In what might be the most poorly thought-out letter to editor I’ve seen outside of a student newspaper, venture capitalist Tom Perkins foresees a coming Holocaust of rich people in America:
Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”
From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent.
Everything is Nazism all the time … especially the way rich people are treated in America.
The way I’ve described this state is that a part of the organism is still alive, obviously, but the organism as a whole — the human being — is gone.
That’s Dr. James L. Bernat, the Louis and Ruth Frank professor of Neuroscience at Dartmouth’s medical school, discussing brain death and the cases of Jahi McMath and Marlise Muñoz.
McMath’s parents want to keep a ventilator running because they’re hoping for a miracle; the hospital wants to turn it off since McMath is legally dead. Muñoz’s parents and husband want to turn a ventilator off, but the hospital won’t allow it because Muñoz is pregnant.
I’ve written a fair amount about brain death, human life, and human personhood in the past — and there’s a whole chapter that deals with the topic in my first book — but these case are fundamentally different from the ones I’ve written about. The cases I considered were, in some ways, more challenging; they dealt with patients whose higher brain function has ceased but whose lower brain function, in contrast to McMath and Muñoz, continued.
McMath and Muñoz aren’t in some legal or medical gray area. In the first case, the family is, not unexpectedly, having a terrible time coping with an inexplicable tragedy. In the second case, the family is attempting to come to grips with their tragedy but the state is insisting that no harm come to the fetus she is carrying.
The mess, in both instances, seems to stem from religious belief butting heads with scientific understanding. McMath’s parents are praying for a miracle; the state insists that the fetus that’s been saved by keeping Muñoz alive is a rights-bearing person. In the former case, the harm done by keeping the patient on a ventilator is difficult to pinpoint; in the latter case, it’s very clear that the state’s intervention is doing direct harm to the Muñoz family.
(Source: The New York Times)
As many readers know, I took a few days off from blogging and took a trip out to Pasadena to watch my alma mater compete in the Granddaddy of Them All.
Apart from the facts that this was the 100th Rose Bowl Game and that the last time Michigan State earned a trip there was in 1988, this was a Bucket List item for me for as long as I can remember.
When I was growing up, the Rose Bowl was the Bowl Game; it meant your team had the best year; it was the New Year’s Day game we all watched. The sun was always shining on the mountains surrounding the stadium while it was snowing at my house in Michigan. And so the Rose Bowl was the game I always wanted to experience in person.
To be there, to see my team win the Rose Bowl, to share that experience with some of my very best friends … there’s really no way to describe the feeling other than to write all the things about the meaning of the Rose Bowl that I just wrote above.
See you at the Rose Bowl.
On this week’s Hero Report podcast, we talk about heroism in the news from the last two weeks and also an encounter Matt had at a train station in Oakland.
Tell us what you think about this episode, discuss these issues with us on Twitter (Matt Langdon / Ari Kohen), and join us every week on Google+ for our live broadcast (where you can chat with us while we’re on the air and contribute to the conversation).
Want to make the podcast portable? Subscribe via iTunes (audio-only).
Today the libertarian Mercatus Center released its annual “Freedom in the 50 States” list, a ranking of liberty in America as measured by Ron Swanson-ish ideals of personal and economic freedom.
According to the Center, the least free states in America are New York (population 19.5 million), California (pop. 38 million) and New Jersey (population 8.9 million).
The most free states are allegedly North Dakota (pop. 700 thousand), South Dakota (pop. 833 thousand) and Tennessee (6.4 million).
Conclusion: Americans must really, really hate freedom.
This annual Mercatus “Don’t Ask Us How a Libertarian Think-tank Ended Up at a Public University” Center study is by far my favorite annual ranking of states. Mainly because I’m convinced the entire exercise is a false-flag operation to discredit libertarian conceptions of freedom.
There are many good reasons why one might move from San Francisco, CA to Murfreesboro, Tennessee but “because of freedom!” is not one of those reasons.
The libertarian response may be “well, we measure freedom based on tax rates and the level of business regulation,” in which case Murfreesboro does look better than the Bay Area, but all this proves is that tax rates and regulations are a dumb way of capturing what we mean by the idea of being free.
It’s also true that New York and California could be even more free if they relaxed some economic regulations. The world would be a better place if zoning laws were less restrictive, if people didn’t have to spend thousands of dollars trying to get licenses to cut hair or practice interior design and if drug laws were liberalized. Things can always be better.
But that things could be improved doesn’t mean that CA and NY are less free than ND/TN now.
Same-sex marriage or civil unions are legal in all the top “least free” states and banned in 4 of the 5 “most free states.” In Oklahoma, a second offense for possession of any amount of marijuana is a felony that carries a 2-10 year prison term. Sale and distribution of any amount carries a sentence of two years to LIFE. In “least free” New York, small-dose possession and distribution result in misdemeanor charges.
And obviously, New York gets a whole lot freedom-ier when you consider positive freedom in addition to the absence of government policies that could send you to prison FOR LIFE for minor drug crimes.
There are just a hell of a lot more opportunities for self-expression and self-actualization in NY/CA (thanks in large part to all those giant corporations who choose to do business in the “least free” parts of the country”) than there are in ND/SD/TN/NH/OK. Even more so if you’re poor and your ability to fully live life is highly dependent on access to government-sponsored health/social-services.
Basically, as an accurate ranking of the most and least free places in America, the Mercatus study gets an F. As a quick and dirty explainer of why libertarianism appeals to so few people, A+.
I have nothing to add, except to note that this post is set to troll a whole lot of people in 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 …
Relevant to my interests:
If you ever watched “Star Wars” and longed to wield a light saber of your own, you’re not alone, young padawan. A San Francisco “Star Wars” fan has created a combat choreography class for the Jedi and Sith weapon.
The class is the brainchild of Alain Bloch, a 32-year-old software engineer with a lifelong love of George Lucas’ epic space opera.
Also, the best thing about the whole story is that there’s only one comment on it and that comment is, “’Lightsaber’ is one word.”
There’s a great piece at Mother Jones today that highlights a new campaign by the California Innocence Project; as the above graphic demonstrates, “keeping prisoners on death row in California is really, really expensive for taxpayers.”
But that’s only one aspect of the broken system. For example, here’s some info on wrongful convictions:
I’ve come out to Southern California to
present a paper at the American Political Science Association’s Teaching & Learning Conference follow the manhunt for Christopher Dorner from as close as I can possibly get.
And I’ve discovered that a whole bunch of misguided people have decided that Dorner is some sort of hero for killing people because his motivation is to strike at the Los Angeles Police Department:
Despite the killings, Dorner seemed to be getting some sympathy. Where police see a violent killer, others saw Dorner as kind of an epic anti-hero waging war against an institution they see as corrupt.
"God bless you Chris #Dorner," one Twitter user posted. "I believe in what goes around comes around. The LAPD is crooked."
Another tweeter said Dorner was wrong, but the “#LAPD has done much worse things than he has.”
They express a frustration with the LAPD that probably shouldn’t surprise anyone.
That said, it’s impossible for me to imagine a definition of heroism that could encompass someone like Christopher Dorner, who claims to be exposing the corruption within the LAPD by striking out at individual police officers and at others who simply might have ties to police officers. There’s just nothing heroic about shooting people and it’s only our distinctly American love of vigilantism that somehow allows us to think that there might be.
Apart from mistakenly (and unilaterally) pronouncing individual police officers guilty for what Dorner (and many others, clearly) considers institutional corruption within the police force, Dorner has unheroically started killing people to make his point. It’s odd to have to write this, but here it is:
Murdering people doesn’t prove your point unless your point is that you’re a murderer.
HT: Dan Grosserode.
My young friend at the Rightsided blog has found the answer to my question about why someone would “have a reasonable need for weapons that fire multiple bullets in a second or why they have a reasonable need for extended clips or magazines, or why they need dozens of weapons that are capable of the above”:
The Los Angeles riots.
During a full-scale riot, some people might want to loot your store. But this definitively proves that they won’t loot your store if you and your friends have guns and are staked out on the roof.
I’ll begin by agreeing that this is an excellent argument in favor of gun ownership. The L.A. riots don’t happen very often but, when they do, you want to be prepared.
What this isn’t, though, is an argument for "weapons that fire multiple bullets in a second or … extended clips or magazines, or … dozens of weapons that are capable of the above."
And that’s true not only because most of the people who were defending the store were clearly armed with regular old shotguns and rifles. It’s also true because they were defending their store against looters who were unarmed.
If you want to keep a shotgun in your place of business to defend your possessions against rioters? Well, be my guest. I’m not out to ban regular old shotguns. Most rioters are looking for an easy target, not to get into a firefight. Up on your roof, with your shotgun, you’re demonstrating that your place of business isn’t an easy target. They’ll probably move along … especially if your friends have shotguns too.
There’s no difference between brandishing a shotgun against an unarmed group of looters and brandishing a semi-automatic pistol with an extended clip. Either one seems pretty capable of deterring an unarmed looter, especially when there are other stores without shotgun-wielding owners on the roof.
The big difference is that the shotgun is very, very unlikely ever to be repurposed for a mass shooting and the semi-automatic pistol or rifle with extended clip or magazine is … well … look around.
Jason Kottke points to the fascinating interaction between television shows and the real world; this one in particular, in which “Curb Your Enthusiasm” helped keep a man off death row, is incredible:
This is a really interesting and eclectic list of 25 TV shows that have had an impact on society beyond the water cooler. There are a few obvious choices, but most of these I hadn’t heard of.
In 2003, 24-year-old machinist Juan Catalan faced the death penalty for allegedly shooting a key witness in a murder case. Catalan told police that he couldn’t have committed the crime — he was at a Los Angeles Dodgers game at the time. He had the ticket stubs and everything!
When police didn’t buy his alibi, Catalan contacted the Dodgers, who pointed him to an unlikely hero: misanthropic comedian Larry David. On the day in question, David had been filming an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in Dodger Stadium. It was a long shot, but maybe Catalan could be seen in the background. When his attorney watched the outtakes, it took just 20 minutes to find shots of Catalan and his daughter chowing down on ballpark dogs while watching from the stands.
Thanks to the footage, Catalan walked free after five months behind bars. And Larry David found one more thing to be self-deprecating about. “I tell people that I’ve done one decent thing in my life, albeit inadvertently,” joked David.
I’ve been very fortunate to write a monthly column for the Daily Nebraskan this year in which I’ve been able to make arguments and try out ideas that relate to politics, social justice, and human rights.
I began, back in August, with a long piece about my personal experience of getting to know Ronnie Frye, an inmate on North Carolina’s death row who was executed ten years ago. I want to close out the academic year with another column that considers the human face and the human cost of our death penalty system.
I write at a pivotal moment: Connecticut has repealed its death penalty statute, becoming the seventeenth state to do so and, in November, California will consider a ballot initiative to do the same. With five states abolishing the death penalty in five years and several more states seemingly poised to do the same, the dominoes have clearly started to fall. Opponents of the death penalty have found ways to persuade legislators — if not the general public — that the system is expensive, biased, and horribly flawed.
But this is as good a time as any to begin a difficult conversation.
In particular, I want to suggest that we need to think critically about the trade-off we’re making when we do away with the death penalty and condemn people to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. We should make no mistake that this too is a death sentence and it’s one actually considered to be worse by some of the people who currently sit on death row.
This isn’t to diminish the difficult and important work done by death penalty abolitionists or to discourage anyone in the work that remains to be done. It is only to note that, in our desire to end the death penalty and save lives, we have allowed our opponents to continue to shape the conversation about crime, justice, and human rights. I’m not convinced we need to yield this ground.
In writing about the ballot initiative in California, death row inmate Kevin Cooper argues:
We who are on death row will also lose our legal habeas and habeas appeal process that we have and are currently entitled to under the law. So we are in fact taking a step backwards in our ability to challenge our convictions. We are also having to take our fight for our collective human rights to another level. What I mean by this is, Level IV prisons within the State of California are some of the worst prisons in the world! They are worse than death row in the violence that takes place, in the lack of programs, including educational programs, they stay on lockdown, and many families cannot get to these isolated prisons to visit their loved ones.
Interestingly, many death penalty supporters will see this as a good sign. If we have to do away with the death penalty, then at least we can be consoled by the knowledge that we’re replacing it with a punishment that’s also terrible. This is something death penalty opponents, who often make forceful moral arguments about the dignity and human rights of death row inmates, need to consider carefully.
Indeed, at the heart of the idea of both the death penalty and life imprisonment without parole is the notion that the offender is completely and utterly devoid of humanity. With this in mind, prison isn’t about correction and rehabilitation; it’s about punishment and revenge. If the death penalty is too expensive, if it risks the execution of an occasional innocent, and if it doesn’t cause all that much suffering, then it can be jettisoned in favor of a punishment that’s cheaper, that we can correct when we err, and that — if done properly — might be even worse for offenders.
Why are we committed to making life as terrible as possible for some people? Why isn’t it sufficient to remove someone from society, to restrict his or her liberty, and to keep ourselves safe while continuing to respect the inherent human dignity of the person in question? In large part, it’s because we’ve convinced ourselves that these people — those we say deserve to die — are not like us in the most decisive respect.
When we say someone deserves to die, what we’re saying is that an offense has been committed that is so far beyond the range of normal behavior that we can’t even begin to imagine the worldview of the offender and we can’t imagine continuing to occupy the same plane of existence.
I don’t want to be read as saying these feelings are abnormal. Indeed, it’s quite normal to want to express our solidarity with the families of murder victims, make clear our outrage at the terrible crime that has been committed, ensure our safety, and punish these offenders for what they’ve done. But I think there’s a disconnect between these normal feelings and the desire to punish in a manner that causes the most suffering and that strips the offender of his human dignity.
I’m also not arguing against life imprisonment without the possibility of parole; I’m simply suggesting that the way in which so many people are currently thinking about it — as an opportunity to for society to inflict a lifetime of brutality on offenders — is both troubling and a missed opportunity. Why not, instead, think about life imprisonment as an ongoing opportunity for rehabilitation in an environment that protects the public and restricts liberty as a consequence of bad actions? Changing our outlook in this way would likely mean changing the way we think about prison more generally, and it would cause us to take a long, hard look at prison conditions in this country. But this is long overdue.
In the end, I want to suggest that there’s a middle ground to walk … if only we can begin to look for it. This is a line between toughness and softness on crime, which allows us to stand with victims and co-victims of violence without jettisoning the idea that all human beings are the bearers of dignity. It ultimately recognizes the humanity of even those whose actions have made them the objects of our hate and fear. After all, it’s in treating decently those who have harmed us that we most distinguish ourselves from them.
This will be difficult for us, to be sure, but that’s why we need to begin the conversation now. As we recognize that the death penalty is cruel, unusual, and simply doesn’t work, we ought to also start thinking about what prison terms can and should mean for offenders, for victims, and for society at large.
 An edited version of this blog post appears as the eighth in a monthly series of columns on the problem of justice in contemporary politics and pop culture that I wrote for the Daily Nebraskan this academic year.
7M Californians had their rights stripped away today by activist 9th Circuit judges. As president I will work to protect marriage.— Rick Santorum (@RickSantorum) February 7, 2012
It’s not at all interesting or surprising that Rick Santorum opposes the 9th Circuit ruling.
What’s interesting, at least to me, is that he seems not to understand what rights are or what they do. Say what you will about the 9th Circuit ruling, but it certainly doesn’t harm Californians with regard to their rights. The Californians whose rights are of such concern to Santorum can continue to get married tomorrow and the next day, just as they could yesterday and the day before. There has been no change for them.
My own feeling, of course, is that there’s also no harm done to these (heterosexual) Californians by allowing other (homosexual) Californians to marry. But that’s really neither here nor there.
Let’s be charitable and give Santorum the benefit of the doubt; let’s presume that he’s upset about the invalidation of a ballot initiative for which these Californians cast their votes. What he means to say, then, is that the “activist” judges of the 9th Circuit circumvented the right that these Californians have to cast ballots and decide important matters of governance for themselves.
Except we all know that the judiciary exists in order to check the excesses that might occur as a result of the democratic process. After all, I doubt anyone would bat an eye if a court struck down a ballot initiative that declared that Jews couldn’t own property, that Asians had to live outside the city limits, or some other patently racist, arbitary, or ridiculous thing that a majority got into its collective head. Or, if you’re really worried about the invalidation of people’s votes, just think about the millions of people whose democratic right to vote was invalidated by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. I’m guessing Santorum didn’t lose a lot of sleep over that one.
What Santorum wants is for the Court to sanction certain forms of discrimination. It would be handy if there was another way for us to say this, but there simply isn’t. He wants one group to be able to do something and another group not to be able to do that same thing, simply because he disapproves of the second group.
Very, very few people would stand by Santorum if he claimed that mixed-race marriages were inappropriate or if he championed the right of store owners to refuse service to an African-American or Jewish clientele. That sort of discrimination offends nearly everyone, regardless of party identification. So should this sort.
Dressing up Santorum’s personal bigotry in the language of rights is convenient for him; it sounds a lot better to want to protect people’s rights than to want to discriminate against other people. But I think we all know what’s going on here.