Archives: May, 2010

Cameras, Crime, and Terrorism

The attempted bombing in Times Square brought terrorism and the capabilities of surveillance cameras to the top of the headlines this week. As I pointed out in my Politico piece, cameras have not proven an effective deterrent to terrorist attacks. Cameras are generally useful in piecing together the plot after the attack (not so much in this case, since police were looking for a middle-aged white man and not a young Pakistani male) and helped in this capacity in the Madrid, London, and Moscow commuter system bombings.

I discuss the usefulness of cameras in this podcast:

Whether cameras are helpful enough to justify massive spending to install more of them in New York is another matter. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly seems to think so, even though it’s already been the site of significant surveillance funding from the federal government. Steve Chapman remains skeptical of them, and former NYPD counterterrorism cop Michael Sheehan is honest enough to admit that their value is in investigating attacks, not deterring them. London has a million cameras, making it the most heavily-surveilled city this side of Pyongyang. Though sold on a joint counterterrorism-crime rationale, they did not deter the 7/7 bombings and roughly 80% of crime in London goes unsolved. Of the cleared cases, roughly one in a thousand is a camera success story.

As Roger Pilon points out, cameras are useful in law enforcement operations outside of blanket surveillance. They can deter excessive use of force and other unlawful conduct by police officers or at least provide a means of punishing those responsible, as they did in the recent beating of University of Maryland student. Police officers realize this, and actively deter filming their questionable activities.

A camera is an honest cop’s best friend. It can provide a defense against groundless claims of brutality. At least eleven states and 500 local jurisdictions require that interrogations be videotaped. Beyond the protection of civil liberties and preventing false or coerced confessions, these videos make for highly probative evidence. The jury gets a window into the interrogation room. The defendant’s mannerisms, demeanor, and a lack of police coercion tied to the defendant’s statements make for good, and more transparent, policing.

A Warning Label — on the U.S. Constitution

Knowing of my interest in oddball warning labels, reader Clark S. alerts me to this $4.95 paperback copy of the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Articles of Confederation, which contains the following advisory (readers may need to scroll to the “Copyright” section, depending on how the page displays)

© Wilder Publications 2008

This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.

A bit of Googling revealed that the same publisher slaps the same boilerplate language on other reprints including the Federalist Papers and The Great Heresies by Hilaire Belloc. Do they perhaps put it on all works composed before a certain cut-off date? Wilder Publications is described here as in the business of “publishing print-on-demand books (mostly self-help and public domain reprints).”

I am happy to report that the Cato Institute’s excellent pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution daringly omits any warning and lets readers take the Constitution straight up.

How the Debt Crisis Will Stop

The economist Herb Stein famously said, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” That’s a good riposte when people wring their hands over something unsustainable. Of course, that fact doesn’t tell you how unsustainable situations will stop, and some ways are less pleasant than others.

I thought of “Stein’s Law” when I read former California Assembly speaker Willie Brown’s response to a question about whether California’s lavish public-employee pensions would bankrupt the state:

No, it’s not going to bankrupt the state. My guess is that the State of California, like most places involved with pensions, is going to cease to pay them.

Cato Pledge Drive

Public radio talk show host Diane Rehm said during WAMU’s pledge drive yesterday:

“Whenever I meet someone who says, ‘Diane, I love your show, I love what you do,’ the first thing I ask them is, ‘Are you a member?’”

“Member” means financial contributor, of course, and she went on to make the point that if you value public radio, you should contribute. Of course, every taxpayer is a contributor to public radio, whether he values it or not.

But that’s not true for the Cato Institute. We don’t accept government money. Indeed, a few years ago, we rejected a large contribution from Fannie Mae when that entity announced that it was going to add Cato to the vast list of Washington organizations and politicians on whom it showered its ill-gotten gains. We also, as it happens, got only 2 percent of our funding from corporations last year. The money that enables Cato to do its work comes overwhelmingly from 15,000 individual contributors.

So Diane Rehm’s question is much more valid in our case: Do you visit the Cato website or enjoy seeing our scholars on television and in the newspapers? Do you value the work we do on behalf of liberty and limited government? Are you a Sponsor? If not, shouldn’t you become a Sponsor and help make sure we can continue and expand that work?

And if you are a Sponsor, thank you!

Mark Penn Mourns the Plight of Libertarian Voters

Mark Penn, who has been a pollster and consultant to the presidential campaigns of Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Anderson, and Ross Perot, writes about political discontent in Britain and the United States in the Washington Post today, noting that in this country

socially liberal and fiscally conservative voters believe, especially after what happened with health care, that they have no clear choice: They must sign on with the religious right or the economic left.

Exactly the point that David Kirby and I have been making in our studies on the libertarian vote, as in the first line of this January study:

Libertarian — or fiscally conservative, socially liberal — voters are often torn between their aversions to the Republicans’ social conservatism and the Democrats’ fiscal irresponsibility.

Libertarian-leaning voters are a large swing vote, and they do indeed find problems with both parties. As parties increasingly cater to their “base,” libertarian-leaning independents find themselves dissatisfied with both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. We noted in our first study, “The Libertarian Vote,” that according to the 2004 exit polls, “28 million Bush voters support[ed] either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples” and “17 million Kerry voters … thought government should not … ‘do more to solve problems.’” That was 45 million voters who didn’t seem to fit neatly into the red-blue, liberal-conservative dichotomy.

But Penn is on less solid ground in his next line:

It is just a matter of time before they demand their own movement or party.

Movement, maybe. The Ron Paul campaign certainly appealed to antiwar, small-government voters. And the Tea Party movement focuses almost exclusively on economic and constitutional issues, making it more appealing to libertarians than typical conservative organizations. Meanwhile, as the Tea Party opposition to the Democrats’ big-government opposition surges, so does progress toward marriage equality and rational drug reform. Maybe those various libertarian-leaning groups will find each other. But a new party is a much bigger challenge. It’s no accident that the only third party that achieved even modest success in recent history was headed a billionaire who was also a celebrity, Ross Perot. Ballot access laws, campaign finance restrictions, exclusion of third-party candidates from debates and media coverage, single-member districts – all make it difficult to start a successful third party. It may also be the case that moderates, who tend not to be very angry, and libertarians, who don’t really much like politics, are particularly ill suited to undertake the massive amount of work that a new party requires.

But Penn is absolutely right to point to the plight of “socially liberal and fiscally conservative voters,” forced in every election to ”sign on with the religious right or the economic left.”

Want a Free Vacation? Move to Europe

I recently returned from a short vacation – had to get it in before the Supreme Court begins announcing decisions in this year’s big cases and the president nominates a replacement for Justice Stevens – but it seems that I’m a chump for paying for it myself.  While I was gone, the EU’s commissioner for enterprise and industry, one Antonio Tajani, declared that vacationing is a human right, one that ought to be paid for by the taxpayers:

Tajani, who unveiled his plan last week at a ministerial conference in Madrid, believes the days when holidays were a luxury have gone. “Travelling for tourism today is a right. The way we spend our holidays is a formidable indicator of our quality of life,” he said.

Tajani, who used to be transport commissioner, said he had been able to “affirm the rights of passengers” in his previous office and the next step was to ensure people’s “right to be tourists”.

As Dave Barry would say, I’m not making this up:

Tajani’s programme will be piloted until 2013 and then put into full operation. It will be open to pensioners and anyone over 65, young people between 18 and 25, families facing “difficult social, financial or personal” circumstances and disabled people. The disabled and the elderly can be accompanied by one person.

In the initial phase, northern Europeans will be encouraged to visit southern Europe and vice versa. Details of how participants are chosen have not yet been finalised, but it is expected the EU will subsidise about 30% of the cost.

Officials have envisaged sending south Europeans to Manchester and Liverpool on a tour of “archeological and industrial sites” such as closed factories and power plants.

With apologies to friends who are fans of the Man U and Liverpool soccer teams, I’m not sure those cities would be on my list of top 1000 places to visit.  But still this program illustrates the logical culmination – one logical culmination – of a view that government exists to provide all things to all people and that everyone has a “right” to whatever makes life good and pleasant and fulfilling.

Libertarians are often assailed for exaggerating the problems inherent in large, unlimited government, or of making ad abusurdum slippery slope arguments, or of having “outdated” views of political theory.  But really, when the “right” to a paid vacation is ensconced in so many countries’ laws, when it gets its own article (24) in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, is it that far-fetched for someone to come up with an actual state-provided vacation? Apparently Spain has already been doing it.

Behind Every Law Is Force

That’s one lesson that this video of a drug raid should drive home.

Warning: Graphic Language and Material

In America today, lawmaking is discussed much too casually.  The consequences are not seriously considered.  We allow agencies to issue regulations without having a formal vote in the legislature.  “Too cumbersome.”  Compliance is automatically assumed.  Few want to consider whether the use of brute force can be justified against someone who resists, or the danger that might be created for the innocent who get swept up in investigations.   We now have thousands of rules and regulations on the books.

We suffered through the painful lessons of liquor prohibition, but have been slow to see the parallels in the drug war.  A few years ago, Cato published a report on these paramilitary raids, called Overkill. The author of that study, Radley Balko, has been vigilant about highlighting these raids and dispelling the idea that they are just a few “isolated incidents.”

More on the drug war here.