Archive for November, 2015


Dear John

November 28, 2015

As I’ve mentioned earlier it’s not privacy that the government should respect: it’s anonymity. Your public actions & speech can’t be private, of course, but the government should treat them anonymously (unless you’re committing a crime).

Here’s some nasty news about Los Angeles and its license plate database which is a wonderful illustration of why anonymity’s important.

Because who knows what the next politician or bureaucrat will come up with?

Los Angeles Just Proposed the Worst Use of License Plate Reader Data in History.

Last month, when I spoke on a panel called “Spying in Public: Policy and Practice” at the 25th Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference in Washington, DC, we were embroiled in a discussion of license plate readers. As a law enforcement technologist, and a working police detective, I generally support the use of license plate readers. I discussed at the conference a child pornography case in which the suspect (now indicted) had fled the city and the police located him using the technology.

From the back of the room came the comment, “The issue is the potentially chilling effect that this technology has on freedom of association and freedom of transportation.”

That’s literally the phrase that leapt into my mind when I read the monumentally over-reaching idea posed by Nury Martinez, a 6th district Los Angeles city councilwoman, to access a database of license plates captured in certain places around the city, translate these license plates to obtain the name and address of each owner, and send to that owner a letter explaining that the vehicle was seen in, “an area known for prostitution.” […]

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to ask the office of the District Attorney for their help implementing the plan.

Have Ms. Martinez and the Los Angeles City Council taken leave of their senses? This scheme makes, literally, a state issue out of legal travel to arbitrary places deemed by some — but not by a court, and without due process — to be “related” to crime in general, not to any specific crime.

There isn’t “potential” for abuse here, this is a legislated abuse of technology that is already controversial when it’s used by police for the purpose of seeking stolen vehicles, tracking down fugitives and solving specific crimes. […]

All your license plate numbers are belong to them.


Faster, please (2)

November 27, 2015

Here’s an interesting article in today’s Washington Post.

The DEA has failed to eradicate marijuana. Now Congress wants it to stop trying.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is not having a great year.

The chief of the agency stepped down in April under a cloud of scandal. The acting administrator since then has courted ridicule for saying pot is “probably not” as dangerous as heroin, and more recently he provoked 100,000 petition-signers and seven members of Congress to call for his head after he called medical marijuana “a joke.”

This fall, the administration earned a scathing rebuke from a federal judge over its creative interpretation of a law intended to keep it from harassing medical marijuana providers. Then, the Brookings Institution issued a strongly worded report outlining the administration’s role in “stifling medical research” into medical uses of pot.

Unfortunately for the DEA, the year isn’t over yet. Last week, a group of 12 House members led by Ted Lieu (D) of California wrote to House leadership to push for a provision in the upcoming spending bill that would strip half of the funds away from the DEA’s Cannabis Eradication Program and put that money toward programs that “play a far more useful role in promoting the safety and economic prosperity of the American people”: domestic violence prevention and overall spending reduction efforts. […]

Who knew the DEA had a special patch for this effort?

DEA delenda est!

H.T. USMP of Kentucky


Thanks to the Hand

November 25, 2015

Jeff G sends a link to this column by Jeff Jacoby that appeared in The Boston Globe in 2003. RTWT. My emphasis (and Jeff G’s) below.

As I like to put it (or tl;dr) "Don’t bite the Invisible Hand that feeds you."

Giving thanks for the ‘invisible hand’

GRATITUDE TO THE ALMIGHTY is the theme of Thanksgiving, and has been ever since the Pilgrims of Plymouth brought in their first good harvest. “Instead of famine, now God gave them plenty,” their leader, Governor William Bradford, later wrote, “and the face of things was changed to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.”

The annual presidential Thanksgiving proclamations always invoke God, and they frequently itemize the blessings for which we owe Him thanks. […]

Today, in millions of homes across the nation, God will be thanked for many gifts — for the feast on the table and the company of loved ones, for health and good fortune in the year gone by, for peace at home in a time of war, for the incalculable privilege of having been born — or having become — American.

But it probably won’t occur to too many of us to give thanks for the fact that the local supermarket had plenty of turkey for sale this week. Even the devout aren’t likely to thank God for airline schedules that made it possible for some of those loved ones to fly home for Thanksgiving. Or for the arrival of Master and Commander at the local movie theater in time for the holiday weekend. Or for that great cranberry-apple pie recipe in the food section of the newspaper. […]

And yet, isn’t there something wondrous — something almost inexplicable — in the way your Thanksgiving weekend is made possible by the skill and labor of vast numbers of total strangers? […]

No turkey czar sat in a command post somewhere, consulting a master plan and issuing orders. […]

Adam Smith called it “the invisible hand” — the mysterious power that leads innumerable people, each working for his own gain, to promote ends that benefit many. Out of the seeming chaos of millions of uncoordinated private transactions emerges the spontaneous order of the market. […] No dictator, no bureaucracy, no supercomputer plans it in advance. Indeed, the more an economy is planned, the more it is plagued by shortages, dislocation, and failure. […]

Mr. Jacoby’s opinion is backed by the reactions of Russian visitors to the US during the Cold War. The snippet below comes from Back in the USSR (in the Winter 2004 edition of Boston College Magazine). My emphasis again.

For Russians, most of whom have a heritage in agriculture, such a visit exposed the shortcomings of Soviet agriculture and by extension the Soviet system. “Why do we live as we do?” was a question many of them ended up asking, according to a veteran State Department interpreter who has escorted many Russians around the country:

Their minds were blown by being here. They could not believe there could be such abundance and comfort. Many of them would even disparage things here. “Excess, who needs it,” they would say. However, you could see that they did not believe what they were saying. When they returned home, in their own minds and in the privacy of their own trusted little circle of family and friends, they would tell the truth to themselves or to others.

ACCOUNTS OF Soviets’ astonishment on visiting their first American supermarket are legion, from the first Russian students who came to the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s, to the future Russian president Boris Yeltsin in 1989.

Thank goodness for free markets.



Kozinski on the justice system

November 24, 2015

Radley Balko posts five short (90 – 120 second) videos made when the Charles Koch Institute interviewed Judge Alex Kozinski.

Federal appeals court judge speaks out on police militarization, redemption for convicts, false confessions, criminal justice reform

As part of its push for criminal justice reform, the Charles Koch Institute (yes, that Charles Koch) has just posted a series of interviews with Alex Kozinski, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Kozinski is often tagged as a conservative, but he has become one of the loudest, most eloquent and most consistent critics of the criminal justice system on the federal bench, both in his opinions and in his writing outside of court.

Here’s one of the clips.

I don’t known a lot about the judge but I admire the things he’s been writing and saying in the last few years. He seems to actually give a damn about the people who get caught up in the justice system.


Expensive insurance

November 21, 2015

Here’s an interesting post at Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution:

Can this be true?

Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. attorneys seized an estimated $12.6 billion in asset forfeiture cases. The growth rate during that time averaged +19.4% annually. In 2010 alone, the value of assets seized grew by +52.8% from 2009 and was six times greater than the total for 1989. Then by 2014, that number had ballooned to roughly $4.5 billion for the year, making this 35% of the entire number of assets collected from 1989 to 2010 in a single year. According to the FBI, the total amount of goods stolen by criminals in 2014 burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses. This means that the police are now taking more assets than the criminals [emphasis added].

That is from Martin Armstrong, via Noah Smith and Michael Hendrix. While private sector robberies are underreported by a considerable amount, this is nonetheless a startling contrast.

This seems to be the source for Cowen’s post.

I have no idea whether this is true. But if it is then police protection is turning into pretty expensive insurance, eh?

Via CoyoteBlog


What we’ve forgotten

November 19, 2015

Here’s a history lesson about the Tenth Amendment.

217th Anniversary of Signing of Kentucky Resolution of 1798: What We’ve Forgotten

On this day, November 16, 217 years ago, Governor James Garrard of Kentucky signed into law the first of two landmark pieces of legislation known to history as the Kentucky Resolutions.

The first bill was passed by tthe Kentucky state House on November 10, 1798 and by the Senate on November 13. The bill was then signed into law by Governor Garrard three days later.

As is widely known, the Kentucky Resolution of 1798 was authored by Thomas Jefferson (shown), while a companion measure introduced in the Virginia state assembly was written by his frequent collaborator, James Madison.

The measures were reactions by the two first-tier Founders to the enactment by President John Adams of the Alien and Sedition Acts during the summer of 1798. […]

For reference, the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Via USMP of Kentucky


If we can’t decriminalize drugs

November 9, 2015

We should at least get rid of the draconian jail sentences.

Now that I think of it, I’ve known at least one person who served multi-year sentence for drugs.


The beginning of the end?

November 9, 2015

Ireland, Mexico, Canada Defect from the War on Drugs

On November 3, Ohio voters rejected a flawed plan to legalize marijuana, even though most Ohioans are in favor of legalization. The measure would have amended the state constitution to legalize the sale of cannabis, but only through a state-sanctioned drug cartel of ten licensed dealers.

But there are other encouraging signs that the War on Drugs is losing steam.

On November 4, Canada’s newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was sworn into office. Trudeau and the Liberal Party promise to legalize marijuana in Canada, which would make it only the second country to formally legalize the sale and consumption of cannabis. (Uruguay became the first, in 2013 — contrary to popular belief, pot is not technically legal in the Netherlands, but it is tolerated).

On November 3, the Irish government announced decriminalization of not just marijuana but also heroin and cocaine. The chief of Ireland’s National Drugs Strategy told the papers there was a “strong consensus that drugs across the board should be decriminalised.” […]

Decriminalization is a far cry from legalization — it’s still a crime to make, sell, or “profit from” drugs — but users and addicts would no longer be locked up for their personal consumption. The results from Portugal’s decriminalization of all drugs in 2001 have been extremely extraordinary: deaths, addiction, and HIV infections from drugs have all dropped precipitously.

Perhaps the most heartening news comes from Mexico, where the drug war has raged for decades. On November 5, the criminal chamber of the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the country’s ban on marijuana was unconstitutional and found that individuals have a right to grow, possess, and use marijuana.

DEA delenda est!


Los taxistas y los médicos

November 9, 2015

In the general sense, this applies equally well to Venezuela. (Even though I don’t know the salary comparisons for cabbies and doctors there.)

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