Monthly Archives: July 2009

Obama, Gates, Crowley, and the Troubling Controversy that Seemingly Won’t Go Away

Up to now I have purposely avoided this whole disorderly conduct arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. for a number of reasons.

First reason being that compared to the other cases I’ve written about here and elsewhere, this is a very minor case of police misconduct. I have yet to read or hear any reports that Mr. Gates was roughed up even a little bit.

Second, Mr. Gates seems like a real ass. Gates seems to be someone who has a chip on his shoulder and apparently views the world in black and white (i.e. if the police as much as ask a question, s/he is a racist!). A woman saw 2 men trying to break into Gate’s home; unbeknownst to the woman, one of the men was the resident of the home. The woman even said as much on the 911 call:

“I don’t know what’s happening. … I don’t know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key, but I did notice they had to use their shoulders to try to barge in…”

Now some people are calling her a racist for making the call to the police to begin with!

Third, like President Obama, I “don’t have all the facts” but unlike the president, I’m not going to say definitively that the police “acted stupidly.” There are no videos that documented the encounter and I wasn’t there so I cannot make a judgment as to who acted stupidly or to what degree. My best guess, based on what I have read about the case, is that both Mr. Gates and Sgt. Crowley acted inappropriately and overreacted.

So why have I decided to weigh in now you ask? I think the reason has to do mostly with the fact that this story won’t go away and with so much commentary in the MSM, talk radio, and the blogosphere, I can’t help but offer my 2 cents because certain aspects of this saga trouble me.

I am troubled that this case has turned into a race issue. This was not a case where a white police officer pulled over a black man for DWB. The police responded to a 911 call of a possible break in. This is what the police are supposed to do!

I am troubled that the president would make a public statement without knowing more about the facts of the case. For whatever reason, President Obama thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to opine about the historically troubled relationship between racial minorities and the police. Whether or not the president has a legitimate case to make, this case is not what I would consider a good example of the police racial profiling. What he should have said was something like: “Mr. Gates is a friend of mine but I don’t know all the facts; it would be inappropriate for me to comment about this case at this time.”

I am troubled that (apparently) the police did not leave Mr. Gates home once he identified himself as the home’s rightful resident, thus proving no crime had been committed.

I am troubled with how the police can apparently arrest someone for disorderly conduct for just about any reason they wish. While I do believe that Mr. Gates acted like an ass…since when is that a crime? Sure, he yelled some nasty things at the police when he should have been thanking them for investigating what appeared to be an unlawful break in, but how is making his displeasure known to the police disorderly conduct? I believe Doug is right: arresting Gates in this case was an unconstitutional voilation of his civil rights.

I am troubled by the way certain commentators such as Glenn Beck have gone off the deep end on Obama’s handling of this case, even going as far as calling the president a racist. I didn’t like it when people called Bush a racist and I don’t like it when people call Obama a racist*. That is a hell of a nasty charge to make of anyone (and if one does make that charge, they should have some damn good proof). Like I said before, Obama mishandled this situation but to say he is racist for commenting on race relations with the police (however inappropriate in using this case as an example) is a bridge too far.

I am troubled that other commentators say that because Obama said that the police “acted stupidly” that this is a slap in the face to police officers everywhere…as if he called all police officers stupid. What complete nonsense. I think its worth pointing out that Obama called the actions of the police stupid; he did not call the police stupid. This is a very important distinction. Even the most intelligent, honest, and morally upstanding individual acts stupidly at times. Not even college professors, police officers, or world leaders are immune from this.

Yes, this is indeed a teaching moment. Its just too bad that too many people seem to be learning the wrong lessons.

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Kevin Drum Astonished That People Disproportionately Like Subsidized Stuff

Satisfaction levels of Medicare beneficiaries are pretty high. This surprises Kevin Drum:

There’s a pretty obvious political dynamic that’s responsible for this. Seniors, who actually use Medicare, know perfectly well that it’s a good program. They can see any doctor they want, they get care when they need it, and the quality of service is high. So why do younger Americans have such a negative attitude toward Medicare?

Answer: because conservative politicians have been bellowing for years about what a terrible program it is. And since younger workers don’t actually use it themselves, the bellowing works. They figure it must suck.

In reality, Medicare works fine. Not perfectly, but fine. It offers service at least as good as private insurance despite serving the highest-risk population there is, and it does at least as good a job of reining in costs — slightly better, in fact. Sure, it could be improved, but it’s already probably better than the employer insurance that you have right now. I’d switch in a second if I could.

Medicare isn’t a bad system at providing medical care. Most doctors/hospitals accept it, as they typically know that they’re not going to get into fights with the government over whether or not they’ll get paid. Seniors thus don’t have a lot to worry about — they can go to the doctor whenever they need and get the care they require.

All that, for a Medicare Part B premium of a mere $96.40 per month. That’s roughly 1/10th of the premium my [large multinational] employer pays for my healthcare, and smaller than the additional portion I pay out-of-pocket for coverage of my wife and kids.

Does anyone think that the $96.40 premium covers the cost of insuring the average senior? I don’t think so. If it did, we wouldn’t be calling it an “entitlement” or worrying about the unfunded liabilities of Medicare going out over the next few decades. We wouldn’t be getting hit as workers with 2.9% of our incomes taken in taxes to pay for the Medicare system.

So are seniors pleased with the system they have? They get cheap premiums and adequate care, all on the backs of the taxpayers. Who wouldn’t be pleased?

The Arrest Of Henry Louis Gates Was Unconstitutional

So says Fox News Channel Legal Analyst, and former Judge, Andrew Napolitano:

Civil liberties attorney Harvey Silvergate agrees:

Under well-established First Amendment jurisprudence, what Gates said to Crowley–even assuming the worst–is fully constitutionally protected. After all, even “offensive” speech is covered by the First Amendment’s very broad umbrella


Today, the law recognizes only four exceptions to the First Amendment’s protection for free speech: (1) speech posing the “clear and present danger” of imminent violence or lawless action posited by Holmes, (2) disclosures threatening “national security,” (3) “obscenity” and (4) so-called “fighting words” that would provoke a reasonable person to an imminent, violent response.

As Silvergate goes on to discuss in an article well-worth reading, none of these four exceptions can reasonably be said to have applied to the confrontation between Crowley and Gates. Additionally, as Jacob Sullum notes, neither would Massachusetts state law on disorderly conduct justify the arrest in this case:

In Massachusetts, as in many states, the definition of disorderly conduct is drawn from the American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code. A person is considered disorderly if he “engages in fighting or threatening, violent or tumultuous behavior…with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm” or “recklessly creates a risk thereof.”

Crowley claims Gates recklessly created public alarm by haranguing him from the porch of his house, attracting a small crowd that included “at least seven unidentified passers-by” as well as several police officers. Yet it was Crowley who suggested that Gates follow him outside, thereby setting him up for the disorderly conduct charge.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Crowley was angered and embarrassed by Gates’ “outburst” and therefore sought to create a pretext for arresting him. “When he has the uniform on,” Crowley’s wife later told The New York Times, “Jim has an expectation of deference.”

As the Massachusetts Appeals Court has noted, “the theory behind criminalizing disorderly conduct rests on the tendency of the actor’s conduct to provoke violence in others.” Yet police officers often seem to think the purpose of such laws is to punish people for talking back to cops.

And yet, that’s not what the law says, as Massachusetts’ highest Court has recognized:

The officers’ presence, alone, did not suffice to prove the public element, regardless of any concern they may have felt as they witnessed the defendant’s confrontation with Sergeant Boss. As recognized in the commentaries to the Model Penal Code, behavior that has an impact only upon members of the police force is significantly different from that affecting other citizens in at least two respects: it is an unfortunate but inherent part of a police officer’s job to be in the presence of distraught individuals; and, to the extent that the theory behind criminalizing disorderly conduct rests on the tendency of the actor’s conduct to provoke violence in others, “one must suppose that [police officers], employed and trained to maintain order, would be least likely to be provoked to disorderly responses.” Model Penal Code § 250.2 comment 7, at 350. Accordingly, police presence in and of itself does not turn an otherwise purely private outburst into disorderly conduct.(9)

In other words, the mere act of talking back to a cop does not constitute a crime and should not justify arrest.

Gates was a hothead, but Crowley stepped outside the bounds of his Constitutionally-limited authority.

Where’s The Authority ?

Walter Williams asks a question that, unfortunately, nobody in power bothers to ask anymore:

A president has no power to raise or lower taxes. He can propose tax measures or veto them, but since Congress can ignore presidential proposals and override a presidential veto, it has the ultimate taxing power.

The same principle applies to spending. A president cannot spend a dime that Congress does not first appropriate. As such, presidents cannot be held responsible for budget deficits or surpluses. That means that credit for a budget surplus or blame for budget deficits rests on the congressional majority at the time.

Thinking about today’s massive deficits, we might ask: Where in the U.S. Constitution is Congress given the authority to do anything about the economy?

Or, more specifically, where is the Federal Government given the authority to bailout private lending institutions, bailout failing auto companies, and take over the health care industries ?

I’ve searched high and low in Article I, Section 8 and I sure as heck can’t find it.

Of course, I’m probably not using the modern translation.

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