Friday, October 31, 2008

Arizona's Prop. 101 is good medicine for bad politicians

Proposition 101

Be it enacted by the People of Arizona:

1. Article II, Section 36: Constitution of Arizona is proposed to be added as follows if approved by the voters and on proclamation of the Governor:


2. The Secretary of State shall submit this proposition to the voters at the next general election as provided by Article XXI, of the Constitution of Arizona.

Sometimes the best way to preserve freedom is to tie people's hands -- government people, that is. That's what Arizona's Proposition 101 would do when it comes to health care. Designed to prevent officials from dragooning state residents into a government-mandated health care system, the measure would write into the state constitution a ban on passage of any law that "restricts a person's freedom of choice of private health care systems or private plans of any type."

I'll admit here that I have a bit of a personal interest in the passage of this measure. My wife is a physician -- a pediatrician -- in Arizona who owns her own practice. She's already horrified by the extent to which the government has inserted itself into the provision of medicine. She and I both consider health care to be overregulated under existing law, and consider many of the flaws of the health care system in this country to be direct result of busybody politicians' efforts to "perfect" the provision of medicine with mandates, bans and rules of all sorts.

Prop. 101 wouldn't undue existing regulations, I'm sorry to say. But it could potentially block a worst-case scenario by preventing our ever-meddlesome political class from deciding that the skills they've put to such good use in driving Arizona into a massive budget deficit could also be applied to designing an oh-so-clever health care system that's so attractive that people have to be forced to participate under threat of law.

I'm struck by the difference in tone between the official arguments for and against Prop. 101. The "for" arguments all mention the virtues of personal freedom and the benefits to innovation and responsiveness to be found in systems that avoid the rigidity of top-down design and government control.

Dr. Anthony K. Hedley, president of the Arizona Institute for Bone & Joint Disorders, writes:

As an orthopaedic surgeon, I have devoted most of my adult life to eliminating the pain and suffering that patients immobilized by severe joint disease must endure. Many of these patients have come to me from other countries, such as Canada, where their health care systems make them wait months, and sometimes years, to get the kind of surgical intervention that Americans expect to receive in a timely manner.

Dr. Robert F. Spetzler, a neurosurgeon, adds:

Many nations--and now many of the states of OUR nation--have made attempts to deal with the problem of the uninsured. But what frightens me is that in most--if not all--of these instances, the reforms have resulted in restricting the ability of patients to choose their own doctors; or to seek a new and innovative form of therapy-or an alternative form of therapy; or to get a second or third opinion; or to purchase the type of health insurance plan that best suits their needs.

By contrast, the "against" arguments dwell on the supposed perils of changing the Constitution to prevent the government from doing stuff to us in the future that we might not want it to do, but would be good for us. Oh, and they say socialized medicine is too a great thing.

Says Dr. Jonathan B. Weisbuch and Dr. Mary Ellen Bradshaw, the chair and co-chair, respectively, of the Arizona Coalition for a State and National Health Plan:

An Amendment limiting future legislation is dangerous. No one can predict what laws may be needed to improve the health of Arizonans. ... The Proposition's goal, to prevent abuses associated with "socialized" medicine, is irrational. The only "socialized" medical programs in the US are the Veterans Health System, the Indian Health Service, and military medical services. None abuse the private sector. Socialized systems are funded by the Government. They provide services in government facilities by professionals who work for the U.S. Public Health Service. No one is abused by "socialized medicine" in America.

For the record, from speaking with doctors who have worked in all three systems, and patients who have endured treatment under all three, I can say with confidence that the VA and the military provide, at best, sub-standard care, and the Indian Health Service is a tour through third-world hell. I'd say the patients in those systems are "abused."

But if you want care under systems such as those, you should be free to choose them -- and the rest of us should be free to opt for care under competing arrangements.

As for the idea that "an amendment limiting future legislation is dangerous ..." You know, the best parts of both the federal and state constitutions do just that. I'm talking about the Bill of Rights (Declaration of Rights in Arizona), which provide a laundry list of things the government can't do. We didn't trust the government with a free hand on free speech, property rights and search and seizure protections, and there's no reason to keep politicians unrestrained when it comes to maintaining our freedom to make our own health care choices.

Proposition 101 isn't a cure-all. There isn't any such thing. But it could be an effective roadblock to further incursions by the government into one important area of personal liberty.

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Beware of anti-Buddhist bigotry

I realize that I've been meaner to Obamatons than to McCainiacs on my blog recently. That's partially a function of my expectation that the Democrat is going to win (it's less fun to kick a man when he's down). That's also a reflection of my disgust at the cult of personality around Barack Obama. Frankly, nobody but Cindy likes John McCain; people are voting for him out of resignation.

Enthusiastic mass movements around politicians scare the living shit out if me.

But I will relate the following story. I was at the bank the other day, and the bank teller volunteered that she was voting for John McCain because she heard that Obama "is some kind of Buddhist or something."

"You mean a Muslim?" I asked.

"Yeah, that."

I briefly offered that I didn't give a damn what god the guy worshipped, then just dropped the subject. I mean, I need my checks to end up in the right account in a timely fashion more than I need the pleasure of an argument.

A Buddhist? And, if true, that would be reason not to vote for him?

Tell me again why democracy is a good idea.

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And Obama will buy us all ponies, too

You gotta be kidding me ...

And the amazing thing is, I see Barack Obama about to win the presidency based on expectations like that, and I still don't find John McCain to be an attractive alternative.

Does anybody want to make an offer for my citizenship?

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Florida speech restrictions get slapped -- a bit

In my "so what?" column about Barack Obama's untraceable donations, I quoted former FEC chairman Bradley Smith to the effect that , "Campaign finance reform is creating an intrusive regulatory regime that’s steadily eroding Americans’ political freedoms. Making matters worse, it does little or nothing to combat corruption."

Steadily eroding Americans' political freedom? How?

Well, a court decision handed down in Florida yesterday offers a little window into the restrictive nature of these laws. Summarizing the effects of a state law on the way to suspending the enforcement of that law, United States District Judge Stephan P. Mickle writes (PDF):

None of the above-mentioned publications contain express advocacy (that is, phrases such as “vote for” or “vote against”), which is regulated by Florida’s laws concerning political committees. But because the publications are “electioneering communications,” Plaintiff must first register with the state and comply with rules that are nearly identical to those that political committees must follow; failing to do so will subject them to fines and even criminal prosecution.

What does that all mean? Under the law in Florida, a group that makes an "electioneering communication" must register as an “electioneering communications organization.”

Under Florida law, an “electioneering communication” includes “a paid expression in any communications media” other than the spoken word in direct conversation that “[r]efers to or depicts a clearly identified candidate for office or contains a clear reference indicating that an issue is to be voted on at an election, without expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate or the passage or defeat of an issue.”

There are certain narrow exceptions to the rule, including a requirement that to be defined as an "electioneering communication," a message must be intended to reach 1,000 or more people. Publishing on a Website certainly qualifies.

So, if you and your group want to post political information on your Website, you have to register as an ECO. And then, "[e]lectioneering communications organizations are 'required to register with and report expenditures and contributions . . . to the Division of Elections in the same manner, at the same time, and subject to the same penalties as a political committee supporting or opposing an issue or a legislative candidate." Requirements include:

  • Registering with the government within 24 hours of its organization or receiving information that causes it to anticipate receiving or expending funds for an electioneering communication, Fla. Stat. § 106.03(1)(b)
  • Appointing a campaign treasurer (or custodian of the books), § 106.03(2)(d)
  • Designating a depository, § 106.03(2)(k)
  • Making regular reports, § 106.07(1)
  • Recording expenditures, § 106.07(4)(a)
  • Disclosing all donors—even those who never intended their gift to go towards political speech, § 106.07(4)(a)1 and Gall Decl., Ex. A at 3
  • Restricting expenditures and contributions, including not spending money raised in the five days before the election, refusing contributions by 527s or 501(c)(4)s that are not—themselves—registered, and refusing all cash contributions over $50, § 106.08(4)(b), § 106.08(5)(d), & § 106.09
  • Including a prominent “disclaimer” on each communication that reads “Paid electioneering communication paid for by (Name and address of person paying for communication).” § 106.1439
  • Allowing random audits by the government, § 106.22(10).

This gets a little complicated -- so complicated, that plenty of organizations big and small found it easier to say nothing than to risk fines and prison. And, ultimately, they found it better to sue than to say nothing.

What sort of organizations?

The suit against the law was brought by the National Taxpayers Union, the University of Florida College Libertarians, and the the Broward Coalition of Condominiums, Homeowners Associations, and Community Organizations.

That's right, a college political club, among other groups, was expected to abide by the above rules before posting information on its Website or sending out mailings. Do you see the problem?

Fortunately, Judge Mickle ruled that the law in question is overbroad, excessively vague, and reaches beyond the cope of permissible regulations on "express advocacy" -- calls to vote for or against something or someone.

But that still leaves the requirements above in place for organizations that do want to directly address candidates and issues. To engage in political speech, they must still navigate through a legal minefield, with a blast of fines and potential imprisonment as the penalty for a misstep.

Still curious? John Stossel did a nice roundup on the damage to free speech done by campaign finance restrictions.

Oh, and don't forget that John McCain's name adorns the abysmal McCain-Feingold law, and that Barack Obama has also been a supporter of such restrictions (although, as his online fundraising efforts demonstrate, he doesn't take that position excessively seriously).

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So, just how are anonymous donations going to corrupt politics?

Much is being made of the news, reported by the Washington Post and Fox, among others, that the Obama campaign is taking in a large haul of cash from small donors who are using anonymous pre-paid credit cards to support their chosen candidate's efforts to take up residence in the White House. The campaign took in $100 million in September alone. The Obama camp is fueling the chatter with its nudge-and-wink attitude toward the whole affair:

Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign is allowing donors to use largely untraceable prepaid credit cards that could potentially be used to evade limits on how much an individual is legally allowed to give or to mask a contributor's identity, campaign officials confirmed.

Faced with a huge influx of donations over the Internet, the campaign has also chosen not to use basic security measures to prevent potentially illegal or anonymous contributions from flowing into its accounts, aides acknowledged. Instead, the campaign is scrutinizing its books for improper donations after the money has been deposited.

There's no doubt that the pre-paid cards and lack of security enable contributions beyong legal limits and by people forbidden by law to support campaigns, but much of the reportage simply assumes that's cause enough to be concerned. Kudos to Fox News, then, for asking Kenneth Gross, a former Federal Election Commission Associate General Counsel, if it really matters if a candidate takes in untraceable donations, especially since such anonymity inherently ensures that the candidate won't feel any sense of obligation to the unknown donors.

Gross's response, is that "the harm is that illegal money is coming into the campaign coffers. It's not permitted." That's circular reasoning that doesn't explain why the donations should be illegal to begin with.

American political "reformers" have been obsessed for years with the idea that the expenditure of money to support candidates or promote causes is a harmful -- even, they seem to suggest, sinful -- activity that taints a fragile process and leads politicians to wander from the path of righteousness. It's a crusading mindset that has led to the imposition of complex and intrusive rules that make it legally perilous for grassroots groups to pool funds to buy lawn signs or newspaper ads.

Bradley A. Smith, the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, warned in a July 2007 article for City Journal, "Campaign finance reform is creating an intrusive regulatory regime that’s steadily eroding Americans’ political freedoms. Making matters worse, it does little or nothing to combat corruption."

The fundamental assumption about the supposedly corrupting influence of money has always been that moneyed interests will buy influence. How can hundreds of thousands of anonymous donors with presumably diverse opinions bribe a candidate to do anything?

That's not to say that Barack Obama is completely blameless. If nothing else, the senator from Illinois has long been a proponent of arcane restrictions on campaign finance, so his sudden discovery of the advantages of extra-legal donations is a bit ... convenient.

But, at the end of the day, it's hard to see any actual harm being done when political activists bypass restrictive laws to donate to the candidates of their choice.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The email humor that will determine the most important election ever!

It's the final lap in that demolition derby we call the 2008 election (yeah, yeah, I know demolition derbies don't really have laps -- bear with me). And the tribes are making their purest, most true-to-self last-minute appeals.

As a one-time-New Yorker, graduate of a liberal Eastern college, who likes to mountain bike and shoot, writes about civil liberties and supports free markets, I have friends on both the right and the left who insist on sending me their rally-the-troops emails, just so I can mock them and burst their bubbles. Below are realio-trulio emails I received within the past couple of days.

From the conservatives in my life:

Twas the Night Before Elections

'Twas the night before elections

And all through the town

Tempers were flaring

Emotions all up and down!

I, in my bathrobe

With a cat in my lap

Had cut off the TV

Tired of political crap.

When all of a sudden

There arose such a noise

I peered out of my window

Saw Obama and his boys

They had come for my wallet

They wanted my pay

To give to the others

Who had not worked a day!

He snatched up my money

And quick as a wink

Jumped back on his bandwagon

As I gagged from the stink

He then rallied his henchmen

Who were pulling his cart

I could tell they were out

To tear my country apart!

'On Fannie, on Freddie,

On Biden and Ayers!

On Acorn, On Pelosi'

He screamed at the pairs!

They took off for his cause

And as he flew out of sight

I heard him laugh at the nation

Who wouldn't stand up and fight!

So I leave you to think

On this one final note-



From the liberals in my life:

What I especially like about these emails is how effectively they sum up the essentially accurate rule of thumb that lefties think conservatives are stupid, and righties think liberals are evil (libertarians, of course, know that they're both right. Just kidding!). You have (terrible) poetry about the thieving hordes to come competing with a smug-o-gram.

Oh, by the way, Tooch's law holds that the side screaming loudest about voter fraud is about to get cremated at the polls, and judging by my in-box, that puts the Repubs at a distinct disadvantage this time around.

Anybody out there have more interesting political missives to share?

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I have surrendered to the social networking overlords and signed up for a Twitter account. If you're interested in "following" me (and really, who isn't?) I'm Libertywriter at Twitter.

Wormtown on the cutting edge with proposed knife ban

Politicians in the city of Worcester, Massachusetts -- Wormtown, to those of us who attended college there and ruined our hearing listening to punk bands at Ralph's -- propose to ban the possession in public of knives with blades longer than 1.5 inches. The ban follows a rise in after-hours stabbings among the city's bar- and club-goers from 85 in 2006 to a projected 148 this year. (Strange but true: a popular New England regional band of the 1980s was called Rash of Stabbings.) The idea seems to be that if you forbid the carrying of sharp pieces of metal, the people committing the mayhem will slap themselves on the forehead and say, "Oh hell, I guess I can't commit attempted murder tonight cuz I might get fined for carrying a pocket knife."

If that doesn't strike you as a convincing line of reasoning, that's probably because you're working your brain a bit harder than the members of the Worcester city council. And if you saw that 1.5-inch limit, went to measure your own knives and discovered that the shortest knife in your collection doesn't make the ... err ... cut, you realize that the law isn't just doomed to fail, it's also so overreaching as to cover just about anything useful with an edge.

But the fact that the law is unlikely to deter actual criminals and goes too far is overshadowed by the rationale for posing such a strict ban that's likely to scoop up people going about perfectly innocent business. According to District 3 Councilor Paul P. Clancy Jr:

“We have a zero tolerance for these weapons in our schools and now we need to extend it out into the community,” Mr. Clancy said. “This is an ordinance the council needs to pass. It will make it a safer community for all.”

That's right, the knife ban is based on the same mindless zero-tolerance policies that have sent middle-school kids to jail for writing scary stories and gotten them strip-searched for possessing ibuprofen. Schools have had such excellent results with draconian restrictions on everything from behavior to expression to drugs to weapons that a city is now going to emulate policies that have become standard radio and blog fodder for condemnation and ridicule. Knives are bad, mmmkay?

But some people -- actually, a lot of people -- need knives to go about their jobs, pursue hobbies, or for recreational activities like fishing, camping and hunting. Are they supposed to chew through twine and rope?

Well, I guess that depends on whether the police officer who stops you with an illicit blade feels his spidey senses tingling, or whether his hemorrhoids are acting up, or whether he likes your kind of people.

While some councilors were concerned about the impact of the ordinance might have on those who carry such knives for personal use or recreation, District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. assured the councilors it would be targeted primarily at the after-hours bar and nightclub crowds where there has been an outbreak of knife-related violence.

He emphasized that the police would have a lot of discretion in enforcing the law to assure that people aren’t wrongly caught up in its net.

Translation: To find out if it's OK to carry a knife to your job, give it a try. If you end up on the wrong end of an arrest, you guessed wrong!

You know, I have the feeling that DA Early and his buddies are probably pretty safe carrying their cigar cutters to the office, but that the law might be enforced just a bit more stringently against regular folks on the street.

And that's a big problem.

Look, aside from the wisdom of any given rule, to be able to stay on the right side of the law you have to know where that right side begins and ends. A draconian law that is tempered only by the whims of its enforcers means that everybody is subject to arrest if they displease the authorities. That's not the way free societies work.

Ultimately, as we've discovered in our schools, zero-tolerance regimes end up as a free hand given to officials. Laws that insanely restrictive are no laws at all -- they're just absolute grants of power to the people with badges and government paychecks. Stay on their good side, and they'll exercise discretion in your favor; cross them and you're done. Ultimately, under the sort of law contemplated in Worcester, there is no way to stay legal; staying out of trouble requires currying favor -- or entirely avoiding that jurisdiction.

I guess I won't be visiting Ralph's anytime soon.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We probably will get fooled again

Legend has it that comic Lenny Bruce started his downward slide at least partially because many of the hipsters who had boosted his brief career into the stratosphere turned against him. They did so when Bruce kept focusing his acid wit on the powers-that-be, even after Eisenhower made way for Kennedy. It was all well and good to mock conservatism and conformity, but to go after Camelot was too much. And then Bruce dared to suggest that Jackie was less courageous during JFK's assassination than instant mythology insisted.

"Bullshit!" said Bruce, suggesting instead that she "hauled ass to save her ass"!

Of course, there's more to Bruce's downfall than that, including a huge dose of self-destruction. But that's a good place to start in describing the occasional fate of people who critique power rather than party. I make this point because we're very clearly about to have a changing of the guard, and in the months and years to come, I'm almost certainly going to be tough on the new president and his "change you can believe in," along with the inevitably increased congressional majority that president's party will enjoy.

And some of you, my loyal readers, even those who have enjoyed swipes at the current administration, will be upset with me as a result.

That's going to happen even though I've been writing about civil liberties for over a decade, took the Bush administration to-task for its due-process-busting military tribunal schemes as early as 2001, and haven't exactly let up in recent years.

Yes, yes, I understand that President Bush is a right-wing baddie and that we'll all get to ride unicorns under President Obama. But what happens if that's not the case?

Or, rather, what happens when that's not the case?

As I've written before, "it's not so much the president as the presidency." I'll add that it's not so much about the party in power as the power itself.

And the government under which we suffer wields an awful lot of power.

Some looming issues that already set off my virtual canary in a civil libertarian coal mine are: the potential reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine and the stifling of political speech that would result; the threatened passage of the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act or a similar bill, which has the potential to criminalize political advocacy rather than violent action; and renewed assaults on the right to bear arms before the full protections that should be accorded by the Supreme Court's Heller decision are formalized and become established law.

Which is to say, the personal freedom concerns raised by the new boss will probably be different than those raised by the old boss, but I'm still going to have plenty to write about.

As much as some people think that salvation arrives when their team wins at the ballot box, the sad fact is that elections generally result in little more than the turning out of a tired set of control freaks with a worn-out agenda and their replacement by a fresh set of control freaks with an all-new list of things to be done. Honestly, do you think people with a restrained sense of their right to mold the world to fit their views are attracted to a career in political office? From any party? What normal person gives up privacy, proximity to family and peaceful relations with their neighbors for life in the spotlight, largely spent far from home, in a state of eternal combat with people who hold opposing views?

With few exceptions, normal people don't do that. The folks who do find that an attractive career choice are those who can't resist the siren call of access to power to, by proxy, hold guns to people's heads and make them do things they wouldn't do on their own, or to stop them from doing things they want to do.

And all too often, they're cheered on by tribal loyalists who think that a temporary victory at the polls is a swell opportunity to sock it to the evil folks who dare to favor the other tribe, or just think and live differently.

We'll go through this regularly scheduled charade for as long as government retains the power to seriously intrude into and disrupt our lives in so many ways. When government ceases to be such a handy bludgeon for whoever is in power, it will stop being abused. So long as it remains so powerful, it will continue to wreak havoc on life, liberty and property no matter what political tribe currently holds the reins.

Hey, despite the abuse I expect to get from people who loved what I wrote just a few months ago, I look on the bright side: so long as I can retain an audience, there's always job security in writing about government excesses.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Fun in the sun with the Border Patrol

Last week, my family drove back to Arizona from a conference in San Diego. We took Interstate 8, a major highway that runs within a couple of miles of the border in California, but diverges from the boundary with Mexico in Arizona. Somewhere east of Yuma, we were stopped at a roadblock.

Traffic crawled through a gauntlet of official vehicles in green-and-white livery before coming to a complete halt. A Border Patrol agent came to the window and stared hard at all of us -- my wife, my three-year-old son and yours truly. I bit my tongue while my kid did his best to look sinister. My wife just responded with a curt "yes" when the agent asked if we are all citizens.

Then we continued on.

This wasn't the first time we've been brought to a stop in the middle of the desert by uniformed men. Border Patrol checkpoints are an all-too-common occurrence in this part of the world. In fact, if you haven't hit one yet, you should probably get prepared. While these checks are supposedly particular to the border, the government interprets "border" loosely, to cover areas up to 100 miles from the international boundary. As the ACLU points out, that "Constitution-free zone" includes nine of the nation's 10 major urban areas, and almost two-thirds of the population.

The last time my family hit one of these checkpoints was in California, also on I-8. The agents set up temporary stations in the middle of nowhere, far from turn-arounds and exits, stop and quiz everybody who passes. If you don't raise their suspicions or tick them off, you go on your way. If you're less lucky ... well ... there's not a lot of shade out there while they interrogate you and toss your vehicle.

We've never been asked for proof of citizenship, and I'm not sure what we would do if we were. Like most folks, we don't travel with our birth certificates and passports. In fact, my wife has never had a passport. Basically, we're skating on our accent-free English and non-Hispanic, non-Middle Eastern appearances.

That's not a lot to hang your hat on. The ACLU cites the case of "Vince Peppard, a San Diego retiree who with his wife was stopped by the authorities on a road east of San Diego, at least 15 miles from the U.S. border. Peppard and his wife proved they were U.S. citizens but still found themselves subject to demands that they allow a search, interrogated, threatened and harassed."

In Washington state, farmers complain that inland citizenship checks on Olympic Peninsula are scaring their workers away. "We're very unhappy with the feds," said Dan Fazio, director of employer services for the Washington Farm Bureau. "We believe these roadblocks violate the constitution, be it the federal or the state's."

Yeah, that's sort of near the border with Canada.

Border Patrol agents' sometimes abusive attitude toward their captive audience has been a matter of controversy. Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington complains, "Gruffness: that has turned people off. They need to try to treat people nicely, not try to terrify people."

But rudeness is the least of it. People taken into custody by Border Patrol have compained of mistreatment including: the denial of food, water and medical treatment; physical and verbal abuse; separation of families; and the failure to return belongings.

And it's always encouraging to be stuck in a line crawling its way toward a checkpoint, knowing that confrontations between Border Patrol and motorists sometimes turn violent, as one did earlier this month near San Diego. Who doesn't want to be there when the bullets start flying?

Well, me for one. But there's nothing I can do about getting stopped if I want to travel around Arizona and southern California.

But I can make sure that we have proof of citizenship; we're all getting passports, and I guess we'll have to keep them in the car with us.

That's the United States in 2008: carrying passports with you so you can travel within the borders of your own country with a little hope of escaping abuse at the hands of the authorities.

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Did Obama just get a tad redder?

This 2001 interview from Chicago's WBEZ 91.5 FM is making the rounds. Then state-Senator Barack Obama explicitly endorses economic redistributionism in a calm, academic way, and criticizes the old Warren court for maintaining the founders' interpretation of the Constitution as a protector of "negative rights" -- that is, protections against the state, rather than guaranteed goodies from the state.

With the polls standing where they are, it looks like it just might be a good time to get your assets overseas.

Oh, and don't think you're going to hide your assets in your 401(K) -- not if Democrats follow through on plans to effectively end private retirement investments and replace them with government-controlled plans returning 3% annual interest.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Senator Bingaman's unfair attack on free speech

Here's a quick question for you: What regulation was it that Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas once wrote "has no place in our First Amendment regime"?

If you answered, "the Fairness Doctrine," you win a gold star! Douglas was speaking of the old FCC rule that, as put by the Museum of Broadcast Communications, was an "attempt to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair." In effect, one opinion could not be presented in coverage of political issues without presenting enough opposing views to satisfy regulators.

Not surprisingly, journalists found it a bit much to have bureaucrats second-guessing their news judgment and the way they presented arguments. Justice Douglas agreed. The expanded quote, from Douglas's concurring opinion in Columbia Broadcasting System Inc. v Democratic National Committee, is:

The Fairness Doctrine has no place in our First Amendment regime. It puts the head of the camel inside the tent and enables administration after administration to toy with TV or radio in order to serve its sordid or its benevolent ends. ...Under our Bill of Rights people are entitled to have extreme ideas, silly ideas, partisan ideas. The same is true, I believe, of TV and radio.

Douglas went on to say, explicitly, "My conclusion is that TV and radio stand in the same protected position under the First Amendment as do newspapers and magazines."

I quote a 35-year-old Supreme Court opinion about a two-decades-gone government effort to censor the political content of radio and TV broadcasts because some politicians want to bring that moth-eaten rule back in order to muzzle media critics they find annoying. Those "some politicians" include New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman who, while being interviewed on 770 KKOB Radio, told host Jim Villanucci that the government's old controls on broadcast content should be revived and put into full effect.

Bingaman's opinion of the proper role of media doesn't seem to be confined to radio and television. Note that he says, "radio, and media generally, should have a higher calling than just to reflect a particular point of view." He's pretty comfortable with the idea that he should be able to dictate the way independent media outlets do their jobs and cover his performance in office. But Bingaman's authority, for now, is confined to broadcast media -- at least until the Supreme Court full endorses Justice Douglas's view that the First Amendment shields radio and television as much as newspapers from the whims of senators.

It might be easier to debate the issue with Bingaman if he more clearly knew what he was talking about -- or at least was honest about what he knows. He says "there was a a lot of talk" under the old Fairness Doctrine, apparently claiming that reimposing the doctrine might transform media without hurting its bottom line. But talk radio is really a phenomenon of the repeal of censorship. After the Fairness Doctrine was dumped, the number of talk stations tripled to about 1,400. The reason should be clear: When the government regulates what you can say, it becomes safer to say nothing.

Nat Hentoff, the prominent writer and civil liberties advocate, described his own ordeal under the old restrictions:

I was in radio under the reign of the Fairness Doctrine, at WMEX in Boston in the 1940s and early 50s. We did not have any of the present-day contentious talk radio shows, but we covered politics and politicians. I was often the announcer for the mellifluous appearance of the legendary James Michael Curley (played by Spencer Tracy in The Last Hurrah). And we did offer political opinions on the air. I, for example, did so on my jazz and folk music programs.

Suddenly, Fairness Doctrine letters started coming from the FCC and our station’s front office panicked. Lawyers had to be summoned; tapes of the accused broadcasters had to be examined with extreme care; voluminous responses had to be prepared and sent. After a few of these FCC letters, our boss announced that there would be no more controversy of any sort on WMEX. We had been muzzled.

Hentoff, a man of the political left, argues that much of the push for a revived Fairness Doctrine is to achieve just such a political muzzling

Those rallying for the return of the Fairness Doctrine believe that politically incorrect speech must be “balanced” by law --- which is to say, by government. Thereby they fondly envision the curbing of the speech of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Matt Drudge, Laura Ingraham, Bill O’Reilly and others who they say are “eroding” American democracy. And arguing this, it is as if they thing that the speech of the authors of Off Center --- or of Al Franken, Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan, political scientists Barbra Streisand and Whoopi Goldberg, and the bankrollers of --- are not heard enough today!

Hentoff's take is not an unreasonable assumption when Sen. Dianne Feinstein explicitly complains, "Talk radio tends to be one-sided." Well, yes, opinion journalists do tend to state their opinions. That's true of Rush Limbaugh as much as Keith Olbermann. But talk radio has caught on with conservative listeners without ever really finding an equivalent following among liberals. So targeting broadcast media, which includes talk radio ...

Yes, reviving the Fairness would almost certainly stifle more voices on the right than on the left.

But it doesn't really matter who would be muzzled. What should matter to everybody is that politicians are trying to gag critics of any sort. The last thing politicians who wield vast power need is to face fewer critical voices.


News headlines for October 24, 2008

Today's civil liberties-related headlines are available here.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Could Fox News become watchable again?

I was jogging on a treadmill at a hotel in San Diego the other day (I was talked into accompanying my wife to a conference so I could babysit the kid, who she really wanted along) when another apparent conventioneer wandered in for his morning workout. He glanced at MSNBC, playing on the tube, and asked if I minded if he changed the channel. Not thinking, I said, "go ahead."

Of course, he changed it to Fox News.

Oh crap, I thought. I'm in for it now.

But then, a funny thing happened. I found Fox News watchable.

That hasn't happened in a long time. It's not because Fox News is overtly conservative. Much of the media veers to the left, after all, and MSNBC has deliberately positioned itself as an explicitly liberal news channel. I can deal with -- even enjoy -- opinionated news. But Fox News has been the house organ of the Bush administration, and watching it duck and dodge to cover for the White House's abuses and failings has been a bit too much like watching a driver deliberately steer into a ten-car pile-up.


So I've generally avoided Fox News and stuck with other outlets because the opposition press, whatever its biases, is always more interesting than the state's pet.

But Fox News is suddenly watchable. It's actually interesting. Why? Because with a political campaign underway, Fox finds itself in opposition again -- if only to one of the leading presidential candidates. And the candidate Fox opposes is favored to win.

Oh sure, Fox talking heads fawn over McCain and Palin, but that will pass unless extraterrestrials invade and install the senator from Arizona as president-for-life (or undeath, if his appearance before the cameras is any indicator). And then Fox News will be back to where it was the last time it was interesting -- when Bill Clinton was in the White House.

And MSNBC and company will almost certainly take their turns as unwatchable media outlets because their slavish treatment of candidate Barack Obama is likely a taste of their roles-to-come as house organs of the Obama presidency.

In the months ahead, it'll be interesting to watch the slick apparatchiks of Fox (I don't even know their names anymore) rediscover their inner insurgents -- and to see Keith Olbermann discover just how un-fun it is to be a sock puppet.

Fox News watchable. Who'd've thunk?

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Drop that cell phone or we'll shoot

There are times when cops really ought to be kicking in doors.

A hostage-taker threatening the lives of innocents unless he gets what he wants?

Go for it.

A terrorist tinkering with poison gas in his basement workshop for the greater glory of whatever?

Hey, let me loan you a sledge hammer.

An elderly man whose grandson unknowingly bought a hot cell phone?

Not so much. But that was exactly the cause of a raid in Orlando, Florida, as reported by WFTV:

The family claim police barged in with tear gas and pointed a gun at the grandfather's head. Victoria Omega rushed to her parent's home after she heard what happened.

"I get a call from them saying my father is in handcuffs and the first thing that goes through my mind is, 'What took place, what happened?' My parents are churchgoing people. What happened?" she said.

Orlando police executed a search warrant. Officers broke through the front door of Henry Marshall's home and pointed a gun at his head. Cops tore down every door and shattered windows.

A cell phone store robbery lead police to his home, because they were after Marshall's 20-year-old grandson Quinton Marshall.

"I look up and there were about three or four SWAT team members with a gun to my face and they were all through the house," he said.

You know what adds insult to injury? The guy the cops were looking for, Quinton Marshall, hasn't lived at that address for six years. And when Quinton heard about the raid, "He showed up to the scene, turned in the phone and the police left."

All is well that ends well, right?

Not really. You see, violent raids are stressful events. They can do things like induce heart attacks, such as the one that killed the Rev. Accelyne Williams after a misfired raid in Boston.

Violent raids are also, you know, violent. Sometimes people assume that bad guys are at the door and fight back. Then they get killed by police, like 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, in Atlanta.

And sometimes the people defending their homes have faster reactions than the raiders and take a cop down, like Ryan Frederick, in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Frederick faces trial for his act of self-defense. That's not uncommon, since police are loathe to admit that a mere civilian could be justified in taking down one of their own. It's rare that authorities refrain from pressing charges, as Minneapolis officials did after police exchanged fire with Vang Khang during an ill-considered raid on the Hmong immigrant's home. Authorities there settled for awarding medals to the raiding officers.

Overall, according to the Cato Institute, which maintains an interactive map tracking botched police raids, at least 43 innocent people have died in the United States during violent raids. In addition, 25 police officers have been killed or injured.

Henry Marshall is lucky. He and his family, including an infant who was in the home at the time, are uninjured. So are all of the raiding police officers. Police will probably even replace the doors they knocked down, which has become a semi-official acknowledgement of regret by errant law-enforcement agencies.

But there was no need to begin for police to kick down the door of a house where a suspect in the purchase of a stolen cell phone didn't even live. The stakes are too high for this kind of tactic to be the go-to technique for enforcing every law that's on the books.


News headlines for October 23, 2008

Today's civil liberties news headlines are up at The Examiner here.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chasing eyeballs on the Internet treadmill

I like the freedom and immediacy of blogging and writing for online publications. I don't have to spend two hours trimming a piece to fit an arbitrary word-count, I can link to sources instead of telling my readers to "trust me," and my pieces appear while readers are still interested, before the topic I'm addressing grows moldy and cold.

Well, theoretically, anyway. What I don't like about writing online is that I actually know how many people are reading my scribblings. Every day, I can see how many page views my pieces have drawn, which pieces are drawing eyeballs and which are sitting amidst rolling tumbleweeds in the great wasteland of nobody-gives-a-damn. For the Examiner, the reports get emailed to me every morning, so there's no escape.

Of course, plenty of my print pieces have gone unread too, but I know that without knowing that. Magazines and newspapers do market surveys from time to time and occasionally tell their writers to punch it up, tone it down or get lost, but that happens every few months at most; ink-stained wretches aren't confronted by their readership -- or lack of the same -- by daily 3 am emails.

Of course, the reports could be helpful if I could find a pattern in them -- common topics that draw readership and others that go un-perused. But I'll be damned if I can make heads-or-tails of the traffic patterns. One week, a couple of embedded videos draw massive traffic while think pieces gather dust. The next week I toss in a couple more videos that go unviewed, and the lengthy analysis I wrote as a labor of love hits with one of the social networks and damn-near overwhelms the server.

Do I get it?

Get what?

Actually, what I get is that I can't second-guess what's going to find an audience. I'll be damned if I know what makes for a popular piece. I'll keep writing what interests me, because that's what keeps me writing. I hope you enjoy reading.

But if you don't ... well .. stick around. I'll probably post a cool video or two in a couple of days.


Freedom just makes Jacob Weisberg sad

Slate editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg thunders that recent headlines are evidence of "global economic meltdown made possible by libertarian ideas." According to Weisberg, author of a pro-Leviathan snoozer called In Defense of Government, "any competent forensic work has to put the libertarian theory of self-regulating financial markets at the scene of the crime." It's a fascinating thesis, hobbled just a bit by the fact that it's completely unmoored from reality.

There's a lot of finger-pointing going on now in an attempt to put the the blame for the financial mess on the Bush administration's policy of business deregulation. As with Weisberg's petulant essay, the finger-pointing tends to be strident, if only to drown out the puzzled protests from economists asking, "What deregulation?"

What deregulation, indeed.

As Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University pointed out in the pages of the New York Times:

THERE is a misconception that President Bush’s years in office have been characterized by a hands-off approach to regulation. In large part, this myth stems from the rhetoric of the president and his appointees, who have emphasized the costly burdens that regulation places on business.

But the reality has been very different: continuing heavy regulation, with a growing loss of accountability and effectiveness. That’s dysfunctional governance, not laissez-faire.

In fact, the Bush administration did take some regulatory action -- it increased the burden of business regulation, particularly in the form of Sarbanes-Oxley, which was an ill-considered reaction to the Enron disaster. Intended to toughen financial reporting requirements, Sarbanes-Oxley so enmeshed many companies in red tape that they took their business -- and their money -- overseas. The International Herald Tribune reported last year:

Two studies have concluded that excessive regulation was making the United States an unattractive place to sell new stocks. One study was conducted by McKinsey for the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, also of New York. The other was done by a group of executives and academics. In particular, the reports single out the Sarbanes- Oxley Act of 2002, the anti-fraud law passed after the debacle at Enron.

Both studies point to figures that show initial public offerings are migrating to Hong Kong and London, where underwriters charge half of what they do in the United States. If IPOs flee, the thinking goes, trading, investment and jobs will follow.

When money leaves the country, financial firms are just a bit less flush, a little less stable -- and that matters when times get tough.

But those are paper regulations. Did they have any teeth under President Bush? Have there been, over the past eight years, actual offices and warm bodies to make sure that companies adhere to red tape, for good or ill?

As a matter of fact, the answer is a big, fat, "yes." A study performed by Melinda Warren of Washington University in St. Louis's Weidenbaum Center and Susan Dudley of George Mason University's Mercatus Center, found a 42% real increase in federal regulatory spending just between 2001 and 2005. By this year, according to a follow-up study from the same organizations, that had turned into a 65% increase in regulatory spending.

Deregulation? Really?

So if regulations and regulatory enforcement increased, and that resulted in some capital fleeing the country, who was to blame?

Well, the answer is, no doubt, one we'll be pursuing for years to come. But the culprit may be ... well ... standing in the shadows behind folks like Weisberg. Professor Tyler Cowen, quoted above, fingered ineffective regulation along with a loss of accountability under President Bush, which could only have made the administration's heavy-handed regulation worse. But he continues in his Times piece:

It would be unfair, however, to blame the Republicans alone for these regulatory failures. The Democrats have a long history of uncritically favoring expansion of homeownership, which contributed to the excesses at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the humbled mortgage giants. ...

As late as this spring, Congressional Democrats were pushing for weaker capital requirements for the mortgage agencies. The regulatory reality was that few politicians were willing to exchange short-term economic gains — namely, higher rates of homeownership — for protection against longer-term financial risks.

Jacob Weisberg is no dummy. He knows that there has been no deregulation over the last eight years. He knows that there has been, in fact, increased regulation and enthusiastic enforcement of the same. And, at the same time, politicians substituted political preferences for sound business practice through the medium of government sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These are policies Weisberg favors. But the financial crash came anyway. So rather than reconsider the expanded state interference in economic life that he has long favored, he tries to place the blame on advocates of smaller government, who haven't been near the reins of power in recent memory.

Frankly, this is like a tribal witch doctor blaming western medicine for the epidemic that wipes out his village after his fathful flock exclusively relied on rattles and chicken bones to maintain good health.

This matters, because government intrusion into human life in all areas, whether business, sex, gambling, marriage, guns, abortion or the funny substances you favor to take the edge off a long workday, all tend to produce nasty unintended consequences. People like Weisberg then try to deflect the blame for those nasty side effects from the policies they favor to people who have long warned against such state interference in people's lives. If Weisberg and company are successful in their attempts to place blame for the witch doctors' errors on the physicians, we get another round of intrusions with new unintended consequences and ...

And so it continues.

So, when you hear apologists for greater state involvement in your life like Jacob Weisberg screaming that the problem is that you have too much freedom, take a peek around to see just which poorly thought out big-government programs might actually be at the center of the mess.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Yours truly, in handy podcast format

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with Skip Murphy and Doug Lambert of the "Meet the New Press" show on New Hampshire's WEMJ AM 1490 (and of the GraniteGrok blog). We chatted about the potential civil liberties implications of expanding government control over the business sector -- specifically, how regulators' economic leverage has been used to muzzle critics and control speech in the past, and how it's likely to be equally abused in the future.

We also spoke about the misuse of Tasers, a topic that's constantly in the news.

That chat is now online in podcast form here.

My segment begins almost exactly halfway through, but the first half is an interesting discussion of New Hampshire politics and the bazillion-dollar handout ... err ... financial bailout.

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Bare it all for the fine folks at the TSA

I've written before about the whole-body imaging scanners finding their way into the nation's airports. A relatively new innovation, they're theoretically being implemented in a way that give airline passengers a choice between ... well ... Honestly, a choice between offering TSA agents a peep show or a grope session at airport security checkpoints.

Hey, everybody wins -- as long as you're in uniform.

But even that unpleasant dilemma may be overstating the options available to travelers. Robyn Blumner, a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times, describes her experience returning to the U.S. from Europe through the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport:

The TSA agent hadn't bothered to explain that I had the right to decline and submit to a pat-down by a female agent instead — a choice I would have taken.

Yet [Sari Koshetz, a spokeswoman for the TSA] insists that being given that choice verbally is protocol.

When I objected to having had a photo taken under my clothes, the agent snapped "it's not a nude picture" but then couldn't explain what it is.

Koshetz claims that all security officers "understand" the technology and are "able to explain it."

Either I got the most incompetent TSA agent of the bunch, or there's a gaping chasm between official claims and reality.

The image taken by the millimeter wave scanners and revealed to TSA agents (you can see an example above) isn't exactly the stuff that porn is made of. Well, it's actually not all that different from 19th-century naughty photographs, but it's not the stuff that modern porn is made of. But the images leave nothing to the imagination. If you cling to any vestigial thoughts of privacy and dignity as you enter a U.S. airport these days, whole-body scanners are certain to strip them from you -- along with your clothes.

Concerns about being bared to the skin are only exacerbated, Blumner points out, by revelations that NSA technicians -- a more elite group than the TSA personnel drowsing their way through each workday at the airport -- entertained themselves by listening in on phone sex and romantic calls between overseas military personnel, journalists and aid workers and their loved ones at home. As one NSA whistleblower told ABC News:

"Hey, check this out," Faulk says he would be told, "there's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, 'Wow, this was crazy'," Faulk told ABC News.

And in Britain, that much-surveilled country, government workers and police have repeatedly been caught using that nation's extensive network of security cameras for entertainment purposes. In one incident in Merseyside, technicians directed a camera intended to monitor streets to peer through the windows of a woman's apartment. Camera personnel in Tyneside were caught trading nude images they'd captured in local pubs.

If NSA techs can get off on pillow talk, and British cops on candid shower shots, the idea that TSA agents aren't going to have a little fun with the naked images of passengers streaming before them is preposterous.

Look, all powers are abused. All of them. The only way to approach any expansion of state authority and additions to its armory of tools and toys is to assume that they'll all be misused in the most foolish, most egregious way conceivable.

And even then, some enterprising flunkies will develop even more damaging applications than you could ever imagine.

"You can trust us, we're professionals," should be greeted with a restrained giggle and an expectation of trouble to come.

Along those lines, expect Robyn Blumner's ordeal to be a glimpse of the future.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Taking on the control freaks with 'Dumbocracy'

When editorial-page pundits nod their heads approvingly about "moderates" and "centrists," they're usually talking about establishment types willing to borrow a tidbit here and a sample there from the whips-and-chains wings of both the political right and the political left. Want to ban dope and guns? Hey, you're a moderate! And if you keep the penalties for transgressors to crippling fines and the occasional misdemeanor conviction instead of felonies, you're an eminently reasonable moderate.

That's not the kind of moderation that Marty Beckerman advocates in Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and Other American Idiots. What gets Beckerman, a twenty-something writer who first hit the literary scene with Generation S.L.U.T., is the control-freakery to be found in the outer reaches of the political spectrum. As he puts it:

Hard-core right-wingers want to shove God down our throats, but hate the freedom of guys who shove things down one another's throats. (Hint: it's their cocks.) Meanwhile left-wingers wish to regulate our behavior with taxes on anything unhealthy/enjoyable, prohibitions on tactless speech, and regulations that determine how much time we spend in the shower.

Says the author: "If you've ever used the words 'social justice' or 'moral crisis' without irony, I probably fucking hate you."

If your defenses are already up after those mini-tirades, the fact is that you're probably part of the problem. You're one of those people who "care" so much that you have an irresistible urge to threaten people with fines or imprisonment for doing things you disdain, or for not doing things you consider oh-so-praiseworthy.

Well, too bad for you, then.

But if you find Beckerman's ideas intriguing and wish to subscribe to his newsletter -- or at least delve deeper into his book -- you just may be his sort of moderate. That is, you really don't give a damn how other people live their lives as long as they have the decency to feel the same way about you.

And if you then follow Beckerman on his journey, he'll take you on a tour of extremists left and right. They're the kind of folks who vilify and want to persecute the opposition.

"Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire."
-- Robert A. Heinlein
(one of three quotes opening Dumbocracy)

For instance, he catalogues the various and sundry restrictions on abortion that have been imposed by social conservatives, such as the gag rule (on U.S.-funded overseas clinics offering abortion infromation), the partial-birth abortion ban act, the interstate abortion bill "which criminalizes transportation of minors across state lines to receive abortions" and parental approval requirements for teenagers. These restrictions are all a bit ironic in light of the same politicians' championing of policies, such as abstinence-only sex education and controls on access to contraceptives, which tend to result in higher abortion rates.

But if, like me, you can think of some officeholders in their sixties who aren't too old to be terminated, and you're sneering at those freaky right-wingers, Beckerman dodges in from the other side to remind us that Margaret Sanger, the patron saint of birth control, was a nut who advocated sterilizing the "unfit." And it was just three years ago that a Planned Parenthood chapter created a cartoon in which a pro-choice superhero "shoots, drowns and decapitates anti-abortion protesters."

Beckerman takes to task a Bush administration spokesman who suggested that same-sex couples "move to another country," but also targets radical feminists who want to virtually eliminate the male sex.

He goes after uber-religious super-patriots who herd anti-war protesters into holding pens and try to turn the Air Force Academy into a well-armed seminary, and trendy lefties who make common cause with the fun-loving suicide bombers of Hamas.

And he finds people, right and left, who want to ban, tax or restrict anything you might enjoy, whether it's booze, dope, tobacco or food.

Socially conservative religious zealots in both the U.S. and Israel probably get the toughest going-over in the book, but that's logical enough given Beckerman's obvious affinity for the pleasures of the flesh and the eight stern years under President Bush (who he calls King Retard). Still, he has plenty of disdain to spare for extreme secularists, like Richard Dawkins, who question whether parents should be allowed to teach religious ideas to their children.

Overall, if you want to boss people around, you probably should read Dumbocracy for all of our sake. But you won't like it. And if you don't want to boss people around, you'll actually enjoy this book.

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Today's civil liberties headlines ...

... a regular feature at Civil Liberties Examiner, are available here.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Forget the feeding frenzy, many bankers spurn the trough

We know the federal government -- under the firm and guiding talons of politicians from both major political parties -- is dead-set on disbursing the hard-earned money of American taxpayers to the less successful participants in the banking industry. Surprisingly, though, it turns out that not all bankers are swarming the buffet.

The Washington Post reports:
Community banking executives around the country responded with anger yesterday to the Bush administration's strategy of investing $250 billion in financial firms, saying they don't need the money, resent the intrusion and feel it's unfair to rescue companies from their own mistakes.
But, get this, our fearless leaders aren't having any of that! The article continues, "But regulators said some banks will be pressed to take the taxpayer dollars anyway."

How widespread is the resistance?

The opposition suggested that the government may have to continue to press banks to participate in the plan. The first $125 billion will be divided among nine of the largest U.S. banks, which were forced to accept the investment to help destigmatize the program in the eyes of other institutions.

In rolling out the program, Treasury said it would make the rest of the money available to banks that requested it. Officials said they expected thousands of banks to participate.

But both the American Bankers Association and the Independent Community Bankers of America said that they knew of few banks that planned to participate.

In fact, reports CNBC, even some of the larger banks were arm-twisted into taking unwanted cash, so as to avoid leaving the feds with egg on their faces.

And the bankers refusing the money aren't thrilled about those few of their colleagues who are taking the cash. Peter Fitzgerald, chairman of Chain Bridge Bank in McLean, is quoted describing himself as "much chagrined that we will be punished for behaving prudently by now having to face reckless competitors who all of a sudden are subsidized by the federal government."

In the absence of the federal lifelines tossed to floundering but politically connected firms, many of the thriving banks see an opportunity to out-compete businesses that have demonstrated a certain ... lack of competence.

But we can't have the market correcting its own mistakes, can we?


Arizona's Prop. 102 puts bigotry on the ballot

My wife and I were married in Jerome, Arizona. It was a festive, seat-of-the-pants affair. One of the two officiants -- ordained on the Internet -- arrived only in the nick of time, delayed because a tree fell through the roof of her house. The assembled celebrants cleaned out all the top-shelf bourbon from the bar, then danced the tarantella and the hora amidst cowboy hats and western paraphernalia. And the best man and man of honor were good sports and danced together.

Man of honor?

Yep. Wendy chose her good friend, Travis, to help her through preparations and the ceremony. We look forward to reciprocating and attending Travis's wedding. But when we do, it's unlikely that it will be in Arizona. Travis is gay, and Arizona is poised to enshrine bigotry into law by banning same-sex marriages with Proposition 102.

The recent Cronkite-Eight poll put support for Prop 102, which would write into the state constitution the language, "only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state," at 49%, with 42% opposed. This is a little surprising, since just two years ago, Arizonans rejected a similar measure by 51.4 % to 48.6%.

Proposition 102

Be it resolved by the Senate of the State of Arizona, the House of Representatives concurring:

1. Article XXX, Constitution of Arizona, is proposed to be added as follows if approved by the voters and on proclamation of the Governor:


1. Marriage


2. The Secretary of State shall submit this proposition to the voters at the next general election as provided by article XXI, Constitution of Arizona.

But the earlier measure may have reached too far, since it would have effectively banned civil unions too. That would have reserved not just marriage for straight couples, but any sort of legal protection at all. Prop. 102 sets its sights lower, putting just formal marriage and the full respect it implies out of reach of same-sex couples. The state actually already has a statutory ban, but social conservatives fear that the courts will set the law aside, as they have in Connecticut, Massachusetts and California.

The advertising campaign for Prop. 102 has been a bit ... odd. It consists of TV spots, flyers and posters boasting that the proposition is "simple" and "clear" in its definition of marriage -- as if the wisdom of that definition is a given.

But why is it so necessary to restrict marriage?

The official arguments for and against shed a little more light. State Senator Sylvia Allen insists, "Since the beginning of recorded history the foundation and continuation of all societies has been the family; father, mother, and children." If tradition isn't enough for you, she adds that the welfare state and employer-provided perks would be strained if "demands are then placed upon government and businesses for benefits. Our already overburdened Social Security system could not survive."

Again and again, authors of arguments appeal to history, with vague references to the shared traditions of the world's religions in defining marriage.

Peter Gentala, of Arizona for Marriage, argues, "When judges redefine marriage, it affects everyone. Marriage is the cornerstone of society. It's good for men, women, and children. Preserving the meaning of marriage means passing it on to our children."

But again, how is one exclusive form of marriage "good for men, women, and children"? And why shouldn't a tradition be changed to match increased modern acceptance of gays and lesbians?

Several arguments claim that gay marriage is being foisted on the public by activist judges and a small minority. I've had commenters argue that recognition of gay marriage somehow violates religious rights.

Religious rights?

I suppose it's possible that, somewhere in Arizona, there are two drag queens who really want to get married in a fundamentalist church and are eager to have a sheriff's deputy hold the preacher at gunpoint while he performs the ceremony.

But simply recognizing same-sex marriages wouldn't allow the fulfillment of that fever dream. It would just allow gay and lesbian couples to get a marriage license. Nobody who objected would have to perform a ceremony or show up at the reception.

And simply allowing formal recognition of relationships of which you disapprove doesn't violate anybody's rights. There is no "right" to make the laws of an entire society in the image of one religion -- or of a few sects of one religion -- no matter how far back those religious traditions go.

But traditions and religious prejudices really are thoroughly ingrained. That's why Prop. 102 proponents can make their appeals with few practical arguments whatsoever.

In the end, the best approach might be to take marriage out of the state sphere entirely. That actually would be more traditional than allowing government to define marriage. Writing in the New York Times last November, Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history at Evergreen State College, said:

WHY do people — gay or straight — need the state’s permission to marry? For most of Western history, they didn’t, because marriage was a private contract between two families. The parents’ agreement to the match, not the approval of church or state, was what confirmed its validity.

Marriage as a private institution, defined at the grassroots level by the folks getting married, their families, their friends and whatever religious institutions they may or may not belong to, would take the contentious debate off the table entirely. Conservative churches could recognize traditional arrangements, other people could make marriages that suit their own needs, and everybody could pick up boilerplate forms at OfficeMax to gain the legal protections that the institution is supposed to convey.

Until then, though, at least Travis can get married in Connecticut, if he wishes. Massachusetts, too, as well as California -- at least until that state passes a ban of its own. We'll just have to make sure there's enough top-shelf bourbon to go around.


Make room for my ego

On his excellent eponymous blog, my friend Paul Fuhr, proprietor of Rain Farm Press and Paradigm, a literary journal, has an interview with yours truly. Note, I haven't actually been published by the New York Times, Wired or Salon; I've been quoted by those publications. But I've been published enough places that I don't feel slighted, and getting quoted isn't too shabby.


Look into my eyes, what do you see ...?

Hmmm ... What kind of politician could Living Color have been singing about back in 1988?

It couldn't have been the same type who inspired this atrocity, could it?

Remember, kids. As Corey Glover sang, "only you can set you free."


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I just love a man in uniform

Basically, that's the sentiment of Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell. In her column, she heaped praise on the high levels of security around presidential candidate Barack Obama's Hyde Park home in Chicago -- the sort of imperial treatment that has become de rigueur for both donkey and elephant pretenders to the throne.

When I pulled up near Obama's house, though, I immediately noticed a drastic change in the neighborhood.

Concrete barricades now guard both ends of Obama's block, while metal barricades, like the ones used to hold back crowds during parades, are lined up on Hyde Park Boulevard.

Whatever you do, keep moving.

Secret Service, sheriff's deputies, Chicago Police officers and plainclothes officers are scattered throughout the area.

Frankly, I felt like I had just entered the safest zone in America.

For the first time -- in a long time --while on the South Side, I didn't worry about leaving my car parked on the street or about walking back to it several hours later in the dark.

Michell got up-close-and-personal with the forces of law and order too. She describes how "[a]n agent rifled through my purse and searched my backpack."

All that attention, those helmets, that razor wire! It gave Ms. Mitchell a warm and fuzzy feeling. This is just what Chicago needs all over the place.

Aldermen and activists who are struggling to stop the bloodbath on the South Side may have to resort to the same aggressive policing that is being used to protect Obama.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the city this year because of street violence.

It is a crisis.

And a crisis requires drastic intervention, not rhetoric.

There's no telling how many guns would be taken off the street in gang- and drug-plagued neighborhoods if police were to set up roadblocks and search everyone going into those areas.

There's no telling how many innocent people would be harassed, either. Or how many minor transgressors -- pot smokers and jay-walkers, for instance -- might unnecessarily end up in jail cells. Ms. Mitchell is African-American, so you'd think it might occur to her that minorities haven't always received such great treatment from police. Maybe, just maybe, unleashing the cops to roust people at will might exacerbate such existing conflicts and breed a few unnecessary confrontations.

Oh, but never mind, you silly skeptics. Civil liberties are for red-state rubes!

For those of you who argue that what I am proposing violates basic civil rights, forget it.

When you go to an airport or into most schools, you have to walk through a metal detector.

This is Chicago, not Alaska.

Fortunately, even Ms. Mitchell seems to think that her checkpoints-and-body-searches solution to social problems might not win approval. She laments, "residents often act like they care more about their personal freedoms than they care about their neighbor's life."

It's an either/or choice, really? So if we love liberty, we want to see the retired shopkeeper living next door taken down for his Social Security check?

What a bastard I am.

But I'll find solace with Ms. Mitchell's neighbors, who so selfishly cling to their civil liberties.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Beware the next 'illegitimate' president

Deranged lefties have been howling for eight years that George W. Bush stole the White House -- courtesy of a cabal of conservative Supreme Court justices in 2000, and then by disenfranchising voters in 2004. The result, of course, has been the illegitimate rein of King Bushitler.

Well, now the righties get their turn to chew the loco weed. In the midst of revelations about voter-registration shenanigans by the left-left-left-way-left ACORN organization, and stories of Barack Obama's ties to the same group, some conservatives are already howling about the impending coup of Obama's red brigades. Writing on his organization's Website, Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson has all-but written off the election as a fraud:

But the question should be asked: If Obama does win based on a plan of massive voter fraud, intimidation, and outright criminal activity, how will he govern? How can anyone who has attained the office through tactics more akin to tin-horn dictators ever have the legitimacy to govern?

The answer is self-evident, he will have no legitimacy. Every act he and his dutiful lackeys in Congress take will have no legitimate base with the American people. As someone who will have only attained power through the crude, thuggish actions of ACORN and their allies, nothing he says will carry the authority or respect all law depends on to function.

(A little full disclosure: I used to work for ALG under a less hyperventilating regime.)

Obama better hurry with his coup preparations, if he heeds Naomi Wolf's warnings and plans to beat Sarah "Evita" Palin to the punch.

I have no doubt that some extra-democratic finagling of the electoral machinery is under way -- on both sides. The dead have had a way of rediscovering their enthusiasm for democracy (and Democrats) at least since the days of LBJ, and Republicans have a funny way of cleaning up voter registration lists along lines that shed minorities from the rolls in disproportionate numbers.

Big deal.

The real outrage isn't that a few percentage points are shifted one way or another in these regular popularity contests, it's that the contests have come to matter so damned much. Red and blue tribal loyalists shriek about each other's perfidy because they have conspired to intrude the state into virtually every area of human life. Having created a government so powerful that it tells them what size toilet they can install in their homes, steals the lion's share of the average shmoe's gross play, and kicks in people's doors for smoking the wrong plant (weed or tobacco -- your choice) or playing poker without a permit, they've suddenly discovered that who's in charge is really important.

And so, yeah, they're playing fast and loose with the electoral rules to get the "right" people into office.

Didn't see that one coming, eh?

Here's a small suggestion for both lefties and righties, for whatever it's worth. You know that nasty, slobbering beast you've created out of the government? Take it out and shoot it.

We'll start over again with something that minds its manners and leaves us all alone. Then it just won't matter in which cemetery ACORN is finding its latest registrants, or which neighborhood got dropped from the voter rolls.

Until then, these battles are just going to get nastier.

And every president will be "illegitimate."


Who's afraid of Obama the gun banner?

The inevitable rise of President-for-Life Barack Obama will soon unleash his Stalinist hordes to ransack the gun cabinets of the nation and ravish Red America's newly disarmed womenfolk (and menfolk too, I guess, since Obama gets the bulk of the gay vote). That seems to be the nightmare keeping gun-rights advocates awake at nights. On, the NRA-ILA warns that "Obama would be the most anti-gun president in American history."

There's some truth to those warnings. That is, Obama is rather anti-gun. Sure, sure, he says he supports the Second Amendment. But he also endorsed the D.C. ban on handguns. That makes Obama's support for gun rights about as thoroughgoing and enthusiastic as Anthony Comstock's regard for free speech.

But that doesn't mean that America will be disarmed under an Obama presidency, even if that's how the hypothetical new chief executive wants to expend his political capital. For starters, law just doesn't matter as much as people think when it comes to how people live their lives.

Honestly, I come from at least three generations of illegal gun owners in New York City (I now live within the law in Arizona, so don't think you're going to drop a dime, you tattletale). I say "at least" because I don't know for sure about my great-grandfather, but he owned a popular speakeasy. If he didn't keep unregistered weapons, the Sullivan Act would have been one of the few laws he obeyed. In fact, the gun laws are so byzantine and arbitrary that many New Yorkers have stopped trying to comply.

The result? Nobody knows how many illegal guns are in the city, but the most common estimate is two million shared among a population of about eight million. That's far more illegal guns than legal guns.

The city's meddling class likes to blame the black-market trade on looser rules and scofflaw dealers in other states. But even a professional busybody like Mayor Michael Bloomberg should have learned some basic economics from the financial news network he owns. Demand will always find a supply.

That's the case in Germany, where the German police union estimates that the country's 82 million people own twenty million illegal firearms -- above and beyond the legal weapons in private hands.

How can this be? Doesn't Germany have strict gun laws? Well ... yes. But laws are only as good as compliance, and people tend to comply only with laws that don't make them gag. In Gun Control and the Reduction in the Number of Arms (PDF), Dr. Franz Csaszar, professor of criminology at the University of Vienna, wrote in 2000, "Non-compliance with harsher gun laws is a common event." Referring specifically to Germany, Csaszar found, "In Germany the general registration of long guns was enforced in 1972. The existing stock was estimated at between 17 and 20 millions, while only 3,2 million guns have been registered within the legally set period."

Germany's black market keeps the supply of guns flowing, mostly from Eastern Europe, according to the Small Arms Survey, to satisfy continuing demand -- despite the law.

Flipping the bird to gun-banners is a popular game around the world. Csaszar estimated that compliance with Australia's ban on semi-automatic rifles and shotguns may have gone as high as 20%, Canada's ban on "military-style" rifles pulled in from 3% to 20% of targeted guns, depending on the model. When Austria banned pump-action shotguns, only 10,557 were surrendered or registered out of 60,000 in private hands.

What about something closer to home?

In Can Gun Control Work? (Studies in Crime and Public Policy), James B. Jacobs, Warren E. Burger Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Research in Crime and Justice at New York University, wrote:

In Boston and Cleveland, the rate of compliance with bans on assault rifles is estimated at 1%. Out of the 100,000 to 300,000 assault rifles estimated to be in private hands in New Jersey, 947 were registered, an additional 888 rendered inoperable, and 4 turned over to the authorities. In California, nearly 90% of the approximately 300,000 assault weapons owners did not register their weapons.

None of this should be all that surprising. Jacobs points out that many gun control advocates are among the first people to admit that drug laws are unenforceable. As he says, "Does the drug war not cast doubt on schemes for gun prohibition or stringent regulation?" Why should gun laws be different?

What this all means is that if Barack Obama is elected the next president of the United States, and if he's fibbing and plans to seize private guns or seriously restrict the ownership of firearms, he's likely to be about as successful at targeting guns as the government has been at eliminating the use of marijuana in this country. He won't succeed because, if you're a gun owner, you almost certainly won't obey. If you're a gun control advocate, Obama-the-banner will ultimately be left standing with his pants around his ankles because his efforts will have about as much effect on your stubbornly armed brother-in-law as Nancy Reagan's just-say-no scolding had on your college dope habit.

That's not to say that the law can't do damage. It can impose fines, send people to prison and make Americans increasingly hostile toward the government. I won't minimize the damage to lives that implies.

But that's government as usual -- pointless, repressive intrusions into people's lives without actually changing the way people live.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Same old spying, different day

The once super-secret National Security Agency has again been caught spying on the international phone calls of Americans. An ABC report anticipating the release of NSA expert James Bamford's latest book about the agency says that "US military officers, American journalists and American aid workers were routinely intercepted" and their telephone conversations recorded by the NSA.

"These were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in our area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones," said Adrienne Kinne, a 31-year old US Army Reserves Arab linguist assigned to a special military program at the NSA's Back Hall at Fort Gordon from November 2001 to 2003.

Kinne described the contents of the calls as "personal, private things with Americans who are not in any way, shape or form associated with anything to do with terrorism."

While some important information, including planned terrorist attacks, was scooped up, most of the intercepted phone calls were banal, and personal conversations -- including phone sex -- became entertainment fodder for the intelligence workers.

As disturbing as these allegations are, it should be noted that they're not exactly new. In fact, the interceptions detailed by Kinne and fellow whistleblower David Murfee Faulk bring back talk of the Echelon surveillance system reported by several journalists in the 1990s. Echelon was (or is) reportedly a joint project of intelligence agencies in the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.K. It is said to have existed for several decades, with increasing sophistication over that time, and to be able, by the end of the 1990s, to intercept email, faxes, telephone calls and other electronic communications.

U.S. intelligence officials publicly denied the ability to conduct such surveillance, while wishing the capability existed, and some technical experts were doubtful that the government had the ability to do anything as far-reaching as what critics claimed. But the European Parliament issued a lengthy report (PDF) in 2001 concluding "[t]hat a global system for intercepting communications exists, operating by means of cooperation proportionate to their capabilities among the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand under the UKUSA Agreement, is no longer in doubt." The report found that Echelon's abilities had probably been exaggerated in the press, but that it was an extensive system that was being used for, among other purposes, industrial espionage.

The report also assumed that France and Russia had similar capabilities of their own.

During the 1990s, the niece of a U.S. Navy admiral told me of applying for a job at the NSA. She claims that during the course of an interview, the people conducting the meeting played back a recording of an international phone call she had made some time before. Her impression was that they were showing off a bit because of her family connection. She was suitably impressed.

The decades-long existence of both the intent and the ability of the NSA to intercept Americans' international comunications (and domestic communications too, limited only by the uncertain constraints of the law) makes it clear that this is no aberration to be dismissed by taking a broom to the White House. Presidents and their appointees from both parties have overseen intelligence agencies engaged in such surveillance for as long as it has been possible.

That intelligence gathering of some sort is a necessary evil is clear -- especially post-9/11. Whistleblower David Faulk told ABC, "IED's were disarmed before they exploded, that people who were intending to harm US forces were captured ahead of time."

But any power that can be used can also be abused. We should be glad that the abuses reported to-date have been on the level of fraternity pranks, and not official policy.

Of course, those are the reported abuses. We don't know what else is going on behind the scenes.

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The dead walk ... to the polls

Texas Watchdog, an online journalism outfit in the Lonestar State, has published a report about thousands of names coexisting both in the death records and on the lists of Houston's registered voters. That sounds like the usual efficiency of any government agency, except that more than a few of the recently departed continued to exercise their democratic rights even after joining the choir unseen.
Linda Kay Hill, a homemaker and Louisiana native, died Aug. 2, 2006, of a heart attack, her husband recalled, and is buried at Houston Memorial Gardens in Pearland. But Harris County voter records indicate she –- or someone using her identity –- cast a ballot in the November election that year. Linda Hill of Woodwick Street voted in person on Election Day, records show. ...

Gloria Guidry passed away last May, but Harris County voting records indicate she cast a ballot in the March 2008 Democratic primary.
Such enthusiasm for the political process is, frankly, a bit unseemly among those who have gone to their final reward.

In a year when government officials are purging legitimate voters from the rolls almost as frantically as ACORN is adding bogus registrants and urging like-minded folks to vote early and vote often, the news of the voting dead makes it increasingly likely that we'll have yet another election steeped in chaos.

Anywhere the results are close, be prepared for allegations of a stolen election.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Is this the year America goes full-monty socialist?

Treasury Secretary Henry "Lenin" Paulson is sending up a test balloon about "plans for the U.S. government to invest in banks as the next step in trying to resolve the deepening credit crisis." The report adds, "The Treasury's program would be voluntary and officials may begin injecting capital through purchases of shares starting as soon as the end of the month."

OK, here's the deal: as voluntary as the purchase of stock in heavily regulated banks by their regulators may be (they're free to say "no"! Honest!), the process of government acquisition of private businesses belongs to an ideology called socialism.

I'm not just engaging in knee-jerk reaction to this rise of the red flag over the U.S. Treasury, either. Paulson proposes to risks enormous quantities of taxpayer money on investments in an industry that's in the midst of a thorough shakeout. That's a game best played by savvy investors with their own money, not government officials with cash picked from other people's pockets.

And if these investments are successful, it will give the government unprecedented control over the financial sector, with all of the concentrated power that implies over the rest of the economy. Where will companies get their financing? From government-controlled banks. And will banks' lending policies remain better-divorced from political priorities than did the policies of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which were run into the ground (at great cost to the U.S. economy) as tools of lawmakers' schemes? Don't count on it. Governments are all about politics, and politics will govern the way banks owned by the government are administered.

To put the financial sector in government hands is to give political officials enormous and far-reaching power over the rest of the economy.


The growing national debt, courtesy of those financial experts in D.C.

If you're worried about financial turmoil, take your eyes off Wall Street and put them on Washington, D.C. When it comes to the public purse, this just isn't good news:
In a sign of the times, the legendary National Debt Clock in New York City has run out of digits to record the growing debt.

The Times Square-area ticker needs two additional digits to track a national debt 100 times larger than the current $10.2 trillion.

As a short-term fix the digital dollar sign on the billboard-style clock has been switched to a number one - the "1" in $10 trillion. The Durst Organization says it plans to update the sign next year.
We'll need that spiffy, updated National Debt Clock -- with the refurbishment paid for in euros, I presume -- to take account of the presidential candidates' bloated healthcare proposals ($1 trillion to $2 trillion), financial bailout scams ($700 billion plus pork) and schemes to nationalize bad mortgages ($300 billion).

Before the latest round of let's-buy-votes, the National Taxpayers Union estimated that the major-party presidential candidates would bulk up the already busting-at-the-seams federal budget by hundreds of billions of dollars.
NTUF's fourth and final round of assigning price tags to the candidates' platforms since January 29 found that Sen. McCain (R-AZ) would increase yearly federal spending by $92.4 billion, compared to Sen. Obama's (D-IL) $293.0 billion.
Increasing federal spending isn't actually an immutable law of nature, the tax watchdog group found. It apparently is possible for a presidential candidate to propose spending less.
NTUF also released a first-time analysis of Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr, who would instead cut annual federal spending by $200.9 billion. The studies include proposals through September 19.
Barring a miracle, though, Barr isn't headed to the White House. So that National Debt Clock is going to get a vigorous workout in the years to come.

How to peddle ass the right way

Laws against prostitution are generally portrayed by their advocates as necessary to save prostitutes from a sordid life of near-slavery, drug addiction and general abuse. Indeed, several current news stories capably illustrate the nasty side of the sex trade. Connecticut's Stamford Advocate describes three women charged with felonies after invading the home of their alleged pimp and stabbing him and other residents -- apparently because he failed to pay them for their work.

During an interview with detectives in July, Ramirez said she was working as a dancer in Mexico when she met Mora. He promised she could make $1,000 a week in the United States. In late February 2007, she began living on Charles Street with Mora.

He then allegedly told her she had to make money and persuaded her to become a prostitute. ...

"When he would pick me up, I would give him all the money. He told me that the passage had to be paid for. We got tired of working for him because he would not pay us," she said.

In Massachusetts, the Salem News tells the tale of Trevor Jones, who left behind the straight life to coerce women to provide sex for money.

Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to forcing at least two women, both of whom were desperate and drug-addicted, into prostitution. He demanded that each woman bring home at least $1,000 a night from street walking and from assignations at hotels up and down Route 1, a prosecutor said.

And the horrifying story of Shauna Newell's rape and descent into sex slavery during a sleepover at a new "friend's" house appears at MSNBC:

Newell said that her captor told her she had been sold on the Internet for $300,000 to a man in Texas. Fortunately, she was rescued before delivery could be made. During Newell’s ordeal in Florida, her captor took money from a number of men who raped her. When she screamed, he held a gun to her head and threatened to blow her brains out.

But wait ... Are these really morality tales about the evils of the sex-for-money trade? Or are they actually illustrations of what happens when you drive an industry into the shadows -- and the arms of violent criminals who thrive outside the law?

In Connecticut, Itzbel Ramirez, Nadia Gomez and Sheila Vargas face criminal charges after they engaged in violent self-help made necessary because they had no recourse to the law after their employer refused to pay them for their work. That's a desperate situation created by the illegal nature of the sex industry in that state. Operating underground, their pimp felt free to rip them off. Engaged in an illegal trade, the women were unable to go to the police or sure to get their money. In the end, blood flowed.

Trevor Jones of Massachusetts is another predator of the sort who prowls where the sun doesn't shine. He lured women with drugs and turned them into virtual slaves, knowing all the time that drug-using hookers were highly unlikely to risk their own freedom by complaining to the police.

Risk their own freedom? You bet. While Shauna Newell's story ends as well as such an ordeal can, it includes an important cautionary note.

Like Newell, many are treated by law enforcement authorities as runaways, said Marc Klaas, who founded the advocacy group KlaasKids after his own 12-year-old daughter was abducted, raped and killed. When they are forced into prostitution, the young people are the ones who are prosecuted, Klaas told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Thursday in New York.

“It turns upside down,” Klaas explained. “First of all, many of these kids are missing children. But what happens is when they’re trafficked, they’re turned into hookers; they’re turned into prostitutes. So we find this situation where we find these young victims, these young girls that all of a sudden are being treated and looked upon as criminals.”

The law then becomes a means of perpetuating the evils it's supposedly intended to stamp out.

But what if prostitution operated legally, the way it does in much of Nevada? Well, let's examine the story of Laraine Russo Harper, who took over a run-down brothel where employees were expected to sleep with the boss, dramatically improved the conditions, and turned it into a glitzy money-making machine for owners and workers alike. In the Pahrump Valley Times:

Big bucks followed the major upgrade. The specialty villas fetched customers paying $40,000 up to $90,000 for one night. One customer landed in a helicopter, paying a lady $80,000. ...

Many working girls made good money, Harper said. One prostitute who came to work at the brothel at age 21, made $10,000 per week on average. Another prostitute in five years owned a $3 million home in one state, a $2 million condominium in another and a $1 million loft in another state, retiring at 27 years old.

Is that typical? I doubt it. And while Harper no longer works in the trade, she certainly has an interest in portraying her experience positively. But there's no question that a sex trade that operates legally means workers for whom the police and the courts are potential allies rather than enemies. Had Laraine Russo Harper stiffer her employees, she would have been sued rather than stabbed, and drugging them would have meant a prison sentence rather than the book deal she has.

Legalizing prostitution is no more a cure-all for every abuse than legalizing the construction trade prevents framers from being injured on the job. But keeping the industry aboveboard and treating women and men who, as is their right, choose to offer consensual sex for money as full citizens rather than criminals is the best way to minimize the problems that do occur.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Political segregation marches on

I just joined a new social networking group, as if I really need to spend more time online. Bureaucrash Social is a networking site for libertarians, civil libertarians, classical liberals, Ron Paul Republicans, anarchists -- generally, people who celebrate individual freedom and look on government with suspicion.

Bureaucrash Social is a pretty cool site -- good functionality and a slick look. Best of all, it lets me connect with like-minded people without fretting overly much about butting heads with control freaks of one flavor or another.

Folks with a taste for being left alone aren't by themselves in this. Sites like Diatribune fill a similar role for lefties, while Power to the People is one service that helps conservatives get up-close and personal. Whether you like liberty or prefer crushing liberty, if you want to associate only with like-minded people, that task is becoming increasingly easy.

It's not just online, either. Bill Bishop, in his book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, documents how people are increasingly segregating themselves into communities of people who share similar cultural values and political views. As of 2004, 48.3% of Americans lived in counties that are politically uncompetitive -- one major party or the other has a lock on local political loyalties. The process tends to be self-sustaining, too. As people spend more time with their political tribes they become less compromising in their own views and increasingly intolerant of opposing ideas. As the political environment becomes one-sided, dissenters are spurred to migrate to welcoming communities of their own.

I see it myself. The reason that I find Bureaucrash Social such a haven is because it can be difficult to be a libertarian in a world of "national greatness" conservatives and cult-of-Obama liberals. In particular, advocacy of free markets and small government isn't very popular right now, so it's easy to flee to an environment where similar refugees gather.

And once there ... Well, I certainly don't become more compromising myself. A ready source of intellectual ammunition and a supportive environment wonderfully stiffens the spine and recharges the batteries.

Is that a bad thing? Bill Bishop argues that political balkanization has created a country "whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible" and "has made national consensus impossible."

I'll attest to the culturally incomprehensible part. On a non-partisan social networking site where I participate, I was privy to an exchange of messages between two old college friends over Sarah Palin's "scary" lifestyle of guns and snowmachine races. To put this into context, you have to understand that these women -- former roommates -- had a race at the end of their senior year to see who could bag more sexual partners. I don't know who won, but I know the tally for each soared north of 50. One then became, for several years, a lesbian, while the other neglected to slow down her romantic adventures during her first, not-so-successful marriage. At their prime, they both had healthy appetites for pretty much any available intoxicant that could be smoked, drank, snorted, swallowed, or ... I don't think either went for needles.

I'm not criticizing, mind you -- the only person wronged along the way is one ex-husband. I like these women, think they're good people, shared in much of the lifestyle and settled down at about the same time -- OK, I had less settling to do -- that they did. But it takes a certain cultural myopia for somebody from such an interesting background to wag a finger at anybody who stops short of cannibalism. Scary really is in the eye of the beholder. But you might not realize that if you have little contact with people who live very different lifestyles.

As for making consensus impossible ... Is that really such a bad thing? I've written before that political polarization may well help to keep us free, and I still think that's true. When people are politically segregated into hostile camps, the government can never have the full trust or support of the population. That means that any administration will face hostility and opposition. "Consensus," to be honest, is usually the battlecry of political hucksters trying to sell us a bill of goods and ticked off that we won't all get with the program.

A little more willingness to compromise, would probably be a good thing, though -- but not among us folks on the right side of the issues. What we really need are uncompromising libertarians and liberals and conservatives eager to bend over backward to accommodate us.

Somehow, though, I'm not sure everybody is going to eagerly embrace that idea.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Arizona, California, no longer so open to same-sex nuptials

The last time the controversy over gay marriage was put before Arizona voters, in 2006, live-and-let-live westerners rejected the notion of preventing gays and lesbians from solemnifying their relationships, 51.4% to 48.6%.

And not too long ago, it seemed that California's Proposition 8, which would amend the state constitution to restrict marriage to be "between a man and a woman," was going down to a well-deserved defeat. Polls showing opposition to the measure above 50% reinforced the impression that the state where the courts just recently legalized same-sex marriage was an unlikely environment for a socially conservative backlash.

But that was then; this is now.

The latest SurveyUSA poll (PDF) of California voters finds support for Proposition 8 at 47%, with opposition at 42%. The shift in favor seems to come from young people, ages 18-34, who moved from opposition to support the measure by 53% to 39%.

Along the same lines, Arizona's Proposition 102, which would also change the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, wins 49% support to 42% opposition in the latest Cronkite-Eight poll.

The only good news is that Florida's anti-gay Amendment 2, yet another constitutional amendment, only has 55% support, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.

Good news?

Well ... yeah. That's because 60% support is required to amend the state constitution. Anything short of that is a defeat for the measure.

Hey, you take your victories where you find them.

It should also be noted that the California SurveyUSA poll results are a stark break from earlier polling, and are drawn from a small sample (670 likely voters) with a sizeable margin of error. So the news there might not be all that bad.

But for the same reason, the news from Florida might not be all that good.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Civil liberties page now on Facebook

Are you on Facebook? Do you want to be on Facebook?

Oh, I know, social networking sites aren't your thing. But really, it's the wave of the future -- and absolutely the best way to keep in touch with your ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends.

And now Facebook is home to a page for Civil Liberties Examiner, the column I write for

You'll find the Civil Liberties Examiner page at: Civil Liberties Examiner

Or here:


The presidency breeds monsters

What kind of president will the winner of November's national popularity contest be? If history is any judge, the nation's next chief executive, whether Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain, will be something of a monster.

It's not because either of these men are overtly evil. I very much doubt that Obama or McCain is secretly plotting to create the American Reich after Inauguration Day, no matter what dire warnings are floating around the Internet about the supposed dictatorship to come. But both men are likely to leave the government more powerful and intrusive than they found it, and to do some measure of damage to our liberty.


Well, it's not so much the president as the presidency. In the nation's chief executive, we've created an office of vast powers -- but powers still insufficient to satisfy the even vaster demands we put upon whoever holds that position. From a station of what were once really very limited powers and few defined responsibilities, the presidency has taken on the roles, as Gene Healy describes in his excellent book, The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, of "Chief Legislator, Manager of Prosperity, Protector of the Peace, World Leader -- and more."

These are impossible responsibilities for any person to fulfill. They are in fact, impossible responsibilities for any human institution, no matter how enormous, to fulfill. But we insist that our presidents try, or at least appear to make the effort. The result, says Dana D.Nelson, author of the equally important Bad for Democracy: How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People, is that "[n]early every president, regardless of party affiliation, has as a candidate denounced the presidential power grabs of the current officeholder. And every president since FDR has attempted to overpower the judicial and legislative branches."

That's every president -- all of them. The dynamics of the office and the demands placed upon it haven't changed this year, so there's no reason to assume that President McCain or President Obama will be that singular officeholder who leaves the presidency less powerful than he found it. Indeed, this is the era when some conservative constitutional scholars espouse the idea of the "unitary executive" -- an explicit formulation of the increasingly imperial status of the presidency under presidents from both parties. And it's a year in which Obama's campaign has evolved the gloss of a cult of personality that promises to gift the candidate with freewheeling power even as it burdens him with superhuman expectations. And let's not forget pundits like the New York Times's David Brooks wheezing that,"What we need in this situation is authority."

No, this is not the year for a modest candidate. This is the year for ... Superman.

In fact, "Superman" is exactly what both Healy and Nelson say is expected of the modern president. Coming from very different perspectives -- Healy is senior editor at the libertarian Cato Institute, while Nelson would likely describe herself as a progressive and is a professor of English and American studies at Vanderbilt University -- these authors have written remarkable parallel analyses of the rise of the imperial presidency. Nelson points to presidential action figures as evidence of the cartoonish superhero attributes we've come to expect of presidents. Healy emphasizes a line of movies dating back to the 1930s in which presidents are celebrated for exercising unilateral and even (in the case of 1932's Gabriel over the White House) supernatural powers to vanquish hardship and evil.

This celebration of the power of one politican wasn't manufactured in Hollywood or in the offices of a toy company. It came in response to grassroots demands that presidents take on more responsibility than any official of a republic should be permitted to assume, or that any human being could ever shoulder.

"In fact," writes Healy about FDR's expansion of presidential power, "Well before the war, it had become clear that increasing numbers of Americans looked to the president for personal help in a way that would have seemed peculiar -- even dishonorable -- to their fathers and grandfathers."

Politicians were all too happy to take advantage of the opportunities provided by cries for presidential intercession. They built up the myth of a special relationship between the people and the "national leader" (a role that was never supposed to adhere to the presidency) despite the clear constitutional role of the House of Representatives in representing the people. Says Nelson, "Significantly, the notion of the mandate suggests that the basis for presidential power comes not through the Constitution but directly through the people. ... This idea, combined with the ambiguity of the Constitution itself with regard to the specifics of presidential power, installed a creative new logic that presidents could exploit in defining the office's scope and reach."

Scholars have been all too happy to drink the imperial Kool Aid. Before ever assuming the office that he would abuse at great cost to American liberty, Woodrow Wilson penned books calling for expanded presidential power. Historians took to celebrating the expansion of the office -- and excoriated those who tried to hold to the presidency's modest scope. "Whether they're conservative or liberal, writes Healy, "America's professors prefer presidents who dream big and attempt great things -- even when they leave wreckage in their wake."

Healy points to some sickening sentiments voiced in recent years by pundits who regretted the relative peace of the 1990s and seemed excited by the potential offered by the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Two days afterr the world Trade Center's collapse, Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC's Hardball and a former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, praised George W. Bush's good fortune: "Lucky though he was, Bill Clinton never had his shot at greatness. He could lower the jobless rate, balance the budget, and console us after the Oklahoma City bombing. But he never got the opportunity George W. Bush was given: the historic chance to lead. Our American spirit, power and enterprise now stand ready for orders. Only the president can give them."

Oh great. A chance for President Bush to issue orders -- we know how well that worked out. But it would have been bad to one degree or another no matter who was in that office. Superhuman responsibility and superhuman power are a terrible combination to hand to or inflict upon any mere mortal.

Unfortunately, but logically, neither Healy nor Nelson has a clear plan for breaking the cycle that has turned every president into an overburdened focus of ridiculous expectations who reaches, in response, for ever greater authority to meet the demands of the office. Nelson asks us all to step "away from the childlike fantasies of complete harmony with each other and the dependencies that presidentialism fosters in us, into a clear-eyed and adult awareness of human limitations and human creativity." To this end she explores several ideas to encourage or require increased citizen participation in democracy, including increased volunteerism, mandatory national service, national initiative and referendum and an extended series of representative councils on the congressional district level. All of them seem intended to make Americans be other than they have been -- the fantasists who created the imperial presidency to begin with.

Healy, on the other hand simply concedes that "overweening government and the swollen presidency that inevitably accompanies it are the product of incompatible public demands." He hopes that the skepticism and cynicism toward government of recent years might produce something resembling the Revolutionary-era consensus that the president should not be a stand-in for a king. But today's skeptics and cynics also handed George W. Bush -- however briefly -- an approval rating of around 90% after 9/11.

Healy and Nelson shouldn't be slighted for failing to come up with a solution, though, in their otherwise excellent and timely books. There probably is no solution.

The presidency will continue to grow in power and scope for as long as Americans insist as seeing it as the center of the political universe -- or even of the whole universe. It will be a problem so long as the office is loaded with unreasonable power and inhuman expectation. And so long as that is the nature of the office, contenders for White House residency will be politicians who (insanely) think they're up to the job or else are simply willing to grin and promise everything under the sun.

And that's why President Barack Obama or President John McCain will certainly be a monster.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Half of Arizona delegation rolls over on the bailout

I've said my fill about the insanity of the bailout bill -- a bill rendered yet more irresponsible after being laden with pork to tempt the votes of wavering and unprincipled members of Congress. Said Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "Lawmakers piled billions of dollars of pork into the bailout bill and dared detractors to vote against it. Many of these provisions are tax provisions that benefit narrow interests that have been waiting to hop on a legislative train that was leaving Washington."

Oh democracy, truly the best of all possible political systems.

But how did Arizona's congressional delegation do after voting en masse against the original bill?

Well, let's take a look at the final vote and see. Hmmm ... half of them succumbed to bribes or threats, voting in the end to wreck the economy and saddle American taxpayers with hundreds of billions of dollars of payouts.

Voting for this legislative abomination:
  • Gabrielle Giffords (D)
  • Harry Mitchell (D)
  • Ed Pastor (D)
  • John Shadegg (R)
Voting for all that's good and decent by opposing the bill:
  • Jeff Flake (R)
  • Trent Franks (R)
  • Raul Grijalva (D)
  • Rick Renzi (R)
Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl both voted to mug the taxpayers.

Early voting starts ... gosh ... right around now, so let your representatives know exactly how you feel.


Here come the regulators, with muzzles in hand

We're in for a new round of business regulation, if the current political climate is any indicator. Both Democrats and Republicans are excoriating Wall Street, blaming the financial meltdown on business decisions made beyond the guiding hand of the state. Never mind that Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron points to "ill-conceived federal policies" and reminds us, "beginning in 1977 and even more in the 1990s and the early part of this century, Congress pushed mortgage lenders and Fannie/Freddie to expand subprime lending." Congress will take time off from the difficult task of running up the national debt to tell the business sector how to order its affairs.

And that's a problem not just for economic freedom, but for civil liberties too.

How can that be?

Because once the government extends its reach into our lives, it can use its intrusive presence in unintended ways. Powers targeted at one sort of behavior can easily be redirected at another.

Much was made a couple of years ago over how easily Time Inc. folded in its battle with prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, surrendering notes taken by journalist Matthew Cooper in the course of reporting the Valerie Plame story. The Salt Lake Tribune, among others, accused Time of "corporate cowardice." But Time Inc. faced pressures that had never really been brought to bear against a media company before. Fitzgerald threatened Time Inc.'s executives and board of directors with fines and jail time if they didn't force their employee to comply. He was able to do this because of recently passed business regulations. Reason magazine had the full story.

How could a prosecutor bring one of the largest and most powerful media organizations in history so completely to heel?

In 2002, with many journalists cheering him on, President Bush signed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, one of many new laws that have expanded the list of corporate crimes and ratcheted up criminal penalties to terms longer than some serve for murder. Critics have complained that these laws criminalize risk taking. Fitzgerald's use of anti-corporate rhetoric and new legal precedent shows that can include risk taking by media companies. ...

[I]t's the law's broad definition of "obstruction of justice" that has First Amendment and civil liberties experts concerned. Because of the media coverage of accounting firm Arthur Andersen's memo shredding during the Enron scandal--shredding the Supreme Court has now said was not necessarily improper--Sarbanes-Oxley increased penalties and created new offenses related to document concealment.

And journalists' notes, through a little prosecutorial sleight of hand, became corporate documents, the withholding of which is now subject to stiff penalties under the law.

Unfortunately, that's not an isolated case. In a 2003 law journal article, Professor David E. Bernstein of the George Mason University School of Law detailed a series of situations in which anti-discrimination laws had been held by courts and government agencies to trump the right to free speech and free association.

[I]n Berkeley, California, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) threatened to sanction three neighborhood activists for organizing community opposition to a plan to turn a rundown hotel into a homeless center. ...

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a group of librarians complained of sexual harassment because patrons using library computers viewed images the librarians saw and found offensive. [FN14] The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the librarians had "probable cause" to pursue their claim. ...

In Eugene, Oregon, the state Newspaper Publishers Association published a list of eighty words and phrases that its members should ban from real estate advertisements to avoid liability under federal, state, or local fair housing laws. [FN16] The forbidden words and phrases include language that signifies an obvious intent to violate fair housing laws (e.g., "no Mexicans"), but also language that is merely descriptive, such as "near church" or "walking distance to synagogue."

He was treading perilous ground, Bernstein conceded, in criticizing the mission-creep of laws generally seen as well-intentioned.

Given the moral authority of antidiscrimination law in a society still recovering from a viciously racist past, writing an essay critical of many of antidiscrimination law's applications is necessarily perilous, the law professor's equivalent of a politician disparaging mom and apple pie. The laudable goal of the ever- broadening antidiscrimination edifice is to achieve a fairer, more just society. Yet even, or perhaps especially, well-meaning attempts to achieve a praiseworthy goal must be criticized when the means used to achieve that goal become a threat to civil liberties.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has long been the target of complaints that the regulations it promulgates in an effort to keep financial experts honest have the effect of stifling free speech. Fortune columnist Adam Lashinsky told NPR that these rules have morphed from guidelines on the provision of financial advice into strict dictates as to what people can say and how those experts and even broadcast and print media can present information. "There is a constitutional problem, because it's telling the press what they must write, and there, there's no precedent for that --certainly not in the newspapers."

Yes, regulations targeted at business activity really do have a track record of expanding their scope and becoming weapons in the hands of bureaucrats who want to reach just a bit farther afield to restrict or stifle activity they disapprove -- even if that activity is not only beyond their legitimate jurisdiction, but well within the rights of the actors.

So as poisonous populist sentiment spreads throughout the country, get ready for a rough ride. When politicians rush to pummel business executives for their sins, real and perceived, they're likely to leave the rest of us pretty badly bruised in the process.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

The corpse vs. the pinup

So far, the Biden vs. Palin slugfest is coming off like ... two kids talking about how my daddy can kick your daddy's ass.

C'mon, what do the one-step-from-the-throne wannabes believe?

So far, I give a minor edge to Biden, even though he looks like an aide woke him out of a hangover and stuffed him into a suit. Palin looks too much like she memorized her lines -- badly. English isn't a second language in Alaska, is it?

Oh, and given the enthusiastic bashing of the free-market system coming from both podiums, I say the big winner is ... the underground economy.


Legalize dope, says UK foundation

Legalize marijuana, tax it and regulate it.

That's what's recommended in a new report prepared for the UK-based Beckley Foundation in anticipation of a UN review of drug policy. Says the Guardian:

A report on cannabis prepared for next year's UN drug policy review will suggest that a "regulated market" would cause less harm than the current international prohibition. The report, which is likely to reopen the debate about cannabis laws, suggests that controls such as taxation, minimum age requirements and labelling could be explored.

The Global Cannabis Commission report, which will be launched today at a conference in the House of Lords, has reached conclusions which its authors suggest "challenge the received wisdom concerning cannabis". It was carried out for the Beckley foundation, a UN-accredited NGO, for the 2009 UN strategic drug policy review.

There are, according to the report, now more than 160 million users of the drug worldwide. "Although cannabis can have a negative impact on health, including mental health, in terms of relative harms it is considerably less harmful than alcohol or tobacco," according to the report. "Historically, there have only been two deaths worldwide attributed to cannabis, whereas alcohol and tobacco together are responsible for an estimated 150,000 deaths per annum in the UK alone."

That sounds remarkably sensible. Even from the perspective of those who would "protect" society from dangerous drugs, marijuana prohibition has never made much sense. It's a mild intoxicant with fewer links to problematic behavior than (perfectly legal) alcohol, and it grows in virtually any conditions, making its interdiction extraordinarily difficult. Even if you don't agree that individuals have a right to engage in whatever consensual behavior they wish, restricting marijuana seems like a poor allocation of law-enforcement resources.

I'll take a look at the specifics of the report once it's available.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Economic arguments against the bailout bill grow in force

So, as the powers-that-be take a second shot at stuffing the bailout bill down our collective throats, let us review, shall we?

University of Chicago economics professor Casey B. Mulligan writes (PDF) that, despite the problems suffered by some financial firms, the sky is not, in fact, falling:
President Bush and supporters of the recent massive Wall Street bailout plan still believe Wall Street to be the center of the entire economy.

Economic research over the last couple of decades rejects this belief. It has shown that the financial and non-financial sectors experience quite independent changes, especially over the short and medium term. ... Quite simply, history has shown that the non-financial sector can do well when the financial sector does poorly, and vice versa.
He adds:
The weak correlation between asset prices and non-financial sector performance and the strong profitability of today’s non-financial capital are two good reasons to scoff at the idea that the non-financial sector will collapse because of the recent events on Wall Street, and even better reasons to scoff at the Bernanke-Paulson-Bush idea that a massive bailout of financial firms is the key to avoiding a non-financial collapse. Wall Street’s woes are and will be largely limited to Wall Street. The Bush administration should not use the power of the IRS to force the rest of us to board Wall Street’s sinking ship.
But the bailout isn't just unnecessary, it's counterproductive and ignores the real root of the financial sector's problems. According to Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron:

This bailout was a terrible idea. Here's why.

The current mess would never have occurred in the absence of ill-conceived federal policies. The federal government chartered Fannie Mae in 1938 and Freddie Mac in 1970; these two mortgage lending institutions are at the center of the crisis. The government implicitly promised these institutions that it would make good on their debts, so Fannie and Freddie took on huge amounts of excessive risk.

Worse, beginning in 1977 and even more in the 1990s and the early part of this century, Congress pushed mortgage lenders and Fannie/Freddie to expand subprime lending. The industry was happy to oblige, given the implicit promise of federal backing, and subprime lending soared.

This subprime lending was more than a minor relaxation of existing credit guidelines. This lending was a wholesale abandonment of reasonable lending practices in which borrowers with poor credit characteristics got mortgages they were ill-equipped to handle.

Once housing prices declined and economic conditions worsened, defaults and delinquencies soared, leaving the industry holding large amounts of severely depreciated mortgage assets.

The fact that government bears such a huge responsibility for the current mess means any response should eliminate the conditions that created this situation in the first place, not attempt to fix bad government with more government.

That's good advice to consider, especially since Luc Laeven and Fabian Valencia, two economists writing (PDF) in a paper for the International Monetary Fund, have found that government bailouts of financial crises have a terrible track record:
Existing empirical research has shown that providing assistance to banks and their borrowers can be counterproductive, resulting in increased losses to banks, which often abuse forbearance to take unproductive risks at government expense. The typical result of forbearance is a deeper hole in the net worth of banks, crippling tax burdens to finance bank bailouts, and even more severe credit supply contraction and economic decline than would have occurred in the absence of forbearance.

Cross-country analysis to date also shows that accommodative policy measures (such as substantial liquidity support, explicit government guarantee on financial institutions' liabilities and forbearance from prudential regulations) tend to be fiscally costly and that these particular policies do not necessarily accelerate the speed of economic recovery.

So, in summary, Wall Street's problems are not, necessarily, going to slop over into the rest of the economy and create some sort of national crisis that requires us all to shoulder the burden of bad decisions made by bankers and politicians. The bailout does not address the real causes of the current financial mess. And such bailouts have a long history of being so much wasted money, to no good effect.

Does that cover it? I think it does.