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.