Monday, September 13, 2010

More Cops Meet Dogs

Reason's Radley Balko has a roundup of the latest cop shoots dog stories. I took particular note of the Lexington, Kentucky story, where a police officer pursued a fleeing suspect into a fenced in yard and proceeded to shoot the dog of the family whom the property belonged too. I find the comments particularly interesting in these sorts of circumstances and there's definitely a growing awareness that this isn't simply an isolated incident. Of course you have the typical reflexive defenders of law enforcement, but the commenters in Lexington do a good job of challenging such sentiments.

Of course, far too many commenters wade into the debate over the officers state of mind: Is he a vicious dog killer or was he just simply making the best of a bad situation? As I've pointed out before, judgments of individual police officers tend to be counter productive. Writing off unjustified shootings to lousy police work on an individual level merely perpetuates the very policies that are problematic in the first place. As Radley Balko has asked time and time again, why are police seemingly so ill-equip to handle these encounters with dogs? Why isn't there training? Why aren't there departmental guidelines?

The folks that get worked up over any criticism of law enforcement exhibit the same sort of epistemic closure we just saw from Matt Yglesias's commenters about barber licensing. It's a reactionary defense of the status quo with no actual thought given to the issue in a vacuum.

In terms of these dog shootings, the point isn't that a police officer shooting a dog is never justified, the point is that for all the cases you find across the country a police officer shooting a dog in the course of duty, you have difficulty finding a case where such a shooting was deemed unjustified. The larger, across-the-board problem isn't that this officer shot this dog, but that there are no mechanisms for taking these cases seriously and no mechanisms for ensuring our pets are safe should police come on to our property.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Quran Burning and Mosque Building

I'm a day late and apparently Florida pastor Terry Jones did not go ahead with his plans to burn the Quran on the 9th anniversary of 9-11, but I did have a few comments I wanted to share while they're still relevant. A number of conservative commentators have weighed in over the last few weeks making the ridiculous comparison between Jones and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the Ground Zero mosque/community center. After all, both building the mosque and burning the Quran are perfectly legal- the outrage is all about the offensive nature of the action.

Of course, it should be a bit more obvious that there's a big difference between burning the religious text of a major religion and building a religious center. One act is clearly meant to be offensive and provocative, while the other is at worst, of ambiguous motivation. And herein lies the problem, that not every "offensive act" is of equal offense. No reasonable people are making the case that Terry Jones is anything other than a giant douche, but there are reasonable people on both sides of the mosque issue, with one side arguing quite specifically that it is not offensive to have a mosque near Ground Zero with the other side arguing that it is in fact offensive.

And I'll stand by my position even if the mosque is never built and the controversy goes away. Putting the mosque there, even if you question the motivations behind it, seems to me to be exactly why America is great. We're not an insidious monster because we keep other people out (like the segregated Muslim communities of many European countries), we're an insidious monster because we let everyone in and the melting pot of a growing American culture oozes to every corner of the globe. The truth is, even the most insular American communities are far more welcoming to outsiders than much of sophisticated Europe (Feel free to challenge me on this if you disagree, but it's more gut feeling than fact- a reflection on the nature of American versus European culture, not the result of any comprehensive survey). Just like those who are fervently anti-immigration, I think the mosque opposition is on the wrong side of history here, precisely because of American tradition

Friday, September 10, 2010

Our Bold Republican Future

For whatever reason I tend to be on any number of odd political lists. I tend to get a lot of e-mails for a wide variety of causes I don't agree with or have no interest in, but I rarely receive anything in the mail. So it was quite a surprise when I opened my mail the other day to find an NRSC Republican strategy ballot (direct from Utah Senator Orrin Hatch no less!). I'm not a registered Republican and I've never given money too any politician, so I'm not sure how I got on this list, but nonetheless, I've got the ballot. I was going to respond, just for the hell of it, and submit some responses to push the Republican party in a more libertarian direction, but that wasn't in the cards. What's troubling was how virtually no space was devoted to limiting the nature of government and how divorced this Republican strategy ballot was from even the most basic of tea party rhetoric.

Before anyone accuses me of taking political mailings too seriously, let me just say that I don't take them all that seriously - maybe I'm a bit out of the loop with the day-to-day workings of the parties - But if this is what we have to look forward too if the Republicans take back Congress (and perhaps the Presidency in 2012) color me unimpressed. I understand that this is a "strategy ballot" but the wording of the ballot specifically asks for opinions that reflect my values. Here are the questions from the ballot:

#1 Which issue(s) do you believe Republicans should highlight in the final months of this year's election campaigns?
* Permanent Tax Relief
* Saving Social Security
* Judicial Nominees
* Marriage/Values
* Medicare Reform
* Border Security
* Homeland Security
* Military/Defense Spending

#2 Which of the Democrats' liberal policies do you oppose the most?
* Raising Taxes By Trillions of Dollars
* Cutting the U.S. Defense Budget
* Undermining Traditional Marriage
* No Reform to save social security
* Blocking U.S. Energy Independence
* U.N. Control of the War On Terrorism

#3 Senate Democrats think taxes should go up so that Barack Obama can "spread the wealth around." Senate Republicans support tax relief for working families, businesses and seniors. Whom do you support?
* Senate Republicans
* Senate Democrats
* Not Sure / Undecided

#4 Senate Republicans support responsible judges who will follow the U.S. Constitution and NOT legislate from the bench. Senate Democrats want to confirm "activist judges" who will use America's judicial system to promote liberal policies and strike down anti-terrorism efforts and law enforcement efforts they view as "too conservative." Whom do you support?
* Senate Republicans
* Senate Democrats
* Not Sure / Undecided

I'm not sure of the point of questions 3 and 4 if this is a "Republican strategy ballot," although perhaps it's a clumsy attempt to weed out the non-Republicans like myself. I'd like to think it's an effort to gauge how turned off people are by the language used, but I doubt it. Then there are the first few questions, which basically only mention taxes in terms of real libertarian concerns. (And as I've been blogging recently, discussing taxes absent a discussion on spending is downright negligent.) Is this what I'm supposed to think is the Republican agenda should they regain power? Opposing gay marriage? Building a fence around the border? Further intrusions into our lives by the national security state? Hell, I even have to wonder what saving social security means, when we're supposed to be upset at the Democrat oppositions to social security reform. And the laundry list of "liberal Democrat" policies sounds more like a Republican's bad dream than reality. I wish the Democrats were serious about gay marriage and cutting the defense budget and I have no idea what U.N. control of the war on terror even means, particularly given that the Obama administration has doubled down on all the Bush-era anti-terrorism tactics and has failed to fulfill the pre-election promise of closing down Gitmo.

This is everything that's wrong with politics and why libertarians have no political home. For everyone who would ever try and convince me to vote or lean Republican, this is precisely why I can't do it as a matter of general principle.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The conservative left, part II

I had wanted to post something a few weeks ago in response to the glut of articles praising social security in lieu of the government program's 75th anniversary, but never got around to it. But after my last post about "the conservative left" it occurred to me that's there's no better example of this reactionary conservatism than the left's support for social security. This isn't just general support for a government run retirement system, but specific support for the American system, as it currently exists. Because social security has been such a rousing success, alternative methods of supporting the elderly need not be considered.

This adherence to tradition, albeit a government tradition in this case is the very nature of the conservative mind. For the forward thinking, the fact that the original social security program was designed at a time when many more workers would be working to support many few retirees should be reason enough to consider perhaps drastic changes to the mechanics of the program. But to those intent on preserving tradition, all the program needs is a few minor tweaks.

There's something to be said that a program may be in need of changing when it takes over 12&1/2 percent of the income of people like my wife and myself who are trying to start our own business. That's over 12&1/2 percent, before income taxes, going to support the elderly regardless of their wealth or their ability to support themselves. But social security proponents are so much in favor of the program as a program for all elderly that they'd consider raising the payroll tax cap (which I believe sits somewhere slightly above $100,000) well before cutting off benefits to the elderly who don't need them.

The traditional narrative is that the big government left wants to help the poor and down-trodden and the free market right wants to reduce government at all costs (including the well-being of the poor), but the nature of the debate doesn't fit that narrative precisely because of the left's conservative defense of social security.