Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dave Kopel Defends Ken Buck in U.S. Attorney Flap

Senate hopeful Jane Norton's vicious attacks on GOP rival Ken Buck regarding Buck's service in the U.S. Attorney's office may deeply hurt Norton's campaign, as I have already indicated. The problem is that Norton is attacking Buck for standing up against a political railroading in a gun case.

Yesterday (June 28) Buck fired back. Here's what Buck has to say in his defense:

The facts presented in the Denver Post story [here] on June 24th speak for themselves. Ten years ago Assistant U. S. Attorney Ken Buck got caught in the crosshairs of a politically ambitious democrat, Tom Strickland, who became U.S. Attorney in between two unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate.

Coming to the office on the heels of the Columbine tragedy, Strickland set out to build a “tough on guns” reputation as U.S. Attorney. As a result, he wanted to go to trial against an Aurora gun dealer even though his democrat predecessor and the senior attorneys in the office would not go to trial because they felt the government could not get a felony conviction.

Ken was among that group. He let it be known that he felt the case could be settled without a trial. He thought justice would be served without an expensive trial. That view put him in the cross hairs of Strickland.

The Denver Post story describes the details of what happened as a result. In the process of urging the parties to plead the case out instead of going to trial, Ken made an unintentional error and U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland went on a crusade to make Ken pay for the mistake.

Strickland charged ahead with the felony prosecution. The case finally ended up about the way Ken Buck had predicted. Instead of multiple felony convictions the government ended up with a single minor paperwork misdemeanor conviction requiring one day of probation.

After Strickland left the U.S. Attorneys office to again run unsuccessfully for the U. S. Senate his successor, John Suthers, was charged with closing the file.

So one-and-a-half years after the fact, Ken received a reprimand from Suthers, who was careful to point out that Ken’s “conduct was not intentional.” He called it, “an aberration in your professional career.”


But don't take Buck's word for it. Dave Kopel, the lead researcher at the Independence Institute and a world renowned Second Amendment scholar, has spoken up for Buck on Colorado Public Television. Here are Kopel's statements:

I think if [the issue] does stick to Buck, he will win the Republican primary and the general election. This is a real gut check for character on the part of Ken Buck, and of Jane Norton, and it strongly shows better character on Buck's part. The victim of the United States Attorney [Tom] Strickland's persecution that the Buck case grows out of is Greg Golyansky. He's been a friend of mine for fifteen years; we're still on the board of directors of the Colorado Union of Taxpayers together.* So I know a lot about this case.

Greg was a pawn dealer. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms brought a case against him. The U.S. Attorney office declined to prosecute. Henry Solano, the Clinton-appointed United States Attorney, agreed with that, said there's nothing here. Indeed, the only witness against him (Golyansky) was a mentally ill homeless drug addict with severe credibility problems.

And then Tom Strickland comes in on the theory that "I'm going to be the big tough U.S. Attorney and prosecute gun cases." And he takes a case that not one single career attorney in the United States Attorney's office in Colorado was willing to prosecute, so he brings in two of his little hand-picked minions who came in with him to bring felony charges against three people.

It was an outrageous abuse of power.

Now Ken Buck violated the protocol by talking about it outside the office. And I agree that was a violation of the U.S. Attorney's protocol.

But when you say, when is a guy going to make a mistake, I like a guy who makes a mistake on behalf of someone who was being unfairly, unjustly, and politically persecuted.

And then for Jane Norton to turn around and say this is some terrible issue against Ken Buck -- well, it just reminds me that Jane Norton's husband was the guy who before Strickland came into office, probably had the worst record in Colorado history of being an abusive, out-of-control, way over the line, United States Attorney, Mike Norton.

You know, and for somebody who cares about Second Amendment issues, you've got on one hand, a guy who said something out of the office he shouldn't have, in defense of a gun dealer who was being inappropriately prosecuted, and on the other side, you've got somebody who's basically saying how swell the prosecution was, and criticizing the guy who properly stood up for the innocent victim of persecution. ...

[Buck] got a letter of reprimand, and he made a mistake. But you say, when somebody makes a mistake, what was behind it. Was he trying to take unfair advantage of an innocent person, or was he standing up for the innocent person. And I think that's a good sign. Especially with prosecutors, who usually have so much unbounded power, that a guy, when he made what may be the only professional error of his life, made it on the side of due process and fairness.


Westword's Patricia Calhoun also shares skepticism toward Norton's attack:

As the Post piece reveals, the case had major flaws -- and none of the senior attorneys on the staff wanted to prosecute it. Still, Buck was the one who talked to the other side, earning a rebuke and an ethics class assignment. And ultimately, he left the U.S. Attorney's Office, returning to public life a few years later for a run in Weld County.

But in this election season, when mavericks are looking mainstream and going rogue looks like a winning direction, Buck's move may wind up winning points -- particularly among Second Amendment-loving Republicans -- and coming back to slap Norton.**


This election was Jane Norton's to lose. And she may have just lost it.

* As noted in the linked piece, I also know Golyansky.
** Buck cited both Kopel and Calhoun in his own own piece.

Cordoba House and the Real Feisal Abdul Rauf

The proposed Islamic center near the World Trade Center site is called "Cordoba House," apparently in honor of Islam's conquest of Spain. [August 18 Update: Christopher Hitchens says the name instead invokes a period of "astonishing cultural synthesis; Jacob Sullum agrees.]

The Washington Times reports:

The building was purchased in July 2009 for $4.85 million in cash by Soho Properties, a real-estate investment firm tied to developer Sharif El-Gamal. One of the investors was the Cordoba Initiative, an organization chaired by Ms. Khan's husband, Faisal Abdul Rauf. The initiative listed less than $20,000 in assets in 2008 and has received less than $100,000 in contributions since it was founded in 2004. The ASMA has assets of less than $1 million. The principals will not explain how their cash-poor organizations can hope to undertake such a major project, but Ms. [Daisy] Khan [executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement] claims that, "Cordoba House will be a new entity whose funding sources will be independent from the funding sources of ASMA and Cordoba Initiative." Odds are the money will come from overseas.


The Daily Mail offers more details:

The mosque is part of a proposed 13-storey Muslim community centre, which will include a swimming pool, gym, theatre and sports facilities.

The building, which was damaged by the fuselage of one of the hijacked planes, is at 45 Park Place -- just two blocks from Ground Zero.

It formerly housed a Burlington Coat Factory store. The store's two selling floors were destroyed when the landing gear from one of the planes tore through them during the attacks.

Construction is due to begin on September 11 next year – the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack.


The New York Times adds:

The Sept. 11, 2001, attack killed 2,752 people downtown and doomed the five-story building at 45 Park Place, two blocks north of the World Trade Center, keeping it abandoned for eight years.

But for months now, out of the public eye, an iron gate rises every Friday afternoon, and with the outside rumblings of construction at ground zero as a backdrop, hundreds of Muslims crowd inside, facing Mecca in prayer and listening to their imam read in Arabic from the Koran.

The building has no sign that hints at its use as a Muslim prayer space, but these modest beginnings point to a far grander vision: an Islamic center near the city's most hallowed piece of land...

The location was precisely a key selling point for the group of Muslims who bought the building in July. A presence so close to the World Trade Center, "where a piece of the wreckage fell," said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the cleric leading the project, "sends the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11."

"We want to push back against the extremists," added Imam Feisal, 61.


Several facts become clear from these accounts: the site of the proposed Islamic center was, in fact, damaged by the 9/11 attacks; the store that used to occupy the space left because of the damage; the location was purchased specifically for the construction of an Islamic center within the zone of destruction; and the center's lead organizer publicly declares that his purpose is to oppose terrorism.

How far can we trust Feisal Abdul Rauf's proclaimed intentions? And how much do his real intentions matter?

The Imam states:

My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists. We are the people who want to embolden the vast majority of Muslims who hate terrorism to stand up to the radical rhetoric. ...

People who are stakeholders in society, who believe they are welcomed as equal partners, do not want to destroy it. ... And there's no better demonstration of our desire to build than the construction of this center. ...

The project has been mischaracterized... It is not a mosque, although it will include a space for Muslim prayer services. It will have a swimming pool [etc.] ...

And, yes, the center will have a public memorial to the victims of 9/11 as well as a meditation room where all will be welcome...

The center will be open to all regardless of religion. ...

What grieves me most is the false reporting that leads some families of 9/11 victims to think this project somehow is designed by Muslims to gloat over the attack.

That could not be further from the truth.

My heart goes out to all of the victims of 9/11. ...

Freedom of religion is something we hold dear. It is the core of what America is all about, and it is what people worldwide respect about our country. The Koran itself says compulsion in religion is wrong.

American Muslims want to be both good Americans and good Muslims. They can be the best assets the United States has in combatting radicalism.

They know that many American values -- freedom of religion, human dignity and opportunity for prosperity -- are also Muslim values. ...

I have been the imam at a mosque in Tribeca for 27 years. ... My work is to make sure mosques are not recruiting grounds for radicals.

To do that, Muslims must feel they are welcome in New York. Alienated people are open to cynicism and radicalism. Any group that believes it is under attack will breed rebellion. The proposed center is an attempt to prevent the next 9/11.


While he does publicly condemn terrorism, notice a couple of peculiarities with his claims. First, he grants that, without active intervention, mosques do, in fact, become "recruiting grounds for radicals," i.e. violent Islamists who hate and want to destroy America and impose universal Islamic law.

He also claims that Americans must make Muslims "feel they are welcome" in order to "prevent the next 9/11." However, not feeling welcome is no good reason to commit terrorist acts. Muslims are morally obligated not to commit acts of terrorism, whether or not they feel welcome. Many groups have come to America that have initially felt unwelcome, and they have nevertheless refrained from slaughtering others and learned to enter the culture. Perhaps Muslims would feel more welcome if more Muslims would publicly denounce Islamist terrorist acts and organizations.

While Feisal Abdul Rauf claims that he "hates terrorism" in the abstract, he could not in fact bring himself to condemn the terrorist organization Hamas. He declined to declare Hamas a terrorist organization when repeatedly given the opportunity during a June 18 radio interview.

Moreover, while the Imam claims to endorse freedom of religion, he has explicitly called for Sharia law, arguing that religion should help shape "the nation's practical life" and that "religious communities [should have] more leeway to judge among themselves according to their own laws." In other words, he calls for the enforcement of explicitly Islamic law, at least among Muslims in Islamic "religious communities," as the Taliban continues to accomplishes in Afghanistan, and as various Islamic leaders have proposed for parts of Canada and Europe.

He is all for "freedom of religion," if that means religion's leaders are free to forcibly control their followers. Indeed, in his defense of Sharia law, which he laughably asserts comports with secular law and the Declaration of Independence, Feisal Abdul Rauf grants that he would forcibly impose "a certain amount of modesty" on the faithful (as defined by Islamic leaders). He states bluntly: "What Muslims want is a judiciary that ensures that the laws are not in conflict with the Quran and the Hadith."

I do believe the Imam about one thing: I do not think he intends Cordoba House merely to promote Islamic gloating over the 9/11 attacks. I believe his core purpose is vastly more sinister.

June 30 Update: A comment on Amy Peikoff's blog tipped me off to another detail about the Imam's views. He indeed partly blamed America for the 9/11 attacks, telling 60 Minutes: "Fanaticism and terrorism have no place in Islam... I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened."

Monday, June 28, 2010

What About the Forty Other Islamic Centers?

As I note in my updated article about the proposed mosque near the World Trade Center, passionate debate continues on the question of whether the mosque should be allowed. I have a few questions for those who would forcibly block the building of the mosque. These are not rhetorical questions; I'd appreciate some real answers.

1. If the United States seriously waged war against the state sponsors of Islamist terror, would the proposed mosque even potentially be able to get tainted funds, and would its building present any real problem?

2. With the Obama administration actively appeasing America's enemies, handcuffing American soldiers in Afghanistan, and standing idly by while Iran develops nuclear weapons, do you seriously believe that the addition of yet another mosque on American soil is what will make America appear weak to its enemies?

3. If you give the federal government, or any local government, the authority to deprive United States citizens of property rights, without trial or due process of law, do you seriously believe that such power would be limited to blocking the building of the mosque?

4. Granting that at least some of the organizers of the mosque sympathize with at least some dangerous Islamist goals, what do you think government policy should be with respect to the many college professors and leftist leaders who have sympathized with the 9/11 attackers?

5. If you believe the mosque near the World Trade Center site should be forcibly blocked, what do you think should happen to the forty other Islamic centers a short distance from that site? (I composed my list simply by searching for "mosque" in New York on Google maps; obviously which sites are included in the list may be open to debate.) What about all the other mosques and Islamic centers in America?

Picture 1

Update: I posted three brief comments to Diana Hsieh's Facebook page, and I thought them worth repeating here:

I think Diana's point about formally declared war is relevant; how can the United States government convict someone for treason for aiding an enemy the United States refuses to recognize?

I see the two sides largely converging. The first side essentially argues: The mosque should be blocked, because it would support America's Islamist enemies, and it can be blocked by just means. The second side argues: The mosque should not be blocked, unless it can be shown to support America's Islamist enemies, and then only by just means. The remaining debate is over what constitutes relevant support for America's enemies, whether the mosque's organizers in fact offer such support, and, if they do, what means would be just to block the mosque.

Final thought: I can think of little that would make more of a mockery of the United States than to fight Islamist terrorism with zoning laws. "You better stop killing us, or we'll zone your asses!" We cannot fight a war with zoning laws, and the attempt is both futile and embarrassing.

June 29 Update: Paul Hsieh has made some excellent observations about the debate. He summarizes the crux of the problem:

Objectivists generally agree that Americans are being threatened by Islamic Totalitarian ideologues who seek to destroy the US. And we agree that the proper response would be for our government to identify that threat and wage a proper war with the goal of defeating and destroying the enemy. ...

Unfortunately, we don't have that kind of government right now. Instead, we live under a government that refuses to properly identify the enemy, refuses to wage a proper war of self-defense, and refuses to protect our individual rights.

Given that unfortunate fact, we are left with no good life-promoting options -- only bad death-promoting choices.

On one side are those who argue that allowing the NYC mosque to be built would further weaken the few remaining restraints stopping the bad guys from killing us -- and the result would be our destruction.

On the other hand are those who argue that stopping the building of the mosque by allowing the government to exercise force in a grossly non-objective fashion would further weaken the few remaining restraints keeping us from descending into tyranny -- and the result would be our destruction.

Both sides raise important concerns, particularly about the dangers of adopting the course endorsed by their opponents. That's precisely what happens when the only good option (of waging a proper war against our enemies) has been taken off the table. Once that happens, all we are left with are bad options.


Perhaps the benefit from the debate is that its participants will redouble their efforts to create better options.

June 30 Update: Amy Peikoff has written a well-argued article in favor of blocking Cordoba House. In a comment there, I granted, "This particular center is different from the other mosques in the immediate area, because it was selected to be within the damage zone of the 9/11 attacks. I did not initially realize the significance of this fact... However, I still remain unpersuaded that even the strongest argument for blocking the center ultimately succeeds in the current political context."

Friday, June 25, 2010

Americans Look to Big Ideas of Liberty: Resurgence of Ayn Rand

The following article originally was published June 25 by Grand Junction's Free Press.

Americans look to big ideas of liberty

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

We are pleased to see that Americans are taking big ideas more seriously. After television personality Glenn Beck featured Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, the book topped the Amazon sales charts and temporarily sold out from the University of Chicago Press.

Over a million people have watched "Fear the Boom and Bust," a YouTube rap battle from EconStories in which Hayek schools his tax-and-spend rival John Maynard Keynes. Colorado pundit Ross Kaminsky recently handed a copy of Frederic Bastiat's classic The Law to Sarah Palin; we only hope she reads it.

The phenomenal success, however, has been Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. The ambitious 1957 novel sold a respectable 70,000 copies in its first year. Since then, it has sold over seven million copies total, and last year it hit a record with over half a million copies. The novel has been reviewed on nationwide television shows by John Stossel and Beck. (An Atlas movie has also begun shooting, though, as Variety reports, the film was rushed into production on a paltry budget to retain feature rights.)

Unfortunately, many people, particularly critics of the novel, read it superficially at best. Rather than explore Rand's work on its own terms, they ignore what the book actually says and instead project their own biases and stereotypes onto its pages.

For example, while many claim Rand reflexively supports business, in fact she praises producers in a free market and condemns those who suck up corporate welfare and politically harm their competitors.

While many liken Rand's heroes to Nietzschean "supermen," in fact Rand populates her novels with virtuous people of all abilities and levels of success, and her heroes unfailingly interact with other peaceable people by reason and voluntary consent.

Thankfully, philosopher Diana Hsieh has helped organize several Atlas Shrugged reading groups on the Eastern side of the mountains, and she has developed a series of podcasts on the novel at ExploreAynRand.com. Why does Hank Rearden initially denigrate his fulfilling sexual relationship with railroad executive Dagny Taggart? Why does Taggart become locked in battle with John Galt, even though the two share fundamental values? What literary purposes does Galt's speech serve in the novel? Hsieh addresses those questions and many more.

Whether you've purchased the novel but left it sitting on the shelf or read it many years ago, we encourage you to read the work in light of Hsieh's enlightening commentary.

Rand's continued success has raised the ire of the left. What does the left typically do when it encounters ideas it cannot rationally defeat? It sharpens the hatchet for personal attacks. For example, David Sirota began his recent column, "For those who are not (yet) heartless cynics or emotionless Ayn Rand acolytes, the now-famous photographs of sludge-soaked pelicans on the Gulf Coast are painful to behold."

Sirota's claims that Rand's admirers generally are "emotionless" and that they don't care about the oil spill constitute reckless defamation. The heroes of Atlas Shrugged live rich emotional lives, and Rand has described "happiness as the moral purpose" of one's life. Rand is not remotely like Mr. Spock of Star Trek. However, Rand rightly holds that we learn the facts of reality by reason, not emotions, and we can achieve happiness only by acting rationally to advance our lives.

Regarding the BP oil spill, Hsieh, a supposed "emotionless Ayn Rand acolyte," wrote for her NoodleFood blog: "The oil spill is clearly a horrid disaster for mankind and our environment, including for our marine food supply, recreation, science, and more. I can only hope that the leak is plugged, and soon."

Apparently Sirota's idea of emotion is ignoring reason and reflexively calling for more political controls. Yet Hsieh sensibly notices that the oceans where the drilling took place effectively are nationalized property. Moreover, by preventing drilling in safer locations and relieving oil companies of liability, federal politicians significantly contributed to the spill.

Because Rand was a pro-choice atheist, many on the right smear her as well. More often, conservatives simply misunderstand her ideas. That is the case with a recent column from Mike Rosen.

Rosen suggests that Rand's ideas are libertarian, even though Rand denounced libertarianism as lacking a moral foundation and therefore a clear conception of liberty. Rosen claims that Rand's "rugged super-individualists are a minority in this society," ignoring the fact that they are a small minority in Atlas Shrugged, too. Rand's point is not that everyone must be like the genius John Galt, but that everyone can and should understand reality by reason and seek to live the best, most fulfilled life possible.

Whether you tend to love or hate Ayn Rand and her ideas, you'll never even know what those ideas are until you seriously grapple with them. So don't let some critic with an agenda determine your judgment. Pick up her work and evaluate its ideas for yourself.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gun Rights Questions for Norton and Buck

By encouraging a Denver Post story blasting Ken Buck conveniently timed just before primary voting, Jane Norton has turned gun laws into a campaign issue. The upshot is that Buck used to work for the U.S. Attorney's office under Democrat Tom Strickland. After the Columbine murders, Strickland jump-started gun prosecutions. Opponents, including me, claimed he did so to raise his political profile through an emotion-laden issue. Buck opposed a prosecution at the time (and I also opposed it), and eventually he was reprimanded for sharing information with a defense attorney.

Today Norton came out swinging hard in a media release reproduced below (in which she also attacks State Senator Shawn Mitchell). But does she land a blow? I figured that, since she apparently wants to turn guns into a primary voting issue, both she and Buck should further elaborate their views on the matter. I will publish their answers in this post as soon as I receive them. I sent the questions to both campaigns via email. (My dad Linn helped edit the questions.)

Dear Ms. Norton and Mr. Buck,

Please respond to the following questions via email, for publication at Free Colorado at http://blog.ariarmstrong.com/

Please verify receipt.

1. Do you believe that federal agents should attempt to build a case against gun sellers by intentionally deceiving them about who is purchasing a gun?

2. Do you endorse the aims and tactics of "Project Exile?"

3. Should the federal government target violent crime, or should it also target technical gun offenses by otherwise-noncriminal citizens, and, if the latter, by what laws and tactics?

4. Do you believe that tax-subsidized colleges should be required to allow adults on campus with permitted concealed carry?

5. Should concealed carry permit holders be listed in police databases?

6. Do you believe that Tom Strickland was justified in prosecuting the Golyansky brothers?

7. Do you believe that Ken Buck was right or wrong to oppose that prosecution?

Thanks,
Ari Armstrong

Norton's Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Cinamon Watson
June 24, 2010

NORTON: "I don't need an ethics class to know what's right."

Denver, CO – Today, The Denver Post printed a story concerning Ken Buck's ethics violation in the U.S. Attorney's office.

The news report details the facts surrounding Ken Buck’s departure from the U.S. Attorney’s office. The story has triggered attacks on John Suthers by leading supporters and surrogates of the Buck campaign.

According to the story, then-United States Attorney John Suthers, the current Attorney General who was recently hailed by conservatives for suing to stop Obamacare, reprimanded Buck earlier in the decade and even required Buck to take ethics courses for ethical and professional breeches during his stint at the United States Attorney’s office.

Buck resigned from Suthers' U.S. Attorney’s office [Suthers took over for Strickland] after receiving the reprimand and fulfilling ethics course requirements.

State Senator Shawn Mitchell, Buck's top surrogate, attacked John Suthers, saying that as U.S. Attorney, Suthers "carried water" for Democrats as head of the United States Attorney's office. Mitchell also attacked Jane Norton.

"Ken broke the rules, and the facts speak for themselves," said Jane Norton. "I'm proud to have the support and endorsement of John Suthers -- Ken's former boss. Clearly, Ken Buck has a lot to answer for."

"In this election, it's critical that candidates earn the voters' trust. And I don't need an ethics class to know what's right," continued Norton.

According to the campaign, Jane Norton has never been forced into ethics courses, and she's never been reprimanded by the U.S. Attorney.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What Do American Muslims Think?

As I recently pointed out, many conservatives want to block the building of a mosque near the World Trade Center, largely on the grounds that the mosque would be a beachhead for the eventual establishment of sharia law within the U.S. This is a widespread view that I have read in several conservative outlets, though obviously many conservatives would reject such claims. I argued that the mosque should be allowed on the basis of property rights.

I thought it would be useful for conservatives (and the rest of us) to hear what American Muslims say in response to such conservative claims. So I asked a prominent Colorado Muslim who is active in political circles (and whom I've briefly met). In a reply that struck me as shooting the messenger, he said that I am ignorant, my questions are offensive, and therefore he will not answer them. Yet it seems to me that, if American Muslims believe they are widely misunderstood in the culture, a good way to address that would be to join the dialog.

I could expand the questions. What do American Muslims think about sharia law in the Middle East and in select regions of Europe? What do American Muslims think about Ahmadinejad's oppressive regime in Iran, and what do they think about the student protesters there? What do American Muslims think about the rights of homosexuals? What do American Muslims think about those who (like a student at the University of California, San Diego) call for the obliteration of Israel? What do they think about Faisal Shahzad's attempted bombing in New York and the Islamic death threats against the South Park creators?

Perhaps others will comment about what they take to be typical Muslim American views on such matters, or link to more detailed survey results.

In the meantime, I pulled up a 2008 report from Pew, "Portrait of Muslims [in the U.S.] -- Beliefs and Practices." While the report does not offer findings on the substantive matters I've described, it does offer some interesting tidbits.

While 82 percent of Muslims profess to believe in God with absolute certainty, five percent "do not believe in God." Nine percent said their religion is not very or "at all important" to them. Thus, at least some Muslims treat their religion as more of a cultural affiliation than a belief system.

While 40 percent of American Muslims attend religious services at least once a week, 34 percent attend services seldom or never. While 71 percent pray daily, 16 percent pray seldom or never.

Half of American Muslims think the Koran is the literally true word of God, 36 percent think it's the word of God "but not literally true word for word," and eight percent think it's "written by men, not the word of God."

Interestingly, 60 percent of U.S. Muslims said "there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion," and 56 percent said "many religions can lead to eternal life."

While these findings do not reveal particular, substantive views, they do indicate (as one would expect) that American Muslims tend to be relatively liberal and pluralistic with respect to religion.

While practically all Americans have an opportunity to regularly and intimately interact with Christians, fewer have such an opportunity with Muslims, due simply to the demographics of the nation. If American Muslims wish to be better understood, I can think of no better way to accomplish that than for them to publicly articulate their views.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Let Them Build the Mosque

I oppose Islam for the same basic reason I oppose all religion: supernaturalism is false, and people ought not believe things that are false. In today's world, Islam is a particularly destructive force, in many sectors sanctioning the abuse of women, totalitarianism, mass murder, and terrorism. Thankfully, Islam also has a more enlightened, Aristotelian tradition, and in the modern world at least some Muslims promote political and religious freedom and peace among nations.

I absolutely endorse freedom of conscience, which entails freedom of religion. I may disagree with your views on religion, politics, or whatever else, but, so long as you peacefully advocate those views, I will fight for your right to do so. As Ayn Rand eloquently argued, property rights are an integral aspect of any right; one cannot speak if forbidden to use one's pen, voice, or printing press, and one cannot freely practice religion if one cannot build a suitable meeting facility using one's own property and resources, or rent a facility from a consenting provider.

The implications of this seem pretty clear: individuals and voluntary organizations have the right to build religious structures on their own property, using their own resources, regardless of what anyone thinks about it, provided the religious practitioners do not violate anyone's rights in the process. Christians have the right to build Christian churches in Muslim neighborhoods. Atheists have the right to build centers in religious communities. Satanists have the right to build a church near a cathedral in a Catholic country. And Muslims have the right to build mosques even when some of the neighbors take offense. It's called freedom.

In fact, Muslims plan to build a mosque near the World Trade Center, as USA Today reports. (Trey Givens points out the proposed site is a couple blocks away from the WTC.) Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, said the purpose of the facility is to amplify "the voices of the mainstream and silent majority of Muslims" and "be part of the rebuilding of downtown Manhattan." A local supporter added, "This is a tremendous gesture to show that we're [Muslims] not all full of hatred and bigotry."

Naturally, others strongly oppose the idea, seeing it as insensitive and a statement of Islamic victory over the West. And of course people have the right to express their views on either side.

What people do not have the right to do (using "right" in its fundamental sense as the standard of a society's laws) is forcibly block the building of a religious structure on private property. (As the USA Today article points out, the developers in fact own the building.)

While a number of people (including a few I respect) have argued that the mosque should be legally blocked, I do not find any of their arguments persuasive. Let us consider them.

Gotham Resistance claims that forbidding the mosque would preserve "decency, fairness, and the American way of life" and strike a blow against "radical Islam and political correctness." Yet, if we take the First Amendment seriously, then decency, fairness, and the American way of life means protecting religious liberty. If by "radical Islam" we mean violent Islam, then obviously the government should protect U.S. citizens from that. But I have seen no evidence that the building of the mosque will be a violent activity. People have the right to nonviolently practice Islam and political correctness.

Certainly the fact that some Americans are offended by the building of a mosque near the World Trade Center is no good reason to prohibit the mosque. Similarly, the fact that many Muslims are offended by images of Mohammed is no good reason to prohibit such images, and I participated in Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.

Over at the eclectically conservative Townhall, John Hawkins essentially argues that everybody's rights properly are subject to majority rule or nationalistic concerns. Hawkins argues that rights are not absolute; for instance, the First Amendment protects neither protests at funerals nor the burning of the American flag at a protest. But he is wrong. Americans have every right to protest whatever event they see fit, though the right of free speech does not imply that one may interfere with somebody else's use of private property or sanctioned use of public property. Thus, a protest that physically disrupts a funeral is the practice of violence, not free speech. Likewise, while one does not have a right to burn somebody else's flag, one has the right to treat one's own property at one's discretion (in consonance with others' rights).

If the right of free speech may be curtailed because the target of a protest might be offended, then there is no such thing as free speech. For instance, Christians could be forcibly prohibited from protesting abortion clinics because the owners and patrons of the clinic take offense.

Hawkins continues, "For other Muslims to try to benefit from that act [the destruction of the World Trade Center] by building a mosque on that spot is insensitive, disgusting, and utterly vile." I am not persuaded that the Muslims involved in the project intend to benefit from the destruction of the WTC. Whether or not they do, Americans have the right to do things with their own property and resources that others regard as "insensitive, disgusting, and utterly vile." (If that weren't the case, then Townhall also could be outlawed.)

Hawkins further argues, "Traditionally, Islam has built mosques on historical sites as a sign of conquest." The New York mosque will be named Cordoba House, according to Hawkins and others in honor of the mosque build in Spain that heralded the Islamist takeover of that nation. Moreover, the building of the mosque will encourage "radical Islam" overseas.

If there is real evidence that the builders of the mosque actively plan to forcibly overthrow the United States government or harm its citizens, then they should be prosecuted and imprisoned by the government. I have seen no such evidence.

If we are merely talking about some symbolic statement, then obviously Christian churches, "traditionally," have signified something very similar. (Try asking Central American Indians.) Free speech protects the right to make symbolic statements.

In fact, many Christian churches in the United States preach the conformity of U.S. law to Biblical law. Should all of those churches also be forcibly shut down?

It is true that the U.S. government has made only a pathetic, self-defeating effort to destroy America's enemies abroad. But the notion that the way to solve this problem is by domestic property restrictions is laughable.

Hawkins makes one final argument: regions of Europe have fallen to Sharia law, where local ruling Muslims act in defiance of regional law and blatantly violate the rights of locals. This I do not doubt. The U.S. government (in concert with local governments) should protect everyone in the country from violence and threats of violence. But violating property rights is neither an effective nor a just way to prevent the forcible imposition of Sharia law.

Hawkins's arguments illustrate that the opponents of the mosque wish to use their activism against the mosque as a proxy for fighting violent Islamists, a ridiculous approach. The way to fight violent Islam is to fight violent Islam, not restrict the property rights of apparently peaceful Muslims.

Another argument made against the mosque is that, allegedly, "the president of the Cordoba Initiative, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf calls for sharia law in America." Moreover, Rauf's father "was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood." (I have not independently verified these claims.)

Let us grant that, in America, we do not punish children for the sins of their fathers.

Do the organizers of the New York mosque in fact actively conspire to violate the rights of people within the United States? If the answer is yes, then the government should investigate and prosecute them. If the answer is no, then violating their property rights is unjust, unpractical, and frankly unAmerican.

A final argument I have heard is that we do not know who is funding the mosque, and perhaps at least some of the funding is coming from Saudi Arabia, money that could be tied to terrorist organizations. Again, the way to solve such a problem is NOT to restrict the property rights of people within the U.S. The fundamental question is this: why do international terrorist organizations continue to threaten the United States? Does anyone seriously think that restricting New York property will strike a blow against international terrorists?

If the organizers of the New York mosque were willfully tied to terrorist organizations, then that would be a matter for government action. I have seen no evidence that that is the case. If they unknowingly and indirectly receive funds with ties to terrorist organizations, then the appropriate response by the government is to destroy the terrorist network, seize the network's assets, and thereby prevent the transfer of those funds. But then the New York Muslims should be free to continue building their mosque and to seek funds from other sources.

I fully support public education efforts and peaceful protests to make known the dangers of violent Islam. If the property were mine, certainly no mosque would be built there. But the property isn't mine. And, here in America, we defend rights of speech, religion, and property.

Frankly, the campaign to forcibly shut down the mosque reeks of scapegoating. Consider this incident (via Salon) reported by a New Jersey columnist regarding an anti-mosque rally:

At one point, a portion of the crowd menacingly surrounded two Egyptian men who were speaking Arabic and were thought to be Muslims.

"Go home," several shouted from the crowd.

"Get out," others shouted.

In fact, the two men – Joseph Nassralla and Karam El Masry — were not Muslims at all. They turned out to be Egyptian Coptic Christians who work for a California-based Christian satellite TV station called "The Way." Both said they had come to protest the mosque.

"I'm a Christian," Nassralla shouted to the crowd, his eyes bulging and beads of sweat rolling down his face.

But it was no use. The protesters had become so angry at what they thought were Muslims that New York City police officers had to rush in and pull Nassralla and El Masry to safety.


Is this the sort of behavior that Americans now sanction?

In her post on the matter, Diana Hsieh makes clear the horrific consequences of violating people's rights based on their religious convictions:

People should not be judged guilty by the law and stripped of their rights just because they accept or advocate certain ideas. A person has the right to hold whatever beliefs he pleases -- however wrong -- provided that he does not attempt to force them on others. He has the right to practice the religion of his choosing, so long as he does so without violating the rights of others.

Even in times of war, a government cannot justly treat all immigrants from the enemy's country or all adherents of the enemy's religion as enemies. To strip a person of his rights to life, liberty, or property without some concrete evidence of his sympathy for or assistance to the enemy is to punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty. It's pure collectivism. ...

If, without any known terrorist or criminal connections, the government need not respect the property rights of the Muslims seeking to build this mosque, then why respect the property rights of any Muslims? Can the government prevent the building of mosques elsewhere? Can it destroy existing mosques? Can it seize the home of Muslims? Can it shut down Islamic web sites, even if unconcerned with the infidel? Can it ban Muslims from advocating their religion? Can it imprison Muslim leaders? Can it intern Muslims in camps? Can it execute people for refusing to renounce Islam? ...

Personally, I regard the principles underlying the call to ignore the property rights of these Muslims as a major threat to my liberty. Suppose that Muslims are stripped of their rights and shipped off to the gulag. Do you imagine that our government -- statist behemoth that it is -- wouldn't use those same powers to silence other critics?


If anyone has evidence that the organizers of the New York mosque are involved in some criminal conspiracy or terrorist network, then let them bring forth the evidence. (If such evidence existed, the appropriate response hardly would be merely to restrict the property rights of the parties.) Otherwise, the property owners have the right to build whatever they wish on their property, regardless of who may take offense.

What is wrong with violent Islam is that it violates individual rights. It cannot be fought through additional violations of individual rights. If we wish to defeat violent Islam and its ideals, we must first commit ourselves fully to the protection of rights.

June 27 Update: My analysis basically lines up with that of Steve Simpson and Jim Woods. For the contrary view, listen to Leonard Peikoff's (pre-dated) June 28 podcast. I stress here that the underlying agreement among all those commentators is that the U.S. should in fact bring a real war to the nation's enemies, the state sponsors of Islamist terror. However, I continue to press two points: first, if such a war were brought, then the mosque near the World Trade Center would be an utterly moot point, and, second, giving the Obama administration the power to bomb American properties (as Peikoff suggests) strikes me as extremely horrifying.

June 28 Update: Diana Hsieh responds to Peikoff's podcast:

[T]he fact remains that our government is not at war with our Islamic enemies, not in any real sense. ... As a result of that failure, the actions of the government toward those enemies are limited. For example, our government cannot prosecute imams for treason when they give aid and comfort to enemy terrorist groups like Hamas. ...

The solution is not to pretend as if war has been declared -- and thereby empower the government to violate people's rights willy-nilly. The solution is not to eliminate the few remaining limits on government power that protect our capacity to speak freely. The solution is press hard for a proper war -- a war against our true enemies, a war fought purely on the basis of American self-interest. ...


I have also posted five questions for those who want to forcibly block the mosque.

June 28 Update: Paul Hsieh has posted excellent commentary about the nature of the debate.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Quiche Bowls and Microwaves

My purpose here is two-fold: to briefly discuss the alleged harms of microwave cooking, and to mention oven-baked quiche bowls.

After writing about microwave egg bowls, several people claimed that cooking by microwave is unhealthy because of the way it modifies foods. While I remain open to evidence demonstrating some harm of microwave cooking, to date I have seen not a shred of evidence to suggest that microwaves are in any way unhealthy.

Note that evidence does NOT consist of parroting some other web page on the matter which itself relies on overblown and unsubstantiated claims.

Also recall that Franz Mesmer made some superficially plausible-sounding claims regarding magnetic health treatments -- claims that turned out to be complete crap. (That hasn't stopped various companies from continuing to sell magnetic underwear and such, which is comparable to snake oil.)

I have also read that cooking itself harms food and is therefore unhealthy; see the "raw food" movement. I do not doubt that microwaves alter foods, as does any sort of cooking; what I doubt is that microwave cooking alters foods in ways significantly differently than the ways that regular cooking does, and that cooking itself is harmful. (Obviously certain types of cooking, such as charring meat over an open, smokey fire can introduce carcinogens.) Rather, I am persuaded that cooking actually makes many foods more healthy for human consumption, and that humans evolved while cooking with fire.

Readers are welcome to point to actual evidence testing claims about microwave healthiness. However, I will not publish comments that merely cite other unsubstantiated claims.

Nevertheless, obviously there are many ways to cook foods other than by microwave, and different techniques provide better results for different dishes.

This morning, I cooked quiche bowls for my wife and me in the oven:

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My bowl consisted of two eggs, some milk, a quarter of a diced red pepper, some sausage (which my wife skipped), and a slice of swiss cheese. The bowls cooked to perfection in 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. We used our regular, oven-safe ceramic bowls.

There are several advantages to cooking a bowl of eggs in the oven rather than in the microwave. I like the texture better. One can cook several bowls at the same time. There is no need to stir the contents during cooking, as is necessary with a microwave. I like bowls rather than one large quiche because they cook faster, and different eaters can add different ingredients. And the clean-up is trivial. We ate our breakfast straight from the bowls resting on coasters; the bowls would be too hot for children.

I will probably start cooking eggs more often this way, because they are healthy, good, and easy. So there are definitely reasons to choose some cooking methods over others for different dishes. Overblown, unscientific fear mongering is not among those reasons.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Past Time to Privatize the Post Office

Somebody at the United States Post Office returned six DVDs I had burned and tried to mail to family members (containing a video of an important family event), over a few cents each in alleged "postage due."

Apparently, the Post Office believes it is rolling in so much money that it can afford treat its customers like crap.

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My six mailers each consisted of a single DVD sealed in a standard DVD mailer. Because I had previously had a postal employee affix postage to exactly such a mailer, I was under the impression that the correct postage consists of a first class stamp plus a postcard stamp. I went to the Post Office specifically to determine the correct postage for such a mailer. Therefore, that is the postage I affixed (except that for three mailers I added an extra cent by combining an older postcard stamp with a two-cent stamp). The reason I used regular stamps was so that my wife could drop off the mailers in a pickup box, because I did not want to make a special trip to a Post Office center for the purpose. (Nor did I want to buy my own meter and deal with that hassle.)

I have mailed the exact same type of mailer, with the exact same postage, several times before without incident. One oddity is that the 81 cents requested per piece (a 44 cent stamp plus a 28 cent stamp plus nine cents alleged postage due) does not obviously match any figure on USPS's rate chart.

Apparently, either the postal employee with whom I previously dealt gave me the wrong information, the Post Office has changed its rate structure in some baffling and unpredictable way, or there is some subtle difference in the mailer of which I was unaware. (Perhaps the problem is that my mailer envelopes are six-inch squares.)

Obviously I have no problem paying the extra eight or nice cents per mailer, a trivial amount. The problem is that paying the requested fee would cost me several dollars worth of my time. It would nearly cost me that much in gas money simply to fire up my vehicle to make the trip.

The Post Office should be privatized. That is, it should be freed from federal controls and imposed costs (such as franking), cut off from all possible subsidies, and placed in free competition by ending its legal monopoly on first-class mail. I do not know whether postal rates would go up or down in such a scenario, but I do know that rates would better reflect market conditions, encourage greater efficiency on the part of the Post Office and its customers and competitors, and offer customers more value for their money.

For example, I seriously doubt that a competitive postal service would ask me to burn several dollars worth of my time and gas in order to pay a trivial amount of alleged postage due. What might a competitive postal service do instead? For starters, it would create rate structures easy to understand and follow, to minimize the need to visit a clerk in person. It would also take common-sense steps to make customers happy, the way that most other competitive businesses do. For example, a competitive postal service might send me a post card or email alert regarding my postage due, and offer me a quick and easy way to pay it, rather than waste my time and delay my mailers by several days.

Because postal rates are so baffling and unpredictable, because lines at the Post Office are often so long, because there is no Post Office convenient for me to visit, and because postal employees sometimes fail to ensure customer satisfaction, I am going to take every reasonable step to avoid doing business with the United States Post Office, until such time as that entity is transformed into a competitive enterprise. Here are some examples of how I'll accomplish that:

* Rather than send discs through the mail, I will increasingly use online services such as You Send It, a company I paid $8.99 to transfer the family movie to all its intended recipients, from the comfort and convenience of my own home. (No, I am NOT going to pay the Post Office the extra alleged postage due.)

* My wife and I have been in the habit of mailing by USPS birthday cards every month, on the theory that there's something special these days about real paper. Whether or not paper is special, I'm going to stop doing that. Instead, I'm going to create digital birthday greetings and send them online.

* I have mailed books via the USPS. I am going to look at other services now, and in the future I will plan to avoid interaction with the USPS altogether. (I also had a book returned to me once, which was more than a mere inconvenience.)

* For all larger packages, I will now look first to services like UPS and FedEx, whereas to date I have gone first to the USPS.

I happily grant that many employees of the USPS do their jobs superbly. However, the political structure of the USPS significantly insulates the company from competition and reduces its employees' incentives to treat customers well. Those who should most strongly advocate the return of postal service to the free market are those postal employees who take the most pride in their work.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why Tea Party Groups Should Not Endorse Candidates

Yesterday "Acmaurerco" argued at the People's Press Collective that "Tea Party organizations should make endorsements." He is wrong. (I don't know who is "Acmaurerco," but I'll refer to the party as "AC" with masculine pronouns.)

Notably, AC completely fails to respond to my previous arguments against Tea Party endorsements. Here I will review and expand them.

Was the Tea Party leadership unanimously elected by the members of the respective organizations? The obvious answer is no. I know of no case in which a Tea Party group even maintains an official membership roster. I do not know how Tea Party leaders came to their roles, but I suspect it was through the voting of a relatively small portion of the regional Tea Party movement.

Did the Tea Party leadership gain the consent of every Tea Party member to speak on behalf of every Tea Party member in matters of politics? Again, the obvious answer is no. I am quite confident that many different self-proclaimed Tea Partiers support Ken Buck, Jane Norton, Scott McInnis, and Dan Maes (the four major Republican candidates running in Colorado for U.S. Senate and governor).

So my first basic argument is that it is immoral and deceitful to claim to speak for others without their consent, and that is exactly what happens when proclaimed leaders of the Tea Party groups endorse some particular candidate on behalf of the group. I do not believe that Tea Party leaders ultimately advance their ideas or their movement by acting immorally and deceitfully. Instead, what they do is alienate not only many current and potential Tea Partiers but much of the public.

Many Americans are hungry for the ideas of liberty, not the same old petty and unprincipled party squabbling.

My second basic argument is this: there is no principled candidate in any of the large races in Colorado. Many Tea Partiers favor Maes over McInnis. But the simple fact is that both Maes and McInnis are unprincipled, pragmatic populists. Consider, for example, Maes's flip-flopping on guns and abortion. What, then, has been the basis for Tea Party endorsements? Generally those endorsements are rooted in anti-establishment sentiments, not in any careful comparison of how fully the candidates endorse liberty.

The subsidiary problem is that the Tea Parties hardly advocate a consistent ideology supportive of liberty. Instead, the Tea Parties advocate a mish-mash of free markets with statist controls and welfare transfers. To take but two examples, consider how many Tea Partiers advocate economic protectionism regarding immigration policy, or how many (including Rand Paul) endorse police-state abortion controls. Operating from such an ideological hash, Tea Party leaders cannot help but to endorse candidates based on superficial traits.

Let us, then, consider AC's arguments for why Tea Party leaders should endorse candidates. AC claims that the Tea Party movement is "more like an interest group or a civic group" like the "Elks or Moose, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Rotary Club, the VFW, the NRA." I don't think the Elks, the Boy Scouts, or the VFW endorse candidates for political office. The only group in that list that I think endorses candidates is the National Rifle Association. To take a comparable example, here in Colorado Rocky Mountain Gun Owners endorses candidates.

But let us consider the important differences between the Tea Party movement and the NRA and RMGO. The basic way one becomes an active member of the NRA or of RMGO is to pay those organizations an annual fee. Obviously that is not remotely how Tea Party groups work. Instead, basically if you say "I'm a Tea Partier," you're a part of the group. Moreover, when RMGO endorses a candidate, it is abundantly obvious that RMGO is not claiming to speak for every gun owner in Colorado or even every paid member of RMGO. Instead, an RMGO endorsement obviously means, "I, Dudley Brown, founder of RMGO, prefer candidate X over candidate Y, and I am prepared to spend some portion of my group's resources promoting my favored candidate among those who I think will respond positively to such promotion." If you disagree, you are free to withhold your funds from RMGO and declare your disagreement.

In the amorphous Tea Party movement, it is simply impossible to so distinguish the voices of the proclaimed leaders from the voices of the members, if the leaders claim to speak for an entire Tea Party group. Now, of course, this says nothing against individuals who happen to be leaders of Tea Party groups independently endorsing and promoting some candidate. But there is a huge difference between saying, "I, Joe Blow, endorse candidate X," and saying, "This entire Tea Party group or movement endorses candidate X." In all cases involving Tea Party groups, such claims for an entire group or the entire movement constitute blatant lies.

AC's next (and only other) argument is that, by promoting particular candidates, Tea Partiers can advance their ideas in the political sphere. With this, I wholly agree. Tea Partiers can and, where they think they can be effective, should endorse and work for the election of particular candidates. But AC confuses the endorsements and efforts of individual Tea Partiers with the endorsements of proclaimed Tea Party leaders made on behalf on an entire group or movement.

As I concluded last time, "we're supposed to be individualists, not collectivists. Let's act like it."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Progress Against Racism

In these days is it easy to focus on the negative. Europe is close to financial ruin, the U.S. debt load threatens to take our nation down the same path, oil continues to pollute the Gulf, and the tyrannical regimes of North Korea and Iran continue to stir up trouble.

And yet we should not lose track of the good news. I expect this year will revolutionize publishing with the rapid rise of multiple ereaders and related technology. The rise of the Tea Party movement illustrates that Americans are rethinking fundamentals as I have never seen before.

Perhaps the greatest long-term success story of our nation is the fight against racism, among the great evils of collectivism. The U.S. Constitution permitted slavery in 1787. Less than a century later, with the end of the Civil War and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, slavery officially was abolished, largely fulfilling the promise of the Declaration of Independence. A century later, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, despite its problems and contradictions, achieved some major advances by equalizing voting laws and outlawing racial discrimination by the government. Less than half of a century later, U.S. voters elected a black president (and, leftist paranoia to the contrary, with extremely rare exception nobody chalks up his Carteresque bungling incompetence to the color of his skin).

In personal terms, my grandfather lived through segregation, and I saw that many of his generation had to make a conscientious effort to overcome racist attitudes. Among my parent's generation -- the '60s generation -- racism was nearly universally reviled. And yet I was struck by a paragraph from today's article by John Podesta and Robert Levy: "Nearly a century after the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that 'marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man."' That 1967 case, Loving v. Virginia, ended bans on interracial marriage in the 16 states that still had such laws." Just a few years before I was born, states legally prohibited interracial marriage!

Of course President Obama may also be described as interracial. I was struck by this recent news account of interracial marriage:

Americans are more likely than ever before to marry outside their race or ethnicity.

Nearly 1 in 7 marriages in 2008 was interracial or interethnic, according to a report released by the Pew Research Center Friday. That’s more than double the intermarriage rate of the 1980s and six times the intermarriage rate of the 1960s.

Also, most Americans say they approve of interracial marriage, with more than 6 in 10 saying they're OK if a family member marries outside his or her group. Thirty-five percent say they already have a family member who is married to someone of a different race or ethnicity.


It is a sign of great progress that, in roughly the span of my lifetime, our nation has gone from overturning laws against interracial marriage to mostly openly accepting it.

Obviously some people continue to hold racial prejudices, and some politicians relish racial strife and economic inequality as a pretext for more political controls, despite the fact that previous political controls largely caused today's problems. Racism remains a live cultural issue. Yet, most of the time, most people don't even think about race.

We needn't make light of today's problems, including residual problems of racism, to recognize how far we've come in fulfilling the promise: "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Notably, the progress against racism has come, not from the "progressive" infatuation with group rights and collectivistic politics, but from the individualist regard for the rights, liberties, and character of each person.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How To Use Lists On Facebook

I've started using lists extensively on Facebook, a practice that has totally changed the way I use the service and made it much more useful to me. I had a request to explain how to use lists, so I figured I'd write up my notes for all comers. (By the way, I learned this from my friend Keith, who is a social media guru.)

When you sign in to Facebook, you should be at the "Home" page. In the upper right corner, you'll find an "Account" menu. Go to "Edit Friends." Now go to either "All Connections" or "Recently Added." At the top you'll find a button for "Create New List." Name your list. (I created a "personal" and "professional" list.) Now you can add individual "friends" to whatever lists you want and have created.

Now return "Home." Type your message in the box under "News Feed." Beneath that box, you will find a pull-down menu. My menu shows a padlock, because I've set my settings to send messages to "Friends Only." Anyway, in that pull-down menu you can "Customize" who receives your message. You can "Specify People" -- including lists -- to receive a message. You can also hide a message from particular people or lists.

You can also limit your reading to a particular list. From the "Home" page, click "Friends," and then a sub-menu should appear with your lists.

Though relatively simple to set up, lists can provide a powerful way to sort your Facebook messages and reading. Before I learned about lists, my usual strategy was to "unfriend" just about everybody, and I was seriously contemplating pulling the plug on Facebook altogether. (I like Twitter much more.) Now, with lists, I almost like Facebook again, and it is actually useful to me.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Romanoff Speaks!

You know it's bad when Mike Littwin of the Denver Post is giving the Democrats hell. On May 30, Littwin asked, "Was he [Andrew Romanoff], in fact, offered a job by the Obama administration to try to keep him out of a primary race with [U.S. Senator] Michael Bennet?" At the time, the Romanoff camp had no comment. (Romanoff is in fact running against Bennet.)

What a difference a little Associated Press story makes. In a June 2 story, the AP cited an anonymous source claiming that the Obama administration had indeed offered a potential job to Romanoff. Just a few hours later Romanoff issued his own statement on the matter (prompting the AP to update its story).

The Post links to the email from Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina that Romanoff released. (See also the story from 9News and the Coloradoan.)

Here is Romanoff's own statement, as released by Roy Teicher:

For immediate release:

Today, U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff issued the following statement:

I have received a large number of press inquiries concerning the role the White House is reported to have played in my decision to run for the U.S. Senate. I have declined comment because I did not want – and do not want – to politicize this matter.

A great deal of misinformation has filled the void in the meantime. That does not serve the public interest or any useful purpose.

Here are the facts:

In September 2009, shortly after the news media first reported my plans to run for the Senate, I received a call from Jim Messina, the President’s deputy chief of staff. Mr. Messina informed me that the White House would support Sen. Bennet. I informed Mr. Messina that I had made my decision to run.

Mr. Messina also suggested three positions that might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race. He added that he could not guarantee my appointment to any of these positions. At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina’s assistance in obtaining one.

Later that day, I received an email from Mr. Messina containing descriptions of three positions (email attached). I left him a voicemail informing him that I would not change course.

I have not spoken with Mr. Messina, nor have I discussed this matter with anyone else in the White House, since then.

About Andrew Romanoff:
Elected to four terms in the Colorado legislature, Andrew Romanoff was Speaker of the House from 2005 to 2009. He led the Democrats to their first back-to-back majorities in more than 40 years. His leadership earned national recognition, including Governing magazine’s top honor as Public Official of the Year.


Or, to put the matter more bluntly, the White House bribed Romanoff to drop out of the Senate race.

What is the political fallout from this? Though Romanoff is blameless in the matter -- other than hiding the facts until he had been smoked out by the AP -- I think this probably sinks his campaign. He is now hopelessly tainted by Obama's slimy politics. And now it seems like he was trying to hide the facts from the voters until he could no longer contain those facts.

And that is truly unfortunate for the Democratic Party, not only in Colorado but nationally. I simply do not know what Governor Bill Ritter was thinking, repeatedly shafting the most able and intelligent Democratic politician in the state. (It was Ritter who not only foolishly appointed Bennet to the Senate, but locked Romanoff out of the Secretary of State position in order to promote a no-account loser from Mesa County.) Democratic leaders all but destroyed Andrew Romanoff's political career -- and in the process they probably also destroyed their chances to hold on to the Senate seat.

Obviously this affair further undermines the credibility of the Obama administration. Somehow, I don't think many Coloradans will appreciate the Obama administration offering up tax-subsidized positions to interfere with Colorado politics. It turns out that we don't need Obama's "help" to select a Senator to represent us in Congress. Last time I checked, Illinois already has two Senators of its own.

Perhaps the biggest loser in all of this, however, is Senator Bennet. Who can now argue that he is not thoroughly Obama's (shall we say for sake of politeness) man? This affair may take Romanoff out of the race, but I suspect it will also irreparably damage Bennet's chances. If I were either of the Republican candidates preparing to face Bennet, I'd be salivating over this story. I didn't think Bennet had a chance before this broke; now I think he's totally sunk. (It would be ironic if Democratic primary voters agreed with my assessment and for that reason went with Romanoff, after all.)

That is, the Democrats are sunk unless the Republican candidate runs such a disastrous campaign that even Bennet looks good by comparison. If the Republican candidates keep chaining anchors like Amendment 62 around their necks, they could sink themselves faster than Obama is sinking Bennet.

It remains an interesting political year. Many of us can only clench our jaws and wonder what's next.

June 3 Update: As the Denver Post reports, some Republicans are calling for a formal probe of the matter. I don't know the legalities of the issue well enough to know whether that conceivably could be warranted, but offhand it strikes me as Republican posturing.

There is another issue that strikes me as more interesting. The White House Press Secretary points out that "Romanoff applied for a position at USAID during the Presidential transition." While this detail does not change the essentials of the issue, it does make Romanoff look even worse, as he neglected to mention the fact in his own statement. The Post carries the full statement:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 3, 2010

STATEMENT FROM THE PRESS SECRETARY ON COLORADO SENATE RACE

Andrew Romanoff applied for a position at USAID during the Presidential transition. He filed this application through the Transition on-line process. After the new administration took office, he followed up by phone with White House personnel.

Jim Messina called and emailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the US Senate. Months earlier, the President had endorsed Senator Michael Bennet for the Colorado seat, and Messina wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters.

But Romanoff said that he was committed to the Senate race and no longer interested in working for the Administration, and that ended the discussion. As Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Freezers, Crockpots, and Microwave Egg Bowls

Since adopting a more "paleo" type of diet (real food, plenty of meat and eggs, fewer carbs, very little grain), I've found three machines particularly useful: my freezer, my crockpot, and my microwave.

I bought a five cubic-foot freezer at Sears for around $130. It's a half-size top-loader. This enabled my wife and me to purchase half of a grass-fed cow for just over five dollars per pound. I've also purchased bacon, fruit, and other meats on sale, then frozen them. The cost savings for food far surpasses the cost of the freezer and the electricity to run it.

We bought a crockpot at Sears for about twenty bucks. I was unsure whether I'd really use it much, but I use it often and love it. Here is a photograph of ($2 per pound) chicken breasts cooked in the pot with a jar of salsa, then shredded:

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Last night we oven-baked a sliced onion with olive oil and salt, which went great with the chicken. Tonight we'll probably eat it with guacamole and sour cream.

I've also used the crockpot to cook several pounds of bacon pieces, beans (not very "paleo" but at least very well soaked), whole chickens, and soup. The removable ceramic bowl is very easy to clean, and I love the fact that I can just plop the food in and leave it for hours at a time.

The third machine is more widely used by Americans: the microwave. I use it often to cook eggs (as I've mentioned). A single egg in a ceramic bowl cooks to perfection in about 45 seconds. More often I make "egg bowls." Typically I microwave a couple of frozen one-inch cubes of vegetable puree (usually cauliflower with spinach or broccoli) for a minute by themselves. Then I add precooked sausage (or bacon or whatever) and two eggs, then microwave at short intervals (30 seconds to a minute), stirring in between, until it's done. Add cheese if you want. Not only do I love the results, but the egg bowls are extremely easy to make and clean up. Here are a couple of pictures:

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To me, freezing good food, then cooking food in modern appliances, represents the perfect marriage of wisdom from the ancient past with modern technological sophistication.