Friday, December 26, 2008

Children in market anarchy or anarcho-capitalism

I read David Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom last week, and found it very interesting. He discusses politics, law, and order in terms of economics. Most people project values and analysis onto a political system, but Friedman advocates that even laws be bought and sold on a market. I hadn't really ever considered structural political analysis before, so I'm still new to this, but I'm intrigued.

The ideas are certainly potent, but the theory seems a bit rough around the edges. One thing that troubled me was the problem of assuming responsibility for children in the face of abuse or other crime from their own parents, or for that matter, protecting any people who are not capable of acting for themselves, such as the disabled. This problem was what motivated me to inspect The Machinery of Freedom in the first place, and I first read the chapter on youth, which I found to be woefully inadequate. I later came up with what I think is a pretty sound solution, in part from the economic reasoning laid out elsewhere in the book.

Here's the problem. In a state of market anarchy, personal protection is provided by profit-seeking private companies, contracted by individuals voluntarily to protect them, but children can't contract a defense agency for themselves to protect from abuse or other harms from their parents.

One thread on the Internet didn't really provide a solution, but that's probably because idiots tend to pontificate online, except for yours truly of course. From that thread, Murray Rothbard sounds like a sociopath. Apparently he assumes that children would be the property of their parents, and so slavery, abuse, and murder of children by their parents would be legal and children would have no recourse for such harms. I haven't read Rothbard yet, so I can't assess his actual premises or conclusions, but this sounds like a mischaracterization from an opponent of Rothbard. I'm intrigued that this hasn't been addresses adequately, or that I haven't found anything adequate. Like I mentioned before, I came up with a solution. I'm optimistic that I'm adding to the theory of market anarchy.

The chapter in The Machinery of Freedom about the rights of youth is, as I mentioned before, woefully inadequate. Friedman doesn't actually address how the rights of youth could be protected, but instead just assumes that if a particular situation were dire enough for a child, they would run away permanently and would realize self-ownership. This isn't convincing to me, because I think any legal system should provide recourse against any and all violations of rights. I'm also theorizing on the assumption that any child should have their rights protected fully, since they are, of course, humans. If you disagree with that, you're probably a sociopath.

Some libertarians like to promote social ostracism as a panacea. This is good for lots of things, but where rights are actually violated, I find this patently absurd. Walter Block's solution is also unsatisfying to me.

In the current system of government, nothing can be done about abuse or murder that isn't known about, and it would be the same in market anarchy, so I'm not offering an improvement to the current system in this regard, although I don't think anyone actually objects to market anarchy on these grounds.

So what's my answer? Under a state, individuals with state power assume responsibility to administer justice for abused or murdered children, and it would be similar in anarchy, with individuals seeking justice with both the privatized legal system and orphanages. Here is where I draw on Friedman's economic reasoning for allocations of laws on the market. I believe that the court systems would evolve such that people would contract their protection agencies and their courts to enforce laws protecting children from their own parents. Child abuse may or may not be rare, but I'm sure that it's rare enough that either consumers or protection firms would absorb the tiny additional cost necessary to enforce such laws. Government politicians and the police aren't morally different from the people who would live in market anarchy. The impossible, left-wing theories of anarchy assume that human nature is different, and I think such left-wing anarchy would be dystopian. Anyway, in market anarchy, the same vast majority of society that finds crimes against children unacceptable wouldn't be any different, and that majority would still act to deliver justice, only without a state. Firms and courts that sought to protect abusers or murderers of children could not exist because the cost structure of a firm would prohibit it. It would not be possible to organize and unify enough sociopaths to contract with any particular protection firm or court that would find such crime acceptable.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Defense of artificial child pornography

A conviction was upheld for a man possessing materials of cartoon child pornography.

Defense of artificial child pornography may epitomize the libertarian framework. Many are deeply offended at such a position, because they see the production and consumption of such materials as deeply offensive and always immoral.

The libertarian position though, easily enough, recognizes that there is no actual victim in the production or consumption of artificial child pornography. No child is harmed in any way from these materials. Still, lots of people have an instant and visceral revulsion to allowing such materials, even though they cannot articulate that anyone is actually harmed.

Opponents may argue that allowing such materials promotes the production and consumption of actual child pornography, or paves a path to actual sexual predation, but we have laws that exist precisely prohibiting those activities, because there are actual victims associated with those crimes. So, here we have two conflicting camps of jurisprudence as the foundation for the larger disagreement. There are those who believe in a collective responsibility and advocate that government take preemptive action to prevent crime, as against those who believe in individual responsibility, where only people who actually commit crimes against others are held accountable for their actions.

The real, actual crime is the action that harms another person. If preemptive action is accepted as a legitimate tool to protect people, what totalitarian measure could not be justified?

Of course, the possession of artificial child pornography may serve as legitimate probable cause to search for real child pornography. It's plausible that there's a link between artificial child pornography and real child pornography or sexual predation, but Whorley is not being convicted of any such crime. He is being imprisoned for an activity that involved no victim.

I don't think that I need to clarify that any previous conviction should be irrelevant.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Facebook fighting spam with phone numbers?

I went to post on a buddy's wall, and saw this.

Are they seriously trying to protect against spam? I've been on Facebook for years now. Why is this happening to my account, now? If you don't want this to happen of course, you can give Facebook your phone number.

I'm not really sure how this would protect against a spammer, since spammers make a profession out of spamming, and they could easily gain access to a disposable phone.

This seems more like a scheme to gather phone numbers to sell to telemarketers. I don't put much trust in Facebook, since their record on privacy, regarding sharing information with other companies, is pretty abysmal. Selling your information is the only explanation I can think of for why they would do this, because I can't imagine that they actually care about fighting spam preemptively. I am guessing that their system already in place, the one that relies on people flagging messages as spam would be pretty effective, no?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Panel Discussion on Drug Policy

Students for Individual Liberty is cosponsoring a panel discussion tomorrow night.

What's Wrong with the War on Drugs?
Tuesday, December 2nd at 7pm
Cabell 122

"The War on Drugs" was initiated in 1971 with the goal of eliminating the use of illegal drugs in America. Thirty-seven years and over 70 billion dollars per year later, more than one third of Americans over the age of 12 have tried an illegal drug. More disturbingly, our nation's jails are now overflowing with non-violent drug offenders, racial discrimination in the application of drug laws is rampant, chronically ill persons cannot access valuable medicines, and American citizens' basic constitutional rights have been systematically violated—all in the name of fighting the "War on Drugs." Speakers at this event will discuss these significant civil liberties issues, and explain how our policy can change such that those who are addicted to drugs can get the help they need while our rights remain secure.

Speakers include:
• Prof. Richard Bonnie, Esq: Harrison Professor of Mental Health at the Law School, former Secretary of the first National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse

• Mary Lynn Mathre, RN: Co-Founder and President of Patients Out of Time, a medical marijuana patients' rights advocacy group

• Robert Johnson: Executive Director of Region Ten, a branch of Charlottesville's local government which provides services to drugabusers

• David A. Downes Esq.: Virginia- based criminal defense lawyer and member of NORML's Legal Committee

FREE PIZZA!

Sponsored by ACLU at UVA, The American Constitution Society, Students for Individual Liberty, and the Virginia Organizing Project

Intelligent Design by Purple Space Squids

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Activism for Charlie Lynch

Cheryl Aichele writes,

Dear Freedom Fighters,

You can help save an law-biding citizen from going to prison by simply writing a letter to his judge and asking for leniency in sentencing which is scheduled to happen January 12, 2009.

That honorable man is Charles C. Lynch the former operator of the medical marijuana dispensary called Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers in Morro Bay, Ca. By some estimates Charlie faces up 100 years in federal prison. However, anytime behind bars would be a travesty of justice in this situation.

Charles did everything he could to follow the laws governing medical marijuana dispensaries in California. He called the DEA months before opening his location to inquire about the laws. He was told by a DEA agent that "it's up to the cities and counties to decide how to handle that [medical marijuana dispensary] matter".

So Charlie worked closely with the city of Morro Bay and the county of San Luis Obispo to obtain a business license which clearly stated "medical marijuana dispensary" and a nursery permit to sell cloned medical marijuana plants. He followed all his business license requirements, city regulations, county restrictions and state laws.

However, the local San Luis Obispo County Sheriff doesn't like medical marijuana and apparently doesn't like following California law. And after 11 months of investigating Charles, his employees, his patients, and his dispensary and NOT finding anything to justify a state-issued search warrant, the local Sheriff called the DEA.

Together both law enforcement agencies forced their way into Charlie's house and place of business with para-military style actions, uniforms and weapons. At his home they forced Charlie to the ground naked and took all his money and medical marijuana. At his dispensary, they terrorized his patients and employees taking everything relevant.

Charlie was allowed to re-open his dispensary by local authorities but the DEA eventually sent a letter intimidating property forfeiture to the landlord of the location. The letter threatened to take all of the landlord's property away if he didn't evict the medical marijuana dispensary from the building.

CCCC was the only medical marijuana dispensary in San Luis Obispo County. Charlie was out of work and more than 2,000 patients with doctor's recommendation to use medical marijuana lost their safe access to medicine that helps their chronic conditions and terminal illnesses.

Eventually the DEA and local sheriff's department came back and arrested Charlie at his home and violated his rights by covertly taping the incident and not allowing him to speak with his lawyer. This evidence was eventually not allowed into the case due to the illegal conduct of the DEA.

Charlie's family had to post $400,000 bail with their own property and money to get Charlie out of jail but he was still restricted to house arrest with an ankle bracelet. Drew Carey & ReasonTV did a video about this situation and have followed the story. Check out www.reason.tv for more.

If Charlie's bail amount seems excessive, that's because it is. Especially in comparison to the $5,000 bail set for a San Luis Obispo sheriff's deputy (yes, the same department that investigated, raided, arrested, and eventually testified against Charlie) who is accused of child pornography and who only faces up 10 year in prison.

The disparity in these two bails and sentencing shows the grave injustice of mandatory minimums, sentencing guidelines, bail amounts and the federal government's civil war on drugs as opposed to protecting our children from REAL predators.

The prosecution painted Charlie like a major drug cartel leader to the jury. They said Charlie made over $2 million but what they don't say is that the expenses for running the dispensary, paying the employees and taxes far exceeded that amount and the dispensary was in debt at the time of its closure.

The prosecution also tried to make it seem like Charlie was endangering children in his community by charging him with sales to minors. What they didn't say is the Federal Government considers any ADULT under the age of 21 years old a minor in drug cases. Or that Charlie ONLY sold to adults over 18 years old or to the parents or guardians of patients under 18 years old.

The only evidence of wrongdoing presented in the trial was that of a CCCC's security guard and the only evidence presented connecting Charlie to that wrongdoing was that of said security guard's employment at CCCC and the name of the stain sold to an undercover officer miles away from the dispensary location in a parking lot of a Big5 store. That strain name: Diesel.

Diesel was a name of a strain that CCCC had and it was also the name of a strain sold by the security guard to the undercover cop. However, upon inspection, the two strains were drastically different. And we all know how common the strain name Diesel is. I have some sitting next to me as I type this and I know I did NOT get it from CCCC or Charlie for that matter.

On August 5, 2008 Charles C. Lynch was found guilty of 5 cannabis-only felonies and faces 5-100 years in federal prison despite the Mayor and City Attorney testifying on his behalf as a law-abiding citizen.

He wasn't allowed to use the medical benefits of marijuana, state law, or all the facts as evidence in the case because of strict federal precedents. The jury only heard part of the story and was issued over 13 pages of more than forty individual jury instructions explaining to them how to deliberate in this case.

Within hours the jury found him guilty of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, two counts of sales to adults under the age of 21 years old, maintaining a drug premises, possession with the intent to distribute.

I also want to clear up one rumor. There is a DIFFERENT man named Charles LEON Lynch who is registered as a sex offender that is NOT Charles CORNELIUS Lynch who is facing federal marijuana charges for operating a medical marijuana dispensary in California.

So that brings me back to the subject title of this note: If you could save a honorable man from going to federal prison, would you?

If you answered yes, this is where you can help make a difference. By law, judges have to read every single correspondence related to sentencing that they receive for each case. So your letter will be read and will play an important role in securing Charlie's freedom.

His lawyers have asked for thousands of letters to come in on his behalf. In a recent federal medical marijuana case (Mickey Martin's), the judge stated that public support both in written form and court supporters helped her give Mickey a compassionate sentence (no time behind bars).

We're hoping that public support can save Charlie from going to prison. Charlie's probation officers has recommended 5 years behind bars to "teach others a lesson" and because that's what other defendents have received in marijuana cases. And I say, 5 years is 5 years too many. This man doesn't deserve to be behind bars for helping patients (like me), he deserves to be honored.

And we all know long prison sentences do not deter others from committing crimes and that sentencing should be based off individual cases not off of what everyone else is getting sentenced to for cases with similar charges.

The personalized letter that you write doesn't have to be long. I've written 5 letters myself, all just one page long with supporting documents attached. It only took me about 20 minutes to an hour to write each letter.

The topic of the letters can be focused on educating the judge about drug policy errors, mandatory minimums, sentencing guidelines, prison life, the benefits of cannabis, the social harm of wasted tax payers' funds, etc. all with a plea for true justice & leniency. Form letters aren't as powerful as personal letters.

Supporters who wish to write a letter of support regarding sentencing should use the Letter salutation "Dear Judge Wu" and then send the letter to:

Reuven Cohen
Federal Public Defender
321 East 2nd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012-4702

For a sample letter and guidelines go to Charlie's website: www.friendsofccl.com. All letters should have professional tone. If you have a hard time figuring out what to say, just pretend that Charlie is one of your loved ones. What would you say to save his life and keep him from going to federal prison.

We often get overwhelmed trying to create positive change because there is so much to do. Writing a letter to Charlie's judge will help make a difference. Here are some other ways you can help make a difference:

1. Throw a Letter writing party. Get your friends, classmates, and others together to help each other write letters. Provide snacks and make it a fun yet productive get-together. Join forces with local chapters of other drug policy groups. Proof read each others' letters.

2. Send Charlie an email. Let him know that you support him and the other casualties of the Federal Government's war against medical marijuana.

3. Donate money. Charlie has been unable to find full time work since the DEA and Local Sheriffs department violently raided his home and business. Charlie is facing bankruptcy and foreclosure of his home. Every little bit will help.

4. Offer Charlie a job. He's a software engineer by trade and lives in San Luis Obispo county. Send an email to Charlie if you would like to receive a copy of his resume for consideration.

5. Share this note with your friends. "Share" it on facebook. Blog it. Post it on myspace. Help get the word out. Very few people know about this case and they more that know, the more that can help. No one can do it all by themselves.

6. Contact the media to tell them about this story and let them know how you feel. A number of sources have taken on the Lynch Saga, namely Reason.tv has done a short documentary on the case and followed the trial with daily updates. Rick Ray Films is currently working on a full blown documentary regarding States Rights and Medical Marijuana. CNN ran a news story on the trial of Charles C. Lynch. Also numerous other News Agencies have run stories on USA vs Lynch. Al Roker has also been in contact with Lynch and wants to do a hour long documentary.

7. Contact your congress people. E-mail, phone, write, and visit your Senators and your House of Representatives' offices.

If you don't know who your House of Representatives Congressional member is go to www.house.gov and put your zip code +4 in the upper left-hand corner. If you don't know who your Senators are go to www.senate.gov. You can even visit your congress member's offices fairly close to your own home because they have satellite offices throughout their districts.

Contacting Congress is vital because laws change in Congress and the only reason why the DEA and federal prosecutors are allowed to do what they're doing is because of a federal law; that law needs to be changed.

8. Pray for Charlie's freedom and for Judge Wu to use divine justice. Also pray for other patients and providers that are being prosecuted and thrown in prison by our Federal Government.

9. Spread the word about Charles Lynch. Talk to family, friends, associates, co-workers, classmates, schoolmates, roommates, lovers, anyone who will listen, etc. Ask them what they think about the situation. If they don't know that much, inform them. Forward this email to everyone on your email list. Repost this on facebook, myspace, craigslist, live journal, blogspot, and any other website or forum you frequent.

10. Learn more about Charlie's case by doing a google search or visiting his website www.friendsofccl.com. Add Charlie as a FB friend. Add Cheryl as a FB. Join the Free Charles Lynch FB group.

11. Join organizations like Americans for Safe Access, Marijuana Policy Project, NORML, Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, CANorml, ect. These organizations are making changes in legislation so people like Charles C. Lynch do not have to suffer at the hands of the Federal Government.

12. Let Barrack Obama's transition team know your vision of the future for Charlie's case, medical marijuana, and drug policies in America.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Defense for a seasteading community

This post is from the Seasteading Institute's forums. The question and solutions are absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious; it reads like it's from a forum about a video game, but you can tell that this dude is completely serious. What makes this so funny is how serious and ridiculous this guy is. Solutions 2 and 3 are the punchlines to the entire post.

Defense (Really Important)
Wed, 05/21/2008 - 02:04 — Firefool125

Okay, i mean a seastead can basically be a considered a free state that has no ties to any of the currently existing worlds governments and so this raises some serious issues about the overall safety of a seastead community. The real issue that I have questions about is defense from currently existing world governments who decide to remove the potential "terrorist/criminal/god knows what else" threat that a seastead community might theoretically pose (a bunch of blarney if you ask me but hey people are by definition stupid and so the governments could probably get away with it). Or the governments could just decide that a seastead is not a free entity and so they have the right to claim it. Personally, a seastead is an incrediblly innovative and brilliant idea that has the potential to bring great good into the world, is very vulnerable to external influence (covert raids that were actually "negotiations") due to the fact that a sea stead will not have the resources or the man power for a standing navy.

Here is a list of proposed ideas for the defense of a seastead community (feel free to add any other methods to the list if you feel that it is necessary)

1. Alliance with a large nation with a standing military: this i probably one of the more plausible ideas but it would involve loosing some of the liberties that are the main reason for some to move to a seastead
2. Surface-to-Air missiles and Surface-to-Surface missiles: the Surface-to-Surface missiles would be the kind that skim along the waters edge and maintain a low altitude, this idea is incrediblly expensive though and would cause some nations to perceive the seastead as an autoatic threat and some to perceive the seasteads as a "terrorist cell" which decreases national security.
3. Have every individual on a seastead armed with close combat weaponary (pistols, rifles, knives and the like) and have a little rudimentary training with each

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Students who advocate terrorism turn violent

Why should this be a surprise? Anti-Israel students at UC Berkeley turned violent, shouting racial epithets, at a concert promoting "freedom for the nation of Israel from Western pressure and influence." If these activists for the "Palestinian cause" are taking cues from the fanatical, genocidal gangs in Gaza and the West Bank that routinely murder Israelis and Palestinians, this shouldn't be surprising at all. Explicit advocacy of terrorism doesn't come from people who want peace.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Coho bots

About once a week or so, for perhaps a couple months, I've been contacted by a Coho bot. For a few weeks, I thought that it was just spam, but when I learned what it was, I was intrigued. It would be a cool social experiment, but it's irritating because it provides absolutely no explanation of what it is. Since I suspect many of the people connected are similarly irritated because they never opted in or know what it is, I think that the project is a waste of time. If it was explained in each initiation, or if it was only comprised of users who opt in, it might be cool. I just learned how to opt out. If you want to opt out, just type $optout as a response.

A Positive Account of Property Rights

I found a positive account of property rights by David D. Friedman. It's a long and difficult read for the uninitiated, but quite rewarding, if you have an interest in philosophical and economic bases for property.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

October 6 rally in support of Charlie Lynch

I'm a little late in posting this. It's from October 6.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More shenanigans from Judge Wu

Mike Riggs has highlighted some more shenanigans from Judge Wu. I noted that Wu was the same judge from Charlie Lynch's case. In Lynch's case, Wu forbade the testimony of Owen Beck.

In related news, Charlie's brother Pat recently passed away. The Lynch family would be going through a tough enough time without having to worry about the federal government's atrocity against Charlie. I'm sure that they would definitely appreciate your words of support in this difficult time.

Charlie is due to be sentenced on November 24, but a new trial will be requested on November 17. For more information, check Charlie's website.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night Live Blogging


I'm using Cover It Live to live blog about the election tonight.

Campaign signs at a public school

I walked past Venable School today, a Charlottesville public school, and I was intrigued at the signs I saw. Because Venable School is a public school, is it appropriate that these campaign signs were being displayed? I recognize that my thinking is in a minority. In my experience, most people don't think about freedom of speech in this way. People often think they have a right to something that depends on other people, like health care or education, so why would this be any different? Most probably wouldn't take issue with this, but would fail to consider or care that they're funding this speech. The signs I initially noticed were all for Democrats, but when I turned the corner, I noticed there were some Republican signs as well. This guarantees that every citizen is funding speech they don't agree with. Now, a Democrat or Republican might be fine with this because they get their sign, even if the opposition does as well, but what about those of us who don't endorse either party? Property set aside for a specific use with public funding is being used for speech that some taxpayers don't agree with.

We could allow anyone to put up any sign advocating anything from anyone, but the institution of public schooling is justified on the premise of using public funding for a specific purpose. If we accept this premise, there are other important parallels. We wouldn't expect any taxpayer to be able to freely use government buildings as they please, because government buildings are set aside for a specific use. Right now, it seems that if we're in the business of setting aside public funds for the specific use of education, then we shouldn't grant special privileges for anyone. It doesn't much matter to me that the school itself is a polling place.

An important point underlying all of this is that if these signs at the polling place have any effect at all on actual voting, we're all doomed.

I guess we're all doomed.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Trick or Treat Dummy


This is a pretty hilarious prank for the spooky holiday.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Cops vs. Admiral Ackbar

Rikesh writes,

Today, while I was wearing my Ackbar Halloween Mask, a police officer stopped me saying "You know you're not supposed to wear that, right? Even though it's Halloween?" I took off the mask and I won't be wearing it except for later tonight at a haunted house but I looked up the law and it states:

§ 18.2-422. Prohibition of wearing of masks in certain places; exceptions.

It shall be unlawful for any person over sixteen years of age while wearing any mask, hood or other device whereby a substantial portion of the face is hidden or covered so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, to be or appear in any public place, or upon any private property in this Commonwealth without first having obtained from the owner or tenant thereof consent to do so in writing. However, the provisions of this section shall not apply to persons (i) wearing traditional holiday costumes; (ii) engaged in professions, trades, employment or other activities and wearing protective masks which are deemed necessary for the physical safety of the wearer or other persons; (iii) engaged in any bona fide theatrical production or masquerade ball; or (iv) wearing a mask, hood or other device for bona fide medical reasons upon the advice of a licensed physician or osteopath and carrying on his person an affidavit from the physician or osteopath specifying the medical necessity for wearing the device and the date on which the wearing of the device will no longer be necessary and providing a brief description of the device. The violation of any provisions of this section shall constitute a Class 6 felony.

I was wondering what your guys thoughts were on this. Isn't Halloween a traditional holiday? I was sort of shocked that it was a FELONY.

PS I was not able to locate any Charlottesville City Law Pertaining to Mask usage.

Chewbacca

Chewbacca was walking around Grounds, and let me snap a photo.

Where's My Bailout?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

StudCo should be disbanded

This Cavalier Daily article lays out more stunning evidence for why UVA Student Council is an unethical mockery of a governing institution. Why should this be surprising? Student Council is training students who want to be bureaucrats to act irresponsibly with other people's money. This teaches the rest of us that the incentives when managing other people's money are perverted. What issue can't a student solve directly with the administration? Why is StudCo in existence, and being given any authority over anything at all?

These students take cues from political culture at large that teaches it's legitimate to take money from people and shuffle it around. Of course these crooks take a generous cut in their illegitimate activities, because who can resist taking a bit of unearned money?

StudCo, you sicken me. You are illegitimate and corrupt, and you should be disbanded. The only thing more offensive about this blatant display of larceny is that it reflects the diseased culture of Washington at large. These criminals that are in StudCo today are tomorrow's bureaucrats, and the more power these leeches acquire, the more their subjects will lose. This is my scariest of point of all.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

McCain and Obama will deliver!

From Brian Doherty,

But don't worry about it. Both or either McCain or Obama are going to slash spending. And start lots of expensive new programs. And start a few new wars. And lower taxes on most of you. And supply health care and fresh energy solutions to all. And buy everything bad, and sell everything good. And do whatever is necessary to delay by one more day any bad consequences from decades of spending beyond the government's means.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Get Some!: How to Fix America's Health Insurance Crisis

Get Some!: How to Fix America's Health Insurance Crisis

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

AFR screening of Do As I Say

I'll be attending AFR's screening of Nick Tucker's Do As I Say in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, October 2. It's the world premiere of what should be an excellent film. You can purchase tickets here.

A reversal of parties

There has been an obvious trend of politicians at least paying lip service to the idea of pushing policies, not partisanship, but has anyone noticed a virtual shift of ideological positions from the two parties?

Consider the issue of the legalization of marijuana. Many local governments legislate to decriminalize it, but the official federal law is that there is no legitimate medical use for marijuana. The United States federal government actually holds a patent for medical marijuana, but they don't let that contradiction get in the way of any sane policy. The so-called Republican position is to crack down on marijuana, but this directly clashes with what should be a deeper ideological philosophy, states' rights.

Rarely do governments legislate for more freedom, but the state of California effectively decriminalized marijuana with California Proposition 215 and California Senate Bill 420. In spite of this, the federal government still carries on Nixon's poisonous legacy of raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in California. Charlie Lynch was found guilty on all counts in August, and is scheduled to be sentenced next week. If this is appeals all the way up to the Supreme Court, Scalia would need to employ the most convoluted and intellectually dishonest legal reasoning to confuse himself enough to justify his flagrant inconsistency. On the other side of it, Democratic philosophy holds that big government is a cure for social ills like tobacco consumption, and yet the left advocates for the legalization of marijuana. How is it desirable to socially engineer people away from tobacco, but alright to let them use marijuana? The inconsistency from the Democrats is just as mind-boggling as the inconsistency from the Republicans.

Now we have left-wingers who preach the virtues of socialism as a political ideal, and they hate those capitalist corporations, but when those corporations fail, they want to throw taxpayer money at them to prop them up! At least the Republicans in Congress had the sense enough to oppose the bailouts yesterday, but there's still a troublesomely high amount of support for the bailouts from the conservative buzz, on the grounds that some financial institutions are too big to fail, or that even though big government caused the problems, big government is needed to fix it. Of course, it's no surprise that there would be plenty of conservative support for the bailouts. Why would a party that's so irrational regarding social freedom and religiosity take any such rational approach to free markets? The Republicans have no philosophy at all, just a mishmash of horrible ideas.

Both of the parties are aquaria of cognitive dissonance.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The problem with the conversation about drugs

Salvia divinorum is a psychoactive drug that has become popular for recreational use in the last few years. If you search on YouTube for "salvia" you can find lots of entertaining videos of people tripping on it. The drug produces intense hallucinations that last for about a few minutes. There are apparently no long term effects or any other detrimental health effects.

When people discuss the drug with people who have never heard of it, the first thing they mention is that it's legal to own and use. Of course, as it has grown in popularity, politicians have sought to criminalize it. Assuming that it's legal though, and in most places in the United States, it still is, there is something desperately wrong with the conversation. It seems people are conveying this mentality that hallucinogens should be illegal by default, that salvia is so astounding and special because it's legal, as if it's somehow natural that these drugs used recreationally are meant to be illegal. How did this happen? Why is this so entrenched now in American culture that it is considered proper, or at least expected, that governments will criminalize these drugs? Now is the time to raise our consciousnesses. Banning recreational drugs is not a natural state of affairs. This is a recent phenomenon.

On a related night, last night on Real Time with Bill Maher, Ralph Nader expressed his contempt for Obama and Biden. Nader brought up that Biden was one of the architects of the war on drugs, summing up how insane our policy is. Our government don't throw alcoholics in jail, but happily destroys the lives of drug addicts.

I trust McCain would be for more of the kind of nonsense that threatens Charlie Lynch, and I had hoped that Obama might stop this poisonous war on drugs, but I wasn't aware of Biden's evil. Now, I'm not sure that electing Obama would matter at all. The debate last night provided more evidence that this election is only going to end badly, with authoritarians who want to control your life.

The Dark Bailout

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The frightening absurdity of Palin

Sam Harris has written an excellent scathing critique of Sarah Palin in Newsweek.

What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. Watching her deny to Gibson that she had ever harbored the slightest doubt about her readiness to take command of the world's only superpower, one got the feeling that Palin would gladly assume any responsibility on earth:

"Governor Palin, are you ready at this moment to perform surgery on this child's brain?"

"Of course, Charlie. I have several boys of my own, and I'm an avid hunter."

"But governor, this is neurosurgery, and you have no training as a surgeon of any kind."

"That's just the point, Charlie. The American people want change in how we make medical decisions in this country. And when faced with a challenge, you cannot blink."

On a related note, the McCain campaign was worried that her inexperience might put her at a disadvantage in a debate with Biden.

If you're not absolutely terrified of McCain and Palin winning this election, you are wrong in your sentiment.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Michelle Obama / Jill Biden rally at UVA

I shot a video documenting the buzz around the rally that happened yesterday where Michelle Obama and Jill Biden addressed UVA and Charlottesville.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Play-by-play recapitulation of Turek-Hitchens debate

Nicole Gugliucci is a guest blogger at Life Without Faith, recapping the debate that occurred at VCU on Tuesday, between Frank Turek and Christopher Hitchens.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Blumenfeld's blogging stint over

Jon Blumenfeld is done blogging. It was great while it lasted.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Great new blog about finance and economics

Jon Blumenfeld has an excellent new blog about economics and finance. You might know Blumenfeld from his appearances on The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. He is the former chairman of the Connecticut chapter of the NESS.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Another reference bashing the free market

Right after that post about China, I encounter yet another reference to how free markets are incompatible with an unpolluted environment. Check the second page.

China's environment isn't a problem with markets; it's a problem with government

VBS.TV has a fascinating look at the most polluted city on Earth, Linfen. Linfen in in China, in the Shanxi province.

Much of the buzz surrounding the Olympics has turned Westerners on to some of the awful aspects of China, like the pollution. From one or two reports, suddenly everyone is an expert in Chinese energy and environmental policy. I've never been to China, so I'm just an interested observer, but I want to clarify a few errors I've noticed from talking heads and laypeople alike, mostly on the Left, but not exclusively, who cite China as an example of a free market and the horrible things that come from capitalism.

There exists in popular discourse a myth of economic development as an intrinsic source of pollution. Regardless of the economic system, centrally-planned, market, or otherwise, this is not true. A look at America and Europe as the most developed places on Earth demonstrate that this is not the case. If pollution unavoidably follows from development, then the United States and Europe would be far more polluted than China, and this simply isn't the case.

There are different theoretical approaches to curbing pollution. Environmental moralists of the Left like to look at potential environmental problems as errors of morality, preaching simplistically that if development causes pollution, development is wrong, so we should curb development. You also hear from the Left a call for government regulation of companies before they even pollute. Preemptive regulation is problematic because appropriate regulations can only arise after assessing an actual problem. Before any offense is committed and analyzed, a regulation would be either too strict so as to stifle innovation and trade, or not applicable to any actual problem, and therefore meaningless practically, while still legitimatizing the government's violation of property rights without cause.

Although there are certainly other theoretical bases to curb pollution, the best one, and probably one of the most difficult for people to grasp, is the enforcement of property rights. If property rights are enforced, then the government would prohibit a company from polluting onto any property that they do not own. If a factory creates poisonous clouds of pollution that seep into a neighborhood, then that factory is violating the property rights of those residents.

It's important to note that the polluting coal mines of Linfen are actually nationalized. The short documentary mentions that private mines are illegal, and the operators of private mines are fined and shut down. The private mines attempt to profit off the black market, which is an interesting case study all its own. China's mechanisms of development strays far from the myth promulgated by the American Left that China's environmental problems come from a policy of transitioning to a market economy.

That China's mines are nationalized are probably exacerbating their problems. It's the government that's doing the polluting, and blatantly generating nasty pollution, infringing on the property rights of all the property owners in the town. If property rights were actually protected by the Chinese government, there would be no nationalized mines, and a private mine that might pollute would be subject to prosecution from the property owners affected by that pollution. Right now, who can citizens turn to in order to file a suit against a nationalized company? The totalitarian government of China clearly lacks any incentive to punish itself, or prohibit itself from polluting.

Lastly, it's important to note, as always, that enforcement of property rights regarding pollution has to occur only up to the point where the marginal cost equals the marginal benefit. That point is difficult but possible to calculate, with cooperation from scientists and economists.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Costumes and cars from The Dark Knight

I might post a few of the cool pictures from LA this summer. Here are a few.

When I was at ArcLight Hollywood, I was glad that I got a chance to see the costumes and the vehicles from The Dark Knight. I caught the traveling display at the right time, because all these pieces were gone when I was leaving the theater.


Jacob Sullum on Charlie Lynch and conservative "fair-weather federalism"

Jacob Sullum explains the tragedy that is federal drug policy, and calls out conservatives who advocate states' rights and a small federal government, yet support the insanity from the DEA and their shenanigans under orders from the federal government. The case of Charlie Lynch is the context.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Screening of Mississippi Drug War Blues in LA

For those in and around Los Angeles, be sure to check out the screening of Mississippi Drug War Blues at NewFilmmaker LA, at The A&D Museum on Thursday, August 28.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

More Tyranny in California


Whatever happened to property rights?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Charlie Lynch has been found guilty of all five counts

For more information, visit the LA Times article or the Hit and Run blog post.

Sexual harassment will save the human race.

A judge has ruled that women are obligated to be sexually harassed, because without sexual harassment, there would be no human race.

Lynch Trial Update: Monday, August 4

Cross posted to reason.tv

Monday was the final day of the evidentiary portion of the trial. Judge Wu had decided over the weekend that Lynch’s lawyer from Atascadero could not testify as to how Lynch had indeed described to him the phone call to the DEA.

This was Wu’s first federal trial. George W. Bush recently appointed him. Throughout the trial, Wu promulgated a troubling fallacy that often shows up in news media: presenting two sides of a debate equally and implying that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Wu did not grasp that fairness may objectively favor one position. From Wu’s simple-minded attempt to act fairly, he acted blatantly unfairly.

The court reviewed jury instructions, until the defense called Debbie Beck to the stand by the defense. Although Wu and the prosecution did not allow her to give any background as to who she was, some members of the jury picked up from her last name that she was Owen Beck’s mother. Debbie recounted that she had certainly been in Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers, but not as a patient. She explained that the CCCC made her fill out paperwork and show identification. She verified a document that she signed, which might have been difficult because the government blacked out the entire page, except for a few lines that included her signature. She talked about her understanding that she was allowed to grow up to six plants. She didn’t grow any plants, but her son tried to grow four, even though he was too sick to tend to them. When she mentioned her sick son, Kowal objected, and surprisingly, Wu overruled.

The defense called Nina Paulino to the stand. Just as Debbie, she identified a ridiculously blacked-out document that had her signature on it. She testified that the maximum amount of plants that she was allowed to grow was six, but she only grew one that did not survive.

Wu dismissed the jury to further deliberate about jury instructions. The government mentioned jury nullification in the context of a warning in case the defense tried to bring it up in their closing argument.

After lunch, Wu instructed the jury. He repeated the indictments, including conspiracy, distributing over 100 kg of marijuana, distribution to persons under the age of 21, and cultivating more than 100 plants. The jury needed to convict beyond a reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, entrapment by estoppel as a defense would not cover the count of distribution to minors.

The prosecution and the defense gave their closing arguments. The government would give an opening closing argument, followed by the defense’s closing argument, and finally the government’s closing closing argument. The government was allowed two arguments and the last word, Wu explained, because the high burden of proof was on government.

Rasha Gerges, the female prosecutor, delivered a painfully monotonous opening closing statement. She droned on about the five counts. She described how entrapment by estoppel should not apply. She tried to poke holes in Lynch’s account of the phone call to the DEA by referencing Reuter’s nonsensical testimony, and concluded that Lynch acted purposefully to break the federal law. Could any sane juror believe this? Gerges repackaged the same nauseating arguments with an atrocious PowerPoint presentation that showed slide after slide crammed with text on a hideous background. This pathetic sidekick of a maniacal hothead failed not only at presenting anything of substance in any new valuable way, but also failed at keeping the courtroom awake or attentive.

John Littrell delivered the defense’s closing argument. He engaged the jury by naming the defendant, Charlie Lynch, reminding them that the defendant was not some abstract idea to argue about, but a real person whose fate rested in their hands. Littrell recalled that Charlie opened a place of business called the Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers, which provided safe access to medical marijuana. Charlie opened under the blessing of his community, his mayor, and the chamber of commerce. He ran a tight ship. Littrell instructed the jury to examine the white pieces of paper that the government had hid from them in open trial, the instructions stapled to all products purchased from the dispensary.

Littrell reviewed how Charlie did his research, and went through great lengths to call the DEA, and that Charlie relied on that information, since the phone number on the phone bill after the call to the DEA belonged to the city of Morro Bay. Charlie had contacted the city attorney, Rob Schultz. Littrell asserted that Schultz decided it was in the best interest of the community to allow Charlie to open. Charlie bought a nice frame displaying his business license, and displayed it in his window until Special Agent Burkdol booked it into evidence. Lynch followed all the rules, and never did anything until he got permission.

Littrell elaborated on big problems with the government’s case. Blank left out an important detail in his testimony, but it came out in the cross-examination. Blank used a real physician’s recommendation to purchase marijuana as an undercover agent. Why would an undercover agent already using deception not just fabricate a physician’s recommendation? The answer is simple. Charlie verified every single recommendation with a phone call to the physicians.

Littrell emphasized that the decisions the jury was about to undertake were huge decisions, decisions that would affect life as much as buying a home, deciding who to marry, who to leave with young children. He used a brilliant analogy to define reasonable doubt: wondering if the oven is on while pulling out of the driveway for a weeklong vacation. Burkdol’s poor math skills and revealed incompetence would not provide evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. The sheriff’s department’s unjustifiable behavior, such as following Lynch’s customers home and looking in their windows showed problems with their testimonies, considering their underlying incentives. He reminded the jury that it was crystal clear that Lynch had nothing to do with Abraham Baxter’s parking lot dealing.

Mercenary informants, Littrell spelled out, criminals who worked for tax dollars, are a despicable caliber of people to rely on for undercover work. Could their tips be accepted beyond a reasonable doubt?

Littrell discussed the prosecution’s repeated objections, objections raised because they felt threatened by information about who Charlie is. Charlie researched the laws as a layperson, and sincerely wanted to follow them. Littrell reminded the jury that Lynch never had to testify, but after choosing to do so, endured the cross-examination. Kowal abused him, shouted at him, and in spite of this, Charlie did not make up a self-serving story. He often replied honestly to Kowal, “I don’t know.”

Littrell discussed that Reuter received hundreds of calls per day, that it was a drag to receive questions from the public, and that it did not matter to her to testify that she did not remember a call from Lynch. How would it make her department look if she admitted her own inconsistencies? Littrell dissected Charlie’s motives for calling the DEA. Why would he make these calls? Would he really want to lay a framework so that he could freely break the law, and as a backup, for the chance that he got caught, would rely on a rare, esoteric defense, entrapment by estoppel? If he wanted to lie, couldn’t he have come up with a better one? The standard of proof regarding these calls, clarified Littrell, would not be as high as proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Preponderance of evidence is quite a low level of proof, only more likely true than false, just 51%. Preponderance of evidence would be a decision on par with choosing to take the surface streets or the freeway.

Reuter must have known what was meant by “medical marijuana dispensary,” argued Littrell. Charlie relied on that information, because his next call was to Morro Bay. Was his reliance reasonable? He had the blessing of the city attorney. Charlie received no phone calls or letter from the sheriff’s department to stop. During Kowal’s cross-examination, Charlie conceded that in hindsight, maybe he should have shut down after the raid, but he chose to remain open because people were depending on him.

After attempting to bring up the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s statement on television after the raid, Wu interrupted Littrell for a sidebar. After a few tense moments, Littrell continued on, explaining that there were two ways to find Lynch not guilty, on the fault of evidence, or by entrapment by estoppel. The former reason should have been enough considering the government’s poor quality of proof, and the defense had already solidly laid out the case for entrapment by estoppel.

These decisions were for the jury to decide. Although the federal government attacked Lynch like a freight train from D.C., and although Lynch had withstood the abuse of the government, Littrell explained that the government would not decide the guilt or innocence of Lynch. The jury would.

The Magna Carta, Littrell continued, was the source of the Tenth Amendment, and again he emphasized that the jury would decide this man’s fate. At this, Wu interrupted Littrell again, and barked that no emotion was to be factored into the jury’s decision. Littrell attempted to clarify that the jury’s decision should be a conscientious decision, and Wu cut him off yet again.

Kowal delivered his closing closing argument. He furiously ranted about what he perceived as pressure from the defense to ignore jury instructions. He encouraged them not to rely on sympathy. He asked rhetorically whether it would matter if they thought Lynch was helping sick people, and answered himself with a handwritten “NO,” displayed on the projector. This prompted some inappropriate laughter from the public. In the tone of a dictator, Kowal ordered them to convict Lynch based on the law, that the medical case for marijuana was irrelevant, and that the defendant knew what he was doing was illegal. Kowal completely failed at restraining his terseness and abusiveness, as he again tried to cast doubt on the content of the DEA phone calls. He claimed that Lynch knew about other raids going on. Kowal ended by telling the jurors that to convict Lynch, they did not need to like the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department, Fontecchio’s haircut, or the federal marijuana laws.

Charlie Lynch’s fate is now in the jury’s hands.

For information on how to contact your elected officials, please go here or here.

Check out previous coverage of the trial for Friday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday, August 1 , as well as a video update and CNN's piece about the trial . If you haven't seen it already, watch Raiding California for context leading up to this trial.

Lynch's supporters can join the Free Charlie Lynch! Facebook group.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Never talk to the police, even if you're innocent.

This may be the 45 most important minutes of video of your life.

Dogs of War

Here are some very cool pictures of satirical maps of Europe during World War I.

Lynch Trial Update: Friday, August 1

Cross-posted to reason.tv

Friday, August 1 started with Wu prohibiting a patient to testify as a character witness. The defense wanted her because she would testify that she once asked Lynch to break the law, and he refused. As they waited on a juror to arrive, Wu went over some jury instructions that would reference the considerations of state laws.

When the jury was brought in, Kowal continued his cross-examination. It was clear that he had been coached since the day before, because he had a visibly less hostile demeanor, although anything short of furious screaming was less hostile than his behavior from Thursday. They examined documents regarding Lynch’s business, including his business license applications. Kowal noted that the police chief of the city had not signed it, so Lynch explained that the police chief made a point not sign off on the license, but also the chief clarified that did not disapprove of the license either.

Kowal inquired as to whether or not Lynch opened his dispensary back up after the raid by the DEA. Kowal implied that he should have taken the raid as a sign to stop his business, but Lynch wasn’t even arrested on the day of the raid. He figured that the raid might have just been a scare tactic from the paramilitary DEA. On the day of the raid, he was never instructed by any law enforcement officer, DEA or Sheriff’s Deputy, to stop operating his dispensary, and though the business was decimated, Lynch made the tough decision to open back up for business, since sick people were relying on him for their medicine. He took a cue from the many other dispensaries that had been raided and reopened shortly after.

Kowal tried to have Lynch describe a record of vendors that he had never seen. The document was entitled “Clone Vendors,” a term Lynch never used. Kowal, sensing that this was a dead end, then probed into the conspiracy charge, asking about Abraham Baxter, an employee who had apparently stolen marijuana from the store and sold it to undercover sheriff’s deputies. Baxter wouldn’t testify in court as to how Lynch was unaware of his street dealing. On Thursday, the court had phoned Baxter’s attorney in San Francisco, who said that Baxter would just plead the fifth for every question since he was dealing with that criminal charge.

The cross-examination revealed that Lynch did indeed testify that he sold marijuana to customers under the age of 21. This is the charge Wu specified could not be covered by entrapment by estoppel.

Kowal examined some documents from Lynch’s store and continually tried to bring up whether or not Lynch considered the differences in legality between state and federal laws. Lynch’s testimony was consistent. He did not cave to Kowal’s repeated attempts to bully him into acknowledging that he understood the federal law. Lynch told Mr. Kowal that if he had known that operating a dispensary would land him in that courtroom, he never would have done it. Such a heartfelt statement surely won sympathy from the jury.

The defense wanted to call a federal agent as a witness to testify as to a statement from Baxter that “Charlie didn’t know about the deal,” a clear reference to Baxter’s current legal trouble. The statement would provide evidence to separate Lynch from the conspiracy charge. Wu would not initially allow it though. Wu thought it would be inappropriate to allow this testimony without any notification to Baxter’s attorney.

Scheduling did allow for the defense to call Janice Peters to the stand. Peters is the mayor of Morro Bay, and she wholeheartedly endorsed Lynch’s dispensary. Wu would not allow her to discuss any references to local laws, but the defense was able to lay sufficient foundation for her as a character witness. From all her interactions with Charlie at city council meetings, she testified that she had a good feeling about his reputation as a law-abiding citizen. The defense called another character witness, Robert Schultz, the city attorney for Morro Bay. He also testified that he never heard anything other than that Lynch was a law-abiding citizen.

The prosecution called Special Agent Deanne Reuter to the stand. It was Reuter’s phone line from Lynch’s important fourth call to the DEA. She said that the person Lynch talked to was a receptionist, and explained that office procedure was never to answer the phone, “Marijuana Task Force.” She did not recall any conversation with Lynch, and said that if she had heard the question, she would have answered that state laws are irrelevant, and that there would be no way to avoid federal prosecution. Reuter had directly contradicted the details of Lynch’s phone call. Her testimony appeared gravely damning for the case for entrapment by estoppel, until the defense poked a gaping hole in her testimony in the cross-examination. She was not in the office on the day of the phone call. She also amused the courtroom, when she made a fool of herself by blurting out that California Senate Bill 420 had been repealed. This is factually false. Wu allowed the defense to inquire about her own perceived legal expertise, despite the prosecution’s knee-jerk objections. If there were any doubt before, Reuter solidified her incompetence when she confidently repeated that she knew CA Senate Bill 420 had been repealed, because she said, one of her superiors had sent out an e-mail with this information to her entire office. Her testimony appeared nonsensical for another reason: Lynch’s phone bill contained a seven-minute call.

After the jury was dismissed for the weekend, the prosecution and the defense continued to discuss whether Lynch’s lawyer from Atascadero would be allowed to testify about a conversation that he had with Lynch, in which Lynch described his phone call to the DEA. The prosecution and the defense deliberated on whether Lynch’s motive for the phone call would have arisen either when he finalized his decision to start up the dispensary, or when federal charges were brought against him. Wu will decide over the weekend about whether or not he will be able to testify, according to interpretations of other cases discussed by the prosecution and the defense.

The jury will reconvene on Monday at 11:00 a.m. The evidentiary portion of the trial will end on Monday, because Wu has another trial on Tuesday. The closing statements will occur at 4:30 at the latest, including 15 minutes for the prosecution and the defense, but the earlier they finish with evidence, the longer they will have for closing statements. After that, it’s up to the jury. The decision must be unanimous to find Lynch guilty or innocent, and the courts rarely allow hung juries, since that would mean conducting the trial all over again. The court will let the jury deliberate until they reach a consensus.

Lynch's supporters are encouraged to attend the trial.

U.S. District Court
Courtroom 10
312 North Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

For information on how to contact your elected officials, please go here or here.

Check out previous coverage of the trial for Friday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday as well as a video update. If you haven't seen it already, watch Raiding California for context leading up to this trial.

Lynch's supporters can join the Free Charlie Lynch! Facebook group.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Lynch Trial Update: Thursday, July 31

Cross-posted to reason.tv

The proceedings on Thursday began with Judge Wu hearing more arguments from both the prosecution and the defense on whether or not entrapment by estoppel would be allowed as a legitimate defense. Wu eventually ruled that the phone calls to the DEA would be sufficient. Whether or not the defense would hold would be a jury question, not a legal question. Wu did stipulate though, that because Lynch only asked on the fourth phone call about opening a dispensary, that entrapment by estoppel would not be applicable for the charge of distributing marijuana to minors since Lynch never inquired about that on the call.

Kowal, the male prosecutor, whined that this was inconsistent. Why would it cover all the charges except for distribution to minors, when cultivation of plants was also a separate charge from running a dispensary? This inconsistency posed problems for the defense as well.

Wu never justified his decision rationally. If the DEA had informed Lynch on that fourth phone call that it was "up to the cities and counties to decide how they would handle the matter," then city or county regulations regarding distribution to minors in dispensaries should have been just as valid as city or county rules pertaining to plant cultivation, which Wu said would be covered by the entrapment defense, if successful. After much deliberation, the defense was forced to accept Wu's blatantly flawed logic and unfortunate inconsistency.

Cohen continued his examination of Lynch. They reviewed how Lynch secured a lease in Atascadero, but then moved his business to Morro Bay after a year. Lynch obtained business licenses from the city of Morro Bay, and complied with all rules and conditions from the city of Morro Bay. Lynch had hired a security guard to stand at the entrance from the street preventing anyone who didn't have the proper papers, from entering. To even enter the store, a California driver's license was required. Lynch didn't cultivate any plants in the store until he had a use permit from the city. Janice Peters, the mayor was aware of the dispensary. One day the Morro Bay police chief visited the store, and asked Lynch to file an emergency contact information document, which Lynch promptly did.

In the afternoon, the defense wanted to reschedule so that the mayor of Morro Bay could testify as to her endorsement of Lynch and his operation. She wouldn't be available on Friday, but Wu decided that her testimony was not yet relevant. She had to leave though, to take care of business in San Luis Obispo, so she will not be available to testify even if Wu eventually decides that a testimony from her would be relevant.

Cohen continued the examination. Lynch did a background check on all the employees, including Abraham Baxter, an employee from whom undercover deputies purchased marijuana in a Big 5 parking lot several miles away from the dispensary. The prosecution had earlier been trying to link Baxter to Lynch for conspiracy. Lynch made all his employees sign employee agreement forms that precluded them from selling marijuana outside of the store. He even fired a number of employees that stole marijuana from the store. Clearly, it was never his intention to break any law.

Lynch explained that a white bag he carried out of the store was filled with empty Coke cans he was taking home to recycle. Earlier, a sheriff's deputy had implied that this bag had had marijuana. Lynch also explained an incident from a deputy's earlier testimony, when an employee exited the store, smelled a small bag, and handed it to someone on the sidewalk. Lynch explained that the bag had frozen fish in it, and it smelled. Lynch warned this employee that this action might be misconstrued considering what business that they were in, and told the employee not to do something like that again.

The cross examination began. David P. Kowal revealed that he suffers from serious anger-management issues as he yelled furiously at Lynch from the podium, often brazenly interrupting Lynch's answers. Kowal started to pace back and forth, barking loudly after Lynch's soft-spoken answers, which he seemed to ignore, since he screamed the same questions again and again. The court reporter conveniently interrupted to report that he needed five minutes to maintain his machine. This gave Lynch a much-needed respite from Kowal's abrasive onslaught.

Hopefully Kowal did not use this break to visit the women's restroom. He had entered the women's restroom earlier in the day, and then stepped out moments later in apparent shame. This had occurred after he had just flashed an attention-craving smirk when he strutted past a handful of Lynch's supporters in the hallway.

In the cross-examination, Kowal dwelled on the phone calls to the DEA. Although Kowal emphasized that Lynch had not received any name, position, or title from the voices on the other end of each line, the jury was probably put off by Kowal's belligerence. Some, if not all of the jurors will see how determined Lynch was to follow the law, having called four phone numbers. It's also worth pointing out that on the fourth phone call, the female voice answered the phone by saying, "Marijuana Task Force." When Lynch asked his question, she asked how he got the phone number, which clearly reveals that phone number was an internal line of the DEA, not some receptionist. Reasonable jurors will agree that the second voice who instructed Lynch must have been an authority about the legality of running a dispensary, or otherwise, Lynch wouldn't have been referred to him.

For information on how to contact your elected officials, please go here or here.

Check out previous coverage of the trial for Friday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday , as well as a video update. If you haven't seen it already, watch Raiding California for context leading up to this trial.

Supporters can join the Free Charlie Lynch! Facebook group.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lynch Trial Update: Wednesday, July 30

Cross-posted to Rough Cut

Wednesday morning began with the cross examination of Special Agent Rachel Burkdol, of the DEA. John Littrell, one of Lynch's lawyers, pointed to some glaring problems in Burkdol's methods and testimony. She conceded that only 0.5 g and 1 g amounts were sold from the store, according to the hours of footage she viewed from the security cameras. The defense has demolished the conspiracy charge by noting that Lynch kept accurate customer records, bank statements, financial statements, and a security camera on his own business. What street dealer has ever kept a storefront, only sold to people with prescriptions, accepted credit cards, and given receipts with instructions not to distribute, and to use only for medical purposes?

In Burkdol's count at the store on the day of the raid, she came up with 104 plants, an important number, since federal law calls for harsher penalties for cultivating 100 or more plants. Burkdol counted the plants by herself on the day of the raid, and not even one other agent or deputy checked or confirmed this number. She left no paper trail, but simply wrote down 104 on the search warrant receipt. Later, in filing her report, she wrote, "approximately 104." Apparently, it is standard practice to write "approximately" before measurements in reports, even when these measurements are accurate to several decimal points. If it wasn't problematic enough that no one checked her count, it didn't help the government's case when Littrell discovered that this was Burkdol's first case that she had led, that she had no prior experience counting plants, and that she never learned any official procedure for counting plants.

Marijuana plants are difficult to count. One plant is defined as belonging to one rootball, and plants commonly have multiple stems growing from the same rootball. To see if the stems do belong to the same rootball, an agent would need to tear the stem out from the slab, and this procedure easily damages the rootball, ripping it apart. As such, this would give Burkdol a perfect opportunity to inflate her count. One of the exhibits showed how agents had handled the plants at the raid. A photograph of a ripped up plant revealed it to be ostensibly damaged and casually draped on top of a cardboard box. Obviously Burkdol didn't worry much about precision.

Littrell at one point asked if the court needed to rely on Burkdol's math skills to count the plants, prompting laughter from the public and jury for the reference to her testimony on Tuesday in which she botched a customer's age by incorrectly subtracting the date of birth on their California driver's license from the date of the raid.

Did Burkdol have an incentive to inflate the count? Littrell interrogated as to whether or not Burkdol was familiar with 21 USC 841, the law from where the number 100 came. Even though Burkdol cited 21 USC 841 in her application for the federal search warrant, she admitted that she had never read it in its entirety, even during her training at the DEA training academy in Quantico, Virginia, just 18 months earlier. She also conceded that while she was familiar with the cutoff amounts that vary penalties for other controlled substances, she was unfamiliar with the amounts for marijuana. This surely left the jury astounded, since Burkdol had been working on this case for a year, this case that explicitly involves marijuana and no other controlled substance. She claimed that no one in the DEA office knew of the significance of the number of plants being cultivated. Burkdol said that after learning of the significance of the number 100, she surprised her colleagues when she informed them.

Burkdol put the plants into plastic containers despite knowing that this was an inferior way to keep them, if they were not vacuum-sealed. Many of the plants deteriorated quickly, so much so that a DEA chemist asked Burkdol to dispose of them when the boxes in which they were kept grew moldy. Burkdol gladly disposed of the plants, about a month before any charges were even brought against Lynch, and no one from the prosecution or defense had any opportunity to inspect the plants before they were destroyed. Burkdol said that she was not familiar with 28 CFR 50.21, the procedures governing the destruction of contraband drug evidence in the custody of Federal law enforcement authorities, and rather, just followed the guidelines in the DEA manual. She wasn't aware that she needed to notify the attorneys involved in the case if she destroyed evidence. Kowal, the short-tempered male lawyer representing the government, violently bellowed out an objection, and the court took a side bar and break.

Littrell poked holes in the financial records and log of credit card transactions Burkdol summarized in her report, since she had never received any training in forensic accounting, and was not even familiar with the term Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). There was no way for her to tell whether or not someone could have been using the credit card machine to embezzle money.

It remains unclear the degree to which Rachel Burkdol even understood how poorly her cross examination went. She did not act appropriately shamed as Littrell exposed her irredeemable incompetence.

After the lunch break, the U.S. government called Timothy Nugent, an IRS criminal investigator, who went over financial documents. Unlike Burkdol, the defense found in the cross examination that he was indeed versed in GAAP. The government called Leah Carney, a forensic chemist to testify that indeed, she had found marijuana and THC in the evidence presented to her, using a microscopic test, color test, thin layer chromatography, gas chromatography mass spectrometry. Sam Maroge was another forensic examiner called to the stand who performed the same tests, except for the gas chromatography. The forensic examiners were excused without any cross examination.

After days of enduring the prosecution tediously presenting evidence, it was finally time for Charlie Lynch to testify for the defense. Reuven Cohen asked him questions, and started slowly, moving cautiously and deliberately.

They began with his background with his family, and his preparation before opening the dispensary. They clarified that Lynch listened to and saw all the testimonies from the trial. Lynch did indeed have marijuana in his dispensary. They discussed his background, including the multiple degrees he earned from college, and his successful career in software development. Before opening the dispensary, Lynch had started his own software business. Even before college, Lynch demonstrated his noble work ethic when he worked for his stepfather's business.

In the summer or fall of 2005, Lynch considered opening up a medical marijuana dispensary. San Luis Obispo didn't have one, so it seemed like a good idea to him to provide a valuable service for all those patients who needed to travel a sizeable distance to fill their prescriptions. Lynch wanted to be very sure that he would not violate any laws state or federal, so he started to do some research on the Internet. He looked at Proposition 215 on a California state government website, which referred to Senate Bill 420, which he looked up. He looked at the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States , and still found the laws confusing. He checked out the DEA website and found a page that listed the scheduling of drugs.

Cohen admitted Exhibit 421, a copy of Lynch's phone bill. Lynch first phoned the Oakland DEA office, and inquired about the marijuana dispensaries for the state of California. The man on the other end of the phone couldn't answer his question, so he referred Lynch to a local office in Camarillo. Lynch asked his question again, and was referred to another office. For the third call, Lynch rephrased his question, sensing that he was hitting a wall. He asked what the DEA was going to do about the medical marijuana dispensaries around the state. He was referred to yet another office. When he called this fourth office, a lady answered, "Marijuana Task Force." Lynch repeated his question to her, and the woman asked how he got their number. He explained, was put on hold, and eventually a male picked up. Lynch asked about any legal obstacles if he wanted to open up his own dispensary in California, to which the man on the other end of the phone replied that it was up to the cities and counties to decide how they want to handle the matter. This made sense to Lynch, after his reading of the California and federal laws.

Wu stopped the testimony here. He wanted to delay on deciding whether or not this would be sufficient to argue for entrapment by estoppel. The office did answer with "Marijuana Task Force," and the defense does have a document of each of the phone numbers he called, but the voices were never named on the other end of the line. Also in question is the legitimacy of the authority of that unnamed man from the Marijuana Task Force.

Having admitted to dispensing marijuana on the witness stand, the defense is relying on entrapment by estoppel to absolve Lynch of all charges. Wu will make the decision on whether or not this is a proper defense this morning at 10:15, before the jury comes in at 10:45.

Supporters are encouraged to attend the trial.

U.S. District Court
Courtroom 10
312 North Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Supporters can join the Free Charlie Lynch! Facebook group.

Check out previous coverage of the trial for Friday , Monday , and Tuesday , as well as a video update. If you haven't seen it already watch Raiding California for context leading up to this trial.