Tag Archives: arguments

Police Departments Find Yet New Ways to Steal People’s Money

Mother Jones

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Adam Liptak tells us that the Supreme Court is pondering whether to hear a case from Ramsey County, Minnesota, which confiscates money from people it arrests. That’s what happened to Corey Statham, who was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, and then released:

But the county kept $25 of Mr. Statham’s money as a “booking fee.” It returned the remaining $21 on a debit card subject to an array of fees. In the end, it cost Mr. Statham $7.25 to withdraw what was left of his money.

….Kentucky bills people held in its jails for the costs of incarcerating them, even if all charges are later dismissed. In Colorado, five towns raise more than 30 percent of their revenue from traffic tickets and fines. In Ferguson, Mo., “city officials have consistently set maximizing revenue as the priority for Ferguson’s law enforcement activity,” a Justice Department report found last year.

….Through his lawyers, Mr. Statham declined a request for an interview. He lost in the lower courts, which said his right to due process had not been violated by the $25 booking charge or the debit card fees, which were both, the trial judge said, “relatively modest.”

Lovely. It’s OK to confiscate money as long as you don’t confiscate too much. Unless, of course, you’re engaged in civil asset forfeiture, in which case the sky’s the limit. All you have to do is attend one of the many classes that teach your police officers how best to steal people’s money under the pretense that they “just know” it’s drug money.

I continue to be gobsmacked by all of this. I’ve heard all the arguments about due process and civil vs. criminal and so forth, and not a single word of it strikes me as anything but an obvious sham. And yet courts—all the way to the Supreme Court—and judicial agencies—all the way to the Department of Justice—accept them without blinking. It’s the kind of thing that makes me wonder if I’m stuck in some kind of Kafka-based virtual reality. How can something so obviously wrong be approved with a shrug by so many people?

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Police Departments Find Yet New Ways to Steal People’s Money

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Supreme Court Throws Out Arkansas’ Abortion Ban

Mother Jones

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In February 2013, Arkansas passed the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, a bill outlawing abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy if a heartbeat is detected. The new law came at a fine moment for the state’s anti-abortion legislators: In recent months, they’d passed a bill doubling the state’s mandated abortion waiting period, and had passed a 20-week ban on abortion.

The 12-week ban, however, was at the time the most restrictive abortion ban passed not only in the state, but in the nation. A pair of Arkansas doctors challenged the bill as unconstitutional and two lower courts prevented the ban from going into effect. Today, the Supreme Court rejected Arkansas’ bid for reconsideration of the abortion ban. The high court’s decision not to take this case, Edwards v. Beck, and to uphold lower courts’ decisions to throw out Arkansas’ law, could send a signal and help curb early abortion bans in other states.

“Arkansas politicians cannot pick and choose which parts of the Constitution they want to uphold,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), said in a statement on Tuesday. “The Supreme Court has never wavered in affirming that every woman has a right to safely and legally end a pregnancy in the US—and this extreme abortion ban was a direct affront to that right.”

When this bill was first passed, pro-choice advocates and medical professionals pointed out that at 12 weeks most fetuses may have a heartbeat, but none are viable. Viability is the critical point when a fetus is sufficiently developed so it can survive outside the womb. In 1973, Roe v. Wade introduced viability as a standard and established that women have the right to an abortion until the end of their second trimester of pregnancy—about 27 weeks. Nineteen years later, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the high court shifted the time limit discussion from trimesters to one of viability, ruling that states can only outlaw abortions of viable fetuses.

But what is the exact point at which a fetus is viable? In Casey, the court ruled that viability begins at 23 or 24 weeks, slightly before the end of the second trimester, in part because medical advances have made it possible for some pregnancies to be viable at that point.

When proposed in 2013, the Arkansas bill moved swiftly through the state legislature, even though the 12-week cut-off clearly violated the Supreme Court’s decision on fetal viability. It was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe in March 2013, but within two days, the Legislature overrode his veto and passed the bill into law. A month later, two local physicians and some of their patients sued the state medical board, asking the court to bar the law from going into effect. In 2014, two courts—first a district court, and later the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals—threw out the ban, ruling that there was no evidence a fetus can be viable at 12 weeks.

Oddly enough, the Arkansas Medical Board made no effort to make a scientific case for 12-week viability. “The only factual record presented in this case was by plaintiffs,” wrote one 8th Circuit judge, pointing to the testimony and data the doctors had presented showing that a 12-week fetus can’t survive outside the womb. “The State offered no competing evidence” on fetal viability, wrote the district court judge.

In asking the Supreme Court to review this case, Arkansas made the argument that viability is an outdated standard and that the law should allow states to get involved with a woman’s decision-making at an earlier point in her pregnancy. The brief noted: “This case is about the impropriety of a judicially-imposed rule that sets in stone ‘viability’ as the point before which the State’s profound interests must give way to a woman’s desire to terminate her pregnancy.”

Despite the Supreme Court’s rulings on viability, 15 states have since 2010 passed abortion bans that would outlaw the procedure at 20 weeks, or earlier. Many of these so-called “fetal pain” bills—model legislation originally drafted by the anti-abortion National Right to Life Committee—base the 20-week cut-off on the medically incorrect assertion that a fetus can feel pain at that point in its development. Now that the Supreme Court has rejected this case, the viability standard established over decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence remains intact—for now.

After today’s decision, advocates on both sides of the abortion debate are turning their focus back to a pivotal case challenging a Texas abortion law that is before the Supreme Court this term, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole. Arguments are scheduled for March 2, and a decision will be announced later this year.

“We now look to the Justices to ensure Texas women are not robbed of their health, dignity, and rights,” said CRR’s Northup in today’s statement.

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Supreme Court Throws Out Arkansas’ Abortion Ban

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The Point of Democracy Is to Keep Powerful Elites From Becoming Complete Jackasses

Mother Jones

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Daniel Bell has written a new book making the case that “Chinese-style meritocracy is, in important respects, a better system of governance than western liberal democracy.” That’s possible, I suppose. Tyler Cowen noodles over the arguments and tosses out a few thoughts. Here’s one:

4. Most humans in history seem to have favored meritocratic rule over democracy, and before the 19th century democracy was rare, even in the limited form of male-dominated or property owner-dominated republics. It is possible that the current advantage of democracy is rooted in technology, or some other time-specific factor, which ultimately may prove temporary. That said, I still observe plenty of democracies producing relatively well-run countries, so I don’t see significant evidence that a turning point against democracy has been reached.

I know Cowen is just throwing out some ideas to be provocative, not seriously backing any of them. Still, I think you have to take a pretty blinkered view of “most humans” to throw this one out at all. It’s true that humans are hairless primates who naturally gravitate to a hierarchical society, but there’s little evidence that “most humans” prefer non-democratic societies. There’s loads of evidence that powerful elites prefer elite-driven societies, and have gone to great lengths throughout history to maintain them against the masses. Whether the masses themselves ever thought this was a good arrangement is pretty much impossible to say.

Of course, once the technologies of communication, transportation, and weaponry became cheaper and more democratized, it turned out the masses were surprisingly hostile to elite rule and weren’t afraid to show it. So perhaps it’s not so impossible to say after all. In fact, most humans throughout history probably haven’t favored “meritocratic” rule, but mostly had no practical way to show it except in small, usually failed rebellions. The Industrial Revolution changed all that, and suddenly the toiling masses had the technology to make a decent showing against their overlords. Given a real option, it turned out they nearly all preferred some form of democracy after all.

Which brings us to the real purpose of democracy: to rein in the rich and powerful. Without democracy, societies very quickly turn into the Stanford Prison Experiment. With it, that mostly doesn’t happen. That’s a huge benefit, even without counting free speech, fair trials, and all the other gewgaws of democracy. It is, so far, the only known social construct that reliably keeps powerful elites from becoming complete jackasses. That’s pretty handy.


The Point of Democracy Is to Keep Powerful Elites From Becoming Complete Jackasses

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Scotland Should Plan On Having Its Own Currency

Mother Jones

When provinces propose a split with the mother country, they usually insist that they’ll continue to use the old currency. This is odd on its face since having your own money is usually considered one of the key attributes of a sovereign state. So what’s the appeal of keeping the old country’s currency? Greg Ip ponders the question:

Facilitating trade and capital movements is only one part of the story. Another, I think, is political and emotional. Forming a new country is fraught with risk. For savers, in particular the elderly, one risk looms especially large: that one’s retirement savings are suddenly redenominated in a new currency whose value is then inflated away. In both Quebec and Scotland, independence is mostly a movement of the left, and a separate currency would create the ever-present temptation to use the printing press to accommodate fiscal expansion and industrial policy. By promising to keep the old currency, separatists are reassuring savers that they will not succumb to the temptation of inflation.

I wonder if this is true? I hope it’s not. I don’t have a strong opinion about Scottish independence, but I do have a strong opinion about this. Here it is: if you favor independence, but only if Scotland holds onto the British pound, you’re an idiot. If you don’t trust a Scottish government to run its own monetary policy, then you don’t trust a Scottish government. Period.

There are other arguments for currency union, of course, but I don’t think they add up to much. Nor do I truly believe them. They mostly seem like post hoc rationalizations to provide people with a more palatable reason for keeping the British pound than fear of a reckless Scottish monetary authority. Generally speaking, the history of currency unions is simply too fraught for anyone who’s paying attention to really think it’s a good idea. And as Ip points out, they rarely last very long anyway.

An independent Scotland should have its own currency and its own monetary policy. If this makes you nervous, then the whole idea of independence should make you nervous.

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Scotland Should Plan On Having Its Own Currency

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Here’s a Great Argument for Easing Up on Professional Licensing Restrictions

Mother Jones

Adrianna McIntyre has a fascinating little tidbit up today about how Medicaid expansion affects access to health care. Here’s the question: By increasing demand for doctors, is it likely to result in longer wait times for everyone?

A trio of researchers took a look at dental care to get an idea. Some states cover it for adults, some don’t. So what happens in states where adult Medicaid is expanded to cover dental care? The first-order answer is surprising: more dentists participate; their incomes go up; and wait times barely budge. But how is that possible? The second-order answer is even more interesting:

Dentists accomplish this mainly by making greater use of hygienists: following the expansion of public coverage, dentists employ a greater number of hygienists and hygienists provide about 5 additional visits per week. As a result, dentists’ income increases following the adoption of Medicaid adult dental benefits by approximately 7 percent. These effects are largest among dentists who practice in poor areas where Medicaid coverage is most prevalent.

We also find that these coverage expansions cause wait times to increase modestly less than a day, on average. However, this effect varies significantly across states with different policies towards the provision of dental services by hygienists. The increased wait times are concentrated in states with relatively restrictive scope of practice laws. We find no significant increase in wait times in states that allow hygienists greater autonomy.

Licensing and “scope of authority” restrictions are sort of a hot topic these days, and this is a pretty good example of why. I haven’t yet dived into the whole thing enough to have a settled opinion, but it’s becoming fairly common to believe that licensing restrictions are far too strict in some professions, acting more as a way of propping up salaries than as genuine public safety measures. Nurses and hygienists could be given more autonomy, for example, but this is often resisted by doctors and dentists who don’t want to give up a lucrative monopoly on the services they provide.

The arguments are sometimes arcane, but this example brings it down to earth. Ease up on the restrictions placed on hygienists, and dental practices can provide more and better service to the poor—and, in the end, do it without sacrificing income. That’s worth knowing.

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Here’s a Great Argument for Easing Up on Professional Licensing Restrictions

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Justices Hear Case on Cross-State Pollution Rules

The Supreme Court has been asked to overturn the E.P.A.’s pollution credit trading plan, which is aimed at the problem of downwind pollution. Link:  Justices Hear Case on Cross-State Pollution Rules ; ;Related ArticlesJustices Hear Arguments on Cross-State Air Pollution RulesEastern States Press Midwest to Improve AirA Rare Middle East Agreement, on Water ;

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Justices Hear Case on Cross-State Pollution Rules

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