Monthly Archives: August 2009

Reelection Is More Important Than Legislation

In the health care debate, the question has somewhat changed within the Democratic party from “what do we want?” to “what can we actually pass?” Because they’re relatively sure there’ll be no help from Republicans, this puts them in an awkward spot, and as Bruce of QandO points out, highlights a point showing how all politicians are duplicitous self-serving assholes (emphasis added):

But the exclusion of Republicans doesn’t mean smooth sailing for Democrats. Numbers-wise they certainly have the majorities they need in both houses to pass legislation. This particular legislation, however, has become fraught with political danger. Many Democrats are very wary of it because of the demonstrated unhappiness of their constituencies and the probable 2010 impact that may have. This is especially true of more conservative Democrats, even those is primarily Democratic districts. And “Blue Dogs” who managed to win in historically red districts are terrified.

That sets up the conflict of political interests the Democrats face. They believe, now that they’ve brought it up and the president has made it one of his signature issues, that unless they pass it (or something they can call “health care reform”) they’ll have set him up for failure. However, they are also coming to realize that passing something now despite a majority of Americans saying slow down and start over could be hazardous to their political health – and majorities.

I’d say that a majority of both Democrats and Republicans believe that they know better what is good for us mere citizens than we do. It’s clear that Democrats have been waiting for the opportunity to vote for health care ever since 1994, and I’d say that sentiment likely extends to many of these Blue Dogs. In fact, I’d go one step further and suggest that there’s more than a handful of Republicans in the House and Senate who’d like to join them, because megalomania knows no party lines.

So I think it goes without saying that likely a majority of House and probably a supermajority of the Senate (when counting Snowe, Collins, etc) support health care reform, and when pressed probably including a public option.

So why is it faltering? Because these politicians who speak of the selfless sacrifice they make for the nation are too afraid to make a vote that might get them tossed from office. Getting reelected is more important than doing what they think is right.

Cocontributor Doug Mataconis posted at his home blog, Below The Beltway, a quote from Eric Massa (D-NY) speaking of the voters in his district that I have to at least respect his honesty:

Massa: I will vote against their opinion if I actually believe it will help them.

He’s blatantly admitting that he thinks he knows better than us, and that he intends to live up to that promise. That’s admitting to his megalomania, and as we all know, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

But how cowardly is it to see a politician who honestly believes he knows what’s right for you but lacks the stones to vote for it? If you believe, as far too many in this country do, in delegating the power to run your life to a ruling elite, don’t you at least expect that ruling elite to follow their convictions? Congress holds themselves up as philosopher-kings whose job is to make everything in this nation better, and yet they’re so wedded to power that they won’t even vote for their own prescriptions.

I’m sure I’ve made it clear from my many writings that I don’t support gov’t healthcare, and that I don’t believe any of the fools who inhabit the Capitol Building are qualified to make my decisions. I am, for better for worse, an individual and I take full ownership of the decisions I make in my life — and the consequences thereof.

But not our politicians. They talk during their campaigns about how they’ll make tough decisions, and use words like sacrifice and service to describe what they do in Washington. They talk about their principles and their ideals. They prominently display a platform of platitudes on their web sites. But when that tough decision comes, when that principled vote that might anger some of their constituents is laid at their feet, they fold. They show that their only principle is staying in Washington, and no promise or ideal will ever rise above that one single purpose.

These are the cowards that you have elected to “represent” you. They’ve built fiefdoms of staffers and interest groups around them to protect themselves from your disapproval, and constantly shovel pork-barrel spending into their district to buy whatever votes are for sale. And when they’re actually faced with doing what you elect them to do, they fail. And what happens if you finally get fed up with them? You fools replace the R or D you have with the same mealy-mouthed sycophant, but who represents the opposite letter. And you actually expect things to change.

America’s been long headed down the road to serfdom. I guess I should only be happy, then, that our government has the top speed of a snail and is prone to breakdowns. Someday I hope that we can realize that rather than riding that jalopy to the end, we should all get out and walk — all in our own direction. But I doubt it, we’ll keep throwing on new used parts and inch along until the whole structure collapses. Then, instead of considering the folly of the destination, we’ll simply hit the used car lot to continue the same tired journey.

Quote Of The Day

Looks like we’ve found The Next Sarah Palin&#8482, a dream politician who has EVERYTHING!

“She’s young, she’s got a nice family, two little kids, married, photogenic, articulate, etc…” Spiliotes said. “All the things you want in a candidate. And she’s fresh. A lot of other Republican candidates have already lost other races.”

Hey, all we need to do now is find out what she believes!

Ahh, no matter, we’ll make that up as we go along.

Another Genuine Case of a Police Officer ‘Acting Stupidly’ (So where’s Obama?)

A 38 year-old mother of three, who posed no threat to the police or anyone else, was tasered right in front of her children in January of this year. Yet to my knowledge, President Obama has failed to address this genuine case of the police “acting stupidly.” Maybe it’s because Audra Harmon cannot help the president make his case about the “history” of race relations and the police since Mrs. Harmon appears to be a Caucasian woman.

No, Mrs. Harmon doesn’t have the ability to claim she was racially profiled for DWB but this does not make the actions of Deputy Sean Andrews any less shameful.

I’m not sure I agree that tasers should be banned from police use altogether but with every incident like this one that occurs tends to strengthen such an argument. As citizens, we need to hold law enforcement accountable when unnecessary or excessive force is used. When an individual poses no threat to a police officer or anyone else, no force should be used*. Tasers should not be a weapon to be used against an individual who does nothing other than annoy a police officer.** I imagine that even the most authoritarian bootlickers would have been outraged had the deputy used a nightstick on the woman, so how is tasering somehow more acceptable?

But there is even more at play in this case than unnecessary use of force which should not be overlooked. Mrs. Harmon was charged for talking on a cell phone while driving (though in the search of her vehicle, no phone was found), speeding (a charge that was added only after the deputy was unable to find a phone and without the aid of a radar gun), resisting arrest (Is calling bullshit on an arrest now considered ‘resisting’?) and of course the obligatory ‘disorderly conduct’ (a.k.a. ‘contempt of cop’). All these trumped up charges were dropped by the DA’s office.

I know, I know, if Mrs. Harmon had stayed in her car and hadn’t failed to ‘respect the deputy’s authoritah’ she would never have been tasered or arrested. Perhaps she should have had more control over her emotions despite doing nothing else wrong. Perhaps she should have waited for the deputy to return to her car and politely ask to see the video replay then or wait to have her day in court***.

But nothing Mrs. Harmon did that day merited a taser or arrest. The deputy should have acknowledged that he had made a mistake and moved on. Now Mrs. Harmon is suing the department for the deputy’ s conduct (and hopefully she will prevail).

President Obama did no favors for those like Mrs. Harmon who have legitimately become victims of police misconduct when he decided to turn the whole overblown Gates situation into a race issue. Like I said before, race did not need to be part of the discussion – at all. But when the president and others use a mild example of police conduct as an example of the current state of policing, it seems to others that those of us who have legitimate arguments to be taken less seriously.

Hat Tip: The Agitator

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Radley Balko Responds To Commenters

Radley Balko wrote a post explaining why the boycott of Whole Foods, a company that does everything the left wants employers to do for their employees and community, was moronic. He was linked by a few higher-profile lefty sites, and attracted some pretty hardcore vitriol.

So he responded. Or, more accurately, he reached out through his computer screen and pimp-slapped his critics with a barrage of snark-laden argument.

Go and read, it’s sure to bring a smile to your face.

Rose Friedman, RIP

Rose Friedman, the wife of Milton Friedman, and an economist in her own right who co-wrote the well-known book Free to Choose: A Personal Statement and collaborated with him on many others, died today:

Aug. 18 (Bloomberg) — Rose D. Friedman, an economist whose work with her husband, Milton, promoted individual freedom and changed the way central bankers think about money’s role in the economy, has died. She was 97.

The Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation posted this annoucement:

Rose Director Friedman passed away Tuesday, August 18, 2009, in her home in Davis, California, of heart failure. While the exact date of her birth is uncertain, she is believed to have been 99 years old.

She will be remembered both as a talented economist and an influential advocate of freedom. Her economic work helped to discredit the idea of government management of the economy, rolling back policies that were hindering wealth creation and thus helping extend the blessings of prosperity to millions around the world. And as a standard-bearer for human liberty, she contributed to the galvanizing of public opinion – especially in the 1980s – against the growing encroachments of intrusive government.

She will also be remembered as both the professional partner and beloved wife and friend of her late husband of 68 years, Milton Friedman.

She was born in a small village that was then located in Russia and is now part of Ukraine. Her birth records are lost, but she believed she had been born during December 1909. When she was an infant, her mother took her and her siblings and left for America, where her father had already moved to escape threats against his life arising from anti-Semitism. They left just before that part of the countryside was devastated during World War I.

Her most important contribution was the 1980 book Free to Choose, which she co-wrote with her husband, and the accompanying ten-part PBS series. Both were highly successful – the book topped the bestseller list for five weeks – and had a profound impact on the public understanding of freedom. At a time when the nation’s confidence in its founding ideas was at an all-time low, Free to Choose played a decisive role in restoring America’s faith in liberty.

Mrs. Friedman summed up her and her husband’s career this way in her book Two Lucky People: Memoirs:

Our central theme in public advocacy has been the promotion of human freedom….it underlies our opposition to rent control and general wage and price controls, our support for educational choice, privatizing radio and television channels, an all-volunteer army, limitation of government spending, legalization of drugs, privatizing Social Security, free trade, and the deregulation of industry and private life to the fullest extent possible.

She will be missed.

H/T: Hit & Run

Quote Of The Day

John Stossel, on Obama’s use of the USPS as an example of how well government works without destroying the private sector*:

But at least he’s willing to criticize the post office. On that note, economist Justin Ross points out on his blog how, for 44 cents, you could mail a letter via USPS – or buy a kiwi fruit that had to be grown and watered in New Zealand, picked, carefully packaged, and shipped across the world to a store near you.

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The Nuance Of Medical Marijuana Raids In California

One of Obama’s campaign promises was to stop federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries which were allowed by state law. Many pundits (myself included) have been lambasting him for not living up to that promise based upon stories like these:

Police raids on medical marijuana dispensaries continue–and continue with federal help, despite an Obama promise to end federal raids on state-legal medical pot dealers.

Of course, Obama gave his Justice Department a loophole, with Attorney General Eric Holder saying back in March that his DEA’s resources would “go after those people who violate both federal and state law….Given the limited resources that we have, our focus will be on people, organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that’s inconsistent with federal and state law.” This was a way to live up to Obama’s promise that federal raids on people who were not violating their own state’s law regarding medical marijuana would cease.

Unfortunately, so far it’s hard to know how serious to take this promise in relation to these latest L.A. raids, since the federal agents’ role in the raids on two Westside pot dispensaries (and their owners’ private homes) is still unexplained as of this writing. As the San Jose Mercury News reports.

Authorities are not saying why they raided two medical marijuana clinics and arrested the operator at his Los Angeles home. Jeffrey Joseph was free on bail Thursday, one day after local and federal agents searched his home and the dispensaries in Los Angeles and Culver City. Agents seized 450 plants and hundreds of pounds of marijuana products.

Spokespeople for the Drug Enforcement Administration, Los Angeles police, and the U.S. attorney say they don’t know what Joseph was book on. County prosecutors released no details.

Distributing medical pot is legal under California law but it’s a federal crime. However, the U.S. attorney general has said he wouldn’t target distributors unless state and federal laws were broken. County prosecutors say the task force was acting on a state warrant.

There’s a little history here. Medical Marijuana dispensaries have become much more common in Los Angeles over the last few years due to several loopholes and exemptions that made it possible for them to open quickly. The city council has been trying recently to cut down on these loopholes in order to reduce the number of operating dispensaries, but their own legal exemptions are making it very hard to do this quickly.

So how to close these shops without having to go through arduous examinations of dispensaries’ “hardship exemption” applications? Simple, prove they’ve been doing something else to break the guidelines. On the bright side, they can then call in the big guns at the DEA to lend a hand! It’s win-win for the City Council and the Feds (and a big LOSE for the dispensary owners and their customers, of course).

Sadly, many of the dispensaries are making the job easy on the city. A personal acquaintance of mine is a CPA and runs the books for several of these dispensaries, and this is his take on the matter:

The more I interact within this industry the more I realize how illegal most of these operations are. The state attorney general set up specific guidelines, as did the state board of equalization, that would allow an owner to operate freely without fear of raids & prosecution. The key issue in these operations is transparency, which most dispensaries fail to realize. Those operations that have their doors and books open to state and city regulators are never harassed. The clubs that operate outside of the guidelines are always targeted. And from a accounting and tax standpoint, it’s extremely simple to figure out who is operating by the book and who’s not.

I tell all my new clients to always be aware of the fact that the board of equalization is keeping a close eye on the industry to ensure that every sale is taxed and that every penny is sent to the state. The state BOE is in bed with the Feds and have no problem calling for the leg-breakers (the IRS) when they feel they’re being ripped off; which in most cases they are.

These raids are a violent and disruptive elucidation of one critical aspect of business in our government-dominated world — your business exists at the pleasure of the state. If they want to find a reason to come after you, they will find a reason to come after you, or manufacture one. There are a lot of regulations attached to any business, and even more to the medical marijuana industry. If they’re watching, they’ll catch you breaking one of them:

The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.
-Ayn Rand

This is the modern equivalent to catching Al Capone on tax evasion, when there wasn’t enough to bust him on the charges of bootlegging (and everything else he was involved in). Obama’s not technically breaking his promise here, but he’s still offering to bring in the big guns and prosecute pot dispensaries if they violate tax laws. He’s violating the spirit of the promise.

The Battle Between the Right to Medical Care vs. Government ‘Medicine’

For decades the cost of medical care has risen relative to prices in general and relative to people’s incomes. Today [1994] a semi-private hospital room typically costs $1,000 to $1,500 per day, exclusive of all medical procedures, such as X-rays, surgery, or even a visit by one’s physician. Basic room charges of $500 per day or more are routinely tripled just by the inclusion of normal hospital pharmacy and supplies charges (the cost of a Tylenol tablet can be as much as $20). And typically the cost of the various medical procedures is commensurate. In such conditions, people who are not exceptionally wealthy, who lack extensive medical insurance, or who fear losing the insurance they do have if they become unemployed, must dread the financial consequences of any serious illness almost as much as the illness itself. At the same time, no end to the rise in medical costs is in sight. Thus it is no wonder that a great clamor has arisen in favor of reform – radical reform – that will put an end to a situation that bears the earmarks of financial lunacy.

Thus begins an essay that noted Objectivist economist George Reissman penned during Clinton’s efforts to ‘reform’ health care.

Given the current debate, it’s a good essay to reread, and the folks at the Mises Institute have obliged by posting it on their fine website.

Reisman argues against many of propositions that are assumed to be true by proponents of govenrment medicine, economic ideas that are based on primitive emotions and have no basis in actual economics: » Read more

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.

Papers Please

Over at the Agitator, Radley Balko asks why people are amused by Bob Dylan’s latest run-in with the law.

I find it pretty depressing. There was a time when we condescendingly used the term “your papers, please” to distinguish ourselves from Eastern Block countries and other authoritarian states. Post-Hiibel, America has become a place where a harmless, 68-year-old man out on a stroll can be stopped, interrogated, detained, and forced to produce proof of identification to state authorities, despite having committed no crime.

Maybe what makes it comical rather than a tragedy is that it happened to a famous guy rather than some ordinary person.

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.

I’ll Support Your Boycott If You Support Mine

Yet another great letter by Don Boudreaux:

Dear Olivia Jane:

You and many readers of Daily Kos are furious that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey expressed – in the pages of the Wall Street Journal – his opposition to greater government involvement in health care.

Exercising your rights and abilities as consumers, you are therefore boycotting Whole Foods.  You’re using your freedom to avoid paying for products offered by someone whose attitude toward government you disapprove of.
Isn’t freedom wonderful?!

But I must ask: do you endorse my freedom to boycott paying for products offered by those whose attitude toward government I disapprove of?  Like you, I have very strong opinions about the proper role of government, and also as in your case, a famous chief executive is now endorsing government policies that I find reprehensible.

Will you champion my freedom to stop supporting, with my money, President Barack Obama’s services?  Will you come to my defense if I stop paying taxes to support those policies of Mr. Obama with which I disagree – policies such as the economic ’stimulus,’ more vigorous antitrust regulation, and cap and trade?  Indeed, will you defend me if I boycott – if I choose not to pay taxes to support – Obamacare?

If you will support me in my boycott, then I applaud your principle and, although I disagree with you about Mr. Mackey’s political views, fully support your freedom to boycott Whole Foods.  But if you will not support me in my boycott, then can you tell me on what principle you would stand to defend your right to boycott supermarkets if someone (say, Mr. Mackey) managed to secure legislation that obliges you to shop at Whole Foods?

I await your reply.

Donald J. Boudreaux

I couldn’t put it better myself. One quibble, even if Olivia Jane was not willing to extend us the same courtesy and support our desire to boycott Obamacare, we should applaud her principle. Just because she has reprehensible political views does not mean we should ignore the opportunity to teach her the value of a right to exit/disassociate.

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.

Can The Country Survive?

Over at QandO, Dale Franks suggests that we’re careening towards a fork in the road. If we keep on at our current pace, we will reach that fork. Will we go left or right? Dale suggests both:

I’ve also said before–and every time I do, people like Oliver Willis call me crazy for saying it–we’re preparing this country to split apart. There are two political camps in this country: collectivists, and and indvidualists. (Forget party labels. The parties are, at best, loose approximations of those two camps.) It’s a fairly even split between the two camps. And the fundamental philosophies of those two camps have become irreconcilable, for a number of reasons, but primarily as a result of centralization of power in Washington.

Unfortunately, if the solons in Washington declare we must do X, there’s no way to escape the consequences of that decision. And so, every political decision is now fraught with national, rather than local consequences. As a result, the incompatibility between collectivists and individualists is reaching a boiling point. The centralization of power in Washington, and the nationalization of practically every domestic issue, has done nothing but poison our politics, and degraded our political discourse.

He goes on to point out that he doesn’t think we’re headed towards a violent civil war, but that we’re putting decisions on irreconcilable first principles in the hands of a central authority that will force one side to submit — and as we see with health care, they intend for the individualists to submit. Given an American cultural and historical opposition to authority, being forced even to do something we might have freely chosen is not something that we appreciate.

Dale focuses somewhat on federalism and the Red State / Blue State divide. I find that a bit odd, as we’re both living in Southern California, a state that might be worse than the Feds if they were given a free hand. I do see some advantages to federalism as a supporter of liberty; competition between state governments may drive ALL of them towards freedom to survive. But I think we’ve moved beyond a Founders-era conception where we thought of ourselves as citizens of a state first and the United States second. I am an American first and foremost, and a resident of California second.

The greater damage from centralization, though, is destroying the bond between a citizen and his government. The farther away a decision is made and the more competing voices one must overcome to affect policy, the more he feels that his government is completely out of his control. He doesn’t believe the government represents him, and he loses faith in that government. This is where the individualists are today. This is where I am today.

In California, Dale and I each have a vote. The Congressman of my district, John Campbell (R, CA-48) represents a population of roughly 640,000 people*. My vote is one for or against his party, and he is then a vote among 434 other Congressmen. The Senators of my state, Boxer and Feinstein, represent a state of 30M+ people. They are then two votes amongst 98 other Senators. The President is elected by the states, meaning that again my vote for President is one of 30M+, and this is for a state which controls over 10% of the nation’s electoral college votes, which is probably the largest voice I have.

When decisions are made in Washington, my voice as expressed by a vote is merely noise to those in power. I have therefore lost my belief that government has the ability to represent me. I am an American, but this is not MY government**.

Proponents of small government watched as Republicans spent us into record deficits when given the reins of power. We are now watching as Democrats pour gasoline on the spending fire. We individualists have nowhere to turn. We are not being represented and we are being forced into acquiescence with whatever Washington declares.

We have no control, we have no voice, and we are being forced into actions that we fundamentally — down to the core — believe are unfair, wrong, and illegitimate. We’re on simmer. We’ve boiled up a bit with the Tea Parties and now with these town hall meetings. But the government is continuing to turn up the heat, and it’s only a matter of time before we boil over.
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Man Receives 6 Months in Jail…for Yawning?

Just when you think the criminal justice system couldn’t be any wackier, a spectator inside a county courthouse was sentenced to 6 months in jail for yawning. No shit.

Williams, 33, attended his cousin’s July hearing at Will County Courthouse in Joliet. His cousin, Jason Mayfield, pled guilty to a felony drug charge. As the judge sentenced Mayfield to two years probation, Williams let out a yawn, an involuntary faux pas in such a formal setting.

Circuit Judge Daniel Rozak thought the yawn was criminal and sentenced Williams to six months in jail, the maximum penalty for contempt of court without a jury trial. Rozak’s order said that Williams “raised his hands while at the same time making a loud yawning sound,” causing a disrespectful interruption in court.

I guess it never occurred to me just how much power a judge can have and did not realize that the right of trial by jury as guaranteed by the 6th Amendment evaporates once an individual enters the courtroom. It also seems to me that Williams’ 8th Amendment protection from “cruel and unusual punishment” has been violated as being sentenced to 6 months in jail seem both cruel and unusual to me.

But what do I know? I read the Constitution’s plain language rather than more than 200 plus years of case law which have obscured the meaning of what should be a very simple concept.

Our Exalted Fearless Leader Almost Gets It

Obama is not a dumb man. He understands that government provisioning generally produces a worse service than private organizations which are dependent on people choosing to patronize them.

Here he is pointing out that while Fedex is required by law to charge higher prices than the Post Office for equivalent services, it is the Post Office which struggles and requires constant taxpayer bailout.

Like Amtrak, USPS, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, any publicly funded insurance company will struggle to contain costs as it encourages overconsumption.

I’ve long argued that the real reason that medical care is so expensive is that the government limits supply and subsidizes demand.

The Obama administration, in choosing to ignore the limits on supply placed by government, is embarking on a program that is doomed to fail to meet any of the publicly stated goals.

It’s too bad that Mr Obama is unwilling to follow the evidence to its inevitable, logical conclusion.

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.

If This Be Un-American, Make The Most Of It

In what I can only call an extraordinarily disturbing Op-Ed in today’s USA Today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer leveled an attack against those who are protesting the Democrats’ efforts to “reform” the health care system:

However, it is now evident that an ugly campaign is underway not merely to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, but to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue. These tactics have included hanging in effigy one Democratic member of Congress in Maryland and protesters holding a sign displaying a tombstone with the name of another congressman in Texas, where protesters also shouted “Just say no!” drowning out those who wanted to hold a substantive discussion.

These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views — but of the facts themselves. Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades.

Pelosi and Hoyer — or, to put it more accurately, the staffer who wrote this drivel for Pelosi and Hoyer go on to claim that Americans strongly support health insurance reform, and more specifically support the plan currently being debated in Congress. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the protests themselves weren’t an indication of this, then all one has to do is look at the polls which show that, at best, the public is deeply divided when it comes to the specifics of HR 3200, that most Americans like the health insurance they have now, most do not agree with Pelosi’s recent characterization of insurance companies as “villains, and that a majority believes middle-class tax cuts are more important than health care reform.

The argument that there is a “consensus” on health care reform in general, or on the merits of HR 3200 specifically, is just a bald-faced lie.

Even worse then getting the facts wrong, though, is the fact that Pelosi and Hoyer have decided to characterize those who disagree with them as “un-American.” They and their supporters will, no doubt, claim that the label is only meant to apply to those who have been disruptive, however it’s worth noting that they never managed to find it necessary to say the same thing when the disruptive tactics were coming from the left, as demonstrated by this Pelosi town hall from January 2006:

Dozens of heckling, sign-toting anti-war protesters tried to take center stage at the congresswomen’s town hall forum on national security — calling for an immediate de-funding of the Iraq war and impeachment proceedings against President George Bush.

(…)

Pelosi never summoned help from police or security. She negotiated with the hecklers and at times even thanked the protesters for their advocacy and enthusiasm.

“It’s always exciting,” she told reporters after the meeting. “This is democracy in action. I’m energized by it, frankly.”

So, a town hall filled with disruptive Code Pink demonstrators is “democracy in action,” but a town hall filled with opponents of ObamaCare is Un-American. Or at least that’s how the calculus works in Nancy Pelosi’s universe.

Glenn Reynolds put it best in a piece yesterday in the Washington Examiner:

Funny how fast the worm — or maybe it’s the pitchfork — has turned. Now that we’re seeing genuine expressions of populist discontent, not put together by establishment packagers on behalf of an Officially Sanctioned Aggrieved Group, we’re suddenly hearing complaints of “mob rule” and demands for civility.

Civility is fine, but those who demand it should show it. The Obama administration — and its corps of willing supporters in the press and the punditry — has set the tone, and they are now in a poor position to complain.

Whether they like it or not — and the evidence increasingly tends toward “not” — President Obama and his handlers need to accept that this is a free country, one where expressions of popular discontent take place outside the electoral process, and always have. (Remember
Martin Luther King?)

What historians like Gordon Wood and Pauline Maier call “out-of-doors political activity” is an old American tradition, and in the past things have been far more “boisterous” than they are today.

Rather than demonizing today’s protesters, perhaps they might want to reflect on how flimflams and thuggishness have managed to squander Obama’s political capital in a few short months, and ponder what they might do to regain the trust of the millions of Americans who are no longer inclined to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt.

I’ve been critical over the past week of some of the more sensational of the town hall protesters tactics (see here and here specifically). I’ve denounced those like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and the folks at Americans for Prosperity who have decided that the way to fight HR 3200 is to lie about it. However, the fact that I think their tactics are wrong, or counter-productive, doesn’t mean they’re un-American, or that they should be compared to Nazis, or that they’re racist.

There’s a phrase that comes to mind, and it’s one that we should all be familiar with:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Hoyer should be ashamed of themselves for calling the exercise of a precious Constitutional right “Un-American.”

C/P: Below The Beltway

When You Ask AARP Members to Voice Their Opinions About Healthcare…

…you better be prepared to hear opinions which don’t necessarily support the Democrats proposed government takeover of healthcare. The speaker at this meeting (in the video below) made the mistake of saying “I think we can all agree…”. From there, the AARP members took over.

Really brings a smile to your face huh?

Hat Tip: Boortz

Do Legislators Want To Solve Tough Problems?

Ezra Klein on ending the filibuster (emphasis added):

The likelier outcome, I think, is that Congress will dismantle the filibuster when it realizes that the filibuster is making it less relevant. If you look back at the financial crisis, the lead response came from the Federal Reserve, because everyone understood that Congress couldn’t move quickly enough. If you look at global warming, there’s considerable pessimism that the Senate will be able to pass cap-and-trade, and many expect the Environmental Protection Agency to simply embark on its own campaign to regulate carbon emissions. If you look at health care, ideas like the Federal Health Board or the Independent Medicare Advisory Committee are an explicit effort to entrust the continual process of health-care reform to a more agile body than the Congress.

On issue after issue, the gridlock encouraged by the filibuster is not simply promoting inaction, but extra-congressional action. After all, the fact that Congress cannot solve problems does not mean the the problems don’t need to be solved. And there are other avenues for action. The judicial system. The executive branch. The Federal Reserve. Ad hoc agencies meant to make the decisions Congress cannot. An angry Congress could block these changes. But the majority doesn’t want to block these changes. They want action on these problems, even if they can’t be the actors. So they permit these second-best outcomes that address the issues, but do so by shrinking Congress’s authority.

That’s not a very good situation, of course. It’s less accountable, for one thing. And it’s less efficient. Congress has all sorts of powers that the executive branch and outside agencies don’t have. This makes for solutions of a very complicated and strange type. Regulating carbon through the EPA is much worse than pricing it through cap-and-trade. But imperfect solutions are better than no solutions. Eventually, however, I imagine Congress will want to get back into the solutions game, and won’t like the fact that its authority has been systematically curtailed. And that will require restoring its capacity to act.

This, I think, flies in the face of public choice theory in general. Ezra Klein is assuming that Congress wants to solve problems. To some extent, of course, I will agree with him that many in Congress want problems to be solved. But those same folks in Congress want to be re-elected. They know that making hard decisions that might solve problems (but piss off voters) doesn’t help them get re-elected. This is why they’re so scared to vote for tax increases to balance the budget.

Congress LOVES foisting their responsibility onto federal bureaucracies. That way they get what they want (supposedly “good” policies being enacted) while they can spend time engaging in politically-rewarding tasks like passing out earmarks, addressing steroids in baseball, and trying to “fix” the BCS.

Ezra has a bit of projection bias here. He’s a [self-proclaimed] policy wonk. I understand his position. On the days when I’m not an anarchist, I’m somewhat of a policy wonk myself. We like looking at the nitty-gritty of exactly how a policy might work, how it might affect behaviors outside of its mandate, and whether it will be an optimal way to improve outcomes (although we’ll often differ on our conclusions). His projection bias is that most Congressmen are also policy wonks*. And that’s just not true. If it were, they might read the bills they vote on!

Ezra believes that at some point Congress will be unhappy with their inability to rein in the action of the bureaucracies they created and empowered. I disagree. They have the ability to let these bureaucracies enact unpopular policies — ones the politicians believe to be necessary — while giving them plausible deniability about their own role in the matter. Sure, sometimes there’s a show trial to be had, as you see now with the Audit the Fed movement. But I don’t think that’s about actually hampering the fed** as much as it is about kowtowing to public anger at the government for letting the economy tank while they’re tossing money around to banking fat-cats.

Congress is happy to let the bureaucracies handle this. Sure, when the excrement hits the air circulation device, they’ll yank a few department heads and cabinet members in front of a panel to publicly beat them up. But once the dust settles, Congress lets the bureaucracies go back to work while they dine with lobbyists discussing whether $100M in tax breaks and subsidies from the next appropriations bill are enough to get that next big campaign contribution check to be signed.

Congress has no incentive to solve problems. They have incentive to look like they’re trying to solve problems.
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Popular Mechanics Separates CSI Fact from CSI Fiction

CSI, Forensic Files, The First 48 and other television programs of this genre are among my favorites. Investigators study a crime scene and learn all sorts of valuable information from blood spatter, shoe prints, tire marks, hair fibers, ballistics, and trace evidence. We are to believe that “the evidence doesn’t lie” and that these noble CSI crusaders seek only the truth and determine this truth by their many years of expertise in all areas of science.

That is what we are to believe but is this reliance on forensic science in solving crimes misplaced? The cover story in the August 2009 article of Popular Mechanics makes the argument that the “science” in forensic science isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

On television and in the movies, forensic examiners unravel difficult cases with a combination of scientific acumen, cutting-edge technology and dogged persistence. The gee-whiz wonder of it all has spawned its own media-age legal phenomenon known as the “CSI effect.” Jurors routinely afford confident scientific experts an almost mythic infallibility because they evoke the bold characters from crime dramas. The real world of forensic science, however, is far different. America’s forensic labs are overburdened, understaffed and under intense pressure from prosecutors to produce results. According to a 2005 study by the Department of Justice, the average lab has a backlog of 401 requests for services. Plus, several state and city forensic departments have been racked by scandals involving mishandled evidence and outright fraud.

But criminal forensics has a deeper problem of basic validity. Bite marks, blood-splatter patterns, ballistics, and hair, fiber and handwriting analysis sound compelling in the courtroom, but much of the “science” behind forensic science rests on surprisingly shaky foundations. Many well-established forms of evidence are the product of highly subjective analysis by people with minimal credentials—according to the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, no advanced degree is required for a career in forensics. And even the most experienced and respected professionals can come to inaccurate conclusions, because the body of research behind the majority of the forensic sciences is incomplete, and the established methodologies are often inexact. “There is no scientific foundation for it,” says Arizona State University law professor Michael Saks. “As you begin to unpack it you find it’s a lot of loosey-goosey stuff.”

This kind of pokes holes into the notion that the evidence doesn’t lie.

Here’s the money quote of the whole article:

[The National Academy of Science report concerning the state of forensic science used in the criminal justice system] specifically noted that apart from DNA, there is not a single forensic discipline that has been proven “with a high degree of certainty” to be able to match a piece of evidence to a suspect.

That’s right; according to the NAS report, ballistics, trace evidence, and even finger print analysis are far from perfect.

A 2006 study by the University of Southampton in England asked six veteran fingerprint examiners to study prints taken from actual criminal cases. The experts were not told that they had previously examined the same prints. The researchers’ goal was to determine if contextual information—for example, some prints included a notation that the suspect had already confessed—would affect the results. But the experiment revealed a far more serious problem: The analyses of fingerprint examiners were often inconsistent regardless of context. Only two of the six experts reached the same conclusions on second examination as they had on the first.

Ballistics has similar flaws. A subsection of tool-mark analysis, ballistics matching is predicated on the theory that when a bullet is fired, unique marks are left on the slug by the barrel of the gun. Consequently, two bullets fired from the same gun should bear the identical marks. Yet there are no accepted standards for what constitutes a match between bullets. Juries are left to trust expert witnesses. “‘I know it when I see it’ is often an acceptable response,” says Adina Schwartz, a law professor and ballistics expert with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The good news, according to the article, is that there are certain forensic techniques which are considered good science:

Techniques that grew out of organic chemistry and microbiology have a strong scientific foundation. For example, chromatography, a method for separating complex mixtures, enables examiners to identify chemical substances in bodily fluids—evidence vital to many drug cases. The evolution of DNA analysis, in particular, has set a new scientific standard for forensic evidence. But it also demonstrates that good science takes time.

So should these other methods which do not have a strong scientific foundation all be junked? Not even the critics of these methods in this article are willing to go that far. The article goes on to explain that these methods should be explained in their proper context to jurors (i.e. strengths and weaknesses, variables which can affect the results, and whether the evidence is exclusionary or qualified supporting evidence, etc.). All of this should be disclosed up front rather than relying on a defense attorney who likely does not have a background in forensic science to identify each problem with the presentation of the evidence.

Of course with the damning NAS report, others like it, and more exposure to the weaknesses of forensic science used in the courtroom by mainstream publications like Popular Mechanics, criminal defense lawyers everywhere now have this in their arsenal to create reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors until expert witnesses are required to give full disclosure regarding the techniques.

Rare Praise for Former President Bill Clinton

I’m not normally one to say nice things about former President Bill Clinton but I have to say kudos for his securing the release of the two American journalists turned political prisoners in N. Korea.

Reuters Reports:

SEOUL — North Korea said on Wednesday it had pardoned two jailed American journalists after former U.S. President Bill Clinton met the reclusive state’s leader Kim Jong-il, a move some analysts said could pave the way to direct nuclear disarmament talks.

Clinton’s spokesman said the former president had left Pyongyang with the two reporters and they were flying to Los Angeles.

“President Clinton has safely left North Korea with Laura Ling and Euna Lee. They are enroute to Los Angeles where Laura and Euna will be reunited with their families,” spokesman Matt McKenna said in a statement.”

While I think the notion that the release of these two reporters could lead to productive disarmament talks is a bit premature, I think we should be happy that these two young women are now safe and no longer the slaves of Kim Jong-il.

Though the release of the reporters is undoubtedly a joyous occasion for many freedom loving people, at least one person is not so happy. Former Ambassador John Bolton was quoted in Breitbart.com as saying “It [Clinton’s visit with Kim Jong-il] comes perilously close to negotiating with terrorists” and “I think this is a very bad signal because it does exactly what we always try and avoid doing with terrorists or with rogue states in general, and that’s encouraging their bad behavior.”

Wake up Ambassador, the U.S. government has “negotiated with terrorists” for many decades, even on your watch. Hell, sometimes the U.S. government props up these regimes while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and national/global security threats when the regime in question helps support the goals of the U.S. government. How is Clinton’s visit to Pyongyang any worse?

A 12 year sentence in N. Korea’s work camps might as well be a death sentence; Clinton may well have saved their lives. We shouldn’t lose sight of that.

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