Tag: Reason

Reason’s “Obamacare Video Contest Song”

Lyrics:

What’s hated by unions

has businesses wary

and dropping coverage 

like the ‘Skins secondary?

Causing thousands of layoffs

taking it’s toll?

What’s so good for people

that they’re forced to enroll?

What’s a law that’s so good

folks who passed and defended it

see it and got waivers

to be exempted? It’s

like Olestra, at first 

it sounded hip

but we quickly found ourselves

dealing with a whole lot of sh…

Obamacare, Obamacare

Unions and businesses both in despair

So to recap, young people,

your hours get cut

and your income goes down

and your premium’s up

and the taxes you pay

with the cash you have left

go to pay for a stupid 

video contest, touting

Obamacare, Obamacare

Unions and businesses both in despair

It’s hated by doctors and unions are mad.

Not since Billy Ray Cyrus 

has someone made something this bad.

Olympic Myths, Ancient and Modern

The Olympics are starting, which means that alongside the parade of athletes, we face a parade of grandees trying to use the Games for their own purposes.  The International Olympic Committee thinks that this multi-billion-dollar sports spectacle is really some sort of movement for world peace, while domestic politicians see the Olympics as a canvas on which to project their views on economics, international trade, environmental policy, and anything else they can dream up.

They’re all full of it.  As I explain in the Huffington Post,

The ancient reality could not have been further from these modern misconceptions, as Greek armies routinely violated the Olympic truce, sometimes battling in the Olympic sanctuary itself. Individual achievement was valued much more than participation, and wealth superceded ideology.

Pindar, the lyric poet whose odes tell us much of what we know about the early Olympians, wrote at the behest and patronage of wealthy athletes, who sought personal glory rather than the vindication of their city-state and its political system. The great champion Alcibiades used his prestige to gain fame and riches, often at the expense of “national interest.”  … .

Under today’s conditions of globalization – cultural homogenization, economic interdependence, decline of the nation-state even with respect to our enemies in war – international athletic competition assumes an ever-more parallel course to that of the world at large. As with all sporting events, the Olympics of the past two decades have become exponentially more entertainment-oriented. Even the proliferation of crass commercialism is a positive step because it returns the Olympics to the role they fulfill best: providing a forum for the globe’s finest athletes to show the rest of us a good time.

The Olympics now bring us the absolute best, without regard to color, creed, contract, or the Iron Curtain. The nature of the Olympic “movement,” meanwhile, has returned to the entertainment, ritual, and indeed athletic value of the original Games.

Ira Stoll makes a similar point at Reason.

Which isn’t to say that the Olympics are no good – I love them so much that I wrote my master’s thesis on their post-Cold War transformation – but that in enjoying them you shouldn’t read in anything other than that you’re watching the best athletes in the world show their stuff.

Let the Games begin!

The War on Cameras Continues

High drama in Miami. Carlos Miller provides a good summary (H/T Radley):

Miami Beach police did their best to destroy a citizen video that shows them shooting a man to death in a hail of bullets Memorial Day.

First, police pointed their guns at the man who shot the video, according to a Miami Herald interview with the videographer.

Then they ordered the man and his girlfriend out the car and threw them down to the ground, yelling “you want to be fucking paparazzi?”

Then they snatched the cell phone from his hand and slammed it to the ground before stomping on it. Then they placed the smashed phone in the videographer’s back pocket as he was laying down on the ground.

And finally, they took him to a mobile command center where they snapped his photo and demanded the phone again, then took him to police headquarters where they conducted a recorded interview with him before releasing him.

But what they didn’t know was that Narces Benoit had removed the SIM card and hid it in his mouth, which means the video survived.

Here is the video:

There’s more at the Miami Herald. For more on this trend, check out Reason’s coverage of the war on cameras and this Cato forum with the Maryland prosecutor who tried to prosecute a motorcyclist for recording a state police officer that performed a traffic stop at gunpoint. Cato’s video Cops on Camera discusses the accountability that citizen journalism can bring to law enforcement.

The Growing Chorus for Criminal Justice Reform

The American criminal justice system has long been flawed. This probably isn’t news to you. What is news is the emergence of a broad chorus of organizations and leaders from across the political spectrum speaking out in support of serious reform. A few examples:

The Smart on Crime Coalition released its recommendations (and in pdf) for the 112th Congress, providing ways that the federal government can help fix the criminal justice system. Congress creates, on average, a new criminal offense every week. The urge to overcriminalize just about everything needs to be replaced with serious thought about how broadly Congress writes laws so that the drive to lock up a few bad actors does not make felons of a large portion of the citizenry.

The Smart on Crime report also points out the need for reform of asset forfeiture laws, building on the excellent Policing for Profit report produced by the Institute for Justice last year.

Conservatives see the need for reform as well. Right on Crime makes the case for a number of policy changes that not only focus law enforcement resources but aim to save taxpayer dollars.

Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, a signatory to Right on Crime’s Statement of Principles, points to recent reforms in Texas at National Review:

When the Lone Star State’s incarceration rates were cut by 8 percent, the crime rate actually dropped by 6 percent. Texas did not simply release the prisoners, however. Instead, it placed them under community supervision, in drug courts, and in short-term intermediate sanctions and treatment facilities. Moreover, it linked the funding of the supervision programs to their ability to reduce the number of probationers who returned to prison. These strategies saved Texas $2 billion on prison construction. Does this mean Texas has gotten “soft on crime”? Certainly not. The Texas crime rate has actually dropped to its lowest level since 1973.

The lesson from Texas is that conservatives can push reforms that both keep Americans safe and save money, but only if we return to conservative principles of local control, performance-based funding, and free-market innovation.

As Radley Balko recently wrote at Reason, there are points where libertarians and conservatives will differ, but there is cause for optimism in the recognition that we can’t continue to lock up so many of our citizens. The United States accounts for 5% of the world’s population, yet 23% of the world’s reported prisoners. Hopefully Jim Webb’s National Criminal Justice Commission Act will end his Senate career on a positive note, and prompt serious changes to the way that the states and federal government deal with crime.

To gain an appreciation of the scope of the problem, check out Tim Lynch’s In the Name of Justice: Leading Experts Reexamine the Classic Article “The Aims of the Criminal Law” and Harvey Silverglate’s Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.

Does Risk Management Counsel in Favor of a Biometric Traveler Identity System?

Writing on Reason’s Hit & Run blog, Robert Poole argues that the Transportation Security Administration should use a risk-based approach to security. As I noted in my recent “’Strip-or-Grope’ vs. Risk Management” post, the Department of Homeland Security often talks about risk but fails to actually do risk management. Poole and I agree—everyone agrees—that DHS should use risk management. They just don’t.

With the pleasure of remembering our excellent 2005 Reason debate, “Transportation Security Aggravation,” I must again differ with Poole’s prescription, however.

Poole says TSA should separate travelers into three basic groups (quoting at length):

  1. Trusted Travelers, who have passed a background check and are issued a biometric ID card that proves (when they arrive at the security checkpoint) that they are the person who was cleared. This group would include cockpit crews, anyone holding a government security clearance, anyone already a member of the Department of Homeland Security’s Global Entry, Sentri, and Nexus, and anyone who applied and was accepted into a new Trusted Traveler program. These people would get to bypass regular security lanes  upon having their biometric card checked at the airport, subject only to random screening of a small fraction.
  2. High-risk travelers, either those about whom no information is known or who are flagged by the various Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intelligence lists as warranting “Selectee” status. They would be the only ones facing body-scanners or pat-downs as mandatory, routine screening.
  3. Ordinary travelers—basically everyone else, who would go through metal detector and put carry-ons through 2-D X-ray machines. They would not have to remove shoes or jackets, and could travel with liquids. A small fraction of this group would be subject to random “Selectee”-type screening.

He believes, and has argued for years, that dividing ”good guys” from “bad guys” will effectively secure. It’s certainly intuitive. Poole’s a good guy. I’m a good guy. You’re a good guy (in a non-gender-specific sense).

Knowing who people are works for us in every day life: Because we can find people who borrow our stuff, for example—and because we know that we can be found—we husband our behavior and generally don’t steal things from each other, we, the decent people with a stake in society.

Poole’s thinking takes our common experience and scales it up to a national program. Capture people’s identities, link enough biography to those identities, and—voila!—we know who the good guys are and who are the (potential) bad.

But precisely what biographical information assures that a person is “good”? (The proposal is for government action: it would be a violation of due process to keep the criteria secret and an equal protection violation to unfairly divide good and bad.) How do we know a person hasn’t gone bad from the time that their goodness was established?

The attacker we face with air security measures is not among the decent cohort whose behavior is channeled by identification. That attacker’s path to mischief is nicely mapped out by Poole’s proposal: Get into the Trusted Traveler group, or find someone who can get in it. (It’s easy to know if you’re a part of it. They give you a card! You can also test the system to see if you’ve been designated “high-risk” or “ordinary.”)

With a Trusted Traveler positioned to do wrong, chances are good that he or she won’t be subjected to screening and can carry whatever dangerous articles onto a plane. The end result? Predictable gnashing of teeth and wailing about a “failure to connect the dots.”

All this is not to say that Poole’s plan should not be adopted. If he can convince an airline of its merits, and the airline can convince its shareholders, insurers, airports, and their customers, they should implement the program to their heart’s content. They should reap the economic gain, too, when they prove that they have found a way to better serve the public’s safety, convenience, privacy, and transportation needs.

It is the TSA that should not implement this program. Along with what are significant security defects, it is the creation of a program that the government might use to control access to other goods, services, and infrastructure throughout society. The TSA would migrate toward conditioning all travel on having a government-issued biometric identity card. Fundamentally, the government should not be making these decisions or operating airline security systems.

A very interesting paper surfaced by recent public attention to this issue predicts that annual highway deaths will increase (from an already significant number) by between 11 and 275 because of people’s avoidance of privacy-invasive airport procedures. But what caught my eye in it were the following numbers:

During the past decade, terrorist attacks, with respect to air travel in the United States, have occurred three times involving six aircraft. Four planes were hijacked on 9/11, the shoe bomber incident occurred in December 2001, and, most recently, the Christmas Day underwear bomber attempted an attack in 2009. In that same span of time, over 99 million planes took off and landed within the United States, carrying over 7 billion passengers.

Especially because 9/11’s ”commandeering” attack on air travel has been essentially foreclosed by hardened cockpit doors and passenger/crew awareness, these numbers suggest the smallness of the chance that somone can elude worldwide investigatory pressure, prepare an explosive and detonator that actually work, smuggle both through conventional security, and successfully use them to take down a plane. It hasn’t happened in nearly 100 million flights.

This is not an argument to “let up” on security or to stop searching for measures that will cost-effectively drive the chance of attacker success even closer to zero.  But more thorough risk management analysis than mine or Bob Poole’s would probably show that accepting the above risk is preferable to either delaying and invading the bodily privacy of travelers or creating a biometric identity and background-check system.

Embed the Raidmap

Cato Fellow Radley Balko highlighted the trend toward heavy-handed police practices in Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. Radley continues to chronicle police abuses at The Agitator and Reason. Recent examples of police excesses include the unnecessary death of seven-year old Aiyana Jones in Detroit and this raid on an innocent elderly couple in Chicago (immigrants who fled the Soviet Union because of oppression).

One of the fruits of Radley’s research was the Raidmap, a Google map application that allows you to see the scope of this epidemic of “isolated incidents.” You can also sort botched raids by category: death of an innocent, raid on an innocent suspect, death or injury of an officer, death of a nonviolent offender, unnecessary raids on doctors and sick people, and other examples of paramilitary police excess.


View Original Map and Database

Now you can embed the Raidmap on your website or blog as seen below. The code is on the Raidmap page.

Pass it on.

John Stagliano’s Obscenity Trial

Pornography producer John Stagliano is on trial in Washington, D.C., accused of interstate trafficking of obscenity. Reason has been producing workmanlike coverage of the trial.

Setting aside the constitutionally difficult prospect of defining obscenity, the trial is replete with procedural anomalies that call into question the basic fairness of the proceedings.

District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that Stagliano cannot use expert witnesses, and shut the press out of the jury selection process (which, after a full week, has yet to finish). Things don’t bode well for a free and open trial: The courtroom monitors that will display the crucial evidence are all arranged to be out of the sightlines of press and interested citizens, viewable only by jurors and lawyers. If the press and the public cannot see the evidence, how will we know if the trial is fair?

One of the proposed expert witnesses for the defense is University of California Santa Barbara Film Studies Professor Constance Penley, who would have testified to the artistic value of the indicted films. Artistic value is one of the characteristics of non-obscene materials, so this cripples Stagliano’s defense from the outset. Reason’s interview with Penley is available here.

The judge has even kept the jury selection questionnaire’s secret. Richard Abowitz is covering the trial for Reason. His latest dispatch is available here. Read the whole thing. Additional coverage from The Blog of Legal Times is available here. Full disclosure: Stagliano is a former Cato donor.

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