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Current Wave of Criminal Justice Reform Ignores Indispensable Right to Counsel

It is well known and widely reported that criminal justice reform is sweeping the nation. Criminal justice reform is the anomalous political issue for which the ACLU and Koch Industries align. Even the most unwavering American Exceptionalist must take issue with our nation having the highest incarceration rate, with 25% of the world’s prisoners.

Conservative politicians embrace the idea of slashing the costs of harsh prison sentences and the libertarian ideal that the government should not take lightly the deprivation of personal liberty. Of course, criminal justice reform isn’t a hard sale for liberals when the system disproportionately affects poor people of color. Furthermore, the current system hinders those with criminal records from attaining employment and housing, and thus, recidivism rates are high.

Whether motivated by a desire to achieve a fairer justice system, a desire to decrease costs or both, it seems that everyone is on board with criminal justice reform. However, below the surface of this flood of bipartisan optimism, it’s apparent that one indispensible component of a fairer, more efficient system is being overlooked. As stated by Justice Stevens, writing for the Court in United States v. Cronic, “Of all the rights that an accused person has, the right to be represented by counsel is by far the most pervasive for it affects his ability to assert any other rights he may have.” 466 U.S. 648, 654 (1984).

In many states, the right to counsel is bare bones at best. In others, attempts are being made to chip away at whatever public defender system is in place. For that reason, I’m skeptical that the “Right on Crime” movement isn’t more about being “Cheap on Crime,” and that is categorically incompatible with the progressive and libertarian ideals of criminal justice reform. In fact, the belief that underfunding defense saves money is shortsighted and incompatible with fiscally conservative ideals.

Before calling attention to specific failures of several states to sufficiently fund and support public defender systems, it’s important to understand what’s at stake.

In 1984, Glen Ford, a black man in his mid-thirties, was wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death. After three decades of incarceration at Louisiana’s infamous Angola, his conviction and sentence was vacated and he walked free. Ford is currently 65 years old with stage four cancer, and doctors have estimated that he will pass away in three to seven months. Thirty years of his life, nearly half of his life, was stolen from him and his family, and this came at a costly price. Thirty years of incarceration isn’t cheap, especially when the sentence is death and due process provides for post-conviction representation. How could this happen?

Marty Stroud, the head prosecutor for the Glen Ford trial in 1984 responded to an editorial in The Shreveport Times suggesting that Ford deserves restitution with an apology. Stroud “was confident that the right man was being prosecuted” and he chose not to investigate what he considered to be “bogus claims that we had the wrong man.” He described the 1984 version of himself to be an “arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic” 33-year-old, more interested in winning than securing justice.

He went on to note the unfairness of Mr. Ford being appointed grossly under-qualified counsel. The two attorneys appointed to Mr. Ford’s defense were selected from an alphabetical list of local lawyers. The lead defense attorney was a civil attorney who had never tried a case before a jury. Co-counsel was a civil attorney, two years out of law school. Stroud didn’t appreciate that the defense was underfunded and couldn’t hire experts to impeach the prosecution’s extremely faulty “expert” testimony. He admitted that potential African-American jurors were struck with little thought because he knew it was nearly impossible to prove racial discrimination in jury selection.

Read the rest at the Deep South Daily…


Daily Links — Turkey Increases Police Powers, CA Deputies Allegedly Forced Inmates to Fight, Oil Council Urges Arctic Drilling, Transit System Won’t Appeal Ad Order, Police Chiefs Urge Veto of Secrecy Bill, Philippines Says China Forestalling Territorial Claims


Diversity Training Won’t Solve Racism

The national headquarters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon is requiring all of its members to undergo diversity training in response to a recent controversy in which the fraternity’s Oklahoma University chapter was filmed reciting a racist chant on a bus to a social function. This reaction is all-too-typical in higher education. Jamal Watson notes in Diverse Issues in Higher Education that such programs are “often implemented in response to a polarizing incident on campus, like the discovery of a noose, a swastika or anti-gay epithets scribbled across a bathroom stall.”

But, is diversity training remotely effective in combating racism? Or is it merely a band-aid attempting to heal a much deeper wound of socioeconomic disparity?

Evidence from the workplace suggests the latter. A 2007 Harvard University studyreviewing 829 companies’ diversity training over 31 years found the programs had “no positive effects in the average workplace.” In fact, the study even found negative effects on management diversity in firms “where training is mandatory or emphasizes the threat of lawsuits.”

How could training aimed at combating racism do the exact opposite of its intended aim? Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman strategy, provides an answer in the Harvard Business Review. Recalling an investigation he conducted for a major media company about their workplace diversity, he explains how the firm’s sensitivity training went awry:

The scenarios quickly became the butt of participant jokes. And, while the information was sound, it gave people a false sense of confidence since it couldn’t possibly cover every single situation.

The second training — the one that categorized people — was worse. Just like the first training, it was ridiculed, ironically in ways that clearly violated the recommendations from the first training. And rather than changing attitudes of prejudice and bias, it solidified them.

“Diversity training doesn’t extinguish prejudice,” Bregman is left to conclude. “It promotes it.”

Read the rest at Rare…


Why Big Tobacco Is So “Concerned” about E-Cigs and Your Health

“When it comes to e-cigs, Big Tobacco is concerned for your health,” writes Martinne Geller for Reuters. Her article attempts to explain the recent trend of tobacco companies working with the US government and public-health advocates for more stringent regulation of electronic cigarettes (e-cigs).

“Why would tobacco companies want more regulation?” one may ask. Well, when we look at the incentives involved for each concerned party, this unholy alliance makes perfect sense.

Just days before this Reuters report hit the internet, a team of well-known professors of regulatory policy released a report explaining why this alliance would form. The answer lies in the familiar parable of “Bootleggers and Baptists” laid out by Bruce Yandle in the journal Regulation. Coincidentally, it is this same journal that would publish the report on e-cigarettes 22 years later.

Simply put, industry incumbents seek regulation to keep upstart competitors at bay, while moralizers (the “Baptists” in the parable, or anti-tobacco groups today) seek to regulate the industry to make selling products they dislike more difficult. Both sides seek regulation, but for very different reasons.

In this case, moralizing e-cig opponents have joined with “Big Tobacco” and government tax offices to stymie the growth of e-cigs in the market. Each group has a distinct interest in regulation. Many health advocates seek to further stigmatize the perceived act of smoking, and want to treat e-cigarettes like traditional, combustible cigarettes to achieve this goal.

Major cigarette companies seek to make moving to alternative products more difficult, further entrenching their current, dominant position. Government officials, faced with falling cigarette-tax revenues, seek to prevent further drops by either taxing e-cigarette products or shoring up dwindling traditional cigarette sales.

All these groups are doing exactly what one would expect given the incentives that they face. Note that nowhere in this conversation is the consumer, nor the independent e-cig producers. Moreover, in many cases, public-health officials who seek lighter regulations are flatly ignored.

Read the rest at the PanAm Post…


The Origins and Intentions of Copyright

In a victory for media Goliaths, the Supreme Court recently ruled that TV-streaming service Aereo “perform[ed] … copyrighted works publicly” and therefore violated copyright law. The ghost of Grokster haunts us. Napster rolls in its grave. Copyright’s muscular hands have once again strangled innovation.

What is the purpose of copyright law? Conventional wisdom asserts that it protects the rights of authors, spurs creativity, fights plagiarism, and benefits the public as a whole. The Aereodecision, however, clearly benefits big media without advancing any of copyright’s ostensible aims. A look into the origins and intentions of copyright will demonstrate that this is neither a fluke nor a misunderstanding.

The roots of copyright lie in the soil of state-granted privilege. Invented in 1450, the Gutenberg printing press empowered writers throughout the Western world. Authors rejoiced, as their works could now be disseminated as never before. That included potentially seditious or sacrilegious works, much to the chagrin of the State.

To combat the threat, governments cozied up with publishing houses. In 1556 in England, the stationers’ guild became royally chartered as the London Company of Stationers. Along with the charter came a quid pro quo agreement. The company was entrusted with the obligation of “seizing, taking, burning … books or things … contrary to the form of any statute, act, or proclamation.” In exchange, it enjoyed an exclusive monopoly over the printing of all materials — old and new — throughout the kingdom.

Initially organized under the Roman Catholic rule of Queen Mary I, the Stationers Company spent much of its time censoring Protestant works. Upon Mary’s death and the crowning of Elizabeth, religious affiliations flip-flopped. The whimsical nature of the monarchy didn’t bother the Stationers, however. Both the company and the crown reaped the benefits of their insidious arrangement for decades. As University of Georgia law professor L. Ray Patterson puts it, “The power to burn offending books was a benefit to the sovereign (a weapon against unlawful publications), and a boon to the stationers (a weapon against competition).”

When Parliament became more liberal, it allowed the Stationers’ monopolistic privilege to expire. As a result, the Stationers became quite worried. No longer would they enjoy an obscene economic advantage.

Censorship to the point of book burning was not a high priority for the British government. Parliament ignored the Stationers’ initial pleas for statutory protection on the grounds of censorship.

The Stationers recognized that authors needed a publishing company. Dissemination of a work to any degree required a printing press, ancillary equipment, and substantial labor hours. The vast majority of individuals lacked the immense capital required to produce salable copies. With this in mind, the Stationers concocted the argument that authors should own the words and expressions they create.

The Stationers understood that authors eager for dissemination would sell their new property to publishers. Even so, it seemed like a liberal argument. Indeed, as Ludwig von Mises once wrote, “The program of liberalism, therefore, if condensed into a single word, would have to read: property….” Parliament accepted the Stationers’ new argument, and the first Western copyright law soon followed.

Read the rest at the Future of Freedom Foundation…


Sorry, Obama, But Legalizing Pot Is About Jobs

In an interview with Vice News released Monday, President Obama stated that marijuana legalization “shouldn’t be young people’s biggest priority” and that they “should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace.” He then went on to intimate that ending the prohibition of other, harder drugs would be unreasonable. But in truth, what’s unreasonable is the notion that marijuana prohibition – and drug prohibition at large — has nothing to do with the economy and jobs.

Since the time President Nixon officially declared a “War on Drugs” in 1971, the United States has spent well over $1 trillion enforcing drug laws and incarcerating drug offenders. But this is just part of the equation and there are other costs incurred from drug prohibition, namely productivity losses in the labor sector. For the year 2007 alone, the Department of Justice put that price tag at a total of $48 million, in regard to both market and household productivity losses as a direct result of the incarceration of drug offenders.

The reason that these costs are so exorbitant is due in large part to the accelerated rate of incarceration that resulted when the nation’s draconian drug laws were established. Since the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970, the US prison population has surged 700 percent, leading to a populace full of convicts. Today, over one in every four American adults has a criminal record. Not only has this resulted in a number of non-violent criminals stigmatized for their past, but it has severely impacted their future.

Read the rest at Townhall…


Young Voters Aren’t Buying What Ted Cruz Is Selling

Ted Cruz kicked off his presidential run on Monday with a speech at Liberty University. And while the Texas senator hailed liberty as the goal of his campaign, his view of liberty doesn’t comport with that of most Millennials.

Thomas Jefferson defined liberty as “unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” That is a timeless sentiment with which most young people largely agree. Today’s youth increasingly support economic freedom, individual liberty, and a peaceful foreign policy.

Unfortunately, Cruz only embraces the same limited view of liberty as failed Republican candidates of the past.

Were Cruz truly a principled champion of free markets, he would seek to advance a more open immigration process, thus allowing worthy immigrant workers to freely trade their labor with American businesses. Instead Cruz makes Latinos the scapegoats of his attack on illegal immigration and grandstands about building a wall along the southern border.

Moreover, Cruz isn’t friendly to personal liberties, as are most forward-looking Millennials. The Texas senator wants to restore the Justice Department’s prosecution of non-violent marijuana users in states where it is legal, despite the fact that more than 60 percent of young Republicans support marijuana legalization.

Worse is the senator’s demagogic opposition to same-sex marriage. Almost 70 percent of Millennials support marriage equality.

The Millennial spirit is decidedly cosmopolitan and forward-looking; the principles of liberty happen to be so as well. But Cruz’s campaign seems to prefer a cloaked agenda of freedom for me but not for thee.

Read the rest at Rare…


The Growing Debt Problem That No One Is Talking About (Except This Guy)

Jared Meyer interviewed former San Diego City Council member Carl DeMaio on March 24 on the subject of what can be done to solve the growing problem of the state and local pension debt crisis. DeMaio now chairs Reform California, a political action committee seeking to place pension reform on the ballot statewide.

JM: Could you describe the pension reforms that you instituted in San Diego and what they accomplished?

CD: The public sector government pension programs are Ponzi schemes—there’s no better way to describe them. The formulas and the benefits used are unsustainable, and the financial forecasts and models use erroneous numbers and assumptions. At the end of the day, taxpayers will be left holding the bag with fewer services, higher taxes, and billions in debt.

What we did in San Diego was shut down that failed system and moved public sector retirement funds to 401(k)s. These 401(k)s shield taxpayers from losses and force politicians to pay for bills in the year in which services were provided. With a 401(k), employees pay their own contributions in that year. This means no hidden debt. Defined contribution plans also provide for a public sector worker’s retirement that’s benchmarked against what the local labor market provides private sector employees—no better, no worse.

JM: How large is this problem right now if we’re looking at the entire United States?

CD: This is a huge problem in three ways.

No. 1, we’re talking billions of dollars in debt, and it’s not just the official debt. When you true up the numbers with realistic assumptions, you find that the amount of debt is far greater than government officials are willing to admit. In California, the official number is around $150 million. But, with realistic return on investment assumptions and mortality rates, you find that the real number is closer to $500 billion—half a trillion dollars—just for California alone. In San Diego, they say the debt is $2 billion. Well it’s more like $4 billion.

Second, to pay the debt service, you are seeing services cut and taxes and fees increased. This unfunded liabilities problem is having an immediate effect on the quality of life, and it will continue to have a growing negative effect as the costs rise.

Third, we’re talking about retirement security that is not going to exist. You will have systems that go bankrupt, and, when the Ponzi schemes collapse, who will be responsible? What these unions are doing to numerous members is unconscionable. The union bosses know that they’re going to get their fat checks. Their attitude is “who cares about what’s going to happen to the next generation?”

Well, I care. And I think that taxpayers want affordable pensions for government employees to protect the quality of their services, but they also want to know that we treat our employees properly and that they have retirement security.

Read the rest at Townhall…


World Health Organization vs Personal Choice

The ideological agenda of the World Health Organization (WHO) was on display this week, with WHO Director General Margaret Chan calling for tobacco companies to be driven “out of business”.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi, at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health, Chan stated explicitly her desire to eradicate the entire tobacco industry.

From Sky News Australia:

“It’s going to be a tough fight… (but) we should not give up until we make sure that the tobacco industry goes out of business,” she said.

Chan also gave an unequivocal statement about the efficacy of plain packaging legislation:

the train has already left the station. The evidence base is strong, empirical and comes from well-qualified, respected, and credible sources… We know that plain packaging works.

This statement on plain packaging is an extraordinary misreading of the available evidence. As an econometric analysis co-authored by the IPA’s Sinclair Davidson found:

there is no evidence that household expenditure on tobacco has changed following the introduction of plain packaging legislation.

Chan’s speech highlights exactly what is wrong with the priorities of the WHO.

Read the rest at FreedomWatch…


A Private Solution to Energy Efficiency

For all the resources our federal government has provided to help Americans make wiser energy decisions, most Americans do not use the EPA’s many certifications, online tools, and calculators (which include ENERGY STAR certification and the “Home Energy Yardstick”). When it comes to doing what is right, such as using energy more efficiently, eating healthy, or exercising regularly, the intention is there for most people—but there is a large gap between intention and action. Acting on positive intentions is difficult, and people often seek outside help to do so.

Opower, a publicly-held, Virginia-based Software-as-a-Service company, offers this sort of outside help. The company’s Chief Scientist is Arizona State University Professor Robert Cialdini, one of academia’s most well-known social psychologists. Cialdini authored a 1984 book on persuasion titled Influence, which showed targeted tips for persuading the public to comply with requests from salespeople, recruiters, and fundraisers. Opower has put recent behavioral economics research into place, and consumers’ energy use during the hottest days of summer fell as a result. These sorts of private sector “nudges” are the future of energy efficiency.

In the summer of 2014, Opower teamed up with utility firm Green Mountain Power and a program called Efficiency Vermont. The goal was to assess whether peer pressure could nudge households into consuming less electricity on hot summer days. Efficiency Vermont and Green Mountain Power identified “Peak Event Days” in the summer when energy use was expected to be exceptionally high. Prior to such days, the two companies notified customers about the upcoming hot days, providing them with no-cost tips for reducing their energy use.

The nudge came when, the day after the Peak Event Days, customers received e-mails from Opower telling them how much they had cut back on their electricity use, as well as how they compared to the average household reduction in their neighborhoods. If a household used less energy than average, it received a smiley face emoticon. If a household used more energy than average, it instead received a frowny face emoticon. Opower used this simple system of neighborhood-level peer pressure and competition in an attempt to incentivize more efficient energy use. This tactic led to positive results as Opower, Green Mountain Power, and Efficiency Vermont reported that electricity demand dropped by as much as five percent on last year’s hottest summer days.

Read the rest at RealClearEnergy…


Why Uber Is Safer

The head of the Australian Taxi Industry Association (ATIA) has hit out at Uber and Lyft, calling the popular ride-sharing services “cheap copies” of taxis, and arguing that they should be forced to comply with the same regulations that have stifled innovation in the taxi industry.

ATIA CEO Blair Davies made these comments under the guise of public safety:

“It’s not competition that is the issue here,” Mr Davies said. “It is the safety of the community and working conditions of drivers that we are concerned about.”

Unfortunately for Mr Davies, these “imitation taxi services” are not only cheaper and more convenient than traditional taxis; they also provide increased safety for consumers.

Unlike traditional taxi services, ride-sharing apps facilitate cashless transactions between drivers and passengers. Both the driver’s and passenger’s information is available to the other party before the transaction occurs, and both have the ability to rate the other party afterwards.

This means that if a crime occurs then all the personal information about the perpetrator is available and can be sent directly to the police. Anyone stupid enough to assault an Uber driver, or a driver stupid enough to assault a passenger, will effectively be leaving a copy of their driver’s license and credit card with the victim of the crime.

This is far safer—for both passengers and drivers—than traditional taxi services, which carry large amount of cash and pick anonymous passengers up off the street.

Read the rest at FreedomWatch…