Civil Asset Forfeiture: When Law Enforcement Agencies Become Highway Robbers

By Eric Anton, National Committee Member

There is a general perception in the United States that the law enforcement community exists to protect and serve the general population. Indeed, this reputation is largely deserved; I contrast this with the experiences of many in other countries where the police are largely seen as dishonorable pests to deal with. In my time in Afghanistan, a large number of the locals I interacted with saw the police as being in the same category as locusts or any other natural disaster that could never be avoided, but only endured. Sadly, many of our fellow citizens find their interactions with the police to be fraught with peril, violence, and outright oppression, and thus view law enforcement in much the same way as the Afghans do. The causes of their negative experiences are myriad and vexing, but at least one of these outrages can be traced to greed; its corrupting influence is a pestilence which threatens many of the basic provisions of justice that most of us take for granted in this nation.

Here I am speaking of “civil asset forfeiture,” which is a legal tool by which the law enforcement community can seize property that they allege to have been involved in a certain criminal activity. This property can include everything from cash, to cars, to real estate. Law enforcement may employ this process without charging the property owner with a crime, because they are bringing the charges of criminal wrongdoing against the property itself, rather than against its owner. The legal test in such cases is generally “the preponderance of evidence” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and there is a presumption of guilt rather than of innocence. Thus, the property owner must prove innocence to contest the seizure after the fact, while the state does not need to prove guilt prior to seizing the assets. In consequence, the stories of completely innocent persons having their property seized and being driven into grinding poverty without so much as a criminal charge, let alone a criminal conviction, have grown too numerous to count.

Now, imagine this: you are a young black male driving at night and you get pulled over by the cops. You’re concerned because you have a criminal record for some minor crimes in the past, but you’ve turned your life around. In fact, you are now a small business owner; you’ve just closed up for the night and are on your way home. Without warning, the cops take you out of your car, handcuff you, and detain you without reading you your rights or telling you what was wrong. They search your car and find the day’s take from your restaurant: over seventeen thousand dollars. After two hours of this abuse, you’re released, but your car has been impounded and the cash that you were going to use to buy supplies and equipment for your business has been confiscated. You have not been charged with a crime. This actually happened to a man named Mandrel Stuart in 2014, and his is not the only example out there. Civil asset forfeiture is a distressingly common occurrence during traffic stops and is tainted with the stench of racial profiling. Furthermore, it is incredibly difficult for people to get their property back, especially for racial minorities, who are already looked upon with suspicion by the justice system. In many cases, law enforcement has pressured property owners to renounce ownership of their property in order to avoid facing criminal charges, as happened to Javier Gonzalez, whom Texas police threatened in 2008 with a money laundering charge if he didn’t give them a briefcase of ten thousand dollars in cash that he was carrying.

So, why do the police do this? In most states, the police are allowed to keep the assets and use them to fund their own departments, or can get around state restrictions on this practice by teaming up with federal agencies through the “equitable sharing” system, in which the federal and local agencies divide the spoils amongst themselves. It can reasonably be surmised that greed has infected the whole process and that some police departments have taken on the role of brigands who steal from the poor and racial minorities—people without the political or economic power to challenge these outrages. A recent report in South Carolina found that black males represent thirteen percent of the population, yet accounted for sixty-five percent of those whose assets were confiscated. This same report found that fifty-five percent of the seizures that involved cash were of amounts less than a thousand dollars. In other words, the police in South Carolina are focusing their brigandage on those who do not have the means to fight back.

The American Solidarity Party should become an advocate to help the poor and disenfranchised by overturning this monumentally unjust practice. We champion the rights of the poor, minorities, and those who face oppression from our criminal justice system. Ending civil asset forfeiture should be a key component in our drive to reform the system and to correct the historic injustices inflicted on the most vulnerable people in our society.

Against Leeroy Jenkins-ism: Solidarity and Subsidiarity on the World Stage

By Patrick Harris
American Solidarity Party National Committee, Secretary

Subsidiarity is one of the concepts that gets thrown around a lot in discussions of Christian democratic politics—for good reason, to be sure. Different forms and levels of governance exist for different purposes, and higher levels should support, not supplant, lower forms. Ordinarily, this principle is used (and sometimes abused) in discussions about whether or how the state should intervene in a particular economic or social issue. But there’s really no issue in which the logic of subsidiarity is clearer and more obvious than in foreign policy.

Put simply, it’s good that there are different countries. They exist for a reason. That doesn’t mean nationalism is an unmixed good, of course; untempered by an acknowledgement of human dignity that is borderless, it can be quite dangerous. Yet, it remains true that people are best able to govern themselves in community with others with whom they share interests, values, traditions, and institutions. Likewise, the people best qualified to decide the internal arrangements of a country are the people who will live with the consequences.

Consequently, there is, or ought to be, a very high bar to clear for one country to meddle in the internal politics of another. The capacity to intervene is not the same thing as the competence or the right to do so, even in the service of a good cause. We understand this in domestic politics when, say, the state government makes it impossible for a town to change its property taxes or zoning laws. We understand this in private life when your Aunt Helen won’t shut up about how you should really change your tacky drapes and keeps telling your kids they can come live with her if you won’t let them keep a golden retriever in your walk-up apartment.

The current US foreign-policy establishment is a bit of an Aunt Helen—if Aunt Helen had eleven aircraft-carrier strike groups and a recurring habit of cluster-bombing the houses of people with bad drapes.

Admittedly, the comparison is a tad frivolous. There are a lot of terrible rulers in the world today, with terrible crimes to their names. Until a few years ago, Muammar Gaddafi, the former leader of Libya, was one of them. Despite decades of not posing a tangible threat to the United States and voluntarily giving up its nuclear program, it’s safe to say Gaddafi’s regime was not a Jeffersonian democracy. Gaddafi massacred Libyan citizens in an attempt to hang on to power, and threatened to massacre more. So, as a noted American stateswoman put it gleefully, “We came, we saw, he died.”

These days, Libya has open-air slave markets and a dangerous ISIS affiliate, and has been in (another) civil war for the past five years.

Outcomes like those in Libya are why American politics needs a party with a commitment to just war principles. They show why it’s important for the American Solidarity Party to offer a credible and coherent alternative to the two-party duopoly in foreign policy, not only in terms of condemning unjust wars, but also in taking a critical view of the mindset that makes them possible in the first place. Part of that mindset is the assumption that the interests of the United States are essentially boundless, that there is no place in the world where we do not have the right—even the duty—to intervene. Part of it is the belief that, in any given crisis, doing something is always better than doing nothing, since American “credibility” is at stake. Part of it is the hope against hope that there are always readily-identifiable “good guys” in every situation, and that American attempts to tip the scales on their behalf will never backfire.

A countervailing force for realism and restraint is desperately needed. That’s true not just in the case of the wars we fight directly; it’s also true of conflicts we facilitate through proxies and clients. (I’ve written about the disaster that is Yemen here, and things have gotten worse since then.) It’s true of our efforts to coerce foreign governments through sanctions and to dictate the outcomes of foreign elections or political crises through ostensibly peaceful means, which have a peculiar way of escalating.

Late last month, Marco Rubio provided a great case in point, as he often does. The senior senator from Florida appeared to taunt Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro by tweeting a series of pictures of deposed foreign dictators, including an image of Muammar Gaddafi when he was in power juxtaposed with his bloody visage while he was being tortured and killed by an angry mob during the Libyan Civil War (the one in 2011). Aside from proving that borderline sociopathy is a bipartisan condition when it comes to foreign affairs, Rubio’s tweet makes clear that the most diehard hawks are happy to piggyback off the more limited steps the US has taken to intervene in Venezuela.

Make no mistake: in recognizing the opposition leaders and attempting to assist them in ousting the Maduro government, the US has already committed itself to a policy of regime change. If the situation there worsens further, it is entirely possible that we will find out what President Trump’s assertion that “all options are on the table” really means. The potential slide toward more drastic measures is precisely why a party committed to just war principles should seek to promote a broader strategic posture of restraint. As one of the great cultural touchstones for Millennials reminds us, fools rush in.

You might ask, “What about solidarity?” Shouldn’t we care about people suffering under corrupt governments? Far be it from me to suggest that solidarity stops at the water’s edge. International cooperation should be part of any Solidarist platform. We should seek peace among nations and common effort on questions of common concern. None of that makes the United States an effective or disinterested arbiter in the affairs of every nation on the globe.

National sovereignty is not an absolute good, nor is restraint the same thing as isolation. But the overwhelming tendency in American foreign policy for decades has been toward attempts to expand American hegemony, with disasters like the Iraq War brushed aside as mere aberrations. Meanwhile, a huge swath of the electorate, cutting across party lines, is looking for an alternative to an interventionist consensus that does a disservice to both our interests and our values. The American Solidarity Party can be that alternative, if it is willing to look beyond the stale and destructive clichés that have shaped our foreign policy debates for far too long.

Presidential Candidate Spotlight – Joe Schriner

It started in 1990. I felt a spiritual calling to leave my profession, my home—I was a mental health counselor in private practice in suburban Cleveland—and go on the road. I did.

This was the start of an eight-year, 150,000 mile research journey across America. From town to town, and quite serendipitously, I would meet these amazing people who had developed phenomenal local models to help women in crisis pregnancy, save the environment, heal families, curb crime, promote peace, bring social justice to the poor, and so on.

It was as if God, below the surface of the “cacophony of dysfunction” going on in the country, was developing these models as building blocks to, ultimately, dramatically shift America—when the time was right.
I took a lot of notes.

Prior to being a counselor, I’d been a journalist. I met Liz on a research trip through Alaska. We got married, started having kids, and kept traveling. After the eight years, we settled for a short period. During this time, through more considered spiritual discernment, we were inspired to take the notes, draft them into position papers, establish an overarching platform based on the research—and start the run for President.

Funny though, the resulting platform didn’t match up, across the board, with any party’s platform. Pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, yes, but also pro-environment and pro-social justice. What our platform did match up with was Catholic social teaching. I knew something about that because I am a strong Catholic versed in those teachings.

We launched on the presidential quest in April of 1999. Since then, it has been: six successive election cycles, 100,000 miles of campaign traveling, some 1,000 newspaper articles, some 200 regional network TV news shows, hundreds of radio shows, a good number of college talks, and a whole lot of street corner stumping.

We’ve reached millions. And we’ve used various strategies from our previous research to plant seeds that then ripple out into the wider community from there. This has spanned 20 years now, and counting.

In 2012, I was contacted by the Christian Democratic Party (now the American Solidarity Party). They wanted to “endorse” me in that campaign. When I checked out the website, I was astounded! It matched our platform, almost exactly. I accepted the endorsement. During the 2016 campaign, I was approached about considering vying for the ASP nomination. I declined because, at the time, I had decided to focus my energy more on internal campaign work. That’s done.

Our campaign, we believe, now stands at a “tipping point.” What’s more, the ASP now seems to have more of a nationwide structure in place (albeit kind of a “Gideon’s Army” numbers wise). The synergy, with God’s grace, should surprise everyone!

So . . . my “passion” is to see the models we’ve researched inspire people in every town across the country, and what better way to mobilize that than through the Presidency? Concurrently, I want to see the ASP become a quite formidable mainstream Party in this country, soon!
What a wild ride this combination could be!

Presidential Candidate Spotlight – Brian Carroll

Our party achieved remarkable membership growth in 2016, and I was one of those new members. I would like to help the party grow even more in 2020. I believe that both major parties are fracturing and that the American Solidarity Party is in a good position to pick up new “free agents.”

I followed a path of political disengagement. I voted a straight pro-life (GOP) ticket from 1980 until 2010. In 1990, I helped found a local pro-life organization and served as a spokesperson when we appeared before the city council to oppose the opening of an abortion facility. However, in 2010, the California Republicans ran a pro-choice candidate for governor. I did not want to encourage that trend, so I carefully studied the Democratic candidate. I realized that in many areas, I agreed with his positions over what the GOP candidates supported. Concurrent with the 2015-2016 presidential campaign, my home congregation experienced a church split. During March 2016, after 35 years of membership in the GOP and in my congregation, I resigned from both. Cutting my political ties meant that when I discovered the American Solidarity Party that August, I was ready to jump in feet first. I also joined a new a house church which is now fully organized and chartered and blesses my wife (Vicki) and me abundantly.

Whether we call ourselves “Pro-Life for the Whole Life” or something else, I believe the American Solidarity Party is first and foremost a party that confronts the culture of death that surrounds us. We will not win everywhere, but we must constantly look for ways we can win victories anywhere that God grants us success. Life issues are also social justice issues, and now critical climate issues have become life issues. This means that, on some subjects, our allies will be from parties to the right of us, and on others, they will be from parties to the left. Walking such a tightrope will require leaders who are able to cultivate friendships on both sides, yet not stumble into self-defeating compromises. The other tightrope will be running a secular campaign that manages to glorify God. That is my goal.

In retrospect, my worst failures in life occurred during times when I felt God nudging me toward something and I turned Him down. During the last 18 months, I have felt God nudging me into the current presidential race. In 2018, I ran for Congress. Though I lost the race (finishing in fifth place out of the six candidates), I was amazed at the success of a low-budget, part-time campaign. The time is ripe. I believe that the American Solidarity Party best advances the ideals I hold for the American people, and I plan to use the next two years to further those ideals. I will retire from my current career in June, after forty-three years working in the field of education. Going forward, I will support the Party in whatever capacity God provides, with the skills and energy with which He empowers me.

Presidential Candidate Spotlight – Joshua Perkins

I grew up in a mixed-race working-class family in Houston, was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school, attended Rice University (paid for by scholarships and loans), and have worked for the past nine years at a life insurance company in an actuarial role. I have been blessed with over a decade of marriage to my wonderful wife, Jocelyn, and we are raising four children (so far) while attending an Anglican church.

My political upbringing was pretty conservative, and I was fairly libertarian from high school through college (I cast a write-in vote for Ron Paul in 2008); however, I slowly became aware that a truly consistent libertarianism would result in bad outcomes—up to and including premature death—for real people who simply lacked money or economic opportunities, which didn’t fit well with my moral and religious convictions about the equality of all people.

By 2012, my shift toward a centrist position was mostly complete, and I voted for the most moderate Republican presidential candidate (Jon Huntsman, Jr.) in both the primary and the general election that year. Although my position on many (perhaps most) of today’s political issues had moved from the right to the center or center-left, I still couldn’t vote for Democrats because of their stance on abortion; however, due to the increasing tilt of the Republican party to the right, I found myself unable to stomach voting for most of their candidates, too, which left me adrift and without a place to hang my political hat. Providentially, I found the American Solidarity Party in the spring of 2015, and I have been proud to be a member ever since.

My main impetus for putting myself forward as a candidate for the presidential nomination is to broaden the discussion and give the membership more choices; if the process shows that any (or all) of the other candidates would be a better nominee, I will gladly step aside and endorse that person (or persons) instead.

In addition to our four core principles, I plan to focus particularly on issues under the following platform headings:

Civic Engagement

In order for our party to have a significant impact on local and national politics, we have to be a viable electoral alternative, which means the most important structural issues are breaking the political duopoly by significantly improving ballot access for third parties, implementing alternative voting methods, and eliminating partisan gerrymandering.

Personal Security and Criminal Justice

Systematic racism, mass incarceration, and concerns about police accountability are some of the most pressing problems facing racial and ethnic minority communities in our country. These problems need to be addressed effectively in order to make progress toward the goal of true equality for all.

I hope that this nomination process will be clarifying and unifying for our party, and I’ll do my best toward that goal.

Coalition Building

by Brian Talbot, Jr.

In my time as a local ASP leader, I have found that some of the most productive work for  advancing the causes of our Travis County chapter of the American Solidarity Party has been in the context of partnering in solidarity with other groups. This first began when I reached out to the county chair of the local Libertarian Party affiliate in my area. We met and talked about issues facing our area and the growth of third parties in our state. While nothing concrete came from that meeting, I established a good relationship and spread awareness of the ASP.

My more recent efforts at coalition building have been effective in showing that we can take concrete action on the local level. In December, the Travis County ASP partnered with the Texans for Voter Choice coalition (TVC). TVC advocates for fair ballot access for third-party and independent candidates by changing the outdated ballot-access and petitioning laws that have remained unchanged since their adoption in 1903. During my first TVC meeting, I volunteered to work with a representative from the League of Independent Voters (LIV) to help establish a lobby day at the state capitol in Austin. Despite the fact that I had no lobbying experience, I was willing to learn and contribute what I could. As a result, TVC—in conjunction with the LIV—held a lobby day on March 5th. Through this experience, I gained new working relationships, as well as a new set of skills to use in my work with the ASP.

It has been important for me and our local ASP chapter to learn how to work with other groups toward a common goal, despite our differences on issues, just as our government should. With the Travis County ASP as a member of the TVC, I’ve continued to build our relationship with the Libertarian Party and started building relationships with the Green Party, Constitution Party, and America’s Party in Texas, as well as with other groups.

Being in a third party isn’t easy. Being a leader in a third party isn’t easy. But when we all work together, committed to a common cause, there’s nothing we can’t do. That’s solidarity right there. It’s going to both help the ASP be successful and help change American government for the better, all the way from city council to Capitol Hill.

Brian Talbot Jr. is the County Chair of the American Solidarity Party of Travis County, Texas. More information about the Travis County ASP can be found at asptc.wordpress.com.

UPDATE:

3/10/2019: Since the writing of this article, the Texas Voter Choice Act entered the Texas House of Representatives as HB 4439.

ASP Tax Reforms

By Kris Follmer

The Trump tax reforms, signed into law at the end of 2017, have now been in effect for a full year of tax filings for individuals and corporations. While many corporations saw a huge cut in taxes, many individuals have not seen the tax refunds to which they are accustomed, although most have seen a modest rise in pay as tax rates for many brackets dropped as much as 3%. There are many reasons for the smaller-than-expected tax refunds to individuals, the most significant of which likely stems from the IRS, whose withholding tables underestimated the amount needed to be withheld from paychecks this year. As a result, many taxpayers are finding a shortfall in the amount of payroll tax collected during 2018. This has caused no little distress among many people who, while they saw an increase in weekly take-home pay, have come to depend on an annual refund from the government to fund larger purchases for which they otherwise may not have saved. Other reasons for the underpayment of taxes have to do with major changes in how deductions are calculated. 

While I won’t give a complete rundown of all of the 2018 taxation changes, I will review several in light of three of the American Solidarity Party platform planks on taxation, which support:

  • A fair and progressive tax system that ends subsidies and exemptions which disproportionately benefit the wealthy and favor speculation over work.
  • A review of existing regulations and taxes, to assess their impact on small businesses.
  • Tax credit programs that give families the practical means to choose the form of education they prefer.

Probably the most significant change to the taxation of individuals in 2018 was the near-doubling of the standard deduction. This deduction is designed to ensure that at least some income is not subject to tax. Doubling this deduction significantly reduces the number of filers who itemize deductions. However, because the amount of charitable giving needed to gain any tax savings must be above the new standard deduction, charitable donations are now worth less, from a tax perspective, than they were a year ago. This undermines economic subsidiarity, a central tenet of the ASP.

As of 2018, personal exemptions have been eliminated. Prior to 2018, taxpayers could deduct income for each person in their household. Now without personal exemptions, families with many children may pay more federal income tax, despite the increase in the standard deduction. While the child tax credit has doubled under the tax reform bill, from $1,000 to $2,000 per child, that increase may or may not compensate for the lack of personal exemptions. There is now also a $500 credit for each non-child dependent, which particularly helps families caring for elderly parents.

The estate tax exemption, which is the amount of inheritance that is not taxable, has been doubled to $11.2 million for singles and $22.4 million for couples. The implementation of the estate tax was an effort by the government to reduce unearned wealth and the hoarding of untaxed wealth in the same families from generation to generation. Doubling the estate tax exemption effectively increases the accumulation of wealth in fewer hands, where it is not generally spent, donated, or invested for the benefit of the common good.

The tax deduction floor for medical expenses has been reduced from 10% to 7.5% of income, a reduction which is welcome for the millions of Americans who are in medical debt but a far cry from what is necessary to fix our national shame of crippling personal medical debt (and resultant bankruptcy, in many cases). 

One major win, in terms of the ASP platform planks on taxation, is allowance for 529 savings plans (a type of savings fund that could formerly be spent only on higher education) to also be used for public, private, and religious elementary and secondary school tuition.

The biggest change to taxes affecting businesses large and small is a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. Insofar as this helps small businesses to flourish, it is a welcome change. However, the major beneficiaries of this tax cut are huge corporations. Although this 21% corporate tax rate is the lowest rate since 1939, it is now in alignment with the corporate tax rates of most of the rest of the world. It should be noted that most American corporations never actually paid the old rate of 35% (the effective rate is about 18%). The change in the corporate tax rate has allowed many companies to repatriate earnings made overseas at a tax rate consonant with the rate in the country where the money was earned. Despite the general equalization of the US corporate tax rate with those of the rest of the world, the overall effect of the reduction has been to further enrich investors, not workers. While some workers saw one-time bonuses due to the repatriation of funds as well as some modest capital investment, most of the wealth has been returned to shareholders through stock buybacks.

The Trump tax changes offer some definite boons to the poor and the middle class, including welcome changes to medical and educational deductions and to tax-advantaged programs. However, so much more could have been done if lawmakers had taken into consideration the ASP principles of subsidiarity. Overwhelmingly, the Trump tax bill benefits the richest Americans the most: the top 1% of earners took home 83% of the tax cut, while the poor and the middle class are left without an equal or greater benefit, as has been typical throughout American history. We call upon the US government to take swift action to drastically reduce tax giveaways to the wealthy. We further call for the implementation of a progressive tax policy that truly benefits the poor and the middle class, focuses on small businesses rather than on large corporations, and gives families real choices in the education they can provide to their children.

Stem Cell Research Update

by Matthew Williams

Under the the administration of President George W. Bush (and during the first few months of President Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House), federal funding for scientific research involving embryonic stem cells was a major point of public debate. Conservatives condemned the practice as tantamount to abortion, while progressives captured the public imagination with promises of eventual cures to currently-untreatable diseases and conditions. Since then, however, the issue has largely faded from public consciousness. The purpose of this post is to review developments in scientific research using stem cells over the last decade and to consider the platform of the American Solidarity Party in light of these developments.

First, a refresher on definitions. Stem cells are naturally-occuring cells in the body which can divide to form more stem cells (a process called “self-renewal”) and also to form specialized cells (a process called “differentiation”). These two capabilities make stem cells attractive for studying both diseases and drugs. They also have therapeutic potential for regenerating body tissues.

Stem cells can be acquired from a number of different sources. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are collected from embryos three to five days old, called blastocysts. These embryos are generally created by in vitro fertilization and then are later donated for research. When stem cells are collected from embryos, the embryos are invariably destroyed. Adult stem cells, also called somatic stem cells, are found in many different tissues of adult humans. There are also perinatal stem cells, which are found in the amniotic fluid of the placenta and in umbilical-cord blood. Progress has also been made with a fourth source: induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Using a Nobel Prize-winning method which was developed by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka in 2006, adult stem cells can be genetically modified to regain pluripotency while retaining their compatibility with the donor. iPSCs were initially very inefficient to produce, but the process has since been improved.

As readers may recall, it was the destruction of human embryos that lay at the heart of the public debate about stem cell research. Those who believe that life begins at conception generally regard the destruction of embryos as a great moral wrong. The reason scientists have sought to use ESCs despite the controversy surrounding them is that such cells are pluripotent—able to differentiate into any kind of specialized cell (except those that will form the placenta). Unaltered adult stem cells lack this quality and were initially thought to be only capable of differentiating into the different cells of their native organ. This significantly limited their feasibility for research (that is, research would become prohibitively expensive and difficult to the point of disincentivizing researchers). Additionally, adult stem cells are more likely to contain abnormalities from toxins and DNA replication errors accumulated from numerous divisions. One important advantage of adult stem cells, however, is that they are less likely to be targeted by the recipient’s immune system than ESCs and so are attractive for therapeutic applications. If iPSCs continue to demonstrate progress in research and in clinical trials, they could provide the right combination of moral acceptability, practicality for research, and lower risk of rejection. The only remaining hurdle would seem to be correcting DNA errors, although such mutations may not have clinical significance in all cases.

Some cases of significant scientific misconduct in the field have also come to light since the topic of stem cell research lost popular interest. In 2009, stem cell researcher Dr. Hwang Woo-suk was convicted of fabricating data when he claimed he had successfully cloned embryonic stem cells containing nuclei originating with adult stem cells. He was also convicted of misusing research funds and illegally trading in human eggs. In 2018, Harvard Medical School recommended the retraction of 31 published studies produced by Dr. Piero Anversa, a former researcher there, for fabricating or falsifying data pertaining to adult stem cells of the heart. These two cases of misconduct created significant setbacks in their specific areas of stem cell research.

In the American Solidarity Party platform, the first essential principle articulated sets the tone for the Party’s stance on the use of ESCs: “We must build a culture and enact laws upholding the equal, innate and inviolable dignity of every human person from conception to natural death.” Setting the boundary for the beginning of life at conception includes human embryos, who would be regarded as the most vulnerable and needy among us. Under the heading Right to Life, “the intentional destruction of human embryos, in any context” is explicitly condemned. The guidelines developed by the International Society for Stem Cell Research, which recommend destroying embryos used in research no later than fourteen days after fertilization, are clearly incompatible. The Party platform goes on to support “a constitutional amendment that affirms that personhood begins at conception and declares that there is no right to abortion under the U.S. Constitution, thus reversing Roe v. Wade and its progeny.” While this statement is addressing the issue of abortion, it is clearly also applicable to the use of ESCs.

Stem cell research is not explicitly addressed in the platform. Under the heading Public Services can be found support for “[i]nvestments in scientific research and technology that advance the common good, and do not just increase the profits of private corporations” and for “increased public funding for basic research and development.” Given that iPSCs are still believed to possess great potential for curing disease and do not require the destruction of human embryos, encouraging stem cell research without the use of ESCs would appear to be compatible with the Party values.

Stem cell research, like many areas of scientific and clinical research, presents unique opportunities both to improve the lives of those suffering from afflictions and to cause grave harm to humanity, both in general and to particular individuals. In the case of ESCs, few in the pro-life movement have been able to rationalize the destruction of embryos, given the view that they are indeed human beings whose inherent dignity demands our protection. Indeed, iPSCs and other ethically acquired stem cells may yet have much to offer, but we must continue to resist the temptation to choose avenues of research that appear to offer answers sooner—especially in the face of human suffering. We must not harm the living we cannot easily see in order to benefit those we can.


Sources:

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells 10 Years Later”. Circulation Research.

Of stem cells and ethics”. Nature Cell Biology.

Stem Cell Information”. National Institutes of Health.

Stem Cell Therapies in Clinical Trials: Progress and Challenges”. Cell Stem Cell.

Stem Cells: What are they and what do they do?Mayo Clinic.

Stem Cell Research”. Christian Biowiki.

Interview with John Whitehead, president of Consistent Life Network

by Skylar Covich

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this interview are the personal opinions of Mr. Whitehead, and are not an official statement by the Consistent Life Network.

SC: You are the president of the Consistent Life Network. Describe the concept of consistent life. Can you recommend some articles on the history of the movement, and suggest ways people can get involved now?

John Whitehead imageJW: “Consistent life” or the “consistent life ethic” is the principle that human life should be defended from various socially approved forms of violence such as abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia/assisted suicide, and war. Many people would also understand the ethic as including opposition to threats to life that do not necessarily involve direct killing: racism, for example, or poverty and economic inequality, or human trafficking. Some consistent life ethic advocates are animal rights activists who believe in defending not only human life but also all animal life.

What the different versions of the consistent life ethic have in common, though, is a commitment to defending life which cuts across the usual political ideologies, or at least those ideologies found in the United States. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia or assisted suicide is generally associated with the political right, while opposition to the death penalty and war is generally associated with the political left. (One can legitimately question how historically grounded or accurate those identifications are, but that is how the issues are stereotypically grouped.) Consistent lifers work to get beyond those left-right categories.

The Consistent Life Network understands the ethic as defending life against six major threats: abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia/assisted suicide, poverty, racism, and war. As part of our work to defend life against these threats, we identify how different forms of violence are connected. Abortion, euthanasia, racism, and poverty, as well as discrimination against the disabled, all have long-standing connections to each other. Eugenics, for instance, is a racist, ableist philosophy that has been used to justify abortion and euthanasia. In a similar way, the overrepresentation of people of color on death row indicates how racism and the death penalty are connected.

As far as resources, we have on our website a page featuring a variety of writings on the consistent life ethic. In particular, I would recommend two essays: “Reflections on Personal Discernment: The Abortion Issue” by Bill Samuel, a former president of the Consistent Life Network; and “My Personal Journey on the Abortion Issue” by Rachel MacNair, the Network’s current vice president.

For a more historical look at the Consistent Life Network, our blog posts “Activists Reminisce: An Oral History of Prolifers for Survival” and “The Adventures of Prolifers for Survival — Scorned by Mobilization for Survival” offer a good introduction.

The Human Life Review had a symposium in 2017 on the concept of the consistent life ethic that is well worth reading. Most of the participants endorsed the ethic or were at least sympathetic to it. I would recommend particularly the contribution of Aimee Murphy, of our member group Rehumanize International, and that of our endorser and long-time friend Mary Meehan.

Last, I will, at risk of immodesty, recommend a piece I wrote called “Seeking Peaceful Coexistence,” which describes some of the major variants in consistent life ethic activism and how they can work together. I think that this piece and the other writings I have mentioned give a good sense of both the consistent life movement’s diversity and the core themes that unite the diverse groups within the movement.

If people want to get involved in consistent life ethic activism, I would suggest they contact the Consistent Life Network, or just contact me directly. We are involved in a variety of projects, including educational work meant to raise awareness about the ethic, working against nuclear weapons, and identifying grassroots healthcare options that can serve as alternatives to Planned Parenthood. We welcome new volunteers.

SC: One frequent concern about the consistent life movement, including by some in the American Solidarity Party, is that people point to their specific policy recommendations as life issues, even when a pro-life argument may not be the most logical or convincing. How do you address debates within the movement or critiques of the movement, in order to ensure that it is principled but also welcoming of different perspectives?

JW: To be sure, distinguishing between specific political policies or strategies meant to defend life and the basic principles of respecting life that underlie those policies is very tricky. The temptation is to identify the cause of defending life against a specific type of violence exclusively with one’s own policy solution to the problem. This can lead to a lot of friction and conflict among people who support different solutions.

This probably comes up most frequently in the case of defending unborn humans from abortion. From the fundamental principle that “the unborn have a right to life that must be upheld,” some people draw the practical conclusion that “abortion must be legally prohibited.” Others draw the conclusion that “the root causes that make women seek abortion must be eliminated,” and will therefore advocate for measures such as fighting pregnancy and parenting discrimination in the workplace, or providing more social support to mothers and children. Still others will focus on direct action meant to help women keep their children, such as sidewalk counseling or volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center. And some people will argue in favor of trying all these approaches.

A similar situation can arise with helping the poor. To what degree should helping the poor involve government intervention? What kind of government intervention? What should the role of private charities be?

I think a variety of strategies for defending life can and should coexist within the consistent life movement. Achieving such coexistence is not easy, though. The best idea I can offer for addressing this problem is that all factions should acknowledge (1) the possibility of a legitimate diversity of opinion on political strategies, and (2) the importance and urgency of the injustice we are trying to remedy.

The second point is especially important because the real problem arises if some group that claims to support the consistent life ethic shows itself to be uninterested in stopping one of the major socially-approved forms of violence. I can work with someone who has a different strategy for ending abortion, poverty, or other threats to life. I cannot work with someone who does not recognize these threats to life as problems that must be ended—or, at least, I cannot work with that person on the particular life issue we disagree on. So, whatever one’s precise strategy may be, I think clearly and repeatedly affirming a commitment to defending life against different types of violence—even if one thereby runs afoul of some more mainstream political party or ideology—is crucial.

SC: You have worked significantly in pro-life and pro-peace movements and on food security issues. How did you get involved in these areas, and how did you decide that the consistent life ethic was the best framework for you personally?

JW: I have been pro-life since I was thirteen years old and was sporadically involved in pro-life activism during my teens and twenties. The key turning point in my political life, though, was 9/11. The terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon came when I was fresh out of college and trying to figure out what to do with myself. My country’s involvement in a new global war against terrorism provided a direction for me. The study of war, peace, and international relations became my passion after that, and I eventually ended up going back to school to get a master’s degree at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

Mind you, this new fixation on international relations did not automatically lead me to the peace movement. Like most Americans, I was very angry about the 9/11 attacks, and, also like most Americans, I was reluctant to look past my outrage and ask the hard questions about what the smartest and most just response to terrorism might be. Something that contributed to that reluctance—and this is a very important part of my experience—is how disappointed I was by the anti-war movement in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I attended some anti-war group meetings in the fall of 2001 and was dismayed by various aspects of the groups: the anti-Americanism, for example, and the emphasis on a quasi-Marxist worldview. I also was disappointed by how one group of anti-war activists I spoke to did not seem to have any positive ideas for how to respond to terrorism. (For a good assessment of the kind of anti-war activism I found so off-putting, see the essay “Can There Be a Decent Left?” by Michael Walzer.)

Because of my anger over 9/11 and my disappointing experience with the anti-war movement, I tended to be a real hawk on foreign policy for a few years in the early 2000s. This led me to make the biggest political mistake of my life: supporting the United States’ war of regime change in Iraq in 2003. I bitterly regret that decision to this day. The war, of course, turned out to be a catastrophe for both Iraq and the United States, with an untold number of deaths being the result. That disaster forced me to reconsider my support for the war and my attitude toward American military power more broadly.

At the same time, my studies of war and peace made me more aware of and sensitive to the danger posed by nuclear weapons. Since 1945, we have all lived with the possibility that a war among great powers could mean not only loss of life but the end of humanity. That dangerous possibility, which receded but did not disappear in the 1990s after the end of the Cold War (or, I should say, the first Cold War), came to weigh very much on my mind. Even more than the danger of nuclear weapons, though, I was appalled by the sheer immorality of such weapons; these were bombs so destructive that they could be used almost entirely indiscriminately, against civilians and military personnel alike. I realized how profoundly wrong it was to destroy entire cities full of people, as the United States did at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and as we continue to threaten to do even today.

I eventually became far more dovish in my views and wanted to do something to promote peace. Yet, I tended to associate conventional anti-war groups with a certain kind of left-wing politics and hence with support for abortion. I did not want to get involved with groups like that. An organization such as the Consistent Life Network—a group of pro-life, pro-peace activists!—was what I needed. Indeed, the background and history of Consistent Life was particularly appropriate for someone with my concerns: the organization began in the 1980s as Pro-Lifers for Survival, a group dedicated to opposing both abortion and nuclear weapons. So, I began volunteering for Consistent Life about seven years ago and found myself getting more and more deeply involved in its work. Now, I am the group’s president, which goes to show what can happen to you when you get involved in activism!

As for food policy, my work as an editor (which is my day job) has required me to read a great many books related to food policy and to international economics more generally. I cannot claim to have a deep grasp of economics, but I have learned a few things over the years about the shape of global poverty and some of the progress we have made in overcoming it. The agricultural Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s helped feed and lift out of poverty millions of people, at a time when people such as Paul Ehrlich were warning of the terrible consequences of overpopulation and recommending abortion as a solution. More recently, we have seen the share of people living in extreme poverty fall from over a third of the world’s population in 1990 to about ten percent today; over 1 billion people have been lifted out of poverty in the last thirty years.

All of that ties into Consistent Life’s commitment to protecting life against poverty. Keeping in mind these accomplishments in feeding people and lifting them out of poverty prevents us from feeling hopeless in the face of the terrible poverty that still remains today. One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to end extreme poverty; it seems utopian, yet if we have been able to help so many people in the last several decades, why can we not build on past successes to eradicate poverty?

SC: What is your opinion of Christian democracy, which is the primary ideology of the American Solidarity Party?

JW: I am not very familiar with the philosophy of Christian democracy, I must admit. The little I do know impresses me. I gather the concept is influenced partly by Catholic social teaching, which appeals to me personally as a Catholic. I appreciate Christian democracy’s emphasis on the importance of groups such as families and labor unions for a healthy society. That sets the ideology apart from more classically liberal ideologies that emphasize individual people and their rights, or certain socialist ideologies that emphasize state power. And both families and unions need all the support they can get these days, so that attitude is a point in favor of Christian democracy, as far as I am concerned!

Those are just my personal impressions. The Consistent Life Network as an organization is non-sectarian and non-partisan, and as such is open to Christian democracy as well as an array of other political ideologies.

SC: It is my understanding that when it comes to electoral politics, the consistent life movement has been divided among reluctant Democrats, some reluctant Republicans, those who move back and forth depending on the election, those who support third parties even if those parties aren’t consistent-life, and those who reject electoral politics entirely. This makes strategizing difficult.

The American Solidarity Party would like to include as many consistent life activists as possible, especially as we move toward the next election cycle, which will include a presidential contest. Describe the opportunities and obstacles in that work.

JW: I think the prospect of voting for candidates who defend life on all or most of the issues we care about would definitely appeal to some adherents to the consistent life ethic. The choices offered by the two major American political parties are so dismal that having a genuinely pro-life, pro-peace, pro-social justice option is much desired. To the extent that the American Solidarity Party can put forward candidates who stand for the consistent life ethic or something close to it, I think the party has an opportunity to win consistent lifers’ votes.

As you say, however, consistent life ethic activists have diverse approaches to electoral politics. Some people who might like the ASP’s opposition to various forms of direct killing might balk at other party positions. Libertarians, for example, might find the more social-democratic bent of the ASP not to their liking. Moreover, many people, even consistent lifers who are disaffected with mainstream American politics, will (wisely or unwisely) take the view that voting for one of the major-party candidates is the best or most responsible voting behavior. That approach obviously works against third parties of any kind.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, I think the American Solidarity Party does have the opportunity to make a difference in American political life, in two different ways. First, ASP candidates may be able make inroads by running at the local level. While even many consistent lifers might go for major-party candidates for national or statewide office, I think they may be more willing to vote third-party in local elections. The more face-to-face campaigning of local elections could also allow voters to get to know ASP candidates and the overall party better. Local politics could give the ASP an opportunity to build the party at the grassroots.

The second opportunity for the American Solidarity Party is not directly related to elections but is very much related to advancing the consistent life ethic. At present, I think one of the biggest problems we face is simply that people do not know what the consistent life ethic is; they have not heard of the concept, they do not connect the issues that the ethic connects, and they tend to think politically in the usual left-right categories. We need to make people aware of the ethic, of this powerful idea of protecting human life and working against a variety of threats to life. A third political party that vocally endorses the ethic and offers a radical alternative to conventional politics could be an important force for raising awareness of the consistent life philosophy. If the party’s candidates talk about the ethic a lot and if the party highlights the ethic in its traditional media and social media outreach, that could contribute to making the consistent life ethic the household term it ought to be.

SC: The “Nukes Are Not Pro-Life!” rally in Washington, D.C., has been a major project for you personally, and one in which American Solidarity Party members have frequently participated. In a post-Cold War era, describe the argument for getting significantly involved in the issue of nuclear arms. If one were to start a pro-peace rally outside of D.C., would it be better to focus more broadly, or to pick a specific issue such as nuclear arms?

JW: I think protesting the injustice and threat of nuclear weapons is crucial today, largely because we no longer live in a “post-Cold War era.” We are now in the midst of a second Cold War between the United States and Russia. We have seen US-Russia relations get progressively more hostile over the last twenty years, and now the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria have become potential flashpoints for actual armed conflict between the two nations. This situation carries with it the same danger of nuclear war as the last Cold War.

In this month, we have seen the United States and Russia both withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, which abolished an entire category of nuclear weapons. The Trump administration is reportedly pursuing new investments in nuclear weapons that will cost in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars; part of that money is going toward developing a new, less powerful nuclear missile. Moreover, if the Trump administration does not renew the New START treaty with Russia when it expires in 2021, then the United States will be effectively operating without any controls on nuclear weapons. We seem to be on the brink of a new arms race, and who knows where that will lead?

And this assessment is focusing only on our relationship with Russia. The United States also has tense relationships with nuclear-armed powers such as China and North Korea. Those relationships could also flare up into armed conflict.

Given such a dire world situation, we have to awaken the American people to the terrible dangers we are all living with now. We have to mobilize people in favor of preserving START and establishing new treaties and legal measures to control nuclear weapons. We have to bring some measure of stability to the relationships among the nuclear powers.

Congress is currently considering various bills meant to lessen the danger of nuclear war; the Prevention of Arms Race Act and the No First Use Act are just two examples. These bills are good focal points for peace activism.

Beyond that, simply witnessing against nuclear weapons and for peace and trying to raise people’s consciousness about this issue is important. That consciousness raising is what the anti-nuclear peace vigil in D.C. is about, and I appreciate how involved American Solidarity Party members have been in that effort.

I think it would be marvelous if American Solidarity Party members and activists in cities other than D.C. also held similar anti-nuclear vigils. Certainly, vigils on other peace-related issues would be good, but I see no reason not to focus on the anti-nuclear issue. Nuclear weapons threaten all of humanity—no one can claim to be just a bystander or an uninvolved party. This truly is an issue that concerns everybody. The more people in more cities there are protesting for peace in the face of the nuclear danger, the better.

Member Perspectives: Is the ASP Anti LGBTQ+ ?

The strength of the American Solidarity Party will always be our passionate defense of our four principles of respect for life, social justice, environmental stewardship, and a more peaceful world. However, it can also come from how we respectfully argue our positions on other issues that challenge our communities. Here former ASP Chair Matthew Bartko offers some thoughts on the relationship between the ASP and LGBTQ+ people.

By Matthew Bartko

I believe the American Solidarity Party is pro-LGBTQ+ people. The American Solidarity Party is a broad coalition filled with diverse people from many different faith traditions and none at all. If you get to know the people in the party, you will find a variety of positions on sexual ethics and questions about the nature of gender and sexual identity. However, what you will not find is anyone opposed to human rights. In order to become a member, all of us have had to affirm our belief in the sanctity of human life, the necessity of social justice, our responsibility to care for the environment, and the possibility of a more peaceful world.

The very first bullet point in the Solidarity Party platform is, “We must build a culture and enact laws upholding the equal, innate and inviolable dignity and rights of every human person from conception to natural death.” In other words, we must not dehumanize anyone. In the civil liberties section of the platform, the Solidarity Party affirms “[t]he principle that all persons have equal dignity and are entitled to nondiscriminatory treatment regardless of race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.” All those in the LGBTQ+ community are fully human and deserve to have their humanity respected. The Solidarity Party is passionate about protecting access to the polls, courts, housing, education, employment, and credit for ALL people, including those who are “L,” “G,” “B,” “T,” “Q,” or “+.” No one should have to live in fear of violence or discrimination, let alone the disproportionate and completely unacceptable violence and harassment faced by the LGBTQ+ community.

Some will say that if we do not enthusiastically support one policy or another, then we are bigoted and hateful. I believe we all need to come to such conversations with nuance and respect for the inherent dignity of the other person. Significantly, the American Solidarity Party acknowledges both the civil liberties of those in the LGBTQ+ community and the civil liberties of those whose religious convictions may lead to tension with that community.

Toward that end, there is a plank in the section of the platform on marriage which states that we support “[l]aws that protect religious institutions, small businesses, and private individuals from civil or criminal liability for refusing to participate in activities contrary to their belief in marriage as a secure union of one man and one woman.” Unfortunately, this line has caused a lot of pain and a feeling of rejection in some of the people I have spoken with. I seek to reassure them that we don’t only believe in religious liberty in regards to marriage, but in all areas of life. It is important to me that we communicate our commitment to protect the ability of individuals and private organizations to refuse to participate in any activities contrary to their religious practice—not just those related to marriage. Everyone shares the same civil liberties. They must be protected for all of us.

Party members may debate whose rights are under greater threat or the definition of marriage; they may debate theology, ethics, philosophy, and scientific evidence, but they do not debate the sanctity of human life or the inherent dignity of every person. I want to send a message to those in the LGBTQ+ community: We see you. We see the challenges you face. And while we do not have complete consensus on how to help, we do have complete consensus that you are valuable, dignified, worthy of respect, and worthy of equal protection under the law. In those areas, we will stand in solidarity with you.

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