Monday, March 29, 2010

Federal Court Says Tasering of Pregnant Woman Was Justified

The story goes like this: A woman is pulled over for doing 32 MPH in a school zone. She contends that it was the car in front of her that was speeding, and therefore she refuses to sign the ticket (being under the incorrect impression that it would be tantamount to admitting guilt).

Now, as the police officer on the scene, you have two options. You can (A) give her the ticket anyway and send her on her way (it is not required that the driver sign the ticket) or (B) attempt to arrest her and tase her when she refuses to get out of the car. The police opted for second strategy, naturally, and now the court has sided with the officers, saying that the tasing was justified as a response to her resisting arrest. The problem is, as the dissenting judge notes, that failure to sign a traffic ticket is not an offense you can be arrested for, and you can't be charged with resisting arrest if the arrest itself is unlawful.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Health Care "Reform" Passes: Will it Reform Anything?

If the major goals of this bill were to allow coverage for all citizens, and simultaneously reduce the price of that coverage, my prediction is that this bill will fail spectacularly on both counts, and indeed could make things considerably worse than they are now. There are two key parts of the bill that turn the current system on its head:

The first part requires insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions. This means, for example, that someone who has smoked two packs a day for thirty years cannot be denied health insurance for his newly discovered lung cancer, even if he has never paid a dime into the insurance system previously. This is obviously very bad for insurance companies, since the incentive to buy insurance before a major health crisis hits is effectively removed. With everybody signing up to take money out of the system, but no one signing up to put money in, insurance companies would be unable to operate.

To attempt to fix this problem, the bill introduces a new "individual mandate" that requires all citizens to buy health insurance or face a fine (to be filed with your tax return each year). This fine starts at 1% of your income, or $90, whichever is higher. By 2016, the fine will be 2.5% of your income, or $695, whichever is higher. The goal, of course, is to force healthy people into paying into the system so their insurance premiums can subsidize the sick people taking money out of the system.

There is a huge practical problem with this plan (not including any philosophical, moral, or constitutional objections, which abound as well).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Corporatist Threats: Real and Imagined

The threat of corporatism (defined here as a state of politics where corporations are pulling the strings of government) is a ongoing threat to most people, including free-market adherents such as myself. But many times, it seems that some fiercely discussed threats are simply imagined, while real threats slip beneath the radar. In this post, I'd like to highlight what I feel is an example of each category, the recent Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, and New York's eminent domain landgrab.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Minority Report: Not a Documentary

Someone should tell the Medford police department before they take anyone else into custody for pre-crime.

Story here.

To sum up an already short story, an ODOT worker was placed on administrative leave for being "disgruntled".  While on leave he purchased several guns, which raised a red flag with the police.  The next logical step?  Obviously, send a SWAT team to surround his house, evacuate the neighborhood, "negotiate" with him to get him outside, take him into custody for a mental evaluation, and confiscate his guns for "safekeeping".  The charges?  Well, there aren't any.  (Did you think the police needed something like charges to storm your house with a SWAT team, confiscate your property and take you away? What an archaic notion . . . )

It will be interesting to see if he ever gets his guns back, or if the police keep them "safe" for him on a more permanent basis.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Things Nancy Pelosi Has Taught Me About Government

1. Politicians need the "courage" to pass laws over the objections of the American people they claim to serve. (Link)
2. Politicians need to pass laws first so we can examine them later to make sure they make sense. (Link)
3. Bipartisan support doesn't mean getting votes from the other party. (Link)

Oddly enough, I don't remember any of those lessons from my federal government class.  Maybe I was sick that day . . .

Thursday, March 4, 2010

SWAT Teams: Non-Proportional Response

This one requires some back story (story here, and it's a disturbing read, though I suggest you do so).  The short version is below:

In 2008, a drug dog at the post office sniffed out some marijuana in a box addressed to the residence of one Cheye Calvo.  The police delivered the box to the doorstep, then waited until Cheye, coming back from walking his two dogs, found the package and brought it into the house.  A SWAT team followed after him, kicking in his front door, shooting his two black labs dead (one as it ran away), and leaving him and his wife handcuffed on the floor for hours while they trashed his house looking for illegal substances.  After destroying his home and killing his pets, the police left with one piece of evidence:  the very box of marijuana they had placed on his doorstep in the first place.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

9th Circuit Court: 4th Amendment is Just A Suggestion

The 9th circuit court (not especially known for exercising good judgement in the past) has recently decided that the police can conduct a search of a person's home without any justification at all. The majority decision can be found here.  An excerpt:
"The officers continued to tell Lemus to come out, but Lemus instead started to walk into the apartment. The officers were there in an instant, taking hold of Lemus and handcuffing him before he could fully enter the doorway and retreat into his living room.

Detective Longoria thought he’d better check to make sure no one was hiding out in the apartment. He sent Gerardo and Orozco in. They scanned the living room, and didn’t see anyone. Just a couch and a TV. Checked the bedroom and bathroom too. Negative. Lemus was alone.

Diaz, in the living room, got Detective Longoria’s attention. Wasn’t there something sticking out from the couch? Detective Longoria thought it looked like the butt of a weapon. Since Lemus was a felon, having a gun would be a crime. Detective Longoria lifted the couch cushion to make sure, and confirmed that it was a semi-automatic handgun. It was later determined to be a Sturm and Ruger, 9 millimeter.

Detective Longoria let the cushion fall. He thought he should get a search warrant before touching the gun—he didn’t want to lose the chance to seize it. He left the officers at the scene to keep things secure, and headed back to the station. The warrant was issued, and the Ruger was seized."

So the police, by their own account, arrested this man outside his house, searched his house without a warrant, probable cause, or exigent circumstances, found incriminating evidence against him, and only then pursued a warrant so they could come back and claim what they had found.  As the dissenting judge in the case notes (dissenting opinion here), this is in clear contradiction to the purpose of the 4th amendment. 

The Beginning

This is my first attempt at something of this nature.  Mostly, I just want a place to collect and record my thoughts on current political events, and given how fast-paced news comes and goes in this area, a blog seemed to be the most practical method.

If you're wondering about the name, it comes from a recent conversation I had (on a topic that I will no doubt repost here shortly).  One respondent explained that he didn't find anything wrong with situations in which law enforcement officers perform illegal searches of a person's home, so long as they eventually get the criminals they were after.  Another poster fired back with the gem "So you want to play Calvinball?  In the courtroom?" (In case you are not familiar with the brilliant work of the Bill Watterson, I direct your attention here.)

I found this analogy so perfect that I decided to appropriate it for my own use.  In a time when all three branches of our government seem intent on sacrificing boundary for expediency, we are all truly at the mercy of courtroom Calvinball.