Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Number of the Day


658,231

That's the number of people arrested for simple possession of marijuana in the U.S. in 2012, according to the recently released FBI crime stats.

Two-thirds of a million people who were put in jail for something that's relatively safe to use, not dangerous to others (barring the black market of supply created by its illegality), and presently legal in two of the fifty states (18 if you count medical).

That's over 650-thousand new "patients" being "referred" to drug and alcohol treatment facilities. The number of people put in jail for imbibing a plant is larger than entire the population of Vermont or Wyoming.

The number of people who's job applications will be haunted with criminal charges for the next seven to ten years, at least, is larger than the populations of all but the 19 largest cities -- larger than the populations of Boston, Seattle, Denver, Portland, Ore. and Washington D.C.

This is the prohibition your government is pursuing despite your majority opinion. Any questions?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Silencing the People

Don't be fooled by the hopeful wording of the following quote from USA Today:
The Senate Judiciary Committee, on a 13-5 vote, approved the federal Free Flow of Information Act and sent it to the Senate floor. The measure has long been sought by journalism organizations and First Amendment advocates to protect reporters from having to choose between breaking a promise to a source and going to jail.
Why would this seemingly-positive development be cause for concern? Well, because:
Under the committee's compromise, those covered would include someone who has had an employment relationship with a journalism organization for one year within the past 20 years, or three months within the past five years. Also covered are people with "a substantial track record of freelancing" in the past five years and student journalists. 
Significantly, the measure also includes a provision covering those who a federal judge decides "should be able to avail him or herself of the protections of the privilege, consistent with the interests of justice and the protection of lawful and legitimate newsgathering activities."
In other words, this bill, if passed, would grant a new power to the federal courts -- the power to determine who is and who isn't "press." And since the press is protected by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, this bill effectively give the federal government the power to decide who qualifies for a constitutionally protected civil right.

MF applauds attempts to provide greater protection for journalists, especially under an administration that has been as hard as any on whistleblowers, but granting this type of power to the federal government is not the way to go about it.

The freedom of speech and of the press exists because, without it, the people have no way of bringing to light violations of any of the subsequent protections under the Bill of Rights. In essence, this makes this civil right the most important, for violations of the other civil rights cannot be addressed if the public is ignorant of them.

It should come as no surprise that organizations like the Newspaper Association of America support the bill, since it's members are included under the bill's journalist requirements (and not potential grassroots competitors). But members of the news reporting community should be in the unique position to be aware of what such a deal with the devil might lead to.

Once the government has the power, they are all but guaranteed to use it.

All it would take is some "crisis," some distraction, which are seemingly plentiful in the post-9/11 world, for "revisions" to be made to the requirements for one to be considered a journalist. If this bill passes, what's to stop the implementation of a journalist licensing regimen?

The fault of letting the powerful decide who is allowed to observe them exercising power is self-evident, but one need only look to numerous examples throughout history to see such an idea's folly. Time and again, when a dictatorship takes power, the first major action is to silence the critics.

When you silence the press, you silence the people. And that's what's going on here, despite how nobly the bill is being presented.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Libertarianism is the Now

Politico ran a story yesterday about the continuing ascent of libertarianism in the mainstream of politics. These types of articles have been running for a while now, but for once, those of us who have sanely and consistently argued for greater individual liberty can have a reason to be hopeful.

For once, libertarians were not conflated with the Tea Party.
Libertarianism is what most Americans believe, whether they know it by that name or not.

And for once, this poll asked the question that prevents misunderstandings about what libertarianism really consists of. As politico reports, sizable portions simply do not know what the word libertarian means:
The poll surveyed all voters, not just those on the right, and overall 27 percent said they didn’t know enough to offer an opinion of libertarianism. About 40 percent of 18-to-32-year-olds view the word “libertarian” favorably, although about a third don’t know what it means.
You can't blame them, really.

The "l" word has been batted around by everyone from Glenn Beck to Bill Maher, and while I admit that at times both of these guys have expressed libertarian sentiment on some issues, calling oneself a libertarian on this issue or that, while simultaneously expressing more clearly authoritarian views, leaves the observer confused as to what "libertarian" really means.

That's why I was hopeful when I read this Politico article, because:
Told that libertarians generally believe individuals should be free to do as they like as long as they don’t hurt others and that the government should keep out of people’s day-to-day lives, 58 percent of the full national sample said they agree.
Once you are willing to express libertarianism in the basic, common-sense foundations that support the idea, it's actually not too unfamiliar. And a clear, nearly-fillibuster-proof majority of Americans support this concept; that people should be left to their own devices so long as they don't hurt others.

In other words, and like I've always suspected: libertarianism is what most Americans believe, whether they know it by that name or not.

P.S. The article is based on a poll conducted by FreedomWorks , which, although officially listed as a conservative/libertarian think tank, appears to have asked clear and impartial questions as evidenced by the linked report. By all fair measures, I don't have any reason to think this is some sort of libertarian-boosting push-poll.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Syrian Rebels Are Not The Friends We're Looking For

Just in case you had any doubts about the Syrian rebel groups that Obama is pushing us to assist, here's a quaint story of religious persecution at the hands of the "freedom fighters."

From CTV News:
AMMAN, Jordan -- Rebels including al-Qaida-linked fighters gained control of a Christian village northeast of the capital Damascus, Syrian activists said Sunday.

(...)

A Maaloula resident said the rebels, many of them sporting beards and shouting Allahu Akbar, or God is great, attacked Christian homes and churches shortly after moving into the village overnight.

"They shot and killed people. I heard gunshots and then I saw three bodies lying in the middle of a street in the old quarters of the village," said the resident, reached by telephone from neighbouring Jordan. "So many people fled the village for safety."
That's right folks, in the middle of fighting with the Syrian government, the rebels have time to stop and kill innocent people because of their religious beliefs. Just think of all the genocide they'll be able to commit once they don't have this troublesome civil war on their plates.

I may be no fan of religion myself, but this in simply appalling.

Tell me, Christian America, is supporting these people really in the best interest of our country?

Friday, September 6, 2013

An Army of Strawmen

Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer and former Clinton speechwriter Eric Liu wrote an article for Bloomberg View yesterday as part of an ongoing series of specious and factually-challenged attacks on those advocating individual liberty.

They compare their purposefully-skewed perception of libertarianism to communism and, to support this thesis, cite examples of extreme, unrepresentative "libertarian" positions. But the imagined rantings of extremist conservatives, who only recently donned the libertarian cape, are hardly representative of the principles of libertarianism.

Their examples are the tired arguments circa 2008, which have long been refuted and are only deposited in the article to lend weight to an otherwise sophomoric rant against ideas they simply don't like. This sort of Sorkin-esque revisionism makes for poor argumentation, but if an honest debate was their goal, they might have bothered to include actual quotes or cite actual arguments.

Instead, they commit to another, equally illogical line of reasoning, as defined below. From Wikipedia:
Poisoning The Well: (or attempting to poison the well) is a rhetorical device where adverse information about a target is pre-emptively[sic] presented to an audience, with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing everything that the target person is about to say. 
Poisoning the well can be a special case of argumentum ad hominem, and the term was first used with this sense by John Henry Newman in his work Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864). 
The origin of the term lies in well poisoning, an ancient wartime practice of pouring poison into sources of fresh water before an invading army, to diminish the attacking army's strength.
I point this out because definitions of logical fallacies exist for a reason. Poor arguments are used when one is unable to counter one's opponent with sound arguments. These reasonable people can't be bothered to choose a worthy argument to refute, so instead (and in classic Clintonian fashion) they try to head off their own refutation at the pass:
Some libertarians will claim we are arguing against a straw man and that no serious adherent to their philosophy advocates the extreme positions we describe. The public record of extreme statements by the likes of Cruz, Norquist and the Pauls speaks for itself. Reasonable people debate how best to regulate or how government can most effectively do its work -- not whether to regulate at all or whether government should even exist.
First of all, language like "reasonable people" is an attempt to attack your opponent while ignoring your opponent's message."Reasonable people" are merely people you don't agree with, and often people that don't share your soapbox.

And if Ted Cruz and Grover Norquist are the only advocates of libertarianism, we might as well quit right now. Cherry picking extreme and often poor examples of an opponent's position, then attacking them, is the very definition of a straw man argument, and trying in the same paragraph to void pointing out a straw man fallacy is clearly poisoning the well.

With the Pauls, it gets a little muddy, because they are a very public face of libertarianism (even though Rand Paul has stated several times that he is not, in fact, a libertarian). But regardless, there is no attempt to refute anything they have stated, just some vague reference to extreme statements that "speak for themselves" (which is another bias-loaded phrase by the noble authors).

I would be more than happy to explain to these two what the merits of libertarian policies are if they were willing to actually state some, but instead they throw around old, discredited and ridiculously out-of-context examples like Somalia and the Koch Brothers, with the hope that their readers are too dumb or merely uninformed to look anything up for themselves.

You guys are supposed to professional policy analysts and pundits. For those who welcome a real debate, this degree of amateurism is frankly disappointing...

P.S. If they need help finding a genuine libertarian position, let's start with this one: "The U.S. should not get involved in the civil war in Syria." Go!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

I Got Yer' Sensitivity Training Right Here

I had refrained from commenting on the Missouri State fair rodeo clown who wore an Obama mask, citing a lack of importance. That is, until I saw this little nugget of outrage, compliments of Fox News:
The performer, meanwhile, has been permanently banned from future state fair events and subsequent performers must undergo sensitivity training.
Bloggers need sensitivity training too!
Sure, that paragraph is buried toward the bottom of the story. But that's typical for Fox News, as it's more important that any of the manufactured racial outrage surrounding this story.

That's right folks, parody of a political figure, regardless of his or her race, leads to "sensitivity training" to prevent such political statements in the future. This is no different in principle, if not in degree, than Vladamir Putin's silencing of his critics.

Whether or not the rodeo clown in question is a racist jerk is irrelevant. If we're still pretending this is a free country, we need to remember that criticism of a political figure, no matter how crude, is protected speech under the 1st Amendment.

It's protected speech, no matter how much we dislike the speaker, no matter how offensive the message is. Period.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Justice Department to Adopt Just Policy

The federal government will take the first tiny step to catch up to the people it governs.

From Reuters, Attorney General Eric Holder is set to announce today that the Justice Department is reconsidering its formerly-hard-line stance on mandatory sentencing for non-violent drug offenders.
Holder will outline the status of a broad, ongoing project intended to improve Justice Department sentencing policies across the country in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco. 
"I have mandated a modification of the Justice Department's charging policies so that certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels, will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences," Holder is expected to say, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks provided by the Justice Department.
I suppose we'll see what he means by "low-level" but at least  it's a move toward saner policy. And it is refreshing to see a major news organization point out the problem in the next paragraph:
The United States imprisons a higher percentage of its population than other large countries, largely because of anti-drug laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s.
That problem, that violent and non-violent offenders are currently subject to the same "draconian" punishments, is a policy in direct contradiction with most definitions of justice and rather unnecessary since it takes away from judges the responsibility of making judgments.

And it's this failure to make distinctions on a case-by-case basis that leads to poor executions of justice, like the example I cited last week (although I've since found others had posted it perhaps a week earlier).

One should take caution to be too hopeful with the awful respect for civil rights demonstrated by the current and last few administrations. But, hey, it's a start...

Friday, August 9, 2013