Monday, August 23, 2010

The Culture Wars Have Got to End

Look, I'm pretty socially liberal, and therefore, I have no problem with the right to choose, gay people, voluntary euthanasia, etc.  I'm all about freedom and maximizing individual liberty.  However, a lot of control freaks out there wanna deny that liberty simply because they think those things are "immoral."  That is just laughable, to say the least.

The simple fact of the matter is this: you can't legislate morality!  Yes, I know, a lot of idiot conservatives like to say "But our laws against rape and murder and theft are based on our morals."  Yes, to some extent they are, but they are ALSO in place to protect our rights as individuals, to protect us from aggression.  If they didn't, there'd be no reason for these laws to exist!  There's no reason for putting in place a law that criminalizes something that only a portion of the country or people think is wrong!  It's just not rational, and it's probably unconstitutional.

Having said that, I am so goddamn sick of these culture wars.  We've been bitching and complaining about this for 4 decades now!  Are we any closer to a resolution? Not really.  So how about both sides just declare some kind of truce? Or how about the authoritarian side that wants to shove its beliefs down everyone's throat and make someone's freedom illegal because it's 'immoral' just STFU? Deal with it! Times change, and society changes.  If you can't accept that, then fuck off.  You have no right to try to control people just because you think some individual's actions, which are not harming anyone, will "lead to societal degradation" or whatever you wanna call it.

A big part of it is the fact that we've allowed federalism to die in this country.  Slowly but surely, states are being allowed less and less leeway over what they can and can't do within their own borders.  The feds have taken so much discretion away from them!  To some extent, that is a good thing because the 14th Amendment protects our right NOT to have the states infringe on our rights.  However, federalizing all these issues ensures that it ALWAYS is dealt with at a federal level, rather than various jurisdictions with differing views deciding for themselves how best to deal with them.  States' rights does have some role to play in this, believe it or not.

Besides, as Morris Fiorina and others have already exposed, Americans aren't really all that polarized.  It's just the political climate that makes it so.  Blue states' and red states' residents essentially have the same views on a host of issues.  It's just that blue states are a bit more liberal, and red ones are a bit more conservative.  Americans are not all that different on social issues overall.  Most Americans favor spending on a strong national defense, healthcare, education, and many other programs.  They're not big on welfare, though.  And compared to 50 years ago, race and gay-straight relations are a hell of a lot better, current problems notwithstanding.  As the American National Election Survey also shows, Americans aren't really that divided. "Kerry Country" and "Bush Country" aren't all that different.  Yes, there are big liberal towns and small conservative towns, but the vast majority of the country is moderate, more or less.  The 2-party system and intense election cycles has just made it seem like we're increasingly divided.

So what is the culture war really about?  Are we all just being brainwashed by the media and political leaders to believe that it's all really such a big deal?  So what if some gays get married or old folks who are dying want the plug pulled.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Campaign Finance Deform

Campaign finance reform is a fraud.  It does nothing to stem corruption in our political system (or the appearance thereof) or make things more competitive, and it is based on many faulty notions about politics and the law.  It is just a last-ditch effort by desperate individuals who want to take the easy way out (or so they think), rather than rolling up their sleeves.

First of all, let's get one thing straight: federal campaign finance law is very strict.  Despite what you may hear from fools like Ralph Nader about the two parties being "bought" by corporations, during election time, that simply is not possible.  The fact is, corporate contributions, at least at the federal level, have been banned since the early 1900s.  PACs of all kinds can only give a maximum of $5,000 (primary and general) per candidate.  In order for a corporation to donate money to a candidate, it has to first form a PAC, which must raise funds from individuals and other outside sources.  Individuals can only donate a little over $2,000 per candidate.  Contrary to popular belief, political parties, not corporations, can receive and spend the most, at least until recently (things like McCain-Feingold).  There are, of course, 'special limits' (which are ambiguous), but even those are only about 100 grand or so.  I would assume not just anyone at any time can use those.

You may still be asking, "But what about those reports of various industries giving hundreds of thousands to certain candidates?"  Well, there are one of two possibilities (or both in the same election cycle).  The first is bundling, whereby a supporter of a particular candidate for office asks his friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc., for campaign contributions to that particular candidate.  The contributions are bundled (hence the term) into one lump sum and given to the campaign.  Sometimes, when a person gives a contribution a bundler within his place of employment, it is officially registered as having been "from such-and-such company" or other organization.  However, don't let this fool you.  The second possibility is simply corporate PACs in a single industry all giving donations of thousands of dollars to particular candidates.  Keep in mind that every industry, especially in a large economy like the United States, has 100s or thousands of firms with large profits individually.  Each one donating at least $1,000 can add up quickly.  But it is simply not possible for a corporation to donate directly to a candidate.  You really think the election- and contribution-monitoring officials wouldn't notice that?  The FEC fucking got on Citizens United's case about Hillary the Movie, for christ sake!

While there are rare cases of bribery, most contributions are investments.  People give money to interests, causes and candidates they agree with, not those they think can be bought.  If contributors honestly believed that they could bribe a politician with a big enough donation, why would they stop at donating people they agree with? Why not have a corporation buy someone like Dennis Kucinich or Bernie Sanders and give millions to their campaigns?

The sad truth is that money is speech.  What campaign finance reform proponents fail to realize is that it costs a lot of money to campaign, take out ads, hold rallies, etc.  This stuff ain't cheap.  To get your views out there and try to convince your fellow Americans or leaders to see things your way requires funding!  So in that sense, yes, you are stifling free speech by limiting donations and the amounts people can spend on various "electioneering communications."  And besides, we don't even spend that much on elections, relatively speaking.  We spend more as a nation on things like advertising and Wal-Mart.  Besides, isn't a few billion dollars raised during a presidential election a small price to pay to oversee and submit budgets worth trillions?  A few billion dollars isn't even 1% of the federal budget these days!

Countless studies by economists such as John Lott and Jeff Milyo and scholars such as John Samples as well as former FEC Chairman Bradley Smith all ponit to the plain truth that campaign finance reform doesn't work.  Much of what people think happens regarding contributions and political behavior post-election doesn't.  In fact, Ansolabehere, Figueiredo, and Snyder, Jr. (2002) dispel a whole host of myths regarding campaign finance and repeatedly drive home the point that most contributions are from individuals, not "special interests."  People still vote their conscience regardless of whether they got donations from BP or AFL-CIO.  Correlation is not causation.  People have got to stop assuming the worst just because someone voted a certain way and received contributions from specific interests favoring that vote.  What does pointing that out prove?

And now there is the insane DISCLOSE Act, which will just make things even harder.  We don't need this shit !  Barack Obama and countless Dems say that it is a response to the recent Citizens United case (which did not, btw, repeal current limits on corporate contributions), but it is reckless, nonetheless.  In addition to a bunch of new regulations on business, which won't make a difference, it will make regular campaigning, speaking out and contributing even harder, as if it weren't hard enough.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pro-Israel or Pro-Palestine? Why Not Pro-Peace?

Whenever I hear about some new big incident or catastrophe in the Israel-Palestine area, I cringe.  I cringe not only because of what happened but because of the political and media fallout that will ensue.  Like clockwork, the anti-Israel folks will blame The Jewish State and say that it's acting like Nazis or something similar, and the pro-Israel folks will blame 'terrorists' and/or the Palestinians themselves.  It's the same old formula over and over.  It's so fucking predictable

The real problem is trying to find objective analysis of the situation.  It seems like almost all of it is slanted or comes from a slanted source.  For example, when researching the history of the founding of the state of Israel, pro-Israel folks will claim they inhabited "deserted land" inside Palestine, while the pro-Palestine side will claim that the future Israelis, like classic racist conquerors, drove the Arabs from their land and stole it.  The pro-Israel side claims that terrorism is the reason they need all those checkpoints and occupation, while the pro-Palestine side claims the terrorism only started after the Six-Day War and that it wouldn't happen if Israel had "treated Palestinians fairly."

I still am not sure how to judge the Gaza flotilla raid.  While it is true that Israel killed 9 people on it, it is also true that the IHH (the organization behind it) does have connections to terrorist groups, in one way or another, so it's not entirely unrealistic to assume that at least some of the folks on the flotilla were terrorists or had terrorist sympathies.  Also, while the Israelis did have powerful guns, it seems possible and probable that at least a few of the folks on the flotilla also had deadly weapons like knives.  If you were in that situation, you probably would've reacted very suddenly, too, with a gun in your hand.  However, I think we can all agree that the raid was a bit premature, to say the least.  The flotilla was clearly still in international waters when the raid started, and Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world!  They could've easily disabled the flotilla with their navy if it got close enough to Israeli shores.

Why there is such a lack of continuity or agreement between various news sources on what really happened with regard to incidents like this is beyond me.  It seems the only possible explanation is that at least a good portion of the commentators and reporters have some sort of axe to grind.  They lean toward one side, so they're afraid that reporting something that reflects badly on their favorite, even if it is the truth, will give it less legitimacy.  But isn't telling the truth always better than lying for political gain?  Shouldn't we support policies that make sense rather than simply favor one side or the other?

How about we admit that both sides are to blame? The Palestinians are to blame for not going after terrorists more aggressively (or, in some cases, supporting them), and the Israelis are to blame for acting like the Palestinians have got it made and sentiments like, "What have they got to whine about?"  Israel is to blame for using the full force of their actions and then acting like it's always a surprise that anyone's outraged, and Palestine is to blame for justifying terrorism by calling it "resistance."  I'm sorry, but "resistance" to a militarist state by attacking innocents is just downright murder.

Until both sides admit that they're in the wrong to some extent, no peace will be had.  People need to quit playing the blame game!  When one side makes a mistake, they should be called on it, but don't act like they just blatantly murdered people for fun or love destruction.  This situation is a lot more complex than I think a lot of people assume.  I can't even begin to imagine how it must feel to be an Israeli or Palestinian over there.  No one except residents can truly understand.  So for anyone, especially an outsider who's never even been there, to judge is just the height of absurdity.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Anti-Smoking Nuts are Pansies and Control Freaks

I'm not a smoker.  However, I do believe in freedom, even for habits I don't agree with or enjoy myself.  That freedom can and should extend even to smokers who are hurting no one.  That's why this anti-smoking movement is just nutty.

Why should we allow public smoking? Well, first off, these people are bitching about something that's really not such a big deal.  So what if someone smokes around you? As long as there's plenty of space to get away from them, it seems like a no-brainer to move.  These anti-smoking nuts seem to forget that there's a thing called mobility which would allow them to get away from the smoke.  They pretend like they can't move away from a smoker at all.  Now, I understand enacting smoking restrictions in places like airplanes. ...But in a bar or restaurant? In a public park or beach? That's just insane!

Secondly, the case for "secondhand smoke" is murky at best.  Even though they claim there are loads of studies 'proving' that secondhand smoke causes all these problems, it's not so cut-and-dried.  Those who do studies on the subject are not always that credible.  The fact is, secondhand smoke does not "cause 50,000 deaths" per year!  50,000 is over 10% of all those who die from cigarette smoking annually (450,000).  I'm supposed to believe that 10% of that number die from simply being around smokers? Get real.  Economists like W. Kip Viscusi who have done great research on this issue have found that the case for "secondhand smoke" is wildly exaggerated.  Smoking and inhaling a little smoke from a smoker's mouth are two very different things and to make some kind of equivalence is just ridiculous.

Even if secondhand smoke did cause all these terrible diseases and deaths, so WHAT.  It's not like we don't have methods of mitigating the smoke.  The first method is always to move somewhere else.  Another important method is to allow business owners to install ventilation systems and non-smoking sections.  Let the market work; people will figure out for themselves if smoking is bad enough not to patronize certain businesses.  That's worked pretty well, if you ask me.  The anti-smoking crowd is simply overstating the "problem" here for political correctness.

These anti-smoking freaks are just pansies and douchebags who want to impose their will on the rest of us and hate the smell of smoke or whatever.  They're a larger part of the nanny-state movement.  They don't want to accept the fact that some people do things we don't like.  They're just like the moralists on the Right with their "family values" bullshit.  Instead of moving away from smokers, like any sensible person would do, they'd rather say "Smoking is bad! You can't do that!  My 'right' to be away from smoke is more important than your right to consume."  I'm sick of it!  Let adults eat and consume whatever the hell they want!  This is my right as an American.  You have no right to judge us and impose bullshit legal restrictions, esp. on business owners who have property rights.  Don't like how a business owner allows smoking? Get the fuck out and patronize elsewhere! It really is that simple.

It's funny how the anti-smoking and nanny-state crowd bitch about "increased healthcare costs" because of things like obesity and smoking (although the latter actually cost less net dollars because they tend to live shorter lives).  Yet they never complain about cheats and dirtbags gaming the welfare state.  They rarely complain about increased regulatory burdens on the economy, especially for regulations that don't have much of a net benefit to society.  This is pure politics, as usual.  The anti-smoking crowd only cares about control, not health.  The "public health" reason for their campaigning is just a smokescreen (all pun intended).

No one has a right to tell us what's best for us or deny us the ability to take some risks; we make those decisions for ourselves.  It is the American way, after all.

Friday, August 13, 2010

6 Simple Steps That Could Go a Long Way toward Fixing Our Immigration Problem

Despite what the immigration hawks that demonize all "illegals" say, most of them are good, hard-working people who shouldn't be punished for the actions of a few troublemakers.  The fact is, whether they realize it or not, the immigration problem in the U.S. is actually pretty complex.  However, that doesn't mean there aren't any good, no-brainer solutions.

1. Secure the border!  This is first and foremost.  As a libertarian, I know I'm "outside the mainstream" when it comes to folks who share my ideology, but the fact is, open borders is just not realistic.  Yes, most illegal aliens are hard-working folks, but there is still a good number of them who do nothing but cause chaos. This includes but is not limited to: common criminals, terrorists and drug traffickers.  It's better to be safe than sorry.  We should also be cautious about letting in people with contagious illnesses with full rights to move around the U.S. 

2. Reinstate the guest-worker program (expanded to all Hispanic migrants, though).  The Bracero Program was killed in the mid-1960s (after 20 years of success) thanks to farm unions, but there's little evidence that it didn't work or that it had huge negative consequences.  It was great for the United States and terrific for those Mexican workers, despite any alleged 'exploitation' that folks like Cesar Chavez railed against, who were able to make many times the income that they could've made back home.  The fact is, if Hispanic immigrants could actually come here just to work in a regulated, well-maintained program, they wouldn't have to cross the border and act like citizens, hiding in the shadows for fear of deportation or workplace raids.  Why should anyone have to become a citizen just to work somewhere?  Low-skill or high-skill, it makes no sense.

3. Make legal immigration easier.  The fact is, much of the reason Hispanics cross the border is because it's much cheaper and easier!  There's no incentive to "go to the back of the line" and become legal when you have to jump through so many hoops. Why??  As long as they don't have an extensive criminal record and aren't a threat to the country, and the immigrant assimilates, why should they have to go through all this crap?  2 or 4 years to become a naturalized citizen is nonsense.  It shouldn't take much more than a year, at the most.  And while I'm on the subject, either extend the visas for Hispanic immigrants, or eliminate them entirely.  No, there won't be some massive wave of immigrants that will "overtake the country" if we do that.  The market will sort this stuff out.

4.  Make the welfare state (as much as I dislike it in general) off-limits to illegal immigrants.  No ifs ands or buts about it.  Make it easier to detect records fraud so that an illegal immigrant cannot easily pretend to be a citizen and take advantage of things like food stamps, unemployment, etc.  If they want these benefits, they will have to become citizens.  I'm not saying most or all illegal aliens come here just for benefits, but I'm sure at least a few of them out there do come here just to mooch.  If they're not paying into the system through taxes, they should receive zero benefits.

5.  The U.S. gov't should start a program with at least Mexico, if not all the other Hispanic nations, to share information about known criminals and/or those with criminal records.  That way, we can make sure that all those who are trying to become citizens or guest workers are not the kind of people we don't want.  This will take a lot of effort, but I'm sure it can be done.  

And finally, 

6. Deport all known criminal, terrorist and drug-trafficking aliens (although the traffickers are actually fueled by drug prohibition itself; more on that later) caught by U.S. law enforcement ASAP.  Why should they be adding to the already overcrowded prisons? If they came here just to fuck things up, they shouldn't be here in the first place.  Their home nations' prison systems should deal with them.

As an aside, if someone is here illegally but is hurting no one else and is not mooching off taxpayers, why should I care?? Why should anyone care?  The only difference between them and American natives is this "illegal" technicality.  Why should anyone be punished for a stupid technicality? 

Furthermore, why shouldn't a business owner or manager be able to hire whoever he wants, as long as that person is not a threat?  E-verify is the biggest scam in the world!  We shouldn't punish people by raiding their businesses and detaining employees who just happen to not be citizens but are working hard and contributing economic growth.

The sad thing about this issue in the United States is that so much of the debate is led by fear, misinformation and ignorance.  People just blindly accept the idea that being "illegal" is somehow a sin or morally reprehensible, no matter what the immigrant's situation is.  They just blindly accept this ridiculous idea that jobs within the United States are somehow inherently "American" just because they're within our borders and that we should punish those who hire illegal aliens, even though from their standpoint, it's a pretty good business decision.  Actually, no one is entitled to a job!  Whoever is most qualified for the job should get it.  End of story.  

The simple fact is, the economy is not a zero-sum game.  No one "steals" a job from someone else by accepting one.  If you can't even compete with illegal aliens applying for jobs, you might have something wrong, not the alien.  Maybe you should up your skills a little and give the employer an incentive to hire you.

Don't listen to the far left or far right on this issue.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Global Warming Deniers Are NOT Real Skeptics

A conservative 'skeptic' of anthropogenic global warming recently replied to one of my comments on a video about global warming as such,

   ‎"We don't produce enough to actually harm the ozone because THE TREES BREATHE IT ALL. Hello? Have you been paying attention in Biology class?? Plus, there's no actual evidence in the first place. It's just cherry-picked info from bad sources, and there is NO real threat concerning our Co2 releases. Please, check your sources again, and again, and again, until it's CONFIRMED."

As idiotic as that comment sounds, unfortunately, it is endemic of a larger problem on the American Right- denialism.  
Look, I have no problem with healthy skepticism.  Science and innovation are driven by a healthy dose of skepticism. But these people are not skeptics! They're deniers! Skeptics keep an open mind and look at all the available data and evidence; deniers are never satisfied, no matter how much evidence you put in front of them.  

Whoever said that just because you acknowledge a problem, the solutions are predetermined, and you can't change it?
Saying that anthropogenic global warming exists does not mean, as some right-wingers love to frame the argument, that one is blaming capitalism or the free market for all the world's ills. They are simply saying that, given the evidence, we humans kind of have fucked up the environment. And we do have some responsibility, at least for our species' health and safety, to do something about it. The global warming deniers, for whatever reason, seem to assume that if they admit that there is anthropogenic global warming, instead of it being 100% "natural", they'll somehow legitimize policies they disagree with. But that's absurd.  

We have to move on from bitching about how it's "not real" and start trying to figure out a sensible solution, if the effects will in fact be even 1/5th or 1/10th as bad as the catastrophists predict. I'm sorry, denier conservatives, but the debate is over. It ended a long time ago when scientists around the world found the evidence, evidence that has been obtained over the last 20-30 years! You can go around denying it in your think-tanks and political interest groups all you want, but that doesn't mean we don't have a problem. You people remind me of an alcoholic who won't go to rehab or admit he has a problem: "I can get off beer if I want to. I'm just not ready yet."

The far-right will never concede the facts and at least try to formulate a comprehensive policy to fight global warming. They even oppose cap-and-trade, for god sakes! The CBO has said that, even with some of the potential job losses over the next 5 or 10 years as a result of the Waxman-Markey bill, because of all the refunds, deductions and tax credits in the bill (among other things), we'd actually have a net gain. And did a recent article on cap-and-trade as well and found that all those groups that claim it will "screw everything up" in our economy were basing their predictions on worst-case scenarios, which are certainly not likely to happen. I mean, cap-and-trade is a market-based program! A vast array of economists agree that if we should use any approach to regulate properly, this is probably the most efficient. Experts agree the world over that the SO2 cap-and-trade program in the 90s worked pretty damn well. So why not for CO2? Sure, the current bill may not be perfect, but cap-and-trade will not be the apocalypse!

I can assure Americans that cap-and-trade will not raise our energy costs by two or three grand a year.  That is pure propaganda.  Besides, isn't the program designed so that corporations that can afford to innovate and reduce emissions will do so and then sell their credits to less-wealthy businesses that can't afford it, in order to reduce the regulatory burden?  Do conservatives forget about this part, or are they willingly ignoring it?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fourteenth Amendment-Phobes

Although most conservatives (and libertarians) seem to have celebrated the recent gun rights victories in McDonald v. Chicago and D.C. v. Heller, there is still a lesser-known minority within this camp that is not so enthusiastic.  They claim that because the Fourteenth Amendment was originally designed to protect former slaves by law in a rather limited way, rather than turn into an end-all be-all way to strike down state laws you don't like, it is a bad idea to use the Fourteenth Amendment for lots of other issues.  Their arguments (detailed below) do make some sense, but I still am not a total skeptic.

For those who aren't aware, the part of the 14th Amendment that some conservatives, libertarians and constitutionalists take issue with is called the "Incorporation Doctrine."  Basically, incorporation means that the Bill of Rights applies to the states.  As many experts have already explained (and I, sadly, discovered), the Bill of Rights did not originally apply to the states.  The Bill of Rights originally was designed as a check by states on federal power; in other words, the B.O.R. was meant to protect states from federal encroachment.  Others have explained how, even though the B.O.R. did not originally apply to the states, state constitutions tend to be rather comprehensive in their descriptions of what natural rights residents have.  According to many constitutionalists, this makes applying the B.O.R. to the states (or at least did in 1789).

Western Connecticut State University History Professor Kevin Gutzman is one current proponent of the anti-incorporation view.  He authored The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, among other works.  In personal exchanges I have had with him on Facebook recently, whenever I asked him about the Fourteenth Amendment, he usually referred to Former Harvard Law Professor Raoul Berger's 1975 title Government by Judiciary: The Transformation of the Fourteenth Amendment.  From what I've heard, Berger has certainly done his research.  While I'm sure this book presents an excellent case for why the Fourteenth Amendment was not originally intended to be used as it is now, I'm still not entirely convinced that we should use a minimalist approach.

Gutzman also uses the argument that, if we use the Fourteenth Amendment as a reason to overturn what we see as bad state laws that infringe on liberty, that can be eventually used against us to take away liberty, expand government or to enshrine new rights the Founders would never have dreamed of, such as a right to free healthcare or housing. While I understand this concern, I'm just not so sure it's that valid today.  After all, today's Roberts court has been described by many liberals as pretty activist (in a conservative way).  Why the court today or in the near future would use the Fourteenth Amendment to add a whole bunch of fictional rights like a "Second New Deal" is beyond me.  I don't mean to insult Gutzman or his character, but his approach seems a little wimpy.

After all, without incorporation, can any of us imagine all the ridiculous laws that would still be on the books?  We might not even be able to buy contraception in certain states, or get married to folks of other races!  With any judicial approach, there are pluses and minuses.  The key is to make sure the court minimizes the minuses and expands the pluses.  Plus, who knows how long it would have taken states to repeal silly laws like anti-sodomy statutes if Lawrence v. Texas had never been a case.  I think Gutzman's concern is a risk we must take in order to defend liberty across this great nation.  No one ever said a "right" to free healthcare couldn't be overturned by Congress and the president, did they?

A pro-incorporation approach may seem like a "big government" way to deal with the Supreme Court, but I think it's the best we've got.  After all, why should states be exempt from the Bill of Rights?  I'm all about maximizing individual freedom (within reason), so I see no reason why the B.O.R. should not apply to the states, at least in principle.  If a state is violating someone's inalienable rights, and he can't get the law overturned by the legislature or state Supreme Court, why not allow him that final outlet with the federal court process?  A good number of chances to earn your freedom from tyrannical governments to me seems pretty damn reasonable.  If someone can't use the state government to get rid of a tyrannical law that violates the B.O.R., under Gutzman's philosophy, he's pretty much screwed!

Friday, August 6, 2010

The SB 1070 Fracas

Look, I'm a libertarian.  But I'm also a pragmatist.  I may not agree much with the immigration hawks on the Right who complain a lot about illegal aliens and the alleged problems they bring to this country, but I do not find it productive or necessary to refer to them as "racists" simply because they want to enforce the law and secure the borders.  Yes, a few of them are racists, but I highly doubt that most of them care whether the aliens are from Eastern Europe or Latin America.  Give the American people a little credit.

I personally believe our immigration system should be much looser (for various reasons), but first and foremost, we must secure the border.  Now, a lot of libertarians like to espouse an open borders ideology.  However, that leaves it open not only to hard-working, law-abiding Hispanics and others with visas, but it also allows folks with deadly communicable diseases, terrorists, and criminals to sneak through.  I don't want to take that chance.

So when Arizona's government decided to do something about the negative effects of illegal immigration in that state, I quietly applauded.  If the federal government is not going to man up and do its job, the states have every right to enforce those laws!  Why should Arizona wait for the federal government to finally start doing its job?  This is why the recent federal court ruling that imposed an injunction on SB 1070 makes no sense.

Now, regarding the actual content of the law, I'm kind of with the pro-1070 people on this.  I've skimmed it a little myself.  From all that I've heard from several sources, a great portion of the Arizona law came verbatim from federal law, and there are specific statutes which are intended to minimize racial profiling.  The law does not encourage cops to round up every person who "looks Hispanic."  In fact, a person can only be asked about his immigration status during "legal contact", which I assume refers to situations such as being pulled over or arrested by a cop.  The bill is actually, if I recall correctly, 70 or 80 pages long!  It seems to me that the people who wrote it tried to hammer out the difficulties with proper enforcement as much as possible.

Judge Andrew Napolitano, among many, many other critics, has compared this to Nazi Germany requiring the Jews to show "your papers, please."  However, what the judge forgets is that Nazi Germany ostracized, attacked, demonized, rounded up and even killed countless Jews.  This is not what anyone has proposed with the Arizona law at all!  Besides, when you are pulled over by a police officer, what's the first thing he says? "License and registration"!  This is not much different from that scenario.  I fail to see the connection to Nazi Germany.

So what is all the whining and moaning for?  Enforcement of laws that the majority of people think is reasonable regarding immigration status?  Yes, there is the potential for abuse by zealous or racist cops, but the potential for abuse exists with any law or public official!  Why are opponents of this law so outraged now??  Do they just assume that all cops in Arizona are racists who will jump at the chance to "snag some beaners"?  That's pretty prejudiced.  The outrage is a little silly, in my opinion.

I say let the law stay in effect for the next 6 months to a year.  Let's not be too hasty.  After that time is up, do a thorough report and see if it has violated the civil liberties of several Americans, or if it has lived up to its goals.  If it has been abused in such a manner, then Arizona should change its approach.  But griping about a law that has hardly yet been enforced and has not lived up to your worst fears is brainless!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Judicial Minimalism Or Activism? How 'Bout a Little of Both?

I always dread the process of selecting and confirming new justices for the Supreme Court.  It's such an emotional and ideological battle.  The Left wants liberal, activist judges, and the Right wants so-called originalists.  And anytime a justice rules against someone's core political beliefs, that individual almost always refers to it as "judicial activism" in a weird attempt to sound "smart" rather than admitting that they only want their values to be "constitutional."  It kind of makes me sick to my stomach.

Liberals tend to believe in a more living, evolving Constitution.  They argue that because times change, and values obviously change with them, constitutional interpretation should fit these changes.  On the other hand, conservatives tend to believe that the Constitution is a dead document, that the only legit way to add new language or federal powers is through a constitutional amendment.  They argue that loose constructionism means that the courts could give the other two branches of government practically unlimited power.  Few people want the government to have the power to do anything it wants.

However, in my view, both interpretations have shortcomings.  An evolving Constitution can allow justices to give the other two branches some new powers that were not originally explicitly defined in the Constitution, but so many cases today before the Court have to do with things that were not even issues 200 years ago.  How can we know for sure what the Founders' original intent was?  Is something "unconstitutional" simply because it is not mentioned in the Constitution?  The world of the Founders was much different than today's. On the other hand, originalists do have some reason to be suspicious, as an evolving view of the Constitution could give the federal government several new powers that could infringe on our rights as Americans.

I also have some misgivings about recent court cases, such as Lawrence v. Texas, that involve state infringements on the civil liberties of individuals, possibly being interpreted in an "originalist" manner.  I thank God they weren't, thanks to the 14th Amendment, but would it make sense to claim that "sodomy is unconstitutional"?  Is not the Constitution designed to restrict the power of government?  How can one turn it on its head to restrict the powers and liberties of individuals and give more power to the government?  That is tyranny, if you ask me.  Do not conservatives constantly claim they believe that we are born with our inalienable rights?  That government does not grant rights?

So what is the solution? Well, I would call it "moderate construction."  Basically, when the case involves something that is explicitly defined or mentioned in the Constitution, originalism is probably the way to go.  But when it involves an issue that was not even mentioned 200 years ago and has no reference at all in the Constitution, courts should tread carefully but they do have some right to be a little flexible with interpretations.  That seems to me to be a fairly reasonable compromise.

After all, the Constitution did not even grant the Supreme Court or lower federal courts the ability or oblige them to use judicial review.  The federal court system was specified years after the Constitution was ratified, and the few constitutional clauses dealing with the federal court system are quite vague.  The first judicial review case that set the precedent did not even happen until decades after the Constitution became the law of the land.

The Left and the Right both need to quit it with this absolutist nonsense regarding constitutional law.  I've never cared much for absolutism, as it seems that, more times than none, the truth is somewhere in the middle.  Both sides of the aisle do a great disservice to the political discussion and America in general when they oversimplify constitutional interpretation or say that only one type is correct all the time.  Judicial interpretation should be done on a case-by-case basis.  Judging is quite difficult, and we make a mockery of the process when we tell justices (or prospective ones) that they must adhere to one style or the other in every single case.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Stop Bitching About the NON-Mosque at NON-Ground Zero (that isn't starting on 9/11)

First off, let me be very clear: I am opposed to all political correctness, and I think multiculturalism is bullshit.  I have no patience for obvious extremists.  Caving in to them on behalf of "tolerance" just shows cowardice.

That being said, the Right's opposition to the so-called "Mosque at Ground Zero" defies all logic!  First off, it is not a mosque; as has been said time and again, it is a Muslim community center.  A mosque will only be part of it.  Secondly, it is not going to be at Ground Zero!  In fact, it will be two blocks away, a fairly good distance I would think.  And finally, there is no evidence that it is going to be opened on or that construction will be started on September 11th of this year!

With these three rumors demolished, what else does the Right have to stand on?  Well, for starters, some of them still think the "mosque" is "too close to the 9/11 site."  Too close?  How far should it be, then? 4 blocks? 10??  And who are you to decide that a mosque is somehow "too close"??  Oh, you lost friends and family on 9/11?  Well, boohoo.  So WHAT? Look, I'm not saying it was good that they died, but come on!  How long do you need to grieve??  9 years seems a little ridiculous don't you think? You're lucky no one has diagnosed you as mentally ill.  9/11 is not an argument! It's just an event!  Do you know how moronic you sound when you keep using it?  Can't we just move on and quit acting like 9/11 happened yesterday?

And some of them question the $100 Million that was raised to fund it.  While that may seem like a perfect reason to be suspicious, unless someone proves that terrorists and/or Muslim extremists actually funded this "mosque", that's a non-issue!  If that's the best you've got as an argument, you're hopeless.  If it's proven someday that terrorists gave the Cordoba Initiative $100 Million, then I'll reconsider my position, if only for a second.

Some of the opposition to this, just like with the proposed mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, just seems like classic anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hysteria from so many conservatives these days.  They claim that opening a mosque on Ground Zero is somehow "offensive" or "unnecessary provocation" (to quote the 'great' Sarah Palin), but that's only if all Muslims are terrorists! Obviously, that's not true.  The vast majority of Muslims, especially here in the U.S., are good, hard-working, decent folk.  Why are you maligning them by acting like building a mosque near Ground Zero is somehow "letting the terrorists win"??  You know, there are Muslims who hate Osama bin Laden as much as you.

Last but not least, there is the issue of the guy who runs the Cordoba Initiative, Abdful Faisal Rauf.  Several on the Right have tried to demonize this guy for a few statements he made by taking them out of context.  When you see the actual context, he's not such a bad guy after all!  Besides, even if he did advocate America becoming "more sharia-compliant", when you read the actual articles in which he advocates this, you realize he also condemns the extreme parts of sharia, like oppressing women and gays.  He merely advocates that America eat less pork and drink less alcohol, among other more innocuous, puritanical behaviors.  I don't agree with them, but he seems like an alright guy.

Is it really that hard to find out the truth?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The New Atheist Disaster

I'll come out of the blue right now: I absolutely do not care for religion.  I think it is a waste of time.  As I've said countless times, it is pointless at its best and dangerous at its worst.  Why anyone accepts such nonsense as a "God" or "Jesus" without any verifiable evidence is beyond me.  Of course, I am no atheist; I am an agnostic who knows it is impossible to prove or disprove God's existence.  I believe this is the best "religious" position to take.  After all, there are thousands of religions around the world.  Why chance it with low odds like that?  Why not just repudiate all of them instead of assuming one is more accurate than the other?

Having said that, I have no problem with religious people, just so long as they respect boundaries and don't try to cram their beliefs down my throat, especially if those beliefs are authoritarian.  This is why I do not understand the New Atheist movement.  Yes, I'm glad that the over 30 million atheists and agnostics in this country are finally standing up for themselves against prejudice from a largely Christian America; however, I just don't see the point in rebuking all religious people or having pointless debates about whether or not God exists.  Why do we need to proselytize??  When we do stuff like that, we're no better than the religious loons we decry.

The fact of the matter is that most atheists today don't actually hate religious people; they hate fanatical religious people.  But, strangely, too many of them assume that all religious folks are equal to the fanatics simply by virtue of having a similar belief system.  But isn't that bigotry?  Isn't that prejudice? If we are trying to be above the lunatics, why do we stoop to their level?  I just don't understand this mentality at all.  And I think what's blinding most atheists who do act like assholes is the idea that just because they're not religious they can't possibly be assholes when trying to persuade.  They're just "trying to promote reason."

But that's just it! You're not!  You're promoting intolerance and hate.  What's wrong with someone who happens to be religious but minds his own business?  I don't see what the big deal is.  We have let our hatred of religious extremism go too far.  This nonsense has got to stop.  If someone wants to know why we're atheists, fine.  Tell them.  But don't proselytize and try to convert people just because you think you're somehow more moral or freethinking than they are.  After all, religious people aren't always idiots.  And I've met or seen plenty of idiotic atheists as well.

Let's just cool it, atheists.  Relax.  Moderation is key, and abstinence is not necessarily required.  I would think we know this by now, having opposed abstinence or abstinence-only teaching from the archconservative crowd in all sorts of matters.  Besides, do atheists honestly believe there aren't fanatics and dangerous people in their own crowd?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Statutory Rape Laws Make No Sense

I recently watched an episode of the critically-acclaimed libertarian Fox Business Show "Stossel", and this time he was talking about the "rules" of sex (a.k.a. legal restrictions surrounding sexuality or the depictions thereof).  About halfway through the episode, John Stossel went over the story of Ricky and Mary.  I don't remember exactly, but I think Ricky was 17 or 18, and Mary was 15.  They began dating during high school, and they had sex many times.  The girl's mother was quite alright with it, and no one was harmed.

However, when authorities found this out (however that happened), they immediately prosecuted Ricky!  And for what? "Raping" a minor who's only a few years younger than him? It's insane!  I'm so tired of this nonsense.  Statutory rape is a victimless crime!  We already have laws to protect children from sexual predators, women from adult rapists, and so many other bans on violent crime.  Who the hell came up with the concept of "statutory rape"?

I'll tell you who: ultraconservative prudish legislators whose minds are still in the 18th Century when it comes to sex.  They cannot fathom that times have changed, and we know so much more now than we knew back then.  For example, it is true, to a fault, that teenagers can consent to sexual intercourse.  I mean, when I was a teenager, I was pretty damn mature.  I would say I was intelligent, and I could easily make an informed, thoughtful decision about sex.  Now, I'm not encouraging older men to prey on teens, but come on.  Even if that happens, I'm sure some cop nearby will likely hear about it sooner or later.  I refuse to believe that every single or the majority of teenage rape cases by adults are covered up and never go to court.  That's just mad! Just try and prove me wrong, right-wingers and prudes.

And this just takes us back to the age-old question of, "What is the appropriate age?"  Sure, when it comes to things like smoking and drinking, we are sure we know the appropriate age.  Most people would say 18 and 21 are reasonable ages to start such activities.  However, sex is much different.  It's your body that we're talking about.  I think each statutory "rape" case needs to be judged on its own merits, not lumped in with all the other rape cases.  It's that kind of nonsensical, lying mentality that leads conservative groups to make bullshit sting videos "exposing" Planned Parenthood for supposedly "covering up" rape by older men when they have zero proof the pregnant girls were even raped!

And then there's the whole issue of people's (usually men) lives being ruined because, thanks to these bogus cases, they have to register as sex offenders!  These people are branded for life as criminals and bad people simply because overzealous cops and politicians just don't get it!  They won't grow up and stop living in the 1800s.  For example, when Ricky turns 50 or 60, and someone looks his name up on the registry, they will see that it says that he had sex with a 15-year-old.  Or, better yet, as the registry puts it, he "sexually assaulted" her.  Then some angry vigilante out there might just put a gun to his head or aim a shotgun at him, mistakenly thinking that he, as an old man, was so perverted that he raped a young girl.  How can we allow such ridiculous laws to go unquestioned??

It's not about age; it's about consent and maturity.  People need to realize that instead of lumping all young people and teenagers in the same category.  I'm not saying we should condone pedophilia.  Far from it, I am saying that capable teenagers, especially older ones (15-17), should be allowed at least a bit more sexual freedom, at least under the law, than we give them!  If they have sex, their parents should deal with it, not the state.  The state getting involved just tends to make things worse here.  It's not necessary.

Show me actual, verifiable proof that statutory rape laws prevent rapists from preying on young girls.  Where does it work, if anywhere??  Statutory rape laws can't possibly work.  A rapist doesn't give a damn if it's illegal, and some guy in his 20s or 30s who wants to screw a hot 17- or 16-year-old should not be jailed for it.  As long as it's consensual, where is the harm?  Sure, statutory rape laws may prevent a few rapists here and there from preying on "jailbait", but I think most people it prevents from having sex with them are men who would not rape in the first place!

Simply put, statutory rape laws have got to go.  They are nothing but a relic of a misinformed and backwards era.