December 2010

You are browsing the site archives for December 2010.

It’s the end of another year, and time for me to look back at what I’ve been doing here at Windypundit, just to see where I’ve been and maybe to figure out where I’m going from here.

With that end in mind, 2010 was the year in which

Have a Happy New Year! See you all in 2011!

Let me be perfectly clear about this: Scott Andringa tried to put a paraplegic man in prison for 25 years for having too many pain pills.

This happened a few years ago, and obviously the story is a bit more complicated than I can summarize in that one sentence, but that’s basically what happened. The paraplegic man is named Richard Paey. He’s been in a car accident, he’s suffered through failed back surgery, and he has multiple sclerosis. Without medication, he’d be in a lot of pain. And he’d still be in jail thanks to prosecutor Scott Andringa if Governor Charlie Crist hadn’t pardoned him.

Given the kinds of things I blog about, I hear a lot of stories about prosecutors who do crazy evil shit like this. (For example, I just wrote about U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway, who abused the grand jury system to harass Siobhan Reynolds and shutdown her pain management advocacy organization.) I worry that they’ll get away with it–no, that’s not quite right. I know they’ll get away with it. They’re prosecutors: They have immunity. What I’m really worried about is that they’ll thrive.

In my imagination, people who commit these kinds of atrocites are shunned. They have a hard time finding employment, and when they walk down the street, old ladies spit on the sidewalk in front of them, and mothers make their children cross the street so as not to pass too close.

In reality, of course, such behavior rarely has any consequences, and these people often have long careers in public life. States Attorney Janet Reno was at the heart of the Satanic sexual abuse panic down in Florida, and yet President Bill Clinton appointed her as U.S. Attorney General. Both Rudy Giuliani and Eliot Spitzer used their prosecutorial offices as platforms for self-aggrandizement, eventually becoming mayor and governor of their respective New Yorks. And former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan may have lost her bid for Congress, but we probably haven’t seen the last of her.

So whenever I read about some outrageous behavior by a prosecutor, I worry that if nobody pays attention, they’ll just turn up again in public service somewhere to cause even more damage. At one point, I even tried to start a web site to keep track of these people, so that we’ll recognize them when they pop up again, and have information about the crap they’ve pulled. It never really worked out, so I’m left trying to lure search engines by blogging about things like how Scott Andringa tried to put a paraplegic man in prison for 25 years for having too many pain pills.

I’m bringing all this up because look what Scott Andringa’s been up to:

On Monday, December 13th, 2010, Scott Andringa; 42, a member of The Florida Bar since 1993,  announced his candidacy for Pinellas County Judge, Group 2, in the 2012 election.

Gee, I wonder who holds that position now? Oh yeah, it’s Henry J. Andringa, who happens to be Scott’s father.

In a terrific post at Res Publica, blogger Spartacus Thrace at Res Publica has far more detail about Scott Andringa and his run for office:

Among the elected officials in Pinellas County up for election in 2012 is Judge of the County Court, Group 2, a seat currently occupied by Henry J. “Hank” Andringa, who is expected to retire in 2012.  Until now, there has been considerable speculation as to who might run for this seat when it becomes vacant.  That speculation ended December 13, 2010 when, with little fanfare, Andringa’s son, Attorney R. Scott Andringa, announced that he has entered the race to succeed his father when the next election is held, on November 6, 2012.

Sounds like Scott’s really qualified to be a judge.

(Read the whole post by Spartacus. It’s got a brief biography of Andringa, a good summary of the Richard Paey case, and some analysis of Andringa’s chance of winning the election.)

In any case, I’ll finish now with one last reminder to all those Pinellas County voters: Scott Andringa tried to put a paraplegic man in prison for 25 years for having too many pain pills.

It’s a good question, really…

Over at Popehat, Patrick has this to say about Joel Rosenberg’s defense fund:

Note that this is not tax-deductible. The government does not encourage its subjects to stand up for the blameless.

Well, why the hell not?

As far as I can tell, the tax rule for legal expenses is that the expenses are tax deductible only if they are business or income related. Criminal defense is considered neither, so criminal defense fees are not tax deductible. Which is kind of odd when you consider that it’s pretty hard to earn a living if the government throws your ass in jail.

Also, the need for criminal defense arises from the government’s own legal actions. It seems cruel to force the defendent to pay taxes to the government for the cost of defending himself from that same government.

Of course, if you do try to deduct your criminal defense fees, and the IRS comes after you, your tax defense expenses are tax deductible.

Geez, every frickin’ time I gotta hear about it! A snowstorm hits the east coast, and it’s national news. You know why? Because that’s where all the news organizations have their big offices–New York and Washington–and it’s not really news until it happens to them.

But you know what? North American weather patterns move from west to east, so every time you folks on the east coast get hit with a snowstorm, us midwesterners had the same storm a day or two earlier. And you didn’t hear us whining about it on and on like a bunch of pussies.

I’m just sayin’.

Jennifer Abel gets off a good rant explaining part of the problem:

Should’ve left well enough alone. Should’ve stayed off-line. But no-I checked a couple of news websites instead and read something which must’ve shown on my face, for my boyfriend asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I snapped in the same tone of voice most people use to say “Fuck you and everyone you love.” Then I quickly added, in a much softer tone, “I’m not a violent person but I swear, every time I read about the latest TSA travesty I want to punch something.”

If you were fool enough to try flying yesterday, then you might have learned the hard way what I learned about online: TSA has decided that Thermos bottles and other insulated food containers are the latest Potentially Dangerous Terrorist Threats.

When I first heard about this, I thought it was stupid. Then I thought, well, maybe they got intelligence about a plot. Maybe some special forces team ransacked an Al-Qaeda training camp and found thermos bottles filled with explosives.

Of course not:

Despite the warning, however, authorities stress that there has not been any intelligence about a specific threat involving the drink-toting bottles. The closer inspection is simply an additional safety check to ensure safe holiday travels, they said[.]

Sigh. As Jennifer explains:

The thuggish behavior now standard in American airports is creeping to other forms of mass transit, too. Washington DC kicked off the holiday season by starting “random checks” of Metro passengers’ baggage on the Winter Solstice. New York City has already done that to subway passengers for a few years now. And whenever the latest invasion of our privacy is announced, the government PR agents calling themselves journalists find some dimwit to give a Man On The Street quote: “Oh, yes, it’s worth it so the government can keep us safe.”

No, dammit, the government doesn’t do this to keep us safe; they do this instead ofthings that would keep us safe! TSA’s so busy feeling your underwear, they can’t find the actual bombs that test agents smuggle through security checkpoints; so busy measuring how many hundredths of an ounce of shampoo you’ve got, they can’t bother checking what’s in a plane’s cargo hold.

Careful, Jennifer. If you try to prove that TSA security is stupid, you might get a visit from the FBI:

SACRAMENTO, CA – An airline pilot is being disciplined by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for posting video on YouTube pointing out what he believes are serious flaws in airport security.

The 50-year-old pilot, who lives outside Sacramento, asked that neither he nor his airline be identified. He has worked for the airline for more than a decade and was deputized by the TSA to carry a gun in the cockpit.

He is also a helicopter test pilot in the Army Reserve and flew missions for the United Nations in Macedonia.

Three days after he posted a series of six video clips recorded with a cell phone camera at San Francisco International Airport, four federal air marshals and two sheriff’s deputies arrived at his house to confiscate his federally-issued firearm. The pilot recorded that event as well and provided all the video to News10.

At the same time as the federal marshals took the pilot’s gun, a deputy sheriff asked him to surrender his state-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon.

A follow-up letter from the sheriff’s department said the CCW permit would be reevaluated following the outcome of the federal investigation.

You can almost smell the retaliation, can’t you?

Whatever problem that pilot discovered, you can bet the TSA knew about it long before he posted his videos. But now that he told the rest of us about it, they’re going to claim that he’s the one who’s endangering people.

Actually, there’s another way to look at it: The TSA isn’t pissed off because the pilot showed us how lax security is behind the scenes. Rather, they’re pissed at him for showing us the pointlessness of all the checkpoint security.

I just wanted to take a moment to wish Joel Rosenberg a Merry Christmas!

Yeah, Joel, you heard me. I know you’re Jewish, so I suppose it’s just Chinese food on Saturday to you, but I’m glad you’re home with your family today. For a while there, that was not a sure thing, so I think it’s cause for a bit of merriment.

It’s been a long time since I posted anything at When Falls the Coliseum, but I finally got around to writing something new for them. It’s about the recent verdict by an Oregon jury, calling for the death penalty for Bruce Turnidge and his son Joshua for the murder of two police officers. There’s a part of the prosecutors’ argument that just doesn’t seem like the sort of thing we should allow in a free country.

Here’s the link: Death For Extremist Speech?

A California Court of Appeals judge recently ruled in People v. Lieng that there’s no constitutional problem with police using night vision goggles to see things that they couldn’t otherwise see. In Kyllo v. United States the Supreme Court had ruled that police could not use a thermal imaging device without a warrant, and you’d think the same rule would apply here, but it doesn’t. The court’s two-part explanation for this is entertainingly bizarre.

Consider the first part:

Kyllo is inapplicable to this case.  First, night goggles are commonly used by the military, police and border patrol, and they are available to the general public via Internet sales…More economical night vision goggles are available at sporting goods stores…Therefore, unlike thermal imaging devices, night vision goggles are available for general public use.

[citations elided]

Scott Greenfield explains part of the problem with this reasoning in a post titled “The Amazon Exception.”  (In this excerpt, Scott calls night-vision goggles “nogs” because someone told him that’s what all the cool kids are calling them.)

That nogs are used by the military, police and border patrol, fails to impress.  Lots of technology is used by government agents. Much of it is used to do nasty stuff that would, in the absence of a warrant, violate the Constitution.  So what?

But the kicker is that it’s “available to the general public via internet sales.”  Now it’s getting interesting. When courts rely on the inventory at Amazon, or perhaps more obscure websites, for the scope of the 4th Amendment, there might be a problem.

No kidding there might be a problem. In this country, we supposedly have something called rule-of-law, which means we are not subject to the arbitrary whims and favors of despots and bureaucrats, but rather all people are held to a set of laws that are known in advance. But if the constitutionality of a search depends on something as vague as whether the tools used are “available to the general public,” then who can know what the law means? Almost everything is available to the general public if they’re willing to make some amount of effort, so who could possibly predict when a court might take notice?

Or as Scott says,

Rather than research the caselaw to determine whether police use of technology constitutes an unlawful search under the Fourth Amendment, we should begin our inquiry on Amazon. Is that the point?

Then there’s the second part of the court’s justification. Because I’m a science geek, I find it even more troublesome than the first part:

Second, state and federal courts addressing the use of night vision goggles since Kyllo have discussed the significant technological differences between the thermal imaging device used in Kyllo, and night vision goggles…Night vision goggles do not penetrate walls, detect something that would otherwise be invisible, or provide information that would otherwise require physical intrusion…The goggles merely amplify ambient light to see something that is already exposed to public view…This type of technology is no more “intrusive” than binoculars or flashlights, and courts have routinely approved the use of flashlights and binoculars by law enforcement officials.

The way this is written, the statement that “night vision goggles do not penetrate walls…or provide information that would otherwise require physical intrusion” seems to imply that thermal imaging does both of those things. As a matter of physics, that’s just not true. Thermal imaging cannot see through walls.

What thermal imaging can do is tell you the temperature of those walls, which may give you some idea of what’s on the other side. Put a heat source in a room, and the room will warm up. That will warm the inner surface of the room’s walls, and some of that heat will leak through the walls to heat the outer surface of the building. Then, like everything else in the universe that has a temperature, the outer surface of the building will give off electromagnetic radiation.

The spectrum of that radiation–the portion of energy given off at various frequencies–depends mostly on the temperature of the radiating object. Sufficiently hot objects–usually around 900 degrees F°–give off electromagnetic radiation at frequencies high enough for humans to see–visible light–and the object appears to be glowing a faint red. Objects that are even hotter will give off other colors of the spectrum until you see an even mix of colors, meaning the object glows white hot.

Cooler objects give off light (electromagnetic radiation) that has frequencies too low to be detected by the human eye. We call this light infrared, meaning “below red.” Infrared light behaves a lot like ordinary light, except that you just can’t see it. And, just like ordinary light, it can’t go through walls.

Getting back to the subject of this post, thermal imaging systems work by using electronic sensors to detect the low-frequency infrared light emitted from warm objects. The data from the sensor is used to create an image that is displayed to the user. Night vision systems, on the other hand, detect light that is in the visible part of the spectrum, but they use a sensor mechanism that can create an image from far less light than the human eye needs. Thus the main difference between the two technologies is that night vision works on light that is too dim for humans to see, whereas thermal imaging works on light that is the wrong frequency for humans to see.

That doesn’t seem like a distinction important enough for a constitutional right to hinge on, but it makes more sense than what the judge wrote.

On the other hand, perhaps because I think of this too much in terms of the physics, I’ve never had a clear understanding of the principles by which the courts have ruled that thermal imaging requires a warrant. Why should police need a warrant to examine energy emissions that a suspect is allowing to just radiate away? If the subject is standing in his house and yelling about his drug grow operation at the top of his lungs, should the police get warrant before they’re allowed to stand outside the house and listen? If not, then why should they need a warrant to detect infrared emissions outside the house?

If you don’t want people to know about your drug-growing business, you should control your infrared emissions. Don’t let your house radiate infrared energy through the air, where it could strike a sensor being held by a cop who’s sitting in his car on the street. You’re essentially sending signals to anyone with a receiver, so how is that an intrusion on your privacy?

Note that we can still rule out surveilance technologies that are intrusive–x-rays, penetrating radar, megnetic resonance–on the grounds that they involve sending something inside private property. They’re the logical equivalent of a cop standing outside your house and using a long stick to reach in a window and poke around in your belongings, which I assume would require a warrant just as if he had entered.

The basic distinction is that the police can use passive technology to monitor emissions passively, but they can’t actively send anything into an area they’re not allowed to enter themselves.

This particular way of thinking about surveilance methods draws a fairly bright line for law enforcement and the courts to follow, but I can think of at least three consequences which are probably worth thinking about.

First of all, as a libertarian, I’m very worried about how much surveilance this does allow. Not only does it allow an unlimited amount of passive surveilance in the visible and infrared bands, it also seems to allow a lot of sophisticated listening devices. (Sound is vibrations in air rather than electromagnetic radiation, but the same principles seem to make sense.) For example, sounds inside a building, including conversation, will leak out as very subtle vibrations which are normally lost in the noise. It’s theoretically possible, however, that an array of sensitive microphones and some very sophisticated signal processing technology could recover the original conversation.

Second, this rule would also allow police to listen to radio transmissions, including cell phones, without a warrant. I think I’m actually okay with this. Before the widespread use of cell phones, it was widely understood that everyone was legally permitted to receive any radio transmission they wanted to. After all, if other people transmitted radio signals in all directions, and some of those signals entered your house, it was pretty ridiculous to claim that tuning a receiver to pick them up was a violation of privacy. It was a simple concept that I’d like to see us return to: If you want privacy, don’t transmit your conversation to everyone within range.

Third, the rule against actively sending something into a private area would seem to rule out a police officer shining a flashlight into window of a building or even a car. That seems a bit ridiculous, even to me. In addition, it would lead to all kinds of ridiculous situations as the police try to work around it. E.g. what if the police officer wears a white windbraker jacket and his partner shines the patrol car’s spotlight on him–ostensibly to make sure he’s safe–causing reflected light from the jacket to shine in a window? Alternatively, if flashlights are allowed, then what about using an infrared flashlight to illuminate a scene for viewing with a thermal imager? This could turn nutty very quickly.

At this point, I kind of have to give up. I can’t seem to come up with a distinction that makes sense in terms of the physics involved and yet still offers adequate protection of privacy. Maybe the laws of physics are the wrong tools for figuring out things like this, or maybe vague and inconsistent rules made from case to case are the best we can do. I’d like to think that the law should make sense in terms of physics, but I’m not sure I have a good reason for believing that.

Over at the Legal Satyricon, Charles Platt is a little annoyed at Julian Assange over the whole Wikileaks business:

I’m getting an uneasy feeling when I watch Julian Assange using pretentious phrases such as “my philosophy” and “my work.” … It’s the same feeling I had when I saw the World Trade Center going down. A feeling that I am watching a golden opportunity for people in power to take away some of my freedoms.

That wasn’t exactly my first thought when I saw the towers fall, but I know what he means. This is going to be an excuse for some people in government. Oh, they’ll say they’re all for freedom of the press, they just want to make sure it’s used responsibly, not abused by people who aren’t legitimate members of the press.

Assange’s self-righteous crusade is sufficiently defiant, and is being done in such a pompous style, some kind of retaliation seems inevitable. Already the UN is on record as wanting to “harmonize” efforts to regulate the Internet, in response to Wikileaks. (See this news item.)

Oh God, the last thing we need is U.N. involvement. Those are the folks who put Lybia in charge of the Human Rights commission and recently decided not to concern themselves that some countries were executing people for being gay.

I am old enough to remember how publishers got rid of US laws regarding pornography. They fought a carefully executed, incremental campaign. Freedoms tend to be won this way, slowly but relentlessly, in small steps. Media whores who make grand gestures are not useful in this process. They just provide more fuel for backlash.

Look, I’m not a huge fan of Julian Assange, either. He comes across like a self-important jerk. But when you fight for free speech rights, you often fight for the free speech rights of self-important jerks–pornographers, gangsta rappers, foul-mouthed comedians, primadonna rock stars, racists, Fred Phelps. They’re the kinds of people that everybody wants to shut up. Nice people, the ones with accomplishments and values you admire, are a lot less likely to set some would-be censor on a clean-up crusade.

(There are, of course, exceptions. Even non-controversial people can run into campus political correctness or bizarre commercial speech laws.)

We enjoy freedoms online because resourceful groups such as ACLU and EFF fought and won test cases. How unfortunate it would be to see those freedoms squashed because of a prima-donna whose “philosophy” and “work” have been of negligible value so far. It’s important to remember that he is really just another content aggregator, and the material that he has revealed has not been of critical significance. Certainly not important enough to justify a battle that we are likely to lose.

The things WikiLeaks has revealed may not be “important enough to justify a battle that we are likely to lose” (although this is pretty awful), but that’s the sort of evaluation that would have been useful before they started dumping documents. Now that Assange has made his move, for better or worse, we’re in the battle, and we have to fight it or we certainly will lose.

(We all serve in our own way. Guys like Marc Randazza become First-Amendment lawyers, and guys like me just bitch about it to anyone who will listen.)

The other thing to remember is that this is how we want it to be. If we’re fighting the forces of government censorship over really important issues, then we’ve already let them get too far. It’s like defending a country against invasion: You want to stop the enemy at the borders, not in the heartland. We want the battles for free speech to occur at the fringes, and that means defending people like Julian Assange.

Every once in a while, I get the urge to make predictions. That’s because I believe that if someone claims to understand something, they should be able to successfully predict future developments. My track record, therefore, demonstrates that I don’t understand anything.

(Oh, sure, I called a few easy ones, like that John Mark Karr didn’t really kill JonBenet Ramsey or that McCain would lose the presidential election. On the other hand, I was completely wrong about everything I predicted for the last season of Battlestar Galactica.)

Anyway, here’s my prediction about the future of Julian Assange:

First, the UK and Sweden have treaties and a good working relationship, and the charges against him are for real crimes (whether they are sustainable is another matter) so I think he’s going to be extradited to Sweden.

Second, I think Assange will ultimately be extradited to the United States, but it’s going to be tricky. For one thing, I hear that freedom of the press is very strong in Sweden, and I’ve also heard that Sweden won’t extradite people for what they consider to be a political crime, which is how the Wikileaks affair is likely to be seen over there.

This brings us to the main question (and my main prediction): With what crimes will the Justice Department charge Assange? I’m not a lawyer, of course, so my predictions should hardly be taken as definitive analysis, but I’ve been watching how my goverment works for a long time, and I think I can see where this is going.

Despite what some of the loud-mouthed politicians and pundits say, Assange can’t be charged with Treason. He’s not a U.S. citizen, and he’s never had a relationship to the U.S.–such as residency or military service–that would bind him to a duty of loyalty.

A more likely possibility is the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to say things that interfere with the smooth running of the military. Amazingly, the Espionage Act has been held to apply to foreigners who commit their crimes outside the United States, even though that would seem to allow for such absurdities as prosecuting the entire adult population of Germany and Japan after World War II. This is exactly the sort of thing that would make the Swedish (or even British) courts deny extradition.

Also, the Espionage Act may run into problems with the First Amendment. It was ruled constitutional in 1919, but more recent court decisions have picked away at it, and in today’s courts it just might be ruled unconstitutional.

So, when the Department of Justice goes after Julian Assange, they’re going to want to avoid charging him with anything too exotic. They’re going to charge him with a crime for which they have successfully extradited lots of other people, they’re going to charge him with a crime which is not teetering on the edge of unconstitutionality, and they’re going to charge him with a crime for which they have a long track record of conviction.

In other words, they’re going to charge him with money laundering.

Wikileaks is a somewhat secretive organization, and to preserve that secrecy, its staff has probably had to be a little sneaky with their funding. I think the Justice Department is going to investigate how Wikileaks has been funded, and they’re going to find something that breaks the rules. The DOJ might throw in a few other charges for show, but it will be the money laundering charges that do all the hard work.

At least, that’s my prediction.

Thanks to Scott Greenfield, I just found a new site that just might turn out to be a great source of things to blog about. It’s called Right on Crime, and it promises to be about “The Conservative Case For Reform: Fighting Crime, Prioritizing Victims, and Protecting Taxpayers.” With a tag line like that, something tells me they don’t have a lot of libertarians on their board.

Taking a look at their Statement of Principles, you can see the result, right in the first paragraph:

As members of the nation’s conservative movement, we strongly support constitutionally limited government, transparency, individual liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise. We believe public safety is a core responsibility of government because the establishment of a well-functioning criminal justice system enforces order and respect for every person’s right to property and life, and ensures that liberty does not lead to license.

Sigh. They’ve got two out of three of John Locke’s natural rights of man–life and property–but when it came to liberty, they just couldn’t quite commit to unconditional respect. They had to throw in that bit about ensuring that “liberty does not lead to license”…whatever that means. That’s the problem with the conservative law and order agenda in a nutshell: Not enough respect for freedom.

Now let’s look at a few of those principles:

Applying the following conservative principles to criminal justice policy is vital to achieving a cost-effective system that protects citizens, restores victims, and reforms wrongdoers.

1. As with any government program, the criminal justice system must be transparent and include performance measures that hold it accountable for its results in protecting the public, lowering crime rates, reducing re-offending, collecting victim restitution and conserving taxpayers’ money.

All that, and not a word about protecting innocent people from erroneous punishment. That is, after all, why we supposedly go through the trouble of having a justice system. Otherwise we could save ourselves a lot of money and just let the police beat the crap out of anyone they think might have done something wrong.

2. Crime victims, along with the public and taxpayers, are among the key “consumers” of the criminal justice system; the victim’s conception of justice, public safety, and the offender’s risk for future criminal conduct should be prioritized when determining an appropriate punishment.

Just once, I would like to see someone with a victims’ rights agenda explain why, if the victims are so important, we waste resources punishing people for victimless crimes.

3. The corrections system should emphasize public safety, personal responsibility, work, restitution, community service, and treatment–both in probation and parole, which supervise most offenders, and in prisons.

4. An ideal criminal justice system works to reform amenable offenders who will return to society through harnessing the power of families, charities, faith-based groups, and communities.

Maybe this would be easier if we didn’t let violent gangs control the prisons? Prisoners need to be taught to follow society’s rules, not the rules of the prison yard. When a prisoner’s quality of life depends more on the mood swings of other inmates than on anyone working for the prison system, rehabilitation is going to be a steep uphill climb.

5. Because incentives affect human behavior, policies for both offenders and the corrections system must align incentives with our goals of public safety, victim restitution and satisfaction, and cost-effectiveness, thereby moving from a system that grows when it fails to one that rewards results.

Again, no mention of protecting the innocent, let alone the rights of the accused.

6. Criminal law should be reserved for conduct that is either blameworthy or threatens public safety, not wielded to grow government and undermine economic freedom.

I don’t know what that’s all about. What do they mean by “blameworthy”? Or maybe it’s better to ask what conduct they think should not come under criminal law?

Now here are a few principles I wish they’d mentioned:

  • Reducing the number and magnitude of incidents in which the innocent are wrongly punished.
  • Preventing the rights of free citizens from being infringed by government law enforcement employees.
  • Swiftly and decisively punishing lawbreakers who act under color of authority.
  • Preventing activist cops and prosecutors from stretching the criminal code to punish behavior which was never before considered illegal.

Or isn’t that the kind of out-of-control government that conservatives are worried about?

I don’t know. I’ll have to read more of the Right on Crime website. Maybe all that is in there somewhere…

Joel Rosenberg’s arrest is getting a bit of coverage around the blogosphere, and while folks like Scott Greenfield and Mike Cernovich are supportive, not all of the coverage is sympathetic. For example, Greg Laden at ScienceBlogs has a less-than flattering piece titled “Jew with a gun tries to make point, gets busted, is very creepy.”

(I should inject here that Laden isn’t making an anti-semitic remark. is one of Joel’s many web sites.)

Look, I know that Joel is a bit odd at times, but I don’t get a creepy vibe from him at all. He’s just eccentric. Now, I admit I’ve never met Joel, so I could be wrong, but neither has Greg Laden. In fact, Laden seems to creeped out by gun ownership in general, and it causes him to miss a few points.

For example, in an unsourced quote (apparently pulled from this WCCO news story), Laden chooses to emphasize one aspect in particular:

Palmer then disarmed Rosenberg, removed the loaded magazine from the gun and the live round that was in the chamber. Palmer then returned the unloaded weapon to Rosenberg and asked him to leave, police said.

[emphasis Laden’s]

There’s nothing wrong or unusual about carrying a semi-automatic pistol with a round in the chamber. It’s called “condition one” readiness, and police departments all over the world train their officers to carry this way. All modern self-defense pistols are designed to be carried this way. They have a safety mechanism (or two) to prevent the gun from going off accidentally.

The point is to be able to draw and fire quickly, and with only one hand if necessary. If the chamber was unloaded, you’d have to take time and use both hands to ready the gun for firing by cycling the slide. In a self-defense situation, that could mean a dangerous delay, and it might not even be possible if an assailant grabbed your other hand.

In an open letter to the officer who disarmed him, Joel sarcastically presents him with a list of options for how he can handle Joel the next time they meet, including chilling out, arresting him, beating him, or killing him. I won’t reproduce the whole thing, but Laden misinterprets this passage:

3. Arrest me at gunpoint. Draw your service weapon, point it at me, after announcing that you’re going to arrest me. Call for backup to secure me. I won’t resist — you have my word, Bill — them or you. Keep your finger off the fucking trigger. You don’t want my blood on your hands, and I won’t have yours on mine.

About which Laden comments:

The list is embedded within and includes lots of phrases that say things like “don’t worry, I’ll never hurt you” but also includes what I like to think of as a “rule trigger” that in this case literally involves a trigger … in item number 3. Palmer is invited to arrest Rosenberg at gunpoint …. putting it another way, Rosenberg is giving Palmer permission to do his job … but embeds in this permission a specific threat: If Palmer touches his own trigger finger, then … then what? It’s a little unclear, but it seems to involve some fantasy that Palmer has of grabbing a police officer’s gun so that it goes off and shoots him (Rosenberg). Yeah, this threat of suicide by cop is probably enough to bring him in and have him committed.

Joel isn’t threatening to do anything, and Joel isn’t talking about Sgt. Palmer touching “his own trigger finger,” he’s talking about Palmer touching his finger to the trigger of his own service weapon–which is unsafe gun handling that could result in an accidental discharge. That’s the spilled blood that Joel is referring to.

I’m not sure why Joel brings this up. I can’t see whether Palmer has his finger on the trigger of Joel’s gun when he takes it from Joel, but if you watch the first minute of the video, Sgt. Palmer does appear to sweep the barrel of Joel’s gun across Joel and across the other two people in the room. It’s not the worst gun handling mistake–I’ve had people sweep me on the gun range–but it is a mistake. Joel teaches firearms safety, so maybe he was chiding Palmer a bit.

Later, Laden has this to say:

If you look on the web for books, classes, and information about this, you will find web resources put together by various pro-gun organizations and individuals. Mr. Rosenberg is, it turns out, one of the main go-to guys if you want to pursue a carry permit in the Twin Cities. You can buy his book, too.

So I see this incident as proof positive that the line between gun advocates and gun safety related resources and teachers on one hand, and threatening and dangerous gun nuts on the other hand, to be either very thin or simply non existent. Assuming that Joel Rosenberg is a dangerous crazy gun nut. Which I tend to think he is.

There’s not much evidence of that, especially if you understand what Joel was talking about. In fact, Joel goes out of his way to emphasize that he’s not making any kind of threat, a fact which Laden acknowledged in the quote above. Besides, if Joel’s so dangerous, how has he gone 56 years without ever doing anything antisocial enough to prevent the state of Minnesota from issuing him a permit to carry a concealed firearm?

Finally, this last bit has nothing to do with Laden, but one of his commenters with a handle of “Albatross” explains how dangerously crazy Joel is in a 500-word rant that also includes the tale of how he use used to like Joel’s novels but threw them away after Joel insulted his wife, speculation about Joel’s penis size, and this wonderful tale:

This was VERY amusing to me when I sat behind him for a play in one of the Rarig Center’s theaters. I enjoyed the performance a lot more than I should have, imagining myself kicking him really hard in base of the skull, and then shouting “How’s the chambered round in your goddamned handgun working for you now, asshole?!” at his twitching corpse. Likewise slitting his throat with my pocketknife.

Yeah, Joel’s the crazy one alright.

Scott Greenfield is more familiar than I with the history of Joel Rosenberg’s recent conflicts with the Minneapolis police department, leading up to Joel’s arrest, and in his latest post Scott offers this important bit of background:

For a fellow who sincerely believes in principles, there comes a point, a threshold if you will, where he decides to take a stand.  Some of us have such a threshold. Others have none, though they may talk as if they did and lie to themselves that there’s a point where they would take a stand.  These people never, ever reach that point.  Others, like Joel, decide where that point is for themselves.  As he likes to say, your mileage may differ. The point is personal.

Joel hit his point when a mother/daughter altercation broke out.  Not a particularly big deal, except that an overly helpful passerby observed SWMBO, also known as Joel’s wife Felicia, trying to get their daughter, who can be a bit rebellious toward parental authority, to follow the rules of their home.  The backstory there is neither particularly relevant or interesting enough to provide details, but Joel learned, as his wife was arrested on the word of an ersatz good samaritan (which was subsequently dismissed, then subsequently reinstated after Joel’s run-in with Sgt. Palmer that gives rise to his arrest), the ordinary injustice of cops’ lying to make a case wasn’t something he could stomach.

Even if we assume for the sake of argument that the initial arrest of Joel’s wife was reasonable–in the sense that an officer honestly thought something illegal was going on–the chronology is suspicious:

  • Felicia arrested by Minneapolis police.
  • Charges dropped against Felicia.
  • Joel requests public records about the matter.
  • Joel arrives at police station to pick up public records and has a run-in with Sergeant William Palmer.
  • Joel files a complaint against Palmer and releases public statements.
  • Charges reinstated against Felicia.
  • Joel arrested.

No word yet on whether Sweden will be filing rape charges…

Coming soon, to a WikiLeaks mirror site near you…SaltBarnGate:

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the state after it refused to release the construction plans for a barn used to store road salt, on the basis that doing so would be a security risk.

According to the complaint, [Carole] Chiaffarano suspected that the salt barn was built “according to plans that were not approved by one or more governmental agencies.”

Chiaffarano, whose property is located 38 feet from the barn, had no difficulty in obtaining the plans from Bethlehem Township after filing an OPRA request. She wanted to compare the building plans provided by the township to those on file with the state.

Chiaffarano filed an OPRA request for the state’s building plans, but was denied her request as the state cited a 2002 executive order by Gov. James McGreevey.

The order, issued in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, allows the state to decline the release of public records that would compromise the state’s ability to “protect and defend the state and its citizens against acts of sabotage or terrorism.”

I think it’s entirely possible that the salt barn is actually listed as a critical infrastructure component in New Jersey on the grounds that a terrorist act could make it inaccessible during a snowstorm, leading to impassible roads that impair emergency response vehicles and damage the local economy by disrupting travel. The chance of this being the explanation is directly proportional to the amount of money New Jersey can get from federal anti-terrorosm funds by claiming critical infrastructure status for a barn full of road salt.

The other possibility is that some state bureaucrat was sick and tired of handling Open Public Records Act requests and figured that he or she could avoid the tedium of finding, copying, and mailing a set of blueprints by invoking the anti-terrorism exception to the public records law. After all, it wasn’t anybody important asking for the blueprints, just a citizen.

(Hat tip: Bruce Schneier)

As I write this, 25% of the Windypundit blogging team is in jail.

When I brought Joel Rosenberg in to Windypundit as a co-blogger, I wanted him to cover firearms issues, especially the right to keep and bear arms. And he did, rather rabidly, with some of the longest posts on the blog. Even though his last post was over a year ago, he’s still on the masthead, so as far as I’m concerned, he’s still on the team.

And now he’s also in jail. The Minneapolis police arrested him for…go ahead see if you can guess…yeah, illegal possession of a gun. In a courthouse. Which is a felony punishable by up to five years in jail. (They also got him for contempt of court, but that’s just a misdemeanor.)

It all stems from an incident a month ago in which Joel dropped by police headquarters to pick up some papers. As is his way, he was wearing his gun, for which he has a carry permit. One of the cops, Sergeant William Palmer, told him he wasn’t allowed to have it in the building (apparently because it was also a courthouse) and took it away from him.

Joel filed a complaint against Palmer and then, being Joel, proceeded to post videos taunting the cops. Needless to say, when I got the news of his arrest, it wasn’t a total surprise.

One of the more curious aspects of this whole mess is that, at the time of the alleged incident, the police didn’t bother to arrest him, even though, if you believe the arrest warrant, they had just witnessed the commission of a felony. There could be an innocent explanation for that, but given that they only arrested him after he filed a complaint, and after he spoke to the press, it sounds a bit like retaliation.

Currently, Joel is being held on $100,000 bond, with arraignment scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. It will be interesting to see how this develops.