Should Judges ‘Have the Back’ of Police Officers?

Vice-president Joe Biden says we should rally behind the Supreme Court nomination of Sotomayor because she will “have the back” of the police.  Biden is a lawyer, a senator, and former chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, so he should know better than to pull a political stunt like that to curry favor with law enforcement groups.  The Constitution places limits on the power of the police to search, detain, wiretap, imprison, and interrogate.   The separation of powers principle means that judges must maintain their impartiality and “check” the police whenever they overstep their authority.  To abdicate that responsibility and to “go along with the police” is to do away with our system of checks and balances.

As it happens, The New York Times has a story today about one Jeffrey Deskovic.  He got caught up in a police investigation because he was “too distraught” over the rape and murder of his classmate.  When there was no DNA match, prosecutors told the jury it didn’t really matter.  Does Biden really want Supreme Court justices to come to the support of the state when habeas corpus petitions arrive on their desks and the police work is sloppy, weak, or worse?

On a related note, Cato adjunct scholar Harvey Silverglate fights another miscarriage of justice in Massachusetts.

P.J. O’Rourke, Driving Like Crazy

img_3445What do automobiles and  American founding principles have in common?

At a Cato forum Tuesday, P.J. O’Rourke, author of the new book Driving Like Crazy, said well, plenty.

“Cars fulfilled the Americans’ founding fathers’ dream and ideal,” said O’Rourke. “Of all the truths that we hold to be self evident, of all the  unalienable rights with which we are endowed, what is the most important to the American dream? It is right there, front and center…freedom to leave…freedom to get the hell out of town.”

Indeed, the American automobile as many have known it is fading fast. After years of government incentives to build certain types of cars, tax credits to buy smaller ones, higher gasoline tax proposals, and the government takeover of General Motors, the cars that so represented American freedom and individualism won’t last long, he said.

“Pity the poor American car when Congress and the White House get through with it,” he said.  “A light-weight vehicle with a small carbon footprint using alternative energy and renewable resources to operate in a sustainable way– When I was a kid, we called it a Schwinn.”

O’Rourke said that going after the automobile is just a way for bureaucrats in Washington to take control over another part of Americans’ lives.

“I’m old enough to realize that freedom is always under attack,” he said. “This is a never ending struggle.”

You can watch his entire speech, or listen in on a Cato special podcast below.

Photo credit: Kelly Anne Creazzo

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Online Gambling: According to the Feds, You’ll Be Holding Today

From The Wall Street Journal today, an article about the federal freezing or seizing of 27,000 online gambling accounts (including that of one of my colleagues, who shall remain nameless but is $150 short today).

I blogged a few weeks ago about some (admittedly very dim) light on the horizon so far as the freedom to gamble online is concerned, but this is a setback indeed. The Poker Players’ Alliance (a lobby group for online poker players) says this is the first time that players’ accounts (as opposed to the gambling site operators themselves) have been targeted.

U.S. laws  against gambling online, and the way those laws are administered, are an affront to personal freedom and a threat to our trading relationships.

Remember, Government Control Ensures Good Health Care

Well, sometimes maybe. 

Reports the National Post:

An investigation has been launched after a woman admitted to Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital for an induced birth was forced into a do-it-yourself delivery last month, with only her common-law partner to assist.

“We’re taking it very seriously,” Dr. Matt Kalina, assistant director for professional services at the McGill University Health Centre, said. “We’re reviewing the specific events thoroughly with the family…. We’re using the lessons to improve our systems.”

At about 5 a. m. on May 13, medical help failed to appear even after Karine Lachapelle’s water broke.

Despite attempts to summon help by partner Mark Schouls, who was pushing the nurse-alert button with increasing frequency as Ms. Lachapelle’s contractions became more intense and closer, the two delivered their new son, Kristophe, entirely on their own.

Ms. Lachapelle pushed the child out past his shoulders and face down– allowing Mr. Schouls to get a grip and pull the newborn the rest of the way out, he recounted.

Obviously, the U.S. system has its problems.  But it isn’t even really a private system, since the government pays for such a large share of medical costs and skews the entire insurance system through federal tax policy.  Nevertheless, there are far more private options and patients have far more control than in government-run systems.  It is imperative that any “reform” effort preserves both private alternatives and patient choice.  Indeed, the only real reform would be to make health care truly consumer-directed.

How Many Jobs Saved? We Do Not Know

In the past couple of days the administration has been discussing the employment impact of its stimulus package. Employment has declined steadily since adoption of the package, so it might seem odd to claim that it has already had beneficial impacts. The administration’s response is that employment would have declined even faster without the stimulus, so hundreds of thousands of jobs have been saved.

The administration might be right, but how can we know? The short answer is, we cannot know with any confidence because we cannot know what employment would have been in the absence of the stimulus. Thus, the concept of “jobs saved” is problematic; it allows the administration to conclude, no matter how bad things get, that the stimulus worked because the economy would have been even worse without the stimulus.

Ezra Klein: Socialized Medicine = Slavery

The Church of Universal Coverage really, really, really wants you to think that the Democratic health care reforms moving through Congress are not “socialized medicine.”  Last year, I wrote a paper about why they’re wrong. On June 25, I’ll be debating the issue at a Cato policy forum with the Urban Institute’s Stan Dorn.

Today, The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein lends his voice to the chorus of socialized-medicine deniers. Klein doesn’t add much to the discussion, except for this: Klein (correctly) observes, “Socialized medicine is a system in which the government owns the means of providing medicine” (emphasis his).  Single-payer systems, like the U.S. Medicare program or France’s health care system, are not socialized medicine because “the payer does not own the doctors.”

That’s right. Under socialized medicine, the government owns the doctors. When human beings can be owned, we call that slavery. Klein was probably just trying to do what other Church of Universal Coverage faithful have done over the past few years: narrow the definition of socialized medicine to the point where it has no meaning at all. (Duh, Canada doesn’t have socialized medicine – they don’t put Canadian doctors in chains, do they??)

Instead, Klein was inadvertently helpful because he clarified that the reforms he supports, and the reforms before Congress, would give the government ownership over the human capital of doctors and other clinicians. Whether we’re talking about wages, insurers’ assets, medical facilities, medical products, or even clinicians’ labor, ownership is a bundle of rights. If health care reform gives government the right to exclude people from using those resources in forbidden ways (e.g., retainer medicine, balance-billing, pure fee-for-service, whatever), then government gains control over a larger share of each bundle of ownership rights.  That equals more state ownership – of financial, physical, and even human capital – which is the very yardstick Klein uses to define socialized medicine.

If only all the socialists could be so helpful.

The Stimulating Story of Dr. Robert Felner

In 2003, after a stint heading up the school of education at the University of Rhode Island, Dr. Robert Felner took the same job at the University of Louisville. Two years later, he secured an earmarked  federal government grant for $694,000 from the Dept. of Education, ostensibly for a vast study of Kentucky public school performance. According to federal investigators, the money ended up in Dr. Felner’s pockets instead. In fact, investigators allege that Felner and a partner in crime managed to defraud taxpayers of $2.3 million by promising to deliver educational assessment services that never materialized.

The checks and balances you might expect to have stopped this from happening were seldom checked and never balanced. And that’s what’s so stimulating about this story: Felner allegedly duped everyone involved for nearly 3 years – at a time when the $100 billion federal education stimulus package wasn’t yet a twinkle in president Obama’s eye.

Given that officials couldn’t stay on top of millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money under normal circumstances, it’s unsettling to think what is going on right now as the system is suddenly flooded with billions of new dollars.