Sugar Nannies Go Home

Image: Wikimedia Commons</a
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Representative Rosa DeLauro wants to tax sweetened soda for the purpose of making it unaffordable for people. See the reports by the New York Times and by The idea is that, if people drink soda, government will punish them for it by confiscating more of their wealth. This is yet another byproduct of government-controlled medicine: When everyone pays for everyone else’s health care, more people tend to support government intervention to control people’s behavior. But whether people drink sugar water is none of government’s legitimate business. People have a right to consume what they want and to spend their money how they want. Would-be sugar nannies should mind their own business.

Smoking Bans: Private vs. Government Property

Recently a reporter contacted me regarding smoking bans. She did not use my comments in her story, so I’m pleased to make them available here:

I am opposed to smoking bans on private property in general, at every level of government.

When government restricts smoking on private property, including in restaurants and the like (even if “open to the public”), government violates people’s rights to control their property and associate freely with others. Restaurants and other establishments have a moral right to allow smoking in their establishments or to ban it—and their potential customers have a moral right to decide whether to seek to do business at any given establishment. If you don’t want the smoke, don’t go. There’s no such thing as a “right” to use another’s property against that person’s consent. That said, given historical trends of reduced smoking, absent a ban many establishments would have voluntarily banned smoking long ago. (I personally hate smoking and would go out of my way to find smoke-free establishments.)

To give you an indication of how smoking bans violate civil liberties, consider that some bans prevent people from smoking on stage, in the course of presenting a work of art, and hence violate rights of free speech and expression. Moreover, the First Amendment recognizes “the right of the people peaceably to assemble”—but smokers are often denied this right.

Smoking bans regarding government property are more complex. Government may legitimately ban smoking in government buildings and tight public spaces, such as court houses. Government has no good reason to ban smoking in open outdoor spaces controlled by the government, such as sidewalks. As to what government property ought to be converted to private property, that is a broader subject for another day.

Regarding campuses, the fundamental problem is that many campuses are government controlled. Private colleges—like all private establishments—have a moral right to allow, restrict, or ban smoking, at their discretion. Regarding government-controlled campuses, often there is no clear way to protect everyone’s rights—quite simply because government controlling a college campus inherently violates people’s rights, primarily by forcibly seizing people’s wealth. When government does control a college campus, the best the government in control can do is seek to draw up rules that balance different people’s interests while not horribly trampling the Bill of Rights. To my mind, colleges can reasonably ban smoking inside, but not outside. If a college wants the ability to ban smoking everywhere, it should first stop violating people’s rights, stop collecting people’s money seized by force, and become a private institution.

Image: Van Gogh, Wikimedia Commons

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.

A Note on the Hancock Affair

Michael Hancock was elected mayor of Denver on June 7. On June 2 Complete Colorado courageously or irresponsibly (depending on one’s point of view) ran a story with the following headline, “Mayoral Candidate Hancock Linked to Prostitution Ring.” Soon after midnight today (June 11) the Denver Post published its own story on the matter, following stories by 9News, 7News, and other outlets.

Hancock said in a video released by the Post that he has never hired a prostitute.

The purported evidence allegedly linking Hancock to a local prostitution ring (now under investigation) comes from a former owner of the illegal service. Hancock’s (misspelled) name appears in the records along with his phone number.

If Hancock is innocent, then his lawyer is doing an excellent job making him look evasive. Assuming he is innocent, this is a serious frame-up, and I’d be interested to learn what sort of possible criminal penalties the framer might be facing if caught.

I can think of a couple of scenarios by which Hancock’s name and number might have ended up in the records (other than him hiring a prostitute). This is purely speculative and hypothetical on my part. But, conceivably, somebody could simply have forged the records, which would have been fairly easy to accomplish. Or, conceivably, somebody could have “borrowed” Hancock’s phone to set up the initial contact, then called from a different number to hire the prostitutes. As the Post reports, the records contain the line, “Calls from diff #’s (pay ph.).”

But here my purpose is not to try to figure out the correct scenario, for I lack the evidence to do that. Instead, I’d like to make a broader political point.

It is certainly not inconceivable that some city employee has hired a prostitute. Indeed, I’d be quite surprised if that were not the case, and so would everyone else. The same general investigation has already brought down a judge, Edward Nottingham. As the Post reports, the same prostitution records “are believed to include many elite Denver professionals.”

What I find disturbing about this is that Americans now expect a significant portion of the population, including a significant portion of elected officials, to knowingly break the law and then chuckle about it, whether it’s hiring a prostitute or smoking a joint. And yet these same laws we openly mock in some cases destroy people’s lives, whether through a nasty prison sentence, a fatal no-knock raid, or the inherent violence of the black market.

Now, as I have argued, I believe prostitution is immoral even though it should be legal. Where it involves consenting adults, it’s not the sort of thing over which we as a society should be launching criminal investigations or throwing people in jail. Where it does not involve consenting adults, it is a vicious crime that should be forcibly stopped.

I do think voters should weigh whether they want to support candidates known to have hired prostitutes, just as in our personal lives we should weigh whether we want to become friends with people who hire prostitutes. Generally the answer should be no.

But, again, if we wish to live in a free society, we must restrict the field of the illegal to a small subset of the field of the immoral. The only acts that should violate the criminal code are those that violate the rights of others (and I mean the actual rights, not the make-believe “rights” to tell everybody else what to do).

Outside prostitution, certain other sorts of “victimless crimes” can be perfectly moral even though illegal; consider brewing beer during Prohibition. Come to think of it, Denver’s former mayor, John Hickenlooper, now the governor of Colorado, made his name brewing beer, an activity once outlawed by the very state he now leads.

Ultimately, it does not actually much matter whether Hancock hired a prostitute. It does matter very much that whether someone becomes the target of a criminal investigation depends to a very large degree on arbitrary enforcement and blind luck.


Under Nanny State, We Don’t Feel Like Dancing

The following column originally was published September 3 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Under Nanny State, we don’t feel like dancing

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

The grocer looked incredulous: “What’s 3.2 beer?” While visiting New York City, your younger author Ari had asked about alcohol restrictions in grocery stores, noting that most grocers in Colorado can sell only low-strength beer.

In New York you can buy regular beer in grocery stores, and so far this has not caused social mayhem. (Colorado’s liquor police needn’t worry; New York has plenty of other sales restrictions.)

But in New York it’s illegal to dance in most clubs and bars. Yes, dance, as in, move your feet and sway your hips to music. Politicians couldn’t possibly allow people to freely dance; think of the children. If people were able to dance at will, what might they think of next? It would be anarchy! You can drink a beer, and you can listen to music at the same time, but adding a little jig to the mix, never mind a moonwalk, is entirely out of the question.

“While it sounds like a joke,” admits, “the NYC Cabaret Law is very real and has for the last several years adversely affected our city’s economy, culture and community.” The organization holds that “dancing is a fundamental right that need not be regulated by government and that a flourishing dance culture is good for the NYC economy and culture.”

While dancing didn’t merit a mention in the Bill of Rights, it’s still pretty important, and certainly politicians have no business restricting it.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has admitted, “We have dance police. This is craziness,” reports the New York Times. However, reports the paper, a 2008 proposal to ease the dancing restrictions fell apart because it threatened other onerous controls on bars. That is unfortunate; the paper notes that the law has been used in the past to thwart interracial dating and more recently to lock up establishments deemed by the authorities to be a nuisance.

The anti-dancing laws are a real problem for the phenomenally talented New York pop band Scissor Sisters. (Ari caught the New York show on August 24; the band will play in Denver soon.) They even have a song out called “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” but we dare you to listen to it without at least feelin’ like dancing.

Sister singer and fashion diva Ana Matronic said at the show (we’re closely paraphrasing): “Elect us as mayor and the first thing we’ll do is get rid of the f’ing cabaret license” and free up dancing. (She said the band had a license for the show.)

Maybe if we elected one of the Sisters to office in Colorado, we could finally get rid of the anti-freedom restrictions on liquor sales. Incredibly, the Denver Post reports, some have even proposed reinstating the “blue laws” outlawing Sunday liquor sales because of “the damage to convenience and grocery stores’ bottom lines.”

How about this: let stores sell whatever they want to willing customers. It’s called a free market, also known as liberty.

But at least in Colorado we don’t have Big Nanny forcing businesses to post calorie listings. In New York McDonald’s posts on its menu board that “2 for $3 McGriddles” sport 1120 calories. A big donut at Gristedes market is 450 calories.

We have nothing against restaurants posting calorie notices, so long as they do it voluntarily in accordance with their customers’ shopping preferences. But mandatory postings violate the rights of property and voluntary association.

Moreover, mandatory calorie postings insult the intelligence of shoppers. Do we really need some bureaucrat to tell us that deep fried sugar is bad for you? Consumers can make wise decisions without the “help” of meddlesome politicians.

Indeed, by encouraging people to depend on politicians and bureaucrats for their health and safety, Nanny State laws ultimately stunt people’s independent thinking. Nothing is more dangerous than that, whether for people’s health or the health of the republic.

It’s easy enough to mock Nanny State laws like restrictions on dancing or grocery-store beer sales. But never forget that, once government gets in the business of forcing us to do what politicians think is good for us, it can very quickly cross the line from Onion-worthy headlines to frightening Orwellian-style police-state action.

Consider persecution of homosexuals. The founding members of Scissor Sisters happen to be gay, so, unsurprisingly, their music touches on related issues. But until 1980 New York adults could be arrested and criminally prosecuted for consensual gay sex, and not until 2000 did that state’s legislature formally repeal the sodomy laws. Former Colorado legislator Jerry Kopel points out that our state repealed sodomy laws in 1971.

Throughout much of the Middle East, religious zealots continue to murder homosexuals — as well as women caught in adultery charges — under Islamic sharia law.

The only proper job of politicians is to protect individual rights. If we’re worried about public morality, nothing is so perniciously immoral than allowing some to forcibly control the consensual acts of other adults.

American Lung Association Earns "F" in Liberty

Dear American Lung Association,

I am sorry to learn that your organization deserves an “F” in its understanding of liberty.

I was shocked to read in today’s Denver Post that the ALA has endorsed the violation of property rights (via the smoking ban), higher taxes, and more state spending in Colorado.

While I approve of your organization’s work to persuade people to quit smoking, in this case you are substituting the force of the state for rational argument. The ends do not justify the means, and you are promoting unjust policies that violate people’s rights.

As harmful as smoking is, it is not nearly as harmful as a government that systematically violates property rights and economic liberty. By seeking to forcibly limit people’s choices, you are preventing them from acting on their own judgment. The freedom to act on one’s judgment, consistent with rights of property and person, is the bedrock of liberty and prosperity. If you take away people’s ability to make mistakes, you necessarily undercut their ability to take responsibility for their lives and reach the heights of human potential.

The ALA should mind its proper business of persuading people to improve their health, not promote state policies that violate rights. It should go without saying that I do not donate to organizations that promote the violation of property rights and economic liberty.

Ari Armstrong

Court Upholds Smoking Ban

This just in:

Appeals Court upholds smoking ban, DIA exemption
By Felisa Cardona
The Denver Post
Article Last Updated: 01/29/2008 11:55:10 AM MST

Colorado’s smoking ban was upheld today by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

A three-judge panel decided that the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act did not violate the equal protection clause of the constitution by providing exemptions to airport smoking areas. …

“The district court concluded, and we agree, that the State of Colorado has offered a rational basis for its distinction between airport smoking concessions and the establishments owned, operated and or serviced by plaintiffs,” the opinion says. DIA smokers “…have no options as to where they can smoke because they have no real opportunity or ability to travel to a location outside the DIA area.”

That’s too bad. However, the fundamental issue is not whether the smoking ban is applied equally, but that the smoking ban violates people’s rights to control their own property and associate voluntarily. Subjecting everyone to injustice “equally” is hardly superior to subjecting only some people to injustice.

Smoking Ban Violates Rights

Colorado’s smoking ban has created a number of problems. Stage performers tried to fight to ban because it prohibits them from smoking as part of a dramatic act. (What happened to the First Amendment?) Various venues fought for exceptions, and the now-infamous “cigar bar” exception has proved particularly difficult to define. The Rocky Mountain News offers the latest example with an AP article by Ivan Moreno:

State gambling regulators are at a loss about what to do with a Black Hawk casino that claims it’s exempt from the statewide smoking ban.

The Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission said Thursday it wants to hear from its attorney on whether it has any authority to enforce the smoking ban, and whether the Wild Card Casino is violating the law. The casino claims it qualifies as a cigar bar, making it exempt from the smoking ban.

Critics claim the casino is exploiting a legal loophole. They told commissioners they have the power to enforce the ban and should revoke or suspend the casino’s gaming license.

“We’re not sure why this has continued to go on,” said Stephanie Steinberg of Smoke-Free Gaming of Colorado. “It’s your duty and responsibility to enforce this law.”

Okay: there’s a group called “Smoke-Free Gaming of Colorado?” I wonder if the founders and staff of the organization are among those who actually frequent the casinos. And why in the hell does Stephanie Steinberg care so much whether other people smoke on private property that she is free to avoid? Is it really her job to impose her will on everybody else?

I don’t know whether the casino in question technically meets the definition of a “cigar bar” as defined by the statute; I don’t even know whether the matter has a real answer. But that’s not really the point. (See my previous commentary on the issue.)

The owners of the Wild Card Casino have the right to allow smoking within the casino, or to ban smoking there. Properly, it’s none of Stephanie Steinberg’s business. If she doesn’t wish to see other people smoking in the Wild Card Casino or breath their smoke, nobody is forcing her to walk through the doors. Alternately, she could lawfully purchase the establishment on an open market, and then set whatever smoking policy she pleases. But leaving other people alone to control their own property is not good enough for Stephanie Steinberg of Smoke-Free Gaming of Colorado. She wants to send in the men with guns to “enforce this law” in violation of the rights of the property owners.