Archive for December 2011

Paul-Johnson 2012: The Libertarians’ Best-Case Scenario

Now that I’ve dismissed the idea of Gary Johnson having much success as the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate, another possibility occurs to me. It seems to me that, if you’re an LP supporter, the best-case scenario is that Ron Paul runs as the LP’s presidential candidate with Johnson in the veep slot. That, I confess, would be a formidable ticket.

(I actually think Johnson-Paul would be a stronger ticket, but I don’t think that’s likely given Paul’s relative level of support. However, if Paul takes seriously his “personhood” pledge, that might preclude him from running with pro-choice Johnson.)

But how would that play out in the election? I predict it would play out roughly as the last governor’s race in Colorado played out. Due to a fluke, the frontrunner GOP candidate lost the nomination (after getting caught up in plagiarism charges). The man left for the job was Dan Maes, an inexperienced, incompetent bungler. Thus, Tom Tancredo entered the race with the bizarre Constitution Party. (I reluctantly pulled the lever for Tancredo, but in retrospect I think that was a mistake.) What happened? Maes and Tancredo beat the crap out of each other, leaving John Hickenlooper (a decent Democrat) to easily walk away with over half of the popular vote.

I think roughly the same thing would happen if the LP candidate actually got any traction. The Republican candidate would of necessity start spending resources trashing the LP candidate, who would respond in turn. In a battle between the Libertarian and Republican candidates to convince voters that the other guy is a total bastard, both sides would win. Given Paul’s newsletters, his foreign policy statements, the bizarre figures of the LP, Romneycare, etcetera, there’s more than enough mud to go around!

The most likely outcome is that Obama would walk away with an easy victory, stronger than ever.

And, to the extent that the LP gained any traction, that would serve to convince most Americans that, on the whole, Libertarians are totally crazy.

Moreover, the fight between the LP and the GOP might cost the latter important seats in Congress, leaving Obama with relatively stronger support there. (I’ve suggested elsewhere that the least-bad possible outcome in 2012 might well be an Obama victory with a strong GOP in Congress.)

Again, elsewhere I will argue that the LP is not worth supporting simply because of the ideas it promotes, and that is the most important issue. But, just on the level of partisan political strategy, I just don’t see how promoting a strong LP ticket (if such is possible) could accomplish anything but destruction.

The Delusional Gary Johnson

I will write about the ideological problems with supporting Gary Johnson’s run with the Libertarian Party elsewhere. Here, I concern myself with an easy question: does supporting Johnson’s LP run make strategic sense even on the basic level of partisan politics?

If you think Johnson has a serious chance of becoming president on the LP ticket, you are simply delusional. Any rational person can convince himself that is the case merely by answering the following questions.

1. How many current members of Congress won on the LP ticket?

2. How many members of Congress has the LP elected, ever?

3. How many governors has the LP elected, ever?

4. How many Libertarians currently serve in any state legislature?

5. How many LP presidential candidates have won more than one percent of the popular vote?

6. How many electoral votes has an LP presidential candidate received, ever?

Here are the answers:

1. Zero.
2. Zero.
3. Zero.
4. Zero.
5. One. In 1980, Ed Clark won 1.1 percent of the popular vote.
6. One. In 1972 John Hospers got a single electoral vote.

Ah, but some readers are thinking, Gary Johnson actually was a real politician; he served for eight years as governor of New Mexico. I agree that raises the possibility of him earning more votes as an LP candidate than previous candidates have earned. But he could earn many times the previous totals and still lose very badly.

I was active in the Colorado LP for several years. I served on the state LP board. I attended national LP conventions. I even ran as a candidate once. My experience suggests there are two types of LP candidates for mid- to high-level positions. Realistic ones whose reasons for running do not include winning, and delusional ones who think that this time, by golly, they’re going to take it all the way. A couple candidates I knew spent ridiculous amounts of their own money running. And guess what. They still got blown out of the water come election day. You have a far better chance earning your first million through Amway than you do winning a major election as a Libertarian candidate.

Ah, but others are thinking, even if Johnson doesn’t win, voting for him will lodge a protest. As I will argue elsewhere, lodging a protest vote that promotes the LP is incredibly counterproductive from the standpoint of advancing a rights-protecting government. But let’s table that matter for the moment and just talk electoral tactics.

If you want to register a protest vote, an undervote is nearly as effective as a third-party vote. I simply did not vote in the last presidential election, and I may do the same in 2012, depending on the GOP nominee. (I absolutely will not vote for Paul, Gingrich, Santorum, Perry, or Bachmann.) If a vote for the LP candidate were merely a protest vote (which, I emphasize, is not the case), then the strategic advantage of voting LP versus voting for nobody (or a write-in) would be negligible.

And actually spending any time or money promoting Johnson’s campaign, given all the alternate ways one could spend time and money, would be at best practically worthless.

But of course one’s broader political strategies must account for ideology. It’s not like anybody who might support Johnson might instead support an overt Communist as a “protest vote.” Clearly promoting the right ideas is the paramount strategic concern. I grant that, if you think that supporting Johnson as an LP candidate would advance the right ideas, then supporting him might offer some minuscule strategic advantage. At this point, I encourage readers merely to contemplate the possibility that supporting Johnson as a Libertarian would instead promote very bad ideas, a case I intend to make elsewhere.

Update: See the next post in the series, “Paul-Johnson 2012: The Libertarians’ Best-Case Scenario.”

Joey Bunch Misstates Gun Statistics in Denver Post

[Update 6:31 pm: The Denver Post has issued a revised correction for the online article in question.]

[Update December 29: Joey Bunch related that he takes responsibility for the mistake and apologizes for his initial reaction. For my part, I am satisfied with the way the Post has handled the issue.]

In their article for today’s Denver PostJoey Bunch and Kieran Nicholson claim, “More than 500 children in the United States die in gun accidents each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a 2007 report, which estimated 1.7 million children live in homes where guns are kept.” However, there seems to be no factual basis for that claim.

As Bunch is listed as first author and his contact information appears below the article, I contacted him to see where he got his figures. Unfortunately, in a series of emails (see below) he flatly refused to provide me with a citation. Apparently that is because no such citation exists.

CDC provides a search page for reviewing mortality statistics. The results for unintentional firearm deaths for 2007, ages zero through seventeen, is 112. Notice that the anti-gun Brady Campaign reports comparable figures. (Of the estimated 2,436,652 deaths in the U.S. in 2009, a total of 588 for all age groups resulted from “accidental discharge of firearms.” Final figures for 2007 show a total of 613 deaths. Please see pages 19 and 39 of the linked CDC report, and notice that I provided an actual citation for my claim.) To get figures as high as Bunch claims, one has to look at decades-old data. (Note that, in this article, I am concerned only with Bunch’s factual claims. I will address the “big picture” issues elsewhere.)

So how did Bunch get from 112 to “more than 500?” I don’t really know, given he refused to tell me. I do have a guess, however. A top Google hit for “kids die guns” is a 2008 article from MomLogic. That article includes the same numbers as Bunch uses — “more than 500″ and “1.7 million households.” My guess is that Bunch cribbed these figures (from this web site or a comparable one) without bothering to verify them or even review their meaning.

Here’s what MomLogic has to say: “More than 500 children die annually from accidental gunshots. … Last year, a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than 1.7 million children live in homes with loaded and unlocked guns.”

What is similar between this article and Bunch’s article is that both include the same year for the CDC claim (2007), both include the phrase “more than 500 children,” and both include the phrase, “1.7 million children live in homes.” One important detail to notice is that the MomLogic article does not cite the CDC for the “more than 500″ claim. Also notice the important qualifier in the MomLogic article about the 1.7 million households: these are “homes with loaded and unlocked guns.” Bunch offers no such qualifier, rendering his statement wildly inaccurate. (Neither MomLogic nor Bunch actually cite a specific CDC publication.)

I did find some support for the claim about 1.7 million households, but this comes not from CDC but from the American Academy of Pediatrics. (Perhaps there was some association between CDC and the Academy.) (Update: As USA Today relates, the authors of the study did have a direct relationship to the CDC.) That 2005 article states, “Findings indicate that ~1.69 million (95% confidence interval: 1.57-1.82 million) children and youth in the United States <18 years old are living with loaded and unlocked household firearms.” USA Today offered a popular summary of the study. However, the study is based on survey data, so its conclusions are suspect. (Please notice again my actual citations.)

At this point, then, the Denver Post either needs to come up with an actual citation supporting Bunch’s claim, or else issue a correction.

And, in general, I encourage reporters to a) actually have real citations backing up their claims (see also my write-up of a 2008 incident), and b) make those citations available to those who ask for them. Anything less constitutes journalistic negligence.

Following is today’s email exchange between Bunch and me:

Ari: Dear Mr. Bunch, You write: “More than 500 children in the United States die in gun accidents each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a 2007 report.” Please send [me] your citation for that claim. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: CDC. I cited my source.

Ari: I see that you wrote down CDC in your article. The problem is that when I look at the CDC web page, I find very different numbers than the ones you claim. So what I’m asking you for is the actual citation for a specific document that backs up your statement. Please provide that, and stop being coy. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: It took me all of about 3 minutes to find that report. With all due respect, Ari, you’re a columnist for a competing newspaper, do your own work.

Ari: Joey, If you found it, then please *send me the cite*. The fact that I write for the Grand Junction Free Press (hardly a competitor to the Post) is entirely irrelevant. I did my own work, as I mentioned, and I found different figures. So now, again, I ask you to back up your claim with a specific citation. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: I told you the name of the report and the year it came out. Would you like me to print it out and drive it to your house? I’ll pick up coffee and doughnuts on the way. Good luck with your story, Ari.

Ari: No, I would would like you send me the link to the relevant document, or, if the document is not available online, the title and authors of the printed document. That will be trivially easy for you to accomplish, so please, again, send me the citation. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: I do freelance work sometimes. I’ll send you a bill for research, and when it’s paid I’ll spend my time doing your work. Failing that, you could call the CDC and ask them to send it for you. There could be a per-page fee for that, however. Have a nice day.

Ari: Dear Mr. Bunch, According to your own claims, you’ve *already done the work*, and it took you “all of about three minutes.” If you’ve already done the work, and found the citation that informs your article, then it will take you about ten seconds to send me the relevant link (or title with authors). As a writer for the Denver Post, you have a responsibility, both to your readers and to the owners and managers of the paper, to back up your factual claims with specific citations. Please do so at this time, and please stop acting so evasive and frankly unprofessional. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: One more time and the last time I’m saying it: do your own work. You work for a newspaper. You are a journalist. Do your own work. Conversation over.

Update: Apparently the conversation is not yet over. After I sent an email to several representatives of the Denver Post linking to this write-up, Bunch again responded, claiming (among other things), “I told you the name of the report.” I wrote back noting that he has not, in fact, provided me with the title of the report or anything like a verifiable citation. I will update this article when and if Bunch provides me with an actual citation to the alleged report in question.

Update: Kevin Dale, news director for the Denver Post, states via email, “We are correcting the statistics. Page 2 in tomorrow’s paper. We’ll be correcting the online story shortly. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. We take our accuracy very seriously indeed.”

Update 5:03 pm: I sent a follow-up email to Dale:

Dear Mr. Dale,

Thank you for promptly following through on the matter of the claimed gun statistics published in today’s Denver Post.

Unfortunately, the Denver Post’s online “correction” also is in error [as of the time of this update].
http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_19628941

The “correction” states that in 2007, 138 children died due to “fatal shooting accidents.” But that figure is for ages 0 through 19. Last time I checked, the legal age of adulthood is 18. Therefore, the correct figure is for ages 0 through 17, which is 112 (as I mentioned in my write-up). (While the figures vary only slightly in this case, I still think the Post ought to get its basic facts straight.)

I invite you to see for yourself here:
http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_sy.html

Moreover, the online article continues to falsely state, “The CDC also estimated 1.7 million children live in homes where guns are kept.” The Post’s claim here is wildly inaccurate. The figure actually pertains to children “living with loaded and unlocked household firearms.” The number of children living in homes “where guns are kept” is many times that amount.

Again, I invite you to see for yourself here:
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/116/3/e370.full

(Anyway, that article relies on survey data, which are notoriously unreliable in these matters.)

Thank you for your attention to this matter.
-Ari Armstrong

Update 6:31 pm: The Denver Post has issued a revised correction for the online article in question.

The Tragedy of Fatal Hazards for Children

A single death due to an unintentional firearm discharge is one too many. When the victim is a child, the heartbreak can run especially deep.

But is the death of a child due to an unintentional firearm discharge any more or less tragic than the death of a child due to a car wreck or drowning? To think reasonably about the problem, we must put the dangers we face in context.

Earlier today the Denver Post falsely claimed that, based on recent figures, “more than 500 children in the United States die in gun accidents each year.” The actual figure for 2007, as the Post acknowledged in a correction, is 112 (as I reviewed at length earlier today). And yet, while I think journalists should strive to report the facts accurately, at a certain level the precise numbers are not the most important issue. What is most important is that each of these deaths, whatever their total number, represents a profound tragedy, a life forever snuffed out.

And yet life is full of risks. All sorts of things, not just firearms, can be hazardous if abused, both to adults and children. Obviously the proper goal is to reduce all deaths due to unintentional injury to as close to zero as feasible, everything else equal. The problem is that trying to force down the number of unintentional injuries can result in offsetting harms. For example, there is a very simple way to reduce the number of auto fatalities to zero: ban all automobiles. Yet obviously that would severely harm people in other ways. The same goes for firearms.

The fact is that firearms are useful for self-defense. Forcibly taking people’s guns away, or forcing people to render their guns inoperable for self-defense, would increase the numbers of home invasions, murders, and other crimes.

The Post rightly reports the general problem of gun fatalities in its related stories. In the case of the 2007 figures, the context for the statistics is a story about two 5-year-old children fatally shot in Colorado. In one case, a three-year-old shot a five-year-old with a “family friend’s gun.” In the other case, a child shot herself with her father’s gun. Those stories are painfully tragic to read about; obviously the families involved will never fully recover.

The Post includes some relevant context: in the first case the gun’s owner may be charged with “child abuse resulting in death and criminal negligence.” When the debate about gun laws raged in Colorado several years back, I rightly pointed out that general child-abuse laws already on the books account for all instances of needlessly putting a child in danger.

Notably, the Post has also pointed out the drowning statistics in stories related to drownings. For example, in 2009 the Post‘s Kieran Nicholsonwrote, “In 2005, there were 3,582 unintentional drownings in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” In another short story, the Post related, ”The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated 319 children younger than 5 died in pool and spa incidents in 2005.”

Obviously the magnitude of the problem does matter. If ten-thousand children died every year in spas or by firearms, that would be an enormously more pressing problem. In the case of firearms, various anti-gun activists have skewed the figures for partisan political purposes. For obvious reasons, news reporters should be careful not to fall for such claims.

Even when reporters get their basic facts straight, readers ought to bear in mind the general context that, of necessity, is not included in a particular news story.

According to GunCite.com, ”Fatal gun accidents involving children (aged 0-14) also fell significantly, from 495 in 1975, to under 250 in 1995.” Again, the figure for all minors for 2007 was 112. The fact that unintentional shootings have fallen dramatically, even as gun ownership has risen, is a very good thing.

Using the CDC’s clever search function, we can compare deaths from different sources. For 2007, a total of 7,931 children age zero to seventeen died of unintentional injury. So the deaths involving firearms represents 1.4 percent of the total. When parents are evaluating risks, that’s a relevant figure.

Let’s check out the numbers of unintentional deaths by various other causes (same year and age group):

Firearms: 112
Drowning: 901
Fall: 123
Fire/Burn: 497
Poisoning: 398
Suffocation: 1,239
Transportation Related, Overall: 4,264

Again, the point is not that news reporters are obligated to provide such context when writing their reports; they are not. But readers should bear in mind that news reports generally do not include all the relevant context.

Parents should take reasonable precautions to prevent unintentional injuries, whatever their cause. Part of this means that gun owners should take precautions not to let any unauthorized or irresponsible person gain access to a firearm. As a group, U.S. gun owners have made great strides in curbing the numbers of unintentional gun deaths. Obviously, some small fraction of gun owners need to do better.

What About Colorado’s Millions of Other Tax Scofflaws?

Today the Denver Post lambasted Douglas Bruce, citing his “reckless and brazen” evasion of state taxes. Recently Bruce was convicted on multiple charges.

I have no doubt that Bruce a) organized his finances in ridiculously convoluted ways (as he seems to be able to do nothing simply), b) agitated virtually every politician, bureaucrat, and leftist ideologue in the state, and c) gravely erred by representing himself in court. Whether he’s actually technically guilty of violating the state’s tax laws, I could not say definitively without studying his case more carefully. What is obvious is that, on the moral level, what’s he’s actually “guilty” of is daring to spend his own money in politically unapproved ways.

But there’s a deeper point here that practically everybody else seems to be ignoring: the large majority of Colorado residents are likely in violation of the state’s use-tax laws. I wrote about this matter earlier in the year. My guess is that millions of Coloradans are tax scofflaws. So, in the broader sense, obviously Bruce’s prosecution is selective; the state simply ignores millions (or at least hundreds of thousands) of cases of (generally unwitting) tax evasion every year.

Here’s the comment I sent over to a couple members of the Post‘s editorial board: “Fair enough regarding Doug Bruce, though the prosecution still smells of political retribution. However, my guess is that well over 80 percent of those currently piling on Doug Bruce are in violation of the state’s use-tax requirements. I’d actually be curious to learn what fraction of the Denver Post editorial board is in compliance with the use-tax laws. I personally think it’s a problem that probably the overwhelming majority of Colorado residents are in violation of the tax law, but apparently this is not the sort of story the Post regards as interesting.”

Update: Curtis Hubbard, the editorial page editor of the Denver Post, informs me that he did in fact address the use tax less than two weeks ago! Somehow I missed that article. He correctly points out that most people don’t pay it and that the state doesn’t enforce it. However, his solution to the problem is to force out-of-state online retailers to collect the tax and remit it to the state. I have a rather different idea for how to equalize the treatment between in-state and out-of-state businesses:repeal the sales tax for in-state businesses (even if done in a revenue-neutral way by increasing other tax rates).

‘Twas the night before they occupied the North Pole

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published by Grand Junction Free Press.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has found a new place to protest. But instead of camping out in tents they “community organize” from hastily-constructed igloos. Participants call it “Occupy the North Pole,” or ONoP for short. Their primary target: Santa Claus.

We contacted Invidia Elf, declared ONoP’s spokesperson by unanimous uptwinkles, to discuss the group’s goals. Following is her statement.

“We’re sick and tired of that so-called Jolly Old Elf reaping all the benefits of Christmas magic. While Santa lives in his grand Christmas castle, 99 percent of elves live in tiny huts or workers’ quarters. Some elves in the wood-toy construction department have even had to set up triple bunk beds due to lack of space.

“Santa owns 60 percent of the North Pole’s developed property, and he controls 80 percent of the Pole’s wealth. Nearly the entire North Pole economy is based on the production of Christmas toys, and who controls that entire enterprise? You guessed it: Santa Claus. He’s nothing but a Robber Baron monopolist.

“I won’t even get into Santa’s dietary habits. He eats more calories every day in cookies and milk alone than most elves eat all week. And his clothes! How many fluffy red tailored suits does the man actually need?

“Don’t even get me started on Mrs. Claus, dashing around in her fancy, stainless-steel sleigh like the Queen of the town. She even gets her own chauffeur. Did you know it takes a whole division of elves just to tend the reindeer? The Clauses’ barn alone is ten times the size of an average elf house, and it consumes fifteen times the electricity.

“Santa himself doesn’t actually do any work; he merely oversees and directs all the work of thousands of other elves. We’re the ones who do the real work around here, and I say it’s about time we got to call the shots. It’s high time to subject the means of production of Christmas toys to a more democratic process.

“A ‘living elf wage?’ Ha! There’s no law whatsoever setting wage standards. Sure, we don’t have the unemployment problem you have in America, but at least there workers are protected by laws that force employers to spend more on wages. Did you know that until about a decade ago a new elf employee got paid only room and board? Not even a stipend!

“I tried to unionize the workers a while back, but Santa said ‘Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas’ and everybody started feeling all cheery again. It’s like a Jedi mind trick or something. A lot of these elves don’t even know how bad they’ve got it; they’re deluded into thinking they live a wonderful life. It’s just a good thing I’m here to educate them.

“The Nog Party? What a bunch of drooling dwarves. Laughably, they think it’s a good thing if some people get super rich; it’s like they think their so-called ‘free market’ is guided by invisible magic or something. We know what’s in their nog! But here in the real world people have to fight for their lick of the candy cane.

“Oh, sure, Santa spends most of his time making toys to give away. But does he give to everyone equally according to their need? No. Instead, there he sits in his office, day after day, going through his list not just once but twice, checking to see who’s naughty and who’s nice. And if for no good reason he puts you on the naughty list? Too bad for you! You get nothing but coal.

“It’s not the naughty kids’ fault. They were not born with the same advantages of nice kids. Why should the nice kids get all the rewards? They already have plenty. Instead, Santa should give the naughty kids most of the gifts to help make up for their disadvantages in life.

“Santa delivers free toys to all the (nice) children of the world, but he does that only one day a year! Here’s Santa, the most magical elf of all time, this guy who’s been building up his powers for centuries, and all he can manage is a single day of holiday bliss? You’d think Santa could have worked himself up to delivering gifts at least two days a year.

“Just this last winter Santa took a trip with the missus to the Caribbean. Do you know how many times I’ve relaxed on Caribbean beaches sipping pina coladas? That’s right: none. Santa has more inborn ability than fifty other elves together, so what’s he doing taking all that time off? ONoP demands that, henceforth, each elf contribute according to his ability, as decided by a democratic process.”

To us, it seems an awful lot like Invidia is attacking Santa for his virtues.

We called up Santa for a reply, but all he said was, “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas! And to all a good night!”

The Case for Abortion Rights

The latest issue of The Objective Standard has published an article on abortion rights by Diana Hsieh and me, “The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties.” While this article updates the discussion about the anti-abortion movement, it offers the basic, timeless case for abortion rights.I’ll offer a brief synopsis here.

The first part describes the modern abortion movement, which is basically divided into those who want to immediately declare the “personhood” of zygotes and fetuses from the moment of conception, and those who push for marginal restrictions on abortion.

The second main part discusses why abortion is important for millions of women. Some women need to get an abortion for reasons of health, rape or incest, or serious fetal deformity. Many more women justifiably seek an abortion because, due to their finances, family situation, emotional stability, or goals in life, they are simply not prepared for motherhood. Abortion bans would severely harm the lives and well-being of many women (and their doctors and supporters).

Then the paper address “The Moral Basis of Abortion Rights.” (Diana deserves the lion’s share of the credit for this section.) The basic idea is that individual rights apply in a social context, not to a being contained wholly within the body of another.

The final section ties abortion rights to all our other rights. Abortion bans negate a woman’s right to control her own body. Restrictions on abortion necessarily infringe rights of property, contract, and speech. Moreover, because restrictions on abortion obviously are rooted in sectarian faith, they open the door to more sectarian-based laws and to endless sectarian conflict.

I invite you to read the entire article. See also my follow-up post about Newt Gingrich’s anti-abortion zealotry.

Tebowmania Article Published in Denver Post

The Denver Post published a recent op-ed of mine, “Tebowmania isn’t just for Christians.”

In this article I try to make sense of the overt religion of Bronco’s football star quarterback, Tim Tebow. On the surface, there’s much about this that seems odd. What if, I ask, “a star football player were as vocal about his Muslim, Hindu, or Scientologist beliefs?” And does God really care about who wins football games?

But, listening to some of Tebow’s comments during a recent game, I got a better sense of what religion does for him. I conclude that “what Tebow is able to do remarkably well is keep a sense of perspective about the game and his play,” and he uses religion for that end.

Read the entire article!

Campaign Finance Rules: Collected Testimony

As I’ve reviewed, Colorado’s Secretary of State Scott Gessler held a meeting December 15 to discuss his office’s rules pertaining to the campaign finance laws.

Gessler’s office has published all the written testimony submitted on the matter.

I’ve also published video of several people who, while overall supportive of Gessler’s proposed rule changes, nevertheless criticize the broader scope of campaign finance controls. Following are the remarks of Diana Hsieh, Paul Hsieh, Matt Arnold, and me.

If you want to get an idea of why I was a bit fired up, check out this video clip of State Senator John Morse:

Newt’s Nutty Abortion Stance

Today two articles came out slamming Newt Gingrich for embracing the hard-line anti-abortion “personhood” movement.

Paul Hsieh wrote the first for Pajamas Media. He emphasizes the fact that Gingrich’s proposals would ban the birth control pill and IUD. He writes, “If Gingrich (or any other ‘personhood’ supporter) wins the 2012 GOP nomination, the future legality of birth control pills and IUDs would immediately become a national political issue, to the detriment of the Republicans. Just as the ‘personhood’ issue tipped the swing state of Colorado in favor of the Democrats in 2010, it could also tip a few critical swing states in favor of Obama in 2012.”

I wrote the other article for The Objective Standard. Like Paul, I discuss the strategic foolishness of Republicans embracing the “personhood” movement, referencing Ken Buck’s loss of a U.S. Senate Seat. I also discuss Gingrich’s comments regarding birth control.

One additional point I make is that Gingrich’s proposals would subject women who get abortion to severe criminal penalties:

If, as Personhood USA asserts, a zygote is a person with the same right to life as a born infant or adult, then any action that intentionally kills a zygote, embryo, or fetus constitutes murder, as a representative of the organization emphasizedduring a November news conference. By the logic of the position and in accordance with existing murder statutes, abortion would be legally prosecuted as murder. Any doctor or husband who assisted in an abortion would be prosecuted as an accessory to murder. A Canadian anti-abortion group forthrightly argues that women who get abortions should face severe prison sentences. A Colorado supporter of Personhood USA explicitly calls for the death penalty for women who get abortions.

For a more detailed discussion of the issue, see the essay by Diana Hsieh and me, “The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties.”

Rand’s ‘We the Living’ Opposes Tyranny

Hannah Krening reviewed the anti-totalitarian theme of Ayn Rand’s novelWe the Living, as well as its literary qualities. This was a December 17 talk for Liberty Toastmasters.

Morse: Complying with Campaign Laws “Really Does Take a Lawyer”

On December 15, 2011, Colorado State Senator John Morse spoke about the state’s campaign finance laws at a Secretary of State hearing.

He said, “What we were selling there, if you will, was that people will comply with the law, and there won’t be many fines. I think what your experience is showing is that… turns out that complying with all this is complicated, and really does take a lawyer. But that’s the price of the transparency, to be able to have these kinds of reporting things.”

But Senator, if you have to hire a lawyer or risk hefty fines or lawsuits in order to spend resources speaking out for or against any ballot measure or candidate, that’s not free speech.

The proper term for it is censorship.

See also:
Comments Regarding the Secretary of State’s Dec. 15 Campaign Finance Rule Hearing

Reviewing CO’s Campaign Laws

Letter About Speech-Chilling Campaign Laws

Comments Regarding the Secretary of State’s Dec. 15 Campaign Finance Rule Hearing

I submitted the following comments to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office prior to a December 15 meeting regarding campaign finance rules.

Dear Secretary of State Gessler,

Thank you for holding a public hearing regarding the Secretary of State’s rules pertaining to Colorado’s campaign finance laws. Before examining some of the particular proposed rule changes, I want to briefly discuss the nature of the campaign laws and their impacts on me as a political activist.

Censorship means the use of government force to prohibit or restrict speech in any of its varied forms. A governmental agent employs direct censorship by banning a particular work or speaker, as by prohibiting the printing and distribution of a specific book or pamphlet, or by threatening a given individual with sanctions for speaking to others. Other sorts of restrictions and controls may not directly prohibit some manifestation of speech, yet, by imposing onerous burdens on the act of speaking, they constitute an indirect form of censorship. For example, if an onerous tax were placed on books or some particular book or type of book, that would constitute indirect censorship.

Colorado’s campaign finance laws constitute a form of censorship, albeit an indirect form. No, the laws do not outright ban certain types of speech (as the federal McCain-Feingold law attempted to do). Yet they burden the political activist with onerous restrictions and requirements, effectively curtailing the political speech of many individuals. The campaign laws censor political speech no less than if the government taxed individuals who spoke out many hundreds or thousands of dollars. The result is precisely the same.

Before an activist can even begin to speak out for or against any ballot measure or candidate with the intention of spending even small amounts of resources, the activist must learn the rules (broadly defined). The assorted Constitutional provisions, statutes, bureaucratic rules, and surrounding court cases constitute many scores of pages of dense legalese. Even learning whether certain forms of speech fall under these rules requires substantial effort (indeed, people may violate the rules without even knowing they exist); figuring out how to obey those rules requires far greater effort.

I myself have spent many hours reading about the rules, and yet I feel totally incapable of obeying them. To say that the rules are Byzantine frankly insults Byzantium. To invoke Churchill’s words, the campaign laws are “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” To the average busy activist who is not prepared to spend many hours in intense academic-style study of these rules, the campaign rules are practically unintelligible.

For a small-scale project, a political activist easily could spend far more hours navigating the assorted campaign finance rules than the activist actually spends speaking out. By way of comparison, imagine if the government imposed a $40 tax on a $15 book: in both cases, the result is censorship.

True, the Secretary of State’s office holds classes to train people in how to obey the rules, a practice endorsed by Colorado Common Cause. Yet there are serious problems with this.

First, commuting to a class, sitting through the class, and then reviewing one’s notes itself imposes a severe cost in terms of time on political activism.

Second, the mere fact that citizens are asked to sit through a government-run class to retain their ability to speak on political matters itself violates free speech. In many cases, people speak out for or against particular governmental policies enacted by particular politicians or bureaucrats. Asking the citizen activist to sit through a class organized, perhaps, by the activist’s political opponents inherently clashes with that activist’s free speech rights. To illustrate the absurdity of the laws, consider that advocacy for or against candidates for Secretary of State can itself fall under the campaign rules. If an activist opposed the sitting Secretary of State and advocated the election of the opposing candidate, the sitting Secretary of State would be responsible for instructing the activist on how to speak out — and for enforcing the rules against the activist.

Third, even if the Secretary of State’s office makes a good-faith effort to instruct the citizen activist on how to obey the campaign laws, that hardly guarantees that the activist will remain free from vindictive legal actions lodged by opponents. If the Secretary of State’s office offers one interpretation of the law, a judge may offer quite another — as Matt Arnold discovered after getting sued for daring to participate in the political process.

Once the activist learns all the rules, then he or she must register with the government. That fact independently and severely violates the right of free speech. The mere fact of registering with the government to practice free speech, especially given America’s long tradition of First Amendment protections, weights heavily on many citizen activists (myself included).

Then come the reporting requirements and threats of legal suits. The activist must track in great detail contributions and expenses, meeting the complex requirements of the campaign finance laws. An activist who makes even a trivial paperwork error may be subjected to fines and lawsuits lodged by political opponents. Again this imposes a severe cost in terms of time and risk. Notably, these requirements weigh especially heavily on the small-scale, independent activist. Large groups able to hire their own accountants and lawyers can more easily comply with the requirements and absorb possible fines and legal fees.

These burdens of learning the rules, registering with the government, complying with the intricate reporting requirements, and then facing the constant threat of vindictive legal actions lodged by one’s political opponents certainly chill political speech. The number of victims of this sort of censorship can never be precisely calculated, because in many cases the victims simply shut up and say nothing, and we never know what they might have said otherwise.

Colorado’s campaign finance laws have discouraged me from speaking out in certain ways. During the last election cycle, it briefly occurred to me to make up my own flyer regarding candidates and ballot measures, and hand out copies of the flyer in my neighborhood. But, fearing the onerous burdens of the campaign laws, I quickly gave up on this idea; I did not want to become ensnared in the reporting burdens or the threats of legal actions against me by my political opponents.

I did speak out against one ballot measure in my capacity as an activist: Amendment 62. However, I agreed to do this only because Diana Hsieh, who joined me in the effort, agreed to meet all the campaign finance burdens. Absent her efforts, I would not have undertaken the task.

I am already thinking about the possibility of speaking out during the 2012 election cycle. My idea, similar to my previous idea, is to print up a flyer explaining my views on various candidates and ballot measures. But I have no idea whether this sort of speech would even fall under the campaign rules, what “magic words” I might have to avoid, or how I might possibly comply with the campaign rules to make this happen. (Moreover, I have a particular aversion to complying with intricate bureaucratic rules; for the same reason, I pay somebody else to prepare my taxes. Yet I shouldn’t have to pay somebody else to help me comply with bureaucratic rules merely to speak out on political matters.) Notably, I would meet the original $200 reporting threshold merely by printing out 2,000 flyers at the local copy shop. Thus, the fact that I would have to spend many hours investigating the campaign rules, perhaps complying with their intricate burdens, and then facing the risk of getting sued by my political opponents, may well shut me up again in that respect. And that is a violation of my First Amendment right — and it is a right, not a privilege — of free speech.

Now I wish to address some of the details of the Secretary of State’s proposed rule changes. On the whole, I believe the Secretary of State is making a good-faith effort to make the campaign rules as objective, fair, and manageable as possible given the constraints of the overall system. For this Secretary of State Scott Gessler and the employees of his office are to be applauded. (I have no doubt that the enemies of free speech on the left will continue to smear him instead, as they have done relentlessly now for many months.)

The general point is that the state’s constitution requires — not permits, but requires — the Secretary of State to make rules “necessary to administer and enforce” the campaign laws. (Of course, the fact that the Secretary of State needs to issue such rules only further illustrates the inherent ambiguousness of the constitutional provisions on this matter.)

The Reporting Threshold

A December 9 document from the Secretary of State’s Office (“Revised Draft of Proposed Rules Office of the Colorado Secretary of State: Rules Concerning Campaign and Political Finance 8 CCR 1505-6″) proposes (Rule 4): “An issue committee shall not be subject to any of the requirements of Article XXVIII or Article 45 of Title 1, C.R.S., until the issue committee has accepted $5,000 or more in contributions or made expenditures of $5,000 or more during an election cycle.”

This proposed rule is an eminently reasonable response to a federal court ruling on the matter (despite a subsequent nonresponsive and frankly politicized lower court ruling to the contrary).

Article XXVIII, Section 2(10)(a)(II) states that an issue committee is a group that “has accepted or made contributions or expenditures in excess of two hundred dollars to support or oppose any ballot issue or ballot question.”

However, in the case Sampson v. Buescher (December 9, 2010), the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reasonably ruled that the $200 threshold is unconstitutionally low based on the First Amendment protections of the federal Constitution. (As modern courts are wont to do, the court issued an unfortunately limited ruling that left in place most of the serious free-speech violations of Colorado’s campaign finance rules.)

The Court noted in footnote 5 that the group in question lodged “$782.02 in inkind contributions reported on July 13, 2006.” Moreover, “cash contributions (made between September 2006 and April 2007) totaled $1,426, of which $1,178.82 went for attorney fees and $247.18 remained in the committee bank account.”

The Court concluded, “[T]he financial burden of state regulation on Plaintiffs’ freedom of association approaches or exceeds the value of their financial contributions to their political effort; and the governmental interest in imposing those regulations is minimal, if not nonexistent, in light of the small size of the contributions. We therefore hold that it was unconstitutional to impose that burden on Plaintiffs. We do not attempt to draw a bright line below which a ballot-issue committee cannot be required to report contributions and expenditures. … We say only that Plaintiffs’ contributions and expenditures are well below the line.”

In other words, the amount of $2,208.02 ($782.02 plus $1,426) is “well below the line” that would be constitutional. Thus, the Secretary of State, to meet his legal obligations, must set a threshold “well above” that amount. The amount of $5,000 fits the bill adequately.

Note that, absent a clear rule from the Secretary of State’s office, activists are left to twist in the political winds. If they spend the wrong amount without reporting, as determined by their political opponents, then they will get sued. The Secretary of State’s office is attempting to prevent precisely the sort of after-the-fact rule-making that constitutes a serious violation of people’s basic rights.

Aggregate Contributions of $20

The Secretary of State’s proposed tenth rule states, “If a contributer gives $20 or more in the aggregate during the reporting period, the contributer must be listed individually on the report, regardless of the amount of each contribution.” The document cites statute 1-45-108(1), which states, “All candidate committees, political committees, issue committees, small donor committees, and political parties shall report to the appropriate officer their contributions received, including the name and address of each person who has contributed twenty dollars or more…” By my reading, the Secretary of State’s proposed rule follows the cited statute. Unfortunately, this creates an important problem: if somebody donates a few dollars to a cause, then forgets and later donates a few more dollars, the total of which surpasses $20, the issue committee could be in violation of the law without even knowing it.

Other Proposed Rules

In the proposed definitions, the Secretary of State seeks to tighten up the meaning of “electioneering communication,” citing the case Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. Imposing onerous burdens on the mere mention of a candidate severely violates the right of free speech. The Secretary of State seeks to restrict to “electioneering communications” speech that “is subject to no reasonable interpretation other than an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.” That is, unfortunately, still far too vague, but it may be the best the Secretary of State can accomplish within the given framework.

Regarding penalties and wavers, I support the Secretary of State’s efforts to make the waiver rules more objective and to set reasonable limits on the accrual of fines.

Regarding privacy for contributers, I support the Secretary of State’s efforts to allow people who fear for their safety to withhold their personal information from the public record. It’s absolutely ludicrous to publish the names and home addresses of those who contribute funds regarding controversial issues such as abortion, immigration, firearms, gay marriage, etc.

Summary: Colorado’s campaign finance laws inherently and severely violate the right of free speech of citizen activists. While the Secretary of State must issue rules within that framework (taking into account the relevant court rulings), wherever possible the Secretary of State should issue rules that best comport with the First Amendment and the right of free speech. The Secretary of State’s proposed rules do just that.

NRF Blames Banks for Harms of Federal Price Controls on Credit Cards

Surprise, surprise: price controls have harmful economic effects. Unfortunately, rather than condemn price controls, the National Retail Federation is calling for more. In his detailed, informative article for theDenver Post, David Migoya reports that the Dodd-Frank federal price-control law has actually resulted in higher fees for businesses that sell mostly low-cost items, impacting (among others) small restaurants and Redbox.

Following is my letter to NRF:

Dear NRF,

I was shocked to read that one of your employees, Craig Shearman, is blaming the banks for the inevitable harms of federal price controls on credit cards.

Price controls are both immoral and economically destructive because they forcibly prevent people from voluntarily negotiating contracts. Yet, rather than condemn the federal government’s price controls, Shearman called for even stricter controls!

Here is the key section of the Denver Post article:

“They failed to set something specific on small-ticket pricing, so as not to be more than was previously charged,” saidCraig Shearman, vice president of government affairs at the federation. “And banks being banks, there was a loophole, and they’re taking advantage of it. What was intended to be fair to all businesses is now a way to gouge small-ticket merchants.”

Your organization claims to represent retailers. But you cannot ultimately help retailers except by fighting for a free market. If you advocate government controls, those controls will inevitably expand to hurt the very people you claim to represent. I urge you to change course, condemn price controls, and champion economic liberty.

I welcome your reply, which I will cite publicly.

Sincerely,
Ari Armstrong

Update: Mallory Duncan sent me a reply:

Dear Mr. Armstrong – Thanks for your comments. We absolutely agree that transparent and competitive markets are best. It is how retailers operate. It is how we compete to deliver low prices and ever increasing value for our customers.

Unfortunately, until recently, there has not even been the inklings of a competitive market in debit cards. Before the new law took effect, every single bank (all 7,000 of them) and their respective card associations charged exactly the same high schedule of swipe fees to every single merchant, regardless of size or service, and categorically refused to negotiate with any of them. Faced with a dominating price cartel, moving bad actors toward a competitive market requires either litigation or law. Fortunately, those efforts are beginning to work.

Despite some banks’ attempts to create loopholes, in time, even the small ticket fees mentioned in the article will become more transparent and competitive. That will be a good thing.

Best,
Mallory Duncan

Following is my reply:

Dear Mr. Duncan,

I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to reply.

Unfortunately, your reply does not address my concerns. You use the phrase “competitive market” as a euphemism to mean a market in which you force banks to do your bidding. The proper, moral, economically best system is a *free* market, in which parties are free to transact on a strictly voluntary basis. Again, when you advocate the use of force, you inevitably subject your own clients to the same threat.

Certainly anticompetitive banking controls should be repealed, and working toward that end should be your goal. But two wrongs do not make a right, and imposing price controls only further violates people’s rights.

Moreover, price controls are economically destructive by their very nature, and they inevitably produce unintended harms. If you are successful in closing the “loopholes” that concern you, the price controls will only cause harm elsewhere.

I again urge you to rethink your position, stop justifying your advocacy of force with clever euphemisms, and advocate economic liberty.

Sincerely,
Ari Armstrong

Gessler Emerges as the Free Speech Secretary of State

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published December 9 by Grand Junction Free Press.

True, Secretary of State Scott Gessler has made some public-relations missteps, as when he attended a Larimer County Republican fundraiser in September to cover campaign-finance fines that Gessler’s office oversaw. On the whole, though, Gessler deserves praise for having the guts to stand up and take heat for what he believes in: the principles of free speech. Indeed, Gessler deserves the national title as the Free Speech Secretary of State.

Gessler has done the best he can to make sense of the contradictory, often-ambiguous mish-mash of Colorado’s campaign finance laws and court rulings about them. His job in that regard is not an easy one: the voter-approved section in Colorado’s Constitution gives him one set of directives, while judges give him another, and he must craft the rules guiding the process.

The problems begin with the campaign-finance laws, which inherently violate rights of free speech. As we wrote back in May, those laws specify that, to speak out for or against any ballot measure while spending over $200, you “must first register with the proper authorities, then report to those authorities the names and addresses of every significant donor to your cause, as well as all of your significant expenses… on penalty of daily fines, and in accordance with a hundred pages of dense legalese.” Obviously those laws undermine free speech and discourage civic participation.

The courts should throw out the entire mess on First Amendment grounds. Instead, last year the 10th Circuit Court ruled that the $200 “trigger” for reporting is unreasonably low. But the court declined to specify a more reasonable amount, leaving Gessler to implement the rules without clear guidance. Gessler reasonably drafted rules setting the “trigger” at $5,000, meaning if you don’t spend that much, you don’t have to file and comply with the paperwork requirements. Gessler did the best he could to protect free speech within the constraints of the campaign laws and the court decision.

But on November 17, Denver District Court Judge Bruce Jones threw outthe $5,000 trigger, recognizing Gessler’s “conundrum” but again declining to offer any clear guidance.

Thankfully, Gessler announced he’d appeal Jones’s ruling. In a news release Gessler described the problem precisely: “Under Judge Jones’ ruling, we have one threshold for $200 and another threshold for ‘some other amount.’ We want to encourage participation in our political process but the ruling today only further confuses an already complex process.” In other words, without a clear “trigger” for reporting, activists have no idea when they have to file or whether they’ll get sued for not filing. Such ambiguity leads to after-the-fact rulings that violate citizens’ rights and undermine the rule of just law.

In a December 15 meeting, Gessler will reassert the need for the $5,000 “trigger” and offer numerous other rule changes as well. The Denver Postsummarized two other major proposed rule changes: limit to 180 the number of days the $50 per day fine accrues, and confirm that groups must “expressly advocate” a candidate or measure in order to fall under the campaign laws. (Rich Coolidge, spokesperson for Gessler’s office, confirmed that those three rule changes will be on the table; those wanting more detail can find the 58-page document on the Secretary of State’s web page.)

Regarding the fine limit, it’s just not fair for hostile, political attack groups to be able to sue somebody long after the fact and keep racking up daily fines.

As for the language about “express advocacy,” our ability to speak out on candidates and issues goes to the heart of the First Amendment. The legal issue is that some groups run ads praising or castigating some candidate or issue without actually suggesting how people should vote. If you tell people how to vote, you use the so-called “magic words” that trigger the campaign laws. Incidentally, the Colorado Supreme Court will hear a caseabout this, though the mere fact that we’re discussing “magic words” illustrates nicely why the campaign laws by their very nature violate free speech.

Unfortunately, Gessler has been been relentlessly attacked by leftist activists who champion censorship of political speech, including Luis Toro of Colorado Ethics Watch and Jenny Flanagan and Elena Nunez of Colorado Common Cause.

The left is obsessed with the idea that, somewhere, someone may spend their own money to advocate their political beliefs. But free speech is central to our liberties, and that right is meaningless without the physical means to advocate our beliefs. Often that requires spending money. Yet many on the left would restrict our political speech in many contexts and open the door wide to more far-reaching forms of censorship.

When Flanagan debated Ari on television earlier this year and Ari brought up the First Amendment, she retorted, “That’s not part of the conversation right now.” Thankfully, Gessler is doing what he can to change that.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari, edits FreeColorado.com from the Denver area.

Note: See also Diana Hsieh’s detailed summary of the proposed rule changes in a first and second post.

Mass Beer Blind Taste Test

Last night a friend organized a blind taste test of several mass-produced beers. This stemmed from an argument over whether Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) was an okay beer or a horrible one. Tasters were given six small lettered cups of beer; nobody knew even which brands they were (except we all knew PBR was in the mix). I collected five results.


Photo: The good Doctor Paul Hsieh applies his penetrating scientific mind to the problem of determining beer quality; from Picasa.

I did a two-stage ranking. First I marked beers as “okay” or “not great”; I marked three in each category. Then I ranked the beers in order from 1 to 6. Here was my ranking: Sam Adams Boston Lager, Modelo Especial, PBR, Coors Light, Stella Artois, and Pilsner Urquell. So, while I thought the Sam Adams was clearly superior to PBR, PBR still made my “okay” list.

Jennifer (my wife) and I had similar tastes, except she ranked Pilsner Urquell second rather than last. (I didn’t like it at all.) Here was her ranking: Sam Adams Boston Lager, Pilsner Urquell, Modelo Especial, PBR, Stella Artois, Coors Light. (It’s too bad the regular Coors wasn’t in the mix; I suspect that’s somewhat better.)

Paul ranked them as follows: Modelo Especial, Sam Adams Boston Lager, PBR, Coors Light, Stella Artois, Pilsner Urquell.

“H:” Modelo Especial, Sam Adams Boston Lager, Pilsner Urquell, Stella Artois, PBR, Coors Light.

“S:” Coors Light, Stella Artois, Sam Adams Boston Lager, PBR, Modelo Especial, Pilsner Urquell.

While Sam Adams ranked in the top half of everyone’s list, only Jennifer and I ranked it first. (I thought it was clearly superior to the rest, though not nearly as good as the craft beers I usually drink.) Everyone ranked PBR in the middle, from a 3 to a 5. I was a little surprised that the Modelo performed relatively well, earning two first places and a second.

But of course this exercise largely was academic; generally I’m going to drink a real beer, such as a Guinness or a Rock Bottom Molly’s Brown.

Reviewing CO’s Campaign Laws

Diana Hsieh and I spoke on Colorado’s campaign laws at the December 7 Liberty On the Rocks in Denver.

I addressed the general problems with those laws. I remarked, “Colorado citizens with few to no [slight] resources are being dragged into court for daring to speak their minds, for daring to be active in the political process, for daring to stand up and fight for a better country. And I think this is shameful: I think it’s shameful that Colorado citizens are being dragged into court for daring to exercise their right of free speech.”

Diana reviewed her experiences complying with the speech-chilling laws. Then she explains Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s proposed rule changes and offers support for them.

Officials Wage War on Colorado Businesses

Colorado bureaucrats and politicians are expanding their war on businesses in the state, threatening the recovery.

Economists with the University of Colorado at Boulder Leeds School of Business thinks Colorado job growth will outpace the rest of the nation next year, the Denver Post reports. Mostly these jobs will be in the service sector, the report predicts. Manufacturers will shed jobs. (Of course this is all just fancy guesswork.) To the extent that jobs depend on “green” subsidies, they are counterproductive and precarious anyway.

Bureaucratic controls tend to stifle capital-heavy businesses disproportionately, which helps explain why the service sector looks relatively appealing. But even the service sector will be hit by anti-business policies. Consider three recent news stories.

The Denver Post reports that the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is joining up with the federal Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service to punish businesses who dare to hire independent contractors. Of course, this is only a “problem” because of all the anti-businesses controls that curtail direct hires, starting with the grotesque payroll tax.

If we actually cared about restoring a strong economy, we’d roll back those employment controls, not expanding them.

The Daily Camera reports that the Boulder city council may stick firms with a “business software tax.” Allegedly this closes a “loophole” (but freedom is not a loophole!).

If we actually cared about restoring a strong economy, we’d eliminate software taxes across the board, not expand them.

Steamboat Daily reports that the Routt County Board of Commissioners is trying to hamper the production of oil and natural gas. (Thanks to theDenver Post for mentioning both those other papers’ stories.)

If we actually cared about restoring a strong economy, we’d eliminate the arbitrary controls hampering the state’s energy industry, preserving only those government actions based on protecting actual property rights from objectively verifiable harms through a legally sound process.

But of course most of Colordo’s bureaucrats and politicians care not a whit about restoring a strong economy. They’re too busy wielding arbitrary power over others.

The Justice of Profits

The Objective Standard just published my latest article, Contra Occupiers, Profits Embody Justice. Following are a few excepts:

According to various Occupy Wall Street protesters, profits hurt people and constitute injustice. … [F]ar from undermining justice, protecting the right to profit in a free society is an instance of justice. … Unfortunately, many Occupy Wall Street protesters call for ‘social justice,’ which is a euphemism for more looting. True justice neither needs nor permits the adjective ‘social’ before it. Justice necessarily applies in a social context…

Check out the entire piece!

Incidentally, following is the interview at Zuccotti Park that I quote from.

Nanny Statist Sullivan Arrested for Consensual Crimes

Pat Sullivan, who as Arapahoe County Sheriff from 1984 to 2002 busted drug dealers and prostitutes, himself was recently arrested for attempting to trade meth for sex.

As CBS summarizes, ”Today, he’s accused of offering methamphetamine in exchange for sex from a male acquaintance, and he’s locked up in the jail that bears his name, the Patrick Sullivan Jr. Detention Facility.”

Sullivan was a hard-core drug warrior. CBS continues, “In 2007 and 2008, Sullivan actively participated in state and local meth task forces, created to help the state deal with the drug problem.”

I mentioned the story to Jacob Sullum over at Reason, and Sullum looked up more details on Sullivan’s drug-warrior past. Sullum reviews a Denver Post story about how current drug warriors set up Sullivan with paid informants and surveillance. (As I mentioned on Twitter, ordinarily those who surveil consenting adults trading drugs for sex are justly regarded as perverted stalkers.) Sullum writes:

This sort of sleazy setup is an egregious waste of law enforcement resources, and it is manifestly unjust to threaten someone with six years in prison for attempting a peaceful, entirely consensual transaction with another adult. But that is par for the course in the war on drugs, a cause Sullivan enthusiastically served for many years. He led opposition to a 1998 medical marijuana initiative and calledasset forfeiture “an incredible tool” in the battle againt meth.

Thankfully, because of asset-forfeiture reforms that I helped to promote, the cops are less likely to steal Sullivan’s house or car over the alleged drugs.

But Sullivan was not merely a drug warrior, he also enthusiastically busted people for prostitution. Consider this February 6, 1990 article by theDenver Post:

Gerald Perry of the Denver Broncos turned himself in yesterday to begin serving a 15-day jail sentence for soliciting a prostitute. …

Sheriff Pat Sullivan said the offense that Perry was convicted of occurred in the portion of Aurora that is in Adams County. Perry was sentenced by an Aurora municipal judge to the Arapahoe County Jail, but in the order written by the court clerk, the Adams County Jail was specified….

He said the Broncos left tackle will be confined in the jail’s 12-cell medical unit except for meals and recreation periods.

“Someone of his stature and reputation would be disruptive” if placed in the facility’s general population, said Sullivan. …

The sheriff said that with time off for good behavior, Perry could walk out of the jail Feb. 14. “He gets six days of good time, as long as he’s good,” Sullivan said.

Reading that in light of Sullivan’s own recent arrest is downright creepy.

But Sullivan’s Nanny Statism did not extend only to drugs and prostitution, with which he was allegedly involved, but also to gambling. Consider this March 24, 1990 article by John Sanko in the Rocky Mountain News:

Gov. Roy Romer says he doesn’t want Colorado cities turned into miniature versions of Las Vegas or Atlantic City, where casino gambling is the name of the game. …

“I don’t think this is healthy, I don’t think it’s wise and I don’t think it’s needed,” Romer said of plans to bring casino-style gambling to eight small towns and allow electronic poker in others.

“It would put us on a slippery slope that we would not recover from and we would become a full-scale gambling state.”

Lawmakers who support the gambling plan scoffed, but Romer got no argument from Fort Collins District Attorney Stuart VanMeveren.

“It brings in prostitution , it brings in a lot of transients, it brings in a lot of other social problems,” VanMeveren said.

Speaking for the state’s law officers, Arapahoe County Sheriff Pat Sullivan said serious problems cropped up in the past just with fund-raising “casino nights” for charities.

We wouldn’t want low-life drug-dealing prostitutes doing something like raising money for charity through casino nights!

So as sheriff Sullivan fought drug use, prostitution, and gambling — the Nanny State trifecta — and he also advocated controls on civilian gun ownership. In an email today, Dudley Brown of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners wrote:

One of the reasons I am so opposed to the government being involved in your Second Amendment rights is that it takes the power away from you and puts it in their hands.

In the hands of people like the former Republican Sheriff of Arapahoe County, Patrick Sullivan.

Sullivan made a habit of helping out groups like the Brady Campaign when it came to preventing law-abiding citizens from exercising their Second Amendment rights.

He even testified before Congress for Handgun Control in favor of the Brady bill, and in the State Capitol against any concealed carry reform.

During his 18-year tenure as Arapahoe County Sheriff, Sullivan was a poster boy for big government…

But not only was Sullivan a major Nanny Statist, he was also a tax-and-spender. Vincent Carroll reviews for the Denver Post:

[Sullivan] agreed to participate in a political advertisement in 1992 against the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in which he pointed to a section of the amendment that he said “cuts cops and puts criminals back on the street.”

That claim was a lurid falsehood — which voters apparently sensed because they approved TABOR that year by a comfortable margin.

Given how little Sullivan cared for others’ freedoms, it’s a little hard to feel too sorry for him now that he has been arrested for consensual crimes.

And yet we must also remember all the violence Sullivan stopped as a peace officer, and all the innocent people he helped protect from harm.

Lovers of liberty must point out the basic injustice of Sullivan’s arrest, even though it’s the sort of police action Sullivan himself once endorsed.