Posts belonging to Category Civil Rights

Not Willing To Be Vilified Any More

I didn’t want to have to write this.  I wanted nothing more than to let people have time to heal.  I wanted to live my life without getting involved.  But I find that I can’t sit quietly by while I’m slandered. While I, and millions of my countrymen, are vilified. While so-called “rational” people are calling for a “conversation.” A “conversation,” most of which so far seems to consist of vitriol and even death threats against me and millions of people like me. I can’t sit by while a small, but extremely vocal, minority of the populace tries to shout the rest of us down and have its way with us.

Here’s an example of the “conversation” so far:

sam tarling@sammyswordfish

All NRA members should be shot!!!! I thank you, that’s one of my own !!

Bitter Old St. Nick@90sRememberer

Murder every NRA member

Pardon me if I seem a bit reluctant to engage with these wonderful folks. It’s just that it’s kind of hard to have a “conversation” with someone who wants you dead. But, of course, I never really fell for the “conversation” gambit. Having been vilified for the better part of 20 years by know-nothing bliss-ninnies for being a gun owner, I suppose I’ve grown a wee bit hardned, callused, and even just a smidge cynical.

I’m willing to cut some of you a little slack. After all, it’s hard not react to the deaths of children in such a horrific situation. It’s human nature to demand that someone DO SOMETHING! But this only goes so far. I’m writing this, though, to let you know that when you begin to demand that something be done about those nasty guns, you’re de facto demanding that something be done about (or to) me. You see, I’m one of those nasty, filthy, gun owners you seem to love so much to hate. Worse, I’m a member of the (gasp!) NRA.

But what really chaps my ass is that so many of you know so little about the topic, yet seem so sure that you have the answer. An answer that usually would turn me into a criminal. Or at least deprive me of thousands of dollars of my property despite my having done nothing wrong. It’s very much akin to telling someone he has to hand over his car to the government (without compensation and without due process) because someone else plowed into a school yard using the same model. I know, you’re saying, “but cars aren’t designed to kill people.” Doesn’t matter. They can easily be used as such. In fact, given their widespread availability, and the nonchalance that many of you exhibit while using them, as a whole they’re far more dangerous than guns. Yet I don’t see you demanding that people turn in their high-powered V-8’s or demand that they can only have cars with 4-cylinder engines (or at least those of you who are sane).

Let’s try a small thought experiment… I invite you to think about this from my point of view for just a second: I am a law-abiding, reasonable person. I go about my day-to-day life minding my own business, trying to be considerate of others, and trying to do no harm. I am peaceable and my guns have never been used for evil. Yet I am marked for punishment due to the actions of a psychopath. Every time something like this happens, I am blamed, vilified, and put in the position of having to defend my human right to own guns. Yet we never see this with cars, because everyone owns them and is familiar with them.

There are a lot of people like me out here. People who just want to go about our daily lives without being attacked. We’re your friends and your neighbors. We volunteer in the community and we genuinely care about our communities.  How many of us are you willing to make criminals over this?

Hackers Elect Futurama’s Bender to the Washington DC School Board | PCWorld

This, folks, is why I still insist on paper ballots.

Hackers Elect Futurama’s Bender to the Washington DC School Board | PCWorld

Checkpoints: More MADDness we can’t afford

As regular as clockwork, with the beginning of a new legislative session in Texas, we see the introduction of yet another “sobriety” checkpoint bill (HB439, introduced by Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless).

And, as always, the usual people come out of the woodwork in support of it:

Sobriety checkpoints: Checkpoints such as those used in 38 other states have been illegal in Texas since 1994, when the courts ruled that they were unconstitutional because there were no uniform guidelines. Legislators have tried for years to reinstate them.

“In 2008, Texas led the nation in DWI fatality deaths,” Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd said. “That is a focus for us … to stop that kind of carnage on our roadways and our highways and to really get serious about this issue of driving while intoxicated and DWI fatalities.”

The Senate approved a bill in 2009, but it didn’t reach the House floor.

Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, has filed a bill to let the Texas Department of Public Safety set up checkpoints in counties where more than 250,000 live.

Read more:

I wrote a fairly lengthy post on the constitutionality and effectiveness of checkpoints in late 2008 relating to SB 298, which was filed for the 2009 session.

Ultimately, aside from being an infringement on the rights of law-abiding citizens, checkpoints commit the cardinal sin of being ineffective at their supposed purpose: catching drunk drivers.  Even the proponents of checkpoints admit that their effectiveness is limited, but that they serve instead as a warning that drunk drivers will be caught (Behold the awesome power of the state, peon!).

So what really works?  Putting police on the street looking for drunk drivers. Amazing!  Good, old fashioned, police work beats sending a message.  From the conclusion of my 2008 post:

This style of policing keeps our officers out on the streets where they can observe other activities and help prevent other types of crime at the same time.  Further, it helps target the worst offenders, the habitual drunks, who will drive drunk regardless of what the law says.  Finally, it respects individual rights by only stopping people when there is some reasonable suspicion that the individual may be impaired.

Checkpoints do just the opposite.  They tie up police resources at a well-known stationary position, allowing drunk drivers to avoid them and giving other criminals more chances to attempt crimes in the absence of the regular police presence.  Further, they corrode respect of the police by the average innocent citizen who is caught up in them.

Let’s continue to respect the freedom of our citizens here in Texas by saying “No!” to any attempts to enable checkpoints in our state.  Our resources can be better used by aggressively pursuing criminal drunk drivers rather than sitting around waiting for them to come to us.

It’s unfortunate that we have to fight this nonsense every legislative session, but the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Let’s all remember to just say NO to checkpoints and YES to liberty.

Quickie: Implosion of the Republic

I have come to suspect that the death of our republic will not be accompanied by a thunderous KABOOM but instead by a plaintive whine of it’s for the children (or perhaps its hoary cousin if it saves just one life).

Stop The MADDness in Texas

Since my last post touched on the madness of MADD, I thought this a good time to bring up MADD’s next pet project: sobriety checkpoints.  Fortunately, Texas is one of 11 states that do not allow checkpoints.  MADD, however, doggedly tries to get enabling legislation enacted whenever the state legislature is in session.  Since the next Texas legislative session begins in January, we can expect to see more MADD press-releases pushing checkpoints disguised as news articles.  We’ve already seen a couple of early ones in print and on TV over the past couple of months.  Further, State Sen John Carona (R-Dallas*) has introduced SB 298 for consideration in the coming session.

As those of you who know me would expect, I don’t like checkpoints.  I think they are an unreasonable and unwarranted seizure and that they violate the plain letter of the Fourth Amendment, regardless of what the Supreme Court may think. 

* I would have hoped that a Republican, being supposedly for limited government, would have been against checkpoints, but I should know better by now.  The only real difference between Democrats and Republicans is in which form of statism they want to enact.

The Freedom Argument

I know that arguing for freedom and for the Bill of Rights is not very popular these days, but as it’s my personal windmill at which I must tilt, please indulge me in a few words in that direction.  Those who don’t care for the freedom argument may skip down to the Utilitarian Considerations section.

Let us begin by considering they very plain, and easily understandable, language of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Being stopped by police is a seizure, as you are not free to leave.  The SCOTUS acknowledged that a checkpoint constitutes a seizure in Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990).  Unfortunately, the court somehow then leapt to the conclusion that while the seizure is an intrusion on individual rights, it’s somehow “reasonable” because it is “minimal” as balanced against the costs of drunken driving.  I think this is one of those cases where the majority got it wrong. 

The ability to go about your business without being seized and searched is supposed to be one of the cornerstones of our freedom.  In general, if you’ve done nothing wrong, then the police have no business detaining you.  This principle goes to the very heart of what is wrong with sobriety checkpoints.  If an officer observes a vehicle being operated in a suspicious or unsafe manner, he or she may stop the vehicle and investigate the driver to ascertain whether the driver is impaired.  In this instance, the officer is operating on “individualized suspicion.”  In other words, the officer has some probable cause or a reasonable suspicion that the driver may be in violation of the law.  With a checkpoint, we have all people going through the checkpoint being seized for investigation without any suspicion whatsoever. 

The dissent from Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz captures the essence of the constitutional argument:

The majority opinion creates the impression that the Court generally engages in a balancing test in order to determine [p457] the constitutionality of all seizures, or at least those “dealing with police stops of motorists on public highways.” Ante at 450. This is not the case. In most cases, the police must possess probable cause for a seizure to be judged reasonable. See Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 209 (1979). Only when a seizure is “substantially less intrusive,” id. at 210, than a typical arrest is the general rule replaced by a balancing test. I agree with the Court that the initial stop of a car at a roadblock under the Michigan State Police sobriety checkpoint policy is sufficiently less intrusive than an arrest so that the reasonableness of the seizure may be judged, not by the presence of probable cause, but by balancing

the gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure, the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest, and the severity of the interference with individual liberty.

Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 51 (1979). But one searches the majority opinion in vain for any acknowledgment that the reason for employing the balancing test is that the seizure is minimally intrusive.

Indeed, the opinion reads as if the minimal nature of the seizure ends rather than begins the inquiry into reasonableness. Once the Court establishes that the seizure is “slight,” ante at 451, it asserts without explanation that the balance “weighs in favor of the state program.” Ante at 455. The Court ignores the fact that, in this class of minimally intrusive searches, we have generally required the Government to prove that it had reasonable suspicion for a minimally intrusive seizure to be considered reasonable. (emphasis added)  See, e.g., Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 661 (1979); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 882-883 (1975); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27, (1968). Some level of individualized suspicion is a core component of the protection the Fourth Amendment provides against arbitrary government action.  See Prouse, supra, 440 U.S. at 654-655; Martinez-Fuerte, supra, 428 U.S. at 577 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting) (“Action based merely on [p458] whatever may pique the curiosity of a particular officer is the antithesis of the objective standards requisite to reasonable conduct and to avoiding abuse and harassment”).  By holding that no level of suspicion is necessary before the police may stop a car for the purpose of preventing drunken driving, the Court potentially subjects the general public to arbitrary or harassing conduct by the police.  I would have hoped that before taking such a step, the Court would carefully explain how such a plan fits within our constitutional framework.

Presumably, the Court purports to draw support from Martinez-Fuerte, supra, which is the only case in which the Court has upheld a program that subjects the general public to suspicionless seizures.  But as JUSTICE STEVENS demonstrates, post at 463-466, 471-472, the Michigan State Police policy is sufficiently different from the program at issue in Martinez-Fuerte that such reliance is unavailing.  Moreover, even if the policy at issue here were comparable to the program at issue in Martinez-Fuerte, it does not follow that the balance of factors in this case also justifies abandoning a requirement of individualized suspicion.  In Martinez-Fuerte, the Court explained that suspicionless stops were justified because

[a] requirement that stops . . . be based on reasonable suspicion would be impractical because the flow of traffic tends to be too heavy to allow the particularized study of a given car that would enable it to be identified as a possible carrier of illegal aliens.

428 U.S. at 557.  There has been no showing in this case that there is a similar difficulty in detecting individuals who are driving under the influence of alcohol, nor is it intuitively obvious that such a difficulty exists.  See Prouse, supra, 440 U.S. at 661.  That stopping every car might make it easier to prevent drunken driving, but see post at 469-471, is an insufficient justification for abandoning the requirement of individualized suspicion. (emphasis added)

I don’t know about you, but if I’m not free to leave, I would consider myself “seized,” and not quibble about how “slight” the seizure is.

Unfortunately, though, the majority opinion is what we’re stuck with, which (at least at the national level) makes these things “legal.”  Fortunately for us in Texas, though, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Holt v. State, 887 S.W.2d 16 (Tex. Crim. App. 1994) (no online cite available) interpreted the 1990 Sitz decision to mean that checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment unless specifically authorized by the legislature.  So I am somewhat heartened to see that at least our own Texas courts understand the U.S. Constitution and its amendments. 

Beyond the legalities, though, these checkpoints also provide another avenue for police to go on a fishing expedition for other activities.  Consider the following bit from the CDC about how to get police officers to get behind checkpoints:

Support among the police officers conducting checkpoints is important. Because checkpoints tend to result in few arrests for alcohol-impaired driving, it is important for officers to understand that the primary goal is to prevent such occurrences. Checkpoints can also lead to the arrest of drivers for other offenses, such as weapons possession. (emphasis added)

Ah… the good-old CDC… they’ve never been known to pass up a chance to stick it to gun owners in this country, constitution be-damned.

Anyone who truly understands the concepts of freedom and liberty that were gifted to us by the founders will abhor sobriety checkpoints as an unreasonable search and seizure.  Those who would ignore and limit our freedom are not so moved, which leads me to the next section.

Utilitarian Considerations

If our freedom is to be limited in trade for some nebulous assurance of “safety,” then we should examine these claims to see if that will truly be the case or if we’re being sold a bill of goods.  In addition, what are the costs of running checkpoints and do they provide a useful return on investment?

First, I’ve learned that checkpoints aren’t so much about arresting drunk drivers as they are about “education” and “awareness.” 

Consider the following from Battling DUI: A comparative analysis of checkpoints and saturation patrols – driving under the influence – FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Jan 2003:

Used to deter drinking and driving, sobriety checkpoints are related more directly to educating the public and encouraging designated drivers, rather than actually apprehending impaired drivers. Typically, sobriety checkpoints do not yield a large volume of DUI arrests. Instead, they offer authorities an educational tool. Education and awareness serve as a significant part of deterrence. Frequent use of checkpoints and aggressive media coverage can create a convincing threat in people’s minds that officers will apprehend impaired drivers—a key to general deterrence. In addition, public opinion polls have indicated that 70 to 80 percent of Americans surveyed favored the increased use of sobriety checkpoints as an effective law enforcement tool to combat impaired driving.

As an aside, I really have to wonder about who was surveyed and how the questions were worded if 70 to 80 percent of Americans really favored checkpoints.  Or perhaps not, given the sad state of understanding that most people have of their civil liberties these days…

Also consider some numbers related to the number of arrests with checkpoints as compared to saturation patrols and other methods:

Since 1989, the Ohio State Highway Patrol has participated in 156 sobriety checkpoints and arrested 807 drivers for DUI.

The agency arrests an average of 25,000 DUI drivers per year through all DUI-related operations.

Think about that for a moment.  If the period of operation is 1989 through 2002 (the article was written in early 2003), that means that over 13 years they arrested a total number of DUI drivers at checkpoints that comes to only about 3% of what they arrest in a single year! 

But then, if all of the above is true, the “authorities” don’t care how many arrests they make.  They will simply declare checkpoints a success just because they existed!

Although the program only netted 773 arrests for DUI, the deterrent factor created by the continuous use of the checkpoints and the media attention received resulted in the program’s success.

But even if these checkpoints are effective at raising “awareness,” they’re very costly PR:

This holiday weekend, New Jersey’s “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” campaign will assign hundreds of officers to run sobriety checkpoints throughout the state. Officers spend hours screening hundreds, sometimes thousands, of vehicles that pass through a previously announced location.


These roadblocks demand considerable staffing-hours and extensive funding, as towns that participate in the campaign receive $5,000 in federal funding. Across New Jersey, $875,000 has been distributed by the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety for the 175 participating law enforcement agencies. But checkpoints yield precious few drunken driving arrests.

With our slowing economy and rising gas prices, resources are tight and getting tighter. That reality makes the $29 million in federal funds earmarked to help run these pricey checkpoints in 2009 a luxury we can’t afford.

With overtime for a dozen or more officers, the costs of everyone’s travel delays and the value of other materials and equipment, the average checkpoint costs about $8,800. (emphasis added)

In 2006, states that relied on checkpoints averaged 7 percent more alcohol-related fatalities than those that used other tactics.

The reason for that discrepancy is readily apparent when considering programs like South Dakota’s, where officers ran more than 300 checkpoints in 2006. Even though the overtime alone cost taxpayers $177,000, the roadblocks, on average, only yielded a single arrest.

Just last week, a checkpoint held in Readington caught only three drunken drivers out of 1,100 motorists stopped and inconvenienced. That is a dismal 0.2 percent success rate.

These examples aren’t unique, and supporters often scramble to defend the low numbers. Last week, New Jersey’s director of the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety, Pam Fischer, said of checkpoints: “This initiative increases public awareness.”

But this claim that checkpoints raise “awareness” of enforcement efforts reduces the tactic to little more than an overpriced publicity stunt.

Finally, roadblocks commit the cardinal sin of not actually being effective. Or at least that’s what some data suggest (unfortunately, finding non-suspect data is difficult, as all of the major players such as CDC, NHTSA, and IHS seem invested in supporting checkpoints).  Looking at data from 2004 and 2003, the ABI found some interesting results using NHTSA’s own numbers.  It turns out that there was a reduction of 411 alchol-related deaths in 2004 as compared to 2003.  Of those, 95.9% came from the 11 states that do NOT operate roadblocks, as compared to only 4.1% from the states with roadblocks. 

Despair Not!  There Is A Solution

It turns out that there is a tactic that works for getting drunks off the road and that respects the Consititution and our liberty: increased patrols.  Wow, imagine that!  Good, old-fashioned, police work gets results! 

Some refer to “roving patrols” while others talk of “saturation patrols.”  These refer to dedicated efforts targeting a specific location or time in an effort to catch impaired drivers.  But here in Keller I think we have a great example of where aggressive traffic enforcement works in getting drunks off the streets. 

Consider these remarks from Chief Mark Hafner in the last issue of the
Keller Police Neighborhood Newsletter:

We continue to take a stance against intoxicated drivers on our roadways. Last month we removed 20 individuals from the streets for DWI. We want the message loud and clear “Don’t drive intoxicated in Keller”. By taking this stance our roadways are safer and hopefully we can reduce the amount of alcohol related deaths. Late evening/early morning hours are the prime time for intoxicated drivers. This is one of the reasons why we stop vehicles for minor traffic violations like wide turns, crossing the center of the roadway, failure to use turn signals, and slow speed. Officers will stop you for these violations. If you are not intoxicated they will send you on your way and thank you for being patient during the brief stop. Please understand we are not “harassing” you but doing our job of removing intoxicated drivers off the roads before a collision occurs.

I’ve done a couple of ride-alongs and I’ve observed our officers in action.  Not only do they target infractions that may indicate impairment, they also keep an eye on the local establishments at closing time to catch anyone who may have had a few too many.  This style of policing keeps our officers out on the streets where they can observe other activities and help prevent other types of crime at the same time.  Further, it helps target the worst offenders, the habitual drunks, who will drive drunk regardless of what the law says.  Finally, it respects individual rights by only stopping people when there is some reasonable suspicion that the individual may be impaired.

Checkpoints do just the opposite.  They tie up police resources at a well-known stationary position, allowing drunk drivers to avoid them and giving other criminals more chances to attempt crimes in the absence of the regular police presence.  Further, they corrode respect of the police by the average innocent citizen who is caught up in them.   

Let’s continue to respect the freedom of our citizens here in Texas by saying “No!” to any attempts to enable checkpoints in our state.  Our resources can be better used by aggressively pursuing criminal drunk drivers rather than sitting around waiting for them to come to us.

The Obligatory Presidential Election Post

After weighing my choices as to whether to sit out the presidential vote or not, I’ve decided that for the first time since 1992 I am going to vote for the Democrat on the ticket.

Some of you may be gasping right now.  That’s OK.  It took me a while to come around to the decision to vote for McCain.  Oh…. you thought I was talking about Obama?  Heh.  He never had even a snowball’s chance in hell that I’d vote for him.  Now I’m not being completely facetious when I call McCain a Democrat.  He sounds a lot like the Democrat party of 20 or 30 years ago.  Not the quasi-socialist fringe leftists we are faced with today.  So it’s not so much that I fully support McCain but that I cannot sit by and allow Obama to gain access to the Presidency.  That way lies madness.

I’m not sure there’s a single policy of Obama’s that I agree with (or that doesn’t have me yelling expletives whenever I hear it), but of all his quasi-socialist baggage, it’s his anti-freedom, anti-gun stance that I find the most offensive.  Of course, Obama has been careful to try to work around his history on this, with weaselly statements about how he’s not going to take your ‘hunting guns.’  Which is double-speak for the fact that he is coming after everything else. 

I’ve noticed that both he and his supporters are quick to change the subject when guns come up.  I’ve been particularly fond of their tactic of insinuating that it’s stupid to care about guns when the economy is in such bad shape (Oh, but Obama supports the Second Amendment…. hey look… it’s a bank collapsing!).  But I use the issue of the right to keep and bear arms as the primary test of how a candidate views his fellow citizens, and whether he thinks them capable of any semblance of self-governance.  Only after he or she passes that test do I then consider all of the other issues. 

When anyone asks why I place so much emphasis on the right to keep and bear arms, I always end up referring back to an old essay by L. Neil Smith, entitled Why Did it Have to be … Guns?:

Over the past 30 years, I’ve been paid to write almost two million words, every one of which, sooner or later, came back to the issue of guns and gun-ownership. Naturally, I’ve thought about the issue a lot, and it has always determined the way I vote.

People accuse me of being a single-issue writer, a single- issue thinker, and a single- issue voter, but it isn’t true. What I’ve chosen, in a world where there’s never enough time and energy, is to focus on the one political issue which most clearly and unmistakably demonstrates what any politician—or political philosophy—is made of, right down to the creamy liquid center.

Make no mistake: all politicians—even those ostensibly on the side of guns and gun ownership—hate the issue and anyone, like me, who insists on bringing it up. They hate it because it’s an X-ray machine. It’s a Vulcan mind-meld. It’s the ultimate test to which any politician—or political philosophy—can be put.  (Emphasis added)

So, of the choices available to me, I’ve decided to take Mr. Squishy Loophole over Mr. Evil Ban-it-all.  It was really the only choice someone like me could make.  So, given that, I will make my one and only political call-to-action of the season:  If you’re a gun owner, or you believe in freedom, and you vote for Obama, you are essentially cutting your own throat.  Don’t come crying to me in the middle of an Obama administration when he gets another AWB passed, or finds a way to hamper or encumber concealed carry across the country to the point where it’s practically useless.  I’m not going to exhort you to go join a campaign or to join a party or to do canvassing or phone banking.  I’m not a joiner and I’m not going there.  But whatever you do, don’t vote for evil.  No matter how smooth, slick, and enticing it may be.

Tarnished Star

I used to be somewhat a fan of the Dallas Cowboys.  But these days I’m having a hard time of it.  Ever since the city of Arlington stole the homes of some of its residents to build the Cowboys a new stadium I just can’t get into them.  I see red every time I think about it.  So I’ve decided that I will not be watching any games from now on, I won’t purchase any of their merchandise for myself or anyone else, and I will never attend one of their games just on the general principle that I don’t want to support the organization in any way, shape, or form if they’re willing to accept and benefit from the theft of land.

The abuse of eminent domain is something that infuriates me beyond belief.  My first impulse when I see it is that the politicians involved should be gibbeted from lampposts at the town’s entrance as an example to others of what happens to thieves.  But then I remember that other parts of our laws frown on such behavior (unfortunately). 

I realize that eminent domain is sometimes a necessary evil.  But it should never be used for the benefit of any private enterprise.  If a company wants to build something, they can negotiate with the owners just like anyone else.  If the owners don’t want to sell, then too bad. 

Now I’m sure there will be people who object to my use of the term theft.  But, it seems to me, that there are major conflict-of-interest issues with having the same governmental entity that is taking the land decide its value.  If the owner is compelled to sell a property at less than his/her asking price, then he or she has been deprived of the value and that is theft. 

Of course, the next objection is that some people would demand much more than the land is worth.  To which my reply is, “So?”  While some ascribe this to greed, it’s usually a signal to the marketplace that they DO NOT WANT TO SELL.  Many of the people in Arlington were in situations where taking the city’s offer, even if it was “fair,” would have ruined them financially.  Because they were in an older neighborhood they often had older homes that were worth less.  But at the same time, new developments in the surrounding area have driven up new home prices.  It would have been impossible for many of them to afford a similar home and lot in an area reasonably close to their current locations with the amount being offered by the city.

Perhaps one way to fix this would be to require that the injured party be made whole again.  So instead of paying “fair value” (whatever the city decides that to be), there should be some sort of third-party, independent, evaluation of the replacement costs of the home and land.  This would be what it would cost for the purchase of a new home of the equivalent size (with equivalent size lot) within no more than five or ten miles from the original home (so that they can maintain job and family ties).  Would this be more expensive?  Yep.  That’s the whole point.  Cities ought to be forced to pay what’s really fair, not what they can get away with.

I’d also like to see this used for the Trans-Texas Corridor.  I really don’t like the idea of eminent domain used for a privately-financed road (and I could give less than a damn about the rhetoric being spewed from mealy-mouthed spokesmen about how it’s going to be state-owned; it either has to be 100% state owned and financed or it’s private, but eminent domain privileges should only be used for a fully state-funded project)

Slowly Sinking The Statist Ship

I haven’t taken the time to read the actual text of the bill, but this announcement marks an interesting turnaround in disaster-related firearms policy.

Fairfax, VA- The National Rifle Association (NRA) and law-abiding gun owners scored a significant victory yesterday when the United States Congress acted to prohibit the confiscation of legal firearms from law-abiding citizens during states of emergency, barring practices conducted by officials in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. This action was included in the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill that passed both chambers of Congress. This bill now heads to President Bush for his expected signature.

I remember some years ago that CDC was pushing a rather odious idea known as the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act (which later came under the “Turning Point National Collaborative on Public Health Statute Modernization”).  The model legislation had been around for a while, and 9/11 gave them the excuse to push it under the guise of homeland security.  Here’s a brief summary of the key points of the act (emphasis added):

Under the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act, upon the declaration of a “public health emergency,” governors and public health officials would be empowered to:

  1. Force individuals suspected of harboring an “infectious disease” to undergo medical examinations.
  2. Track and share an individual’s personal health information, including genetic information.
  3. Force persons to be vaccinated, treated, or quarantined for infectious diseases.
  4. Mandate that all health care providers report all cases of persons who harbor any illness or health condition that may be caused by an epidemic or an infectious agent and might pose a “substantial risk” to a “significant number of people or cause a long-term disability.” (Note: Neither “substantial risk” nor “significant number” are defined in the draft.)
  5. Force pharmacists to report any unusual or any increased prescription rates that may be caused by epidemic diseases.
  6. Preempt existing state laws, rules and regulations, including those relating to privacy, medical licensure, and—this is key—property rights.
  7. Control public and private property during a public health emergency, including pharmaceutical manufacturing plants, nursing homes, other health care facilities, and communications devices.
  8. Mobilize all or any part of the “organized militia into service to the state to help enforce the state’s orders.”
  9. Ration firearms, explosives, food, fuel and alcoholic beverages, among other commodities.
  10. Impose fines and penalties to enforce their orders

Sometimes I really worry about “health professionals.”  So often when you scratch the surface of one you run into an unalloyed statist, and this proposal is just more of the same (it’s interesting to note that one of the key players in this nonsense was also deeply involved in the Hillarycare debacle). 

I can only hope that this new legislation overrides or invalidates any confiscation-related firearm provisions that might have been adopted in various states:

As of July 15, 2006, thirty-two (32) states have introduced a total of one-hundred and three (103) legislative bills or resolutions that are based upon or feature provisions related to the Articles or sections of the Turning Point Act. Of these bills, thirty-nine (39) have passed.

A lot of the provisions that have passed were related to reporting of diseases, so you’d have to check state-by-state for emergency firearms laws.  But that this passed is a positive step in the direction of invalidating odious laws.

Update.  The new law forbids the Federal government, or anyone working for or on behalf of (takes Federal funds), from confiscating firearms, etc.

No officer or employee of the United States (including any member of the uniformed services), or person operating pursuant to or under color of Federal law, or receiving Federal funds, or under control of any Federal official, or providing services to such an officer, employee, or other person, while acting in support of relief from a major disaster or emergency, may—
‘‘(1) temporarily or permanently seize, or authorize seizure of, any firearm the possession of which is not prohibited under Federal, State, or local law, other than for forfeiture in compliance with Federal law or as evidence in a criminal investigation;
‘‘(2) require registration of any firearm for which registration is not required by Federal, State, or local law;
‘‘(3) prohibit possession of any firearm, or promulgate any rule, regulation, or order prohibiting possession of any firearm, in any place or by any person where such possession is not otherwise prohibited by Federal, State, or local law; or
‘‘(4) prohibit the carrying of firearms by any person otherwise authorized to carry firearms under Federal, State, or local law, solely because such person is operating under the direction, control, or supervision of a Federal agency in support of relief from the major disaster or emergency.
‘‘(b) LIMITATION.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit any person in subsection (a) from requiring the temporary surrender of a firearm as a condition for entry into any mode of transportation used for rescue or evacuation during a major disaster or emergency, provided that such temporarily surrendered firearm is returned at the completion of such rescue or evacuation.”

The repeated references to “Federal, State, or local law” have me wondering, though.  Reading (3), it would appear that if a state passed a law in advance that gave the police power to confiscate firearms in an emergency, that it might just fall under the “not otherwise prohibited by Federal, State, or local law” phrasing.  I suppose the proof will be in whether we see anyone actually win a suit based on this law and the size of the verdict (it’s somewhat telling that no criminal liability appears to be attached to violation of the new statute).

Time To Grow Up!

One of the things that strikes me about the Muslim reaction to the Danish cartoons is that it reflects an immature worldview.  Mature people recognize that you can’t respond to words or images with violence, no matter how offensive those words or images may be to your beliefs.

I grew up in the buckle of the Bible belt.  Many people decry the ways of fundamentalist or even overtly-religious Christians, ascribing all sorts of malacious actions to them.  But I can tell you that I didn’t worry about them trying to kill me because we didn’t agree.

I tend to operate on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with regards to religion.  It’s only the overly zealous types who try to “save” me who earn my ire and disrepect.  I have told several of the more pushy sorts that I wasn’t interested in their “creation myth.”  That tended to send them off muttering about “burning in hell,” etc, but even so, I’ve never worried about them doing violence against me.

Grown-ups don’t burn down your house or kill you over a religious disagreement.  It’s time for the Muslim world to learn to live and let live.

Raich Quickie

It occurs to me that even though the FedGov appears to have won a victory, there are still ways to monkey-wrench federal enforcement actions with regards to medical marijuana.

In particular, I wonder what the Feds would do if no jury could be found that would convict in a federal medical marijuana case?  I doubt we could get to that point very soon, since most people don’t know that they can judge the law as well as the facts of the case.  But I suspect that once we see sick and dying people being prosecuted (persecuted?) in the news on a nightly basis, some people won’t be able to find it in their hearts to convict such a person, no matter how carefully the judge crafts the jury charge.

Still, it’s depressing to know that it has come to this.  This decision, unless a future court changes direction, could allow no end of really bad federal laws to come to pass.