ALF Activist Receives Two Year Prison Sentence

In September I wrote about the capture of Animal Liberation Front activist Justin Samuel. Samuel was arrested in Belgium after fleeing the United States to avoid federal charges related to the release of animals from fur farms. Upon his return to the United States, Samuel plead guilty to two misdemeanors.

Last week Samuel became the first person sentenced under the federal animal enterprise terrorism law and received a two year sentence in federal prison for his role in the animal releases. He was also ordered to pay more than $360,000 to business he had harmed. The sentence was the maximum allowable for misdemeanor charges under the statute.

In sentencing Samuel, federal magistrate Stephen Crocker told Samuel that, “You have the right to voice an opinion, but you’re not being prosecuted or sentenced for voicing an opinion but for engaging in an act of terrorism.”

Peter D. Young, who allegedly accompanied Samuel on his fur farm raids, also fled after being indicted and remains at large. The duo released about 36,000 mink from Wisconsin farms during October 1997, but were found in the area with a list of mink farms compiled by the ALF as well as equipment designed to carry out raids against fur farms.

Samuel was allowed to plea bargain to misdemeanor charges after agreeing to “make a full, complete, truthful statement regarding his involvement in violations of federal criminal statutes charged in the original Indictment, as well as the involvement of all other individuals known to him regarding the crimes charged in that Indictment. And the defendant agrees to testify fully and truthfully at any trials or hearings.”

Samuel’s decision to cooperate with authorities hasn’t exactly endeared him to the ALF crowed, but here’s hoping his testimony ensure that he’ll soon be joined in prison by other animal rights terrorists.

Source:

Animal rights activist gets two years in prison. The Associated Press, November 3, 2000.

Activist sentenced for letting minks go. Kevin Murphy, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 4, 2000.

With Mbeki Out of the Picture, AIDS Strategy in South Africa Goes Ahead

The last year or so should have seen news reports about steps that South AFrica was taking to tackles it enormous AIDS problem. Instead, news reports were filled with the controversy over president Thabo Mbeki’s denial that HIV causes AIDS. Although most of his ministers seemed unified behind Mbeki, he came in for criticism from the world scientific establishment and even former president Nelson Mandela directed some veiled criticism at Mbeki’s position. A few weeks ago, Mbeki did his entire country a favor by effectively withdrawing from the AIDS debate.

Mbeki relinquished control over the controversial committee assembled in South Africa to tackle the AIDS committee. That committee had been stacked with people who believed that AIDS is caused by drug use and other behaviors rather than by HIV, along with people convinced that AIDS is a Western conspiracy to depopulate Africa.

That committee has apparently been dissolved and replaced by a new committee chosen by the Mbeki’s cabinet ministers. In addition, South Africa’s Sunday Times reported that Mbeki told the executive committee of the African National Congress that he would no longer make public statements about the relation between HIV and AIDS.

About four million South Africans — 10 percent of the population — are infected with HIV/AIDS. A couple weeks after Mbeki’s announcement, the government released a report including specific recommendations on condom use, monogamy and other approaches to stop the disease which implicitly recognize the connection between HIV and AIDS. This is a very important first step.

Not that there aren’ t still enormous problems. The government unbelievably still refuses to provide anti-AIDS medication to pregnant women with the disease. Study after study has demonstrated that giving antiviral medication to pregnant women is the most effective method of preventing transmission to newborn infants, yet the South AFrican government stubbornly refuses to offer antivirals to pregnant woman, saying it needs more time to study the issue.

The ANC, in fact, maintains that the antivirals are dangerous and accuses opposition parties who disagree with the government’s position of trying to force dangerous drugs onto South African AIDS patients.

Source:

Mbeki ‘withdraws’ from AIDS debate. The BBC, October 16, 2000.

SA’s new war against AIDS. The BBC, October 24, 2000.

Mbeki accepts defeat after protests over AIDS policy. Tim Butcher, The Telegraph (UK), October 18, 2000.

Bush Up By 7 Points in Rasmussen Poll

Tomorrow is going to be an interesting look at how well polls do in close elections. Throughout the nomination process, Rasmussen Research was the most accurate and I personally find their methods to be a lot better than those used by competing services such as Gallup.

While CNN and other media outlets have Gore and Bush at statistical dead heats, the Rasmussen poll has Bush beating Gore 48 to 41 percent, and has shown Bush with a consistent lead over Gore since mid-October.

As the polling service puts it on their Portrait of America web site,

A review of our tracking data over the past seven months indicates that Campaign 2000 has not been a volatile whirlwind as reported in many media outlets. Partisan voters knew back in March how they would vote. Less partisan voters have been gradually making up their minds over the past seven months in a manner that is anything but volatile.

The interesting thing is the possibility of Bush not just winning the popular vote but winning it by several percentage points but losing the election. If Gore can just barely squeak by in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and a few other states, he could lose the popular vote by 2 or 3 percentage points and still win the election (and to my mind a Republican-controlled Congress with a Democratic president who actually received fewer votes than his Republican challenger would fascinating to watch over the next four years).

Why Democracy Scares Me, Part II

Like a lot of places around the country, the fight over education reform is a big topic in Michigan. We’ve already got an ongoing charter school system set up and a ballot initiative to allow parents in the 7 worst school districts in the state to use vouchers will be voted on tomorrow (and probably lose big time if the polls are any indication).

There are politicians on both sides of the argument, obviously, but a Democratic candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives makes me wonder if he even understands the point of the debate. A very nicely done color brochure from Alexander Lipsey’s campaign tells me that he favors quality education saying,

The competition between the charter school system and the public schools has not improved education; it has created a fierce competition for funds. Vouchers will not improve this situation.

I will fight to assure our children will receive a quality educational experience of our choosing, not the government’s.

Huh? School choice is bad and divisive and Lipsey opposes it, but it’s also a very good thing and he supports it? Maybe he’s just trying to be all things to all people, but I suspect that he’s probably got some of the geniuses who go through the local public high school (where 40 percent of students can’t read at their grade level) to do his campaign brochures.

Was the Holocaust Unique?

A few days ago I noted that NOVA was going to run a special on Holocaust denial. The special turned out to be very good. It recreated part of the libel trial in Great Britain that Holocaust denier David Irving brought against author/scholar Deborah Lipstadt.

Lipstadt refuses to debate Holocaust deniers saying that their position is so illegitimate that it does more damage than good to take them on. Thankfully, overall the NOVA piece did an effective job of simply slamming the inanities of the denial position by showing just how intellectually bankrupt it is. I think this is important, because I think people like Lipstadt don’t realize just how deeply the denial-like mentality has spread. I remember several history classes in college in which the instructor maintained that there simply was no way to evaluate historical statements for their truth value — “The Holocaust happened” had no more or less truth value than “The Cubs won the 2000 World Series.” To say either of these statements is true or false, my professors said, is meaningless.

Don Larson had a different tack wondering why there is so much attention paid to the Holocaust despite the fact that there are other 20th century states that murdered as many or more people. The Soviet Union and China, for example, killed far more people than died in the Holocaust. Why the special attention to that particular act of genocide?

First, of course, we simply know more about the Holocaust than any other state-sponsored mass murder in this century. Even though the Soviet Union no longer exists, former Communists in Russia have managed to keep a lid on the more sensitive Soviet-era records. For China the case is even worse with speculation often having to take the place of documentary evidence. We know that upwards of 30 million people died as a direct result of actions taken by the Chinese Communists during Mao’s reign, but we still only know the broad outlines.

On the other hand, thanks to the Allied victory in World War II the documentary evidence for the Holocaust is overwhelming.

There is an ideological reason, and that is the claim that the Holocaust was a unique event unlike anything that happened at any other time in world history. In one sense, of course, the Holocaust was unique. Although somewhat derivative of socialist ideology, fascism was a unique ideological force in the world and combining that with a vitriolic anti-Semitism that could lead to plans to entirely wipe out an ethnic group on the scale that the Nazis attempted to do has very few precedents or antecedents (though I would argue they are there, from the Turkish slaughter of Armenians early in the century to the racial violence in Rwanda near the end of the century).

Neither China nor the Soviet Union’s massacres ever had the sort of pure ethnic motivations that the Holocaust had (yes Stalin wiped out millions of Ukrainians, but largely for political reasons — Stalin was never motivated by the sort of racial hatred that Hitler was).

Even so, I wonder how useful these distinctions are in the broad picture. Sociologist RJ Rummel has done intensive research into this area documenting what he terms democide — murder committed by the state. In his book Death By Government, Rummel estimates that in the 20th century states murdered about 170 million people at a minimum (the figure could be as high as 300+ million).

Rather than hold important the individual causes behind murders committed by fascist Germany or imperial Japan or even the democratic United States (although Rummel does explore such motivations), Rummel’s analysis suggests that it is political power itself which is dangerous. He summarizes his findings by revising Lord Acton’s famous maxim; according to Rummel, Power kills, and absolute Power kills absolutely. As Rummel puts it, the underlying motivations that states give for genocide and state-sponsored murder are certainly important to understand, but “power is a necessary cause for war or democide.” (And of course, to the victims of state terror, the motivation is less important than action — the Czechoslovakian prisoners of war massacred by the Soviet Union are no less dead than their counterparts murdered by Nazi Germany or those hacked to death in Rwanda simply because the ideological underpinnings of the murders in each case differed).

Although the 20th century saw a mind boggling array of improvements in standard of living, when it comes to state-sponsored murder, the trend was actually regressive. Gerald W. Scully has estimated the percentage of people murdered by states for several centuries and the results look like this,

Century Percentage of

world population

murdered by states
13th century 8.9%
17th century 4.7%
19th century 3.7%
20th century 7.3%

Rummel’s numbers are even worse because he put the percentage of people killed by states in the 20th century at 9%, but his figures end with 1991, and there were significant state-sponsored murders after this period that aren’t included such as the massive racially motivated 1994 killings in Rwanda.

Although the Holocaust was certainly a unique historical event that (hopefully) will remain unprecedented, the sad fact is that state-sponsored murder on a massive scale was rather commonplace and unexceptional in the 20th century.

Capital Punishment and State Power

I really hadn’t intended on writing about the death penalty for awhile, since it tends to be one of those polarizing issues that people tend to talk past each other over. But Seth Dillingham today linked to an article about a distant relative who is going to be executed in Texas which highlights the problems with capital punishments.

I think we can all agree that the convicted killer Jeffrey Dillingham is not the sort of person who should be released back into society anytime soon. Jeffrey was one of three people in a murder-for-hire scheme concocted by the daughter of a wealthy man who wanted her inheritance a bit early. Along with a friend of his, Brian Salter, Jeffrey Dillingham broke into a house, beat to death 40-year old Caren Koslow, and almost beat to death 48-year old Jack Koslow. A despicable act. You can even understand the emotions that went through Jack Koslow at the trial of his daughter Kristi, who masterminded the murder — distraught over the death of his wife, he urged the court to sentence his daughter to death for her part in the crime.

Does the state have the right to kill Jeffrey Dillingham? I don’t think so.

Why?

First, the moral authority that the state has derives from the moral authority that individuals collectively have — which also means that the state is limited by the moral authority that individuals collectively have. Jack Koslow was found unconscious at his house, but imagine that he had regained his consciousness with the killers in his house and managed to grab a gun and turn the tables on his would-be killers. Suppose, finding his wife dead, Jack Koslow tied up his assailants and shot them each in the head, and then dispatched his daughter. In this imaginary scenario, Jack Koslow himself would be in jail for first degree, premeditated murder, and he would be denounced as a vigilante.

If it is morally wrong for an individual or group of individuals to kill an unarmed person, it does not suddenly become morally permissible just because those people go into a jury room and come back and pass the job of actually doing the killing onto the state of Texas.

Consider how different the moral case is for simply jailing Jeffrey Dillingham for the rest of his life. Suppose Koslow disarms and subdues his assailants, but finds his phone service has been disconnected by the intruders. Fearful that the criminals might escape, Koslow locks them securely in his basement, tied up, while he goes next door to call police. Certainly Koslow has the right to lock up his criminal assailants for as long as necessary for his own protection. Similarly the state has a right to act on behalf of everyone in society to lock up criminals and exclude them from society both for our protection and as a just form of punishment.

But why not just give the state the power to do things that we all agree would be immoral if individuals or groups of individuals did on their own? Well, we can look at the results because that idea forms a set of legal principles called sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity originated as the right of kings — since kings were, at least theoretically, the source of all laws under monarchies, it followed that whatever the king chose to do was by definition legal. It was considered literally impossible for the king to commit a crime.

Now obviously, this sort of principle was never adhered to exactly though the rights of royalty in monarchies until very recently were extremely broad. Unfortunately this idea carried over into the democracies that emerged from these monarchies and is, in fact, a well worn principle in the United States. Sovereign immunity is the reason, for example, that when Firestone makes tires that are allegedly unsafe, people can and do sue them. When the government passes fuel mileage standards that, according to a recent Harvard study, cause several thousand additional deaths each year, however, don’t even think about suing the government. The case will be thrown out without a second hearing on grounds of sovereign immunity.

In his recent book, Feeling Your Pain: The Explosion and Abuse of Government Power in the Gore Years, James Bovard noted the extraordinary claim made by the Justice Department after the Ruby Ridge fiasco in which FBI agents used unconstitutional rules of engagement to shoot any armed individual on sight.

After investigating the shooting, an Idaho prosecutor indicted an FBI sharpshooter who had shot and killed an unarmed woman. Justice Department lawyers actually argued in federal court that federal agents were immune from state or local prosecution for any alleged crimes they committed while acting in their role as federal agents. The scary thing is that the federal judge agreed that as long as a federal agent had a “reasonable belief” that he was acting legally on orders from superiors, any alleged crimes he committed could not be prosecuted by state or local authorities.

As Bovard writes of the Clinton administration — and you could substitute pretty much most every other presidential administration this century,

Another Clinton legacy is a two-class system in America: those whom the law fails to restrain, and those who it fails to protect; those above the law, and those below it; those for whom there is “not controlling legal authority,” in Vice President Gore’s famous words, and those for whom there are few, if any, constitutional protections. … The notion that “the king can do no wrong” permeated the Clinton administration’s legal and public relations defense strategies.