Quotulatiousness

February 13, 2018

Forensic (junk) science

Filed under: Law, Science, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In The Nation, Meehan Crist and Tim Requarth report on a solved-by-forensic-science case that opens a lot of valid questions about the “science” part of forensic science:

Today, Genrich is 55 years old and has been in prison for nearly 25 years for crimes he says he didn’t commit. His latest appeal has been taken up by the Innocence Project, in the hopes of not only freeing Genrich, but getting the courts to recognize recent scientific challenges to forensic pattern-matching techniques that affect hundreds of thousands of people at all levels of the criminal-justice system. In our investigation, we comprehensively reviewed the literature on handheld toolmarks published in forensic trade journals, dug through past legal rulings, pored over nearly 7,000 pages of trial transcripts, and conducted dozens of interviews with prosecutors, defense attorneys, forensic practitioners, judges, academics, and scientists, from Grand Junction to the Department of Justice. What we found was a startling lack of scientific support for forensic pattern-matching techniques such as toolmark analysis; a legal system that has failed to separate nonsense from science even in capital cases; and a consensus among prosecutors all the way up to the attorney general’s office that scientifically dubious forensic techniques should be not only protected, but expanded. With Donald Trump in the White House and Jeff Sessions at the helm of the DOJ, the nominal momentum for forensic-science reform spurred by the two major reports is slowing. Genrich’s case reveals a system that makes it nearly impossible to throw unproven forensic science out of courts and may be keeping thousands of innocent people behind bars.

[…]

Firearm and toolmark analysis emerged out of a national push in the early 20th century to professionalize police investigative techniques at a moment when Americans were particularly enamored with science. Law enforcement borrowed terms from science, establishing crime “laboratories” staffed by forensic “scientists” who announced “theories” cloaked in their own specialized jargon. But forensic “science” focused on inventing clever ways to solve cases and win convictions; it was never about forming theories and testing them according to basic scientific standards. By adopting the trappings of science, the forensic disciplines co-opted its authority while abandoning its methods.

Amid the swirl of new forensic techniques, the courts realized there had to be a gatekeeping mechanism to filter out quackery. In 1923, the DC Court of Appeals provided that mechanism in Frye v. United States. The judges rejected a doctor’s dubious claim that he could use a polygraph to detect when a person was lying from a rise in their blood pressure. In the ruling, the court said that in order for scientific evidence or expert testimony to be admitted, it must be offered by an experienced practitioner making inferences from a “well-recognized scientific principle” that has “general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs.” In Frye, the judges deemed the scientists in the “particular field” relevant to polygraph use to include psychologists and physiologists—not just polygraph practitioners who would, presumably, be biased toward preserving the technique’s reputation. The effectiveness of Frye in keeping dubious science out of the courts depends on whom judges include in their definition of the “relevant scientific community.” But as the decades wore on, and the forensic disciplines gained influence, judges tended to restrict their definition of the “relevant scientific community” to the forensic examiners themselves. Judges began taking advice on what counted as good forensics from the very people who invented the techniques and made a living off of them.

In the American criminal-justice system, where prosecutors regularly battle defense attorneys over what constitutes valid evidence, judges’ rulings on admissibility are the final word. Once a technique has made it into court and survived appeals, subsequent judges, most of whom have no scientific training and little ability to assess the scientific validity of a technique, will continue to allow it by citing precedent. Forensic examiners, in turn, cite precedent in order to claim that their techniques are reliable science. Prosecutors point to guilty verdicts as evidence that the science brought to court was sound. In this circular way, legal rulings — which never really vetted the science to begin with — substitute for scientific proof. This is Frye’s fatal flaw: Nowhere in this process is anyone required to provide empirical evidence that the techniques work as advertised. Frye aimed to keep pseudoscience out of the courts, but instead has helped create the perfect conditions to keep it in.

[…]

No human endeavor is perfect, yet many forensic examiners claim “zero” or near-zero error rates. In a widely cited 1984 paper in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, bite-mark examiners claimed a coincidental match would occur less than one in 10 quadrillion times. But when actually tested, even the most experienced examiners were wrong about one in six times, and in one study they struggled to distinguish a child’s bite mark from an adult’s. In 2009, the chief of the FBI Firearms-Toolmarks Unit wrote that a qualified examiner will “rarely if ever commit a false positive error (misidentification).” In practice, error rates for matching bullets to firearms can be dramatically higher: In 2008, the Detroit Police Department’s crime lab was shuttered when auditors found that its examiners made one error in every 10 cases. The head of the FBI’s fingerprint laboratory testified that its error rate was one in 11 million—because he knew of only one error in the FBI’s 11 million comparisons—but subsequent tests of fingerprint examiners show error rates ranging from one in 680 to one in 24.

February 1, 2018

QotD: In Britain, crime does pay

Filed under: Britain, Law, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Here it is instructive to look at the statistics for house burglary in England and Wales. 750-800,000 such burglaries were known to the police in 2006; the police found the burglars in about 66,000 cases. (The figures for the number of burglaries are underestimated, while those for the numbers of burglaries solved are overestimated, both for technical reasons not necessary to go into, and that we can for the sake of argument ignore.) In that year, just over 6000 burglars received prison sentences. In other words, even if caught, a burglar in England and Wales is not likely to go to prison; but he is even less likely to be caught in the first place. In this sense, then, criminals do indeed have nothing to lose, and possibly much to gain by criminality.

Theodore Dalrymple, “It’s a riot”, New English Review, 2012-04.

January 20, 2018

QotD: The modern English ruling class

Filed under: Britain, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The theme is to understand what has happened to England over the past 20 years. The people who rule us are not socialists in any meaningful sense. Nothing of what is happening to us can be explained in terms of the usual terms of debate used in the 20th century. What we have is a new ruling class. Its core is people whose legitimising ideology is cultural leftism, and who are imposing this via a police state at home and military force abroad. They have merged with a much older corporate elite. They have massively enlarged the military and police arms of the State. Until about 30 years ago, they were denouncing these three forces. But they have now spread their ideology to their former enemies, and thereby cleansed them of evil. They seek absolute and unaccountable power, and the consequent destruction of ancient liberties and intermediary institutions, by insisting on the absolute goodness of their legitimising ideology and the absolute evil of the various “hates” they are combating. They control business and education and the media, and politics and law and administration, and every medical bureaucracy. They are embedded in every main religion except Islam. They are absolutely supreme in every transnational bureaucracy.

As an aside, I suggest that the European Union is evil not because it is run by Frenchmen and Germans, or whatever. Let’s be reasonable – rule from Paris or Berlin would not in itself be catastrophic. It isn’t evil because our own liberal institutions are being destroyed – these have already been destroyed. It is evil because it is another place from which the new ruling class of the English world can exercise absolute and unaccountable power to reshape us as they desire.

A good British example of what is being done to us is the Stephen Lawrence circus. Two men faced 20 years of administrative and legal harassment and media vilification. They were finally brought to trial and convicted on the basis of what looks like fabricated evidence. One of them could only be tried after the very ancient protection against double jeopardy had been stripped out of the Common Law. Had this been done to Sinn Fein/IRA terrorists, there would – rightly – have been howls of outrage. In this case, the entire ruling class set up a squeal of delight. Nothing – certainly not due process or even common decency – can be allowed to stand in the way of crushing racism, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, or any other excuse for not joining in the Potemkin love feast of the new ruling class.

Other examples are the persecution of Emma West, the persecution of Christian hoteliers who won’t rent out rooms to homosexuals, refusal to let devout Christians foster children, denial of NHS treatment to people who live other than as directed, the attempted use of sporting associations to brainwash the white working classes. These really are all examples of the same war against bourgeois civilisation.

Sean Gabb, quoted in “Wayne John Sturgeon talks to Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance”, Sean Gabb, 2013-08-26.

December 16, 2017

Why not try a truly independent “independent counsel”?

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jay Currie suggests someone the US government could bring in to investigate the whole “deep state” mess who would not be in any way tainted by past contacts or entanglements:

The American mess is deep and sordid and, frankly, needs to be cleaned up. But by who?

The fact is that virtually any special counsel appointed by the DOJ will be tainted one way or another. And so, apparently, will investigators drawn from the FBI. It is a mess but it also needs to be resolved.

So, a friendly suggestion from Canada.

Our deeply respected, longest serving, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada is retiring at the end of the year. Beverly McLaughlin, while I disagree with some of her opinions, is tough, fair-minded and very, very, smart. By the nature of her position, she is “read in” on intelligence and security cleared. She’ll be bombarded with job offers but, if asked nicely, might be willing to lead an investigation into the whole ball of wax which the 2016 American election created. Russians, Hilly’s server and how it was dealt with by the FBI, Lynch on the tarmac with Bill, Mueller, Comely: the whole thing.

But Bev is not enough. Sending a small detachment of the RCMP – white collar and intelligence – with her, with really serious investigative powers, would get the whole mess cleared up in six months. (The scarlet tunics would be optional but would make great tv as they raided offices and homes of the swamp creatures.) McLaughlin would not proffer charges, rather she would write a report and recommend such charges as arise.

Better still, the Chief Justice and the Horsemen would be paid for – independently – by the Canadian government with a bill to be presented to our American cousins at the end of the investigation.

Sometimes the mess is so big you need an independent professional to clean it up. This is one of those times.

December 11, 2017

The FBI and the Michael Flynn case

Filed under: Government, Law, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Reason, Sheldon Richman explains why the FBI is nobody’s friend:

One of the unfortunate ironies of the manufactured “Russiagate” controversy is the perception of the FBI as a friend of liberty and justice. But the FBI has never been a friend of liberty and justice.

Rather, as James Bovard writes, it “has a long record of both deceit and incompetence. Five years ago, Americans learned that the FBI was teaching its agents that ‘the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others.’ This has practically been the Bureau’s motif since its creation in 1908…. The FBI has always used its ‘good guy’ image to keep a lid on its crimes.” (Bovard has made a vocation of cataloging the FBI’s many offenses against liberty and justice, for which we are forever in his debt.)

Things are certainly not different today. Take the case of Michael Flynn, the retired lieutenant general who spent less than a month as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in connection with conversations he had with Russia’s then-ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, between Trump’s election and inauguration. One need not be an admirer of Flynn — and for many reasons I certainly am not — to be disturbed by how the FBI has handled this case.

One ought to be immediately suspicious whenever someone is charged with or pleads guilty to lying to the FBI without any underlying crime being charged. Former assistant U.S. attorney Andrew C. McCarthy points out:

    When a prosecutor has a cooperator who was an accomplice in a major criminal scheme, the cooperator is made to plead guilty to the scheme. This is critical because it proves the existence of the scheme. In his guilty-plea allocution (the part of a plea proceeding in which the defendant admits what he did that makes him guilty), the accomplice explains the scheme and the actions taken by himself and his co-conspirators to carry it out. This goes a long way toward proving the case against all of the subjects of the investigation.

That is not happening in Flynn’s situation. Instead, like [former Trump foreign-policy “adviser” George] Papadopoulos, he is being permitted to plead guilty to a mere process crime.

When the FBI questioned Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak, it already had the transcripts of those conversations—the government eavesdrops on the representatives of foreign governments, among others, and Flynn had been identified, or “unmasked,” as the ambassador’s conversation partner. The FBI could have simply told Flynn the transcripts contained evidence of a crime (assuming for the sake of argument they did) and charged him with violating the Logan Act or whatever else the FBI had in mind.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the FBI asked Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak, apparently to test him. If he lied (which would mean he’s pretty stupid since he once ran the Defense Intelligence Agency and must have known about the transcripts!) or had a bad memory, he could have been charged with lying to the FBI.

November 15, 2017

Ignorance of the law … is inevitable, because there are so many laws

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

We’ve all heard the old saying that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”, but there has been such massive growth in the number and scope of laws in the last couple of generations that even the people who work in the legal field can’t possibly keep up. What chance do average citizens have to ensure they aren’t accidentally falling afoul of unknown (and for all practical purposes, unknowable) legal traps?

“Because I said so.” “Life isn’t fair.” “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” These are some of the great cop-outs of all time, and the last one is particularly troubling in a country with so many laws that it is impossible to count — let alone read — them all. When was the last time you sat down with a complete set of the federal, state, and local codes setting forth the tens of thousands of criminal violations for which you could be sent to jail? If you answered “never,” you’re in good company. Nevertheless, America’s judges still cling to the proposition that it’s perfectly fine to lock people up for doing something they had no idea was illegal. But it’s not fine, and the justifications for that palpably unfair rule have only grown more threadbare with time.

Laws Are Not Even Countable, Much Less Knowable

Things have gotten so bad that even an act as innocent as sharing a Netflix password or a bank website password with a family member could potentially carry criminal penalties if the website disallows password sharing. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 bans intentionally accessing a computer “without authorization,” and the Supreme Court has recently declined to hear a case from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Nosal, that held that password sharing could be prohibited by the Act. Although the majority opinion did not explicitly mention innocent password sharing, the dissent noted that the lack of any limiting principle meant that the majority’s reasoning could easily be used to criminalize a host of innocent conduct.

One rationale for the maxim that ignorance of the law is no excuse was to give people an incentive to educate themselves about legal requirements. But as any law student will attest, one can study those requirements for years and barely scratch the surface. Another rationale was to prevent people from escaping criminal penalties by claiming ignorance, even when they actually knew they were breaking the law. That might have made sense in ancient times when there were only a few dozen crimes on the books and all of them involved morally blameworthy conduct like murder, arson, or rape.

But today the law has grown so complicated, and the relationship between law and morality so attenuated, that these supporting rationales no longer make sense. There have been multiple attempts to count the number of federal crimes, including by the Department of Justice, and no one has yet succeeded. Title 18 of the United States Code, which governs crimes and criminal procedure, has over 6,000 sections, and it is estimated that there are more than 4,500 federal crimes and over 300,000 agency regulations containing criminal penalties. And of course, this does not include the dizzying array of state and local criminal codes, ignorance of which is practically assured but still not excused.

In 2009, Harvey Silverglate wrote Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. That was long enough ago that three is almost certainly an under-estimate by now … there are so many more laws and regulations that have been added (or “enhanced”) since then.

October 1, 2017

Deirdre McCloskey on the rise of economic liberty

Samizdata‘s Johnathan Pearce linked to this Deirdre McCloskey article I hadn’t seen yet:

Since the rise during the late 1800s of socialism, New Liberalism, and Progressivism it has been conventional to scorn economic liberty as vulgar and optional — something only fat cats care about. But the original liberalism during the 1700s of Voltaire, Adam Smith, Tom Paine, and Mary Wollstonecraft recommended an economic liberty for rich and poor understood as not messing with other peoples’ stuff.

Indeed, economic liberty is the liberty about which most ordinary people care.

Adam Smith spoke of “the liberal plan of [social] equality, [economic] liberty, and [legal] justice.” It was a good idea, new in 1776. And in the next two centuries, the liberal idea proved to be astonishingly productive of good and rich people, formerly desperate and poor. Let’s not lose it.

Well into the 1800s most thinking people, such as Henry David Thoreau, were economic liberals. Thoreau around 1840 invented procedures for his father’s little factory making pencils, which elevated Thoreau and Son for a decade or so to the leading maker of pencils in America. He was a businessman as much as an environmentalist and civil disobeyer. When imports of high-quality pencils finally overtook the head start, Thoreau and Son graciously gave way, turning instead to making graphite for the printing of engravings.

That’s the economic liberal deal. You get to offer in the first act a betterment to customers, but you don’t get to arrange for protection later from competitors. After making your bundle in the first act, you suffer from competition in the second. Too bad.

In On Liberty (1859) the economist and philosopher John Stuart Mill declared that “society admits no right, either legal or moral, in the disappointed competitors to immunity from this kind of suffering; and feels called on to interfere only when means of success have been employed which it is contrary to the general interest to permit — namely, fraud or treachery, and force.” No protectionism. No economic nationalism. The customers, prominent among them the poor, are enabled in the first through third acts to buy better and cheaper pencils.

[…]

Indeed, economic liberty is the liberty about which most ordinary people care. True, liberty of speech, the press, assembly, petitioning the government, and voting for a new government are in the long run essential protections for all liberty, including the economic right to buy and sell. But the lofty liberties are cherished mainly by an educated minority. Most people — in the long run foolishly, true — don’t give a fig about liberty of speech, so long as they can open a shop when they want and drive to a job paying decent wages. A majority of Turks voted in favour of the rapid slide of Turkey after 2013 into neo-fascism under Erdoğan. Mussolini and Hitler won elections and were popular, while vigorously abridging liberties. Even a few communist governments have been elected — witness Venezuela under Chavez.

August 18, 2017

QotD: “Justifying” the Holocaust

Filed under: Europe, History, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… that underlying tone of “Of course what Hitler and the Nazis did was unjustifiable, they were wrong about what was going on around them” whenever the topic of the Holocaust is discussed implies that, if they had been right, what they did would have been, at least, justifiable. In other words, there’s an acceptance of the underlying logic of collective justice going on there, and when you put adjectives in front of justice, you almost never get justice.

Which brings us to the current brawl in SF/F and the wider culture. There’s a very large swathe, of Western society that has regressed, though they call it progress, to the idea that one should deliberately punish all members of a group for the actions, real or imagined, of a few members, and to the idea that because members of a group are over-represented in a particular area that it is a deliberate choice on the part of the group, rather than an accident of history.

You see it nearly everywhere. The idea that SF was somehow filled with racist, sexist hatemongers until … well, as near as I can tell, around five years ago is ludicrous when you have H. Beam Piper writing stories where racial intermarriage has turned almost all of humanity a nice shade of brown and there are heroic characters with names like Themistocles M’Zangwe. But, even if that were true — what, we should stop reading (and buying books from) straight white male authors for an entire year? Because a bunch of people they never even met were theoretically jerks?

Sarah Hoyt, “Social Injustice – 60 Guilders”, According to Hoyt, 2015-07-31.

August 8, 2017

Civil asset forfeiture in Las Vegas – kick’em while they’re down

Filed under: Government, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

C.J. Ciaramella summarizes the findings of a new report on civil asset forfeiture in Nevada, where the Las Vegas police have been profiting nicely by confiscating even from the poorest members of society:

Photo by Thomas Wolf, via Wikimedia.

When Las Vegas police seized property through civil asset forfeiture laws last year, they were mostly likely to strike in poor and minority neighborhoods.

A report [PDF] released last week by the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), a conservative think tank, found the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department raked in $1.9 million in asset forfeiture revenue in 2016. Two-thirds of those seizures occurred in zip codes with higher-than-average rates of poverty and large minority populations.

The 12 Las Vegas zip codes most targeted by asset forfeiture have an average poverty rate of 27 percent, compared to 12 percent in the remaining 36 zip codes. Clark County, Nevada, has an average poverty rate of 16 percent.

The 12 most targeted zip codes also have an average nonwhite population of 42 percent, compared to 36 percent in the other remaining zip codes.

Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police may seize property they suspect of being connected to criminal activity. The owner then bears the burden of challenging the seizure in court and disproving the government’s claims. Law enforcement groups say civil asset forfeiture is a vital tool to disrupt drug trafficking and other organized crime by cutting off the flow of illicit proceeds.

But a bipartisan coalition of civil liberties groups and lawmakers have been calling for the laws to be reformed, saying asset forfeiture’s perverse profit incentives and lack of safeguards leads police to shake down everyday citizens, who often lack the resources to fight the seizure of their property in court.

July 22, 2017

Civil asset forfeiture is “an unconstitutional abuse of government power”

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At the Hit & Run blog, Damon Root reports on at least one US Supreme Court justice’s strong views on civil asset forfeiture:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this week that the Justice Department will increase the use of civil asset forfeiture, the practice that allows law enforcement officials to seize property from persons who have been neither charged with nor convicted of any crime. “Civil asset forfeiture is a key tool,” Sessions declared. “President Trump has directed this Department of Justice to reduce crime in this country, and we will use every lawful tool that we have to do that.”

But civil asset forfeiture is not a “lawful tool.” It is an unconstitutional abuse of government power. The Fifth Amendment forbids the government from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Civil asset forfeiture turns that venerable principle on its head, allowing government agents to take what they want without the bother of bringing charges, presenting clear and convincing evidence, and obtaining a conviction in a court of law. It is the antithesis of due process.

By ordering the expansion of this unconstitutional practice, Sessions has placed himself on a collision course with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. As Thomas recently explained in a statement respecting the denial of certiorari in the case of Leonard v. Texas, not only has civil asset forfeiture “led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses” by law enforcement agencies around the country, but the practice is fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution.

As I described Sessions’ attitude in a post on Gab: “Asset forfeiture now, asset forfeiture tomorrow, asset forfeiture forever!” http://minx.cc:1080/?post=370736. The victims of asset forfeiture tend not to be the druglords or property tycoons … the majority are relatively poor and the asset being taken from them is often their primary financial possession. Druglords and tycoons can easily afford high-powered lawyers … poor people whose life savings have just been seized have no recourse at all in most states. As Senator Rand Paul said: “People who are victims of civil forfeiture are often poor, African American or Hispanic, and people who can’t afford an attorney to try to get the money that’s taken from them by the government”.

Megan McArdle points out that “civil asset forfeiture is […] almost the literal embodiment of that hoary old socialist proverb: ‘Property is theft’:”

Now, this may not seem unreasonable to you. Why should criminals be allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains? And fair enough, except for one small thing: They can take your stuff without charging or convicting you.

Law enforcement agencies have often been able to keep the seized assets for their own use, which has given them a keen interest in generating new civil asset forfeiture cases. As Justice Clarence Thomas remarked, while rebuking his colleagues for failing to hear a case on this topic, “this system — where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use — has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.” (And indeed, abuse is rampant.)

Because of those well-chronicled abuses, the Obama administration in 2015 ended what was known as the Equitable Sharing program, which allowed local law enforcement to seize assets and then transfer them to the federal government, with the federal government passing back part of the proceeds to the local department. This proved an excellent way to get around state laws, including those intended to funnel seized assets into state coffers. The Obama administration very sensibly decided that it didn’t want to help law enforcement become a sort of freelance tax authority, and shut this practice down.

Now Sessions has revived it. “How is this conservative?” demanded an earnest liberal of my acquaintance. And all I could reply was that that is a very good question.

July 18, 2017

QotD: Where progressives and libertarians agree

Actually, there are four other big areas where the two ideologies converge.

1. Immigration. Immigration restrictions deprive billions of basic liberties, impoverish the world, and do so on the backs of the global poor, most of whom are non-white.

2. Occupational licensing. Licensing laws bar tens of millions of people from switching to more lucrative and socially valuable occupations, all to benefit richer insiders at the expense of poorer outsiders.

3. War, especially the War on Terror. Since 2002, the U.S. has literally spent trillions fighting the quantitatively tiny problem of terrorism by waging non-stop wars in the Middle East. We don’t know what the Middle East would have looked like if the U.S. had stayed out, but it’s hard to believe it would be worse. And there’s no end in sight.

4. The criminal justice system, especially the War on Drugs. Hundreds of thousands of non-violent people, disproportionately poor and non-white, are in prison. Why? To stop willing consumers from doing what they want with their own bodies.

These four issues are so massive, you’d expect a staunch progressive/libertarian alliance would have been forged long ago. But of course it hasn’t. Why not? Some progressives flatly disagree with one or more of these policies; see Bernie contra open borders. But the bigger stumbling block is that progressives place far lower priority on these issues than libertarians. That includes war, unless the Republicans hold the White House.

Why not? I regretfully invoke my Simplistic Theory of Left and Right. The heart of the left isn’t helping the poor, or reducing inequality, or even minority rights. The heart of the left is being anti-market. With some honorable exceptions, very few leftists are capable of being excited about deregulation of any kind. And even the leftists who do get excited about well-targeted deregulation get far more excited about stamping out the hydra-headed evils of market.

Bryan Caplan, “Progressive/Libertarian: The Alliance That Isn’t”, Library of Economics and Liberty, 2017-06-22.

June 24, 2017

The murder of Philando Castile

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Thomas Knapp on what he calls “The Castile Doctrine” … the police being held to far lower standards than ordinary citizens:

On June 16, a jury acquitted St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez of all charges in the 2016 killing of motorist Philando Castile. That acquittal was, in a sense, also a death sentence — not for Yanez, but for future motorists unfortunate enough to encounter cops like him.

No, this is not a “bad cop” story. It’s a sad tale and I actually feel sorry for Yanez. But the facts are what they are.

Yanez killed Castile. The killing was caught on video and neither Yanez nor his attorneys denied it.

His defense (that he feared for his life) was based on ridiculous grounds relating to the smell of cannabis and the presence of a child (“I thought, I was gonna die, and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing, then what, what care does he give about me?”).

I find his justification to be astonishing … how can a man who thinks like this have ever been trusted with a gun and a badge?

Castile had informed Yanez that he possessed a concealed weapon and a permit for it, and was following Yanez’s orders to produce the permit when Yanez panicked and fired.

Key word: Panicked. His fear wasn’t justified. It wasn’t reasonable. It was unthinking and irrational. That made him culpably negligent in the killing.

[…]

The jury, in relieving him of the consequences of that failure, continued a sad tradition of holding law enforcement officers to a lesser standard of conduct than ordinary Americans. In doing so, they made the world a safer place for cops who shouldn’t be cops — and a more dangerous place for the rest of us.

US law generally holds civilian gun owners to much higher standards in cases like this than they ever seem to expect their own law enforcement officers to meet. A civilian who shot a driver in a similar situation would be lucky to only be facing manslaughter charges, but might well be convicted of first degree murder. A cop? Every extenuating circumstance is given full weight by both judge and jury. A person with no formal training is expected (and required) to be cool, calm, and collected under unexpected extreme stress, while a trained officer is given a pass for “panic” and irresponsible gunplay. Where’s the justice?

Update, 27 June: Even more puzzling is the virtual silence of the National Rifle Association (NRA) over this judicial killing:

These are gruesomely interesting times in the American gun debate. The footage of Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez killing motorist Philando Castile wasn’t enough to convict him in a court of law, but it’s no less damning for that. The more these videos pile up, the harder it gets to rationalize American police forces’ objectively insane collective death count.

The circumstances of Castile’s death are particularly enraging for gun rights activists — or, rather, they ought to be. Castile calmly informed Yanez he was legally armed, just as he should have; Yanez freaked out and, seconds later, pumped seven bullets into the car. By rights, many have observed, the NRA should be leading marches through the Twin Cities. Instead it’s saying and doing bugger all. Not a good look.

On the other side of the great divide, the gun control movement is almost in hibernation — and understandably so. Theirs is a tough climb at the best of times; with a Republican House and Senate it’s a sheer cliff.

June 12, 2017

“They have gradually moved legislative power out of Congress and into administrative agencies — to be exercised, in more genteel ways, by persons like … themselves”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 16:14

Glenn Reynolds (aka the Instapundit) on the unelected bureaucracies that have taken on more and more executive power over the lives of ordinary American citizens and their businesses:

Watching the ongoing clown show in Washington, Americans can be forgiven for asking themselves, “Why did we give this bunch of clowns so very much power over our nation and our lives?”

Well, don’t feel so bad, voters. Because you didn’t actually give them that much power. They just took it. That’s the thesis of Columbia Law Professor Philip Hamburger’s new book, The Administrative Threat, a short, punchy followup to his magisterial Is Administrative Law Unlawful? Both deal with the extraordinary — and illegitimate — power that administrative agencies have assumed in American life.

Hamburger explains that the prerogative powers once exercised by English kings, until they were circumscribed after a resulting civil war, have now been reinvented and lodged in administrative agencies, even though the United States Constitution was drafted specifically to prevent just such abuses. But today, the laws that actually affect people and businesses are seldom written by Congress; instead they are created by administrative agencies through a process of “informal rulemaking,” a process whose chief virtue is that it’s easy for the rulers to engage in, and hard for the ruled to observe or influence. Non-judicial administrative courts decide cases, and impose penalties, without a jury or an actual judge. And the protections in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (like the requirement for a judge-issued search warrant before a search) are often inapplicable.

As Hamburger writes, “Administrative power also evades many of the Constitution’s procedures, including both its legislative and judicial processes. Administrative power thereby sidesteps most of the Constitution’s procedural freedoms. Administrative power is thus all about the evasion of governance through law, including an evasion of constitutional processes and procedural rights.”

June 3, 2017

Ned Kelly – Lies – Extra History

Filed under: Australia, History, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on Apr 29, 2017

We know so much about Ned Kelly’s life through documents recorded at the time, and yet disputes over those details remind us how much different people’s perspectives shapes our understanding of events. James Portnow interviews series writer Soraya Een Hajji about Ned Kelly!

April 10, 2017

A Man For All Seasons – Giving the Devil the Benefit of Law

Filed under: History, Law, Liberty, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on Aug 8, 2012

From Robert Bolt’s classic A Man for All Seasons (1966), directed by Fred Zinnemann, starring Paul Scofield as Thomas More, the famous English lawyer, philosopher, and Renaissance humanist.

Alice More: “Arrest him!”
Sir Thomas More: “For what?”
Alice More: “He’s dangerous!”
Margaret More: “Father, that man’s bad!”
Sir Thomas More: “There’s no law against that.”
William Roper: “There is: God’s law!”
Sir Thomas More: “Then God can arrest him.”
Alice More: “While you talk, he’s gone.”
Sir Thomas More: “And go he should, if he were the Devil himself, until he broke the law!”
William Roper: “So, now you’d give the Devil the benefit of law!”
Sir Thomas More: “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”
William Roper: “Yes! I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”
Sir Thomas More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

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