Category Archives: Politics

Lessons from Martian Climate Change

Water flows on Mars, NASA announced September 28. “Using an imaging spectrometer on [the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter], researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes,” NASA reports. I first heard about this surface water from an August 19 video from Comic-Con (see minute 9:40), in which NASA representatives discuss Mars and The Martian film; some evidence for this water has been around for several years.

This is huge news with respect to potential human missions to Mars as well as to the potential for discovering life on Mars.

But how did Mars get so dry in the first place, and what does that phenomenon teach us about Earth?

I was somewhat amused to read the following Tweet: “‘Mars suffered climate change and lost its surface water.’ There are words to scare the s**t out of all living humans.” I agree with that sentiment, but not for the reasons the Tweeter presumably had in mind.

What the Tweeter probably thought was something like this: “Mars experienced climate change that would have been catastrophic for any life present and that likely prevented new life from developing. Earth, too, is experiencing some climate change, largely because of human activity, and this could lead to catastrophic results such as we see on Mars.”

Obviously, such a take on Martian climate change is a little silly. Mars lost almost all of its greenhouse gasses; Earth is gaining greenhouse gases. (Due mostly to human activity, carbon dioxide has risen from around 300 parts per million of the atmosphere, or 0.03 percent of the atmosphere, to 400 parts per million, or 0.04 percent.) Outside the realm of pure fantasy, not even the most hysterically alarmist predictions about Earth’s climate change predict a future remotely as dire as what happened on Mars.

But the extreme changes on Mars do offer a warning to humans. We’ll come back to that.

First, let’s review in brief what happened on Mars. As the geography of Mars makes evident, water once flowed in great abundance on Mars. But then Mars lost most of its atmosphere and the oceans boiled away. Why? Apparently Mars just didn’t have enough mass to hang on to its air, especially given the violence of meteor impacts, and the atmosphere dissipated. (Another theory I’d heard, that Mars’s weak magnetic field allowed solar winds to blow off the atmosphere, appears not to be much of a factor.)

The main lesson of Martian climate change, then, is that for the most part the universe is extremely hostile to life, and even places most hospitable to life may not stay that way. If life evolved on Mars, it was either killed off or driven underground by purely natural causes.

The Earth is not magically immune from such potential natural catastrophes. Indeed, less-severe natural catastrophes, ranging from earthquakes to hurricanes to volcanic eruptions, happen fairly routinely. Asteroid collisions have dramatically impacted the evolution of life on Earth—and a sufficiently large asteroid could destroy all life on Earth. At one point, humanity “damn near went extinct” due to an ice age likely caused by a supervolcano.

The lesson I take from this is that, to ensure the survival and expansion of our species long-term, humans absolutely must colonize space—and Mars is a great place to begin.

Andy Weir, author of The Martian novel, shares this view:

I want us to have a self-sufficient, human population somewhere other than Earth, because, twenty-five years of being a computer programmer has taught me the value of backing things up. And, as long as our entire species is on one planet, we risk extinction. It’s not very likely, but it could happen. It could be plague, it could be a war, it could be a meteor strike or something like that. But, if we’re on two planets, it is practically impossible for us to die.

Similarly, in Welcome to Mars, Buzz Aldrin writes, “The pioneers who settle Mars will . . . ensure the long-term survival of life in our solar system. Earth faces challenges. If there were a disaster, Mars would give us a place to get resources or to make a new home” (p. 6).

Speaking of climate change, Aldrin has some intriguing ideas for pursuing human-made climate change on Mars:

Giant mirrors in orbit could direct . . . sunshine to heat Mars’s polar ice caps. A temperature increase of just a few degrees would thaw the carbon dioxide frozen there. . . . As the temperature rises, more carbon dioxide is released. . . . If the mirrors aren’t enough, we can knock an asteroid out of its orbit to slam into Mars. Some asteroids are rich in ammonia, another greenhouse gas. An impact would produce a lot more heat and carbon dioxide, too. Once it is warm enough for water on the surface, plants can grow. (pp. 88–89)

I’m not sure how well that would work long-term, especially given Mars’s apparent difficulty keeping its atmosphere. But, one way or another, humans can make Mars hospitable to life.

Sure, human activity brings with it certain risks, harms, and trade-offs. But these risks are nothing compared to the risks of humans not acting to expand and improve human life on Earth and, eventually, beyond.


Huemer on Strengthening the Chains of the Constitution

Michael Huemer
If American government was to be bound by the “chains of the Constitution,” then surely those chains have loosened if not snapped. Michael Huemer, a philosopher at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has some ideas for how to tighten those chains. He discussed these ideas July 13 at an event hosted by Liberty On the Rocks, Flatirons.

Huemer observes that structural and procedural Constitutional provisions (regarding how government functions) tend to be taken more seriously than are substantive Constitutional provisions (regarding what government may and may not do). So his ideas focus on changing government structures and procedures in the hopes of indirectly altering the substance of what government does.

He offers three main proposals. First, new legislation should require a two-thirds vote by Congress. Second, “there should be a negative legislature that has the power only of repealing laws.” Third, besides the Supreme Court, there should be a new Constitutional Court, “where the cases are decided by a jury of citizens,” that can initiate Constitutional review and that can mete out punishments to elected officials who violate the Constitution.

Generally I regard these as excellent ideas.

Huemer did an especially good job of explaining why the default should be for government to take no action—the opposite of today’s presumption. Government action, he stressed, involves coercing people. In general, he argued, it’s better to not coerce someone, even if coercion might be justified in a given case, than it is to coerce someone unjustly.

Huemer likened modern government to a Medieval doctor. Society, like the human body, is enormously complex, and making a random change to it is more likely to do harm than good. Medieval doctors were more likely to harm their patients than to help them, Huemer noted, and, similarly, government actors are more likely to do harm than good. Thus, he concluded, it’s good to move the default closer to government taking no action via the institutional changes he suggests. (Huemer offered many additional arguments to buttress his case; for these I’ll point individuals to the video of his presentation.)

I think Huemer went off track only a few times. The most important example is his treatment of the separation of powers. True, as he noted, different government institutions very often support rather than oppose each other. But that does not change the fact that the separation of powers, instituted not only in the tripartite federal government but in federal-state divisions and in representational elections, very often stops or slows the imposition of bad government policies. For example, the Supreme Court threw out much of FDR’s New Deal, and more recently it threw out censorship of political speech via the Citizens United decision.

Huemer errs in this matter largely because he assumes government entities generally seek to expand their own power. True, they often do. But very often government actors are driven by ideological convictions, not (or not only) by a lust for personal power. Because people in different government entities  are motivated by ideological convictions (to a lesser or greater degree), the separation of powers works somewhat better than Huemer thinks.

Another problem with Heumer’s presentation is that his idea of a “negative legislature” needs a lot more development to be viable. It would be a straight-forward fix if it were the case that new laws always expand government powers on net, while repeals of laws always reduce them. But that’s not the case. New laws very often curtail government powers made possible by preexisting laws. For example, federal civil rights laws preempted state-level discrimination laws—and that was a pro-liberty development. In Colorado a few years back, new legislation curtailed the power of police to seize property through asset forfeiture. To make matters more complex, generally old statutory language is removed via the passage of a new bill. So it’s not clear whether a “negative legislature,” unless its scope were very clearly and appropriately defined, would on net act to expand or reduce government power.

Huemer also suggested that he supports anarchy over limited government; he did not get into that issue during his talk, so I won’t get into it here. I’ll have more to say against anarchy later.

In all, Huemer’s talk is well worth watching. It is an excellent example of how an academic can make rigorous arguments to a popular audience. Academics should interact with the thinking public, and vice versa—as such provides checks and balances within American intellectual discourse.


Ben Carson’s Grain of Truth: Voters Should Care about Candidates’ Religious Views

“Should a president’s faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?” That’s what NBC’s Chuck Todd recently asked Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson.

The obvious answer is that of course a candidate’s religious beliefs should matter to voters. For example, if a candidate wanted to outlaw homosexuality on the basis that it violates Biblical teachings, most Americans (including practically every leftist) would hold that such a religious belief properly disqualifies the candidate for office.

But that’s not what Carson said. Carson said a candidate’s faith should matter to voters “if it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America.” He added, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.”

Carson’s answer introduced two serious confusions, and few of his critics have clearly sorted out the relevant issues. So let’s sort them out.

Carson first confused a candidate’s professed faith with a candidate’s particular religious views. There is a big difference between a candidate professing affiliation with some religious tradition and advocating particular faith-based policies.

Obviously, in today’s context, professed affiliation with any of the world’s major religions, such as Christianity (including its major variants such as Mormonism), Judaism, or Islam ought not automatically turn off a voter. Now, there are some religions, including Scientology and Jehovah’s Witnesses, that I regard as sufficiently kooky that I would never vote for a candidate who professed that religion. But, let’s face it, into the indefinite future nearly all elected officials in America will adhere to some religion or other, so we just can’t rule out candidates only because they profess religious affiliation.

I can imagine a future in which, rather than trump their religious affiliations, candidates run from religion—and that would be a huge improvement. Rather than candidates emphasizing their religious faith, they should say, in effect, “I’m culturally religious, but I don’t take religious beliefs very seriously, and I would never seek to impose religious beliefs by force of law.” Or they should openly profess no religious affiliation.

What voters should worry about are the particular religious beliefs a candidate holds and what those beliefs imply for the policies a candidate likely would pursue in office.

For example, to my mind, Carson’s faith-based rejection of evolution, by itself, disqualifies him for the presidency (even though he has distanced himself from “young earth” creationism).

Of course, Carson’s follow-up claim that every American Muslim wishes to impose Sharia law in America is absurd. Globally, Muslims express a vast range of political views. As I’ve expressed on Twitter, I’d rather vote for a nominal Muslim than for a fundamentalist Christian, other things equal.

Carson second confused what voters should take into account with what government should permit. As many of Carson’s critics have pointed out, the U.S. Constitution prohibits religious tests for office.

At first it was unclear whether Carson was talking about a religious test or about advice for voters. But, in follow-up remarks, Carson said the president should be “sworn in on a stack of Bibles, not a Koran.” That’s pretty obviously the establishment of a religious test.

Unfortunately, some of Carson’s critics are hiding behind the “religious test” clause to pretend that all criticisms of a candidate’s religion are somehow off-limits. But obviously there is a huge difference between an individual voter judging a candidate’s religious views and government barring people of certain religions from running for office.

In this vein, for example, consider Bernie Sanders’s ridiculous comment: “You judge candidates for president not on their religion, not on the color of their skin, but on their ideas on what they stand for.” So, Sanders implies, a religion is akin to skin color, something inherited—which is obvious nonsense. A religion is a set of ideas pertaining to the nature of reality and man’s place in it, and, as such, it is something that individuals rightly judge in and out of the voting booth.

The left is missing a golden opportunity to make Carson drink his own medicine. If Muslim candidates should be judged—and rejected—for seeking to impose tenets of religious faith by force of law, then so should Christian candidates. And that standard would wipe out most of the current GOP contenders, including Carson himself.

Krannawitter’s Elegant Solution to Regulatory Overreach

Thomas Krannawitter
Thomas Krannawitter has a straight-forward but far-reaching proposal for reforming America’s overreaching regulatory state: Turn every federal regulatory agency into an advisory group, with the power to advise Congress but not pass or enforce regulations.

Krannawitter, formerly a professor at Hillsdale College and Colorado Christian University, presented his idea, and the reasons behind it, September 14 at Liberty on the Rocks, Flatirons. He is also working on a book on the topic.

Krannawitter began with a brief history of American governance. The Constitution, he said, is based on “wide, deep, mutual civic trust”—that is, trust in our fellow citizens as they pursue their own rights-respecting affairs—and deep distrust of those who wield government power. Hence, government officials, according to the Founders, should be bound by the “chains of the Constitution.”

By contrast, the regulatory state that arose early in the Twentieth Century was based on the notion that unelected, “scientific” regulators should act unchecked to chain the citizenry. Now government “regulates every aspect of human life conceivable,” Krannawitter said.

Next Krannawitter explained why, in his view, the regulatory state is unconstitutional. The Constitution vests legislative power solely in Congress, he explained, and it does not authorize Congress to delegate that power to any other entity. Although widely rejected today, his view is consistent with the original understanding of the Constitution. As legal scholar Rob Natelson writes in The Original Constitution, the Constitution “did not authorize Congress to delegate its functions to administrative agencies or to anyone else.”

But, as Krannawitter admitted, today many people simply don’t take the Constitution seriously. (I’d say that most people care about aspects of the Constitution but interpret it very loosely to fit their policy goals.) So it is crucially important to emphasize to the American people the practical case for reining in the regulatory state, he suggested.

Krannawitter made a convincing case given the short time he had to make it. (I expect his book will go into much greater detail.) Here I’ll highlight some of his main points:

  • Regulations act on the presumption of guilt. The regulated must continually prove to the regulators that they are in compliance with the regulations, or else they are treated as guilty of violating them.
  • Regulatory agencies overturn the separation of powers, incorporating legislative, executive, and even judicial powers in a single body.
  • Regulations tend to entrench the status quo and cut off innovative approaches to solving problems.
  • Whereas tort law partners responsibility with property rights, regulations often act to shield the regulated from responsibility—because they can give the excuse that they were in “regulatory compliance.”
  • Regulatory agencies tend to emphasize problems that they can “fix” so they can expand their budgets. “They’re not rewarded for success, they’re rewarded for failure,” Krannawitter said.
  • Unlike private business owners, who have a stake in the success or failure of their businesses, regulators have little or no personal stake in the consequences of their actions.

Krannawitter made a few missteps in his presentation. For example, he claimed that “regulations never drive prices down.” Usually regulations act to drive up prices, but not always. Anyway, whether regulations tend to drive prices up or down is peripheral to the question of whether regulations are appropriate. The proper purpose of government is to protect people’s rights, not to enforce or “encourage” (by force) bureaucratically approved price levels.

On the whole, though, Krannawitter did a fine job presenting an enormously complex topic in its essentials. Although his proposal for fixing the problem is politically impossible given the current class of Congressional “leaders,” and although it would not be a panacea even if passed, it is well worth promoting if only to encourage discussion about the many, deep problems of America’s regulatory state. Turn regulatory agencies into advisory committees. It’s a start.

Colorado’s Orwellian Consumer Use Tax Statutes

If you live in Colorado, likely you are technically a criminal—and possibly a felon—under Colorado tax law. By my reading of Colorado statutes, you’re a criminal if you’ve purchased items from out of state, either while traveling or through mail order (such as through Amazon), on which sales tax has not been collected, if you have not paid the “consumer use tax” on the item. Due to widespread ignorance of the relevant tax laws and lack of enforcement, most people do not pay the “consumer use tax”—or even know they’re legally supposed to pay it.

The Colorado legislature could implement a relatively simple fix for this problem. As I write in an article for Complete Colorado (also published by the Greeley Tribune), the legislature could exempt, “say, a person’s first $6,000 per year in out-of-state purchases—that’s $500 per month—from consumer use taxes.” That simple reform would turn many or most Coloradans from criminals into non-criminals.

I’ve been amazed by how many people are unaware of the consumer use tax laws. I talked with one state legislator who had never even heard of this tax. (I wonder how many state legislators technically are criminals under the law.) I talked with a former state legislator who claimed the consumer use tax is due only for items purchased from businesses with an in-state presence—which is not the case. (Out-of-state retailers have to collect Colorado sales tax if they have a Colorado presence, such as a retail outlet or warehouse, but this isn’t relevant to the consumer use tax.) So let’s explore what the rules are.

Here’s how the Colorado Department of Revenue summarizes the tax:

Consumer use tax must be paid by Colorado residents and businesses on purchases (items used for personal or business purposes, not resold) that did not include Colorado sales tax, such as those made over the Internet, by mail order, or by telephone. Consumer use tax is payable to the state by individuals and businesses when sales tax is due but has not been collected. Individuals and businesses have always been required to pay sales or use tax on taxable purchases from out-of-state vendors if the item is sold, leased, or delivered in Colorado for use, storage, distribution, or consumption in the state.

Colorado state use tax is the same rate as the sales tax. With proof of payment, sales tax paid to another state may be credited against state use tax due in Colorado for a particular item. Use tax is also collected by some local governments and special districts.

And here’s what various statutes say (as linked via the Colorado legislature page):

39-26-202(b): On and after January 1, 2001, there is imposed and shall be collected from every person in this state a tax or excise at the rate of two and ninety one-hundredths percent of storage or acquisition charges or costs for the privilege of storing, using, or consuming in this state any articles of tangible personal property purchased at retail.

39-26-204(1)(b) [Article 26, Sales and Use Tax; Part 2, Use Tax]: (b) Every person who is subject to the provisions of this part 2 who uses, stores, or consumes tangible personal property not in the conduct of a business, which is purchased either inside or outside this state, who has not paid the sales or use tax imposed by this article to a retailer, shall make a return and remit the tax annually, at the time the Colorado income tax of such person is due and payable as provided in article 22 of this title, on forms prescribed by the executive director, showing in detail the tangible personal property stored, used, or consumed by said persons within this state for the preceding taxable year.

(c) All such returns shall be subscribed by the taxpayer or his agent and shall contain a written declaration that it is made under the penalties of perjury in the second degree.

39-26-206: Any person who willfully fails or refuses to make the return required in section 39-26-204, or who makes a false or fraudulent return, or who willfully fails to pay any tax owing by him, and any person who aids or abets another in an attempt to evade such tax, shall be punished as provided by section 39-21-118.

39-21-118: (1) Any person who willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax administered by the department or the payment thereof, in addition to other penalties provided by law, is guilty of a class 5 felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished as provided in section 18-1.3-401, C.R.S., or shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred thousand dollars, or five hundred thousand dollars in the case of a corporation, or by both such fine and imprisonment, together with the costs of prosecution.

(2) Any person required, or any person who purports to be required, under any title administered by the department to collect, account for, or pay over any tax, who willfully fails to collect or truthfully account for or pay over such tax, including, but not limited to, willfully making a materially false statement in connection with an application for a refund of any tax for the purpose of falsely obtaining a refund of such tax, in addition to other penalties provided by law, is guilty of a class 5 felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished as provided in section 18-1.3-401, C.R.S., or shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred thousand dollars, or five hundred thousand dollars in the case of a corporation, or by both such fine and imprisonment, together with the costs of prosecution.

(2.5) Any person who through gross negligence or recklessness makes a materially false statement in applying for a refund pursuant to section 39-26-703 or any other person who makes a false statement in connection with an application for a refund is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than ninety days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

By my reading of Colorado statutes, then, every Coloradan who buys items out of state, on which sales tax has not been collected, is legally required to pay the consumer use tax. (Please note that I am not a lawyer, and the statutes can be very confusing and difficult to interpret. To date, though, no one has offered any evidence that my reading is wrong.)

But are Coloradans who don’t pay the use tax actually felons? Note that statute 39-21-118(1) refers to “willful” evasion of the tax. This presents the Kafkaesque scenario in which, if you don’t know about the use tax, you’re not a felon, but if you do know about it and don’t pay it, you are a felon. So it could very well be that simply by reading this article and learning you’re legally supposed to pay the consumer use tax, you have become a felon (you’re welcome).

Obviously, what is “willful” as opposed to unwillful is largely a matter of interpretation. And what is the meaning of the line about “any person who purports to be required” to pay the tax? Does that mean that, simply by saying you owe any tax, whether or not you’re mistaken about the statutes, you owe it? These statutes are absurd, and they open to door to prosecutorial abuse.

If I could, I would simply do away with all sales taxes and use taxes, even if that meant increasing state income taxes in a revenue-neutral way. Such a far-reaching reform seems unlikely in the near future. However, the modest proposal I’ve offered, to exempt a person’s first $6,000 per year in out-of-state purchases from consumer use taxes, would go a long way toward solving the problem of unjustly criminalizing vast numbers of Coloradans.

Quick Reflections on the Supreme Court’s Gay Marriage Decision

Today the Supreme Court issued a momentous decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide. Here I collect my brief reflections on the matter in the form of embedded Tweets.

Why Not Send All Colorado Bills to a Floor Vote?

Yesterday I waded into the middle of the conflict between Rocky Mountain Gun Owners RMGO and the Independence Institute regarding strategy over gun magazine restrictions. (This morning Mandy Connell discussed my article on KHOW, and Dudley Brown called in to explain his position.) Related, yesterday RMGO* also tried a bizarre procedural move to force a floor vote of the bill to repeal the magazine restrictions.

The leftist ColoradoPols has a write-up about this. According to a Democratic media release it quotes, “Rep. Everett moved to amend the journal to overturn the work of the committee and show that SB15-175 passed.” That is certainly an, uh, interesting tactic. Obviously if a Democrat tried that with Republican leadership, Republicans would explode in anger. (I’ve emailed Everett about this and will update this article if he replies.)*

But, RMGO* antics aside, the episode gave me an idea: Why not send all bills to a floor-wide vote? The legislature would still have committees, and the committees would still hear testimony. But, rather than vote a bill up or down, a committee would offer a recommendation on a bill and send it on to the entire body for a vote.

The idea behind the committee vote, presumably, is that a small group of legislators can specialize in a certain area and weed out the unworthy bills. But, in practice, legislative leadership routinely use committees to kill bills they don’t like. Certain committees are informally known as “kill committees”; they are where leadership sends bills so that their reliable colleagues in safe seats can vote them down. Yes, committees hear testimony, but in many or most cases this testimony is entirely irrelevant to the outcome of the bill: Often legislators know how they will vote, and how each of the other committee members will vote, before the hearing even starts.

One purpose of “kill committees” is to shield other members of the leadership’s party from having to take uncomfortable positions on controversial topics. This is good for the party in power, but it is bad for constituents, and it is bad for the democratic process. (I’m not a democrat, but I do see value in citizen oversight of government.)

Of course, if every bill were brought to a floor vote, each legislator would have to vote on many more bills than is currently the case. I regard that as a benefit of the plan, not a bug. It might discourage legislators from introducing so damn many bills.

If this plan were implemented, it might also make sense to change how floor votes are conducted. Here is one possibility: Once a bill made it through committee, legislators could register their vote for a bill whenever they wanted. They could vote yes, no, or abstain. Once every legislator cast a vote, the bill would be declared passed or failed. If, by the end of the session, a legislator had not cast a vote, his vote would be “abstain” by default.

At this point, my proposal is preliminary. I’d want to learn some additional facts before committing to it, including these: Is this done in any other state government? [April 20 Update: Paul Jacob tells me that New Hampshire does this. Rob Natelson tells me North Dakota does, too.] Is there any consequence to the system I’m not foreseeing? Would this require a citizens’ initiative to implement? Offhand, though, putting every bill to a floor vote seems like a great idea.

April 20 Update: This plan is compatible with floor debate for each vote. Then voting would start at the end of the floor debate. Also, I’m not sure how the legislature works now on this issue, but it seems to me that a bill should pass only if a majority plus one vote to pass it, counting all the “abstain” votes. Another variant: Rather than send all bills to the floor, committees could rule, unless a third (plus one) of a body’s members called for a floor vote, in which case a bill would go to the floor even if the committee voted no.

* April 17 Update: Representative Justin Everett emailed me and stated that, contrary to the claims of ColoradoPols, “RMGO wasn’t involved” in the floor action. (RMGO PAC endorsed Everett last year.) He further states “it was a legit way to get the mag ban to the floor.” April 18 Update: RMGO’s Dudley Brown, however, explicitly claims participation in the legislative move.

Observations about the Colorado Gun Magazine Spat

Dudley Brown

Dudley Brown

If you’re a gun-rights activist, is it better to have a law that restricts gun magazines to fifteen rounds or to thirty rounds? The answer might seem obvious: Laws that violate rights less are less-bad than laws that violate rights more. So of course Rocky Mountain Gun Owners opposed a recent attempt to ease Colorado’s magazine restrictions from fifteen to thirty rounds—waging a nasty smear campaign along the way.

In 2013, House Bill 1224 banned “the transfer of gun magazines holding more than 15 rounds,” as I reviewed that year.

This year, various Colorado Republican legislators attempted to repeal the magazine restrictions. An April 15 email from the National Rifle Association summarizes: “SB [Senate Bill] 175, introduced by state Senators Chris Holbert (R-30) and John Cooke (R-13), would have repealed [the] anti-gun piece of legislation passed into law during the 2013 legislative session that arbitrarily limits the number of rounds of ammunition you can use to protect yourself and your family to 15.” (People can keep the larger magazines they already own but not legally acquire new ones in the state.) A house committee killed that bill on April 15.

No serious person actually thought the Democrat-controlled state house would repeal the magazine restrictions; the purpose of the legislation was to keep up awareness of the issue.

However, there was an outside chance that Democrats might support a measure to ease the magazine restrictions from fifteen to thirty rounds; apparently Democrat Joe Salazar indicated he would. [April 20 Update: Salazar suggested this in a video with Revealing Politics.] The idea was for some legislator to run a late bill on the matter. Jon Caldara and Dave Kopel, president and research director (respectively) for the Independence Institute (II), supported that proposal. Dudley Brown and his Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO) opposed it. The proposal seems to be dead at this point.

I don’t think there was much chance of such a measure passing. (I contacted Salazar via email and voice mail to ask him about the proposal, but I haven’t heard back from him.) However, it was perfectly reasonable for gun-rights activists to pursue such a proposal. But RMGO doesn’t do reasonable. It does smear.

On April 13, RMGO published a Facebook post calling the thirty-round proposal the “Kopel Kompromise.” The post continued, “Does Michael Bloomberg have a sleeper cell in Colorado? All of a sudden David Kopel is fighting as hard as he can to save the Magazine Ban by gutting SB15-175, the repeal bill. Maybe its because he’s a ‘lifelong registered Democrat’ and a ‘Ralph Nader’ voter.”

Kopel is one of the most important Second Amendment scholars in the world and an outspoken critic of Bloomberg’s gun-restriction proposals. RMGO’s insinuation that he’s somehow secretly and intentionally working to promote Bloomberg’s agenda is a slanderous lie.

It is also flatly untrue that Kopel wanted to “gut” bill 175; I’ll get to the pertinent details momentarily.

RMGO claims on Facebook (in a comment) that the II “started it”—because apparently you’re never too old for kindergarten. RMGO claims that posting the message about Kopel is “[o]nly returning the favor. Caldara (and by extension, Kopel) started it by claiming we were working with Bloomberg.” I doubt very seriously that Caldara publicly claimed that RMGO is “working with Bloomberg.” (It would be wrong and foolish to say such a thing.) Caldara has claimed, and rightly so, that RMGO is in effect furthering Bloomberg’s agenda by undercutting the effort to ease the restrictions from fifteen to thirty rounds. Regardless of what Caldara said about RMGO, RMGO was quite wrong to smear Kopel.

RMGO also stated in a Facebook post targeting Caldara: “Anti-gun State Rep. Joe Salazar is floating a so-called ‘compromise’ proposal that’ll virtually guarantee Bloomberg’s Magazine Ban will be PERMANENT and unrepealable. Worse, establishment lobbyists like Jon Caldara are backing it by attacking RMGO members and supporters. Please . . . urge lawmakers to oppose the Salazar-Caldara ‘Permanent Magazine Ban Amendment.’ Insist they pass SB15-175 without amendment and repeal the Mag Ban in its entirety.”

RMGO’s claims about the politics of the proposals are implausible, as I’ll explain later. (Notice that RMGO neglected to point out the nature of the “compromise” in question.) For now consider merely what the legislative proposal was.

I’ve communicated with Kopel and Caldara by email, and with Holbert by phone, and they agree that amending 175 was never on the table; the plan was for a late bill. Caldara states, “Dudley was trying to confuse the issue saying that we wanted to change SB-175, which couldn’t be changed that way even if we want to. We want the Senate Republicans to pass a change to the current mag ban from 15 to 30 in a brand new late bill. Dudley won’t allow his followers to vote for that. He and Bloomberg don’t want Coloradans to have 30 rounds mags.”

As Holbert told me by phone (and as he’s also said on Facebook), there never was a late bill to ease the magazine restrictions. He said, “It’s frustrating for me that people have been drawing lines and taking sides on something that wasn’t real.” He granted that a late bill was a theoretical possibility; however, he said he’s heard from leadership that they don’t want late bills. (It’s unclear whether Salazar would have seriously supported any magazine bill.) Interestingly, senate president Bill Cadman just introduced a late bill regarding fetal homicide, so evidently late bills are not totally off the table.

I asked Holbert if he would vote for easing the restrictions to 30 rounds, and he said no. It’s hard to see why anyone would run the bill, knowing that RMGO’s own favored legislators would torpedo it. So it seems to me that Holbert wants it both ways: He wants to say that voting on the proposal was never a real possibility, but he actively discouraged it from becoming a real possibility by declaring he’d oppose it.

Holbert echoed RMGO’s position, that a “compromise” measure would make it “all but impossible to repeal [the ban] if the numbers moved to thirty.”

That claim, that easing the restrictions now would make repealing them later impossible, is frankly silly. The only way the magazine restrictions will be repealed is if the Republicans recapture both sides of the legislature and probably the governor’s mansion as well. It’s not enough to pull some Democrats over from a Democrat-controlled body, because leadership can kill any bill it wants. If Republicans were to regain control of state government across the board—by the way, something that’s extremely unlikely into the foreseeable future—then it would be just as easy for Republicans to repeal a thirty-round law as a fifteen-round law. Indeed, in some ways it would be easier to repeal a thirty-round law, because the marginal change from that to an outright repeal would be less dramatic.

So, if your goal is to ultimately repeal the magazine ban, passing a marginal reform now would be the best move toward that goal. (If, on the other hand, your goal is to keep your members angry and writing checks, RMGO’s strategy may make more sense.)

[April 17 Update: Representative Justin Everett send me an email in which he states that, if easing the magazine restrictions to thirty rounds “was doable, then we would never get a full magazine ban repeal because there would be no political will to do so even on the Republican side. Trust me, I serve with these people.” I don’t buy it.]

The underlying substantive issue is whether any sort of political compromise or piecemeal reform is appropriate. The view expressed by Holbert and RMGO, that easing a rights-violating law is wrong because it makes repealing the law harder, is frankly insane, and no rational person would attempt to treat the principle as a universal. Not even Dudley Brown would attempt to do so.

Take the example of background-registration checks. In 2000 I worked with Brown to oppose Amendment 22, the measure (which passed) to extend registration checks to private sales at gun shows. In 2013, Colorado government passed House Bill 1229 to expand registration checks to almost all gun sales. Would Brown argue that it would be wrong to repeal Bill 1229 or Amendment 22, on the grounds that doing so would not totally repeal background-registration checks? Obviously not. Brown would do exactly what he blasts Kopel for trying to do: seek piecemeal reform.

Or consider the example of taxation. I think taxation is wrong and ultimately should be replaced by voluntary financing of government. But obviously I’m not going to torpedo any effort to marginally reduce tax rates and government spending, on the pretext that doing so would make taxes harder to repeal; that would be insane.

By Brown’s “logic,” voting for the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights was wrong because it still allowed increases in government spending.

By Brown’s “logic,” any effort to ease regulations on businesses should be opposed, so long as any regulations remain.

By Brown’s “logic,” Lincoln should be condemned for his Emancipation Proclamation on the grounds that it did not totally end slavery.

Brown’s position regarding magazine restrictions is essentially that he wants the law to be as rights-violating and damaging as possible, so that people are motivated to repeal it. By that “logic,” if the restrictions were set at five rounds, he’d oppose easing them to fifteen. If magazines were totally banned, he’d oppose legalizing any gun magazines if they were restricted in any way.

Usually I’m the first to quote Ayn Rand’s remarks about compromise, and I agree with them. But it is no compromise of principles to accept an incremental reform on the path to consistently good policy. To hold otherwise is to deny any possibility for incremental improvements.

I should mention that I know both Brown and Kopel personally; I’m probably the only person in the world to have worked (on contract and at different times) for both RMGO and the II. I first met Brown in 1998. I’ve always admired Brown’s talents as a political operative, and on a personal level I’ve generally found him to be an amiable guy. But in this case he’s sacrificed gun rights for the sake of smearing Kopel, whom he has long disliked. It would be pleasant if Brown would refrain from being a vindictive and hypocritical jerk. I won’t hold my breath.

Penn Jillette Reminds Denver Crowd to Defend Liberty for “Crazies” Too

penn-jilletteAs you gain political power, Penn Jillette told the conservatives and free market advocates at the Independence Institute’s 30th Anniversary Founders’ Night banquet, be sure to remember the “nuts” and “crazies” and defend their liberty, too. After all, he said, we can’t have a free society unless people have the “freedom to be stupid.”

The Institute’s president Jon Caldara is an edgy guy who often pushes the boundaries of humor. But I could tell he was a little nervous that  Jillette, an outspoken atheist known for his Bullshit! Showtime series, might prove too controversial for his more conservative supporters. His hand-wringing was unnecessary. Jillette delivered an earnest and heartfelt speech (while pacing the stage without notes) that appealed to most everyone in the room. I had seen Penn & Teller’s magic show in Las Vegas, so I knew Jillette to be a talented entertainer, but I was surprised by how polished and engaging a public speaker he is.

Jillette gave as good a presentation for the standard libertarian argument that “government is force” as I’ve ever seen. He talked about the many hours he’d spent at his local library as a child and about his love for NPR. Yet, he said, he could not justify pointing the guns of government at people to force them to help finance such projects. He once turned down a government grant for a project because “our show was too damn good” for that. “Guns don’t belong in art,” he said.

Jillette also talked about the trap of cynicism, and how he had once fallen into that trap by assuming that many people would watch Bullshit! because they hated it. Instead, although many people were critical of the show, usually they expressed their criticism politely and constructively. Telling a person “you’re wrong” directly grants them a certain respect, he said; it’s recognizing “you’re an American” and seeing robust debate as part of what we’re about as a nation.

Incidentally, Jillette looked fantastic; he has recently lost over a hundred  pounds by changing his diet.

The Institute also presented its annual David S. D’Evelyn Award to George Caulkins, a veteran Marine helicopter pilot active with the Alliance for Choice in Education.

I also received the Vern Bickel Award for Grassroots Leadership. (I had only 20 seconds on stage, so I thanked the Institute and jokingly presented Caldara with a Hillary Clinton Nutcracker.) Mike Rosen graciously introduced me. I very much appreciate this recognition by the Institute and all the well-wishes expressed by my friends and associates.


How Various Media Botched an Abortion Story and Defamed GOP Rep. Barbieri

No one can reasonably question my pro-choice credentials—I’ve been a vocal opponent of the so-called “personhood” measures in Colorado; I’ve coauthored a paper defending a woman’s right to seek an abortion; and I’ve coauthored the article, “The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties.” So, as a matter of policy, on this issue I stand opposed to Idaho’s Republican state representative Vito Barbieri, who is anti-abortion and who advocates legal restrictions of abortion.

But just because Barbieri is wrong on the issues, doesn’t mean he deserves to be lied about and defamed—yet what various media outlets have done precisely is lie about Barbieri, take his remarks grossly out of context, and defame him.

I advocate legal abortion, but I do not advocate only that; among many other things, I also advocate honesty in media and basic human decency.  The media outlets in question have failed both those tests. Because initially I was suckered by their dishonest reports, and because I published a Tweet mocking Barbieri (which I subsequently corrected), I now feel some responsibility to help set the record straight.

The context, according to an Associated Press article by Kimberlee Kruesi, was that the Idaho legislature was hearing “testimony on a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine.” A doctor who testified against the bill, Julie Madsen, drew a comparison to a camera swallowed for a colonoscopy, which can be useful in telemedicine. To this, Barbieri sensibly inquired whether a camera might also be useful for a chemically-induced abortion—the topic at hand—and Madsen admitted it cannot be useful for that, because, she said, “swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina.” In other words, Madsen is the one who brought up swallowed cameras, and Barbieri is the one who pointed out that swallowed cameras are useless when it comes to investigating a pregnancy. As Kuesi reports, “Barbieri later said that the question was rhetorical and intended to make a point.” By any reasonable interpretation of the events, that is obviously what happened.

Yet numerous media outlets completely reversed the facts to make it seem as though Barbieri thought a swallowed camera might be useful for pregnancy, and that Madsen was “educating” him that the digestive tract is not connected to the vagina. But that was precisely the fact of which Barbieri was reminding Madsen, to point out that that portion of her testimony was, in his view, off-topic.

To get the flavor of the defamatory remarks that various “journalists” made about Barbieri, see articles published by the Washington Post, MSNBCSlate, Huffington Post, People, and Jezebel.

As soon as I read Barbieri’s remarks in context, it was pretty clear that various media reports about those remarks were flatly wrong. So I did something that is apparently unusual in the world of journalism today: I actually contacted Barbieri to get his side of the story. His comments square perfectly with the account I’ve given; here is what he emailed me, in full:

Thank you for contacting me in regard to my comments in the House State Affairs committee. Unfortunately, this is an example of the media taking an issue and warping it to fulfill their own agenda.

Please review the remarks made in context.

While discussing the efficacy of long-distance ‘telemedicine’, the doctor testifying was making an invalid comparison between two vastly different medical procedures, citing a colonoscopy was many times more dangerous than a chemical abortion. I was highlighting the absurdity of this comparison by taking her example of a patient swallowing a camera capsule to ascertain the condition of that patient’s digestive tract “from thousands of miles away” (her words) and, by asking my question, emphasizing that such technology could not be used in the case of a pregnant woman.

With respect to the issue at hand: It is a paramount responsibility of the Legislature to act for the benefit of the health and safety of all its citizens. To that end, and to protect the expectant mother, this bill proposed a physician must first physically examine her prior to dispensing these powerful chemicals. The first chemical will deprive the baby of nutrients which of course starves her/him to death and then, the second chemical, induces hemorrhaging thereby expelling the fetus. The expectant mother is home, alone, having no idea whether the amount of bleeding she is experiencing is normal for this procedure or is the product of a serious complication. This bill merely requires a doctor to physically examine the woman and should be at hand and available in the latter case.

Here is a transcript of the full exchange (with thanks to Betsy Russell, from the Spokesman Review, you can link to a copy of her blog “Eye on Boise” here):

Barbieri: “You mentioned the risk of colonoscopy , can that be done by drugs?”

Dr. Julie Madsen: “It cannot be done by drugs. It can, however, be done remotely where you swallow a pill and this pill has a little camera, and it makes its way through your intestines and those images are uploaded to a doctor who’s often thousands of miles away, who then interprets that.”

Barbieri: “Can this same procedure then be done in a pregnancy? Swallowing a camera and helping the doctor determine what the situation is?”

Madsen: “It cannot be done in pregnancy, simply because when you swallow a pill, it would not end up in the vagina.” (Hoots of laughter from the audience)

Barbieri: “Fascinating. That certainly makes sense, doctor.”

Again, thanks for sharing your perspective on this very important issue and know I will continue to be steadfast in protecting woman’s health as well as the unborn.

Rep. Vito Barbieri
District 2

Now, as a matter of policy, I think Barbieri is clearly wrong. Doctors are more than competent to determine whether telemedicine is safe and appropriate regarding chemically-induced abortions. (Further, doctors’ insurance providers will take steps to ensure they are competent; otherwise, the doctors would get sued.) Further, I think Barbieri’s concerns about bleeding are a mere rationalization to mask his deeper, anti-abortion agenda. On that point, Madsen’s comments are on-topic, for they show that Barbieri (apparently) wants to restrict telemedicine only with respect to abortion, not with respect to other medical conditions.

Barbieri’s policy position is, in my view, unjustifiable—which means that it can be defeated based on facts and logic. Defaming Barbieri, as various media outlets have done, only distracts attention away from the important issues at hand and makes Barbieri’s supporters quite legitimately feel persecuted by a dishonest media.

I will hold out hope that the journalists who defamed Barbieri are in fact journalists, and that they have enough journalistic integrity to publish corrections and apologize to Barbieri.

Vaccinations and the Misreporting of the “Parent’s Bill of Rights”

If there’s one thing I hate more than faulty reporting of a political issue, it’s when the faulty reporting is mine. Earlier today on Twitter I wrongly accused Progress Now Colorado of misstating the text of a bill, Colorado Senate Bill 15-077 (the “Parent’s Bill of Rights”). I apologized for that, and I here apologize again. The basic issue is whether and in what respect the bill touches on parental choice with respect to vaccinations.

Unfortunately, some of the other reporting of the bill significantly mischaracterizes it—including that by Progress Now Colorado. Here I’d like to clarify what the bill actually says, correct my own factual error, and comment on other reporting about the bill.

Some preliminary remarks: I have no position on the bill in question, because I have not researched it adequately to reach a position on it. Offhand, it seems like an overly ambitious, overly broad bill. (It will almost certainly fail, so I see little need to look more closely into it at this time.)

As a matter of political strategy, the bill represents a massive failure for the Colorado GOP. The state senate is definitely in play next year, and Democrats will almost certainly use this bill to scare parents about outbreaks of horrific diseases. My state senator, Laura Woods, a cosponsor of the bill, likely will suffer hit pieces on the matter—we live in an extremely competitive district that until recently was held by Democrats. (In an email about the bill, Progress Now Colorado explicitly named Woods and only her, even though she is not the bill’s primary sponsor.) The bill, introduced January 14 (see the legislature’s web page), winds through the legislature just when national debate rages about vaccinations. So why stir that pot for a bill that doesn’t even have a chance to pass, especially using the names of at-risk legislators? Strategically, the bill is idiotic.

Cleverly taking advantage of the media storm surrounding vaccinations, Progress Now Colorado described SB-77 this way in an email this morning:

One of the worst attacks we’re seeing right now is on public health and education. News reports this week show that Colorado has the lowest rate of childhood vaccinations in America. Right-wing politicians like Rand Paul have come under fire for suggesting that vaccines might be responsible for mental health problems in children, even though that theory has been totally discredited by scientific research.

Right on cue, Colorado conservatives in the Senate have introduced a bill reaffirming the “right” of parents to not have their children vaccinated. With outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough making nationwide headlines, is there a worse message we could send to Colorado parents?

The email’s description is technically accurate but incomplete. The nine-page bill includes a single line about immunization. Here’s what the relevant section of the bill states:

The board of education of a school district, in consultation with parents, teachers, and administrators, shall develop and adopt a policy to promote the involvement of parents of children enrolled in the schools within the school district. The policy must include . . . [p]rocedures by which a parent can learn about the parental rights and responsibilities under the laws of the this state, including the right to . . . [b]e exempt from any immunization laws of this state.

In other words, the bill doesn’t do anything to alter current immunization laws; it merely directs school boards to help parents better “learn” about existing statutes. (Why parents might need the help of school boards to learn about statutes they can easily look up for themselves is beyond me.)

Again, the bit about immunization takes up a single line of a nine-page bill—yet not only Progress Now Colorado but various news outlets made it seem as though vaccinations was the primary issue of the bill.

An article by CBS4 carries the title, “Bill Would Support Parents Opting Out Of Child Vaccinations.” Although the article is technically accurate, it is misleading in that it doesn’t even mention any aspect of the bill besides vaccinations until the fourth paragraph.

The headline of a 9News article states, “‘Parents Bill of Rights’ proposal underlines vaccines, sex education opt-outs.” Again, the article (by Eli Stokols) is technically correct, yet it wrongly implies that the bill is predominantly about vaccinations and sex education. (The bill mentions sex several times, but that too is only a minor aspect of the bill.)

Stokols’s article also wrongly claims the bill “authoriz[es] Colorado parents to make all medical decisions for their children until they’re 18.”  Actually, the bill expressly allows government to intervene when there is a “compelling governmental interest” in doing so, if that interest “is of the highest order, is narrowly tailored, and cannot be accomplished in a less restrictive manner.” The bill also offers exceptions “as otherwise provided by law.”

Notably, the bill mentions neither vaccinations nor sex in its summary; instead, the summary states, “The bill establishes a parent’s bill of rights that sets forth specific parental rights related to education, health care, and mental health care of minor children.”

Given that SB-77 does not alter existing vaccination laws, but only creates new guidelines for educating parents about those laws, what do existing state laws say about vaccinations? Revised Statute 25-4-903, pertaining to “school entry,” states, “It is the responsibility of the parent or legal guardian to have his or her child immunized.” It offers exemptions for health reasons, on the basis of “a religious belief whose teachings are opposed to immunizations,” and on the basis of “a personal belief that is opposed to immunizations.” I’m not sure, but I’m guessing the statutes apply to homeschoolers and to students in private schools as well as to students in government schools. I’m also guessing that, because of the compulsory attendance laws, all parents of school-age children legally must comply with these statutes, ether getting the immunizations or filing for an exemption. Those points merit further research.

Obviously, neither Progress Now Colorado nor any Colorado Democrat is likely to come out publicly in favor of repealing the existing exemptions. So they support, at least tacitly, the exact same vaccination policy that the Republicans they’re demonizing support.

But, for some reason, neither reporters nor political hacktivists see the percentage in running the headline, “Democrats Support the Exact Same Vaccination Laws that Republicans Support, Quibble Over Providing Information”—even though that is the essential truth here.

So where did I go wrong in my initial reporting? In my initial hasty reading of the bill, I looked for the term “vaccination” and missed the related term “immunization.” That was simply an oversight. I thought Progress Now Colorado was reading an implication into the bill that it didn’t explicitly cover. I hastily Tweeted my erroneous conclusion.

Thankfully, Eli Sokols corrected me, pointing me to the relevant line in question, at which point I thanked him and apologized to Progress Now Colorado and to Alan Franklin (a supporter of that group) for my error. I again apologize to those parties, and I again express my appreciation to Stokols for taking the time to point out my error. This serves at a good reminder not to come out swinging without firmly nailing down the relevant facts.

I take solace in the fact that, with this report, I feel I’ve done the matter justice.

Update: Alan Franklin reports that “anti-vaxxers”—people opposed to vaccinations—testified today in favor of the bill. This underlines my point that, strategically, the bill is a disaster for Republicans. I bet the Democrats on the committee can barely contain their glee at witnessing the farce; it’s as though Republicans are writing the attack ads against themselves. I do find it interesting that both the opponents of vaccinations and Democratic operatives are trying to paint the bill as something that it is not: a measure altering vaccination exemptions. At any rate, in case my position was not clear by implication: Vaccines are a wonderful, life-saving medical advance, and parents generally should get their children vaccinated against the relevant diseases.

Second Update: I made yet another error in the original version of this report, and I rewrote it just before 6 pm local time to correct the mistake. (This time Alan Franklin corrected me, which I again appreciate.) Originally I saw the religious exemption in state statutes but missed the exemption for “personal belief.” Originally, I remarked that having only a religious exemption is wrong; however, because there’s not only a religious exemption, that remark was misplaced. Again, I do not have a well-developed policy position on such issues.

Third Update: In an article time-stamped 5:31 pm (but that I read some hours later), ABC7 reports that SB-77 passed out of committee on a party-line vote. The article contains this remarkable passage:

The measure also mentions the controversial topic of immunizations, underscoring current Colorado law that allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their kids for medical, religious or personal beliefs by signing a waiver. 7NEWS asked if the bill would get rid of the waiver process.

“Yes, I mean, I would assume so,” [bill sponsor Tim] Neville said.

But I see no language in the bill that would remove the waiver process for vaccination exemption; the language quoted above certainly doesn’t do that. So I must conclude either that Neville had no idea what the reporter (Lindsay Watts) was asking, or he doesn’t fully understand his own bill. (That would not come as much of a surprise; legislators have a staff to write the language of bills.)

The article also summarizes: “Opponents argued at Thursday’s Senate Education Committee hearing that the measure would prevent children being physically or sexually abused from getting help, especially if a parent was the abuser.” Although I think the fear is exaggerated, I am concerned about language in the bill such as the following: “Except as otherwise provided by law, no [party] . . . may . . . perform a physical examination upon a minor child . . . without first obtaining written consent from the minor child’s parent.” What does “as otherwise provided by law” cover, exactly? Obviously, it would be a horrible outcome if, even in some cases, abusive parents could use the law to shield themselves from scrutiny. I am, to say the least, extremely skeptical that the bill is well written and narrowly tailored to address real problems.

How Colorado’s Lax Voter Security Can Lead a Criminal Right to Your Doorstep

bigstock-computer-criminalIf someone is stalking you or seeking to do you harm, the state of Colorado practically hands the criminal your personal home address, if you are registered to vote.

A couple weeks ago my wife showed me how, with only a name, zip code, and date of birth, you can access your own—or anyone else’s—voter registration information, including home address. Obviously, these bits of information usually are trivially easy for anyone to pick up via quick internet searches. What’s more, Richard Coolidge from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office tells me that someone from New Hampshire requested the entire Colorado voting list and published it online (I have not otherwise verified this claim).

Now that a publication for which I write is preparing to republish the Charlie Hebdo covers, it occurred to me that I don’t want every jihadist in the world to have easy access to a Google map to my front doorstep. Several years ago, when I was writing on another matter, I received a very nasty death threat (perhaps better characterized as a death wish), to the effect that the person hoped for my flesh to be lashed from my bones. I set up a mail box (at a UPS store) intentionally to keep my home address hidden; apparently, that was for naught.

There are provisions in Colorado statutes for anyone who has “reason to believe” that he, or “a member of [his] immediate household, will be exposed to criminal harassment, or otherwise be in danger of bodily harm.” You can go to your local DMV, request a “voter confidentiality” form, and pay a $5 fee to process it. Coolidge tells me that, if you have a restraining order against someone or other type of “active case,” you can join an “address confidentiality program.”

I’m glad those safeguards exist. However, I do not believe they are adequate. First, hardly anyone knows about the existing security risk or the existing remedies for it. Second, by the time someone is threatened or at risk, it’s probably too late—his personal home address is already published online.

Right now, the default is for voters’ home addresses to be openly published. I think that’s wrong. I’m as big a believer as anyone of open government records; however, there is a huge difference between the records of a state agency and one’s personal, private information—the release of which could create a life-threatening security risk.

I’m not entirely sure what the legislature should do to fix the problem; Coolidge says “Secretary [of State Wayne] Williams will be working with the legislature to raise this important issue and identify more options for voters.” Offhand, one idea is to list a voter’s precinct, not his home address. Another is to require those who request voters’ personal information to provide their own information to the government and agree to restrict their use of the information.

I understand the need to protect against voter fraud. But I also understand the need not to expose at-risk individuals to unnecessary danger.

I shouldn’t have to endanger my life to exercise my right to vote, and neither should anyone else who may be the target of criminal stalking or plots. I feel like that’s precisely what I’ve done.  I hope the legislature fixes this problem before someone is maimed or murdered with the help of these records.

Colorado Activist Johanna Fallis Dies

johanna-fallisJohanna Fallis, a longtime Libertarian activist in Colorado, died in early January, reports her partner and fellow activist Lloyd Sweeny. She had had health problems for some time.

Fallis was a former treasurer of the state Libertarian Party (LP), a Libertarian candidate for Secretary of State in 2000, and a retired information systems designer.

I spent time with Johanna at an Austrian economics study group hosted by Ken Riggs, at local LP meetings, and at the 2000 national LP convention (at which I took the photo of her shown).

Johanna was both spirited and friendly; she once told my wife, “You get prettier and prettier every time I see you.”

She will be missed.

I Am Charlie

In the aftermath of yesterday’s horrific slaughter of French journalists by Islamic jihadists for the “offense” of publishing cartoons, it is critically important that all defenders of free speech make the cartoons in question as widely available as possible. The jihadists must not win. I am Charlie.


Libertarians Nearly Cost Colorado Republicans the State Senate; Approval Voting Would Solve

In a year when Republicans made large gains throughout much of the nation, Colorado Democrats nearly maintained control of state government—thanks in part to Libertarians. As it was, Republicans squeaked by with a single-seat advantage in the state senate, while losing the state house and the governor’s race.

The Libertarian almost certainly cost the Republicans a state senate seat from District 20, where Cheri Jahn beat Larry Queen by 33,303 to 32,922 votes—a difference of only 381 votes. Meanwhile, Libertarian Chris Heismann earned 4,968 votes. (I’m relying on “unofficial results” from the Colorado Secretary of State throughout.)

Of course, there’s no reason to think that everyone who voted Libertarian would otherwise vote Republican, but in this case it’s hard to believe that Jahn would have won except for the Libertarian on the ballot.

Meanwhile, in District 5, Democrat Kerry Donovan beat Republican Don Suppes by 27,044 to 25,981 votes, a difference of 1,063. The Libertarian earned 2,339 votes (so it’s less clear the candidate cost the Republican).

In District 19, Libertarian Gregg Miller arguably nearly cost Republican Laura Woods her narrow victory; Miller earned 3,638 votes, while Woods won by only 689 votes. (However, Woods, a supporter of abortion bans and so-called “personhood” legislation, alienated many liberty-minded voters, including me.)

In District 24, Republican Beth Martinez-Humenik probably would have lost if a Libertarian had been in the race; she beat Democrat Judy Solano by only 876 votes.

Remarkably, Libertarians did not cost Republicans any state-wide races. Republican Cory Gardner won the U.S. Senate seat (although he got less than 50 percent of the vote), and Republican Bob Beauprez lost by substantially more votes than the Libertarian received. (Each U.S. House victor received over 50 percent of the vote.)

Claims that Libertarians cost Republicans races are nothing new; they crop up every two years. As another example, this year Libertarian Robert Sarvis most likely cost Republican Ed Gillespie a U.S. Senate seat in Virginia. “Spoilers” are an inherent aspect of single-vote, winner-take-all elections with more than two candidates.

Is there any alternative? To date, Republicans have attempted, without much success, to persuade Libertarians to stay off the ballot. Then, after elections, Republicans berate Libertarians for “costing” them races. This inevitably leads to nasty exchanges between Republicans and Libertarians, with the end result that Libertarians become angrier than ever toward Republicans and resolve to keep running candidates. Some Libertarians even argue that their source of power and influence is their ability to cost Republicans some elections.

There is a better way, and it is approval voting. Approval voting simply allows voters to vote for more than one candidate. So, for example, someone could vote for both the Republican and the Libertarian (or the Democrat and the Libertarian, or whatever combination). Then the candidate with the most votes overall wins. (Total votes exceed total voters, because many voters cast more than one vote.) There are no rankings and no runoffs; it’s a very simple voting system to understand and to implement.

With approval voting, it might still be the case that some Republicans lose by a smaller margin that the Libertarian’s vote total. If so, Republicans could not complain that Libertarians “stole” an election, because voters had an opportunity to vote Republican as well, yet chose not to.

Another advantage to approval voting is that it would provide a better indicator for how much support the victor actually has. Currently, it is common for candidates to win with less than 50 percent of the vote. Under approval voting, winning with less than 50 percent would indicate widespread dissatisfaction with the victor.

Approval voting obviously would be good for Colorado Republicans. The GOP often faces Libertarian competition, whereas Democrats rarely face left-leaning minor candidates.

Approval voting also would be good for third parties, I think. Rather than regard Libertarians as dangerous competitors, Republicans would see an opportunity to woo Libertarian votes.

Approval voting likely would be bad for Colorado Democrats electorally, at least in the short run, but it’s hard to see how Democrats can in good conscience oppose a voting system that is more democratic in important ways. If it’s good that people are able to vote for one candidate, as Democrats incessantly claim, then is it not better if people are able to vote for more than one candidate in a race? And it remains possible that Democrats will face stiff competition from a third party—remember Ralph Nader in 2000.

My aim, of course, is not to maximize democracy (e.g., mob rule), but to maximize government’s protection of individual rights. But I think approval voting likely would be, on net, both more democratic and (marginally) more supportive of rights-respecting government. Why not implement it?


Notice: I Did Not Authorize “Libertas Institute Colorado” To Reproduce my Content

This morning a user on Twitter asked me if I was involved with, the “Libertas Institute Colorado.” I was horrified to learn that the web site had stolen the last two years’ worth of my blog posts and was reproducing them in full. I did not authorize this reproduction of my content. (The site was also pulling in other content without permission.) After I notified the person to whom the web site is registered, he pulled down the page.

The same Twitter user said she received a late-night robocall on behalf of Libertarian candidate Gaylon Kent, and she thought that the robocall may have been associated with Libertas Institute Colorado.

I do not know if the robocall was associated with the same organization that stole my intellectual property, or if the robocaller is totally unrelated and merely used a similar-sounding name.

Gaylon Kent says he did not authorize the robocalls. See also the 9News story on the matter. I contacted 9News, and reporters there were not sure who originated the robocalls. I have not obtained or heard any audio recording of the robocalls. [See below.]

Obviously I had nothing to do with the robocalls; prior to this morning, I had never heard of Gaylon Kent or of Libertas Institute Colorado or any like-named group. (I probably saw Kent’s name on my ballot, but I paid no attention to it.)

All in all, this has been a frustrating morning, first to have to deal with the theft of my intellectual property, and then to be associated with a dubious campaign effort (even if by accident) of which I had no knowledge.

October 20 Update: I just realized that 9News includes the audio of the call in question. It ends, “This message brought to you by the Libertas Institute.”

Will Tracy Kraft-Tharp Condemn Effort to Turn Horrific Murder into a Political Stunt?

October 13 Update: Although I still have not personally heard from Kraft-Tharp, 9News reports that she stated, “I publicly denounce this ad” (see below for details). Christine Ridgeway, Jessica’s grandmother, told 9News, “I am just totally disgusted by this [set of ads]. When I first saw this I was speechless for like four hours. I was just so angry and so upset that I just couldn’t speak.” Good for Kraft-Tharp for condemning the political mailers in question. However, I’d still like to know her answers to my questions regarding the Fourth Amendment. –AA

Tracy Kraft-Tharp

Tracy Kraft-Tharp

I’ve seen nasty political ads, as have we all. But a recent set of mailers in my Colorado state house district are beyond nasty; they are reprehensible. An independent expenditure committee, Priorities for Colorado (“Jim Alexee, registered agent”) has turned the horrific murder of a little girl into a political stunt.

The ads target Susan Kochevar, the Republican candidate running against Tracy Kraft-Tharp, state representative for District 29. One ad states, “Susan Kochevar refused to cooperate with the FBI in the Jessica Ridgeway case.” The relevant fact, as Kochevar confirmed via email, is that the FBI requested to search her home on three different occasions, without a warrant, and she declined the warrantless searches—as is the Fourth Amendment right of every American. But the smear campaign treats her sensible actions as somehow sinister, asking, “What kind of person refuses to cooperate when a 10 year old girl goes missing?”

But the appropriate question is, what kind of person turns the horrific murder of a little girl into a political stunt? The answer is Jim Alexee and Julie Wells do. They are the “registered agent” and “designated filing agent” for Priorities for Colorado IE Committee. (I will email copies of the ads on request.)

What Kochevar did precisely is follow the advice of the ACLU:

If the police or immigration agents come to your home, you do not have to let them in unless they have certain kinds of warrants.

Ask the officer to slip the warrant under the door or hold it up to the window so you can inspect it. A search warrant allows police to enter the address listed on the warrant, but officers can only search the areas and for the items listed. An arrest warrant allows police to enter the home of the person listed on the warrant if they believe the person is inside. . . .

If an FBI agent comes to your home or workplace, you do not have to answer any questions. Tell the agent you want to speak to a lawyer first. If you are asked to meet with FBI agents for an interview, you have the right to say you do not want to be interviewed. If you agree to an interview, have a lawyer present.

Apparently Alexee and Wells need a refresher on the text and significance of the Fourth Amendment. We’ll start with the language itself:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Quite simply, the Fourth Amendment is our basic protection against living in a police state.

This is a very personal story for me. I live within a few minutes’ walk of Ketner reservoir, where the murderer in question once (before he killed) attempted to abduct a woman who was out for a jog. My wife and I walk the very trails where this murderer walked; the woman he attempted to abduct might as easily have been my wife or someone I know in the neighborhood. My theory is that, after the murderer failed to abduct an adult woman, he turned his sights to a younger, smaller victim in the neighborhood. Before I heard about the girl’s disappearance, I saw crews of people sweeping a local field, so I knew something was up. It was as though a black cloud descended on the entire neighborhood, as first we waited and hoped, then we wept in sorrow and outrage. It was a horrible time, and obviously unspeakably horrific for the friends and family of the victim.

Everyone in the neighborhood was relieved when the perp was caught, and I’m very glad the FBI participated in the investigation. However, despite the fact that the FBI did some great work, the FBI also arguably violated people’s rights in my neighborhood by harassing them if they did not consent to warrantless searches or warrantless collections of DNA. (See my write-up.) In my view, the FBI did these things, not primarily to collect evidence, but to “sweat” people and see what might crack open. Looking at this from the perspective of law enforcement, I kind of understand the tactic. When you’ve got little to go on, and there’s a brutal child killer on the loose, I’m sure it can be very tempting to cut some constitutional corners.

However, nothing about the story justifies American citizens consenting to warrantless fishing-expedition searches. We do not live in a police state. Law enforcement ought not go door to door searching houses without cause, and certainly FBI agents, who have sworn to uphold the Constitution, ought not harass citizens for invoking their Fourth Amendment rights.

We already know where Jim Alexee and Julie Wells stand. They are perfectly happy to turn a vicious murder into a sick political game.

What I want to know is, where does Tracy Kraft-Tharp, my representative in the legislature, stand on these issues? Does she stand with the ACLU in support of the Fourth Amendment, or does she believe that people ought to submit to warrantless, fishing-expendition searches and DNA collections? In short, does Kraft-Tharp support the Bill of Rights, or not?

I asked Kochevar and Kraft-Tharp about their views on the Fourth Amendment; so far, I have heard from Kochevar, but not Kraft-Tharp (I emailed her and left her two voice messages). Here are my questions and Kochevar’s answers:

1. Do you believe the government has a moral or legal right to search people’s homes or collect their DNA without a warrant or probable cause?

No, the government must show probable cause to a judge and a warrant must be granted.

2. Do you believe that citizens have a moral and legal right to refuse the request of a government agent to conduct a search or to collect DNA, when such agent has neither a warrant nor probable cause?

Yes, citizens do have a moral and legal right to decline a search or the collection of DNA without a warrant.

3. Do you believe that government officials properly are bound by the Bill of Rights?

Yes, I do believe government officials are bound by the Bill of Rights. Government officials swear an oath to the Constitution.

4. In your opinion, what is the significance of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?

The Fourth Amendment is a limitation on the government to protect the people from unreasonable searches and seizures.

I asked Kraft-Tharp an additional question via email: “Do you condemn the effort by an independent expenditure committee to smear Susan Kochevar by turning the horrific murder of a little girl in my neighborhood into a political stunt?”

Regarding the Bill of Rights, if Kraft-Tharp cannot plainly state that she supports the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, then she has no business serving in government at any level.

Regarding the smear campaign, Kraft-Tharp’s answer—or, if I do not hear from her, her lack thereof—will say a great deal about her character.

Why I Cannot Vote for “Personhood” Supporter Laura Woods

I confess that I tried not to look too closely at the Republican candidate for my Colorado senate district (number 19), Laura Woods, because I was afraid of what I might find. After gleefully witnessing the fall of Evie Hudack following her reckless, Bloomberg-inspired campaign against peaceable gun owners (after which Democrats replaced her with Rachel Zenzinger, now the Democratic candidate), I really wanted the seat to turn Republican.

After the fiascos of ObamaCare (implications of which played out in the state legislature), the Democrats’ persecution of gun owners, the Democrats’ war on energy producers and consumers, and other matters, this would have been an excellent year for the GOP to punish the Democrats and win back some seats. But, Republicans being Republicans (aka “The Stupid Party”), Republicans in my district nominated a candidate I cannot possible vote for.

Thus, just a couple of weeks after announcing I planned to vote a straight-Republican ticket, I now have to make an exception and declare that I cannot and will not vote for Laura Woods. The basic problem is that Woods enthusiastically endorses total abortion bans, including the insane and horrific “personhood” measure on the ballot this year.

(I won’t vote for Zenzinger either. I’ll probably just blank that vote, unless I can figure out how to write in “Turd Sandwich.”)

So congratulations to Mainstream Colorado, “Ashley Stevens, registered agent,” for prompting me to take a closer look at Woods and to thereby change my vote. (This is the first time I can recall in which a political ad has actually had any influence whatsoever on my voting.)

I’ll begin by reviewing a couple of campaign mailers I received from Mainstream. One ad cleverly borrows the language of the right by touting, “Freedom. Responsibility. Hard Work. These are the values Coloradans have cherished for generations.” The ad continues (in part), “Rachel Zenzinger believes women have the right to make their own health care decisions [but not their own self-defense decisions] with their family, their doctor and their faith—without government or bosses getting in the way.” Of course, the bit about “bosses” is a reference to the ObamaCare requirement forcing insurers to cover birth control. Although I don’t agree with Zenzinger on that issue, I definitely agree with her that women have a right to get an abortion.

Then comes the ad’s attack on Woods:


Laura Woods would take away a woman’s freedom to make her own health care decisions. . . . Laura Woods doesn’t think women are responsible enough to make their own decisions [except regarding their self-defense]. Woods supports an extreme plan that would ban all abortions, including in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger. The plan would criminalize doctors who treat women and allow law enforcement to investigate women who suffer miscarriage. She even supports a constitutional amendment that could ban common forms of birth control.

Although some of that language is imprecise and incomplete, it is essentially correct.

A second ad from the outfit makes the same basic claims.


So what are the facts behind the claims in question? Colorado Campaign for Life claims, “Laura Woods answered her Colorado Campaign for Life Survey 100 pro-life (sic).” (The organization also likens Woods’s opponent, Lang Sias, to the baby murderer Kermit Gosnell.) And Colorado Right to Life, which asks candidates if they “oppose all abortion,” affirms that Woods “has rigorously affirmed she is pro-life (sic).” As CBS Denver reports, Woods is a “staunch supporter of the Personhood ballot issue.”

As for why women have a right to get an abortion (and to use the birth control and in vitro fertility treatments of their choice),  and for why the “personhood” measure is not about personhood and is indeed anti-life rather than “pro-life,” see the detailed paper on the matter by Diana Hsieh and me.

Roundup on Jeffco Schools

jeffco-protestI’ve written four articles (three for other sites) about the protests and union-board fights in Jefferson County, Colorado:

1. Jeffco’s Julie Williams Seeks to Replace One Brand of Activist Teaching with Another

2. Political Chaos in Colorado’s Jefferson County Schools Illustrates Problems of Government Control

3. The Leftist Biases of the AP U.S. History Course

4. A Lesson on Censorship and Civil Disobedience for Jeffco Students, Teachers and Observers

What’s more, I interviewed three participants in an October 3 protest in Westminster; here’s the video:

In other news, a video from an outfit called “Jeffco Truth” indicates that at least some of the protesting students had no idea what they were protesting. And a video from Corey Scott shows that at least one of Julie Williams’s supporters wished to use the proposed review curriculum to promote religious ideology.

The Denver Post’s Ridiculously Biased Story on Bob Beauprez and IUDs

If there’s one thing that makes me more angry than politicians endorsing stupid policies, it’s journalists writing biased and fact-distorting “news” stories. Frankly I usually don’t expect any better from politicians. But I do expect better from journalists, who are supposed to be the defenders of truth, justice, and America’s constitutional republic.

John Frank’s recent article in the Denver Post, “Bob Beauprez’s IUD Remark in Debate Generates Controversy,” represents the worst kind of biased (and frankly partisan) “reporting.”

By way of background, it is no secret that I advocate a woman’s right to get an abortion and that I strongly oppose the so-called “personhood” ballot measure. Indeed, I’ve spent many hours researching and writing about the “personhood” efforts over the years (see the paper I coauthored with Diana Hsieh). In 2006, the last time Beauprez ran for governor, I endorsed Democrat Bill Ritter over Beauprez, largely over “Beauprez’s religious stand against abortion.” This year, I have (tentatively) endorsed Beauprez over incumbent John Hickenlooper, partly because Beauprez has substantially run away from his efforts to outlaw abortion, and largely because I’m sick of Hickenlooper’s antics.

But whatever my personal positions, and whatever Frank’s personal position may be, intellectually honest people can at least be open and candid about the facts. On that score Frank has failed, miserably.

Frank correctly notes that, in a recent debate, “Beauprez suggested that intrauterine devices, known as IUDs, cause abortion.” Specifically, he said, “IUD is an abortifacient.”

Then Frank writes,

Beauprez drew a rebuke from experts in the medical community who called his assertion false. . . . The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and 10 other physician organizations, as well as the Federal Drug Administration, define IUDs as contraceptives that prevent a pregnancy. . . . Dr. Daniel Grossman, an ob/gyn who does reproductive research and who practices in San Francisco, said the definition of a pregnancy as the implantation of a fertilized egg is an established scientific standard. He said IUDs are not abortifacient.

But the relevant debate is not whether an IUD can kill a zygote once it has implanted in the uterus; rather, it is whether an IUD can kill a zygote before it implants in the uterus—and for Frank to ignore that issue is journalistic incompetence (or else intentional fraud). Basically, Frank is trying to trip up Beauprez on a definition, rather than address the substantive underlying issues.

So what are the facts? In 2012, Pam Belluck wrote for the New York Times:

By contrast [to hormonal birth control pills], scientists say, research suggests that the only other officially approved form of emergency contraception, the copper intrauterine device (also a daily birth control method), can work to prevent pregnancy after an egg has been fertilized.

A web site for Paragard, a brand of copper IUD, states, “The copper in Paragard . . . interferes with sperm movement and egg fertilization. Paragard may prevent implantation.” Implantation of what, you may ask? Obviously, of a zygote. And what happens if a zygote does not implant in the uterus? It dies. The FDA-approved prescription information for Paragard states, “Mechanism(s) by which copper enhances contraceptive efficacy include interference with sperm transport and fertilization of an egg, and possibly prevention of implantation.”

In other words, the copper IUD can work by preventing fertilization, and it can work by preventing the implantation of a (fertilized) zygote. If it works by the first means, it is a “contraceptive,” meaning that it prevents conception. But if it works by the second means, calling it a “contraceptive” is misleading, which is why the so-called “pro-life” crowd calls it “abortifacient.” But, by the definition of Frank’s “experts,” it’s not an abortion if it kills a zygote before it implants in the uterus. Well, they can define it that way if they want, but the definition used does not alter the underlying facts.

Let’s use another example to illustrate the point. I could define a “journalist” as a writer of news stories who gets his facts straight and who does not omit relevant facts. By that definition, John Frank is not a “journalist” (“hack” might be a better descriptive, at least in this case). But another common meaning of “journalist” is simply anyone who gets paid to write for a news organization. By that definition, Frank is a “journalist.” But real journalists (in the first sense of the term) do not play “gotcha” games with definitions as a way to obscure the relevant issues.

I believe the editors of the Denver Post do have integrity and do try to publish good, factually complete stories, so I call on them to issue a correction to Frank’s story.

Of course, as a matter of policy, it should matter not at all whether an IUD can act to prevent the implantation of a zygote. Women have a moral right to use the birth control methods of their choice and to seek an abortion if they wish to do so. A zygote is not a “person” and does not have rights. Frank does helpfully report that Beauprez said “in an interview after the debate” that “the use of IUDs [is] a ‘personal choice.'” Indeed it is—and it should continue to be.