Tuesday, January 30, 2007

President Finally Gets Runaway Administrative Agencies Under Control

There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth about President Bush's new executive order achieving more direct oversight by the administration over various administrative agencies' rulemaking bodies. I say it's about time someone attempts to rein in this unelected, hopelessly bloated, inefficient, and largely unaccountable 4th branch of government.

Here's a great example of the criticism, which only makes sense if you completely ignore the Constitutional scheme or the importance of accountability to the voters:
Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said: "The executive order allows the political staff at the White House to dictate decisions on health and safety issues, even if the government'’s own impartial experts disagree. This is a terrible way to govern, but great news for special interests."
Waxman, of course, would much prefer that CONGRESS dictate decisions on health and safety issues. Or perhaps that unelected and un-fireable government bureaucrats dictate decisions on health and safety issues. (Anything that would prevent those nefarious businesses or incompetent ordinary people from makidecisionsons about their health and safety!) And I love the assumption that those who might disagree with the administration are necessarily "impartial." It's interesting how concerns about government intrusion never seem to apply

And then there is the sinisterism associated with "the political staff at the White House". The nice thing about "political staffs" is that they're accountable to voters through the executive. Elections should have consequences, but administrative agencies are almost impervious to them.

Administrative agencies are of questionable Constitutional legitimacy, I think, but even if Justice Thomas was cloned and appointed to the bench 8 times, they aren't going away. Therefore, because they clearly serve an executive function, they should be more closely administered by the executive. The elected, accountable executive. Any other option either gives too many executive powers to Congress, or leaves the bureaucracy to plow forward on its own - unaccountable, unrelenting, ever more intrusive, and ever harder to stop.

I'd like to see him go a step further - every federal agency and program should be carefully reviewed every ten years, just as military bases, units, and programs are, with an eye towards trimming them down, cutting them entirely, and looking at actual results rather than merely the feel-good-goals. Alas - cutting an EPA sub-agency that is sucking money without producing results makes total sense, and so it will die a quick death in Congress by people who will claim cutting such a program is "anti-environment."

I don't think Bush has the courage or political capital (or the desire, frankly) to go that far, but this executive order is a good step. It's about time a President attempted to wrestle this extra-Constitutional beast back under control.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Iraq vs. Darfur - Just What Is a Worthy Call to One's Conscience?

These pictures, taken at the University Temple United Methodist Church across the street from the UW law school, illustrate perfectly the moral bankruptcy, hypocrisy, and vapidity of the left's foreign policy worldview:

Around the country this weekend, tens of thousands of people marched in favor of the killing of countless Iraqis - the certain outcome if we were to retreat redeploy from that country. Whatever their signs may have said, it was clear what they wanted. They marched in favor of American defeat, in favor of the anti-democratic forces in Iraq, in favor of Fascist Iran's geopolitical goals. They literally spat at an OIF veteran who dared to disagree with them. Why? Because Bush lied about WMDs, because our presence there only creates more terrorists, and because we're only there for the oil anyway. (That none of these claims are in any way supported by facts have no impact, remember.) They claim to be anti-war, but the truth is that they don't care about war unless the US has something to do with it. Or at least, they care far less about mass killings than about being anti-Bush. A call to one's conscience indeed.

Why are the Christians in Darfur more worthy of being saved than the Kurds or Shi'ites were under Saddam's Iraq? Why is the sectarian violence (some could say civil war) in the Sudan worthy of sending American troops to battle al Qaeda, IEDs, and an "endless war" in a country without any real government, when at the same time, it is a moral imperative that we guarantee the same deadly results in Iraq by withdrawing immediately?

Because of the fact that Russia, France, India, and China buy substantial supplies of their oil from the same Sudanese government which is happily allowing the killings to continue (much as those governments prevented action against Saddam for the same reasons), why do they imagine the UN will do anything? And since it's by now obvious that these three permanent vetoes will prevent any kind of action in the Sudan, does this "Crisis of Conscience" require that we go in unilaterally? Or is intervention only morally justified if we can get a corrupt international debating club to sign off on it?

SaveDarfur.org, the organization the banner asks us to donate to, has four goals:
  • Strengthen the understaffed and overwhelmed African Union peackeeping force already in Darfur.
  • Push for the deployment of a strong UN peacekeeping force.
  • Increase humanitarian aid and ensure access for aid delivery.
  • Establish a no-fly zone.
How are these things any different than what we have tried and are trying to do in Iraq? How will they NOT result in US soldiers being killed, or in "distracting" us from the "real" war on terror? Wouldn't we be invading a sovereign nation that isn't a threat to us? There's no WMDs there! Wouldn't we just recruit more terrorists who can claim we're oppressing the Muslims because we are intervening on behalf of the Christians? Wouldn't we open ourselves up to accusations that we're only there to take the oil for ourselves? What's SaveDarfur.org's exit strategy? If Bush is an incompetent buffoon who only makes things worse for the locals by his military interventions, why are they demanding he lead the charge? Are these people Chickenhawks for advocating Darfur intervention without volunteering to go there themselves?

Why is it that being a super power means we can only use force when it's NOT related to our national interests? Even if the absurd conspiratorial accusations against Bush lying and terrorizing his way into Iraq were true, how do people who think it is worth American lives to prevent mass sectarian violence not demand we stay there?

There are no answers to these questions, of course. Darfur is hip, Iraq is not. That's it. That's the real difference. And Darfur has the added bonus of "never going to happen" because of French, Chinese, and Russian interests there. Which means the high school idealists, college-know-it-all hippies, academics, and other assorted activists can feel good about "making a difference" without ever having to face the consequences which come with the best intentioned humanitarian interventions.

I would love to intervene in the Sudan. I wish we had the military to do it. Unfortunately, our military is too small to solve every world problem at once. So how about we finish solidifying our victories for freedom and human rights against murderous oppressors where we already are first? Don't think success in Iraq will be able to be ignored by the Sudanese thugs who know they're next on the radar...
"Blessed are the Peacemakers" indeed. Too bad neither this church, nor the "anti-war" crowd, nor the defeatists in Congress can claim such a title.

Western Civilization's Fall to the Barbarians - Part II?

This story should scare the hell out of everyone who believes in and loves western style liberal democracy.
The RealClearPolitics blog has the quick breakdown:

> 37% of British Muslims aged 16-24 want to live under Sharia - compared to 28% overall and only 17% of those over 55.

> 36% of British Muslims aged 16-24 believe Muslims who convert to other religions should be punished by death - compared to 19% of those over 55.

> 74% of British Muslims aged 16-24 prefer Muslim women wear a veil - only 28% of those over 55 agree.

And the most concerning number of all:

> 13% of British Muslims aged 16-24 agree with the statement "I admire organizations al-Qaeda that are prepared to fight the West." Only 3% of those over 55 agreed with the same statement.

The obvious question is, "Why didn't they just stay/go to a country that does live under Sharia law? There's plenty of them. Why are they bother coming to Britain? To Europe? The US?"

Maybe the terrifying answer is that they aren't here to Westernize themselves, or to take advantage of our free and open society. Maybe they're here to Sharia-cize the West. And maybe right now, Europe is letting them succeed...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

How Do We Measure Troop Morale?

Much has been made of this Military Times poll from last December, which purportedly shows a drop in support for the way the Iraq war has been prosecuted. Senator Webb even referred to it in his attack on the war in his State of the Union response (although he didn't specifically cite it). The tiny handful of actively engaged anti-war activists in uniform are given as much press time as they can handle. So we're about to face a Carter-era crisis of troop defection, necessitating either a full scale retreat or a draft, right?

I don't think so.

The media (2003) has been banging this drum (2004) for years, now (2005), based on anecdote, inaccurate polls, and wishful thinking. What's more, I don't doubt that there's a hell of a lot of folks in uniform (a substantial majority, in fact) who wouldn't much rather be at home raising families than being shot at and bombed by fascists. I'm quite concerned about the effect on Reservists, who I think have been overused in a system still designed for a WWII type mobilization effort. And there's no question, I think, that we have too small of an overall force, that our people are spread too thin, and as a consequence, we are not as flexible and are more vulnerable now than is prudent.

But to the narrower question of morale. How to judge it? Polls of military members are difficult to conduct scientifically. The phrase, "A [griping] sailor is a happy sailor" is a truism older than Noah, which makes the results difficult to decipher. And the various press reports are hopelessly biased.

So let's just count heads. If they're staying, it probably means they're generally optimistic, and think they're being treated fairly. In an economy boasting 4.5% employment, with veterans even less than that, it's not like they can't take that training and get a better deal. So what is it?

They're joining. And they're staying. In ever increasing numbers. Higher than pre-9/11 rates. Voting with their feet. And that's a poll you can track with certainty.

Marine veteran W. Thomas Smith, Jr. explains why the retention and recruitment rates aren't reflective of the doom and gloom picture of imminent collapse distributed by the MSM:
What the numbers do suggest, and what we who have worn the uniform of the United States have always known, is that soldiers and sailors gripe. They get frustrated like everyone else. They blow off steam. And they have been doing so since armies first marched and navies sailed. They complain about the food (even when it is superb). They dismiss the equipment as being worthless (even when it is the best in the world). And they sometimes grumble that their leaders are stupid (though those leaders might be tactical masters on the battlefield). The unhappiest and most rebellious of those who gripe are also the most vocal in their griping.
To me, this doesn't validate or invalidate the Iraq policy per se. If war policy was based on how cushy we can make the lives of soldiers, I'm not so sure we'd be speaking English today. But undoubtedly, the probability of victory is a powerful retention motivator, while certainty of defeat would drive those numbers down. And that gives me a lot of cause for optimism.

In Defense of Justice Thomas

For all those who want to know the truth behind the most-snickered-at-Justice-in-any-law-school-class:

Clarence Thomas has borne some of the most vitriolic personal attacks in Supreme Court history. But the persistent stereotypes about his views on the law and subordinate role on the court are equally offensive--and demonstrably false. An extensive documentary record shows that Justice Thomas has been a significant force in shaping the direction and decisions of the court for the past 15 years.

That's not the standard storyline. Immediately upon his arrival at the court, Justice Thomas was savaged by court-watchers as Antonin Scalia's dutiful apprentice, blindly following his mentor's lead. It's a grossly inaccurate portrayal, imbued with politically incorrect innuendo, as documents and notes from Justice Thomas's very first days on the court conclusively show. Far from being a Scalia lackey, the rookie jurist made clear to the other justices that he was willing to be the solo dissenter, sending a strong signal that he would not moderate his opinions for the sake of comity.
Read the whole thing.

What Are the Justices Saying Off the Bench?

Here's a very interesting piece in Slate about the increased press time our Supreme Court Justices are willing to engage in, and what they are - and, more interestingly, are not - willing to talk about.

I think it's good - the more the public understands the difference between judicial philosophies, the more likely they are to make an informed decision when they vote for the person who appoints judges, or the Senators who confirm them. Or, for that matter, when they vote for judges in the several states. (Moreover, I think that debate favors a more conservative, humble judiciary, but even if it didn't, more information for voters is usually better.)

But the pitfalls of loose-lipped jurists certainly exist, and are worth a pause to consider. Any other thoughts out there? Does increased time before the cameras risk increasingly politicizing what is supposed to be the non-political branch of government?

"Censorship," Public Arts Funding, and Media Bias

I am acutely aware of media bias, and have been trained to read between the lines of newspaper stories since my first debate class my sophomore year of high school. I consider myself a discerning consumer of news, and not easily fooled. But it's amazing how a headline can still inflame. Consider the following story, with the headlines I saw, accompanied by my thought processes:

(From Drudge) "Politician Wants Government to Review Movie Scripts -- Before Cameras Start Rolling..." Me: What the hell? This must be about that Dakota Fanning movie. Imagine - the federal government reviewing every movie script - what is this, North Korea? Outrageous! I wonder if it's a Democrat like Al Gore, who's music censorship insanity now gets a free pass, or if it's some nanny state "conservative." It'll never fly, but the fact that it even is up for debate is shameful! I need to check this out... Click.

The headline from the Wilmington Star, a North Carolina paper: "Republican: Scripts Need Reviewing" Me: Great. Even though I know the headline would read differently if a Democrat had proposed this, way to fulfill every negative stereotype about conservatives. I need to blog about this offensive and unconstitutional attack on free speech. Not only is it outrageous, but it'll be good to show those who think the FedSoc is just a GOP shill that principles trump party politics here. Government pre-screening of movie scripts - Outrageous!

And then I actually read it. In my head was the sound of the abrupt record scratch as the jukebox stops playing and everyone in the bar looks up.
That system, said state Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, would apply only to films seeking the state's lucrative filmmaker incentive, which refunds as much as 15 percent of what productions spend in North Carolina from the state treasury.
Me: Well I'll be darned. I just got punk'd by two headlines in a row. Not only is it entirely reasonable for a 15% stakeholder to want to review a script before committing to it, it has nothing to do with the First Amendment or government censorship of private art (however disgusting) at all. It doesn't have anything to do with the federal government, either.

I think it's a dangerous road to start down, to offer this kind of incentive package. I understand the state's desire to incentivize filmmakers to come to their state and show it off (hopefully in a positive light). But then comes the murky world of deciding what's "objectionable," allegations of "arbitrary and capricious" decision making, etc.

Regardless, nothing in the actual facts being reported has anything to do with the implications of the headline, which is that "Republicans hate free speech and want to censor Hollywood." It is a dishonest way to support an entitlement mentality - "I have the right to make a movie, therefore, the I have a right to government money that may help me do that."

One of the truisms behind the principles of limited government that most of us here share is that if government pays for it, they can control it. We generally therefore seek to limit government control and intrusion by cutting the purse strings. It is one of the logical absurdities of liberalism we here tend to reject - that one is entitled to the government's (other people's) money for our own benefit without any strings attached, and that the Constitution requires it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

How We See Poverty

I thought this was a very interesting way of phrasing the differences between conservatives and liberals on the topic of wealth and poverty, using the SOTU and Sen. Webb's response:
President Bush's proposals tend to target various aspects of what might be called absolute poverty. By contrast, Sen. Webb is interested in relative poverty.

Corresponding to the emphasis on absolute poverty and relative poverty are feelings of altruism and envy respectively.

President Bush seeks to inspire altruism by encouraging Americans to compare themselves with those who have less[...]

Sen. Webb, by contrast, encourages Americans to compare themselves to those who have more, and feel envy.
I've always hated the "relative wealth" argument, and love hearing it only because it means that we're so prosperous as a nation that populists can't point to the terrible conditions of the lower classes any more as some kind of problem that needs big (socialist) fixing. In fact, the great unwashed masses apparently in need of all this government rescue have it pretty darn good.

Most conservatives I know don't oppose some kind of safety net, such that even those who have spent their life making terrible choices aren't freezing to death in the gutter. (Most of us do ask that the people seeking the net at least stop the behavior that put them in the gutter in the first place, or that they take up some part of the responsibility of getting help.) Likewise, most of us agree that helping those truly unable to help themselves - children, the truly mentally ill, the very elderly - is a proper role of the (state and local) government.

But to extend that net to a working class that is more well off than at any time and in any place in the history of the planet, simply because a few people make even MORE money, is absurd. Robbing from the rich to give to the poor may make for fun movies, but it's a terrible way to run an economy, or more importantly, protect individual freedoms.

Money in Judicial Elections - Lawyer's Chapter Event



cordially invites you to a panel on:

Money and Politics in Washington

Judicial Elections

Moderated by:

The Honorable Richard Sanders – Justice, Washington State Supreme Court

Featuring a distinguished panel:

John GroenFormer Candidate for the Washington State Supreme Court and Partner, Groen, Stephens, and Klinge, LLP

Charlie Wiggins – Partner, Wiggins & Masters, President of the Washington Chapter of the American Judicature Society, and former Court of Appeals, Division II Judge

William Maurer – Executive Director, Institute for Justice Washington Chapter

Jenny Durkan – Office of Jenny A. Durkan, Co-Chair of Citizens to Uphold Constitution

Monday, February 12, 2007

6:30 p.m. to 8:30 pm

The Washington Athletic Club

1325 6th Avenue

Seattle, WA 98101

$25.00 (includes hors d’oeuvres and hosted bar)

*CLE Credits Pending


Diana Kirchheim at 425.453.6206 or dianak@gsklegal.pro

Nifong The Victim

"He's devastated. It's very upsetting to be attacked. It's like he's public enemy No. 1," said David Freedman, Nifong's attorney.
Awwww... It's so saaaaad. Well gosh, Mr. Nifong. Maybe you should have thought of that before you violated ethics, discovery, and media communications rules in order to railroad some kids in a cynical race-baiting political maneuver. At least now he knows how the victims of his prosecutorial abuse felt. Thank God they had the means to fight back, both in the media and in the courtroom.

If there's real justice in the world, Nifong won't just get disbarred - he'll live forever in infamy in every Professional Responsibility casebook in every law school in the country. I wouldn't count on it, though - then law professors might have to admit that sometimes whites can be victims of racial politics, too.

I never understood why this case was anything more than a blip on the national news radar, until Publius pointed it out. One of the liberal articles of faith is that rich white people run around and oppress poor black victims whenever they can, especially in the South. Because actual examples of this are increasingly hard to find, when a story that reinforces that mode of belief comes along, the liberal MSM will blow it up into ridiculous proportions. And because it's what they expect to see in the world, there's no need for healthy skepticism, fact checking, balance, or any other journalistic skill they were supposedly taught. Rich white southern boys rape poor black stripper student? Well, duh! That's the sun rising in the east!

Nifong, of course, counted on this MSM complicity, and rode it all the way to re-election. Nothing like a little race baiting to score a few votes - so what if innocent people are flayed because of the color of their skin!

At this point, no one is defending Nifong, except apparently, his attorney helped out by the above linked ABC softball piece. Well, that and a bunch of isolated college professors who aren't about to let the truth get in the way of their social views. But it's important to remember that Nifong was only exposed, despite the best efforts of his abettors in the media and academia who want to shape our perception of the world as racist, because they accidentally picked on victims with the means - and evidence - to defend themselves. As long as we as a society continue to give race baiters a pass so long as they're the right color, the Duke lacrosse players won't be the last victims of this kind of abuse.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Who Will Protect Free Speech?

The New York Sun is declaring that Sen. McCain has finally seen the light on free speech:

Mr. McCain's epiphany came during debate on the new "ethics" bill the Senate passed earlier this month. Mr. McCain and the Republicans,— joined by seven Democrats for free speech, voted down a provision that would have redefined the word "lobbyist" to include groups like politically active churches, direct mail companies, small nonprofit organizations, and even bloggers.

Under the provision, known as Section 220 of the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007, these "paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying" would have been considered lobbying, meaning that organizations that asked the public to contact their elected representatives would have been regulated like multimillion dollar K Street firms.

As much as I do like John McCain, his poor understanding of the First Amendment is troublesome to me. And I'm not going to hold my breath that he's suddenly become a free speech libertarian. But what's far worse is the fact that the party in power - the one supposedly swept in by people indignant over Bush's imperial and fascist presidency - overwhelmingly voted for the measure.

And it gets worse. Led by Dennis Kucinich, the head of the newly created "Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee" (which is apparently more interested in ferreting out subversives than in addressing out-and-out corruption), the Democrats are once again pursuing a return to the ironically named FCC "Fairness Doctrine." This intrusive balancing requirement would kill an entire medium of overt (and usually conservative) political speech - talk radio - but would leave in tact left leaning but putatively un-political "news" like NPR (where you can't even call in to challenge the speaker). Serious attempts have even been made by Congress to expand this concept to the internet - the ultimate expression of a free press surpassing the wildest dreams of by the Founding Fathers.

Meanwhile, one of those Senators who voted for the measure is, of course, rejecting any public funds for support of her Presidential campaign (as ar most of the candidates) , in order to avoid government control of that money. Good for her, but she ironically argues that her choice to opt out of government control is actually proof of why we need even MORE government control of free speech. Government control of speech is good for you, but not for her.

Political contributions, which fund both political speech and are necessary to petition the government for redress of our variougrievanceses through the political process, are at the heart of what should be protected by the First Amendment. Attempts at "reform" through additional regulation only serve (consciously or not) to suppress and control political speech.

The rich always have had an access advantage to political power, and they always will. Nothing will ever change that. In this country, that's not even always a bad thing - it usually takes hard work, vision, ambition, and leadership to become wealthy. But another big part of that advantage comes from their ability to use their wealth to bypass government control by hiring better lawyers, or even creating a completely independent media outlet (think George Soros).

Logically, then, the more regulation that exists, the harder it will be for the non-wealthy to get their views out, run for office, oachieveve their political ends.

So why are liberals (and too many conservatives) so intent on pushing such regulation? The simple answer is that they don't trust us little people to sift through all that speech out there, and make decisions based on it. That's it. And that attitude is flatly un-democratic and un-American.

The only regulation we should see on political speech is transparency and reporting. Let's keep the marketplace of ideas free. I believe deeply in the wisdom of the American people when we get together and determine the direction of our destiny, more than I have faith in politicians to give me the right answers. Our leaders need to harness this wisdom by opening the floodgates - not trying to restrict and control the information flow. That - far more than Jesus in a jar of urine - is what the First Amendment is really all about.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Man bites dog

Per SCOTUSblog: dog bites man, man wins!

U.S. loses important terrorism case ... for now

U.S. v. Ressam (No. 05-30422). See here and here. You'll recall the millenium plot to bomb LAX. Ressam came into the U.S. through Port Angeles and was tried in Seattle. See 221 F. Supp. 2d 1252 (W.D. Wash. 2002). He was sentenced to 22 years on charges carrying a 65-year maximum. The government appealed the sentence as unreasonably lenient. Ressam appealed his convictions.

Today the Ninth Circuit reversed the conviction on one count--carrying an explosive in the commission of a felony--because: 1) the statute requires a relationship between the underlying crime and the act of carrying an explosive; 2) the jury was not instructed on such an element; and 3) the government did not offer evidence that defendant's explosives were used to facilitate his false customs declaration. The court did not reach the sentencing issue, but vacated the whole sentence. So the court gave Ressam a cookie and the U.S. a cookie. And they go back to the District Court to fight over the crumbs.

My sense is it'll turn out worse for Ressam. Granted it's rare you woundn't want to appeal a conviction garnering 22 years, but does it get any better under the circumstances? If I'm not mistaken, the U.S. wanted life at the outset of the trial; if they can ask for life on remand I'm sure they will. Perhaps better to fight the government's lenient-sentence appeal and rely on trial court discretion than to press reset as to one count and hope for the best.

Who Should Be Allowed to Make Policy?

By now, pretty much everyone has recognized that Senator Boxer was wrong (and beyond stupid both politically and logically) in implying that Secretary Rice couldn't understand the implications of her policy decisions because she doesn't have children. But like John Kerry's "botched joke," Senator Boxer's comment was simply a Freudian slip that showed the end result of the absurd logic employed by many of the anti-war activists.

This is an issue that's always been particularly irritating to me, from the "absolute moral authority" of Cindy Sheehan (which ignores pro-war mothers), to the defenders of draft dodgers who only now demand that a President have served before he makes national security decisions. This absurd and un-democratic line of thinking is evident with every "chickenhawk" argument ever made. But I was moved to write today by a letter to the editor in today's Seattle Times which condemned Senator McCain for being pro-war despite him having a son serving in Iraq right now. Apparently, even if you DO have a "personal stake" in the Iraq war, you're only allowed to make the "correct" (liberal and selfish) decision.

So - if you're for the Iraq war, and have a son or daughter serving in Iraq (no one has children serving - those in Iraq are adults who have their own votes, opinions, and freedom to volunteer or not), you're exploiting your children for political gain. Pro-war and no kids, you're a cold hearted villain making decisions without understanding the impact on "real people." Pro-war and a veteran? Cynically exploiting your service for political gain. Pro-war and not a vet? Chickenhawk.

Of course, these are just the opposite on the other side of the isle. Anti-war with a family member in a combat zone? "Absolute moral authority." Anti-war with no family involved? Brave souls speaking out and "taking their democracy back." Anti-war and a vet? "How DARE you question a war hero!!!" Anti-war and not a vet? Well, they're speaking out for the soldiers who aren't allowed to because they've been silenced by their military-industrialist slave masters.

So how about this? Let's follow the "Chickenhawk!" shouters down their rabbit hole, and adopt their logic. Only veterans vote on national security issues, or parents whose soldier children are still minors and can't yet vote. Direct family members of active duty members get one half-vote, since they are impacted, but aren't risking their own lives. (I wonder how many hours the current Democratic Party would survive under this scheme - the shouters should be careful what they ask for...)

And then lets extend that to everything. Only taxpayers are allowed to vote on any issue which involves government expenditures, with more votes granted to those who pay more taxes. Only property owners are allowed to vote on eminent domain rules. Only people with children are allowed to vote on education policy.

And it doesn't need to just be about voting. We can have separate issue-specific legislatures, where only people directly affected by those issues are allowed to run for office. Only judges who have been through divorces can be on the bench in family court, only those with a history of drug use can prosecute drug crimes, and only convicted criminals can be Public Defenders. Better, let's require our judges, prosecutors, and public defenders to all have a personal stake in the outcome of the case they're involved with.

Or we can recognize that ALL Americans have a personal stake in national security, tax policy, education, and objective jurists. We can all recognize that "You don't know what it's like, man!" is a cowardly way to avoid having to make a hard policy decision yourself, and is "logic" best left on the playground. It has no place in the editorial page of the newspaper, or in the chambers of Congress.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Should a Triage Mentality Apply to Civil Rights?

Last Monday, a class-action trial began in federal court alleging various civil rights violations of people who were arrested during the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999. Specifically, according to the plaintiffs, the issue is this:
[P]olice arrested about 200 demonstrators gathered in Westlake Park -- primarily for pedestrian interference and obstructing an officer -- without any individualized evidence that they had broken the law.

In pretrial proceedings before U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, the city recanted earlier testimony and admitted that the police didn't order the demonstrators to disperse before arresting them. Once they were in custody, police used a boilerplate, photocopied arrest record for everyone.

It always chaps my hide when violent protesters - or those who refuse to self-police their fellow protestors - whine about the violations of their rights. The rest of the people of the city, who actually work and contribute to the economy, could not get to work, suffered tremendous damage to their property, and in many cases, feared for their safety. I would love to see a class action suit from those folks against the professional protest groups who spearheaded the destruction.

(All of this property destruction and wasted tax dollars, I might add, in the name of restricting the ability of the Third World to join our prosperity by denying them the ability to engage in capitalism. American liberals love the myth of the Noble Savage, and will fight to preserve it - wishes and life expectancy of said "savages" not withstanding.)

But even if these particular people weren't breaking the law, should a different standard apply when a city is under siege? When large groups have broken into full scale riot, arson has been attempted and is being threatened, city and personal property is being destroyed, and the safety of innocent citizens city-wide is in question, should we be as strict with standards of probable cause as we would be with an individualized suspect at a routine traffic stop?

When a large disaster takes place which injures many people at once, acceptable standards of medical care change. Doctors in a triage situation make decisions they would never make even in an emergency room. They give up on certain patients who might otherwise be saved, they
provide the most cursory of diagnoses, and they don't bother with minor injuries that otherwise would be treated to prevent infection. We accept and understand this change of standards, because we understand the heightened danger, limited resources, and speed at which decisions must be made requires it.

The same thinking should apply to police responses when civil order has broken down, and the city faces immediate and direct threats to the safety of a city's property and citizenry. "Probable Cause" should encompass the situation - groups of protesters ignoring the police are more likely to break the law when wide-scale lawlessness brought about by their fellow protesters is already underway. We can't and shouldn't issue blank checks to riot police, but we need to be honest with the way riots and their participants work.

The price of not doing that is to allow riots to become even more violent, and indeed deadly. This is not idle conjecture, but exactly what happened in Seattle two years later when Mardi Gras revelry became violent, but the mayor and the police were afraid of "over reacting." The results were far worse riots (despite fewer people being involved), leaving one man dead. And I believe that Seattle's current rise in violent crime is directly related to a continuation of this failure to learn the right lessons from the WTO disaster.

In the meantime, the best way for hippy protesters to safeguard their rights - and ours as well - is to behave and police themselves. If civil disorder and property damage is threatened every time a rally takes place, then we'll start seeing some real encroachments on free speech and assembly. Licensing schemes will become more onerous, police will become less willing to hope for the best before they start swinging batons, city officials will face enormous incentive to lie, and an even wider swath of innocent bystanders will be impacted.

By using the circumstances of an arrest to more correctly define the law under which that arrest occurred, to include giving the police more leeway in times of emergency and large scale disorder, we will actually protect our rights. But if these protesters are successful in suckerpunching the city yet another time, this time with costly lawsuits, all of our freedoms will suffer.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"Giving" America a Raise?

I despise the idea that lies behind this particular Democratic slogan, which is, of course, used to sell the idea of raising the federal minimum wage. It assumes that all Americans in all industry - public and private - work for the government. It sounds generous, but the reality is that it's generosity with other people's money. And there's another word to describe being generous with other people's money: Theft.

It's dishonest, too. Most people make far more than the minimum wage, and those who do don't stay at that wage very long. Indeed - raising the minimum wage would only hurt the people at the bottom the the economic ladder (so called because all Americans have the ability to climb higher on it). If we require a "living wage" which can support a family of four, then we deprive high school students and other young people the opportunity to break into the system, while at the same time depriving an entrepreneur - the real strength of the American economy - the opportunity to mitigate the risk to his investment by hiring cheaper (and legal) labor. There's nothing wrong with expecting an 18 year old to live with three of his buddies and share the rent when he's first entering the work force.

Nor does raising the minimum wage really do anything to reduce poverty - just ask anyone who was around in 1938 facing 19% unemployment how much it helped Americans support their families.

Not only is it bad policy, but it's one of the most egregious abuses of the Interstate Commerce Clause the federal government has ever foisted upon the country. Even if a minimum wage was necessary, this is exactly the kind of policy best left to the states with their highly varied economies, costs of living, etc. "One Size Fits All" programs rarely do, and all this does is take away the ability of states to manage their own economies. If you have told the founders that the Constitution they were signing would make it legal for a Massachusetts Senator who grew up on his father's money to set wage scales for a Pennsylvanian factory, it never would have been ratified. Indeed, most states have their own minimum wages, higher than the proposed federal hike. There is no pattern of better economies or decreases in poverty rates in those states, or such patterns would be part of the selling package. It is nothing more than an abuse of federal power, and a naked attempt to buy votes with other people's money.

George Will puts it best:
But the minimum wage should be the same everywhere: $0. Labor is a commodity; governments make messes when they decree commodities' prices. Washington, which has its hands full delivering the mail and defending the shores, should let the market do well what Washington does poorly.
If Nancy Pelosi wants to "Give America a Raise," I'll thank her to use her own money to do so. Or support more tax cuts, which have the same effect sans the negative economic impact that comes when startup businesses can't afford low-skilled employees. The federal minimum wage is bad for workers, bad for employers, bad for the economy, and makes a mockery of the federal system which once protected our freedoms (of which economic freedoms are a crucial part) by "splitting the atom of sovereignty."

The "Plight" of the Poor

This is anecdotal to be sure, but this story written by a Montana woman who lost a good job through no fault of her own, and is now living on $6.50 an hour, is worth a read. (Thanks to my wife for forwarding me the story.)

Notably, she states emphatically that she's not a victim. She doesn't scream about the unfairness of life, nor does she blame a politician. She doesn't decry the lack of government regulation that might have prevented her layoff, nor does she ask anyone to force her current employer to pay her more.

In fact, she says she's not even really "poor." She owns her own home and has made the decision not to touch her retirement fund. She's not in danger of starvation, and enjoys heat and potable running water and sanitation. And without including a single demand that the government come save her, she outlines the steps she has taken and is taking to climb out of the hole she finds herself in.

To many, this story is a blasphemy to the Religion of Victimhood. The idea that this woman has had and still has choices, that her situation is not immutable, that she is bettering her situation without the government doing it for her, and that she rejects the notion of poverty all demolish the argument for more Robin Hood-esque wealth redistribution. In order to justify further intervention in our lives and further encroachment upon our liberties, they have to believe that such freedom-crushing intervention is absolutely necessary. Stories like this one show that this worldview - usually held by wealthy white liberals who feel compelled to save everyone whether they want to be saved or not - simply isn't true.

This isn't to say that we shouldn't have any safety net at all. But discussion of poverty in this country is usually profoundly dishonest. Many, many of the poor in this country would have
been considered middle class only 20 or 30 years ago. And the author is not alone - many "poor" people own their own homes, have cars, have savings, etc. I don't want people starving and dying in gutters, but it's worth remembering that personal liberty is at least as important of a virtue than is living at some ever-increasing "minimum" standard of quality of life. And if you aren't free to fail, you simply aren't free.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Employment Law Myopia

"But if it's good policy [for the employer to treat employees a certain way], why shouldn't the government require it?"
It is because, my dear Employment Law classmate (yup, it's an actual quote from class), a benevolent tyranny is still tyranny, and how and under what authority the government makes laws is at least as important as the substance of the laws themselves.

It's because if the government makes a bad employment policy decision, we all suffer. But if one company makes a bad policy decision, only they go out of business, keeping the door of opportunity open to smarter businessmen.

It's because even good policy administered by a middleman government bureaucrat grows more costly and less efficient.

It's because government regulations cost employers money, which is then passed on to the consumer through the increased cost of the goods and services, sparking inflation. It decreases the number of employees that can afford to be hired, making jobs less plentiful for everyone. These things are not only bad for the economy at large, but they ironically impact the poorest people the most. A job with no benefits is far better than no job at all.

It's because good policy for one employer isn't necessarily good policy for another.

It's because employers have rights too, and the employers are the ones taking all the risk if their enterprise fails. Not the employee. Certainly not the government. And despite the socialist propaganda filling our casebook, even the Big Bad Corporations are not evil oppressors, nor do they have unlimited funds to hand out to the people they hire.

It's because when companies maximize profits, everyone benefits. Government revenue goes up without increasing taxes, companies can hire more people, and charities benefit.

It's because if government has the power to tell an employer he can't fire someone but for previously delineated reasons, the government has the power to tell an employee she can't quit but for previously delineated reasons. And if the later is slavery and an undermining of any concept of freedom of contract, than the former surely is as well.

It's because we have over a century of the history of World Socialism to show us the futility of state-micromanaged economies.

In essence, my erstwhile classmate is demanding that George W. Bush run every business in the nation. I wonder if putting it in those terms would make people think twice the next time they spout, "Why, the government oughta..."

Sigh. Forgive the rant. Two days in, and already the banal and juvenile tripe that so often passes for critical thinking in law school is in full sway. It is stunning that people so professedly concerned about the government stripping away of our civil rights are so willing to demand that this same government step in and manage our pocket books, our businesses, our health care decisions, our associations, ad infinitum. That the above truisms are hardly mentioned in an employment law class shows how badly the education I and the tax payers are buying suffers when ideological diversity among a university staff is so completely lacking.

Can someone please tell me again who exactly is threatening my liberty?