Home » 2010 » May

On vacation

I know I haven’t been chatty recently, and now I’ll be even less talkative, since I’m off on a much-anticipated family vacation. I’ll be back to rant and rave on June 7. And, I promise, I’ll  become bloggier (if it ain’t a word, it should be) once a big project ends for me in mid-August.

Since the spambots are so super-eager to have their say here, I’ve been moderating all comments. Unfortunately, that means no comments will publish until my return.

Love America? Not unconditionally — and with an option for divorce

Public discussion in this country sometimes seems to degenerate into a competition to see who can declare the greatest unconditional love for America. Immigrants love America, kids love America, and politicians really love America — sometimes several times, at a discounted rate. But in a land that often says, “America, love it or leave it,” I’ll admit that I’m at least willing to consider heading for the exit.

“Love” America? That’s a tall order, isn’t it? It’s a big and diverse place, so if I “love” the whole thing, does that really have to include rush-hour traffic and midwestern food? Or, more seriously, does it have to include the DEA, the NSA, the IRS and the various factions of control freaks that all-so-often dominate the country’s politics?

I love lots of distinct things about America; among them, backpacking in the Grand Canyon, bourbon, jazz and a long tradition of distrust of government and a preference (imperfectly implemented though it may be) for leaving people alone to guide their own lives and make their own choices. That last point is especially important. My family has a history of shopping for places to live where they won’t be hassled.

My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was “Marano” which supports oral history suggesting that her ancestors converted under duress from Judaism to Christianity and then fled to Italy to escape the Inquisition. I guess they didn’t love Spain enough.

My maternal grandmother told me that her father came to the United States, in part, to escape the military draft in Austria-Hungary. No love there, either.

In America, my family found more breathing room compared to the countries in which they were born. They had reason to be thankful, since they were more free than they had been in the old country. So, after all these centuries, has the migration at last come to an end?

That’s hard to believe. After all, this column focuses on violations of personal freedom by government agents, and I rarely have to wander across the border in order to find issues to cover. The inclination toward personal freedom that so attracted immigrants to American shores is continuously under attack from politicians from both major political parties. Those officials often proclaim their love for the country, but they seem to want to love it out of all recognition, into a place where travelers are stopped and scrutinized and homes are invaded by armed men over a choice of intoxicants or a taste for games of chance. They love telling us what we can eat, where we can smoke and when we can drink. They whisper their affections while they pick our pockets, constrain our business ventures in red tape (to the tune of $8,164 per household (PDF) in 2000, just to comply with federal regulations) and generally threaten us with laws and regulations we may not even know about.

This is not to say that the United States is especially bad when compared to other countries, which generally suffer under abusive governments of their own. And some things have definitely improved over the decades, such as equality before the law for women and racial minorities, and respect for sexual diversity. But the United States is, perhaps, no longer such a standout performer when it comes to respecting and defending individual liberty. That is, it’s no longer so uniquely enticing if you’re shopping for a place to live based on the local willingness to let you live your own life. To tell the truth, maybe America still looks as … well … OK-ish as it does not by an absolute standard, but only by comparison with the equally flawed competition.

No wonder there’s such an emphasis on unconditional love for America! Frankly, though, unconditional love is appropriate only for babies and puppies. If we stop and think rationally, we may someday decide that the place we now call home is no longer as loveable as it once was, and go shopping for a new address that puts more effort into earning our affection.

Pit bull breakout

I’m a big-time dog lover, just a tad anti-authoritarian and sufficiently well-informed on the subject to reject the demonization of pit bulls as some sort of super-vicious devil dogs, so I find the following very amusing:

Max, a 70-pound pit bull that bit two people earlier this year, cheated death Wednesday and is on the run – with some human help.

The 3-year-old red nose pit bull was stolen from the Alameda Animal Shelter, just hours before he was to be euthanized for being a dangerous animal.

Note that Max does have a history of biting people, which may be a temperament issue, or else a matter of training and circumstance. I sincerely hope there are no further biting incidents, no matter who freed the dog and currently has him in their care. But I applaud the rescue of the dog from an imminent death, and his chance for a new life.

Run, Max, run!

By the way, while there’s not really a standard definition of “pit bull,” a couple of breeds and associated mixes are usually included in that category. Of those breeds, the American Temperament Test Society, a national not-for-profit organization that uses uniform standards for evaluating the temperament of dogs and then breaks the results out by breed, reports that 85.3% of American Pit Bull Terriers and 83.9% of American Staffordshire Terriers have passed its tests.

And no, their jaws don’t “lock.” (PDF)

http://www.atts.org/stats5.html

Now the know-nothings are chasing citizens out of Arizona

My wife — a pediatrician in rural Arizona — is about to lose a valued employee because of the state’s new and brutal immigration law. The employee isn’t Hispanic, but a close member of her family is. With nativist sentiment festering in the state and people with brown skin increasingly being harassed by law enforcement (even legal residents), it’s becoming increasingly attractive for people who fear they’ll be targeted by the police to head for the exits with their loved ones. That means fewer workers and customers for those who stay behind.

The bulk of the enforcement activity is in the Phoenix area where Maricopa County’s own Sheriff Joe Arpaio combats his legal problems by playing to the know-nothing yahoos eager to pledge him their votes so long as the police state he’s building targets dusky furriners. Even before the new law — often referred to as “SB 1070″ in shorthand — was signed by Governor Jan Brewer, my wife had Hispanic patients afraid to go to Phoenix to see medical specialists. That’s a problem because our area is too sparsely settled to support highly specialized physicians, and the situation is only a little better in Flagstaff and Prescott. That means a trip to or through anti-immigrant Maricopa County to see specialists in Phoenix and Tucson. Some families swallow their fear; others get lesser care for their children.

But immigrants are also being hassled beneath the radar elsewhere, in smaller communities like Sedona and Prescott, where much of the hard labor is done by Mexican illegals who are welcome in good times but vulnerable to police action when public sentiment turns nasty — like now. Largely unreported by the news, the small-scale efforts of the past in these towns have turned into larger sweeps with more, and more-serious, agents.

For good reason, many of my wife’s Hispanic patients, and at least one employee, now plan to leave the state. At least 100,000 have fled already. And because many people are more willing than the average Arizona voter to cross ethnic and linguistic lines, they’re taking with them perfectly legal, English-speaking relations who don’t want to be separated from loved ones.And all of those people are taking with them their skills, their demand for goods and services and their money.

My wife can probably replace one worker, but with her patients leaving too, that may not be necessary. That doesn’t bode well for the future.

I do not think that word means what you think it means

Maybe it shouldn’t annoy me, but the shorthand misuse of the word “fascist” to mean “I disapprove of this, and all other right-thinking people should do so too,” just bugs the shit out of me. For one thing, it’s an end-run around making an argument — just use the appropriate code word and let group think take care of the rest. And, for another, it dilutes and pollutes the actual definition of a word that has real (and odious) meaning of its own.

Take, for example, David Edelstein’s brief review in New York magazine of the Michael Caine movie, Harry Brown. I haven’t seen the movie, but it’s apparently a British version of Death Wish. Edelstein writes:

The chief problem is that Caine makes a grave, soulful vigilante avenger, and first-time director Daniel Barber gives the film a dank, streaky, genuinely unnerving palette. Moral artists have no business making a fascist, reactionary movie this effective. To hell with them.

Again, I haven’t seen the movie, so I have no idea if I’d like it or loathe it, approve or disapprove of its ideas, or find the film ideologically defensible or  despicable. What I do know is that tales of private citizens taking the law into their own hands and punishing criminals while evading the police can not be credibly termed “fascist” if that word is to retain any meaning. After all, an important motto of the Fascist regime in Italy was “Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato” (Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State).

Similarly, an official Italian government publication from the 1930s attributed to Benito Mussolini, said:

Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal will of man as a historic entity. …

The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State—a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values—interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people. …

Bypassing the government’s law-enforcement system as a self-motivated individual to pursue a personal vision of justice very explicitly runs up against the fascist celebration of the omnipotent state.

This doesn’t mean that Harry Brown is a good (or bad) movie or that waging personal war on the neighborhood thugs is necessarily a wise (or terrible) idea. It does mean, though, that it’s damned ignorant to dismiss the movie — or any story celebrating action outside the law — as “fascist.” Harry Brown, good or bad, is about as un-fascist as a movie can be.

And David Edelstein is a lazy reviewer.

Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal will of man as a historic entity.

Defend the culture? Which culture?

Over at When Falls the Coliseum, I have a personal take on the immigration wars, and on what’s worth defending — and what isn’t.

Here’s your ‘tough on crime’ captured on video

It’s hard to lose votes in the United States by advocating “tough on crime” tactics. Sure, everybody wants those rapists and murderers behind bars. But “tough on crime” too often degenerates into “murderously insane,” even when minor, victimless “crimes” are at issue.

Take, for instance, the February SWAT raid on the Columbia, Missouri, home of Jonathan E. Whitworth. Whitworth was ultimately charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana and second-degree child endangerment (he ultimately pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge for possessing drug paraphernalia and paid a $300 fine according to Missouri’s Case.net — all other charges were dropped). The drug charges were apparently related to the discovery of what news reports described as “a grinder, a pipe and a small amount of marijuana.” The child endangerment charge seems to be the result of Whitworth daring to be at home with his wife and seven-year-old son when the storm troopers burst in and shot two family dogs — killing a pit bull and injuring a corgi.

Who endangered whom?

Video of the raid has just been made available and is below. This is “tough on crime.” If this is what you want, may you get it, at your home, in abundance.

Whitworth, not surprisingly, is considering legal action.

Thanks to Radley Balko for tooting the horn about this incident.

Florida cops no longer shielded from public shaming

Forget Consumer Reports — the Internet bypasses professional reviewers.and lets regular people share their experiences with everything from cars to hotels to police officers. But not everybody likes to have bad reviews of their performance available to the public. In Florida, cops got their pet politicians to pass a law making it legally perilous to get too specific when giving thumbs-down to uniformed arm-twisters. That law is now a thing of the past, tossed out as a First amendment violation by a federal judge.

In 2008, after an unpleasant encounter with the police during his performance of his job as a property manager, Robert Brayshaw posted a negative review of Tallahassee Police Officer Annette Garrett on Ratemycop.com, along with identifying personal details, including her residential address.

Even though the posted information was all gleaned from public sources, Brayshaw ran afoul of a state law criminalizing the publication of a police officer’s address and phone number.

Any person who shall maliciously, with intent to obstruct the due execution of the law or with the intent to intimidate, hinder, or interrupt any law enforcement officer in the legal performance of his or her duties, publish or disseminate the residence address or telephone number of any law enforcement officer while designating the officer as such, without authorization of the agency which employs the officer, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

Subsequently, Brayshaw was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. Represented by the American Civil  Liberties Union, he sued.

Note that the law protects only police officers, and only when they are identified as such. Under the law, you could publish your dentist’s address, or even Annette Garrett’s address if you omitted her occupation. The law is explicitly crafted to shield the state’s enforcers.

As deferential as the courts usually are to law-enforcement officers, the Florida law went too far for U.S. District Court Judge Richard Smoak. In his ruling (PDF), he noted that the courts have long held that the government can criminalize the publication of information only under very specific circumstances, including explicit threats.

Simply publishing an officer’s phone number, address, and e-mail address is not in itself a threat or serious expression of an intent to commit an unlawful act of violence. Indeed, the word “threat” appears nowhere in § 843.17, nor was there any threat of violence made by Plaintiff in conjunction with his posting of Officer Garrett’s address and phone number.

Even if Brayshaw intended to intimidate Officer Garrett, such intimidation is legally protected and doesn’t constitute a “true threat.”

Moreover, there’s a clear value to allowing the public to publicize identifying information about police officers.

The publication of truthful personal information about police officers is linked to the issue of police accountability through aiding in achieving service of process, researching criminal history of officers, organizing lawful pickets, and other peaceful and lawful forms of civic involvement that publicize the issue.

Both because the law proscribes protected speech and is not narrowly tailored, Judge Smoak found it “unconstitutional and invalid.”

Which means that Florida residents can go back to publicizing their expriences with police officers with the same freedom under which they review doctors and dishwashers.