All rape is created equal. Or is it?

So, about Steubenville.

Every time we hear of a rape, our righteousness kicks in — I mean the righteousness we share with all smart, empathetic, civilized people just like ourselves, people who abhor sexual violence — and we condemn. Swiftly and easily. We condemn the perps before they even get to trial, because we understand in our bones the vileness and the “personalness” of sexual violence; and also because, as good people, we want to show solidarity with the victim. We remind ourselves and each other that we have wives and daughters and sisters, and we can just imagine our grief and anger — and theirs — if they were ever sexually assaulted. We shudder. We care. And we condemn.

The most strident among us, the ones who are especially empathetic (or in some instances merely eager to be seen as such), may call for state executions. A friend of mine just went there: reflecting on the Steubenville case, he said he feels that “rape equals capital punishment.”

I reminded him that if the prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case had had his way (and prosecutors usually do), we’d be looking at a number of executed-by-the-state young men — who turned out to be victims themselves, of gross judicial misconduct.

One of the Duke takeaways just might be that justice ought to be divorced from media-fueled emotions, and that fanning the flames with pronouncements of faux certitude, as both sides did, brings some serious risks.

But something else is bugging me.

Chances are I’ll get mauled for writing this, but here goes: I find there’s something problematic with our overall definition of rape. Surely there’s a difference between these two extremes:

• A fumbling 16-year-old getting to third base, feeling up his date under her murmured protestations. Or, let’s say, a teenager orally pleasuring a willing partner, with the recipient being just barely under the age of consent.
• A brutal, violent, sustained, and ultimately lethal gang rape of the kind that galvanized India and much of the world the other week.

All three of these examples (and even the first two are two not purely theoretical) are classified as rape. But are they the same crime? If they’re legally equivalent, are they morally equivalent also?

Should we kill the teenage perps in the first two examples? Would even the reflexive hardliners in the law-and-order crowd volunteer to throw the switch, certain in their opinion that rape is rape, and that all rape must be punished by death? Or might that be just a little too Taliban even for them?

My kids happen to be young girls. I do worry about them, and I’ll look out for them and keep them safe as best I can, always and everywhere and until my last breath.

But I’d worry too if I had boys. I’d worry not just that they’ll be trying on macho BS behavior and disrespecting women and girls, but also that if they did get into that kind of trouble (to the point where they penetrate a drunk girl with their fingers in some testosterone-fueled alcoholic haze, as appears to have happened in Steubenville), many people, like my friend, will stand ready to write my sons off, and even put them to death.

If we truly are those “smart, empathetic, civilized people” we fancy ourselves to be, that may not be the kind of justice we ought to aspire to.

Posted in crime and justice, law, media | Comments closed

TV commercials too loud? Try to stay CALM.

Ever notice how TV commercials are usually louder relative to the programming? The federal government sure did, and rode to the rescue of sensitive TV viewers all over these proud United States by outlawing the practice with something called the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act.

I agree that the loudness louts are annoying, but may I just ask: Is this really an issue that requires the intervention of government committees and other highly paid bureaucrats — and, ultimately, of the U.S. Congress? How about just using the mute button on your remote control? How about watching fare without commercials (DVDs, HBO, streaming Netflix, Vudu, etc.), or using a DVR and simply fast-forwarding through the bits you don’t care for? Or how about making a mental note of which advertisers are the most egregious offenders, and buying the competition’s products from there on out? Why does every inconvenience or annoyance require government action and a new law?

Anyway, the CALM Act went into effect a few days ago. Did it take care of the problem? Not so far. A friend of mine just reported that the commercials seem as loud as ever. Writing a law, then, does not magically produce results; to give it teeth, enforcement will be needed. So I guess the next step is where cadres of trained government agents armed with sound meters will swarm into our communities, and mete out ice-cold justice to broadcasters found to have insufficiently turned down the noise.

Americans still tend to think of themselves as rugged individualists. The longer I live here, the more that amuses me. We apparently want the government to fix our every boo-boo. There’s nothing rugged, or individual, about that.


P.S. Even NPR — NPR! — thinks the passing of the CALM Act is worthy of ridicule. Writes Linda Holmes:

My ears demand more help! No taxation without noise mitigation! Pass these now, before it gets loud again!

1. The Pokemon Electronic Whizbang Popcap EA Worldofwarcraft Put an End to it Would you Act (PEWPEWPEW): Requires anyone playing a video game in the presence of others for more than five minutes to offer to turn off or turn down any incidental music, monkey noises, pops, zaps, bloops, and voices saying “FINISH HIM.”


5. The Sidewalk Noises Of Winter Just Eliminate Real Kindness Act (SNOW JERK). Requires anyone who runs a snowblower before 9:00 in the morning on a weekend to blow the snow off of everyone’s driveway in the entire neighborhood, and then serve hot chocolate, and then stop doing that forever.

Posted in entertainment, government, law, law enforcement, U.S. politics | Comments closed

We’ve all gone mental, apparently

The new psychiatric “diagnostics bible,” the DSM 5, is about to be released, and it turns out we’re all patients now.

Getting angry is evidence of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder. Normal grief points to Major Depressive Disorder.

And that’s not all.

Are you getting — what’s it called again? — right, older, and have you been forgetting things? You must have Minor Neurocognitive Disorder. Do you play World of Warcraft or chess or Angry Birds or pickup sticks for hours on end? You poor thing, you may have an Addiction Disorder.

You have to wonder who’s actually closest to suffering from a mental defect here, the people who have these “symptoms,” or the members of the Pharmaceutical-Psychiatric Complex who see disorders (and lucrative new markets!) everywhere they look.

Not everyone is buying the baloney. One expert who pushes back against medicalizing every non-happy emotion known to man is Dr. Allen Frances, the former chair of the DSM-IV Task Force and now professor emeritus at Duke University. His conclusion:

“[Our] experience with previous DSMs teaches that if anything in the diagnostic system can be misused and turned into a fad, it will be. Many millions of people with normal grief, gluttony, distractibility, worries, reactions to stress, the temper tantrums of childhood, the forgetting of old age, and ‘behavioral addictions’ will soon be mislabeled as psychiatrically sick and given inappropriate treatment.”
He’s right, and it’s almost galling enough to give a person Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder.


Posted in facepalm, healthcare, science | Comments closed

Hemingway’s Cats, Flunkies at the USDA, and the Commerce Clause

[This is a guest post by First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza. It also appears on his own blog, the Legal Satyricon.]

Hemingway said, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” That may be true, but you still have to point at the asshats and laugh, if not throw things at them.

If you’ve ever been to Key West, you’ve probably gotten drunk on sticky frozen cocktails, eaten conch fritters or key lime pie, tried to see this “green flash” that supposedly happens at sunset, but never does, and you’ve said “awwww” at one of the “Hemingway cats” that roam the island. (Either that, or “get away from me, you mangy mutant cat!”)

The cats are (word of the day, kids!) polydactl cats, that is they have six (or more) toes. Legend has it that sea captains considered polydactl cats to be good luck, and a particular captain named Stanley Dexter happened to be drinking buddies with Ernest Hemingway. Dexter gave Hemingway a polydactl cat named Snowball; Hemingway didn’t bother to have Snowball spayed, and the rest is history.

Now, Key West is home to a small colony of polydactls, which are informally called “Hemingway Cats,” and the colony pretty much comes and goes as it pleases, but its home base is (naturally) the Hemingway House at 907 Whitehead Street, which is now a museum.

All was well with the cats. They lived there, charmed visitors, roamed free, and never bothered anybody. Until 2003, when apparently a visitor “expressed concern” about the cats’ welfare — all the way to the United States Department of Agriculture. (source) One thing led to another, and the Hemingway Cats (figuratively) went to federal court.

In 2003, Dr. Moore of the USDA recommended that the museum apply for a USDA license as an “animal exhibitor.” He returned to Key West, on your tax dollars, and “raised concern” that the cats roamed free. Their suggestions?

…[C]ontain and cage the cats in individual shelters at night, or alternatively, construct a higher fence or an electric wire atop the existing brick wall, or alternatively, hire a night watchman to monitor the cats; tag each cat for identification purposes; construct additional elevated resting surfaces for the cats within their existing enclosures; and pay fines for the Museum’s non-compliance with the AWA. 907 Whitehead St., Inc. v. Gipson, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 25106 (11th Cir. Fla. Dec. 7, 2012)

Moore returned in 2004, with Dr. Gja, also of the USDA. When they couldn’t figure out a reasonable way to contain the cats inside the museum, the USDA denied the license and informed the museum that it would face fines of $200 per day, per cat. The USDA threatened to confiscate the cats, and finally someone at the USDA grew half a brain. “Dr. Chester A. Gipson, a USDA deputy administrator for animal care, proposed a temporary resolution: granting the Museum an exhibitor’s license from the USDA without prejudicing the Museum’s right to contest the USDA’s legal authority to regulate the Museum.” Id.

And that is what they did — unsuccessfully.

“The AWA somewhat obscurely defines an “exhibitor” as “any person (public or private) exhibiting any animals, which were purchased in commerce or the intended distribution of which affects commerce, or will affect commerce, to the public for compensation, as determined by the Secretary.” 7 U.S.C. § 2132(h).” Id. The Museum did not dispute that it exhibits the cats for compensation, but argued that its exhibition was not a “distribution . . . which affects [interstate] commerce.” The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that the Museum, indeed, “distributed” the cats in a manner that affected interstate commerce.


They gave cats away, and people could view the cats on the Museum’s website. Silly, but you can squint your eyes and see the logic.

Then it goes right over the cliff. The 11th Circuit held that even if those conditions were not met, the Museum still “distributed” the cats. The court wrote: “The Museum “distributes” the cats in a manner affecting commerce every time it exhibits them to the public for compensation.” Id. Yep. You read that right. Little did you know that when you walked into the Hemingway House and squatted down to look at a six toed cat, you were involved in an interstate commercial “cat distribution.”

But, of course, the federal government’s Commerce Clause power couldn’t possibly extend to whether or not some six toed cats stay inside at night, on an Island at the tip of Florida, right?

The Commerce Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3, authorizes Congress to regulate “the channels of interstate commerce, persons or things in interstate commerce, and those activities that substantially affect interstate commerce.” The 11th Circuit concluded that “the Museum’s exhibition of the cats substantially affects interstate commerce.”

“The Museum argue[d] that its activities are of a purely local nature because the Hemingway cats spend their entire lives at the Museum—the cats are never purchased, never sold, and never travel beyond 907 Whitehead Street.” In making that argument, the Museum cited United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995)(gun-free school zone act unconstitutional). Nevertheless, the court found that the cats substantially affect interstate commerce.

But the local character of an activity does not necessarily exempt it from federal regulation. “[W]hen a general regulatory statute bears a substantial relation to commerce, the de minimis character of individual instances arising under that statute is of no consequence.” Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 17, 125 S. Ct. 2195, 2206, 162 L. Ed. 2d 1 (2005) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111, 125, 63 S. Ct. 82, 89, 87 L. Ed. 122 (1942) (reasoning that even if “activity be local[,] and though it may not be regarded as commerce, it may still, whatever its nature, be reached by Congress if it exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce”). And it is well-settled that, when local businesses solicit out-of-state tourists, they engage in activity affecting interstate commerce. See Camps Newfound/Owatonna, Inc. v. Town of Harrison, Me., 520 U.S. 564, 573, 117 S. Ct. 1590, 1596-97, 137 L. Ed. 2d 852 (1997). The Museum invites and receives thousands of admission-paying visitors from beyond Florida, many of whom are drawn by the Museum’s reputation for and purposeful marketing of the Hemingway cats. The exhibition of the Hemingway cats is integral to the Museum’s commercial purpose, and thus, their exhibition affects interstate commerce. For these reasons, Congress has the power to regulate the Museum and the exhibition of the Hemingway cats via the AWA.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Remember, in Gonzalez v. Raich, the Supreme Court found that if you grow marijuana in your living room, and pick it in your living room, and smoke it in your living room, with the windows closed, and never receive a guest, then that has a “substantial effect on interstate commerce.” So, if a plant in your living room affects interstate commerce, why not cats jumping over a fence?

So what do we learn here? Most importantly, we are reminded that the Commerce Clause is a congressional blank check that lets federal authorities do whatever the hell they want. But we’re also reminded that some people’s lives must truly be so without meaning, so truly worthless, that I would rather burn in a lake of fire for all eternity than be reincarnated as someone like them.

Hemingway once said “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”

All of this could have been avoided if someone at the USDA had pulled his head from his ass, wiped the shit from his eyes, and looked at the world with a little bit of clarity. For any of this to happen in the first place, someone at the USDA had to get this issue on their desk, and had to say “I, sir, am important,” and decided to exert their Cartman-esque authoritah in the dumbest way possible. They had to leave Option B on the table, which would have been “I’m using my discretion to determine that this is a unique situation, and probably not the best use of the USDA’s money and time. In short, I am a thinking human being, not governed by a script.”

The details of how these flunkies at the USDA did their jobs speak volumes about them. Their lives will end the same way all of ours do, but their worthlessness as human beings is conclusively proven — in a federal case, no less.

— Marc Randazza

Posted in capitalism, civil liberties, economics, free markets, government, law, politics | Comments closed

A libertarian telling the Right where they go wrong

Over at The Agitator, guest blogger Jason Kuznicki has a terrific post titled “An Open Letter to My Friends on the Right,” in which he tries to explain how the right wing gets freedom wrong.

He begins by complimenting them for their support of the free market:

You also affirm something the left goes out of its way to deny: The freedom of the marketplace is fundamental. Markets matter not just because they supply consumers’ needs better than any other arrangement yet devised — although they do. Markets matter because what we do in the market is an expression of who we are, both in our consumer preferences and in where and how we earn our livings. Markets are never perfect, never fully free, never fully efficient. But they are the theaters of our aspirations, our goals, and our deepest values. When liberals snobbishly put down workers’ or consumers’ choices in the market, this is what they are denigrating.

But then he hits on the two major mistakes that so many on the right make:

The first is that you have mistaken mere wealth for market process. You praise the industrialist and the banker. Very well. Often they deserve it. But have you looked closely at the industrialists and the bankers just lately.

This has been one of my complaints about the right as well. Politicians who want to reign in Medicare and Medicaid also talk about “helping out” industries that have fallen on difficult times. As if that wasn’t welfare too. They mistake big business for the free market, as if old bloated industries weren’t the natural enemy of the free market.

What’s worse, the left makes exactly the same mistake. They see giant rapacious corporations that have maneuvered themselves into positions of power, fortified against competitors by government subsidies and regulations (I’m looking at you, Bank of America!) and think that’s what happens when free markets run wild. No wonder they hate capitalism.

That sounds similar to Ayn Rand’s canonization of great industrialists, but Kuznicki argues that this is actually a betrayal of Rand’s philosophy, pointing out something I hadn’t realized before:

Among Ayn Rand’s villains, I don’t believe that a single one was poor. Every one of them was a member of the elite, and almost all of them were rich. They were people much like we know today, who maybe once upon a time set themselves apart through their own efforts. But at some point they committed a cardinal sin — they reached for the state to keep themselves on top. They made bad bets, then pleaded that they were too big to fail.

You’ve heard these things before: “You have to make certain sacrifices to the public welfare… We cannot permit the ruin of an establishment as vast as [GM, or Chrysler, or Citigroup, or Fannie Mae, or Morgan Stanley]… The country’s economy would not be able to stand a major dislocation at the present moment.”

That’s not from the recent financial crisis. It’s on page 902 of Atlas Shrugged. And really it’s everywhere in the book. Always in the mouths of the villains.

I’ve been critical of Rand because I think her books make too much of the contributions of giant leaders of industry, while downplaying the rather substantial contributions of the thousands of people who make our lives better every day — the waitress who remembers how you like your coffee, the convenience store clerk who has painstakingly figured out how to shave a few seconds off the checkout time, the thousands of people who work their asses off behind the scenes to prepare our food, bring us our groceries, build our cars, and program our web sites. Innovative leaders certainly contribute far more than most to our quality of life, but they are vastly outnumbered by the working masses of humanity. The world is carried not by a handful of Atlases but by billions of ordinary humans.

On the other hand, it sounds like she got the villains right, as does Kuznicki:

Often the biggest enemies of the market properly understood are precisely those who have made large fortunes—and who now want the government to shield them from all further risk.

Oh God, yes. In particular, they want the government to shield them from the risk that someone else will come along and figure out how to do what they do, but better, faster, and cheaper, which is bad for them but better for everybody else. Innovation by its nature destroys the systems of the present in order to create a better future. The present winners have the most to lose if that happens, so they will fight the future at all costs.

In Why Nations Fail, authors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson argue that the comfortably entrenched have been the enemies of political and economic freedom throughout history, and that the least prosperous parts of the world owe their condition to the efforts of powerful elites to extract all productive output for their own consumption. Naturally, the afflicted populations have no incentive to innovate or increase their efficiently, and they suffer centuries of poverty.

Kuznicki’s not done bashing the right, however:

And now for your second failing: The market has moral value because it is an arena of self-fashioning. But there are other arenas. They have value too, and they should be free for exactly the same reasons.

As I said in a comment to Kuznicki’s post, too many on the right express their faith that free markets are good while forgetting why free markets are good. They want to reduce restrictions on industrialists and bankers, but they fail to recognize that the same principles should apply to drug users and prostitutes and immigrants and atheists. They seem to love the free market, but not so much the free part.

Consider our surveillance state. […] If you balk at the imposition of taxes, should you not protest even more at having to live your life in a panopticon? That’s where we are headed, my friends. But you could change it—if only you wanted it as badly as you want low taxes.

Consider the Drug War. In the final analysis, it’s a war on the market process, at least for some goods. But it also appears purposefully designed to wreck individual lives and to make a mockery of the kind of self-fashioning that we so value in our defense of the market. Nothing kills self-authorship like being thrown into prison. Not business regulations, not high taxes, not even the demon weed itself.

It’s almost as if some of the people on the right have adopted the rhetoric of freedom because it conveniently dovetails with their own interests and social agenda, not because they actually put much value in freedom. At least not the freedom of others.

Kuznicki is a little more charitable:

My conservative friends, the very reasons why you love free markets and low taxes should bring you to love liberty in many other areas. […]

I also know that you have an election to win. I don’t expect you to turn against the candidates you’re about to nominate. You’re not going to drop everything and start reading Robert Nozick or Murray Rothbard. But a little Milton Friedman wouldn’t kill you, would it?

It’s an interesting post. You should read the whole thing.

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Enslaving our kids

I’m late to the party on this, but I couldn’t let Thomas Ricks’ stupid op-ed go without saying something. Ricks is a respected journalist who covers military issues and has a blog at Foreign Policy magazine. I’ve read a couple of his books — Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq and Making the Corps about U.S. Marine training — and thought both were pretty good. That’s all I knew about him until I stumbled on his recent idiotic New York Times op-ed titled “Let’s Draft Our Kids”:

IN late June, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan, called for reinstating the draft. “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk,” he said at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.”

Um, the whole point of having a military is so that “every town, every city” is not at risk. You know, national defense. Lots of good it does to defend our citizens from being killed by middle eastern terrorists if our government kidnaps young men and sends them off to the middle east to be killed by terrorists.

This was the first time in recent years that a high-profile officer has broken ranks to argue that the all-volunteer force is not necessarily good for the country or the military. Unlike Europeans, Americans still seem determined to maintain a serious military force, so we need to think about how to pay for it and staff it by creating a draft that is better and more equitable than the Vietnam-era conscription system.

We already have a system that is better and more equitable than the Vietnam-era conscription system: The all-volunteer military.

As it turns out, Ricks isn’t actually proposing a draft — conscripting the soldiers who will fight our wars — but a much broader requirement for universal national service:

A revived draft, including both males and females, should include three options for new conscripts coming out of high school. Some could choose 18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service benefits, including free college tuition. These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to. If they want to stay, they could move into the professional force and receive weapons training, higher pay and better benefits.

Those who don’t want to serve in the army could perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar benefits like tuition aid.

The idiocy of this is astonishing. In the first two paragraphs, Ricks quotes McChrystal saying conscription would be good because when a nation goes to war, everyone should have some “skin in the game.” Then in the next two paragraphs, Ricks proposes a national service system in which no one is forced to go to war. How does that solve the problem? How is that skin in the game?

It’s not, of course. It’s basically just slavery, as we will continue to see.

As for the third option, it’s just some anti-libertarian snark:

And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.

Can I also have no war on drugs, no militarized police forces kicking down my door, and no taxes? ‘Cause that would be a pretty good deal!

It’s odd that Ricks would slam libertarians, since he appears to have taken the libertarian option and opted out: His online biographies (FP, CNAS) make no mention of a term of military service, nor any government public service position. Perhaps he thinks his work as a journalist is public service enough. Of course, the rest of us, who are not important people, are just freeloaders.

Critics will argue that this is a political non-starter. It may be now. But America has already witnessed far less benign forms of conscription.

Such as slavery, which is what this is.

A new draft that maintains the size and the quality of the current all-volunteer force, saves the government money through civilian national service and frees professional soldiers from performing menial tasks would appeal to many constituencies.

Except the slaves. Also, does he realize that a policy that “frees professional soldiers from performing menial tasks” will means that they spend more time in combat? Does he realize that means spending more time away from their families? I’m sure the soldiers realize it.

A final objection is the price tag; this program would cost billions of dollars. But it also would save billions, especially if implemented broadly and imaginatively. One reason our relatively small military is hugely expensive is that all of today’s volunteer soldiers are paid well; they often have spouses and children who require housing and medical care. Unmarried conscripts don’t need such a safety net.

Proposed for your consideration: We should be allowed to hunt Thomas Ricks for sport. I’m sure it would be great fun for us, and I think that if skinned and properly tanned, his silver-haired visage would look great on my living room wall. I see no obvious downside. Ricks might argue that it’s got a downside for him, but I see no reason we can’t ignore the cost to him, much as in saying a draft “would save billions” he has chosen to ignore the cost to all the people whose labor he proposes to confiscate.

The other reason our “relatively small military” is hugely expensive is because when you want soldiers to fight your wars of their own free will, you have to make an effort to convince them to stay enlisted. Naturally, this requires decent pay and benefits, but it also requires good working conditions. And in the middle of a war, good working conditions cost a hell of a lot of money.

An all volunteer army isn’t going to put up with shoddy equipment and poor support. They want reliable guns, body armor that can stop an enemy bullet, vehicles that can take a rocket hit or an IED, good battlefield intelligence, air support, decent food, medical care, internet service, and so on. There’s a reason it costs over $800,000 per year to put a soldier in Afghanistan, and it isn’t the soldier’s pay. The only way you’re going to save that money is by giving our soldiers crappy equipment like we used to when we had conscripts.

And much of the labor currently contracted out to the private sector could be performed by 18-year-olds for much less.

Or we could just force them to perform labor at gunpoint, which would be even cheaper. Actually, since Ricks’s libertarian “opt-out” is just a joke, this rule would have to be enforced by threat of prison, enforced by armed police, so we really would be forcing them to perform labor at gunpoint. As I keep saying, Ricks is advocating a system of slavery.

And we could raise the retirement age for the professional force from 20 to 30 years of service. There is no reason to kick healthy 40-year-olds out of the military and then give them full retirement pay for 40 years. These reforms would greatly reduce both recruiting and pension costs.

This would only work if we assume, as Ricks appears to, that American soldiers would be too stupid to notice that their period of service has increased by 10 years, and would still keep enlisting at the same rates for the same pay.

Similarly, some of the civilian service programs would help save the government money: Taking food to an elderly shut-in might keep that person from having to move into a nursing home. It would be fairly cheap to house conscript soldiers on closed military bases. Housing civilian service members would be more expensive, but imaginative use of existing assets could save money. For example, V.A. hospitals might have space.

Christ, this is like something a child would write, and we’d congratulate little Tommy for being so inventive — ”Taking food to an elderly shut-in, isn’t that sweet?” — even as we chuckled at his youthful naivete. This damned fool wants to enslave millions, and he doesn’t even know what he wants them to do!

(Although, the V.A. hospitals comment is so stupid that it makes me wonder if this is all a satire and I’m missing the joke.)

The pool of cheap labor available to the federal government would broadly lower its current personnel costs and its pension obligations — especially if the law told federal managers to use the civilian service as much as possible, and wherever plausible. The government could also make this cheap labor available to states and cities. Imagine how many local parks could be cleaned and how much could be saved if a few hundred New York City school custodians were 19, energetic and making $15,000 plus room and board, instead of 50, tired and making $106,329, the top base salary for the city’s public school custodians, before overtime.

So we need to enslave people to make them…street sweepers and janitors? WTF? I guess you can tell he’s a liberal, because he doesn’t suggest selling the slave labor to private corporations the way a conservative would, right?

But most of all, having a draft might, as General McChrystal said, make Americans think more carefully before going to war. Imagine the savings — in blood, tears and national treasure — if we had thought twice about whether we really wanted to invade Iraq.

Despite Ricks’s idiotic blather about national service, I think I know what Ricks is getting at here. It’s a common belief among liberals supporting a return to conscription that the wealthy elites support our foreign wars because they know only poor people’s children who will enlist in the military — their own children have better opportunities — so if we switched from a volunteer system to a system of conscription that might take the wealthy elites’ children, they would be less likely to support unnecessary wars.

(This assumes, of course, that the wealthy elite wouldn’t figure out a way to protect their children from conscription as they have always done.)

Aside from the sheer immorality of enslaving children as a deterrent to their parents, this idea also founders on basic economic principles. Conscription is less expensive than paying a fair-market wage, especially when you include the savings from slashing equipment and support costs. Does anybody really think you can discourage warmongers by making it cheaper for them to wage war?

The Vietnam War was this country’s last major war under conscription. We had 58,000 soldiers killed in that war. In ten years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, with a well-equipped, well-supported all-volunteer army, we’ve had fewer than 7000 soldiers killed. You can argue that these are not comparable wars, that it’s a different kind of fighting, but that just goes on to prove the point. The folks who run our government are a lot more careful with the lives of American soldiers when they have to pay the full market price.

Don’t give them a discount on the lives of American soldiers.

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MSM update: Dana Kennedy is too good to consider your plebeian criticism. Got that, peasant?

A friend of mine, on her Facebook page, posted a link to an article on Scientology by a journalist named Dana Kennedy (who I’d frankly never heard of. My bad). I read the piece and thought it was well reported — but, I said in a comment on the friend’s Facebook page,

I didn’t like the word repeated word “attack” Dana Kennedy used when describing what the church said, versus the tamer words she used to describe the severe criticism of the church by former members. FWIW, I think Scientology is a ridiculous cult and I hope it withers and dies, the sooner the better (I feel pretty much the same way about all religions by the way), but there was a tendentious tone to the article that clearly took it out of the realm of objectivity.
Tame stuff in the scheme of things, right? I offered a quick and (to my eye) coolish take on Kennedy’s article — no hyperbole, nothing wild, no ad hominems. I thought no more of it.

But my comment infuriated La Kennedy herself. Apparently, she’s friends with my friend, and she responded in semi-public the next day, on Facebook, as if I’d just unfavorably compared her firstborn to Satan’s pestilent spawn. I guess I ought to be flattered that Ms. Kennedy first googled my name, even if she was just looking for fodder to turn into condescending little barbs (though I’m sad to say that her journalistic talents don’t extend to the ability to spell my name correctly). Here’s her reply, verbatim:

Roger, I am so honored to receive this helpful analysis from you. Especially after reading about your self-described “thriving journalism career in Amsterdam and New York.” I feel a bit as if I’m sitting at the (virtual) feet of a journalistic Rembrandt. Props, too, to your new career in Maine as a wedding photographer. I hope to up my game to the point where I have that to look forward to as well.

If I’m reading her correctly through the slathered-on sarcasm sauce with an extra dollop of snotty, you and I have no business making any kind of less-than-fawning remark about Ms. Kennedy’s work unless we are currently journalists or editors employed by mainstream media. I mean, if I’d elected to keep working for A-list publications on both sides of the Atlantic, as I did for a couple of decades — writing feature stories for Vogue, Wired, Reason, the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and others — the diva might, just might, have taken my fairly tepid comment to heart.

But an opinion from an (ick) journalist-turned-photographer? Worse, a wedding photographer? Worse still, a Maine-based wedding photographer? Well, she never! Ms. Kennedy appears to believe that no media figure of her staggering stature ought to be inconvenienced by a creature deluded enough to choose to live in Maine (why, that’s almost flyover country!), and misguided enough to have decided to make a living with images instead of words.

Gotta wonder how much Dana Kennedy will stamp her little feet if, one fateful day, a mere teacher or a lowly bus driver doesn’t show her sufficient deference on Facebook.

I feel for poor, beleaguered MSM demi-celebrities who wake up one day to realize that, yes, all that smelly rabble they used to talk at now has a voice too.

Sorry, hon.

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Ranaan Katz. Kinda rhymes with putz.

Miami Heat owner Ranaan Katz has enough money to buy laywers to do his bullying for him, including sending legal threats to bloggers who dare publish an unflattering photo of him (see below). Oh, and he’s suing Google too. Good luck with that.

I actually prefer this version, enhanced with extra idiocy (seems apt) : b41111b05c54fe1965c98e620c66c9a1.gif

Here’s a confident prediction: Katz’s legal beagles will not just fail, but fail epically — obviously being too stupid (or too greedy in their pursuit of Katz’s fools’ gold, which amounts to the same thing) to understand how the following things work:

The First Amendment.
The Streisand Effect.

This’ll be interesting (and funny) to watch.

Posted in civil liberties, facepalm, First Amendment and free speech, law | Comments closed

Peter McWilliams and why the drug war isn’t funny

Peter McWilliams

Peter McWilliams, 1949 – 2000

The name of this blog is more or less a reference to the book Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country by Peter McWilliams. That book advances a simple but profound premise: It’s a bad idea to define an activity as a crime unless it causes harm to people who have not consented to being involved.

Peter McWilliams had AIDS and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and the medicine he used to treat these diseases made him extremely nauseated, a condition he was able to calm by smoking marijuana. He was eventually arrested for that, and since his mother’s house was used to secure the bond for his release, he decided to stop using it. Not long thereafter, twelve years ago today, he vomited and choked to death.

When asked about legalizing marijuana, President Obama kidded around with the audience as he said he wouldn’t do that. It’s funny, you see, that libertarians and others want to legalize drugs. You know, because we all want to get high. Ha, ha.

But the war on drugs, including the war on marijuana, is no joke. There are casualties. People get locked up, and people die. Drug legalization isn’t about getting high. It’s about stopping the unnecessary suffering of hundreds of thousands of people at the hands of our nation’s drug warriors.

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How not to help the homeless

One of the common slurs against libertarianism is that we want poor people to suffer. Sure, we claim to be driven by principled opposition to the leviathan of government, but these critics see through that. They know that in our hearts, libertarians oppose wasteful social programs because we hate poor people. To be fair, that’s probably true for some people who call themselves libertarian. But you know what even the most ardent Ayn Rand worshiper wouldn’t do to poor people?


Starting in about 2006, several cities began arresting, fining, and otherwise oppressing private individuals and nonprofits that feed the homeless and less fortunate. A 2006 NPR report referred to a Las Vegas ban on feeding the homeless—a ban challenged by the Nevada state ACLU chapter—as “among the first of its kind in the country.”

As the ACLU described it:

In 2006, the City of Las Vegas became locked in a bizarre war with homeless advocates, and decided that no one should be engaging in charity in the public parks. The City began ticketing good Samaritans who shared food with more than 24 people, under the belief that giving food to people already in the public park violated statutes requiring permits for gatherings of 25 or more people. When the ACLU of Nevada took issue with this interpretation of permit laws, the City took a more direct approach: it explicitly outlawed the sharing of food with anyone who looked poor…

Other homeless individuals were being kicked out of parks under a questionable trespass policy called “86”ing, where Park Marshals essentially took photographs of certain people – almost always homeless people – who were then kicked out of the public parks on pain of a trespass misdemeanor if they returned. The 86ing process had no paperwork, no right to appeal, and no due process whatsoever.

Libertarians may not like the idea of forcing wealthy people to aid the poor through social programs and taxes, but they certainly wouldn’t try to block homeless people from receiving the voluntary generosity of others. That sort of callous indifference takes a government bureaucrat.

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Do elected leaders worry about precedent?

Whenever our elected leaders decide to give themselves some shiny new powers — indefinite detention, warrentless wiretaps, killing Americans without due process — I always wonder, don’t they realize that when the other side wins control, they’ll have those powers too? Maybe Republicans trusted Bush with the powers of the Patriot Act, but didn’t they realize he would some day be replaced by a Democrat? And maybe the Democrats trust Obama to kill people with drone strikes, but don’t they realize that someday it will be Mitt Romney or Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich hunting their enemies with flying killer robots?

Now, thanks to a Daily Beast post about Kill or Capture, Daniel Klaidman’s book about Obama’s war on terror, I know the answer:

A president must weigh the power of precedent. In a 2009 meeting with advisers, Obama voiced concerns about what a future president may do with the power to indefinitely detain suspected terrorists. Alluding to the FDR-era Supreme Court decision that allowed the president to intern American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, Obama worried about the powers his actions may place in the hands of a future president.

“You never know who is going to be president four years from now,” Obama said. “I have to think about how Mitt Romney would use that power.”

Apparently our elected leaders do worry about abuse of power by the next guy…until they realize it’s much more important to get all that cool power for themselves right now, and to hell with whoever gets abused by the next guy. What happens after they leave office doesn’t interest them.

(Hat tip: Mike Riggs)

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Remy: Why They Fought

Not quite appropriate for Memorial Day. Not quite inappropriate.

It came up first in YouTube’s search box autocomplete after I typed “re” so I guess I’m not the only one who thought of this today.

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