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Politics Is Rotting Brains and Making Everyone Mad

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There are two basic views of society and the role that politics should play in it. The traditional libertarian view, as embodied in America’s founding(albeit imperfectly), sees government mainly as a referee that applies the laws equally to all citizens.

In thisview, the public square is a neutral place, where a tightly restrained government allows people to live out their lives largely as they chooseeven if they make seemingly boneheaded choices. The government adjudicates disputes among private parties, provides some public services, and tries mainly to keep people from harming one another.

The second view, which has long been common among progressives and now amongpopulist conservatives, is that there is no such thing as neutrality. In that way of thinking, the role of government is to advance the “public good,” and officials should have all the necessary tools at their disposal to force people to behave (economically and culturally) as they should.

That view is even more traditional, as it harkens back to the days of kings, potentates, and marauderspeople who recognized nothing beyond their own power to exert force. The problem, of course, is that the “public good” is in the eye of the beholder. Someone has to make that call.

Even the most authoritarian Americans recognize the primacy of elections, even if they concoct bogusvoter-fraud theoriesto justify their attempt at stealing them. But there’s much debate over what powers an election confers upon the winners.

According to the libertarian view, it shouldn’t matter all that much who happens to become the president, governor, or city council member because those politicians are granted only a limited amount of authority. Unfortunately, those limits have eroded, and now elected and appointed officials (especially during the coronavirus) grab as much authority as they can.

That has turned politics into an endless grudge match, given the stakes always seem so high. The rhetorical fervor has convinced many Americans that they must always be active in politics, lest their way of life and religious faith get cast onto the dustbin. Even before Donald Trump, progressives have portrayed every GOP victory as the harbinger offascism.

Conservatives have done something similar in recent years. The author of the infamous “Flight 93” column published during the 2016 election argued that the race was the equivalent of that hijacked commercial airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania. Voters could charge the cockpit or die because a Hillary Clinton presidency would be “Russian Roulette with a semi-auto,”wroteMichael Anton.

Given these stakesreal or hyperbolicwe shouldn’t be surprised that increasing numbers of Americans view every election as a do-or-die situation. If Republicans win, we’ll soon be goose-stepping down Main Street and giving the Treasury to billionaires. If Democrats win, we better prepare for a life in the gulags, as socialists cancel Christmas and hand the country to Mexico.

Two recent news stories show how this politics-as-endless-culture-war is playing out. The Washington Post reported on a fracas in Kalispell, Mont.an historic town on the outskirts of Glacier National Park. This is one of the most beautiful locales in the country, yet the idyllic community is embroiled in vicious political and cultural divisions. The city, and the state, once exuded a friendly, tolerant attitude.

“Hostility over the November election, the coronavirus, and social movements have left a trail of bad blood among old-school Republicans, backers of the former president, increasingly vocal Democrats and out-of-state transplants, convulsing everything from the school district and the public library to daily interactions,” according to the article. “Our community is going through a divorce right now,” Mayor Mark Johnson told local officials.

I’ve seen it in my own community and elsewhere. And no place is immune from the hostilities. The Atlantic‘s Peter Wehner reported on the widening political divisions within American evangelical churches. “The aggressive, disruptive, and unforgiving mindset that characterizes so much of our politics has found a home in many American churches,” hewrote.

This divide is the result of what many observers refer to as the“politicization of everything.”I was always interested in politics, at least since my teenage years, but don’t remember every single thing that we did leading to knock-down, drag-out political debates. I always had beloved friends and relatives with a variety of political opinions.

I don’t know what we do (beyond, on a personal level, refusing to segregate ourselves into political tribes), but I know what not to do. In a recentcolumn, Sohrab Ahmari argued that to save America, we must reject libertarianism. He called on conservatives to reject the “illusion” of neutrality and exercise political authority “on the side of truth.”

Whose truth? Whomever has thepower, I suppose. As exciting as it may sound to grab power and vanquish our enemies, I’d suggest that the only way to save America is to recommit to its original principles.

This column was first published in The Orange County Register.

Politics

“Turkeys Instead of Tickets” May Violate Fourth Amendment Rights

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Thanksgiving is associated with tradition. And it appears there’s a relatively new one popular with police departments in recent years: pulling over unsuspecting drivers to give out turkeys instead of tickets.

This holiday season was no exception, with media reports detailing such outreach efforts put on by the Mesa Police Department in Arizona, the McAllen Police Department in Texas, and the Fulton Police Departmentin Illinois.

The catch: It’s potentially against the law.

“They’re legal so long as there is reasonable articulate suspicion that a crime was committed,” says Andrew Fleischman, a defense attorney with Ross and Pines. “Absent that, it violates the Fourth Amendment.”

In other words, the cops haven’t violated anyone’s constitutional rights if every driver pulled over for a turkey allegedly committed a traffic infraction. But that’s not what’s going on here.

Some departments aren’t exactly hiding it. The cops in Fulton, Illinois, for example, admittedly eschew the Constitution and conduct such traffic stops on those who do follow the rules of the road. “Officers weren’t plucking out scofflaws,” reads a piece on the program in SaukValley.com. “Rather, they were issuing turkeys instead of tickets, all part of Operation Turkey Stop to reward mindful drivers.”

And while other departments aren’t necessarily so brazen with the messaging, it stands to reason that officers likely aren’t exchanging turkeys for tickets when it comes to drivers who are actively endangering others and abusing the rules of the road.

“I was like ‘Oh my God, no, what did I do?'” said Perla Romano, who was stopped in McAllen, Texas. “‘I was scared because what did I do? I just panicked.'”

In Mesa, Arizona, cops zero in on those who commit minor civil infractions. Officers focus on “stop sign violations, red light violations, or making wide turns,” says Mesa Police Sgt. Chuck Trapani. “We pull them over, and if they didn’t have any criminal violations like warrants or anything like that, then we’d give them a warning violation, plus a turkey.”*

A spokesperson for the McAllen Police Department was not able to comment and the Fulton Police Department did not respond to Reason‘s request as of this writing.

Though the initiative may sound benign, the Fourth Amendment exists for a reason: You have a right to privacy, and a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. One wonders what might happen if an officer pulled someone over for a turkey and happened to catch a whiff of marijuana. Trade in that free Thanksgiving dinner for a potential jail cell.

Traffic stops rarely turn violent or deadly. Yet such instances are not unheard of. According to an investigation by The New York Times, police have killed more than 400 unarmed passengerswho were not suspected of any violent crimesduring traffic stops over the last five years, which amounts to more than one death a week. “It’s [a] frivolous use of their monopoly on force,” says Fleischman.

The spirit behind the program, according to the Mesa Police Department, is to engender affection between officers and the public during a time when cops have faced a sort of unprecedented pushback. Research indicates that such trust is indeed vital to building safer communities. But there are better ways for police to do that than by flouting the rule of law and violating people’s constitutional rights.

*UPDATE:This piece has been updated with a comment from the Mesa Police Department.

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Politics

No “Defense of Others” Defense in Justina Pelletier Hospital Hacking Case

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From U.S. v. Gottesfeld, decided earlier this month by the First Circuit (Judge Kayatta, joined by Chief Judge Howard and Judge Lynch):

In March 2014, Martin Gottesfeld and others committed a “Distributed Denial of Service” cyberattack against Boston Children’s Hospital and Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, causing both to lose their internet capabilities for three to four weeks. Gottesfeld targeted Boston Children’s and Wayside because of their role in caring for Justina Pelletier, a child whose medical condition and treatment were at the center of a custody dispute that received national attention.

Gottesfeld publicly admitted responsibility for the attacks. He was subsequently charged with intentionally causing damage to a protected computer, 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(5)(A), and conspiring to do the same, id. 371. After an eight-day trial, Gottesfeld was convicted on both counts and sentenced to 121 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by three years of supervised release….

Gottesfeld challenges the district court’s order precluding him from raising at trial the affirmative defense known as “defense of another.” A district court “may preclude the presentation of [a] defense entirely” if the defendant does not produce sufficient evidence “to create a triable issue.” …

“Use of force is justified when a person reasonably believes that it is necessary for the defense of … another against the immediate use of unlawful force,” so long as the person “use[s] no more force than appears reasonably necessary in the circumstances.”

Gottesfeld sought to argue at trial that his cyberattack on Boston Children’s and Wayside was justified because it was necessary to protect Pelletier from remaining under the care of those institutions. In support of this theory, he primarily pointed to news and television reports stating that Pelletier was being “abused” and “tortured” under the care of Boston Children’s and Wayside; that Pelletier’s custody proceeding might be “compromised”; and that Pelletier’s parents had contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies regarding Pelletier’s plight to no avail.

This evidence would perhaps support a finding that Gottesfeld subjectively believed Pelletier was at some risk of harm. But he marshals no case to support a finding that he reasonably believed that she faced the threat of immediate unlawful force. To the contrary, he knew that her custody was authorized by a court order. Furthermore, even if he thought that some individual or group of individuals were using or threatening to use unlawful force, that would have provided no justification for Gottesfeld to take hostage thousands of other persons’ internet connections.

{To the extent Gottesfeld contends that he reasonably believed that Pelletier’s treatment during her custody was unlawful, that argument is waived multiple times over: Gottesfeld did not clearly assert it before the district court and only now tries to develop it in his reply brief. Even were we to consider this argument, public commentary and opinion comparing Pelletier’s treatment to torturewhich is all he cites to support this claimdoes not alone support a finding that he reasonably believed that she was in fact being subjected to torture. To rule otherwise would be to empower every citizen with the ability to simultaneously incite and immunize criminal conduct by another even as a judicial tribunal is available to hear the claims of harm.}

Nor could a jury have found Gottesfeld’s chosen methods reasonably necessary. The issues of Pelletier’s custody and treatment were before a court, and all allegations known to Gottesfeld were known to law enforcement authorities. To the extent that Gottesfeld viewed these alternative courses of action as unlikely to succeed, we have previously explained that a defendant’s likely inability “to effect the changes he desires through legal alternatives does not mean, ipso facto, that those alternatives are nonexistent.” …

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Politics

University Administrators on the Rittenhouse Verdict

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Conor Friedersdorf (The Atlantic) has a very good article on this; an excerpt:

Rather than encourage independent scrutiny, administrators on many campuses have issued statements that presuppose answers to hotly contested questions, and assert opinions about the not-guilty verdict in the case and its ostensible significance as though they were matters of community consensus.

The whole episode is an illustration of a bigger problem in academia: Administrators make ideologically selective efforts to soothe the feelings of upset faculty members and students. These actions impose orthodoxies of thought, undermining both intellectual diversity and inclusion. “Certainly,” declareda statement by Dwight A. McBride, president of the New School, “the verdict raises questions about … vigilantism in the service of racism and white supremacy.” In reality, many observers are far fromcertainthat, when 12 jurors concluded that a white man shot three other white men in self-defense, they were saying anything about white supremacy.

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