Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

28 June 2010

Leonard Peikoff on the NYC Mosque

By Unknown

[Originally written for NoodleFood.]

In his most recent podcast, Leonard Peikoff offers his view of the controversy surrounding the proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York City. I encourage you to listen to his podcast for yourself.

I agree with much that he says, including his view of the threat posed by totalitarian Islam. However, I cannot regard this mosque as an objective threat to the rights of others without concrete evidence of ties to terrorism. For all the reasons outlined in my original post and Steve Simpson's post, I regard Dr. Peikoff's recommendation of stopping the building of the mosque by "any means possible" as wrong. That's a grave threat to my life and liberty, and I cannot support it.

In Dr. Peikoff's commentary, as well as in the recent round of Facebook comments, I've noticed a serious equivocation in the claim of my opponents that "we are at war."

Undoubtedly, the west is in a cultural war with Islam -- a war that most governments, organizations, and people refuse to acknowledge, let alone fight. Undoubtedly, our government should be at war with the states that export totalitarian Islam, pulverizing them into dust if necessary. Nonetheless, the fact remains that our government is not at war with our Islamic enemies, not in any real sense. Our political and military leaders are not willing to declare, let alone fight, a proper war in our self-defense.

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. Yes, that's wrong -- but that's what happens when a government refuses to identify its enemies. Similarly, our government cannot regard the proposed mosque as an enemy outpost, as it might, if we were truly at war.

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.

Until we get that explicit declaration of war against our Islamic enemies, the hands of our government should be tied. That's a frightening prospect, as the Muslim terrorists will take advantage of that weakness. Yet if we loose the hands of Uncle Sam, others with seemingly threatening views will soon be crushed too... and that means you and me. Once that happens, we'll not have a civilization worth saving from the Muslims.

As much as I respect Dr. Peikoff's philosophic judgment, I cannot ignore that risk to my life and limb.


25 June 2010

NYC Mosque: Respect Property Rights

By Unknown

[Originally written for NoodleFood.]

On Facebook, I've been involved in some heated debates on the proposed building of a mosque near the World Trade Center lately. They were spawned by Ed Cline's note in support of conservative Pamela Geller's since-resolved dispute with PayPal. (For the record, I find Geller's use of Playboy'ed Atlas Shrugged images for her conservative politics offensive in more ways than I can count.)

Here's the problem: Geller wants to use the power of the state to prevent the mosque from being built, even though it's private property. That's wrong.

For people to protest the building of the mosque at that site would be entirely proper. (They could write letters to the editor or picket the site, for example.) For the government to investigate the builders of the mosque for any ties to terrorism is likely warranted. (Mere foreign funding is not evidence of terrorist ties though.) However, to forcibly block the construction of the mosque by using unjust laws that violate private property rights is morally wrong, not to mention politically dangerous.

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.

Yet people on that Facebook thread -- including some Objectivists -- claim that we're at war with the religion of Islam per se, that all Muslims are terrorists due to the Koranic command to wage war against the infidel, that to respect the property rights of Muslims would be suicidal, that Muslims should be barred from entering the country, that all Muslims should be treated as suspected terrorists, etc. That shocked me. It's not a view that's consistent with individual rights, nor with Objectivism.

So a few days ago, I briefly stepped into that thread to lend my support to an Objectivist philosopher under attack for arguing that law-abiding Muslims have a right to build what they please on their own property.

Here's what I wrote:

Private property must be respected, even when we find the views and actions of its owners odious, provided that they're not acting to violate rights. Totalitarian Islam is a major threat, but that threat needs to be fought by the military -- by destroying the states that sponsor terrorism -- not by violating private property rights in order to prevent a mosque from being built.

It's standard conservative strategy to use the rights-violating machinery of the state to achieve some (supposedly) noble purpose, rather than working for the kind of fundamental change necessary to eliminate the problem at its root. That fundamental change isn't "practical" or "realistic," conservatives say. It's "pie in the sky" fantasy.

Hence, for example, conservatives advocate "right to work" laws, rather than advocating for repeal of the unjust legislation (like the Wagner Act) that gives unions so much power. Fundamentally, that's because conservatives don't care about liberty, despite their occasional pro-rights rhetoric. They're just in a political struggle with the left: they want power, nothing more.

Ayn Rand, in contrast, always took a principled approach. That's why she opposed "right to work" laws -- and that's why she upheld the rights of communists to speak, provided that they weren't attempting to overthrow the US government. In her "Screen Guide for Americans," Ayn Rand wrote:

"Now a word of warning about the question of free speech. The principle of free speech requires that we do not use police force to forbid the Communists the expression of their ideas--which means that we do not pass laws forbidding them to speak. But the principle of free speech does not require that we furnish the Communists with the means to preach their ideas, and does not imply that we owe them jobs and support to advocate our own destruction at our own expense. The Constitutional guarantee of free speech reads: "Congress shall pass no law..." It does not require employers to be suckers.

"Let the Communists preach what they wish (so long as it remains mere talking) at the expense of those and in the employ of those who share their ideas. Let them create their own motion picture studios, if they can. But let us put an end to their use of our pictures, our studios and our money for the purpose of preaching our exploitation, enslavement and destruction. Freedom of speech does not imply that it is our duty to provide a knife for the murderer who wants to cut our throat."

Based on that, do you really think that Ayn Rand would have advocated violating the private property rights of Muslims? If so, then you're thinking like a conservative, not an Objectivist. You're being pragmatic, not principled. As the trajectory of modern conservatism into more and more statism has shown, that's a losing strategy.
I was hoping that the Objectivists on that thread might see fit to check their premises. I was disappointed, so I decided not to post further. However, I'd like to add a few more comments here.

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?

These are serious questions. If the rights of Muslim citizens need not be respected, then logic demands that a person answer "Yes" to all those questions. That person must endorse totalitarian control over Muslims -- solely for their ideas -- even when lacking any evidence of criminal activity or intentions. He must endorse the idea of thoughtcrime, i.e. punishment by the state for unwelcome ideas. The slope here is very, very slippery.

As Paul argued in his recent op-ed on free speech:
Free speech is essential to human life. Man's primary means of survival is his mind. In order to live, we must be free to reason and think. Hence we must be left free to acquire and transmit knowledge, which means we must be free to express our ideas, right or wrong.
That's what's at stake here.

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? How long before Paul and I would be declared enemies of the state, stripped of our property, and sentenced to years of "re-education" or "labor"? Do you think that Leonard Peikoff, Yaron Brook, and Craig Biddle wouldn't be silenced, if not worse? Do you think that you'd be safe?

I'm not keen on the gulag. (Amazing, but true!) So if you're supporting political action that will get me there sooner, then we're not political allies. In fact, you're nothing but a wolf in sheep's clothing to me. You might be smart, pleasant, and conscientious; you might not wish me any harm; you might wish to promote liberty. Nonetheless, you're a danger to me and mine. I can't ignore that, and I hope that this post will give you pause.

I'm appalled that our government is not waging anything remotely like a proper war against the states that sponsor terrorism. Yet that problem cannot be solved by violating the rights of random Muslims in America. If our government is permitted to strip people of their rights based solely on ideology, the Muslim fanatics will be the least of our worries.


22 June 2010

A Reversal of American Cowardice

By Gina Liggett

A victory for principle! A win in the war of ideas! A slap in the face to Islamic-tribal "multiculturalism!"

Why am I so jolly? The American Academy of Pediatrics has made a strong reversal of its 2010 policy on female genital "cutting," more accurately named "mutilation" (FGM).

In an earlier post I discussed the Academy's 2010 policy of recognizing the traditions of Islamic-tribal cultures in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia--in particular, the ritualized mutilation of young girls' genitalia. The original 2010 policy suggested that physicians might consider performing a "genital nick" if it would keep families from taking the poor female child to their home countries for the full hideous and savage procedure. Thankfully, there was a critical mass of rational people who barraged the Academy with criticism, including this writer.

The succinctly-worded revised policy statement is a bold declaration to those who practice the ages-old tribal-Islamic barbaric tradition of FGM: the civilized world and medical professionals will not quiver, grovel, or cowardly cower to their atavistic cultural inhumanity and grotesque sexual torture!

Below is the full press release. Revel in the strength of bold principle.

For Immediate Release: May 27, 2010
CHICAGO -- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has retired its 2010 policy statement on female genital cutting (FGC). The AAP Board of Directors has approved the following as AAP policy on FGC:

"The AAP reaffirms its strong opposition to FGC and counsels its members not to perform such procedures. As typically practiced, FGC can be life-threatening. Little girls who escape death are still vulnerable to sterility, infection, and psychological trauma.

"The AAP does not endorse the practice of offering a 'clitoral nick.' This minimal pinprick is forbidden under federal law and the AAP does not recommend it to its members.

"The AAP is steadfast in its goal of protecting all young girls from the harms of FGC."

AAP President Judith S. Palfrey, MD, FAAP, said, "Our intention is not to endorse any form of female genital cutting or mutilation. We retracted the policy because it is important that the world health community understands the AAP is totally opposed to all forms of female genital cutting, both here in the U.S. and anywhere else in the world.

"The AAP's goal is to protect the health and well-being of all children," Dr. Palfrey said. "One good thing to emerge is that this discussion has shone a bright light on this issue and raised the world's awareness about this harm to young women."


18 June 2010

Let Them Build the Mosque

By Ari

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.

See Ari Armstrong's blog.


15 June 2010

Laura Bush Pro-Gay Marriage and Pro-Choice

By Unknown

Wow, I never expected that Laura Bush would support gay marriage and abortion rights:

Barbara Bush was pro-choice too. More details can be found in this 2005 Washington Post article: Women Closest to Bush Are Pro-Choice.

If we have to have another Bush in the White House -- and let's hope not, as they've been disasters on all fronts so far -- perhaps we should elect one of the women.


11 June 2010

By Endorsing Horrific 'Personhood' Measure, Republicans Court Defeat

By Ari

[From Ari Armstrong's blog:] The following article originally was published May 28, 2010, by Grand Junction's Free Press.

By endorsing horrific 'personhood' measure, Republicans court defeat

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We already knew that Ken Buck (candidate for U.S. Senate) and Dan Maes (candidate for governor) endorsed "personhood." Your senior author heard McInnis, the frontrunner for governor, endorse the measure. The Daily Sentinel reported that Jane Norton, the leading Republican for U.S. Senate, also endorsed it. (Cinamon Watson, a spokesperson for Norton, confirmed the endorsement; see your younger author's report at http://tinyurl.com/62norton.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


09 June 2010

Oklahoma Anti-Abortion Gestapo

By Gina Liggett

Oklahoma legislators have gone hog-wild in an orgy of anti-abortion bill-writing this session. Eight -- EIGHT bills interfering with a woman's right to abortion passed, four of which were vetoed by Oklahoma Governor, Brad Henry. But Religious Right lawmakers, including anti-abortion Democrats, succeeded in overriding three of the four vetoes.

Restricting Abortion Any Way They Can

The vetoed bills attack abortion rights in wide-ranging ways.

One bill requires a woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound within an hour of the procedure and have its findings explained to her. Another requires women seeking abortion services and the abortion providers to fill out a lengthy questionnaire and have its findings reported statistically on a state website. Another would ban wrongful life lawsuits against doctors who withhold information that could cause a woman to seek an abortion. These three vetoed bills were overridden by the Legislature. Of the 4th veto, legislators will not attempt an override a bill that would restrict insurance coverage of abortions (but sponsors may resurrect that bill next year).

The Anti-Abortion Gestapo

One particularly forcible bill would require women to have an ultrasound within one hour of requesting an abortion and be compelled to listen to a detailed description of the fetus. Even women impregnated by rape/incest would be included!

How is this to be accomplished, I wonder: by strapping down women's arms, holding their eyes open with toothpicks and placing headphones on at full volume? Fortunately, this coercive law is on hold due to a legal challenge by The Center for Reproductive Rights.

Public Health Hogwash

I'd like to highlight another overridden bill that disguises itself as a public health measure. Using classic public health vernacular, Sen. Clark Jolley, the Senate sponsor of the bill, said the bill is meant to understand why women are choosing to end their pregnancies. Tony Lauinger, state chairman for Oklahomans for Life, said the measure attempts to get accurate information about abortions performed in the state: "We are very appreciative of the pro-life action taken by the Senate. It is often said abortion is safe, legal and rare. This law seeks to gauge the accuracy of that statement." Sen. Jolley adds "This is about gathering data so we can prevent future need for women to face this choice."

If Oklahoma lawmakers were really concerned about public health priorities of their state, they need look no further than their own State Health Department which was assigned the task of prioritizing and solving Oklahoma's biggest public health problems. Because Oklahoma ranks 49th in the U.S. in health rankings, there is plenty of work to do.

Oklahoma's biggest health problems are heart disease (top in the nation), smoking (ranked 36th in the nation), obesity (ranked 6th), and infant health (higher infant mortality rate than national average). Preventing unintended pregnancies is also a goal, but that can be best accomplished by preventing pregnancy (you know, birth control--ever heard of it?) Reducing abortions is not going to affect pregnancy rates. The Anti-Abortion Gestapo can just stop crying alligator tears of concern for women's health. Women's health and rights are not their real concern, otherwise they would be worried about the death and complication rates resulting from abortions made illegal by their lawmaking.

Wear Yourself Out With the Questionnaire from HB 3284

Check out the questionnaire and imagine if you would like the government requiring you to answer the following deeply personal questions:

Reasons seeking abortion (hidden down in #15 of questionnaire); date of abortion; county performed; age of mother; marital status; race; years of education; state/country of residence; number of previous pregnancies; number of live births; miscarriages; induced abortions; gestational age of fetus based on last menstrual period; specific method of abortion; infant status resulting from abortion; was CPR of fetus undertaken; how long did aborted fetus survive; use of anesthesia to mother and fetus--what type and how administered; disposal of fetal tissue; reasons seeking an abortion (would it dramatically change the life of mother, interfere with her education, interfere with job, has other children, cannot afford another child, is unmarried, is a student, can't afford child care, can't meet basic needs of life, is unemployed, can't leave job to care for baby, would need new place to live, poor spousal support, spouse unemployed, on welfare, doesn't want to be single mother, relationship problems, uncertain of relationship to father, doesn't want to marry father, not in a relationship, may break up with father of child, mother feels she's too immature, spouse is abusive, mother doesn't want others to know she's had sex or is pregnant, husband wants abortion, health of mother or fetus at risk, parents want abortion, emotional health of mother at risk, wants child of different sex, life of mother at risk, pregnancy due to rape, pregnancy due to incest, mother declined to give reason); method of payment; insurance; fees collected; time fee collected; MD specialty; ultrasound used during or before or after; was ultrasound vaginal, abdominal or both; name of person performing ultrasound; referring physician; statute info provided to mother; did mother get printed materials; was gestational age 20 weeks or more and if so, was mother given appropriate info on the statutes pertaining to that.
So this extremely nosy public health approach to restricting abortion is lot of diversion from the real public health problems of Oklahoma. It is instead a method of intimidating doctors and patients into foregoing abortion (and thereby raising the statistics of unintended pregnancies, contrary to their own official public health priorities).

The only relevant questions an abortion provider should ask a patient are: "do you understand the procedure and its risks, and do you consent?" Kind of like Lasik surgery to improve your vision. Why a woman seeks an abortion is no government's or religious do-gooder's god-dammed business. The decision begins and ends with her.

The anti-choice Gestapo in Oklahoma wants to eliminate the right to abortion because of religious beliefs. But in reality it is the woman who has full rights over her body, her pregnancy, her soul and her being; and these rights cannot be overridden by a fetus.

So the nosy-Ninnies of the Oklahoma Legislature and the anti-choice lobby should just be content with worrying about themselves--and maybe their waistlines and cholesterol levels.


07 June 2010

Maes Afflicted with GOP's Abortion Schizophrenia

By Ari

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

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

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

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

Kersgaard relates Maes's interview with the Independent:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


04 June 2010

Rand Paul Wants Total Abortion Bans

By Ari

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

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

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

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

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

Consider what Paul writes on his web page:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As your Senator, there are many ways I can help end abortion. I will fight for each and every one of them.
Paul helpfully includes links to two Kentucky surveys on abortion and related matters.

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

* A nation abortion ban.

* Abortion bans even in cases of rape and incest.

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

* Bans on the medical use of embryonic stem cells.

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

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

* A national abortion ban.

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

* Bans on the medical use of embryonic stem cells.

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

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


02 June 2010

Resolved: Republicans Are Schizophrenic on Abortion

By Ari

[From Ari Armtrong's blog:] As I recently noted, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton has endorsed the "personhood" ballot measure to grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs. Every other leading Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and governor has done the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don't think so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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