Quotulatiousness

May 26, 2015

Ilya Somin’s new book on eminent domain

Filed under: Law,Liberty,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The book is being published in time to mark the tenth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s dreadful Kelo decision:

My new book, The Grasping Hand: Kelo v. City of New London and the Limits of Eminent Domain is now in print. It is the first book about the Kelo decision and the massive political backlash it generated, written by a legal scholar. The Grasping Hand is coming out just in time for the tenth anniversary of Kelo on June 23.

Kelo-Book-Cover-Final-Version-e1432095413354Here is a summary from the University of Chicago Press website (the book is also co-published by the Cato Institute):

    In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the city of New London, Connecticut, could condemn fifteen residential properties in order to transfer them to a new private owner. Although the Fifth Amendment only permits the taking of private property for “public use,” the Court ruled that the transfer of condemned land to private parties for “economic development” is permitted by the Constitution – even if the government cannot prove that the expected development will ever actually happen. The Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London empowered the grasping hand of the state at the expense of the invisible hand of the market.

    In this detailed study of one of the most controversial Supreme Court cases in modern times, Ilya Somin argues that Kelo was a grave error. Economic development and “blight” condemnations are unconstitutional under both originalist and most “living constitution” theories of legal interpretation. They also victimize the poor and the politically weak for the benefit of powerful interest groups, and often destroy more economic value than they create. Kelo itself exemplifies these patterns. The residents targeted for condemnation lacked the influence needed to combat the formidable government and corporate interests arrayed against them. Moreover, the city’s poorly conceived development plan ultimately failed: the condemned land lies empty to this day, occupied only by feral cats.

    The Supreme Court’s unpopular ruling triggered an unprecedented political reaction, with forty-five states passing new laws intended to limit the use of eminent domain. But many of the new laws impose few or no genuine constraints on takings. The Kelo backlash led to significant progress, but not nearly as much as it may have seemed.

    Despite its outcome, the closely divided 5-4 ruling shattered what many believed to be a consensus that virtually any condemnation qualifies as a public use under the Fifth Amendment. It also showed that there is widespread public opposition to eminent domain abuse. With controversy over takings sure to continue, The Grasping Hand offers the first book-length analysis of Kelo by a legal scholar, alongside a broader history of the dispute over public use and eminent domain, and an evaluation of options for reform.

April 24, 2015

Junk science watch – lie detectors

Filed under: Law,Liberty,Technology,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Gavin McInnes on the polygraph machines and their questionable accuracy:

I met Doug Williams in August while developing a pilot for a TV show about myth busting. He’s the most vocal critic of polygraph machines in the world and authored the book From Cop to Crusader: My Fight Against the Dangerous Myth of “Lie Detection.” Williams’ history in law enforcement brought him from the Oklahoma City Police Department to the White House where he served under Johnson and Nixon as a communications advisor (Johnson was cool, Nixon was a dick). He has issued thousands of polygraph tests over the years and even helped make the test part of federal law.

Doug started to realize the whole thing was a scam in the late 1970s and since then has devoted his entire life to giving everyone else the same epiphany. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t see it the same way and on May 12th, his trial will begin for the crime of “train[ing]… customers how to conceal misconduct and other disqualifying information.” He was busted by two undercover federal agents who took his course and decided the class had gone from simply “debunking” to “aiding and abetting.” The Feds are trying to say that Williams is hampering investigations, but all he’s doing is proving these machines don’t work by presenting evidence. 60 Minutes did the same thing in a 1986 episode where three out of three experts failed their own test. People are losing their jobs and going to prison based on the findings of a machine that appears to be totally unreliable. The only thing he’s hampering here is the abuse of power. The irony is, if it’s possible to beat a polygraph, it clearly isn’t a reliable piece of equipment. If it’s not possible to beat, his courses are irrelevant. You can teach someone to trick a police radar all you want. It’s still going to clock you if you’re going over the speed limit. This seems like common sense yet the state has won cases like this before. In 2013, an electrician named Chad Dixon was sentenced to 8 months in jail for helping people beat the machine.

March 27, 2015

Keeping people out of jail isn’t quite as easy as it seems

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

Megan McArdle is being a downer about the idea that if we just stop throwing people into jail for non-violent drug possession, it’ll make a big dent in the prison population:

De-incarceration is clearly an idea whose time has come. But doing it means thinking clearly about de-incarceration. And as I discovered when I went to a recent event on the topic, most of us in the media don’t.

We’re hampered by the rampant perception that all we need is to wise up and stop incarcerating people for simply possessing drugs, something many of us feel shouldn’t be a crime at all and certainly shouldn’t merit prison time. At the event I attended, someone who has actually studied the matter closely pointed out what experts know and most journalists apparently don’t: Relatively few people are in prison for simple possession or for other minor crimes. The shock in the room was palpable.

I wasn’t shocked, but not because I am somehow immune to this delusion. Rather, I had it stripped from me a few years back, when I went to Hawaii to report on its innovative probation program, Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement. HOPE has sharply reduced the number of people who “flunk” probation and end up with long prison terms. To study it, I sat in a courtroom for a week and actually watched how the process worked. I’ve written about it in my book, but here’s something I didn’t write about: how shocked I was by the composition of the docket. I’d been expecting a lot more simple possession — and a lot less robbery, assault, domestic violence and burglary.

Even the most dedicated anti-incarceration activist would call these “real” crimes, and they were numerous. Even the most dedicated advocate of drug legalization — such as, say, me — would have to admit that a large percentage, perhaps the majority, of the people who committed “real” crimes had some sort of a drug problem — not as in “smokes more weed than they really should” but as in “admitted to the judge that they had smoked crystal meth recently enough to flunk the drug test they were about to be required to take.”

March 18, 2015

This is not how a justice system is supposed to work

Filed under: Law,Liberty,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Nathan Robinson points out a key finding from the Ferguson investigation … that in a municipality of 21,000 people, the police have outstanding arrest warrants out for 16,000:

The Department of Justice’s 102-page report is a rich source of damning facts about the Ferguson criminal justice system. But tucked halfway in and passed over quickly is a truly revelatory set of figures: the arrest warrant data for the Ferguson Municipal Court.

It turns out that nearly everyone in the city is wanted for something. Even internal police department communications found the number of arrest warrants to be “staggering”. By December of 2014, “over 16,000 people had outstanding arrest warrants that had been issued by the court.” The report makes clear that this refers to individual people, rather than cases (i.e. people with many cases are not being counted multiple times). However, if we do look at the number of cases, the portrait is even starker. In 2013, 32,975 offenses had associated warrants, so that there were 1.5 offenses for every city resident.

That means that the city of Ferguson quite literally has more crimes than people.

To give some context as to how truly extreme this is, a comparison may be useful. In 2014, the Boston Municipal Court System, for a city of 645,000 people, issued about 2,300 criminal warrants. The Ferguson Municipal Court issued 9,000, for a population 1/30th the size of Boston’s.

This complete penetration of policing into everyday life establishes a world of unceasing terror and violence. When everyone is a criminal by default, police are handed an extraordinary amount of discretionary power. “Discretion” may sound like an innocuous or even positive policy, but its effect is to make every single person’s freedom dependent on the mercy of individual officers. There are no more laws, there are only police. The “rule of law,” by which people are supposed to be treated equally according to a consistent set of principles, becomes the “rule of personal whim.”

And this is precisely what occurs in Ferguson. As others have noted, the Ferguson courts appear to work as an orchestrated racket to extract money from the poor. The thousands upon thousands of warrants that are issued, according to the DOJ, are “not to protect public safety but rather to facilitate fine collection.” Residents are routinely charged with minor administrative infractions. Most of the arrest warrants stem from traffic violations, but nearly every conceivable human behavior is criminalized. An offense can be found anywhere, including citations for “Manner of Walking in Roadway,” “High Grass and Weeds,” and 14 kinds of parking violation. The dystopian absurdity reaches its apotheosis in the deliciously Orwellian transgression “failure to obey.” (Obey what? Simply to obey.) In fact, even if one does obey to the letter, solutions can be found. After Henry Davis was brutally beaten by four Ferguson officers, he found himself charged with “destruction of official property” for bleeding on their uniforms.

March 6, 2015

Djinn accused of murder … by victim’s boyfriend

Filed under: Law,Middle East,Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

While we’re on the topic of odd beliefs in the middle east, here’s a fascinating court case:

If the East ever perfects its own version of the courtroom drama — Piri Mason, say — it will surely consist of dramatic moments like this: Koksal Sahin, a Turkish man accused of murdering his girlfriend, stealing her valuables, and fleeing from Istanbul to Izmir, pleaded not guilty this week and offered the court revelatory testimony of what actually happened. “As far as I understood,” Mr. Sahin told the court, “a genie attacked her.”

According to the defendant, when this genie saw an Islamic amulet that was hanging from Mr. Sahin’s neck, the malevolent entity went berserk. Mr. Sahin realized what was happening because his late girlfriend was “saying something in Arabic” while attacking herself. The genie not only caused Mr. Sahin’s girlfriend to stab herself in the stomach and cut her own throat, he testified, but it also grabbed Mr. Sahin himself and flew him off to Izmir, where he found himself registered as a guest in a hostel, apparently in possession of the girlfriend’s valuables.

But Mr. Sahin’s story is not as ironclad as it may seem. While several aspects of the story are consistent with the behavior of genies — or djinn — according to traditional lore and even some judicial precedent, others are previously unrecorded. Djinn are certainly believed to be able to possess human beings and to influence their behavior, and they have a long mischievous history of flying people about and depositing them in distant places, especially when the humans are asleep. And while cases of djinn killing people may exist in the lore, instances of djinn murdering their own human hosts unprovoked are highly unusual.

January 31, 2015

If nothing else, you can be arrested for “resisting arrest”

Filed under: Law,Liberty,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:25

This is a rather amazing little scene that was played out in San Francisco:

Published on 28 Jan 2015

Public Defender Jami Tillotson was unlawfully arrested at the San Francisco Hall of Justice on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 by officers of the San Francisco Police Department

Techdirt‘s Tim Cushing has the story:

As an American citizen, you can always refuse to answer questions, especially when you’re not in custody. Easier said than done, though, which is why the option of referring law enforcement to a lawyer is always on the table. Of course, police officers will try to avoid this possiblity, usually by framing the questioning as an innocuous, purely voluntary chat. They get irritated, though, when people realize this and tell them to talk to their lawyer or continually ask if they’re free to go.

So, while Tillotson’s attempt to defend her client from questioning related to a different crime may not have fallen under guaranteed Sixth Amendment protections, her willingness to protect her client from additional police questioning certainly falls within the bounds of what she (and her client) are legally allowed to do in a situation like this (i.e., “Talk to my lawyer.”)

But the police weren’t interested in speaking to a lawyer. They wanted to take pictures and ask questions without the “interference” of someone who knew how the system works. So, they arrested her for resisting arrest — which, as the video shows, she was very clearly NOT DOING BEFORE, AFTER OR DURING THE ARREST.

Tillotson objected to the arrest, but she placed her hands behind her back and allowed police to cuff her. She never struggled or otherwise impeded the officers in their duty — which was [WARNING: circular reasoning ahead] TO ARREST HER FOR RESISTING ARREST.

It’s a mindbending, oxymoronic, ugly display of force, where might = right and anyone standing in the way of an investigation needs to GTFO. With cuffs.

December 16, 2014

America’s “terribly warped justice system”

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

Conrad Black talks (partly from first-hand experience) of how badly served the United States is by its justice system:

… everyone in the United States, from the president and the wealthiest and most admired citizens down, is, in some measure, a victim of this now terribly warped justice system. No one is safe and everyone pays for it. The legal cartel is riveted on the back of the country like a horse-leech and extracts $1.8 trillion a year from the American economy as the legislators and regulators add 4,000 new measures with weighty sanctions each year, for the delectation of their confrères at the bar. At any time, 1 percent of the entire adult population is incarcerated, at a cost of about $150 billion annually and usually in unconstitutionally inhuman conditions; another 6 or so percent of all adults, male and female, are awaiting conviction (99.5 percent of those tried are convicted, an absurdly implausible number rivaled only by North Korea) or are under supervised release by often pettifogging probation officers at further great cost to the country. There are 48 million convicted felons in the United States, and even if decades-old unstigmatizing offenses such as failing a breathalyzer or being disorderly at a fraternity party are omitted, this means that approximately 15 percent of American adult males are designated felons. This is an absurd and barbarous number achieved by equal-opportunity multi-ethnic injustice, albeit unevenly applied. It presents African Americans a chance to form an invincible coalition in whose victory they would be the principal winners.

Though evidence of police and prosecution abuse pours in through the media every week, the majority of Americans, personally unaffected by the failings of the system, complacently believes that they live in a society of laws envied by the world. Neither supposition is correct. The United States has six to twelve times as many incarcerated people per capita as other prosperous democracies: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. This appalling state of affairs has developed gradually over the last 40 years, as the percentage of prosecutions resolved by (very often) abusive applications of the plea-bargain system without a trial has risen from about 80 (an unheard of number in other democratic countries) to 97. The percentage of incarcerated people among the population has multiplied by five in that time, so the U.S. today has 5 percent of the world’s people, but 25 percent of its incarcerated people (and 50 percent of its lawyers – counting only those countries in which a serious professional entry course is required to practice that occupation).

The Supreme Court has sat like a shelf of suet puddings while the criminal-justice system has become a conveyor belt to the country’s bloated and corrupt prison system, and lawyers have become an immense industry, hiding its avarice behind a fog of insipid pieties about the rule of law (which, as the phrase was meant by the authors of the Bill of Rights, can scarcely be said to exist in the U.S.). New York federal judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote in the New York Review of Books on November 20 that the traditional American notion of the day in court is “a mirage” because of the corruption of the plea-bargain system, in which inculpatory evidence is extorted from witnesses in exchange for immunity from prosecution, including for perjury. Every week there is some new exposé of horror stories of prosecutorial abuse, yet prosecutors enjoy an absolute immunity, even when it is revealed that they have committed crimes of obstruction of justice, as in the infamous Connick v. Thompson decision of 2011: An innocent man spent 14 years on death row because prosecutors willfully withheld DNA evidence they knew would, and ultimately did, acquit him; the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly overruled the damage award to the wrongfully convicted Mr. Thompson on a spurious technicality.

December 11, 2014

David Friedman on the historical uses of torture in legal situations

Filed under: History,Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:50

David Friedman discusses a few of the legal systems under which torture was not only possible, but omnipresent:

The use of torture to extract information is not a new idea. Under both Athenian and Roman law, slave testimony could only be taken under torture. Presumably the theory was that slaves were interrogated in order to get evidence against their owners, the owner had ways of putting pressure on the slave, so torture was needed to get the slave to tell the truth. In Imperial Chinese law, not only the defendant but also witnesses could be tortured. In that system, and I think also in some legal systems of medieval and renaissance Europe, a defendant could only be convicted by his own confession. Torture was one way of getting it.

The argument against torture, that the victim will say whatever he thinks will end it whether true or false, is also old — people in the past were not stupid. Our main source of information on Athenian law consists of orations written by professional orators to be memorized by a party to a law suit in a legal system where there were no lawyers and each party had to represent himself. There is one oration which claims that slave testimony under torture is perfectly reliable, that there has never been a case where it turned out to be false. There is another making the obvious argument on the other side, that such testimony is worthless since the slave will say whatever the torturer wants him to say.

They were both written by the same orator.

People in other legal systems that used torture were also aware of the problem. There is a collection of Chinese cases compiled in the 13th century for the use of magistrates. Many of them are cases where a clever judge realizes that an innocent person has been forced to confess under torture and figures out who is really guilty.

That raises an obvious question — if they saw the problem with torture, why did they continue to employ it? One answer is that extracting information might only have been an excuse, that the real purpose was to punish someone without having first to convict him. That is a possible explanation in some contexts, including the current case of torture by the CIA. But it does not explain contexts where the person being tortured was not the suspect but a potential witness.

A second possible explanation is the belief that a competent interrogator could distinguish a real confession from a fake one. That strikes me as the most likely explanation in the Roman and Athenian cases, where it was the defendant’s slave, not the defendant, who was being interrogated.

A third explanation is that torture might produce information that could be checked. That is the situation in the hypothetical cases sometimes offered in defense of the use of torture — the suspect is being forced to say where the kidnap victim, or the terrorist time bomb, is concealed. More plausibly, to say where the loot is hidden.

“Eyewitnesses” and the human mind

Filed under: Law,Liberty,Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Maggie McNeill discusses some of the problems we encounter when we depend on “eye witness accounts” of events:

If you haven’t yet read my research paper, “Mind-witness Testimony”, you really ought to […] The Reader’s Digest version is:

    … The human mind doesn’t passively record events as a camera does; memory is an active and dynamic process which retains information by fitting it into schemata, mental frameworks which shape our thinking and give meaning to perceptions … The same psychological mechanism which causes us to find pictures in Rorschach’s inkblots also causes us to fit memories into the complex web of schemata by which we interpret the world. And just as we ignore those topological elements of a cloud or inkblot which do not fit the meaning our minds have imposed upon it, so do we forget or distort elements of a memory which fail to conform to the schema in which we have embedded it, or even invent elements which were not in reality present, but which the schema predicts should be…The human mind often completely fabricates memories in order to impose conformity with one’s weltanschauung. One simple example involves police lineups: people will often identify the man whom police imply (subtly or overtly) is their preferred suspect because they believe police to be expert assessors of guilt who would never implicate someone falsely, and this schema of police authority and infallibility actually shapes their memories, sometimes to the point of identifying a person who is later proven to look absolutely nothing like the actual criminal…

In witch hunts of both the classic and modern varieties, hypersuggestible people such as children, the mentally ill, the emotionally needy or the severely traumatized can be induced to “remember” all sorts of fantastic things which are not even physically possible, much less grounded in actual events; when they repeat these “memories” in court (or in front of audiences hungry for “sex trafficking” narratives) they are not lying in the strict sense, but merely playing back a script that was written into their memories by processes such as suggestion, group polarization, stereotypic conformation, guided imagination, abusive interrogation tactics and others discussed in my paper. Though the concept of “recovered memory” has been discredited and most reasonably-well-informed people understand its role in driving the Satanic panic, few have yet connected the dots to recognize “sex trafficking” narratives as produced by the same processes. However, as the public begins to recognize driving the Satanic panic, few have yet connected the dots to recognize “sex trafficking” narratives as produced by the same processes. However, as the public begins to recognize the fallibility of human memory, it’s inevitable that outlandish, evidence-free stories such as those told by Somaly Mam, Chong Kim and Theresa Flores will be treated with greater skepticism.

December 9, 2014

The “broken windows theory” of policing … applied to the police

Filed under: Law,Liberty,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:02

In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf discusses an interesting application of the “broken windows theory”:

One of the most influential policing concepts of our era, the broken-windows theory, holds that disorder and crime are “usually inextricably linked in a kind of developmental sequence.” At the community level, ignoring disorder leads to more of it, just as a building with a broken window soon has other windows broken. That insight has been widely embraced by law enforcement in the United States. But as Ken White observed in a recent post, we’ve yet to apply it to police agencies. “If tolerating broken windows leads to more broken windows and escalating crime,” he asks, “what impact does tolerating police misconduct have?” He points to recent examples in order to argue that the consequences are dire:

    [J]ust as neighborhood thugs could once break windows with impunity, police can generally kill with impunity. They can shoot unarmed men and lie about it. They can roll up and execute a child with a toy as casually as one might in Grand Theft Auto. They can bumble around opening doors with their gun hand and kill bystanders, like a character in a dark farce, with little fear of serious consequences. They can choke you to death for getting a little mouthy about selling loose cigarettes. They can shoot you because they aren’t clear on who the bad guy is, and they can shoot you because they’re terrible shots, and they can shoot you because they saw something that might be a weapon in your hand—something that can be … any fucking thing at all, including nothing.

    … We’re not pursuing the breakers of windows. If anything, we are permitting the system … to entrench their protected right to act that way. We give them … third and fourth chances. We pretend they have supernatural powers of crime detection even when science shows that’s bullshit. We fight desperately to support their word even when they are proven liars. We sneer that “criminals have too many rights,” then give the armed representatives of our government stunning levels of procedural protections when they abuse or even kill us.

I’d never thought about police abuses in quite this way before. But it seems to me that the reforms implied by applying broken-windows theory to police officers are very similar to many of the policy changes that critics of policing have lately been advocating. How to consistently punish police officers at the first sign of disordered behavior? Record their interactions to a cloud server that they do not control. Assign independent prosecutors to handle cases of unlawful behavior. And end the practice of arbitrators reversing punishments given to misbehaving cops.

As a former St. Louis policeman put it in the Washington Post, “The problem is that cops aren’t held accountable for their actions, and they know it. These officers violate rights with impunity. They know there’s a different criminal justice system for civilians and police. Even when officers get caught, they know they’ll be investigated by their friends, and put on paid leave. My colleagues would laughingly refer to this as a free vacation. It isn’t a punishment. And excessive force is almost always deemed acceptable in our courts and among our grand juries. Prosecutors are tight with law enforcement, and share the same values and ideas.”

November 25, 2014

QotD: Rand Paul and the war on drugs

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

I’ll do everything to end the war on drugs. … The war on drugs has become the most racially disparate outcome that you have in the entire country. Our prisons are full of black and brown kids. Three-fourths of the people in prison are black or brown, and white kids are using drugs, Bill, as you know … at the same rate as these other kids. But kids who have less means, less money, kids who are in areas where police are patrolling … Police are given monetary incentives to make arrests, monetary incentives for their own departments. So I want to end the war on drugs because it’s wrong for everybody, but particularly because poor people are caught up in this, and their lives are ruined by it.

Rand Paul, speaking to Bill Maher, 2014-11-15.

October 23, 2014

Another quirk in the American justice system

Filed under: Law,Liberty,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:06

In the Washington Post, Radley Balko explains how judges can convict you of crimes you were acquitted on or even crimes you were never charged with in the first place:

Most Americans probably believe that the government must first convict you of a crime before it can impose a sentence on you for that crime. This is incorrect: When federal prosecutors throw a bunch of charges at someone but the jury convicts on only some of those charges, a federal judge can still sentence the defendant on the charges for which he was acquitted. In fact, the judge can even consider crimes for which the defendant has never been charged.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Jones v. U.S., a case that would have addressed the issue. The National Law Journal summarizes the facts:

    [A] District of Columbia jury found Antwuan Ball, Desmond Thurston and Joseph Jones guilty in 2007 of selling between two and 11 grams of cocaine, relatively small amounts. They were acquitted on racketeering and other charges that they were part of an extensive narcotics conspiracy.

    Yet, when U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts sentenced the three, he said he “saw clear evidence of a drug conspiracy,” and sentenced Ball, Thurston and Jones to 18, 16 and 15 years in prison, respectively — four times higher than the highest sentences given for others who sold similar amounts of cocaine, according to filings with the Supreme Court.

There have been other cases like this, including at least two in which federal judges sentenced defendants for murders for which they were never even charged, never mind convicted. So not only can a judge sentence a defendant for crimes for which a jury acquitted, he can sentence a defendant for crimes for which prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to charge.

October 17, 2014

QotD: Legislating absolute equality

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

…to oppose the notion of equality of opportunity these days is to be thought some kind of monstrous ultramontane reactionary, a Metternich or Nicholas I, who wants by means of repression to preserve the status quo in amber. Members of young audiences to which I have spoken have almost fainted with shock when I have said that I not only did not believe in equality of opportunity, but to the contrary found the very idea sinister in the extreme, and much worse than mere egalitarianism of outcome. To say to a young audience today that equality of opportunity is a thoroughly vicious idea is like shouting “God does not exist and Mohammed was not his prophet” at the top of one’s voice in Mecca.

Those who believe in equality of opportunity must want, if they take the idea seriously, to make the world not only just but fair. Genetic and family influences on the fate of people have to be eliminated, because they undoubtedly affect opportunities and make them unequal. Ugly people cannot be models; the deformed cannot be professional footballers; the retarded cannot be astrophysicists; the small of stature cannot be heavyweight boxers; I don’t think I have to prolong this list, as everyone can think of a thousand examples for himself.

Of course, it might be possible to level the field a little by legislating for equality of outcome: by, for example, insisting that ugly people are employed as models in proportion to their prevalence in the population. English novelist L.P. Hartley, author of The Go-Between, satirized such envious suppression of beauty (and, by implication, all egalitarianism other than that of equality under the law) in a novel called Facial Justice. It’s not a very good novel, as it happens, but the idea is very good; Hartley envisages a state in which everyone aspires to an “average” face, brought about by plastic surgery both for the abnormally ugly and the abnormally good-looking. Only in this way can the supposed injustice (actually it’s unfairness) of the genetic lottery be righted.

Hartley’s novel is a reductio ad absurdum of a pernicious idea. By contrast, Roosevelt’s “measurable quality of opportunity” is roughly achievable by human design: only roughly, of course, because some (though few) will still be excluded biologically, and there are (again few) upbringings so terrible that they preclude opportunity for the person to become anything much. But the aspiration to deny no one a “measurable quality of opportunity” is not intrinsically nasty, as is the insistence on equality of opportunity. On the contrary; our problem is, however, that the political arrangements needed to bring this about already exist in most Western countries, and still we are unhappy or discontented. Thus we — many of us, that is — attribute our unhappiness to inequality of opportunity for fear of looking elsewhere, including inward.

Theodore Dalrymple, “A More Sinister Equality”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-04-06

August 9, 2014

QotD: What is it that keeps democracies democratic?

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

This is the only thing that keeps either party within a mile of good behavior — the understanding that if you deceive the public, or act with gross incompetence, that behavior is going to be politicized and used against you.

Consider the example of the various one-party cities in this nation.

Can there be any doubt that “politicization” of one’s errors or actual violations is, while annoying for the party who has erred, the only thing that restrains a party from wholesale violations of the public trust?

Besides the obvious salutary public policy effects, there is of course a more tangible reason why records should be retained and, when subpoenaed by Congress, disclosed to that body:

Because it’s the law.

And adherence to the Law is the only thing that keeps a society of feuding political parties from degenerating into a third-world system of coups and counter-coups.

If the party I oppose shows perfect contempt for following the law when it sees a political advantage in doing so, why should I not support the selfsame law-breaking when the party I support decides it might find some advantage in doing so?

The government’s basis for rule over the citizens is based on two things:

1. Sheer naked coercive power.

And:

2. Moral authority, and the notion that, while a citizen might not like the particular government serving at any particular time, that citizen values something more eternal than the temporary political circumstances of a four year period of time.

Namely, the idea that it is best for everyone to follow the law, because it’s more important to support a stable government without turmoil and violence than to violate the law to win on any immediate, ephemeral political point.

Note that it is far better for any society that the government’s power rests more on the second pillar than on the first. Because so long as that pillar, of moral authority, of general fairness, of a general sense that the longterm interests of America are better served by adherence to government than to rebellion against it, the government will rarely, if ever, have to resort to the ultimate pillar of authority, which is physical, violent coercion.

Ace, “Sure Why Not: HHS Emails Sought by Congress To Determine Why Healthcare.gov Was Such a Catastrophe Are, Get This, Missing”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-08-08.

July 16, 2014

New Zealand is considering breaking new legal ground in rape cases

Filed under: Law,Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:36

And by “breaking new legal ground” I mean “beginning with a presumption of guilt” in all rape cases:

Fundamental pillars of the criminal justice system may be eroded whichever party wins the election this year, as both National’s and Labour’s proposals would look into changing the right to silence or the presumption of innocence in rape cases.

Both major parties claim the current system is not upholding justice for victims, and are looking at changes that would effectively make it easier for prosecutors to obtain convictions.

National wants to explore allowing a judge or jury to see an accused’s refusal to give evidence in a negative light, while Labour wants to shift the burden of proof of consent from the alleged victim to the accused.

Auckland University law professor Warren Brookbanks said both policies challenged two fundamental principles: the right to silence, and the presumption of innocence, which are both protected in the Bill of Rights Act.

New Zealand needs a third political alternative, as both of these parties are proposing to take away fundamental rights in pursuit of a higher conviction rate. Taking away the right to silence is bad, but getting rid of the presumption of innocence is equally bad:

Labour’s justice spokesman Andrew Little did not think the party’s proposal would lead to more innocent people being convicted.

“I don’t see why. You’re assuming that there is a propensity to lay false complaints. There is no evidence pointing to that.”

He said eroding the right to silence went too far, but Justice Minister Judith Collins said the same of Labour’s proposal.

“The presumption of innocence is fundamental to our justice system and our society. Requiring an accused person to prove their innocence would undoubtedly result in many injustices and wrongful convictions.”

A quick Google search for “false accusations in rape cases” turned up 4.3 million hits. Even the Wikipedia page on the subject (and Wikipedia editors tend to be pro-victim rather than pro-police) say that between 2% and 8% of all rape accusations are false. New Zealand’s “initiatives” in this area seem bound to create more injustice for the accused than improved justice for victims.

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