False Suspicion and Cold Comfort

A post on the Washington DC/Metro Area Flickr users group has touched a nerve with readers of DCist, who are sharing stories of similar experiences in the comments.

D.C. area photographer “Yonas,” taking pictures in the Gallery Place Metro station, caught the eye of Metro Police who found it suspicious. They demanded identification and subjected the photographer to questioning.

This offends me about five different ways, but it provides a good opportunity to illustrate how suspicion is properly generated — and, in this case, how it is not properly generated — using patterns. The same concepts apply to the cop on the beat and the high-tech search through data.

I testified to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on data mining earlier this year regarding searches for terrorists and terrorism planning:

Pattern analysis is looking for a pattern in data that has two characteristics: (1) It is consistent with bad behavior, such as terrorism planning or crime; and (2) it is inconsistent with innocent behavior.

In … the classic Fourth Amendment case, Terry v. Ohio, …  a police officer saw Terry walking past a store multiple times, looking in furtively. This was (1) consistent with criminal planning (“casing” the store for robbery), and (2) inconsistent with innocent behavior — it didn’t look like shopping, curiosity, or unrequited love of a store clerk. The officer’s “hunch” in Terry can be described as a successful use of pattern analysis before the age of databases.

Recall that after 9/11 people were questioned and even arrested for taking pictures of bridges, monuments, and buildings. To common knowledge, photographing landmarks fits a pattern of terrorism planning. After all, terrorists need to case their targets. But photographing landmarks fits many patterns of innocent behavior also, such as tourism, photography as a hobby, architecture, and so on. This clumsy, improvised [pattern analysis] failed the second test of pattern development.

Photography on public property will almost never be suspicious enough to justify even the briefest interrogation. Photography is a serendipitous activity so it appropriately gets wide latitude. (Other facts could combine with public-location photography to create a suspicious circumstance on rare occasions, of course.)

It bears mentioning that regulations allow photography in Metro stations, but I don’t find regulation of this kind terribly comforting. It reminds me of Prague shortly after the Velvet Revolution, where I observed that people were consciously coming to grips with the revolutionary idea: “All that is not forbidden is allowed.” The prior state of affairs had been the opposite, “All that is not allowed is forbidden.” I hope this latter rule is not in force on our subways or anywhere else in this country.

Let’s Get One Thing Straight

As Washington gears up to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), you can expect to hear a lot of over-the top-rhetoric. “NCLB is working.” “The law is underfunded.” Things like that.

And then there’s this gem uttered yesterday by President Bush:

It’s really important for the citizens to understand that I’m a huge believer in the public school systems. I believe our public schools have really made America.

Now, a lot of the crazy rhetoric we’re going to be subjected to during reauthorization is going to need refutation, but let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: Public schooling — especially the super-centralized, big-government public schooling enshrined in NCLB — did NOT make America. That is a myth that’s been perpetuated to prop up failed public schooling for far too long, and it’s about time people stopped putting up with it.

As I discuss at some length in Why We Fight: How Public Schools Cause Social Conflict, and Marie Gryphon explains in detail in Our History of Educational Freedom: What It Should Mean for Families Today, public schooling imposed from above is not how education was delivered in America until relatively recently. During the nation’s colonial and Founding periods — when the United States was literally made — education was delivered almost exclusively through private and voluntary means and it worked very well. Indeed, that was the case until almost the end of the nineteenth century, when the progressive movement finally started closing the door on parental freedom and imposing centralized control over education.

And that’s when things started to really go downhill.

Centralizing control of education at higher and higher levels, and forcing all Americans to support public schooling with their tax dollars, has spurred constant fighting and done nothing to improve educational outcomes. Whether it’s been battles over the teaching of human origins, prayer in schools, multiculturalism, book-banning, sex education, phonics and whole language, or numerous other issues, government schooling has divided Americans while simultaneously giving government officials and bureaucrats a virtual, suffocating monopoly over American education.

What really built America is something quite the opposite of compulsory, centralized public schooling. Freedom — not big government — is what built this nation, rewarding hard work, driving innovation, attracting millions of immigrants to our shores, and unifying diverse ethnic and religious groups through their common desires for liberty and prosperity.

Freedom is what really built America, and it’s time that people stopped giving public schooling credit for its success.

If You’re in North Carolina …

I’ll be speaking tomorrow at the Security and Liberty Forum hosted by the Privacy and Technology Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and the Department of Computer Science, UNC-Chapel Hill.

That’s Saturday, April 14, 2007 from 1-5 p.m., Chapman Hall on the UNC Campus.

Behind China’s Headline Export Numbers

China overtook the United States in the second half of 2006 to become the world’s second leading exporter of goods. That fact, contained in a new report from the World Trade Organization and trumpeted in headlines around the country this morning, is bound to further rile up skeptics of America’s growing trade with China.

Although the United States exported more goods ($1,037 billion worth) in all of 2006 than China (which exported $969 billion), figures for the second half of the year show that China has now claimed the no. 2 spot behind Germany.

For those of a mercantilist mindset, to whom trade is all about exporting more than you import and more than the other guy, this news is guaranteed to be alarming. But the real news is nothing of the sort.

First, China is bound to move up in the world rankings of trade. It represents 20 percent of the world’s population, it is surrounded by thriving, trade-oriented economies, and its increasingly open and free economy has been growing at double-digit rates for more than a decade. We should welcome the news that China is more integrated than ever in the global economy.

Second, the United States continues to be a trade and export powerhouse. U.S. exports of goods grew 14 percent between 2005 and 2006, and surpassed $1 trillion for the first time ever. When combined with the $387 billion in services Americans sold abroad last year, we remain the world’s no. 1 exporter.

Third, most of the goods that China exports are in fact designed and in large part made in other countries, including the United States. “Assembled in China” would be a more accurate label than “Made in China” for most of its exports. More than half of China’s exports are made in foreign-owned factories. The most sophisticated components in the computers and other consumer electronics exported from China are in fact made in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the United States, and other, more advanced economies. China has become the final link in a deepening global supply chain. (For more detail, see my 2006 study on U.S. trade with China.)

Finally, trade is about more than exports. It’s about, well, trade. We export for the purpose of getting back things of even greater value. Americans benefit at least as much from imports as we do from exports. The $2.2 trillion in goods and services we imported last year make our lives better every day.

As author P.J. O’Rourke summarized in his terrific new book, On the Wealth of Nations, “To give [Adam] Smith’s case against mercantalism in extreme concision: imports are Christmas morning; exports are January’s MasterCard bill.” 

Romney Embarrassed about His Health Plan?

Michael Cannon writes below that the health insurance time bomb that presidential candidate Mitt Romney left for Massachusetts is “becoming less universal and less affordable all the time.” It’s also becoming less visible, at least in Romney’s campaign speeches, according to two new reports. Romney often fails to mention the plan, the only real accomplishment of his four years as governor, as he campaigns for the Republican nomination.

Both stories quote the plan’s leading critic, Michael Tanner. The Washington Post notes:

“This mandate is unprecedented,” said Michael Tanner, a health expert at the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. “It’s the first time a state has said simply because you live there you must buy a specific product. If he wants to be the Republican who embraces Hillary-care, I don’t think that’s going to go hand in hand with him trying to portray himself as Ronald Reagan’s heir.”

The Associated Press correctly identifies Cato as libertarian. AP also notes that the major supporter of the plan, the Heritage Foundation, is standing by it in a new report, which says it is “already showing progress.”

By this time next month, Heritage may be alone. Romney may well have become a leading opponent of Romneycare. After all, a man capable of reversing his views on abortion, gay rights, and gun control is surely capable of doing a 180 on a complex health care plan that rests on “abolish[ing] the laws of arithmetic.”

Over-taxed

From the Agoraphilia blog, Glen Whitman ridicules those who ridicule Americans who feel over-taxed:

Sub-headline from an article about a survey on taxes: “An MSN-Zogby poll says that many Americans think they’re paying too much in taxes even though research shows the average tax burden is light compared with other developed countries.”

Interesting. I’ve also heard that for some reason, paraplegics would like to get the use of their limbs back, even though other people are totally paralyzed from the neck down. Oh, and people who have lost an eye would like to get their 3D vision back, despite the existence of blind people. What is wrong with these people?

RomneyCare: Becoming Less Universal and Less Affordable All the Time

Yesterday, Massachusetts’ new “Connector Authority” unanimously voted to exempt 20 percent of the Bay State’s uninsured from the requirement that all residents purchase health insurance.  The Connector Authority determined that health insurance was not affordable for those folks. 

They also made RomneyCare less affordable overall.  The Connector Authority voted, again unanimously, to increase subsidies to low-income residents by $13 million, bringing the total cost of such subsidies to $483 million this year.