Archive for the ‘Social Issues’ Category

As Iowa faith leader endorses Rand Paul, Falwell, Jr. gets heat for his pro-Trump comments

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Rand Paul’s presidential campaign announced the support of Iowa Reverend Brian Nodler on Thursday, stating that his endorsement adds to Paul’s growing team of faith leaders in the state. Reverend Nodler announced his decisionin a statement that explains why he believes Paul is the right choice for Christians.

“Sen. Paul’s vision and policies, while perhaps out of the mainstream today … actually reflect the conservatism of our nation’s founding fathers, our founding documents, and the first decades of our history. More importantly, I believe they reflect biblical principles,” wrote Nodler.

“I support Sen. Paul because he wants the American people to be liberated from state dependence,” added Nodler, noting that the “Leviathan of federal government” and “massive welfare state” have crowded out both entrepreneurship and reliance on strong communities.

Nodler also said that he believes, as Paul does, that our national debt is not just an economic issue but a moral issue. Nodler added that he’s impressed with Paul’s strong pro-life track record both in the senate and through his personal actions.

Further, Nodler praised Paul’s foreign policy, saying, “I am concerned that our country has moved further and further away from the ‘just war’ principles of the Christian tradition that used to inform, and indeed restrain, so much of our foreign policy.”

Nodler joins Rev. Mark Doland, who wrote of his support for Paul in the Des Moines Register last year. Doland cited Paul’s commitments to fairness in the criminal justice system and the pro-life cause as reasons for his endorsement.

Rev. Nodler’s support of Paul comes in the wake of evangelical criticism aimed at Jerry Falwell Jr., son of the late pastor who shares his name. Falwell Jr. recently invited Donald Trump to speak at Liberty University, the conservative Christian college founded by his father, and has faced criticism for his praise of the real estate magnate.

Falwell Jr. compared Trump to his father, and said, “When you look at the fruits of his life and all the people he’s provided jobs, I think that’s the true test of somebody’s Christianity.” These comments, among others, have drawn sharp rebukes from several evangelical leaders.

Said Michael Farris, a home schooling advocate and Moral Majority leader, “Trump made history by opening the first strip club in a casino in New Jersey. Jerry Sr. made history by inspiring millions of Christians to engage in civic life–including battling porn, not putting on pornographic stage shows.”

“Giving Trump an honorary doctorate [from Liberty University] in the past was unwise, but comparing him to Jesus was as close to heresy as I ever wish to witness. Jerry Falwell, Senior taught and we believed that character matters and candidates should share our worldview–not our vision of financial success,” he added.

John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council said, “The late Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr. would be rolling over in his grave if he knew the son who bore his name had endorsed the most immoral and ungodly man to ever run for president of the United States.” (Falwell claims he hasn’t endorsed Trump, but nonetheless lavished him with praise.)

Said Russell Moore, president of the ethics and religious liberty commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, “[Trump] is someone who, as recently as yesterday, said that he has nothing to seek forgiveness for, despite the fact that you have someone who has broken up two households, by his own admission, with scandalous results.”

Criticizing Falwell Jr.’s handling of Trump, Moore added, “Portraying this lost soul as a brother in Christ is not only doing wrong to Trump himself, it preaches an anti-gospel to all who hear.” Said Moore, “The gospel is about repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, not about excusing sin and injustice for the sake of political power.”

Which presidential candidate will appeal most to evangelical voters remains unclear, but polls show that Trump is shockingly popular in that demographic, as are Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. But Iowa is largely seen a bellwether for evangelical support, and Rand Paul’s campaign believes he is on the rise in the key early state.

The Iowa caucus is February 1st.

President Obama follows the Koch brothers’ lead on criminal justice reform

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Originally published at Rare

In liberal circles, the libertarian Koch Brothers are often demonized as capitalist boogeymen out to increase their profit margin at the expense of the poor. Their defenders respond that free markets do more to alleviate aggregate poverty than redistributionary government schemes. This economic disagreement is likely to continue indefinitely, but there’s a strong area of common ground between liberals and libertarians on one key issue: criminal justice reform.

In fact, Charles and David Koch have been major players in promoting reforms to our penal system, not just by pushing for policy changes legislatively, but by living their values through Koch Industries. In April of this year, Koch Industries decided to “ban the box,” which means they got rid of the checkbox on job applications that force prospective employees to disclose their criminal records. This practice has made it extremely difficult for individuals who are no longer incarcerated to find work—particularly if they happen to be a person of color.

Mark Holden, general counsel for Koch Industries, explained that, “As a large United States-based manufacturing company that employs 60,000 American workers we shouldn’t be rejecting people at the very start of the hiring process who may otherwise be capable and qualified, and want an opportunity to work hard.” As data from the Department of Criminal Justice shows, up to 75 percent of inmates have difficulty finding work during their first year of reentry into society.

When a company chooses to “ban the box,” as Koch has done, the employer won’t know about a prospective hire’s criminal record by simply looking at their application. If a manager expresses interest in a résumé and interviewing begins, they’ll find out about the felony record as the process goes on. The key difference is that the interviewee has already gotten his foot in the door, and the employer is more likely to give him a chance.

This week, President Obama decided to follow suit, announcing on Monday that he signed an executive order that begins eliminating bias against those with criminal records in the federal hiring process. This comes in the wake of Obama’s recent focus on criminal justice reform, which included a summer visit with inmates at a federal prison, something no other president has done before. As Ari Melber of MSNBC reported of his decision this week:

Obama unveiled the plan on a visit to a treatment center in New Jersey, a state where Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed a ban the box bill into law last year. Hillary Clinton endorsed ban the box last week, while Republican Sen. Rand Paul also introduced similar federal legislation, with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, to seal criminal records for non-violent offenders.

This speaks to the increasingly bipartisan nature of criminal justice reform, which is a surprising but good sign in a government divided by a fractious Republican Congress and Democratic executive branch. People from all walks of life are beginning to recognize that preventing individuals from effectively re-entering society after serving time in prison further inflames the cycle of poverty that in many cases drove criminals to use or sell drugs in the first place. And “ban the box” is just one of the many changes on the table. Focusing on treatment rather than incarceration has also gained steam, and reforms to largely arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences have gotten major hearings in Congress.

As President Obama said this week:

A lot of time, that record disqualifies you from being a full participant in our society — even if you’ve already paid your debt to society. It means millions of Americans have difficulty even getting their foot in the door to try to get a job much less actually hang on to that job. That’s bad for not only those individuals, it’s bad for our economy.

This echoes what Charles Koch wrote about overcriminalization earlier this year:

After a sentence is served, we should restore all rights to youthful and non-violent offenders, such as those involved in personal drug use violations. If ex-offenders can’t get a job, education or housing, how can we possibly expect them to have a productive life? And why should we be surprised when more than half of the people released from prison are again incarcerated within three years of their release?

With agreement like this between two warring camps, there’s hope for more meaningful and desperately needed criminal justice reforms in the near future.

This new disclosure shows the utter hypocrisy of the Drug Enforcement Agency

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the bureaucracy responsible for waging the War on Drugs, appears to take a do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do approach towards employee accountability.

First there was the revelation earlier this year that DEA agents attended drug cartel-funded “sex parties” with prostitutes while on assignment in Colombia.

In the wake of congressional testimony about the incident, DEA administrator Michele Leonhart resigned, and the Department of Justice launched an investigation into whether the DEA is properly punishing wrongdoing among its agents.

Reports obtained this week through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, however, appear to show that pervasive accountability problems persist at the DEA. As USA Today reports:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has allowed its employees to stay on the job despite internal investigations that found they had distributed drugs, lied to the authorities or committed other serious misconduct, newly disclosed records show….

…Records from the DEA’s disciplinary files show that was hardly the only instance in which the DEA opted not to fire employees despite apparently serious misconduct.

Of the 50 employees the DEA’s Board of Professional Conduct recommended be fired following misconduct investigations opened since 2010, only 13 were actually terminated, the records show. And the drug agency was forced to take some of them back after a federal appeals board intervened.

According to the newly obtained information, previously revealed drug-fueled sex parties were just the tip of the iceberg. DEA agents can apparently fail random drug tests, drive and damage government vehicles while drunk, falsify documents, lie about the discharging of weapons, sexually harass others—even sell drugs—and not only stay out of prison, but keep their jobs.

Per USA Today:

The DEA’s internal affairs log shows investigators review more than 200 cases each year and often clear the agents involved. When they do find wrongdoing, the most common outcome is a either a letter of caution — the lightest form of discipline the agency can impose — or a brief unpaid suspension.

In fewer than 6% of those cases did DEA managers recommend firing. In some of those cases, the agency allowed employees to quit. More often, it settled on a lesser punishment… Even when employees are fired, records show the punishment doesn’t always stick because the agents were reinstated by the federal Merit Systems Protection Board, the independent body that reviews federal disciplinary matters.

These double standards, set for those who are supposed to be enforcing our laws, are nothing short of outrageous. It’s especially enraging considering the fact that our prisons are overcrowded with individuals doing time for drug charges, many of whom come from impoverished backgrounds and should be treated for addiction rather than thrown behind bars.

Unfortunately, the situation at the DEA reinforces the idea that if you have access to power, you’re above the law; a sad reality that flies in the face of the notion that justice should be blind. Today, more than half of federal prisoners are incarcerated as a result of drug charges, yet if a DEA agent engages in the same activity, he or she can apparently get off, in most cases, with a mere slap on the wrist.

Hopefully, Congress and the Department of Justice will do the right thing and force accountability within the DEA. Given the pace and efficiency of federal bureaucracy, however, we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Stop Expecting Conservatives to Give Up Their Identities

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Originally published at Every Joe

As a libertarian-conservative, I generally agree with the assertion put forth by my fellow ideological travelers that the left takes identity politics to an absurd extreme. Too many liberals expect fealty to an ideology of ever-expanding government as an expression of loyalty to one’s race, gender, or class. I’ve penned many a diatribe rejecting this premise, noting that it’s not only possible, but sensible to identify fully with one’s community or background while repudiating the idea that the hiring of yet another government bureaucrat is a solution to the social ill du jour. Most conservatives and libertarians, when the argument is presented in that way, will nod their heads in agreement. But when you drill down into specifics, too many appear to conflate any acknowledgment of cultural or social identity outside of their own mainstream with the left’s more extreme form of actual identity politics.

Over the last several years, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to friends made through my work in politics who come from groups that the left categorizes as marginalized. As a result, I’ve gained a great deal of valuable perspective through both these conversations themselves and observation of how these individuals are treated in the broader conservative movement. What a lot of people on the right either don’t want to see (or are blinded to due to the circumstances of their own lives) is that the left, despite their tiresome policing of language and endless desire to grow government, has a point: It is harder, on balance, for women and people of color to get ahead. It’s also true that mainstream society and politics have been, historically speaking, dominated by white men. Naturally, culture has in turn followed the same trajectory. Despite obvious social progress and inclusion of others in relatively recent history, changes in this arena never happen overnight.

To be abundantly clear, I’m not suggesting that every white man “has it easy” or that their perspectives are less valuable than anyone else’s. I’m not a fan of the left’s attempt to silence debate by saying that only certain people are allowed to hold opinions on various topics, and I’ve always been a strong advocate of honoring the hard work every person engages in, regardless of their background. But what appears to escape far too many conservatives and libertarians, is that it’s difficult for individuals from the aforementioned groups to feel welcome in a movement where too many people tell us daily that our experiences and perspectives are invalid because they stray from a mainstream that is by default, and through no individual fault of any one person, white-male centric.

When you tell a conservative woman who is inspired by Carly Fiorina’s empowering vision of what feminism ought to stand for that she’s engaging in identity politics, you’re making her feel as if she’s wrong for embracing a fundamental part of herself. When you tell a young libertarian who praises the first woman of color to win an Emmy that she must be a liberal for identifying with someone of the same background explaining how she fought against the odds to be where she is, you’re denying her the very essence of her being. When you tell a black Republican to stop talking about the violence, unrest, and police brutality he sees on the streets everyday, you’re denigrating the people and places he loves; expecting him to abandon his culture and community.

By engaging in these behaviors you are also, consciously or not, pushing people who share your overall perspective on policy away from your political movement. You’re denying those who agree with the premise that government ought to be limited, the basic dignity of a perspective that is, and should be, different from your own. What you’re ultimately doing is driving people who ought to be your allies into the arms of an abusive political relationship with the left; because at least there – authoritarian policies that damage the very people they love be damned – they aren’t constantly berated for refusing to give up who they are. And remember, most people will choose culture and community over complicated policy that almost nobody has the time to wrap their heads around. Keep that in mind the next time you look around the room at a center-right political meeting and wonder where the minorities are.

The fact is, you never hear charges of “identity politics” automatically levied at white men who happen to support or admire other white men. And to be clear, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with looking up to people who share your experiences or background; I’m acknowledging the fact that it’s natural. As people, we draw inspiration from those we identify with and strive to emulate. That’s the premise of role models. And while I agree with the quintessentially libertarian point that the smallest minority is the individual, it doesn’t mean I reject the fact that we as units make up different, diverse communities, often based on fundamental and shared characteristics.

What many on the right would do well to understand is that there’s nothing wrong with allowing people’s diverse backgrounds to shape their viewpoints and perspectives. These don’t need to be cast aside to embrace conservatism or libertarianism. Instead of rejecting anything outside of your frame of reference as “identity politics,” take a moment to listen to people who are fundamentally different from you. Perhaps you’ll learn that you too engage in your own form of “identity politics” on a daily basis – it’s just that no one notices because in doing so, you’re simply going with the mainstream flow.

And by all means, as you genuinely listen to others, particularly your fellow conservatives, continue to mock the left for its absurdities. Liberals deserve every moment of ridicule they get for their hapless policies that encourage dependency rather than progress – just as they’ve earned criticism for using the realities of what marginalized groups face as means to shut down debate and avoid political accountability. Remember though, that the left wants nothing more than for conservatives to deal with their behavior by being reactionary to the point of alienating everyone who isn’t, as they like to say, “old, rich, white, and male.” Don’t let liberals’ abuse of identity politics allow you as a conservative to fulfill their prophecy and drive those of us who don’t fit that bill out of the movement. Because the reality is, we often feel unwanted. Help to change that by opening your mind, listening to others, and creating a welcoming space for people who, in many ways are fundamentally unlike you. Absent those prerequisites, the left will win.

Carly Fiorina’s emotional testimony invokes broader questions about the marijuana debate

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

In the second Republican debate where tensions ran high, Carly Fiorina had what was arguably, the rawest emotional moment of the night.

When the topic of marijuana came up, she broke out of her usual assertiveness and added a deeply personal touch to the discussion.

“I very much hope that I’m the only person on the stage that can say this,” remarked a somber Fiorina. “My husband Frank and I buried a child to drug addiction,” she said, her grief evident. Adding that due to personal experience, she agreed with Rand Paul who said there ought to be a focus on rehabilitative measures rather than incarceration, and that she believes should be allowed to make their own marijuana laws.

Fiorina added, however:

“We are misleading young people when we tell them that marijuana is just like having a beer. It’s not. And the marijuana that kids are smoking today is not the same as the marijuana that Jeb Bush smoked 40 years ago.”

 

She’s right that marijuana and alcohol are different, and it’s true that there are risks involved with consuming both of them.

But the fact is, marijuana is measurably less dangerous than many legal drugs. As Fiorina wrote in her book Rising to the Challenge, her stepdaughter Lori passed away after struggling with an alcohol and prescription pill addiction that was coupled with bulimia.

The scenario is tragic, and as Fiorina said during the debate, one that too many families in America face.

Yet this leads to a broader question when marijuana is invoked: Just how dangerous is that drug? And for what purposes should it remain illegal? Particularly illegal to the extent that young people, especially the least well-off, are thrown in jail, their lives ruined over it?

As the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham wrote:

“The point (Fiorina) was trying to make was that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol. She says that today’s marijuana is a lot stronger than the marijuana her generation grew up with, and links marijuana use to addiction to other, far more dangerous drugs, like the ones that cost her stepdaughter her life.

Linking marijuana to more dangerous drugs is a version of the “gateway hypothesis” — that pot use inevitably leads to experimentation with more dangerous drugs. But the evidence does not support this claim. It’s true that many people who use hard drugs like heroin and cocaine have tried marijuana in the past. But the overwhelming majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to try other drugs.”

These are crucial points to examine if the goal is to think rationally about criminal justice reform. For too long, policymakers have taken a dogmatic approach to the war on drugs, assuming that a militarized battle against drug use is the answer to a problem often fueled by addiction and poverty. While it’s a good sign that on a bipartisan basis, politicians are increasingly focused on rehabilitation rather than jailing, myths about drug use, particularly marijuana, abound in ways that often cloud rational discussion.

As Ingraham also noted, a Lancet study conducted in 2010 demonstrates that marijuana is generally less harmful to individuals and society than alcohol. He further cites countless statistics showing that marijuana users are, relatively speaking, not a danger to themselves and others. Given the wide availability of this information and the fact that public attitudes about marijuana have changed vastly to the point where a majority support legalization, there’s no doubt that policy in this area will continue to change.

Even Fiorina and Bush, who disagree with marijuana use, have conceded that states have the right to set their own policies. Paul and Cruz also share that perspective.

Today, the question isn’t whether marijuana will continue on its path to legality, but how it will be regulated. It’s the politicians who need to play catch-up and ready themselves for the challenge.