Monthly Archives: November 2006

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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