Contrary to what you may have heard, Phil Robertson's free speech rights were never in serious danger. Neither were Woody Allen's due process rights. And neither is the religious freedom of bigoted retail managers.
If we lived in a country where private media companies were legally forced to give space to unprofitably racist and homophobic blowhards in the spirit of "free speech," survivors of childhood sexual abuse were forced to stay silent in the spirit of "due process," and women who needed birth control were forced to do without it in the spirit of "religious liberty," the country we live in would be less free--not more.
The Bill of Rights begins with five powerful words: "Congress shall make no law..." Note the words "Congress" and "law." The Fourteenth Amendment expanded this policy to include the states, but there's no version of the incorporation doctrine that lets you get away with applying the Bill of Rights as if it were a criminal code regulating personal conduct.
Free speech doesn't guarantee you a job, due process doesn't guarantee you a good reputation, and religious liberty doesn't give you permission to illegally discriminate against others. These legal concepts are in place to restrict the actions of the government--not to protect you from the social consequences of your behavior.
Related: Don Imus and Free Speech
There was a time when the American anti-abortion movement saw a distinction between first- and second-trimester abortions--a distinction that dates back to Aristotle. But that time has clearly passed.
As Andrea Grimes writes:
New "emergency" abortion regulations in Louisiana require patients to wait 30 days between blood tests and their abortion procedures, according to the state's Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) ...
[T]he new DHH regulations could decrease patient safety, putting patients at a higher risk of complications. As pregnancy advances, procedures become more involved and more costly, said Ellie Schilling.
According to a Guttmacher study, 88% of abortions are performed before week 12. If the new regulations are enforced, this will not be true of Louisiana; what would have been a week 9 abortion will be a week 13 abortion, what would have been a week 13 abortion will be a week 17 abortion, and so forth. Louisiana bans abortions past 20 weeks, but only 4% of abortions are performed from week 16 on. The most statistically significant effect of this legislation will be to turn first-trimester abortions into second-trimester abortions, at increased risk to the patient.
All of this reflects the shifting priorities of a national anti-abortion movement that has increasingly turned its attention to emergency contraception--a movement that sees no distinction between a fertilized egg and an embryo, no distinction between an embryo and a fetus, and no distinction between a fetus and a baby. When policies such as Louisiana's four-week booster are put into effect, this blurry and scientifically incomprehensible definition of human personhood comes with a very high human cost.
Related: 10 Anti-Abortion Myths Debunked
If you're a Cracked.com reader, you've probably already read their really solid article on four limitations to the Colorado marijuana legalization initiative. The biggest complication, as you might expect, is the fact that the federal government can still arrest you for marijuana possession. And while President Obama has called off the Department of Justice, this may be giving us a false sense of security:
...[I]t's not like the policies of the president ever suddenly shift every few years, right? Wait, no, they totally do. That means that the next leader of the country could, under federal law, make a pretty gigantic example of a certain red-eyed Rocky Mountain state.
As a temporary measure, voters can choose a candidate in 2016 who agrees to continue President Obama's policy--but as long as federal laws against marijuana exist, the federal government will always be one bad presidential election away from a relapse. What is really needed is congressional passage of a bill either legalizing marijuana on a federal level, or formalizing a Department of Justice policy prohibiting enforcement of marijuana laws in states that have legalized it. Between now and the November elections, voters can take a good first step in that direction by looking at what their U.S. House and Senate candidates think about marijuana laws.
This isn't a conspiracy theory.
In November 1964, FBI agents mailed Dr. King an anonymous letter and a cassette tape containing illegally-obtained surveillance audio of alleged adultery. After threatening to release the information to the public, the letter concludes:
King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do it (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significance). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.
In 1976, a U.S. House of Representatives report acknowledged that the letter "clearly implied that suicide would be a suitable course of action." And they also acknowledged that the letter wasn't the FBI's first illegal attempt to harm Dr. King:
From October 24, 1963, to June 21, 1966, the FBI also engaged in an extensive program of electronic surveillance of Dr. King. The committee found it was conducted in a particularly abusive fashion. FBI agents who monitored the devices, although they were initially instructed to be especially alert for contacts between Dr. King and Communist connections, exercised little discretion in deciding what to overhear and record. Private and personal conversations were recorded, as were conversations between Dr. King and Government officials. In fact, the development of personal information that, might be derogatory to Dr. King became a major objective of the surveillance effort. The committee found that the Department of Justice shared responsibility for the surveillance, since it was initially authorized by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
In other words: we know that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, which were responsible for passing the majority of the signature policies associated with the civil rights movement, engaged in a systematic, deadly, and highly illegal three-year campaign to destroy the life of the movement's most visible organizer and advocate by using a mix of propaganda, blackmail, and state-of-the-art surveillance technology. He had a wife, four children, and millions who loved him. And that didn't matter, not even to two of the most progressive presidential administrations of the past century.
We need to talk about this more often than we do.
Related: Government Surveillance Timeline
Art Way of the Colorado branch of the Drug Policy Alliance has checked in on Colorado's marijuana-legalization success story, and things seem to be going quite well so far:
According to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, by removing criminal penalties the state has saved anywhere from $12 million to $40 million dollars over the last year. (Others have estimated the state spends over $60 million enforcing marijuana prohibition at the levels now legal, so the CCLP estimate is probably on the conservative side.) Over the last decade, the state has averaged over 10,000 arrests and citations per year for minor marijuana possession at the levels now legal in the state.
It's difficult to assess how this policy would play out nationally, but the early Colorado numbers are promising--and if they continue to be, the case for legalizing marijuana everywhere will be increasingly difficult to ignore.
Project Censored has published its annual list of the year's 25 most censored news stories.
This year's candidates include the increasing (and troubling) collusion between military and civilian surveillance efforts, the increased use of aggressive moles in FBI counterterrorism ops, widespread unpaid labor by inmates working under the supervision of private prison companies, and the possible use of new torture techniques (including "dry waterboarding") at Guantanamo Bay.
While the idea of post-9/11 civil liberties abuses continuing unabated into the second term of the Obama administration isn't likely to be completely new to most readers, Project Censored has done its homework--as usual--and tells the story of a mainstream press that has clearly become a little too comfortable with the War on Terror.
The ACLU's new report, A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses, points to 3,278 people sentenced to life imprisonment for without parole for nonviolent offenses. And you need to read the whole thing.
A few victims of mandatory-minimum laws:
- Stephanie Yvette George, who was sentenced to life imprisonment at 23 because her boyfriend hid drugs in her attic.
- Clarence Aaron, sentenced to life at 23 for being present at a drug sale. He did not buy, sell, or manufacture the drugs, and both the buyer and seller have been released from prison after serving their sentences.
- Sharanda Purlette Jones, a single mother sentenced to life at 30 for asking a friend if he knew where drugs could be purchased.
79% of the offenders were sentenced for "drug-related" crimes. These crimes do not necessarily involve the sale, purchase, or manufacture of drugs.
The U.S. prison industry is already the largest in human history. As private prisons continue to lobby lawmakers for new contracts with higher minimum occupancy quotas, stories like these will become increasingly common.
This doesn't seem to bother us, as a country. Should it?
Related: Timeline of the War on Drugs
[O]n the whole, Tea Party members are not libertarians ... About one-quarter (26 percent) of Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement are libertarians. Twice as many Americans who identify with the Tea Party (52 percent) say they are a part of the religious right or conservative Christian movement.
The Tea Party is undeniably a state's rights movement, and it's a small-government movement in the sense that it supports lower taxes, but it has no serious underlying commitment to libertarian social policy. In fact, given the 2:1 ratio of Religious Right adherents to libertarians, it's a pretty safe bet that the Tea Party is against libertarian social policy.
What does this mean, in practice? Well, it means that I need to revise my understanding of what the Tea Party is. While I'd long suspected that it was a Republican anti-Obama movement, I had assumed the Ron Paul constituency held it together--and since Ron Paul was the Libertarian Party's 1988 presidential nominee, it would stand to reason that most Tea Party adherents would also identify as libertarians. That no longer appears to be the case. The Tea Party is more socially conservative than socially libertarian. It is, in other words, more Michele Bachmann's movement than Ron Paul's.
Related: What is a Libertarian?
Whether her office meant to throw the case, as medical examiner Shiping Bao alleges in his lawsuit, is a separate question--I'd have to be a mind-reader to know for sure--but it's clear that, at minimum, they were unmotivated. And that should come as no surprise; Corey is very active in the racially charged world of Florida Republican politics, and convicting Zimmerman would have effectively destroyed her clout in those circles, if not her career (she's up for reelection in 2016).
But there are some people she does feel comfortable throwing the book at--such as a young black mother named Marissa Alexander, who was initially sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot to ward off an abusive spouse. Last week, an appeals court gave her a new trial after learning that the trial judge had instructed the jury to either convict her or prove her innocence on grounds of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt, which is not generally how criminal prosecutions are supposed to work. The trial judge's error isn't strictly the prosecutor's fault, but they used the same "beyond a reasonable doubt" line in the closing argument, which suggests that both the prosecutor's office and trial judge were comfortable misrepresenting the content of Florida's self-defense statute to jurors (and, for reasons that are not immediately clear to me, misrepresented it in exactly the same way).
The U.S. Department of Justice still needs to take a hard look at the Sanford Police Department for sweeping the Trayvon Martin shooting under the rug--but while they're in the neighborhood, an aggressive investigation into Florida's Fourth Judicial Circuit state prosecutors also seems to be in order.
If you're conservative, you're probably not pleased with his gun control initiatives or his ridiculously paternalistic ban on sugary soft drinks. And if you're progressive, you're probably not all that crazy about his defiantly racist stop-and-frisk policy or his unhinged and suppressive reaction to the Occupy movement.
There's an old saying to the effect that if both political parties are angry at you, you must be doing something right. Bloomberg disproves that adage. If this is the record of an efficient centrist, let's stick to partisan gridlock.