Category Archives: Theory and Ideas

John Oliver Takes on Mandatory Minimum Sentences

For those of you who don’t have HBO and are unfamiliar with Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (very much in the same vein as The Daily Show only uncensored) the segment below is a must watch. While John Oliver is certainly of the Left, he definitely has a libertarian streak on social and criminal justice issues. In this segment, Oliver takes on the travesty known as mandatory minimum sentences (i.e. zero tolerance policies with even more severe consequences).

The Charleston Shooting Is A Reminder That Man Is Not Inherently Good


The country is still in shock after the mass murder of nine worshippers at a African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. The Charleston shooting shakes us at our very core because these victims were truly innocent. The shooter, a 21 year old racist punk, specifically targeted the church because it was a black church.

This monster still went through with the shooting despite the fact the people at the church were “nice” according to a media report. He went to that church intending to kill people.

Many of the usual chattering heads have speculated he was “mentally ill.” But that’s hard to believe. He rationally thought out the attack and acquired the firearms to do it. I find it hard to believe we’re dealing with a “mentally ill” person as opposed to an evil one.

Many times, we’re quick to dismiss those who commit murder and other terrible acts as “mentally ill.” As a society we literally cannot comprehend someone doing such a thing. We have forgotten that evil exists and that people are not inherently good.

As a species, we continue to think we have evolved past the mere primitive notion that violence solves issues. We believe that in this culture of lawyers, contracts, and instant communication that we have evolved past violence. That’s an absurd analysis.

A modern Germany exterminated tens of millions between 1933-45. The Balkans, before they exploded in their wars of extermination in the 1990s, were a mostly developed region. The massive oil wealth of the Middle East hasn’t stopped that region of the world from having their own religious and ethnic conflicts. If wealth and technological progress are measures of civilization, then I would hate to see what is uncivilized.

Man is a fallen creature and capable of both good and evil. It’s best to view humanity through that lens. We should be wary of attempts to make men “better.” Mass graves from France to Russia to Cambodia are a testament to that fallacy.

There are only two approaches to dealing with evil. You either deter it or you destroy it. You can deter evil by making the consequences of doing their deed so high that is not worth it. You can also destroy an evil person when they act. However, we should not kid ourselves and believe we can “eradicate” evil from the world.

This piece doesn’t have any ideas on how to end racism (short answer you won’t) or what kind of gun control could stop this (short answer not much). Instead what we can do is not be blind to the reality of man. Instead of providing ourselves with the false comfort that people are inherently good, we should open our eyes to the fact that man is capable of both great and evil deeds.

Only by acknowledging the truth in ourselves can we move forward with discussions how to prevent future atrocities like this.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

One of the Original “Liberty Papers” Turns 800


A mere 572 years before the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, 561 years before the Declaration of Independence, and 465 years before John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government was a government-limiting charter which inspired the authors of each of these was the Magna Carta. In June of 1215, a full 800 years ago, a group of land barons had decided that they had enough of the tyrannical rule of King John. Rather than depose the king outright, the barons forced King John to surrender some of his powers, thus creating the concepts British Common Law and the Rule of Law.

The history of the Magna Carta and how it was almost quashed is quite interesting:

There are four copies of the charter still in existence – one each in Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals, and two in the British Library.
The curator of the Library’s exhibit, Dr Claire Breay, told Sky News: “The most important thing about Magna Carta is that it established the principle of the rule of law.

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned or stripped of his rights, or outlawed or exiled, except by the judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. And that clause is really at the heart of Magna Carta’s fame today.”

Those who negotiated the treaty would be astonished at how its reputation has survived eight centuries, because it was annulled after only 10 weeks.
The Pope ruled that King John had been forced to sign it under duress. Yet in the years afterwards, the language in the charter was revised and reintroduced and became part of the cornerstone of English law.

Vicor Hugo famously said “No army can stop an idea whose time has come.” Shortly after King John’s signing of the Magna Carta, the idea of the rule of law had come; the divine rights of kings was no longer universally accepted.

A Sign of the Times – Nebraska Repeals the Death Penalty

"Old Main" NM State Penitentiary

Yesterday Nebraska became the latest state to repeal the death penalty. While this is encouraging as states in recent years have ended this barbaric practice, what is even more encouraging and unusual is the fact that Nebraska is a red state. Nebraska is the first predominately conservative state in 40 years to repeal the death penalty. This isn’t to say that all conservatives were on board with the repeal. Republican Governor Pete Ricketts vetoed the repeal but supporters overrode the veto with the minimum number of votes required by 30 to 19 (conservatives accounted for 18 of the votes in favor of repeal).

Pema Levy writing for Mother Jones elaborates:

Today’s vote makes Nebraska “the first predominantly Republican state to abolish the death penalty in more than 40 years,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, in a statement shortly after the vote. Dunham’s statement singled out conservatives for rallying against the death penalty and said their work in Nebraska is “part of an emerging trend in the Republican Party.” (Nebraska has a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature, so lawmakers do not have official party affiliations.)


“I think this will become more common,” Marc Hyden, national coordinator of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said in a statement following the repeal vote. “Conservatives have sponsored repeal bills in Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Missouri, and Kentucky in recent years.”

The article goes on to point out that in the most recent Pew survey that 77% of Republicans support the death penalty. My question is, why? Fellow Liberty Papers contributor Albert Northup made a compelling case earlier this year as to why conservatives and libertarians should oppose the death penalty:

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

I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps more conservatives will come around to this more logically, philosophically consistent position.

Neocons Gonna Neocon


Neocon William Kristol, writing on the pages of USA Today writes that “We were right to invade Iraq in 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein […]Even with the absence of caches of weapons of mass destruction…”

It’s quite clear that not only has Kristol not learned the lessons of Iraq but also is willing to rewrite the history in such a way to exonerate the Bush administration from its failings.

When President Obama took office, Iraq was calm, al-Qaeda was weakened and ISIS did not exist. Iran, meanwhile, was under pressure from abroad (due to sanctions) and at home (due to popular discontent, manifested by the Green uprising in the summer of 2009).

The Obama administration threw it all away. It failed to support the dissidents in Iran in 2009, mishandled the Iraqi elections in 2010, removed all U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, and allowed the Syrian civil war to spiral out of control from 2011 on.

Oh yeah I forgot, things were going great in Iraq until Barack Hussein Obama took office. If only the U.S. got more involved in the Iraqi elections (whatever that means) and “supported” dissidents in Iran (whatever that means) and kept U.S. troops in a bit longer (say another 100 years or so?) why today we might well be witnessing Jeffersonian democracy or a Madisonian republic in the Middle East! And the whole bit about WMD not being found in Iraq? Details. Who cares!

The USA Today editorial on the Iraq question has a bit more of a honest assessment directly challenging the Neocon narrative:

Nearly 4,500 Americans died, tens of thousands more were wounded, and $2 trillion was squandered in a war to destroy weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

And though the war disposed of a bloody dictator, Saddam Hussein, it ushered in something worse, at least for the United States: A sectarian civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and gave birth to Islamist terrorism, now under the banner of the Islamic State.

The more legitimate Afghanistan War was orphaned, turning it into a quagmire, and allies were alienated.

Today, Iraq is splintered and reeling. With the capture this week of the key Sunni city of Ramadi, ISIL is firmly in control of one chunk, and Iran — the war’s big winner — has great sway over another.

Okay, fair enough. But, but Obama set a premature timetable for retreat from Iraq before the mission could be accomplished…

Obama’s policies have indeed made things worse. But in arguing that he should have kept troops in Iraq longer, his critics skip over the inconvenient fact that he pulled out on a schedule negotiated by Bush. And, of course, had Bush not launched the war in the first place, there would have been no such mistakes to make.

There’s just no getting around those fundamental facts. The Neocon experiments have failed.

But what can you do? Neocons are gonna Neocon.

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