October 3, 2002

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The Judiciary

Politics and Policy:

    This is something I’ve been thinking on for awhile. I banged this out today, but will likely edit it more over time. I would appreciate any and all comments on it!

      My political Philosophy (beta version)

      More than a few of you have questioned my political beliefs and have wondered why I have changed so much over the years. So, here’s my defense and explanation for my ever-evolving political philosophy.

      I developed my earliest political ideas as a child in the 80’s. My parents were typical Southern Conservative Democrats (voting for Reagan and conservatives on national races, but still voting for local democrats). As a child though I didn’t understand the complexities of politics and focused my thoughts on the big offices like the Presidency and the Governorship.

      While I vaguely remember Carter, the first President who stirred my imagination was Ronald Reagan. He was the first politician I ever wrote to and was the first person I “campaigned” for, by trying to persuade my second grade teacher into not voting for Mondale in ’84. I told her “Why don’t you like Reagan? He’s going to cut taxes?” but she said “yes, but that will raise the deficit.” I gave up then because I didn’t understand what a deficit was. What I remember most about Reagn was that he was strong against the Soviets and cut taxes. He also made you feel proud to be an American.

      As the Reagan years became the Bush years I had grown into a strident Republican. I credited all that was good with Republicans and all that was bad with those “commie pinko democrats.” Occasionally issues would come up that Republicans didn’t see eye to eye with me on (especially the environment) but I did my best to stifle my doubts and hold to the approved petition.

      When I turned 18 I proudly registered as Republican and plunged into three years at Southwestern Oklahoma State University with a driving desire to shake the world for conservativism.

      During my freshman year I began writing an extremely vitriolic ultra-conservative column (where I said attrociously inflamatory things like “President Clinton, the blood of unborn babies is on your hands”) entitled first The Other Side, later The Right Side (after the Republican Revolution of 1994) and finally One Clear Voice. Looking back on those days, I am amazed that I could say some of the things that I said then.

      By my sophomore year I was the Chairman of the local College Republican chapter (and State Secretary by my Junior year) and was getting more involved with local politics (including being a state convention delegate one year), and finally during my last year there, I worked as the Campaign manager for a friend who was running for State Rep (and was later hired part-time by his primary opponent, after my intial man dropped out of the race) in 1996. During that race, I pulled out all of the stops in fighting for my candidate. We ran a clean race and I was certain that we would prevail, but in the end didn’t make it.

      This was a pretty crushing blow for me and made me seriously question the value of politics. I thought that if you did the right thing and fought hard you were guaranteed to win, but was very disappointed to discover otherwise. This defeat, along with many personal issues going on at the time in my spiritual walk caused me to leave SWOSU and transfer to the Institute for Christian Studies in Austin, TX in the fall of 1997.

      When I first arrived in Austin I avoided politics but soon got involved with the Travis County Republican party as a precinct chairman and later as a State convention delegate.

      (Interestingly enough when I was chosen as a delegate, the convention delegate selection committee asked me to complete a lengthy questionnaire on my views to prove I was conservative enough. By this point I had become anti-death penalty, but they let me on since I was stridently pro-life. (I think they thought I was a Catholic and tolerated my soft views on the death penalty because they thought I was a lock on abortion.)

      They also asked if I supported Texas’s anti-sodomy law. I had never heard of it before so I said “sure” without giving it much thought. In retrospect, I don’t think I did the right thing. Today I do not support homosexuality, but also think that just because I do not believe in something doesn’t mean there should be a law against it. Freedoms exist to protect everyone’s rights, even the ones you might not see eye to eye with.

      In 1998 though I began to have more questions on traditional GOP views and went as far as to speak at state convention (very scary experience, as it was at the Ft. Worth convention center in front of 18,000 people!) in favor of a proposed amendment to legalize medical marijuana. Of course the amendment was shot down by most of the folks, including most of my fellow Travis County delegates who glared at me.

      By the fall of 1999, I began to feel more and more estranged from the GOP and began to be more and more attracted to the Libertarian party. The Libertarian philosophy seemed very rational to me, and I appreciated the consistency the Libertarians showed in their advocacy, as compared to the wishy-washiness of the Republicans.

      So, in Dec. of 1999 I officially submitted my resignation to the Travis County Republican party, and became a Libertarian. I also at that same time registered as a candidate for Travis County Constable for Precinct 5 on the Libertarian ticket.

      The next year was thrilling politically. I ran a low-budget campaign (only raised $200) that was focused on promoting the party and the issues I cared about. I saw several of my letters to the editor published in Austin newspapers, posted signs, and even appeared on Cable TV and non-profit microradio stations to promote my candidacy. In the end, I received about 18% of the vote.

      (On a side note, on election night after attending the Libertarian watch party, I stayed up all night with my friends Kimberly and Aimee in the freezing drizzle to see Dubya at his downtown watch party. Bush of course didn’t dare show his face that night (they finally told us to go home at 5 a.m.) which I thought was pretty shabby.

      Towards the end of that election cycle, I began to question more and more of the Libertarian philosophy. I generally supported them on issues of personal liberty (drug decriminalization, free speech, etc) but not on issues of economic regulation (esp with regards of the supposed rights of corporations). I continued as a member of the Libertarian party because of the friends I had in the party, but when I moved to San Marcos (in neighboring Hays County) I changed my party affiliation to the Green party and have remained a Green party member ever since.

      Since then I have solidified my political philosophy more clearly. Generally, I would say that my views line up well with the 10 Key Green values, but to a lesser extent with some of the views held by the Green party mainstream.

      As far as the issues, here’s where I stand… (more to be added later on)

      War: 100% opposed to it, as I am to all forms of violence. (I derive my views from my faith in Jesus and His teachings on non-violence.)

      Capital Punishment: Opposed to the death penalty for the same reason that I am opposed to war.

      Realistically, I know that the death penalty is very popular in America right now, so I advocate as an interim step a temporary moratorium on future executions until society can insure that there can be no chance an innocent person would be killed. (Which would be a practical prohibition, as that guarantee will never be made. 😉

      Abortion: a more touchy issue with some folks. I respect those who see things differently, but my personal belief is that it is wrong, as it is a form of killing.

      As to the practical ramifications of this belief, I don’t think that the pro-life movement is on the right track. Sadly, the culture has changed and even if Roe was overturned tomorrow little would change.

      Overturning Roe would mean that abortion law would revert to being a concern of state governments. Some states in the South and Midwest would likely outlaw or restrict the practice, while most others would allow it.

      Most women in the states where it is prohibited would simply travel to states where it would be legal, so the only real consequence would be that poor women would be less likely to get them and/or they might wait until later in their pregnancy to get them due to the need to save enough funds for travel costs.

      Given the circumstances, I think Pro-lifers would be better off to focus on persuasion and support for mothers than on trying to overturn Roe.

      What I find ironic and revolting is Republicans who say their pro-life, yet want to cut welfare. That makes zero sense to me. If you’re really pro-life then you should be willing to dramatically increase welfare payments to indigent pregnant women.

      We also need to see churches do more to help and support pregnant women (this is happening some, but not near often enough) and new mothers as well.

      Economics: I support community-based economies and oppose the WTO, NAFTA, and other policies that destroy local communities around the world.

      Environment: I support organic farming practices, a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, and the preservation of the remaining wilderness places. I also support preserving more green spaces in cities.

      Civil Liberties: I passionately believe in the Bill of Rights and accept no compromise on those concerns, be it freedom of religion, speech and press, to the rights of criminal defendants.

      Foreign Affairs: I believe the US should refuse to support nations that oppress their people, including many of our current allies such as Saudi Arabia, China, et Al. The US should also support debt relief for third world countries and invest more heavily in infrastructure, health, and education in third world countries, particularly in our own hemisphere.

      Drugs: I support drug decriminalization. Possession and distribution of small amounts of illegal drugs should be punished by only a civil penalty. I also believe that the racist federal penalties for crack and power cocaine possesion/distribution should be equalized.

      Local Oklahoma Issues: I oppose the lottery and would rather see taxes raised to support education.

    Ok, that’s all for now. Let me know what issues I left out that should be included.

    Post edited Oct 5, 2002

Culture:

  • NY Times: Globalization of Beauty Makes Slimness Trendy

      . . . “The judges had always looked for a local queen, someone they considered a beautiful African woman,” Mr. Murray-Bruce, 38, said. “So I told the judges not to look for a local queen, but someone to represent us internationally.”

      The new strategy’s success was immediate. The Most Beautiful Girl of 2001, Agbani Darego, went on to clinch the Miss World title in Sun City, South Africa, last October. She became the first African winner in the contest’s 51-year history.

      Her victory stunned Nigerians, whose country had earned a worldwide reputation for corruption and fraud. Now, all of a sudden, Nigeria was No. 1 in beautiful women. Ms. Darego, who was 18 at the time, instantly became a national heroine.

      But soon pride gave way to puzzlement. In a culture where Coca-Cola-bottle voluptuousness is celebrated and ample backsides and bosoms are considered ideals of female beauty, the new Miss World shared none of those attributes. She was 6 feet tall, stately and so, so skinny. She was, some said uncharitably, a white girl in black skin.

      The perverse reality was that most Nigerians, especially those over 40, did not find the new Miss World particularly beautiful.

      The story does not end there, though. In the year since her victory, a social transformation has begun to take hold across this nation, Africa’s most populous.

      The change is an example of the power of Western culture on a continent caught between tradition and modernity. Older Nigerians’ views of beauty have not changed. But among young, fashionable Nigerians, voluptuousness is out and thin is in. . .

    Such a sad story in my book. This sentence says it all: The judges had always looked for a local queen, someone they considered a beautiful African woman…” What is wrong with picking a beautiful African woman? Why do we Westerners think our values are so superior that we convince other people adopt them?

    I hate to see a culture disregard its own views of beauty (which are supported by thousands of years of tradition and culture in their society) to adopt a Western view which is unhealthy and will lead to serious self-esteem issues for future generations of Nigerian women.

    Furthermore, our so-called Western values of beauty are rather recent. Go back 100-200 years (or for that matter even 20 years) and see what women were looked up as beautiful. They would not even get a second glance by the folks who seem to decide these things today.

    I for one don’t buy it. I’ll tell you what makes a woman beautiful in my book… being herself. I think about last weekend at the Austin City Limits festival. I saw thousands of beautiful women. Some voluptious, some slender, some tall, some short, every body shape imaginable. The ones that I thought were most beautiful though, seemed to be at home in their own skin, to be happy with who they were.

    And most of all, if they play an instrument (!) ahh… I am smitten. The two women who wowed me most were Gillian Welch (she has the prettiest and genuinenest smile I have seen in my life) and of course Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek. I could so fall in love with her!

    Ok, while I’m talking about her, here is a picture of her. (from www.nickelcreek.com)

  • NY Times: War, Murder and Suicide: A Year’s Toll Is 1.6 Million

Politics and Policy:

  • Yahoo/UK Reuters: Small asteroid could be mistaken for a nuclear blast — Here is a frightening scenario that says illustrate why I believe that all peace-loving people should be working towards the eventual aboltion of nuclear weapons from the face of this planet…

      Even small asteroids that never hit Earth could have deadly consequences, because they might be mistaken for nuclear blasts by nations that lack the equipment to tell the difference, scientists say.

      One such asteroid event occurred June 6, when U.S. early warning satellites detected a flash over the Mediterranean that indicated an energy release comparable to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, U.S. Brig. Gen. Simon Worden told a congressional hearing.

      The flash occurred when an asteroid perhaps 10 meters in diameter slammed into Earth’s atmosphere, producing a shock wave that would have rattled any vessels in the area and might have caused minor damage, Worden said.

      Little notice was taken of the event at the time, but Worden suggested that if it had occurred a few hours earlier and taken place over India and Pakistan, the outcome might have been horrifying.

      “To our knowledge, neither of those nations have the sophisticated sensors that can determine the difference between a natural NEO (Near Earth Object, such as an asteroid) and a nuclear detonation,” Worden said.

      “The resulting panic in the nuclear-armed and hair-triggered opposing forces could have been the spark that ignited a nuclear horror we have avoided for over half a century,” he told a committee investigating the risk posed by asteroids and other objects that might collide with Earth.

  • I received several icq messages from a reader in criticism of yesterday’s post concerning my views on criminal sentencing of drug dealers and white collar criminals.

    After reading the response, I think I oversimplified the issue in my earlier post. So, let me give some more details from my recollection of the presentation… (bear in mind I’m not a lawyer, and not that good of a law student so take all of this with a big grain of salt)

    The federal sentencing guidelines are extremely comprehensive, and set penalties based upon the base offense (using a points system) with points added for things like carrying a gun during the crime, discharging the gun during the commission of the crime, being a leader in the crime, prior criminal record, etc; while points are taken off if the convicted person accepts responsibility for the crime.

    The good thing is that this does help to differentiate between low-level street dealers (most of whom are non-violent, and sell to support their own addiction) and high-level drug bosses who are living the good life off of the misfortunes of others.

    The bad deal is that the differences are not big enough, and that for someone who has committed a string of non-violent offenses (i.e. prostitution, petty theft, etc) that sentence can be unjustly accelerated.

    At the same time, a white person with no prior criminal record, who through the job that she has at a bank, embezzles over $100,000 from the United Way (an actual case discussed at the seminar) would receive what I would consider a fairly light sentence (likely 2-5 years if I remember right).

    While at the same time, a prostitute who has been busted a few times for his “profession” who is caught with 50 grams of crack (less than an ounce) but is NOT carrying a weapon will get the book thrown at him, facing at least 10 years due to the mandatory min sentence.

    That is wrong. The bank embezzler likely has hurt hundreds, even thousands of people in her community… those who gave to the United Way, those would receive help from the charities they fund, the bank that employed her, etc. She may even have caused the death of a homeless person who froze to death in the winter from not having proper shelter, or the premature death of an AIDS patient who didn’t receive the care he needed.

    On the other hand the street dealer will sell his crack to 2 or 3 addicts. Certainly not a good thing, but if he wasn’t there they would get it elsewhere. Maybe someone would OD on it, but more likely not. The worst thing he does is buy his crack from someone else, who buys the goods from someone higher up, where the money goes to pay off corrupt border guards and likely other government officials both in the country and in Columbia, and finally the money goes to the murderous cartels there. But on the other hand, America’s drug laws have created the black market in illegal drugs and as such has at least indirectly brought the cartels to power. Since we all (or at least most folks) pay taxes to the feds, we indirectly support the cartels too.

    The dealer obviously has committed a wrong nevertheless. Our society as a rule has laws against selling harmful products and preying on the weak and vulnerable. The should undoubtably be sanctioned in some way; but more importantly he should receive treatment for his adictions, so that he’ll no longer have the desperate need to fund his drug habit.

    In my book the embezzler is a much worse criminal I personally think the embezzler should do at least 10 years. She has committed a serious breach of trust for personal gain, not for desperation (as in the case of the crack dealer)

    But let me also return to the other kinds of dealers. Those are involved in the wholesale distribution of drugs, who are involved in the higher escelons of the drug trade are a different creature all together. I don’t support the death penalty for them as provided for by current US Federal law (but I don’t support it for any body) but I do think life in prison is appropriate. These people have caused so many to die, so many lives to be ruined. They are the ones who have made virtual slaves out of the street level dealers, prostitutes (who do what they do often to support their drug habit) and users.

    These folks however are extremely rare. Most drug criminals are not in this class.

    Ok, I’ve rambled on and on enough. One last thing that I want to share with y’all from www.sentencing.org

      Supreme Court Justice Stevens, dissenting in U.S. v. Christopher Lee Armstrong, et. al.:

      Finally, it is undisputed that the brunt of the elevated federal penalties falls heavily on blacks. While 65% of the persons who have used crack are white, in 1993 they represented only 4% of the federal offenders convicted of trafficking crack. Eighty percent of such defendants were black. Id. at 39, 161. During the first 18 months of the full guideline implementation, the sentencing disparity between black and white defendants grew from pre guideline levels: blacks on average received sentences over 40% longer than whites. See Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sentencing in the Federal Courts: Does Race Matter? 6-7 (Dec. 1993). Those figures represent a major threat to the integrity of federal sentencing reform, whose main purpose was the elimination of disparity (especially racial) in sentencing. The Sentencing Commission acknowledges that the heightened crack penalties are a “primary cause of the growing disparity between sentences for Black and White federal defendants.”

    America’s drug laws are in the spirit of the old Jim Crow laws. They are intended to keep people of color down. This is unjust and wrong and must end.

    Post edited Oct 5, 2002

Politics and Policy:

  • NY Times: G.O.P. Looks to Supreme Court for Delay in Torricelli Ruling

  • The decision of the NJ Supreme Court (in PDF format)

    Here’s a choice excerpt…

      And the court being of the view that [it] is in the public interest and the general intent of the election laws to preserve the two-party system and to submit to the electorate a ballot bearing the names of candidates of both major political parties as well as all other qualifying parties and groups. Kilmurray v. Gilfert, 10 N.J 435, 441 (1952)

    Two things are disturbing in this decision.

    1. That the NJ Supremes wrote such a short decision… A case of this magnitude deserved much greater explanation than the court provided, especially when the court decided to ignore statutes

    2. That the court has affirmed a previous decision from the 1950’s that stated the policy of the state of New Jersey is the preservation of the two-party system.

    Think about it people! Most states try to discourage third parties (I think unconstitutionally but that is another issue) but most don’t come right out and tell you that they intend to limit the choices of the people.

    The US Supremes need to smack this down hard. The NJ Supreme Court has shown that they do not respect the law and do not respect the rights of third party candidates.

    I (like I think many Americans) do not want to see the Repubs get control back of the Senate, but I not at the cost of the rule of law. If the NJ demos had any character at all they wouldn’t have done this and instead would have encouraged their members to vote for one of the third party candidates.

Politics and Policy:

  • Here is a transcript of an ICQ conversation with my friend Scott on the NJ situation. I thought he made some good points so I’m quoting here with his permission…

      Scoota@OU: one of the justices in NJ (she had sounded like a democrat) dismissed offhand one argument…. the justice said the voters would be deprived of a choice, but the republican said there are six people on the ballot and she said get real we are only talking about the two major parties

      JMB: no way! Oh, I’m going to go off on that.

      Scoota@OU: they had a libertarian give arguments before the court yesterday too….. very good

      makes me want to be a lib

      Scoota@OU: i read the court’s opinion last night

      JMB: I will have to read that.

      Scoota@OU: “the Court being of the view that it is in the public interest and the general intent of the election laws to preserve the two-party system”

      Scoota@OU: I would say the two-parties destruction would be more in the public interest

      JMB: amen to that.

      Scoota@OU: the libertarian made a really good point that we are a nation of law, and that it really seemed not to be an issue of choice, but the fact that the NJ Democratic Party was very willing to pay the $800,000 or more to put their person on the ballot showed that it was a issue of maintaining power in fact

      JMB: the democratic party of NJ does not respect the rule of law. — I truly hope the demos keep control of the Senate, but not so much that we sacrifice the rule of law. The demos should not have tried this, as a matter of principle. If they hated the repub so much they should have endorced the Green party candidate or something.

      Scoota@OU: yeah they said the voters need a choice, yet there are 6 people on the ballot for senator there the real question NJ Dems and general voters need to be asking is “can we trust a party that does not respect the law, and a party that when the going gets tough, they run?”