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GQ profile seems like an endorsement for Rand Paul

Social conservatives are apparently muy upset about GQ‘s profile of Rand Paul’s college days. I take the tempest over the rather humanizing article on the candidate as further evidence of how fucking humorless the god-botherers are — as are people in general, these days, really, considering that Paul’s opponents are trying to make hay over the article, too. Frankly, details about Rand Paul’s history of hanging out with an underground, free-thinking, prankster-ish secret society at Baylor University, and his “kidnapping” of an entirely willing female friend in order to (unsuccessfully) persuade her to smoke grass, after which he and his buddy required her to “worship” Aqua Buddha (you see what grass does to you, kids?) before returning her safely and soberly home make him more likeable to me, not less.

Underlining the harmless nature of the whole matter, the woman in the Aqua Buddha incident told GQ “they never did anything wrong” and clarified the matter to the Washington Post by emphasizing her willing role:

“I went along because they were my friends,” she said. “There was an implicit degree of cooperation in the whole thing. I felt like I was being hazed.”

Apparently the woman in question wasn’t entirely pleased by the affair, but this was at a very religious college where Rand Paul was an outlier by being not uber-conservative and she seemed freaked out by the sacrilege inherent in the Aqua Buddha worship as well as the pot-smoking.

Would anybody really be more comfortable if Paul had fit in better at Baylor?

Gay marriage and the benefits of (un)democracy

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anybody that I was pleased by Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision last week striking down California’s Proposition 8 and clearing the way for gay couples to enjoy the questionable benefits of marriage to the same extent as straight couples. As I’ve written in the past, the maid of honor (title by his own insistence) at my wedding was a gay friend of my wife (and an all-around decent guy), I have more than a few gay and lesbian friends, and I see no particular reason why they should be denied access to the many legal niceties, conveniences and (occasionally) pitfalls that come with obtaining a government-issued license recognizing a supposedly private relationship.

Frankly, by allowing the government to tie so many bells and whistles to state-sanctioned marriage, the public made it inevitable that many people beyond the originally intended audience would not just want, but need access to that official seal of approval. Holy matrimony be damned, it’s about inheritance, joint bank accounts, common property and the simple decency inherent in being allowed to make hard decisions after an unexpected summons to a hospital bed. Mixed-race couples wanted (and got) access to state recognition for their marriages first, and now same-sex couples want (and are getting) the same thing.

But I’ve written about that before. For a change, let’s take a gander at the reaction to Judge Walker’s ruling.

Unelected judge” is the critical phrase most commonly leveled at the San Francisco-based Reagan appointee (along with charges that the allegedly gay jurist is just defending his own). Having lost the legal battle (so far), social conservatives have now become rabid majoritarians, advocates of 50% + 1 as the ultimate arbiter of what’s right and proper. Suddenly, National Review’s Rich Lowry is arguing, “let’s stipulate that Judge Walker is right. In that case, he and like-minded people should come up with, say, Proposition 9 overturning the ban and persuade 50.1 percent of Californians to support it.”

Uh huh. And Lowry has the same take on the recent decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago (PDF), voiding that city’s handgun ban, right? Overturning that law was judicial overreach, too, wasn’t it? Or is that different?

Look, a lot of terrible violations of liberty and equality before the law can be very popular, including various types of discrimination, bans and restrictions of all sorts, censorship of speech critical of charismatic politicians, ad nauseum. Pretty much any type of authoritarianism is capable of commanding the support of the majority given the right time and place for a poll.  Care to guess how a national referendum on the Fourth Amendment would have turned out in the aftermath of 9/11? The founders had a lot of faults, but a lack of awareness about the flaws of majority rule wasn’t one of them. That’s why they were so critical of democracy and put in place restrictions on what the people and their representatives can do.

With his decision, Judge Walker exercised a 21st-century implementation of the long-established power of the judiciary to rein-in the power of the state, even when that power is exercised directly by the majority. In truth, individual rights and limits on state power, and the enforcement of those rights and limits by the judiciary, are fundamentally anti-democratic. And that anti-democratic tradition is a good thing.

A majority of California voters tried to ban the extension of the legal rights attached to state-sanctioned marriage to a group they don’t like — an overt exercise in discrimination. Judge Walker said no. Democracy may have lost in that contest, but liberty triumphed.

Now, if you want to discuss why the government is involved in marriage at all …

Packing heat

While I was back east, yet another legal milestone was achieved in Arizona. That’s right, the Grand Canyon state joined Alaska and Vermont as jurisdictions where people can legally carry firearms concealed without first asking “mother, may I” of the goons in government office.

Of course, Arizona is just catching up with me with its legal tweak, since I’ve been lugging my guns along when the mood struck or the need seemed pressing for over twenty years now, without regard for the preferences of the local political class. I did so more often in New York City than I do here, for the simple reason that there’s more need for enhanced self-defense capabilities in the Rotten Apple than in the desert.

It is nice, though, that now I no longer  have to worry about offending the sensibilities of the local constabulary by going well-heeled.

Candidate Kristin Davis puts the good kind of prostitution in politics

The candidacy of Kristin Davis, the former madam who supplied then-New York Governor Eliot Spitzer with his playmates (and before that she was vice president of a hedge-fund) for Spitzer’s old office is almost enough to make me consider moving back to my old stomping grounds just so I can cast a vote. An outspoken libertarian who cites Hayek, von Mises and Rand, she’s running on a platform of legalizing marijuana, prostitution and gay marriage — the first two, in part, to bring profitable industries into the above-ground economy, the third as a simple matter of equality.

Alas, if I moved back to New York to support Davis, I’d actually have to live there. Been there, done that, ain’t doing it again.

Anyway, enjoy Kristin Davis’s excellent campaign video, below.

Bravo, WikiLeaks

I was traveling and unavailable to comment on the latest WikiLeaks story when it broke. Suffice it to say that the publication of classified U.S. government documents about the floundering imperial effort in Afghanistan illustrates the value of the Website/organization and its editor-in-chief, Julian Assange. Private watchdog efforts like WikiLeaks are absolutely vital, and you better believe I support them in any conflict they may ever have with a government, including the nasty behemoth that presides over the country in which I currently live.

Oh yeah. And Marc Thiessen, the chest-pounding thug who wants the government to use “not only law enforcement but also intelligence and military assets to bring Assange to justice and put [WikiLeaks] out of business” can kiss my ass.

When the regulator is also a competitor

Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. government analysis of black box data from Toyota cars revealed that the “sudden acceleration” problem so widely reported in the media was actually a problem with drivers who couldn’t tell their left from their right and stomped the accelerator instead of the brake. If true, that would support claims made by the demonized auto maker based on its internal investigation.

But there’s no official Department of Transportation report to that effect — the Journal story is based on leaked information which has been denied by some government apparatchiks.

Now a recently retired National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official says that’s no accident — the government is sitting on the inconvenient data.

Senior officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation have at least temporarily blocked the release of findings by auto-safety regulators that could favor Toyota Motor Corp. in some crashes related to unintended acceleration, according to a recently retired agency official.

George Person, who retired July 3 after 27 years at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in an interview that the decision to not go public with the data for now was made over the objections of some officials at NHTSA.

“The information was compiled. The report was finished and submitted,” Mr. Person said. “When I asked why it hadn’t been published, I was told that the secretary’s office didn’t want to release it,” he added, referring to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

How can I say the data is “inconvenient”? Mr. Person thinks the NHTSA might be concerned about looking too cozy with a car maker — a relationship of which it  has been accused in the past. But there might be another reason. Remember … the federal government is now in the automobile business as a direct competitor with Toyota through General Motors, and heavily invested in the reorganization of Chrysler, another rival to the Japanese car maker. Any data that might exonerate a company of manufacturing defects would obviously be inconvenient for its competitors.

Basically, it’s a lot like letting McDonald’s preside over the regulation of Burger King, including assessments of the safety of the competing brand’s products.

The thing is … No matter how definitive or tentative the DOT data ultimately turns out to be, how is the federal government’s relationship with the auto industry anything other than highly suspicious and open to gaming?

Senior officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation have at least temporarily blocked the release of findings by auto-safety regulators that could favor Toyota Motor Corp. in some crashes related to unintended acceleration, according to a recently retired agency official.

George Person, who retired July 3 after 27 years at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in an interview that the decision to not go public with the data for now was made over the objections of some officials at NHTSA.

“The information was compiled. The report was finished and submitted,” Mr. Person said. “When I asked why it hadn’t been published, I was told that the secretary’s office didn’t want to release it,” he added, referring to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

I’m going a-roaming

I’ll be on the East Coast until the end of the month, escaping the desert heat by stepping into a swamp. I plan to post while I’m on the road, but I’ll be on a whenever-it-happens schedule.

This also means that I may be a bit slow to approve comments. Be patient. I’ll soon be along with a mojito in my hand.

Journolist leaks: a great reason to drop media neutrality claims

With the exception of Spencer Ackerman’s incredibly stupid and unethical scheme to randomly accuse  conservatives of racism, the latest Journolist revelations from The Daily Caller aren’t all that shocking. Ackerman’s modest proposal was this:

If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they’ve put upon us. Instead, take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.

Ackerman specifically wanted to use charges of racism as a weapon against conservatives who were raising questions about then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s relationship with the loony Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

[F]ind a rightwinger’s [sic] and smash it through a plate-glass window. Take a snapshot of the bleeding mess and send it out in a Christmas card to let the right know that it needs to live in a state of constant fear. Obviously I mean this rhetorically.

That willingness to level unfounded accusations in service to a political cause really should get Ackerman fired and render him unemployable.

But the other members of the list seemed, according to The Daily Caller’s quotes, to be more interested in burying the story, or protesting its coverage via an open letter. That’s the sort of thing like-minded people do in support of one of their own. As Alex Pareene snarkily puts it in Salon, “This sort of campaign doesn’t work when you’re trying to discredit avowed liberal commentators by proving that they secretly hold liberal beliefs.”

Why should anybody be surprised that liberal pundits discuss strategy for defending their ideas and promoting their pet candidates? Katha Pollitt and Todd Gitlin share ideas on how to sell lefty programs and politicians? What a surprise!

But not everybody on the list is “out” as an opinion journalist or professional applier of spin to news stories. Some of the participants are supposed to be objective/unbiased/establishment journalists. To the extent that they participated in these conversations, they undermine their supposed neutrality.

The solution should be obvious: Drop bullshit claims about the unbiased nature of the news media. If journalists come clean about their affiliations and biases — they don’t have to abandon their professionalism, but just admit to the fact that their opinions do, inevitably, color their work — then there’s little risk of embarrassment from leaked emails and discussions.

After all, nobody actually believes that journalists steadfastly keep their opinions out of their work. A little honesty wouldn’t just insulate them from Journolist-style leaks — it would improve their credibility.

Charges dismissed in Stagliano case

John Stagliano, a libertarian-oriented producer of adult entertainment who sometimes goes by the monicker “Buttman,” has finally won vindication in his long legal ordeal at the hands of federal bluenoses. The Washington Post has the story:

A federal judge dismissed the first obscenity prosecution brought in the nation’s capital in a quarter-century on technical grounds Friday, tossing out charges against John A. Stagliano and two companies associated with the adult video producer based in Van Nuys, Calif.

Acquitting Stagliano, John Stagliano Inc. and Evil Angel Productions Inc. before they began their defense, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon said evidence presented by the Justice Department’s Obscenity Prosecution Task Force in the four-day trial was “woefully insufficient” to link defendants to the production and distribution of two DVD videos at the heart of the case.

Go out and rent a few videos to celebrate this free speech victory!

Court decisions aside, scofflaws have long made gun control unenforceable

The following was written as a sample chapter for a book on how scofflaws limit state power, curbing the reach of government officials and carving out a modicum of liberty even when and where it’s officially forbidden. The overall book was intended to go much farther than the gun control issue, but it came to an abrupt halt a bit over a year ago. That’s when my agent called me on a Sunday morning to tell me how much he hated what I’m publishing below. Apparently, his loathing of my work couldn’t wait another 24 hours to be expressed.

So … Caveat emptor.

I doubt I ever would have gone to the black market to purchase an illegal assault weapon if it wasn’t for New York’s annoyingly restrictive gun control laws.

Wait. Let me back up a bit.

New York State passed the Sullivan Act back in 1911. The law required people to get a government permit to own or carry any weapon small enough to be concealed – handguns, in particular. Issuing the permit would be a matter of official discretion, which is a policy continued to the present day. Read more [+]