Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill

Libertarians are thrilled that someone they can admire will appear on the future $20 Federal Reserve Note. Back in May, Lawrence Reed presented the case for Tubman on the FEE website. The whole piece is worth reading, but here’s just a bit:
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New article on software patents

I’ve got a new article on the FEE website, on why software patents are bad.

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Internal checkpoints and thumbs on the scale of justice

The US government runs an extensive system of internal checkpoints where people are stopped, questioned, and sometimes detained without any hint of evidence. Yesterday I came upon the Supreme Court ruling which supports it: United States vs. Martinez-Fuente. It’s sickening. Here’s part of the ruling:

1. The Border Patrol’s routine stopping of a vehicle at a permanent checkpoint located on a major highway away from the Mexican border for brief questioning of the vehicle’s occupants is consistent with the Fourth Amendment, and the stops and questioning may be made at reasonably located checkpoints in the absence of any individualized suspicion that the particular vehicle contains illegal aliens. Pp. 556-564.

(a) To require that such stops always be based on reasonable suspicion would be impractical because the flow of traffic tends to be too heavy to allow the particularized study of a given car necessary to identify it as a possible carrier of illegal aliens. Such a requirement also would largely eliminate any deterrent to the conduct of well-disguised smuggling operations, even though smugglers are known to use these highways regularly. Pp. 556-557.

(b) While the need to make routine checkpoint stops is great, the consequent intrusion on Fourth Amendment interests is quite limited, the interference with legitimate traffic being minimal and checkpoint operations involving less discretionary enforcement activity than roving-patrol stops. Pp. 557-560.

(c) Under the circumstances of these checkpoint stops, which do not involve searches, the Government or public interest in making such stops outweighs the constitutionally protected interest of the private citizen.

The ruling starts by asserting that the checkpoints don’t violate the Fourth Amendment, but then it makes no attempt to back up the claim. Instead, it says that abiding by the Bill of Rights would be “impractical,” that there’s a great “need” for the checkpoints, and that being stopped, questioned, delayed for arbitrary periods of time, and sometimes assaulted is “minimal.”

The Court says in (c) that the government’s wishes “outweigh” the Constitution and the rights of individuals. It isn’t saying, “Internal checkpoints without evidence or warrants doesn’t violate the Constitution.” It’s saying, “We don’t give a damn if it violates the Constitution.”

There’s no scale of justice with “government interests” in one pan and the Constitution in the other. There’s just the thumbs of the Supreme Court judges.

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Guest post: Kathleen Sebelius’ mentality

Eyal Mozes sent me the following in an email and invited me to quote him in my blog. Giving him a guest post is the easiest way to do that. The remainder of this post is by Eyal.

As you may know, federal employees either have gotten or will be getting back pay for the period of the shutdown, making the shutdown a paid vacation for them (at the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the National Institutes of Health where I work, they got their back pay last Friday; I don’t know about other federal departments, but definitely they’ll all be getting the back pay).

Contractors such as myself, meanwhile, will not be getting any back pay for that period. Depending on the specific government department, some contractors may “generously” be allowed to work overtime for pay (which is normally not allowed) for a limited time, to make up some of the pay we lost; there’s been no final decision about that yet. But it’s already been decided that there will be no back pay.

In this context, I’d say that the following email – received this past Friday by all employees and contractors at HHS – reveals a lot about Sebelius’ mentality.

From: Sebelius, Kathleen (HHS/OS)
Sent: Friday, October 25, 2013 10:21 AM
Subject: Important Announcement: Back Pay

Dear Colleagues,

I´m delighted to report some news that will hopefully bring you some solace and help us all put the discomfort caused by the government shutdown behind us. Today, in addition to your regular pay, all of you will receive back pay for the time the government was shut down. If you have a question or notice an error, I encourage you to contact your human resources office or e-mail AskHR@hhs.gov.

I know the last few weeks have caused unnecessary stress for many of you and the delay in receiving your paychecks has strained your budgets. You did nothing to deserve this hardship and you should never have been put in this position. That´s why I made the timely delivery of your back pay a top priority. And I want to especially thank the staff in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration who worked to process more than 100,000 files to make sure this got done on time.

I hope this back pay also serves as an indication of how much the President and I value you and your public service. The work you do on behalf of the American people is incredibly important. It makes our Nation healthier and safer. And although you often receive far too little credit, the shutdown reminded millions of Americans just how vital public servants are and demonstrated the broad ways in which all
of you make a difference in their lives.

Of course, many of our initiatives and projects were disrupted by the shutdown, and the short term budget agreement makes our jobs unduly harder. But it is our responsibility to redouble our efforts and focus all of our energy on getting our important work and programs back to full speed. Millions of Americans are depending on us to do just that. And although there are never any guarantees in Washington, the Administration is hopeful that there will be a long term solution by January 15, 2014.

Again, thank you for your patience and professionalism during these challenging times. And thank you for all you do every single day. Have a great weekend.


Kathleen Sebelius

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TSA vandalism

I just got home from my first trip involving a US airport in over two years. Hopefully it will be that long before I have to again.

On both the outbound and return trip, my checked suitcase was opened and inspected by the TSA. On the outbound trip, everything was neatly put back in place, and the only signs anything had happened were that my lock position had changed and a card was in my suitcase. (My combination is 000 and I change one digit just to keep the clasp from opening accidentally. TSA people understand this.)

On the return trip, though, my plastic shopping bag of electronic stuff had been ripped open, and the contents were all over my suitcase. In addition, my box of Metamucil bars had been emptied into the suitcase and the bars in plastic wrappers were likewise all over the place. My camera, which I’d stuck into the middle of my laundry bag to keep it from getting bumped, was also loose. I can’t say at this point whether anything’s missing.

Anyone can be hit by a random bag inspection, but what are the odds of its happening twice in a round trip? One possible explanation is the bumper sticker, “Congress represents me? I must be really evil!” that I have on it. It wouldn’t surprise me if the TSA is targeting any criticism of itself or the federal government in general.

Update: When I tried to get the photographs off my camera, I got a “memory card error.” Taking the card out and putting it back in fixed it. This may or may not be related to the treatment it got from the TSA. At least no pictures were lost.

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