Archive for July, 2004

Legalizing Marijuana = Freedom

Tuesday, July 20th, 2004

One of the more interesting debates in American politics today, and one of the few that transcends ideological lines, is whether or not marijuana should be decriminalized (punishable by fine instead of incarceration), or even outright legalized. Historically, liberals and libertarians have supported legalization, while conservatives have opposed it. Today, however, there seems to be some signs that this may be changing. More and more Americans on both sides of the political aisle have began to question marijuana prohibition.

It should be made clear that supporting legalization or decriminalization does not necessarily mean supporting the use of marijuana. I personally have never smoked marijuana, and would strongly discourage anyone from trying it. Still, this is not a valid reason to support prohibition. Most would also strongly discourage staying out all night partying before a test, but no one wants to pass a law making that illegal.

Laws are, by their very nature, restrictions on freedom. The more laws a society has, the fewer choices individuals can make. We can all agree that maximizing individual choice is virtuous in a free society. Not all choices are good, of course; doing drugs is certainly a bad choice. Still, government must allow individuals to make bad choices if true freedom is to exist. Making choices for an individual, even if it is a better choice than the person would make, is something government should never do, lest we give up our freedoms altogether.

Wait a minute here, some of you are probably saying. Don’t drugs lead people to become dependent on others? Won’t that mean I’ll have to pay higher taxes in order to support them? This is a valid point, but your criticism should not be directed towards legalized pot. It should instead be directed towards the welfare state, which is, again, a restriction on individual liberty. When a person makes a personal choice, that person should be prepared to live with the consequences.

Some might say that addictive substances should be outlawed, since (at least in theory) a person does not choose to continue using them. Nice try, but this is a bogus argument. Addiction is a word thrown around today with reckless abandon. You can find people “addicted” to everything from gambling to sex to rice crispy treats. Experts will tell you that alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine are addictive as well. Should we outlaw these? Whether or not something is “addictive” does not override an individual’s personal responsibility. No one forced you to try marijuana the first time.

Is marijuana safe? No, it’s not. But again, this is not a reason to outlaw it. Drinking alcohol, listening to music too loudly, skydiving, hiking alone, eating at McDonald’s too often, and joyriding with Ted Kennedy are all unsafe activities, but no one in their right mind wants to criminalize these activities (save maybe for the last one). It should also be noted that no one has ever died of a marijuana overdose.

As Ethan Nadelmann points out in a recent issue of National Review, police arrest 700,000 people annually for marijuana offenses, almost the same number for heroine, cocaine, methamphetamine, and Ecstasy combined. About 87% of these arrests are for possession of small amounts. It seems to me we could be using our police far more efficiently than this.

The best way to handle marijuana is to simply legalize it, and modestly regulate it, much like we currently do with alcohol and cigarettes. “Sin taxes” roughly equivalent to what exists on cigarettes could be levied. No minors should be allowed to purchase marijuana, of course. But consenting adults should have this level of freedom.

Generally conservatives have opposed legalizing marijuana, but gradually this is changing. William F. Buckley, longtime editor of National Review, and prominent leader of the conservative movement, has been a staunch supporter of legalized marijuana. So is former Governor Gary Johnson (R-NM).

Conservatives should be leading the charge to reform marijuana laws. After all, it is conservatives who oppose the “nanny state” and believe in personal liberty. It is conservatives who fight for individual liberty and less government. It is conservatives who believe in personal responsibility and accountability. It is only natural that we should apply these same principles to marijuana.

We should do this not because we support drug use, but because we support freedom.

More Sixth District Senate Race Fun

Monday, July 19th, 2004

Georgiana Vines has an interesting column this week about who people close to Mike Ragsdale support in the Sixth District State Senate race. Seems most of them, with the exception of Mike Cohen, support Billy Stokes.. Shocking. Tyler Harber also got a special mention…

Wheel Tax Update

Saturday, July 17th, 2004

Frank Cagle has an interesting column this week about the proposed wheel tax, and its primary architect, County Mayor Mike Ragsdale. I don’t agree with all of Cagle’s points, but it is an interesting read. Also, check out Knoxwheeltax.com to find out more about the petition to force the tax before the voters.

Metro Pulse Endorsements

Thursday, July 15th, 2004

The Metro Pulse released its endorsements for the August 5th elections and primaries today, written by Joe Sullivan. Of most interest to me are the State House and Senate endorsements. In the Republican primary, the endorsements are: Billy Stokes for State Senate, Jim Bletner for State House (District 17), David Wright for State House (District 18), and Diane Jablonski for State House (District 14).

I haven’t been following the 17th and 18th District races and closely as I should, so I won’t comment on them.

The Stokes endorsement seems to be a backhanded endorsement. For instance, it criticizes Stokes’ campaign rhetoric for veering to far to the right. Sullivan also claims that “if Stokes is elected I believe he will prove to be more progressive than Hagood over time and more receptive to much needed tax reform [i.e. income tax].” I’m sure the Stokes campaign is thrilled to hear this. The Metro Pulse has been critical of Jamie Hagood for being too conservative, so this endorsement comes as no surprise.

I was, however, happy to see Jim Bletner receive the endorsement. Bletner is a solid candidate with an impressive resume of public service, especially to UT. He is also a great guy, and I am proud to know him.

Espanol es muy Dificil

Wednesday, July 14th, 2004

So I’m taking spanish this summer. I have to say it is the hardest class I have ever taken. I thought math was hard, but this is insane. Fortunately, I do have a good teacher, so it could be much worse. I’m aiming for the moon (well, a C anyway)!

A Look at the Kerry/Edwards Ticket

Tuesday, July 13th, 2004

John Kerry has chosen his running mate. Prior to his selection, speculation abounded on whom it might be, with commentators naming everyone from John McCain to Dick Gephardt to Hillary Clinton as possible choices. In the end, however, Kerry surprised no one by picking John Edwards, the North Carolina Senator.

To hear some Democrats, you would think Kerry had chosen the ghost of Andrew Jackson. To be sure, Edwards does bring youth and charisma to the Democratic ticket, and, in the days of “sound byte” campaigns, that can be quite helpful. But really, what does Edwards do for the ticket?

John Edwards was considered a serious candidate for the Democratic nomination earlier in the year, despite having served only one term in the Senate. Unfortunately for him, his run fizzled and he carried only one state. He didn’t even have strong support in his own state. Many political analysts expressed doubt that he could win re-election to the Senate had he ran.

Still, many perceive Kerry as an elitist New England blueblood, and Edwards looked like a good match to balance out the ticket. It also signaled a turn in Democratic presidential strategy: embracing liberalism. During the 2000 elections, liberal Gore chose moderate Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Bill Clinton ran as a moderate. This trend seems to be coming to an end, at least for now, with even liberal interest groups ranking Kerry/Edwards as the most liberal ticket since 1984’s Mondale/Ferraro (A ticket that actually ran on the promise to raise taxes).

Granted, Democrats have not entirely given up on moderates. John Kerry has been seen firing rifles, claiming to have conservative values, and stating he believes life begins at conception.

The problem with this strategy is that it comes across as a bit condescending. It is condescending to believe that firing a gun will make heartland voters like you, in much the same way it was condescending for Dean to say he was going to start talking more about God – but only in the South. Pretending to share values or pandering to stereotypes will not win many friends.

Kerry’s statement about abortion is bizarre. He believes life begins at conception, yet still supports abortion. How is this possible? If life begins at conception, wouldn’t that automatically make abortion murder? Kerry might well be the first presidential candidate since the age of dueling to openly support murder. At least most pro-choicers claim to believe life doesn’t begin until birth. They are not, at least in their own minds, condoning murder. Kerry apparently is.

John Edwards comes from working class roots, but has become a millionaire suing doctors and businesses as a trial lawyer. His “two Americas” claim thus seems pretty ironic. During the primary he claimed that America was a wonderful place for the wealthy, but a real hellhole for everyone else (someone apparently forgot to tell this to the Haitians, Cubans, and countless others who risk their lives to get here).

Edwards is a master of rhetoric. For example, he frequently talked about children going to bed hungry in the United States. He knew this claim is ridiculous, and so did (and do) his opponents. If someone had truly wanted to challenge him, perhaps they could have asked why obesity is even more common among the poor than among the rich. No one dares do this, of course. If anyone had the spine to do so, they surely would be denounced for insensitivity.

Kerry and Edwards often denounce Bush for his handling on the war on terror, but they offer no real alternatives other than vague promises to “work with our allies.” They have yet to lay out a comprehensive plan for winning the war on terror, and most likely won’t. It’s much easier to criticize than to offer solutions. It is also beneficial to play both sides of an issue (both Kerry and Edwards voted to authorize war in Iraq, for example, but against funding it). That way, no matter what happens, once can claim to have been on the correct side of an issue.

Kerry’s choice for VP is a good news story, but ultimately it makes little different. The only candidates who really matter are the presidential nominees. Who remembers Cheney vs. Lieberman in 2000, after all? Only the guy at the top of the ticket can win an election.

Bush Visits Oak Ridge

Monday, July 12th, 2004

President Bush is visiting Oak Ridge today. I wish I could have gone, but I had espanol class…

Wheel Tax Petition Gaining Momentum

Friday, July 9th, 2004

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale recently sold a wheel tax to the county commission, which passed by a 16-3 margin. There is a neat write up in the Halls Shopper News about a petition to force the matter on the ballot, thus allowing Knox County voters to decided. The petition needs 12,000 signatures of registered voters.

Ragsdale’s support for more taxes in surprising. The wheel tax is somewhat ambiguous; no one knows where the money raised from it would go. As Don Darden said, “I wouldn’t mind the $30 increase, although that is a lot, if the money were going to schools and roads and deputies.” Unfortunately Ragsdale and the County Commission have not explained how the money would be spent, or even why an additional tax is needed in the first place. It’s very disappointing to see a prominent Republican embrace a tax-and-spend fiscal policy with zero accountability. Hopefully, the voters will get to make the call on the matter. Then Ragsdale will have to explain new tax to the voters of Knox County. That might be more difficult than selling it to county commission.

It should also be noted that Ragsdale recently introduced State Senate candidate Billy Stokes at a rally of Stokes supporters. “He shares our values,” Ragsdale said of Stokes. I’m sure we can all connect the dots on this….

Biased Editorial?

Friday, July 9th, 2004

My column this week inspired the ire of Richard York, a UT graphics employee. He had a letter-to-the-editor published in today’s Daily Beacon, in which he assails me for several of my points.

First, he complains that my column is one of the “most biased and uninformed columns” he has ever seen. Uh… I thought columns were SUPPOSED to be biased. That is why they’re called “columns” instead of “articles.”

Next, we criticizes me for bashing Fahrenheit 9/11, the Moore propaganda film. I expected this. As I pointed out to Miss Finn, I also have not seen Triumph of the Will. Yet I see no reason why I shouldn’t withhold judgment of it.

York didn’t find my joke about the United Campus Workers funny, apparently. How sad.

Finally, York apparently thinks it’s super that there have been 40 million abortions (which is ironic, since his guys would have easier times winning elections if there had not been). How many unwanted children have I adopted? Well, since I’m 23, unmarried, still in school, live in a tiny apartment, and have very little money to my name, I’d say most adoption agencies would show me the door.

Also, I was not aware that someone had to be wanted in order to exist. It’s probably a safe bet that no one wants the bums who hang out on the strip asking for a buck. Do we have the right to extinguish them? I personally would rather be unwanted than dismembered. I suspect York would also.

Jennings Unstoppable on Jeopardy

Wednesday, July 7th, 2004

It’s a bit off topic, but I have been closely following Jeopardy in recent weeks. Ken Jennings, a software designer from Utah, has been unbeatable. He has won 25 consecutive days, shattering the old record of 7. He has piled up $788,960. Will he get to a $1,000,000? We shall see…

Update: The streak now stands at 26. Jennings won $40,000 today.

Update: 07/08/04: Jennings tacked on another $40,000 as the streak reaches 27.

Update: 07/09/04: Jennings finally tied the one record he has never broken: the record for most money he won in a day. He won $52,000, upping his 28 day total to $920,960.