic economics work (as if the bailouts, handouts, and myriad of other government programs were not proof enough).

The steps announced by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano – 450 federal agents shifted to border duty, supplied with dogs trained to detect both drugs and cash, and scanners to check vehicles and railcars heading into Mexico – amount to a subtle but important shift:

The blockade of contraband will now be a two-way effort. The fence begun under the Bush administration will be completed, to deter smugglers of drugs and workers. But the new emphasis will be on disrupting the southbound flow of profits and weapons that fuel the cartels.

At his televised news conference Tuesday, President Barack Obama said that for now, it’s more important to disrupt the cartels’ access to profits and weapons than to fortify the border with soldiers.

“That’s what makes them so dangerous,” he said. “The steps that we’ve taken are designed to make sure that the border communities in the United States are protected and you’re not seeing a spillover of violence. … If the steps that we’ve taken do not get the job done, then we will do more.”

So what’s wrong with this approach? The basic economic law of supply and demand tells us that whenever a product is in high demand (drugs in this case) and the supply is lower (in this case by successful drug interdiction by the U.S. governemnt), those who supply the given demand stand to profit more NOT LESS! Whether Obama’s policy results in a decrease in the supply of drugs of 1% or 99%, those drugs which do make it to the end customer will pay even more to get them.

I would even go as far as to say that the Mexican drug cartels would cheer this policy. Sure, the cartels might have more difficulty moving their product into the U.S. and their profit and firearms out of the U.S. but for the most clever smugglers, these enhanced drug interdiction efforts would filter out the competition! (And we know how black market operators hate competition).

On some level, I do believe that even the political class understand this but somewhere, there is a disconnect. Just yesterday in her visit to Mexico, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that the war on (some) drugs over the past 30+ years “has not worked.”

“Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade.”

And now the disconnect:

“Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians…”

Mrs. Clinton apparently recognizes how the war on (some) drugs has been an abject failure fails to realize that the Chosen One’s policies will do little to reverse this trend. If she truly wants to do something productive, something has to be done about what she (correctly) describes as this “insatiable demand” for these drugs. She seems to understand that the “Just say No” campaign didn’t work but does she and others within the Obama administration really believe that more drug hysteria PSA’s will do anything to curb this demand?

Given how the Obama administration has decided to deal with the drug war related violence along the border, I’m not optimistic. If spending billions of dollars annually on this insane war on (some) drugs which has contributed to leading the world in the number of people in prison (imprisoning 1 out of every 100 adults; more than half of the U.S. prison population is there because of drug related offenses) has failed to curb the demand, then perhaps it’s time to try a different approach.

Nothing short of legalizing the drug trade will stop the violence, so why does the politicos, law enforcement, and government bureaucrats at almost every level continue the same “get tough” policy which clearly has not worked? The only conclusion I can come to: they must be high.

New Jersey To Ban Being Bare “Down There”

New Jersey, already a state even less free than my home of CA (PDF), has decided to tread where others don’t dare, to see if the ladies are bare down there:

Things could get hairy in New Jersey this summer for women who sport revealing bikinis or a little bit less.

The painful Brazilian wax and its intimate derivatives are in danger of being stripped from salon and spa menus if a recent proposal to ban genital waxing is passed by the state’s Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling.

Cherry Hill salon owner Linda Orsuto said that women would “go ballistic” if the proposal passed. She said that some women would resort to waxing themselves, visiting unlicensed salons or traveling to other states, including Pennsylvania, in a quest to remain bare down there.

“The clients are going to freak,” said Orsuto, who owns 800 West Salon & Spa, on Route 70. “It’s a hot issue, and we’re going to have to do something.”

New Jersey statutes allow waxing of the face, neck, arms, legs and abdomen, but officials say that genital waxing has always been illegal, although not spelled out.

Regardless, almost every salon in South Jersey, from Atlantic City casinos to suburban strip malls, has been breaking the law for years by ridding women, and some men, of their pubic hair for $50 to $60 a session.

Don’t the emanations of penumbras that apply to nearby portion of a woman’s body also apply here? I’ve never figured out where those emanations and penumbras lie, especially when the 9th Amendment would have sufficed to cover that other decision, but I have to think this is similar enough to get a hearing before a very titillated Clarence Thomas.

Does this mean that all those douchebags wearing their “FBI – Female Body Inspector” t-shirts will now start applying for exactly that job with the state?

I do feel sorry for the husbands and boyfriends of women who are doing it only to be courteous — you’re out of luck. Get ready to hear “sorry, hon, it’s illegal.”

So why the uproar over this? Well, it comes from a likely source:

Orsuto said that the proposal may be the state’s way of diverting a long-established salon procedure “perfected by aestheticians” to the medical community, where hair can be removed via laser treatment by dermatologists.

Follow the lobbying money.

Hat Tip: MichaelW @ QandO

Outlawed in Alabama: A Tale of Two Videos

What do sex toys and microbrewed beers have in common?  In Alabama, they are both more-or-less outlawed.

What’s that, you say?  They don’t have statewide prohibition in Alabama, do they?

Before I respond, here’s an interesting video just produced by reason which celebrates the “American beer revolution.”

Of Alabama’s 67 counties, 14 are completely dry counties and 12 are partially dry.   While the rest of the country repealed prohibition in 1933, Alabama is still stuck in the previous century.

For those fortunate enough to live in a place where drinking is allowed, one still can’t consume many of the better beers in world.  That’s because “Alabama is one of only three states in the country that limits alcohol by volume (ABV) for beer to only 6%, and the only state that limits beer containers to a size of no more than 1 pint (16 ounces).” Fortunately, an organization called Free the Hops is working hard to change the law.

Additionally, homebrewing is outlawed in the state. Even if you happen live in one of the 41 wet counties in the state, there’s still no way to get many decent beers — unless you happen to like the choice of Bud or Bud Light.

Some might say that if you can’t have a good beer, at least you can have good sex in Alabama.  Well, that depends on whether you enjoy using one of the toys described in the not-safe-for-work video below.

It’s against the law to sell sex toys in Alabama. People have tried to challenge the case in court, but to no avail. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Alabama sex toy case.  Here’s how the AP reported it:

The U.S. Supreme Court declined today to hear a challenge to Alabama’s ban on the sale of sex toys, ending a nine-year legal battle and sending a warning to store owners to clean off their shelves.

An adult-store owner had asked the justices to throw out the law as an unconstitutional intrusion into the privacy of the bedroom. But the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, leaving intact a lower court ruling that upheld the law.

Sherri Williams, owner of Pleasures stores in Huntsville and Decatur, said she was disappointed, but plans to sue again on First Amendment free speech grounds.

“My motto has been they are going to have to pry this vibrator from my cold, dead hand. I refuse to give up,” she said.

Alabama’s anti-obscenity law, enacted in 1998, bans the distribution of “any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for anything of pecuniary value.”

This isn’t a case of one of those archaic laws ignored by law enforcement, either.  Alabama’s Attorney General Troy King wants to throw people in the pokey for engaging in such activities.  Fortunately, this led libertarian activist Loretta Nall to start a campaign to mail in “Sex Toys 4 Troy.” Nall personally mailed the Attorney General an inflatable pig, which led to this editorial cartoon in the Mobile newspaper.

The bottom line is, when planning your next vacation, be sure to consider Alabama.  It’s a whole lot of fun here and at least our women aren’t running around willy-nilly having orgasms all over the place.

<snark>This blog posting was brought to you by the Alabamastan Department of Tourism and Travel.</snark>

Stimulate Economy By Rethinking Kid Toy Law

Oh, the unintended consequences keep coming in:

Larry Neill has $118,000 worth of small motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles sitting on his lot in Missouri’s capital city. He’ll be fined if he sells any of them.

Neill, who owns Larry’s Motor Sports in Jefferson City, cannot sell or repair the bikes because of a new federal law that bans lead from all toys intended for children younger than 12, including small motorcycles and ATVs.

“These little products are the gateway to our business,” Neill said. “When some bureaucrat in Washington decides we can’t even sell these products, it’s just pretty unfair.”

Neill isn’t alone. A national motorcycle trade group says dealers across the country cannot sell roughly $100 million worth of the child-sized bikes. Including parts, service, accessories and personnel, the market could lose nearly $1 billion annually, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

But… But — it’s for the children!

This was covered prior to the law taking effect, with dire warnings by toymakers and others that it would dramatically impact business. It was claimed that the law was too broad, and that it would have impacts far in excess of reasonable safety restrictions. The detractors were ignored, and now we see their claims come true.

I’m stuck reminding people, again, that laws have consequences. Not consequences in the macro sense, but real consequences to real lives. It doesn’t matter whether those consequences are intended; they still occur.

PS – This marks The Liberty Papers’ 3,000th post!

Health Care Rationing Isn’t Fun, But It’s Unavoidable

Sad stories abound in the world of health care, because health care has a few peculiar features. First, when you get it wrong, people die. Heck, sometimes if you get it right, people die. Second, it’s terribly expensive. This is actually a good thing, in a way. The cost of advanced western health care is a function of its capability. Each level of “hard new problem” usually requires a lot of time, energy, and research to solve, and that cost must be recouped in some manner. But the expense is such that for difficult problems, it’s extremely unlikely that any normal person could afford his or her own care out of pocket.

When you take a highly emotionally charged issue, which happens to be so expensive that it is unaffordable on a self-financed basis, you’re going to get problems. When you can’t afford to pay for calamity, you try to find a way to risk-pool with others to distribute the cost. But when the calamity is too expensive even for the group you’re risk-pooling with, the sad answer is rationing. And when it’s your insurance company telling you that they’re not going to pay for your care — and you’re going to die — you feel betrayed.

That’s what people are faced with, relayed by Karen Tumulty for Time:

Every story is different, but the contours of the problem tend to be depressingly similar: the 10-year-old leukemia patient in Ohio who, after three rounds of chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant, had almost exhausted the maximum $1.5 million lifetime benefit allowed under her father’s employer-provided plan; the Connecticut grocery-store worker who put off the radiation treatments for her Stage 2 breast cancer because she had used up her company plan’s $20,000 annual maximum and was $18,000 in debt; the New Hampshire accountant who, unable to work during his treatment for Stage 3B stomach cancer, had to stop paying his mortgage to afford a $1,120 monthly premium for coverage with the state’s high-risk insurance pool.

What makes these cases terrifying, in addition to heartbreaking, is that they reveal the hard truth about this country’s health-care system: just about anyone could be one bad diagnosis away from financial ruin.

That’s a soft way to put it. In fact, you’re one bad diagnosis away from death. Of course, you’re one wrong step off a curb away from death, too, but I’m not here to trivialize this. These are life-or-death issues, and when your insurance company stops paying for something, it’s common to blame the insurance company for your death instead of the disease which is killing you.

Ezra Klein, writing in response to the same piece, talks about the fact that this is the emotional wedge that will push through the vaunted “health reform” he desires:

But the final outcome of health reform will be less about Beltway moments like today’s event and more about the pressure applied by stories like the one Karen Tumulty tells on this week’s cover of Time magazine.

Karen — a bone fide health care wonk — writes of the trouble she’s had navigating the insurance market with her brother, who was recently diagnosed with kidney failure. And the trouble is not because he didn’t have health coverage and it’s not because Karen doesn’t know how to speak to an insurance representative or read the policy details. The trouble, in other words, is not for the 15 percent of Americans who are uninsured. It’s for the 85 percent who have health care coverage.

The promise, of course, will be that you won’t have those cold-hearted insurance men with their uncaring actuarial tables and desire for profit making your rationing decisions. What is left unsaid is that the rationing decisions will still occur. (H/T QandO)

The Government’s rationing body said two drugs for advanced breast cancer and a rare form of stomach cancer were too expensive for the NHS.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is expected to confirm guidance in the next few weeks that will effectively ban their use.

The move comes despite a pledge by Nice to be more flexible in giving life-extending drugs to terminally-ill cancer patients after a public outcry last year over ‘death sentence’ decisions. Leading campaigners last night said Nice had failed the ‘acid test’ of whether it really intended to give new priority to people with just a few months to live.

One drug, Lapatinib, can halve the speed of growth of breast cancer in one in five women with an aggressive form of the disease.

Dr Gillian Leng, Nice deputy chief executive, said ‘The committee concluded that Lapatinib is not a cost-effective use of NHS resources when compared with current treatment.’

Rationing is painful. Rationing sucks. When you buy insurance, or it’s given to everyone by the government, the assumption is that everything possible will be done to save your life — but it just isn’t true. You may believe that a few more months of your life is worth $100,000, or $500,000, or $500,000,000. But you’re not paying for it. The question isn’t “what is a few months of life worth?” The question is: “Who decides?”

I sincerely hope that nobody reading this is ever in the situation where a life-or-death medical decision is being made by someone thousands of miles away. But if it has to occur, do you really trust the government to make that decision? At least with private insurance, you have a choice between competing insurers based on who you think will make the decision in your best interest, and you can balance the cost of the insurance with the maximum payouts they’ll support. If we get single-payer, you get one-size-fits-all, even if it doesn’t fit you.

The Root of the Mexican Drug Cartel Violence Spillover Into the U.S.

For those of you who believe that Libertarians focus too much on the War on (Some) Drugs, perhaps it’s time to pay attention to the escalating violence in Mexico which is spilling over into the U.S.

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Hit men dressed in fake police tactical gear burst into a home in Phoenix, rake it with gunfire and execute a man.

Armed kidnappers snatch victims from cars and even a local shopping mall across the Phoenix valley for ransom, turning the sun-baked city into the “kidnap capital” of the United States.

Violence of this kind is common in Mexico where drug cartel abductions and executions are a daily feature of a raging drug war that claimed 6,000 lives south of the border last year.

But U.S. authorities now fear that violent crime is beginning to bleed over the porous Mexico border and take hold here.

“The fight in Mexico is about domination of the smuggling corridors and those corridors don’t stop at the border,” Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said.

Execution style murders, violent home invasions, and a spiraling kidnap rate in Phoenix — where police reported an average of one abduction a day last year linked to Mexican crime — are not the only examples along the border.

This is so disturbing on so many levels. In a time when SWAT teams conduct midnight no-knock raids (sometimes on the wrong home) on unsuspecting occupants, its especially distressing to think that even if the occupants comprehend an announcement and see that the intruders are wearing police gear that the occupants must then determine if the intruders are in-fact who they say they are. Either way, all parties involved are placed in a dangerous situation.

What is a resident to do?

To surrender is to take the chance that the intruders are the police. If s/he is wrong, s/he risks kidnapping, robbery, raping, torture, and/or death.

To stand one’s ground and take the chance that the intruders are not the police escalates the situation which can result in death and/or loss of freedom (imprisonment).

This potential for confusion in itself suggests to me that all SWAT drug raids should be immediately halted at least until this spillover along the Mexican border is under control. The question is: how?

Conservatives suggest building a fence or wall along the border. While this approach might slow down the flow of drug and people trafficking, this in itself does not deal with the root problems and would not stop the spillover. If drugs can get past the walls of a maximum security prison, how is it possible to believe that a wall would prevent drugs from making their way into our country?

Some on the Left believe that greater gun control measures would make acquiring firearms more difficult for the drug cartels. Besides the obvious infringements against the Second Amendment, the bad guys always manage to get their weapons of choice. This approach also does not deal with the root of the problem.

This brings me to the root of the problem:

While some Americans may feel victimized by the spillover of violence, others are contributing to it. Americans provide 95 percent of the weapons used by the cartel, according to U.S. authorities. And Americans are the cartels’ best customers, sending an estimated $28.5 billion in drug-sale proceeds across the Mexico border each year.

As long as there is a demand for these drugs, there will be someone willing to supply these drugs. In the days of Prohibition, Al Capone supplied a particular demand; today this demand is supplied by Jack Daniels, Anheuser-Busch, and many thousands of others. When Anheuser-Busch has a dispute with competitors or customers, the dispute is settled in a court of law rather than the streets. There is every reason to believe that lifting drug prohibition would work the same way.

Kids’ Nutrition Choices Made By Lobbyists, Not Doctors

Kevin Drum tells us “the reality is, this is how things get done”. In the below exchange, Kevin is MJ (Mother Jones), and Michael Pollan (Berkeley journalism prof & food author) is MP:

MJ: Does WIC [the Women, Infants, and Children program] still specify that you buy dairy?

MP: Yes. We had a huge fight to get a little more produce in the WIC basket, which is heavy on cheese and milk because the dairy lobby is very powerful. So they fought and they fought and they fought, and they got a bunch of carrots in there. [Laughs.]

MJ: Specifically? Who knew: the carrot lobby?

MP: Specifically carrots. The next big lobby. But there is also money in this farm bill for fresh produce in school lunch. The price of getting the subsidies was getting the California delegation on board, and their price was $2 billon for what are called specialty crops — fresh fruit and produce grown largely in California.

I would point out to Kevin that this not “how things get done” in my family. In my family, I [more accurately my wife] decides what the children eat, and we do so out of true and sincere care for their well-being. I’m not going to say that our decisions are always right, but they always incorporate the best knowledge we can find. I have no lobbyists showing up at my door paying me to feed my kids carrots instead of broccoli, and thus nothing to cloud my judgement.

Sadly, this is how things get done in government — a fact which I think would point more people towards libertarianism than many others.

Americans idealize government. We act as if it’s populated by well-meaning experts, who want nothing more than to provide humanity with their expertise and are looking out for us. We view them as able to integrate the demands of a wide-ranging polity into optimum policy, using their judgement and experience to improve life for all. Even more, we think they care about us.

The reality, on the other hand, is that government is a job. You do your job to satisfy your customers, which in politics is more often lobbyists than the general public. Why is dairy such a high component of WIC? Because the dairy lobby is enormous. Why did carrots — rather than broccoli, or asparagus, or cauliflower — get such favor? Because the carrot lobby, as strange as it may seem, is powerful. Seriously… CARROT LOBBY! If those two words placed in that order don’t disgust people about the arbitrary and capricious nature of government decision-making, you need to wake up.

The first step to mentally breaking with the government is to understand that government bureaucrats have their own interests — not yours — at heart. This isn’t a revelation. It occurs in business — workers often have goals that serve themselves more than their employer (such as a drive to earn a raise even if business conditions are down), and businesses often have goals that are counter to the best wishes of their customers (i.e. to earn the largest profit the market will bear to keep the doors open and please their shareholders). We understand in most commercial situations that we need to look out for ourselves, but then assume that the government is “looking out for us” in all others. When you assume the best about government bureaucrats, it blinds you to the fact that you’re giving these people coercive power and you can’t be sure that they’re going to use it in your interests.

As George Washington said:

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

Government doesn’t have the best methods for making decisions. That’s why libertarians don’t want government making many decisions.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished by Government

The Rocky Mountain News reports:

He may have saved three lives, but RTD bus driver Jim Moffett got a jaywalking ticket anyway, along with broken bones and internal bleeding.

Moffett, 58, was driving an RTD bus southbound on Federal Boulevard at 62nd Avenue about 9 Friday night, according to the Colorado State Patrol.

A couple of elderly women exited the bus and tried to walk across Federal to their trailer home on the east side, Moffett’s stepson, Ken McDonald said today.

“With that light snowstorm, my stepdad didn’t think they could cross the street safely,” McDonald said. “There’s a six- or seven-block area where there’s really no place to cross.

“So he got off the bus with another passenger and they helped the ladies cross,” he said.
The four people had made it about halfway across Federal, and most of the northbound traffic had slowed to let them go the rest of the way, McDonald said.

“But one pick-up driver got impatient and passed in the left hand turn lane,” McDonald said. “He plowed right into my stepdad — but not before he pushed the old ladies and the other guy out of the way.”

Moffett is at St. Anthony Central Medical Center with bleeding in the brain, broken bones in his face, a dislocated shoulder, a broken wrist and possible ruptured spleen and liver, McDonald said. His right knee needs a complete rebuild.

[…]

Moffett can’t believe he got a jaywalking ticket for his trouble. His stepson calls it “absolutely obscene.”

McDonald said his stepfather didn’t choose the route across the road, the elderly women had already started across. “And there’s not a safe place to cross the road anyway on that whole stretch.”

I cannot tell how many times I have seen people illegally cross this very street after dark; I have never seen a police officer stop someone or issue a citation for jaywalking. But now when an individual puts himself at risk and possibly saves the lives of three people? Well obviously, this man needs to pay a fine…can’t you see he broke the law!

It’s Time To Lower The Drinking Age

Last night 60 Minutes ran an interesting piece about the suggestion from some that the drinking age be lowered back to 18:

(CBS) Last fall, a group of over 100 college presidents – including the heads of Dartmouth, Virginia Tech and Duke – signed a declaration stating that the 21-year-old drinking age is not working, and fireworks went off.

But the college presidents got what they wanted: a national debate about the drinking age.

When the age was raised to 21 in the mid-1980s, the goal was to reduce highway fatalities. But everyone knows that the 21 age limit hasn’t stopped minors from drinking.

And now some experts believe it’s actually contributing to an increase in extreme drinking

Here’s the video of the entire report, which is worth watching:


Watch CBS Videos Online

I don’t agree with the suggestion that John McCardell, the former President of Middelbury College, makes at the end of the report, that a return to an 18 year-old drinking age be accompanied by a combination of alcohol education in high school and “drinking licenses” that allow someone to purchase alcohol.

The education idea is on the right track, but the idea of the government issuing licenses to people to “allow” them to consume alcohol strikes me as a step down the road toward the return of neo-Prohibitionism.

This much is clear, raising the drinking age to 21 has not curbed drinking among people aged 18, 19, and 20, and it may have helped make the situation far worse than it would be otherwise.

The Brady Bill Was Only Step 1

Remember the “good old days” of the Brady Bill and the instant background check? It turns out that the gun grabbers in the 111th Congress no longer believe these gun control measures go far enough. Introducing perhaps the gravest threat to date against the Second Amendment: H.R. 45 Blair Holt’s Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2009.

The primary goals of H.R. 45 are to license every firearm for every firearm a gun owner owns and regulate the buying and selling of firearms through licensed dealers. To apply for a firearms license, the applicant would have to provide the following:

SEC. 102. APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS.
(a) In General- In order to be issued a firearm license under this title, an individual shall submit to the Attorney General (in accordance with the regulations promulgated under subsection (b)) an application, which shall include–
(1) a current, passport-sized photograph of the applicant that provides a clear, accurate likeness of the applicant;
(2) the name, address, and date and place of birth of the applicant;
(3) any other name that the applicant has ever used or by which the applicant has ever been known;
(4) a clear thumb print of the applicant, which shall be made when, and in the presence of the entity to whom, the application is submitted;
(5) with respect to each category of person prohibited by Federal law, or by the law of the State of residence of the applicant, from obtaining a firearm, a statement that the individual is not a person prohibited from obtaining a firearm;
(6) a certification by the applicant that the applicant will keep any firearm owned by the applicant safely stored and out of the possession of persons who have not attained 18 years of age;
(7) a certificate attesting to the completion at the time of application of a written firearms examination, which shall test the knowledge and ability of the applicant regarding–
(A) the safe storage of firearms, particularly in the vicinity of persons who have not attained 18 years of age;
(B) the safe handling of firearms;
(C) the use of firearms in the home and the risks associated with such use;
(D) the legal responsibilities of firearms owners, including Federal, State, and local laws relating to requirements for the possession and storage of firearms, and relating to reporting requirements with respect to firearms; and
(E) any other subjects, as the Attorney General determines to be appropriate;
(8) an authorization by the applicant to release to the Attorney General or an authorized representative of the Attorney General any mental health records pertaining to the applicant;
(9) the date on which the application was submitted; and
(10) the signature of the applicant.
(b) Regulations Governing Submission- The Attorney General shall promulgate regulations specifying procedures for the submission of applications to the Attorney General under this section, which regulations shall–
(1) provide for submission of the application through a licensed dealer or an office or agency of the Federal Government designated by the Attorney General;
(2) require the applicant to provide a valid identification document (as defined in section 1028(d)(2) of title 18, United States Code) of the applicant, containing a photograph of the applicant, to the licensed dealer or to the office or agency of the Federal Government, as applicable, at the time of submission of the application to that dealer, office, or agency; and
(3) require that a completed application be forwarded to the Attorney General not later than 48 hours after the application is submitted to the licensed dealer or office or agency of the Federal Government, as applicable.
(c) Fees-
(1) IN GENERAL- The Attorney General shall charge and collect from each applicant for a license under this title a fee in an amount determined in accordance with paragraph (2).
(2) FEE AMOUNT- The amount of the fee collected under this subsection shall be not less than the amount determined by the Attorney General to be necessary to ensure that the total amount of all fees collected under this subsection during a fiscal year is sufficient to cover the costs of carrying out this title during that fiscal year, except that such amount shall not exceed $25.

I haven’t had time to read the rest of the bill, but from this and the titles of the remaining subsections (i.e. Sec. 302 Failure to Maintain or Permit Inspection of Records, Sec. 304 Failure to Provide Notice of Change of Address, Sec. 405 Inspections, etc.) it’s probably much worse than I think. This is like a bad marriage between the Real I.D. Act and the Brady Bill.

If the Brady Bill was step 1 and H.R. 45 is step 2 what are we then left with for step 3 but the outright repeal of the Second Amendment and complete prohibition for individuals to own firearms?

The Moral Hazard Problem Of Socialized Healthcare

Ezra Klein quotes approvingly a section of Michael Pollans In Defense Of Food on the high level of diabetes in those eating a Western-style diet. In response, he almost seems to be suggesting that there’s a moral hazard problem of socialized healthcare:

A diagnosis of diabetes subtract roughly twelve years from one’s life and living with the condition incurs medical costs of $13,000 a year (compared with $2,500 for someone without diabetes).

This is a global pandemic in the making, but a most unusual one, because it involves no virus or bacteria, no microbe of any kind — just a way of eating. It remains to be seen whether we’ll respond by changing our diet or our culture and economy. Although an estimated 80 percent of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented by a change of diet and exercise, it looks like the smart money is instead on the creation of a vast new diabetes industry.

I’d just add a question: How many discrete interest groups would save money from a sweeping policy initiative aimed at reducing chronic disease through nutrition, exercise, and other low-cost lifestyle changes? How many discrete interest groups would make money from a sweeping policy initiative aimed at increasing the number of insured Americans able to purchase cutting edge medical care in response to the onset of chronic disease?

The questions asked are quite instructive, and thus I wonder if he is being facetious here.

Undoubtedly Americans would be best served by changing our diets and behavioral patterns to more “sustainable” options. As a libertarian, of course, I favor doing this through the freedom rather than bans of bad foods or mandates of exercise — and certainly support anyone wealthy enough to pay for the medical treatment being willing to abuse their body as much as their bank account can pay for the damage. I’m sure Ezra’s “policy initiative” is probably a mix of advertisement, tax policy, and the other sort of “libertarian paternalism” ideas championed by Cass Sunstein.

But what will happen if we do go for a “sweeping policy initiative” aimed at increasing the number of insured Americans able to purchase cutting-edge diabetes treatments? When we offer such “health bailouts”, does this not result in a moral hazard where individuals can make bad, risky decisions knowing that they won’t feel the full effect? This is no different from the corporate world, where CEO’s can embark upon ultra-risky business strategies knowing that the cost of failure will be blunted by federal bailout. Note also that this is a feature of all third-party payment system where the individual care-user is not even charged premiums based upon their risk-profile — it doesn’t matter if it’s an individual mandate plus a huge push towards company-paid insurance (the Massachusetts model) or a fully socialized system (the British model). The end result will be skyrocketing costs as the individual is not strongly incentivized to avoid poor health.

America, when it comes to “healthcare systems”, would be far better off breaking the employer-payment link and moving to a more free system. In this sort of a system, premiums would be somewhat tied to a risk profile (as makes sense for an insurance product), paid individually (so the individual has an incentive to adopt healthy practices), and [probably] would be more tailored to protection from high-cost services rather than pay for day-to-day health care needs. This is post-1930 America, so undoubtedly there’d be a safety net, but I’d rather see the government pay for healthcare for the indigent than for everyone — especially since the system will work better.

In fact, a free market would help bring about Ezra’s goal (healthier people who eat better and exercise) while avoiding his worry (a giveaway to the big healthcare corporations subsidizing bad decisions). Maybe someone should tell him that there’s an answer outside of government on this one.

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