Civil Liberties Surge by David Boaz

There's encouraging news in recent polls about two civil liberties issues — marriage equality and marijuana legalization — and it's got some observers talking about "tipping points" and "a bandwagon effect." Take marijuana: A poll released yesterday by Zogby and the O'Leary Report found that 52 percent of respondents would favor legalizing marijuana, with 37 percent opposed. That's the first poll I've seen that found a majority in favor. (The poll was released in a full-page ad in The Hill newspaper on May 6 and does not appear to be online. It had a sample of 3,937 voters from the 2008 election, weighted to reflect the election outcome. Presumably it was an online poll, but if it had any bias it appears to be in a conservative direction: other results included 57 percent support for the "tea parties," 71 percent opposition to new gun control laws, 57 percent opposition to cap-and-trade, and 53 percent opposition to legislation that would pressure radio stations to provide "diversity." Of course, it's kind of scary that only 53 percent of respondents opposed ideological censorship of radio.) Whatever you think of that poll, it's not the only one. In February, Nate Silver posted a chart of polls on legalization, showing a slow but steady rise, up to about 40 percent. A Field poll in April showed that 56 percent of Californians support legalizing and taxing marijuana, the first time Field had ever found a majority in favor. The poll was largely on budget issues, and voters may have been desperately searching for new revenue sources other than general tax hikes. Also in April an ABC News/Washington Post poll found 46 percent of respondents in favor of legalizing the use of small amounts of marijuana, an all-time high in that poll. The New York Times points to other signs of change on the marijuana front: Pot has become essentially legal for anyone in California who can tell a medical marijuana clinic that it would make him feel better. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the federal government would back off its attempt to enforce the federal laws against medical marijuana in the 13 states that have legalized medical use. The threats to prosecute Michael Phelps for a bong hit were widely ridiculed. These developments have led Andrew Sullivan and CBS News to speculate about a "tipping point" for change — at last — in marijuana prohibition. Just this week, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said there should be a major study of the possibility of legalization. Meanwhile, TPM and AOL's PoliticsDaily also see a tipping point for marriage equality. A majority of New Yorkers now join Gov. David Paterson in supporting same-sex marriage. That same ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that "in 2004, just 32 percent of Americans favored gay marriage, with 62 percent opposed. Now 49 percent support it versus 46 percent opposed — the first time in ABC/Post polls that supporters have outnumbered opponents." Read more...

Posted on May 8, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Vouchers and Violence by David Boaz

The front page of the tabloid Washington Examiner blares
Violence mars students' days Weapons, assaults common at area schools
Now I know that headlines have to be short to fit the space. But a more accurate headline would read
Weapons, assaults common at government-run schools
Fights, sexual assaults, and deadly weapons, described in the article as happening "almost once a day at some area high schools," are almost nonexistent at private schools. Which is why it's such a shame that the small number of District of Columbia students who have been granted a voucher to escape the D.C. public schools are going to lose that lifeline if the Democratic majority in Congress gets its way. I once proposed in the Washington Post:
The D.C. school board should declare an educational emergency and offer a voucher good in any private or public school in the District to every student who is assigned to a school that has had a shooting or stabbing or more than one weapon confiscation in the past year, whether on school property or on school buses.
I called it the "voucher trigger provision," but the Post went with the more sober title "A Right to Safer Schools." But the policy shouldn't be restricted to D.C. students. The Examiner article is in fact not about the D.C. schools; it's about the suburban schools in Maryland and Virginia. Suburban kids would also benefit from more choice, including the choice to move from dangerous to safe schools.

Posted on May 7, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Name That Company: Fiasco by David Boaz

NPR asks listeners what the new company created by President Obama out of the remains of the Chrysler corporation, to be controlled by the United Auto Workers, funded by the American taxpayers, and managed by Fiat, should be called. One listener suggested AutomObama, with the slogan "You'll Be Paying on It for Years." Another offered "FIAT: Fix It Again, Barack." Of course, the name Fiat works pretty well for this new company. After all, "fiat" means, according to Webster's, " a command or act of will that creates something without or as if without further effort" or "an authoritative or arbitrary order." (And note that when you look up "fiat" in Webster's, you get an ad for the new company.) But it's hard to beat the name suggested by most listeners: Fiasco.

Posted on May 5, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Libertarian Wisdom by David Boaz

From Will Saletan at Slate:
the tricky thing about official intervention is that once the state gets its foot in the door, you don't necessarily get to dictate what it can and can't do.
He's talking about how "For the usual incoherent combination of lefty reasons—not enough private discrimination in working conditions, too much private discrimination in family values--" he "felt the urge to support regulation of the [surrogate motherhood] industry," but then he read about Chinese police kicking in doors and forcing surrogate mothers to abort their babies, and realized that wasn't "the kind of policing liberals have in mind when they call for tighter regulation of the fertility industry." But the lesson is broader, of course. It applies to health care, education, energy, faith-based organizations, and just about any enterprise you let the state take a role in.

Posted on May 5, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Jim DeMint’s Freedom Tent by David Boaz

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has been a leader in the fight for fiscal responsibility in Congress. He's even led on issues that many elected officials have shied away from, such as Social Security reform and free trade. Recently he said that he would support Pat Toomey over Arlen Specter in a Republican primary, which may have prompted Specter's party switch. DeMint was widely quoted as saying, “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.” It may have been feedback from that comment that caused DeMint to write an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on his vision of a "Big Tent" Republican party. He makes some excellent points:
But big tents need strong poles, and the strongest pole of our party -- the organizing principle and the crucial alternative to the Democrats -- must be freedom. The federal government is too big, takes too much of our money, and makes too many of our decisions.... We can argue about how to rein in the federal Leviathan; but we should agree that centralized government infringes on individual liberty and that problems are best solved by the people or the government closest to them. Moderate and liberal Republicans who think a South Carolina conservative like me has too much influence are right! I don't want to make decisions for them. That's why I'm working to reduce Washington's grip on our lives and devolve power to the states, communities and individuals, so that Northeastern Republicans, Western Republicans, Southern Republicans, and Midwestern Republicans can define their own brands of Republicanism. It's the Democrats who want to impose a rigid, uniform agenda on all Americans. Freedom Republicanism is about choice -- in education, health care, energy and more. It's OK if those choices look different in South Carolina, Maine and California.
That's a good federalist, or libertarian, or traditional American conservative vision. But is it really Jim DeMint's vision? DeMint says "that centralized government infringes on individual liberty and that problems are best solved by the people or the government closest to them." And he says it's OK if "choices look different in South Carolina, Maine and California." But marriage is traditionally a matter for the states to decide. Some states allow first cousins to marry, others don't.  Some states recognized interracial marriage in the early 20th century, others didn't. And in every case the federal government accepted each state's rules; if you had a marriage license from one of the states, the federal government considered you married. But Senator DeMint has twice voted for a constitutional amendment to overrule the states' power to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In his op-ed, he writes, "Republicans can welcome a vigorous debate about legalized abortion or same-sex marriage; but we should be able to agree that social policies should be set through a democratic process, not by unelected judges." That's a reasonable argument, but the amendment that DeMint voted for would overturn state legislative decisions as well as judicial decisions. Does Jim DeMint believe that "it's OK if choices [about marriage] look different in South Carolina, Maine, [Vermont, New Hampshire], and California"? If so, he should renounce his support for the anti-federalist federal marriage amendment. If not, then it seems that he opposes the Democrats' attempts to "impose a rigid, uniform agenda on all Americans . . .  in education, health care, energy and more," but he has no problem with Republicans imposing their own "rigid, uniform agenda on all Americans" from South Carolina to Vermont. It might be noted that Senator DeMint also supported the federal attempt to overturn Florida court decisions regarding Terri Schiavo, but we can hope all Republicans have learned their lesson on that bit of mass hysteria.

Posted on May 4, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Government Finds New Targets to Regulate by David Boaz

I suppose it should be no surprise that once the Democrats got full control of the federal government, we'd see the feds taking control of every nook and cranny of society, from giving orders to credit card companies to firing automobile company CEOs to demanding a change in the way college football decides its national champion. Except -- wait a minute -- it was actually a senior Republican member of the House, one of those right-wing Texans, who issued the most direct threat to the football officials summoned before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection:
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who has introduced legislation that would prevent the NCAA from calling a game a national championship unless it's the outcome of a playoff, bluntly warned Swofford: "If we don't see some action in the next two months, on a voluntary switch to a playoff system, then you will see this bill move."
The federal government is set to spend $3.5 trillion next year, with a deficit expected to hit the unbelievable level of 12 percent of GDP. The president is seeking to impose a "blueprint" for federal takeover of health care, energy, and education. He is acting as a super-CEO for the finance and automobile industries. The country is bogged down in two floundering wars. And Joe Barton thinks the matter that deserves the attention of the Congress of the United States is how college football designates its "national champion." The best thing that can be said for this is that it's probably actually safer to have Congress screwing around with amateur sports championships than with matters of war, spending, and central planning.

Posted on May 3, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Justice Souter and the Lost Liberty Inn by David Boaz

This article on Justice Souter's eagerness to get back to his farmhouse in Weare, New Hampshire, briefly mentions the campaign of Logan Darrow Clements after the Kelo decision to use eminent domain to take Souter's house and turn it into an inn. After all, he reasoned, Souter voted to uphold the power of government to take property from one private owner and give it to another private owner who might produce more "public benefits" such as tax revenue. That was the reasoning that caused a fiery dissent from the departing Sandra Day O'Connor:
Who among us can say she already makes the most productive or attractive possible use of her property? The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.... Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.
Cooler heads prevailed in Weare, though -- or O'Connor's prediction that "citizens with disproportionate influence" would not be the losers in such proceedings came true -- and the citizens of Weare rejected Clements's proposal. Voters at the town meeting instead urged New Hampshire to adopt a law that forbids seizures of the sort sanctioned by the Supreme Court.

Posted on May 3, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Marion Barry, Defender of Marriage by David Boaz

Former District of Columbia mayor and current councilman Marion Barry
told church leaders and other opponents of gay marriage Tuesday that he opposed the city council’s decision to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside the District. Calling himself “a politician who is moral,” Barry said he would have voted against the measure if he had been present at the April 6 session.
As a service to our beyond-the-Beltway readers, we should note that Barry is a career politician with 29 years on the public payroll (not counting six months in jail); four wives, one of whom went to jail for embezzling from the federally funded "jobs program" they co-founded;  countless extramarital relationships, many of them consensual; a federal conviction for crack use while mayor; eight years of unpaid taxes; and a virtually unbroken trail of graft and scandal in his four terms as mayor.  You wonder what the politicians who are not moral are like.

Posted on May 2, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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