Category Archives: Government Transparency

Maryland House Passes Mayor Calvo’s SWAT Bill by 126 to 9 Vote

Despite the objections of the National Tactical Officers Association, the bill championed by Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo passed the Maryland House by a wide margin:

Delegates adopted a bill, on a 126 to 9 vote, that would require law enforcement agencies to report every six months on their use of SWAT teams, including what kinds of warrants the teams serve and whether any animals are killed during raids. The bill was prompted by the case of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo, whose two black Labrador retrievers were shot and killed during a botched raid by a Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team in July.

Calvo has said he was surprised to learn that police departments use the heavily armed units far more routinely than they once did but that it is difficult to get reliable statistics about SWAT raids. The Senate has passed a similar measure.

Here’s hoping that the differences in the House and Senate bills are ironed out, that the Governor has the good sense to sign this bill into law, and that the remaining 49 states will soon pass similar legislation.

H/T: Reason Hit & Run

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IRONY ALERT: Government conference on openness and transparency is CLOSED to members of the public and the press

The following government conference on openness and transparency is CLOSED to members of the public and the press.  The information below comes from this URL:  http://www.usdoj.gov/oip/foiapost/2009foiapost6.htm.

Upcoming Conference Providing Guidance on President Obama’s and Attorney General Holder’s Memoranda on the Freedom of Information Act

On March 26, 2009, the Office of Information Policy (OIP), Department of Justice, will host a government wide training conference to discuss President Obama’s and Attorney General Holder’s Memoranda which establish a new era of open government.

The details for this event are listed below:

When:     March 26, 2009
Where:     Department of Commerce’s Auditorium
14th and Constitution Avenue NW (main entrance on 14th Street)
Time:     10:00 – 12:00 noon
Who should attend:     Agency Chief FOIA Officers, Agency Principal FOIA Contacts and FOIA Public Liaisons

No pre-registration is required. However, you must present your Government ID to attend the training. Questions regarding the conference may be directed to OIP’s Training Officer, Bertina Adams Cleveland, at (202) 514-1010. (posted 3/20/2009)

H/T to Mark Hinkle

Is Ron Paul Right About Earmarks ?

The Club for Growth calls his thinking backwards and alleges that he’s enabling more and more spending, Don Surber just calls him daft, but Ron Paul has an argument in favor of earmarks that does make sense:

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Speaking of a lot of money, the battle about the money they’re spending on Capitol Hill and, ironically, this guy is being targeted as maybe spending the most or at least earmarking the most for his constituents. He says it isn’t fair.

But we thought it only fair to give him his due and explain what is going on. I’m talking about Texas congressman and former presidential candidate, Ron Paul.

Congressman, the rap is that you’re a porker, that — that a lot of pork, $73 million-plus, went to your district. Is that true?

REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS: Well, it might be.

But I think you’re missing the whole point. I have never voted for an earmark. I voted against all appropriation bills. So, this whole thing about earmarks is totally misunderstood.

Earmarks is the responsibility of the Congress. We should earmark even more. We should earmark every penny. So, that’s the principle that we have to follow and the — and the responsibility of the Congress. The whole idea that you vote against an earmark, you don’t save a penny. That just goes to the administration and they get to allocate the funds.

(…)

The principle of the earmark is our responsibility. We’re supposed to — it’s like a — a tax credit. And I vote for all tax credits, no matter how silly they might seem. If I can give you any of you of your money back, I vote for it. So, if I can give my district any money back, I encourage that. But, because the budget is out of control, I haven’t voted for an appropriation in years — if ever. …

I don’t think the federal government should be doing it. But, if they’re going to allot the money, I have a responsibility to represent my people. If they say, hey, look, put in a highway for the district, I put it in. I put in all their requests, because I’m their representative.

Here’s Paul’s full interview with Cavuto:

Paul also made a similar defense of earmarking on the House floor:

I think Paul has a point here and that much of the attention that is paid to earmarks is either (1) a waste of time or (2) a diversionary tactic that keeps people from paying attention to the things that really cause government spending to increase.

Let’s take the recently passed Omnibus Spending Bill as an example. Out of the approximately $ 400 billion in spending that the bill authorized, only $ 8 billion constituted “earmarks” — that’s a mere 2% of the entire bill. For the Federal Budget as a whole, the number is close to 1 %. Eliminate earmarks and the Omnibus Bill would’ve been $ 392 Billion; and eliminating earmarks would have no real impact on a $ 3.6 trillion Federal Budget.

So, why all the attention paid to such an insignificant part of the budget ? Personally, I’ve got to believe that there’s no small degree of political opportunism going on here. Earmarking is easy to criticize because it seems like pork-barrel politics at it’s most petty level. And, for an up-and-coming Congressman, or a Senator with dreams of moving down Pennsylvania Avenue to a larger, more oval, office, it’s an easy target to pick and claim that you’re “fighting government waste.” In reality, of course, you’re

There’s another aspect to the earmarking debate that I touched upon in this comment to a post over at Jason Pye’s blog which discussed this post by a liberal blogger on the issue:

The other argument that Flack doesn’t really mention is the idea that if Congress wasn’t earmarking these appropriations, then it would be faceless bureaucrats in the Executive Branch who would be deciding which money went where.

Viewed that way, one could say that earmarks are a weapon Congress is using to assert it’s authority over the Executive Branch.

I don’t know. Personally, I’ve never been able to get myself as excited about earmarks as some others. The problems we face are far bigger than whether some fruit fly researcher in Iowa gets a grant.

That’s the reality of the situation; if Congress weren’t earmarking the appropriations bills, then all of the decisions about where the money would go would be left to the Executive Branch.

When you look at it that way, it really becomes a question of whether you want that decision in the hands of democratically elected legislators who will, at some point, stand for election, or by faceless bureaucrats in the Executive Branch doing the President’s bidding. As little regard as I have for Congress, I’d rather have that decision in their hands.

On the whole, though, I just can’t help thing that all this angst over earmarks is much ado about very little. If you’re really serious about cutting spending and stopping (and reversing) the growth of government, it’s time to start talking about the things that really matter.

Ruining Our Economy Is A Domestic Matter — No Foreigners Allowed

From a NYT story about new banking regulations attached to the bailout funds (and the desire for some of these banks to now return the money):

The list of demands keeps getting longer.

Financial institutions that are getting government bailout funds have been told to put off evictions and modify mortgages for distressed homeowners. They must let shareholders vote on executive pay packages. They must slash dividends, cancel employee training and morale-building exercises, and withdraw job offers to foreign citizens.

As public outrage swells over the rapidly growing cost of bailing out financial institutions, the Obama administration and lawmakers are attaching more and more strings to rescue funds.

Now, I understand canceling employee training. After all, you wouldn’t want to teach the people who got us into this mess to change their behavior. When nationalization is complete, they’ll be government employees, so no accountability is necessary! And morale-building is also out — they should be happy following the dictates of Dear Leader, and no morale building should be necessary for our properly conditioned citizens subjects.

But withdrawing job offers to foreign citizens? Do we really need another protectionist dictate coming out of this administration? Don’t we want to extend jobs to the most qualified of anyone who applies, not limit this to only Americans? This sounds like exactly the sort of provision I’d expect from the Bush administration and Republicans, and we’re supposed to believe that this is Change&#153?!

Hat Tip: Economist Free Exchange Blog

Name That Socialist

Today, a news story came out where a company planned on purchasing chicken processing plants and the government was going to match the private company’s bid dollar for dollar. This plan is proposed under the guise of saving jobs. Now let me give you a hint who this socialist leader is; he’s a national leader.

Is it Barack Obama’s latest “stimulus” plan? Is it Harry Reid? Is this Ed Rendell or some other big state Democratic governor? Could it be even Charlie Crist or Arnold Schwarzenegger?

If you guessed any of the above, you’re wrong. The person proposing to give the government 50% ownership of certain chicken processing plants is none other the guy who came in second in the CPAC straw poll, Louisiana Governor and Republican Party savior, Bobby Jindal.

From the Monroe News Star

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief of staff said the state has found a buyer for Pilgrim’s Pride’s northeastern Louisiana operations and that an offer was expected to be made to the bankrupt company Tuesday night.

Timmy Teepell said the buyer will put up $20 million and the state will match it for a $40 million offer.

“(Jindal) has agreed to match it dollar for dollar with the stipulation that the company must keep the work force intact for five years,” Teepell said.

Pilgrim’s chief executive Don Jackson said at 7 p.m. Tuesday that he had not yet received an offer.

“I stated from the beginning that we would be receptive to any meaningful offer,” Jackson said.

The company announced Feb. 27 that it will close the Farmerville processing plants and the support infrastructure in April because of a glut of chicken on the market.

So the man who railed in a boring, self-centered speech against Barack Obama’s big government agenda plans to have the State of Louisiana own 50% of chicken processing plants. At least Obama in his takeover of Citigroup is only buying 36% of it. Maybe Rush Limbaugh can see if this is what Reagan would’ve done.

One other disturbing aspect of this proposal:

Teepell would not identify the company that made the offer to Pilgrim’s Pride, but he did say the company’s chief executive contacted Jackson before deciding to make the offer.

Bobby Jindal likes to talk about he cleaned up the most corrupt state in the country and how he reformed Louisiana’s ethics laws and improved transparency. Well, he passed some unenforceable new ethics laws while at the same time fought any attempts to bring transparency to the governor’s office. This secretive way of conducting business is the norm for the Jindal regime.

America, if you elect Bobby Jindal president in 2012, you can expect more socialism and more of the shadow government. If this is what the Republican Party has to offer, they won’t be returning to power anytime soon.

UPDATE:Pilgrim’s Pride rejected the offer from the State of Louisiana to buy the plant.

“Gov. Jindal and (Pilgrim’s chief executive Don) Jackson spoke by phone (on Tuesday night),” Pilgrim’s spokesman Ray Atkinson said in a written statement. “Dr. Jackson explained to the governor that the offer for the Farmerville complex was below our requirements.

“It would essentially put Foster (Farms) in business at a cost of entry of $20 million, well below the real cost and at a level with which neither Pilgrim’s Pride nor the rest of the industry could effectively compete.

“Dr. Jackson did not rule out a possible sale, but noted that it would have to be at a price well beyond $40 million. He also reiterated that selling the facility would not address the fundamental problem facing our industry: an oversupply of low-value commodity chicken.”

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

The Hubris of the National Tactical Officers Association

In my report following the live chat @ The Agitator with Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo last week, I made mention of some very modest reforms he was pushing in Maryland. The bill would require all police departments with SWAT teams to provide monthly reports to the state’s Attorney General, local officials and the general public.

Who would have a problem with just a little public oversight over law enforcement? Apparently, the National Tactical Officers Association’s executive director John Gnagey does:

[John Gnagey] says reporting requirements for SWAT teams should emanate from the law enforcement community, not legislators.

“Our data shows that when SWAT teams are deployed, the violence goes down,” said John Gnagey, who was a SWAT team member for 26 years in the Champaign, Ill., police department.

One question for Mr. Gnagey: That slogan that you have on your squad car that says “to serve and protect,” who exactly are you trying to serve and protect? Based on the tone from the article, it appears that you are only interested in serving and protecting law enforcement. Silly me, I was under the impression that the purpose of law enforcement was to serve and protect the general public! If you have some data that shows SWAT deployments bring the level of violence down, why are you so afraid of putting this data to the test?

The hubris of Mr. Gnagey illustrates exactly why more oversight of law enforcement is necessary. The article also points out that nationally the number of SWAT deployments rose from 2,500 annually in the 1980’s to between 50,000 and 60,000 in 2005; the War on (Some) Drugs is largely responsible for this dramatic increase. Not everyone agrees that these SWAT deployments have reduced violence.

Mayor Cheye Calvo was also interviewed in the article:

“It’s pretty clear to me that police are using SWAT teams for duties that used to be performed by ordinary police officers,” says Calvo, whose Berwyn Heights house was raided July 29 when police mistakenly thought his wife was involved in drug trafficking. “No question, there are times when SWAT teams are appropriate. What strikes me about this is that police are using SWAT teams as an initial response rather than a last resort.”

What we need is more transparency and it’s never going to happen if we depend on those who have something to hide to change the reporting requirements.

Congress Transparently Shilling For Unions

The desire of the NEA to kill the DC Voucher program is well-covered, including by my co-contributor Doug here.

Now it seems that Congress has snuck in a provision for the Teamsters, to restrict Mexican truckers:

Buried in the $410 billion catch-all appropriations bill now before the U.S. Senate is a provision that would end a program that has allowed Mexican truck drivers to deliver goods to destinations inside the United States.

A provision in the original North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 was supposed to allow U.S. and Mexican trucking companies to deliver goods in each other’s country. But opposition from the Teamsters union and old-fashioned prejudice against Mexicans has derailed implementation of the provision.

Under current restrictions, goods coming into the United States from Mexico by truck must be unloaded inside the “commercial zone” within 20 miles or so of either side of the border and transferred to U.S.-owned trucks for final delivery. U.S. goods going to Mexico face the same inefficient and unnecessary restrictions.

The Bush administration established a pilot program that allows certain Mexican trucking companies that meet U.S. safety and other standards to deliver goods directly to U.S. destinations, while the Mexican government has agreed to allow reciprocal access to its market. But the Democratic Congress and the new Democratic president have vowed to finally kill the program, and the provision inside the appropriations bill will probably deliver the final blow.

As I argued in an article in 2007, the Mexican trucks that have been allowed to operate in the United States under the pilot program have actually had a better safety record than U.S. trucks.

It’s not about safety, and the added inefficiency of transferring everything from one truck to another 20 miles inside the border shows that it’s not about reducing prices for consumers. So this is nothing but bald-faced protectionism to reward unions.

I guess someone in Congress didn’t read that Hope and Change memo, eh?

Indianapolis Councilman Punished for Being Libertarian

A couple of weeks ago, Indianapolis City-County Councilman Ed Coleman jumped from the Republican Party to the Libertarian Party.  From the Chicago Tribune:

Councilman Ed Coleman says he has become disillusioned by what he called the abuse of power by GOP leaders. Coleman was elected in 2007 to his first term as an at-large council member.

He’ll be the sole Libertarian on the council, which Republicans will continue to control with a 15-13 majority over the Democrats.

Coleman said Republican and Democratic leaders on the council wanted obedient followers.

I met Coleman last weekend at the LP’s State Chairs Conference in South Carolina, where we had hastily inserted him as a last minute speaker.  He reiterated the same claim: both political parties demand blind obedience from their elected officials.  It appears that he’s correct.  Here’s a cut-and-paste of a press release just distributed by the Libertarian Party of Indiana:

Out of the political need for retribution, and to send a message that stepping outside the old ‘two party system’ monopoly will have consequences, the City County Council’s Democrat and Republican leadership decided Monday to remove Ed Coleman from all committees. With numerous supporters of Councilor Coleman present, the decision was made in an “executive session” that prevented public comment.

Coleman was appointed to the Rules and Public Policy Committee and the Economic Development Committee at the beginning of the year.  Now that he has publicly changed his affiliation to the Libertarian Party, a move that represented a clear warning shot to the old two-party power structure, they are using Councilor Coleman to send a warning to others.

Coleman was disappointed in the lack of imagination and statesmanship shown by Council leaders.  “They can pretend we don’t exist, but the Libertarian Party is on the ballot in Indiana,” said Coleman. “The voters deserve to have my voice heard.  If the rules are not clear enough for the Council leadership, then maybe we need to change the rules. Shutting us out of the process only proves that ‘open and honest dialogue’ is not really welcomed. I left the Republican Party because they have consistently put the Republican Party above the Indianapolis taxpayer.”

LPMC Chairman Timothy Maguire also expressed his disappointment at the decision. “Clearly, Councilor Coleman was deemed fit to serve on these committees a few weeks ago but this isn’t the first time political gamesmanship has overtaken common sense,” said Maguire. “The Libertarian Party is here to stay, and Ed Coleman is guaranteed to be on this body for three more years.  It would have made more sense for the Council to work on being inclusive rather than fretting about how to dissuade anyone else who might stand up against entrenched political machinery. In 2007, the Republicans promised a more fair and open City government, and this is certainly the opposite of that promise to Indianapolis taxpayers.”

“I am also disappointed that Council President Cockrum wasn’t willing to take any public comment on the matter by putting the meeting into Executive Session,” continued Maguire. “I find it troubling that the Council leadership wasn’t interested in hearing public opinion. Councilor Coleman was only allowed to defend his position after significant arm twisting. The Marion County Republican Party is showing the same hubris the Democrats exhibited in 2007, and easily explains why a two-party system is broken. The Parties and their friends win, and the taxpayer loses.”

The situation isn’t all that unique.  As one example, Congressman Jeff Flake was punished by party leadership for opposing pork and he didn’t even switch parties.

$4 Trillion

When leftists start arguing about how much laissez-faire capitalism we experienced under the Bush adminstration, I often point out that he was the first President to preside over a $2T budget, and he was also the first to propose a $3T budget (for FY’09).

I expected Obama to spend more than Bush — but I didn’t think it would be this bad:

Details on president Barack Obama’s first budget are out today, and there is no shortage of eye-popping numbers. Total budgeted spending in fiscal 2009 (which began five months ago) will reach nearly $4 trillion, or nearly 30% of American GDP. The deficit for the year is expected to be about $1.75 trillion. As budgeted, the deficit will decline to just over $1.1 trillion in fiscal 2010, and to about $500 billion by the end of Mr Obama’s first term—close to, but still above, last year’s deficit of $459 billion. The drop is less ambitious than it sounds, however; it is primarily due to a winding down of spending in Iraq and the expiration of Bush era tax cuts. It will take harder choices to move the budget toward balance.

You can play around with the numbers a bit; i.e. the 2010 budget itself is somewhere between $3.5T and $4T, but when you include $750B in “room” for a bank bailout that we “might” need — and it’s not clear whether that’s FY’09 or FY’10 — I think you can see that planned spending is likely to top that $4T mark. Likewise, in Obama’s defense, if he’s actually living up to his promise of taking the “off-budget” spending of the Bush administration and putting it on-budget, that might not be as big of an increase as it looks.

But it’s still big. It’s still a number that should scare the hell out of most Americans. It places federal government spending at roughly a third of GDP — which doesn’t include state and local spending, of course. We’re going to be nearing a point where government, all levels combined, spend half of GDP. If anyone believed we had a true free market before, I’m sure they’ll change their minds.

And his deficit reductions [of the deficits he’s creating]? Well, it’s a combination of tax hikes, reduction in Iraq spending, and an assumption of 4% GDP growth rates. I guess it’s because he’s figuring in the Keynesian multiplier effect of all his wonderful proposals, huh?

Oh, in completely unrelated news, 2008 was the biggest year on record for lobbyists — and 2009 is expected to be bigger:

So the $3.2 billion bonanza for lobbyists in 2008 was just a precursor of the lollapalooza to come. Within three weeks of Obama’s inauguration, the Washington Post reported that more than 90 organizations had hired lobbyists specifically to influence the stimulus bill.

Hmm, a link between ever-increasing budgets and your friendly K-Street fellows trying to influence how that money is being spent? By “most open and transparent administration in history”, is Obama just suggesting that the “Open for Business” sign will be displayed prominently in the window of the White House? I’m sure it doesn’t mean that he’s installing a “No Solicitors” sign.

Live Chat With Mayor Cheye Calvo Tonight @ 8 p.m. EST (5 p.m. PST) @ The Agitator

Check in this Thursday night at 8pm ET with your questions for Cheye Calvo, the Berwyn Heights, Maryland mayor who was subject to a violent, botched drug raid last year.

Calvo’s pushing legislation that would bring transparency to how Maryland’s police departments use their SWAT teams.

I’m hoping to be home in time to participate in this chat because I am very interested in what Mayor Calvo has to say. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, the mayor spoke at a Cato Policy Forum on September 12, 2008. The full 90 minute podcast can be downloaded here; the podcast below is a much shorter (just under 9 minutes) interview with the mayor following the Cato event.

Post Chat Report:
The chat with Mayor Calvo ended just a few minutes ago. The mayor stayed about a half hour over the scheduled chat to answer more questions from participants. I managed to have a couple of questions answered and the other questions which were asked were also very good. The chat was very informative and worthwhile. Readers who would like to read the full chat can click here.

The mayor answered questions about his ordeal with the SWAT team raiding his home as well as some legislation he is pushing in the State of Maryland. The proposed legislation would require all police departments with SWAT teams to provide monthly reports to the Attorney General, local officials and the general public. These reports would provide the number of raids, general locations, purpose, authorization, and results of raids. The overall goal is to provide additional oversight.

For more information about this legislation and how you can help, go to MakeMarylandGreat.com.

Kids’ Nutrition Choices Made By Lobbyists, Not Doctors

Kevin Drum tells us “the reality is, this is how things get done”. In the below exchange, Kevin is MJ (Mother Jones), and Michael Pollan (Berkeley journalism prof & food author) is MP:

MJ: Does WIC [the Women, Infants, and Children program] still specify that you buy dairy?

MP: Yes. We had a huge fight to get a little more produce in the WIC basket, which is heavy on cheese and milk because the dairy lobby is very powerful. So they fought and they fought and they fought, and they got a bunch of carrots in there. [Laughs.]

MJ: Specifically? Who knew: the carrot lobby?

MP: Specifically carrots. The next big lobby. But there is also money in this farm bill for fresh produce in school lunch. The price of getting the subsidies was getting the California delegation on board, and their price was $2 billon for what are called specialty crops — fresh fruit and produce grown largely in California.

I would point out to Kevin that this not “how things get done” in my family. In my family, I [more accurately my wife] decides what the children eat, and we do so out of true and sincere care for their well-being. I’m not going to say that our decisions are always right, but they always incorporate the best knowledge we can find. I have no lobbyists showing up at my door paying me to feed my kids carrots instead of broccoli, and thus nothing to cloud my judgement.

Sadly, this is how things get done in government — a fact which I think would point more people towards libertarianism than many others.

Americans idealize government. We act as if it’s populated by well-meaning experts, who want nothing more than to provide humanity with their expertise and are looking out for us. We view them as able to integrate the demands of a wide-ranging polity into optimum policy, using their judgement and experience to improve life for all. Even more, we think they care about us.

The reality, on the other hand, is that government is a job. You do your job to satisfy your customers, which in politics is more often lobbyists than the general public. Why is dairy such a high component of WIC? Because the dairy lobby is enormous. Why did carrots — rather than broccoli, or asparagus, or cauliflower — get such favor? Because the carrot lobby, as strange as it may seem, is powerful. Seriously… CARROT LOBBY! If those two words placed in that order don’t disgust people about the arbitrary and capricious nature of government decision-making, you need to wake up.

The first step to mentally breaking with the government is to understand that government bureaucrats have their own interests — not yours — at heart. This isn’t a revelation. It occurs in business — workers often have goals that serve themselves more than their employer (such as a drive to earn a raise even if business conditions are down), and businesses often have goals that are counter to the best wishes of their customers (i.e. to earn the largest profit the market will bear to keep the doors open and please their shareholders). We understand in most commercial situations that we need to look out for ourselves, but then assume that the government is “looking out for us” in all others. When you assume the best about government bureaucrats, it blinds you to the fact that you’re giving these people coercive power and you can’t be sure that they’re going to use it in your interests.

As George Washington said:

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

Government doesn’t have the best methods for making decisions. That’s why libertarians don’t want government making many decisions.

Geithner: You Can’t Handle The Truth

I’ve said before, when it comes to government, that they don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Perhaps I was being generous, following Napoleon’s quote: “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”

Perhaps they know exactly what they’re doing, and they just don’t want to tell us:

Geithner’s message was well received at the talks, known as the G-7, which gather the United States, Canada, Japan, and four major nations from Europe. Russia and world financial organizations also attended.

Going into the meeting, Canadian Finance Minister James M. Flaherty called the U.S. financial rescue “less than clear,” echoing comments made by financial chiefs in France and Germany. Afterward, many of the officials appeared reassured, saying that Geithner provided clear answers to their questions.

Several officials said Geithner was particularly helpful in explaining how the various elements of the administration’s initiatives tie together as well as how he plans to combine public funds with private resources to get more bang out of every rescue dollar the governments spends.

Later in the article, Geithner claims that he just didn’t want to be too specific announcing his plans before they were firm. I guess a lot of decisions must have been made between Tuesday and Saturday, huh? I don’t see why he couldn’t have held off his press conference a few days — rather than try to hide it behind the stimulus debate — if he was that close to a plan.

So what’s the over/under on when the most transparent administration in history will tell the rest of us what they told the G7? Will it be before or after they’ve spent the money?

Hat Tip: Kevin Drum

A Few Thoughts About the Ryan Fredrick Case

The long and short of the case is that three days after his home was broken into, Fredrick fatally shot an intruder who turned out to be a police officer. Fredrick promptly surrendered to the police once he realized the intruders were in-fact a SWAT team serving a warrant (a very small amount of marijuana was found in Fredrick’s home). The jury considered several charges including capital murder but ultimately decided Fredrick’s actions amounted to voluntary manslaughter and recommended a 10 year sentence.

Rather than rehashing the Ryan Fredrick case here, I would encourage readers to read the coverage by Hamptonroads.com , Tidewater Liberty and Radley Balko .

The police department did not believe the sentence to be harsh enough:

For the Shivers family and the Police Department, the verdict did not provide closure.

“Closure?” said Jack Crimmins, president of the Chesapeake Coalition of Police. “There’s no closure.”

“Their verdict today has jeopardized the lives of police officers,” Crimmins said. “I think the jury failed. They failed the community. You’ve got a man involved in an illegal enterprise, the police come to his house, and he takes the matter into his own hands.”

Funny that Crimmins chose the term “illegal enterprise.” This description is more appropriate for the way this police department chose to circumvent the Fourth Amendment by allowing a known criminal to break into Fredrick’s home to obtain probable cause to search the home in the first place! Most of the case made against Fredrick was from testimony of jailhouse snitches and informants of very questionable character.

And this notion about a homeowner who “takes the matter into his own hands” when someone breaks into his home is especially infuriating. Mr. Crimmins, it’s called the castle doctrine , perhaps you’ve heard of this concept? It’s not exactly new.

When a civilian makes a mistake and kills a police officer, it’s almost always assumed that s/he must “pay the price” but what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? When a police officer makes a mistake and kills a civilian, the badge worshipers and law enforcement boot lickers come up with a statement like this:

A jury verdict that cleared a police officer in the drug-raid shooting death of an unarmed woman will allow other officers to do their job without hesitation, police union officials said.

Officers throughout the state closely watched the trial, fearing that a guilty judgment would have changed how they react in the line of fire.

[…]

During the trial, a Columbus SWAT officer and a retired FBI agent both testified that Chavalia had no choice but to shoot because he thought his life was in danger. They also said Chavalia should have fired sooner.

So when a civilian believes his or her life is in danger, he or she must be certain of who s/he is targeting but when a police officer believes s/he is in danger, s/he can “shoot now and ask questions later”? What’s particularly galling about this is that in statements in both cases, the lives of law enforcement are of paramount concern as the lives of civilians is of little or no concern.

This is but another illustration of how the government has the one power the rest of us don’t: the monopoly of the use of force to accomplish its goals. The War on (Some) Drugs is a means to an (impossible) end (eradication of banned drugs). If non-violent individuals are killed in the process, its considered collateral damage. The War on (Some) Drugs must be won at all costs!

With respect to Ryan Fredrick, his fate is in the hands of a judge (the judge will decide whether or not to impose the jury’s recommended sentence), but what now? How can we prevent these tragedies from happening? Tide Water Libertarian Party has offered some excellent suggestions:

In the months since the tragic death of Det. Jarrod Shivers in the course of serving a search warrant at the home of Ryan Frederick, many questions have arisen regarding procedures of the Chesapeake Police Department. These questions have gone unanswered by the department. The Tidewater Libertarian Party asserts that because all powers granted government to use force on the behalf of the people reside ultimately with the people, it is unacceptable for the agents of government force, the police, to deny the people explanations for their actions when there are legitimate questions as to whether that force has been used with due caution and within the powers granted by the people through our Constitution and law.

• The tragic and avoidable death of a law enforcement officer.

• The use of Confidential Informants is an unfortunate necessity in criminal investigations, and particularly so in drug cases, but we question whether it is good public policy to request or issue search warrants based on the unsupported and unsworn allegations of Confidential Informants without some corroboration through independent investigation.

• Forcible entries in serving search warrants are acceptable police practice only when there is evidence subject to rapid destruction, hostages are in peril, or known, armed, and dangerous criminals are judged to be most safely taken by surprise. The recent trial of Chesapeake resident Ryan Frederick has revealed such forced entries to be the standard practice in serving all drug search warrants in Chesapeake. The Chesapeake Police Department has provided no acceptable explanation for choosing an exceptionally dangerous method of serving a warrant on a citizen with no criminal record over numerous safer and more Constitutionally acceptable methods.

• We are further concerned by the lack of transparency and consistency on the part of the Chesapeake Police leadership regarding what policy changes might be made to avoid future tragedy. Because we believe the police have taken the position that they need not explain their actions to the public, we hold this that is unacceptable in a free society.

This is the City of Chesapeake, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States of America. The police are answerable to the people, not only to themselves. Our military and our police are subject to civilian control and review. Citizens are owed the truth. The proper first level of that oversight is through our local elected representatives on city council.

We understand that it may be necessary to withhold some tactical policy from the public at large for the protection of police officers, but what information can and cannot be made public is properly the choice of civilian authority, with expert guidance, and not that of those being overseen.

The Tidewater Libertarian Party therefore requests the City of Chesapeake establish a citizen review board consisting of trustworthy citizens chosen by council, but with no connection to the Police Department or city government, to investigate this matter. This citizen review board should have full access to all evidence, record, reviews, and testimony, and report to the City Council, and ultimately, with council approval of sensitive content, to the public, in order to restore the lost trust of the citizens in our police department and to ensure that our police officers and citizens are no longer placed in unnecessary danger.

I would also like to offer at least one other suggestion: cameras. Each SWAT team member should have a camera attached to his/her helmet. This would provide invaluable insight to a sequence of events and would help ensure that the police follow procedures properly. Police vehicles have cameras installed on dashboards, there is no good reason why cameras should not be used for knock and no knock raids.

Unfortunately, I fully expect to learn of many more of these tragedies before any such reforms are made.

Feds to Launch New Comedy Site

From FinancialStability.gov (props):

Banner: Financial Stability.gov

This site is coming soon.

On Tuesday, February 10th, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner outlined a comprehensive plan to restore stability to our financial system. In the address, Secretary Geithner discussed the Obama Administration’s strategy to strengthen our economy by getting credit flowing again to families and businesses, while imposing new measures and conditions to strengthen accountability, oversight and transparency in how taxpayer dollars are spent. And Secretary Geithner explained how the financial stability plan will be critical in supporting an effective and lasting economic recovery.

For more information, please visit http://www.treas.gov/initiatives/eesa/


I think it’s safe to assume that this website will provide as much sarcasm and laughter as when Obama officials  met with federal legislators the other day:

Administration officials were greeted with sarcasm and laughter Monday night when they briefed lawmakers and congressional staff on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s new financial-sector bailout project, according to people who were in the room.

The laughter was at its height when Obama officials explained that the White House planned to guarantee a wide swath of toxic assets — which they referred to as “legacy assets” — but wouldn’t be asking Congress for money. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), a bailout opponent in the fall, asked the officials to give Congress the total dollar figure for which they were on the hook. The officials said that they couldn’t provide a number, a response met by chuckling that was bipartisan, but tilted toward the GOP side. By guaranteeing the assets, Geithner hopes he can persuade the private sector to purchase a portion of them.

The major problem is that our overdose of federal financial intervention isn’t really a laughing matter.

Blagojevich Gets the Boot

Fox News Reports:

Illinois senators stripped Gov. Rod Blagojevich of power Thursday in the final act of a political drama that handed the reins of state government to his estranged lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn, and likely will end Blagojevich’s career in politics.

Senators voted unanimously to convict Blagojevich and bar him from holding political office in the state again. Shortly after the vote, Quinn was sworn in as Illinois’ new governor.

The outcome was never in doubt. In fact, Quinn went to the state Capitol earlier in the day to prepare to be sworn in.

I haven’t been following this story as closely as others but the fact that only one person in either house of the Illinois Legislature voted in support of the Governor tells me that they really had the goods on the guy. It’s not often that legislators agree on anything particularly in matters of impeachment which are usually decided along party lines.

House Republicans Grow Some Cajones

The big news isn’t the stimulus package just passed the House, but that Obama’s “bid to woo Republicans failed to convince even a single GOP member to join Democrats to back the bill.”

“I can also promise that my administration will administer this recovery plan with a level of transparency and accountability never before seen in Washington,” said Obama in a statement from the White House. ” Once it is passed, every American will be able to go the website recovery.gov and see how and where their money is being spent.”

I’ll not hold my breath on the transparency, as we still have no idea where a good chunk of money from the previous bailout went.

While I’m sure a handful of Republicans opposed the bill on principle, it’s at least refreshing for it to be politically expedient for the rest of them to cast a “no” vote on one of the worst fiscal bills of my lifetime.  Unfortunately, it seems the only way to get the GOP to pretend to be responsible stewards of our tax dollars is for the Democrats to be in control.

This bill can’t be considered a bipartisan bill with no Republican support (and 11 Democrats voted against it, too).  It’s your political hot potato now, Democrats.

Change Libertarians Can Believe In?

There’s no secret that most of the Obama Administration agenda is at odds with the Lockean rights of life, liberty, and property at almost every turn. Obama’s views on freedom are more along the lines of FDR’s so-called “Four Freedoms”. As disturbing as this agenda is, I thought it would be important to identify policies which actually do promote liberty based on the more traditional Lockean model.

These agenda items are the only ones I can at this point say I am comfortable with. There are probably more items I could support but without knowing the details of many of Obama’s policies, I’m hesitant to do so (mostly due to his reliance on doublespeak, i.e. redefining welfare as tax cuts). The two most promising policies I have found so far are in the areas of civil rights and ethics.

Civil Rights:

Eliminate Sentencing Disparities Between Crack and Powder-Based Cocaine

Expand the use of drug courts for first-time non-violent drug offenders

Equal Rights for LGBT couples

Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act

Repeal “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell”

Ethics:

A More Open and Transparent Federal Government (complete with searchable internet databases)

“Sunlight Before Signing” – Five days for the general public to review “non-emergency”* legislation before bills are signed into law.

The Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act – A law which would name names of legislators and the earmarks they request, require written justification for the earmark, and require 72 hours for the full senate to review and approve the earmark.

Make all White House Regulatory Communications Public and Release Presidential Records

Protect Whistleblowers

Eliminate Inefficient Government Programs and Slash Earmarks**

Libertarians, myself included, may be disappointed that these libertarian friendly policies do not go nearly far enough. Having said that, I do believe we should encourage these changes even if they are mere baby steps in the right direction.
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