Monthly Archives: March 2008

Should The Police Be Allowed To Attach A GPS Tracking Device To Your Car Without A Warrant ?

An interesting Constitutional question from Northern Virginia:

When Fairfax County police were trying to catch a man last month who had molested 11 women, they examined the Virginia sex offender registry and found a possible suspect. They looked at his background, which included a series of similar assaults, and his residence, which was not far from where the attacks were occurring.

Then, to try to catch him in the act, police slipped a small Global Positioning System device inside the bumper of the van driven by the suspect and began tracking him — without a search warrant and without consulting a prosecutor.

The tactic, officers say, was an almost instant success. The GPS device placed the van driven by David L. Foltz Jr., 40, in the vicinity of a sexual assault Feb. 5. And when officers began surveilling Foltz the next day, a Fairfax detective saw him drag a woman into a dark area in Falls Church and attack her. The officer rescued the woman and arrested Foltz.

Foltz’s attorney, Chris Leibig, said yesterday in Falls Church General District Court that placing the tracking device on the vehicle was a violation of Foltz’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Arlington County General District Court Judge Richard J. McCue disagreed, denying Leibig’s motion to suppress police testimony about events that occurred after the device was placed on Foltz’s van.

In the preliminary hearing that followed, a 46-year-old Falls Church woman testified that she was grabbed from behind and pulled into a dark area. Detective Matthew Charron said he saw the attack and knocked Foltz off the woman. McCue certified Foltz’s charges of abduction with intent to defile and sexual battery for the Arlington grand jury, which meets next week.

Foltz has not been charged in any of the 11 other similar assaults that have occurred in Fairfax and Alexandria, but police said no similar attacks have happened since he was arrested

The operative part of the Constitution is, quite obviously, the 4th Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

So, the question really is whether placing a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device on a vehicle parked on a public street and tracking that vehicle on public streets is either an “unreasonable” search and seizure or if it is even a search or seizure requiring a warrant at all.

There is one Supreme Court case that comes close to being applicable to the facts of this case. In United States v. Knotts (1983), the Supreme Court was asked to rule on the following case:

Having reason to believe that one Armstrong was purchasing chloroform to be used in the manufacture of illicit drugs, Minnesota law enforcement officers arranged with the seller to place a beeper (a radio transmitter) inside a chloroform container that was sold to Armstrong. Officers then followed the car in which the chloroform was placed, maintaining contact by using both visual surveillance and a monitor which received the beeper signals, and ultimately tracing the chloroform, by beeper monitoring alone, to respondent’s secluded cabin in Wisconsin. Following three days of intermittent visual surveillance of the cabin, officers secured a search warrant and discovered the chloroform container, and a drug laboratory in the cabin, including chemicals and formulas for producing amphetamine. After his motion to suppress evidence based on the warrantless monitoring of the beeper was denied, respondent was convicted in Federal District Court for conspiring to manufacture controlled substances in violation of 21 U.S.C. 846. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the monitoring of the beeper was prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.

The Supreme reversed the holding below and upheld the conviction:

Monitoring the beeper signals did not invade any legitimate expectation of privacy on respondent’s part, and thus there was neither a “search” nor a “seizure” within the contemplation of the Fourth Amendment. The beeper surveillance amounted principally to following an automobile on public streets and highways. A person traveling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements. While respondent had the traditional expectation of privacy within a dwelling place insofar as his cabin was concerned, such expectation of privacy would not have extended to the visual observation from public places of the automobile arriving on his premises after leaving a public highway, or to movements of objects such as the chloroform container outside the cabin. The fact that the officers relied not only on visual surveillance, but also on the use of the beeper, does not alter the situation. Nothing in the Fourth Amendment prohibited the police from augmenting their sensory faculties with such enhancement as science and technology afforded them in this case.

In that case, though, the Supreme Court did not rule on the issue of whether the act of placing the tracking device on an automobile without a warrant and probable cause would violate the 4th Amendment and the courts that have ruled on the issue seem to be all over the place:

A Wisconsin district court held, earlier this year, that officers must have reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime is being/has been committed and that the installation of the tracking device will yield evidence of that crime. U.S. v. Garcia, 2006 WL 298704 (W.D. Wisconsin 2006). This court found that reasonable suspicion was enough because “the intrusion caused by the application of the device is minimal. The real intrusion . . . is the 24/7 governmental monitoring that follows.”

(…)

A couple of years ago, a New York court went further. In People v. Lacey, 787 N.Y.S.2d 680 (N.Y. Co. Court 2004), the court held that police must get a warrant, based on probable cause, to install a tracking device”

“Although . . . persons have diminished expectations of privacy in automobiles on public roads and can be visually tracked by the police, it is clear that the mere act of parking a vehicle on a public street does not give law enforcement the unfettered right to tamper with the vehicle by surreptitiously attaching a tracking device without either the owner’s consent or without a warrant issued by a Court. . . . Attachment of the GPS requires a physical intrusion into an individual’s personal effects . . . . Accordingly, the Court finds that in the absence of exigent circumstances, not here present, the police should have obtained a warrant prior to attaching the GPS to the Mitsubishi.”

About a month ago, a New Jersey court held that the 4th Amendment requires police to get a warrant before attaching a GPS tracking device. State v. Scott, 2006 WL 2640221 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2006).

(…)

Other courts have disagreed, basically on the premise that the installation of a GPS tracking device in no way interferes with the vehicle owner’s possession and use of the vehicle. As the Ninth Circuit said in U.S. v. McIver, 186 F.3d 1119 (1999), “McIver did not present any evidence that the placement of the . . . tracking devices deprived him of dominion and control of his Toyota 4Runner, nor did he demonstrate that the presence of these objects caused any damage to the electronic components of the vehicle. Under these circumstances, we hold that no seizure occurred because the officers did not meaningfully interfere with McIver’s possessory interest in the Toyota 4Runner.”

The case at hand is a hard one to make a general rule from. There’s no question that Foltz is guilty of at least one attempted sexual assault because the cops caught him in the act thanks to the GPS tracking device. He may well have committed the eleven other assaults that the police were investigating when they focused on him.

But if the police violated his Constitutional rights in the process, none of that matters.

The National DNA Database

Britain has long been a bellwether for what is coming to the United States. First it was smoking bans, soon it will likely be national health care. And shortly to follow will probably be a federal DNA database.

What will follow that? The inevitable stories of DNA database abuses:

IT IS an object lesson in the unwisdom of shopping your nearest and dearest after an argument. In 2001 Michael Marper was arrested after his partner complained of harassment; the couple were later reconciled and the case was dropped. But in the meantime Mr Marper had to give police a sample of his DNA—which is still sitting in Britain’s DNA database, along with 4.5m others. That collection, already the world’s largest, covers 7% of the population (and 40% of black men). It is still growing, boosted by samples taken from all those arrested for a wide range of offences and kept even if they are never charged.

Since this lovers’ tiff, Mr Marper and a teenager known as “S”, who was tried for attempted robbery and acquitted, have spent much time trying to get their records removed from the database. In 2004 the House of Lords rejected their claim that the retention was discriminatory and infringed their rights to privacy.

A case can be made that one forfeits one rights when committing a crime, and thus after that point they may lose their right to DNA privacy. But in the eyes of the law, one hasn’t “committed” a crime until one is convicted of committing a crime. This is a simple case where individuals who have not been proven to have done anything wrong are having their privacy violated by the state, in case they might do something wrong in the future.

And they’re not alone. At the moment, their case is under appeal with the European Court of Human Rights, and if they are successful, as many as a million DNA samples might need to be purged from the database. But the Europeans may not be likely to view DNA privacy as an “essential” liberty. After all, if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear, right?

What will it take to see a federal DNA database on our shores? Probably one skillful politician to demagogue the threat of terrorism, despite the fact that a DNA database wouldn’t do anything to stop terrorism. But if it works* for Britain, it’ll probably work here, right?
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Spitzer Resigns

The following is the full text of Eliot Spitzer’s resignation speech:

In the past few days, I have begun to atone for my private failings with my wife Silda, my children, and my entire family. The remorse I feel will always be with me. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the love and compassion they have shown me.

From those to whom much is given, much is expected. I have been given much — the love of my family, the faith and trust of the people of New York, and the chance to lead this state. I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me. To every New Yorker — and to all those who believed in what I tried to stand for — I sincerely apologize.

I look at my time as governor with a sense of what might have been. But I also know that as a public servant, I and the remarkable people with whom I worked have accomplished a great deal. There is much more to be done, and I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the people’s work.

Over the course of my public life, I have insisted — I believe correctly — that people, regardless of their position or power, take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself.

For this reason, I am resigning from the office of governor. At Lt. Gov. Paterson’s request, the resignation will be effective Monday, March 17, a date that he believes will permit an orderly transition.

I go forward with the belief, as others have said, that as human beings, our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

As I leave public life, I will first do what I need to do to help and heal myself and my family. Then I will try once again, outside of politics, to serve the common good and move toward the ideals and solutions which I believe can build a future of hope and opportunity for us and for our children.

I hope all New York will join my prayers for my friend David Paterson, as he embarks on his new mission. And I thank the public once again for the privilege of service.

My first reaction: good riddance to bad rubbish.

My second reaction: at least Eliot Spitzer had the decency to resign rather than put the state of New York through an expensive impeachment process.

Related Post: Hypocrisy Has a New Name: Eliot Spitzer

Wednesday Open Thread: Time To Kill Off The Libertarian Party

Late last month Brad Spangler made the case for letting the Libertarian Party die:

The libertarian movement predates the Libertarian Party and will survive after it is gone. There was a time when radical libertarians like Samuel Edward Konkin III denounced formation of a “libertarian” politicial party as incompatible with libertarianism properly understood. With evisceration of the LP platform in recent years by “small government” statists longing to join the ruling class, the Ron Paul GOP presidential campaign has served not to shout out the irrelevancy of the Libertarian Party so much as serve as the heavy duty exclamation point punctuating that death cry that the LP already delivered to itself.

A shutdown of the Libertarian Party would get radicals and moderates out of each others hair. Radicals could pursue the long neglected non-electoral strategies for long-term radical change and moderates could apply their energies to seeking small reforms inside the major parties, as Ron Paul does. Sufficient social space for needed overlap between wings and their ideological cross-fertilization would exist organizationally in groups like ISIL and the Advocates for Self-Government, as well as out on the internet in political discussion forums of all sorts generally.

A look at how the world has really worked since the Libertarian Party was formed in the early 1970s would seem to add credence to Spanlger’s position. Aside from the Election of 1980, which was largely financed by the family fortune of the LP’s Vice-Presidential candidate, no Libertarian Party candidate for President has been able to gather anything close to 1,000,000 votes and none have garnered what would be considered a statistically significant amount of the vote in any election. And, except for one or two notable exceptions, no Libertarian Party candidate can be said to have had a significant impact on a contested election.

But winning elections, some people will say, is not real why the LP exists. It’s purpose, they contend, is to educate the public  about libertarian ideas.

Well, if that’s the case, then I don’t think it can be said that they’ve done a very good job there either. If they had, then 35 years of education should’ve been something that Ron Paul’s campaign could have tapped into. Instead, the major party candidate that came closest to libertarian ideas was soundly rejected by the members of his party.

You can blame that on the media. You can derisively call the voters “sheeple” — thereby insuinating that the reason they didn’t vote for your candidate is because they’re stupid. But, in the end, the fact of the matter is that the public wasn’t receptive to libertarian ideas. So much for the education I guess.

So, what do you think ? Time to let the LP die a merciful death ?

Where Were The Regulators?

When people advocate government regulation, they fall prey to a critical error: they believe government can actually successfully regulate! Despite the fact that government regulation simply creates loopholes and exceptions that can be exploited, those advocates still believe in the basic premise of the system.

What then, to make of this?

But a darker side to the beef industry was revealed in January, when the Humane Society of the United States released a video showing sickening conditions at a California slaughterhouse. Cows too ill or injured to stand were shoved along by forklifts or dragged by their legs across the floor. Downer cows, as they are called, are unfit for human consumption. But many at the slaughterhouse run by the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company were killed, processed, and their meat sent to the National School Lunch Programme. “They’re going onto the plates of children,” said Wayne Pacelle, the head of the Humane Society.

You think the government can keep us safe? They can’t even certify that what they buy themselves is safe!

The next time someone tells you that they expect that government regulators are better than those of the private sector, remind them that it wasn’t government that saved you from the bad beef, it was committed non-government citizens.

The bureaucrats will offer to save you, by instituting some new regulation or some new rule. How did that work after the first mad cow care?

Another Ethanol Boondoggle

Along this blog, I’ve been beating the anti-ethanol drum for quite some time*. Now, we have yet another reason to oppose it. Not only is it environmentally neutral (or harmful), not only does it drive up the cost of food products, it also sucks up scarce water resources!

This is controversial for several reasons. There are doubts about how green ethanol really is (some say the production process uses almost as much energy as it produces). Some argue that using farmland for ethanol pushes up food prices internationally (world wheat prices rose 25% this week alone, perhaps as a side-effect of America’s ethanol programme). But one of the least-known but biggest worries is ethanol’s extravagant use of water.

A typical ethanol factory producing 50m gallons of biofuels a year needs about 500 gallons of water a minute. Most of that goes into the boiling and cooling process, which is similar to making beer. Some water is lost through evaporation in the cooling tower and in waste discharge. All this is putting a heavy burden on aquifers in some corn-growing areas.

There’s only one group who still thinks this is a good idea: farmers. And we’re paying them to think it, so I don’t think they’re very impartial.

What will it take to put a stop to this? Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can figure out that this is an incredibly useless, counterproductive, and costly endeavor. But nobody will stand up and try to put a stop to it.

Are our politicians that wedded to the ethanol train? One would think that perhaps a certain senator from Arizona might suggest that there won’t be any ethanol powering the Straight Talk Express. But I’m not holding my breath.
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Hypocrisy Has a New Name: Eliot Spitzer

By now, most everyone has read or heard some of the sordid details involving New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and his alleged involvement with a prostitution ring called Emperors Club VIP. I think I can safely speak for all of the contributors at The Liberty Papers that we all believe that the actions between consenting adults should not be considered crimes provided that the actions do not violate the life, liberty, or property of another non-consenting party. Prostitution, drug abuse, and gambling are all examples of such activities the government has no business involving itself in.

Having said that, there is also something to be said about Governor Spitzer’s hypocrisy. As Attorney General, Spitzer actively went after individuals accused of the very crimes that he now seems to be involved. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, it’s interesting to see how suddenly the “crime” of prostitution becomes just “a private matter.”
Governor Spitzer’s so-called apology is ripe for a thorough fisking.

Good afternoon.

Yeah, well that’s not what she said!*

For the past nine years, eight years as attorney general, and one as governor, I have tried to uphold a vision of progressive politics that would rebuild New York and create opportunity for all. We sought to bring real change to New York and that will continue.

Today I want to briefly address a private matter. I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my, or any, sense of right and wrong. I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public, whom I promised better.

A private matter governor? How about the 18 individuals you prosecuted in 2004 for being involved in prostitution and related activities. Was this a private matter for them as well or does privacy only apply to “important” individuals such as yourself?

I do not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals. It is about ideas, the public good, and doing what is best for the state of New York. But I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself. I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.

This is part of your problem governor; that you believe the “public good” is somehow superior to the rights of the individual, but I digress…

I suppose that the people of New York should not expect you to resign because only your ideas and your policies are “what is best for the state of New York.” Are you really so arrogant to assume that without your superior leadership, New York will fall off the cliff? Trust me governor, if you want to do what is best for New York, you should resign immediately. New York will survive and indeed will be better off without you.

Still, recognizing you have a problem is the first step. I do find it quite amazing that you along with the likes of Jimmy Swaggart, Bill Clinton, Jim McGreevy, Larry Craig, and David Vitter, don’t seem to recognize that you are hurting your family until you have been caught (but somehow it’s the media’s fault for exposing you for your indiscretions).

I will not be taking questions. Thank you very much. I will report back to you in short order. Thank you very much.

Of course you won’t be taking any questions. It’s not like you have to answer to the people of New York or anything! Oh, I forgot; this is a private matter.

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Lobbyists And Big Government: Perfect Together

In the Manchester Union-Leader, John Stossel explains why most efforts to reform the so-called lobbying problem fail:

None of the reforms gets near root of the problem.

The root is government power. When government is free to meddle in every corner of our lives and regulate the economy through taxes, regulation and subsidies, then “special interests” have every incentive to work on the politicians to preserve their turf or gain an advantage.

A tax, regulation or subsidy can make the difference between an industry’s success and failure. If the government were not giving preferential tax treatment to ethanol, the corn farmers and ethanol processors would have to find something else to do because their product can’t compete against regular gasoline on a level playing field.

In a real free market, a company succeeds only by making things consumers want to buy and keeping costs low enough that the market price yields a profit. Sadly, in our mixed economy, success can be achieved another way: by lobbying the government for advantages over one’s competitors.

The prospect of favorable government intervention creates incentives for producers and their lobbyists to strive to satisfy legislators and bureaucrats instead of consumers. The resulting competition for privileges sets the stage for the improper relationships that reformers fret about.

The irony is that the “good government” types favor big government, so they undermine their own efforts to eliminate corruption.

None of this is news, of course, but the fact that these arguments keep having to be repeated to a public that isn’t listening is, quite honestly, disheartening.

Tuesday Open Thread: Why Ron Paul Failed, And Where The “r3volution” Goes From Here

In April’s print edition of Reagan Reason, David Weigel conducts what will undoubtedly be the first of many post-mortems of Ron Paul’s Presidential campaign.

The most libertarian candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, began 2008 with an army of 100,000 enthusiastic donors. Before the primary season began, many of his fans clung to the hope that polls showing Paul stuck in single digits were cooked. Many, more pragmatically, hoped he’d play the kind of role Sen. Eugene McCarthy filled 40 years ago in the Democratic primaries, shaking his party out of its hawkish stupor and relocating its soul.

Neither of those scenarios unfolded. Nowhere was the disappointment greater than in the “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire, where the large independent vote and Paul’s substantial war chest were primed to shock the political system. Before the election, pollsters such as John Zogby and Scott Rasmussen thought Paul might come in third place. ABC News embedded a reporter with the campaign just to see if lightning might strike, and CNN sent cameras to cover Paul’s election night party live.

But, of course, that didn’t happen. Instead, Paul finished a disappointing fifth and did worse in the Live Free or Die State than he did in a relatively pro-government state like Iowa. After that, it was pretty much all downhill. With the exception of a caucus or two, Paul never finished higher than fourth place and, even when there were only three candidates in the race, he was never a serious contender and had a statistically insignificant impact on the race.

So, what went wrong ? Weigel argues that it all started going downhill when the campaign went off message:

[A]fter a spike in fund raising and polling, Paul pivoted to the more crowded anti-immigration field, with mailers showing a work boot stomping on the Constitution and the legend: “Illegal immigrants flaunt [sic] our laws.”

This lunge for the Minuteman vote didn’t work. According to exit polls, Paul won only 8 percent of Republican voters who want to deport all illegal immigrants. That was 16 points less than immigration compromiser John McCain, six less than amnesty waffler Mike Huckabee, and even one point less than “sanctuary city” mayor Rudy Giuliani. Paul finished a poor fifth among voters who cared about immigration but came in a strong second place among voters angry at the Bush administration. In other words, he came in second among his natural constituency and fared poorly on an issue every candidate was already scrapping over.

That ad, which started running a few weeks before the New Hampshire Primary, attempted to characterize Ron Paul as somewhere to the right of Tom Tancredo on immigration and, as we later learned in Texas, it wasn’t an anomaly.

Would things have been different in the Granite State had the campaign stayed on message ? It’s unclear but it would’ve been worth a try. Pandering to the nativists certainly didn’t accomplish anything. But the truth of the matter is this — for over a year Ron Paul did pitch a limited government anti-war message to Republican voters, the people you have to convince to vote for you if you’re going to win the nomination, and they either ignored it or rejected it.

Is that Paul’s fault ? In part, perhaps, it is. He was, even his most ardent supporters would admit, not the most articulate spokesman for his message. But nobody can call McCain, Romney, or Huckabee great public speakers either.

The hard truth, it would seem, is that people don’t want to hear the message right now.

Finally Weigel wonders what’s next for the coalition that Paul brought to together:

Can the Paulites make lasting change? Eve Fairbanks of The New Republic described Paul’s supporters as “the closest thing this race has to the Deaniacs of ’04.” Those Web-savvy, young, and excitable supporters of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean may not have powered their man to the White House, but their influence remains a potent force in Democratic politics. Dean’s Web team, including Matthew Stoller and Jerome Armstrong, became some of the loudest voices in the lefty blogosphere and go-to gurus for all Democratic Internet campaigns. Ex–Dean staffers populate the Courage Campaign, a liberal activist group in the MoveOn.org mold. And Dean himself has run the Democratic National Committee since 2005. If Paul’s people wanted to copy a movement, they could do a lot worse.

I heard the idea of a Ron Paul RNC chairmanship tossed around by Paulites in New Hampshire, and I heard it afterward. They know it’s a pipe dream, but they’re starting to ask: How might an activist libertarian splinter movement influence a larger and more moribund Republican organization? “

There are, of course, significant differences between Howard Dean in 2004 and Ron Paul in 2008. The biggest one being that, for the most part, Howard Dean and his supporters were largely within the mainstream of the Democratic Party back then, at least on the issues that matter. The same cannot be said for Ron Paul. That’s why Howard Dean easily became Chairman of the DNC, and the outsider of 2004 became the ultimate political insider.

Lightening is not likely to strike twice. Whether John McCain wins or loses in the fall, Ron Paul is not going to be named Chairman of the RNC now or anytime in the near future. Unlike the Deaniacs, the serious Ron Paul supporters are faced with the task of remaking the Republican Party and turning it back into what it was in the 1980s.

The question is, given the clear rebuke that the libertarian message received from Republican rank-and-file voters this year, how do you do that ?

Venezuela — The Most Literate Society In History!

Or, maybe not

Last year the statistics institute launched its own study on the impact of the social missions. This was supposed to be ready by January. But delays in buying equipment mean it has yet to start, according to Irene Gurrea, the economist in charge. Asked if there were any reliable statistics on the impact of Misión Robinson, Ms Gurrea said: “As far as we know, no—that’s why we’re doing the study.”

Staff of an older literacy programme run by Fe y Alegría, a Catholic charity, say they continue to enroll students. In Machiques, near the Colombian border, 100 joined in the past semester. They say that up to 40% of the Warao Indians in the Orinoco delta are illiterate. In 2005 Mr Chávez told local officials to declare their towns officially “illiteracy free”. Knowing this to be untrue, the mayor of Machiques resisted, but gave in to pressure, according to Jesús Vilorio, who works for Fe y Alegría.

It is not hard to find individuals like Ms Silva who say their lives were changed by Misión Robinson. But the missions have gone hand-in-hand with neglect of schools and hospitals. Mr Rodríguez estimates that Robinson spent $1,000 for each of its literate graduates, compared with around $60 for other literacy schemes in Latin America. At the least, that money could have been better spent.

I see how things work in Venezuela:

1. Spend money on a stated goal.
2. ???
3. Claim success!

The underpants gnomes would be proud. Of course, if Chavez thinks like any other bureaucrat, he might call this a success. After all, the bureaucrats in Washington seem to think you measure efficacy of a program by the size of its budget. Why would bureaucrats in Venezuela be any different?

Good work, Hugo. If you’re going to claim success after that boondoggle of an expenditure, I’ve got a bridge to sell you! Prime real estate too, right in Brooklyn!

What Obama Says On The Economy

Does he believe it?

This point from the Economist doesn’t give a real verdict either way, but one must wonder whether his policies are going to match his rhetoric.

The sad thing is that one might reasonably have expected better from Mr Obama. He wants to improve America’s international reputation yet campaigns against NAFTA. He trumpets “the audacity of hope” yet proposes more government intervention. He might have chosen to use his silver tongue to address America’s problems in imaginative ways—for example, by making the case for reforming the distorting tax code. Instead, he wants to throw money at social problems and slap more taxes on the rich, and he is using his oratorical powers to prey on people’s fears.

Mr Obama advertises himself as something fresh, hopeful and new. But on economic matters at least he, like Mrs Clinton, has begun to look a rather ordinary old-style Democrat.

My hope for November 2008 is that none of these charlatans win.

George McGovern: Libertarian ?

George McGovern, who made an ill-fated run for President in 1972, has a very interesting Op-Ed piece in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Since leaving office I’ve written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.

Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don’t take away cars because we don’t like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don’t operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life.

The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

In the piece, McGovern talks about everything from payday lending:

Anguished at the fact that payday lending isn’t perfect, some people would outlaw the service entirely, or cap fees at such low levels that no lender will provide the service. Anyone who’s familiar with the law of unintended consequences should be able to guess what happens next.

Researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York went one step further and laid the data out: Payday lending bans simply push low-income borrowers into less pleasant options, including increased rates of bankruptcy. Net result: After a lending ban, the consumer has the same amount of debt but fewer ways to manage it.

To health care:

Health-care paternalism creates another problem that’s rarely mentioned: Many people can’t afford the gold-plated health plans that are the only options available in their states.

Buying health insurance on the Internet and across state lines, where less expensive plans may be available, is prohibited by many state insurance commissions. Despite being able to buy car or home insurance with a mouse click, some state governments require their approved plans for purchase or none at all. It’s as if states dictated that you had to buy a Mercedes or no car at all.

In other words, competition works.

I’ll honestly admit that I never thought I’d see the day when George McGovern, who ran a very left-wing statist campaign in 1972 (although big issue in the race was the Vietnam War) would be more of an economic conservative than the current sitting Republican President, the Republican nominee for President, and many high-ranking Congressional Republicans.

James Joyner suggests that it’s not just the fact that McGovern has changed, but that the goalposts of American politics have been moved and I think he’s pretty much right in that regard.

First of all, it’s important to remember that for as left-wing as McGovern may have been back in the day, he wasn’t all that different on economic issues from the guy he was running against:

As President, Nixon imposed wage and price controls, indexed Social Security for inflation, and created Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The number of pages added to the Federal Register each year doubled under Nixon. He eradicated the last remnants of the gold standard, created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), promoted the Legacy of parks program and implemented the Philadelphia Plan, the first significant federal affirmative action program,

And Republicans today are more like Richard Nixon when it comes to domestic policy than they are to either Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater. Yes, George McGovern has changed, but he’s not the only one.

Friday Open Thread — Why America ?

In a comment to tarran’s post about the morality of armed rebellion, co-contributor Stephen Littau makes this point:

I would caution anyone who would want to begin or support an armed revolution against the government to study the French Revolution. There is always a chance that such actions can make matters worse, even if the revolution is successful. The French Revolution did not have the same success as the American Revolution. I would say that the outcome of the American Revolution is the exception, not the rule.

Which leads to the question — why is the American Revolution the historical exception rather than the rule ? Why didn’t we devolve into tyranny the way France did, or Russia, or most of the third-world, or, for that matter, post-Communist Russia ? Why didn’t France and Russia become like us ?

In response to Stephen’s comment, I said the following:

I’ve often wondered what it was that made the American Revolution different from the French Revolution, the Revolutions of 1848, the Russian Revolution, or any of the countless number of third-world revolts against colonialism after World War II.

It’s more, I think than just the fact that the American Colonies in the 18th Century were blessed with some incredibly wise men, though they clearly were. I think it comes down to the philosophical basis that they were working from.

The American revolutionaries had Smith and Locke and the writers that followed them. The French had who ? Voltaire ? In 1848 it was Marx. In Russia it was Marx and Lenin. And, in the third-world it was Marx, Lenin, and Ho Chi Minh.

When you build your revolution on a foundation of sand, it’s bound to fail in the end.

But that just leads to the question of why the ideas of the American Revolution stopped at the Atlantic. After all, the French Revolution occurred only 13 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed and the same year that George Washington took office as President of the United States under a new Constitution. There were some founders, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who thought that the French Revolution was the beginning of the flowering of liberty on the European Continent. It wasn’t until the Reign of Terror and then the reign of Napoleon that they came to realize that their hopes had been dashed.

After that came the Revolutions of 1848, inspired mostly by various forms of socialism and ending in little more than yet another cycle of European wars. The Russian Revolution, inspired by Marx and lead by Lenin, was never a prospect for true freedom and that was confirmed by the terror of Josef Stalin. And, finally, the colonial revolutions that followed World War II were perhaps doomed to fail when they turned for inspiration to the same ideas that had led to the Gulag Archipeligo.

So, was the American Revolution just an historical accident ? Just plain dumb luck ? And, if it was, what does that mean for the future of any fight against statism ?

Ron Paul (Sorta, Kinda) Drops Out Of Presidential Race

While not using the specific words, Congressman Ron Paul acknowledged today that his bid for the Republican Presidential nomination has come to an end:

“Elections are short-term efforts,” Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, told supporters in a Web video tonight. “Revolutions are long-term projects.”

Paul indicated that the 2008 presidential campaign portion of his revolution is over.

An earlier version of this report indicated that Paul would “drop out” of the race. In the video, Paul did not use the words “drop out,” opting instead to say the campaign is “winding down,” and he encourages supporters to still cast votes for him. But he referred to his campaign in the past tense.

“We are still in the early stages of bringing about the changes that this revolution is all about,” Paul said in the video. “Let us hope that we can one day look back and say that this campaign was a significant first step that signaled a change in direction for our country. Our job now is to plan for the next phase.”

For Paul, that phase will mean spreading his message beyond the campaign trail. He hopes to create an umbrella organization to stoke some of the grassroots support that made his presidential campaign notable.

Which, quite honestly, is something that should have been done months ago.

There are some candidates out there worthy of support. Most notable, in New Jersey, Murray Sabrin is in what is, for the moment at least, a two person race for the Republican nomination for Senate. While the prospect of a Republican winning statewide in New Jersey aren’t good at all, it’s still a worthy race.

What remains to be seen is whether the disparate factions of the r3volution will stay united or move off in their own directions, which is what happened to the Reform Party after Ross Perot.

Update: Based on this report from CNN, it looks like the “kinda, sorta” qualification won’t be applicable for much longer:

(CNN) — A spokesman for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign said Friday that the Texas congressman is ending his run for the White House.

“We are acknowledging that Ron will not be the nominee and that we are winding down the campaign,” said Jesse Benton, the Paul campaign’s communication manager.

Makes sense to me.

Ron Paul Refuses To Condemn Hamas

Foreign policy is one of the areas where Ron Paul and I part company, and this is an example of why:

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution strongly defending how Israel has repelled rocket attacks.

The non-binding resolution, passed 404-1 on Wednesday, was substantially rewritten since its introduction in January to include a strident defense of recent Israeli tactics in the Gaza Strip.

New passages include one saying that “those responsible for launching rocket attacks against Israel routinely embed their production facilities and launch sites amongst the Palestinian civilian population, utilizing them as human shields” and “the inadvertent inflicting of civilian casualties as a result of defensive military operations aimed at military targets, while deeply regrettable, is not at all morally equivalent to the deliberate targeting of civilian populations as practiced by Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist groups.”

More than 100 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed since last Wednesday, when Hamas and its allies intensified rocket attacks on Israel’s south and Israel retaliated. Palestinians say most of their casualties are civilians, while Israelis say most of them are combatants.

(…)

The sole vote against was U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) who preaches the reduction of U.S. involvement in overseas conflicts.

Which would make sense if we were talking about sending troops to Israel. But we’re not, we’re talking about condemning the actions of a terrorist organization.

One who is responsible for actions like this:

JERUSALEM (CNN) — A gunman opened fire on people inside a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem on Thursday, killing at least eight, police and rescue officials said.

Video from the scene showed a frantic crowd of rescue workers carrying bloodied victims into ambulances. Dozens of police officers were scouring the campus and surrounding streets.

Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said the attacker “opened fire on innocent youngsters studying. A number of students have been killed.”

Israeli police and ambulance officials said eight people were killed by the attacker, who was shot dead. Eight people were injured, five of them seriously, according to police.

(…)

CNN’s Ben Wedeman in Gaza reported celebratory shooting shortly after the attack.

Refusing to condemn a terrorist organization is, in my mind at least, tantamount to condoning it’s actions.

Fair Tax Webinar with Neal Boortz

Neal Boortz has a webinar on the Fair Tax for anyone who would like to learn more about the bill which would replace the income tax with a national sales tax. Boortz explains what the Fair Tax is, how it would work, and answers the common questions/criticisms of the plan.

Anyone interested in going to the webinar can click here to attend.

www.fairtax.org

When is Armed Rebellion Appropriate?

Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.

Ovid

One interesting question within political theory is the question of when armed rebellion against a government is justified. Most people that tackle this subject try to find some set of moral lines that a government must cross before it becomes illegitimate and thus armed rebellion becomes morally OK.

Being an anarchist I take a different tack. To me, since there is no such thing as a legitimate government and any organization that steals or commits acts of aggression against innocent people is behaving immorally, the question is one more of practicality than morality. The tax-man is another thief come to pick my pocket, and may morally be repelled with the same degree of violence directed toward any other thief. However, such violence may be unwise.

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

Sun-tzu – The Art of War

Anti-anarchist Political CartoonIn the late 19th century, as anarchism was coming into full flower, a significant faction of anarchists came to the conclusion that any government official, just like any extortionist or serial thief, could be attacked and even killed. They even encouraged such assassinations, reasoning that if government officials faced a high likelihood of death, they would quit their jobs, replacements would be hard to find and that the state would become paralyzed. They assassinated presidents and policemen, nobles and commoners. The “bomb throwing” anarchist had a major influence on history in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Far from weakening the state, their attacks strengthened it. Why? Because they did not consider the effect of their attacks on society as a whole. The vast majority of people didn’t think President McKinley was a gangster who needed killing. Rather they were horrified by the nihilistic abandon of the anarchists and terrified that such violence would be visited upon them. Rather than seeing the assassins’ targets as villains, the vast majority of people saw them as victims and the laws proposed to check the depredations of these anarchists were greeted with wide popular support.

The Palmer crackdowns of World War I, the laws suppressing political speech opposed to the war and government’s assumption of control over the economy were all justified as being necessary tools for government to protect the citizenry against the ‘anarchist threat’.

If fate means you to lose, give him a good fight anyhow.

William McFee

Soldier Shoots MotherOf course, just because a rebellion is doomed to failure does not mean that it should not be attempted. Take the brave Poles who fought heroically against the Germans in the Warsaw Ghetto. They had no chance of succeeding; the Germans had more artillery pieces than the Poles had bullets, yet with the exception of a handful of people like Mahatma Ghandi, most human beings would consider their rebellion and fight to the death to be honorable and praiseworthy.

So where do we draw the line? Why was President McKinley’s assassin wrong and Adolf Hitler’s would-be assassin right? Remember, the U.S. Army was happily slaughtering Philipinos and committing atrocities against civilian populations during the McKinley administration.

Photo of race riotTo me, the criterion that establishes the appropriateness of armed rebellion is the question of what impact the rebellion will have on society as a whole. Armed rebellion is rarely a good idea because it is very destructive to civil society. The violence expands as innocent people are harmed. People are forced to choose sides and choose reactively – driven to pick a side out of revenge or fear. Neighbor turns against neighbor, brother against brother, and the wounds of war are not easily healed. Often the victors establish a new more oppressive government to suppress their enemies than the one that was overthrown.

If we wish to live in a free society, then we must choose the actions that help bring about a free society. A free society is only possible when a preponderance of the people choose freedom, choosing not only to live peaceably with their fellows, but to leap to their neighbors’ defense when their neighbors are threatened. A free society is only possible if, when someone like Ron Reiner proposes to force people to send their children to his indoctrination centers and to force 1% of the population to pay for this operation, the idea is greeted with widespread derision and rejected out of hand. It means that people choose to respect their neighbors and they resist the impulse to loot their neighbors.

War is not its own end, except in some catastrophic slide into absolute damnation. It’s peace that’s wanted. Some better peace than the one you started with.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Vor Game

Therefore, to muster an effective resistance, a person must choose a set of actions that help bring about a more peaceful society. Grabbing a rifle and shooting at those who oppress us as Carl Drega purported to do, no matter how tempting, is ultimately futile and counterproductive. Not only does it not attract people to one’s cause, but it provides the government with a opportunity to send out very persuasive propaganda to the effect that those who oppose the government are a menace to their neighbors and that the draconian measures that government officials take are needed to protect the citizenry from these dangerous non-conformists.

But we must also stand up against those who say that somehow this is all right, this is somehow a political act — people who say, I love my country, but I hate my government. These people, who do they think they are saying that their government has stamped out human freedom?

U.S. President Bill Clinton, Remarks at Emily’s List Event, May 1 1995

 

To create a free society, we must persuade our neighbors to seek freedom. We must persuade them to adopt our aims as their own. This is done through speech and writing, by setting a public example through acts of civil disobedience. Examples of these forms of resistance includes such steps as

  • Videotaping police operations and publishing them on youtube.
  • Inventing new technologies that make bad laws impossible to enforce.
  • Befriending law enforcement officers and persuading them to question the bad laws they enforce.
  • Organizing mass movements that publicize the pro-freedom cause.
  • Flouting unjust laws in a manner that elicits public contempt for them.


The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.

John Adams

What is needed is a propaganda war, and these are the tools of the effective propagandist. Most people do have a rudimentary emotional sense of justice and the most effective forms of resistance are ones that evoke it. The goal is to have everyone, including government officials, rally to one’s cause.

Is violence never appropriate? Hardly. Violence is appropriate when both of the following conditions are met:

  1. Child killed in the bombing of the Alfred Murrah Federal BuildingThe violence must be proportionate to the aggression being resisted. The violence cannot be overly destructive or murderous. It must rather be at the minimum level to end whatever aggression one is defending against. Should the aggressor end his aggression and withdraw, the violence must end. This latter point is very important, since the only way a peaceful and freer society is going to happen is if the rebellion ends with the survivors willing to live peaceably with each other. And, of course, the violence cannot be aimed at innocent individuals. The picture to the right is not ‘collateral damage’ – it is murder!
  2. The violence will not make things worse. This requires that one of the following two conditions are met,
    1. The majority, or a sizeable minority of the populace supports the rebels’ aims but refuses to act out of fear. In the early 1920’s, as the Bolsheviks sought to establish control over the Russian empire, the GRU prosecuted a terror campaign against the citizenry. At any time of day there could be a knock on the door, or an agent seizing hold of a victim on the street or in their workplace. The victims would be bundled off to be tortured and, all to frequently, shot without even the pretense of a show trial to justify their murder. One Russian writer who witnessed this reign of terror commented that had one in ten households met the GRU agents with clubs and knives, it would have stopped the organization in its tracks. The GRU counted on fear and its ability to prevent its victims from acting in concert to enable their murderous campaign.
    2. When one faces certain death like the Poles facing deportation to Treblinka. In this case one has absolutely nothing to lose.

But if those criteria are not met, then violent rebellion is probably counterproductive and should be avoided. In the vast majority of cases, these criteria are simply not met.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Should A School Be Able To Punish A Student For What They Write On A Blog ?

That’s the issue that the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is currently dealing with:

Avery Doninger, 17, claims officials at Lewis S. Mills High School violated her free speech rights when they barred her from serving on the student council because of what she wrote from her home computer.

In her Internet journal, Doninger said officials were canceling the school’s annual Jamfest, which is similar to a battle of the bands contest. The event, which she helped coordinate, was rescheduled.

According to the lawsuit, she wrote: “`Jamfest’ is canceled due to douchebags in central office,” and also referred to an administrator who was “pissed off.”

After discovering the blog entry, school officials refused to allow Doninger to run for re-election as class secretary. Doninger won anyway with write-in votes, but was not allowed to serve.

A lower federal court had supported the school. U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz, denying Doninger’s request for an injunction, said he believed she could be punished for writing in a blog because the blog addressed school issues and was likely to be read by other students.

Her lawyer, Jon L. Schoenhorn, told the appeals court Tuesday that what students write on the Internet should not give schools more cause to regulate off-campus speech.

“It’s just a bigger soapbox,” he said.

But Thomas R. Gerarde, an attorney for school officials, argued that the Internet has completely changed the way students communicate.

The Supreme Court has issued four major rulings on the issue of student’s First Amendment rights in school over the years. In the first such case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District where the Court held that a school could not discipline students who wore anti-Vietnam War armbands to school because the student’s speech did not cause a disruption to school activities and constituted protected speech. Two other cases — Bethel School District v. Fraser and Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier — seemed to limit the scope of student free speech rights, but both are unique cases; the Fraser case involved a student who had given a speech filled with sexual inneundo at an assembly, and Hazelwood involved the extent to which the school had editorial control over a school-sanctioned student newspaper.

Most recently, the issue of the free speech rights of students was before the Supreme Court a year ago in what has become known as the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case. In that case, a school had suspended a student who had unfurled, as an apparent joke, a banner that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” during a school outing to watch the Olympic Torch pass through town. The school suspended the student, and the Supreme Court ruled that the suspension did not violate the student’s First Amendment rights:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court tightened limits on student speech Monday, ruling against a high school student and his 14-foot-long “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner.

Schools may prohibit student expression that can be interpreted as advocating drug use, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court in a 5-4 ruling.

Joseph Frederick unfurled his homemade sign on a winter morning in 2002, as the Olympic torch made its way through Juneau, Alaska, en route to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Frederick said the banner was a nonsensical message that he first saw on a snowboard. He intended the banner to proclaim his right to say anything at all.

His principal, Deborah Morse, said the phrase was a pro-drug message that had no place at a school-sanctioned event. Frederick denied that he was advocating for drug use.

“The message on Frederick’s banner is cryptic,” Roberts said. “But Principal Morse thought the banner would be interpreted by those viewing it as promoting illegal drug use, and that interpretation is plainly a reasonable one.”

Agree or disagree with the decision, and I disagree with it, that is the law of the land.

So where does that leave our student blogger ?

First of all, neither Bethel nor Hazelwood would seem to be applicable here; the student’s blog was not school-sanctioned activity. Moreover, it seems fairly clear that this situation is closer to Tinker than it is to Morse.  The student was making a comment on an event at school and expressing, albeit not in the language of William F. Buckley, her opinion of school officials. She was not mis-behaving at an official school function, nor was she participating in an off-campus school event; she was sitting in her home writing on her blog.

In the Tinker case, Justice Abe Fortas wrote in the majority opinion the following:

“It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Nor can it be argued that they lose those rights when they’re sitting in their bedroom blogging.

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