Saturday, May 29, 2010

By Endorsing Horrific 'Personhood' Measure, Republicans Court Defeat

The following article originally was published May 28, 2010, by Grand Junction's Free Press.

By endorsing horrific 'personhood' measure, Republicans court defeat

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

All we can figure is that Colorado Republicans have a political death wish. What else can explain candidates like Scott McInnis and Jane Norton falling all over themselves to endorse the wildly unpopular, absurdly drafted, and life-damaging "personhood" measure headed for the ballot this fall?

Amendment 62, a slightly redrafted version of 2008's Amendment 48, would, if passed and fully enforced, ban all abortions, even in cases of risks to the woman's health, rape, incest, and fetal deformity. It would outlaw the birth control pill, the IUD, "morning after" medications, common fertility treatments, and some types of medical research.

It would subject women with suspicious miscarriages to possible criminal prosecution. It would require doctors to sacrifice the health of a woman to the survival of a zygote or fetus, which would inevitably result in the death of some women. It would require women to carry pregnancies to term against their wishes, by government force. [See details.]

And the sponsors of this nightmarish police-state proposal have the audacity to call it "pro-life." We can think of no other measure more harmful to the lives of actual people ever to gain ballot approval.

The measure may do better than the 27 percent of votes it gained last time. In 2008, Republicans were dispirited; this year they are energized. Voters, sick of big-spender George W. "Bailout" Bush and the shenanigans of state Republicans, decided to give the Democrats a chance. The Democrats proceeded to further muck up everything from health care to car manufacturing to foreign policy.

Moreover, the new measure replaces 2008 language about "the moment of fertilization" with a confusing line about "the beginning of biological development." While the measure's sponsors declare that still means fertilization, no doubt some voters will imagine otherwise. (We might as well call the proposal the Lawyer Enrichment Act for all the court disputes it would generate.)

Given that 73 percent of Colorado voters opposed the measure last time, obviously leading Republican candidates must endorse it now. Apparently Republicans think they can win in this state by alienating not only most Hispanic voters but most women (and their concerned male friends) as well.

Republicans seem to have forgotten that, in 2008, John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin for her evangelical credentials hardly helped the ticket. Meanwhile, Republican Marilyn Musgrave lost her Congressional seat largely because of her obsession with faith-based politics, and Democrats successfully hammered various anti-choice Republicans running for state legislature.

Apparently this year Republicans in tough races fear the religious right in the primaries more than they fear mainstream voters in the general election. Such Republicans hope that people are so fed up with the Democrats that they'll momentarily forget about Republican craziness.

We already knew that Ken Buck (candidate for U.S. Senate) and Dan Maes (candidate for governor) endorsed "personhood." Your senior author heard McInnis, the frontrunner for governor, endorse the measure. The Daily Sentinel reported that Jane Norton, the leading Republican for U.S. Senate, also endorsed it. (Cinamon Watson, a spokesperson for Norton, confirmed the endorsement; see your younger author's report at

We do not doubt that Maes and Buck are True Believers: they believe that God forbids abortion. (That is hardly the Christian consensus, and more importantly law should not be based on sectarian dogmas.) The endorsements of McInnis and Norton look remarkably like pandering to us. [See the update about Maes.]

Previously Norton called for abortion bans with possible exceptions for "rape, incest, and life of the mother," exceptions which at least in the first two cases clash with the "personhood" measure. For once we side with Colorado Right to Life and "question Jane Norton's sincerity on this issue."

Interestingly, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Senator Michael Bennet taking the lead for the first time. We wonder whether Bennet can sustain that lead by attacking Norton over "personhood." (The same outfit shows a tied governor's race.)

Scott McInnis's endorsement is more bizarre. As the Denver Post reported, back in 1998 McInnis was on the Advisory Board of Republicans for Choice. A letter to the Federal Election Commission shows McInnis's name on the group's letterhead. "Scott has no memory of that," according to his spokesperson.

True, McInnis also built an anti-choice voting record, earning a zero rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, for voting for such incremental measures as a partial-birth abortion ban except to save a woman's life. Yet we are supposed to believe that, in twelve years, McInnis has evolved from a pro-choice Republican to endorsing a measure outlawing the birth control pill as well as all abortions.

Frankly, we don't know which prospect is more frightening: that McInnis is pandering to the religious right, or that he really supports Amendment 62.

It remains to be seen whether, this year, Colorado Republicans will get away with threatening to impose dangerous sectarian dogmas by government force. But, over the long term, freedom-loving Coloradans aren't going to stand for it.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari, edits from the Denver area.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Maes Afflicted with GOP's Abortion Schizophrenia

It is unfortunate for Dan Maes, who recently eked out a narrow victory in the Republican state assembly's vote for governor, that his last name rhymes with "ways," for the cries of "Both Ways Maes" have already begun. He simultaneously wants and opposes abortion bans, at the same time and in the same respect.

Recently I pointed out that many Republicans endorse hard-core abortion bans. For example, Rand Paul wants to ban abortion at the national level -- even in cases of rape and incest -- ban common forms of birth control, and ban medical research involving embryonic stem cells. (He also wants to legally force nutrition for those in permanently vegetative states.) In Colorado, every leading candidate for governor and U.S. Senate has endorsed Amendment 62, the "personhood" measure that would grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs. (For a detailed description of what the measure would entail, and why it is terrible, see the paper written by Diana Hsieh and me.)

And yet something odd is going on in the Republican Party. For at the Colorado assembly, where the most hard-core Republican activists gathered, 74 percent of participants declared "that pregnancy, abortion, and birth control are personal private matters not subject to government regulation or interference." Slightly more participants declared that fertilized eggs deserve legal protection and that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, prompting me to declare that Republicans are schizophrenic on the issue.

Maes is the latest Republican to fall victim to the affliction. In some (atypically useful) reporting from the Colorado Independent, Scot Kersgaard reveals Maes's (shall we say) modified stance on the issue.

Kersgaard relates Maes's interview with the Independent:

I am ardently pro-life, he said, but he added that "Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, and people tend to forget that. I would not try to undo that."

Yet he said he not only favors Amendment 62, the personhood amendment, but that he voted for a similar amendment when it was on the ballot two years ago and that he signed the petition to get it on the ballot this time. Still, he says the amendment is largely rhetorical and that he believes its passage would have no effect on the availability of legal abortions in Colorado.

"People are overestimating the personhood amendment. It simply defines life as beginning at conception. That's it. Who knows what the intent of it is? They are simply making a statement. That is all I see it as. Do they have another agenda? I don't know."

A cynic might note the interesting timing of Maes's newfound perspective on "personhood." Now that Maes is through with the religious right voters at the convention and must shift focus to the more-mainstream primary, he has softened his stance on abortion accordingly.

Yet Maes never has echoed the far-reaching stances of the religious right anti-abortion groups. In a survey from January, Maes clearly stated that he endorsed the "personhood" measure. Yet, when asked about birth control "that may prevent a fertilized egg or zygote from implanting in the uterus," Maes answered, "I support the laws as they stand." Yet, as I have noted, if fully enforced the "personhood" measure indeed would ban common forms of birth control, including the pill. Maes simply dodged other questions pertaining to abortion.

What are we to make of Maes's statment that Amendment 62 "simply defines life as beginning at conception?" Clearly his statement is false. The measure would grant to fertilized eggs rights of safety, property, and due process. The measure says nothing about when life begins. (Technically, life precedes conception, because both the egg and sperm are alive.) Instead, the measure defines that personhood begins with conception.

Maes misspoke, then, for one of two reasons. Either he signed the petition for the measure without actually reading it -- a sign of gross irresponsibility -- or he is simply lying about what he knows the measure says. Offhand I do not know which option the less comforting.

Regarding Maes's comment that Amendment 62 is "simply making a statement," I wonder how many bills Maes intends to sign, should he be elected governor, based on what he thinks the "statement" of a bill is, rather than based on the actual language, meaning, and enforcement of a bill. Is Maes ignoring the horrific consequences of Amendment 62 simply because he wants to make a "statement?" That in itself makes an important statement about Maes's approach to legislation.

Yet the fact that Maes performed so well at the convention says something both about his skills as a campaigner and the self-inflicted wounds his major competitor, Scott McInnis, suffers. Initially I wrote off Maes, yet he has proven himself in political battle. And, most of the time, Maes sounds like a reasonable and personable candidate.

Sometimes I even like Maes. Kersgaard reported: "He said the root of tea party unhappiness with the state of the country is that 'people just feel that Washington is taking away their personal freedoms. They just want to be left alone.'"

My sense is that the "Dr. Liberty" side of Maes is stronger than the "Mr. Police State." But such ideological schizophrenia is hardly comforting, whether in a candidate or in a party at large.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rand Paul Wants Total Abortion Bans

Rand Paul, son of Congressman Ron Paul, recently made news when, after winning the Kentucky GOP primary for U.S. Senate, he declared that private discrimination should be legal on the basis of property rights and free association.

Yet Paul believes the government should control women's bodies by preventing them from obtaining abortions and common forms of birth control. He thinks a store owner has the right to keep out black patrons, but he does not think a woman has the right to control her own reproductive functions. He doesn't think government should interfere to stop private racism, but he thinks government should throw women and their doctors in prison for facilitating abortions.

The logical conclusion of abortion bans is that government agents should forcibly restrain women to prevent them from getting abortions. After all, if abortion is murder, as advocates of abortion bans routinely claim, then driving down the street to obtain an abortion is morally and legally equivalent to driving down the street with a loaded shotgun to blow your neighbor's head off. Police have every right to arrest and forcibly restrain threatening individuals. If abortion is murder, then a woman who declares her intent to get an abortion has threatened murder and must be strapped down if necessary to ensure delivery.

But a fertilized egg is not a person. A fertilized egg does not properly have the legal rights of a born infant. Abortion is not murder. Women have every right to take birth control drugs or obtain an abortion. Abortion bans place a woman's body under the control of the government and threaten to unleash a heavy-handed police state. (For a more complete case against abortion bans, see the paper written by Diana Hsieh and me.)

As a would-be abortion banner, Paul is the enemy of liberty, property rights, and free association.

Consider what Paul writes on his web page:

I am 100% pro life. I believe abortion is taking the life of an innocent human being.

I believe life begins at conception and it is the duty of our government to protect this life.

I will always vote for any and all legislation that would end abortion or lead us in the direction of ending abortion.
I believe in a Human Life Amendment and a Life at Conception Act as federal solutions to the abortion issue. I also believe that while we are working toward this goal, there are many other things we can accomplish in the near term. ...

In addition, I believe we may be able to save millions of lives in the near future by allowing states to pass their own anti-abortion laws. If states were able to do so, I sincerely believe many -- including Kentucky -- would do so tomorrow, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.

Before 1973, abortion was illegal in most states. Since Roe v. Wade, over 50 million children have died in abortion procedures.

I would strongly support legislation restricting federal courts from hearing cases like Roe v. Wade. Such legislation would only require a majority vote, making it more likely to pass than a pro-life constitutional amendment.

I would support legislation, a Sanctity of Life Amendment, establishing the principle that life begins at conception. This legislation would define life at conception in law, as a scientific statement.

As your Senator, there are many ways I can help end abortion. I will fight for each and every one of them.

Paul helpfully includes links to two Kentucky surveys on abortion and related matters.

In response to a survey from the Kentucky Right to Life Association Political Action Committee, Paul supported the following positions:

* A nation abortion ban.

* Abortion bans even in cases of rape and incest.

* Possible bans on "chemical abortions, such as RU-486, the abortion pill, and other drugs known to prevent the newly created human being from attaching to his/her mother's womb (implantation)." Notably, the birth control pill and the IUD can prevent implantation. (The survey asks whether the responder is "morally and/or medically opposed to chemical abortions," which does not necessarily imply support for outright bans.)

* Bans on the medical use of embryonic stem cells.

* Legally required "nutrition and hydration" for "cognitively disabled people, like Terri Schiavo." The survey dishonestly conflates the condition of Schiavo, who was in a vegetative state for many years, with any sort of "disability."

In response to the Northern Kentucky Right to Life 2010 Election Candidate Questionnaire, Paul supported the following positions:

* A national abortion ban.

* Criminal penalties for anyone who facilitates an abortion, except "to prevent the death of the mother who is suffering from a physical pathology." (No exception is made for abortions that would merely protect the health of the woman.)

* Bans on the medical use of embryonic stem cells.

* Bans on the "withdrawal from an infant, incompetent, or comatose person of food and water," "except in cases where death is imminent and the patient cannot assimilate food or water." As with the last survey, this one dishonestly conflates people with slight medical conditions with the medically brain-dead.

In light of Paul's views on abortion, reproduction, and end-of-life decisions, nobody should be asking whether Paul advocates too much liberty.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Resolved: Republicans Are Schizophrenic on Abortion

As I recently noted, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton has endorsed the "personhood" ballot measure to grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs. Every other leading Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and governor has done the same.

So Colorado Republicans are over-the-top crazy for abortion bans, right? Perhaps.

At the recent state convention, Republicans passed 59 resolutions ranging from a condemnation of "net neutrality" to a recommendation to vote against retention of four state Supreme Court justices. Most of the resolutions passed with near-unanimity. The only resolutions to garner double-digit opposition pertain to the line-item veto, Congressional term limits, and abortion and reproductive matters.

Particularly odd is the apparently contradictory vote on abortion, as illustrated by the following results:

30. It is resolved by Colorado Republicans that life begins at conception and is deserving of legal protection from conception until natural death.
Total Votes 3008
YES 2378 79.06%
NO 630 20.94%

31. It is resolved that Colorado Republicans support overturning Roe v. Wade.
Total Votes 2991
YES 2340 78.23%
NO 651 21.77%

32. It is resolved by Colorado Republicans that pregnancy, abortion, and birth control are personal private matters not subject to government regulation or interference.
Total Votes 2984
YES 2210 74.06%
NO 774 25.94%

It is interesting to note that, at the convention, where the most hard-core Republican activists gathered, one in five strongly rejected abortion-ban language.

But what explains the clash between resolutions 30 and 32 (assuming the results were correctly reported)? How can so many Republicans simultaneously advocate legal rights for fertilized eggs and declare "that pregnancy, abortion, and birth control are personal private matters not subject to government regulation or interference?"

One possible explanation is that most of those voting rushed through the measures and had no idea what they were voting to support. But I'd like to think the participants took the exercise a little more seriously than that.

Why might somebody intentionally vote "yes" on both 30 and 32? First notice the ambiguities of Resolution 30. The fact that, in some sense, "life begins at conception," says nothing about whether that life is a person with full legal rights. (Technically, life precedes conception, in that both the egg and the sperm are alive.) Moreover, the nature of the "legal protection" is not specified. I agree that a woman's embryo or fetus deserves legal protection as an extension of the rights of the woman; it is properly illegal to harm a fetus against the wishes of the woman carrying it.

I think a lot of Republicans dislike irresponsible sex that results in unwanted pregnancies. (Who doesn't dislike that?) Many Republicans, I believe, allow themselves to blur the line between disapproval of irresponsible behavior resulting in abortion and legal prohibitions of abortion. Such Republicans think it's sad that some women get abortions (and it is), and they don't bother to think carefully about the implications of the bans advocated by the religious right. (For a detailed account of those implications, see the paper by Diana Hsieh and me.)

Do most Republicans really want to send women, their doctors, and their complicit spouses to prison for facilitating abortions? Do most Republicans really want to outlaw the birth control pill and the IUD because those things might cause the destruction of a fertilized egg? Do most Republicans really want to outlaw common fertility treatments that result in the destruction of fertilized eggs? Do most Republicans really want to empower police and prosecutors to go after women who miscarry under suspicious circumstances? Do most Republicans really want to put decisions about a woman's health in the hands of politicians, bureaucrats, and prosecutors?

I don't think so.

What, then, explains the fact that Republican candidates are falling all over themselves to endorse the "personhood" measure, Amendment 62?

Apparently those candidates think their endorsements will gain religious right votes in the primaries without costing them much support among Republicans who dislike the measure.

Consider a May 24 announcement from Jane Norton's campaign:

Today, Jane Norton, candidate for U.S. Senate, announced two major conservative endorsements. The American Conservative Union PAC (ACU PAC) and the Family Research Council Action PAC (FRC Action PAC) recognized Norton’s conservative credentials and endorsed her bid for the U.S. Senate. ...

“Jane Norton has been a true friend of the family in Colorado and will continue to do so when elected to the Senate. We need Senators who will fight to defend the family against the radicalism of the Left in the U.S. Senate, and who won’t be a rubber stamp for the President’s extreme agenda. We are confident Ms. Norton will serve with distinction,” said Tony Perkins, chairman of FRC Action PAC.

“Jane has been a leader in the fight to protect the unborn, and has worked to keep taxpayer dollars from funding abortion. As the executive director of the Public Health Department in Colorado, Jane was instrumental in de-funding Planned Parenthood in her state. She has been a true champion for faith, family and freedom,” added Perkins.

“Her years of experience as a leader for pro-family causes in Colorado will serve Ms. Norton well in the Senate. FRC Action PAC believes that Jane Norton will be a true advocate for the issues that best uphold and strengthen families. We are proud to support her candidacy,” concluded Perkins.

Earlier this year, Norton also won the endorsement of the Susan B. Anthony List, a conservative, pro-life organization.

Norton has also sought, and received, the support of Sarah Palin, known for her anti-abortion sentiments.

Yet Republicans who pander to the religious right or tolerate its horrific, police-state proposals are fools. Such Republicans wistfully hope that Amendment 62 doesn't really mean what its sponsors say it means, or that it will never really be enforced. They play a dangerous game.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Did Jane Norton Endorse Amendment 62? Yes!

UPDATE: Today at 1:17 p.m., I received the following conclusive email from Cinamon Watson: "Jane supports the personhood amendment." I thank Watson and Norton's office for this forthright and definitive answer to my question. Of course, that does not explain how Norton's previously expressed views about exceptions in cases of rape and incest fit in with her endorsement of Amendment 62. What follows was written earlier today and provides the background of the story.

Okay, John Tomasic, now you may legitimately complain that Jane Norton's office is not responsive to my questions.

Does Jane Norton endorse the "personhood" measure, Amendment 62 on this year's state ballot?

It is a simple yes or no question, a question that Norton has so far refused to answer.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Norton is the presumed Republican frontrunner for U.S. Senate. Amendment 62 is the measure that would grant fertilized eggs full legal rights; I criticized it in February in a first and second article. I also coauthored a lengthy criticism of the measure in its 2008 form.

I already knew that Ken Buck and Dan Maes, underdog candidates for U.S. Senate and governor, respectively, endorsed personhood. They seem to really believe it's a good idea, and they have nothing to lose and religious right votes to pick up. But, given 73 percent of voters trounced the 2008 version of the measure, I was surprised to read that Norton and Scott McInnis, the frontrunners in the races, had also endorsed "personhood."

I first read the claim about the endorsements of Norton and McInnis on May 10 at Even though Colorado Pols cited a Grand Junction Daily Sentinel article about the endorsements, I did not see enough evidence to convince me at that time. In my Twitter post linking to that article, I stated, "I have not seen evidence of these alleged endorsements."

On May 11, the Colorado Independent, also citing the Sentinel, stated, "This year, the entire slate of Republican candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate are supporting the ['personhood'] amendment."

My dad Linn heard McInnis endorse the measure in person. So McInnis's endorsement is not in question. But, until today, I still did not have a good sense of whether Norton had endorsed it.

Here is what the May 10 Sentinel article by Charles Ashby states:

The last time the personhood amendment made the Colorado ballot in 2008, a number of anti-abortion Republican leaders either distanced themselves from it or outright opposed the idea because they said it went too far.

None of that seems to be the case with the 2010 version of the measure, political observers say.

As a result, all of the top-named GOP candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate have publicly supported the ballot question that would declare that life begins at conception. ...

[W[hile [Gualberto] Garcia Jones [director of Personhood Colorado] disagreed with arguments against the 2008 ballot question now just as much as he did then, he was surprised to learn it's winning support among such mainstream political candidates as Jane Norton and Ken Buck, who are running for U.S. Senate, and Dan Maes and Scott McInnis, who announced his support for the idea at a Western Colorado Conservative Alliance debate last week.

The article offers a particular event where McInnis endorsed the measure, but it offers no such detail about Norton. So I remained curious.

I called Cinamon Watson, a spokesperson for Norton, on May 17. Watson confirmed she was aware of the Sentinel story. I asked her whether it was true or false that Norton had endorsed "personhood." Watson said she would send me the answer via email.

By yesterday (May 19), I still had not heard back, so I called Watson again. "I will get it to you today," she said. I left her a voice mail near the end of the day. Today, after trying to reach Watson by her cell phone and at Norton's office, I finally received an email. Drum roll please...

Sorry this did not get to you yesterday:

"Jane believes that life begins at conception."

I had to wait three days for that?

The perceptive reader may notice that Watson did not, in fact, answer my question.

Thankfully, the good Mr. Ashby was more helpful. Late last night I sent Ashby an email asking him about the Norton endorsement.

Ashby referred me to Norton's web site:

The U. S. Constitution does not specifically speak about a right to an abortion. For decades, this important issue was left to the states to decide. In 1973, the U. S. Supreme Court, in the case of Roe v. Wade, ruled that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution included a right to privacy which, in turn, included a right to an abortion. While I believe this decision was wrongly decided and should be overturned, it is unfortunately the law of the land today. I would support a Constitutional Amendment to protect unborn human life and will strive to promote a culture of life where all life (including the elderly, children, disabled, ill, and the unborn) is valued and protected. While I believe there may be certain limited circumstances - rape, incest, and life of the mother - when exceptions are needed, I oppose abortion because I believe human life begins at conception. I will oppose all federal funding of abortion. I support the appointment of judges to federal courts, including the Supreme Court, who will strictly construe the U. S. Constitution and not manufacture new rights or remedies not specifically provided for by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution.

By my reading, that statement does not constitute an endorsement of Amendment 62. I think the "Constitutional Amendment" to which Norton refers likely is an unspecified federal measure. Further, Norton's exceptions for rape and incest clearly contradict the impact of Amendment 62, as Colorado Right to Life recognizes: "Republican Jane Norton has supported 'abortion exceptions' in the past (i.e. for rape & incest, which is from our perspective 'pro-abortion with exceptions')."

So what I think happened is that Ashby unintentionally misinterpreted the intended meaning of Norton's web page as the support for his claim that Norton endorsed "personhood." [Update: Ashby continues to think that his original reading of Norton's web page was the correct one. Regardless of whether Norton intended to endorse Amendment 62 on her web page, obviously now her endorsement of it is entirely clear.]

Ashby also unintentionally put Norton in a tight corner just before the state assembly, which is this Saturday.

Apparently Norton's strategy was to remain silent on Amendment 62 and respond with vague generalities in the hopes of appeasing both sides. Ashby's report upset the fence on which Norton was perched and made the world believe she had endorsed "personhood." The last thing Norton wants to do is take a definitive stand on the issue. If she now declares she does not, after all, endorse the measure, that will infuriate the religious right, which wields significant power in the GOP primaries. If she affirms that she does endorse it, that will open her up to hard-hitting attacks in the general election.

And so she continues to dodge the question.

At least Buck has the courage of his convictions on this score, though he is, by my lights, dead wrong.

I will send Watson the link to this article. If Norton sends me a more clarifying response, I will update this page accordingly. [Please see the update at the top of this article, which shows that Norton definitively endorses "personhood."]

This Norton conundrum does illustrate nicely the problems that continue to plague the Republican Party.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Time to Draw Mohammed

"Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" is May 20. I have already published my entry and explained my reasons for participating. I have also explained why critics of the campaign are full of hot air.

I am pleased that other prominent organizations also are promoting the campaign. Michael Moynihan is leading the charge at Reason, while Craig Biddle of The Objective Standard is also publishing drawings.

And yet some critics remain miffed about the effort.

Eboo Patel worries that college students who chalked images of Mohammed needlessly offended Muslim students who don't support violence. Patel writes, "Muslim Students Associations (MSA) on all three campuses [Northwestern, Illinois and Wisconsin] said they believed in free speech and were opposed to fringe groups who threaten violence, too."

Patel argues that attacking a "sacred cow" is not a good way to defend free speech. For example, making fun of a sick grandmother or a cancer patient, or using the "N" word, would also attack a sacred cow, but doing so obviously would be wrong.

Further, argues Patel, drawing Mohammed "intentionally and effectively marginalize a community" and hurts the Muslim students.

Shahed Amanullah argues that the death threats made against the South Park creators (who used images evoking Mohammed) are not representative of the Muslim community. With the "Everybody Draw Mohammed" campaign, "these Muslim-Americans are being subject to mass insult." Amanullah likens drawing Mohammed to drawing "vile stereotypes of blacks."

The arguments of Patel and Amanullah are entirely bogus.

The first critical point is that, while most Muslims (especially in America) do not make death threats or try to murder people for drawing Mohammed, a significant number of Muslims do exactly that. Let us review, shall we?

* Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Versus was met with Islamist rioting, death threats, and a fatwa by Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

* A violent Islamist murdered Theo Van Gough for daring to create a film critical of Islamist oppression of women.

* The Danish cartoons of Mohammed also were met with widespread Islamist rioting, death threats, and acts of violence.

* Violent Islamists threatened to murder the creators of South Park.

* A violent Islamist planted a bomb in New York City, perhaps partly in response to South Park.

* A violent Islamist recently tried to burn down the house of Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks.

* A violent Islamist recently broke into the home of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.

* A violent Islamist recently attacked Vilks at a university lecture for daring to show a controversial film. (See also the AP's account.)

* Violent Islamists have threatened to murder an organizer of the "Everybody Draw Mohammed" campaign.

Claims that the threats like those against the South Park creators are totally atypical and just the result of a couple of New York nut jobs are, put simply, lies. A frighteningly large portion of the Muslim community threatens, condones, or openly practices violence.

Let the majority of peaceful Muslims take a stand, denounce violence and threats of violence, denounce terrorist organizations, and strongly advocate individual rights and freedom of speech.

Are Muslim students at American universities all peace and light? Then let them openly and loudly condemn the Muslim student at the University of California, San Diego, who sympathized with the Nazis and Islamist terrorist organizations and called for the extermination of the Jews.

Moving on to tangential matters, I have already explained why drawing Mohammed is not like expressing racism or making fun of a sick grandmother or a cancer patient. Racism is inherently evil. Making fun of sick people is inherently wrong. But there is nothing inherently wrong about drawing Mohammed, the fact that some people take irrational offense to it notwithstanding.

Indeed, there is great moral virtue in drawing Mohammed in the current climate, for doing so offers some protection and moral support for those threatened by violence.

Moreover, religious beliefs are inherently ideological. One's race or illness is not derived from ideology. The primary purpose of freedom of expression is to protect ideological discussions. Do Muslims ever criticize other religions? Obviously. Likewise, "infidels" and Muslims alike properly have every right to criticize Islam, just as I have the right to criticize socialism, Christianity, etc. Drawing Mohammed can be a way to express views about that figure and the religion he developed. Muslims who condemn such drawings essentially are claiming that their ideology uniquely may not be criticized.

Contrary to Patel's claims, drawing Mohammed does not marginalize Muslims, but instead treats Muslims exactly the way that members of every other religion in America are treated. For example, South Park has relentlessly mocked Christianity. What Patel actually is demanding is special treatment of Muslims. But I refuse to marginalize Muslims by failing to subject them to the same level of criticism to which I subject Christians, socialists, and every other group with which I disagree.

What of the claims that drawing Mohammed hurts and insults Muslims? Well, what of them? If people are irrationally offended by some drawing, that's their problem.

Perhaps Muslims should work on expressing less outrage about drawings of Mohammed, and more outrage against Islamist violence and terrorism, Islamist abuses of women, Islamist mutilation of little girls, Islamist murders of homosexuals, Islamist censorship of speech and art, and Islamist oppression of Muslim peoples.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On Immigration, Too Many Conservatives Oppose Liberty

The following article originally was published May 14, 2010, by Grand Junction's Free Press.

On immigration, too many conservatives oppose liberty

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Remember the good old days when conservatives advocated liberty, free markets, and a business-friendly political environment? Now, at least when it comes to immigration, many conservatives instead advocate border socialism, economic protectionism, intrusive identification laws, and criminal penalties on employers for the "crime" of hiring willing workers.

Let us begin with the rights of property and free association, the bedrock of a free market economy. As a property owner, you have the right to invite your neighbor over for dinner. You also have the right to invite your neighbor to help you build a shed. These rights of property and association do not diminish if you offer to pay your neighbor, or if you offer to pay somebody from Florida, Canada, or Mexico.

But what about the Arizonans whose rights are violated when illegal immigrants sneak across their land? We agree that is a serious problem. However, it is immoral and impractical to attempt to protect the property of some by blatantly violating the rights of others. Moreover, the only reason immigrants sneak over the border (generally a dangerous and expensive proposition) is that immigration is largely illegal. With a robust guest worker program, immigrants looking for work would be more than happy to take the bus.

What about border security? With a robust guest worker program, U.S. officials could control the flow of migrants much more easily. Many fewer Mexicans would attempt to cross the border illegally, and U.S. law enforcement would have a much easier time catching them.

It would help if U.S. drug prohibition weren't enriching murderous Mexican drug lords, ripping apart the Mexican legal system, and promoting the illegal drug trade into the U.S. It is these drug routes that threaten to allow Islamist terrorists to hitch a ride. The obvious answer, which many conservatives are too cowardly to mention, is to repeal drug prohibition and return to individual responsibility. Short of that, at least a guest worker program would allow U.S. law enforcement to focus on the delimited problem of drug trafficking.

But won't legal immigrants and guest workers take American jobs? In a free society, a job belongs to whomever an employer chooses to hire, and to nobody else. And we are frankly tired of alleged conservatives treating jobs as though they were some sort of socialized property of the collective. It's time for Republicans to stop channeling Karl Marx when it comes to immigration policy.

Ah, but we hear, some immigrants go on welfare and drain government budgets. Many immigrants pay enormous sums into U.S. welfare programs and never draw out a penny. We advocate a guest worker program that forbids migrants from signing up for U.S. welfare dollars.

Conservatives claim to endorse family values. Why, then, do so many conservatives tolerate or endorse immoral immigration laws that split up families over minor technical infractions?

Many conservatives rightly bristle at the thought of giving their name to the government for a gun purchase. Why, then, do many conservatives now want to force all employers to verify employees with the federal government and force all citizens to carry identification documents to get a job and avoid trouble with the police? It used to be that conservatives were dead set against any sort of "papers please" policy.

These onerous paperwork crackdowns on employers started with tax compliance. Conservatives should be fighting such controls on businesses, not trying to enact more. What do you think the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Sam Adams would have thought about asking the federal government's permission to hire a willing worker? Now, shamefully, some alleged conservatives call for felony penalties on employers who fail to sufficiently kiss bureaucratic backside.

On a pragmatic note, Republicans are foolish to alienate Hispanic voters. Conservatives claim to support hard work, family values, and a strong sense of community harmony -- precisely the values of many immigrants.

To put a human face on the issue, some years ago your senior author knew someone in eastern New Mexico who worked a "truck garden," requiring back-breaking work to bring vegetables to market. He hired ten to fifteen illegal immigrants for the season, and said many of these workers had been with him for many years. They were hard working, dependable, and trustworthy. Once he ran help wanted advertisements in the local city and school newspapers. A single local high school student answered the advertisement. The student worked for a few short hours, then went home. Conservatives would throw that employer in prison and see his crops rot.

The choice is clear. Either you support liberty, free markets, the rights of property and association, and security against government intrusions, or you support restrictive immigration. But if you choose the latter, please do not call yourself a conservative. Use the correct term for your views on this issue and call yourself a socialist.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari, edits from the Denver area.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Notes for Twitter Haters

Recently somebody on an email list asked me why I would possibly use Twitter. For the benefit of those who have never tried the service and don't see the point of it, following are my (edited) notes in reply.

I once swore I would never get a Twitter account. Now I love Twitter, and indeed it is my primary source of leads for interesting news and opinions. (More often than not, when I send some sort of news alert to an email list, I first heard the news via Twitter.)

I use my own Twitter account @ariarmstrong primarily as a feed for news and views that I find interesting, meaning links about Colorado politics and select national and religious issues. Thus, in nearly every Twitter post, I include a link to some article or blog post. (My wife tells me she no longer reads the paper directly; she reads it only through my Twitter feed.)

The value I provide to others is to sift through quite a lot of information -- including the Denver Post nearly every day -- and provide summaries and links to the interesting stuff. Thus, you usually won't get crime news or celebrity news from me, but you will get stories related to property rights, free markets, and the Nanny State.

Doing this sifting and summarizing helps me as well. It helps me become aware of the news of the day and to see patterns in the news. For example, I've found many bits of information through Twitter pertaining to antitrust. This is much more useful than reading a single article about antitrust, because it points to a larger trend. Spotting political trends is a very useful skill for an activist, for it helps in planning articles and ideological campaigns. And Twitter can be very useful for this.

In terms of the others I follow on Twitter, a few users post personal information, entertaining messages (as with @DRUNKHULK), or information focusing on some particular topic, such as parenting. Mostly, though, I follow people who feed me interesting political news.

Thus, rather than read a hundred periodicals every day, I look carefully at one periodical every day, then Ilook at specific articles in (perhaps) dozens of other periodicals according to what looks interesting on Twitter. Indeed, I follow the Twitter feeds of several publications.

The writer worries that Twitter "seems like endless rambling about nothingness." If you have a bunch of friends who ramble about nothing, then that's what you're going to get. That truth does not change whether you're communicating face to face or on Twitter. If you don't like what somebody is saying, "unfollow" that person. One key reason I love Twitter is that doing so is so easy.

The writer wonders about keeping up with Twitter as well as other social media and RSS feeds. I never did use RSS feeds much, and now I hardly ever use them. The problem with an RSS feed is that usually it is related to a particular site (or group of sites), such as a blog. Twitter is so much more useful than that. I can get a blog's feed through Twitter if I want, and I can also follow any number of individuals who are sorting information and commentary in a practically unlimited number of ways. Saying you don't want to use Twitter because you can use RSS feeds is a little like saying you don't want to drive a car because a bicycle has wheels, too.

The writer wonders how much time I spend "social networking" in a day. That phrase may be a little misleading, because my main purpose in using Twitter is not to chat or network with friends. How much I use social media depends on how much time I have for it on a given day and how much interesting news is going on. I'm sure I spend more time using social media than others do -- perhaps an hour or more per day -- because I use social media as my primary tool of obtaining news and opinions, and I like to obtain a lot of that to see how the political landscape (especially in my own state) is unfolding.

Finally, the writer wonders whether I separate my personal life from my activism. On Twitter, the answer is no. I simply do not usually post personal information to Twitter (though I do learn a bit of personal information about friends through Twitter). (On Facebook, I have started using lists to separate personal friends from political associates.)

I certainly don't think anyone must use Twitter to be an effective activist. Of course, you don't need to use a computer or a telephone, either. But they can sure be useful tools.

* * *

Paul Hsieh, who points to the DavidAll Group's Twitter 101 guide, adds the following notes about his Twitter use: "I personally subscribe to the Twitter feeds of several health policy groups, blogs, and influential individuals. Through their feeds, I often find good material worth writing about that would take me longer to accumulate if I simply scanned news stories or RSS feeds. Basically, they act as filters for me. Of course, the tricky part is finding those people who serve as good filters. In that sense, it's like trying to find friends who watch a lot of movies and whose taste is close enough to yours that you can trust them to provide a first-order approximation of what you would/wouldn't like (recognizing that there will be some disagreements both ways)."

Friday, May 7, 2010

Review Questions for Murray Rothbard's 'What Has Government Done to Our Money?'

This set of review questions is part of the Liberty In the Books program, a monthly discussion group. These questions cover Murray Rothbard's What Has Government Done to Our Money?

Note: Because paginations differ across editions, here page numbers corresponding to the 1990 edition (ISBN 0945466102) are used with titles of Rothbard's sections.

Reading I: Through Page 54 (Parts I and II)

1. Does a voluntary exchange indicate an equality of value among the goods exchanged? (Page 16, "The Value of Exchange")

2. How did money arise? (Pages 15-20, "The Value of Exchange" through "Indirect Exchange")

3. What are the key limitations of barter? (Pages 16-17, "Barter")

4. Why did gold and silver displace other commodities as money? (Pages 18-19, "Indirect Exchange")

5. What is the significance of the fact that money is a commodity? (Pages 19-20, "Indirect Exchange")

6. What economic advances does money facilitate? (Pages 20-21, "Benefits of Money")

7. Originally, to what did the names of currencies refer? (Pages 22-24, "The Monetary Unit")

8. Why does Rothbard endorse private coinage? (Pages 25-29, "Private Coinage")

9. In Rothbard's view, what is the proper supply of money? (Pages 29-34, "The 'Proper Supply of Money")

10. What is the consequence of an increase or decrease in the supply of money? (Pages 32-34, "The 'Proper' Supply of Money")

11. Does hoarding of money on a free market present a problem? (Pages 35-39, "The Problem of 'Hoarding'")

12. For what legitimate reasons do people increase or decrease their cash reserves? (Pages 35-36, "The Problem of 'Hoarding'")

13. Why does Rothbard disapprove of the phrase "circulation of money?" (Page 37, "The Problem of 'Hoarding'")

14. Should government promote stable prices? (Pages 39-40, "Stabilize the Price Level?")

15. Can a free market accommodate more than one currency in the same region? (Pages 41-43, "Coexisting Money")

16. How does a free market in money lead to the exchange of paper receipts, token coins, and checks? (Pages 43-46, "Money-Warehouses")

17. What is Rothbard's case against fractional reserve banking? Is his case sound? (Pages 47-53, "Money-Warehouses")

Reading II: Page 55 to 111 (Parts III and IV)

1. What is the primary difference between the way private individuals and government acquire more goods and services? (Page 55, "The Revenue of Government")

2. Why does Rothbard write, "Counterfeiting is evidently but another name for inflation?" (Page 56, "The Revenue of Government")

3. How does counterfeiting (or inflation) transfer wealth from some to others? (Page 57, "The Economic Effects of Inflation")

4. Which groups are most harmed by inflation? (Pages 57-58, "The Economic Effects of Inflation")

5. What is the impact of inflation on business calculation? (Pages 58-59, "The Economic Effects of Inflation")

6. How does inflation discourage "sober effort," penalize thrift, and encourage debt? (How does this pertain to the modern housing crisis?) (Page 59, "The Economic Effects of Inflation")

7. How can inflation morph into hyper-inflation? (Pages 59-60, "The Economic Effects of Inflation")

8. How can inflation cause a business cycle? (Page 61, "The Economic Effects of Inflation")

9. Before widescale banking and paper receipts for money, how did governments inflate the money supply? (Pages 61-64, "Compulsory Monopoly of the Mint" and "Debasement")

10. What happens when a government attempts to impose "bimetallism" to control the exchange rate of commodity moneys? (Pages 64-67, "Gresham's Law and Coinage")

11. How do legal tender laws act to further devalue the money supply? (Pages 67-68, "Gresham's Law and Coinage")

12. How does granting banks the government privilege of "suspension of specie payment" contribute to inflation? (Pages 69-72, "Permitting Banks to Refuse Payment")

13. How did central banking arise, and what did it do to the money supply? (Pages 72-76, "Central Banking: Removing the Checks on Inflation")

14. By what mechanisms does the central bank inflate (or deflate) the money supply? (Pages 77-79, "Central Banking: Directing the Inflation)

15. Why do central banks go off the gold standard, and what is the result? (pages 79-84, "Going off the Gold Standard" and "Fiat Money and the Gold Problem")

16. How does central banking interfere with international trade? (Pages 84-87, "Fiat Money and Gresham's Law")

17. What were the basic steps in the U.S. government's monetary policy over the last two centuries? (Pages 90-111, Part IV)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Review: The Business of Being Born

Last month, my wife and I visited Mountain Midwifery Center, where we'll probably go to deliver our baby (assuming we successfully get that far; we're not even pregnant yet). Tracy Ryan, owner of the midwifery, praised The Business of Being Born, a film we'd already purchased (and which is now available on Netflix online). A couple nights ago my wife and I finally watched the video.

The main thesis of the movie (as it was with Ryan's presentation) is that, in the large majority of cases, baby deliveries work best with minimal medical intervention. In unusual, abnormal cases, medical intervention, including C-section surgery, is necessary to protect the life of the mother and baby.

The film goes into this theme in greater depth. I am persuaded that, for normal deliveries, inducement of labor often makes labor worse by interfering with the flow of hormones between the woman's body and the in utero baby. The drugs given to induce labor tend to stress the baby's body, interfere with natural delivery, and make C-section surgery much more likely.

One of the greatest things about the film is simply that it shows several normal deliveries. (I had already watched some water births on YouTube.) Watching these more-natural births was an eye-opener for me. I had always just assumed that delivery is living hell, with the woman laying down on her back, legs in the air, with the doctor peering up her vagina. Well, delivery does hurt, a lot; on that point I remain persuaded. But it need not involve the excruciating pain and screaming we've always seen on television. Instead, the natural births I've seen usually involve a woman squatting or in a tub of water. The head blurts out, then the shoulders with the rest of the body.

Seriously: if you've never witnessed a normal delivery, you owe it to yourself to watch a video of one. See the movie, or watch the YouTube videos I've found.

I was horrified to watch how U.S. medical doctors treated deliveries in the 1920s. Doctors gave women horrifying drugs and strapped women to their beds, sometimes for days. In general this was a period of treating people as though they were machines, rather than viewing technology as a means to meeting human needs. This trend was also evident in the rise of factory education and, to a far uglier extent, the rise of fascism.

While today's medical interventions are more humane, they are largely unnecessary and counterproductive. The movie mentions that U.S. infant and mother mortality rates are high relative to the rest of the industrialized world. While this does not take into account the fact that U.S. doctors try to save more premature babies or the fact that mortality is much higher among narrow segments of the U.S. population, I am persuaded that, in most cases, inducement drugs and C-section surgeries cause more problems than they solve.

I do worry that the "all natural" attitude may make those women who do need medical intervention feel somehow inadequate. Generally it is not a mother's fault if something goes wrong in delivery. Yet one of the people interviewed for the film claimed that, because a C-section interrupts the flow of hormones spurring motherly attachment, such births somehow lack love. But especially for humans love is not reducible to hormones, and a woman who gives birth by C-section is just as able to love her baby as is any other parent. The movie explicitly makes room for necessary medical interventions, but I'm not sure it sufficiently emphasized that a troubled delivery manifests no moral failing.

The director of the film, Abby Epstein, got pregnant in the course of making the film. Unfortunately, she had a severe complication in her pregnancy; her body stopped delivering nutrition to her fetus, who redirected nutrition to the brain and away from the rest of the body. Epstein went into delivery several weeks early. Because of the premature delivery (and because the baby was breech), Epstein went with her midwife to the hospital, where she gave birth by C-section. Thankfully, everything turned out fine. However, the incident does reinforce the need to get good prenatal care and to seek medical attention when needed. While deeply unfortunate for Epstein, the silver lining is that the story made for a much more balanced and informative film.

Another thing that struck me about the movie is how much it reinforced my existing political views about modern American medicine and health insurance. One person interviewed for the film claimed that often a C-section surgery is a legal strategy. The idea is that, if a doctor performs a C-section, he or she has made every possible medical intervention, and so cannot be sued. So the problems with American torts certainly show in this area.

I have long argued that third-party insurance payments -- entrenched by decades of federal tax policy and controls -- subvert individual responsibility. One women in the film said, "People in our culture spend more time and effort researching to buy a stereo system, a car, probably a camera, than they do checking out what their choices are for birth." In our third-party system of prepaid health care, most people have no incentive to seek out good value for their health dollars. Moreover, most people get the health care their employer's insurance company tells them to get, rather than the health care that would best serve their needs.

My wife and I, on the other hand, buy low-cost, high-deductible health insurance and pay for routine and expected care through our Health Savings Account. We're going to pay for our delivery by writing a check or running the debit card. We know what care we're getting and how much it costs. It is only if something goes terribly wrong, resulting in higher bills, that our insurance would kick in.

Nothing is more central to the continuance of the human race than the delivery of babies. People should know more about that, and The Business of Being Born provides not only a wealth of information but wisdom on the matter.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

In Defense of South Park

The following letter originally was published in the April 30, 2010, edition of the Denver Post.

Thank you for publishing David Harsanyi's excellent article about free speech and the Islamist threats against the creators of "South Park."

Whether you love or hate "South Park" (I happen to think it's clever satire), as Americans we must defend people's right to speak even when we disagree with them.

To protest the threats, offer moral support to all those threatened by such violence, and help spread the risk, I have decided to publish my own drawing of Mohammed, and I hope The Denver Post and its readers will do likewise.

Ari Armstrong, Westminster

Monday, May 3, 2010

Westminster pays $727,103 for Demolished Building

The City of Westminster is so strapped for cash that it recently spent nearly $1.5 million for a demolished building and empty store.

City Edition, the tax-funded "news" paper published by the city, reports in its April/May 2010 edition:

The City of Westminster Economic Development Authority on January 27 acquired the vacant Macy's store at the Westminster Mall property, the latest step in the city's long-term strategy to revitalize the area.

Cost of the 157,000-square-foot building, which sits on 8.43 acres, was $700,000. WEDA has also acquired the former Trail Dust Steak House on the mall site for $727,103. The Trail Dust building torn down in early March [sic].

In today's world of tax kickbacks and bureaucratic brown nosing, it is infeasible to redevelop a property without heavy involvement by local government. What Westminster should do to promote redevelopment instead is abolish its "economic development" agency, eliminate other wasteful expenses like its tax-funded "news" paper, stop wasting tax money on empty buildings, and lower taxes and controls across the board to encourage free enterprise.

Last year I wrote about how Westminster declared the mall blighted. Such a move can be a prelude to the use of eminent domain or "tax increment financing," which essentially refunds property taxes. I do not know whether Westminster's "economic development" agency intends to pursue either of those courses. (The Colorado legislature has tightened up eminent domain standards, which might have some impact in this case.)

Today Karen Groves wrote a fawning article about the city's demolished building for the Denver Post's "Your Hub." She does add this interesting detail: "City Manager Brent McFall said the city is going through negotiations with its development partner, Steiner and Associates."

The city's payment of nearly $1.5 million for a demolished building and empty store seems remarkably like corporate welfare for Steiner and Associates. Because, in today's controlled economy, there is simply no room for a free market.