Ballot Access Laws are Detrimental to America

April 26, 2009

This past week a panel of judges in North Carolina heard the appeal of a 2005 case filed by the state’s Libertarian Party over its loss of ballot access following the 2004 elections.  Even though the Libertarians have regained ballot status the suit has gone forward on behalf of other minor parties still struggling to meet ballot access requirements.  The North Carolina election law in question requires political parties not officially recognized (non-Republican and non-Democrat) by the state to gather signatures equaling 2 percent of those who cast votes in the previous gubernatorial election.  For the 2012 ballot, 80,000 signatures of registered voters will be required by minor parties just to get on the ballot.  The basis of the suit is the Libertarian Party’s claim that the $130,000 they spent and the three years it took them to acquire the signatures put an unfair, unconstitutional burden on their efforts to effectively run candidates for public office.  Given that Republicans and Democrats do not have to jump these same hurdles to achieve ballot access the Libertarians are right.

Defending the state’s law was deputy attorney general of North Carolina, Alexander Peters.  He argued that the state’s ballot access restrictions on minor parties are reasonable.  According to Mr. Peters, “The very fact the Libertarians were able to gain access proved the point that getting on the ballot was not impossible for third parties, even if it was costly and time consuming.”  Furthermore, he added that, “The larger the ballot, the greater the potential for errors and complications.” His argument was that allowing third parties to increase their numbers would complicate the administration of elections.  He did assure the court that there would probably always be at least two parties in the state.

Of course, North Carolina is not unique in having restrictive ballot access laws.  Most states have them.  However, because of his remarks, Alexander Peters is not fit to be an attorney general of any state.  His argument is offensive, not based on constitutional law, and worthy of the tyrannical gibberish usually uttered by the Mugabes and Chavezes of the world.  For him to declare that conducting elections with minimal problems is more important than guaranteeing the civil rights of American citizens is preposterous.  Do states not administer welfare programs, education systems, and driver’s licenses?  We never hear that the millions of people served by these bureaucracies complicate the work of the state to the point where it shouldn’t provide those services anymore.  Why should the most basic function of our government, namely an electoral system, be so demeaned?    After all, aren’t the results of free and fair elections supposed to determine the policies our government will pursue? 

Additionally, Mr. Peters’ remarks are an offense to every American soldier who fought in Iraq.  Many fought and many died instituting democracy in that country.  At election time, Iraqis have close to 20 parties on the ballot to choose from, but our troops come home and usually have only a choice between two.  Given that both major American parties supported the war in Iraq that means they didn’t really have a say in whether they went to war or not.  The decision was made for them by our corrupt electoral system.  Certainly, if the Iraqi electoral system can conduct elections with 20 political parties participating than any state in our union can do at least the same.

At the end of the day, ballot access laws are detrimental to our political system for at least four reasons.  First off, they discourage political participation of the citizenry.  How many times have we heard I am not voting because it is a choice between “the lesser of two evils”?  Many folks feel the two major parties are just different sides of the same coin.  Usually one is for a 20 percent increase in the size of government and the other offers a 15 percent increase.  One is for invading a country while the other prefers covert, clandestine actions.  Both take few precautions when it comes to taking our rights away.  And neither has been averse to giving trillions of our dollars to big bankers.  There are a huge number of Americans who feel disenfranchised by the system.  That is a big reason why voter turnout is usually low.

Ballot access laws are detrimental to our political system because they are anti-democratic.  They can only be defended with anti-democratic rhetoric like that spoken by Alexander Peters.  Now I understand that we live in a republic.  But, our republic is based on the essence of democracy – a government in which the people have a voice in the exercise of political power.  How can discriminating against allegedly minor views through ballot access laws be justified in our system?  It is placing a greater importance on the views of some at the expense of others.  Current polls indicate that between 10-20 percent of Americans identify themselves as libertarians.  Probably a large chunk of Americans are at the opposite end of the spectrum – socialist.  By restricting ballot access or at the very least placing high hurdles in the way of minor parties state governments silence the voice of many in pursuit of their right under democracy.

Thirdly, ballot access laws are just plain unconstitutional.  North Carolina’s law violates both the free speech clause of the state’s constitution and the First Amendment right to free speech of the federal constitution.  When minor parties, like the Libertarian party in 2005, cannot meet ballot access requirements voices are silenced and rights are violated.  Additionally, the U.S. Constitution guarantees “equal protection” under the law to each American.  How can Republican and Democratic candidates for office not be required to jump through the same hoops as minor party candidates and it is considered equal under the law?

Lastly, ballot access laws have contributed to the formation of our elite political class.  By lessening competition to the point where only Republicans and Democrats get elected there is of course no one left to administer the election laws but Republicans and Democrats.  What a monopoly and conflict of interest this is.  If the Republicans and Democrats were corporations they would be investigated for anti-trust violations.  The best example of this happened last August in Texas when both John McCain and Barack Obama failed to meet the filing deadline to get on the ballot – neither man had even been nominated by their respective party by the deadline.  Did they have to file a lawsuit to challenge the law?  No, it was simply overturned by the secretary of state of Texas.  Meanwhile, Libertarian party candidate Bob Barr was spending thousands of dollars and hours fighting six states over ballot access.

Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”  To be sure, democracy requires hard work and due diligence.  For a society to thrive, all voices should be heard.  Ballot access laws that discriminate against minor political parties should be abolished to recover and then ensure our prosperity.


End the Embargo and Bring Back the Cigars

April 19, 2009

On February 2, 1962, President John Kennedy called his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, into his office and instructed him to immediately find and purchase one thousand of his favorite Cuban cigars – H. Upmann Petit Coronas.  A perplexed Salinger spent the better part of that night scoping out smoke shops and buying up as many of the Caribbean delights as he could find.  When Salinger reported back to the president the next morning he presented him with almost 1200 H. Upmann Petit Coronas.  After joyfully inspecting the lot, Kennedy opened his desk drawer and immediately signed Presidential Proclamation 3447 – outlawing all American trade with Cuba.  As is the custom with most politicians, after securing his stash the president made it instantly illegal for other Americans to enjoy Cuban made cigars.

Such was the birth of one of the biggest failures in U.S. foreign policy – the Cuban trade embargo.  It was meant to bring the downfall of Fidel Castro and his communist revolution, but 47 years and two communist dictators later, it still hasn’t accomplished its goal and there is no indication it ever will.

Then this week, really for the first time ever, there appeared to be cracks in Washington’s resolve to perpetuate this charade.  The Obama Administration announced that it would be easing parts of the embargo against Cuba, namely restrictions on travel and money transfers by Cuban Americans to family in the island nation.  Almost immediately, Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart issued a statement calling Obama’s action “a serious mistake.”  Quoting the congressman’s sentiments further, he stressed the importance of U.S. policy to continue “to insist upon the three fundamental goals for Cuba enshrined in U.S. law which have long constituted a bipartisan U.S. Policy of State:  The liberation of all political prisoners, the legalization of all political parties, independent labor unions and the press, and the scheduling of free, internationally supervised elections.”

All this bluster because the president is simply allowing Cuban Americans to resume normal relations with their kin in Cuba?  After all, administration officials have indicated that they are keeping the rest of the embargo intact to provide “leverage” against Cuba to free all political prisoners.  It is the opinion of this writer that the president should be commended for his humanitarian act on behalf of Cubans in America and Cuba.  However, it is also my hope that this is just a first step in the process of normalizing relations between ourselves and Havana.

It is time for the trade embargo to be lifted in its entirety once and for all. With all due respect to Congressman Diaz-Balart our policy towards Cuba should be based on logic and not emotion.  Yes, the Castro’s and their cronies are bad people, but our shortsighted policy has unfortunately not delivered the knockout punch we desired.  In fact, generally speaking economic embargoes do not produce the results we crave.  The recent examples are several – Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iraq.  In North Korea and Zimbabwe sanctions contributed to mass starvation and disease outbreaks for the local population while not affecting the dictator at all.  In Iraq a decade long embargo against Saddam did not instigate the masses of Iraqis to rise up against him; it simply made them more poor and allowed him to strengthen his hold over that society. 

The same is true for the Castro boys.  They have not been personally negatively affected by our policy and have even used it for scoring propaganda points within Cuba and other parts of the hemisphere.  Since it hasn’t worked in 47 years to depose Castro Inc. then there is no logical reason to believe it will work in the future.

The best way for the US to influence the policies of foreign countries including Cuba is not through bullying or moralizing but through healthy relations, cultural exchanges, and economic partnerships.  Hasn’t this been U.S. policy towards communist China for at least the last twenty years?  Look at the enormous strides China has made at least in economic liberties.  The hope is that economic liberalization will grow a strong middle class and lead to political and social change as well.  When citizens of a closed society experience goods and ideas from the outside world and have the economic means to not tolerate harsh treatment from their leaders it can lead to good things.  Japan, after World War II is a good example.  At the very least, exchanges between liberalized countries and dictatorships will cause no harm to local populations like sanctions do.

Ending the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba will achieve a multitude of good objectives.  It will terminate one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in U.S. history.  It will help convert Cuba into a more liberalized country.  It will preserve our national security because Cuba will not have to buddy up again with Russia for economic and military purposes.  And lastly, it will benefit both countries economically.  They will get to produce more cigars and we will get to consume them.

An Open Letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

April 13, 2009

April 9, 2009

Dear Secretary Napolitano,

It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter to you.  I am an American citizen who has lived and worked overseas for the last eight years.  My wife and I teach for American international schools.  During our annual summer break we look forward to flying back to the United States to visit family and friends.  However, this year thoughts of our return are filled with some anxiety about what we may face at the airport in Washington, D.C.   

Recently, I was disheartened to hear the recorded interrogation of Steve Bierfeldt by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers at the St. Louis airport.  The TSA officers’ actions were unconstitutional and indefensible.  Under the 4th Amendment to the Constitution all Americans have a right to be secure in their person, house, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures from the government.  Unfortunately, the detention, interrogation, and search of Mr. Bierfeldt’s bag violated his 4th Amendment right. 

By the time they detained him it had already been ascertained by TSA officers at the checkpoint that he did not possess anything that was illegal to take on an airplane.  Additionally, he had not broken and was not suspected of breaking any law.  During his detention, a background check run by officers indicated he had no previous criminal record.  Thus, there was no probable cause to hold him.  But, according to the TSA officers, they detained, questioned, and searched his bag because a large amount of cash and bank checks found in a box in his luggage made him “suspicious.”  They first accused him of being a drug dealer and then of stealing the money.  They threatened to turn him over to the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Again, all because he possessed something that he had a legal right to possess but that in the eyes of the TSA officers made him look “suspicious.”

The most egregious aspect of his detention was the utter lack of respect of the TSA officers for Mr. Bierfeldt’s rights as an American citizen under the Constitution.  They questioned him about his work, his employer, the money, and even why he was in St Louis.  The interrogation was reminiscent of another society in an earlier time and should not have taken place in Twenty-first Century America.  Under the circumstances, and aware of his constitutional rights, Mr. Bierfeldt certainly knew that he didn’t have to answer their questions.  In fact, by answering many of their questions with, “am I legally required to answer that question?” he gave them plenty of opportunity to consider whether or not he was legally required to answer their questions.  Instead, they told him:   “It is not a question of the law,” “You don’t have to understand the law, just answer the question,” and “Are you from this planet?”  Their absolute disregard for guaranteeing their captive’s rights was scary.

I understand that the TSA has launched an investigation of the incident.  I do expect that the inquiry will be conducted in the spirit of the agency’s civil rights policy which emphasizes that the TSA has “no tolerance for harassment in the treatment of the public we serve.”  When it is determined from listening to the recording that the TSA officers harassed and violated the constitutional rights of Mr. Bierfeldt I expect as an American citizen that they will be relieved of their duties.  Furthermore, Madam Secretary, please ensure that all of your agents are familiar with the Bill of Rights and the protections against abusive government power that they guarantee to every American.  After all, the mission of the TSA is “to make all modes of transportation safe.”  We should expect to travel safely on airplanes as well as have our constitutional rights safeguarded in doing so.  Ironically, given Mr. Bierfeldt’s recent experience, when I fly in June it will not be the terrorists I fear but the ones sworn to protect us from them.


Best regards,

Kenn Jacobine

American Citizen Lusaka, Zambia       

A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste

April 6, 2009

April 6, 2009

Stanford economist Paul Romer has coined the term, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”  Unfortunately, the statist Obama Administration has adopted this mantra in implementing its radical positions on the rest of us.  No, I am not talking about how the President is about to sell us out to the New World Order in the name of ensuring that our economy never again faces a crisis of this magnitude.  That rant is for another day.  Instead, I am talking about the concern that the Administration will and is using crises to violate our 2nd Amendment rights.

Crisis number one is the horrendous drug war violence in Mexico.  Even though Mexico has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world, it has become one of the most crime ridden, bloodiest societies on earth.  First of all, there is only one gun store in the whole country and that is run by the army.  It takes months to get a permit to own a gun and if you are one of the lucky to endure the process to the end restrictions are placed on the number of guns you can own and the amount of ammunition you can possess.  It is no wonder that Mexico was at one time a one-party dictatorship.  It is also no wonder that drug cartels can operate freely within the country without much fear of backlash from an armed citizenry.  Mexico is the poster child for the slogan, “When you outlaw guns, only outlaws will own guns.”

This past week the Administration dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to Mexico City to meet with Mexican president Felipe Calderon to discuss ways to prevent the smuggling of arms from the U.S. into Mexico.  As if he hasn’t made conditions in his own country horrific through his intensified War on Drugs campaign of the last 16 months, Calderon has indicated recently that “it is necessary to reduce the sale of weapons, particularly of high-power weapons, in the United States.”  Jumping on Calderon’s lead, Illinois Senator Richard Durbin believes, “Americans should feel guilty about, if not responsible for, drug gangs in Mexico shooting each other and corrupt government officials in perverse numbers-because some of the guns may have been purchased in the U.S.”

I mean wow!  There is so much to analyze here.  First of all, what right does Felipe Calderon have to tell us how to run our country?  Isn’t it his reignited War on Drugs that has caused the violence upswing in his own?  Before he decided to go after the drug cartels with full force brutality levels in Mexico were normal for an undeveloped country.  Secondly, Senator Durbin’s statement that Americans should feel responsible for drug violence and corruption in Mexico because “some of the guns may have been purchased in the U.S.” is a ridiculous statement.  As an attorney Durbin should know that “may have been purchased” doesn’t pass the beyond a reasonable doubt standard for conviction.  Besides, where is law enforcement along the border?  Aren’t there laws against transporting firearms across the border anyway?  If Washington would just get serious about enforcing our border protection laws we would have less illegals here and Mexico may have less illegal weapons there.  In any event, Mexico’s violence should not be used as a pretense to violate the 2nd Amendment rights of Americans under any circumstances.

Crisis number two is the War on Terror.  Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to enforce a little known law which prohibits American citizens, who reside outside the United States, from purchasing firearms while they are in America on visits.  According to law 18 USC 922(a) (9), “a person who is a resident of no state can only buy firearms for lawful sporting purposes.”  The language of the statute apparently excludes purchases for self-defense and other purposes.  The Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of Maxwell Hodgkins and Stephen Dearth.  Hodgkins and Dearth are natural-born American citizens who currently live overseas and have been denied the opportunity to buy firearms in the U.S. because of their residency status.  The SAF is seeking an injunction against the law.

18 USC 922(a) (9) does not pass constitutional muster under either the 2nd Amendment’s right to bear arms or the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clauses.  Attorney General Holder knows this.  So what could be the rationale behind the statute anyway?  My best guess is it has something to do with the international crisis Washington calls the War on Terror.  Are the Feds concerned that Americans living overseas are more susceptible to being or becoming terrorists.  Perhaps the fear is that we might befriend terrorists in our travels who subsequently will visit us in the U.S. and have the means available to do harm to Americans when they step foot on our soil?  If you survey Americans who live overseas you will find that many work for the U.S. government anyway –the military, U.S. State Department, CIA, U.S. Agency for International Development, and Peace Corp volunteers.  The rest of us are business professionals, teachers, doctors, and missionaries.  None of these groups are usually inclined to join al-Qaeda.  No, the fear of terrorism is not a justifiable reason to infringe upon Americans’ 2nd Amendment rights, but the Obama Administration is willing to use it anyway.

There is no question the violence in Mexico and the threat of worldwide terrorism is real.  However, instead of taking advantage of these crises to take away our constitutional rights the Obama Administration should reevaluate the causes of the conflicts and act accordingly.  By decriminalizing drugs and ending the government’s war on people who use them the violence in Mexico and the threat it causes to our national security will go away overnight.  Thomas Jefferson had it right when he said our foreign policy should be focused on, “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations – entangling alliances with none.”  Adopting a non-interventionist foreign policy will lower resentments towards the United States and make our people safer.  With our national security protected and our people safer there will be no pretense to violate the constitutional liberties of any Americans.