Monday, March 23, 2009

The "Silent" Ninth Amendment

Daniel Farber discusses the Ninth Amendment in Retained By the People: The "Silent" Ninth Amendment and the Constitutional Rights Americans Don't Know They Have.

The Bill of Rights ensures all Americans free speech, the right to trial by jury, and many other important rights. Do additional rights exist, and is the government obliged to recognize them? Is there a right to privacy? To engage in homosexual acts? To marry? Legal scholar Daniel Farber says the express purpose of the Ninth Amendment was to recognize "unenumerated" rights such as these. Yet this amendment has never been the basis for a Supreme Court decision.

Simply put, the Ninth states that human rights precede government. The law does not grant these rights and therefore has no authority to take them away. Advocates of "original intent" who demand that the courts recognize only the limited set of rights explicitly listed in the constitution are in fact advocating the opposite of what the Framers intended - they had the foresight to realize they could not possibly anticipate every issue that might arise or what values their descendants would find worthy of protection.

Providing critical new support for controversial Supreme Court decisions dealing with abortion, homosexuality, and the right to travel between states, Farber's view doesn't neatly track any political agenda, including his own, making his conclusions challenging for both liberals and conservative. About 45 minutes.

The Conflict Between Faith and Reason

Believing the Unbelievable: The Clash Between Faith and Reason in the Modern World with Sam Harris speaking at the 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival.

Some of the most inspired and provocative thinkers, writers, artists, business people, teachers and other leaders drawn from myriad fields and from across the country and around the world all gathered in a single place - to teach, speak, lead, question, and answer at the 2006 Aspen Ideas Festival. Throughout the week, they all interacted with an audience of thoughtful people who stepped back from their day-to-day routines to delve deeply into a world of ideas, thought, and discussion.

Iraq End Game with Ivan Eland and David Henderson.

A recurring question found in most public opinion polls and on the 2008 presidential campaign trail: What will be the end-game for the U.S. in Iraq? How will U.S. decisions about continued engagement affect Iraq itself, and the Middle East? About 80 minutes.

Thomas Sowell on Economics

Peter Robinson speaks with Thomas Sowell about his new book Economic Facts and Fallacies in which Sowell exposes some of the most popular fallacies about economic issues.

Sowell takes on the conventional thinking on a wide swath of America's economic life, from male-female economic differences to income stagnation, executive pay, and social mobility to economics of higher education. In all cases he demonstrates how economics relates to the social issues that deeply affect our country. About 30 minutes.

The Cult of the Presidency

Author Gene Healy on The Bipartisan Romance with the Imperial Presidency.

Gene Healy, author of The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, discusses how the role of the President has changed from the vision of the Framers of the Constitution and the obstacles to returning it to its narrow, constitutional function. About 45 minutes.

Protecting Private Property

Richard Epstein on Supreme Neglect: How to Revive the Constitutional Protection for Private Property.

Law Professor and Hoover Fellow Richard Epstein discusses how modern constitutional law regarding private property rights differs from traditional common law practices dating back hundreds of years - laws which the framers of the Constitution based their philosophy on government's jurisdiction over private property. About 45 minutes.

The Really Inconvenient Truths

Iain Murray talks about his book The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Don't Want You to Know About--Because They Helped Cause Them. (Available from Laissez Faire Books, 1 866-686-78210.

In his book Mr. Murray recounts instances where the policies of liberal environmentalists have harmed the environment and where the free-enterprise private-property policies of conservatives can provide solutions.

The Coming Century of Liberty

A key figure in the libertarian movement, David Boaz surveys what he sees as the threats to freedom from the Bush administration and the current presidential candidates.

Though he is frustrated with many of the candidates' positions, he remains optimistic about the future of civil and economic liberties.

But he says that the future of freedom requires that Americans devote considerable effort to preserving and protecting these rights. About 67 minutes.

Marriage Equality and Proposition 8

Proposition 8 would change the California State Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry.

In this emotion-laden issue, supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage are grappling with whether amending the constitution to strip rights from some Californians is wise policy.

What is the impact on families and society as a whole? About one hour.

Thomas Sowell: A Conflict of Visions

Thomas Sowell describes the critical differences between interests and visions. Interests, he says, are articulated by people who know what their interests are and what they want to do about them. Visions, however, are the implicit assumptions by which people operate.

In politics, visions are either "constrained" or "unconstrained." A closer look at the statements of both McCain and Obama reveals which "vision" motivates their policy positions, particularly as they pertain to the war, the law, and economics. About 40 minutes.

Too many laws?

In recent years British society has become increasingly litigious. Both the government and the public increasingly turn to the law to resolve problems.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has beaten even his predecessor’s record, introducing 2,823 new laws during his first year in office.

This is the highest record for law-making by anyone at Number 10, and 40% higher than the annual average created by Margaret Thatcher. Meanwhile, disputes between neighbours, and often trivial harassment cases, are increasingly likely to come to court.

This legalistic approach to social and political problems is causing disquiet, however. Critics question whether fines or imprisonment are always the answer to interpersonal problems.

Questions are being raised about the impact new laws are having on British justice, and the individuals’ relationship to the state and to each other. The use of the law for political ends is also said to be corrupting the criminal justice system, with the abolition of double jeopardy (so that the accused can now be tried twice), proposals to increase the detention without trial of terrorist suspects to 42 days and the rise of race and religious hate laws.

A drive to increase the conviction rate in cases such as rape, the increased prominence of the victim in harassment law and the trial process are also attracting criticism as well as support.

Are we overburdening the law with social and political problems, and undermining it in the process? About one hour.

What To Do About Climate Change.

A Cato Institute Capitol Hill Briefing featuring Indur Goklany, author of The Improving State of the World and a new Cato study, "What to Do about Climate Change," and delegate to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Patrick J. Michaels, Senior Fellow in Environmental Studies, Cato Institute, and contributing author and reviewer of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. About 45 minutes.

Dustin Black on Harvey Milk

While in college in the mid-90's, Dustin Lance Black first viewed Rob Epstein's documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. He thought, "I just want to do something with this, why hasn't someone done something with this?"

A chance introduction to the late supervisor's former aide and disciple Cleve Jones brought Black into the circle of Milk's political family where he met with another of Milk's former aides, Anne Kronenberg, as well as former San Francisco Mayor, Art Agnos.
It was then he began to write a feature film screenplay encompassing the events of Milk's life.

Mr. Black grew up in a Mormon household in San Antonio, Texas. In 2000, he wrote and directed The Journey of Jared Price, a romance film, and Something Close to Heaven, a coming-of-age short film.

In 2001, he directed and was a subject in the documentary On the Bus about a Nevada road trip taken by six gay men. In 2006 he was hired as the only Mormon writer on the HBO drama series Big Love which is set in Salt Lake City and explores the life of a Mormon polygamous family.

Covers Prop 8, same-sex marriage and similar issues.

Medicinal Marijuana and Minors

Should medical marijuana be kept from minors at all costs? Why is it that pharmacists can dispense amphetamines without getting busted, but legal operators who dispense medical marijuana face prison time? Why do armed federal agents persist in raiding California?

With its sun, surf and small town atmosphere, California's San Luis Obispo County is a good place to grow up. Seventeen-year-old Owen Beck played football and soccer for a local high school, but one day his thoughts abruptly turned away from sports and school. Doctors told Owen he had bone cancer, and would have to begin chemotherapy right away.

The young athlete suffered another blow—doctors would have to amputate his leg to try to keep the cancer from spreading. Chemotherapy attacked Owen's cancer and his body, leaving him bald, gaunt, and vomiting the food he needed to recover. The amputation introduced Owen to a bizarre, new agony called phantom pain, and although doctors gave him powerful medication, nothing helped.

But might a new kind of pharmacy offer new hope? A medical marijuana dispensary had recently opened in the nearby city of Morro Bay. More than a decade earlier, California voters legalized medical marijuana and Morro Bay's mayor and Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the dispensary, and its owner Charlie Lynch.

Owen's parents knew the idea of giving medical marijuana to a 17-year-old strikes many people as scandalous. Local Sheriff Pat Hedges even asserts that allowing medical marijuana is "not in the best interest of a community that prides itself on providing a healthy, family environment."

But the Becks weren't concerned about what other people thought; they were focused on helping their son. So with a written doctor recommendation in hand, they purchased medical marijuana for their teenage son. The new medication eased Owen's pain and nausea like nothing else had, and the Becks grew fond of Charlie Lynch, who would sometimes refuse payment because, says Steve Beck, "He was just a compassionate kind of a guy."

But one day, Owen's life took another abrupt turn. Federal agents and local sheriff deputies raided Charlie Lynch's dispensary, and seized nearly everything inside, including Owen's medicine. "He had a prescription from a doctor at Stanford, and they took his stuff!" says Debbie Beck. Federal agents cuffed Lynch, and put him behind bars. Even though state and local laws allow for it, medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law. And because he had clients like Owen who were under age 21, Charlie Lynch faces heightened penalties. In California the average first-degree murder serves 20 years behind bars; Charlie Lynch could face a sentence as long as 100 years in prison.

Drew Carey for, about 10 minutes.

Mexicans and Machines

Candidates love scaring voters about foreigners who are taking their jobs.

Sometimes the threat comes from China, Japan, or outsourcing to India. Today, it’s NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement—you know, all those Mexicans taking our jobs.

Senator Barack Obama joins the likes of CNN’s Lou Dobbs in decrying NAFTA. So many free trade foes fret about cheap foreign labor, yet they rarely holler about competitors who will work for far less than any foreigner. Politicians don’t pay much attention to it, but—from Terminator to Ice Pirates—Hollywood films have been warning us about humanity’s inevitable war against the machines.

“Now, think about it,” says host Drew Carey. “How are we supposed to compete against something that doesn’t get paid, doesn’t get health insurance, and never goes on breaks?”

Today, we don't need human workers to book our travel, do our banking, or file our taxes. From factory workers to symphony conductors, countless workers are locked in battle with soulless job stealers known as computers, websites, and robots.

“No job is safe from the robot threat!” warns Carey. Of course, the warning is more than a little tongue-in-cheek. There’s no need to take a sledgehammer to a robot, because, although technology shakes up the labor market, it ends up giving us higher living standards as well as more and better job opportunities.

Like technology, trade gives us more good stuff than bad—yet Americans are likely to cheer technology and fear trade. No doubt TV talkers and White House wannabes will keep stoking our fears of foreigners until voters and viewers stop buying it—or until robots snag their jobs, too. Drew Carey for About 8 minutes.

Who needs the nanny state?

Whether you love it, hate it, or have never thought about it, chances are some politician wants to ban it. "Welcome to the Nanny State Nation," says host Drew Carey. "Where the government minds your own business."

Saggy pants, fire places, plastic bags, light bulbs, poker—it's all been banned somewhere. Same with owning swine or fowl, feeding pigeons, owning pit bulls, and chomping on trans fats, a naughty little substance that makes food taste better.

Of course, smoking's been banned in all sorts of places—indoors, outdoors, near doors, beaches, casinos, even private homes. America's smoking ban craze began in California. So many bans start there.

"But is New York City the new California?" asks Carey? Smoking, trans fat, aluminum baseball bats, straddling a bike, wearing in-line skates or drinking coffee on a subway—the Big Apple bans them all.

Even if we don't particularly like something we should be wary of banning it because every ban is backed up by the force of law. Plus, would you want to live in a nation that bans everything that offends someone?

Carey wonders when so many of us turned into "ban-happy busybodies," and compliments the British on their more civilized approach to bans.

Drew Carey for, abour four minutes.

Earmarks: Pork Barrel Politics

Taxpayers are shelling out over $17 billion for more than 11,000 Congressional earmarks in FY 2008. One such project is a $1.6 million earmark in this year’s defense spending bill. The money is going to the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), a program that searches for evidence of life elsewhere in the universe.

That alien pork project is just one example of how elected officials use earmarks to funnel federal tax dollars back to powerful interests in their districts. While politicians and a few of their most well-connected constituents benefit from earmarks, the costs fall on individual taxpayers. Since 1991, Americans have paid over $271 billion for pork projects.

In this new video, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla) - who is known as the Senate's "Dr. No" for his aggressive opposition to earmarks - explains how taxpayers are being fleeced by Washington's insatiable appetite for pork. About 5 minutes.

Corn is for food, Stupid.

Ethanol advocates claim that the biofuel is a cheap, renewable energy source that reduces pollution and our dependence on foreign oil. It sounds too good to be true—and it is.

Ethanol, especially the corn-based variety, is bad for taxpayers, bad for consumers, bad for the environment, and horrible for the world's poor. In fact, even environmentalists are critical of ethanol subsidies these days. The ethanol craze has distorted markets and increased the price of food worldwide. The only people who still support ethanol subsidies are the ethanol producers—and politicians from both sides of the aisle. Together, they make sure the subsidies keep coming.

In a recent interview about the current food crisis, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "If part of our problem is that the Chinese are going to eat meat and you've got to have corn and soybeans to feed the Chinese their meat, then why isn't it just as legitimate for the Chinese to go back and eat rice as it is for us to change our policy on corn to ethanol?"

Let them eat rice? So that American taxpayers can continue to pay people to turn corn into fuel?

Silly senator, corn is for food.

This seven-and-a-half-minute video explores the case against ethanol subsidies. Hosted by reason's Nick Gillespie and featuring Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey, it was produced by Paul Feine and PF Bentley.

Drew Carey takes us on a guided tour of Second Life (SL), a virtual world with more than 500,000 residents.

But SL isn’t your typical virtual world. Unlike other popular massively multiplayer online role-playing games, like EverQuest and World of Warcraft, there are no defined roles or objectives in SL. Just like in real life, SL residents determine their own goals and decide for themselves how best to achieve them. Moreover, virtually everything in SL was created by the residents themselves using tools provided by Linden Lab, the company that launched SL in 2003.

SL is based on a simple set of institutional arrangements that would make F.A. Hayek proud. In essence, the people who own the property in SL make the rules. The result is a spontaneously ordered world in which residents are free to fly, teleport, build, trade and interact with others without interference from the state.

Recently, Linden Lab—the SL equivalent of a state—has begun acting more and more like a real life government by restricting activities such as gambling. But open source competitors based on the SL platform are currently in development. so better virtual worlds offering even more freedom are just around the corner.

A Drew Carey Reason TV episode, about 9 minutes.

Get Some

About half of all "uninsured" are individuals who have the resources to buy health insurance. So why are they portrayed as victims of the health system? About 8 minutes.

Preschool for everyone!

Government schools around the country are failing. Yet there is a new push to give state schools more control over more children for a longer period of their lives. Does universal preschool make sense? With Nick Gillespie, about 10 minutes.

Killer Chic: Hollywood's Obsession with a Killer

Why does Hollywood honor a murderer, a man who promoted authoritarian government and killed anyone who opposed him? Of course, under Che's version of a repressive society there would be no thriving film industry. About 9 minutes, with Nick Gillespie.

Agriculutural Subsidies

Drew Carey for ReasonTV discusses the negative impact of corporate welfare for Big Agriculture. About 8 minutes.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The New Heresies: the battle for free speech.

Alexander Cockburn,
Claire Fox,
Mick Hume,
Arthur Versluis

Battle of Ideas: The New Heresies at the 2007 Battle of Ideas conference hosted by the Institute of Ideas.

'It is the customary fate of new truths,' wrote TH Huxley in 1881, 'to begin as heresies and end as superstitions'. His sentiment is increasingly pertinent today. At the dawn of the 21st century, Western societies have rediscovered the charge of heresy as a means of silencing those who question prevailing cultural orthodoxies. The label of 'denial' - applied with ever-greater promiscuity - expresses the illiberal notion that contentious issues are beyond debate. Healthy heresy - described in more enlightened times as critical thinking, sceptical enquiry, or even free speech - is again being hunted down.

The presence of healthy doubt is being ironed out by a demand for moral certainties, forcing open debate on the back foot. The notion of Holocaust denial, now raised to the status of secular blasphemy, has been revised and adopted for the modern era. The European Union has recently outlawed genocide denial; this means anyone convicted of denying the genocide of the Jews in Europe before and during the Second World War, or the mass killings in Bosnia and Rwanda, will face a prison term ranging from one to three years. Other 'thought-crimes' - whilst not against the law - also invoke the pernicious denial label, most obviously the accusation of 'climate-change denial' attributed to anyone who does not wholeheartedly embrace global warming orthodoxies.

If we stigmatise those who question 'self-evident' truths, how will interrogative debate survive? Will this modern, secular inquisition and the creation of new taboos promote a narrow conformism in public life? At a festival which adopts the slogan - free speech allowed - this final keynote discussion will examine the root causes of such censorious trends, and will investigate possibilities for re-constituting heresy in a more positive light, so that free-thinking can be encouraged rather than policed. About 90 minutes.