Archives: May, 2010

Event Data Recorders: They’re Not Just for Safety

In my recent testimony before the House Commerce Committee on a proposal to require event data recorders in all new cars sold in the United States, I pointed out that the mandate would go far beyond what is needed to ensure safety. Indeed, the cost of EDRs raises the prices of new cars, marginally reducing the pool of used cars and keeping lower income drivers in older used cars which are less safe.

The demand for EDRs in all cars, collecting and transmitting data about all crashes, suggests that something more than statistically relevant safety data is what advocates of this mandate want. I put a finer point on these issues today in answers to questions propounded to me after the hearing.

The proposed EDR mandate includes controls on the use of EDR information, a nominal protection for privacy, but the EDR mandate “sets the stage for migration away from consumer privacy toward serving the goals of government and industry related not only to safety but also to general law enforcement, taxation, and surveillance.”

Taxpayers Alliance Video Explains Tax Freedom Day in the U.K.

The Taxpayers Alliance has a brief but compelling video, entitled “How long do you work for the tax man?,” which shows how an ordinary worker in the United Kingdom spends more than one-half his day laboring for government. “What will they tax next?” is still the best policy video to come out of the U.K., in my humble opinion, but this one is very much worth watching – especially since America is becoming more like Europe with each passing day.

What makes the video particularly depressing is that it only considers the tax burden. Regulations and government spending also are a burden on average workers, largely because of foregone economic growth.

Immigration Law — Up Close

Kirk Adams, speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, has an article in today’s Washington Post on the controversial Arizona immigration law.  Here’s an excerpt:

Under the law, officers can only attempt to determine a person’s immigration status during “lawful contact,” which is defined as a lawful stop, detention or arrest. Any “reasonable suspicion” can be derived only through the investigation of another violation or crime. Those who are concerned that law enforcement can simply walk up to a person and say, “Can I see your papers?” should keep this in mind.

The police are going to ask questions and request to see papers in a variety of circumstances – whether they have reasonable suspicion or not.  From a legal, constitutional, and practical perspective, the key issue is this: What are the consequences, if any, for the person who stands his ground and declines to answer questions or declines to produce identification papers?  If a person declines, will the police back off and say, “Well, that is your right, sir, you may go” or will the police escalate the situation by ordering the person to answer questions, ordering the production of identification, detaining the person, or threaten the person with arrest on bogus charges?

The police are trained to blur the line between “voluntary” interactions with people (perfectly lawful) and “involuntary” interactions with people (where police power is limited by the Constitution).  So, for example, if a police agent says, “Okay pal, let’s see what’s in the backpack!”  it is unclear whether the officer just made a request (lawful) or issued an order (for my purposes here, unlawful).  The onus here is on the layperson to speak up if he does not wish to voluntarily consent to a search: “Officer, I don’t consent to any searches.”  Upon hearing that, the officer will either (a) retreat; (b) clarify that he was ordering, not asking; (c) press the person some more to consent.  A dishonest officer can just lie and deny what you said – and if that matter goes to court the outcome will depend on who the judge believes.  That’s a severe practical disadvantage for laypeople.

With that background in mind, check out this video footage taken by a guy who seems to know constitutional law and immigration law inside out.

The vehicle is not stopped on a warrant, probable cause, or reasonable suspicion.  As far as I can tell, all the cars are being stopped.  The police ask about his immigration status and the driver declines to answer.  The man in the car knows the law well and quickly makes it crystal clear that he’s not interested in a “voluntary” encounter with the police – he wants to be on his way.  The police repeatedly evade his attempt to clarify the situation.  That is, if the police are detaining him, the driver does not want to flee or resist the officers (that’s a crime) – but if the police are not detaining him, the driver does not wish to hang out with them and talk – he wants to be on his way.  Watch the police lie and/or illegally threaten that he will be detained – until he answers their questions.  Watch the police threaten to arrest the man for causing a “safety” hazard, or for “impeding” or obstructing their “work.”  Given those police actions, most people will come to the conclusion that they have no choice in the matter – answer the questions and produce the ID papers.  These are the situations that the courts rarely see.  The citizen who was understandably intimidated by the threats may get mad, but it is not worth it to sue.  If an illegal is discovered, he would be deported in a matter of hours.  This video is thus a real public service announcement – whatever your view is on the immigration matter, do understand clearly how the police will be are interacting with people.

Note also that the police in the video clip work for the federal government, not Arizona.   So those concerned about the Constitution should remain on guard when they hear the claim that “Arizona is only doing what the federal government is already doing.”  Further,  it is doubtful that the Obama administration intends to roll back or reform the powers of the federal police.  Instead, it is trying to retain federal police powers while trying to find a way to challenge Arizona’s methods on racial/ethnic grounds.  The Arizona law is quite misguided, but so too is the president’s legal challenge.

For a terrific video that instructs people on how to deal with the police, go here.

For related Cato work on immigration law, go here, here, and here.

Public Wants Fed Audit

A new Rasmussen poll has 80% of the American public supporting an audit of the Federal Reserve.  Only 9% of the public oppose, with the rest unsure.

Unfortunately the poll did not ask specific questions over whether such an audit should cover monetary policy or just the Fed’s 2008 bailout activities.  So while the poll is likely to keep pressure on Congress, during its conference negotiations over financial regulation, to retain some audit of the Fed, the likely result is that Congress will leave out any real, on-going audit of monetary policy. 

After Sen. Bernie Sanders essentially gutted his own amendment, Senator Dodd and the Obama administration agreed to a minor audit of the Fed’s emergency lending programs.  Ron Paul, sponsor of the House version of the audit, quickly labeled this as a “sell-out”.  Fortunately Congressman Paul looks to be a House conferee on the bill, so some hope remains of a full audit being included.

Opponents of a Fed audit claim this would undermine the Fed’s political independence.  Sadly what opponents, including many economists, are missing is that the Fed is currently far from independent of politics.  This is again an area where the public gets what the experts miss, as just 20% of poll respondents thought the Fed has acted independently.  A full 60% felt the Fed was too much influenced by the President, getting at a crucial point concerning Fed independence:  it is independence from the Executive branch that is critical.

Sestak: Business as Usual

I haven’t taken much interest in the growing story about the possibility that Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) was offered a job to entice him out of the primary race against incumbent senator Arlen Specter. If true, this apparently is illegal.

But does anyone think horse-trading like this does not happen in politics all the time? Perhaps someone was gauche enough to name the price of the horse, and perhaps someone didn’t know enough to keep his mouth shut about it. But it’s pretty much a law of physics that an entrenched group of politicians at a remote level of government is going to divvy up the emoluments the public has ceded to them. A law to the contrary may aspire to some ideal of good government, but its effect is only to hide what is going on.

Only if you pretend that politicians are selfless do you find horse-trading around the Pennsylvania Senate race unusual.

Tea Party Defeats Palin in Idaho

State Rep. Raul Labrador walloped Republican establishment favorite Vaughn Ward in Idaho’s 1st District congressional primary. Idaho native Sarah Palin campaigned for Ward, who had worked in the McCain presidential campaign in 2008. Labrador drew strong support from Tea Party activists. According to Politico, “Ward’s defeat also came despite his high-profile support from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who did more to assist Ward than she did for almost any other House candidate. Last Friday, she headlined a rally and fundraiser for Ward, and her parents and in-laws were supporters of Ward’s campaign.”

Lots of Republican incumbents lost their legislative seats, too, suggesting the continuing power of Tea Party activism and general populist unrest.