If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
Alex Tabarrok rifs on that theme at Marginal Revolution when he asks Did Obama Spy on Romney? He answers his own question:
No. Some people claim that President Obama didn’t even know about the full extent of NSA spying. Indeed, I imagine that President Obama was almost as surprised as the rest of us when he first discovered that we live in a mass surveillance state in which billions of emails, phone calls, facebook metadata and other data are being collected.
Who knows? As Tabrrok reminds us, the NSA listened in on Angela Merkel’s phone calls. What if Romney called her during his 2012 campaign? In any case, he’s certainly right when he says that “Men are not angels.” Nevertheless, Tabarrok doesn’t think the NSA forwarded any tapes on to the Obama campaign. Still, “Men are not angels,” right?
Did the NSA use the information they gathered on Mitt Romney and other political candidates for political purposes? Probably not. Will the next president or the one after that be so virtuous so as to not use this kind of power? I have grave doubts. Men are not angels.
The Nixon administration plumbers broke into the offices of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in order to gather information to discredit him. They busted into a single file cabinet (pictured). What a bunch of amateurs.
The NSA has broken into millions of file cabinets around the world.
Nixon resigned in disgrace. Who will pay for the NSA break-ins? (Emphasis added)
Another two thumbs up for Robert Caro’s book The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. It easily ranks among the top 5 books I’ve ever read, a mesmerizing study of power in the hands of one man, the New York state and City parks commissioner. A parks commissioner!
This passage caught my attention today:
If a commissioner [of another department resisted his attempts to circumvent the law], Moses used the public rather than the private smear. “Mr. Moses told me . . . that he was able to control the press of New York City, so as to hold me up to such obloquy that I would not be able to stand it,” W. Kingsland Macy had testified a decade before. The smear technique that had been used then was used now–frequently.
In the hands of a man for whom the press acted as a gigantic sounding board, repeating and amplifying his words, the smear was a terrible weapon–particularly when those words were as caustic and cutting as Moses’. . . . (469)
How bad was it? How deep in Moses’ pocket were the press? This deep:
Mrs. Sulzberger [daughter of the founder of the New York Times, wife of the publisher in the 1930s] believed that Moses came “close to our ideal of what a Park Commissioner should be”; the Times evidently believed so, too. Its reporters and editors may never have been directly ordered to give Moses special treatment but, during the Thirties as during the Twenties, they were not so insensitive as not to know what was expected of them. Moses’ press releases were treated with respect, being given prominent treatment and often being printed in full. There were no investigating of the “facts” presented in those press releases, no attempt at detailed analysis of his theories of recreation and transportation, no probing of the assumption on which the city was building and maintaining recreational facilities and roads. The Times ran more than one hundred editorials on Moses and his programs during the twelve-year La Guardia administration–overwhelmingly favorable editorials. (461)
The more I read about Calvin Coolidge, the more I like him. Next on my reading list is Amity Shlaes’s biography, Coolidge. But for good reading on this special day, his speech commemorating the 150th anniversary of The Declaration of Independence is worthy of your time and thought, especially this paragraph.
About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.
I’m of so many minds on immigration that I wouldn’t know where to start if I had to explain my position to you. I am clear on one thing however: As with the vote on Obamacare, no lasting good and lots of trouble will come from rushing the current incarnation of immigration reform through the halls and chambers on Capitol Hill. In case you’ve not read the latest, here’s quick update. Though the Corker-Hoeven amendment to the so-called Gang of Eight bill only amounts to about 112 pages, those “pages” are interspersed throughout the existing 1,000 page plus bill, making it an essentially new, 1,200 page bill. The amendment was added to the bill late Friday.
As I said, I’ve always opposed rushing these monstrosities–speaking of size rather than content–through the legislative process. They need to be read and understood first or bad things will almost certainly happen later. My feelings about this issue have increased 10 fold as I read–make that listened to–Robert Caro’s 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, a page-turner about the man behind New York state’s parks and parkways system. (For the uninitiated, New York parkways are essentially well-groomed freeways.) Trust me, this is easily one of the most interesting books you’ll ever read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Moses grew up an idealist to become a man of great vision. He truly worked wonders throughout New York state from the early 1920s till the 1960s. That said, he did it all by chucking his idealism in favor or raw, virtually unchecked power. He decided that to get things done, he first needed to accumulate power or make friends with those who already had it. He learned the tricks of what would become his trade at the feet of New York governor Al Smith and Belle Moskowitz, Smith’s right hand woman. And one of those tricks was taking advantage of the bill drafting process–advantage, that is, of the fact that most legislators don’t read what they vote on.
With that background, let me quote from Chapter 10: The Best Bill Drafter in Albany.
Once, no reformer, no idealist, had believed more sincerely than [Moses] in free and open discussion. No reformer, no idealist, had argued more vigorously that legislative bills should be fairly debated, and that the debates should be published so that the citizenry could be informed on the issues.
But free and open debate had not made his dreams come true. Instead, politicians had crushed them. And now he was going to make sure that, with the exception of Al Smith and Belle Moskowitz, no one–not citizenry, not press, not Legislature–was going to know what was in the bills dealing with parks that the Legislature was going to pass. The best bill drafter in Albany set to work.
First and foremost, parks were land, and land was generally acquired by government through condemnation. But condemnation in 1924 was a slow process, since the state could not take title to property until a condemnation commission set its value. And since the property’s owner could appeal to the courts if not satisfied with the commission’s evaluation, he could delay the state further. He [the property owner] therefore possessed in his opposition to the state a weapon, even if it was a small one–and in the hands of the barons of Long Island, small weapons could become large.
So one clause within Chapter 122 of the Laws of 1924, “AN ACT TO PROVIDE FOR the location, creation, acquisition and improvement by the state of parks, parkways and boulevards in the counties of Nassau and Suffolk,” a clause buried deep within the act, empowered the Long Island State Park Commission to acquire land by condemnation and appropriation “in the manner provided by section fifty-nine of the conservation law.” (173-174, emphasis in original)
And what was so bad about that you ask, apart from burying the clause “deep within the act”? Well, how he defined “appropriation” within the act, for one. Moses’s bill defined “appropriation” not as “allocating funds to such and such a project” much like any legislator would have understood the term then and now. No, Moses defined appropriation “in the manner provided by section fifty-nine of the conservation law,” a law passed by the New York legislature in 1884 for a very specific purpose and used little since and then only in remote forests to preserve them. And under that 1884 law, appropriation was a procedure, according to Caro,
. . . in which a state official could take possession of the land by simply walking on it and telling the owner he no longer owned it–and that if he wanted compensation, he would have to apply to the condemnation commission himself. (174)
Caro also says that the appropriation “method had never ben used anywhere for more than 30 years because of doubts about its constitutionality. But the Legislature had never gotten around to repealing section fifty-nine” (174).
Moses didn’t stop there. In section eight of the bill, he wrote that the parks commission “had the right to operate parks.” He waited until section nine to tell anybody that read that far that “the term . . . parks as used in this act . . . shall be deemed to include . . . parkways . . . boulevards and also entrances and approaches thereto, docks and piers, and bridges . . . and such other appurtenances as the . . . commission shall utilize . . . ”
Section eight also gave the parks commission the right to “acquire . . . real estate.” The wary legislator had to read section ten to learn that “the term real estate as used in this act shall be construed to embrace all uplands, lands under water . . . and all real estate heretofore or hereafter acquired or used for railroad, street railroad, telephone, telegraph, or other public purposes . . .” As Caro points out, the words “lands underwater” were significant because they effectively undercut any claims a group of his biggest opponents, the “baymen,” had to their “‘sacred’ bay bottoms.”
There’s more to the story. As Caro captures it, “almost every clause in the act contained a sleeper” (175). And each of those sleepers and later ones like them in other bills, ordinances, charters, etc. helped Moses reign over parks and parkways and baseball parks, etc. etc. etc. in New York state well into the 1960s.
For me–and for you, I hope–the lesson is clear: bill drafting is a pathway to power. The drafting of and amendments to bills that are then rushed through Congress without time for interested parties to read and digest what’s in them is a ticket to greater power for some and a recipe for disaster for the rest of us. Be wary. Be very wary of the current immigration bill–unless and until we and our elected representatives have had time to read it.
This led me to think of this, which led me to discover this, which discusses this.
Can we all agree that 4,500 federal laws and regulations with criminal penalties–not to mention the myriad criminal laws and regulations on the books in 50 different states–are maybe just a bit much?
Don’t think so? Then read the following, which is from the first link above:
The report [issued by Human Rights Watch on the life-shattering consequences of putting minors on sex registries for offenses — sometimes shockingly mild offenses — for the rest of their lives] begins with Jacob C., who was 11 years old when convicted of one count of sexual misconduct in Michigan for touching, not penetrating, his sister’s genitals. He was not allowed to live in a home with other children, was eventually put into foster care and was placed on a sex registry that was made public when he turned 18. He struggled to graduate from high school, and was shunned because of his registration status. And when he enrolled in college, he said, campus police followed him everywhere. He dropped out.
Now 26, the report says, Jacob’s life continues to be defined and limited by a conviction at age 11.
But at least we’ve been kept safe from him, right?
The story goes on to explain that even the most innocuous behavior–behavior typical of college and high school students virtually everywhere–can land you on the list:
Registries can also include ‘people who have committed offenses like public urination, indecent exposure (such as streaking across a college campus), and other more relatively innocuous offenses.’
Now what do you think? Hells bells, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the friends I had in high school who did things of that sort while at good old Powell High School. I may have done one or two of them myself, but my memory’s fading–thankfully.
A Connecticut Congressman is upset because the movie Lincoln portrays the state’s senators voting against the proposed 13th Amendment to abolish slavery when in fact they voted for it. That’s interesting, but even more so–to me anyway–is the following quote from historian Christian McWhirter, a researcher with the Papers of Abraham Lincoln:
Lincoln is an exceptionally good Hollywood historical film, so I think we have to have a certain amount of tolerance for certain amount of error. (Emphasis and italics supplied)
To put a face on the obvious (and to rework the quote a bit), Mr. McWhirter could have said what he said this way:
For Hollywood, that wasn’t a bad historical movie–if you ignore all the errors.
Oh, and then there’s this, lest we forget:
Going through the movie script vote by vote, CNN found that the important details are correct. By the narrowest of margins, after a breathless and unpredictable roll call, the amendment passes, with most Republicans in favor but many Democrats opposed. (Emphasis supplied)
The military defines an assault rifle as a lightweight, intermediate caliber select fire rifle. Quite the mouthful isn’t it. Broken down into everyday terms, it means you can carry it for a long time because it is light weight. Intermediate caliber refers to a cartridge between the full power rifle and the pistol, and you get more ammunition for the same weight compared to full power rifles.
. . .
The second correct definition of an assault rifle is based on cosmetic features set by politicians. These rifles are all semi-automatic, or self-loading in old school firearm terms. Every time you press the trigger, one round is fired, and one round only. The action cycles, replacing the now expended case with a fresh round from the magazine. While this can be accomplished very rapidly, it is still one shot per trigger press.
What makes one rifle an assault weapon, and a rifle that works exactly the same way and looks very much the same not an assault weapon? The politicians that set the cosmetic features of a rifle they deem to be an assault weapon. So this second definition is slippery and can be very broad, but boils down to some group of politicians decided that the rifles with X features are “scary”, and thus “assault weapons”. This also means that it varies by state. California has a very wide definition of what an assault rifle is with a list of specific firearms for good measure. Free markets being what they are, there have been many creative ways found to manufacture rifles that work exactly like, or very close to, the CA definition, without crossing those legal lines.
But what does this mean to the current hue and cry spewing forth from the likes of Piers Morgan and Senator Diane Feinstein? It means that through ignorance or malice, they are lying. The CT school massacre was an act of pure evil, and a Bushmaster rifle may have been used. It was NOT however, an “assault rifle” either in true (military) terms, nor in the made up terms of the CT assault weapons ban. (Sec. 53-202a. Assault weapons: Definition) The rifle was semi automatic, but lacked some cosmetic features deemed “scary” or “evil” by some know nothing politicians and wasn’t included in the specifically named list of weapons.
And here’s something I didn’t know (among many things, mind you): the AR in the name AR-15 stands for Armalite, the first manufacturer of such rifles, NOT “assault rifle.”
David Gregory, possessor of a high capacity magazine in D.C. and the silver-haired talking head of Meet the Press, will not be prosecuted for possessing said high capacity magazine that he brandished in the face of NRA president Wayne LaPiere in a effort to make the point that said high capacity magazines should be illegal. Ironically, said high capacity magazine was in fact illegal to possess in Washington D.C., a fact Gregory knew because his office had contacted the D.C. Metro Police and inquired as to the legality of possessing said high capacity magazine and were told no, even Mr. Gregory could not legally possess said high capacity magazine despite the fact that he was a “trusted” journalist, was friends with the prosecutor, and would be interviewing President Obama soon thereafter about, among other things, the need to pass new gun laws, including the need to ban said high capacity magazines for the safety of the children and some sort of political advantage.
James Brinkley was not available for comment. Neither was the Rule of Law, having suffered possibly its 1,000th cut. Word is that the little people (as in “the law is for the”) have finally risen up and are marching to the nation’s capitol for a high-capacity magazine-light vigil, viz. the comments to this Ann Althouse post (apologies for the foul-word weary):
(Note the owner’s discussion of his rifle; unfortunately, what to him looks “cool,” to others looks scary.):
Wouldn’t it be more honest and wouldn’t it lead to more productive debate on the important gun control issue if we referred to actual assault rifles as, you know, assault rifles and mock “assault rifles” as, well, mock assault rifles? Or look-alike assault rifles or pretend assault rifles or fake assault rifles or __________ (fill in the blank) assault rifles?
Our military uses assault rifles. People who hunt or shoot recreationally do not. The dweebs, schmucks, twits, wackos who shoot up schools and theaters also do not use actual assault rifles. They use the pretend, the mock, the look-alike variety. And that variety is not automatic. It is not a machine gun. It shoots one bullet per trigger pull. Actual automatic rifles and machine guns have been well-regulated and basically outlawed for personal use (with very minor exceptions) since the National Firearms Act of 1934.
An assault rifle is a selective fire (either fully automatic or burst-capable) rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine.
Wikipedia then list 5 criteria a rifle must meet to qualify as an assault rifle:
In a strict definition, a firearm must have at least the following characteristics to be considered an assault rifle:
-It must be an individual weapon with provision to fire from the shoulder (i.e. a buttstock); -It must be capable of selective fire;
-It must have an intermediate-power cartridge: more power than a pistol but less than a standard rifle or battle rifle;
-Its ammunition must be supplied from a detachable magazine rather than a feed-belt.
-And it should at least have a firing range of 300 meters (1000 feet) (emphasis supplied)
The key element for my purposes is “It must be capable of selective fire“; that is, the shooter must be able to change from fully automatic mode to semi-automatic or “burst-capable” mode, essentially by a flick of a switch on the gun.
Now here’s the important part: the AR-15 used at Sandy Hook and the guns used at the Aurora, Colorado, theater and at Columbine and at the mass shootings elsewhere, by this definition were not assault rifles. They had only one mode: semi-automatic, which means that each pull on the trigger results in just one shot. Yes, I realize that trigger pulls don’t take a lot of time, but that’s another argument. For now, I’m just trying to define one term of this important debate.
So why is the term “assault rifle” and its cousin “assault weapon” bandied about so cavalierly? Well, we have Congress and the the gun control lobby (and a less than vigilant and sometimes cheerleading media) to thank for that. In 1994 Congress, with the help of the gun control lobby, enacted the Assault Weapons Ban. According to Wikipedia:
In United States politics and law, “assault weapons” are usually defined in legislation as semi-automatic firearms that have certain features generally associated with military firearms, including assault rifles. Some definitions in “assault weapon” legislation are much broader to the point of including the majority of firearms, e.g. to include all semi-automatic firearms or all firearms with detachable magazines. The 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired on September 13, 2004, codified the definition of an assault weapon. It defined the rifle type of assault weapon as a semiautomatic firearm with the ability to accept a detachable magazine and two or more of the following:
-a folding or telescoping stock
-a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon
-a bayonet mount
-a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor
-a grenade launcher (emphasis supplied)
Note the absence of the “selective fire” element. Folks, I repeat: We’re talking about weapons here that fire just one bullet each time you pull the trigger.
So, by a simple sleight of hand, Congress took a weapon that is really no different than most hunting rifles in its essential mechanics and turned it into one that general public thinks must be the same type of rifle our military uses in Afghanistan–simply by hanging the word “assault” around its neck.
Again, my purpose in this post is not to debate gun control. My purpose is to define terms fairly and accurately, so that when we participate in the debate, we use terms accurately and thereby actually communicate.
Now if the media would just pitch in.
**Yes, I know that Wikipedia has its problems as a reliable source; however, I chose to use it here because it is easily accessible and because the discussion seems fairly balanced.
I will not attempt to score political points with this post. I’ll just say that the New York Times has some incredible photographs from the Heart Mountain Internment Camp between Powell and Cody, Wyoming (I’ve always referred to is at the Relocation rather than Internment Camp). The interesting mountain in the background of a couple of the photos is the camp’s namesake: Heart Mountain. My father and Uncle helped build the camp. You can read more about the camp here.