Monthly Archives: November 2006

Big Brother Is Checking Your Meal

Proving that it is on top of the latest developments in terrorist detection, the Department of Homeland Security has revealed it tracks airline passengers based on what meal they order:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Without notifying the public, federal agents have assigned millions of international travelers, including Americans, computer-generated scores rating the risk they pose of being terrorists or criminals.

The travelers are not allowed to see or directly challenge these risk assessments. The government intends to keep the scores on file for 40 years.

The scores are assigned to people entering and leaving the United States after computers assess their travel records, including where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered.

Let me guess how the Washington guys figured this one. The guy who orders the Halal meal is obviously the next Mohammed Atta.

Does anyone remember that, before they flew planes into buildings, the 9/11 hijackers visited Las Vegas and hung out in strip clubs ? Does anyone think that a truly dedicated al Qaeda terrorist would broadcast his existence by ordering an Islamic meal ?

Does anyone in Washington have an ounce of brains ?

Forget I asked that last one.

Why The Republicans Won’t Recover

Doug has been highlighting the reasons why the Republicans lost a few weeks ago. The question among many of us is whether they’ll have learned their lessons and have any chance of recovery. Judging by the people they’ve elected to party leadership positions, the answer is no.

And judging by what outgoing RNC chairman Mehlman says, it’s only going to get worse:

Or, as Mehlman told the GOP governors, back to “good policy that makes good politics.” He singled out an effort by outgoing Gov. Mitt Romney, another 2008 prospect, to expand health-care coverage to all Massachusetts residents. “That is the kind of innovation we need at the state level, and in Washington,” Mehlman said.

Hey Ken. We sent the Republicans to Washington to fight against this sort of “innovation”, when it was called HillaryCare. We don’t need you to offer the same tired stuff.

Why The Republicans Lost Part III

Chester Finn, a former Assistant Secretary of Education under President Reagan sums up quite nicely what’s wrong with the Republican Party today:

What’s gone wrong with the GOP? Let me start by quoting a friend who is both gay and conservative (yes, I know several such): “I’m for low taxes, strong defense and limited government. Why doesn’t the Republican party want me?”

There’s a two-part answer to that question and neither half is good news. The first is that today’s GOP doesn’t really want gays — and it yearns to supervise everybody else’s bedroom and reproductive behavior as well as (implicitly, at least) their relationship to God. The second is that Republicans are no longer really in favor of limited government. Besides having their own version of a nanny state, they want to spend and spend, start program after program, ladle out the pork, make deals with influence peddlers, and spin the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street. Yes, they still pretend to favor low taxes but that’s an illusion; they pay for limitless government via huge deficits that will mean high taxes for my granddaughter.

And as long as that continues, the GOP will continue to lose.

Previous Posts:

Why The Republicans Lost
Why The Republicans Lost Part II 

It Could Be Worse

For all the complaints one can make about politics in the United States, it pays to remind ourselves that things could be worse, we could live in a country where the public has so thoroughly bought into the big government ideal that there is little hope of things ever changing. For example, take our neighbor to the North:

Ottawa, ON –According to an Ipsos Reid survey among the general public, a majority of Canadian adults rank a patient wait times guarantee as more important than any other of the Government’s priorities. Of the five policy promises made by the Government of Canada during the last federal election, 42% of Canadians said that “a patient wait time guarantee that would reduce wait times for key health services” was the most important to them personally. This compares to lowering taxes (19%), restoring accountability to Ottawa (14%), tackling crime (14%), and implementing a choice in childcare program (9%).

One wonders where making sure the trains run on time fits in that list.

H/T: Club For Growth

The ‘Fair Trade’ Myth

In today’s Washington Post, Robert Samuelson demonstrates that the arguments in favor of so-called ‘fair trade’ are, quite simply, nonsense:

American trade deficits haven’t destroyed U.S. job creation by sending work abroad. Consider: From 1980 to 2006, the trade deficit jumped from $19 billion to an estimated $786 billion, or from less than 1 percent of gross domestic product to about 6 percent. Still, employment in the same period rose from 99 million to 145 million. Job creation defies the trade deficits, whose causes lie largely beyond our control and have little to do with “unfair” trade practices.

And in response to ‘fair trade’ advocates such as Lou Dobbs, who argue that free trade is destroying American jobs, Samuelson says:

Faster economic growth in the United States than in many of our major trading partners has stunted our exports and increased our imports. Likewise, the dollar’s role as the main global currency — used for trade and international investment — has kept its exchange rate high. Companies, individuals and governments hold on to dollars rather than selling. This makes U.S. exports more expensive and imports cheaper. To be sure, that puts U.S. factory workers and farmers at a disadvantage on world markets. The disadvantage is compounded when some countries (China) keep their currencies artificially undervalued. Inevitably, some jobs move abroad and some factories close because of import competition.

But there are also larger truths. One is that China’s surging exports have (so far) come mostly at the expense of other Asian countries. Goods once shipped from Taiwan or Thailand now arrive from China. Another truth is that U.S. jobs are destroyed for many reasons — new domestic competition, new technologies, changing consumer tastes, the business cycle. A remarkable statistic: Every three months, 7 million to 8 million U.S. jobs disappear and roughly an equal or greater number are created. Trade is a relatively minor factor in job loss.

It is, however, an easy scapegoat. It enables critics to blame foreigners and suggest a solution: restrict trade. “Economic change is disruptive,” says economist Douglas Irwin of Dartmouth College. “If the cause is technology, you can’t do much about it.” Globalization becomes a convenient explanation for many economic discontents, from job insecurity to squeezed living standard

Exactly. It’s easier to blame the Chinese, or the Koreans, or whoever for the state of the economy than to look at internal causes such as the cost of government regulation or, quite honestly, the simple failure of American companies to respond adequately to foreign competition. There is a reason that Ford and General Motors are being beaten by Honda and Toyota, and it has little to do with the trade laws.

The more things change…

I’m watching Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life and there was a quote from her from 1979 that I think rings so true today:

“I want to make something clear, I am not a conservative. I think that today’s conservatives are worse than today’s liberals. I think that they are, if anyone destroys this country, it will be the conservatives because they do not know how to preach capitalism, to explain it to the people…because they do nothing except apologize and because they are all altruists. They are all based on religious altruism and on that combination of ideas, you cannot save this country.”

That is the state of the Republican Party today.

Abstinence: It’s Not Just For Kids Anymore

Apparently concluding that we’ve solved every other problem in the world, the Federal Government has now decided to tell adults when they should and shouldn’t have sex:

The federal government’s “no sex without marriage” message isn’t just for kids anymore.

Now the government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs, which include millions of dollars in federal money that will be available to the states under revised federal grant guidelines for 2007.

The government says the change is a clarification. But critics say it’s a clear signal of a more directed policy targeting the sexual behavior of adults.

“They’ve stepped over the line of common sense,” said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that supports sex education. “To be preaching abstinence when 90% of people are having sex is in essence to lose touch with reality. It’s an ideological campaign. It has nothing to do with public health.”

Abstinence education programs, which have focused on preteens and teens, teach that abstaining from sex is the only effective or acceptable method to prevent pregnancy or disease. They give no instruction on birth control or safe sex.

This change in policy is apparently based on the following shocking revelation:

The National Center for Health Statistics says well over 90% of adults ages 20-29 have had sexual intercourse.

Really ? I never would’ve imagined.

The Blogfather says it best:

CALL ME CRAZY, but I don’t see why the federal government should be spending tax money to tell grownups not to have sex:

Outside of the Bush Administration, I don’t think anyone else does either.

The GOP Must Move To The Center and Lose Limited Government Voters

In yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, former New Jersey governor and EPA head Christine Todd Witman had an interesting column:

Moderate Republicans paid a heavy price in the GOP’s loss of control of Congress.

After the 2004 election, pundits were predicting the dawn of a generation of Republican dominance. Karl Rove was being hailed as the “architect” of this coming era. His strategy of solidifying the hard-right base of the GOP by feeding them a steady diet of extreme positions on social issues that would, in turn, motivate them to flock to the polls was credited with securing President Bush’s reelection and retaining control of Congress.

This month, the limits of that strategy became clear. In more than a dozen House districts in which moderate Republicans had long succeeded, voters apparently decided they were no longer willing to empower the hard-right of the GOP by electing moderates who would contribute to a Republican majority.

Actually, Rove’s strategy did more than just turn moderates and independents against the GOP, it kept fiscal conservatives and libertarians home on election day. The Religious Right has no interest in shrinking the welfare state, they merely want to make sure the money goes to their churches, abstinance programs, persecuting homosexuals, censoring the media, and teaching religion in government schools. But back to Governor Whitman’s column.

I believe, however, that within the results of this year’s electoral defeats are the seeds of future Republican victories, but only if those seeds are planted in the center of the political landscape.

President Bush has to lead the Republican Party back toward its traditional, philosophical roots of respect for and belief in the individual, fiscal responsibility, pragmatic and realistic foreign policy, and real environmental stewardship.

The million dollar question is what does she mean by “lead the Republican Party back toward its traditional, philosophical roots of respect for and belief in the individual, fiscal responsibility, pragmatic and realistic foreign policy, and real environmental stewardship”? Fortunately, Governor Whitman has both a record and an organizaton she runs to examine.

From the It’s My Party Too website:

IMP-PAC is an umbrella organization that provides a place for moderate Republicans to reach out to one another and support those who believe in basic Republican principles such as:

Recognizing that tax cuts not only leave money in the pockets of those who earned it, but, when combined with restrained spending and balanced budget, help to stimulate the economy;

Supporting an engaged foreign policy and a strong national defense;

Continuing the Party’s recognition that government does have a role to play in protecting our environment; and

Respecting the individual as evidenced by limiting government interference in their lives.

Okay, rhetorically at least, classical liberals and libertarians can do business with the moderates. Now let’s see if the results back up the rhetoric.

Recognizing that tax cuts not only leave money in the pockets of those who earned it, but, when combined with restrained spending and balanced budget, help to stimulate the economy

Governor Whitman’s record in New Jersey is that of a tax cutter, on this point, so far so good. Furthermore, the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership’s page on deficit reduction contains nothing that a libertarian or a classical liberal can object to. However, when you look on their past accomplishments page, you’ll find quite a lot of objectionable proposals such as Federally funded terrorism insurance and support for the Davis-Bacon wage controls and Federal funding of stem cell research.

Supporting an engaged foreign policy and a strong national defense

What do they mean by supporting an engaged foreign policy? I found nothing on foreign policy from Governor Whitman or the Republican Main Street Partnership.

Continuing the Party’s recognition that government does have a role to play in protecting our environment;

Government involvement in the environment usually means less property rights and more regulation with questionable benefits.

Respecting the individual as evidenced by limiting government interference in their lives

By this, they usually mean only in regards to abortion. It was the great moderate Republican, Nelson Rockefeller that gave us the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws that gave us life sentences for drug possession.

Rhetorically, moderate Republicans talk a good game, when you actually look at them, you’ll find they’re no allies of limited-government supporters and instead are merely another branch of big government conservatism.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

The War On Drugs: The Afghan Front

As part of the war in Afghanistan, the United States and its allies have engaged in an effort to wipe out the opium trade that has existed in that part of the world. Not surprisingly, their efforts have been less than successful:

U.S. and European efforts to end heroin production in Afghanistan have done little to hamper the drug industry and have hurt the country’s poorest people, according to a new report by the United Nations and the World Bank.

The report, released today, is the latest indication of the difficulties faced by the British-led effort to eradicate Afghanistan’s opium crop, which drives the economy in parts of the embattled nation and has helped to fund a resurgence of the Taliban. The report says the production of opium, whose poppies are used to make heroin, permeates daily life in Afghanistan and eliminating the illegal drug trade there could take decades.

If anything, the eradication effort seems to have increased the importance of opium to Afghanistan’s economy as it creates shortages and drives up prices:

The opium trade accounts for about $2.7 billion in Afghanistan’s economy — equal to more than one-third of the nation’s gross domestic product — and is responsible for thousands of jobs, the report says. The Taliban government, which had harbored al-Qaeda, virtually eliminated opium production in 2001, before U.S.-led forces toppled it. Production has soared since, even as the United States and its allies have stepped up efforts to kill fields of opium and persuade farmers to grow other crops.

Opium has remained the nation’s most lucrative crop by far, and drug traffickers — through incentives and intimidation — have kept farmers in the opium business across Afghanistan, which the United Nations says produces about 87% of the world’s opium. Last year, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan produced 4,100 metric tons of opium, nearly as much as the biggest harvest in 1999. The United Nations predicts a record harvest in 2007.

And, not surprisingly, the War on Afghan Drugs has led to other criminal activities:

Counter-narcotics efforts also have fueled corruption, the report says. Farmers who can afford it have bribed local officials to preserve opium crops, while the poorest farmers have been driven deeper into debt when their crops are destroyed, the report says. Investigators found several instances in which farmers planned to replant opium to pay their debts.

The report also says local government officials sometimes help drug lords drive competitors out of the market in exchange for a cut of the profits or protection payments.

Anyone who’s followed the War on Drugs in the United States and South America would not be surprised by this at all.

Arguing the Drug War

Over at Jason Pye’s blog, he wrote a post bemoaning the prevalence of no-knock raids, and asking what we can do to improve a situation which is clearly not working. Quite a long comment train followed regarding the entire drug war.

Head on over and take a look. The main tactics of argument on the other side are twofold– First, they claim drugs are bad and if they’re legalized, the world will go up in flames. Second, that if we want to really solve the problem, we need to fight harder.

I’ll address the second point first. The specific argument from one opponent was:

I realize it’s the law that they’re taking issue with, Jace. I happen to believe that more effort is needed in treating criminals like criminals with stiffer penalties, jail sentences and deprivation of luxury…….but we haven’t done that yet because some folks can’t stomach the thought of that kind of inmate treatment.

I wonder what we’ve been doing since the war on drugs began? Since then, we’ve seen stiffer penalties and jail sentences, where we now have “three strikes” laws and mandatory minimums for drug offenses that are worse than rape sentences. While we haven’t made prison into a dank, dark dungeon just yet, it sure as hell ain’t the Ritz Carlton.

But look at the tactic. We’ve been fighting the War on Drugs harder and harder for many years. Would we have accepted such long minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders when the drug war began? Would we have accepted paramilitary-style no-knock raids back then? Would we have accepted making possession of large sums of money evidence of a drug crime back then? Would we have accepted the destruction of civil liberties that has been a hallmark of the drug war?

We see no evidence whatsoever that we’ve made the drug problem any less prevalent than it was before the drug war began. We have made the inner city much more violent and dangerous, full of gang warfare fueled by the profits of drug sales. We’ve incarcerated hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of nonviolent drug offenders, at huge expense to the taxpayer.

We’ve been “fighting harder” ever since we started, and we haven’t made the problem better, as drugs are just as easy to find on our streets as they’ve ever been. But we have made the unintended consequences worse. One wonders just how far they’ll go to fight harder? Where is their limit, if no-knock raids resulting in the deaths of the elderly and three injured cops aren’t it?

But then comes the question of whether we could do better with a method of treatment rather than prosecuting a ruthless drug war. The same opponent demanded evidence:

Show me some “evidence” that legalizing drugs in America “with our mentality” is a better option.

So I did:

http://www.umich.edu/~umisl/articles/dec.htm

It references a 1994 RAND study on how to solve the issue:

In formulating such a policy, a good starting point is a 1994 RAND study that sought to compare the effectiveness of four different types of drug control: source-control programs (attacking the drug trade abroad), interdiction (stopping drugs at the border), domestic law enforcement (arresting and imprisoning buyers and sellers) and drug treatment. How much additional money, RAND asked, would the government have to spend on each approach to reduce national cocaine consumption by 1 percent? RAND devised a model of the national cocaine market, then fed into it more than seventy variables, from seizure data to survey responses. The results were striking: Treatment was found to be seven times more cost-effective than law enforcement, ten times more effective than interdiction and twenty-three times more effective than attacking drugs at their source.

The RAND study has generated much debate in drug-research circles, but its general conclusion has been confirmed in study after study. Yes, relapse is common, but, as RAND found, treatment is so inexpensive that it more than pays for itself while an individual is actually in a program, in the form of reduced crime, medical costs and the like; all gains that occur after an individual leaves a program are a bonus. And it doesn’t matter what form of treatment one considers: methadone maintenance, long-term residential, intensive outpatient and twelve-step programs all produce impressive outcomes (though some programs work better for certain addicts than for others).

Now, I thought that would score some points in this one. I thought that a serious academic study by a respected organization like RAND would carry some weight. After all, it’s not like this is a pro-drug organization; this wasn’t printed in High Times. Nor are they an obviously libertarian group like the Cato institute. If anyone’s study should hold weight, I would think it’s a group devoted to offering serious academic study to the way our government works. But not so:

This study is just that-a study- using numbers and “survey” responses not Human Beings- with today’s mentality. It has some impressive points but you’ll never get this concept to fly in this day and age.

How do you argue with that? I went on to argue that we’ve seen this before (the Prohibition of alcohol), which of course wouldn’t be accepted as evidence because alcohol isn’t as bad as “drugs”. I went on to argue that other countries have seen success with treatment programs, but that was responded to with “These other countrys you refer to don’t have the U.S. Constitution’s protection, the American mentality or Civil Rights activists around every corner…”

I think it’s clear what was going on. When points were brought up by my opponent, and I answered them, my answers were not accepted. It had nothing to do with the merits of my answers, because for any answer I gave, an excuse was offered. My opponent was not interested in actually arguing the merits of the case, he had made up his mind and was looking for any excuse not to change it. That’s what we’re fighting with. It’s a mentality that says “drugs are bad, and there’s absolutely no line that can’t be crossed fighting them.” It doesn’t matter if the collateral damage of fighting against drugs, drugs which are supplied through a violent black market, are worse and more expensive than treating drug users. It doesn’t even matter if it will work, when the people you’re arguing against aren’t listening.

Damage Control: Why We Need To Lock Down The Borders

Introduction:
I know for a fact that several of the contributors to this blog will disagree with my stance on border control. Doug just posted about it. Brad’s mentioned it in the past. And if my memory (currently taken up by such wonderful things as bone cancers and endocrine disorders) serves correctly, there are a couple of contributors to this blog that agree with me.

What I would like to see is a considerable streamlining of the process for legal immigration where we have openings and a much strengthened enforcement of illegal immigration laws and more impenetrable borders.

As the son of immigrants, I’m very grateful for the opportunities this country has given us. And I’m even more thankful to have received what’s left of the blessings of liberty our (your?) forefathers fought and died for.

But it’s the very fact that our liberty is but a faded reminder of its past glory that makes me wish for stronger borders. There is no doubt that our country was built by immigrants and that immigration is vital to our continued growth and progress. I say this because both my parents work jobs ‘that Americans won’t do.’ And they do a pretty good job. Both of these jobs require graduate degrees.

There are certain political and economic realities of the world and this country that we must accept and deal with or face the prospect of watching what’s left of our liberty circle down the drain because we refused to support distasteful but necessary legislation. The fact that we stayed true to our liberal ideals would be little solace if we inhabited a prison born of statism.

I discussed this concept of cutting to cure in an earlier essay. The Castle Doctrine makes me angry, as does the fact that I have to take a class and apply for a CCW. These things shouldn’t have to exist. The second amendment and the writings of our ideological fathers confirm this. Yet here I am, saving up the money and finding a free Saturday to take the class. And there I’ll be, standing in the Sherrif’s office paying him several hundred dollars so he can run my prints like a common criminal so I can get a permit just to carry a means to defend myself.

But do you know what would be altogether worse? Not being able to defend myself in my home. Not being able to carry. More regulation, more bureaucracy. But my 2nd amendment rights at least partially restored–in a practical if not ideological sense.

I’ve presented the political and economic arguments for why we need tougher border control before, so I’m not going to go in near as much detail this time around.

Politics:
In today’s political climate, Kennedy’s famous quote has been reversed. It is now not about what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you. In this climate, freedom has been redefined as comfort. Into this environment you invite millions of people who through no fault of their own better qualify as ‘have-nots’ than ‘haves’. And as the ‘have nots’–together with the cultural elite–have shown themselves all to willing to do, they will vote from others’ pocketbooks. And they will vote for other egregious restrictions and legalized discrimination.

As I have remarked before:

Will [the children of illegal immigrants] do as well economically and academically as the native population? Doubtful. And so the hue and cry of ‘racism’ and ‘prejudice’ will be raised. A generation from now Sharptons and Jacksons with latinized names will rise up, speaking to cultural identity that their only path to ‘freedom’ lies in increased governmentally-sanctioned privilege. Privilege that will come at the expense of freedom and opportunity for all other races. And in this political climate, they will be all too successful.

Economics:
And economically, a progressive unconstitutional tax system is the order of the day. One that’s exacerbated by the double and triple taxation through corporate income tax, capital gains taxes, and even death taxes. This situation is compounded by a regressive government expenditure system. In which through social welfare and various other government services, far more is spent per capita on the people paying the least in taxes.

Those who pay the bulk of taxes receive the least in benefits. Which honestly is fine by me. That’s not what I’m objecting to. But when you add in a massive influx of people who do not reach the equity point in terms of taxation vs. government expenditure, you have an obvious problem. One that would be solved by an even greater (and probably even more progressive) tax burden. Tax freedom day comes late enough as it is. And while these problems would be ameliorated by a flat consumption tax and a reduced government commitment to welfare, they would hardly be eliminated.

And just because I love stroking my own ego, I should mention that even Jerry Pournelle likes my logic.

Conclusion:
If our government still resembled the one defined by the constitution, I would have little problem with an open border. If our politicians were managers seeking to do the best job within the confines of their mandate, rather than power-mongers finding the best way to bribe and buy our affections, I would be all for an open border. If the doctrine of positive liberty were not on the rise, if freedom had not been redefined as comfort, I’d be alright. If we were still a constitutionally-restrained republic rather than a free-for all, I’d have a different opinion.

Neal Boortz often remarks that we don’t need to ship illegal immigrants out of the country, we merely have to remove the incentive for them to stay. Which is exactly how I’d prefer tackling the issue. But the reason I bring this up is actually to illustrate why I wouldn’t see a need for border restrictions if we lived under a classically liberal government. Immigration would self correct in response to basic market and social forces. Today however, both economic and social factors are dramatically altered by political machinations. The costs of many of the things that make this country such a great place from our excellent standards of healthcare, to our educational system, to our basic infrastructure are not paid by those who receive the benefits. When those who receive the benefits don’t pay the costs, bad things happen. This is the essence of economics, ecology, and game theory. And something we all should recognize.

So let me repeat. If this were a minarchist country, I would have a different position on the border. But it isn’t. And I want to protect what freedom I have left.

Local Government Bans Charitable Meals

Fairfax County, Virginia has told local churches and charities that they must stop donating prepared food to the counties poor residents unless the food was prepared in a county-approved kitchen:

Under a tough new Fairfax County policy, residents can no longer donate food prepared in their homes or a church kitchen — be it a tuna casserole, sandwiches or even a batch of cookies — unless the kitchen is approved by the county, health officials said yesterday.

They said the crackdown on home-cooked meals is aimed at preventing food poisoning among homeless people.

But it is infuriating operators of shelters for the homeless and leaders of a coalition of churches that provides shelter and meals to homeless people during the winter. They said the strict standards for food served in the shelters will make it more difficult to serve healthy, hot meals to homeless people. The enforcement also, they said, makes little sense.

“We’re very aware that a number of homeless people eat out of dumpsters, and mom’s pot roast has got to be healthier than that,” said Jim Brigl, chief executive of Fairfax Area Christian Emergency & Transitional Services. “But that doesn’t meet the code.”

That’s right, Fairfax County is effectively saying that they’d rather have a hungry person eating scraps out the dumpster behind TGI Friday’s than eating something you prepared in your own kitchen. Not surprisingly, local churches and shelters are saying that this will make it much more difficult for them to do their job:

“We see the reason for being certified. They want to ensure people’s health and safety,” said the Rev. Keary Kincannon of Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County, which will open as a hypothermia shelter for four months starting Friday.

“On the other hand, how much do you have to be a stickler with that?” Kincannon asked. “What’s more important: whether we’re open to have somebody get in out of the cold and get a meal? There’s kind of a balance there.”

The Rev. Judy Fender of Burke United Methodist Church said 50 volunteers had been planning to cook beef stew, pork loin and other nutritious meals in the church kitchen when it hosts the hypothermia shelter Dec. 17 through 23.

But she found out this week that, because the kitchen is not Health Department-approved, it will have to prepare its food elsewhere.

It will be a logistical nightmare, Fender predicted, and is an insult to members who have cooked meals for years in the church kitchen without any problems.

“Why do [they] think that the traditional way of fixing a home-cooked meal is going to poison people off the street?” Fender asked.

Because they’re from the government and they’re here to help.

Update 12/1/06: The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, perhaps realizing the stupidity of this proposal, has repealed it.

The Greatest Threat To Our Rights

The Bush Administration would have us believe that the greatest threat to our rights comes from al Qaeda and its allies. However, as McQ states in a post at The QandO Blog, the real threat comes not from our enemy in the War on Terror, but from a war being fought much closer to home:

It seems absurd to have to write about something which you feel should be obvious to everyone. The War on Drugs is a war on liberty and that simple truth is demonstrated almost daily on the streets and in homes around our nation.

This isn’t an attempt to say drugs are good or that drugs should be sold to children or that we should happily give over our lives to getting high, anymore than I’d claim alcohol is good, should be sold to children and we should spend our lives getting drunk. Obviously I don’t endorse any of that.

And I’m not interested in the usual and prosaic “so you want our children to have access to drugs?” response. Wake up, will you … they already have access to drugs in quantities and types you can’t imagine. The War on Drugs hasn’t stopped that in the least, nor will it ever. All it has done is drive up the price.

We’ve seen the costs of that war played out before us over the last week as more news comes out about what increasingly looks like the totally unjustified shooting of an elderly woman in Atlanta. In reality, though, it’s a story that has been playing itself out, over and over, again for at least the past thirty years. The more the government tries to crack down on illegal drugs, the further they erode the civil liberties of everyone in the country.

We’ve been having this debate for years now. In 1989, the late Milton Friedman sent an open letter to then Drug Czar Bill Bennett where he said:

“Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favor are a major source of the evils you deplore …Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords; illegality leads to the corruption of law enforcement officials; illegality monopolizes the efforts of honest law forces so that they are starved for resources to fight the simpler crimes of robbery, theft and assault.”

Bennett, of course, didn’t listen back then and we’ve continued to pay the price. How many more innocent elderly women will have to die before things finally change ?

Much Ado About Nothing

Stephen Bainbridge and James Joyner both comment on this Dennis Prager column at Human Events. Prager. it seems, is atwitter because Keith Ellison, a Democrat elected in the 2006 elections and the first Muslim elected to Congress, wants to take his oath of office with his hand on the Koran, not the Bible.

Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.
He should not be allowed to do so — not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.
First, it is an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism — my culture trumps America’s culture. What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.

There’s just one problem with Prager’s hypothesis. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say anything about Members of Congress, or Senators, or the President, taking their respective oaths with their hand on a Bible, or any other book. True, its been a long standing practice that dates back to George Washington, but it is not a requirement. If a member of Congress wanted, there is nothing preventing them from taking their oath with their hand on a copy of the Manhattan Yellow Pages.

Moreover, Prager’s insistence that only the Bible can used would be a clear violation of this provision of Article VI of the Constitution:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

No religious test, and no requirement that you place your hand on any book when being sworn into office. Seems pretty simple to me.

Police Culture is the Problem

To all those who say that the problem leading to incidents such as the shooting death of Kathryn Johnston is not a police problem, I point you to some comments I’ve made about what police should be vs. what they are. Specifically, I’ve said that cops have an obligation to protect citizens and that protecting citizens, even ones that may be criminals, takes priority over their own life.

I firmly believe that the “War on Drugs” and the militarization of our police forces has led us to a position where police tend to shoot first and ask questions later. Further, police are now agents of a government executing a policy that this blog has stated, over and over, is immoral and unethical. We can see the outcome of such a situation. The deaths of Sean Bell, Kathryn Johnston and Salvatore Culosi, to name just three of the hundreds killed or wounded in paramilitary police actions are the outcomes.

To reinforce that view, let’s take into account some editorial commentary by Joseph McNamara. He has a strong position to speak from, as a retired NYPD deputy inspector and former police chief of Kansas City, MO and San Jose, CA. In an editorial [subscription required, so I posted most of the article in toto to comment on] in the Wall Street Journal today, Mr. McNamara said:

Simply put, the police culture in our country has changed. An emphasis on “officer safety” and paramilitary training pervades today’s policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn’t shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed.

Yes, that is the police culture I remember. Certainly the one I see today, officer’s wearing military clothing, carrying military weapons and using para-military tactics is far different from that. Worse, it is the sort of police culture that I saw, and found abhorrent, in Europe when I lived there. It was one of the things I was proud of about America, that our police were there to protect citizens, not to make war on them.

Mr. McNamara goes on to say:

Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds, shotguns and military assault rifles, weapons once relegated to SWAT teams facing extraordinary circumstances. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed.

One of the predicted outcomes of the “War on Drugs”. Now that it has come to pass we have the perverse situation where self-proclaimed libertarians defend cops who take the lives of citizens when the citizen should never have been in lethal danger. These folks trumpet about the cops “right to self defense” and how “all the facts are not in”, completely ignoring that men and women voluntarily executing government policy are responsible for these deaths. They prefer, instead, to blame a policy and put the cops on pedestals. What happened to being skeptical, to questioning authority, to the realization that “following orders” is not an adequate defense, morally or legally?

Mr. McNamara then points out an interesting set of facts:

Yes, police work is dangerous, and the police see a lot of violence. On the other hand, 51 officers were slain in the line of duty last year, out of some 700,000 to 800,000 American cops. That is far fewer than the police fatalities occurring when I patrolled New York’s highest crime precincts, when the total number of cops in the country was half that of today.

You know, there’s one more statistic I’d like to see. What’s the increase in the number of citizens shot by a cop? As part of that, what would be very interesting is the increase in the number of citizens shot when there was no weapon present OR it was a no knock situation involving someone who was not the actual target of the warrant being served. I’d be willing to guess that the statistics would show a dramatic rise in such deaths completely out of proportion to the changes in numbers of cop deaths or changes in violent crime statistics.

A couple of final points from Mr. McNamara

Each of these police deaths and numerous other police injuries is a tragedy and we owe support to those who protect us. On the other hand, this isn’t Iraq. The need to give our officers what they require to protect themselves and us has to be balanced against the fact that the fundamental duty of the police is to protect human life and that law officers are only justified in taking a life as a last resort.

In the three cases I cite above, taking the life of the citizens in question was absolutely not the last resort.

After the Diallo case [ed: a shooting death in 1999 of an unarmed man in NYC], I wrote that I, my father, older brother and countless other relatives had collectively served the NYPD for more than a century and a half and that none of us would have fired at Mr. Diallo. I say the same about the lethal volley that took Mr. Bell’s life, based on initial reports.

So, a very experienced cop says that he, and other cops he knows very well, would not have used deadly force against Mr. Bell. That, to me, is the most damning indictment of the cops in question. But, more importantly, it is the most damning indictment of a law enforcement culture that has shifted from protecting our society to waging war on us.

The sad reality is that we citizens no longer view police as civil servants here to protect us. We view them as adversaries here to enforce laws we don’t respect. We view them as agents of a government waging a war on us. We view them as the enemy.

One more casualty of the immoral War on Drugs.

Update: McQ at QandO has a similar, although perhaps less indicting, entry today. The punchline?

Time to disarm the vast majority of them [AS: para-military police organizations].

Sounds like a plan to me.

Freedom of Speech And The War On Terror

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich spoke in Manchester, New Hampshire yesterday on the topic of freedom of speech. When it comes to applying freedom of speech to campaign finance laws, Gingrich made this excellent point:

MANCHESTER, N.H. –Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says First Amendment rights need to be expanded, and eliminating the McCain-Feingold law’s restrictions on campaign contributions would be a start.

Gingrich, a Republican, suggested allowing people to give any amount to any candidate as long as the donation was reported online within 24 hours.

“Just as tax lawyers always succeed in out-thinking the (Internal Revenue Service) because they stay after five and the IRS goes home, the private-sector lawyers will always out-think the (Federal Election Commission) because they stay after five and the FEC goes home,” Gingrich told about 400 people at the Nackey Scripps Loeb First Amendment Awards dinner Monday.

Newt’s absolutely right on this one. McCain-Feingold is one of the most egregious restrictions on political speech that Congress has passed in quite some time. The fact that it was upheld by the Supreme Court is even more distressing.

Where Gingrich falls apart, unfortunately, is when it comes to the issue of freedom of speech and the war on terror:

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday said the country will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism.

Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a “different set of rules” may be needed to reduce terrorists’ ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.

“We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade,” said Gingrich, a Republican who helped engineer the GOP’s takeover of Congress in 1994.

I’m not quite sure what Newt means when he talks about “re-examining” freedom of speech, but it doesn’t sound good at all. In the wake of 9/11, we “re-examined” the Fourth Amendment and it brought us the Patriot Act. I hate to think what a re-examination of the First Amendment would bring us.

H/T: Hit & Run

Update 11/29/06: There has been discussion in the comments about whether the Union-Leader accurately reported what Gingrich said. A link to the speech can be found here, and here is the relevant part:

This is a serious long term war, and it will enviably lead us to want to know what is said in every suspect place in the country, that will lead us to learn how to close down every website that is dangerous, and it will lead us to a very severe approach to people who advocate the killing of Americans and advocate the use of nuclear of biological weapons.

And, my prediction to you is that ether before we lose a city, or if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people before they get to reach out and convince young people to destroy their lives while destroying us.

This is a serious problem that will lead to a serious debate about the first amendment, but I think that the national security threat of losing an American city to a nuclear weapon, or losing several million Americans to a biological attack is so real that we need to proactively, now, develop the appropriate rules of engagement.

And, I further think that we should propose a Genève convention for fighting terrorism which makes very clear that those who would fight outside the rules of law, those who would use weapons of mass destruction, and those who would target civilians are in fact subject to a totally different set of rules that allow us to protect civilization by defeating barbarism before it gains so much strength that it is truly horrendous.

This is a sober topic, but I think it is a topic we need a national dialogue about, and we need to get ahead of the curve rather than wait until actually we literary lose a city which could literally happen within the next decade if we are unfortunate

At the very least, Gingrich is theorizing that First Amendment right would be curtailed in the wake of another massive terror attack (a theory which I think is largely correct). On the other hand, though, I think it’s fair to say that he was advocating we at least look at doing this, and that’s where I have a problem.

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