Thursday, April 17, 2014

Don't skip looking up the law

The Pennsylvania special ed student who recording a bullying episode and was threatened with a wiretapping felony charge has been making the rounds. What nobody seems to be mentioning is that what he did was perfectly legal. The school officials, the police, the judge, and even all the hyperventilating commenters all seem to have skipped looking up the law.

Title 18 Section 5704 Subsection 17

Any victim, witness or private detective licensed under the act of August 21, 1953 (P.L.1273, No.361), known as The Private Detective Act of 1953, to intercept the contents of any wire, electronic or oral communication, if that person is under a reasonable suspicion that the intercepted party is committing, about to commit or has committed a crime of violence and there is reason to believe that evidence of the crime of violence may be obtained from the interception.
I'm not a lawyer. I just know how to use Google fairly decently. Bullying is a crime of violence.

The law seems pretty clear. So why did the school officials, the cop, and the judge all fail to do their basic duty? Why aren't we calling them on not enforcing the law?

The only silver lining in this whole mess is that the judge is elected and could get booted for this.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Catholic Death Penalty

The argument in the Catholic Church regarding the death penalty has always proceeded on terms that are not that clear to many outsiders. The essence of the argument for invalidating the traditional permission for the death penalty is that something fundamental has changed about modern penal systems, that for the first time ever we can prevent crime and that it is safe to keep heinous criminals alive and thus the death penalty should be abolished.

The counter in Catholic circles has always been that it is simply not true, that nothing fundamental has changed. It has always bothered me that neither side seems eager to tear the covers off what modern prisons are really like and honestly, openly monitor matters. Here's a data point on the pro-death penalty side. Murder spree conducted by sex offenders wearing GPS ankle bracelets.

Can we trust the state to actually keep us safe? That's an open question.

The known unknowns of taxation

Donald Rumsfeld is at it again. Like many of us, Rumsfeld has no idea whether he's actually paid his taxes accurately.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sell Nevada

Michael Munger comes up with a very nice snapshot of the problem of too much federal land, especially out west.

Essentially the entire state of Nevada is owned by the federal government. And it seems like they're managing federal lands poorly all over the US. Utah has gone so far as to issue an ultimatum that the federal government has until the end of 2014 to hand over control to the state or else. Several other states are considering similar legislation.

It's pretty unclear whether state transfer laws are constitutional or just crazy talk. But we're likely to hear a great deal more about later this year.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

We don't deserve better than Sebellius

Kathleen Sibellius' term as HHS Secretary has been a disaster according to Newt Gingrich. But I have to disagree with Nick Gillespie that we deserved better than Sibellius' incompetence. We don't deserve better. This is what we've chosen, Democrats and Republicans, over the course of decades.

Inefficiency and incompetence can strike everywhere. In a large, bureaucratized environment, humans are particularly vulnerable to these problems. Exceeding our government oversight capacity by growing government to its present size increases our vulnerability even more because fundamentally the fear of bankruptcy and ruin makes private oversight about 2% better, project after project, year after year.

Every little two bit program that is solving a problem publicly that could have been solved privately sucks up oversight time that should have been focused on the roll out of the ACA. This sort of oversight failure of a big government project is guaranteed to happen again. That's the nature of humanity. But it doesn't have to happen so often. We've grown our government so large that I would say it's guaranteed to be happening right now. It just hasn't been discovered yet.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Virtuous Capitalists

Are entrepreneurs virtuous? Here's an excellent (if long) video that lays out the issues.

The short version is that yes, entrepreneurs are virtuous when they profit from creating value, new products, services, as well as converging prices through arbitrage. Entrepreneurs are not virtuous when they rent seek, creating a legal system that forces people to give them money (or more money) based on a political decision influenced by lobbyists.

The weakness is that you can make good money by rent seeking in a debased political system that permits it. Any firm focused on creating value can add to its accounting profits by adding lobbyists to rent seek on behalf of the firm. This means that they are vulnerable to hostile takeover. The vulnerability to vicious rent seekers is only repaired by healing the political system so the rent seeking is denied in the political process.