Posts tagged ‘police’

The Victim Brag: It May Be Time to Devalue Internet Death Threats

Frequently people will use the existence of threats, including death threats, over the Internet as proof that their cause is more just because their opponents are violent and _________ (fill in the blank with racist, misogynist, etc.).  Most folks firmly believe that only their side is getting these death threats, since they only really talk to and read people on their side.  But as a libertarian that makes common cause with all kinds of groups, what I see is that EVERYONE that says something even mildly controversial gets Internet threats.  The gamergaters get threats and the anti-gamergaters get threats.  BLM gets threats and police defenders get threats.  Heck, I get threats, mostly on climate and immigration issues, and I am a nobody.  And here is the latest source of death threats:  Katherine Timpf dissing Star Wars

More than a month ago, I made some jokes about Star Wars on Red Eye, a satirical political comedy show that airs at 3 a.m., and it has resulted in me being verbally abused and told to die by a mob of enraged fans for the past four days now. ...Then, this week, one Star Wars super-super-super fan who calls himself “AlphaOmegaSin” made a ten-minute (!) video brutally ripping me apart.  The YouTube comments on his manifesto were even better. You know, stuff like:

justin 12 hours ago Maybe a SW nerd needs to sneak into her dark room, dressed like her bf, rape her, but she doesn’t know it’s rape because she thinks it’s her BF.

needmypunk 16 hours ago I hope she gets acid thrown in her pretty little face.

sdgaara2 1 day ago Wouldn’t it be great if she was beaten to death with “space nerd sticks”

etc. etc.   Now, I understand there are a few folks out there who have had to deal with scary and legitimate stalking episodes online.  But in the vast majority of cases, does anyone really treat these as serious threats?  Like actually get scared?  I know I don't.  I would suggest that most folks respond just like Ms. Timpf did -- they treat them as a badge of honor and of proof of the rightness of their cause and the bankruptcy of their intellectual opposition.  I have done the exact same thing.   We have a term called humble brag, e.g. "I was so stupid last night -- Johnny Depp came by my table to say hi and I didn't recognize him."  We need a term for this -- "victim brag", maybe?

I have come to the conclusion that there are a core of people on the Internet that are simply morons, and will react stupidly to about anything.  We should stop ascribing any significance to their showing up in an online discussion.  The fact they show up making their stupid threats has no more meaning than the fact that ants inevitably show up when you drop food on the ground.  You wouldn't write an article that "ants hate me because they swarmed all over the potato chip I dropped."  Let's treat Internet trolls just like we do these insects.



Progressive Overshoot: Efforts Begin as Liberalization, End as Stalinism

I could write a book on Progressive reform efforts which begin as sensible liberalization efforts and then overshoot into authoritarianism.  Gay marriage is a great example.  Liberalizing stage 1:  Let's give gay folks equal access to the benefits of protections of legal marriage.   Authoritarian state 2:  Let's punish any small business who refuses to serve a gay wedding.

I ran into another example the other day.  Hillary tweeted out, "Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported" which is a common refrain among women's groups  (we will leave aside the irony of Hillary making this statement after she has crushed a number of women who have made sexual assault claims against her husband).

In what I believe to be the initial meaning of this phrase, it was quite reasonable.   In the past (and presumably on occasion today) women have gone to police or some other authority and claimed to have been raped or assaulted, and have been essentially ignored.  A pat on the head and the little lady is sent home.   Women, reasonably, wanted their charges to be taken seriously and investigated seriously.  This is my memory of where this phrase, then, originally came from.  It meant that when women claim to have been assaulted, authorities need to take these charges seriously and investigate them seriously.

But, as with most other things, Progressive reform which began as liberalizing and empowering has transitioned to being Stalinist.  The meaning today of this phrase when used by most women's groups is that any such claims by women should not immediately trigger an investigation but should trigger an immediate conviction.  The accused male should be immediately treated as guilty and punished, and any exercise of due process represents an assault on women -- never mind that the same SJW's taking this stance would take exactly the opposite stance on due process if the accused were, say, a black male in Ferguson accused of theft.

Apparently, Cops Now Steal More from Citizens than do Actual Criminals

Via Tyler Cowen, comes this

Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. attorneys seized an estimated $12.6 billion in asset forfeiture cases. The growth rate during that time averaged +19.4% annually. In 2010 alone, the value of assets seized grew by +52.8% from 2009 and was six times greater than the total for 1989. Then by 2014, that number had ballooned to roughly $4.5 billion for the year, making this 35% of the entire number of assets collected from 1989 to 2010 in a single year. According to the FBI, the total amount of goods stolen by criminals in 2014 burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses. This means that the police are now taking more assets than the criminals.

I will remind folks that civil asset forfeiture is by definition taken from innocent people, ie those not convicted of a crime.

Update:  It would be interesting to see the racial/ethnic mix of those whose stuff is seized.  Somehow, I don't imagine the victims of theft-by-cop are a bunch of rich white people.

Three Cheers for Cultural Appropriation

Of all the stupidities coming out of modern college Progressivism, perhaps one of the dumbest is the opposition to cultural appropriation.  Progress comes from cultural mixing -- a good way to think of this is to imagine the opposite of "cultural appropriation" which would likely be something like "cultural apartheid".  That doesn't sound good.

Take just one example -- popular music over the last century.  For a variety of reasons (including their outsider status for much of American history), African Americans have been a font of musical innovation unmatched in the entire world.  Jazz, blues, rock, Motown-style pop, funk, disco, and hip hop all owe much or all of their origins and power to American black music.   Go ask even famous white groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin who their inspirations were, and they will rattle off mostly black names from Howlin Wolf to Chuck Berry to George Clinton.   Seriously, what Renaissance Italians were to painting, American blacks have been to music.

Being of German decent, I am not going to spend my life listening to just Wagner and polka music. Which reminds me of a story -- not to go all Godwin on you, but the Nazis were a great example of that "cultural apartheid" term I made up earlier. They didn't want pure Germanic culture to be tainted by other (they felt inferior) cultural influences. I have seen the Germans interviewed after the war joking that they were sick of "der fledermaus" because it seemed to be the only opera that could get past the Nazi cultural appropriation police and get played in the years just before the war.

I refuse to inflict this on myself.  I am going to appropriate music from African Americans and anywhere else I feel like.

Postscript:  By the way, Black music in America is in some sense a story of the improvement of the fortunes of African Americans.  In the 1950's and 60's, Black blues musicians couldn't reach white audiences, and bands like the Rolling Stones made a fortune because they played blues music but with safely (for the time) white faces.   White performers ended up with most of the financial rewards from black music.   In the 70's-80's, black musicians started to reach white audiences directly, and enjoy some of the financial rewards, but still were mainly controlled by white producers and record labels.  Today, innovative black musicians (often from the rap / hi hop world) are not just performers but have staked out powerful positions in the industry itself.

Chicago's Guantanimo

Chicago police's use of a warehouse at Honan Square to detain suspects for secret interrogations just gets worse and worse.

Police “disappeared” more than 7,000 people at an off-the-books interrogation warehouse in Chicago, nearly twice as many detentions as previously disclosed, the Guardian can now reveal....

According to an analysis of data disclosed to the Guardian in late September, police allowed lawyers access to Homan Square for only 0.94% of the 7,185 arrests logged over nearly 11 years. That percentage aligns with Chicago police’s broader practice of providing minimal access to attorneys during the crucial early interrogation stage, when an arrestee’s constitutional rights against self-incrimination are most vulnerable.

But Homan Square is unlike Chicago police precinct houses, according to lawyers who described a “find-your-client game” and experts who reviewed data from the latest tranche of arrestee records obtained by the Guardian.

“Not much shakes me in this business – baby murder, sex assault, I’ve done it all,” said David Gaeger, an attorney whose client was taken to Homan Square in 2011 after being arrested for marijuana. “That place was and is scary. It’s a scary place. There’s nothing about it that resembles a police station. It comes from a Bond movie or something.”

For whatever reason, the story does not seem to be able to generate much national heat, as partially evidenced by the fact that it takes a UK newspapers to show any initiative on the story.  The Right fetishizes law enforcement,  the Left refuses to take on a powerful public union, and the city is run by a mayor with powerful connections to both the President and Hillary Clinton, so essentially no one is interested.

By the way, most of these folks are being held for hours or days due to drug possession arrests (5386 of the 7000+), yet another indicator of why the war on drugs has become so stupid and counter-productive.

Black Lives Matter Has a Pretty Decent Plan. Too Bad they Don't Seem to Know What to Do With It

There is much to criticize in how the BLM movement operates, but I can get behind much of the plan they introduced last month.  I don't agree with all of it, but I seldom agree with all of any plan I see proposed from any side of the aisle.


In discussing the plan, Kevin Drum fails to address the elephant in the room for the Left in making progress on this, and that is the enormous reluctance of Democrats to challenge a public employee union.  And you can bet that police unions will likely be the biggest barrier to getting a lot of this done, even perhaps ahead of Conservative law-and-order groups (you can see the token sop thrown to unions in point 10 of the plan, but it ain't going to be enough).

By the way, there is much that progressive and conservative groups could learn from each other.  Conservative groups (outside of anti-abortion folks) are loath to pursue the public demonstration and disruption tactics that can sometimes be helpful in getting one's issues on the public agenda.  The flip side is that public disruption seems to be all BLM knows how to do.  It can't seem to get beyond disruption, including the unfathomable recent threat to disrupt an upcoming marathon in the Twin Cities.   It could learn a lot from Conservative and libertarian groups like ALEC, that focus on creating model legislation and local success stories that can be copied in other places.  Many of the steps in BLM's plan cry out of model legislation and successful pilots/examples.

A Question for Immigration Restrictionists

The current refugee surge into Europe has caused a lot of my friends who are immigration restrictionists to say this proves that I am naive.

During the Cold War, we (including most Conservatives) considered it immoral that Communist countries would not let their people leave (Berlin Wall, etc.).  Now, however, it is argued by many of these same folks that it is imperative that the Western democracies build walls to keep people out.

So here is a question -- not of practical consequences, but of pure morality.  Consider this picture of people being prevented from crossing the border.


Explain to me why this scene is immoral if the wall and police forces were put there by the country at the right (the leaving country) but suddenly moral if the same wall with the same police force were put there by the country on the left (the receiving country).  Don't they have exactly the same effect?  Same wall -- How are they different?

A Question for Black Lives Matter

BLM coalesced as a reaction to police brutality and lack of accountability for how they treated black citizens.  The organization claims its problems are rooted in the ghetto-ization of blacks that has robbed them of their agency.

Can I observe that both these problems are ones of an out of control, unaccountable, over-powered government?  Police are government officials allowed to operate with few checks on their behavior.  Black ghettos were explicitly created by the New Deal and maintained by Federal policy for years.  No doubt many private citizens are still racist, but they can't legally shoot you on the street or say where you can and can't buy homes.

So why does the leadership of BLM so consistently support the further expansion of government power?

Race and Petty Traffic Laws

When you hear that police pulled someone over for the totally BS charge of a "partially obscured license plate with only one light," can't you just assume the driver is probably black or Hispanic?

If I were a Mexican in Phoenix, I would do a full walk-around checking my vehicle before every trip.  A visiting friend once asked me if the fact that Hispanics all seem to drive so slow was a cultural thing and I said that more likely, they know they will get busted for going even a hair over the speed limit.

A few years ago I wrote vis a vis our infamous SB1070

When Kris Kobach says "In four different sections, the law [SB1070] reiterates that a law-enforcement official 'may not consider race, color, or national origin' in making any stops or determining an alien's immigration status," he is ignoring reality.  The law asks police to make a determination (e.g. probable cause that one is an illegal immigrant) that is impossible for actual human beings to make without such profiling.  It's like passing a law that says "police must drive their cars 30 miles a day but can't drive their cars to do so."  The reality on the ground here in Arizona is that, illegal or not, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been using racial profiling to make arrest sweeps for years, and his officers have become masters at finding some pretext to pull over a Mexican they want to check out  (e.g. the broken tail light).   Words in this law about racial profiling are not going to change anything.

Update:  I forgot this story from 2008, which is a great example of what I am talking about here

Arrest records from crime sweeps conducted by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office add substantial weight to claims that deputies usedracial profiling to pull Latino motorists over to search for illegal immigrants....

even when the patrols were held in mostly White areas such as Fountain Hills and Cave Creek, deputies arrested more Latinos than non-Latinos, the records show. In fact, deputies arrested among the highest percentage of Latinos when patrols were conducted in mostly White areas.

On the arrest records, deputies frequently cited minor traffic violations such as cracked windshields and non-working taillights as the reason to stop drivers.

"These are penny-ante offenses that (police) almost always ignore. This is telling you this is being used to get at something else, and I think that something else is immigration enforcement against Hispanic people," Harris said....

Great Example of Concentrated Benefits / Dispersed Costs Cronyism: New Phoenix Rail Tax

The hefty sales tax that funds Phoenix light rail deficits is about to expire, and as is usual, politicians not only don't want it to expire but they want to double it so they can build more over-priced rail lines.

One of the reasons that stuff like this is so hard to fight is a phenomenon called "concentrated benefits but dispersed costs."  This means that, particularly for certain crony handouts, the benefits accrue to just a few actors who, due to the size of these giveaways, have a lot of financial incentive to promote and defend them.  The costs, on the other hand, are dispersed such that the final bill might only be a few dollars per taxpayer, such that no individual has much incentive to really pay up to support the fight.

A great example of this is sugar tariffs.  These raise the price of sugar (as well as reducing our choices and effectively promoting imperfect substitutes like HFCS) so we as consumers should all fight them.  But the higher cost of sugar might only cost us, say, $20 each a year individually.   Are you really going to donate $100 in a political cause to save $20?  On the other side, these tariffs create millions and millions of dollars in profit for a few sugar producers, such that they have a lot of money and incentive to spend big on lobbying to keep the tariffs in place.

The new Phoenix light rail tax increase gives us a yet another sad example of the phenomenon:

Construction companies, engineering firms and transit service providers are the biggest early supporters of the Proposition 104 campaign to expand Phoenix transportation, while the group fighting the proposed tax increase still seeks major funding.

The MovePHX campaign, supporting the bus, light rail and street improvement plan going before city voters in August, raised $382,900 from March through the end of May, according to finance reports filed Monday.

Opposition group Taken for A Ride — No on Prop 104 received just under $417 from individuals over the same period. A second campaign committee opposed to the proposition formed after the contribution reporting period ended....

More than half of the contributions to the MovePHX campaign during the reporting period came from engineering, design and construction firms, including many that were hired for design and consultation on the Valley's first stretch of light rail.

The largest single donation came from We Build Arizona, a group of engineering, contracting and transit organizations that donated $125,000 to the campaign. TransDev and Alternate Concepts, Inc., which hold bus and light rail service contracts, contributed more than $35,000 combined.

A combined $30,000 came from police, firefighter and food and commercial worker union political action committees.

$382,900 to $417.  That is why cronyism is so prevalent.

French Punish Uber For Taxi Driver Violence Against Uber

This seems to be perfectly in the spirit of the times:

The French government has ordered police to crack down on Uber in Paris after violence erupted at demonstrations by taxi drivers against the online ride service.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Thursday that he asked the Paris police authority to issue a decree forbidding activity by UberPOP drivers. Similar decrees have already been issued in other major French cities.

Cazeneuve said vehicles using UberPOP will now "be systematically seized" by police when caught operating.

The UberPOP app was ruled illegal by the French government last year, but the U.S. company hasn't yet exhausted all legal recourse and has told its drivers to keep operating.

Responding to Cazeneuve's comments Thursday, Uber said it was "still assessing on which legal ground such measures could be implemented."

Uber said that it is up to the courts to decide what is legal and that no court has so far told it to stop operating.

Angry over Uber's incursion into their industry, taxi drivers held protests around Paris on Thursday that disrupted traffic near airports, major rail stations and key intersections, ensnaring American rock singer Courtney Love in the chaos.

This is the corporate state at work -- any business not explicitly approved by politicians will be suppressed.

Asset Forfeiture Fraud and Abuse

Arizona has one of the worst asset forfeiture laws in the country, essentially allowing law enforcement to help themselves to any money or real property that takes their fancy, and then spend it on anything they like.   For example, one AZ sheriff is spending the asset forfeiture stolen money** on buffing up his image by providing scholarships, even though such scholarships sure seem to be specifically prohibited as a use for the money.  You can think of this as pure PR - give 1% of the stolen money to some worthy cause so no one will question what you do with the other 99%, or more importantly question why they hell you had the right to take it without due process in the first place.

The Cochise County Sheriff's Office is providing nine high school students with college scholarships financed by money and assets seized from people suspected of illegal activity.

The $9,000 for scholarships is paid from the county's anti-racketeering revolving fund. State law specifies that cash in this account is to be used for things like gang and substance-abuse prevention programs and law enforcement equipment.

So, how do the scholarships fit the bill?

Though federal law appears to prohibit such a use of the money, Cochise County says the spending is permissible because it plays a role in substance-abuse prevention....

[The IJ's Paul] Avelar agreed.

The categories that specify how the money should be spent are "incredibly broad," allowing for a gamut of expenditures, he said.

"It's very loosey-goosey on what they spend it on," Avelar said. "They have the ability spend it on a lot of things that we might not think are wise expenditures of public money."

But McIntyre said that it's essential that counties retain broad spending power over this money, because "local elected officials are in a much better position to determine what priorities need to be addressed than people outside of the county."

"And additionally, the reality is that if the local voting populous doesn't agree with the use of those funds or the priorities that have been set by these decision makers, they have the ultimate remedy to vote us out," McIntyre said.

The last is a total joke.  First, most sheriff's offices refuse to provide any comprehensive reporting on their seizure and spending activities, so without transparency there can be no accountability.  And second, this is a classic redistribution scheme that always seems to get votes in a democracy.  Law enforcement steals this money from 1% of the citizens, and spends it in a way that seems to benefit most of the other 99%.  It is exactly the kind of corrupt policy that democracy consistently proves itself inadequate to prevent -- only a strict rule of law based on individual rights can stop this sort of abuse.

** While the forfeitures are legal under the law, that does not make them right.  The law is frequently used by one group to essentially steal from another.  Allowing police to take money at gunpoint from innocent (by any legal definition, since most have not been convicted of a crime) citizens is stealing whether it is enabled by the law or not.

Denying Human Fallibility -- Holding Police Accountable (Or Not)

Steve Chapman's article in Reason on police accountability is good throughout, but these stats are amazing:

Consider Cleveland. The ClevelandPlain Dealer reported that the police department looked into 4,427 uses of force by cops over four years and gave its blessing to each one. In Houston, every shooting over six years was found by the internal affairs department to be absolutely necessary. ...

The feds also assume that law enforcement officers are less fallible than the pope. From January 2010 to October 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported, Border Patrol agents shot 67 people, killing 19. Three of the agents are still being investigated. Of the remaining 64, 62 were absolved. The other two got a stern lecture.

It's all part of a national pattern. Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson has done extensive research on killings by cops. His conclusion? "It's very rare that an officer gets charged with a homicide offense resulting from their on-duty conduct even though people are killed on a fairly regular basis," he told The Wall Street Journal.

I have already given my cynical take on why this problem exists and why it is likely to persist.  Specifically, Conservatives fetishize the police and refuse to believe any shooting was unjustified and Liberals are suspicious of the police but refuse to challenge the powerful public employees unions that protect police from accountability.

So Ellen Pao is About to Discover the Roger Goodell Problem

Roger Goodell is the President of the NFL, and despite huge love for the NFL itself, Goodell is hated by many, even most, fans.  At the NFL draft, which attacts arguably the biggest fans of the NFL, Goodell gets booed every time he walks on stage.  One reason for this is the decision Goodell made a number of years ago to "police" player behavior.  Tired of bad headlines about this or that player being involved in some sort of (alleged) criminal activity, Goodell decided to crack down.  No longer was it enough that the criminal justice system had a process for punishing people who break the law, Goodell wanted the NFL to be seen to be layering on extra punishment.

I said from the very beginning that this policy was fraught with problems.  If the NFL wanted a conduct policy, it should establish simple mechanical rules tied to outcomes in the justice system.  For example, a rule that says that if convicted of a misdemeanor a player would get a standard X game suspension.   Goodell's role should be limited to correcting the inevitable unfair situation where mechanical rules lead to poor outcomes.

But no, Goodell, like many smart people, fell into the trap of thinking he was smart enough to mete out punishments himself.  This has led to a real mess.  The public compares each punishment (and non-punishment) to all other such decisions and immediately get upset about perceived inconsistencies.  Worse, having established the precedent of policing conduct, he is being pushed by various vocal constituencies to police even non-crimes, like  unwelcome speech.  On average day in sports talk radio, you are as likely to hear a discussion of Goodell's conduct rulings as you are about anything on the field.

In taking over Reddit, Ellen Pao is heading into the same technocratic trap.  She has begun to ban certain forums and types of speech on the platform, but she has not established any consistent public rules for doing so other than her own judgement.  She appears to be deleting things that offend her personally (and early mass deletions of content critical of herself personally seems a really bad way to start).  And as with Goodell, two bad things are already happening (even beyond the more fundamental Reddit user issue that she is violating a core ethic of Reddit by censoring).  First, she is being called out for lack of consistency with folks saying "how can you ban X and not Y."  And second, she is apparently already getting pushed by various constituencies to be more and more aggressive at censoring certain classes of speech.   Once she established herself as censor in chief, she became an immediate lobbying target for many, many groups, and that is going to just get worse.  Just look at how much of Goodell's time is now sucked up into personal conduct issues.

My Plan to Help African-Americans

Really, political plans should be to help everyone, and certainly many people beyond African-Americans would be helped by the steps below.  But since the nature of modern politics seems to demand race-specific plans, and since so many destructive policies have been put into place to supposedly help African Americans, I will offer my list of suggestions:

  • Legalize drugs.  This would reduce the rents that attract the poor into dealing, would keep people out of jail, and reduce a lot of violent crime associated with narcotics traffic that kills investment and business creation in black neighborhoods.  It would also reduce the main excuse for petty harassment by police that falls disproportionately on young black men.  No it's not a good thing to have people addicted to strong narcotics but it is worse to be putting them in jail and having them shooting at each other.
  • Bring real accountability to police forces.  When I see stories of folks absurdly abused by police forces, I can almost always guess the race of the victim in advance.  I used to be a law-and-order Conservative that blindly trusted police statements about every encounter.  The advent of cell-phone video has proven this to be supremely naive.  No matter how trusted, you can't give any group a pass on accountability.
  • Eliminate the minimum wage   (compromise: eliminate the minimum wage before 25).  Originally passed for racist reasons, it still (if unintentionally) keeps young blacks from entering the work force.  Dropping out of high school does not hurt employment because kids learn job skills in high school (they don't); it hurts because finishing high school is a marker of responsibility and other desirable job traits.  Kids who drop out can overcome this, but only if they get a job where they can demonstrate these traits.  No one is going to take that chance at $10 or $15 an hour**
  • Voucherize education.  It's not the middle class that is primarily the victim of awful public schools, it is poor blacks.  Middle and upper class parents have the political pull to get accountability.   It is no coincidence the best public schools are generally in middle and upper class neighborhoods.  Programs such as the one in DC that used to allow urban poor to escape failing schools need to be promoted.

** This might not be enough.  One of the main reasons we do not hire inexperienced youth, regardless of wage rates, is that the legal system has put the entire liability for any boneheaded thing an employee does on the employer.  Even if the employee is wildly breaking clear rules and is terminated immediately for his or her actions, the employer can be liable.  The cost of a bad hire is skyrocketing (at the same time various groups are trying to reign in employers' ability to do due diligence on prospective employees).  I am not positive that in today's legal environment I would take free labor from an untried high school dropout, but I certainly am not going to do it at $10 an hour when there are thousands of experienced people who will work for that.  Some sort of legal safe harbor for the actions of untried workers might be necessary.

Why Prostitution Should Be Legal

Folks often use the abuses in the prostitution industry as evidence of why it should be illegal.  But these abuses are actually a result of the illegality.  Sex workers in illicit industries cannot use the police and legal system to address abuses without risking arrest.  Essentially, they are cut off from access to the legal system and its protections that we take for granted.

People act like the abuses are inherent to the fact that prostitution is a sex work industry, but here is an example of (legal) sex workers protecting themselves and addressing abuses through the legal system, just like all the rest of us do.  If prostitution were legal, then prostitutes could do the same.

Three Valley strip clubs are being sued by exotic dancers with the help of a Texas law firm over alleged unpaid tips and wages....

Hodges' firm and the strippers are suing to make the strippers official employees. Their new system would be similar to that of restaurant wait staff, who typically earn a sub-minimum salary (Arizona allows as low as $3 an hour for tipped employees) while pooling tips among their fellow workers. If no customers come in, the staff is still guaranteed to make at least minimum wage, plus time-and-a-half for any overtime worked.

I'm not a big fan of the premise of the lawsuit (trying to force businesses to change their employment model from dancers as independent contractors to dancers as employees) but it is their free access to the legal system that is the point here.  One could never imagine such a lawsuit with a group of prostitutes arguing that the people they worked for were not paying them fairly.

Before Michael Brown, Ferguson Police Did This

I had forgotten about this story and am surprised the media did not make this connection more often during the Michael Brown brouhaha:

Michael Daly at The Daily Beast has the flabbergasting story of Henry Davis, who was picked up by cops “for an outstanding warrant that proved to actually be for another man of the same surname, but a different middle name and Social Security number,” then beaten by several officers at the station. What happened next was truly surreal: while denying that Davis had been seriously hurt at all, though a CAT scan found he had suffered a concussion and a contemporaneous photo shows him bleeding heavily, four police officers sought to have him charged for property damage for getting blood on their uniforms. ...

The kicker: the police department was that of Ferguson, Missouri.

Scottsdale Police Union Charity: Less than 5 Cents of Each Donated Dollar Actually Getting Used For Charity

These guys hassle me constantly for money and I generally duck them.  Which is good, because if I had actually given money, I would be pissed:

The Scottsdale police union known as POSA -- the Police Officers of Scottsdale Association -- stages several events every year to help bring police and the community closer together. Over the next two weeks, 500 Scottsdale children will go holiday shopping with $150 in their pockets in the annual Shop with a Cop event.

But a closer look at POSA's federal tax filings shows just pennies of every dollar you donate reaches the community.


The union's most recent federal tax filings, for 2012, show about a million dollars in donations. For every dollar donated, professional fundraising services kept 81 cents -- about $814,000, records show.

A little more than 6 cents of every dollar went toward the $62,000-a-year salary of POSA director Cindy Hill. Hill is also the wife of union leader Jim Hill.

Less than a nickel of every dollar -- about $45,000 -- was spent on events like Shop with a Cop.

To be fair, this is probably about the same percentage of union dues that gets spent for their stated purpose, so these guys probably don't see anything amiss.

Why Reform of Police Accountability is Unlikely

It's as simple as this:  Republicans fetishize the police (like they do the military) and will always give them the benefit of the doubt.  They have this gauzy teary-eyed love of the police.  Just watch Megyn Kelly on Fox to get the idea.  Democrats are allied with public unions and will not under any circumstances take on the powerful police unions who fight any attempt at accountability tooth and nail, a behavior Democrats have become habituated to enabling for other unions like the teachers unions.

The issue is mostly about giving police accountability that matches the special powers over the use of force we give them.  But it is also about racism.  It just burns me up to have folks in power point to the business world constantly for supposed institutional racism, when in fact I witness very little if any day to day.  The one institution I see that clearly has elements of institutional racism are many police forces, but no one will touch them.

Every year there are hundreds of police shootings and the number that are determined not to be justifiable rounds to zero.  What are the odds there is a process involving humans with this small of a Type I error rate?  We are learning form cell phone cameras that the stories we used to believe from police officers about events are often total bullsh*t.  And yet still police are not held accountable even when there is horrific video evidence showing them out of control.

At the drop of a hat, at the smallest hint of a single example of a bad outcome, the government will not hesitate to impose enormous new restrictions on private individuals.  But even with the most overwhelming evidence the government will not put even the lightest restrictions in itself or its employees.

I have always shied away from my fellow libertarians on the anarcho-capitalist end of things who wanted to privatize the police force.  I always thought use of force to be a unique privilege and one dangerous to hand out to private groups.  But I am starting to see that I was thinking about it wrong.  It is a dangerous power to give to anyone, but at least if you give it to a private party someone might possibly exercise a little accountability over them.

Walter Olson has a good roundup of police and lethal force here.

Postscript:  Here is an example of what I mean:  The Obama Administration has imposed significant rules on universities to bring greater accountability to sexual assailants when it was perceived that the universities did not impose enough accountability on such predators.  I think the Administration has gone overboard in stripping away the accused due process protections and handing justice to people who will not manage the process well, but its the seriousness of this effort I want to point out.  While I don't think the Administration's actions were appropriate to colleges, they would represent an entirely appropriate response to police violence.  Someone needs to step in and enforce some accountability.


Witnesses Suck

Watching too many TV crime shows will blind you to a stark reality:  Witness testimony sucks.  Look at the linked comparison of witness testimony in the Michael Brown shooting grand jury.  Take any column, like the last one with number of shots fired.  Its a total mess!

When videos emerge of police brutality, police defenders often say that video can lie.  But I would argue that it is a hell of a lot better witness than the average person.  My guess is that police like this kind of variation in witness testimony, because they know that in most, perhaps all, cases, they will be given the benefit of the doubt when the testimony conflicts.

Kevin Drum's Sensible Thoughts on Ray Rice: Why Doesn't The Same Logic Apply to Universities?

Kevin Drum has some sensible thoughts on Ray Rice, discipline and the NFL -- "Sensible" defined in this case as largely mirroring my own:

Ray Rice committed a crime. We have a system for dealing with crimes: the criminal justice system. Employers are not good candidates to be extrajudicial arms for punishing criminal offenders, and I would be very, very careful about thinking that they should be.

Now, I'll grant up front that the NFL is a special case. It operates on a far, far more public level than most employers. It's a testosterone-filled institution, and stricter rules are often appropriate in environments like that. Kids take cues from what they see their favorite players doing. TV networks and sponsors understandably demand a higher level of good behavior than they do from most employers.

Nevertheless, do we really want employers—even the NFL—reacting in a panic to transient public outrage by essentially barring someone for life from ever practicing their craft? Should FedEx do that? Should IBM do that? Google? Mother Jones? Perhaps for the most serious offenses they should, and it's certainly common to refuse to hire job candidates with felony records of any kind. (Though I'll note that a good many liberals think this is a misguided and unfair policy.) But for what Ray Rice did?

I just don't know about that. Generally speaking, I think we're better off handling crimes through the criminal justice system, not through the capricious judgments of employers—most of whom don't have unions to worry about and can fire employees at a whim. I might be overreacting, but that seems like it could become a dangerous precedent that hurts a lot more people than it helps.

I agree 100%.  The NFL  was simply insane to venture into the role as a shadow legal system to apply punishments based on their investigation and judgement in parallel with those of the legal system.  They would have been much better off simply establishing a schedule of internal penalties that were based on the outcomes of the legal system.

That being said, I wish other writers on the Left would read Drum's column and ask themselves why this same logic wouldn't apply to colleges as well. It is unbelievable to me that Liberals of all people -- who have largely defended due process rights in the legal system for years against Conservative attempts to trim them -- would suddenly wage a campaign to substitute kangaroo courts run by university administrators in the place of normal police and judicial procedures for crimes as serious as rape.  I am historically skeptical of the legal system and the people in it, but all of these problems would only be worse trying to have a bunch of amateurs at universities setting up a parallel system.

There is certainly a problem to be solved -- though the 1 in 5 statistic is completely bogus and exaggerated -- but the diagnosis of the problem has been all wrong.  The problem is that Universities have historically created internal police forces and disciplinary processes for the express purpose of protecting their students from the normal legal system.  This is a practice and tradition that goes all the way back to the Middle Ages.  And it worked fine, at least as far as I am concerned, when the University was protecting students from marijuana or underage drinking busts by town police.

But institutions develop a culture, and the culture of university disciplinary processes has been to 1.  keep the student out of the legal system and 2.  get the student to graduation.  I have friends who have been kicked out of top universities a few times, but the University in the end bent over backwards to take them back and get them over the finish line.

So it is disappointing, but not surprising, that universities approached more heinous crimes with this same culture and mindset.  And some egregious sexual assaults got swept under the rug.  Again, I think some folks are exaggerating these numbers by assuming there are tens or hundreds of these cases for every one we hear about.  But we can agree on the core fact, I think, that the typical college disciplinary culture of protecting students from the legal system has failed some victims of sexual assault.

But this is where everyone seems to be going off track.  The Obama Administration solution for this problem is to demand that universities develop more robust fact-finding and disciplinary processes for such felonies, and remove procedural protections for the accused as a way to offset the historic university culture to go to far in protecting wrongdoers.

This is nuts.  Seriously.  Given the set of facts, a far simpler solution, fairer to both accused and victims, would have been for the Obama Administration simply to demand that Universities hand over evidence of crimes to police and prosecutors trained to know what to do with it.  If the University wants to take special steps to get victims help coping with their recovery using University resources, or help victims and the accused who are University students cope with the rough edges of the legal process, great.

Postscript:  Another problem is that punishments meted out by universities are going to always be wrong, by definition.  Let's say a student is accused of rape and kicked out.  Two possibilities.  If he is innocent of the charge, then he was punished way too much.  If he was guilty, if he really raped someone, he was punished way too little -- and by the University screwing around with it and messing up the chain of evidence and taking statements without following the correct process, they may have killed any chance of a conviction in the legal system.    The current process the Obama Administration is forcing punishes the innocent and protects the truly guilty.

I Just Want to Barf

I have become pretty immune to letting BS government pleas for more power get to me, but this almost made me barf.

The No. 2 official at the Justice Department delivered a blunt message last month to Apple Inc. executives: New encryption technology that renders locked iPhones impervious to law enforcement would lead to tragedy. A child would die, he said, because police wouldn’t be able to scour a suspect’s phone, according to people who attended the meeting.

Children will die, do you hear?  CHILDREN WILL DIE!!!!

It is far more likely, based on recent history, that police will want to access your phone out of a prurient desire to see your naughty pictures than it will be to save some dying child ala in Dirty Harry.  Jeez you can make the same argument that if police could just randomly charge into any house they wanted for any reason, at some point they would probably save someone.

Private Justice and the New Vigilantism of the Left

In the 1970's, Hollywood produced a number of movies that drew from a frustration that the criminal justice system was broken.   Specifically, a surprisingly large number of people felt that due process protections of accused criminals had gone too far, and were causing police and prosecutors to lose the war on crime.  In the Dirty Harry movies, Clint Eastwood is constantly fighting against what are portrayed as soft-hearted Liberal protections of criminals.  In the Death Wish movies, Charles Bronson's character goes further, acting as a private vigilante meeting out well-deserved justice on criminals the system can't seem to catch.

There are always folks who do not understand and accept the design of our criminal justice system.  Every system that makes judgments has type I and type II errors.  In the justice system, type I errors are those that decide an innocent person is guilty and type II errors are those that decide a guilty person is not guilty.  While there are reforms that reduce both types of errors, at the margin improvements that reduce type I errors tend to increase type II errors and vice versa.

Given this tradeoff, a system designer has to choose which type of error he or she is willing to live with.  And in criminal justice the rule has always been to reduce type I errors (conviction of the innocent) even if this increases type II errors (letting the guilty go free).

And this leads to the historic friction -- people see the type II errors, the guilty going free, and want to do something about it.  But they forget, or perhaps don't care, that for each change that puts more of the guilty in jail, more innocent people will go to jail too.  Movies cheat on this, by showing you the criminal committing the crimes, so you know without a doubt they are guilty.  But in the real world, no one has this certainty.  Even with supposed witnesses.  A lot of men, most of them black, in the south have been put to death with witness testimony and then later exonerated when it was too late.

This 1970's style desire for private justice to substitute for a justice system that was seen as too soft on crime was mainly a feature of the Right.  Today, however, calls for private justice seem to most often come from the Left.

It is amazing how much women's groups and the Left today remind me of the Dirty Harry Right of the 1970's.  They fear an epidemic of crime against women, egged on by a few prominent folks who exaggerate crime statistics to instill fear for political purposes.  In this environment of fear, they see the criminal justice system as failing women, doing little to bring rapist men to justice or change their behavior  (though today the supposed reason for this injustice is Right-wing patriarchy rather than Left-wing bleeding heartism).

Observe the controversies around prosecution of campus sexual assaults and the bruhaha around the video of Ray Rice hitting a woman in an elevator.  In both cases, these crimes are typically the purview of the criminal justice system.  However, it is clear that the Left has given up on the criminal justice system with all its "protections" of the accused.  Look at the Ray Rice case -- when outrage flared for not having a strong enough punishment, it was all aimed at the NFL.  There was a New Jersey state prosecutor that had allowed Rice into a pre-trial diversion program based on his lack of a criminal record, but no one on the Left even bothered with him.  They knew the prosecutor had to follow the law.   When it comes to campus sexual assault, no one on the Left seems to be calling for more police action.  They are demanding that college administrators with no background in criminal investigation or law create shadow judiciary systems instead.

The goal is to get out of the legally constrained criminal justice system and into a more lawless private environment. This allows:

  • A complete rewrite in the rules of evidence and of guilt and innocence.  At the behest of Women's groups, the Department of Justice and the state of California have re-written criminal procedure and required preponderance of the evidence (rather than beyond a reasonable doubt) conviction standards for sexual assault on campus.   Defendants in sexual assault cases on campus are stripped of their traditional legal rights to a lawyer, to see all evidence in advance, to face their accuser, to cross-examine witnesses, etc. etc.  It is the exact same kind of rules of criminal procedure that Dirty Harry and Paul Kersey would have applauded.  Unacknowledged is the inevitable growth of Type I errors (punishing the innocent) that are sure to result.  Do the proponents not understand this tradeoff?  Or, just like the archetypal southern sheriff believed vis a vis blacks, do women's groups assume that the convicted male "must be guilty of something".
  • Much harsher punishments.   As a first offender, even without pre-trial diversion, Ray Rice was unlikely to get much more than some probation and perhaps a few months of jail time.  But the NFL, as his employer (and a monopoly to boot) has a far higher ability to punish him.  By banning Ray Rice from the league, effectively for life, they have put a harsh life sentence on the man (and ironically on the victim, his wife).  They have imposed a fine on him of tens of millions of dollars.

Postscript:  For those who are younger and may not have experienced these movies, here is the IMDB summary of Death Wish

Open-minded architect Paul Kersey returns to New York City from vacationing with his wife, feeling on top of the world. At the office, his cynical coworker gives him the welcome-back with a warning on the rising crime rate. But Paul, a bleeding-heart liberal, thinks of crime as being caused by poverty. However his coworker's ranting proves to be more than true when Paul's wife is killed and his daughter is raped in his own apartment. The police have no reliable leads and his overly sensitive son-in-law only exacerbates Paul's feeling of hopelessness. He is now facing the reality that the police can't be everywhere at once. Out of sympathy his boss gives him an assignment in sunny Arizona where Paul gets a taste of the Old West ideals. He returns to New York with a compromised view on muggers...

I guess I was premature in portraying these movies as mainly a product of the 1970s, since this movie just came out.

Inevitably necessary note on private property rights:  The NFL and private colleges have every right to hire and fire and eject students for any reasons they want as long as those rules and conditions were clear when players and students joined those organizations.  Of course, they are subject to mockery if we think the rules or their execution deserve it.  Public colleges are a different matter, and mandates by Federal and State governments even more so.  Government institutions are supposed to follow the Constitution and the law, offering equal protection and due process.

Penny-Ante Police Harassment and the Poor

The other day I wrote:

[Cars owned by African-Americans in Ferguson] are stopped at about a 6x higher rate for "equipment" deficiencies than whites.  Nitpicky regulations on car conditions (in Arizona your licence plate frame cannot cover any part of the word "Arizona" on the licence plate) are the great bugaboo of the poor and a nearly unlimited warrant for the police to stop minorities.  Mexicans here in Phoenix will tell me "woe to the Mexican who drives around here with a broken tail light -- he will be pulled over 3 times a day to have his immigration status checked".  In Phoenix, at least, stops for equipment issues are roughly the equivalent of pulling someone over for "driving while brown."  Even beyond the open-ended warrant these silly violations give the police, the fines and court costs create meaningful indebtedness problems for the poor which are hard to overcome.

Alex Tabarrok highlights some numbers from Arch City Defenders

new report from Arch City Defenders, a non-profit legal defense organization, shows that the Ferguson municipal courts are a stunning example of these problems:

Ferguson is a city located in northern St. Louis County with 21,203 residents living in 8,192 households. The majority (67%) of
residents are African-American…22% of residents live below the poverty level.

…Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of $2,635,400. In 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed of 24,532 warrants and 12,018 cases, or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.

You don’t get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate. You get numbers like this from bullshit arrests for jaywalking and constant “low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay.”

If you have money, for example, you can easily get a speeding ticket converted to a non-moving violation. But if you don’t have money it’s often the start of a downward spiral that is hard to pull out of

I can testify to that last point.  I worked in the Emerson Electric headquarters for a couple of years, which ironically is located in one corner of Ferguson.  One of the unwritten bennies of working there was the in house legal staff.  It was important to make a friend there early.  In Missouri they had some bizarre law where one could convert a moving violation to a non-moving violation.  A fee still has to be paid, but you avoid points on your license that raises insurance costs (and life insurance costs, I found out recently).  All of us were constantly hitting up the in-house legal staff to do this magic for us.  I am pretty sure most of the residents of Ferguson do not have this same opportunity.

Where's Obama?

Presidents get into helicopters at the drop of a hat to tour disaster areas if such a trip can get them 2 minutes of empathy-demonstration on the nightly news broadcast.  Their presence is generally a hindrance to progress as first-responders have to drop everything to plan for the visit.

For once, in St. Louis, a Presidential visit might actually do some good and Obama sits in Martha's Vineyard.  I never thought of him this way, but for much of the African-American community, Obama represents a unique, special, almost mythical figure in whom a lot of hopes and dreams were invested.   An Obama visit urging peace combined with a promise from him that a fair and complete investigation would be undertaken would, IMO, bring the rioting to a halt.   If I were he I would go out there as the true friend of the African-American community that many perceive him to be and say, "the national has heard you and shares your frustration.  Change can happen.  But further violence in the streets is only going to undermine your position and give the advocates of militarized policing further, ah, ammunition.   It is reasonable for a President to defer to local and state authorities -- in fact it would be disastrous for the President to make a habit of sticking his nose in local criminal cases -- but he may be the only person with the credibility with local residents to make this end.

Since I last posted on this, there have been two new pieces of information.  One, Michael Brown apparently committed petty theft a few minutes before he was picked up, though the officers that picked him up did not know this.  And two, an autopsy reports that the unarmed Brown was shot at least 6 times.  It is hard to imagine any story that adequately explains shooting an unarmed man** who was not known to have committed a crime 6 freaking times.  And since the police have still not released any narrative of what happened from their point of view (they are still working with Michael Bay's screenwriters to see if they can come up with something), all we can do is imagine.

**Update 8/18:  I am willing to believe I am being unfair here.  I am simply exhausted by the lack of accountability and the pass we give to officers involved in shootings.  However, just because many such shootings are unjustified and subject to cover-ups does not by any means they all are.  The question from all of this is how do we start holding the police accountable without having to have riots.