Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Trayvon Martin case is gray, not black and white

By now the entire nation is watching the unfolding drama of the Trayvon Martin killing in Sanford, Fl. The basic facts of the case are undisputed. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, who is black, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a white neighborhood watch captain, on the night of February 26. Beyond those basic facts, however, the case becomes far more muddled.

Much of the country is up in arms over the allegation that Zimmerman shot and killed Martin simply because the black teenager was walking through his neighborhood. Zimmerman has not been charged in the case because he claims that the shooting was in self-defense.

In the months before the shooting, there had been several burglaries in the neighborhood where Zimmerman lived. A neighbor, Frank Taaffe, told NBC Miami that there had been eight break-ins within 15 months, mostly committed by young black males. The crime rate set the stage for the shooting.

On the night in question, relatives say that Martin, wearing a hoodie, was walking back to the home of his father’s fiancée from a local 7-Eleven after purchasing a can of iced tea and Skittles. The fiancée lives in Zimmerman’s gated community, which is racially mixed.

Martin’s girlfriend was on the phone with him just before the altercation according to CNN. The girl says that Martin told her that someone was following him and that he was trying to get away. She says that she heard someone ask Martin what he was doing and heard Martin ask why he was being followed. At that point, the phone went dead. She did not hear a gunshot.

At the same time that Martin was talking to his girlfriend, George Zimmerman, who had seen Martin while going to the grocery store, was talking to a 911 dispatcher. A transcript of Zimmerman’s 911 call is available on In the call, Zimmerman states his belief that Martin was “on drugs” and that he “looks like he’s up to no good.” He says, “These a—holes, they always get away.” Seconds later, he says that Martin is running away.

In a controversial part of the call, the dispatcher asks, “Are you following him?” When Zimmerman answers in the affirmative, the dispatcher says, “We don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman answers, “Okay.” The call ends with the dispatcher agreeing to send police to meet Zimmerman.

What happened next is a matter of dispute. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman, who wore a red jacket that night, told police that he had stopped following Martin and was returning to his car when Martin approached him from behind. He claims that Martin asked him if he had a problem. When Zimmerman said no, Martin allegedly said, “You do now” and punched him in the nose, knocking him to the ground. At that point, Zimmerman says that Martin pinned him and began beating him while he was still on the ground. Zimmerman reports that he yelled for help. The Sentinel reports that when police arrived a few minutes later, summoned by Zimmerman’s original call, that they found that Zimmerman had a bloody nose, a swollen lip, and injuries to the back of his head.

Zimmerman’s cries for help prompted several other residents to call the police according to CNN. Two women, Mary Cutcher and Selma Lamilla, report that they heard “whining, someone in distress, and then the gunshot” through an open window. When the women ran outside they saw Zimmerman standing over Martin. They asked Zimmerman three times what was going on before he responded by telling them to call the police.

Fox Orlando reports that another witness, identified only as John, said that Martin had been on top of Zimmerman. He said that “the guy on the bottom who had a red sweater (Zimmerman) on was yelling to me: 'help, help….’” He went upstairs to call 911 and then looked out again and saw that “the guy who was on top (Martin) beating up the other guy was the one laying in the grass, and I believe he was dead at that point.”

Further complicating the story are revelations that Trayvon Martin had a somewhat troubled past. NBC Miami reported that Martin had been suspended from school on three separate occasions. In one incident, Martin had been sighted “"hiding and being suspicious" in an unauthorized area of his school.

Last October, a school investigator saw surveillance video of Martin writing “WTF” (“what the f—k”) on a door inside the school. The next day, police searched Martin’s backpack for the graffiti marker and also found a screwdriver described as a “burglary tool” and 12 pieces of jewelry that included silver wedding bands and diamond earrings. According to the NBC report, Martin denied that the jewelry was his and said that it belonged to a friend who he declined to name. It is not known whether the jewelry was stolen. Four months after this, just a few days before the shooting, he was suspended again for possession of a marijuana pipe and an empty baggie with traces of marijuana in it.

The Daily Caller also recently published a record of Trayvon Martin’s tweets from his Twitter account, @NO_LIMIT_NIGGA, a reference to a gangsta rap song. Absent from the remaining record after the account was deleted are tweets that a blogger at Wagist claims imply that Martin “swung on a bus driver.” Wagist also presents a Facebook message where a friend contacted Martin with “business to talk” because he needed a “plant.” Even if Martin were a drug dealer or gang member, it would not mean that Zimmerman was right to kill him. It would, however, introduce significant doubt into the mainstream media’s version of events.

For his part, Zimmerman has a record as well.  Reuters reports that he was arrested in 2005 and charged with resisting arrest and battery on a police officer.  His fiancée also filed a restraining order against him citing domestic violence around the same time.  This is apparently where his now famous mug shot came from.

The State of Florida’s so-called “stand-your-ground” law has also come in for much criticism. In reality, the law merely means that a person has no duty to retreat from an attack before defending himself. reports that 23 other states have similar laws. The concept of stand-your-ground, also called the Castle Doctrine because it is normally applied within the home, is longstanding in U.S. law. The Supreme Court upheld the concept as far back as 1895 in Beard v. United States.

In any case, stand-your-ground would not apply in the Trayvon Martin shooting. If Zimmerman had continued following Martin after the 911 call ended and shot him in cold blood, as the media and Martin’s family and supporters allege, then it would not be a defense because the law does not give citizens the right to chase down and shoot suspects. Likewise, Florida law specifically excludes the justification of self-defense by someone who “initially provokes the use of force against himself.” If Zimmerman picked a fight with Martin and then shot him, he cannot claim self-defense. On the other hand, if Martin attacked Zimmerman and held him down, not only was Zimmerman not required by the law to retreat, he did not have that option.

The story has inspired protests in Atlanta and around the country on behalf of Martin to demand Zimmerman’s arrest. A black activist group has even offered a reward for Zimmerman’s capture. Spike Lee tweeted what he incorrectly though was Zimmerman’s address, possibly endangering the lives of an elderly couple. Rather than calling for cooler heads, President Obama sympathized with Martin’s parents.

Although more information is being released every day in the case, it is evident that the Trayvon Martin killing is not the simple case of violent racism that the prevailing media narrative tells. The pattern has been repeated several times in recent years. Pundits claimed that Troy Davis, a convicted cop-killer executed in Georgia last year, was an innocent man while ignoring facts that didn’t fit their story. Before that, the left-wing media was ready to convict the entire Tea Party in the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Before that, the target was the entire Duke University lacrosse team for rape, sexual assault, and kidnapping before it came to light that Mike Nifong, the prosecuting D.A., withheld DNA evidence and misled a judge. In that case the North Carolina attorney general said that there was no credible evidence that an attack had even occurred.

The current rush to judge George Zimmerman is not helpful to anyone. In the end, the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman may very well turn out to be very different from how it has been presented in the media thus far. If the evidence indicates that Zimmerman is lying, then he will be arrested and charged. If not, then his electronic lynching in the media will have ruined his reputation and endangered his life.

Originally published on

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Obamacare ruling is election wild card

The Affordable Care Act finally gets its day at the Supreme Court this week. Although it may be several weeks before the Court publishes its ruling on the case, it is a sure thing that, whatever the ruling is it has the potential to have an explosive impact on the elections in November.

There are four likely outcomes for the Supreme Court ruling. First, the Court could rule that challengers to the law have no standing to sue since they have not had to pay the fine for not purchasing health insurance. This would delay a decision on the law for two to three years until after it takes full effect. Most observers consider this unlikely. Next, the Court could uphold the law in its entirety. Conversely, the Court could strike down the entire law. Finally, the Court could throw out part of the law, the individual mandate for example, and allow the remainder to stand.

The ruling will have an uncertain effect on the election. Hints at how the voters will view the ruling can be gleaned from two recent polls. According to Rasmussen, likely voters have never favored the health law. Immediately after passage in 2010, repeal was favored by a margin of 55-42 percent. In the most recent poll, taken on March 17-18, repeal was favored by 56-39 percent. Within those numbers are 46 percent who strongly favor repeal versus only 29 percent who strongly oppose it.

In a USA Today/Gallup poll of adults, Americans were split 45-44 percent on the question of whether passage of the ACA was good or bad, but the same poll shows that 38 percent believe that the law will make things worse for their family. Only 24 percent believe it will make things better. A strong majority of 72 percent believe that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. Only 20 percent believe that the requirement to purchase health insurance or pay a fine is legal under the Constitution.

Since Americans overwhelmingly oppose the ACA, Republicans have the most to gain from the Supreme Court’s decision. A victory for the administration or a muddled outcome, such as a decline to rule on the law or striking it down only in part, seems likely to aid Republicans because of the large number of Americans who strongly oppose the law. If the Court leaves the law largely intact, Republican candidates who promise to repeal the law if elected will tap into that voter anger. Anger at Democratic spending and the expansion of government fueled a landslide Republican victory in 2010 and if the Supreme Court upholds the ACA it could fuel a similar result this November.

Democrats have little to gain electorally from a Supreme Court victory. If the law is upheld, it may keep President Obama’s legacy from being tarnished as it would have been if it was found unconstitutional, but Obamacare is still a fundamentally unpopular law that was enacted without the support of the people. A reform that was supposed to have kept health insurance costs down has instead contributed to their increase at twice the normal rate of growth according to Kaiser and the cost of the law, which was touted as a plan that would reduce the deficit, is now projected cost almost double the initial estimates. If the law goes into effect, people may well find that there is even less to like about it than was previously thought.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who is also an orthopedic surgeon, told, “Both fiscally and for the sake of our health care system, Americans cannot afford the president’s healthcare law. The longer the president’s healthcare law remains on the books, the greater the threat it poses to our nation’s healthcare and our fiscal well-being.” He continued, “The CBO’s revised cost estimate indicates that this massive government intrusion into America’s health care system will be far more costly than was originally claimed. The law’s true cost to American taxpayers is part of a series of promises President Obama and Democrats in Congress made that will be broken.”

On the other hand, if the Supreme Court strikes down the law, it won’t necessarily help Republicans or hurt Democrats. A major source of contention will have been removed from the political landscape and voters who would have voted for Republicans because they opposed the ACA may move to other issues where they are more moderate. Similarly, the voters who favor the law, almost all of whom are probably Democratic voters anyway, are unlikely to be influenced by an unfavorable Supreme Court decision.

The biggest casualty of a decision sustaining Obamacare and the individual mandate would likely be the American people’s faith in government. Public opinion has been against the bill from the very beginning. Revelations of backroom deals like the “Cornhusker Compromise” and the “Louisiana Purchase” further hurt the law’s image even before it was passed. The abuse of parliamentary procedure to avoid a Republican filibuster further inflamed public opinion.

The United States has reached a point where trust in government is near 20-year lows. According to Gallup, only 19 percent trust the government most of the time. In a separate poll from Gallup last year, the federal government rated dead last in approval among a list of industries. The -46 percent net approval rating put the federal government at a historic low. Notably, respondents told Gallup that they rated state and local governments far higher than Congress or the president.

The Supreme Court is viewed more positively. Gallup’s approval rating for the Court is 46 percent versus 40 percent who disapprove. This can be compared to the approval rating for Congress at 12 percent. Sixty-three percent of Americans still trust the Supreme Court. However if the Supreme Court votes to uphold an unpopular law that was never wanted by a majority of the American people, a law that the majority of voters believes overwhelmingly to be unconstitutional, then the Supreme Court may face the same loss of trust and approval that the other branches of the federal government have experienced.

This is the great tragedy of the Obama era: that a president who once had the support and admiration of nearly all of the country, a president who pledged to eschew the “politics of cynicism” for the “politics of hope,” would become even more divisive than his predecessor; that a president who once preached the practicality of compromise and the need for national unity would use his position to short-circuit the democratic process, circumventing the will of the people and their elected representatives in Congress. The unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act and federal government itself is symbolic of the failure of President Obama to unite the people of the United States.

Originally published on

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Did Obama issue order allowing “dictatorial” powers?

Over the weekend, a fury erupted over President Obama’s release of an Executive Order that, according to many pundits, gives the president the power to take control of the national economy. According to normally level-headed commentator Dick Morris, who wrote a column titled “Obama assumes dictatorial powers,” the order gives “him vast powers to control every aspect of the U.S. economy in the event of war or even during a peacetime ‘emergency.’”

The pundits usually link the Executive Order to the National Defense Authorization Act, which many claim gives the president the power to indefinitely detain American citizens on charges of terrorism. As this column pointed out, the NDAA actually contains a specific exemption for U.S. citizens and legal aliens. Even if the charges about the law were true, it would be a gross violation of the Constitution and the right to habeas corpus.

The claims about the new Executive Order are similarly overblown. The preamble to the Executive Order cites the Defense Production Act of 1950. Harry Truman, not Barack Obama, was president in 1950. Most Americans would agree that Harry Truman did not assume dictatorial powers. notes that the Defense Production Act was enacted to respond to economic difficulties caused by the Korean and Cold Wars and “authorized Governmental activities in various areas, including requisition of property for national defense, expansion of productive capacity and supply, wage and price stabilization, settlement of labor disputes, control of consumer and real estate credit, and establishment of contract priorities and materials allocation designed to aid the national defense.” The Act has been updated, amended and reauthorized several times since 1950. It was modernized and limited in the 1980s. President Bush updated in again in October 2001.

Critics of President Obama’s order point to the reference to U.S. “national defense equipment in peacetime and in times of national emergency” as an unprecedented statement that means that the president is claiming the authority to nationalize American industry in peacetime as well as war. However,’s Ed Morrissey notes that the language about “peacetime” matches an Executive Order issued by President Clinton in 1994. President Clinton was not accused of fomenting a dictatorship either.

Morrissey further notes that much of President Obama’s Executive Order matches President Clinton’s 1994 order in many other respects as well. He points out that the main differences in the Obama and Clinton orders is with the reorganization of the president’s cabinet. In 1994, the Department of Homeland Security did not exist.

President Obama’s order also includes the phrase “under both emergency and non-emergency conditions” in section 201 (b). When taken in context, however, the section instructs agency heads “to prioritize and allocate resources and establish standards and procedures” that will “be used to promote the national defense.” Additionally, Clinton’s order did not limit applicability to emergency conditions.

Dick Morris bases much of his criticism on a Huffington Post article by Edwin Black. Black’s theory is that the order is a sign that President Obama is finally waking up to the probability of a Middle Eastern war involving Iran that would result in an interruption of oil supplies. Black claims that the order lays the groundwork for rationing of energy supplies. Black notes that the order mentions the “military use of civil transportation” and “stockpiles managed by the Department of Defense,” but neglects to mention that these are not new things. The DOD has contracted with civilian airlines to transport soldiers at least as far back as the Vietnam War when Braniff had military contracts to transport soldiers and cargo to the war zone. Likewise, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a national stockpile of oil, dates back to 1978.

In any case, Black fails to point to any “smoking gun” in the order that indicates that the government is planning to enact rationing. The article amounts to nothing more than speculation and fails to take into account the long history of similar executive orders. In fact, executive orders dealing with defense resources date back to a 1939 order issued by President Roosevelt. The policy has been updated by almost every president since then.

Nothing in the entire document gives the government the right to nationalize or assume control over the private economy. There are references to loan guarantees, subsidies, and purchases, but not the outright commandeering of private assets. The claims that President Obama intends to use his Executive Order as a basis for seizing control of the U.S. economy or launching an American dictatorship are baseless. The only way such a conclusion can be reached is by deliberately taking snippets of the order out of context.

There are many words that might be used to describe Barack Obama (arrogant, misguided, naïve, incompetent), but there is no evidence to support the notion that the president is an evil man bent on turning the United States into a dictatorship. Conservatives do real damage to their cause when they ignore Obama’s very real and abysmal record on the economy and foreign policy to engage in authoritarian fantasies. Outrageous claims against President Obama serve only to distract from the real issues and, to that end, help the president’s re-election campaign.

Originally published on

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Supreme Court to hear Obamacare case this week

Next week the long awaited Supreme Court hearing on the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, will finally take place. The hearing comes just over two years after the law was passed. In a rare move, the Court is scheduling three days of oral arguments for the various aspects of the Affordable Care Act case. Typically, the Court hears two one-hour oral arguments each day that it is in session.

The Court has consolidated six lawsuits against the government about the Affordable Care Act. Four questions will be addressed. First, the Court will decide whether the Anti-Injunction Act means that the Court has no jurisdiction until the ACA goes into effect. The Tax Anti-Injunction Act of 1867 holds that a person protesting a tax in court must first pay the tax. The government’s position is that the fines that are levied as part of the individual mandate is a tax and therefore the court cannot hear the lawsuit against the tax until it is assessed. The individual mandate does not go into effect until 2014. The flaw in this defense is that President Obama and the Democrats specifically denied that the fine was a tax before the bill passed.

Second, the Court will address the question of the individual mandate, called the “minimum coverage provision” in court filings. The government holds that the Constitution’s Commerce Clause gives it the right to regulate the health insurance industry. Opponents argue that the failure to purchase health insurance is not commerce and therefore cannot legally be regulated by the federal government.

The government also argues that the mandate is also permissible under the Necessary and Proper Clause. Opponents argue that the Necessary and Proper Clause does not give the federal government the power to enact legislation that is otherwise unconstitutional because it is not among the powers granted to the government by the Constitution.

Next, the Court will determine whether the individual mandate is severable from the rest of the law. Generally, laws contain a severability clause that says that if any part of the law is found unconstitutional, the remainder shall remain in force. The ACA, for whatever reason, does not contain such a clause. Therefore, opponents argue that if the mandate is deemed unconstitutional then the entire law must be struck down. The government will argue that the rest of the law should stand even if the mandate is struck down.

Finally, the Court will hear whether ACA’s expansion of Medicaid places an unconstitutional burden on the states. Under the ACA, the states are required to expand Medicaid eligibility to an estimated 16 million people according to Yahoo. States that refuse will lose matching federal funds for their Medicaid programs. Twenty-six states have filed suit claiming that the Medicaid expansion is an unconstitutional violation of the Tenth Amendment, which states that powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states and the people. Georgia is a party to this lawsuit.

Proponents of the law argue that courts have supported Congress’ ability to mandate that the states carry out programs that are paid for by federal money. They also note that the Medicaid expansion is paid for by federal funds for the first ten years.

Americans remain split on the Affordable Care Act. According to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 45 percent believe that it was a good thing that Congress passed the law versus 44 who believe it was bad. However, most believe that the law will make things worse for their family by a margin of 38-24 percent. An astonishing 72 percent Americans believe that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.

Public opinion notwithstanding, the decision is likely to be 5-4 in one direction or the other. The Court’s four liberals, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, are almost certain to vote in favor of the health care law. The Court’s four conservatives, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, are just as likely to vote to overturn it. That leaves Anthony Kennedy, appointed by President Reagan but often a swing vote, as the likely deciding vote.

Regardless of the outcome, the decision will affect almost all Americans. The public will have to wait for the outcome, however. Even though the Court will hear arguments in the first three days of next week, a decision on the case may not be published for several months. Most decisions are not issued until the last months of the term: May, June and July.


Originally published on

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Nationwide Rally for religious freedom tomorrow

Atlantans will rally for religious freedom at the Georgia state capitol building tomorrow.  The rally is one of more than 140 events around the country to protest the Obama Administration’s mandate on religious organizations.  The mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services will force religious organizations to purchase contraceptive and abortifacient coverage regardless of their religious beliefs.  The mandate is widely believed to be a violation of the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The rally is being coordinated by the Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society according the national website,  The Atlanta rally is being promoted by the Georgia Catholic Conference.

The rallies are nonpartisan and ecumenical.  A flyer for the Atlanta rally notes that children are welcome and that the rally will be peaceful and instructs attendees not to engage counter-demonstrators either physically or “loud verbal argumentation, name-calling or derogatory remarks.”  Attendees are also instructed not to bring literature or signage for either political party or any candidate.

The Stand Up for Religious Freedom movement is reminiscent of the Tea Party movement, which began just over three years ago to protest federal bailouts and stimulus spending.  Denounced as “Astroturf,” racist and violent by Democrats, the Tea Party nevertheless spearheaded opposition to the Obama Administration that led to a Republican landslide in 2010.

The Atlanta Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally will be held outside the State Capitol building on Friday, March 23 from noon to 1:00 p.m.

Continue reading on Atlantans to rally for religious freedom on Friday - Atlanta Conservative |

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Life sentences may be next social justice target

For years the left has opposed the death penalty on a variety of grounds, including a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Now two cases on the current Supreme Court docket may signal the next big liberal social justice cause: the abolition of life sentences without possibility of parole.

The two cases heard by the court yesterday are Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs. In both cases, the defendants were 14-years-old at the time that they committed murder. They were subsequently convicted of the murders and sentenced to life without parole. Their attorneys are now postulating that to sentence a minor to life without parole is cruel and unusual punishment.

According to a summary by Cornell University law school, Evan Miller and a friend, Colby Smith, robbed the trailer of neighbor, Cole Cannon, on the night of July 15, 2003. The pair returned to Cannon’s home later that night to find Cannon passed out from smoking and drinking. Miller took Cannon’s driver’s license and $300 from his wallet. He then tried to replace the wallet, but Cannon woke up in the process and began attacking Miller. Both boys then beat Cannon with a baseball bat until he was unconscious.

The boys then left Cannon in his trailer, but later returned to try to cover up the crime. Ultimately, they decided to set fire to the trailer in an attempt to destroy the evidence. At the time, Cannon was still alive. An autopsy ruled the death a combination of smoke inhalation, blunt force trauma, and ethanol intoxication. Miller signed a statement admitting to fighting with Cannon and robbing him, but denying setting the fire. He was found guilty of capital murder in the course of committing arson and received the mandatory sentence of life without parole. According to the Decatur Daily News, Colby Smith pled guilty and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. He testified at Miller’s trial.

In the case of Kuntrell Jackson, the defendant was part of a trio that robbed a video store in Blytheville, Ark. According to case filings, Jackson and two other juveniles went into Movie Magic on November 18, 1999 and demanded that the clerk, 28-year-old Laurie Troup, give them her money. When she refused, she was shot in the face with a sawed-off shotgun. The three boys then fled without taking any money.

When the boys were arrested in March 2001, they all made incriminating statements. At the time of his arrest, Jackson had a long record that included shoplifting, auto theft, criminal trespass and fleeing. He was considered a serious offender even before being charged in the murder case. Jackson claimed that he was the lookout and another boy admitted to the murder according to the Arkansas Times. The killer received a sentence of life with possibility of parole. Jackson was also convicted of felony murder under an Arkansas law that imposes the same penalty on an accomplice as the actual killer.

The opposition to life without parole for minors is centered on two points. The first is that because the sentences are pronounced on minors with most of their lives before them, it violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In the original intent of the framers, this is unlikely. At the time the Constitution was written, there were no separate laws and penalties for minors. Juveniles were subject to the same laws as adults. It was not until 1899 that Chicago opened the world’s first juvenile court system.

The second point that opponents make is that minors are not fully capable of understanding the effects of their actions. The American Psychological Association argues in an amicus brief for both cases that juveniles have “diminished culpability” in three areas. First, their immaturity and undeveloped sense of responsibility can lead to “ill-considered actions and decisions.” Second, they are more susceptible to negative influences. Finally, the character of juveniles is not set as is the character of adults. The APA argues that this gives juveniles a greater chance for rehabilitation.

Attorneys for the states of Alabama and Arkansas argue that the issue is one of state’s rights which are protected by the Constitution’s 10th amendment. This amendment states that if the Constitution doesn’t grant the federal government specific powers, those powers are reserved to state governments. This means that since the Constitution does not delegate the power to regulate sentencing for murder to the federal government, then the federal government has no right to interfere with duly passed state laws.

Proponents also argue that the heinous nature of murder requires the most serious punishment. An NPR report on the hearing quotes Arkansas Attorney-General Kent Holt as telling the justices, “Teenagers must know that if you commit the worst crime, you will get the worst punishment.”

Life without parole is currently the worst punishment for juveniles. In Roper v. Simmons (2005), the Court outlawed the death penalty for juveniles citing the Eighth Amendment and “the overwhelming weight of international opinion.” In Graham v. Florida (2010), the Court banned juvenile life without parole in cases other than murder, again citing the Eighth Amendment and international opinion.

The next step for criminal’s rights activists may well be to attack the life sentence for adults as well. In many countries around the world, life sentences have already been abolished. For example, in Norway, where Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people last July, the maximum sentence he will face is 21 years in prison. As more countries abolish life sentences, American liberals may press U.S. courts to follow suit based on international norms and opinion.

According to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Georgia allows life without parole for minors, but the sentence is not mandatory. There are currently eight known inmates in Georgia prisons who were sentenced to life without parole as minors.

There are 2,300 inmates in the United States who were sentenced to life without parole for murders committed when they were under 18 according to PBS. Of these, 79 were convicted for murders committed under the age of 14. The decisions in the Miller and Jackson cases may affect these prisoners.

This article originally published on

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

WWII “Wings of Freedom” tour country

Visitors to New Orleans Lakefront Airport (KNEW) recently were treated to the spectacle of a trio of World War II veterans. These veterans, lovingly restored and cared for, looked just as young and vibrant as they did during their combat tours in the 1940s, 70 years ago. These veterans of the war against the Axis Powers were a group of American warbirds on display to benefit the National WWII Museum, which is located in New Orleans. The airplanes are operated by the Collings Foundation of Massachusetts.

The veterans on display in New Orleans included three of the aircraft most symbolic of American military aviation in WW II. The Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber is the 11th highest produced airplane in history with 18,482 built. The B-24 was perhaps best known for the famous Allied raid on the oil fields of Ploesti, Romania in August 1943. It served in a variety of roles including maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare, cargo transport, clandestine insertion of spies behind the lines of Nazi-occupied Europe and rescue of downed airmen in addition to its role as a bomber. “Witchcraft,” the B-24 exhibited in New Orleans, is the last flyable Liberator.

Although not as common during the war as the B-24, the B-17 Flying Fortress is much more recognizable and more remain today. Built by Boeing, the B-17 became famous for its ability to take enormous amounts of battle damage and still return. It became the symbol of American airpower. Perhaps the most famous B-17 was the “Memphis Belle,” which was the subject of a 1990 movie featuring Matthew Modine, Billy Zane, and Harry Connick, Jr.

As famous as the B-17 was North American’s P-51 Mustang. The elegant fighter plane evokes the power and grace of its thoroughbred namesake. The Mustang’s long range and maneuverability made it a valuable protector for American bombers striking deep into the heart of enemy territory. The P-51 is featured in the new movie “Red Tails” starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. which tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of black fighter pilots in the segregated WWII-era.

Aviation buffs will note that the P-51 displayed in New Orleans lacks the typical “bubble canopy” that is most commonly seen on Mustangs. This example is a TP-51, a two-seat variant of the fighter. According to the Collings Foundation’s display, the second seat was often added as a field conversion for training or VIP transport.

The three warbirds are currently touring the United States as part of the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom tour, which continues through May. A schedule of dates and stops can be found on the Collings Foundation website. The foundation also offers flight experiences in all three airplanes. In New Orleans, you can also visit the National World War II Museum to learn more about these aluminum warbirds and the iron men who flew them.

View more photos of the Wings of Freedom at:

This article was originally published on

Ga. GOP introduces last-minute tax reform

In a surprise move the Joint Special Committee on Tax Reform unveiled its proposed tax reform package yesterday with only seven days left in the current session of the General Assembly. According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the proposal is made up of eleven provisions, all of which have been attempted unsuccessfully in the past.

The tax reform bill, officially called H.B. 386, would make the following changes to Georgia tax law:

· Phase out the sales tax on energy.

· Replace the ad valorem and sales taxes on cars. The “birthday tax” would be replaced with a one-time title fee on cars that would capped at seven percent.

· Eliminate the sales tax exemption on film production in Georgia. A separate tax credit for film production would remain.

· Restore the sales tax holiday for school supplies and energy-efficient appliances.

· Reduce conservation tax credits property owners.

· Cap the exemption for non-wage income earned by retirees at $65,000 per year for individuals and $130,000 for couples. Income taxes would be paid on non-wage income above these amounts.

· Authorize the collection of sales taxes for online purchases from retailers like

· Reduce Georgia’s “marriage penalty” by increasing the exemptions for married couples filing jointly from $5,400 to $7,400 and from $2,700 to $3,700 for couples filing singly.

· Extend on a break in the sales tax on purchases of jet fuel.

· Revise sales tax exemptions on farm equipment purchases.

· Create a discretionary fund to be used by the governor to offer tax incentives to out-of-state companies who relocate to Georgia.

The ABC quotes Senator Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), the majority leader, as saying, “This is a tax cut. [It] reduces taxes on Georgia taxpayers.”

While the original intent of the committee was to create a “revenue neutral” reform proposal, the bill in its current form would reduce tax revenues by $53 million according to a Georgia State University analysis cited on The reduction represents just under 2.5 percent of Georgia’s 2012 budget.

Proponents of the bill believe that the reform would help to spur growth and investment in Georgia. Since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, Georgia’s unemployment has been consistently above the national average. Georgia’s real estate market has also been one of the hardest hit and the foreclosure rate remains among the nation’s highest.

In theory, the tax reform would attract new business to the state, which would create jobs and reduce unemployment. The foreclosure rate would then decrease and property values would stabilize as Georgians find new jobs and new workers come to the state.

Opponents of the measure question how the state would pay for the $53 million in tax cuts. The state budget has been the subject of painful cuts in recent years amid lost tax revenue during the recession. Others complain that the bill does not do enough to reduce the state’s tax burden and instead merely shuffles the taxes from one group to another.

Tax reform was also proposed last year. The 2011 reform bill died in the house amid complaints that it raised taxes. The last-minute introduction of the 2012 reform bill may have been intended to not give opponents time to rally against the current legislation.

Originally published on

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Obama and gas prices

As gas prices continue to rise, President Obama is under increasing pressure from both Republicans and the public to take action., which tracks gas prices, shows an increase of almost 70 cents per gallon in Georgia since Christmas. During the same period, the national average gas price has increased by almost 60 cents. The current national gas price is $3.794 per gallon, while Georgia is a few cents cheaper at $3.703. There may not be any relief in the near future. The Energy Information Administration forecasts that gas prices will stay near $4 per gallon through the summer.

To date, President Obama’s main response has been to blame speculators. In 2011, the president asked the Department of Justice to investigate oil speculators for possible fraud or manipulation of prices. McClatchy Newspapers found the Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group, a subgroup of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, has met “only four or five times since its creation.” President Obama ordered the group back to work last week while at the same time saying that it never stopped working.

Speculators are not the problem. OPEC is the cartel of oil-producing countries that sets the price for much of the world’s oil. The OPEC basket price for March 14, yesterday’s close of business, was $124.29 per barrel. Currently, oil is trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange between $103 and $106 per barrel. Oil is actually selling on the commodities market for less than OPEC is charging. This means that the “speculators” are actually bidding the price of oil down.

President Obama and the Democrats maintain that the president does not control the price of oil and therefore should not be blamed for rising gas prices. The Democrats did not feel that the president was so helpless when George Bush resided in the White House, however. Many blamed President Bush’s ties to the oil industry for 2008’s record spike in gas prices.

While it is true that President Obama cannot take action that will swiftly bring gas prices down, it is also true that many of his policies have contributed to the increase in gas prices. The president’s affinity for green energy and dislike for oil has led to policies that are hostile to oil producers. For example, although President Obama has taken credit for the fact that U.S. oil production is at an eight year high, he failed to mention that the increase was due to drilling permits issued under President Bush.

According to the Institute for Energy Research, the number of offshore drilling permits has fallen by more than 50 percent under President Obama. The percentage of applications approved has fallen from a historical average of 73 percent to the current approval rate of 23 percent. Approval time has increased from an average of 60 days to more than 90. The Obama Administration was held in contempt for continuing its moratorium on off-shore drilling after its executive-ordered ban was struck down by a federal judge. Even before the oil spill, one of President Obama’s first executive actions was to cancel 77 Bush-era oil leases in Utah. Further, the Obama Administration has also unveiled new regulation of fracking, the drilling technique that has made the oil and natural gas booms in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Dakota possible. Increased regulation may well lead to fewer permits in these areas as well.

Another high profile decision was President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. Obama killed the pipeline in January after three years of study. In February 2012, the president lobbied Democratic senators to vote down a Republican bill that would have approved the pipeline according to Investor’s Business Daily, killing the bill a second time. The Canadian oil that would have been piped to U.S. refineries will now likely go to emerging markets in China.

The Energy Information Administration cites the closure of three refineries since September 2011 that supplied gasoline to the East Coast as a factor in rising gas prices. An additional refinery may be shut down in July if no buyer is found. The reduced supply has been partially offset by a new refinery in Delaware City, but has undoubtedly contributed to higher prices. President Obama engineered the purchase of Chrysler by Fiat, but has shown no interest in finding new operators for these refineries.

The Federal Reserve has also increased the money supply through quantitative easing, where the Fed buys securities from banks and expands the money supply. According to the N.Y. Times, the Fed has added more than $2 trillion to the money supply since the economic crisis began in 2008. When more money is in the system, each individual dollar is worth less. As supply increases, demand decreases.

As Republicans on Congress’ Joint Economic Committee noted in report detailed in CNS News last year, “Oil is an international commodity that trades in dollars. The value of the unit of exchange, in this case the dollar, plays an important role in determining the ‘headline’ price for the underlying commodity.” The report further notes that the first round of quantitative easing resulted in an increase of more than $17 per barrel of oil. This is approximately an increase of more than 50 cents per gallon of gasoline.

Another major factor in the high price of gasoline is instability in the Middle East caused by the Iranian nuclear program. The Iranian quest for nuclear weapons predates the Obama Administration, but the president has frittered away time with fruitless negotiations while the Iranians worked and used diplomacy as a delaying tactic.

In the meantime, Obama has done everything possible to prevent Israel from launching a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, even after Iran attempted a terror bombing inside the District of Columbia in October 2011. He is right that an Israeli strike would probably result in an Iranian blockade of the Persian Gulf causing oil prices to skyrocket, but he seriously underestimates Iranian Twelver religious fervor and their resolve to destroy Israel. The Iranian leadership believes that a Muslim messiah is coming soon and that their mission is launch a nuclear war to prepare the way for him.

A conventional war in the Middle East would be disastrous for oil prices. A nuclear war in the Middle East (or worse: one that reaches American shores) would be even worse. As the Iranians draw close to becoming a nuclear power, there is less time for sanctions to work and less chance for a peaceful solution. The price of oil includes a risk premium for the possibility of war in the Middle East that Obama’s inaction has made more likely.

Finally, President Obama is a bit disingenuous about wanting cheaper prices for gas and energy. In September 2008, Dr. Steven Chu, the man who later became President Obama’s energy secretary, told the Wall Street Journal, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.” Chu wanted gas prices to increase in order to coax Americans into buying more energy-efficient cars and encouraging shorter commutes.

Barack Obama himself, in a January 2008 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle that can be heard on, said as a candidate that “under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”  This would have been bad news for everyone, including people driven to purchase electric cars by Dr. Chu if cap-and-trade had passed. Although Congress never passed cap-and-trade, President Obama’s EPA is implementing carbon regulation unilaterally.

President Obama cannot personally control the price of oil, but his policies do have an effect on it. On balance, the president’s policies are contributing to the rising gas prices. The statements of candidate Obama and Dr. Chu are evidence that they knew exactly what they were doing all along.

Originally published on

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pat Robertson endorses legal marijuana

Evangelical leader Pat Robertson shocked the nation recently when he advocated the legalization of marijuana. In an interview with the N.Y. Times, Robertson said, “I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol. I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”

Robertson said that his views on legalization formed over time as he came to realize that the U.S. “has gone overboard on this concept of being tough on crime.” He believes that legalization of marijuana would be a way to reduce social and financial costs of the drug war as well as reducing rates of incarceration.

According to the Justice Policy Institute, about one quarter of the two million prisoners in U.S. jails have been convicted of drug offenses. Sixteen percent of state prisoners and 18 percent of federal prisoners had committed crimes to get money for drugs. Department of Justice statistics show that 12 percent of prisoners at both the state and federal level were convicted of offenses involving marijuana. The number of inmates serving time for marijuana offenses is a relatively small portion of the total U.S. prison population.

Other arguments for legal marijuana cite statistics that show that states with more drug treatment admissions have lower rates of incarceration. According the Justice Policy Institute, the national average is 433.7 drug treatment admissions and 491 people incarcerated per 100,000 people in the general population. Georgia has fewer drug treatments than average at 369.28 and higher than average incarceration at 533.

Proponents of legalization also cite savings from ending the war on drugs and tax revenue from legal marijuana. It is likely that these benefits would be offset by the increased social costs of legalization as more people would use the drug if it were legal. These would include costs such as healthcare and treatment, lost productivity, auto accidents, crime, and social welfare programs according to a study by RTI International.

European countries have experimented with more liberal drug policies. The Netherlands does not enforce laws against marijuana which resulted in an international tourist trade for Amsterdam’s “coffee” shops. The government recently banned non-Dutch residents from the shops. In the Netherlands, there are strong penalties for possessing, selling, and producing drugs, but not for using. According to an article in Science, increases in use did not accompany decriminalization, but “later growth in commercial access to cannabis, after de facto legalization, was accompanied by steep increases in use, even among youth.”

A paper by the American Academy of Pediatrics examined the effects of decriminalization. The paper points out that legalization would decrease the perception of risk and make adolescents more likely to experiment with drugs. The AAP notes that even though alcohol and tobacco are illegal for minors, both drugs are widely abused by adolescents and companies actively market these products to minors.

The AAP also cites two studies by the American Medical Association and the Institute of Medicine that point out that there is no rigorous data to support the use of marijuana as a medical drug. While both studies call for more research, they note that, when smoked, marijuana delivers “harmful substances” into the body. Because inhaled marijuana cannot provide the “precisely defined drug affect” of pharmaceutical drugs, “there is very little future in smoked marijuana as a medically approved medication. If there is any future in cannabinoid development, it lies with agents of more certain, not less certain, composition.”

Far from being harmless, marijuana carries a host of negative effects for users. Emotional effects cited on include paranoia, aggression, depression, anxiety, a distorted sense of time, random thinking, and loss of memory. When eaten rather than smoked, marijuana can also cause hallucinations, delusions, and disorientation. Marijuana increases the heart rate and decreases blood pressure leading to an elevated risk of heart attacks. Smoking marijuana causes the same respiratory problems as smoking tobacco and a link to cancer is suspected. The drug is also believed to suppress the body’s immune system, which can lead to other health problems including an increased risk of bacterial infections and tumors.

While marijuana is not as addictive as other drugs, including tobacco and alcohol, the National Institute of Drug Abuse found that estimated nine percent of users become dependent on marijuana. That number almost doubles for users who start young and is as high as 50 percent for daily users. Marijuana users also have higher rates of use for other drugs and drug problems than nonusers. More than half of the Americans who use illegal drugs use marijuana.

If marijuana were legalized, prices would fall as the supplies of the drug increased and became easier to obtain. Economic laws of supply and demand show that as prices fall, demand rises. Therefore it should be expected that use of marijuana would increase under decriminalization. The number of people addicted to marijuana and introduced to other drugs through marijuana would increase as well. While alcohol and tobacco are more harmful to society than marijuana today, if marijuana were legalized its negative impact on society would increase as well.

Ballot initiatives in several states are attempting to decriminalize marijuana. California voters rejected a proposition to legalize the drug in 2010, but Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a bill into law that made possession of less than an ounce a civil infraction rather than a misdemeanor. Colorado and Massachusetts are currently the forefront of attempts to decriminalize marijuana.

In Georgia, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana will normally mean probation on the first offense according to NORML. Subsequent offenses can lead to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Possession of more than an ounce can mean 10 years in jail. According to, Georgia allows distribution of medical marijuana that is received from the federal government. There is no notable movement to decriminalize marijuana in Georgia.

Most other Christian leaders are not following Robertson’s lead. In a 2010 commentary, Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship pointed out the flaws in the legalization arguments. Colson said, “There is no legitimate moral or pragmatic reason to legalize a drug that destroys the lives of those addicted to it and that fuels crime and corruption.”

Robertson told the Times, “I believe in working with the hearts of people, and not locking them up,” but he has a lot of work to do in convincing other conservatives and Christians. Several prominent conservatives and libertarians have endorsed legal marijuana in addition to Robertson, such as presidential candidate Ron Paul, talk-show host Glenn Beck and the libertarian Cato Institute. Nevertheless, while 41 percent of Americans favor legal marijuana according to a Pew poll, only 25 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Protestants do.

Originally published on

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Solar storm diverts flights

The Earth is currently experiencing the impact of a massive solar storm that experts believe may be strong enough to impact aviation and commonly used electronic devices. GPS satellites, power grids, and telecommunications are a few of the areas that might be affected by the storm on the sun. The current solar storm is expected to be the largest in at least five years.

According to NASA, solar storms are caused by solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that erupt from the sun. The flares and CMEs send billions of tons of magnetic radiation hurtling through space and occasionally planets and spacecraft travel through its path. NASA further states that solar activity rises and falls on cycles that last about 11 years. In 2009, NASA forecast that the current solar cycle would peak in May 2013.

Since solar radiation collects around the poles, storms can affect transoceanic flights. Because the Earth is round, the shortest distance between two widely separated points often looks curved when plotted on a flat map. Flights between the United States and Europe or Asia often travel north over the Arctic rather than straight across the ocean, the route that seems obvious on a map. These are called Great Circle routes.

To see the difference, use a globe to measure the distance between two points on different continents, first straight across the ocean and then over the pole. You can also see great circle routes using On a sample flight from New York to Hong Kong, the great circle route over the North Pole is 8,072 miles and the airplane would fly northwest initially. If the aircraft flew more westerly to follow the flat map route, the distance would increase to as much as approximately half of the 24,900 mile circumference of the Earth. Obviously the flight would last much longer and use more fuel.

Last month, Aviation News reported that Delta Air Lines was diverting flights between its Detroit hub and destinations in Asia. The longer route reportedly only added about 15 minutes to the flight time. United reported diverting one flight and American Airlines said that its operations were not impacted. The increased fuel used for longer routes can add significantly to the cost of operating the flight.

It is highly unlikely that the solar radiation would cause any direct danger to humans, but it could affect electronic navigation and communications. Aircraft on long overwater flights where fuel and navigation are critical would be particularly susceptible to the storms. Even more vulnerable are communications satellites that are not protected from the radiation by the Earth’s atmosphere. Likewise, astronauts in orbit would need to keep to heavily shielded areas of their spacecraft.

On rare occasions, a solar storm can be powerful enough to cause more serious problems on the surface of the Earth. In 1859, a massive solar storm caused telegraph wires to short out, starting numerous fires according to This storm made the aurora borealis, the Northern Lights, visible as far south as Cuba. A smaller storm cut power to the entire province of Quebec in 1989. As the world becomes more dependent on electronic devices, it is also more vulnerable to solar storms. Advance warning from astronomers allows power grids and satellites to be shut down or otherwise protected from the cosmic radiation.

Solar storms might affect aviation and the world in general in other ways as well. Many scientists believe that solar activity has a direct affect on the Earth’s weather. Often solar inactivity corresponds with colder terrestrial temperatures while periods of high activity on the sun lead to high temperatures and stormy weather on Earth. A NOAA graph of the solar cycle appears to correspond closely to globally averaged satellite-based temperatures. As the sun approaches the height of its cycle, the solar maximum, the Earth may experience warmer average temperatures and severe storms.

For the most part however, most people with not notice any effect from most solar storms. Your flight to China might be marginally longer, but it will just give you more time to admire the Northern Lights while enroute.

Originally published on