Friday, May 29, 2009

Bruce Bartlett says libertarians should join the in crowd

Back when Bob Dole used to be somebody, he was once tagged by New Gingrich as "the tax collector for the welfare state" for his bad habit of suggesting that government books could only be balanced by mugging the citizenry, not by cutting spending. Dole has moved on to a happy retirement touting boner pills, but his place has apparently been gleefully assumed by Bruce Bartlett, a supply-sider policy wonk who became persona non grata on the right after going public with his (accurate and well-informed) criticisms of then-President George W. Bush. Bartlett has made something of a second career for himself peddling the idea that those of us who favor personal freedom and restrained government should learn to love high taxes, drop our silly ideas and become more like the crowd that happens to be in charge at the moment.

It's an old meme. When Republicans hold the reins of government, libertarians are urged to forget about drug legalization and free speech and focus on taxes and deregulation. When the nativist surge of recent years picked up steam, libertarians were criticized for their prevailing sentiment in favor of looser immigration.

Now the Democrats are in power, and Bruce Bartlett, in the pages of Forbes, bemoans libertarians' supposed obsession with economic issues -- lowering taxes, in particular -- and calls for libertarians to dedicate themselves to civil liberties and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

Ummm ... What the fuck?

My "what the fuck" is said with some conviction, since I write a column on civil liberties issues and only secondarily address economics. I could just as easily point to Radley Balko, formerly of the Cato Institute and now of Reason, who has built a career that dwarfs my own on advocacy of personal freedom and the exposure of abusive officials and militarized law enforcement.

Or I could point to the claim in some prominent quarters that "drug legalization is the new barometer for Libertarians."

But instead, I'll just say, here we go again.

Bartlett's contention, published in Politico, is that free-marketeers win political power in the United States only "by accepting the fact that Americans mostly like government spending. Rather than make a futile effort to take away something most voters want, Republicans have instead worked to make the welfare state function efficiently, target benefits to those that play by society’s rules and finance those benefits without additional debt. "

Tax collector for the welfare state, indeed.

Says he, "It is simply unrealistic to think that tax cuts will continue to be a viable political strategy when the budget deficit exceeds $1 trillion, as it will this year."

But isn't there always a reason (as far as politicians are concerned) to spend money and then soak taxpayers for the bill? Reducing the burden on taxpayers will come in some unknown future when no more spending is necessary, about the time the North Korean regime withers away, in good communist form.

But that reduction never comes. Instead, as the Tax Foundation points out, the total tax burden in the U.S. has risen as a percentage of personal income over the past century from 5% to about 30%, where it's been hovering since 1970. Paying off the current spending binge would seem to require raising the burden to record levels.

So, why shouldn't it be true of libertarians (and everybody else) that "they don't like paying taxes."

But, even so, it's not obviously true that, as Bartlett claims, "most self-described libertarians are primarily motivated by economics."

Libertarians, after all, have been closely involved in such pressing matters as medical marijuana, the debate over same-sex marriage, privacy and, of course, the right to bear arms.

The last Libertarian presidential candidate was formally nominated by the head of the Marijuana Policy Project.

And the libertarian-oriented has been rallying objections to overseas interventionism under presidents of both major parties.

Well ... Bartlett concedes the point on guns, but isn't impressed. He seems to think of some libertarians (the wrong kind) that "their libertarianism doesn't extent much beyond not wanting to pay taxes, being paid in gold and being able to keep all the guns they want. Many are survivalists at heart and would be perfectly content to live in complete isolation on a mountain somewhere, neither taking anything from society nor giving anything."

Bartlett prefers the D.C.-dinner-party-going libertarians, though he thinks they're too economics-oriented, too.

Whatever. I own lots of guns and live in the rural West, but I also speak French (well, I used to) make my own pasta, listen to opera and old punk, have a wife and child and participate in my community. Also, I have yet to fortify my compound (I have to build the back patio first).

I bet I don't feature in a Bartlett column anytime soon.

But, of course, Bartlett's criticisms aren't about reality. Like the pundits who insisted during the rein of George W. Bush that principled advocates of liberty should make their peace with the security state, the drug war and imperialism, Bartlett is calling on freedom-minded folks to join the in crowd.

But the in crowd won't be in forever. And some of us think that opposing the damage being done is a little more justifiable than joining in the feeding frenzy during their tenure in office.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where have all the millionaires gone?

Hmmm ... Last year, Maryland deliberately slapped an (even more) onerous tax on higher income state residents in order to try to soak up some of the red ink in which state books are awash. State politicians and newspaper editorialists basically gloated that the rick would suck it up.

How's that working out?
One year later, nobody's grinning. One-third of the millionaires have disappeared from Maryland tax rolls. In 2008 roughly 3,000 million-dollar income tax returns were filed by the end of April. This year there were 2,000, which the state comptroller's office concedes is a "substantial decline." On those missing returns, the government collects 6.25% of nothing. Instead of the state coffers gaining the extra $106 million the politicians predicted, millionaires paid $100 million less in taxes than they did last year -- even at higher rates.
Some of the millionaires got chewed up by the recession, of course. Contrary to popular belief, the rich are not immune to bad times. But others ... Others headed for the hills -- or the sun, anyway.
The Maryland state revenue office says it's "way too early" to tell how many millionaires moved out of the state when the tax rates rose. But no one disputes that some rich filers did leave. It's easier than the redistributionists think. Christopher Summers, president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, notes: "Marylanders with high incomes typically own second homes in tax friendlier states like Florida, Delaware, South Carolina and Virginia. So it's easy for them to change their residency."
Wow. If you paint a target on people, they tend to head for the exits rather than stay and take it. Who ever would have guessed?

Labels: ,

More reason to keep your mouth shut around the police

Sure you have a right to legal counsel, says the Supreme Court. But if you're not up on your rights and feeling, perhaps, a little chatty amidst the press of glaring law-enforcement officers, the police are free to question you out of your lawyer's presence if you don't know enough to keep your mouth shut. That's the gist of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Montejo v. Louisiana (PDF), which requires defendants to know enough about the law to invoke their right to counsel (and zip their lips) before they can enjoy its protection.

The decision came in a Louisiana case in which Jesse Montejo was arrested in connection with the robbery and murder of Lewis Ferrari. Montejo waived his Miranda rights and submitted to an interrogation, before ultimately being brought before the court where an attorney was appointed to represent him.

After counsel was appointed, police detectives invited Montejo to join them on a search for the murder weapon. In the course of the trip, he wrote a letter of apology to Ferrari's widow, implicating himself in the murder. "Only upon their return did Montejo finally meet his court-appointed attorney, who was quite upset that the detectives had interrogated his client in his absence."

Montejo's attorney had every reason to be upset, since the letter ended up as a central piece of evidence at trial, at the the conclusion of which the defendant was found guilty and sentenced to death.

How could the police take Montejo for a joy ride and use the old "write a letter of apology; it'll make you feel better" ploy while he had legal representation?

Well, it's because of a peculiarity of state law.

Under the rule adopted by the Louisiana SupremeCourt, a criminal defendant must request counsel, or otherwise “assert” his Sixth Amendment right at the preliminary hearing, before the Jackson protections are interrogation in the absence of counsel. But if the court on its own appoints counsel, with the defendant taking no affirmative action to invoke his right to counsel, then police are free to initiate further interrogations providedthat they first obtain an otherwise valid waiver by the defendant of his right to have counsel present.

So, in Louisiana, you can be represented without enjoying the protections of representation unless you say the magic words.

To his credit, Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, finds the Louisiana rule a bit loosey-goosey.

To the extent that the Louisiana Supreme Court’s rule also permits a defendant to trigger Jackson through the“acceptance” of counsel, that notion is even more mysterious: How does one affirmatively accept counsel appointed by court order? An indigent defendant has no right tochoose his counsel, United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, 548 U. S. 140, 151 (2006), so it is hard to imagine what his “acceptance” would look like, beyond the passive silence that Montejo exhibited.

If allowed to stand, Scalia concedes, the Louisiana rule would give defendants in some states far fewer rights than defendants in other states under the standard set by Jackson in 1986, which established that police can't question a defendant who has a lawyer or has asked for one unless the attorney is present.

Scalia and company then go about resolving the disparity by overruling Jackson. Now police can question you out of the presence of your attorney.

The decision actually doesn't leave Montejo without hope, because there's apparently some evidence that he did request his attorney before being taken on a joyride with the detectives -- and was ignored. He can still apeal on that basis.

But that very contention brings up the reason why Jackson was decided the way it was some 20-plus years ago. As Scakia himself writes, "Recall that the purpose of the rule is to preclude the State from badgering defendants into waiving their previously asserted rights."

But there's a likelihood here that police detectives heard a defendant assert his rights -- and then bulldozed through that assertion to make their case. If Montejo saw the cops simply dismiss his request for a lawyer, why wouldn't he feel intimidated and prone to tell the cops what they want to hear?

Even if we allow that Montejo is probably as guilty as sin, and worthy of little in the way of sympathy, the protections the court just stripped from him can shield innocent people too.

Professor James Duane of Regent University School of Law and Officer George Bruch of the Virginia Beach Police Department have got a lot of mileage out of a pair of classroom videos they made urging people to not talk to the police. That's because even the innocent can tie themselves in legal knots -- or incriminate themselves in inadvertent crimes -- with their big mouths in the absence of legal counsel.

But keeping your mouth shut takes a little wisdom, and a little courage, when the cops go to work on you. Now it's going to be that much harder to avoid self-incrimination -- not just for Montejo, but for all of us.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obama's Supreme Court pick has a taste for identity politics

In 2001, during a speech at the University of California, Berkeley, Judge Sonia Sotomayor said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." It's an odd line coming from a judge who is traditionally expected to interpret the law without regard to personal biases. But it's also a telling line plucked from a speech that overall rejects the idea of neutral justice and endorses an indentity-politics theory that sees the law as morphing in meaning depending on the sex, race and skin color of the beholder. That's of concern coming from a jurist who has just been nominated by President Barack Obama for the United States Supreme Court.

Elsewhere in her speech at the annual Judge Mario G. Olmos Law and Cultural Diversity Lecture, Sotomayor seemed to assume that membership in an identifiable group imposed obligations regarding how people should go about applying the law.

For people of color and women lawyers, what does and should being an ethnic minority mean in your lawyering? For men lawyers, what areas in your experiences and attitudes do you need to work on to make you capable of reaching those great moments of enlightenment which other men in different circumstances have been able to reach.

She explicitly endorses the idea of identity politics elsewhere, too, approvingly quoting legal theorists who oppose the idea that the law should speak for itself.

[B]ecause I accept the proposition that, as Judge Resnik describes it, "to judge is an exercise of power" and because as, another former law school classmate, Professor Martha Minnow of Harvard Law School, states "there is no objective stance but only a series of perspectives - no neutrality, no escape from choice in judging," I further accept that our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions.

The problem with this perspective -- and it is a big problem -- is that it means there is no objective interpretation of the law that makes the law knowable (in all its glory and for all its warts) by everybody. The assumption behind the identity politics interpretation is that every X chromosome, bit of melanin and ethnically flavored childhood brings with it a different understanding of what the law means -- not what it should mean (we all have different ideas about that), but what it actually means as it lies there in black ink on white paper.

The law, then, is in the eye of the beholder, to be interpreted according to group identity.

Why is this a problem?

Leave aside the idea that the law, as written, is good or bad. I write often enough about my difficulties with the laws on the books. But whether or not you agree with the law, you can at least stay on its good side (and pick the time and place of your transgressions) by knowing what the law means. Knowable law, fixed in meaning, allows you to plan for the future, know what your protections are, and also know what your risks are.

To know the law has fixed meaning is to have certainty in life.

But if the impact of the law, its protections for your liberty and property and its intrusions into your life are to vary depending on whether judges are white or black, men or woman, or were raised with a certain ethnic heritage, there is no certainty. If, under the law as enforced by the state, "there is no objective stance but only a series of perspectives," then it become overwhelmingly difficult to know your rights, to manage your property and to keep your actions within allowable bounds because you are forever standing on shifting legal sands.

Of course, Sotomayor's endorsement of identity politics is almost certainly situational. How would she react to Chief Justice Roberts stating that he thinks old white men are more likely to reach better conclusions than Latina women? Not with an enthusiastic endorsement, I would guess.

Before we even get into Sotomayor's history on the bench, her qualifications and her temperament, her identity politics have to be addressed.

It's one thing to recognize that we are sometimes biased by our backgrounds. It's another thing to tout such human imperfection as a good thing.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Detention just in case is OK if it's Obama's idea (cuz he's so dreamy)

It's hard to improve on Rachel Maddow's commentary about President Barack Obama's new, improved idea for indefinitely holding terrorism suspects who haven't necessarily done anything, to make sure they commit no dastardly deeds in the future. Yes, it really does sound like the Department of Precrime.

Olbermann wishes he was this sharp.

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 21, 2009

With the Constitution, what you see is what you get

When asked about President Barack Obama's just-begun process for selecting a Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice David Souter, senior presidential advisor David Axelrod backed Obama's suggestion that constitutional considerations might play a secondary role to giving the "powerless" a "fair shake." That's red meat for conservatives seeking evidence that the new president wants to impose a radical agenda on the country through judicial decree rather than through legislation subject to constitutional limits. Of course, not long ago, many of those same righties warned that the Constitution "is not a suicide pact" and shouldn't stand in the way of the war on terrorism. When they're in power, right and left alike tend to read whatever they please in the seemingly clear words of the Constitution.

Back in Barack Obama's franker days, when he was a relatively unknown Illinois state senator, Obama told an interviewer from Chicago's WBEZ 91.5 FM:

[I]if you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the courts. I think where it succeeded was to vest formal rights in previously dispossessed people. So that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at a lunch counter and order and as long as I could pay for it I’d be okay.

But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth. And served more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And, to that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution, at least as it has been interpreted.

And the Warren Court interpreted it in the same way that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties—it says what the states can’t do to you, says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf...

Many observers have credibly interpreted Obama's words to mean that he regretted the courts haven't been more creative in their interpretations of the Constitution, and that he wanted judges to go further. He seems to want the judicial branch to find mandates for a specific vision of socio-economic justice in words that don't explicitly say anything of the sort. His comments after Souter announced his resignation, in which he called for a nominee to have "that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes" reinforced speculation that he was looking for an extra-constitutional approach to the law.

Of course, Obama isn't the only one to treat the Constitution as a Rorschach test. The Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel famously found constitutional authorization for massive unilateral executive authority in a document penned by people who had just recently thrown off a monarch, as well as justification for torture alongside a ban on "cruel and unusual pubishment."

Judge Richard Posner, who wrote a whole book, Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency, arguing that constitutional protections for personal liberty should give way to national security concerns in times of danger, has been known to discuss the supposed tradeoff between liberty and security in purely utilitarian terms, without regard to the plain language of the Constitution.

So when David Axelrod argues that "fidelity to the Constitution is paramount, but as with any document that was written no matter how brilliantly centuries ago, it couldn't possibly have anticipated all the questions that would be asked in the 21st century," he's breaking no new ground. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives -- all have a history of praising the Constitution as a nice historical artifact that needs to be carefully stored out of the way lest anybody trip over it while going about the important business of creating a Brave New World.

They just differ on how that world should look.

None of this is to say that the Constitution is perfect or should be immune from modification. In fact, the founders installed a whole amendment process in Article V for the purpose of keeping the document up-to-date. The process works, we know, because it has been used. If you really want to turn the country into a socialist ant hill or transform the president into a sadistic god-king, the appropriate method is to amend the Constitution accordingly.

But that's hard work -- intentionally so -- and requires an open debate about the merits of the proposed changes. There's no predicting just how a debate might conclude. It's much easier, after all, to slide under the radar and appoint judges who simply "interpret" the Constitution in peculiar ways.

So, for the forseeable future, the creatures who roam the halls of power in Washington, D.C., will continue to voice pretty words about the Constitution, while seeing in it reflections of their own agendas that have nothing to do with the words actually written on its pages.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

U.S. suffers a bigger government than Canada?

Really, really interesting comparison in the Washington Post of how Canada and the U.S. stack up in terms of size of government, expenditures, taxes and the like. Basically, Canada has been cutting government expenditures and taxes over the past few years, even as spending and taxes rise in the United States. For instance, government spending as a percentage of GDP has dropped in Canada from 53% to 40%, while the same measure has risen in the U.S. to 39% and is poised to go higher.

Also, if President Obama follows through on his plan to raise taxes, Canada and the U.S will have the same top average tax rate at 46%.

Overall, Canada and the U.S. are closing in on the same numbers. The difference is that Canada has been trending toward smaller government, while the U.S. has been trending toward a larger state. The lines are in the process of crossing.

Oh, and by cutting government spending, Canada has managed to balance its federal budget every year since 1998. The U.S. ...

Labels: ,

'Parasitic' new media beats old media to the punch

Last week, I covered the arrest of three independent journalists in Jones County, Mississippi, who appear to have been scooped up for the non-crime of photographing police during a traffic stop. The first "old media" story on the arrests appeared today, in the Laurel Leader-Call. In related news, over the weekend, the Christian Science Monitor reported that bloggers "outnumbered national reporters by a good margin" in the press box at the National Rifle Association convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Even as fans of ink-stained fingers and bloated, institutional journalism bemoan the rise of individualistic and often partisan new media journalists, the old pros they defend barely seem to be making the effort -- and when they do get off their duffs, they often do a poor job.

I was hardly the first online outlet to cover the arrest of the Motorhome Diaries trio of libertarian journalists. That honor falls to one of the arrestees -- Jason Talley -- who reported the incident via Twitter even as the handcuffs headed in his direction and just moments before he was pepper-sprayed.

Free Keene, a New Hampshire-based online publication, had the story soon thereafter, spurred on by Talley's tweets, and with more information gathered by direct contact with the Jones County authorities. Many others followed -- so many, that by the time I did a follow up story the day after the arrests, the Jones County jail was referring phone inquiries about the case to the sheriff's department, and the sheriff's department was sending them back to the jail. It was a crude circle-the-wagons strategy by overwhelmed local officials.

By this time the closest thing to old media coverage of the arrests were reports in my Examiner column, Reason's Website, and the Western Standard (an online-only Webzine descended from a Canadian conservative magazine).

The old media arrived on the case this morning, five days after the arrests, with a poorly written story in the the Laurel Leader-Call, which covers Jones County, Mississippi. That report was apparently based entirely on a brief interview with the local sheriff and a glance at the Motorhome Diaries Website. It essentially transcribed the sheriff's dubious claim that the whole unpleasantness could have been avoided if these fellows had just produced indentification. (And what about the photography dispute again?) And don't you know, the arrestees had "an agenda"?

Yet the new media, we are assured by defenders of the old guard, exists merely to suck the life's blood from the professionals who do all the hard work. "Bloggery is forming itself into big, institutionalised aggregators such as The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast, and remains utterly parasitic on the mainstream media it affects to despise," Bryan Appleyard of the Times of London assures us.

"Parasitic?" How then to explain the thick ranks of bloggers discovered by the Christian Science Monitor at the NRA convention in Phoenix? And what about the hundreds of bloggers credentialed last summer at the Republican and Democratic conventions?

Said the Monitor, the large new media presence at the NRA gathering "presents a stunning affirmation of the rise of a mix of both partisan and fiercely independent and sometimes downright cranky 'New Media,' marking its growing power to not only cover breaking news, but set the tone for political policy — and, in the case of Second Amendment rights, even the direction of the NRA itself."

If these new-media types don't always produce prose for the ages, they are at least capable of showing up to do original reporting. And, really, it's not that hard to exceed the standard set by the Leader-Call.

If new media journalists vary as much in quality as their old-media competitors, they do have two advantages: immediacy and enthusiasm. It's virtually impossible to beat the speed with which Jason Talley's initial tweets from the scene were picked up, expanded upon and developed into stories. It's also impossible to beat the brief blog posts, some time-stamped just a minute apart, from the floor of the various national gatherings that have credentialed bloggers. Yes, that's hardly time for talking heads to analyze events and tell the public what they ought to think about what's going on, but it's raw information that seems to resonate with a wide audience.

As for enthusiasm ... The bloggers on the floor of the party gatherings and the NRA conventions, and the bloggers and independent journalists who covered the Jones County arrests, are almost all partisans. Bloggers at the NRA convention are overwhelmingly gun enthusiasts, passionate about the right to bear arms and willing to dig deep into any perceived threat to the same. Likewise for the liberal bloggers at the DNC and their conservative counterparts at the GOP convention. The bloggers and assorted journalists who built on Talley's initial tweets and overwhelmed the Jones County authorities are almost all libertarians or fellow travelers who see their news coverage as an exercise in activism meant to energize an audience and make converts.

As the Monitor reported from Phoenix, "just as lefty bloggers got the word out about the promise of Barack Obama during last year’s election, the rightosphere is pulling out its big guns, too. And in few places is the keyboard jockey scene as fast-growing or as influential as the world of firearms and Second Amendment rights."

New media isn't drawing ahead of the old form because of parasitism or favorable copyright laws (an eye-roll-inducing argument published in the Washington Post). It's succeeding because technology gives it the advantage of immediacy and because of the passion that comes with partisanship.

Yes, I know -- the media is supposed to be "objective." But that's a recent, peculiarly North American conceit that doesn't seem to satisfy anybody. How many debates have you participated in about the ideological leanings of supposedly "objective" news organizations?

It wasn't always this way. Newspapers in this country used to wear their leanings on their sleeves. The Quincy Herald-Whig, of Quincy, Illinois, is a newspaper old enough to boast its affiliation with a political party that disappeared 150 years ago.

That's still the case in most countries. When World Press-Review compiles news coverage from around the world, it usually includes the political leanings of the source. That means the Mail & Guardian of Johannesburg gets labeled "liberal," the Globe and Mail of Toronto, "centrist," and the Chosun Ilbo of Seoul, "conservative."

So it's possible for a news source to be reasonably credible without pretending to be devoid of prejudice. And those prejudices can be important, because they form a connection to an audience on a range of values and beliefs that lie at the core of many people's world view. Journalists who share their audience's values are likely to share their opinion of which stories are worth covering -- and to appeal to that audience with such coverage.

Yes, that means partisan media outlets give up the idea of appealing to everybody. But "objective" operations that lose readership with each passing year have given up that aspiration anyway.

This isn't to say that old media has nothing to offer. Editorial standards and fact-checking practices were long in the making and are worth preserving. But the once-lively newspapers that developed those professional benchmarks have devolved into bloated, slow institutions that hemorrhage audience to more-nimble, more-partisan competitors.

And they are, sometimes, just a tad parasitic themselves (just ask Maureen Dowd).

Interestingly, the old media isn't necessarily doomed -- if it adapts to the new environment. The Christian Science Monitor, which reported on the blogger presence in Phoenix, was once a daily newspaper that now publishes almost exclusively on the Web.


Monday, May 18, 2009

You can trust the TSA with your right to bear arms (can't you?)

The federal government's "no-fly" list of people forbidden to board commercial airliners has been the target of much-deserved criticism. Court documents reveal that the grounds for placing people on the list are "not hard and fast rules" but "necessarily subjective" judgments exercised by squabbling agencies. Getting off the list requires navigating an opaque and reluctantly implemented appeals process or a lawsuit. Even the size of the no-fly list is uncertain, with the Transportation Security Administration insisting that high estimates result from people being denied boarding because they've been confused with names on the list (a distinction without a difference). And now enrollment on that bureaucratic nightmare is poised to become grounds for denying Americans the ability to purchase firearms.

What could possibly go wrong with that scheme?

Would-be gun-owners may be introduced to the arbitrary justice of the no-fly list courtesy of H.R. 2401, the "No Fly, No Buy Act of 2009." Introduced last week by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, the announced intention of the legislation is "[t]o increase public safety and reduce the threat to domestic security by including persons who may be prevented from boarding an aircraft in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and for other purposes."

As Rep. McCarthy puts it in a press release:

The No Fly, No Buy Act uses existing TSA data to update the NICS system with the names of known or suspected terrorists to disqualify them from passing the Brady Background Check.

Rep. McCarthy was elected to Congress on a wave of sympathy over the murder of her husband and injury of her son during a mass murder on the Long Island Railroad. She has dedicated her career to a seemingly obsessive effort to restrict legal access to firearms by civilians (but not by government officials). Her sponsorship of H.R. 2401 adds fuel to charges that McCarthy's hostility to private firearms ownership overrides any concerns she might have about due process or simple justice.

To illustrate just how arbitrary and dangerous inclusion on the no-fly list can be, it's worth looking at revelations from just last fall that Maryland state troopers monitored antiwar protesters and other political activists and included their names on terrorist watch lists. That means people exercising fundamental First Amendment rights were listed as potential terrorists and put in the position of being denied the right to travel by air, among other serious consequences.

With regards to the creation of the list, former FBI agent Jack Cloonan told 60 Minutes:

"I know in our particular case they basically did a massive data dump and said 'Ok anybody that’s got a nexus to terrorism, let’s make sure they get on the list. And once that train left the station, or once that bullet went down range. There was no calling it back. And that is where we are."

The poor quality of the no-fly list, the arbitrary nature of the inclusion of names on the list and its impact on innocent people is no secret, having been covered by mainstream media and litigated in the courts for the past half decade plus. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and co-sponsor Rep. Steve Israel, both of New York, can't claim that they don't know that the no-fly list is a civil liberties nightmare that serves only to seriously inconvenience people, violate rights and generate headline-grabbing news stories.

So it's fair to conclude that Rep. McCarthy has no problem with the arbitrary denial of individual rights, so long as such denial furthers her crusade against gun ownership.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Thin blue line shields us from an armed and dangerous felon

I've always been dubious about the idea that convicted felons should be stripped of important civil rights even after they've serve their time. That's especially true of non-violent offenders. And it's even more concerning when we're talking about somebody deprived of their rights decades after a crime. (We'll put aside, for the moment, concerns about the crimes that never should have been crimes.)

We have both in a story from Connecticut, ably covered by David Codrea of The Examiner:
And the purpose of the raid? The compelling reason 15 heavily-armed police state ninjas used a battering ram on an unlocked door, assaulted and threw citizens to the ground, put guns to their heads, terrorized a man with a heart condition, destroyed and seized property, and generally trashed the place?

Because a son who "was arrested 34 years ago at the age of 17 with a friend who had forged a check [and] hasn't been arrested since" was living with his gun owner father.
That's right. The ATF pulled a D-Day on a peaceful family because one person dwelling in the home, alongside a gun owner, was arrested 34 years ago.

The kicker? After all that fuss, the ATF confiscated all guns but one. They left behind a loaded Beretta pistol.

If any of this makes sense to you, you have a better insight into cop-think than I ever will.

Labels: ,

Hey, Tempe, tattoo you!

A real, if incomplete, victory for economic liberty has been won in Tempe, Arizona:
After nearly a two-year battle, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered this week that a Gilbert couple's permit to operate a tattoo studio in north Tempe remain valid.

But the ruling also ordered the Tempe City Council to review its decision to revoke the permit and revote on the matter.

Although Tom and Elizabeth Preston consider the court's decision an "opening-round victory," their permit to operate the business near McKellips and Scottsdale roads is still in jeopardy.
This is what comes of requiring people to get permission from government to do business -- and makes that permission conditional on the consent of every half-wit, bigot and competitor with an axe to grind. A two-year battle to open a retail establishment? I'd think that damned few people have the reserves and patience to engage in that sort of warfare. Kudos to the Prestons -- and to Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, who represents them.

Are tattoo parlors really undesirable businesses? More undesirable than what?

If I was a landlord, I'd much rather rent to a tattoo parlor than to a government agency, which might decide it likes the digs so much that it wants to steal them. Private businesses don't generally try to nab title to their leased premises.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Motorhome Diarists now free (sort of)

The itinerant journalists of the Motorhome Diaries, who were arrested yesterday in Jones County, Mississippi, are now free on bond, but still face local charges. According to one of the diarists, the arrest -- which started with a traffic stop -- ultimately involved pepper spray and the ransacking of the travelers' vehicle.

Jason Talley, Peter Eyre and Adam Mueller were passing through the state on their journey across the country when they were pulled over in Jones County, Mississippi. Talley had time to report Mueller's arrest for filming the police officers via Twitter and to post a photograph he took of the encounter to the Internet before he and Eyre were also taken into custody.

Released this morning, Talley reported, again via Twitter, that he was "pepper sprayed and choked for refusing to give ID." He also said the RV in which the men are traveling was ransacked by the police and that footage of the incident captured on a camcorder was deleted by authorities.

It's impossible to get the police version of events, since the Jones County jail is now referring calls to the sheriff's department, and the sheriff's department says the one man who can answer questions is unavailable and insists the jail should be fielding inquiries.

The Motorhome Diarists say they've now left Jones County after meeting bond. They still face a grab-bag of throw'-em-against-the-wall-to-see-if-they-stick-style misdemeanor charges, including disorderly conduct, disobeying an officer, resisting arrest and possessing beer in a dry county. Pete Eyre also faces a state charge for "possession of a firearm across state lines."

This case is interesting not just for the arrests, but for the speed and ease with which the diarists documented and publicized the incident using technology.

Update: In the comments, Pete Eyre clarifies that he faces no firearms charges, but was threatened with a federal charge and with federal intervention in the case by the ATF:

[F]irearm charge was never made. I was threatened with it at the scene of the stop and while at the jail but was never charged with that or any firearm charge. It was the stick they tried to use to get me to tell them more info. And it was the thing ("ATF hold") they claimed to deny us access to a phone for 7hrs.

And on a related note -- after searching our RV (both on the scene and at body shop in the early afternoon) my two firearms were left unlocked and accessible on the couch. This after making a big deal about having firearms. So the tow truck driver put them in his gun safe when he brought the RV to the impound lot.

Further Update: The Motorhome Diarists' version of events is now online, with amazing and disturbing details.

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Photography in a courthouse may not be illegal, but it can land you in jail

It's important to know that Sam Dodson isn't being charged with filming inside a courthouse in defiance of the law. That's important, because he was arrested for videorecording in the lobby of the Keene District Court, in Keene, New Hampshire, during the course of media coverage of a case there. Dodson's camera use defied the wishes of a judge who banned photography anywhere in the courthouse despite a state-wide policy permitting cameras in the courtrooms themselves. To top it off, it's likely that the judge's policy is rooted in nothing more than embarrassment that one of his courtroom tantrums was filmed and uploaded to YouTube last year.

Dodson, a professional videographer, independent journalist, and member of the libertarian Free State Project, was at the Keene District Court on April 13, 2009, to cover the arraignment, ironically enough, of Dave Ridley, another Free Stater, for video recording at court. In the lobby, camera in hand, he was ordered to turn off his equipment based on a flyer taped to the wall banning photography. Seeing that the flyer cited no legal basis, he refused. And so he was arrested -- as were several other people supportive of Dodson. Only Dodson remains in jail, on a hunger strike, a month later. Officials keep him confined on $10,000 cash bail because he refuses to formally give his legal name -- an exercise of his right to remain silent -- as a protest against his arrest. Of course, his identity is known to the authorities.

The arrest seems to fly in the face of court policies clarified and formalized just last year. As the Keene Sentinel reports:

The rules for recording public hearings in courtrooms are relatively clear: The Supreme Court says it’s allowed unless “there is a substantial likelihood of harm to any person or other harmful consequence.”

But those foggy gray areas beyond the courtrooms remain untouched by state law.

The specific district court rule states:

The presiding judge should permit the media to photograph, record and broadcast all courtroom proceedings that are open to the public. The presiding judge may limit electronic media coverage if there is a substantial likelihood of harm to any person or other harmful consequence.

If recording is permitted inside the courtroom, why would it not be permitted in the lobby and hallways open to the public, where security concerns would seem to be minimal?

According to the Sentinel, Judge Edward J. Burke banned photography in the courthouse "in an effort to protect juveniles and victims of crimes walking through the lobby from being caught on film without their consent." That seems like a tenuous excuse given that people run the risk of being photographed in any public place at any time.

A more likely reason for the ban is Burke's mortification over a video of him throwing a courtroom tantrum in November of last year. In that video, Burke repeatedly snapped "have a seat" at a defendant before ordering the man arrested just seconds later. The seemingly confused defendant had begun to sit in compliance with an order to do so, then stopped and began to stand when his name was called. Viewed over 58,000 times, the video portrays Burke as petulant and petty.

That video just slightly predates Burke's February general ban on photography in the courthouse.

As of today, Dodson is charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest or detention and refusing to be processed. All of these charges would seem to be related to the arrest itself and its aftermath, not to Dodson's supposedly forbidden camera use. Perhaps the authorities aren't as certain about the legal basis for Burke's photography ban as they'd like the public to believe.

And, as of today, photography remains forbidden in the lobby of the Keene District Court -- not as a matter of law that anybody can cite, but to spare a hot-tempered judge further shame.

Dodson's docket number is 09-CR-01825-1828. An audio recording of Sam Dodson's arrest can he heard below.

Labels: ,

Motorhome Diaries crew now reporting from ... a Mississippi jail

The merry libertarian pranksters of the Motorhome Diaries have been arrested in Mississippi and face a variety of charges. Jason Talley, Peter Eyre and Adam Mueller have been traveling the country in an RV and reporting on what they find.
Driving from the urban jungles to picturesque small towns and everywhere in-between, they connect with those who reject government violence in favor of a voluntary society. Through the stories of the individuals they interview they explore the historic shift in power from individuals to the government and the growing movement of those who are fighting back to reclaim their liberties.
What they found in Jones County, Mississippi, was a huge hassle with modern American law enforcement, which apparently began after Adam had the temerity to film police officers who pulled them over. The initial arrests were reported by Talley via Twitter, before he too was taken into custody.

According to Free Keene, the motorhomers face the following charges:
Adam Mueller - Disorderly Conduct and Disobeying an Officer
Pete Eyre - Possession of a Beer in a Dry County
Jason Talley - Disorderly Conduct, Disobeying, and Resisting Arrest
There's also mention elsewhere of a firearms charge. As we've all come to know, charges like those brought against the diarists are easy boilerplate with which to slap anybody who annoys a cop (and the firearms charge, if accurate, could mean nothing more than the guys had the means for self-defense in a drawer in the RV).

This all happened this morning, so news is very incomplete -- but very disturbing.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thank God the new guys are in. Oh, wait ...

Last week, the Central Intelligence Agency upset a few political apple carts when it revealed what many people already suspected: that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the use of "enhanced interrogation tactics" -- torture -- against detainees suspected of terrorism as early as September of 2002. The revelation undercuts Pelosi's criticism of civil liberties violations committed by the Bush administration. It also helps to dispel the myth that either of the two major political parties in this country has much regard for individual liberty -- or basic decency.

According to CIA documents (PDF), Nancy Pelosi was one of the first two members of Congress clued in about the use of torture, the other being Porter Goss, the Republican then-Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on which Pelosi sat as ranking Democrat.

Pelosi briefing

Other in-the-know members of Congress included Senators Bob Graham (D) and Richard Shelby (R), Senators Pat Roberts (R) and John Rockefeller (D), and Rep. Jane Harman (D) -- all briefed by early 2003. Others were informed of the use of enhanced interrogation techniques in the years that followed. The Washington Post has reported that none of the briefed lawmakers protested the use of the harsh practices.

All of the legislators informed of the use of torture were sworn to secrecy, though humanitarian concerns might be considered by some people to be of greater importance than any such vow.

None of this should be a surprise. As terrible as the Bush administration was when it came to respecting individual liberty and restraints on the power of the state, its excesses differed from those of previous administrations more in quantity than in quality.

In fact, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the Bush administration crafted the enormous, government-empowering PATRIOT Act in what seemed like record time largely by recycling legislative proposals originally put forward by its predecessors. In 2003, former Rep. Bob Barr told Reason, "the first version of what later became the PATRIOT Act was very familiar to a number of us on the Hill. We had seen many of these provisions submitted previously by the Clinton administration."

Perhaps it was the Clintonian roots of the PATRIOT Act that made then-Senator Barack Obama comfortable enough with the law that he voted to reauthorize the measure. Obama also voted to expand the government's use of electronic surveillance and to immunize telecommunications companies against liability for helping the government with wiretapping.

And the Obama administration has one-upped the Bush administration in arguing that some government actions are so super-secret that, even when people's rights are violated, victims shouldn't be allowed to sue, since national security might be damaged by the court proceedings.

It's the same on economic matters, of course. The massive government intervention in the economy and binge-spending begun by then-President George W. Bush -- policies explicitly called "fascist" by Robert Scheer -- have been enthusiastically expanded and extended by President Barack Obama.

Republicans and Democrats alike love to use the the words "liberty" and "freedom," but, with rare exceptions, politicians operating under those affiliations are firm allies of the concepts behind those words only when they're out of power and a little rabble-rousing helps to favorably contrast them with the folks holding the reins. Once in control, or simply out of public view, they show themselves as the kind of people who can sit through briefings on the use of torture without batting an eyelash.

The eternal political warfare between Republicans and Democrats makes for great political theater. It's also an effective way to divide and conquer the people over whom they rule.

But if you're looking for principled advocates for your freedom, don't look to the creatures roaming the halls of power -- from either party.

Labels: , ,

Monday, May 11, 2009

Nothing says 'security' like a man in uniform feeling up a kid

Normally, I would direct my wrath at Transportation Security Officer Yamagata. He, after all, was the offender who groped my 3-year-old son at Los Angeles International Airport on May 9, 2009. But Mr. Yamagata was just following procedure when he subjected my son to a pat-down search without apparent cause, or so the nice folks at the Transportation Security Administration desk told me. And I have to take the nice folks at the desk at their word, because the woman who answered the phone at the TSA office in D.C. had no idea what the proper procedure is, or even if there is one. Unfortunately, that's about par for the TSA when it comes to rationalizing its activities.

Security hassles are an unfortunate part of modern life for anybody who chooses to fly these days, which is why I've minimized my time in the air. As annoying as airport checkpoints were ten years ago, they've degenerated to the point where we now shuffle shoeless across filthy vinyl floors, prepared to surrender corkscrews and soda bottles and to permit the occasional copped feel to uniformed security guards who assure us that it's all for our own good.

So maybe I shouldn't have been surprised when my wife carried my tired, verging-on-grouchy, son through the metal detector while I wrestled our carry-ons onto the conveyor belt, and was promptly confronted by TSO Yamagata, despite the absence of alarms or flashing lights.

"Ma'am, do you mind if I search your son?"


"He's bulky." (No, he's not. I'll get to that in a minute.)

"I do mind."

Yamagata then grabbed my son's arm and tugged.

"Ma'am, put him down."

And my son got his very first pat-down search.

Naturally, I wanted an explanation. I went to the TSA desk, explained the situation, and asked a better-phrased version of "WTF"?

The woman looked a little perplexed.

"Was he unusually bulky? I mean, like a lot of clothes."

"He was wearing a light sweatshirt."

"Was he carried through the detector?"

"Yes, my wife carried him through."

"Oh, that's it. The officer can pat him down if he's carried through."

Really? That's news. True, the TSA Website does advise:

If your child can walk without your assistance, we recommend that you and your child walk through the metal detector separately. If you are carrying your child through the metal detector and the alarm sounds, our Security Officer will have to additionally screen both you and your child.

But the alarm never sounded. So is an additional search of small children carried by their mothers unadvertised policy even in the absence of apparent cause?

Well ... maybe. I called the TSA in Washington, D.C. to find out for sure. The woman who answered the phone was friendly enough, but she first told me there was no written policy for when officers can search children.

"So they have the leeway to search children at will?" I asked.

"Well, I'm sure there's a policy somewhere, but we don't have it here."

All of this might be marginally tolerable if there was any assurance that random searches of drowsy toddlers were gifting us all with greater safety to go with our outrage, but the fact is that the screening procedures to which we glumly submit at the airport are largely seat-of-the-pants ordeals, implemented in reaction to news headlines, with little or no effort made to determine their effectiveness. A 2007 paper published in BMJ reported:

A systematic search of PubMed, Embase, ISI Web of Science, Lexis, Nexis, JSTOR, and Academic Search Premier (EBSCOhost) found no comprehensive studies that evaluated the effectiveness of x ray screening of passengers or hand luggage, screening with metal detectors, or screening to detect explosives. ...

Even without clear evidence of the accuracy of testing, the Transportation Security Administration defended its measures by reporting that more than 13 million prohibited items were intercepted in one year. Most of these illegal items were lighters.

The U.S. government is aware of the problem. A Government Accountability Office report, also issued in 2007, agreed with the BMJ paper's point that the TSA was throwing policies against the wall without even bothering to see if they stick. Said the GAO:

TSA officials acknowledged the importance of evaluating whether proposed screening procedures would achieve their intended purpose, but cited difficulties in doing so, including time pressures to implement needed security measures quickly.

Reflecting on the total lack of evidence that the TSA is doing anything worthwhile, the GAO recommended:

[T]he Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for TSA to develop sound evaluation methods, when possible, that can be used to assist TSA in determining whether proposed procedures would achieve their intended result, such as enhancing TSA's ability to detect prohibited items and suspicious persons and freeing up existing TSO resources that could be used to implement proposed procedures when operationally testing proposed SOP modifications.

So, is the TSA getting any better at evaluating its policies and procedures? Will we soon learn that frisking tykes is an effective deterrent to terrorism?

Don't hold your breath. In March, the GAO reported (PDF):

TSA has taken some actions but has not fully implemented a risk management approach to inform the allocation of resources across the transportation modes (aviation, mass transit, highway, freight rail, and pipeline). ...

Without effectively implementing such controls, TSA cannot provide reasonable assurance that its resources are being used effectively and efficiently to achieve security priorities ...

We're still -- well, the TSA is still -- groping in the dark.

Oh ... A couple of you alert readers may notice that my wife actually declined the search of our son. According to TSA guidelines, "If you refuse to be screened at any point during the screening process, the Security Officer will deny you entry beyond the screening area. You will not be able to fly." I later found out this was my wife's intent -- she preferred to leave the airport rather than submit our son to a pat-down. Instead, TSO Yamagata yanked the boy to the floor.

Well ... maybe that's another unadvertised policy.

After his encounter at the security checkpoint, my son said, "I want to kick that man."

You and me both, kid. But we need a big enough boot to handle a whole federal agency.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Flu: you're soaking in it (but you probably shouldn't worry)

Like most folks, you're probably wondering what to make of the swine flu headlines: Deaths, schools closures, travel warnings ... it's "Last Man on Earth," isn't it? And maybe you get to be Vincent Price. (Or perhaps you'd prefer Will Smith?)

Well, probably not.

First, a little worrying news. You know those amazingly sparse "confirmed cases" figures? They're garbage. It takes 3-7 days to get results back from swine flu, so if the whole country had been tested on Wednesday, we still wouldn't know how prevalent it was.

But to test, you'd need proper test media for taking and transmitting samples. And that's in short supply. As of yesterday, our local hospital had none. That was a problem, since the night before they admitted a child who tested positive for Influenza A and showed all the warning signs of swine flu. My wife, a pediatrician, brought over one of the 15 kits in her office -- possibly the only media in the Verde Valley -- to take a sample that will either confirm or deny what the doctors suspect. After 3-7 days, that is.

In the meantime, my wife has been seeing 50 patients each day. That's a record for her. Her colleagues are also swamped. The kids coming in are all ...

Well, you know where this is going. Just assume that this bug is already widespread.

Now, the good news.

The swine flu, so far, looks like ... flu. That's not to say you want to catch it, but it doesn't appear to be anything like the killer bug that people have been fretting about. Chances are that if you catch it, you'll have a few lousy days. Then you'll get better.

That's it. No doomsday, no bodies stacked in the streets.

My biggest concern is that the timing sucks for me. My family is off tomorrow with friends on a cruise that was supposed to be along the Mexican Riviera. Because of the flu, Mexican ports are now off-limits, so instead, we'll sail along California's coast, where the bug is known to already have taken up residence.

But the CDC can't issue travel warnings against American ports, so there you go.

I could be wrong, of course. If so, I'll step off my cruise ship in a week to take up my rightful role as master of the smoking ruins.

Be not afraid. I'll be a reasonable barbarian warlord, taking my tribute in bourbon and good dope.

But I expect that, instead, I'll come back to find that everybody has the sniffles and the runs.

Just wash your hands, would you?


Presidential report card

It's traditional for new presidents to get a 100-day report card on their initial efforts. The idea is to get a feel for the chief executive's policy direction, the wisdom of that direction and how effectively he's getting the job done. So, how is Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States, doing when it comes to respecting and protecting our civil liberties? Well, the new guy hasn't made much of a break with the policies of his predecessor, which may be why the best assessment is captured by a recent Time headline: "Civil-Liberties Advocates Dismayed By Obama's Moves."

First, the good news: The Obama administration has released memos written by Bush administration officials authorizing torture of suspected terrorists. Prosecution of those officials is unlikely; current officials probably don't want to set a precedent that could come back to haunt them in four or eight years. And high-ranking Democratic legislators would certainly be implicated in any investigation of who knew what about the torture. But, presumably, the use of these tactics is now at an end.

President Obama has also promised to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay -- ground zero for much (but not all) of the mistreatment of prisoners authorized by the Bush administration. The intent is for the facility to beclosed "within one year." That move also signals a willingness to begin some sort of legal process by which the government would have to prove its case against the remaining detainees (except ... see below).

And in February, Attorney General Eric Holder announced at a press conference that the new administration would soon end the policy of federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in states that have legalized the use of cannabis as a medicine (but, again, see below).

The Obama administration has also taken some small steps toward lifting travel restrictions on Cuba.

That's the good news. Unfortunately, the good news comes with caveats, and there's plenty of bad news to go around.

The announced closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and supposedly imminent legal proceedings for the detainees hit a bit of a hiccup. In particular, the Department of Justice has said in legal proceedings that, while the term "enemy combatants" will no longer be used to justify detention without charges at Guantanamo Bay, terrorism suspects will still be detained without charges. And Guantanamo is the only facility where even that small change applies -- the old rules are in force everywhere else.

In response, Human Rights Watch objects, "Rather than rejecting the Bush administration's ill-conceived notion of a 'war on terror,' the Obama administration's position on detainees has merely tinkered with its form."

That business-as-usual attitude toward the treatment of detainees in far-flung bases is troubling, since the administration has been accused by the New York Times editorial board, among others, of positioning Bagram airbase in Afghanistan as "the next Guantanamo." The Justice Department is appealing a ruling that would extend basic habeas corpus rights to the detainees held at Bagram.

As for reining-in federal efforts against medical marijuana ... we're still waiting. DEA raids have continued even while Obama occupies the White House and Holder makes his promises. The administration has also made no effort to curtail the federal prosecution of Charles Lynch, a California man who dispensed marijuana to patients with the blessing of public officials. Lynch faces a likely five years in prison from a reluctant judge whose hands are bound by sentencing guidelines.

And forget about hopes of any more substantial reform of drug policy -- President Obama has explicitly rejected the idea of legalizing marijuana. Responding to Obama's take on the legalization issue, Aaron Houston, of the Marijuana Policy Project, wrote, "[t]he whole exercise had the air of a skilled politician trying to get away from an uncomfortable subject as fast as possible."

Overall, Houston said of the president, "reformers can only give him a grade of 'incomplete' on marijuana policy."

Hmmm ... but how about openness? After all, as a candidate, Barack Obama was (correctly) harshly critical of the secretive Bush administration.

Would you believe that matters may now be worse?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation announced just a few weeks ago that the Obama administration's legal arguments are "worse than Bush's" when it comes to claiming that some government abuses involve such sensitive secrets that people shouldn't be allowed to sue for redress.

Specifically, in a case involving allegations of warrantless wiretapping, EFF's Activism and Technology Manager, Tim Jones, says:

Previously, the Bush Administration has argued that the U.S. possesses "sovereign immunity" from suit for conducting electronic surveillance that violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). However, FISA is only one of several laws that restrict the government's ability to wiretap. The Obama Administration goes two steps further than Bush did, and claims that the US PATRIOT Act also renders the U.S. immune from suit under the two remaining key federal surveillance laws: the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act. Essentially, the Obama Administration has claimed that the government cannot be held accountable for illegal surveillance under any federal statutes.

Less surprisingly for a president who comes from the political Left, Obama looks unenthusiastic about respecting the right to bear arms. While the president himself has made reassuring noises about avoiding new legislation, both Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have called for tighter restrictions on semiautomatic rifles and other firearms. It's hard to believe they'd speak out on such a volatile issue without their boss's tacit approval.

Honestly, though, civil libertarian hopes for President Obama were probably overblown. While he criticized the Bush administration's more egregious violations while on the campaign trail, he also voted to renew the PATRIOT Act and for the FISA Amendment Act, authorizing warrantless wiretaps. He made the right noises while aspiring to high office, but never displayed any strong commitment to civil liberties issues when it mattered.

On balance, during its first 100 days in office, the Obama administration has made some small improvement -- or promises of improvements -- in relatively peripheral areas, like the fate of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, travel to Cuba and federal medical marijuana policy. But on matters involving the relationship of the government, and especially the executive branch, to individual Americans, the administration has followed its predecessors' footsteps in seeking the greatest possible power and the fewest restrictions on its authority.

In some very important ways regarding our liberty, little changed when the White House gained a new tenant.