Police should wear body cameras to protect themselves when they’re accused of wrongdoing

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President Obama has just proposed $263 million for police body cameras in an effort to improve police relations in the communities they serve. My co-contributor at United Liberty Matthew Hurtt argues that this is an overreaction and cautions that this is “further federalizing local law enforcement.” To this, I have to respectfully disagree.

The federal government has already “federalized” local police if by federalization he means providing military grade toys at a discount. I don’t quite understand how providing tools which can actually protect the public such as body cameras “further” federalizes the police. As long as these departments receive these toys, the public damn well has the right to review in HD quality video and audio how these toys are being used (along with the normal police activities).

The following post was originally published on 8/18/2014 @ United Liberty

 

It sems that there is at least one area of agreement (with caveats) between some in law enforcement and some civil libertarians: cops should wear body cameras. The how, when, and where is still a question for all concerned but at least there seems to be some agreement on the broad outlines.

PoliceOne.com‘s editor-in-chief Doug Wyllie argues that police departments should embrace the idea of body mounted cameras on almost every police officer. Wyllie writes:

In the week following the officer-involved shooting in Ferguson (Mo.), many have asked me for a comment and/or my commentary on the matter. My reply has generally been, “What, precisely, might that comment be? We know very little detail regarding the incident itself, so any ‘analysis’ on my part would be tantamount to irresponsible speculation. Further, analysis of the rioting and looting (and police response to same) would be redundant — we’ve got reams of columns on crowd control tactics and strategies.”

One thing, however, merits mention in this space. It’s directly related to the first thought that came to my mind when news of this tragedy broke: “Man, I hope that officer was wearing a body camera.”

By now, we can correctly surmise that he was not, and it’s a reasonable contention that if he had been wearing a body camera — and that video was examined by agency leadership and released responsibly to the public — Ferguson would probably have been spared the violence and unrest.

Wyllie anticipated that there would be some cops, departments, and PoliceOne members who would disagree with this notion. From there he offered 3 reasons why the upsides outweigh the downsides:

1. Officers’ fears about “Big Brother” are crushed by good, sound policy collaboratively created by all stakeholders — administrators, police unions, civil rights groups, local lawmakers, and others. Citizens’ fears about Fourth Amendment issues — for victims, witnesses, and other uninvolved persons — are similarly crushed by that same policy.

I must interject here. We have street cameras on just about every major intersection in every major city in America. If its good enough to place you and I under constant surveillance, its good enough for the police. The police should also be reminded that they do indeed work for us. Any time the police are on duty and in public, there is a chance that they are being watched by the public. They do not have a right to privacy when they interact with the pubic. This is especially true when the actions of the police have the potential to take freedom or life away from individuals concerned.

Wyllie continues with his other 2 points:

2. Concerns over budgeting for the investment in new gear (and training for same) are quelled by the statistical data suggesting that the outlay in cash is far less than the cost of settling frivolous (and baseless) lawsuits over alleged officer misconduct when no such misconduct occurred.

3. Any argument alleging that “the technology just isn’t there yet” is flat out false. Five years ago, such a statement may have held some water, but companies like TASER International, Digital Ally, L-3 Mobile Vision, and VIEVU now offer rugged, patrol-ready products with high-definition recording capabilities in light, wearable form factors.

Doug Wyllie sees the writing on the wall; he points out that the White House petition for the “Mike Brown Law” which says “all state, county, and local police [should be required] to wear a camera” already passed 100k signatures. Wyllie is probably correct arguing that there would be fewer misconduct lawsuits with the cameras. One PoliceOne member added:

Personally I look forward to being able to show the jury exactly what the POS I arrested was doing, saying and what he looked like when I arrested him; rather than the cleaned up chap in a borrowed suit that the defense brought to court.

I think its also fair to say that cops would be discouraged from being involved with any misconduct in the first place. If we lived in a world where everyone involved in a police encounter is being recorded, everyone involved has every reason to be on his or her best behavior.

Another posted:

I’m all for body cameras. Yet, when they go against what people want them to say, it will be: “The police fixed the cameras.”

To this concern I have two answers. First the technology is already available to determine if a video has been tampered with. If the video shows the video at the 5:07:29 minute mark and then it suddenly skips to the 8:10:12 minute mark, most people are going to understand that there is some missing footage. The second answer is to policy of how, when, and where body cameras will be used.

Will cameras solve all questions of misconduct? Of course not. Cameras certainly have their limitations. But having a video of an event presented to a jury is certainly better than relying solely on conflicting eyewitness testimony.

Point of clarification: One person who commented on the Face Book link mentioned “And audio might be nice.” I assumed Doug Wyllie meant that audio should be part of the video recording as well. After re-reading his article, I realize that he never mentioned anything about audio. Perhaps this too will become a very important part of the debate. It’s my position that audio should be included. Video alone might be helpful in very clear cut cases but distort the meaning of what the viewer sees in other cases.

Oath Keepers Protect St. Louis Until Being Disbanded By The Police They Effectively Replaced

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In response to the looting that has damaged numerous businesses in Ferguson, MO since last Monday’s announceemnt that former police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for killing Michael Brown, a group called the Oath Keepers descended onto Ferguson to protect businesses from being damaged or destroyed by rioters, oftentimes by setting up armed sentries on rooftops. Over the long weekend, St. Louis County’s police officers demanded that the group disperse.

Threatened with arrest for operating without a license, the volunteers argued but eventually left their positions early Saturday, Rhodes said.

“We are going to go back as protesters,” Rhodes said Saturday afternoon.

(…)

“We thought they were going to do it right this time,” Rhodes said of government response to the grand jury decision released Monday in the Michael Brown case. “But when Monday rolled around and they didn’t park the National Guard at these businesses, that’s when we said we have got to do something.

“Historically, the government almost always fails to protect people,” he added.

The Oath Keepers were started in 2009 as a militia-like force that advocates military and law enforcement personnel disobey orders that are in violation of the Constitution of the United States. Despite accusations of racism, they were started in 2009 by a Mexican-American, Stewart Rhodes, who graduated from Yale Law School and once worked for Ron Paul. They have dodged criticism for years and are regarded by some as extremists or domestic terrorists, though they maintain a 30,000 strong member base and are highly regarded among libertarian parts of the Tea Party movement.

I am personally sceptical of the Oath Keepers because I feel their tin-foil, Alex Jones-like views on the government are extreme to say the very least. Any group that gains traction due to the election of one man and finds common cause with the birther movement tends to draw scrutiny. With that said, I find it very hard to blame anyone locally for being very happy to see them. Whatever one’s views on Michael Brown’s killing – I was very dim on the “no indictment” ruling – the fact is that St. Louis County has handled the entire situation in Ferguson and surrounding areas in an illegal, borderline evil fashion. They instigated an already edgy populace from moment one, turning military-grade weapons on the citizens they “police” in a method of crowd control so poorly conceived it raised legitimate questions as to whether or not the police were intentionally trying to rile their citizens.

As the grand jury’s announcement approached, the mistakes continued. It was announced at 8PM CST, with advance warning and a preemptive call for National Guard support. They gunned for a fight, prepared for a fight, and then stoked a fight. Since then, the overly militarized police, and the actual military, guarded the police station but left local businesses to burn. After blaming the failure to indict a man who shot at an unarmed teenager twelve times on social media, they proceeded to protect their own stuff while totally abandoning any pretense of protecting anyone locally. The failures of the Ferguson and St. Louis County police departments are so legion, so flagrant, and so damaging that multiple people involved in them should never hold jobs in authority again. Their treatment of those doing their job for them only exemplifies what has been a clown car.

In light of that, is it any wonder that the Oath Keepers – at heart, an anti-government organization that is convinced martial law is imminent – would show up? This isn’t just why they were conceived; it proves all of their fears, all of their statements, and all of their actions to be legitimate, or at the very least to have a degree of truth to them. “The government is against the people!” isn’t just the cry of a guy who failed Western Civ; in this case, it’s a provable fact. The police in this area have shown more effort in going after football players than they have in any form of police work.

In striking down the Oath Keepers, the local authorities might have made them more powerful than they could ever imagine. I expect membership to spike, hard.

Do Rich High School Dropouts Do “As Well” As Poor College Grads?

Poor Grads & Rich Dropouts

That’s the claim of Matt O’Brien at Washington Post’s Wonkblog, in a post titled (unsurprisingly), “Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong.” His main point:

Even poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong. Advantages and disadvantages, in other words, tend to perpetuate themselves. You can see that in the above chart, based on a new paper from Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, presented at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s annual conference, which is underway.

Specifically, rich high school dropouts remain in the top about as much as poor college grads stay stuck in the bottom — 14 versus 16 percent, respectively. Not only that, but these low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne’er-do-wells. Some meritocracy.

So the anger is that some rich dropouts still succeed and make it to the top, and some poor college grads remain on the bottom. Or, to annotate a graph as O’Brien did:

Poor Grads & Rich Dropouts

This, however, is a terrible analysis.

First and foremost, it doesn’t live up to his title. Poor kids who do everything right do quite a bit better than rich kids who do “everything” wrong. Only 20% of rich kids who don’t graduate high school make it into the top 40% of income earners. 41% of poor college grads make it into those upper quintiles. Almost 70% of poor college grads make it into the top 60% of income earners. Only 49% of rich HS dropouts do so. The other half of rich high school dropouts end up in the bottom two quintiles, as you’d expect from high school dropouts.

Now, nobody will argue that poor kids don’t have an uphill battle from day 1. And nobody will argue that rich kids have a multitude of advantages in front of them. Their path to success is easier. There are many reasons for this, and I’m not going to go into them here, but suffice to say that I agree with the simple premise that it’s harder to succeed when you start out poor.

But what the graph that O’Brien uses to prove his point is actually proving that putting your nose to the grindstone, pushing yourself to enter and complete college, is important whether you’re rich or you’re poor. If rich HS dropouts were successful at a higher rate than poor college grads, I might agree with this analysis. But they’re not. Poor college grads do measurably better than rich HS dropouts.

Yes, some poor college grads still end up on the bottom, and some rich HS dropouts still succeed. But how many, and why? Compare the above chart with the below (also from the Reeves/Sawhill paper):

Overall mobility

Social Mobility Matrix, US Overall

In this chart, you can see that the bottom quintile–60% of them, in fact–stayed in the bottom two quintiles. Only 23% made it to the top two quintiles. And the top quintile–56% of them–remained in the top two quintiles. Only 25% fell to the bottom two quintiles. So overall, completely outside of any educational data whatsoever, the bottom remained on the bottom and the top remained on the top.

But if you’re poor, and you graduate college, you flip the script. Your odds are very good to go from the bottom quintile to middle class or better. And if you’re rich but don’t graduate college, your odds are better that you’re going to end up in lower middle class or worse. It won’t hold true for everyone, as there are strong cultural factors in play. But those cultural factors are not overwhelming. Demography DOES NOT equal destiny.

That’s meritocracy.

The Mirror in Ferguson

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Ferguson residents guard local businesses from looters.

I had mixed feelings about sharing these two videos by Johnathan Gentry and Fredrick Wilson respectively. On the one hand, I disagree with some of the collectivist assumptions reflected. I do not think, for example, that law-abiding people have some peculiar responsibility for crimes committed by others, merely because their skin tones are similar. I reject the very concept of race—biological essentialism being obsolete at least as applied to racial categorizations—and would prefer a world in which people’s group identities were defined by their values and interests rather than the shades of their skin.

Nevertheless, there is a message of strength and empowerment in these videos so rare in this day and age that the words deserve to be heard—not just by their intended audience of people who look a certain way on the outside, but by everyone who sometimes fails to look hard enough inside themselves. I could not get the videos to appear as previews, so please click on the links above and watch both, because these men’s words are more powerful and thought-provoking than anything I could write.

Increasingly, we blame rich people, corporations, white people, the patriarchy, the government, politicians, our parents, our bosses, our teachers—everyone but ourselves—for the circumstances of our lives. Sometimes it is painful to look in the mirror and acknowledge that we are where we are, not because the world is unfair, but because of our own choices and actions—even harder to consider that we could get somewhere else, starting now, if we would but expend the effort.

Ferguson is the ultimate mirror, forcing that hard look.

Natalie Dubose's bakery was destroyed in the Ferguson rioting. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help her rebuild.

Natalie Dubose’s bakery was destroyed in the Ferguson rioting. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help her rebuild.

When we remember to see ourselves and each other as individuals in categories of one, instead of archetypes of the groups to which we belong—white cop, black man, Asian student, working poor, the 1%, Christian, Muslim, woman, mother, Jew—it becomes possible to consider that Officer Wilson may have been justified in using deadly force—and still acknowledge the increasing militarization of the police and that some police departments have race relation problems. To accept that Wilson likely would have been acquitted after trial—and still ask questions about the strange way the grand jury proceeding was conducted. To contemplate that the grand jury made the right decision and simultaneously acknowledge that people see more phantom guns when they are looking at someone of another race. To ask questions about how police interact with members of some communities and not lose sight of the fact that unarmed white men are killed by cops too.

Because pumpkins.

Because pumpkins.

It becomes possible to recognize that people with darker shades of skin are no more responsible for rioting in the wake of a grand jury proceeding than people with lighter skin are responsible for rioting at pumpkin festivals or in the wake of a sporting event. The vast majority of people of all the arbitrary groupings we call “races” are law-abiding. Finding differences at the extremes and then generalizing them to everyone in the group is falling for the fallacy of the tails.

Yet there is something inherently inconsistent about objecting to being stereotyped based on your race or gender or religion or nationality or class—while simultaneously embracing that group identity.

If your identity is tied to a shared history of oppression, a struggle against obstacles and unfairness so overwhelming that other members of your group have snapped in anger or folded under the pressure, you cannot simultaneously ask others to ignore this aspect of your identity when they interact with you.

Shirt Storm

Matt Taylor, space scientist, shirt wearer.

It is the same fundamental mistake made by the women of #ShirtGate. You cannot proclaim yourself so disempowered that pictures of scantily clad fictional women on a shirt impact your comfort in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and simultaneously demand to be treated as equal in these fields. As Glenn Reynolds so aptly stated:

It seems to me that if you care about women in STEM, maybe you shouldn’t want to communicate the notion that they’re so delicate that they can’t handle pictures of comic-book women. Will we stock our Mars spacecraft with fainting couches?

You cannot have it both ways.

You have to choose.

Are you an individual who overcomes what the world throws your way? Or have you embraced a group identity defined by oppression that mutes your abilities and exempts you from personal responsibility for your actions and your outcomes?

The choice is yours.

Accept that you will be judged and treated accordingly.

Brad’s Beer Review: Red Brick Brewing’s Matcha Super Green Yuzu IPA

First, my apologies for missing the review last week. With the site migration not completing until Sunday, I didn’t get a chance to put something together.
Matcha Super Green Yuzu IPA
This week I’ve tried to do something a little different. Here in Southern California, I could easily spend years doing a weekly review just of beer from San Diego County. Many of these, such as Alpine, are difficult to get even here in Orange County, much less for the rest of the world.

Luckily, I recently had a beer trade with a coworker who lives in Georgia. I sent him a box of Russian River beer, and he sent the best of the best of GA beer. I might as well review something that our readers back east have better access to than we do out here. In this case, it’s Red Brick Brewing’s Matcha Super Green Yuzu IPA. Because when I think Georgia–bearing in mind that I lived there for two years–my first thought is “green tea IPA”!

That said, it’s my first tea-infused beer, so it should be an interesting experience!

  • Stats: 7.8% ABV, 62 IBU. 4.5 SRM.
  • Aroma: Well, for an IPA, it certainly doesn’t lead with hops. Bit of a shame there. Maybe a bit of the tea, but not overwhelming. I definitely pick up a bit of graininess and a bit of phenol.
  • Appearance: Pale gold, very hazy. Not much head. I typically pour rather gently, but as it was going I tried to get much more aggressive and still didn’t get much. I think the tea definitely causes the haze, but not sure on the head.
  • Flavor: For an IPA, and a 62 IBU IPA at that, I don’t find it overwhelmingly bitter. There’s a maltiness in there. Granted, this is not all that uncommon for East Coast IPAs. The tea is not overdone. A concern with any spiced beer is that the spice will absolutely overwhelm everything else. In this case it melded very well. I would have liked some more hops, though.
  • Mouthfeel: Light to medium body, but with a bit of sweetness that makes it seem a little bigger than it is. I think here is where the tea is most detectable, though. It’s different on the tongue than a typical beer. I get this tiny back-of-the-tongue astringency that I don’t get often.
  • Overall Impression: This one was just “ok” for me. Everything seemed a bit “muddled”. I like nice crisp dry IPAs that are heavy on the hops. I didn’t get them. I do like tea, and I was expecting a bit more noticeable tea character. And the maltiness kind of overshadowed both of those. I wouldn’t really recommend this one.

There you have it. A great big “meh”. I’m sure it’s possible to get green tea to work harmoniously in an IPA, but this isn’t the one.

5 Thoughts On Ferguson And Mike Brown

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As the country has watched the events unfold in Ferguson over the past week, we have been horrified by the rioting and the wanton destruction of property in the wake of the grand jury’s decision to not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on criminal charges for the shooting of Michael Brown. Tempers have been flaring as people have taken to social media to argue their side of the case. I’ve been trying to figure out what to write on this and putting together what to say on this. So here we go:

1) The Grand Jury Came To The Right Decision

After looking at the evidence, here’s what we have essentially; some eyewitness testimony that claimed Mike Brown was essentially murdered by Darren Wilson, most of which was proven false; Officer Wilson’s version of events; eyewitnesses that corroborate Wilson’s events; and finally an autopsy and forensic evidence which also corroborate Officer Wilson’s version of events that showed a struggle for his gun and that Brown was shot in the front.

Given all of this, there was no basis for an indictment for anything. Even if he was indicted, there was no basis for a conviction so a trial would’ve simply been a waste of taxpayer money.

2) Having Said That, There Should’ve Been A Special Prosecutor Appointed In This Case

I agree with Stephen Littau that the outrage here is not that the grand jury was through in the Darren Wilson case, it’s that they indict everyone else. No wonder why many people protesting can see a possible conflict of interest.

If it’s even possible to appoint a special prosecutor, this is such a case. It may have lessoned the charges of impropriety and conflict of interest.

Criticizing the process is not grounds for calling for an indictment though, it’s just grounds for calling for a special prosecutor. I think the special prosecutor would’ve come to the same conclusion as this prosecutor and grand jury did.

3) Anyone Calling For Violence Or Making Excuses For It Is Disgusting And Morally Rephrensible

One of the things that has been disturbing in this case is the calls to violence in the media. An anarchist magazine says we need to stop “riot shaming.” An op-ed writer in Time wrote a defense of rioting. A libertarian blogger called the rioting and violence “just and necessary.”

These people and others like them who are supporting the riots are disgusting. There is no excuse for the destruction of private property and businesses. These riots have runied the livilihoods of the employees and business people, most of whom are black. These people didn’t kill Michael Brown.

A brief look around shows that there are non-violent alternatives to pursue change. Civil rights laws were enacted in the 1960s and legislation defending the right to vote was enacted as a part of it. If you want to change the law and how policing is done, get out there organize and vote for candidates who agree with you.

4) Ferguson Not Only Demonstrated The Worst Of America, But The Best Of America As Well

Enough about the riots. Let’s talk about how people have come together in the aftermath. One of the businesses destroyed in the Ferguson riots was a black-owned bakery. They’ve raised $200,000 in donations from a GoFundMe page to enable them to rebuild. The store that Michael Brown allegedly robbed before his encounter with Officer Wilson was also looted. They too have setup a GoFundMe page which has raised almost $25,000 in two days. Please give some money to them.

The people that gave money to these two minority business owners were of all races and creeds. The attempt by many of the Ferguson rioters to start a race war failed miserably.

Other Ferguson businesses have setup GoFundMe pages and in a future post, probably tomorrow, I will feature everyone I can find. Let the best of America outshine the worst of America.

5) Although Mike Brown Is Not The Proper Poster Boy For Corrupt And Racist Policing, We Need To Address Police Brutality

Mike Brown most likely died assualting a police officer and going for his gun. Darren Wilson most likely did nothing wrong when he killed Michael Brown. However, police brutality is a real problem, especially in minority communities.

We need to ask ourselves why African-Americans are so afraid of law enforcement and work together to change it. We also need to end or rein in police militarization and the Federal government does need to get involved to create stricter oversight of local police departments. There will most likely always be police officers who abuse their authority, but right now we have too many on the force. We’re not going to solve this by blocking freeways, annoying Black Friday shoppers, and rioting; we’re only going to solve this by dialogue.

In the end, what we have here is a tragedy all around. An 18 year old young man is dead and regardless of the circumstances, it’s still a tragedy. We have a police officer who had to take that young man’s life. I hope and pray that the family of Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson find peace. I pray that the business owners of Ferguson have their shops restored and I pray for peace and more importantly, for understanding and that out of this tragedy, some change that ensures something like this never happens again.

Watching the Watchers: Resistance to Transparency a Problem at Every Level of Government

We do not have leaders in the United States of America. We have representatives. They are chosen by us to do a job for us. They are our employees. We do not owe them any respect or subservience beyond the same basic respect we choose to show fellow human beings, and in particular those who are our employees.

And we have a right to watch them.

Yet at all levels of government, we face rebellion against our right to watch.

STATE LEGISLATURE IN THE NEWS FOR VIOLATING OPEN MEETING LAWS

Open MeetingsOne of the Republican candidates for my state’s legislature actually came to my door twice this election cycle in an effort to earn my vote. Even had I been otherwise inclined to vote for him, his refusal to answer voter guide questionnaires would have been a deal-breaker.

He explained at my door that politicians who answer voter guide questions are sometimes “discriminated against for their religion.” Only by questioning him on my porch was I able to elicit his position on issues from gay marriage to the War on Drugs—which he supports because “we need to be moral.”

He won handily without my vote and is now a state senator. His counterparts in the state House have just made news by, once again, being accused of violating Montana’s open meeting laws. Earlier this month, the House Republican Caucus met in the basement of a hotel without providing the requisite notice. During the 2013 session, the Caucus similarly met in the basement of the state Capitol without posting notice.

The state media have been quick to point out that both parties and both houses of the state legislature routinely violate the state’s open meeting laws. The interviews with the politicians engaged in such violations are candid and telling. One Democrat senator, for example, detailed how rather than simply post the notice and allow reporters to cover the event, his party would instead make just enough people leave to be under the limit of the notice requirements:

“We were always mindful of the numbers,” added Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman. “And when we realized we were over the limit, someone would leave.”

One of his Republican counterparts lamented that the open meeting requirements make it “impossible” for elected politicians to talk to each other:

Where do you draw the line?” he asked. “How does a group function if they can’t get together and talk to each other? This is supposed to be a country of freedom of association and freedom of speech. If you’re going to take that away at a caucus, how is the caucus going to function?”

He does not seem to understand that the caucuses can still talk, even if the people they work for are listening. If they do not want the voters to know about it, perhaps they ought not be doing it.

POLICE DEPARTMENTS RESIST BEING RECORDED

olson_scottOn Saturday night, Ferguson police arrested a member of the press, apparently for standing on a sidewalk. This comes in the wake of federal court orders directing that Ferguson police not engage in any practice of interfering with citizens’ right to record police. These orders were obtained based on events following the death of Michael Brown, in which police detained journalists, wrongfully interfered with people recording the protests and police response, and instituted a no-fly zone to prevent the media from flying over.

Both cops and citizens behave better when they know they are being recorded. Recordings exonerate innocent people who have been wrongfully accused and help ensure that the right people are punished. As Reason’s Ronald Bailey has reported:

Earlier this year, a 12-month study by Cambridge University researchers revealed that when the city of Rialto, California, required its cops to wear cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent and the use of force by officers dropped by almost 60 percent. Watched cops are polite cops.

Yet all over the country, police continue to harass citizens who lawfully record the police, a fairly well recognized right in these United States.

Police officers are not our overlords. They are public employees hired by the people to enforce the laws passed by the people. Like any other employer, We, The People, get to watch the work done by our employee police officers.

MOST TRANSPARENT ADMINISTRATION IN HISTORY

Obama secretOpen enrollment for Affordable Care Act health plans began in mid November. States have been releasing their enrollment numbers. But trying to get enrollment numbers from the federal government continues to be like pulling teeth.

In the wake of an embarrassing revelation about an “unacceptable” mistake inflating the total enrollment numbers, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell has ordered her agency to come up with ways to increase transparency. I hope she follows through.

But the “most transparent administration in history” has a mixed record on living up to its own hype. Lingering questions remain about the transparency of the drone program. Just this week, the administration continued its established practice of dumping thousands of new regulations on the eve of a major holiday.

Let us not forget that last month, USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page called this administration “the most restrictive” and “most dangerous” to the press than any other in history. She echoes sentiments expressed earlier this year by New York Times editor Jill Abramson, who said the Obama administration is setting new standards for secrecy:

“The Obama years are a benchmark for a new level of secrecy and control,” says Abramson. “It’s created quite a challenging atmosphere for The New York Times, and for some of the best reporters in my newsroom who cover national security issues in Washington.”

*     *     *

Those that are covering national security, according to Abramson, say that is has never been more difficult to get information.

*     *     *

Abramson says that the Obama Administration uses legal loopholes to make things difficult for journalists and media organizations. She says, for example, that the Obama Justice Department pursues cases against reporters under an obscure provision of the 1917 Espionage Act.

“I think, in a back door way using an obscure provision of an old law, they are tip-toeing close to things that, here in the United States, we’ve never had,” says Abramson.

*     *     *

While Abramson says that the White House hasn’t completely shut out the U.S. press corps, even routine media coverage has become difficult to obtain.

“The amount of friction and confrontation involved in just going about what I see as perfectly normal coverage, that in the past wouldn’t have even provoked a discussion, becomes a protracted and somewhat exhausting process,” she says.

As technology and government overreach continue to threaten the walls of privacy that traditionally protected Americans, we must be vigilant in making sure the watchers are themselves watched. They are not leaders, but employees. We should demand that they conduct themselves as such. That entails consistently subjecting their official conduct to scrutiny.

_____________________________________________________

Open Meetings image via In El Dorado County News. Ferguson image via The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch. Obama image via Poor Richard’s News.

Community Conservatism – Government Accountability and Service

thedmvhell

Restoring Faith in Public Institutions

One effect of the Obama administration that many conservatives think is, somehow, positive, has been the massive deterioration in public trust in government. Liberty-minded folks have variously argued that the millennial generation has no faith at all in government and that this makes them budding allies against liberalism. We would argue that millennial voters now attempting to enter the middle class all seem to want badly to believe that government can work and that Democrats are better at garnering their votes by promising that the latest wave will be the ones to restore that trust. We believe that being conservative is not the same as being anti-government, and that we need to seize upon this opportunity to convince a frustrated generation of Americans that conservatives can govern, that government can be a positive force if properly restrained, and that we can make the system work. Accountability and an end to cronyism are the keys.

A) Abolish Federal Employee Unions

Franklin D. Roosevelt – the granddaddy of all classical US progressives – believed that it was wrong to allow federal employees to unionize, because it represented a fundamental conflict of interest when they bargain with the same people for their benefits that they use union funds to elect. One of the major sources of “good-pole-boys” cronyism in Washington is the persistent political power of federal employee unions. Many of the same people lobbying Congress to enact the Affordable Care Act, for example, were members of the union for IRS employees. Federal employees should not be shielded from the realities of the policies enacted by Washington, and they should not have collective power to exert over policies that they must enforce, by which they themselves do not live.

B) Pass the ARM Act

Don’t go looking for that acronym – I invented it (sounds strong and impressive, right?). The Annual Reporting Mandate law would require all federal agencies granted budgetary allowances to report precisely how those funds were spent to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and would task Congress with affirming that those funds were properly disbursed in the service of the mandate of the agencies, issuing refund requirements when agency spending is not deemed appropriate. Simple, albeit time consuming, this annual review of the unelected fourth branch of government would force transparency and keep federal agencies leaner and less prone to fraud and abuse (this should include the Federal Reserve).

C) Pass ‘Unrevolve’ Legislation

No one is surprised, anymore, when someone from a government agency is fired for malfeasance of incompetence, latches on with a lobby firm, and returns a few years later, under a new administration. No one is alarmed when members of Congress lose political races and are immediately absorbed by lobbies, PACs and Wall Street, only to return to politics shortly thereafter in a new state. This phenomenon was given the term of ‘revolving door’ and ensures that no one is ever truly held accountable when they behave as political operatives within the system, breaking rules to achieve political ends, even if they are caught. Congress should act to bar people who have been by PACs, lobbying firms or other specifically politically organizations from serving as elected officials or as appointees in government agencies. The same bill should provide for the enactment of new, harsher penalties, the revocation of pensions and the lifetime barring of any government employee implicated in wrongdoing or incompetence while in service. It’s not clear that we can ever completely stop the crony wheels from spinning, but we can make it much more difficult for political operatives to avoid accountability.

D) Codify The Ryan Plan for Better Service

We’ll talk much more about containing the cost of our unfunded entitlement liabilities and securing those benefits for future generations in a later installment, but while we’re on the subject of government accountability, one of the main reasons that even the poor who are being theoretically most served by the safety net have lost faith in government is that customer service and accountability in government flat out sucks. As someone who is legally blind, I have had the misfortune to require access to the Social Security Goliath, and let me tell you – the way in which the government disseminates benefits, administers mistakes, keeps tabs on benefit recipients, and attempts to improve their standards of living is hopefully out of date, painfully bureaucratic, inaccessible and, frequently, just plain dehumanizing.

But you don’t have to be receiving SSI or retirement assistance or Medicare or veteran’s benefits to know how appallingly depressing government services are. Just take a look around your local DMV office the next time you’re updating your state ID or driver’s license. What you’ll see in any government office from the IRS to the DMV to the SSA is a collection of overworked, miserable employees using hilariously out of date computer systems, handling citizens as though they were cattle, and generally taking their frustrations out on people who need their help. It’s a bleak landscape filled with despair and dependency and no one enjoys it – not even those who claim to be perfectly happy to stay on welfare (and yes, they do exist). If conservatives would like to shed the unfair label of uncaring toward the poor, they should take steps to improve customer service while reducing the cost of that service and saving the taxpayers money. Fortunately, Paul Ryan has devoted considerable ink to discussing how he would accomplish this. The basic tenets of his plan go as follows:

• Nuke the federal workers unions (as already discussed) and allow federal and state agencies to fire employees who do not work with compassion and manners toward their charges.
• Instead of funding (at last count) 86 separate federal anti-poverty programs, many of which overlap in their missions, creating enormous redundancy and waste, while confusing the heck out of the public, block grant federal budget dollars to the states and establish achievement-based standards in the provision of such programs (in other words, judge the merit of state-run anti-poverty, affordable housing, healthcare, preventive care, and nutrition programs by how well they work, rather than by the appeal of their stated mandates), to be run by the states and scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Let the states have considerable latitude to experiment on needs-based programs, but revoke programs that fail to improve outcomes or that get horrible customer service ratings. This review is to be conducted annually.
• Rather than sending each citizen to many different offices to manage his or her benefits, establish a personal management system in which all people seeking any type of benefit consult by appointment with one social worker who oversees all of their needs – in this way, re-humanize the process and establish a relationship between the citizen in need and the resources at his or her disposal, while making interacting with the state more efficient and more frictionless for the customer. Each social worker can probably handle hundreds of recipients at a time without an overworked schedule, and without life-sucking endless waits in lines to be seen by a stressed-out bureaucrat who doesn’t know anything about your needs. This managed model has proven to be more cost-effective in private sector human resource management as well.
• Give civic non-profits and religious organizations access – don’t limit petitions for participation in new state anti-poverty programs to government bureaucrats. In this way, empower (through the provision of federal grants) the mediating “civic society” to do good works that can be tracked by the government and good ideas duplicated when they prove effective. Turn the generosity and goodwill of the people into a giant engine of creativity that stands a better chance of rescuing the poor.

This basic template should be honed into policy that can stand as a strong platform for Republicans running for office in 2016 and unite social conservatives with the poor and disaffected that they wish to help, broadening the potential voter base for the Republican Party through improved dialogue.

Final Note: I considered discussing the possibility of pushing a Constitutional amendment that would enact term limits for Congressmen, Senators and Federal Judges, since this is an idea that is growing increasingly popular as anti-incumbent sentiments rise nationally, but I believe that is a concept that has strong plusses AND strong minuses and should be more carefully considered at the state level before any action is taken.

Quote of the Day: Grand Jury Decision Aftermath Edition

Scott Shackford over at Reason made an excellent point in the wake of the grand jury decision finding insufficient probable cause to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown.

Based on the information [St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert P.] McCulloch described tonight it may seem unlikely Wilson would have convicted, and perhaps that would have been the right decision by a criminal jury. That raises yet another question, though: Should we be upset at the amount of deference and effort made to find reasons not to indict Wilson in this case or should we be upset that the same doesn’t happen to the rest of us? Is the outrage that a grand jury didn’t indict Wilson or is the outrage that the grand jury indicts just about everybody else?

As far as I’m concerned, my outrage is that grand juries indicts just about everybody else. This jury heard the evidence with all the conflicting testimony and the rest of us have not. I cannot say whether this is a just outcome or not and neither can anyone else at this point. We will most likely never know for sure what happened that fateful day.

I imagine that at least a few of the protesters in Ferguson who have themselves (or know someone who has) been indicted with very little evidence then either strongly encouraged to take a plea deal or were convicted. It’s not to hard to see why some might feel that the criminal justice system works one way for the police and a different way for everyone else, regardless of the specific circumstances in this case (the specific circumstances in this case being all the grand jury should have been concerned about).

We Didn’t Go Anywhere, We Just Had Some Issues

We’re back. We migrated our to our new hosting service at GoDaddy and we had do it manually. As a result, had a hard-time getting our old posts to show up on the site. Thanks to the wonderful tech support at GoDaddy, we finally got it back up today.

Over the next couple of days, we should get back to normal posting. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be unveiling this site’s first redesign in 9 years in order to provide our readers with a better experience. However, no matter which host we use or what website design we use, we will always be committed to showcasing our content. After all, you come here to read what we write, not to check out our website.

We thank you for your patience.

Community Conservatism – Reviving the Middle Class Economy

median_income

Governing for a Healthy Middle Class Economy

Conservatives do not believe that the government can “create” jobs directly. This canard of the left does nothing but destroy market-driven, sustainable jobs at the expense of increasing the national debt and attaching an anchor to GDP growth in exchange for short term government employment and expanded private sector government influence. That doesn’t mean that a conservative Congress can’t stand for job creation. The way we get there is by providing the modern infrastructure, economic freedom, and competitive tax code that attract, rather than repel the world’s wealth. We want to decrease the cost of doing business here at home and focus government resources on business-supportive roles, rather than coercive ‘partnerships’. It begins with a smarter tax code.

A) Pass Corporate Tax Reform (dare Obama to veto)

I don’t recommend settling for half-measures here and I recommend putting this near the top of the agenda for 2015. Obama has, on multiple occasions, put Corporate tax reform in his state of the union address in his 6 years in office (five addresses, 4 mentions). Corporate tax reform that accomplishes the closing of certain loopholes, the ending of certain forms of corporate welfare, and the reduction of rates to something that competes with the rest of the developed world has broad, bipartisan support among the voting middle class. In Washington, such measures have met with stiff resistance from corporate lobbies who do not want to see the corporate tax base broadened to include them, specifically (through the removal of loopholes). Let the GOP stand for the voters, not for special interests, and pass comprehensive corporate tax reform that does the following:

• Cuts the corporate tax rate to 25% at most
• Creates a two-tiered capital gains tax bracket, where all capital gains are taxed at a much lower rate below $250,000 each year
• Excises many of the tax-sheltering loopholes used by the biggest corporations to avoid paying; in particular, the shelters to profits earned overseas by American companies
• Gives corporations a ‘tax holiday’ to repatriate foreign capital until January of 2021
• Creates a lower corporate tax rate for wealth generated by manufacturing concerns – 15%, perhaps

There are, I’m certain, other great ideas that could be included in a sweeping change like this, and we’re all ears. This is just a start. The goal is to create an environment that encourages businesses to take risks and expand their workforce here at home without taking the punitive approach championed by Obama (penalize companies that keep their money overseas, rather than improve the economic climate at home).

B) Pass the REINS Act (obtain Obama’s veto)

REINS is a relatively simple piece of legislation passed in the GOP-controlled house and left to gather dust in Harry Reid’s file cabinet. It requires congress to approve all regulations in excess of $100M as scored by the Congressional Budget Office each year. If said regulations cannot be approved, they are immediately stricken. This is good policy on so many levels, not the least of which is that it maintains the separation of the non-political government agencies from the political process in the drafting of public policy regulations but forces Congress to exercise some oversight on those regulations that are particularly costly. We recognize that regulatory science should not be trapped by the political process, but we also believe that unelected agencies should not have carte blanche to pass regulatory rules without oversight that serve as a huge burden to economic growth. It will give the voters some ability to hold their representatives responsible for the regulatory state and encourage those who draft said regulations to minimize their costs or garner broad public support for their necessity. It will also make public the CBO scoring of the cost of every major regulation, helping the public to get a sense for the true costs and benefits of each.

C) Return the Full-Time Workweek to 40 Hours

We’ll talk more about the Affordable Care Act when we get to healthcare, but one of the most pernicious things the ACA accomplished was to effectively reduce the American workweek to 30 hours in the eyes of the law. Democrats supported this concept to avoid the tendency of corporations to get 39 hours of work per week out of employees to avoid having them counted as full time and thus be forced to offer benefits. The problem, of course, is that reducing the workweek to 30 hours meant a lot of people just got cut down to 29 hours. If you’re a struggling poor or working class American, this tends to drive you to take two part time jobs and you end up working more and still not getting benefits, or working drastically less and not making enough money to survive. If all else fails, regarding the ACA, increasing the workweek back to 40 hours at least offers some relief for people in this situation (and the CBO projects a big surge in part time labor under the ACA as it currently stands).

D) Expand the Earned-Income Tax Credit

Right now, if you earn less than $11,000 for an individual or $88,000 for a family filing jointly, and are legally eligible for that work, you can claim an earned-income tax credit (variable by family size and earnings). The EITC is good policy for the poor and working classes and should be expanded with increased credit sizes (perhaps another 30-40% proportionally) and availability (up to incomes of less than $125,000 for a family filing jointly). Make this revenue neutral by creating a “super-wealthy” tax bracket (>$1,000,000) that is taxed at a slightly higher rate and by eliminating eligibility for certain tax credits for people in this new upper tax bracket. Normally, the GOP is not associated with eve the smallest of tax increases for the wealthy, but if we reduce corporate taxes as previously outlined, this sort of minor compromise will come out in the wash while selling as good, fair tax policy to middle class voters.

E) Exempt Small and Moderate-sized Businesses from Burdensome Regulation

Small business start-ups are responsible for the majority of new jobs that pay above the media household income. They’re also in sharp decline here in the US. One of the major reasons for this is that, when Congress enacts legislation to regulate business, it does so with larger businesses in mind. We recognize that it is indeed necessary to regulate larger corporations, because they can have disproportional impacts on the environment, the free market, and the welfare of the people. We also recognize that big business can absorb the cost of our most aggressive regulations, but small business cannot. We also believe it is unreasonable for small businesses, frequently run by citizens without the resources to educate themselves on the full extent of the regulatory state cannot be expected to comply to the same degree as larger corporations, and that their likely impact on people, the market or the economy is greatly reduced. We, therefore, must pass a law stating that regulations determined to be of great impact by the CBO as in the REINS act, should be applied only to corporations with greater than 250 employees or more than a negotiable amount of total assets.

F) Repeal Sarbanes-Oxley and Replace with Common Sense Reporting

Again on the subject of over-regulation, this panic-move following Enron’s collapse is among the worst offenders for needless corporate regulatory burden, annually costing billions in the private sector for compliance and producing no change in accounting transparency. It reminds us of the mindless and often pointless busywork we used to get in school, and compliance requires companies to hire a fleet of folks who are specifically experts in the labyrinthine letter of this law. It must go and be replaced by much simpler-to-follow guidelines for financial reporting.

G) Greenlight Keystone XL and Other Energy Infrastructure Projects on Federal Lands

The latest estimate by industry sources is that Keystone XL pipeline would create in excess of 20,000 good paying jobs immediately and have extensive multiply impacts on the job market, not to mention making it cheaper to move oil to high-demand parts of the country where oil prices are currently far too high. Our best environmental impact studies conclude that the XL pipeline would be a net positive for the environment if you assume that the alternative is transport by rail, rather than non-use. This is a no-brainer.

H) Abolish the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Allow Nuclear Energy Expansion – Complete Yucca Mountain Facility for Waste Management

As the science improves to reduce waste products from nuclear fission power, and as the EU and Japan continue to move ahead of us on safe, clean nuclear energy, our ability to innovate and, perhaps, solve the problem of excessive fossil fuel emission is stymied by the anti-science left’s crusade against Nuclear Energy. It’s time to stop being parochial and superstitious in the face of overwhelming evidence that nuclear energy is, by far, our best source of affordable, clean energy.

I) Abolish the Export/Import Bank

It may not be immediately apparent how ending this brand of corporate welfare can help create jobs, but it becomes clearer when you realize that many of the businesses that benefit from Ex/Im assistance are the non-dynamic, struggling corporations not likely to hire a large labor force, and it always seems to come at the expense of healthy competition. Again, the key to job creation is a competitive, free market that rewards well-run companies, not the ones out begging for federal dollars to stay afloat and squash upstarts.

Obama Using “Net Neutrality” to Obscure Federal Take-Over of Internet

fiber-optic-cable“The government will fuck the Internet up.”

So says Mark Cuban. Truer words were never spoken. Allowing the federal government to treat the Internet as a public utility, as President Obama is calling for, under the guise of “net neutrality,” is an abysmally bad idea.

To be clear, “net neutrality” and public utility regulation are two different but equally bad ideas. It appears Obama is using the former in a cynical bid to trick the electorate into accepting the latter. Neither is needed and both are undesirable.

“NET NEUTRALITY”

Net neutrality is the idea that, having paid for Internet service, consumers should have unfettered access to all content. It would prevent a whole host of business model experiments that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) might otherwise try:

  • Selling tiered data plans like cell phone companies do.
  • Developing their own content and then delivering that content at higher speeds than they deliver a competitor’s content.
  • Creating different “lanes” of Internet traffic and charging higher prices to content providers or users for access to the “fast lanes.”
  • Preferring certain content providers to others, likely depending on who pays.
  • Blocking users from using certain online content that takes up too much bandwidth and slows down the network for other customers.

I see none of this as frightening. We pay different rates based on the size and weight of the mail we send. We pay different rates for concert seats, cell phone plans, Netflix memberships, cable subscriptions and a whole host of other services.

The sun still rises.

What consumers who demand heavy content at low cost really want is to have other users overpay for light content while suffering the slow buffering speeds caused by the heavey users. As Casey Given, writing for Rare, observes:

Even if the FCC’s worst fears come to fruition and ISPs start charging cell phone-style “plans” for different levels of Internet access, online access would only become cheaper for low data users. As it is today, a grandmother who logs online once a day pays just as much as the tech-savvy teenager next door who regularly downloads gigabytes of data. As such, she is subsidizing his usage and could instead be paying a cheaper rate if her ISP offered varying plans.

In any case, ISPs own their technology and infrastructure. They invested in that property with the aim of making a profit. The idea that the public has some sort of claim against the property of ISPs reflects a sense of entitlement I cannot endorse. Rights are things we get to do—not things we get to have at others’ expense.

It is where we stand on this principle in the hard cases that defines us.

In addition to heavy content users, the other main beneficiaries of net neutrality are Internet giants like Facebook, Google and Netflix. These companies do not want to be charged by ISPs for the heavy traffic their users generate while slowing down buffering speeds for everyone else.

But is there any reason we should prefer the profit of big content providers over the profit of ISPs? Is there some principle that says Netflix should be allowed to earn whatever profit the market permits—but not the ISPs who deliver its content to consumers?

As Doug Mataconis wrote for TLP back in 2010:

It’s Comcast’s network, [it] should have the right to decide how it’s used and to take action to protect its property and its other customers.

PUBLIC UTILITY REGULATION

Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet is not the same as net neutrality. His plan is to treat it as a public utility, the “most draconian” level of regulation that could apply. It would require ISPs to provide universal service, i.e., “wire up every house.”

It would also allow them to charge the rates necessary to recoup that expenditure at a profit. In fact, public utility regulations allow the type of tiered pricing net neutrality advocates want to prevent:

What some critics of the Commission’s recent proposal may not realize is that even if the FCC agrees to impose the price, non-discrimination, and other forms of common carrier regulation on ISPs, Title II reclassification, would not necessarily ban paid prioritization. As former enforcement director at the Federal Trade Commission, David Balto, has pointed out, the title only prohibits “unjust and unreasonable” differences in services. Carriers regulated under Title II still “may offer different pricing (including volume and term discounts) … so long as they are ‘generally available to similarly situated customers.’”

In plain English, all this means that if some websites, like Netflix, want “faster lanes” on broadband networks, the providers of those networks can charge extra for that service even under Title II, so long as they stand ready to offer the same service to all similarly situated comers.

So Obama’s proposal presents a solution that does not fit the purported problem—which may not even exist.

In June 2006, there were two or more broadband providers in 92 percent of the nation’s zip codes, and four or more providers in 87 percent. A June 2014 study found at least two providers (wireline and wireless) for virtually all of the U.S., and at least two providers (cable and telephone) in nearly three quarters. Nick Gillespie reports at Time Magazine that 80% of households have at least two providers capable of delivering the Internet at 10Mbps or faster.

This access has been achieved even as prices have gone down:

President Obama’s call this week to regulate the Internet as a public utility is like pushing to replace the engine of a car that runs perfectly well. The U.S. data sector — including wired and wireless broadband — is the envy of the world, administering a powerful boost to consumer welfare, generating high-paying jobs and encouraging tens of billions of dollars in corporate investment. Indeed, the prices of data-related goods and services have dropped by almost 20 percent since 2007.

So what is really going on? Does Obama really think the future of the Internet requires the government to sort out squabbles between Netflix and Comast?

I doubt it.

Maybe it is intended to deliver to big donors. Maybe it is about the 16.1% tax on interstate revenues that would be paid by broadband consumers. Or maybe it is something more sinister. As Christopher Bowen wrote last week:

The problem with the government regulating the internet is that … when they get to determine the rules, the consequences turn sinister.

*     *     *

What about communications of interest to the government, such as anything with heavy encryption? Or Tor?

The government has a direct interest in controlling that kind of traffic—hello, Wikileaks/Edward Snowden/any other whistleblower—and if anyone thinks the federal government will look the other way on these things, they are naive.

This isn’t just a possibility, it’s the reality of current legislation on the books, as Chris Byrne pointed out in 2006. Every single packet, every communication, every image, would be captured and stored—by law—if common carrier became the letter of the law in regards to internet traffic, without a warrant, and it would take just a rubber stamp to get a warrant that would be used to punish anyone the government pleases…

REGULATION HURTS INVESTMENT IN INFRASTRUCTURE

For years, federal agencies themselves have resisted calls for regulation, on the states basis that forcing ISPs to treat content neutrally was not necessary, would impede the development of infrastructure, and would have an adverse effect on consumer welfare.

That is because developing the technology to respond to demands for bandwidth requires heavy investment. In fact, in 2013, telecom and cable companies topped the list of industries investing in the U.S., to the tune of $46 billion in investment.

Regulation cuts into the profits that encourage that level of investment.

This Cato Institute podcast, for example, covers the fact that Google Fiber does not provide Title II (public utility) services precisely to avoid the onerous regulations that come along with such endeavor. Another stark reminder of this basic fact came in the wake of the President’s message. On November 12, 2014, AT&T announced it would delay installing high-speed fiber-optic Internet infrastructure in 100 U.S. cities until the rules were clarified.

Perhaps this is why the American people oppose regulation. A November 2014 survey by Rasumussen Reports found that 61% oppose federal regulation of the Internet. Only 19% want more regulation than we already have. What is more, seventy-six percent like the quality of their Internet access.

Only 5% have complaints.

At best this is a solution in search of a problem. At worst, this is a Jonathan Gruber style misinformation campaign, designed to lull the public into complacency as the federal government assumes control of the Internet.

This time, let’s not fall for it.

Image via BandwithPlace.com

Book Review: Hearts of Darkness

I recently read* Hearts of Darkness: Why Kids Are Becoming Mass Murderers and How We Can Stop It

This is obviously setting up to be a slightly controversial book from the start. Trying to delve into the psychology of mass killings is fraught with peril.
Hearts of Darkness
This book, however, seems to deliver on its theme.

At its core, the book makes two arguments. Both have merit, but both also lead to questions. At its core, the arguments boil down to this:

  1. Mass killings have become an epidemic, and are a serious issue in their own right that need to be addressed by society.
  2. Mass killings are fundamentally an intersection between the forces of society and severe mental health issues.

I have my issues with both arguments.

First, essentially all statistics on violent crime show that it’s in the decline. So while I’m not going to argue whether or not mass shootings in the dramatic and newsworthy sense are increasing or decreasing [as I haven’t looked at the stats], I’m concerned that the authors didn’t even address the fact that violent crime is decreasing in the aggregate. If you want to make the case that this particular problem is worth addressing, you’d think that including overall crime stats and explaining why this trend increasing in the face of declining crime is worth of a societal response is really necessary.

Second, the argument of the book is quite clear. Essentially all of the killers profiled showed evidence of paranoid schizophrenia. We’re not talking about normal people who went over the edge. We’re talking about crazy people who decided to manifest their version of crazy in a way that causes extreme casualties. But if you assume that these events are increasing, that means we either are seeing an increase in the number of crazy people or we’re seeing something in society that is making crazy people more prone to these events. Unfortunately, the authors don’t seem to justify either argument.

That said, I like the book for its deep investigation into the history of several of these high-profile killers. What they show, with intense research, is that every one of the profiled killers were showing evidence of severe mental schisms. And we’re not talking about depression, or anxiety. We’re talking about hardcore paranoid schizophrenia. Depressed people take their own lives. People who hear voices, or have other similar breaks with reality, are the ones who try to take a bunch of people with them.

The Good:

First and foremost, the book extensively focuses on mental health issues. It essentially states that not all paranoid schizophrenics will become mass shooters. In fact, only a small number will. But it looks into the history of several of these killers and severe mental instability is a pretty darn clear thread woven through their history.

Second, I do like the fact that they don’t fall on the trope of “the kid was autistic, therefore he’s an unfeeling monster” garbage. Yes, autistic people tend to have difficulty relating to others in a “normal” way. No, they don’t lack empathy or concern for others. Autistic people tend to be much less violent than in general. But every time you get into one of these mass killings, the speculation is that the killer is autistic. And in the case of Adam Lanza, it pretty well seems to line up. But the key is that while autistic people tend not to be violent, people who are both autistic and paranoid schizophrenics or have borderline personality disorder just might be violent. Clearly this is an important distinction to me.

Third, this is most certainly NOT an anti-gun book. Despite the fact that the authors are pretty well in favor of gun control, they’re cognizant of the fact that this is not central to the thesis of the book. They do indulge for about 2 pages in the waning portions of the text to suggest that maybe if getting a gun is harder than it is now, that you might see a decrease in these killings. Given the restraint they show throughout the rest of the book, I’ll indulge them 2 pages towards the end.

The Bad:

The “epidemic” claim is not well supported. They throw out a statistic on multiple-death shootings having gone up over the years, but I think to call these “mass” killings in the same vein as a Sandy Hook or Columbine is a stretch. As mentioned before, overall violent crime is in decline over the last several decades, so it’s hard to square this with an epidemic of mass murder. I think if you’re trying to prove an epidemic, the best answer is that with modern communication, we not only know more about these events, and sooner, than we did before, and that in some of the cases the perpetrators were–if not “copycats”–inspired by previous killers. This is made clear in the book, but still I find “epidemic” to be a stretch.

They do a good job of profiling certain killers. But there are many mass killers that are NOT covered here. A skeptical reader is left wondering why not. Now, it could be simple. The authors may simply not have had access to enough medical records or personal history of these other killers to draw a conclusion. It may have been that family and friends or family of the killers were just non-cooperative with the authors. Or, of course, it could be that the authors cherry-picked the ones who supported their premise and left those who did not out. It wasn’t addressed either way, and I think it should have been.

But where the book really fails is to draw a significant conclusion. They clearly have identified a problem and a diagnosis, but when it comes to serious mental disorders, it’s very easy to overreach between acting in the interests of public safety, and trampling the rights of the disabled. After all, a very small proportion even of the mentally ill are likely to go on shooting sprees. How far are we really willing to go to stop this? At best, raising awareness of the issue to identify potential “cries for help” might be the best option, as in a number of these cases, the killers really did need, and express their want of, help to get better.

In their close, the authors point to a number of possible factors leading to this rise. He’re we’re exposed to a litany of the usual suspects. Easy access to guns (and high capacity magazines) is one. Violent video games is another. Leaning left, as they do, they throw out a few more, such as economic issues, globalization, and free speech on the internet. All of these seem to be a bit of a stretch. Hell, they might even want to throw “overpopulation” in there, because more people equals more targets, right? The problem with each of these is that under the right conditions, one can find a study suggesting that these are contributory factors, but it’s never clear just how much of this issue will go away by “solving” any given one of these issues. Nor can we typically agree on the solutions.

Conclusion:

I’m sure this is not an easy book to write. It’s a deeply troubling issue, and one where it’s almost bound to be politicized. Every time one of these events happens, the left and right tend to immediately look for any signs that the killer numbers among the other party. And every time we libertarians see something like Jared Loughner, we immediately worry that someone will assume that all libertarians are going to “go postal” on the Post Office.

This book does a great job to highlight that crazy doesn’t choose a party. And that for the most part, while violent people may kill people, it’s the crazies who are responsible for mass murder. It really is a useful book purely on that point alone. We do have a mental health issue in this country (and other countries do as well), and this is something that should be addressed so that we can help the people at risk of perpetrating these acts.

But the byline of the book includes “and How We Can Stop It.” I think the book fails to deliver on that claim. Now, that isn’t necessarily the authors’ fault. I’m not sure there is an easily-packaged solution that they could put together for us. And much like terrorism, you can win 99 battles out of 100, but that 100th is going to dominate the news cycle. In a country of 300M people, and a world of 7B, the law of large numbers states that perhaps this is simply a problem the world must endure.

At best, they say that these battles are won on the margins, and that with some small changes, like reduced capacity magazines or better control over the sale of violent video games, we might save “some” lives, and that’s better than none. However, I think their politics cause them to minimize the cost to liberty of infringing on our rights to make these improvements at the margins.

In short, the book was a worthwhile read, especially since I see it at Amazon in hardcover for $2.43 right now. At the original print price, though, probably not worth it.
» Read more

Privacy Is Dead, Long Live Privacy

Nothing beyond our reach“Americans Say They Want Privacy, but Act as if They Don’t.” Thus proclaims the headline from Claire Cain Miller, writing at the New York Times. Miller is talking about the results of a new survey from the Pew Research Center, finding that Americans do not feel secure entrusting their personal information to digital communication channels. Their distrust is directed at both private businesses and the government.

But, as Miller notes, they keep sharing anyway.

Perhaps the paradox is tied to our evolution, from the time when early man lived in caves, with few walls separating members of a clan; when to the extent anyone had privacy, it existed only because others voluntarily averted their eyes. Perhaps a buried part of us longs for the days when family members slept in the same room, children shared beds and people lived entire lives in the town where they were born.

When we were anchored in communities that bore witness to the minutiae of our lives.

Miller’s headline reminded me of a piece from earlier this year called Why You Should Embrace Surveillance, Not Fight It, by Kevin Kelly at Wired. Kelly reminds us that:

[T]ransparency is truly ancient. For eons humans have lived in tribes and clans where every act was open and visible and there were no secrets. We evolved with constant co-monitoring. Contrary to our modern suspicions, there wouldn’t be a backlash against a circular world where we constantly spy on each other because we lived like this for a million years, and — if truly equitable and symmetrical — it can feel comfortable.

Families and communities knew each other’s business. Privacy was nothing more than an extension of courtesy, the voluntary willingness of others to avert their eyes.

The Industrial Revolution changed that. We moved away from our families and towns of origin. Our houses got bigger, the walls and doors more plentiful, until even the baby had her own room.

Now technology—the same force that once drove us away from our circles of watchers– has delivered new circles and new watchers.

What the Industrial Revolution took away, the Internet gives back. We are no longer six degrees from Kevin Bacon, but three degrees from everyone.

Privacy as we have briefly known it is on its way back out. As Kelly writes:

Most likely, 50 years from now ubiquitous monitoring and surveillance will be the norm. The internet is a tracking machine. It is engineered to track. We will ceaselessly self-track and be tracked by the greater network, corporations, and governments. Everything that can be measured is already tracked, and all that was previously unmeasureable is becoming quantified, digitized, and trackable.

Why is Kelly so sure? Because governments are abusive and out of control? No. He is sure about us, about the choices we will make:

[I]f today’s social media has taught us anything about ourselves as a species it is that the human impulse to share trumps the human impulse for privacy. So far, at every juncture that offers a technological choice between privacy or sharing, we’ve tilted, on average, towards more sharing, more disclosure.

*     *     *

The self forged by previous centuries will no longer suffice. We are now remaking the self with technology. We’ve broadened our circle of empathy, from clan to race, race to species, and soon beyond that. We’ve extended our bodies and minds with tools and hardware. We are now expanding our self by inhabiting virtual spaces, linking up to billions of other minds, and trillions of other mechanical intelligences. We are wider than we were, and as we offload our memories to infinite machines, deeper in some ways.

In other words, we want all of the things by which we will destroy our own privacy. We want the ease and convenience of cashless transactions and online purchasing. We want the masturbatory self-stroking of publishing our every whim and thought onto the perpetual web. We want limitless hotspots where we can be permanently plugged into the extended selves our devices allow us to be. We want the security of seeing through clothing and walls and across distances and time.

We don’t just want it. We demand it.

The Pew Research results suggest the future of privacy may be the same as its past. The voluntary willingness of others to turn theirs heads.

To pretend they do not see.

Parts of this post previously appeared on my website LibertyGroundZero.com. The image is via TechDirt.com.

Sarah Baker is a writer, libertarian and attorney, living in Bozeman, Montana, with her daughter and a houseful of pets. She can be found on Facebook or Twitter.

Senator Rand Paul Will Oppose USA Freedom Act

Rand PaulThe Senate is poised to vote, as early as this week, on its version of the USA Freedom Act. On Friday, however, one of Senator Rand Paul’s aides told The Hill that there are significant problems with the Senate’s bill, and Paul does not intend to support it.

An earlier analysis by the ACLU suggests the bill’s treatment of “specific selection term” will prevent broad collection of all records or the records of entire cities or service providers. The ACLU further approves of language designed to ensure that government abuses will be made public and provisions for a special privacy advocate in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) proceedings.

To be sure, the ACLU is not fully satisfied with the bill:

Improvements need to be made to further narrow the definition of SST, provide strict time frames for destroying all data on innocent people, eliminate loopholes that could be exploited to avoid disclosing relevant information in FISC opinions, and grant the special advocate greater authority to proactively participate in intelligence court proceedings.

The bill also focuses entirely on Section 215; it doesn’t even touch the abuses occurring under Section 702, Executive Order 12333, or other authorities. In other words, we’re running a marathon and this bill only gets us to mile five.

Nevertheless the ACLU supports the bill as “the first time since passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978 that the chamber has taken action to constrain the intelligence community, and the first time Congress has a real shot at restoring the crucial privacy protections lost in the Patriot Act.”

The bill has also received the support of Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who may run against Rand Paul in a bid for the 2016 presidential nomination. So what is Senator Paul’s beef?

4th-amendmentIt is that the bill extends the Patriot Act through December 2017—after the next election.

Rand is right to object on this basis. Politicians’ job, their raison d’être, is to represent us—not to insulate themselves from difficult political questions until the next election.

Then again, Dave Nalle, writing American Broadside, suggests the choice may not be so simplistic:

The question for those of us who are paying attention, is whether a watered down USA Freedom Act is worth the price of renewing the PATRIOT Act, or should we push our Senators to vote it down and wait for the new Congress to take another look at it and maybe pass something closer to the original House version of the legislation which was much more substantial in its reforms.

The problem is that if the USA Freedom Act is voted down there is no guarantee that the PATRIOT Act will not be renewed next year. There may not be enough new Senators or enough who are tired of it and want to rein in the NSA so we’d be rolling the dice and the result of waiting could be worse than passing the USA Freedom Act. It might be better to take the sure but inadequate thing than wait for a better solution that never comes.

Fodder for thought…

The image of Ron Paul is via the Taking Note blog at the New York Times and attributed to William Deshazer/The Commercial Appeal, via Associated Press.

Sarah Baker is a writer, libertarian and attorney, living in Bozeman, Montana, with her daughter and a houseful of pets. She can be found on Facebook or Twitter.

‘Selfie Stalker’ Sues Nancy Grace for Defamation

DISGRACE

Judge Dredd wannabe Nancy Grace is finding herself on the defensive as Ben Siebert, falsely dubbed the ‘Selfie Stalker,’ is filing a defamation lawsuit against Grace. Grace, never one to let the facts get in the way of a sensational story to boost her ratings, made no effort to correct her mistake.

The AP reports:

The lawsuit filed Monday in Denver says Grace, who hosts a show on Turner Broadcasting’s HLN network, incorrectly told millions of viewers that Ben Seibert invaded a woman’s home and snapped a photo of himself on her phone, which she described as a “textbook serial killer’s calling card.”

Seibert said Grace humiliated him with her commentary, which went viral on an array of social media sites where readers called him a weirdo, a sicko, a rapist and a pervert. The suit says Grace didn’t check the facts and didn’t care.

Wow, Grace didn’t check the facts and didn’t care? As far as I can tell, this is normal operating procedure for Nancy Grace. It goes something like this:

  1. Accuse an individual of wrongdoing

  2. Use emotional language and imagery

  3. Report only facts which seem to support her theory

  4. Launch into ad hominem attacks against anyone who suggest she is jumping to conclusions or that the accused is innocent until proven guilty

  5. If the facts turn out to be the opposite of what she just knows in her heart to be true, have someone else fill in for a night or two, then act as if the story never happened (under no circumstances apologize or correct the record)

  6. Wash, rinse, repeat

The article continues:

“It hasn’t been easy for him as a result of this,” Seibert’s attorney, John Pineau said.

Denver Metro Crime Stoppers released Seibert’s photo on Jan. 29, after a woman called police saying a man had entered her home while she was putting her children to bed. Police said she was especially fearful because she believed the man had taken a selfie with her phone inside of her home.

But further investigation showed the picture was Seibert’s Facebook photo that had been taken elsewhere. Seibert, who was working in California, called police Feb. 8 after friends told him his photo was being associated with the Denver home invasion. He was not charged.

The same month, police told Grace her broadcast was false, but she continued to air it, according to the lawsuit, which seeks more than $100,000 in damages.

Personally, I think $100k is too low. Nancy Grace needs to be taught a lesson. We all make mistakes. If she had taken steps to correct this error and learned to take a different, more ethical approach to her ‘journalism’ such a lawsuit would be unnecessary. The damage she has done to advance the lay person’s understanding of the criminal justice system, however; cannot easily be quantified.

Brad’s Beer Review: Stone Coffee Milk Stout

This is a beer I’ve wanted to try ever since I heard it was to be released. Milk Stout (sometimes known as sweet stout or cream stout) is one of my favorite beer styles. I first found Left Hand Brewing Company’s Milk Stout when I lived in Georgia back in ‘05-07. When I moved back to California, I couldn’t get Left Hand beers (nor could I easily find any commercial milk stouts), so I used the info from their web site and my own palate and created a homebrewed milk stout that has been roundly adored by friends and family, and kicked major tail in competitions.
Stone Coffee Milk Stout

Thus, the news that Stone Brewing, a company whose beer I generally find faultless, was going to brew a milk stout got me excited. The fact that they were going to add coffee—another thing I love—to the mix made me even more so. I saw it at the grocery store this afternoon, and immediately knew it was coming home.

Milk Stout is so named because it is typically sweetened with lactose (milk sugar). Take note, lactose-intolerant folks, this style is not for you. Lactose is unfermentable by saccharomyces cerevisiae, so the sugar adds sweetness without adding additional alcohol. The Milk Stout style, in comparison to the Dry Stout, will have a sweeter finish. Even for a beer that may have a reasonable amount of roast flavor and aroma (and the bitterness that comes with roasted malts), the sweetness should cleanse the palate for the next sip.

Now, on to my thoughts for the Stone Coffee Milk Stout:

  • Stats: 4.2% ABV, 40 IBU. Color not listed.
  • Aroma: I definitely pick up roast here. To me, the roast is definitely more prominent than the coffee in the aroma. I don’t pick up any hops in the aroma, which is appropriate for the style.
  • Appearance: Black and completely opaque. Light brown / dark tan head with great lacing. Really, though, describing the appearance of a stout is rather boring. They do pretty much all look black!*
  • Flavor: Up front, there’s a hit of roast, but it quickly subsides into coffee. While you—or at least I—cannot smell much coffee in the nose, it’s definitely strong on the tongue. I will say that the beer doesn’t finish as sweet as other milk stouts I’ve tasted. One of my criticisms of many commercial milk stouts is that they take a dry stout with relatively weak roast character and just add lactose. My own recipes tend to be big on the roast and correspondingly big on the lactose. This beer seems a bit big on the roast and coffee, with JUST enough sweetness to cover the bitterness of the roasted malt, the coffee, and the hops, but not a dominant perception of sweetness.

    Of course, all of this is in character for Stone. They tend towards big flavor, and most of their beers don’t shy away from bitterness, and finish fairly dry. This seems to me to fit into their general palate profile. And this beer clocks in at 40 IBU [International Bitterness Unit], which is the top of the scale for a beer that falls into the bottom of the scale for ABV.

  • Mouthfeel: Again, I expect most milk stouts to be pretty full-bodied. This is much closer to medium body, with a slightly more dry finish than I would typically expect from the style.
  • Overall Impression: Honestly, this is a delicious beer. I’m really enjoying it. It’s not entirely what I was expecting, though. In fact, if you didn’t tell me there was lactose in this beer, I’d have a difficult time picking it out. The bias towards bitterness, the medium body and the dry finish, all just say “coffee stout” to me. But the simple fact is that I like bitterness, I like dry finishes, and I generally enjoy light to medium body beers. So while it is delicious, it’s not necessarily something I’d recommend as a pure example of the style.

All that said, I highly recommend you buy this beer. It truly is delicious.
» Read more

Long Slow Burn – GruberGate as a Microcosm

GRRRRRR

We, here, at The Liberty Papers do not generally share our correspondence, but the big issues of the day are, in fact, talked about at length in our site’s Google Group as we coordinate what we’ll be talking about at this lovely blog. Without being specific or quoting anyone directly, I would like to put forward what the group reaction was to the so-called ‘GruberGate’ scandal. In a word:

‘Meh’

If you’ve been living under a rock or watching nothing but MSNBC (same difference, really), I’ll give you a quick summary of what GruberGate entails. For six years, conservatives have blasted away at the Affordable Care Act (hereafter, the ACA). For six years, we’ve been talking about how the promises made by people trying to get it passed were impossible to keep, how the bill would raise the deficit, make healthcare more expensive and less stable, drive away doctors, narrow your networks of providers – basically the exact opposite of every claim put forward by Democrats between 2008 and 2012. The media uncritically reported White House talking points for most of that time, doing absolutely zero digging and finding no evidence of problems with the law as a result.

Then some guy who’d lost his insurance after being promised that that wouldn’t happen and decided to do some actually investigating. Within a day of beginning his search, he found video footage of one of the ACA’s chief architects, Jonathan Gruber, candidly discussing the ACA with his peers in Academia in which he said THIS (follow the links to see the videos), THIS, and THIS.

Many things have been said about GruberGate, and I won’t rehash them here. The response to this story by many libertarians (not just those of us writing here) has been a collective “well duh!” We have, after all, been talking about everything that Gruber willingly admits in his various talks on the ACA – that it’s a pack of lies intended to fool the American taxpayer by fooling the Congressional Budget Office, that it amounts to a giant national experiment and the architects have no clue what it’ll do, that expanded coverage can’t happen without raising revenue to pay for it, and that the archetype (RomneyCare) was already a failure, being propped up by federal dollars all along. We knew all of that. The insults he lobs at the American voters aren’t entirely unfounded either. Many Americans, like it or not, vote without any idea of what they’re supporting. So why should we get up in arms over it.

After arguing rather cantankerously with my fellow bloggers here, trying to explain why this story enraged me so, it dawned on me what was really going on in my head. I may come to self-awareness later than I should on occasion, but I generally get there if I think on it long enough. This whole story – the story of the Affordable Care Act from conception, to birth, to signing, to repeal efforts to angry Americans who feel lied to and voting R to prove something to the left to the GruberGate controversy…it is a microcosm of everything I’ve been battling for years.

When the ACA was first being discussed, the conservative reaction was a combination of people like those in my family, who were horrified by the likely outcome of such a bill and who relied heavily on health insurance to make their various medical problems affordable to treat, but who reacted by studying the proposal and attempting to logically argue as to why it was a very bad bill indeed…and people screaming at town hall meetings because they just instinctively feared such a big, sweeping change. It’s human to fear change, and in this case their fears were justified, but instead of focusing on doing the work of exposing the lies in the ACA, most of conservatism was consumed with death panels and doomsday imagery of Uncle Sam examining a woman’s lady parts (yes, that was a real conservative ad).

Now I’m not saying I think the IPAB is good for “end of life” care…it’s not. But ‘death panel’ rhetoric sounds literally insane to your typical low-information swing voter who might be swayed by bringing a convincing argument to the debate. And, of all of the conservative reactions to the ACA, which ones do you suppose were primarily covered by the media, by ACA advocates and in the political discussion on Capital Hill – the reasoned arguments as to why the ACA would fail and make things worse, or the fear-mongering?

But guess what – that made someone like me who worked hard to understand the problems with the ACA into a looney tune screaming about death panels when I voiced my opposition to the law before any leftist. They accused me of being a liar. They accused me fearing change. They accused me of not caring about the poor and the uninsured. And they had the support of, once again, an uncritical, unserious mainstream media telling them any concerns about the ACA raising costs, impairing the system, causing doctor shortages or narrow networks, etc. were just crazy conservative fear mongering. Our detached, empirical expert, Jon Gruber, says so – read the study.

When the truth came out – when it turned out that Jon Gruber believed everything I did about the ACA except the part about those results being bad for healthcare…when he gleefully admitted that RomneyCare was a failure economically, that the ACA had nothing to do with making healthcare affordable, and that he and his colleagues had no clue how to bend the cost curve down – and then had the audacity to call us stupid for believing him, I would have been satisfied. I wouldn’t have been angry for long – it would have brought some semblance of peace to be vindicated in the fight. Except that the reaction of the left was to lie even more, minimize Gruber’s roll in crafting the bill, and then…call conservatives fear mongers again for reacting to this story with anger and for losing trust in government to solve problems like these.

This is inherently the entire problem I have with the left – every time their bad ideas don’t work and people realize it, they find the loonies in the conservative ranks and make those guys their opposition, and when you try to bring reason to the party, they accuse you of just being one of the loonies. And when you turn out to be RIGHT…oh well whatever nevermind. That fight never mattered anyway – on to the next fight.

Until conservatives are willing to call liberals (and other conservatives) out for not fighting fairly, for distorting the history of the argument, for scanning through the crowd for the easiest person to attack, for straw men and lies, for parliamentary tricks and poor research, and for their ugly assumptions about the American people, we will always lose the argument. Always. And that…is what is truly terrifying me into anger. We were right. All along, conservatives were right about the ACA and the insincere, cynical motives of its creators. We were right, they were wrong, and somehow, we still lost the argument. And it’ll happen again and again until we get angry enough to turn the tables on them – to call them out on their unfair tactics and their bad science and their twisted, utilitarian assumptions.

We’re about to have the same fight on immigration. Learn to recognize their tactics and fight back, or there will come a day when you remember how right you were about the negative consequences of an open border, and how little it mattered that you were right.

Will The GOP Congress Return To Bush-Era Foreign Policy Interventionism?

mission_accomplish_1112950c

With the election of the new Republican Congress in last week’s midterms, there are some questions about what policy directions the new Congress will try to take. Much of this is because the GOP didn’t really run on anything except “Obama sucks.”

The Republican Party has been debating foreign policy with less interventionist Republicans like Rand Paul clashing with more hawkish Republicans like John McCain.

This week, I asked the contributors whether or not the GOP will return to its Bush-era hawkish days or not?

Christopher Bowen:

In the big battle between the old-school Republicans and the new-style Tea Party types, the arguement in most circles has centred around economics; really, it’s centred around the Affordable Care Act. There have been other battles, but ground zero has been spending. It’s that focus on those larger battles that have enabled the latter group to enable sweeping social conservative legislation despite the fact that much of that legislation goes against their “liberty” strain of political thought.

It’s with that small sample size of history that I prognosticate what the future holds: if you are a liberty minded person who does not want perpetual war, the next two years are bad news.

It should be noted that of all the things most Republicans hated about Obama, the one thing many agreed with was when he decided to take actions against Libya and the Islamic State. Likewise, many of the conservative lawmakers who have made token rejections of the cavalier way Obama has gone about implementing these wars said nothing about George W. Bush when he did largely the same thing, with some even cheering him on.

To put it simply, war is a divisive subject in both parties, with the far-left liberals also clashing with establishment Democrats.

In the end, war will be something that conservatives latch onto because it will create jobs – a huge selling point to a new, conservative Congress as they prepare for the 2016 election against the Democrat’s biggest hawk, Hillary Clinton – and increase patriotism, which is always a go-getter for the GOP. The dissenters will either be silenced or made irrelevant by feckless Democrats too scared of their own shadows to reject the war drums, and everything that brought us to Iraq the second time will continue to keep us there the third. Those who don’t want to go to war will be labeled anti-American, wanting to help the enemy by forfeiting American jobs. Meanwhile, existing fears about Muslims – largely based off of a few cartoon-like caricatures that would make Boris Badenov blush – will be stoked, as the scary man with the gun in the turban will continue to supplant the scary man with the gun in the ushanka, which long ago supplanted the scary man with the gun and the Tojo glasses as our Common Enemy Who Must Be Destroyed. We have always been at war with Islam, comrade.

“Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship(…) the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” – Hermann Goering, Nuremberg Diaries

Chris Byrne:

Simple answer? No… except rhetorically… just as they have been for years.

What exact role does congress have in the use of the military other than funding it (or not), disapproving of it (or not), and bloviating about it? Or in foreign policy as a whole? It seems that their approval or disapproval are largely irrelevant at this point anyway… and have been for some time.

Ask me again in two years when the president is a Republican.

Doug Mataconis:

I would submit that the premise of the Roundtable is somewhat flawed, because there is no real evidence that the Republican Party in general, or Republicans at the House and Senate level specifically, have ever really retreated from the “Bush-era foreign policy.” Yes, there are some examples one can point to in both chambers of Congress who have spoken out against an interventionist foreign policy over the the past five years of the Obama Administration. Senator Rand Paul, and Members of Congress such as Justin Amash and Walter Jones come to mind most immediately in that regard, and of course Congressman Ron Paul continued to adhere to his non-interventionist rhetoric until he retired at the end of the 112th Congress. For the most part, though, the GOP Caucuses in both bodies as a whole, have taken the same positions on foreign policy issues that they have in the past.

What we have seen over these past five years isn’t so much evidence of the GOP reconsidering the interventionist foreign policy that defined it during the Bush years as opportunistic criticism of the Obama Administration for pursuing policies that were actually logical extensions of politics previously advocated by Republicans. In some cases, such as the 2011 intervention in Libya, that criticism took the form of opposition to the in retrospect limited U.S. involvement in the aid provided to rebels in Libya’s civil war. In others, such as the Obama Administration’s policies in Syria, Republicans have been downright schizophrenic. After spending two years criticizing the President for not doing enough to aid the anti-Assad rebels in Syria, Republicans on Capitol Hill went with the winds of public opinion, which was decidedly anti-war, and opposed President Obama when he was threatening to take action over the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Now, in connection with actions against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Republicans seems to speaking out of both sides of their mouth; criticizing the Administration for acting at all while at the same time saying that he isn’t doing enough and, in the end, inviting a terrorist attack on the United States. Above it all, though, is the fact that the majority voice in the Republican Party remains one that supports interventionism, continues to think that the 2003 Iraq War as a good idea, considers the only acceptable foreign policy in the Middle East one that blindly supports Israel, and denounces any attempt to cut the defense budget as “retreat.”

There are, as I’ve said, some exceptions to this general rule, such as Rand Paul. Paul, however, remains a minority voice in his party on foreign policy and there are already indications that if he runs for President in 2016 he will be targeted by many forces inside the GOP based on his foreign policy views. We’ve already seen such attacks from the likes of John Bolton, Dick Cheney, Congressman Peter King, and conservative pundits such as Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post and pretty much everyone who writes at Commentary. One can hope that a Paul candidacy would lead to a real debate on these issues but it’s just as likely that Senator Paul’s efforts to raise these issues will end up being drown in a sea of denunciations of him as a “isolationist.”

So, no, the GOP won’t return to its interventionist ways. But that’s because it never really left that path.

Sarah Baker:

For three reasons, I am optimistic that we will not see a renewed focus on hawkish foreign interventions in the near future.

First, even among people who originally supported the Iraq war, many now believe it was a mistake. Whether they say so publicly or not, deep down in their hawkish hearts, they understand that invasion led inevitably to being forced to choose between two unpalatable options: maintaining a heightened presence for years to come or allowing the place to descend into chaos.

The lessons for Syria could not be more obvious.

Second, we are broke. This country is trillions of dollars in debt. A significant portion of that debt reflects spending during the Bush years. This includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a combined price tag, by some estimates, as high as $6 trillion. Even the most hawkish of the hawks must see that we cannot continue to allow this sort of debt to burden our descendants for generations to come.

Third, the world has been fundamentally changed by the globalization of Internet news and the advent of social media. When people die in drone strikes, for example, we can watch interviews with their grieving survivors within days—or even hours—of the strike. For the first time in history, ordinary Americans can exchange messages in real time with ISIS fighters.

We cannot know all of the ways in which these interactions will change the world. But surely they will not make it easier for us to kill one another.

Matthew Souders:

I believe that a GOP-controlled legislature will take some actions internationally, particularly against ISIS, and that libertarians will scream bloody murder about it, but I believe it will be wrong to be so aggrieved. This notion that non-intervention is the savior of US foreign policy that lurks at the heart of the libertarian party is the reason that many Republicans have not become libertarian and the primary reason libertarians still do not field competitive candidates for office.

In the real world, the US is the only superpower with enough influence to have a positive impact on world security. In the real world, the relative success of the EU would be impossible without the US playing an active role internationally. In the real world, ISIS demands a response, lest it embolden every radical or crazy person to join the fight at home or abroad. But in the eyes of many in libertarian ranks, the US would be secure if only we didn’t get involved.

We just passed the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy cannot possibly be described as anything other than a roaring success on the merits – this, the most interventionist president we’ve ever had. Obviously, the same sort of aggression cannot work against a non-centralized power like Islamic Extremism the way it worked against the USSR. It requires a different set of answers and a different general posture. But to ask Congress – who have heard the American People demand action against ISIS – to take no action on the assumption that any action we take must only make matters worse is folly. And the price we will pay if we go down that road will be worse than the price we paid for ignoring Islamic Extremism in the 90s.

None of which is to say that I expect or desire a full-scale war in ISIS-held territory. I believe in the oldest of international doctrines – that we should speak softly, but carry a big stick. That our use of force should be commensurate to the need. That we should not be fooled into believing that it is possible to construct a freedom-loving nation out of people who have never known or expected freedom. But when the cries of people brutalized by a savage group of radicals bent on restoring the Islamic Caliphate go up, and America does not respond – then the world as we know it is surely in the gravest danger.

Stephen Littau:

I have to admit that when I cast my vote for Cory Gardner in order to fire Mark Udall (in hopes of making Harry Reid the Sen. Minority Leader), the notion that the GOP would be so stupid as to return to the Bush era foreign policy never really entered my mind. Sure, I know there are still a few hawks in the GOP who have never met a war (or are we calling them “kinetic actions” now?) they didn’t want to start but I thought that by now the majority had learned the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

I’m holding out hope that the Senate, under new leadership, will have other priorities which passed through the House but never saw the light of day thanks to Reid. Priorities such as auditing the FED, passing a damned budget, passing the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act (REDEEM Act), and the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (FAIR Act) should at the very least have an up or down vote. There’s now simply no acceptable excuse for not getting this done.

This is why I decided, perhaps against my better judgement, to vote in favor of a GOP Senate Majority. I certainly didn’t vote in favor of the idea of more boots on the ground in the Middle East. Whose vision will the GOP lead congress follow, that of Rand Paul or that of John McCain? If its the latter, control of the legislative branch will be very short lived and deservedly so.

Kevin Boyd:

Put me down in the “don’t know” category. Sure more hawkish politicians in the GOP won big such as Tom Cotton and Jodi Ernst, but there has been a growing anti-war right as the bills from Iraq and Afghanistan have come due. Conservatives are asking was it worth it to pay so much to achieve so little.

I think we’ll see where the party is going on foreign policy, if a Republican is elected president. However, it appears that every presidential race will be settled in the Democratic primary from 2016 on as Democrats can already count on having 270 or close to 270 electoral votes before the first vote is cast.

So we may never know that answer.

That Really Grinds My Gears

grindmygears

You know what really grinds my gears? Partisan hacks who attack members of the other party based on nonsensical and silly things that really do not matter in the grand scheme of things. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this. The most recent example of partisan stupidity came when President Obama wore a traditional Chinese outfit to the 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, which was hosted by China. President Obama wasn’t the only attendee to dress like this. All of the participants wore the same outfit. In fact, the APEC Summit has a longstanding tradition of attendees wearing traditional clothing that represents the host country. In case you missed it, here is the outfit from this year’s APEC Summit:

obama-xi-purple

To Americans, the outfit may look a little silly. Does it look  little like something Dr. Evil would wear? Maybe. Does it look like something out of Star Trek? Yes. It’s okay to point these things out and get a little laugh. I have seen people joke that President Obama is missing his communicator pin. Others have said that the participants in the group photo look like they are about to be beamed up. Heck, the other day I made a comment that “at least they didn’t give him the red shirt.” Anyone who is a Star Trek fan will get the reference that those who wore the red shirts were the ones to get killed off. Statements like these are all in good fun.

However, I have to draw the line at people who attacked the president and his character based on the outfit. Here are a few examples of attacks that I have seen throughout my Facebook and Twitter feeds over the past few days:

  • He looks like a Communist dictator.
  • How un-American!
  • What a disgrace! I can’t believe that he would wear something like this and on Veteran’s Day no less!
  • Obama is a disgrace to our troops.
  • Ronald Reagan never would have worn something like this.
  • Ted Cruz would never wear something like this.
  • No real American would ever wear something like this.

Seriously? Do we have nothing better on which to attack the president other than his outfit? I even saw one post to someone referring to his outfit as “Kenyan.” Kenya? As mentioned before, it is tradition for participants to wear the cultural outfits of the host nation. So is this any less American?:

kerry-bali-dancer_2695290c

How about this one? Is this un-American?

Bush APEC

Does this one embarrass the troops?

APEC Bush

The fact is that there are a lot of issues on which we can attack President Obama. There are much more important issues such as the looming national debt, net neutrality, Common Core, immigration reform, the escalation of troops in the Middle East, the handling of the economy, Obamacare, etc., etc., etc. So let’s focus on the policy debate and leave the silly personal attacks behind. We may be able to accomplish more. And that, folks, is what really grinds my gears.

Just in good fun, I leave you with this picture of Ronald Reagan wearing a poncho and sombrero:

Reagan sombrero

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