I’ll do everything to end the war on drugs. … The war on drugs has become the most racially disparate outcome that you have in the entire country. Our prisons are full of black and brown kids. Three-fourths of the people in prison are black or brown, and white kids are using drugs, Bill, as you know … at the same rate as these other kids. But kids who have less means, less money, kids who are in areas where police are patrolling … Police are given monetary incentives to make arrests, monetary incentives for their own departments. So I want to end the war on drugs because it’s wrong for everybody, but particularly because poor people are caught up in this, and their lives are ruined by it.
Rand Paul, speaking to Bill Maher, 2014-11-15.
November 25, 2014
November 22, 2014
Tom Pelissero was one of the best local reporters in the Minneapolis area when he worked the Minnesota Vikings beat for 1500ESPN. Earlier this year, he moved to USA Today, but still lives in Minnesota. Earlier this week, he talked with disgraced Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in an exclusive interview:
Adrian Peterson the football player will be back one day. He’s sure of it, even after the NFL suspended the Minnesota Vikings’ star running back Tuesday for at least the rest of the 2014 season after his no-contest plea to a misdemeanor reckless assault charge.
Peterson had expressed remorse for injuring his son and maintained he was disciplining him — with a “switch” from a tree — the way he was disciplined as a child. If Peterson meets the court’s requirements, no conviction will go on his record. But Peterson, a father of six children by six women, knows he faces a lifelong challenge to prove he’s not an absentee parent, not a child abuser, not any of the demons he’s been portrayed as since the incident.
“I won’t ever use a switch again,” Peterson said. “There’s different situations where a child needs to be disciplined as far as timeout, taking their toys away, making them take a nap. There’s so many different ways to discipline your kids.”
In the more than 90-minute phone interview — Peterson’s first extensive public remarks since his Sept. 11 indictment — he spoke with USA TODAY Sports on a wide variety of topics, including why he refused to attend a hearing with the NFL before Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him as well as his future with the Minnesota Vikings.
“I would love to go back and play in Minnesota to get a feel and just see if my family still feels comfortable there,” Peterson said. “But if there’s word out that hey, they might release me, then so be it. I would feel good knowing that I’ve given everything I had in me.”
Regardless of his football future, Peterson wanted to make clear his main focus now is on repairing his relationship with his son and trying to make people understand that, contrary to Goodell’s remarks in handing down his ban, his remorse is real.
November 19, 2014
Tim Worstall unexpectedly finds himself on the same side of an economic and political question as a Green Party politician from Zambia:
This strikes me as being one of the very few good ideas that has been put forward at any recent election in any country that I’m aware of. A Zambian politician has decided that, given that the world seems to be moving toward legal medical marijuana at least, if not full legalisation, then that country should make use of its comparative and absolute advantage in growing the stuff and thus supply it to the rest of the world. […]
It’s slightly disconcerting to find myself agreeing with a politician, let alone one from the Green Party, but as I say this strikes me as an excellent policy.
Let’s start from the beginning: all of us liberals (whether economic or social liberals) agree that allowing people to legally toke is a thoroughly good idea. The drug itself is almost entirely harmless (obviously less so than tobacco for example, and those stories about it bringing on schizophrenia and the like are more to do with people becoming schizophrenic self-medicating than anything else) and being banged up in a jail cell, convicted of a felony, for having possession of a joint or two is going to do far more harm to your life chances than actually smoking them.
If we’re going to agree to that (and I agree people not liberals of any flavour may not) then similarly clearly we would like the best dope we can get at the lowest possible price. Given that this is true of every other product we consume it’s going to be true of this one too. And that means that if other places around the world can produce it better, or more cheaply, or some combination of the two, than we can then we should be trading with them.
November 8, 2014
Conor Friedersdorf on the ethical and moral challenge that will face the Republican members of the next Congress soon after they take office:
The Patriot Act substantially expires in May 2015.
When the new Congress takes up its reauthorization, mere months after convening, members will be forced to decide what to do about Section 215 of the law, the provision cited by the NSA to justify logging most every telephone call made by Americans.
With Republicans controlling both the Senate and the House, the GOP faces a stark choice. Is a party that purports to favor constitutional conservatism and limited government going to ratify mass surveillance that makes a mockery of the Fourth Amendment? Will Mitch McConnell endorse a policy wherein the Obama administration logs and stores every telephone number dialed or received by Roger Ailes of Fox News, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA, the Koch brothers, the head of every pro-life organization in America, and every member of the Tea Party? Is the GOP House going to sacrifice the privacy of all its constituents to NSA spying that embodies the generalized warrants so abhorrent to the founders?
The issue divides elected Republicans. Senator Rand Paul and Representative Justin Amash are among those wary of tracking the phone calls of millions of innocent people. Senator Richard Burr favors doing it. Republicans pondering a run for president in 2016 will be trying to figure out how mass surveillance will play in that campaign.
Many would rather not take any stand before May, as if governing — the very job citizens are paying them to do — is some sort of trap. But their preferences don’t matter. This fight is unavoidable.
Sadly, the smart money is betting that they’ll flub it and just re-authorize with little or no changes to the most offensive parts of the legislation. Because 2016.
November 6, 2014
The Star-Tribune‘s Jim Souhan takes a strong stance against leniency for Vikings running back Adrian Peterson after he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanour in Texas:
Roger Goodell has treated player discipline with the consistency of that annoying person you get stuck behind in line at Starbucks every morning.
One day, they want a Venti triple-foam frappé low-fat caramel macchiato topped with handmade artisanal whipped cream drained by pacifists from the udders of a cow that has attended global warming symposiums.
The next day, they order a black coffee. Small.
When he became NFL commissioner, Goodell wanted to impose discipline on every minor player infraction. He was going to make his name by cleaning up a league filled with violent young men.
Goodell proudly wore the badge he fished out of a box of Cracker Jack until Ray Rice punched his fiancée in an elevator, and Goodell’s friends with the Baltimore Ravens told him to proceed cautiously, and Goodell blinkered himself like a skittish horse.
Goodell went overboard with player discipline, then effectively disappeared when he could have taken a dramatic stance against players performing violent acts, and particularly violent acts toward women. He went from Mr. Venti-Everything to, suddenly, Mr. Small Black Coffee.
This week, Adrian Peterson, who has admitted to the severe and cowardly beating of his son, got the Texas treatment in court. He was allowed to agree to a generous plea deal that allows him to resume his life and career. It’s a wonder he wasn’t presented with a gold star for upholding the tenets of traditional parenting.
This time around, Goodell can get it right. He can establish that he has higher standards than the anachronistic Texas courts, that he holds players, and especially players who have gotten rich because of the NFL’s remarkable wealth, to a higher standard than the average citizen.
Goodell can and should suspend Peterson for the rest of the season. Doing so would improve Goodell’s reputation, and save the Vikings and the league a lot of grief.v
In the Washington Post last month, David Post discussed the issue of asset forfeiture:
The heat is slowly turning up on the government’s use of civil asset forfeiture procedures to extort money out of innocent individuals without the messy need to actually show that they did anything wrong or wrongful. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago, and today’s New York Times has a front page article detailing another wrinkle in the civil forfeiture scam: seizures of funds deposited in violation of the “anti-structuring” provisions of the federal code.
As you probably know, banks have an obligation to report all cash transactions of more than $10,000 to the federal government. What you may not know is that it is a federal crime to “structure a transaction,” including by “breaking down a single sum of currency exceeding $ 10,000 into smaller sums, … “for the purpose of evading the [reporting] requirement.” The reporting requirement itself is designed to alert the government to possibly suspicious transactions involving proceeds from money laundering, or drugs or gambling or other cash-intensive activities. But the statute makes the evasion itself a crime — even if the money was derived from perfectly lawful activities, and even if the “purpose of evading the reporting requirement” is a perfectly benign one. And to make matters much worse, the IRS doesn’t even have to charge you with the crime of “structuring” in order to seize the proceeds of the transaction under civil asset forfeiture laws, and the Times article details growing use of this procedure to take and keep money belonging to innocent individuals who are never even charged with the crime at all.
November 5, 2014
Jacob Sullum on the success of two more state legalization campaigns (oh, and the imperial capital, too):
Yesterday Alaska became the fourth state to legalize marijuana for recreational use. With 74 percent of precincts reporting, 52 percent of voters favored legalization. Alaska joins Oregon and Washington, D.C., which legalized marijuana on the same day, and Colorado and Washington state, where voters approved legalization in 2012.
Alaska has taken a unique approach to marijuana since 1975, when the Alaska Supreme Court decided that the state constitution’s privacy clause allows people to possess small amounts of cannabis at home for personal use without fear of arrest or punishment. But that ruling raised an obvious question: Where are people supposed to get the pot they are allowed to use?
Measure 2 answers that question with a system similar to Colorado’s. It allows adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time, grow up to six plants at home, and transfer up to an ounce at a time to other adults “without remuneration.” It authorizes state-licensed growers, cannabis product manufacturers, and retailers, to be regulated by Alaska’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board or a separate agency created by the state legislature.
Yesterday, Adrian Peterson agreed to a plea deal that would reduce the charges he faced from a felony to a misdemeanor (thereby also reducing the maximum punishment from jail time to a fine, probation, and community service). He pleaded no contest to the lesser charges and if he completes the probation without incident, he won’t have a criminal record. He will also be subject to random drug testing but no travel restrictions. Despite this, his situation with the NFL is still up in the air — he’s been on the commissioner’s exempt list since week two, getting paid but not being allowed to practice with the team — and the only way he’ll be allowed back on the field is after Roger Goodell decides on what league discipline is now called for.
Adrian Peterson's updated court checklist: ✔ Actual court _ Goodell's court _ Court of public opinion
— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) November 4, 2014
The NFL issued the following statement regarding the Adrian Peterson case. pic.twitter.com/U8FCxHe3rN
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) November 4, 2014
November 3, 2014
In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf talks to actual UCLA students to find out what they think of the new rules for how they must conduct themselves in intimate situations:
Imagine serving on the campus equivalent of a jury in a sexual-assault case.
The accused testifies, “I thought I was reading all the signals right. Once we started kissing it felt like things progressed naturally, like we were both into it. Neither of us said, ‘Yes, let’s do this,’ but I definitely wanted to hook up. I felt sure we both did.” The accuser says, “I was totally comfortable when we started kissing, but as things progressed I felt more and more uncomfortable. I didn’t say stop or resist, but I didn’t consent to being groped or undressed. I wasn’t asked. I didn’t want that.” If both seem to be telling the truth as they perceive it, what’s the just outcome?
Last week, I spent some time at UCLA asking students about California’s new “affirmative-consent” law. In our conversations, I described the law and asked them whether they supported it or not. I also posted this scenario to them. I was surprised by how common it was for students to express support for the law and then to say a few minutes later that they wouldn’t feel comfortable convicting the accused in that example. But there were also students who opposed affirmative-consent laws and later said that they would find the accused guilty.
That conflict fit with a larger theme that ran through my conversations with undergraduates, from freshmen to seniors. Asked about California’s law, many supporters focused on how affirmative consent squared with their notion of what campus norms, values, and culture ought to be, rather than its effect on disciplinary cases, which they treated as a tangentially related afterthought. Opponents expressed abstract concerns about unjust convictions and due process, yet some felt that convicting the accused in that hypothetical would be just.
In short, forcing both sides to confront a specific scenario made them see a thornier issue than they’d imagined. And it increased the conflicted feelings of many of those who had no definite position.
October 31, 2014
In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf talks about the travesty that is the US government’s no-fly list:
Months ago, The Intercept reported that “nearly half of the people on the U.S. government’s database of terrorist suspects are not connected to any known terrorist group.” Citing classified documents, Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux went on to report that “Obama has boosted the number of people on the no fly list more than ten-fold, to an all-time high of 47,000 — surpassing the number of people barred from flying under George W. Bush.” Several experts were quoted questioning the effectiveness of a watch list so expansive, echoing concerns expressed by the Associated Press the previous month as well as the ACLU.
The Intercept article offered a long overdue look at one of the most troubling parts of the War on Terrorism. Being labeled a suspected terrorist can roil or destroy a person’s life — yet Team Obama kept adding people to the list using opaque standards that were never subject to democratic debate. Americans were denied due process. Innocent people were also put on a no-fly list with no clear way to get off.
As the ACLU put it, “The uncontroversial contention that Osama bin Laden and a handful of other known terrorists should not be allowed on an aircraft is being used to create a monster that goes far beyond what ordinary Americans think of when they think about a ‘terrorist watch list.’ If the government is going to rely on these kinds of lists, they need checks and balances to ensure that innocent people are protected.” The status quo made the War on Terror resemble a Franz Kafka novel.
October 30, 2014
Mike Masnick linked to an article in The New Yorker by Louis Menand which tries to explain the concept of copyrights, the problems of ever-extending copyright terms, and who stands on each side of the ongoing debate:
The point of Peter Baldwin’s fascinating and learned (and also repetitive and disorganized) The Copyright Wars (Princeton) is that the dispute between analog-era and digital-era notions of copyright is simply the latest installment of an argument that goes all the way back to the Statute of Anne. The argument is not really about technology, although major technological changes tend to bring it back to life. It’s about the reason for creating a right to make copies in the first place.
In the United States, the reason is stated in the Constitution. Article I gives Congress power “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The Copyright Act of 1790 set the length of copyright at fourteen years, renewable for another fourteen, after which the work falls into the public domain.
A right is just the flip side of a prohibition. The thinking behind Article I is that prohibiting people from copying and selling someone else’s original work is a way of encouraging the writing of useful or entertaining books, just as awarding a patent is a way of encouraging the invention of useful or enjoyable things. The prohibition operates as an incentive for the protected party. For a limited period — fourteen or twenty-eight years — authors get to enjoy the profits from sales of their books, and this prospect of reward induces people to write.
But Article I makes it clear that the ultimate beneficiary of books and inventions is the public. Copyrights are granted and patents are issued in order “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” This is why the Constitution dictates a limit on the right to make copies. After the term of protection expires, a work cannot be copyrighted again. It becomes a public good. It is thrown into the open market, which allows it to be cheaply reproduced, and this speeds the distribution of knowledge. “Intellectual property is a frail gondola that ferries innovation from the private to the public sphere, from the genius to the commons,” as Paul K. Saint-Amour, one of the leading literary scholars of copyright, elegantly describes it.
October 27, 2014
In The Register, news you can use!
A flock of sheep that are about to meet their maker at the abattoir got high on cannabis plants worth £4,000, after the drugs were ditched in a Surrey field.
“My sheep weren’t quite on their backs with legs in the air but they probably had the munchies,” farm shop manager Nellie Budd told local rag the Surrey Mirror.
“They haven’t had any other side effects but I’ll tell you about the meat next week.”
The stash of marijuana plants, which were each roughly three foot tall, were dumped at the edge of Fanny’s Farm in Markedge Lane, the paper reported. Budd’s shop was just 200 yards from where the drugs were fly-tipped, apparently.
Police told Budd that the cannabis had a street value of about £4,000.
October 23, 2014
In the Washington Post, Radley Balko explains how judges can convict you of crimes you were acquitted on or even crimes you were never charged with in the first place:
Most Americans probably believe that the government must first convict you of a crime before it can impose a sentence on you for that crime. This is incorrect: When federal prosecutors throw a bunch of charges at someone but the jury convicts on only some of those charges, a federal judge can still sentence the defendant on the charges for which he was acquitted. In fact, the judge can even consider crimes for which the defendant has never been charged.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Jones v. U.S., a case that would have addressed the issue. The National Law Journal summarizes the facts:
[A] District of Columbia jury found Antwuan Ball, Desmond Thurston and Joseph Jones guilty in 2007 of selling between two and 11 grams of cocaine, relatively small amounts. They were acquitted on racketeering and other charges that they were part of an extensive narcotics conspiracy.
Yet, when U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts sentenced the three, he said he “saw clear evidence of a drug conspiracy,” and sentenced Ball, Thurston and Jones to 18, 16 and 15 years in prison, respectively — four times higher than the highest sentences given for others who sold similar amounts of cocaine, according to filings with the Supreme Court.
There have been other cases like this, including at least two in which federal judges sentenced defendants for murders for which they were never even charged, never mind convicted. So not only can a judge sentence a defendant for crimes for which a jury acquitted, he can sentence a defendant for crimes for which prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to charge.
October 21, 2014
A man in Middlesbrough has been convicted of possessing illegal images of children … in his Manga collection. That is, cartoon drawings in the Japanese style called Manga. Gareth Lightfoot reports on the case for the Gazette:
A jobless animation fan has made legal history as he was convicted of having illegal pictures of cartoon children.
Robul Hoque, 39, is believed to be the first in the UK hauled before court over his collection of Japanese Manga or Anime-style images alone.
He admitted 10 counts of possessing prohibited images of children at Teesside Crown Court.
His barrister Richard Bennett said: “These are not what would be termed as paedophilic images. These are cartoons.”
And Mr Bennett revealed that such banned images were freely available on legitimate sites.
He said: “This case should serve as a warning to every Manga and Anime fan to be careful. It seems there are many thousands of people in this country, if they are less then careful, who may find themselves in that position too.”
Police found the images when they seized Hoque’s computer from his home on June 13, 2012, said prosecutor Harry Hadfield. He said officers found 288 still and 99 moving images, but none were of real people.
They were classified as prohibited images as they depicted young girls, some in school uniforms, some exposing themselves or taking part in sexual activity.
For obvious reasons, the newspaper article does not show any examples of the images in question, but Rob Beschizza warns you not to read his post at BoingBoing if you’re in England, as it does show an image that may or may not have been part of the investigation.
October 17, 2014
…to oppose the notion of equality of opportunity these days is to be thought some kind of monstrous ultramontane reactionary, a Metternich or Nicholas I, who wants by means of repression to preserve the status quo in amber. Members of young audiences to which I have spoken have almost fainted with shock when I have said that I not only did not believe in equality of opportunity, but to the contrary found the very idea sinister in the extreme, and much worse than mere egalitarianism of outcome. To say to a young audience today that equality of opportunity is a thoroughly vicious idea is like shouting “God does not exist and Mohammed was not his prophet” at the top of one’s voice in Mecca.
Those who believe in equality of opportunity must want, if they take the idea seriously, to make the world not only just but fair. Genetic and family influences on the fate of people have to be eliminated, because they undoubtedly affect opportunities and make them unequal. Ugly people cannot be models; the deformed cannot be professional footballers; the retarded cannot be astrophysicists; the small of stature cannot be heavyweight boxers; I don’t think I have to prolong this list, as everyone can think of a thousand examples for himself.
Of course, it might be possible to level the field a little by legislating for equality of outcome: by, for example, insisting that ugly people are employed as models in proportion to their prevalence in the population. English novelist L.P. Hartley, author of The Go-Between, satirized such envious suppression of beauty (and, by implication, all egalitarianism other than that of equality under the law) in a novel called Facial Justice. It’s not a very good novel, as it happens, but the idea is very good; Hartley envisages a state in which everyone aspires to an “average” face, brought about by plastic surgery both for the abnormally ugly and the abnormally good-looking. Only in this way can the supposed injustice (actually it’s unfairness) of the genetic lottery be righted.
Hartley’s novel is a reductio ad absurdum of a pernicious idea. By contrast, Roosevelt’s “measurable quality of opportunity” is roughly achievable by human design: only roughly, of course, because some (though few) will still be excluded biologically, and there are (again few) upbringings so terrible that they preclude opportunity for the person to become anything much. But the aspiration to deny no one a “measurable quality of opportunity” is not intrinsically nasty, as is the insistence on equality of opportunity. On the contrary; our problem is, however, that the political arrangements needed to bring this about already exist in most Western countries, and still we are unhappy or discontented. Thus we — many of us, that is — attribute our unhappiness to inequality of opportunity for fear of looking elsewhere, including inward.
Theodore Dalrymple, “A More Sinister Equality”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-04-06