Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

I am lucky enough to have met Hitch on two separate occasions at parties, but I never dared entreat any of our mutual friends to arrange more intimate conversations. To be perfectly honest, it was because he was one of the few people on the planet with whom I could legitimately say I was awestruck and I couldn't bear the thought of boring a man I so greatly admired. My admiration remains so strong that I don't think I could properly convey my thoughts or feelings about him with the eloquence due him, so I'll just direct you to the two best reflections I've read about him: one by Christopher Buckley, and the other by Hitch's brother, Peter.

The video below was made as a get well tribute to him after his cancer diagnosis that I happened upon some time ago. It is an excerpt from a speech Hitch gave in defense of atheism against the assumptions of Christianity, and in support of finding truth and beauty in self-education in the absence of religion. I think its enduring message is particularly apt  upon his death.


Christopher Hitchens, RIP. 

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Longer Video From UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident

I don't think this video exonerates the police officers, though I do think it lessens the sympathetic view of the protesters. Trapping police clearly is an invitation to police action, and the police warned them several times about the consequences of their actions.

Given this evidence, there is no question that the offenders should have been arrested. That does not mean that pepper spray should have been used, however. Pepper spray should be a defensive non-lethal alternative to violence--not a method to punish a non-violent crowd. It would have been cumbersome to arrest each of these students one by one, but pepper spray shouldn't be used just to make the job of the police easier. It has a proper use, yet dispersing obstinate but non-violent DFHs is not one of them.

My thoughts on #OWS remain virtually unchanged since I wrote this, and this video seems to support my assertion on Twitter about privileged kids inviting arrest. This incident should invite a broader conversation about police tactics and civil liberties, but #OWS has only shown interest in civil liberties insofar as it advances their right to annoy. Thus, we have just the latest example of a legitimate grievance of #OWS getting lost in their own misguided, nebulous agenda.

This is what petulance looks like.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In Latinam Veritas

Here's another great video from my former colleagues at Reason. The law enforcement guys are just too much.

One of the cops, professing an adolescent affinity for libertarianism, said 'As a younger man I used to say 'carpe diem'...Now, as a parent, I'm 'carpe kids.'

Indeed, cops are carpe'ing kids all over the place.

For those unfamiliar with the idiom or Latin, "carpe" means "seize."

bellum medicamenti delenda est (et carpe custodem fatuum )

Monday, November 28, 2011

EMP ICBMs and Other Bridges for Sale

I rarely delve into foreign policy on this blog, usually because it's not in my professional bailiwick (outside of the international scope of the drug war, at any rate), but sometimes something is so egregiously silly I have to say something. (That, and this is something loosely tied to the Cold War and Russia, both of which I do, in fact, know a bit about.)

A conservative IU alumna I follow on twitter led me to this #headdesk-worthy item over at Heritage's blog:

One particularly visceral threat is nuclear fissile material falling into the hands of non-state belligerents. The American public, however, is acutely aware of such a threat. The notion of a “dirty bomb” attack has been pounded into the nation’s collective consciousness by pop-culture hits such as the Fox television drama 24. What is less known, but equally disconcerting, is the danger posed by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.
An electromagnetic pulse results from the sudden burst of electromagnetic radiation emanating from the detonation of a nuclear weapon. An EMP can also result from natural phenomena, such as a geomagnetic solar storm; however, our nation’s national security apparatus should be prepared to deal with the consequences of an enemy EMP attack.
If a nuclear weapon were to be detonated hundreds of miles into the atmosphere above the continental United States, the resulting electromagnetic pulse could destroy the nation’s electric grid and render impotent all elements of society that rely on electricity. In short order, many aspects of American society would be thrust into the early 19th century.
Now, I will grant, the science behind what EMP would do to U.S. infrastructure is legit, as far as I know. But the likelihood of manufacture and delivery is something entirely different. Most nations are just not capable of launching an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) that could detonate a nuclear bomb in the U.S. atmosphere. Of the two non-NATO countries I can think of, neither is openly hostile (or dumb) enough to risk retaliatory annihilation, ruin the global economy, and bring the planet to the brink of nuclear holocaust.

The rest of the post reads like an ad for whatever defense contractors are responsible for missile defense.

The fact of the matter is, even though the nuclear club has added new members in recent decades, most don't have a reliable delivery mechanism capable of striking anything, much less the United States on the other side of the planet. I'm not saying they never will have that capacity, but it's a hefty financial investment just to step up to a pissing contest they have no intention of seeing through.

Given that Al Qaeda has (thankfully) had trouble getting chemistry sets to detonate in people's Fruit of the Looms, I don't think it's terribly responsible to think they're going to attain and deploy a nuclear missile with a technology only a few nations have ever been able to the cost of countless billions of dollars in design, technology, assembly, transportation, and maintenance. Barring that will-never-happen scenario, there's no extant state or organization on the planet with the motive and means to launch an atmospheric nuclear strike against the United States.

Just because a presidential candidate with a Ph.D. says something that sounds all sciency on the Tee Vee doesn't mean it isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. It really, really is.

N.B.: This is not to say that neighbors of hostile nuclear club members have nothing to worry about via shorter range missiles--though I think those worries are often overstated--but not even the most hawkish arguments for protecting South Korea or Israel could feasibly include a 'missile shield' for the United States as any way germane.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Quote of the Day

This made me snort:
Hanson glibly mentions former segregationist Republican Strom Thurmond's "wandering hands," which is a euphemism for "former white supremacist who fathered a black child out of wedlock and managed to keep it a secret until after his death."
That's Adam Serwer over at Mother Jones dismantling Victor Davis Hanson's screed about, inter way-too-much alia, how much it sucks to be Herman Cain. I think Adam may be a bit hard on Hanson for this quote, cuz I mean, "wandering hands" really is so much more economical for word count...

...and for glossing over what wretched human beings Thurmond and his ilk really were.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Made in the U.S.A." Is Not the Problem

I was watching the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing today on the oversight of the Department of Justice. The sole witness was Attorney General Eric Holder, who would be called upon to answer for "Operation Fast and Furious," a failed DOJ/ Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) program that was meant to snare cartels in gun trafficking. I tweeted the first part of the hearing, but I wanted to discuss an op-ed by two state attorneys general that Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) had put in the Congressional Record (courtesy of Emptywheel's @bmaz):
Congress and the media have understandably focused on the missteps of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the “Fast and Furious” sting operation that allowed suspected “straw buyers” to purchase weapons and transport them to Mexico in order to build cases against drug cartels.
However, the covert operation was terminated abruptly after its possible connection to the tragic death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was revealed. Unfortunately, most of the recent criticism about the operation seems to be serving as a means to attack Attorney General Eric Holder and destroy the ATF, rather than to hold those behind Fast and Furious accountable.

The focus should be on the real public safety problem underlying this controversy: keeping arms from the Mexican drug cartels and protecting the security of the United States. However, many of the roadblocks faced by ATF and the Department of Justice are not being built by international criminals, but by Congress. (Emphasis mine)
The piece goes on to explain the prolific violence in Mexico and that 95% of the guns recovered from Mexican drug violence 'can be traced to the United States.' This sounds troubling, but it's really smoke and mirrors.

As I've detailed in the past, drug violence in Mexico is indeed rampant and unspeakably brutal. People are kidnapped, murdered, often tortured, strung up from overpasses, disemboweled, and/or beheaded. Does it really matter whether the murderers bought their ropes and machetes from stores in Tuscon or Tijuana?

It's the murderers, stupid.

If we could magically keep American guns out of the hands of the cartels, people would start being gunned down with a greater percentage of AK-47s sold in other countries than AR-10s made and sold in America, but they would still be gunned down. The cartels have planes, boats, and more than enough money to get whatever they want through their expansive networks. Making it marginally more difficult to acquire weapons may be good policy insofar as we want better, more sensible gun laws in this country, but it's hardly the "real public safety problem" facing our law enforcement agencies and the public at large.

The cartels make astronomical profits from selling the drugs banned by the United States' global prohibition policy. That money gets them access to the entire planet and all its terrible weapons that make their line of work so bloody. Ramped up interdiction efforts just make drug dealing more dangerous, but also more lucrative, and thus more enticing. So, when you think about it, the real public safety problem is the one that enables and incentivizes the cartels to commit heinous crimes in the first place: the Drug War itself.

Arguing about where the cartels bought their guns is like arguing the make of the bus that just hit you: it's trivial, at best, and probably a sign you have brain damage.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

UPDATE: This isn't meant to be a dismissal of the ineptitude that plagued Operation Fast and Furious. This was a post about the underlying problems, not the highly questionable tactics employed in that operation.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Smokin' Joe Frazier, RIP

Because of other projects and responsibilities tomorrow, I'm not going to have the time to write up everything I wanted to say about Joe Frazier, who died tonight of liver cancer. However, I wanted to implore the people who may otherwise not pay attention to the coverage about his life to pay attention to his relationship with Muhammad Ali.

I'm not sure I've ever written here about my deep affinity for The Greatest, but suffice it to say that there was not an athlete I admired more than Muhammad Ali--even though all of his meaningful fights happened before I was born. But Joe Frazier's legacy will always be told in tandem with his professional and, more to the point here, personal fights with Ali. And despite my profound admiration for Ali as a fighter and as a man, Ali's treatment of Frazier was utterly disgraceful.

Ali was a young, brash, anti-authoritarian man of great pride and braggadocio. Ultimately, I think his overabundance of confidence was one of his greatest strengths--of which there were many. But he went too far with Frazier--humiliating him and calling him a Tom and Gorilla, among many other awful things. I understand that Ali was trying to get into Frazier's head, but whatever line there is between trash talk and humiliation, Ali crossed it repeatedly with the exuberance and glee of a bully.

Frazier took it--and took it to Ali.

Their relationship was important to note because, much more than it was with Sonny Liston, the Ali-Frazier feud was used as a metaphor to describe the social turmoil among blacks emerging from the Civil Rights Era: was our identity to be one of patriotism and patience (Frazier)? Or was it to be of proud, unyielding defiance of authority (Ali)?  Of course, we all forge our own identities as individuals, and fittingly, these two men surpassed the narrative arcs assigned to them to become the more complicated sports icons and historical figures we acknowledge today.

In time, Ali apologized for what he said and did over the course of their intertwined careers. I read recently that Joe had publicly forgiven him--which is a testament to the kind of man Joe Frazier was. No man should take the verbal abuse and humiliation he took from Ali--and Joe Frazier was so much the better man for that forgiveness.

Smokin' Joe Frazier, RIP.

UPDATE: A few people flagged an article on Twitter. Following the Thrilla in Manila, this was filed on deadline at Sports Illustrated. This is what sports journalism should look like.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

The Government's Addiction

Charlie Savage reports that the DEA is ramping up its militarization efforts around Latin America:

The D.E.A. now has five commando-style squads it has been quietly deploying for the past several years to Western Hemisphere nations — including Haiti, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Belize — that are battling drug cartels, according to documents and interviews with law enforcement officials.

The program — called FAST, for Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team — was created during the George W. Bush administration to investigate Taliban-linked drug traffickers in Afghanistan. Beginning in 2008 and continuing under President Obama, it has expanded far beyond the war zone.

“You have got to have special skills and equipment to be able to operate effectively and safely in environments like this,” said Michael A. Braun, a former head of operations for the drug agency who helped design the program. “The D.E.A. is working shoulder-to-shoulder in harm’s way with host-nation counterparts.”
 The DEA has hit-teams now. What could possibly go wrong?
“It could lead to a nationalist backlash in the countries involved,” [University of Miami professor Bruce Bagley] said. “If an American is killed, the administration and the D.E.A. could get mired in Congressional oversight hearings. Taking out kingpins could fragment the organization and lead to more violence. And it won’t permanently stop trafficking unless a country also has capable institutions, which often don’t exist in Central America.”(emphasis mine)
In short, the Obama administration's answer to the Drug War is to get more violent and put more agents in harm's way, the benefit of which will be...more violence. It's not like this hasn't been tried before:

The FAST program is similar to a D.E.A. operation in the late 1980s and early 1990s in which drug enforcement agents received military training and entered into partnerships with local forces in places like Peru and Bolivia, targeting smuggling airstrips and jungle labs.

The Reagan-era initiative, though, drew criticism from agency supervisors who disliked the disruption of supplying agents for temporary rotations, and questioned whether its benefits outweighed the risks and cost. The Clinton administration was moving to shut down the operation when five agents died in a plane crash in Peru in 1994, sealing its fate.
Best case scenario: country A sees a wave of US-backed military raids and violence. This country restores its "capable institutions" and  after countless firefights with law enforcement and one another, leaving scores of innocents dead, the resident drug operation finds more fertile ground to operate in country B, which lacks similar capable institutions. America still gets its drugs and the bloody fight continues in a new country. This predictable and oft-repeated result is called the "balloon effect."

Like a gambler at a casino who just doesn't know when to quit, the United States continues to double-down on its hopeless efforts to use violence to solve its 'drug problem.' Any objective observer of the situation can clearly see its futility and the consequences of pursuing this course of action. Yet the gambler continues, thinking this time it's gonna work. Any short term gains are completely illusory, but they are used to justify even more of the same.

It's time we start thinking about an intervention.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Other 1%

I have been, at best, ambivalent about Occupy Wall Street and its various iterations around the country and Western world. I certainly understand that they are having a hard time in life right now and have legitimate grievances against a system that is clearly unfair. That said,

Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you different is selling something.

I'm very much on board with Matt Welch's piece at H&R the other day. (I'm not sure Alex Pareene's take is any more accurate in describing what #OWS is about than the litany of other "concrete ideas," but it's as good as any.):
Who are these wise men, and what are these rules, these promises, this ticket to class mobility, or at least a secure career, this singular notion of the one "right" way to do things? At the risk of going all "Generation X is sick of your bullshit" here, count me as one Gen Xer who does not recognize the world that Alex Pareene and the Salon staff (many of whom are even older than me!) have sketched out here.

Cradle-to-grave employment (at least outside the public sector) has been dead since at least the end of the Cold War. Undergraduate degrees in English and Film and Sociology and Philosophy (and a thousand other subjects) have had debatable workplace utility for as long as I've been alive. There have even been previous housing bubbles and busts in Alex Pareene's lifetime.
I don't recall anything like the promises so cruelly unkept in Salon's list. I do remember my father warning me that an engineering degree would be much more useful in the workplace than English, to which I uttered a phrase available to 18-year-olds everywhere: Thanks, Dad; not your call. Ditto for the legions of well-meaning adults urging me to finish my undergraduate degree, to sign up for the Selective Service, and even (when I finally attained a decent living in the second half of my 30s) to pay a mortgage instead of paying rent. One of the best perks about being a grown-up is that you get to make your own choices, and to own the results, good and ill.
Matt's rant, at the bottom of it, is about the "poor me" complex that infects #OWS at the core. I've heard varying defenses of them and their plight, but let's be real: nearly more than 90% of the protesters have been to college. A majority are under 34, white, and presumably able-bodied. (How many sick people do you know can sit out in the elements for days on end?) That they, of all people, have it bad is notable, but hardly compelling enough for me to break out my not-exactly-full wallet and call the telethon phone bank. Indeed, these are nearly the last demographic ON THE PLANET that most people would feel sorry for. (The last group would be the so-called 1% at which this youthful bedraggled horde is aiming their incoherent angst.) It's not that they have it easy--but some perspective would be nice.

There is a 1% that is getting ignored in all of this please-pay-off-my-art-school-loans self-pity: the 1 in 100 Americans currently incarcerated in our own country. Indeed, they're only getting attention now because apparently the NYPD is allegedly directing the recently released down to Zuccotti Park because of the free grub and/or to stir up trouble. And if it's true, I don't condone such action, but the resentment of the #OWS is telling: "We are the 99%" is a catchy little slogan, but it's not true.

When I think of the people in our society who need the most help, I think of the mentally ill, the homeless, the illiterate and uneducated, the multi-generationally impoverished, and the victims of our criminal justice system--not coincidentally, a system that overwhelmingly picks on these very same groups. (In fairness, it has been noted that #OWS has begun to incorporate some of the needs of the homeless whom they've taken among their ranks into their nebulous demands, but given their proximity to one another, one would hope so.) If it's hard for a college grad or drop-out to get a job, how hard do you suppose it is for an uneducated ex-con? One in 31 Americans is at some point within the correctional system--incarcerated, on probation, or paroled--and a conviction is an easy way for Human Resources manager to automatically thin the application pile in a time of high unemployment. They don't have the time or inclination to inquire the circumstances about the crime--let alone whether the "crime" was itself just. If these issues have been brought up by #OWS, they haven't been brought to the fore either by their detractors or supporters.

In fact, like the Tea Party and its relationship to/co-opting by the conservative base before it, most of the "concrete ideas" are Progressive talking points or Democratic politicking. And, given that an election year is coming up and that guy down on 1600 Pennsylvania is relying on young, relatively affluent, educated Progs to help him win reelection, it should have been no surprise whatever that he threw a bone to one of the consistent "demands" of #OWS: college loan debt assistance.

Stepping out of the libertarian shell for a moment here, it doesn't matter what I think about the program in a vacuum: in times like this, the people who need help the most are being overshadowed because they either don't or can't vote--thanks felony disfranchisement!--or they can't give money to that end. The purported voice of the 99% is the voice of the disaffected middle class, which may be a lot, but certainly not 99%. For all their talk about unity and The People and other fairy tale claptrap, it's just more people with their hands out:  young, privileged, educated people who have it a lot better than people who need it more. 

At this point, they're just like any other special interest or lobby: they're just not as well dressed. But the Dems, the unions and the Left are paying attention and they thank #OWS for their support.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Another Bad Apple

So this guy doesn't seem too bright:
A deportation officer with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement led Arizona state police and federal agents on a high-speed chase in his government vehicle, throwing bundles of marijuana out of the window as he fled, the Department of Public Safety said Wednesday.

The deportation officer, whose name has not been released, had been under surveillance for more than month after a known smuggler who had been arrested gave authorities a tip about the officer in an effort to get lenient treatment, DPS Officer Carrick Cook told The Associated Press.

When DPS and federal agents tried to pull the officer over Tuesday after he picked up a load of marijuana in the desert with his unmarked ICE pickup truck, the officer fled, leading agents on a 45-minute chase at speeds of up to 110 mph as he threw 10 of the 14 bundles of pot that he had in the truck out of the window, Cook said.

"He got pretty desperate," Cook said.

The chase ended when the officer's vehicle rolled over and he gave himself up. He was booked into Pima County jail on charges of smuggling and felony flight.
 No wonder ICE has been working overtime to deport so many people this year. ( I kid...sort of.)

Via the incomparable @InjusticeNews feed

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Housekeeping: Another Bad Apple

It is no secret that a lot of what I do and what I'm interested in is closely related to work that Radley Balko has done for years. Indeed, it's almost creepy in a Single Bi-racial Male sort of way how much we have in common:
Roughly same age
Hoosiers by birth and alma mater
Wrote conservative/libertarian columns for our college paper (STOP GOOGLING!)
Worked at Cato and Reason
Big fans of bourbon
Concentrate on Criminal Justice/Civil liberties issues
I'm writing a paper about police corruption and the drug war and it is roughly based on the style of his Overkill paper--which if you haven't read, you should. If he'll allow, I'm taking one more idea: the "Another Isolated Incident" post of police wrongdoing. I'll call it "Another Bad Apple" as I'll try to keep up with the rather numerous incidents of police malfeasance as they relate to the drug war.

All this kinda makes me feel like Mr. McDowell in 'Coming to America' when he's trying to explain he's not ripping off McDonald's trademark: "They have the 'golden arches,' we have the 'golden arcs'!" Riiiight.

Anyway, while most of the stuff above is entirely coincidental, he set a pretty great example so I don't feel too bad for doing a lot of what he did in my professional life. I will never be the incredible journalist he is--nor do I have even the slightest inkling to move to Memphis. (Nothing personal, Memphis) Oh, and I'm a cat person. (Nothing personal, dogs.)

If you don't already, make sure you follow Radley at the Huffington Post.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Police Officers Respond to Incentives Too

Last week, former undercover police officer Stephen Anderson told the New York State Supreme Court that planting drugs on innocent people was so common that it didn't even register emotionally to him. The story is starting to get traction in the media as an egregious example of police corruption, but it's notable only because of the admission to the practice in open court. Each year, there are hundreds of cases in which police officers are caught stealing, using, selling, or planting drugs or pocketing the proceeds from drug busts. Despite the obligatory PR protestations that any given instance of corruption is an isolated case, the systemic, legal, social, and economic incentives in every law enforcement agency in America combine to make police corruption virtually inevitable. And with no other category of crimes are these incentives stronger than with drug crimes.

Anderson testified that drugs would be seized from suspects at a given bust, divided, and then used again as evidence against other people on site (or at a time later) who had nothing to do with the initial arrest. This was, in part, due to established drug arrest quotas the officers needed to meet. As public servants, police departments face the same budgetary pressures as any other government entity and thus their officers are required to meet certain benchmarks set by the powers that be. Added to the normal budgetary justification, however, many police officers are in the position to confiscate cash and property that can be sold at auction thanks to civil asset forfeiture laws. Many departments across the country keep a percentage or the entirety of forfeiture proceeds, so pressure to maintain a certain level of drug arrests is something straight out of Public Choice: 101.

So far, about 400 cases have been dismissed because of these most recent revelations from the NYPD. It's too early to say how many and to what extent the victims were “innocent,” but the city seems to think 400 people were victimized by lying police officers. The police were able to lie with impunity because they enjoy the advantage of assumption of innocence. Despite the “innocent until proven guilty” mantra that all defendants are pretended to enjoy, an arrestee's word against the testimony of a police officer (and perhaps his partner) is, absent independent damning evidence of police malfeasance, next to worthless. This reputation imbalance is amplified by the unintended consequence of plea bargains: if the potential penalty is large enough, accepting a plea bargain in the face of nearly certain conviction becomes a rational decision for an innocent person. It doesn’t help that the label of “drug dealer” carries a social stigma just below “murderer” and “rapist”—and the potential sentences for drug crimes reflect that.

While the present NYPD case primarily deals with officers trying to advance their own careers, police corruption takes many different forms and affects every type of jurisdiction.

Authorities in Tulsa, Oklahoma are digging out of the mess members of their police department put them in. Nearly a dozen present and former officers of Tulsa’s police department—as well as one BATFE agent and one former officer turned-Secret Service Agent—have been implicated, terminated, indicted and/or convicted of police corruption charges ranging from, inter alia, staging illegal drug busts to embezzlement to perjury to distribution charges. At last count, 41 different people have had their federal convictions thrown out or state charges dropped as a result of the investigation into the department. Attorneys are now poring over the cases of countless other convicts and defendants who may have been railroaded by the Tulsa PD. (It should be noted that the people getting the strongest consideration are those who were na├»ve enough to refuse plea bargains at some point in the judicial process.)

Despite federal stings catching officers red-handed, confessions of wrong-doing that resulted in termination from the police or federal agencies, only four officers have pleaded or been found guilty. Five remain on the police force. The investigations into the TPD are considered closed and so the only hope for measures of justice are the investigations into case files and those related to the numerous civil suits the city faces.

The point is, these are but two recent and galling cases of police corruption. For every Tulsa and New York City there are innumerable cases of unreported shakedowns, coercive threats, and brazen theft by individual officers all over the country. This isn't the work of a few "bad apples," it's a systemic failure of police departments that are asked to solve an intractable policy problem all the while maintaining the utmost integrity on individual and organizational levels. Officers are highly incentivized to break the rules—and the law—either to satisfy the demands placed on them or to pad their own pockets. There are layers of protection built into the system to keep officers safe from public scrutiny and prosecution, and it's nearly impossible for an ordinary American—let alone an accused drug dealer—to protect herself. Meanwhile, the consequences of the legal and extra-legal drug war continue to chip away at the freedom of criminals and law-abiding Americans alike...and we are all less safe because of it.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

50% of Americans Support Marijuana Legalization...And?

My facebook feed is exploding with glee and celebration that marijuana legalization finally enjoys the support of half of Americans. While I grant that the shift in popular opinion is encouraging, it's hardly reason for celebration.

I'm sorry to piss in everyone's corn flakes, but since when does popular opinion write policy or federal law? (Hell, when do the feds even respect it?) Sure, office holders have to run for reelection, but half of registered voters don't show up at the polls--I think it's safe to assume that the half that show up is not the exact same half that supports legalization--and drug policy isn't one of the issues that enjoys a significant bloc of single-issue voters like abortion or taxes.

Asking a question in abstract in a poll is one thing: getting people to actually understand an issue and be willing to fight against entrenched interests to see it through is entirely another. Take war for example: if you asked Americans if they prefer peace or war, I would bet my bank account peace wins.

How's that working out for you?

Again, this is a welcomed development in public opinion, but forgive me if I don't bust out the "special" brownie recipe just yet.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Alabama Crops Rot: Why?

Via Doug Mataconis:

A sponsor of Alabama’s tough new immigration law told desperate tomato farmers Monday that he won’t change the law, even though they told him that their crops are rotting in the field and they are at risk of losing their farms.
Republican state Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale met with about 50 growers, workers, brokers and business people Monday at a tomato packing shed on Chandler Mountain in northeast Alabama. They complained that the new law, which went into effect Thursday, scared off many of their migrant workers at harvest time.
“The tomatoes are rotting on the vine, and there is very little we can do,” said Chad Smith, who farms tomatoes with his uncle, father and brother.
“My position is to stay with the law as it is,” Beason told the farmers.
Beason helped write and sponsor a law the Legislature enacted in June to crack down on illegal immigration. It copied portions of laws enacted in Arizona, Georgia and other states, including allowing police to detain people indefinitely if they don’t have legal status. Beason and other proponents said the law would help free up jobs for Alabamians in a state suffering through 9.9 percent unemployment.
The farmers said the some of their workers may have been in the country illegally, but they were the only ones willing to do the work.
“This law will be in effect this entire growing season,” Beason told the farmers. He said he would talk to his congressman about the need for a federal temporary worker program that would help the farmers next season.
“There won’t be no next growing season,” farmer Wayne Smith said.
“Does America know how much this is going to affect them? They’ll find out when they go to the grocery store. Prices on produce will double,” he said.
So, let me get this right: crops rotting. Hard working American farmers at risk of losing everything they own. No one coming to work the fields.

It can't be about jobs, as this is threatening to put more people out of work. But if the anti-immigrant folks are to be believed, it's NOT about racism either.

Kick out all the brown people, make a lot of people lose their farms and homes--in many cases, old farms that have been owned by the same family for generations--make food more expensive for the average citizen who is struggling to get by, and generally inflict more damage on an already depressed economy. Historically speaking, racist otherism is about the only thing that makes Americans dumb enough to continue with such programs in the face of all available evidence.

If you don't want to call it racism, fine: call it criminally ignorant economic insanity. But the Alabama electorate should decide whether it will continue to support the politicians that did this to them, and if they do, I'd like to know why.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Turley on Obama and Civil Liberties

In today's LA Times, GW law prof Jon Turley says what everyone who follows civil liberties already knows: President Obama has been dreadful on civil liberties:

However, President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture. In his first year, Obama made good on that promise, announcing that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the "just following orders" defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.
What I find compelling about the op-ed, however, is something most of the establishment Left can't bring themselves to say publicly:
It's almost a classic case of the Stockholm syndrome, in which a hostage bonds with his captor despite the obvious threat to his existence. Even though many Democrats admit in private that they are shocked by Obama's position on civil liberties, they are incapable of opposing him. Some insist that they are simply motivated by realism: A Republican would be worse. However, realism alone cannot explain the utter absence of a push for an alternative Democratic candidate or organized opposition to Obama's policies on civil liberties in Congress during his term. It looks more like a cult of personality. Obama's policies have become secondary to his persona.
This paragraph explains perfectly why Obama should face a primary challenge--and why the Democrats would never allow one.

No one wants to recognize that their guy/party is a sham. Political people are invested in the party system and while they are first to accuse their opponents of callow opportunism and careerism, when it happens within their own ranks, that behavior is met with the same "pragmatic" political argument and the silence is, and must be taken as, tacit consent.

This country needs a Democrat to stand on principle and challenge Obama on his civil liberties record. The professional Left, who so often pride themselves on their principles, should be leading the call for a primary challenger to keep Obama honest. Unfortunately, most of them are too busy worrying about Republican primary red meat to give a damn about what their man continues to do with the power they labored and lobbied to give him.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Quote of the Day

"They also noted that he has won awards for his police work and his effort to get guns off the street."

Attorneys discussing their client, Jerome Finnegan--the disgraced cop at center of robbery and kidnapping ring-- who was sentenced to 12 years for murder-for-hire plot to kill cop he thought was aiding the investigation into his aforementioned robbery and kidnapping ring.  Chicago Tribune 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Jeff Toobin's History: Scarcely Related to Reality

Jeffery Toobin’s new piece on Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni leaves one wanting. I was waiting for a “gotcha” moment or perhaps a revelation about the couple that I hadn’t previously known or, at least, anything of interest that would warrant a few thousand words in the New Yorker.

Instead, what I read was a bunch of intimation about the Thomases traveling in conservative social circles, the revelation that Justice Thomas is an originalist (!!!), and a smattering of information about his life on the High Court.

One could have gotten as much useful information off of the justice’s Wiki page.

But what got me about the article wasn’t its complete lack of substance—an appalling lack, though it was, given the outlet and the author’s credentials as an astute Court watcher—but its blatant whitewashing of 14th Amendment history. Toobin writes:

In his jurisprudence, Thomas may be best known for his belief in a “color-blind Constitution”; that is, one that forbids any form of racial preference or affirmative action. But color blind, for Thomas, is not blind to race. Thomas finds a racial angle on a broad array of issues, including those which appear to be scarcely related to traditional civil rights, like campaign finance or gun control.* In Thomas’s view, the Constitution imposes an ideal of racial self-sufficiency, an extreme version of the philosophy associated with Booker T. Washington, whose portrait hangs in his chambers. (This personal gallery also includes Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher.) *emphasis mine

I don't want to get into the campaign finance argument, but the gun rights comment was just too patently ignorant to let go.

Apparently looking to emulate his CNN colleague Wolf Blitzer and become the witless wonder of legal journalism, Toobin exhibits no respect for the substance of either the Heller or McDonald amicus briefs or decisions. Beyond that, Toobin should have a reasonable enough grasp of history—and by reasonable, I mean a basic, non-sanitized history understood by grown-ups—to be familiar with the stripping of blacks' legal protections that came in the post-Reconstruction era and continued up through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. When marauding bands of hooded murderers ride the nights on horseback, the ability to protect one's family from them is very much a civil rightand the systematic removal of those rights doesn't require a special “angle” of jurisprudence to understand. 

UCLA law professor Adam Winkler penned a piece for the September issue of the Atlantic called “The Secret History of Guns.” Professor Winkler spent nearly 2400 words (of roughly 4700) detailing the explicitly race-based nature of various gun control actions—from Andrew Johnson unsuccessfully vetoing the gun rights of Freedmen (the legislative precursors to the 14th Amendment) to then-Governor Ronald Reagan capitalizing on the spectre of armed Black Panthers at the California capitol. A snippet:

Indisputably, for much of American history, gun-control measures, like many other laws, were used to oppress African Americans. The South had long prohibited blacks, both slave and free, from owning guns. In the North, however, at the end of the Civil War, the Union army allowed soldiers of any color to take home their rifles. Even blacks who hadn’t served could buy guns in the North, amid the glut of firearms produced for the war. President Lincoln had promised a “new birth of freedom,” but many blacks knew that white Southerners were not going to go along easily with such a vision. As one freedman in Louisiana recalled, “I would say to every colored soldier, ‘Bring your gun home.’”

After losing the Civil War, Southern states quickly adopted the Black Codes, laws designed to reestablish white supremacy by dictating what the freedmen could and couldn’t do. One common provision barred blacks from possessing firearms. To enforce the gun ban, white men riding in posses began terrorizing black communities. In January 1866, Harper’s Weekly reported that in Mississippi, such groups had “seized every gun and pistol found in the hands of the (so called) freedmen” in parts of the state. The most infamous of these disarmament posses, of course, was the Ku Klux Klan.

In response to the Black Codes and the mounting atrocities against blacks in the former Confederacy, the North sought to reaffirm the freedmen’s constitutional rights, including their right to possess guns. General Daniel E. Sickles, the commanding Union officer enforcing Reconstruction in South Carolina, ordered in January 1866 that “the constitutional rights of all loyal and well-disposed inhabitants to bear arms will not be infringed.” When South Carolinians ignored Sickles’s order and others like it, Congress passed the Freedmen’s Bureau Act of July 1866, which assured ex-slaves the “full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings concerning personal liberty … including the constitutional right to bear arms.”

That same year, Congress passed the nation’s first Civil Rights Act, which defined the freedmen as United States citizens and made it a federal offense to deprive them of their rights on the basis of race. Senator James Nye, a supporter of both laws, told his colleagues that the freedmen now had an “equal right to protection, and to keep and bear arms for self-defense.” President Andrew Johnson vetoed both laws. Congress overrode the vetoes and eventually made Johnson the first president to be impeached.

Fittingly, as DC readies itself to officially open the memorial to America's most beloved and famously peaceful civil rights leader, Winkler goes on to note that Martin Luther King Jr. applied for—and was denied—a concealed carry permit for a handgun after his home was bombed.

Apparently Dr. King also subscribed to this “extreme” and peculiar “angle” of civil rights.

It's not that I think Toobin wrote this as a hit piece. (It was, if anything, a miss piece.) But by writing this as he did, he mischaracterized an important and well-documented aspect of traditional civil rights in America thatat the very leastany responsible Court watcher would instantly recognize from recent cases, whether or not he agreed with the policy outcomes. Toobin goes further to imply Thomas relies on a revisionist history that is perceived through his putatively unorthodox originalism and colored by his race. That is simply bullshit. 

Gun rights and self-defense have gone hand-in-hand with civil rights for blacks since the very first Civil Rights Act in our nation's history. It seems Mr. Toobin is the one with a questionable understanding of traditional American civil rights. 

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

On the London Riots

Just before this writing, the riots in London and other parts of Great Britain were well into their third night. And the video that is coming out of them is jarring, if not altogether shocking. Several outlets and writers are contributing their two cents. My former colleague Jesse Walker highlighted an editorial from UK's Guardian, which puts the current riots in context:
There is, though, an important difference between 1981 and 2011. Thirty years ago, Lord Scarman's landmark report concluded that the Brixton riots were "essentially an outburst of anger and resentment by young black people against the police". The evidence for that conclusion was overwhelming. Thirty years ago, London's police had provided repeated provocation for concern and anger. Much policing of that era was too aggressive, too high-handed, based on crude and often racist stereotypes, and lacked any convincing accountability, either strategically or for individual abuses.
It would be reckless to pretend that the latest riots owe nothing to bad policing as well as bad people. The circumstances of the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, the official response (or lack of it) to a protest against his killing, and the local backdrop to these events, must be fully examined before a final judgment is made. Moreover, police use of guns will always run the risk of lethal abuse. But it is also clear that there have been major changes, almost all of them for the better, in the policing of London and of black communities, in the years since Scarman. Police training, behaviour, leadership, methods and accountability have all been qualitatively improved. Tottenham is also an improved place in countless ways. (links in original, emphasis mine)
And my friend Ned Resnikoff highlighted this blog post by Penny Red, (which you should read in its entirety, btw):
In the scramble to comprehend the riots, every single commentator has opened with a ritual condemnation of the violence, as if it were in any doubt that arson, muggings and lootings are ugly occurrences. That much should be obvious to anyone who is watching Croydon burn down on the BBC right now. David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, called the disorder 'mindless, mindless'. Nick Clegg denounced it as 'needless, opportunistic theft and violence'. Speaking from his Tuscan holiday villa, Prime Minister David Cameron – who has finally decided to return home to take charge - declared simply that the social unrest searing through the poorest boroughs in the country was "utterly unacceptable." The violence on the streets is being dismissed as ‘pure criminality,’ as the work of a ‘violent minority’, as ‘opportunism.’ This is madly insufficient. It is no way to talk about viral civil unrest. Angry young people with nothing to do and little to lose are turning on their own communities, and they cannot be stopped, and they know it. Tonight, in one of the greatest cities in the world, society is ripping itself apart.

Violence is rarely mindless.
The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there. Unquestionably there is far, far more to these riots than the death of Mark Duggan, whose shooting sparked off the unrest on Saturday, when two police cars were set alight after a five-hour vigil at Tottenham police station. A peaceful protest over the death of a man at police hands, in a community where locals have been given every reason to mistrust the forces of law and order, is one sort of political statement. Raiding shops for technology and trainers that cost ten times as much as the benefits you’re no longer entitled to is another. A co-ordinated, viral wave of civil unrest across the poorest boroughs of Britain, with young people coming from across the capital and the country to battle the police, is another. 
(Emphasis mine)
Now, the problem I have with both pieces -- again, which are both worth reading, especially the blog post -- is the wrongheaded, yet understandable desire to make sense of it all. That somehow, some way, we must be able to put blame on someone, something, some wrong deed that caused the catastrophe to happen; that there is something preventable that we can guard against in the future. Perhaps there is, but even if that were so, it doesn't really explain the violence.

There can be catalysts to violence, and maybe the beginning of the violence had been fueled by righteous rage. But reading anything but dumb, horrible, senseless angst and anger into that violence is fruitless.

I am old enough to remember the Rodney King verdict, and I remember the aftermath. I remember how angry I was--I even threw something across the room, breaking it and denting the entertainment center, and screaming at the television, "How COULD they?!?!?"

I understand violent anger, believe me.

But that doesn't mean that the kids who beat Reginald Denny within an inch of his life were anything but brute thugs when they did it. That doesn't mean that there was any sense to rioters burning the shops in their own neighborhood, owned by immigrants and their own black and brown neighbors. And it sure as hell doesn't mean that the powers that be understand a message being sent by looters, marauders, and 'those black bastards' that were destroying their own community and hauling TVs as booty from their pillaging.

It takes more than an outburst of raw emotion to sustain the devastation of days-long riots, and any political force that may have sparked them will have long-been subsumed into the incoherent havoc that is mob violence. Whatever real problems that exist in the affected communities don't explain the violence any more than the relative peace in the affected areas was indicative of a hunky-dory system til Friday.

In short, there is no more reason to a riot than there is to a lynching. There are causes, there is wanton violence, and there is no shortage of blame after-the-fact. There is a trigger that almost everyone can agree on, and then there is carnage. There really isn't much more to them than that.

Pace Ms. Red, violence is the epitome of mindlessness. Treating riots as anything else elevates them to a level of political significance that they do not deserve.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Friday, July 22, 2011

Just for Fun Friday: The Stand-Up Economist

I feel bad about only posting stuff like this without real content, but it isn't that I haven't been writing. I just haven't been happy enough with the final product to post it comfortably.

Anyway, a video for your enjoyment:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Just for Fun Friday: When She Broke English

Yesterday, a wonderful and awful thing happened: this piece of overwrought high middle school scribbling was published over at Thought Catalog. It's not just that it's bad -- it's that it is so terrible that one has to wonder if it's actually satirical commentary on the state of American education. A sample:
When she closed her eyes sometimes she could smell him, his pungent body odor, the way she possessed it when their blushing bodies rubbed together in awkward embrace, her soft fleshy thigh against his, his flushed chest against her beating breast. She remembered most the heavy weight of his naked body when he shuddered against her, relaxed his muscles, and eased into her torso, those rare moments where the whole world fell away and they became nothing more than each other, an ugly fleshy mass of hair and limbs that was her primal perfection. Then they would sit for hours, nude, absorbed in nothingness, and those were the moments she loved best. She would feed him cheese on crackers and he would turn to her with an expression of complete surprise; it was in those moments that it seemed like he had only just laid his eyes on her for the first time, and while he was momentarily absorbed in a rapt wonderment she would gorge herself on his love.
The unintended consequences of abstinence only sex ed: torso sex. With cheese and crackers.

I could go on for hours, but you really should just read it in its entirety. Additionally, I highly recommend the dramatic reading of this literary monstrosity, as performed by Ms. Emily Crockett:

Remember kids: don't play Mad Libs with a thesaurus. It's not a toy.

Have a good weekend!

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Belated Response to Tim Lee and American Free Enterprise v. Bennett

I've been traveling the past three weekends and thus been too busy during the week to keep up with all my reading. I only just read my friend Tim Lee's  take on Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett, the most recent campaign finance case before SCOTUS. I respectfully disagree with him and would like to explain why here.

Some set-up to Tim's argument:
Let’s start by reviewing the broader campaign finance debate, and especially the arguments in Citizens United. Advocates of regulation argued that “independent expenditures”—that is spending on political speech by people unconnected to any campaign—were a grave threat to the integrity of the democratic process. They warned that a wealthy interest group could walk into the offices of a member of Congress and threaten that if the member didn’t vote the way the group wanted, the group would pour millions of dollars into negative ads in the member’s district. Faced with a threat to his political survival, the member will be forced to do what the interest group wants.
First Amendment zealots like me had two responses. First, running ads praising or criticizing a candidate in the weeks before an election is precisely the kind of “core” political speech the First Amendment is supposed to protect. Therefore, we’d better have an extremely solid reason for restricting such speech.
Second: if it were really true that elections were decided based on which candidate had the most spent on his behalf, this would be a pretty strong argument for regulating independent expenditures. But fortunately, voters are not mindless automatons. They evaluate the messages being presented to them and compare them with elected officials’ records in office. An incumbent with a good record will find his ads reach a receptive audience. Conversely, an interest group whose agenda is broadly unpopular with voters is going to have a harder time using ads to reduce the candidate’s poll numbers.
Relatedly, as Meg Whitman recently learned, advertising dollars are subject to diminishing returns. If the average voter sees candidate A’s ad 10 times and candidate B’ ad only once, that’s likely to give candidate A a sizable advantage. But if the average voter sees candidate A’s ad 1000 times and candidate B’s ad only 100 times, the gap is unlikely to matter. Indeed, some voters might get so tired of seeing candidate A’s ads that they vote for candidate B out of spite.
I'm with him all the way up to the Whitman reference. Whitman's doomed gubernatorial run was plagued with more problems than money could solve--and she didn't have the advantage of name recognition that a former governor (and governor's son) has. Add to that, she was a Republican following an unpopular Republican governor in the midst of a national and state-wide budget a famously Democrat-friendly state. Furthermore, as such a visible candidate of one of the most important states in the Union, she was targeted by powerful and experienced advocacy and activist groups who knew how to spend money more wisely than her campaign did. In short, that a lot of money didn't help her doesn't mean the general ability to spend it freely is not important to a candidacy or idea.

Regardless, the Whitman example is one of a predominantly self-financed campaign and doesn't address the role of fundraising in a political campaign. In a campaign, money acts as more than just candidate's speech--it is a signal of political viability of the candidate and, more importantly, is the material product of the speech of his donors. Ron Paul has shown that fundraising doesn't guarantee electoral victory--but it is very effective if you're trying to get a particular message out to people who haven't been exposed to it. Ron Paul made a national name for himself in large part because of the money he raised and then the use of that money on the campaign. A publicly balanced system neutralizes the power of those donations.

People who donated to Ron Paul didn't want to give Sam Brownback or Mike Huckabee a platform: they wanted to say that the Paul brand of limited government is something they supported and wanted explicated to a wider audience. Matching funds, the issue in the present case, would neuter the voices of those people in favor of the status quo in the name of "more speech."(N.B.: I'm using a national figure for illustrative purposes. The AZ state law never would have effected national office.)

Take a more local hypothetical: say there is an open at-large county council seat. There is one private candidate who supports allowing medical cannabis dispensaries in the county and three public candidates who expressly do not. Under the matching funds provision, if Candidate A is supported by people who really want to license a dispensary, public financing triples his opposition without candidates B, C, and D lifting a finger to solicit it. It isn't as if Candidate A was going to have an easy go of it anyway, but now any decided advantage he may have had as a fundraiser is eliminated. As a county council seat, the media deluge that is commonplace to the governorship of California or the United States presidency is absolutely not going to occur so he is unlikely to experience the diminishing returns Tim referenced in Whitman's race--and Candidate A is battling against three times the competition she was. Adding insult to injury, B,C, and D are each using the money he campaigned for against him. Ironically, those who oppose his plan can donate to his campaign to effectively triple their money in opposition. (I fully grant that candidate A could win because the anti-cannabis vote is divided, but in this hypothetical it's certainly not an assumption that he would.)

As this demonstrates, matching funds are as likely, if not more so, to support the status quo--in a voting system that already overwhelmingly favors incumbents. Moreover, the use of matching funds is just another way the state can decide who gets to say what in an election. (Most of the electoral systems in the country have been set up to protect the duopoly of the major parties by crowding out third party or independent challengers, but that's another entire blogpost in itself.) It's hard to understand how a libertarian--or even a liberaltarian--could think of this as liberty-friendly.

And then we get to the constitutionality of the matter--which Tim concedes, sort of:
Obviously, a candidate isn’t going to want his opponent to get a larger public subsidy, and so at the margin it does provide some disincentive to campaign spending.

Here [unlike Citizens United], the “punishment” is much more indirect and indeed its status as a punishment is somewhat speculative. So First Amendment scrutiny is called for, but the justification probably doesn’t need to be as compelling as you’d need to justify direct censorship.
Government providing "some disincentive" to exercising free speech is akin to saying a man got a woman "a little pregnant."

If we're talking about a marginal candidate--or, more to the point, a candidate with heretofore marginalized ideas who has managed to earn the respect, trust, and money of enough supporters who want to give him a platform--that disincentive can prove most chilling. If every dollar given to Ron Paul is a government dollar to each of three or more mainstream candidates when spent, the mainstream candidates are granted government support to further marginalize him. If Paul supporters understand that their donations will trigger 1:1 financing to each member of the field of GOP candidates, their incentive to support him is greatly diminished. That is a chill on expressly political speech and thus cannot withstand the strict scrutiny test required for acceptable regulation of speech at any level of government.

Tim continues:
Second, the degree to which having your opponent subsidized will be perceived as a “punishment” greatly depends on the circumstances. If the privately candidate is handsome and charismatic with an impressive record, while the publicly-financed incumbent is a politically tone-deaf hack with a long record of corruption and incompetence, then the challenger might welcome his opponent having more money to spend putting his ugly mug on TV. Similarly, if an independent organization is running ads in order to get candidates to talk more about its pet issue, it might not care at all about whether its spending causes certain candidates to get more money in the process.

A donation to a candidate is a private individual's voice of positive support for a particular person. Matching that donation with public money changes the effect of that donation to supporting political speech generally--or, at least, speech among the state-approved candidates. Such a change perverts the essential component of that speech: explicit support with intent to provide material advantage.

Tim concludes:
Finally, the state’s interest in reducing corruption seems pretty compelling. Not compelling enough to justify censorship, but strong enough to justify a system of subsidies that creates a mild disincentive to private spending on political speech.

For actual political corruption, we have a justice system. A nebulous 'appearance of corruption' (as noted in the parties' briefs and page 26 of the majority opinion) is not a compelling justification to chill the speech of political contributors or candidates.

I understand and agree with Tim's underlying principle: more speech--and specifically more free speech--is a good thing. But the present case isn't free speech: it is a state-sanctioned balance of speech that comes at the direct cost of individual speech. Individual political contributions are not value-neutral and their use by a candidate should not render them such by way of matching funds to the candidates' opponents. Such distortion of political speech by government action is bad policy and wholly incompatible with the First Amendment.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Quote of the Day

While cover [sic] for the receptionist at my work, I have seen a lot. The blacks come in not even dressed to work, they list felony's [sic] on the applications and some do not look like they really want to work. The hispanics - come in with tatoos [sic] all, scary, do not speak english, have a rap sheet, and even put they just got out of jail on application [sic]. I do feel bad for them because they do not realize that their past will haunt them forever and the way they present themselves has a lot to do with it. I have some black and hispanic co-workers who have family's [sic] and care about their jobs. But some you just cannot help.
Cindy Taylor, facebook commenter on this Daily Caller post on black unemployment, entitled "Black unemployment: racism or personal responsibilty?" [sic]

I wonder if simplistic views on race are correlated with bad grammar. I kid, of course, but the piece itself reads like a high school sociology project and is as illuminating as a flashlight is to a blind man.

UPDATE: The Daily Caller has removed the facebook thread I linked to. (sad face.) If reading I-know-a-black-guy expert opinions from people who prefer to remain anonymous is your thing, you can follow the story comments here. So far, the post has 127 facebook likes. SMH

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mood Music Monday

100 years ago today, Robert Johnson was born. Perhaps the greatest blues man to ever live, he died at age 27--allegedly the victim of poisoned whiskey.

Anyway, happy birthday Mr. Johnson.

Hat tip to Jon Meyers for the link.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Friday, May 6, 2011

Just for Fun Friday: S*** My Students Write

In the early days of the mass interwebs--ie, the mid-90s--there were a lot chain emails that got forwarded into everyone's inbox. If you're like me and have older friends and family members, you probably still get them now and again--I just hope yours don't include insane conspiracy theories about Obama or how the Mexicans are invading to take arr jerbs. Anyway, one of the emails that would get forwarded pretty frequently was a list of horribly written or otherwise hilarious excerpts from student tests or papers.

It turns out, someone finally decided to make this a Tumblr, called Shit My Students Write.

One of my favorites:

Keeping it real with that birth thing.

Before, women were multifunctioning objects around the house that could do that birth thing but now women are running corporations and writing great literature all the while still doing that birth thing.
Yes, yes, it's sad that kids today don't have the language skills they should. But having been a teaching assistant in a foreign policy class meant for upperclassmen and thus seen my share of terrible writing and attempted academic bullshittery, it's something you just have to laugh at.

Say goodbye to your afternoon productivity.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

NSLs and You

The lastest video from Cato's multimedia department deals with National Security Letters and the egregious lengths the FBI has gone through (and probably continues to) to exercise unprecedented administrative subpoena power. The subsequent gag orders to render them unchallengeable is maddening.

That these letters exist is problematic in itself; that the documented, widespread abuse of them went generally unnoticed outside of the Beltway (and the telecommunications industry) is scandalous.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Are Justice and Vengeance Compatible?

As my Mood Music Monday made clear, as well as my several tweets after bin Laden's death was confirmed Sunday night, I'm glad he's dead. Not jubilant, not ecstatic, not giddy--just glad.

Like most Americans who were adults or close to it ten years ago, I immediately thought back what September 11, 2001 felt like...and how awful it was.

I worked nights and actually went to bed around 7 AM that morning, having just received a used computer from one of my cousins in California that weekend and been tooling around on it til I couldn't keep my eyes open. My then-girlfriend and I were asleep when it all went down and, as usual, we turned the phone off in our upstairs bedroom so that random phone calls wouldn't disturb us while we slept. She got up to walk the dog early that afternoon and said 'Heff left several messages on the answering machine. He said just turn on the television...any channel.'

So curious and confused, I groggily obliged and saw B-roll of one of the smoking towers. I started reading the scroll at the bottom of the page. I thought to myself "Oh, so a plane hit a skyscraper. That's sad, but hardly...OH MY GOD."

We sat in stunned shock as the news went through everything that they knew to that point. The rest of the afternoon is just a fog, really. I went in to my restaurant job to see my friends--it was my day off--and everything in town was eerily quiet on the way in. We talked a bit, and then I left to go home and try to wrap my head around all of it. I remember an enveloping dazed numbness--sort of like a concussion.

That night, my girlfriend and I went to her job--she was a bartender at the 'Townie' bar down the street from my job. It's your typical Midwestern bar--country music dominated the jukebox, regular karaoke nights similarly dominated by country songs; it was staffed by flirty, sassy women and patronized by restaurant workers and good ol' boys. While I'm sure other songs came on, all I remember is Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" and Bruce Springsteen's anti-war classic "Born in the USA." People were singing and crying and just plain angry. There were several vets there that night as well as some guys who knew they were going to get a call very soon from their Reserve battalions. Others, I'm sure, signed up the next day. War--and much more death--was imminent.

So I stood at the end of the bar, talking to a lot of the old men standing around, and I heard racist invective that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I understand the rage and pain of that day--I felt it too--but mine was focused on the Taliban and al Qaeda, not Arabs generally. The hatred and contempt that so many felt made me fear for every Arab (and Arab-looking) person in America. They talked about the Muslims like animals--like vermin that had to be exterminated. The old men weren't talking genocide per se, but it was clear to them that Arabs and Muslims had to pay for what so very few of them believed and what just a handful of them did.

Don't get me wrong, I wanted it to rain unholy hell down upon Afghanistan. I wanted Chuck Norris Delta Force-style action where our guys swoop in and kill every 'bad guy' they see by any means necessary. Guns, knives, garrote, whatever. There was (apparently unrelated) fighting going on in Kabul that night, if I recall correctly, and we all watched hoping the explosions and small arms fire we saw were Americans going in and exacting righteous vengeance upon our enemies. It wasn't, but 'Death to the terrorists, dammit!'

But when I heard the words of the old men at the bar--and some of the younger ones too--I snapped out of the numb anger and thought "Oh, God. What is going to happen? How many are going to die?" I thought of our soldiers. I thought of Afghan civilians. And I feared so much for Arab Americans. I spoke up, briefly, countering with the absurdity of blaming white Christians for McVeigh and Nichols. Unsurprisingly, they were not persuaded.

Fast forward: Years later, a friend pointed out to me Glenn Beck's "9/12 Project"--to recapture the common cause and American unity that 9/11 had elicited. People tend to remember the touching photos, the crying embraces, and that New Yorkers actually acted like civilized people in public. (I kid.) Long forgotten by so many was the unfiltered hate and rage; that innocent people were yelled at, spit on, beaten up, and that their houses and mosques were damaged or defaced in the days following the attacks for acts that affected them as deeply as any other American. The vile, hateful bloodlust that sprang up in so many of us was like nothing I'd experienced before, nor would I like to feel again.

But when I heard the news Sunday night, I smiled and was happy that OBL was dead. My reaction was part relief,  part vengeance, and part justice. I was relieved that while terror will survive him, he personally will no longer be responsible; our national bogeyman is dead. The vengeance, I think, is just a natural albeit unpleasant side to me (and many other people). I don't think vengeance makes good policy, but neither will I deny the feeling when the two coincide. And yes, it was wholly justified to kill him, whether he put up a fight or not.

Now, you may ask, how is a committed libertarian, wary of state power and a proponent of due process, backing this? Because in this extraordinary case, post-mortem desire for incarceration and trial confuse procedure for justice.

Procedure is important when administering criminal law. Procedure is important when determining guilt or innocence, or severity of punishment. Procedure, as used in the Nuremberg trials--which, I think were important despite their many flaws--is important when trying to rebuild a nation state and separate the punishment of criminals from perceived retribution upon an entire citizenry. Procedure is important to keep the enforcers of policy in check: for all those held in Guantanamo, Bagram, and whatever black sites the CIA still have running, and I will continue to call for that. But let's not pretend that putting OBL in a courtroom in order to show all of his videos inciting death to America and claiming responsibility for murders, financing terror here and around the world, and organizing the training of murderers--to all of which there is no substantive contested fact from any quarter--would amount in "more" justice than he got on Sunday.

I am not swayed by the arguments that his capture and trial would be too dangerous for American courts. I surely would not be against a trial, had it worked out that way--but he was a figurehead and titular leader of a terrorist organization and, as such, is a legitimate military target. That the government used a SEAL team instead of a cruise missile--sparing the lives of 17 others or so who were in his compound--is hardly a miscarriage of justice.

Does this mean that others should get similar treatment? Not really. OBL was a titular figure of the highest order, unambiguously guilty of acts and war and terror against the United States, and a strategic target. On the other hand, Anwar al-Awlaki should be taken alive, if at all possible, to guarantee his due process rights, no matter how despicable he is. The breadth of his crimes are not widely known--indeed, they are classified--and his citizenship is a legal protection that must be respected until or unless he resists capture in a manner that imminently threatens the life of his would-be captors or others. That the administration has marked him for death by saying, essentially, "trust us, he's a bad guy" is not remotely satisfactory to subvert his constitutional rights.

So yes, I'm glad Osama bin Laden is dead--as a policy and personal matter. I don't think it's cause to "celebrate"--indeed, a very serious reassessment of our policy, both our presence in Afghanistan and our support of Pakistan should be in the forefront of our minds--but neither do I think it's appropriate to complain about some fictional justice for OBL lost. He is dead, and that is not a bad thing. It was vengeance. And it was justice.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mood Music Monday: Dedication to the CIC and DevGru

Now usually I don't do this...

..but credit where it is due: here's a shoutout to BHO and the badasses formerly known as Seal Team Six (now "DevGru") who took out OBL yesterday.

It doesn't make up for all the pain, disappointment, and waste of the last two years, but it's not a small accomplishment.

We will now return to our regularly scheduled skepticism and resentment of executive power.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Saturday, April 30, 2011

New Digs

I accepted an invitation to start blogging over at the Examiner Blogs "Opinion Zone." I'll still be blogging other pieces here--but I can't cross-post my Examiner Blog posts right away. I'll be tweeting my posts when they go up and/or giving you a link here to keep you from adding extra RSS feeds to your GReader.

My first post on Thursday's medical cannabis raids in Washington State went up tonight.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Crash Course in Black History: New N****r Rule

By now you've heard that President Obama has released his "long form" birth certificate in order to quell the two-year-old conspiracy theory that a liberal cabal has managed to pull off the greatest case of identity fraud in human history.

Honestly, before I get into the meat of this post, I just want to say that this was the most preposterous allegation/conspiracy theory I have ever heard. The JFK assassination Cuba-Mafia-KGB conspiracy, the 'faked' Moon landing and '9/11 was an inside job' (aka "Truthers") all have more plausible premises--and they are all bullshit too. To have pulled this off, one would have needed to plan, implement, and maintain a flawless conspiracy over the course of four decades between multiple state agencies of Illinois and Hawaii, his posh private school in Hawaii, two Ivy League schools, the Illinois Bar Association, the government of Kenya and/or Indonesia, the Social Security Administration, the State Department, the IRS and god knows what other federal departments and kept it all a secret.

Elvis and Tupac are sitting on a beach somewhere saying "They can't really believe this shit, can they?"

Anyway, a recurring complaint from the Right since the release this morning has been "I just don't get why he didn't release this sooner!" The quick answer is: because he shouldn't have to. This accusation was ridiculous on its face and for all the 'respect for the office' the Right likes to trot out when it suits them, addressing this idiocy really is beneath the president of the United States. But as my friend Adam Serwer so eloquently wrote over at WaPo's Plum Line today:

Aside from being one of the most idiotic moments in American political history, this marks a level of personal humiliation no previous president has ever been asked to endure. Other presidents have been the target of crazy conspiracy theories, sure, but few have been as self-evidently absurd as birtherism. None has been so clearly rooted in anxieties about the president’s racial identity, because no previous American president has been black.

This whole situation is an embarrassment to the country. Yesterday Jesse Jackson described birtherism as racial “code,” but there’s nothing “coded” about it. It’s just racism. I don’t mean that everyone who has doubts about the president’s birthplace is racist. Rather, the vast majority have been deliberately misled by an unscrupulous conservative media and by conservative elites who have failed or refused to challenge these doubts.

And birtherism is only one of a number of racially charged conspiracy theories that have bubbled out of the right-wing swamp and have been allowed to fester by conservative elites. Those who have spent the last two years clinging to the notion that the president wasn’t born in the United States, who have alleged that the president wasn’t intelligent enough to write his own autobiography or somehow coasted to magna cum laude at Harvard law, are carrying on new varieties of an old, dying tradition of American racism. Similar accusations dogged early black writers like Frederick Douglass and Phyllis Wheatley, whose brilliance provoked an existential crisis among people incapable of abandoning myths of black intellectual inferiority.
Indeed, asking more of black people than is asked of or expected from whites is as old as racism itself. Black 'pioneers' have always had to face extra challenges from people incapable of dealing with black achievement or legitimacy. The older generations of black folk would tell their kids--as my father told me--that black people should never try to be as good as our white counterparts: we must strive to be better because 'as good' would not be good enough. (Both because of my complexion and meaningful societal change over my lifetime, this has not been an academic or professional hindrance to me. But the message took.)

Such is the standard operating procedure to confront what has been called, most notably by comedian Paul Mooney, the "New Nigger Rule." My definition follows:
A NNR is a legal or administrative procedure which is enforced with benign pretense, yet has the demonstrable effect of abetting racism, prejudice, or otherwise just screwing the black guy. Historical examples include, but are not limited to, the Grandfather Clause, poll taxes, and literacy/constitutional knowledge tests to vote.
Nota bene: all of these are forms of disenfranchisement.

Mark Thompson of the League explains what Obama had to do to get his long form and make it public:
Quite literally, in order to release this document, the President had to ask to be treated as being above the law, even if it is a relatively trivial law in the grand scheme of things.  Quite understandably, the State of Hawaii decided that this was a wise idea.  That so many are prepared to insist that the President had an obligation to ask that he be treated as above the law from a very early date is far more troubling.
That Obama should have been expected to file a waiver to get an obscure document that no one else has had to produce and make it public to dispel a rumor based on absurd conjecture and outright lies is clearly a New Nigger Rule.

I agree with Adam that it would not be fair to call all Birthers "racists." Maligning or otherwise assigning such terms to groups of people is unproductive and usually wrong factually and morally. That said, there can be no question at all that Obama had to deal with this because he's black. That is a fucking shame, and that is why he didn't release it earlier.

And he never should have had to.

bellum medicamenti delenda est