Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

The Perverse Incentives of Eminent Domain

Over at the Show-Me Institute’s blog, my former colleague Dave Stokes notices a great example of the kind of damage eminent domain has done to our economy:

Kevin Minden studied a map of the future Mississippi River bridge, looking for clues as to how it might affect his engine rebuilding shop.

One of the connector ramps will run a few blocks from his building, which has him concerned that the bridge might lead to a development boom. Minden fears losing his land to a developer.

“Everything in that area is old,” Minden said. “What are they wanting people to see when they drive across?”

Of course in a rational world, business owners would welcome a development boom because it would mean more business and higher property values. But under the eminent domain laws currently in force in Missouri, re-development is a threat to existing business owners, especially smaller ones, who are likely to be pushed out of the way to make room for new shopping malls, big-box retail stores, and the like. It’s a serious problem. I documented Missouri’s flawed eminent domain laws in a study for the Show-Me Institute last year, but the problem certainly isn’t limited to the Show-Me state. In last year’s eminent domain report card from the Institute for Justice, only five states had done the kind of comprehensive reform necessary to earn an “A” grade, while almost half of states—Missouri included—received a “D” or “F” grade, suggesting that they have done little or nothing to strengthen property rights. Further reforms are needed to ensure that property owners in all 50 states can be secure in the knowledge that they won’t be shoved aside for the benefit of another private party.

Lieberman: Censor

The Google Public Policy blog has a write up of the company’s recent interactions with Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and his staff regarding some videos hosted on YouTube.

Senator Lieberman thinks that certain terrorism videos shouldn’t be displayed. Well, actually, a U.S. Senator has no business telling anyone what information should or shouldn’t be published. Congress can pass a law on the subject, which law would never pass First Amendment muster.

Perhaps Senator Lieberman thinks that censoring communications is some kind of anti-terrorism policy. Advocacy of terrorism of glorification of terrorist acts is stupid and dastardly, but the cure for bad speech is more speech or better speech, not censorship.

REAL ID Update From the Upper Midwest

The upper Midwest is where the REAL ID action is these days. Our national ID law is getting its airing in the lands of lutefisk and cheese.

In Minnesota, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) vetoed an entire transportation bill to spike anti-REAL ID provisions that the legislature had included. The legislature turned around and passed a free-standing anti-REAL ID bill with a veto-proof majority.

Now Pawlenty is seeking to make patsies of the legislature. Along with vetoing the new bill, he issued an executive order that would prevent Minnesota’s full compliance with the federal Real ID program before June 1, 2009 unless the legislature approves. That sounds good - until you realize that the Department of Homeland Security’s current deadline for even pledging to comply is October 11, 2009.

Pawlenty’s executive order conceded nothing to his state’s legislators, whom he’s treating as dupes.

Turning to Wisconsin, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s (R) advocacy for REAL ID has garnered himself an opponent in the state’s September 9 Republican primary. Jim Burkee, an associate professor of history at Concordia University Wisconsin, has published a thorough piece on REAL ID, titled “‘The Sensenbrenner Tax’ Abandons True Conservatism.”

Rep. Sensenbrenner reportedly soured the Wisconsin Republican Party’s convention by trashing fellow Republicans over their reluctance to go along with the national ID law. A week ago, he leveled a shrill attack on the Wisconsin governor when Governor Doyle (D) announced plans to take more than $20 million out of the state’s REAL ID account and transfer it into the state’s general fund.

Watch this space for more interesting developments.

Rep. Tom Davis, Republican Brand Mangler - Er, Manager

In the opening segment of this week’s Washington Week on PBS, Representative Tom Davis (R-VA) commented on the viability of the Republican party in the upcoming elections: “The Republican brand name - if you were to put this on a dog food - the owners would just take it off the shelf because nobody’s buying it.”

Davis has more than a little responsibility for these circumstances. He’s been a consistent cheerleader of the REAL ID Act, for example, the moribund national ID law. He has consistently pressed and promoted REAL ID. He claimed that imposing $17 billion in costs on state governments is not an unfunded mandate, and pretended like shaking $50 million in federal money loose made any difference. Davis saluted the final regulations when they were issued earlier this year.

In a REAL ID story including Davis, Federal Computer Week saw fit to note that he “represents a Northern Virginia district heavily populated by federal employees and government contractors.”

P.J. O’Rourke comments in the most recent Cato’s Letter: “It took a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives 40 years—from 1954 to 1994—to get … corrupt and arrogant, and the Republicans did it in just 12.” Being wrong on liberty, even in service to your district’s government contractors, is not good for your party’s brand, Mr. Davis.

The Onion Couldn’t Have Topped This: Arlen Specter’s Spying Scandal

Wired’s Threat Level blog has a great post about Arlen Specter’s effort to get to the bottom of a recent spying scandal. Not, mind you, the Bush administration’s various warantless wiretapping programs, but rather spying among football coaches in the NFL:

Apparently real-world warrantless spying isn’t as egregious as snooping on opposing NFL coaches.

Specter and other lawmakers initially talked tough when The New York Times disclosed Bush’s spying program in 2005. “There is no doubt that this is inappropriate,” Specter said at the time.

But Congress, including Specter, eventually passed the Protect America Act, which allowed government officials to eavesdrop in the United States on telephone conversations and e-mails without warrants, if the target of the surveillance is “reasonably believed” to be overseas.

And now, with the warrantless wiretapping issue still simmering, Specter believes that the most pressing spying issue in the country involves coaches taping each others’ hand signals.