Posts From: January, 2011

“Our Donations Are Different”

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Tim Carney points out the absurdity of protesters funded by billionaire George Soros picketing the Koch family this weekend for corrupting the political system with its billionaire money. The moral rectitude on display is either hilarious are nauseating. Not sure which.

Carney also makes an interesting point about the lefty organization the Center for American Progress. The organization decries the “hidden influence” of corporations on the political process, and lashes out at the way the Kochs “covertly” influence politics by donating to nonprofits (scare quotes because there’s never been anything all that covert about it), but the Center for American Progress itself doesn’t release the names of its donors.

Now most of us at Koch-funded Reason don’t believe that think tanks, non-profits and advocacy groups should be compelled to release the names of their donors. (I don’t say “all” because I haven’t talked to everyone about this issue, and believe it or not, we are allowed form our own opinions!)  Yet in the interest of transparency, we ourselves publish in our magazine the name of anyone who have given us at least $1,000. (It was in the April issue last year.) So in sum: The lefty group that decries the covert nature of free market donors keeps its own donor list secret, while the free market group that defends the right to make political donations anonymously not only allows access to its donor list, it actually publishes the list for anyone to see.

One other thing. While clicking around on coverage of this weekend’s anti-Koch protests, I stumbled onto this article about the Kochs by Yasha Levine (of the “the TSA backlash is a libertarian conspiracy!” fame). Though it engages in much of the usual anti-Koch conspiracy mongering, the article also actually includes some sound criticism of Koch Industries, including the fact that the company engages in a lot of rent-seeking, dictator coddling, and other practices that aren’t remotely free market. (I won’t vouch for the validity of all the allegations. Just saying that if they are true, they’re legitimate criticisms.)

What’s hilarious, though, is that Levine points out in several places that the Koch-funded Cato Institute publishes papers and op-eds decrying some of the very anti-market policies the Koch company takes advantage of. Levine thinks this makes Cato a bunch of hypocrites. I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. Of course, you could also say that it’s a pretty good indication that Cato is guided by a core set of principles, and isn’t afraid to advocate those principles even when doing so butts up against the interests of one of its more influential donors.

Note the lose-lose scenario. You’re either in the service of your corporate paymasters, or you’re hypocrites for taking positions that your donors don’t abide in the real world. (But don’t mind me, I’m just the useful idiot in all of this!) I suppose the honorable thing would be for those of us in the free market movement to refuse to take any donations from anyone who has ever worked for a business or corporation, or inherited any money from someone who did (wonder if the Center for American Progress will offer to give back that sweet Walmart money in kind?). Of course, that would basically put anyone who has any money to donate off-limits. Which would mean no more free market advocacy. Hey, maybe that’s the point!

(Obligatory disclosure: I work for Reason magazine, which is published by the Reason Foundation, which gets money from the Koch family. Before that I worked for the Cato Institute, which also receives funding from Koch (and also Soros!). I am grateful to the Kochs for partially funding my six years of work on police and prosecutorial misconduct, police militarization, wrongful convictions, and criminal justice reform.)

That 1 Guy

Monday, January 31st, 2011

From the description:

Also known as Michael Silverman, That 1 Guy is a Berkeley, Calif.-based, classically trained string bassist. After performing with some of the nation’s top progressive jazz ensembles throughout the 1990s, Silverman created an instrument out of wire and iron pipes that could serve his ever-expanding musical techniques. Think “gutbucket” bass with a lot more firepower. The result is an astonishing solo act. That 1 Guy’s influences include Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Dr. Seuss, Rube Goldberg and Stanley Kubrick.

The Anti-Cop Trend That Isn’t

Monday, January 31st, 2011

My column this week takes a skeptical look at claims that anti-police rhetoric is fueling a violent war on cops.

Photo of the Day

Monday, January 31st, 2011

The Parthenon in Nashville. Cross-posted at Nashville Byline.


Morning Links

Monday, January 31st, 2011
  • The prairie dogs. They’re judging me.
  • Former call girl Maggie McNeil debunks that CNN scare story on underage prostitutes and Backpage.com.
  • Agitator pal, one-time guest-blogger, and two-time Agitator.com fantasy football points champion Baylen Linnekin has written a fascinating paper on the role colonial taverns played in shaping the First Amendment’s Assembly Clause. Also, look for a great article from Baylen on the regulation of food trucks in the April issue of Reason.
  • Via Reddit, this Wikipedia entry has nine sections, five subsections, and 128 footnotes.

Now, Imagine Your Uterus is a Ford Fiesta . . .

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

The strangest story you’ll read today.

Comment of the Day

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Responding to this post at Alicublog:

Balko is merely a useful idiot on this issue and probably not a bigot in the slightest.

But muckraking about legitimate abuses of police power at a glibertarian site, where your function in the local machine is chiefly to show that extra-judicial executions in places like Mississippi means that there shouldn’t be laws regulating trans-fats in San Francisco, is pretty much the textbook definition of useful idiot.

The awesome thing is that person was defending me. Also needs to look up the origin of the phrase useful idiot.

Sunday Links

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

“Do You Want Me To Throw It on the Ground?”

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

This was first posted to YouTube last summer, but has gone viral in the last 24 hours after someone posted it to Reddit. The Reddit post says it’s set in Wildwood, New Jersey, and begins as police are writing a guy a ticket for wearing a t-shirt with profanity. I can’t find a news account of the incident to verify that.

What is clear is that the officers are harassing a man who is legally recording the incident from a distance that in no way physically interferes with what the police are doing. One officer threatens to destroy his camera if he doesn’t put it away. Toward the end, several more officers confront the man again. One of them then tells him he’ll be “locked up” for disobeying an order unless he stops recording.

I’ve sent an email to the user who posted the video and left a message with the Wildwood police department to see what has happened since.

L.A. Teen Charged With “Attempted Lynching” Now Raided by Police

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Jeremy Marks, 18, was arrested and bizarrely charged with “attempted lynching” last May after an altercation another youth had with a campus police officer in Los Angeles. Marks was among several students who watched Officer Erin Robles get into a physical confrontation with another students in front of a bus stop. L.A. Weekly, which first reported on Marks’ case, says according to video and other witnesses, Marks doesn’t appear to have participated in the altercation in any way, other than to observe and record it.

When the story broke last month, several commenters stated that Marks was charged for recording the scuffle on his cell phone, though from what I’ve read, the “attempting lynching” charge actually stems from allegations Marks yelled “Kick her ass!” during the fight. “Attempted lynching” is a charge police levy at people accused of trying to incite a riot to help a suspect escape police custody (it’s a strange name for that charge, given the actual definition of lynching). But even that appears to be a case of mistaken identity.

Marks was initially facing seven years in prison. He’s facing more serious charges than anyone else involved, and that includes the kid who got into the fight with Robles in the first place (he’s a minor). The L.A. County DA’s office offered a plea which would have required him to serve 32 months in jail. He refused.

Marks was held in jail for seven months until Google engineer Neil Fraser read about his Marks’ on the Internet and sprang for his bail to have Marks home in time for Christmas.

It now appears Marks’ home was raided this week, and in a particularly aggressive manner. The only report of the raid I can find right now is from a website called Liberation, which I’ve never heard of, but bills itself as the “newspaper of the party for socialism and liberation.” So read the report with that in mind.

The family of Jeremy Marks awoke on Jan. 26 at 7:00 am to the sound of nearly 30 Los Angeles Police Department cops bursting into their house in full tactical gear, guns drawn. They searched the house, taking all computers, cell phones, cameras and trashing Jeremy’s bedroom, his parent’s bedroom and the living room.

Police vehicles filled the streets of the predominantly African American neighborhood in Lakeview Terrace. Neighbors were prevented from going into or out of their homes. A next door neighbor had guns pointed at him for trying to retrieve his children from Jeremy’s front porch, where they went every morning to be taken to school by Rochelle Pittman, Jeremy’s mother.

Pittman asked to see a search warrant. She knew that, by law, police must show a valid search warrant before entering a home. But there was none. For nearly 45 minutes, neither the police nor the District Attorney’s officers showed her anything. She continued to demand it until a warrant was produced well after the raid had begun.

And when Pittman asked, many of the invading cops refused to provide their names or badge numbers—a requirement under California law.

As the search ended three hours later, the house interior was unrecognizable. In addition to electronic equipment, Jeremy’s notes, papers and legal documents were seized—many of these documents are privileged attorney-client communications.

Every item used to communicate with the outside world about Jeremy’s case was taken from every member of Jeremy’s family, including his parents’ and siblings’ personal possessions.

The raid took place as Jeremy’s mother was attempting to gather herself and bring her kids and the neighbor’s kids to school. The neighbor’s children were at the front door when police came up with shields and shotguns ready.

Liberation also reports that the student who posted videos of the initial bus stop altercation was also raided, even though he isn’t currently facing any criminal charges.

Morning Links

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Civil Society Defeats Bigoted Policy

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

When then-candidate, now-Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ken.) got into hot water over his later-walked-back comments about the 1964 Civil Rights Act last year, there was some interesting intra-libertarian discussion about whether federal laws against private discrimination are still necessary, about whether they’re legitimate government interventions, and, if they are legitimate, about whether the Commerce Clause was the appropriate way of implementing them. (My own view: They were necessary in the segregation era (in part because of the effects of state enforcement of unconstitutional segregation laws), probably aren’t necessary any more, but should have been implemented by other means—like the 13th Amendment—to avoid eviscerating the Commerce Clause in the process.)

Outside of libertarian circles, there was much mocking and derision about how this could even be up for debate, complete with references to free market fairy dust and scornful ridicule of the idea that market forces could sufficiently deter businesses from engaging in bigotry.

It’s just one example, but here in Nashville, that magical free market fairy dust has in fact overturned a discriminatory policy, and in a place many people would probably find unlikely.

It all began last month, when the private Christian college Belmont University fired women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe shortly after Howe revealed to her players that she and her same-sex partner were expecting a child. Belmont has maintained that Howe was not fired for her orientation, and resigned on her own. But no one in town really believes that. Howe’s players say she told them she wsa pressured to resign because of her orientation.

Belmont is a very conservative school. All faculty members are required to sign a declaration of faith before they’re hired. Until 2007, the school was officially affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. And as a private institution, Belmont was well within its legal rights to fire Howe. Tennessee’s anti-discrimination law does not include sexual-orientation, but even if it did, such regulations often include exemptions for religious institutions.

But that doesn’t mean Belmont is immune from criticism and pressure from outside the government. And in the following weeks, a curious thing happened. Belmont students held protests in support of Howe. Faculty members spoke out on her behalf. The Faculty Senate passed a resolution in support of the school’s gay employees, and demanded that school administrators sponsor an open discussion about Belmont’s discrimination policy. Belmont benefactor, trustee, and Nashville music baron Mike Curb threatened to withhold his financial support for the school, and wrote a public letter praising the faculty for speaking out on what he called a “basic civil rights issue.” (Interestingly, Curb was the Republican Lieutenant Governor of California from 1978-1982. He is also a partner in the gospel music company World Label Group.)

The payoff: Belmont trustees announced just today that they are adding sexual orientation to their non-discrimination policy.

Again, this is just one example. But it’s a pretty compelling one. This conservative, Christian school in the buckle of the Bible Belt was convinced by private actors to explicitly protect homosexuals from discrimination in hiring, promotion, and firing decisions. And all without the threat of force stemming from a law or regulation.*

(*The Nashville City Council is considering a bill that would bar companies that have contracts with the city from discriminating on the basis of sexual preference. I don’t find these sorts of bills particularly objectionable. There are gay people in Nashville. There’s nothing wrong with the city refusing to give its business to companies that discriminate against some of its residents. But as a private school, it seems unlikely that the bill would have significantly affected Belmont.)

Meet Senator Asshat, Representing North Douchington

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

I know, I know. We’re in the Era of New Civility and all that.

But seriously. Just read on.

An area lawmaker is suing a Perinton couple who are also his constituents.

Senator Jim Alesi is also suing the builder of the couple’s home. The lawsuit claims he was injured when he decided to look inside their house which was under construction at the time.

Perinton builder Louis DiRisio says the lawsuit infuriated him. “It was. It was very upsetting. Something that happened three years ago. We thought we put it to bed three years ago, and all of a sudden it rears its ugly head.”…

The front door of the unfinished home on Conover Crossing was locked. Alesi went around back and got in through a basement level back door. That’s where he tried to climb a ladder to the first floor because the staircase hadn’t been built yet. “He certainly didn’t have permission from me. He didn’t have permission from the Heckers. It was not a home that was for sale. It was not a model home. It was never open to the public. So in my view, it’s just entering the property whether the house was locked or not but entering that property was trespassing.”

Alesi said he was checking out the “under construction” house for a friend. He fell while climbing the ladder and suffered serious leg injuries that required surgery.

Alesi claims the builder and homeowners were negligent for failing to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition.

The good news is that Senator Trespass dropped his lawsuit on Tuesday, but only after a flurry of public support for the couple and pressure from leaders in his own party.

(Via Techdirt.)

The Very Tiny Terrorist

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

British airport officials have apparently received intelligence that Al Qaeda is recruiting an army of nine-inch terrorists.

Airport officials ordered a holidaymaker carrying a toy soldier onto a plane to remove its three-inch gun – because it was a safety threat.

Ken Lloyd was stunned when he was told he could not go on the plane with the nine-inch model soldier because it was carrying a ‘firearm’.

The Canadian tourist and his wife had bought the toy, which holds a replica SA80 rifle, during a visit to the Royal Signals Museum at Blandford Camp in Dorset.

But when he tried to take the £135 keepsake through Gatwick Airport in his hand luggage it triggered a security alert at the scanners…

Officials declared the moulded gun could not go on the plane and Mr Lloyd had to snap off the model weapon and then post it back to his home in Ontario.

He said: ‘As the figurine’s SA80 rifle was pulled from the box, the security search officer contacted her supervisor. The moulded SA80 could not pass.

‘My wife asked for a “reality check”, explaining how this offending piece of sculptured moulding is a 9 inch painted model with a moulded and painted rifle that is part of the figure.

‘The supervisor was confident within the surety of the regulations and said a “firearm” is a firearm and cannot pass.

MORE:  Meanwhile . . .

Mississippi Innocence

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Documentarian Joe York’s movie about the cases of Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks premieres next month at the Oxford Film Festival. Here’s a trailer. Pay close attention and you’ll see a quick shot of a younger, slightly plumper Radley Balko.

Looks like it’s going to be a great film.