Al Gore, the Libertarian Party and the Death Penalty

 

Today’s Headlines from Libertarian Sites

EPA
Funds Anti-Sprawl Politics with Tax Dollars

by Randal O’Toole (CATO Institute)

Medical
Privacy Under Attack–Still
by Twila Brase (Heartland Institute)

Troubles
with Prisons Show Merits of Privatization
by Adrian Moore
(Heartland Institute)

Lessons
from School Choice
by Matthew Berry (Heartland Institute)

The
Link between Regulation and Power Blackouts
by Murray Weidenbaum
(Heartland Institute)

Property
Tax Collections Reach New Heights
by Bill Ahern (Heartland
Institute)

How
to Rehabilitate Probation and Parole
by Morgan Reynolds
(Heartland Institute)

Save
the Internet from Death by Taxes
by John R. La Plante (Heartland
Institute)

Access
to the Internet: Regulation or Markets?
by David B. Kopel
(Heartland Institute)

The
Progress Explosion
by Jonathan H. Adler (Heartland Institute)

You
Say “Tomato,” They Say “Poison”
by Martin Zelder (Heartland
Institute)

Suburban
Parents: Choice Is the Only Solution
by George Clowes (Heartland
Institute)

Welfare
State Continues to Grow
by Robert Rector & David Muhlhausen
(Heartland Institute)

Dolly
Parton, John D. Rockefeller, and Bill Gates
by Jim Johnston
(Heartland Institute)

Canada’s
‘Model T’ Health-care System
by Peter Hadekel (Intellectual
Capital)

Read
My Scripts
by Nadine Strossen (Intellectual Capital)

 

   

Al Gore gave an extraordinary
interview
to the San Francisco Bay Guardian recently in which he asserted
that it was okay for the state to murder its own citizens provided its
intentions were good.

The topic at hand was capital
punishment. The Guardian reporter pointed out that the Republican governor
of Illinois recently placed a moratorium on all executions in that state
after a string of innocent people had been released from death row (in
fact, Illinois has had to set free one innocent person on death row for
every person it actually executed in recent years).

       Rather than take the bait and
come down against capital punishment altogether or at least recent reforms
that make it harder to file appeals, Gore took the opposite route — it
doesn’t matter that capital punishment inevitably kills innocent people.

“. . . I support the death
penalty,” Gore told the Guardian. “. . . I think that any honest and candid
supporter of the death penalty has to acknowledge that that support comes
in spite of the fact that there will inevitably be some mistakes. And
that’s a harsh concession to make, but I think it’s the only honest concession
to make, and it should spur us to have appreciation for habeas corpus,
for the procedural safeguards for the accused, and for the fairness that’s
a part of the American judicial system and to resist efforts to take away
the procedural safeguards.”

Gore then turns around and
agrees with rulings and laws limiting the appeals of death row (and other)
prisoners, saying, “I think that the pendulum swung so far in the direction
of a flood of habeas petitions that the decisions of some courts to weed
out the procedural abuse is justified.”

So as long as you give an innocent
man or woman a few appeals, it’s okay to commit murder afterward.

Normally, this would be the
part of the article where I’d get all high minded about how libertarians
oppose such arbitrary state power and would never go along with such nonsense
as Gore does, but in fact the most prominent libertarian political organization
in America — the Libertarian Party — has a stand which makes even less
sense than Gore’s. The Libertarian Party’s position is that it officially
does not take a stand on the death penalty.

The same folks who think the
U.S. government is violating the constitution when it asks any census
question besides “How many people live in your home?” think the death
penalty is just too controversial an issue to take a stand on.

The same group that regularly
chronicles the massive inefficiencies in government, doesn’t even comment
on the state’s inability to ensure that the people it executes are actually
guilty.

Give me a break. The issue
is not that complex. A state that engages in extrajudicial
murder
itself can hardly be trusted to ensure that the people it executes
for crimes are truly guilty.

As with Gore’s answer, the
Libertarian Party’s position on the death penalty is a clear example of
putting politics ahead of principle. The Libertarian Party’s only hope
for any real electoral victories is to bring economic conservatives who
currently vote Republican into the fold. Unfortunately, a lot of those
conservatives tend to be pro-death penalty and would be turned off by
a party plank against capital punishment.

The Party admits as much on
its web site when it mentions a
survey
showing that about 25% of its members supported the death penalty
in an unscientific survey it conducted. Presumably if 25% of its members
decided the drug war was a great idea, the organization would change its
stance on that issue too.

This sort of shameless behavior
is why many libertarians either don’t vote or vote for Republican candidates.
If I want to vote for an unprincipled candidate who will change his views
according to the prevailing political winds, George W. Bush will probably
be there on the ballot already. Why do I need the Libertarian Party’s
second hand version of a Republican waffler?

Researchers Introduce Scab Resistant Wheat

Vol. 4, No. 4

Researchers introduce scab-resistant wheat

North Dakota State University researchers have developed a new variety
of wheat that resists scab disease (Fusarium head blight).

Scab is a fungs that causes kernels of wheat and barley to shrivel up
and produces toxins that render the grain unsuable. According to the Associated
Press, from 1991-97, scab destroyed an estaimated $2.6 billion worth of
wheat.

The new wheat breed is a result of a 10-year long project that cross-bred
three wheat varieties obtained from China. When planted in areas where
scab disease is a problem, the new wheat variety results in substanitally
higher yields.

The new variety could be available for planting by 2001.

Reference:

Researchers
introduce new wheat variety
. Associated Press, February 8, 2000.


A Return to McCarthy-ism

 

Today’s Headlines from Libertarian Sites

Fool’s
Gold
by Llewellyn H. Rockwell,
Jr. (Mises Institute)

Echelon
unveiled
by JD Tucille (About.Com)

Business
Sells Out on Internet Taxes
by Aaron Lukas

   

On its web site, Accuracy
in Academia
outlines its mission as correcting ideological biases
in scholarship.

We contend that academic freedom is threatened by a progressive
ideological orthodoxy, pervasive in the intellectual community, which
degrades professional standards in teaching and scholarship, and inhibits
speech and research which contradict orthodox views.

A worthy mission, to be sure,
but lousy scholarship is hardly unique to the Left as it also plaguse,
and continue to plagues, much of the Right. AIA’s Daniel Flynn provides
a textbook example of this in a speech he gave at Accuracy In Academia’s
recent “Rethinking McCarthy” conference. As the title of his speech indicates,
Flynn’s goal is proclaiming that no less than “Vindication Comes 50 years
Later for ‘Tailgunner’ Joe.” Flynn’s attempted rehabilitation of McCarthy
relies on exactly the same sort of obfuscation and logical errors that
he would rightly decry if employed by a Leftist to vindicate a Soviet
leader or apologist.

Before looking at Flynn’s
claims in detail, lets look a moment at what we know today about McCarthy’s
main obsession — the infiltration of American institutions by spies working
for the Soviet Union.

The major conclusion based
on evidence available since the fall of the Soviet Union is that the Soviet
espionage network was fare more extensive than had previously been imagined
by anybody except the diehard anti-Communists such as McCarthy. Declassified
documents from both Soviet archives and American intelligence agencies
establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Communist spies were extremely
successful in penetrating their U.S. targets.

But does this mean that McCarthy’s
claim of a widespread conspiracy is vindicated? Hardly. Consider, for
example, a case where the Right was correct and the Left was incorrect
— the prosecution of Alger Hiss. Hiss was accused by Whittaker Chambers
of conducting espionage against the United States (which Chambers also
claimed to have taken part in). The statute of limitations had run out
on the espionage charge, but Hiss was indicted for perjury after he testified
to a grand jury that he had never engaged in espionage against the United
States on behalf of the Soviet Union. After his first trial ended in a
hung jury, Hiss was convicted in his second trial.

Although the evidence against
Hiss was overwhelming, many prominent Leftists argued that Hiss was simply
a victim of Red baiting and that he had been framed by Chambers and/or
the FBI. Documents made available since the fall of the Soviet Union clearly
corroborate stories told by both Chambers. Soviet cables intercepted by
the United States discuss a spy who is almost certainly Hiss; Hiss is
the only one who happens to fit the description and was at the events
mentioned in the cables. In the early and mid-1990s even many of his former
supporters on the Left began to concede that Hiss probably was a spy for
the Soviet Union.

If McCarthy had made similar
fact-based allegations which were simply dismissed as Red baiting, but
which later turned out to be accurate, there might be some basis for claiming
vindication for McCarthy. Unfortunately for Flynn, McCarthy operated in
an entirely different universe from this sort of fact-based proceeding.

Flynn makes much of the fact
that some of the individuals McCarthy accused of being Communists turned
out to have actually been Communists, but this is a bit like saying that
some of the predictions made by National Enquirer psychics actually come
true — like the psychics, McCarthy threw so many accusations around that,
given the size of the Communist spy network, random chance had to make
him right about a few of his targets.

McCarthy’s accusations rested
not on reasoned consideration of the evidence but an irrational need to
accuse anybody and everybody. Flynn’s claim that McCarthy was right is
incredibly irresponsible. Or perhaps Flynn wants to join a long list of
certifiable kooks who agree with McCarthy’s June 14, 1951 speech on the
floor of the Senate — a three hour tirade in which McCarthy claimed that
Gen. George C. Marshall had been a Soviet agent all of his life. McCarthy
later published this speech in book form as “America’s Retreat from Victory:
The Story of George Catlett Marshall” in which McCarthy claimed:

If Marshall were merely stupid the laws of probability would
have dictated that at least some of his decisions would have served his
country’s interest . . . . What is the objective of the conspiracy? I
think it is clear from what has occurred and what is now occurring: to
diminish the United States in world affairs, to weaken us militarily,
to confuse our spirit with talk of surrender in the Far East and to impair
our will to resist evil. To what end? To the end that we shall be contained
and frustrated and finally fall victim to Soviet intrigue from within
and Russian military might from without” (quoted in Powers, p.244)

McCarthy’s entire brief career
consisted largely of such wild accusations, which he was constantly being
forced to retract or modify. When McCarthy claimed that he had a list
of 205 known Communists in government, for example, all he really had
was a list of 205 people who an informer thought might be a Communist
but who the government had already investigated and found the accusation
unsubstantiated (which doesn’t mean some of them weren’t Communists —
some of them certainly were, but the last time I checked the United States
was a country of laws where evidence, not intuition, carries the day).

For McCarthy, the formula for
finding Communists was simple — anybody who didn’t agree with him on
policy issues was a Communist or Communist-aligned. Flynn should be ashamed
of himself for giving the impression that McCarthy acted reasonably in
making his allegations. After disparaging Left wing supporters of death
row convict Mumia Abu-Jamal for conveniently leaving out facts that don’t
fit their claims, it is unconscionable that Flynn doesn’t even address
McCarthy’s ridiculous claims about Marshall or the flimsy basis for his
other accusations.

Probably it is because Flynn
knows precisely how insane many of McCarthy’s claims were that he has
to go to absurd lengths to rationalize McCarthy’s witch hunt. Flynn informs
the reader, for example, that if McCarthy “Created a climate in which
governmental institutions could go after individuals because of their
political beliefs,” this is ameliorated by the fact that many of those
institutions, such as the House Un-American Activities Committee, were
originally created by New Deal Democrats to go after their enemies. So,
you see, two wrongs do make a right after all (the obvious conclusion
to such a claim would be that McCarthy was every bit as insidious as the
New Deal Democrats, but apparently this view would conflict to much with
the McCarthy-as-hero that Flynn is selling).

Similarly the best defense
Flynn offers to the charge that “McCarthy was guilty of publicly defaming
individuals by linking them to Communism before they had a chance to defend
themselves” is a lame reply that “if this was true of McCarthy, it was
certainly true of his liberal opponents as well.” Did Flynn just hire
Bill Clinton as his ghost writer? Because a New Deal Democrat defamed
someone, McCarthy had a green light to call Gen. Marshall a Soviet agent
on the floor of the Senate.

In fact, Flynn plays right into the hands of apologists for Communism who he so despises — just as McCarthy did when denies that smeared liberals by mixing Communists with liberals. claims it was “liberal s[who] were unable to distinguish between their fellow and”, noting Roosevelt Truman administrations handling Alger Hiss Harry Dexter White respectively.

Besides, the claim that liberals
couldn’t distinguish between liberls and Communists is an outright lie.
Many liberals and ex-Communists, disillusioned by the Soviet Union’s pattern
of human rights abuses and cooperation with Nazi Germany in the 1930s,
formed an important part of the anti-Communist movement. To McCarthy and
many of his allies, however, the only good anti-Communist was a conservative
anti-Communist and they attacked liberal anti-Communist groups and individuals
as being secretly Communist. Such attacks seriously harmed the ability
of liberal anti-Communists to influence left/liberal opinion and cast
the entire movement as being about a result of little more than acute
paranoia.

McCarthy was no hero and is
certainly not vindicated by new evidence. If anything McCarthy was far
more useful to the Soviet Union than many of its genuine spies. Almost
single handedly McCarthy managed to completely discredit anti-communism.
To this day, many people don’t even know there were active liberal anti-communist
organizations. Instead anti-communism became identified with McCarthy’s
madness to tragic results. The fear of another Red baiting witch hunt
served to silence genuine security issues and concerns about Communists
in government, and made honest discussions of important policy regarding
Communism difficult if not impossible.

As Richard Gid Powers puts
it in his excellent history of anti-communist movements in America, Not
Without Honor
,

. . . McCarthy’s charges were so far from the truth that while
it might take time to demonstrate that he was a fraud, the final outcome,
to those who knew the facts, was never in doubt. Isaac Don Levine [a prominent
anti-communist] recalled that the moment he had heard what McCarthy had
done in Wheeling, he had known the anticommunist cause was doomed.

By focusing on this ridiculous
attempt to whitewash McCarthy, Flynn fails to note the real irony and
lesson of the red baiting of the 1950s — much of it never would have
happened if it hadn’t been for liberals and leftists. The main institution
that led and aided the witch hunt was the House Un-American Activities
Committee, which turned up a lot of important information but also helped
made reckless charges, and created an environment where demagogues such
as McCarthy could accuse anyone of being a Communist, like some modern
day Inquisitor.

But HUAC wasn’t started by
a bunch of crazy right wing nuts — in fact it had its origins under a
different name as a special committee to investigate alleged Nazi sympathizers
in the 1930s. When the chair of that committee, New York Congressman Samuel
Dickstein, wanted a committee with broad powers to investigate German-Americans
he proposed a committee to investigate “un-American” activities. In this
effort he was eventually joined by anti-Communist New Deal Texas Democrat
Martin Dies and HUAC was born.

Ironically, today there is
almost no principled opposition to the massive powers that Congressional
committees and subcommittees now wield. Where once Leftists such as I.F.
Stone decried the ability of committees to compel testimony by offering
immunity from prosecution, today defendants compelled to give such testimony
are usually said to get off on technicalities when their prosecution is
overturned (as, for example, happened in the case of Iran-Contra defendant
Oliver North and others).

Although McCarthy is gone,
his spirit lives on, not least of all in folks like Flynn who blatantly
distort and ignore the truth.

Are Pharmacy Technicians a Danger to Your Health?

 

Today’s Headlines from Libertarian Sites

Congress
Should End The Confusion Over Medicare Private Contracting

by Robert E. Moffit (Heritage Foundation)

Watch
Your Language
by Walter Block (Mises Institute)

No
More Great Presidents
by Robert Higgs (Mises Institute)

Burning
Man Grows Up: Can the nation’s premier underground event survive
its success?
by Brian Doherty (Reason)

Conventional
Wisdom: Rediscovering the social norms that stand between law
and libertinism
by Jonathan Rauch (Reason)

Reality
Principles: An Interview with John R. Searle Eminent philosopher
John R. Searle defends free speech, free inquiry, and the Enlightenment

from Reason

The
Broken Blue Line: How to start a riot
by Jesse Walker (Reason)

Pot
Stickers: Indiana tries to punish a marijuana grower twice

by Stephen F. Hayes (Reason)

Seattle
Surprise: The WTO protests caught free-traders off guard. They
shouldn’t have
by Virginia Postrel (Reason)

Orphans
of Trade How to help all of Cuba’s children
by Nick Gillespie
(Reason)

Wiring
Washington: How to make a killing in cable
by Thomas W.
Hazlett (Reason)

Gold
Bugs Class action lawyers discover Silicon Valley
by Walter
Olson (Reason)

Faith
of Our Fathers: The Unbelief of America’s Founding Fathers

by Jim Peron (Laissez-Faire City Times)

Religious
Freedom and Private Property Rights
by Tibor R. Machan (Laissez-Faire
City Times)

Politics
in America, Part 9: A Psychotic Social Psychology, Continued

by Robert L. Kocher (Laissez-Faire City Times)

The
Power of Openness: Why Citizens, Education, Government and Business
Should Care About the Coming Revolution in Open Source Code
Software
from Laissez-Faire City Times

Karl
Popper and Friedrich Hayek: an Interview with Jeremy Shearmur

by Alberto Mingardi (Laissez-Faire City Times)

Scourge
Against the UN Moynihan’s Rebellious Daughter
by Richard
S. Ehrlich (Laissez-Faire City Times)

Columnist
Reflects New Deal View of Twisted Constitutional Views
by
Roger Pilon (CATO Institute)


   

The Associated Press recently
reported on the horror of the month — pharmacy technicians.

Pharmacy technicians are the
folks who do most of he work in modern pharmacies. Although they usually
lack any sort of formal training, they typically do the data entry for
drugs, count the actual tablets and slap the label on the pill bottle.
The pharmacist then checks everything to make sure the drug type and amount
is correct before the prescription is handed to the consumer.

According to some consumers
and regulatory bodies, this is an unacceptable state of affairs — they
want additional training required for pharmacy technicians and stiff licensing
requirements. The Associated Press gives a typical horror story. A woman
noticed the drug her 5-year old was taking contained a special warning
about giving it to children. The pharmacy technician told her this was
no problem. Unfortunately that was very bad advice, and as a result the
child suffered severe side effects including ongoing learning disabilities.

The Associated Press cites
a 1998 study by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy that found pharmacists
catching an average of 6.5 mistakes by technicians each week. Unfortunately
there are serious problems with that study. Only half of the 1,590 drugstores
surveyed bothered to respond and asking pharmacists to estimate how many
errors they spot in a given week is a very poor way of measuring the problem.

The real problem with the criticism
of pharmacy technicians, however, is that while technicians do indeed
make mistakes, the limited evidence available indicates they don’t make
mistakes any more often than regular pharmacists do. Last year, for example,
U.S. Pharmacopeia’s Medication Errors Reporting Program reported receiving
314 reports of pharmacy errors, half of which were made by technicians.
But what of the half that weren’t made by technicians? Logically, they
were almost certainly made by pharmacists.

Having spent a couple years
working as a pharmacy technician at a small pharmacy and a big chain the
basic problem in filling prescription is accurately processing data, not
having any special pharmaceutical skills or knowledge.

The main source of error is
still doctors who tend to right out almost unreadable prescriptions. It
is amazing in this day of hand-held computers, fax machines and cell phones
that doctors introduce a large risk into drug prescriptions by scrawling
out their drug orders. To really lower the risk of getting the wrong drug,
always have a doctor’s office phone in a prescription.

The second source of error
was the dizzying array of different compounds, many with similar names,
not to mention the occasional drugs that look very much alike (there are,
after all, only so many names and shapes available for the pills we take).
Such errors, in my experience, were uncommon but they did happen. However,
if a pharmacist and technician are doing their jobs, these never get out
the door. Not once did I ever see the process break down so a person go
the wrong drug.

On the other hand, such errors
are inevitable regardless of what sort of system is in place. States could
require that only licensed pharmacists have anything to do with dispensing
drugs, and such errors are still going to occur. There’s no way to get
around that.

But the presence of pharmacy
technicians probably increases the reliability of the system, since with
the pharmacy technician system the technician and the pharmacist both
check the prescription before it goes out the door. That is far superior
to having a single individual pharmacist doing the entire process from
beginning to end. To the extent that there is a problem with this system
it is that pharmacists don’t adhere to it. The Virginia Board of Pharmacy
interviewed dozens of pharmacists, with half of them saying they never
checked the results of their technicians.

Licensing of technicians or
limiting what technicians can do — both popular solutions among the regulate-it-to-death
crowd — will simply raise the cost of running a pharmacy while doing
very little to reduce the risk of a serious tragedy (largely because that
risk is probably already as low as it can get given the current economic
and time pressures).

Reference:

Proliferation
of pharmacy technicians raises questions of quality
. The Associated
Press, February 14, 2000.

Researchers use gene therapy to restore rat liver functions

    Researchers have used genetically
modified liver cells to grow in the laboratory and successfully transplanted
the lab-grown cells into rats.

    The cells, called hepatocytes,
are generally difficult to grow under laboratory conditions. Transplanting
of such cells has been done in humans before, but with limited success
because of the difficulty in isolating enough hepatocytes.

    The technique described in
the Science articles inserts a cancer gene that forces the liver cells
to reproduce quickly. Then when enough of the liver cells are created,
researchers treated the cells with an enzyme that gets rid of the cancer
gene and halts the growth of the cells.

    The researchers then injected
the liver cells into rats who had 90 percent of their liver surgically
removed. Sixty percent of the rats receiving the genetically modified
liver cells survived to live normal lives, while all animals in a control
group that didn’t receive the cells died within three days.

Reference:

Researchers
experiment with genetic liver therapies
. The Associated Press, February
18, 2000.

PETA Protests George W. Bush

People for the Ethical Treatment
of Animals didn’t make any friends with Republican presidential candidate
George W. Bush during the South Carolina primary. PETA decided to protest
Bush after the presidential candidate had just finished a pancakes-and-bacon
breakfast.

A PETA activist dumped a truckload
of dried manure at the doorstep of the restaurant where Bush had just
eaten. The activist then abandoned the dump truck used to deposit the
manure (with a requisite sign saying “Meat Stinks”) so that it blocked
Bush’s campaign bus. According to an Associated Press report on the incident,
“Police moved in, grabbed the man, and as they dragged him away he yelled:
“Meat is murder! Pork is death!”

Bush, who was taping a television
interview at the time, joked, “I sure am glad I had my bacon for breakfast.”

Reference:

“PETA protests Bush breakfast stop.” Associated Press, February 19, 2000.