Archive for the ‘liberty’ Category
My column is up at the Press-Citizen. Here it is:
Let’s be honest.
The state law that prohibits alcohol for 18-year-olds is stupid.
The federal law that promotes such a policy is not only stupid, but an obscene abuse of federal power.
These laws really do not require sophisticated criticism. The only thing that is difficult to understand about the laws is how they have managed to remain in existence for so long.
Iowa City policy that bars 18-year-olds from establishments that serve alcohol are really just doubling down on a stupid policy.
The prohibition of alcohol for those younger than 21 already creates a rich market in false identification and identity theft. But that market is promoted principally among those who want to exercise the right to purchase alcohol directly. People who want to exercise those rights through the acts of others have little incentive to obtain a false identity.
Current Iowa City policy raises the bar. Now those who merely want to share a social environment with people who are in a drinking establishment must obtain false identification. This sort of identity fraud is bad in itself, but it also creates wider channels for a wide variety of identity fraud-related scams and crimes.
That is a fairly unique problem promoted by the 21-only policy, but the shift in alcohol consumption caused by this policy is troubling on many levels. Of course, some may argue that total consumption goes down because of the policy, but that seems rather unlikely given that most high school students can fairly readily obtain alcohol. College students have many more options.
Bars have incentives to protect their customers that house and apartment dwellers do not have. Bars enrich the nightlife of Iowa City in a way that house parties do not. Bars do not have readily available areas where men can easily rape women; houses do. Bars can be openly patrolled by police without a warrant; houses cannot. Commercial districts are better suited than residential neighborhoods to the heavy traffic and noise that goes with drunken revelry. Where do we want people to drink?
However, none of this addresses the core problem. That is, 18-year-olds suddenly free of parental constraint, 21 year-olds experiencing nominal “freedom,” and a variety of others indulge irresponsibly in their alcohol consumption and cause many problems.
Whether they drink at bars or houses, this core problem remains.
A better solution requires that we, as citizens, as a city, and as a state petition our elected federal representatives to repeal the insane federal laws that promote a 21-year-old drinking age. The best solution, in the long run, might even be to abolish the drinking age entirely or reduce it to, perhaps, 14.
Let’s imagine a 14-year-old drinking age. The first opportunity for a person to drink legally would happen when they are under their parents’ care, without the financial means to buy much alcohol, unable to drive, and generally incapable of creating an environment conducive to irresponsible drinking. The novelty of drinking openly once a person arrived at college would be substantially reduced. The aggressive binge drinking that is the rite of many 21-year-olds would be non-existent.
More personally and locally, I suspect Curtis Fry would not have gotten obscenely drunk on his 21st birthday. He would not have brutally beaten my friend, Patrick McEwen, to death at Patrick’s apartment on South Van Buren Street.
Fry’s parents seem like good people. Had Fry been able to legally drink as a 14 year-old, they would have raised him in a way that prevented him from killing someone.
He would not be in prison today.
For me, imagining an alternate reality where a young man is not a killer and an old man is not brutally killed is compelling enough.
In Jerusalem at the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, more than a hundred thousand Muslim worshipers convened and listened to a Friday sermon that attacked not only the State of Israel, but also the very prospect of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority:
Tens of thousands of Muslims poured into the heavily guarded Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem for the last Friday prayers of Ramadan as Palestinians protested against newly re-launched peace talks.
Israeli police put the number of worshippers at 160,000 to 170,000, while Muslim authorities said it exceeded 200,000.
In his Friday sermon Sheikh Yusef Abu Sneineh criticized the re-launch on Thursday of Middle East peace talks in Washington, saying “these negotiations are a joke.”
He went on to accuse Israel of seeking normalization with the Arab and Muslim world while “continuing its colonization” of the occupied West Bank through the building of Jewish settlements.
When one considers that Saudi Arabia heavily regulates the practice of Islam and that Egypt has a long history of regulating sermons, it makes this kind of liberty, in a place far more threatened by Islamist extremism, all the more impressive. Even liberal Europe fails to display the degree of religious tolerance that exists in Israel.
And yet, if you listen to the European media or the Arab media, only Israel is the world’s oppressor. Perhaps rather than condemning Israel, they should seek to emulate Israel.
What do these two places have in common?
The answer is that they are both within a short distance of the World Trade Center site. Indeed, it is easy to stand on the street and see both the massive construction project at the WTC and one of these sites.
However, there is one thing that is very different. Only one has provoked intense controversy because of its location near “sacred ground.” The sacrilege is not men paying naked women for their sexually explicit performances. It is the one where people will be praying to God.
To be clear, I have reservations about each that I will explain at another time. However, neither should be barred because of their controversy. This is a free country. Even when people take offense we favor freedom over protecting people from their sensitivities.
Here in Iowa, many of us feel no need to worry about our personal security. Generally we don’t need to worry, but it is not an excuse to completely let down your guard.
A good friend of mine who works in counter-terrorism recently shared with me two articles that can be useful to ordinary people. They do not encourage paranoia, but they do call for a person to consciously consider their level of alertness. Even in Iowa bad things happen. Most Iowans leave the state from time-to-time and at those times have even more reason to remain alert to potential threats.
The first link is to a resource that will simply get you thinking about what it means to be alert to potential threats:
Regardless of the threat, it is very important to recognize that criminal and terrorist attacks do not materialize out of thin air. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Criminals and terrorists follow a process when planning their actions, and this process has several distinct steps. This process has traditionally been referred to as the “terrorist attack cycle,” but if one looks at the issue thoughtfully, it becomes apparent that the same steps apply to nearly all crimes.
Read more: A Primer on Situational Awareness | STRATFOR
The second link is particularly useful to anyone who is worried about a stalker, but can also be useful to anyone who fears that they are being observed in advance of a criminal act:
It is important to make one fundamental point clear up front. The operational behavior that most commonly exposes a person planning a criminal or terrorist act to scrutiny by the intended target is surveillance. Other portions of the planning process can be conducted elsewhere, especially in the age of the Internet, when so much information is available online. From an operational standpoint, however, there simply is no substitute for having eyes on the potential target.
Read more: Watching for Watchers | STRATFOR
If enough people start thinking about these issues, we will be safer as both individuals and as a community. If you want to stop terrorism without the heavy hand of government surveillance, you must read these, remain appropriately alert, and encourage your friends to do the same.
Tonight with a few friends, the conversation turned to airport “security.” Anyone who has been to Israel knows that American airport security leaves much to be desired. Whenever the topic comes up, one article comes to mind.
Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in the Atlantic, offered what is probably the best critique of airport security that I have ever read. Here is an opening bite:
Suspicious that the measures put in place after the attacks of September 11 to prevent further such attacks are almost entirely for show—security theater is the term of art—I have for some time now been testing, in modest ways, their effectiveness. Because the TSA’s security regimen seems to be mainly thing-based—most of its 44,500 airport officers are assigned to truffle through carry-on bags for things like guns, bombs, three-ounce tubes of anthrax, Crest toothpaste, nail clippers, Snapple, and so on—I focused my efforts on bringing bad things through security in many different airports, primarily my home airport, Washington’s Reagan National, the one situated approximately 17 feet from the Pentagon, but also in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago, and at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.
You will have a hard time believing what Goldberg did. You will have a harder time believing that he never got arrested. If you have not read the piece, read it. When you are done, if you want more, start reading Bruce Schneier’s excellent blog.
At the time of his presidency, I was not a fan of Bill Clinton. But, times have changed and my mind has changed along with it. It is my reflection on Clinton’s tenure that have forced me to reconsider how I label myself. I am comfortable with the term “liberal” largely because of what it meant then, even as talk radio was flushing it down the toilet.
Here’s Matt Welch over at Reason:
[A]s the Bush-Obama era of bailout economics and Keynesian rehabilitation settles into something like cruising speed, perhaps the most fantastic fact to swallow will be that once upon a time the United States had a president who restrained government spending, balanced the budget, argued forcefully for the benefits of free trade, and declared that “the era of big government is over.” And he was a Democrat.
The whole piece is worth reading.
Jews have many reasons to celebrate the Fourth of July. Most notably, America is undoubtedly the freest place in the world when it comes to religious tolerance. Jews thrive in America for this reason, and despite occasional problems with antisemitism, live freer lives than almost anywhere in the world.
But, there is another reason for Jews to be proud. Haym Solomon, a Polish-American Jew who was an active member at the Sephardi congregation Mikveh Israel, was among the founders of this great country. According to the National Park Service, which operates an excellent site on the American Revolution:
He seems to have been drawn early to the Patriot side and was arrested by the British as a spy in 1776. He was pardoned and used by the British as an interpreter with their German troops. Salomon, however, continued to help prisoners of the British escape and encouraged German soldiers to desert. Arrested again in 1778, he was sentenced to death, but managed to escape to the rebel capital of Philadelphia. (link)
Haym Solomon was an early inspiration for me. Indeed, I created a CafePress store, Hebrew American, in large part as a creative outlet to for my strong identity as both an American and a Jew. If you like the graphic to the right, which was among my first designs, and want to buy it on apparel or other items, you can do so here.
My column in today’s Iowa City Press-Citizen:
City needs narrower option
SEPTEMBER 19, 2009
The police officer pulled up to the curb and asked, “What are you kids up to?”
Most of my friends had made a bee-line to the nearest apartment building. Sure, it was three o’clock in the morning, and none of us was older than 15, but we were just a bunch of restless nerds.
This was the first time I had been to Coralville. A bunch of friends I had met at nerd camp (what else do you call taking advanced classes at a university over the summer?) decided that we should get together. The majority lived near Iowa City, so a friend and I had bugged our parents until they caved and agreed to shuttle us from Des Moines for a weekend.
“We were just bored and decided to take a walk,” I told the officer, slightly annoyed that my friends thought we had a reason to run.
“You know I could take you to the police station and have your parents pick you up, don’t you?”
Apparently, Coralville had a curfew at the time. I had no idea. I was incredulous.
“Well, I am from Urbandale and he’s from West Des Moines,” I said, pointing to my friend who had traveled with me. “I am not even sure that they would pick up the phone, and it is a two-hour drive from here.”
Of course, if he had wanted to detain us at the police station, he would need to call for backup to make room for us all. The police at the station would need to deal with babysitting us for, probably, several hours. Corralling this nerd herd was going to be more trouble than it was worth.
“OK, well go back to the home where you are staying and don’t let me catch you out again tonight.”
The nerd herd complied.
The police officer had little interest in enforcing the curfew law. Arguably, such a law does not exist to be enforced, but exists merely as a pretext for investigation into other criminal acts. Indeed, if such a law were rigorously enforced, it would unnecessarily consume the time of the police and justice system.
And this pretext is precisely why Iowa City is considering a juvenile curfew law. One area of town has had a recent problem with juvenile hooliganism. There is not a general problem with nocturnal youths. There is a problem with a relatively small group of youths in a single neighborhood. The problem is likely a temporary one.
This law may solve the immediate problem. But it will undoubtedly reach further than intended. Will the Iowa City Council be quick to repeal the law when general lawfulness is restored? It seems doubtful. The law will likely remain on the books until it is finally enforced against a few “good” kids, whose parents raise hell until the law is repealed. Until then, the law will undoubtedly invite profiling of suspects and haphazard harassment of juveniles and younger-looking college students. It will result in unequal application of the law and greater suspicion of police motives.
If the council wants to attack a narrow problem, it should create a narrow solution. To start, it could change the proposed curfew by setting a date for it to sunset.
A better solution might be to delegate limited authority to the mayor and chief of police to declare a temporary neighborhood-specific curfew based on a finding of fact that it was experiencing an acute crime problem. Such a declaration could become effective only upon notification of the council at its next meeting, at which time the council could intervene and nullify the declaration if necessary. Unless the declaration was renewed, it could expire automatically in three months or earlier by revocation.
The council should find a narrower solution. It cannot intend for the currently proposed law to be broadly enforced. One would hope that it does not intend that the law be enforced erratically.
Anyone who has been through Israeli airport security knows that American screening is a joke. My first time back, I was detained for a few hours because I was carrying some of my wife’s research materials in my luggage – and none of that time was spent just sitting around. Israelis rely on multiple identity verifications, multiple human-to-human interactions, extensive bag searches, and almost universal chemical swab testing of baggage. Each time I went through, the process had minor differences, but it was always thorough. If you fly Israel’s El Al airline, the security is tighter still.
There is no privacy in flying from Israel, but the intrusion seems balanced by a genuine concern and effort to ensure security.
I have even had experiences with Chilean airport security that were better balanced than my American experiences. Once when going through security there, a screener pulled me aside and simply said, “show me the knife.” I wasn’t sure what he was talking about and so I completely dumped out my carry on. At the bottom of one of the pockets was a nail clipper with a small folding knife. It was what he was looking for, but once he saw it was not dangerous, the screener gave it back to me and sent me on my way.
Nowhere more than this country have I felt that airport security is tailored for maximum intrusion and minimum security. If you want to read some really great examples of this disturbing truth, read Jeffrey Goldberg’s ‘The Things He Carried’ in The Atlantic.
Fortunately, the courts seem to be rolling back the incentives for unnecessarily intrusive searches. This example, among others, was in today’s Wall Street Journal:
A federal judge in June threw out seizure of three fake passports from a traveler, saying that TSA screeners violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Congress authorizes TSA to search travelers for weapons and explosives; beyond that, the agency is overstepping its bounds, U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley said.
Of course, this only helps at the point where a court gets involved. If a search is merely inconvenient and intrusive, but leads to no criminal charge, it is hard to see what remedy is available. Sue for nominal damages? Maybe a class action for lost airfare due to delays that cause missed flights? We can hope …