Up Is Down, Black Is White, and Democracy Is Dictatorship

Europe’s political elitists are not very happy with the unwashed masses. First, French and Dutch voters had the unmitigated gall a couple of years ago to reject the European Union’s proposed constitution. In an effort to sidestep the democratic process, the political elite then made a few cosmetic changes to the document and called it a treaty, hoping this would enable national governments to bypass their voters. Much to their chagrin, however, Irish politicians could not figure out how to sidestep their nation’s referendum requirement, and the people of the Emerald Isle proceeded to reject the statist EU constitution (now officially referred to as the Lisbon Treaty). This led to a frenzy of anti-democratic utterances from the political class, but the prize for the most Orwellian response goes (what a surprise) to a French politician, who just stated that allowing voters to decide is “a tool for dictators.” He also wins a secondary prize for his assertion that the EU constitution, which would have granted even more power to undemocratic bureaucratic institutions in Brussels, is needed “to grant our citizens more power.” The Irish Times reports:

Alain Lamassoure MEP tells Jamie Smyth , European Correspondent, Ireland was wrong to hold a referendum, which is ‘a tool for dictators’. …”We are paralysed by the unanimity rule and we pass legislation through undemocratic procedures … we have a duty to grant our citizens more power,” he said.

Passport Snooping Scandal Grows

From the Washington Post:

Government workers repeatedly snooped without authorization inside the electronic passport records of entertainers, athletes and other high-profile Americans, a State Department audit has found. One celebrity’s records were breached 356 times by more than six dozen people.

The Inspector General compiled a list of popular and interesting people, then examined the number of accesses to their files.

As the investigation continues down the chain — and it should — it is very likely to find that ordinary citizens’ data was accessed too — not out of curiosity, but for the purposes of committing identity theft. More than 20,000 people in the State Department and Department of Homeland Security had access to the electronic system that maintained the passport records. There’s a bad seed or two in any group that size.

The IG has issued numerous recommendations for improvement, likely things that should have been implemented long ago. But know one thing: Security risks like this are an inseparable product of government policies that collect personal information in databases and then make it widely accessible. Proponents of national ID systems like REAL ID and the nationwide government background check system envisioned by E-Verify may dream about them being secure, but it’s just a dream.

More on passport snooping here and here.

When the Police ‘Take the Fifth’

Local incident here in the DC suburb of Prince George’s County:  The police are trying to solve a murder, but they can’t get useful information from certain key witnesses–even though those witnesses are themselves law enforcement officers. 

It sounds quite odd until you hear the additional details.  The murder victim was suspected of killing a police officer in the line of duty.  Seems like police vigilantism.  Marc Fisher has a good column about the death of Ron White here.  And the Washington Post has an editorial here.

This incident provides me with a rare opportunity to criticize the Supreme Court for carrying a provision of the Bill of Rights too far.  To briefly digress, never accept the blithe assertion that “sometimes the courts mistakenly expand the government’s powers and sometimes the courts mistakenly expand the constitutional rights of individuals.”  That’s true, but very misleading because it sounds as if it all evens out in the end.  Not true.

In Garrity v. New Jersey, the Supreme Court said police officers could “take the Fifth” with respect to internal investigations into police misconduct.  Now police officers, like anyone else, can “take the Fifth” when threatened with arrest and prosecution.  However, they should not be able to take the Fifth when they are threatened with the loss of their job.  Or, to be more precise, they can invoke the Fifth if they choose, but the police chief can then respond by demanding that they turn in their badges.  The dissenting opinion in Garrity contains this quote from one Judge Jerome Frank:

 “ ‘Duty required them to answer. Privilege permitted them to refuse to answer. They chose to exercise the privilege, but the exercise of such privilege was wholly inconsistent with their duty as police officers. They claim that they had a constitutional right to refuse to answer under the circumstances, but … they had no constitutional right to remain police officers in the face of their clear violation of the duty imposed upon them.’ Christal v. Police Commission of San Francisco.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, men may have the right to remain silent, but they do not have the constitutional right to be police officers.  Holmes was right and Garrity was wrong. 

Returning now to the apparent murder of Ron White in his jail cell, the silence of the correctional officers is simply inexcusable.  County officials should give these officers an ultimatum: You have 24 hours to come forward and tell us what you know.  Anyone who remains silent will be discharged.  And, note well, the criminal investigation will continue in any event.  The local police union will object, but let it.  Garrity was decided by a narrow, 5-4 vote.  It was incorrectly decided and ought to be overturned.  This case could be the perfect vehicle for accomplishing just that.

Under current law, citizens can lose their jobs and risk jail for refusing to cooperate with private investigators.  It is perverse for the law to permit a double standard for state employees–especially the police.  One would think that the law would hold the police to a higher standard here.

State-Worship, McCain Style

Here’s a snip from John McCain’s Parade magazine essay on patriotism:

Patriotism is deeper than its symbolic expressions, than sentiments about place and kinship that move us to hold our hands over our hearts during the national anthem. It is putting the country first, before party or personal ambition, before anything. (emphasis mine)

Before anything? I always thought the Buckley clan had some insights on prioritization of duties.

Post Editorial on FISA

Disturbed that a public outcry over retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies might snarl the FISA “compromise” in the Senate, this Washington Post editorial calls the debate: “A particularly disturbing example of the Internet tail wagging the legislative dog.”

Others might call it democracy.

The editorial goes on:

No one can claim with certainty that his or her communications were monitored. The likelihood of prevailing – or even getting very far – with such lawsuits is low. The litigation seems aimed as much at using the tools of discovery to dislodge information about what the administration actually did as it is at redressing unknown injuries.

Leaving aside the question of whether uncertainty about whether someone is listening to your calls isn’t itself a harm sufficient for standing, you have to wonder why the Post thinks that dislodging information about an illegal wiretapping programs is nefarious.

It goes on to discuss the telecoms:

Punishing them by forcing them to endure the cost and hassle of lawsuits would be counterproductive to securing such cooperation in the future, while offering little prospect of a useful outcome.

Preventing their cooperation in future illegal activity at the behest the President seems like a useful outcome to me.

Not a Last Resort, but a “Never” Resort

An article at Doublethink Online quotes me as saying the following regarding Medicare reform:

Cannon asserts that: “For Medicare, we have to realize we simply cannot provide unlimited amounts of free healthcare to every senior. We only have two options: bring more money in or cut benefits. If we simply increase taxes, they would eventually reach 40 percent of GDP. We shouldn’t arbitrarily cut back, either. We are better off finding an amount of money that we can spend per senior on healthcare, and allow them to choose their own options according to the spending guidelines…Politically, you may need to raise taxes, but it should be a last resort.”

Hmm.  Doesn’t.  Sound.  Like.  Me.  The first (positive) part of that sentence certainly could be true.  But the second (normative) part legitimizes something I think is categorically illegitimate.  I consider tax increases not a last resort, but a “never” resort. 

I can hear Josh Patashnik now…