BrianGarst.com

Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.

Saturday

30

August 2014

0

COMMENTS

Risks Come in Many Forms

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Culture & Society, Foreign Affairs & Policy, Gun Rights, Liberty & Limited Government, The Nanny State & A Regulated Society

The New York Times editorial board has some sound advice for Great Britain as it worries about the threat of home grown terrorists. It’s a serious problem, and one which the UK has largely invited on itself through a failed experiment in cultural appeasement that has only served to embolden extremism. Be that as it may, NYT editors are right to warn against overreactions that undermine civil rights by concluding that, “scrapping civil liberties should not be the first line of defense in a democracy.”

Terrorists pose a safety risk, and mitigating that risk should be done with respect to civil liberties rather than trampling them. But there are a great many risks in society, and unfortunately the NYT editorial board fails to consistently apply this principle on other issues. They have no problem curtailing rights for the illusion of security when doing so confirms their ideological biases, such as limiting speech in the name of removing money from politics, or scrapping the Second Amendment in the name of reducing violence.

In fact, just a day before sternly warning the Brits against overreacting to their homegrown extremism problem, the very same New York Times editorial board overreacted to a single gun accident caused by the irresponsibility of parents and an instructor that allowed a young girl who couldn’t handle the weapons and its kickback to shoot an Uzi, ultimately resulting in the instructor’s death. Not only did they use the unusual incident to finger wag at defenders of the Second Amendment and note in horror all the various ways in which gun enthusiasts enjoy their hobby, but they also demanded the restriction of rights in response. Citing a similar incident over half a decade ago (giving indication to  how rare these events are) where a young child accidentally killed himself at a gun range, the NYT editors praised his state of Connecticut for reacting by banning access to certain guns even at gun ranges for those under 16, regardless of the level of supervision, precautions taken, or capabilities of the shooter. They then lamented that there will be no “swift action in Arizona, where the gun culture is deeply entrenched.”

Rights are precarious things. They are at their most vulnerable when the populace is scared. The New York Times recognizes this when it comes to foreign threats, but fails to understand that domestic panics over extremely low risks of harm are just as dangerous.

Thursday

21

August 2014

0

COMMENTS

Case for Police Reform is Bigger Than Ferguson Shooting

Written by , Posted in The Courts, Criminal Justice & Tort

Facts are slowly trickling out regarding the Michael Brown shooting by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. Not only has it now been determined that Brown was involved in an earlier strong-arm robbery – which speaks to Brown’s state of mind and makes it more plausible that he would engage an officer in violent conflict – but it’s also being claimed by some sources that officer Wilson suffered serious injuries in the alleged scuffle. The latter is far from proven, however.

This is important information for this particular case and those that want to ensure justice is done. It does not, however, tell us anything about the need for criminal justice reforms. Even if the shooting of Michael Brown was justified, it does not absolve the nation’s police as a whole, or even the Ferguson police in particular, of wrongdoing. The Ferguson PD would still be responsible for unnecessarily inflaming tensions through a combination of unnecessary and excessive displays of force, and a lack of timely communication.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Max Geron, a security studies scholar who runs the Media Relations Unit of the Dallas Police Department had to say:

The images from Ferguson, Missouri are disturbing and disappointing to those who recognize their role in law enforcement as servants of the public as opposed to strict enforcers of the law, maintainers of order or members of a paramilitary organization. While enforcing the law is a primary function and order maintenance is a part of that job, they are but components of the larger public servant role. Additionally, while police agencies are paramilitary in nature, law enforcement leaders now, more than ever, need to guard against the increase of militarization currently underway.

I’m disheartened that police unions and associations across the country are concerned about citizens photographing police while in public and have no qualms about speaking out against it. This adds to the concern of the public that we are moving more towards a police state and slowly eroding the freedoms we should cherish in this great nation.

Thursday

14

August 2014

0

COMMENTS

Lack of Police Accountability Will Breed More Ferguson’s

Written by , Posted in Culture & Society, The Courts, Criminal Justice & Tort

A number of troubling things are happening related to the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. In the wake of the shooting death of 18-year old Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer, there have been looting, riots, and demonstrations. While theft and mindless destruction of property by looters shouldn’t be tolerated, residents have more than enough reason to be upset.

Witness descriptions paint Brown’s shooting as a deliberate homicide, yet police have refused to release the name of the officer who killed him. The police department predictably claims that Brown was the instigator and inexplicably attempted to take the officer’s gun, but police are notorious liars who routinely falsify reports to cover up wrongdoing. Sometimes they are punished, but given the frequency with which such actions are discovered, it’s quite likely that it far more often goes unnoticed. While it’s certainly possible that police are telling the truth in this case and that the witnesses are lying to get them in trouble, the public has every reason not to give them the benefit of the doubt.

It is, in other words, the constant and pervasive lack of accountability for police departments across the country that fuels tensions and distrust. Even when misconduct is clear, the thin blue line often serves to protect officers from punishment. The result is a frustrated public that sees little hope of justice when police misbehave. The casual dismissal of public concerns only fuels the notion that police don’t believe they serve anyone but themselves.

Often times misconduct and false reports are only discovered when video later comes to light. It would thus be of significant public interest for police to be monitored by video at all times. When a small California city put cameras on all their police officers, the result was a dramatic decline in the number of complaints against officers. Police, like their civilian counterparts, misbehave less when they are more likely to be caught.

Others rightfully highlight the growing militarization of police forces across the US. Federal grants have encouraged local police departments to acquire weapons of war for domestic use. Tiny towns are getting funds to build SWAT teams and armored vehicles for which they have no need, and then are predictably deploying them in situations where such extreme tactics are not only unwarranted, but can be counterproductive.

Given the excessive deference by prosecutors for police wrongdoings and the fact that police are being handed weapons of war to use against the public, the only surprise that should come from the events in Ferguson is that such unrest is not already more common. If things continue as they are without significant reform of policing in the US, we can expect these confrontations to continue to happen.

Friday

8

August 2014

Tuesday

5

August 2014

0

COMMENTS

Government Accuses Gay Bar of Anti-Gay Discrimination for Enforcing Government ID Requirements

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Culture & Society, Identity Politics, Liberty & Limited Government

Government lovers and practitioners of identity politics are eating their own according to Scott Shackford at Reason:

What happened last summer is that a gay man named Vito Marzano, dressed in drag from a fundraiser elsewhere, wanted to enter the Wrangler. He was denied entry. The bar claims it wasn’t because he was cross-dressing but because his image didn’t match his driver’s license. The bar had been previously cited for serving somebody underage and were now being extra cautious. For those not in the know, gay bars have a history of being targets of scrutiny by authorities looking for excuses to raid them and shut them down.

This is an important point. Arbitrary and overzealous enforcement has been a common tactic for government agents to harass certain minority populations, like gay communities. Allowing in customers who do not match their ID is a sure fire way to invite such government harassment.

Equally disturbing is the logic used by the government to determine that there was “discrimination.” The bar, it seems, dares to cater to the interests of a particular subset of the gay community known as “bears,” or burly masculine men who prefer other burly masculine men.

The state’s report notes that the bar has a dress code forbidding high-heeled shoes, wigs or appearance-altering make-up or strong perfumes. While the report states there’s nothing wrong with the dress code itself, it has determined that the bar uses this code as an excuse to exclude overly feminine women or transgender people. The Wrangler is a “bear” bar, whose target demographic is the burlier of the gay men. What’s alarming about the ruling is that it seems to act as though catering to a particular demographic is in fact evidence of a likelihood of discriminating against others:

“[T]he Respondent caters to a gay subculture known as “Bears,” which are bisexual or gay males which tend to place importance on presenting a hypermasculine image andoften shun interaction with men who exhibit effeminacy. This is evident from the pictures and statements made by employees regarding the “Bear” culture of the club and several links on the Respondent’s webpage referencing “Bear” clubs … .”

Emphasis added by me because WT-bloody-F? You know what gay people love? Having the government tell them how their various subcultures work and think on the basis of talking to a bunch of people at a bar and looking at pictures. The preference for dating or friendship with certain types of people is not the same as “shunning” other types of people. And to the extent that there are social rifts between various parts of the gay demographic, nobody should want the state government policing how they should be interacting with each other.

In a truly free and diverse society, outlets meeting niche needs would be welcomed along side those serving a more general population. But in a world of degenerative Progressivism, words such as  ”diversity” and “discrimination” have been twisted to the point of almost meaning their literal opposites. Diversity now requires universal sameness – all locations must serve the same clients in the same way. Discrimination now refers to any perceived negative action against a special identity group – such as the enforcement of ID requirements – even as the same action is routinely used against non-protected classes without fuss, making anti-discrimination efforts inherently discriminatory.

Shackford ends with the most important point:

This case is a good demonstration as to why it’s so important to hold a hard line on the right to freedom of association. The Wrangler should have the right to pursue whatever customer demographic it wants for its bar. And if the community finds it significantly discriminatory, they can use social pressures to push for change (as Marzano has apparently done with a call for a boycott).

Freedom, not central government control and more power for bureaucrats, is the answer.

Saturday

26

July 2014

0

COMMENTS

Sen. Paul Moves to Breathe Life Back Into Fifth Amendment

Written by , Posted in Big Government, The Courts, Criminal Justice & Tort

Right now, it is possible and quite common for the government to seize personal assets without trial or any other form of due process. Under what’s known as civil asset forfeiture, police can take property they claim may be part of a crime, though they need not prove so, and put that money in their department’s pocket. This gives police departments incentive to steal. To make matters worse, it is then up to the victim to prove their innocence, often at significant cost, if they want any hope of getting their property back.

Rand Paul has introduced a bill that would end this despicable practice:

Sen. Rand Paul yesterday introduced S. 2644, the FAIR (Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration) Act, which would protect the rights of citizens and restore the Fifth Amendment’s role in seizing property without due process of law. Under current law, law enforcement agencies may take property suspected of involvement in crime without ever charging, let alone convicting, the property owner. In addition, state agencies routinely use federal asset forfeiture laws; ignoring state regulations to confiscate and receive financial proceeds from forfeited property.

The FAIR Act would change federal law and protect the rights of property owners by requiring that the government prove its case with clear and convincing evidence before forfeiting seized property. State law enforcement agencies will have to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property. Finally, the legislation would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury’s General Fund.

Radley Balko has more on how the law will also stop state and local officials from skirting state law by conspiring, for a kickback, with the feds.

The bill would also require states “to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property.” This is important. Currently, a number of state legislatures across the country have passed reform bills to rein in forfeiture abuses. The problem is that the federal government has a program known as “adoption” or “equitable sharing.” Under the program, a local police agency need only call up the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or similar federal agency. That agency then “federalizes” the investigation, making it subject to federal law. The federal agency then initiates forfeiture proceedings under the laxer federal guidelines for forfeiture. The feds take a cut and then return the rest — as much as 80 percent — back to the local agency. This trick thwarts the intent of state legislature that have attempted to make civil forfeiture more fair when it comes to burden of proof, protections for innocent property owners and eliminating the perverse incentive of allowing forfeiture proceeds to go to the same police agency that made the seizure.

Which brings us to a final important provision in the bill: It would “would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury’s General Fund.

To put it simply, agencies of the federal government have engaged in a criminal conspiracy with state police departments to loot and rob the American people. It’s about time that someone take the obvious position of ending their abuses.

Friday

18

July 2014

0

COMMENTS

Government Moves to Shake Down FedEx Because They Don’t Spy on Packages

Written by , Posted in Big Government, The Courts, Criminal Justice & Tort

You would think that enforcement of terrible US drug laws would be the responsibility of the myriad government agencies lavishly funded to harass American citizens based solely on what they put in their own bodies. But according to the government, enforcement is apparently actually the responsibility of FedEx.

FedEx Corp. was indicted for delivering prescription pain pills, sedatives, anti-anxiety drugs and other controlled substances for illegal Internet pharmacies.

The operator of the world’s largest cargo airline was charged by the U.S. with 15 counts of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and misbranded drugs and drug trafficking that carry a potential fine of twice the gains from the conduct, alleged to be at least $820 million for it and co-conspirators. The company, while denying the allegations, said today in a regulatory filing that conviction could be “material.”

…The criminal case is an unprecedented escalation of a federal crackdown on organizations and individuals to combat prescription drug abuse, said Larry Cote, an attorney and ex-associate chief counsel at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“Targeting a company that’s two, three steps removed from the actual doctor-patient, pharmacy-patient relationship is unprecedented,” said Cote, who advises companies in the drug supply chain on compliance matters.

Note that we’re not talking about delivering cocaine for the cartel here, but rather medicines that government artificially restricts and keeps from patients and those who need them. Nevertheless, the government insists not only that selling medicine is a no good, horrible bad thing, but that it furthermore is the responsibility of FedEx to know what is in every package they deliver to ensure that that no one is daring to deliver cheap medicine.

The whole thing is, in other words, typical government thuggery at its ugliest:

As it turns out, the feds say that “as early as 2004, DEA, FDA and members of Congress” told the delivery company that willing buyers and sellers were engaging in transactions that make politicians very, very sad. FedEx apparently established internal systems for tracking online pharmacies, but shipments still got through. This makes the feds even sadder, and they insist FedEx has been “conspiring” to let the packages through.

FedEx says this is all bullshit. The company insists that, in response to the government’s crusade to keep Uncle Bob from buying his little blue pills at a discount, it’s asked the feds for a list of suppliers it shouldn’t service. The feds haven’t gone beyond the bitching phase to offer anything helpful.

…So, what do the feds want FedEx to do? The indictment isn’t specific, but FedEx hints that the government wants the company to paw through everything it ships and block the stuff that officials don’t think people should be allowed to send from place to place.

 

Thursday

3

July 2014

0

COMMENTS

Moore Says Conservatives Losing Their Way on Taxes

Written by , Posted in Economics & the Economy, Taxes

Stephen Moore alleges that conservatives are losing their way on taxes:

A new economic plan is circulating called “Room to Grow,” and one of its premises seems to be that tax rates aren’t important for the middle class. One of its key proposals is to increase tax credits to families with children and even possibly raise tax rates on others to pay for it.

The idea here is that middle-class families with kids are facing a financial squeeze and need relief.

It’s well-meaning, but a classic misdiagnosis of the problem at hand. “This is anti–supply side policy,” fumes Larry Kudlow of CNBC. “It’s just awful growth policy.”

He’s right, and here’s why: Giving every family an extra tax break, as opposed to incentivizing businesses to invest and expand and workers to work, does nothing to grow the economy. This is pure redistribution to families with children. It is better to give a man a fish rather than to teach him to fish, in other words.

This completely misunderstands the source of the economic anxiety facing families today. For most middle-class families, the central problem is not that taxes are too high. It’s that before-tax wages and salaries are not rising — they’re even falling for many income groups — thanks to Obamanomics. On average, the median household has lost about $3,000 of purchasing power since the recession began in 2008. Half of Americans think we are still in recession. The middle class is getting squeezed because the recovery is so feeble and jobs are so scarce, not because of tax increases.

Moore is exactly right. I haven’t looked through all the other policy proposals in YG Network’s “Room to Grow” – though as John Tamny points out in another eloquent take-down of its shortcomings, David Brooks loves it so presumably I will not – but on the question of taxes and economic growth they have failed to diagnose the problem for the reasons Moore mentions. This malady in conservative tax thought can even be traced back to the Bush administration, where Keynesian assumptions were embraced in 2001 with “tax rebates” that failed just as thoroughly to “stimulate” the economy as Obama’s spending. There were, in a second attempt in 2003, better tax cuts under Bush that were more oriented toward supply-side growth, but the point is that conservatives sometimes buy into their own form of erroneous economic populism.

The point is not that taxes are not part of the problem – they certainly are – but rather that the problems caused by the tax code are its numerous disincentives for work, savings and investment. It is suppressing economic growth by punishing productive behavior. Those incentives need to be corrected, and that’s not done through gimmick handouts and a further narrowing of the tax base.

Thursday

26

June 2014

1

COMMENTS

Another Industry In the Obama Administration’s Sites

Written by , Posted in Education, Government Meddling

The private sector is under assault from the Obama administration. We’ve seen it most famously with the war on coal, but as this post from Center for Freedom & Prosperity President Andrew Quinlan demonstrates, we can add for-profit higher education to the list. And once again, it is unelected regulators usurping legislative powers in order to eradicate entire industries:

Now, the Department of Education is targeting private-sector colleges through so-called “Gainful Employment” regulations. The rules not only punish an entire business model for the wrongdoings of a small few schools, but by closing one of the best avenues for working class adults to improve their education and increase employability, they also threaten jobs and the economy.

The proposed rules would cut off federal loan and financial-aid eligibility for programs that fail to meet certain federal standards, such as graduates with high student-loan debt relative to their earnings in the first few years after graduation. This is a deeply flawed approach for reasons both practical and philosophical.

While there is a strong case to be made for ending or severely reducing government financial support for higher education, allowing government to distort the market by picking winners and losers would be even worse than the current system of heavy subsidies. The “Gainful Employment” regulations amount to a thumb on the scale, which unsurprisingly would benefit government-run institutions at the expense of the private sector.

The so-called “Gainful Employment” rule will limit loans and financial aid on the basis of high student loan debt relative to post-graduate earnings, among other things. Problems with the rule are numerous. First and foremost, if it is truly needed to protect students, why are public and private non-profit universities excluded? For-profit schools only serve about 20% of all higher education students, and yet are the exclusive target of the regulation.

Second, the rule fails to account for the market being served. For-profit schools provide opportunities for a lower economic class of students that is often closed out of the prestige-conscious university system. Any rule that punishes schools whose students have relatively lower post-graduate earnings is going to in effect punish schools that take on students who start with lower earnings potential. The rule is thus a perverse attack on economic opportunity at a time when opportunities are already few and far between.

Like much of the Obama agenda, the effort has already run into legal trouble. A prior version of the rule was thrown out by a federal judge for being “arbitrary,” but that hasn’t stopped anti-market ideologues from coming back for another bite at the apple. Quinlan quotes industry expert Donald Graham’s scathing letter in opposition to the rule, which includes an account of the true objectives of the rule’s chief architect:

Why is Mr. Shireman still relevant? Because it is he who decided there should be a gainful employment regulation in the first place.

…With his speech last week at the Center for American Progress, Mr. Shireman lets the cat out of the bag: he simply does not believe that a business should own a college or serve students. Now this is a perfectly respectable point of view. But one could ask: is a person who holds this point of view a fit regulator of a sector consisting of colleges owned by businesses? The judgment on whether businesses were fit to own colleges was made by the Congress of the United States in 1965. Mr. Shireman and now his successor regulators seek to substitute his judgment for that of Congress.

Obama administration officials substituting their lawless judgment for that of duly elected members of Congress seems par for the course these days.

Sunday

8

June 2014

0

COMMENTS

The Artifacts of Big Government

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Culture & Society, Liberty & Limited Government

Last month, the Washington Post provided an exposé on the proliferation of wasteful government reports. As the headline example, the author cites the 15 employees across at least six different offices that prepare an annual Report to Congress on Dog and Cat Fur Protection. The requirement was created as part of a 2000 law written by legislators no longer in office. It is, in other words, perfectly emblematic of Washington DC dysfunction. The question is: what exactly does this tell us about why and how our government is failing?

The Dog and Cat Fur Protection report is just one of many. The story claims that the current Congress expects 4,291 different reports from 466 federal agencies (aside: there should not even exist anywhere near this many federal agencies, and wouldn’t if the government stuck to its Constitutional duties).

It would be easy for some to blame all this on bad legislators. Certainly it would be possible for Congress to collectively decide to solve the problem by going through and eliminating unnecessary reports, just the same as they could close down duplicative and unneeded agencies. But that’s misleading. If the institutions of government, along with the incentives they create, and the political culture both remain constant, it’s not going to matter who is elected. The results will continue to be the same.

We have now a system that has grown out of control, and a populace enamored with magical thinking. We expect every problem in life to have a political solution, and we demand that someone – the more centralized their role, the better – be answerable for every setback or inconvenience. The result is that government not only must try to involve itself in far too many aspects of daily existence, but that politicians must constantly demonstrate that they are in firm control of the apparatus of government, even as such control becomes increasingly impossible.