Liberal Democrats and Libertarian Republicans Working On Common Goals

Republicans have always had a libertarian wing but their influence and willingness to fight for true freedom has varied over time. Far too often Republican talk of freedom turns into the freedom of businesses to ignore necessary regulations or the freedom to impose their social and religious values upon others. Limited government also far too often turns out to mean reducing the authority of the federal government in order to allow state governments to infringe upon the rights of minorities. With true defense of freedom being rare among Republicans in recent years, it was good to see a report from The New York Times that Liberals and Libertarians Find Common Ground in House.

The article lists several areas where some Republicans have crossed the aisle to work with liberal Democrats:

From abortion to electronic privacy to background checks for gun purchases, a strange thing has been happening on the floor of the House as it debates its spending bills for the coming fiscal year: the stirrings of liberalism.

The House on Thursday voted 221 to 200 to approve an amendment by one of its most vocal liberal members, Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, to ban federal contracts for companies that set up sham headquarters in offshore tax havens like Bermuda. Thirty-four Republicans bucked their party to push it to passage.

That was only the most recent stirring of life on the House’s left flank. Democrats have long hoped they could find common cause on at least some issues with the Republican conference’s libertarian wing. That is starting to happen, fueled by rising distrust of government on the right, a willingness of Democrats to defy the Obama administration in some instances and a freewheeling amendment process on appropriations bills.

The article cites examples of liberals and libertarians working together on legislation to increase individual liberty, from medical marijuana to privacy protections:

The tally of left-libertarian legislation is growing, with the House at least on record voting to limit federal law enforcement actions, intelligence efforts and social policy reach. On May 30, 49 Republicans crossed the aisle to approve language barring the federal government from raiding medical marijuana dispensaries.

“Some people are suffering, and if a doctor feels that he needs to prescribe something to alleviate that suffering, it is immoral for this government to get in the way,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, once one of the chamber’s most ardent conservatives, now a co-sponsor of the marijuana measure.

The day before, 76 Republicans joined Democrats to add $19.5 million to the federal instant background check system for gun purchases. The House Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment to allow Peace Corps volunteers who become pregnant by rape to have a federally funded abortion and another measure limiting the federal government’s access to private email communications.

“By passing this amendment, the Appropriations Committee is taking a critical step towards ensuring all Americans are protected by the Fourth Amendment — their mail, documents on their desks at home, and now their private emails,” said Representative Kevin Yoder, Republican of Kansas and one of the measure’s authors.

On June 19, the House voted 293 to 123 to prohibit the National Security Agency and C.I.A. from placing “backdoor” surveillance technologies on commercial technology products and to end warrantless collection of Americans’ online activities. That amendment, passed over the White House’s objections with a veto-proof margin, was written by Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky and one of the House’s most outspoken libertarians, with the Democratic Representatives Zoe Lofgren, who represents Silicon Valley, and Rush D. Holt of New Jersey, a physicist.

An amendment by Representative Dave Reichert, Republican of Washington, reversed cuts to a Bill Clinton-era program that funds local police forces, a program long on the Republican target list. The liberal Democrat that Republicans love to hate, Representative Alan Grayson of Florida, convinced just enough Republicans to pass an amendment blocking the Justice Department from compelling journalists to divulge confidential sources. Another Democratic amendment clears a legal path for states to cultivate industrial hemp.

To be sure, Republicans note, plenty of amendments have driven spending bills to the right. Just last week, the House voted to block the Obama administration’s efforts to combat climate change on multiple fronts, including one amendment that prohibits any funding for any aspect of the administration’s “climate change agenda.”

Amendments also have passed to end the deferring of deportations of immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, to fund a Justice Department investigation of the Department of Homeland Security’s release of illegal immigrants and to block high-speed rail in California.

But, Mr. Massie said, the libertarian-liberal alliance is real and growing. He said he has been working with Ms. Lofgren on legislation that would repeal a federal law that makes it a felony to unlock a cellphone tied to a particular carrier, even after a contract is expired. Libertarians are also teaming with Democrats to change laws on federal mandatory minimum sentencing.

It would be helpful if left-libertarian goals were a higher priority from the executive branch. Obama had initially raised hopes that he would have governed as more of a left-libertarian, and Obama did receive some libertarian support when initially running for president. While he has been far preferable to George Bush on civil liberties, he has disappointed civil libertarians in areas ranging from continuing many of the Bush surveillance plans (even if seeking reform in some areas) to failing to keep his campaign promises regarding ending federal raids related to medical marijuana. While nothing is a certainty in politics, it looks most likely that Hillary Clinton, who has been to the right of Obama, is likely to win the 2016 nomination. This could leave it up to such a liberal and libertarian coalition in Congress to pursue liberal goals. There is hope for greater emphasis by the Democrats (and possibly some Republicans) on matters of personal freedom in the future as polls show that younger voters are more “determined to protect personal liberties from conservative moral constraint.”

Please Share

Rand Paul Could Shake Up An Election Against Hillary Clinton

Senators Gather To Caucus Over Hagel Nomination

While Ron Paul had a small devoted group of supporters, everyone knew he had no real chance of seriously competing for the Republican nomination. There’s something about being a new face, and being from the Senate instead of the House. People are looking far more seriously at the possibility of Rand Paul becoming the Republican nominee.

Not that long ago, most Republican leaders saw Rand Paul as the head of an important faction who, like his father, ultimately had no shot at becoming the party’s presidential nominee.

Now the question is no longer whether Paul can win the nomination, but whether he can win a general election.

The shift follows a year in which the Kentucky senator has barnstormed the country, trying to expand the party’s base beyond older, white voters and attract a following beyond than the libertarian devotees of his father, Ron Paul. Although the job is far from complete, Paul has made undeniable progress, judging from interviews with more than 30 Republican National Committee members meeting here this week.

That he has struck a chord with this crowd is all the more telling because it is heavy with GOP establishment-types who tend to prefer mainstream candidates.

“I don’t see how anyone could say it’s not possible he’d win the nomination,” Texas GOP chairman Steve Munisteri said. “His mission is to convince people of what his coalition would be in November” 2016…

At the moment it doesn’t really look likely that Rand Paul could win, but they said the same about Ronald Reagan.

Many of Paul’s views remain at odds with the Republican mainstream, but he now seems less of a pariah among Republicans than Mitt Romney was in many circles. It is possible Paul could win a primary battle with the vote divided between more conventional Republican candidates. He would also benefit from the first contests being a caucus in Iowa and a primary in New Hampshire. He could conceivable wind up in first place in both and quickly turn into the front runner.

If Paul does win the nomination, Democrats might need to rethink handing the nomination to Hillary Clinton. What happens when the Republican candidate starts attacking Hillary Clinton over her support for the Iraq war, drone strikes, NSA surveillance, the Patriot Act, and the drug war? Paul might also turn Clinton’s close ties to Wall Street into a serious liability. Many potential Democratic voters might find that they agree with Paul and disagree with Clinton on several issues.

Of course Rand Paul is also on the wrong side of many issues, but can we count on Clinton to take advantage of this? Republicans already have managed to put Democrats on the defensive on issues such as Medicare and health care–two issues where they have facts and principle firmly on their side.

Paul would face many obstacles. His opposition to abortion rights could limit his ability to win over female voters from the Democrats, perpetuating the gender gap between the parties. His anti-war views would be a negative in many red states, possibly even leading to upsets in some red states by a hawkish Democrat such as Clinton.

Looking at the electoral college, I don’t think Paul could win, a race between Clinton and Paul would shake up many of the current party-line divisions. I could see Paul taking some states such as New Hampshire from the Democrats, but not many with large amounts of electoral votes, with the possible exception of California. Still, with their current disadvantages in the electoral college this might be the best chance for Republicans, and a potential threat for Democrats, especially if looking at shaking up the current Democratic advantage among younger voters. I could see many young males being far more interested in Paul on the issues where he is more libertarian, while not being as concerned about issues such as preserving Medicare. This could destroy what now appears to be a long-term Democratic advantage, considering that people tend to stick with the party they chose when young. Democrats might still win the 2016 battle by running Clinton against Paul, but could suffer long term from such a match up.

Please Share

Ignorance of Science In America

Earth From Moon

Last week I wrote about the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on evolution versus creationism. Many scientists were justifiably annoyed that this was even a topic of  debate. We are contrasting evolution, based upon a tremendous body of actual evidence, with creationism, a belief lacking any evidence which is based purely upon religious dogma. I’ve noted in the past that a disturbing number of Americans do not accept evolution, which provides the foundation of modern biology. While far more Republicans deny evolution than Democrats and Independents, the problem is not limited to Republicans.

We see ignorance of science in many areas. While the tobacco industry has pretty much given up the battle against evidence that cigarette smoking is hazardous, we see essentially the same type of anti-scientific misinformation being spread by the petroleum industry regarding climate change denialism. The recent death of Philp Seymore Hoffman of a heroin overdose raised the issue that there are people who remain unaware of the science demonstrating that addiction is a disease, not just a bad choice.

Unfortunately ignorance of science is widespread in this country, often impacting views on public policy. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has released a survey demonstrating this ignorance:

Americans are enthusiastic about the promise of science but lack basic knowledge of it, with one in four unaware that the Earth revolves around the Sun, said a poll out Friday.

The survey included more than 2,200 people in the United States and was conducted by the National Science Foundation.

Nine questions about physical and biological science were on the quiz, and the average score — 6.5 correct — was barely a passing grade.

Just 74 percent of respondents knew that the Earth revolved around the Sun, according to the results released at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.

Fewer than half (48 percent) knew that human beings evolved from earlier species of animals.

The result of the survey, which is conducted every two years, will be included in a National Science Foundation report to President Barack Obama and US lawmakers.

One in three respondents said science should get more funding from the government.

Nearly 90 percent said the benefits of science outweigh any dangers, and about the same number expressed interest in learning about medical discoveries.

Please Share

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Casualty Of The Drug Wars

Russell Brand has an op-ed in The Guardian arguing that  “Philip Seymour Hoffman is another victim of extremely stupid drug laws.” Here is a portion:

Addiction is a mental illness around which there is a great deal of confusion, which is hugely exacerbated by the laws that criminalise drug addicts.

If drugs are illegal people who use drugs are criminals. We have set our moral compass on this erroneous premise, and we have strayed so far off course that the landscape we now inhabit provides us with no solutions and greatly increases the problem.

This is an important moment in history; we know that prohibition does not work. We know that the people who devise drug laws are out of touch and have no idea how to reach a solution. Do they even have the inclination? The fact is their methods are so gallingly ineffective that it is difficult not to deduce that they are deliberately creating the worst imaginable circumstances to maximise the harm caused by substance misuse.

People are going to use drugs; no self-respecting drug addict is even remotely deterred by prohibition. What prohibition achieves is an unregulated, criminal-controlled, sprawling, global mob-economy, where drug users, their families and society at large are all exposed to the worst conceivable version of this regrettably unavoidable problem.

Countries like Portugal and Switzerland that have introduced progressive and tolerant drug laws have seen crime plummet and drug-related deaths significantly reduced. We know this. We know this system doesn’t work – and yet we prop it up with ignorance and indifference. Why? Wisdom is acting on knowledge. Now we are aware that our drug laws aren’t working and that alternatives are yielding positive results, why are we not acting? Tradition? Prejudice? Extreme stupidity? The answer is all three. Change is hard, apathy is easy, tradition is the narcotic of our rulers. The people who are most severely affected by drug prohibition are dispensable, politically irrelevant people. Poor people. Addiction affects all of us but the poorest pay the biggest price.

More from Aaron Sorkin here.

Please Share

Obama And Philosophical Differences Between Left And Right

If viewed from the perspective of perfection, liberals have plenty of reason to object to Obama. There’s his continuation of NSA surveillance, with recommendations for reform which are a good first step but do not go far enough. He continues the disastrous drug war (or should we call it the war against minorities) and is taking far too long to end the war in Afghanistan. He did a fine job of averting the Bush depression upon taking office but his stimulus program was too little (although we must also consider the Republican opposition to this and the manner in which they blocked his other proposals). While the Affordable Care Act has had some major successes, the difficulties in implementation show the advantages of a single-payer plan favored by many on the left. Still, when looking from the perspective of a two-party system, Obama’s accomplishments on economic recovery and health care reform are significant, and there is not a single problem which would not be worse if current Republican policies were being followed. More importantly, there a major difference in world view which can be seen in two recent comments from Obama.

Today there was this statement released on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade:

Today, as we reflect on the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, we recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.  We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to reproductive freedom.  And we resolve to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, support maternal and child health, and continue to build safe and healthy communities for all our children.  Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.

This shows a fundamental difference between Obama, and most Democrats, compared to the majority of Republicans. Republicans have no respect for reproductive freedom, and the right of women to control their own bodies. If you ignore the biology, along with philosophical problems in denying self-ownership of one’s own body, their case against abortion might be somewhat understandable. As it is frequently accompanied by opposition to birth control, it becomes clearer that this is primarily a religious viewpoint which they wish to impose upon others. On a related point, they also desire to impose their religious views to prevent same-sex marriage, an issue which Obama has evolved on. (Plus many Republicans do not even accept basic science with regards to evolution).

Obama showed his views are also evolving on marijuana and the drug war. In an interview with David Remnick in The New Yorker, Obama showed consideration of the underlying issues:

When I asked Obama about another area of shifting public opinion—the legalization of marijuana—he seemed even less eager to evolve with any dispatch and get in front of the issue. “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Is it less dangerous? I asked…

Less dangerous, he said, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.” What clearly does trouble him is the radically disproportionate arrests and incarcerations for marijuana among minorities. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” But, he said, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.” Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

As is his habit, he nimbly argued the other side. “Having said all that, those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy. And the experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge.” He noted the slippery-slope arguments that might arise. “I also think that, when it comes to harder drugs, the harm done to the user is profound and the social costs are profound. And you do start getting into some difficult line-drawing issues. If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka, are we open to that? If somebody says, We’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we O.K. with that?”

Far short of ending the drug war, but this leaves open hope of a change in policy. It makes no medical sense for marijuana to be classified as a Schedule I drug, and prohibition causes far more harm than the drug. It is hard to see any leading Republicans, other than perhaps Rand Paul (who does fall short of the libertarian position), considering a change on this issue.

Please Share

Majority Support Legalization of Marijuana For The First Time In Gallup Poll

For the first time ever, a clear majority supports legalization of marijuana in a Gallup poll. Currently 58 percent favor legalization and 39 percent are opposed. Not surprisingly, the two groups which most strongly oppose legalization are those over 65 years of age and the Republicans. Once again, the Republicans, despite their rhetoric, remain the party of using big government to intrude upon the private lives of individuals. The polls shows that 65 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of independents, and only 35 percent of Republicans support legalization.

As Gallup pointed out, this parallels the recent increase in support for legalization of gay marriage.

Gallup concluded:

It has been a long path toward majority acceptance of marijuana over the past 44 years, but Americans’ support for legalization accelerated as the new millennium began. This acceptance of a substance that most people might have considered forbidden in the late 1960s and 1970s may be attributed to changing social mores and growing social acceptance. The increasing prevalence of medical marijuana as a socially acceptable way to alleviate symptoms of diseases such as arthritis, and as a way to mitigate side effects of chemotherapy, may have also contributed to Americans’ growing support.

Whatever the reasons for Americans’ greater acceptance of marijuana, it is likely that this momentum will spur further legalization efforts across the United States. Advocates of legalizing marijuana say taxing and regulating the drug could be financially beneficial to states and municipalities nationwide. But detractors such as law enforcement and substance abuse professionals have cited health risks including an increased heart rate, and respiratory and memory problems.

With Americans’ support for legalization quadrupling since 1969, and localities on the East Coast such as Portland, Maine, considering a symbolic referendum to legalize marijuana, it is clear that interest in this drug and these issues will remain elevated in the foreseeable future.

 

Please Share

Our New Republican Allies

There was a time before the American conservative movement moved to the extreme right, with denial of any facts which contradicted their extreme views, when some conservatives could be on the right side of some issues. In recent year it has become rare for Republicans to take a position which is grounded in reality or ethically justifiable. Despite their rhetoric, Republicans have run up huge deficits and acted to prevent economic recovery for political gain while pushing for an increased role of government in the private lives of individuals. On foreign policy we saw Republicans push for war with Iraq based upon arguments which can only come from extreme incompetence or blatant dishonesty.

As the Republicans moved to the extreme right there was no choice but to vote Democratic, even if not always agreeing with the Democratic candidates, as even when Democrats compromised principles and moved to the center Republicans offered an even worse alternative. Suddenly the Republicans have become useful in providing votes against war with Syria but I do wish they were taking this position out of higher principles than opposing it because Obama is for it.

While there are exceptions, for the most part the right wing blogosphere remains a cesspool of Obama-hatred, opposing intervention in Syria only because of Obama’s support, and spewing ridiculous claims against Obama even if they are on the right side in this vote. The most absurd arguments from the right include blaming the United States for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. More from Steve M. on this right-wing conspiracy theory.

Beyond various foreign policy disagreements, the biggest disappointments from the Obama administration have been on drug policy. I expected Republicans to be at least as bad, and most likely worse, but maybe not. There was a surprise comment from John McCain at a town hall in Tuscon. While he took the expected ultra-hawkish view on Syria, he also suggested that maybe marijuana should be legalized: “Maybe we should legalize. We’re certainly moving that way as far as marijuana is concerned. I respect the will of the people.”

Of course there is a huge difference between a comment thrown out such as this and actually taking action, but it is a sign of how attitudes towards prohibition are changing that McCain would feel comfortable raising this idea before his constituents.

Please Share

DEA Using Vast Phone Records In Drug War

We now have information that the  NSA may not have been the government agency which has snooped the most on Americans. The New York Times has revealed information on a previously secret operation by the DEA which began under George Bush and continued during the Obama administration:

For at least six years, law enforcement officials working on a counternarcotics program have had routine access, using subpoenas, to an enormous AT&T database that contains the records of decades of Americans’ phone calls — parallel to but covering a far longer time than the National Security Agency’s hotly disputed collection of phone call logs.

The Hemisphere Project, a partnership between federal and local drug officials and AT&T that has not previously been reported, involves an extremely close association between the government and the telecommunications giant.

The government pays AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units around the country. Those employees sit alongside Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local detectives and supply them with the phone data from as far back as 1987.

The project comes to light at a time of vigorous public debate over the proper limits on government surveillance and on the relationship between government agencies and communications companies. It offers the most significant look to date at the use of such large-scale data for law enforcement, rather than for national security.

The scale and longevity of the data storage appears to be unmatched by other government programs, including the N.S.A.’s gathering of phone call logs under the Patriot Act. The N.S.A. stores the data for nearly all calls in the United States, including phone numbers and time and duration of calls, for five years.

Hemisphere covers every call that passes through an AT&T switch — not just those made by AT&T customers — and includes calls dating back 26 years, according to Hemisphere training slides bearing the logo of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Some four billion call records are added to the database every day, the slides say; technical specialists say a single call may generate more than one record. Unlike the N.S.A. data, the Hemisphere data includes information on the locations of callers.

The slides were given to The New York Times by Drew Hendricks, a peace activist in Port Hadlock, Wash. He said he had received the PowerPoint presentation, which is unclassified but marked “Law enforcement sensitive,” in response to a series of public information requests to West Coast police agencies.

The program was started in 2007, according to the slides, and has been carried out in great secrecy.

“All requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document,” one slide says. A search of the Nexis database found no reference to the program in news reports or Congressional hearings.

The ACLU has reasonable speculation as to why this program was kept so secret: “I’d speculate that one reason for the secrecy of the program is that it would be very hard to justify it to the public or the courts.”

Yes, very hard to justify. Any potential benefits here are far less significant than NSA surveillance which at least (other than for some reported cases of misuse) is directed at al Qaeda, which is far more significant than the targets of DEA investigations. If anything, the DEA’s perceived need to violate the rights of Americans in this manner is just one more reason why the drug war must be ended.

The Obama administration finds this helpful, apparently without consideration of the civil liberties concerns:

The Obama administration acknowledged the extraordinary scale of the Hemisphere database and the unusual embedding of AT&T employees in government drug units in three states.

But they said the project, which has proved especially useful in finding criminals who discard cellphones frequently to thwart government tracking, employed routine investigative procedures used in criminal cases for decades and posed no novel privacy issues.

Crucially, they said, the phone data is stored by AT&T, and not by the government as in the N.S.A. program. It is queried for phone numbers of interest mainly using what are called “administrative subpoenas,” those issued not by a grand jury or a judge but by a federal agency, in this case the D.E.A.

Brian Fallon, a Justice Department spokesman, said in a statement that “subpoenaing drug dealers’ phone records is a bread-and-butter tactic in the course of criminal investigations.”

James Joyner has posted more on this use of “administrative subpoenas” with references including this post at Wired from just over a year ago:

Meet the administrative subpoena (.pdf): With a federal official’s signature, banks, hospitals, bookstores, telecommunications companies and even utilities and internet service providers — virtually all businesses — are required to hand over sensitive data on individuals or corporations, as long as a government agent declares the information is relevant to an investigation. Via a wide range of laws, Congress has authorized the government to bypass the Fourth Amendment — the constitutional guard against unreasonable searches and seizures that requires a probable-cause warrant signed by a judge.

In fact, there are roughly 335 federal statutes on the books (.pdf) passed by Congress giving dozens upon dozens of federal agencies the power of the administrative subpoena, according to interviews and government reports. (.pdf)

“I think this is out of control. What has happened is, unfortunately, these statutes have been on the books for many, many years and the courts have acquiesced,” said Joe Evans, the utility’s attorney.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that federal officials from a broad spectrum of government agencies issue them hundreds of thousands of times annually. But none of the agencies are required to disclose fully how often they utilize them — meaning there is little, if any, oversight of this tactic that’s increasingly used in the war on drugs, the war on terror and, seemingly, the war on Americans’ constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable government trespass into their lives.

That’s despite proof that FBI agents given such powers under the Patriot Act quickly began to abuse them and illegally collected Americans’ communications records, including those of reporters. Two scathing reports from the Justice Department’s Inspector General uncovered routine and pervasive illegal use of administrative subpoenas by FBI anti-terrorism agents given nearly carte blanche authority to demand records about Americans’ communications with no supervision.

There are known risks to privacy rights going beyond what Edward Snowden released regarding the NSA. This information came out in response to public information requests. How much information about other abuses is out there which nobody knew enough to request, and how much is kept secret and unavailable under such requests?

Please Share

Eric Holder Deescalates The Drug War

Changes in government policy often occur far too slowly. One of the reasons I supported Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2008 was suggestions that he might be willing to pull back on the drug war, as well as ending the war in Iraq. The first term was very disappointing with regards to drug policy. Today we finally saw signs that, while far less than I would like to see, the Obama administration is moving in the right direction. From The New York Times:

In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration moved on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday, announced the new policy as one of several steps intended to curb soaring taxpayer spending on prisons and help correct what he regards as unfairness in the justice system, according to his prepared remarks.

Saying that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason,” Mr. Holder justified his policy push in both moral and economic terms.

“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Mr. Holder’s speech said. “It imposes a significant economic burden — totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

This is a long way from what I would like to see, but much closer to what I thought might plausible occur under Obama. Hopefully this will be followed by an end to the raids of medical marijuana facilities, and ideally a move towards either decriminalization or legalization. There is hope that a coalition between Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans might also bring about long term legislative change, which is preferable over a decision from one administration to selectively avoid longer sentences. It is even the fiscally responsible thing to do.

We have seen how quickly the attitude towards restrictions on marriage equality is changing. Attitudes on drug laws might be the next to change.

Please Share

Nick Gillespie’s Five Myths About Libertarians

Nick Gillespie of Reason had an op-ed in The Washington Post yesterday on Five Myths About Libertarians. Here’s my take on these alleged myths, which generally have some degree of truth but are not necessarily completely true:

1. Libertarians are a fringe band of “hippies of the right.”

The classic description that libertarians who have smoked marijuana is true (even if simplistic) about many but certainly not all. There are libertarians on the left and right, but this doesn’t have as much electoral significance as Gillespie suggests when writing:

Libertarians are found across the political spectrum and in both major parties. In September 2012, the Reason-Rupe Poll found that about one-quarter of Americans fall into the roughly libertarian category of wanting to reduce the government’s roles in economic and social affairs. That’s in the same ballpark as what other surveys have found and more than enough to swing an election.

Looking beyond the likelihood that a Reason poll might tilt the questions and definitions towards such a finding, there are vast differences between right-libertarians and left-libertarians. Sure, if there was a Democratic candidate who is terrible (as very many are) on civil liberties and social issues it is conceivable I might vote for a libertarian Republican for the Senate who might provide a strong voice for some issues I support. Of course this would not include someone like Rand Paul. Left-libertarians see the issues which impact individual liberty far differently from right-libertarians, many of whom don’t even support abortion rights. Left-libertarians disagree with right-libertarians as to the importance of some regulation of the economy, realizing that markets are human inventions which require regulation to function. Many of the left-libertarians who are not thrilled with ObamaCare prefer a single payer system which directly conflicts with the core values of right libertarians. There is simply a huge gap between different people who might be lumped together as libertarians in such a poll.

Left-libertarians and right-libertarians are unlikely to join together to swing an election, but there is hope that the two could exert pressure on both Republicans and Democrats to change some of their policies in areas where the two groups agree.

2. Libertarians don’t care about minorities or the poor.

Few outside the libertarian movement really buy their claims that libertarianism helps the poor. Democratic economic policies may not be libertarian (nor are they socialist) but the historical fact remains that the economy does better under Democrats. As opposed to the right wing view of trickle-down economics, a rising tide under Democrats is more likely to raise all ships. Where this doesn’t work, the social safety-net which libertarians oppose remains necessary. On the other hand I do agree with Gillespie to a degree that there are areas where it would be beneficial to reduce regulations on small business. That said, I run a small business and do manage to survive with all the regulations in place.

Gillespie is right about the drug war, which is largely a war on poor minorities. What other result is possible after you imprison minorities for drug possession, and then release them from prison with a criminal record which makes it very difficult to ever get a  job?

3. Libertarianism is a boys’ club.

He is right here. There have been prominent libertarians among libertarian intellectual leaders. I have known female libertarians. They do exist.

4. Libertarians are pro-drug, pro-abortion and anti-religion.

As I mentioned above, it is a favorable characteristic that libertarians oppose the drug war (which is not the same as supporting drug use). Having thirty percent of libertarians opposing abortion rights is a negative.

Saying any political group is anti-religion is likely to be fallacious. Republicans have often claimed Democrats are anti-religion but the percentage of atheists among Democrats is fairly low (even if  higher than among Republicans). The difference is that liberals who are religious see religion far differently than conservatives, and do not have the desire to use government to impose their religious views upon others.

Some libertarians are quite hostile to religion. Ayn Rand (who didn’t actually consider herself part of the libertarian movement) has writings as  hostile towards religion as to socialism (which in her mind would include the views of Democrats). On the other hand, there are some called libertarians such as Ron Paul and Rand Paul who support many of the views of the religious right, and whose  philosophy is not one I would consider to be pro-freedom. I have discussed Ron Paul’s anti-freedom views at length here. People of the old right such as Ron Paul also carry much of their baggage including racism, creating further problems when considering libertarians and minorities.

5. Libertarians are destroying the Republican Party.

On the one hand Republicans do need a reboot in their ideas. It is a good sign when some Republicans join some Democrats on issues such as opposing violations of privacy rights from NSA surveillance programs. On the other hand, opposing all government activity regardless of importance just pulls Republicans further from mainstream views.

 

Please Share