Tag: New York

The John Yoo Theory of Gun Control

A modest proposal: Suppose that we decide to streamline our inefficient criminal justice system by treating people under suspicion of involvement with violent crime—whether or not they’ve been arrested, charged, or even informed of this suspicion—as equivalent to convicted felons.  Suppose, then, that we permit them to be stripped of certain constitutionally protected rights at the discretion of the executive branch.

Outrageous?  Some depraved brainchild of the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel?  Actually, it’s the editorial position of The New York Times:

Under federal law, people who pose a heightened risk of violence cannot buy or own firearms, including convicted felons, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill and several other categories. Suspected terrorist is not one them.

Individuals on the government’s terrorist watch list can be barred from boarding airplanes, but not from purchasing high-powered guns or explosives. Bipartisan legislation in both houses of Congress would end this ridiculous loophole, commonly known as the “terror gap.

The Times does note, before dismissing the fact with the wave of a hand, that “thousands” of people have been found to be on the list improperly.  But let’s linger a bit longer over this.  The terrorist watch list, at last count, boasted about a million entries.  When you eliminate variant spellings and duplicate entries—and rest assured that this would be another enormous source of problems—there are about 400,000 unique individuals on the list, of whom some 20,000 are Americans. Thousands more are nominated for inclusion on the list each week.

Employ, for a moment, some common sense and arithmetic. The 9/11 attacks were carried out by 19 people. (I should add: 19 people armed with box cutters.) If even one percent of those 20,000 were truly intent on staging violent domestic attacks, doesn’t it seem likely we would have noticed? To be sure, some small subset of them really are serious threats. They are probably the very people the government is actively investigating, and would prefer not to tip off by, say, having their attempted gun purchases denied.

There’s also, of course, an almost heartwarming faith in formal process here.  I can imagine circumstances where blocking someone at a point of sale might prevent bloodshed—some guy in the heat of passion or the haze of liquor acting on impulse to settle a score. But trained and fanatically committed terrorists, backed by the resources of an international network, who typically spend months or even years plotting significant operations? Are they serious? How does that conversation go? “No, no, I’m sorry Osama.  Yes, the Wal-Mart clerk, she would not sell us a pistol! I know, and after Ayman went to all that trouble making our fake passports by hand. I was disappointed too.  But I guess we’d better scrap the plan and head back to Yemen.”

What the other categories of “risky” people the Times lists have in common is  that they’ve been determined to be dangerous by a court, which is normally the process by which we go about depriving people of their rights. It seems perverse to depart from that principle precisely for the category of suspects least likely to be hampered by these sorts of limitations.

A Victory for Property Rights

Ilya Shapiro warns us that the U.S. Supreme Court probably will not uphold property rights in a case involving Florida beachfront property.  But property rights did receive an unexpected boost in New York yesterday, where an appeals court overturned a taking for the benefit of Columbia University.

Reports the New York Times:

A New York appeals court ruled Thursday that the state could not use eminent domain on behalf of Columbia University to obtain parts of a 17-acre site in Upper Manhattan, setting back plans for a satellite campus at a time of discord over government power to acquire property.

In a 3-to-2 decision, a panel of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Manhattan annulled the state’s 2008 decision to take property for the expansion project, saying that its condemnation procedure was unconstitutional.

The majority opinion was scathing in its appraisal of how the “scheme was hatched,” using terms like “sophistry” and “idiocy” in describing how the state went about declaring the neighborhood blighted, the main prerequisite for eminent domain.

The $6.3 billion expansion plan is not dead; an appeal has been promised, and Columbia still controls most of the land. But at a time when the government’s use of eminent domain on behalf of private interests has become increasingly controversial, the ruling was a boon for opponents.

“I feel unbelievable,” said Nicholas Sprayregen, the owner of several self-storage warehouses in the Manhattanville expansion area and one of two property owners who have refused to sell to the university. “I was always cautiously optimistic. But I was aware we were going against 50 years of unfair cases against property owners.”

New York state is not a particularly friendly venue to property rights, but the judges rightly saw through the claims made by state official to justify seizing property from a private person for the benefit of a private organization.  The ruling could be reversed, but nevertheless is an important affirmation that property rights warrant constitutional and legal protection even in New York.

Schumer Fouls Out

Chuck Schumer is perhaps my favorite U.S. Senator because of his endless capacity to make me laugh.  He often reminds me of Inspector Clouseau, the earnest but bumbling detective from the Pink Panther movies.

Through an excellent post by Scott Lincome today, I learned not only that official NBA jerseys (those worn by the players) are made for Adidas in upstate New York, but that Senator Schumer is attempting to thwart the company’s decision to move production to Thailand. 

I share Scott’s assessment of the absurdity of Schumer’s efforts, but more importantly, I wanted to share this humorous footage of Schumer’s awkward nativist appeal that basketball is an American-centric game….conducted in front of German-born NBA Star Dirk Nowitski’s jersey. 

Classic!

The Third Strategic Actor

I agree with Chris Preble’s assessment of Steve Simon’s opinion piece in the New York Times Tuesday. Why We Should Put Jihad on Trial” is animated by a sound understanding of the strategic logic of terrorism. Simon knows that the proper response is outclassing terrorists in terms of ideology and legitimacy. Trying KSM transparently in New York is just, and doing justice is powerful counterterrorism. The procedural and security fears about it are poorly founded.

It’s useful to compare another opinion piece, written with welcome thought and care, but missing a key point about counterterrorism. In “Holder’s al Qaeda Incentive Plan,” Wall Street Journal “Main Street” columnist William McGurn assesses the incentive structure terrorists face if they are accorded the niceties of a trial should they attack civilians in the United States, compared to the rough treatment they would and should expect were they caught attacking U.S. troops on a foreign battlefield.

It’s a troublesome irony, and it’s very smart on McGurn’s part to game out the thinking of terrorists rather than indulging impulses to react as they would have us do. But terrorists are not the actors a trial in New York is most meant to influence.

In her book, How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns, U.S. National War College professor of strategy Audrey Kurth Cronin writes:

Most people think of terrorism as a dichotomous struggle between a group and a government. However, given their highly leveraged nature, terrorist campaigns involve three strategic actors—the group, the government, and the audience—arrayed in a kind of terrorist “triad.” More specifically, the three dimensions are the group that uses terrorism to achieve an objective, the government representing the direct target of their attacks, and the audiences who are influenced by the violence.

Similarly, at Cato’s counterterrorism conference, I argued that terrorism seeks to induce overreaction on the part of victim states, driving support to terrorists from their geographical and ideological neighbors. Declining to overreact, and having the discipline to meticulously accord terror suspects fair treatment, dissipates the gains terrorists want and expect: increased support from their neighbors.

This is why a public trial—for all its costs and complexities—is worth doing. It’s to gain advantage with the third strategic actor.

Tuesday Links

  • Dear members of Congress: If you’re not going to read the bills you pass,  at least read the Constitution. Don’t fret; it’s short and written in plain English.
  • NYC: “The city that never smokes.” A proposal to ban lighting up in New York’s parks has exposed the puritanical agenda behind the crusade against smoking.
  • Tyler Cowen: With health care costs high and rising, government mandates to buy insurance would make many people worse off.

The Improving State of New York City, circa 1800-2007

Two figures that say it all.

200910_blog_goklany1Death Rates (deaths per 1,000 population), New York City, c. 1800-2007. Source: NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. Summary of Vital Statistics (2008). H/T to William Briggs for making me aware of this figure.

200910_blog_goklany2Infant Mortality Rate (deaths per 1,000 live births), New York City, 1898-2007. In 1898 IMR was estimated to be 140.9 Because of incomplete reporting of early neonatal deaths, this is almost certainly an underestimate. In 2007 IMR was 5.4 deaths per 1,000 live births. Source: NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. Summary of Vital Statistics (2008)

Revenge of the Laffer Curve, Part II

An earlier post revealed that higher tax rates in Maryland were backfiring, leading to less revenue from upper-income taxpayers. It seems New York politicians are running into a similar problem. According to an AP report, the state’s 100 richest taxpayers have paid $1 billion less than expected following a big tax hike. The story notes that several rich people have left the state, and all three examples are about people who have redomiciled in Florida, which has no state income tax. For more background information on why higher taxes on the rich do not necessarily raise revenue, see this three-part Laffer Curve video series (here, here, and here):

Early data from New York show the higher tax rates for the wealthy have yielded lower-than-expected state wealth.

…[New York Governor David] Paterson said last week that revenues from the income tax increases and other taxes enacted in April are running about 20 percent less than anticipated.

…So far this year, half of about $1 billion in expected revenue from New York’s 100 richest taxpayers is missing.

…State officials say they don’t know how much of the missing revenue is because any wealthy New Yorkers simply left. But at least two high-profile defectors have sounded off on the tax changes: Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano, the billionaire who ran for governor three times and who was paying $13,000 a day in New York income taxes, and radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.

…Donald Trump told Fox News earlier this year that several of his millionaire friends were talking about leaving the state over the latest taxes.