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Posts Tagged ‘Crime’

I’ve pointed out that Washington is a cesspool of legal corruption. But if you don’t believe me (and you have a strong stomach), feel free to peruse these posts, all of which highlight odious examples of government sleaze.

But occasionally elected officials cross the blurry line and get in trouble for illegal corruption.

For those of you who follow politics, you may have seen news reports suggesting that Robert Menendez, a Democratic Senator from New Jersey, will soon be indicted for the alleged quid pro quo of trying to line the pockets of a major donor.

Attorney General Eric Holder has signed off on prosecutors’ plans to charge Menendez, CNN reported on Friday. …A federal grand jury has been investigating whether Menendez improperly used his official office to advocate on Melgen’s behalf about the disputed Medicare regulations when he met with the agency’s acting administrator and with the secretary of Health and Human Services, according to a ruling by a federal appeals court that became public last week. The ruling also said the government was looking at efforts by Menendez’s office to assist a company Melgen partly owned that had a port security contract in the Dominican Republic.

I certainly have no interest in defending Senator Menendez, but I can’t help but wonder what’s the difference between his alleged misbehavior and the actions of almost every other politician in Washington.

Here’s what I assume to be the relevant part of the criminal code, which I downloaded from the Office of Government Ethics (yes, that’s a bit of an oxymoron).

Stripped of all the legalese, it basically says that if a politician does something that provides value to another person, and that person as a result also gives something of value to the politician, that quid-pro-quo swap is a criminal offense.

Now keep this language from the criminal code in mind as we look at some very disappointing behavior by Republican presidential candidates at a recent Iowa gathering.

As Wall Street Journal opined, GOPers at the Ag Summit basically competed to promise unearned benefits to the corporate-welfare crowd in exchange for political support (i.e., something of great value to politicians).

Iowa is…a bad place to start is because it’s the heartland of Republican corporate welfare. Witness this weekend’s pander fest known as the Ag Summit, in which the potential 2016 candidates competed to proclaim their devotion to the Renewable Fuel Standard and the 2.3-cent per kilowatt hour wind-production tax credit. The event was hosted by ethanol kingpin Bruce Rastetter… Two of the biggest enthusiasts were Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee… The fuel standard “creates jobs in small town and rural America, which is where people are hurting,” said Mr. Santorum, who must have missed the boom in farm incomes of recent years.

But it’s not just social conservatives who were promising to swap subsidies for political support.

Self-styled conservative reformers may be willing to take on government unions, which is laudable, but they get timid when dealing with moochers in Iowa.

Scott Walker, who in 2006 said he opposed the renewable fuel standard, did a switcheroo and now sounds like St. Augustine. He’s for ethanol chastity, but not yet. The Wisconsin Governor said his long-term goal is to reach a point when “eventually you didn’t need to have a standard,” but for now mandating ethanol is necessary to ensure “market access.”

And establishment candidates also tiptoed around the issue, suggesting at the very least a continuation of the quid pro quo of subsidies in exchange for political support.

Jeb Bush at least called for phasing out the wind credit, which was supposed to be temporary when it became law in 1992. But he danced around the renewable standard, which became law when his brother signed the energy bill passed by the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid Congress.

Geesh, maybe this is why Bush won’t promise to oppose tax hikes.

And there are more weak-kneed GOPers willing to trade our money to boost their careers.

Chris Christie wouldn’t repudiate the wind tax credit, perhaps because in 2010 the New Jersey Governor signed into law $100 million in state tax credits for offshore wind production. He also endorsed the RFS as the law of the land…, but what voters want to know is what Mr. Christie thinks the law should be. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry sounded somewhat contrite for supporting the wind tax credit, which has been a boon for Texas energy companies.

The only Republican who rejected corporate welfare (among those who participated) was Senator Ted Cruz.

The only Ag Summiteer who flat-out opposed the RFS was Texas Senator Ted Cruz , who has also sponsored a bill in Congress to repeal it. In response to Mr. Rastetter’s claim that oil companies were shutting ethanol out of the market, he noted “there are remedies in the antitrust laws to deal with that if you’re having market access blocked.”

Though even Cruz deviated from free-market principles by suggesting that anti-trust bureaucrats should use the coercive power of government to force oil companies to help peddle competing products.

Sigh.

By the way, I don’t mean to single out Republicans. Trading votes for campaign cash is a bipartisan problem in Washington.

But it is rather disappointing that the politicians who claim to support free markets and small government are so quick to reverse field when trolling for votes and money.

At least politicians like Obama don’t pretend to be a friend before stealing my money.

P.S. Normally I try to add an amusing postscript after writing about a depressing topic.

I’m not sure whether this story from the U.K.-based Times is funny, but it definitely has an ironic component.

Judge Juan Augustín Maragall, sitting in Barcelona, ruled that prostitutes should be given a contract by their employers, who should also pay their social security contributions. …In giving his verdict in the civil case, brought over a breach of labour regulations, the judge went further than expected, ruling that the women’s rights had been flouted by the management and forcing the company to pay the social security payments of three prostitutes backdated to 2012. Because of the ruling all brothels will be forced with immediate effect to issue contracts to staff and pay their social security contributions.

Now here’s the ironic part.

The ruling will generate tax revenue even though it’s actually illegal to employ prostitutes!

…it is against the law to make money from pimping, which carries a four-year jail term.

I guess the Judge could have ruled that the customers were the employers, but somehow I suspect it would have been difficult to extract employment taxes from those men.

Just like it would be difficult to extract employment taxes from the women.

Though the hookers won’t mind getting unemployment benefits so long as someone else is paying the taxes.

Conxha Borrell, of the Association of Sex Professionals, welcomed the ruling.

I guess we should add this to our great-moments-in-human-rights series.

Though maybe I should start a great-moments-in-economic-ignorance series since the prostitutes will be the ones who bear the burden of the tax even if the pimps are the ones writing the checks to the government (just as workers bear the burden of the “employer share” of the Social Security payroll tax).

P.P.S. Maybe Spanish hookers should reclassify themselves as porn artists who allow audience participation? That way, they can take advantage of Spain’s preferential tax rate for smut.

P.P.P.S. The Germans at least have figured out an efficient way to tax prostitutes.

P.P.P.P.S. Though maybe prostitutes should become politicians. The business model is quite similar, and I suspect you can “earn” more income selling access to other people’s money rather than selling sex to men who have to use their own money.

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One of the most important bulwarks of a just society is equal justice under law.

That principle is even etched in stone above the entrance to the Supreme Court.

My belief in equal treatment is one of the reasons I support the flat tax. As an economist, I like the pro-growth impact of tax reform. But as someone who believes in justice, I also support the flat tax because I don’t like class-warfare policies that punish some taxpayers and corrupt loopholes that give preferential status to other taxpayers.

Indeed, my support for equality of law is so strong that I even object to policies that benefit me, such as special TSA lines in airports for frequent flyers.

But sometimes it’s not clear how a principle should be applied. So let’s revive the “you be the judge” series, which asks thorny questions about the workings of a free society, and explore the case of income-based traffic fines.

Check out these excerpts from a BBC story.

Finland’s speeding fines are linked to income, with penalties calculated on daily earnings, meaning high earners get hit with bigger penalties for breaking the law. So, when businessman Reima Kuisla was caught doing 103km/h (64mph) in an area where the speed limit is 80km/h (50mph), authorities turned to his 2013 tax return, the Iltalehti newspaper reports. He earned 6.5m euros (£4.72m) that year, so was told to hand over 54,000 euros. …Mr Kuisla might be grateful he doesn’t earn more. In 2002, an executive at Nokia was slapped with a 116,000-euro fine for speeding on his Harley Davidson motorbike. His penalty was based on a salary of 14m euros.

So is this a case of greedy government targeting people for the sin of success?

Well, I’m sure the government is greedy, but what about the morality of income-based fines?

The driver isn’t happy, but others argue that deterrence doesn’t work unless the actual impact of the fine is the same for rich and poor alike.

The scale of the fine hasn’t gone down well with Mr Kuisla. “Ten years ago I wouldn’t have believed that I would seriously consider moving abroad,” he says on his Facebook page. “Finland is impossible to live in for certain kinds of people who have high incomes and wealth.” There’s little sympathy from his fellow Finns on social media. …person says: “Small fines won’t deter the rich – fines have to ‘bite’ everyone the same way.”

At the risk of sounding like a soft-headed leftist, I’m not overly sympathetic to Mr. Kuisla’s position.

Simply stated, if the goal of traffic fines is deterrence, then the penalties should vary with income.

I remember when I was young, living on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis, a traffic fine sometimes would chew up a non-trivial part of my disposable income. That affected my behavior.

Now that I’m older and making more money (and especially since my kids are mostly done with their schooling!), a traffic fine is just a nuisance (though I still sometimes get very upset).

Though this discussion wouldn’t be complete without also considering the fact that traffic laws and enforcement oftentimes are motivated by revenue rather than safety.

The most compelling evidence comes from Ferguson, Missouri. It seems that what’s driving the mistreatment of black people is government greed.

Here’s some of what Ian Tuttle wrote on the topic for National Review.

The Department of Justice’s “Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department,” released this week…what the material in the report reveals is less a culture of racial animus than one of predatory government: “Ferguson’s law enforcement practices,” states the report, “are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs.” …myriad municipal regulations that, rigorously enforced, nickel-and-dime the citizenry to the local government’s benefit. This is the injustice on which the Justice Department has stumbled, which helps to explain the city’s racial tensions — and which merits urgent correction.

I fully understand why many blacks in Ferguson are angry.

Imagine if you had a modest income and you were constantly being hit with $50 and $100 fines (oftentimes then made much larger thanks to the scam of “court fees”).

This can wreck a family’s budget when it doesn’t have much money. So wouldn’t you be upset?

Particularly since “predatory government” is a very good description of the Ferguson bureaucracy.

In 2010, the city’s finance director encouraged Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson to “ramp up” ticket-writing to help mitigate an anticipated sales-tax shortfall. …One stop can yield six or eight citations, and officers have been known to compete to set single-stop records. Indeed, within Ferguson Police Department, because opportunities for promotion have been tied to “productivity” — that is, enthusiasm for ticket-writing — officers have perverse incentives to issue citations, and in concert with police and prosecutors, municipal courts regularly enforce the payment of fines in a way that compounds what a single defendant owes.

Now let’s connect Ferguson with Finland.

Our Finnish driver is upset by his giant fine, but at least he probably can relate to the poor people of Ferguson.

But the more successful people of Ferguson, to the extent that they are even targeted by the local cops, have almost nothing to worry about.

…this practice — of police and prosecutors and courts together — disproportionately affects black communities not because they are black, but because they are poor. They do not have the means to escape the justice apparatus, unlike the comparatively wealthy, who can pay a fine and be done with the matter — or hire an attorney, and inconvenience courts that prefer the ease of collecting fees to the challenge of arbitrating cases.

Here’s the bottom line.

If we want a just society, there should be few laws and they should be enforced on the basis of protecting public safety rather than enriching the bureaucracy.

In such a system, income-based fines and penalties are a reasonable way of making sure deterrence applies equally to rich and poor.

Unfortunately, we have far too many laws and they are used as back-door taxes on the citizenry.

So if we adopt income-based fines, the politicians will simply have more money to spend and even less incentive to scale back excessive and thuggish government.

Heck, just look at how asset-forfeiture laws and money-laundering laws have turned into revenue scams for Leviathan.

P.S. Since today’s post ended with a depressing conclusion, let’s share some a bit of offsetting good news.

As reported by The Hill, the spirit of civil disobedience lives even in Washington!

From sledding to snowball fights, dozens of children and their parents took to Capitol Hill Thursday afternoon to protest a controversial sledding ban. Capitol Police have refused to lift the sledding ban, but some parents organized a “sled in” on the west lawn of the Capitol to put a spotlight on the unpopular rule. …Capitol Police pointed out that more than 20,000 sledding injuries occur in the U.S. each year…, but officers on the ground also refused to enforce it. …It’s turning into a public relations nightmare for those who oppose sledding and support the ban.

You’ll doubtlessly be horrified to learn that illegal sledding is – gasp! – a gateway crime to other forms of misbehavior.

…the children were not only sledding but also climbing trees, building snowmen and throwing snowballs at one another.

Oh My God, unlicensed snowmen, unregistered tree climbing, and illegal snowballs! Freedom is obviously too dangerous.

Next thing you know, these kids will grow up to engage in other forms of civil disobedience, just like Arizona drivers and Connecticut gun owners.

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Earlier today, I gave a speech to some folks at London’s Institute of Economic Affairs about the failure of global financial regulation.

I touched on some predictable themes:

The absence of cost/benefit analysis for regulatory initiatives.

The failure of anti-money laundering laws and their harmful impact on the poor.

How one-size-fits-all Basel rules led to imprudent risk and misallocation of capital.

How anti-tax competition schemes impose high costs on the financial system (which get passed on to financial consumers).

One thing I noticed, though, is that I didn’t get overly passionate when discussing these topics. I didn’t even get that worked up when talking about the OECD’s dangerous plan to create something akin to a World Tax Organization.

But I did get rather agitated when talking about how money-laundering rules and regulations have led to disgusting and reprehensible examples of so-called civil asset forfeiture.

This happens when a government decides to steal the property of citizens simply because they think it may have been involved in illegal activity.

Politicians and bureaucrats often use the failed Drug War as their rationale, but the activity doesn’t actually have to be illegal. I specifically cited the horrific example of the government stealing $35,000 from some folks in Michigan for no other reason than money from the family grocery business was generally deposited in amounts under $10,000.

I’m sure such government actions have a negative economic impact, but this is a case where the moral argument should take precedence.

Simply stated, all decent and humane people should stand united against thuggery by government.

And in an example of serendipity, after finishing my speech, I turned on my computer and came across more evidence against civil asset forfeiture.

Here are some truly disturbing passages from a report in the Detroit Free Press that showed up in my Twitter feed.

Thomas Williams was alone that November morning in 2013 when police raided his rural St. Joseph County home, wearing black masks, camouflage and holding guns at their sides. They broke down his front door with a battering ram. “We think you’re dealing marijuana,” they told Williams, a 72-year-old, retired carpenter and cancer patient who is disabled and carries a medical marijuana card. When he protested, they handcuffed him and left him on the living room floor as they ransacked his home, emptying drawers, rummaging through closets and surveying his grow room, where he was nourishing his 12 personal marijuana plants as allowed by law.

All this sounds horrible – and it is, but it gets worse.

They did not charge Williams with a crime… Instead, they took his Dodge Journey, $11,000 in cash from his home, his television, his cell phone, his shotgun and are attempting to take his Colon Township home. And they plan to keep the proceeds, auctioning off the property and putting the cash in police coffers. More than a year later, he is still fighting to get his belongings back and to hang on to his house. “I want to ask them, ‘Why? Why me?’ I gave them no reason to do this to me,” said Williams, who says he also suffers from glaucoma, a damaged disc in his back, and COPD, a lung disorder. “I’m out here minding my own business, and just wanted to be left alone.”

Why him? Well, one local attorney has a good idea of what’s really happening.

“It’s straight up theft,” said Williams’ Kalamazoo attorney, Dan Grow. “The forfeiture penalty does not match the crime. It’s absurd. …A lot of my practice is made up of these kinds of cases — middle-aged, middle-income people who have never been in trouble before. It’s all about the money.”

Just to be clear, Mr. Grow is emphasizing the utterly perverse incentive structure that exists when cops are allowed to steal money from citizens and use it to pad their own budget.

This system needs to be reformed.

And the second bit of serendipity is that a new report from the Institute for Justice showed up in my inbox. It explains why civil asset forfeiture should be abolished. And while the report focuses on the venal actions of the IRS, this reform should apply to all government agencies at all levels of government.

Civil forfeiture is the government’s power to take property suspected of involvement in a crime. Unlike criminal forfeiture, no one needs to be convicted of—or even a charged with—a crime for the government to take the property. Lax civil forfeiture standards enable the IRS to “seize first and ask questions later,” taking money without serious investigation and forcing owners into a long and difficult legal battle to try to stop the forfeiture. Any money forfeited is then used to fund further law enforcement efforts, giving agencies like the IRS an incentive to seize.

Here’s how IJ suggests that this type of abuse can be halted.

The surest way to prevent innocent people from losing money unjustly would be to end civil forfeiture and replace it with criminal forfeiture. Short of that, removing the financial incentive to seize, raising the standard of proof to forfeit and enacting other procedural reforms would help protect people from losing their bank accounts when the government has little or no proof of criminal wrongdoing.

While the Institute for Justice does great work, I don’t think they should have opened the door to halfway reforms.

Heck, even the two people who helped start up the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture program now say it should be abolished.

P.S. The Princess of the Levant is also in London, so I’m being forced to engage in tourist activities.

We took a ride on the London Eye, which wasn’t cheap but offers very good views of Big Ben, the House of Commons, Westminster Abbey, and other historic sites.

As far as I’m concerned, though, London is too cold and dreary. The only good tourism involves a warm beach in the Caribbean.

P.P.S. To close on a humorous note, here’s some anti-gun control humor with a rather pointed message.

Definitely worth adding to my collection.

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Back in 2013, I shared a snarky post comparing murder rates in Chicago and Houston. What made the data amusing is that any sensible person would look at Chicago’s high murder rate and strict gun control and conclude that perhaps, just maybe, such policies don’t work.

But the post speculated that a left-wing social scientist would instead conclude that “cold weather causes murder.”

Today, let’s take a more serious look at the issue.

Here’s a great video, narrated by Bill Whittle, that looks at gun ownership rates and murder rates. As you can see, America is the number one nation for gun ownership, but we’re nowhere near the top in murder rates.

Having had many arguments with leftists, I can tell you that their response to this video will be to point out that America has one of the highest murder rates if you look solely at developed nations.

That’s true, but this is why the most persuasive data in the video comes near the end when Bill looks at murder rates by major metropolitan areas.

He shows that pro-gun control cities have very high murder rates, whereas heavily armed, pro-gun places such as Plano, TX, have murder rates lower than some of the most tranquil places on the planet.

And although Bill doesn’t make the connection, it’s very much worth noting that Switzerland is one of the world’s most heavily armed nations, yet the murder rate is extremely low.

Moreover, there were no murders in the most recent years for which data are available in Monaco and Liechtenstein, yet I’ve been told during visits to both principalities that there is widespread private gun ownership.

Gee, maybe John Lott is right about more guns leading to less crime.

P.S. Since we’re sharing good news on guns, here’s a heartwarming story about civil disobedience. But this isn’t about civil disobedience solely by gun owners, as we’ve seen in Connecticut.

This is a story about civil disobedience sanctioned by a law enforcement officer!

J.D. Tuccille of Reason reports on the principled behavior of a sheriff in New York.

Fulton County Sheriff Thomas J. Lorey is already known as a supporter of the Second Amendment… Despite the Empire State’s fame as a jurisdiction unfriendly to private gun ownership—or, really, any activity beyond the reach of government officials—Lorey isn’t alone in his views. The New York State Sheriffs Association and individual sheriffs are already on record opposing tightened gun laws and suing the governor to block their enforcement. But Lorey goes a step further, and urges his constituents to defy the state’s handgun permit law. …”I’m asking everyone that gets those invitations to throw them in the garbage because that is where they belong,” says Lorey in the video below. “They go in the garbage because, for 100 years or more, ever since the inception of pistol permits, nobody has ever been required to renew them.”

Makes me proud to be an American when I read things like this.

Though I guess we shouldn’t be surprised to see law enforcement officers express skepticism about gun control. A poll of cops found that they overwhelmingly reject the left’s anti-gun ideology.

And let’s not forget about the poll showing an overwhelming majority of regular citizens would engage in civil disobedience if the government tried to confiscate guns.

P.P.S. Since it’s Super Bowl weekend, here’s a depressing reminder of the NFL’s anti-gun bias.

P.P.P.S. If you like pro-Second Amendment videos, here’s a great collection.

And if you want gun control videos that are both funny and on the right side, here’s my collection.

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Over and over again, I’ve shared evidence showing that gun ownership deters crime.

As I pointed out in my IQ test for criminals and liberals, even stupid criminals don’t want to get shot, so they are less likely to go after victims who may be armed (if you don’t believe me, check out this feel-good story from Ferguson, Missouri).

But what if the bad guys don’t care if they get shot? What if they’re these crazies who want to shoot up schools or movie theaters, fully expecting to kill themselves or get shot when police eventually arrive?

Even in that case, gun ownership by innocent people presumably has a positive impact. Research on mass shootings reveals that these nut jobs gravitate to “gun-free zones.” That way, they figure there won’t be any immediate resistance and they’ll be able to maximize casualties.

Let’s take our analysis to the next level. What if the bad guys are lunatic Islamofascists who think they get a bunch of virgins in paradise if they butcher so-called infidels?

These evil scum presumably aren’t deterred by the possibility of death, but it’s also logical to assume that they want to maximize the carnage they inflict before that happens.

So if potential victims are armed, that presumably will have a positive impact. After all, terrorists generally don’t try to take on Israeli soldiers. Instead, they go after people with far more limited ability to fight back.

In a humane and just world, lawmakers would agree that these folks should have some ability to defend themselves. But that’s not how the real-world works, at least in European nations that impose severe gun control.

Maybe it’s time to change that misguided policy, which is exactly what some European Jews are proposing.

Here are some excerpts from a story in the U.K.-based Daily Mail.

One of Europe’s largest Jewish associations has written a letter to EU ministers asking for gun laws to be relaxed to allow Jews to arm themselves to protect against terror attacks. Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the head of the European Jewish Association, made the request in the wake of the Paris attacks in which four Jews were killed inside a deli in the French capital. …The letter speaks about the need for protection after Islamist Amedy Coulibaly gunned down four Jewish shoppers in cold blood in a Paris deli last Friday before he was shot by armed police. …Police later found he had maps showing the locations of Jewish schools in Paris. …Nobody from the European Council of Ministers was immediately available for comment on the letter when contacted by Mail Online this afternoon.

Needless to say, I’m not expecting European politicians to give the right answer to this request.

Instead, they’ll offer platitudes and assure people that the government will protect synagogues and Jewish schools.

That better than nothing, of course, but why not let individuals have the right to self defense?

John Hinderaker of Powerline adds his two cents to the issue.

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris shed some light on this question. In the case of the Charlie Hebdo murders, two armed guards were present, but were quickly overwhelmed by the well-trained (and no doubt better armed) terrorists. It is unlikely that civilians armed with pistols would have fared better. The kosher grocery attack was quite different. It was carried out by a single terrorist and, rather than being executed rapidly and with military precision, the terrorist held something like 30 people hostage for a matter of hours. This is a good example of a situation where civilians armed with concealed weapons could likely make a difference. If one of the hostages had a gun (or better yet, two or three hostages had guns) he could well have had an opportunity to get off a clean shot and kill or disable the terrorist.

Very well stated, though I’ll disagree in one respect. It’s quite possible that well-armed terrorists would have prevailed in their attack on Charlie Hebdo even if some of the employees were armed.

But if I worked at that magazine, I would still want the option of self defense. Far better to go down fighting than to cower under a desk.

I suspect John would agree, so we probably don’t have any real disagreement.

In any event, John’s has more good information and analysis in his blog post.

…a critical mass of armed civilians can change criminals’ behavior dramatically. In the United Kingdom, burglars generally look for homes that are occupied so that they can force the occupants to direct them to the family’s valuables–and, in the process, commit a rape or other heinous crime. In the United States, burglars almost always seek out unoccupied homes, because if the homeowner is present there is a possibility the burglar could be shot. The American experience suggests that as the citizenry becomes armed, street crime declines. The causes are hotly debated, but violent crime rates have steadily gone down in tandem with liberalized gun carry laws and broader ownership of handguns. …In parts of Europe, it is common for Jews to be attacked by gangs of young Muslims when they are out in public. Such attacks would decline rapidly if it were known that Jews are arming themselves, and if, in only a few instances, thugs attempting to perpetrate such attacks were shot in self-defense. In my view, deterring street attacks would be the largest potential benefit of wider firearms ownership. …if I were a European Jew would I arm myself to the maximum extent permitted by law, and seek legal changes to make self-defense more effective? Absolutely.

Actually, I’ll disagree with another minor aspect of John’s post.

If I were a European Jew, I would arm myself regardless of the law. My family’s protection would matter more than the foolish/evil laws of politicians.

P.S. Don’t forget that Jews were victimized by the Nazi’s gun control laws, visual depictions of which can be seen here, here, here, and here.

P.P.S. On a less somber note, here are two very amusing Chuck Asay cartoons (here and here) about so-called gun-free zones. And here are some more amusing images on that issue.

P.P.P.S. Sticking with the humor theme, here’s an interview featuring a well-deserved lesson for a left-wing journalist (presumably an urban legend, but still funny). And here a post on the difference between conservatives, liberals, and Texans. Last but not least, I hope these are the virgins waiting in paradise to greet the terrorists.

P.P.P.P.S. To end on a serious note, I will continue my tradition of sharing the very powerful testimony of a true gun expert, as well as the admissions of two leftists (here and here) who admit that gun control is grossly misguided. All three of these links should be widely shared.

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It’s probably not a fun time to be a police officer. The deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York have led some – including the Mayor of New York City – to explicitly or implicitly accuse cops of systemic racism.

And then you have folks like me, who grouse about cops for reprehensible abuse of citizens as part of the drug war, as well as disgusting examples of theft using civil asset forfeiture.

Heck, any decent person should get upset about some of the ways law enforcement officials abuse their powers. Consider these excerpts from a nightmarish story out of Houston.

Chad Chadwick has something many citizens can only covet – a spotless record. …But on the night of September 27th, 2011 Chadwick’s commitment to living within the law did him no good at all. It started when a friend concerned for Chadwick’s emotional well-being called Missouri City police to Chad’s Sienna apartment where he’d been distraught, drinking and unknown to anyone, had gone to sleep in the bathtub. A SWAT team was summoned.

I’m not sure why a SWAT team was needed in this case, but that’s not the horrific part of the story.

Here’s what then happened.

“They told a judge I had hostages. They lied to a judge and told him I had hostages in my apartment and they needed to enter,” said Chadwick. …Chadwick’s firearm possession apparently prompted SWAT to kick in his door, launch a stun grenade into the bathroom and storm in, according to Chadwick, without announcing their identity. “While I had my hands up naked in the shower they shot me with a 40 millimeter non-lethal round,” said Chadwick. A second stun grenade soon followed. “I turned away, the explosion went off, I opened my eyes the lights are out and here comes a shield with four or five guys behind it. They pinned me against the wall and proceeded to beat the crap out of me,” said Chadwick. That’s when officers shot the unarmed Chadwick in the back of the head with a Taser at point blank range. …And it wasn’t over. “They grabbed me by my the one hand that was out of the shower and grabbed me by my testicles slammed me on my face on the floor and proceeded to beat me more,” said Chadwick. Chadwick, who hadn’t broken a single law when SWAT burst through his door, was taken to the Ft. Bend County Jail with a fractured nose, bruised ribs and what’s proven to be permanent hearing loss. He was held in an isolation cell for two full days.

Did Mr. Chadwick then get a profuse apology when it was determined that he hadn’t broken any laws?

Not exactly.

Ft. Bend County District Attorney John Healy sought to indict Chadwick on two felony counts of assaulting a police officer, but a Grand Jury said no law was broken. …but Healy’s prosecutors tried misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest, calling more than a dozen officers to testify. Those charges were dropped as well.

The government eventually did figure out a way to get Mr. Chadwick into court, but it didn’t turn out so well.

A month ago, three years after the SWAT raid, a jury found Chad Chadwick not guilty of interfering with police. With tears in their eyes members of the jury offered the exonerated defendant comforting hugs. “They tried to make me a convict. It broke me financially, bankrupted me. I used my life savings, not to mention, I lost my kids,” said Chadwick.

This is one of these cases where I hope Mr. Chadwick sues and gets generously compensated (and I would want any damages to be financed out of the budgets of the officials who misbehaved).

Defenders of the police will argue, quite correctly, that we shouldn’t smear entire police forces or the overall justice system simply because there are some bad cops and unethical prosecutors.

That’s certainly the right attitude, though it’s worth noting that sometimes the “culture” of a police force can get so poisonous that wholesale dismissal is the only way to get better performance.

Here are some passages from a New York Times report about a city in New Jersey that got far better results by firing its entire police force.

It has been 16 months since Camden took the unusual step of eliminating its police force and replacing it with a new one run by the county. …the old force had all but given up responding to some types of crimes. Dispensing with expensive work rules, the new force hired more officers within the same budget — 411, up from about 250. It hired civilians to use crime-fighting technology it had never had the staff for. …Average response time is now 4.4 minutes, down from more than 60 minutes, and about half the average in many other cities. …In June and July, the city went 40 days without a homicide — unheard-of in a Camden summer. …And while the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., has drawn attention to long-simmering hostilities between police departments and minority communities, Camden is becoming an example of the opposite. “We’re not going to do this by militarizing streets,” Chief Thomson said. Instead, he sent officers to knock on doors and ask residents their concerns. He lets community leaders monitor surveillance cameras from their home computers to help watch for developing crime.

 An even more dramatic example comes from Georgia, a country of 5 million people wedged between Russia and Turkey.

As part of a series of reforms to create free markets and honest government, all 15,000 cops from the State Traffic Inspection Office were fired.

Georgian authorities chose a radical method of reforming the police structures which were not working. …The State Traffic Inspection was one of the most corrupt units in the Georgian government. It was almost totally self-financed, fleecing both local and foreign drivers as they traveled Georgian roadways. According to estimates, 80 percent of the money extorted from drivers was distributed along the chain of command all the way up to the minister. …In early summer of 2004, Merabishvili eliminated the State Traffic Inspection, firing all fifteen thousand employees in a single day! Two months later, in August 2004, the force was replaced by competitive hiring of employees for the newly formed US-style highway patrol. During the two-month transition period there was no policing of the roads, and yet the number of car accidents did not increase. There were no riots.

The part about nothing bad happening when there were no cops is especially revealing.

Sort of like how nothing bad happened during the sequester, even though President Obama warned of terrible consequences (humorously captured by these cartoons).

Or when we got welfare reform in the 1990s and poverty went down instead of increasing as the left predicted.

But now let’s defend cops, who actually help fulfill one of the few legitimate functions of government. And there are two reasons they deserve defending.

First, the vast majority of them almost certainly are good and decent people who simply want to help others by fighting and deterring crime. That’s a real value.

Second, almost all of the bad stories about cops exist because politicians have enacted bad laws. I’ve made this point about the drug war. I’ve made this point about asset forfeiture. And I’ve made this point in the case of Eric Garner.

If politicians didn’t criminalize victimless behavior, most horror stories would disappear.

And if politicians didn’t treat police departments as backdoor vehicles for taking money from citizens, there would be no need for some of the unfortunate interactions that now occur between cops and citizens.

Now let’s defend the police from a very incendiary charge. Are cops racists, as some protesters (and government officials) would like us to believe?

Well, I’m sure there are some racist cops (of all colors), just as there are racist accountants, truck drivers, bureaucrats, and even economists. But the real issue is whether racism is a pervasive problem.

And when looking at one of today’s hot-button issues, the answer seems to be no. Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute has some compelling evidence that the police do not disproportionately kill blacks.

…understanding the relationship between African-American communities and law enforcement requires a deeper analysis than a single headline… One simple way to check for bias is to see whether the number of violent crimes needed to explain one police-related death is different depending on one’s race. …We divide the number of violent crimes by the arrest-related deaths for each race. The quotient tells us, on average, how many violent crimes it takes, by race, to produce one arrest-related death. If police are unambiguously racist, then it should take fewer violent crimes to induce one death in the African-American community. As the chart shows, according to our data, African Americans and white Americans have roughly the same proportion of violent crimes to police-related deaths. …These numbers are strikingly similar. The difference between them is small, and not statistically significant. …police appear to be treating the races the same.

But that hasn’t stopped the Obama Administration from subsidizing a group that produced a video that seemingly condones cop killing.

The Obama administration’s Justice Department funneled at least $1.5 million in grants to a New York legal-aid group featured in a new rap video that depicts two young black men aiming handguns at a white police officer. …The video for  “Hands Up,” which also shows a white police officer gunning down a black motorist wearing a hoodie, contains lyrics suggesting revenge for much-publicized deaths of black men in confrontations with police. …The organization, which was founded in 1997 and boasts some high-powered corporate lawyers on its board, has enjoyed a steady flow of taxpayer dollars since President Obama took office in 2009.

This is disgusting.

Accusing cops of systemic racism without evidence is bad enough, but to subsidize a group that glorifies cop killing is downright evil.

But the bottom of line of this post is that our main problem is too many laws that are either designed to collect revenue or to dictate private behavior.

That’s where reforms should focus, not on vilifying the average cop.

P.S. I can’t resist sharing an amusing anecdote about cops. Several years ago, I spoke at the Liberty Forum in New Hampshire, a conference connected with the Free State Project. Many of the participants were avid practitioners of “open carry,” which meant they had handguns strapped to their sides. At one point, I was riding with several of these folks down the elevator at the conference hotel and a family got in. A young boy noticed all their weapons and asked “Are you guys cops?” One of them cheerfully responded, “No, we’re the good guys.”

P.P.S. On the other hand, I also have a less-than-amusing anecdote.

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According to Gallup, Americans now identify “government” as the most important problem facing the United States.

That doesn’t surprise. Gallup also found last year that big government is considered a far greater danger to the nation that big business or big labor.

Moreover, a poll from NPR earlier this year found that government was the leading cause of stress in people’s lives.

And Gallup discovered earlier this year that a record number of Americans think that government is corrupt.

So why do Americans have such a dour view of officialdom?

Well, let’s look at one example. The Wall Street Journal has a devastating editorial about dishonest and unethical behavior by federal and state bureaucracies.

The column starts with a strong assertion.

Prosecutorial misconduct has become an ugly commonplace of modern government, manipulating the legal system to attack easy political targets. 

It’s one that many people recognize is accurate, and probably helps to explain why pollsters now find the kinds of results cited above.

But if you think the WSJ is exaggerating or that people are misguided for being hostile to government, just check out how Andy Johnson, Anthony Smelley, Charlie Engle, Tammy Cooper, Nancy Black, Russ Caswell, Jacques Wajsfelner, Jeff Councelller, Eric Garner, Martha Boneta, Carole Hinders, Salvatore Culosi, and James Lieto were victimized by bureaucrats run amok.

But I’m digressing. Let’s get to this newest case. It deals with a forest fire in California and subsequent efforts for federal and state bureaucracies to blame a private company and extort some of the firm’s cash and land.

The story began in 2007 with the Moonlight Fire in California that burned some 65,000 acres, about two-thirds on federal land. Within 48 hours and while the flames were still burning, the state’s department of forestry and fire protection, known as Cal Fire, and the U.S. Forest Service blamed the disaster on Sierra Pacific, a Redding-based company that owns some 1.2 million acres of timberland. In 2009 a federal-state task force brought official complaints against the company and nearby landowners. California officials filed an action in state court while prosecutors sued for $1 billion in federal court. Sierra Pacific has insisted it didn’t start the fire but, faced with an open-ended legal fight, the company in 2012 settled the federal case for $55 million and a deed of some 22,500 acres to the U.S. government.

So far, so good, at least from the federal government’s perspective.

But there was still the case that was filed in state court, which presumably represented another attempt to extort more money from Sierra Pacific.

And this is where the government screwed up, whether through greed or incompetence (probably both). The WSJ has some of the sordid details that have been unearthed.

…the state case continued, and it has exposed a fiasco of fraud and corruption… Among other problems, government investigators and prosecutors doctored reports, misrepresented facts and retaliated against employees whose questions threatened their strategy. …According to the theory implicating the company, the fire started when the blade of a Sierra Pacific bulldozer hit a rock and created a spark. Government investigators pinpointed a location and claimed they had confirmation from a bulldozer driver. Problem was, both the fire’s alleged point of origin and the scenario to buttress it were fraudulent. When the company questioned the bulldozer driver, he denied having made the statement and admitted he couldn’t have confirmed the statement prosecutors had him sign because he didn’t know how to read. Prosecutors were also dishonest about where the fire started. Overhead videos have shown that the point of origin marked by the government was well outside the visual boundaries of the burning forest nearly an hour after the fire started.

I’m tempted at this point to make some snarky joke, but this issue is far too serious. When the government prevaricates in legal proceedings, that undermines the rule of law and call into question the integrity of the entire system.

And the column reveals that there was corruption and mendacity at both the state and federal level.

A second federal prosecutor, Eric Overby, joined the case in 2011, only to withdraw promptly on discovering what he called prosecutorial abuse directed squarely at raising revenue. He told defense counsel that in “my entire career, I have never seen anything like this. Never.” In February 2014, California state Judge Leslie Nichols assailed the federal and state government for abuses of discovery so “reprehensible” and “egregious” that they “threatened the integrity of the judicial process.” He threw out the case and awarded Sierra Pacific $30 million in sanctions against Cal Fire.

There are still reverberations from the case as Sierra Pacific is seeking to void the agreement that was made (based on lies) with the federal government. Needless to say, one hopes the company will win.

But there’s something else that needs to happen. The corrupt government officials need to be penalized, ideally with criminal sanctions including jail time. The government’s lawyers also should be disbarred and lose their jobs.

Punishment is the right approach, both because it is deserved and because it’s the only way of sending an effective signal to other bureaucrats that there is a personal risk to government malfeasance.

I also think Sierra Pacific, like any other victimized party, deserves compensation. Unfortunately, that money would come from taxpayers when it should be deducted from the budgets of the misbehaving bureaucracies (and the salaries of the bureaucrats).

P.S. I noted at the end of last year that President Hollande in France has decided to get rid of his class-warfare 75 percent top tax rate.

That’s a sign of progress, to be sure, but I wasn’t nearly as eloquent on the issue as Dan Hannan. The British MEP has some very wise words in today’s Washington Examiner.

I was living in Brussels when François Hollande, the President of France, introduced his 75 percent top rate tax in 2012. Immediately, my quartier began to fill with French exiles, who could commute to Paris in just over an hour.  …Three years on, President Hollande is shame-facedly scrapping the 75 percent rate, having forcibly re-learned an ancient truth: Wealth taxes don’t redistribute wealth; they redistribute people. Thousands of well-off Frenchmen made the easy journey north, including the country’s richest man, Bernard Arnault. …Hollande’s tax, levied on incomes above one million euros, has been a miserable failure. Over its lifespan, it raised around $500 million, a tiny fraction of the original projections. Why? Well, the Paris bureaucrats who made those projections overlooked something rather important. Rich people don’t sit around waiting to be taxed. They have all sorts of ways of beating the system… A lot of politicians don’t want to hear this. Instead of accepting international competition, they legislate against it — by, for example, imposing international rules on tax harmonization.

Amen to all these excerpts. Hollande’s class-warfare scheme was an economic failure and a revenue failure.

I also like what Hannan wrote about tax competition, and you can watch two very brief speeches he made on that topic by clicking here.

P.S. If you enjoy short Dan Hannan speeches, here’s one about the European bureaucracy racket and here’s one on the hypocrisy of European politicians.

P.P.S. My favorite item from Hannan, though, is his column about the socialist part of Germany’s National Socialists.

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