Saturday, November 20, 2010

Punishment, when there is no crime

Continuing on the theme of overreaching government...

What if you didn't do anything wrong, but you got penalized anyway? (This feels like my hockey game the other night, by the way!) Happens all the time in government.

Consider the Valerie Plame case. Scooter Libby was prosecuted for leaking information LONG AFTER THE PROSECUTOR KNEW HE WAS NOT THE ONE WHO LEAKED THE INFORMATION. Not only that, the person who did leak the information (Richard Armitage) never faced any consequences.

Former President George Bush is opening up about this recently. From Byron York, in the Washington Examiner:
"Bush: 'I never understood' why CIA leak case went forward"

The Martha Stewart case fit this profile as well. People talk about her "insider trading" trial, but few realize that she was never actually charged with insider trading. Prosecutors simple make and allegation in order to start investigating. And then look for any loopholes, any tricks, to try to get a conviction. Even if the underlying charge has absolutely no merit.

From USA Today, March 2004:
"Martha Stewart convicted of four felonies"

"...jurors found Stewart guilty on four counts of conspiracy, obstruction and making false statements."

The following opinion pieces sum up my opinion on the Martha Stewart case, and on similar cases in general.

Cato Institute, March 9, 2004:
"Martha's Mistrial: The Insider Trading Accusation Came from a Cowardly Press Leak from a Congressional Committee"

"Despite the assertions of both jurors and journalists, Martha Stewart was not convicted of insider trading. This misrepresentation is chilling.

"Martha Stewart has been convicted of conspiring to cover-up a crime she was not accused of having committed -- insider trading. She was convicted of 'lying' but never charged with perjury.

"Martha Stewart was also convicted of 'obstructing justice' without any explanation of how the prosecution of anyone but herself could have been obstructed by her first attorney's explanation of what motivated her to make a perfectly legal sale of ImClone stock."

"Judge Miriam Cedarbaum prohibited the defence team from mentioning the fact that it was perfectly legal for Martha Stewart to sell on her broker's advice, regardless what Doug Faneuil may have said or why. Either his explanation or hers may be correct, and they are not mutually exclusive. But the jury would surely have wondered why the motive for selling ImClone stock mattered so much if they could have been told the sale itself was no crime."

Here's what Stephen Moore had to say in the National Review:
"What’s Wrong with Insider Trading? The railroading of Martha Stewart."

"Throughout this trial, what seemed to be forgotten was that Stewart's original crime, an alleged insider-trading deal with ImClone stock, can hardly be considered a crime at all. (I know that Stewart was convicted for lying to federal investigators, but the 'lying' and obstruction-of-justice charges were all related to this one sale of stock that occurred 24 hours before the market tanked.)

"Libertarians have long argued that insider trading should not be a crime, because 1) there is no victim, and 2) because everyone who makes money in the financial markets is engaging in some degree of insider trading — some just have better information than others. Being a good stock picker involves having more information, and knowing how to get it, faster than other traders. What is the difference, really, between a hot stock tip, and insider trading? The line is so murky that it makes the enforcement of insider-trading laws inconsistent and capricious."

And, saving the best for last, we turn to the Mises Institute, with commentary both before and after the trial.

Mises Daily Article, Friday, June 21, 2002 by William L. Anderson:
"The Attack on Martha"

"While the view that all society must be egalitarian is evident nearly everywhere, perhaps it is no more prevalent in the business world than in how we regulate capital markets. As Ilana Mercer has written, the law requires information to be socialized. If one party knows more than others regarding information about a particular firm or industry, then the SEC is perfectly able to rule that possessing--and acting upon--that knowledge is a crime."

"This sharing of and acting upon such 'inside' information, the SEC and Congress solemnly declare, is a crime, since the general public was not aware of it at the same time. Somehow, the government does not consider it to be a breach of the law when its own officials act upon 'inside' information to protect themselves. For example, after receiving warnings that terrorists might hijack U.S. airliners, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft began to fly on private aircraft. Some members of Congress grumbled, but no one was sent to Ashcroft's office to place him in handcuffs and chains."

"The issue of insider trading seems to be straightforward, but it is not. First, as Paul Craig Roberts has pointed out, the law is purposely vague, something the SEC says is needed since a specific law would then rob prosecutors of their ability to pursue such charges. In other words, when acting upon information in the securities markets, one cannot be sure if one is committing a crime or not. However, the local U.S. attorney--and the courts, which have upheld this legal abomination--will be happy to inform you afterward that such activity is indeed criminal.

"Second, this is a law aimed at a certain group of people. Since people like myself do not deal in large amounts of money, it is doubtful that government prosecutors are likely to care if I buy a hundred shares of Acme because someone 'in the know' gave me a good tip. The folks that prosecutors love to go after are those who are wealthy and high profile, such as Martha Stewart. No doubt, Stewart's scalp would look mighty fine on the pole of a career prosecutor seeking political fame or future legal fortune."

"Third, the principle of 'insider trading' is in itself fundamentally flawed. Information that is worth anything in a market setting at all by definition must come from 'the inside.' There is no way to make information public in the way that the government wants it to be done without making all relevant information useless for the purpose of economic decision making."

Mises Daily Article, Monday, June 09, 2003 by William L. Anderson:
"Martha Stewart: Political Prisoner"

"For all of the vows by Stewart's attorneys that Martha will 'vigorously' contest these charges, she truly faces an uphill battle. Unlike the typical set of criminal laws that exist to protect innocent people (i.e. laws against murder, assault, and theft), Stewart has been indicted under a set of laws that exist for one and only one purpose: to gain convictions. Given the hard and unpleasant facts of federal criminal law in 2003, it will be a miracle if Stewart is able to beat these charges. Too much is at stake politically for the government to back down now. To put it another way, Martha Stewart is likely to be a political prisoner."

"Furthermore, by not bringing criminal charges on insider trading, which was the original issue in this case, the government is demonstrating that it is more interested in gaining a criminal conviction—any conviction will do here—instead of having to deal with the real issues of whether or not this truly was a criminal issue in the first place."

"Further proof that the government was stretching the legal envelope in order to charge Stewart was the charge of 'securities fraud.' According to Comey, by publicly saying she was innocent, Stewart was guilty of trying to illegally manipulate the stock of her company. While observers have called this a 'new legal twist,' in reality, it is fraud of the highest order, demonstrating that the real criminal here is Comey, who is trying to manipulate the law to read that if someone tries to mount any kind of defense at all, that person has committed a crime."

"The obstruction of justice charges that Stewart faces are going to be tougher for her, and it is at this point that she is most vulnerable. In their most literal sense, laws against 'obstruction of justice' basically say that individuals, once accused by the federal government of 'wrongdoing,' cannot defend themselves. That is because by definition a defense is a claim that prosecutors are wrong, and in the modern world of federal courts, telling a U.S. attorney that he or she is wrong is by definition to engage in 'obstruction of justice.'"

"Because they have not been able to gain enough information to charge Stewart with insider trading—no doubt, in large part because she had no fiduciary relationship with ImClone—they are doing what the feds did to Al Capone 70 years ago when they were able to have him convicted of income tax evasion. The obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and fraud charges that she faces exist only as a tool by which to gain a conviction—any conviction—when the investigation into the original 'crimes' becomes a dry hole."

Mises Daily Article, Monday, February 23, 2004 by Christopher Westley:
"Martha Stewart's Surreal Ordeal"

"So the Martha Stewart trial has come to this. Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum ruled that the government cannot introduce testimony about how Stewart’s statements to the press asserting her innocence of violating insider trading law affected investors of her firm, Martha Stewart Living.

"As a result, the government has effectively lost. The New York Times reports that this development is the nail in the coffin in the prosecution’s case, noting that '[a] person involved in Ms. Stewart’s defense said the ruling "renders the securities fraud charge dead on arrival," although other material might be introduced by prosecutors themselves.'

"This statement highlights what this trial is about—not insider trading, but the right to declare one's innocence, even when the government later agrees with the declaration. Surely if others attempted a similar defense in the face of a Kafka-esque judicial machine, the bullying Justice Department would be seen for what it is, forcing it to assume a lower profile and move somewhere behind the front line of the government’s funding trough."

"Second, the notion of an independent judiciary in a democracy is a myth. The judicial system is every bit as susceptible to the corrupting influence of the power, perks, and prestige that can accrue in the private sector."

"The Stewart trial should serve as a reminder of Murray Rothbard’s criticism of the notion of an independent judiciary in Power and Market (1970, p. 195):
"If the judiciary is really independent of the popular will, then it functions, at least within its own sphere, as an oligarchic dictatorship, and we can no longer call the government a "democracy." On the other hand, if the judiciary is elected directly by voters, or appointed by voters’ representatives…then the judiciary is hardly independent. If the election [or appointment of judges] is subject to renewal, then the judiciary is no more independent of political processes than any other branch of government."

"Finally (and most importantly), the gall—the heroic gall—to fight such absurd charges is crucial for a free society. We should be thankful that Stewart, whatever her faults, was willing to stake her reputation and wealth to fight this surreal ordeal in court. We can be sure that, post-Martha, the DOJ will be more careful where it picks its fights. We can hope that the Stewart trial will be viewed as a harbinger of things to come in the fight against an activist federal judiciary."

Mises Daily Article, Saturday, March 06, 2004 by William L. Anderson:
"Wealthy Beyond a Reasonable Doubt"

"The post-trial comments of one juror, Chappell Hartridge (Juror Number Eight), say it all: 'Maybe this is a victory for the little guys who lose money thanks to these kinds of transactions. Maybe it's a message to the big wigs.'

"Remember that this was not a trial about 'insider trading.' The judge said so, the prosecutors said so, the pundits said so. Even the New York Times declared that it was not an 'insider trading' charge."

"No, Stewart apparently committed the 'crime' of being wealthy and well-connected. Furthermore, she sometimes was short and impatient with people, which is a trait that one of us in his brief career as a news reporter found to be endemic in people who were associated with the New York Times and other 'elite' news outlets.

"Had she instead been a journalist or a politician, she would have had a chorus of supporters among the political classes. Instead, she made the mistake of being a self-made billionaire, and now the journalists and the political classes are making sure that she is railroaded into a prison cell."

Welcome to the United States. We used to be governed by the Rule of Law. We are now governed by the Rule of Men, where you may be considered guilty at any time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

TSA - Another example of government overreach

The TSA has been in the news a lot lately. If you read my blog regularly you know my limited government leanings. So you will not be surprised to know that I have NEVER supported the TSA.

You're heard all the pundits. The Israelis think we're crazy, looking for weapons and not terrorists. God forbid, we might be accused of profiling. I mean, it's not like almost every terrorist fits a certain racial and religious profile...

It has been said that the TSA's real purpose is to provide "security theater." Make us feel good, make us feel like we are safe, regardless of whether we are actually safe.

And now the TSA is going further. This is what happens when there is no market response. Any company that treated its "customers" like this would go out of business. But this doesn't happen with government agencies. You have to bend over and take it. Check out these links:

From the johnnyedge blog:
"TSA encounter at SAN"

From forums:
"TSO saying 'heads up, got a cutie for you'"

What can we do?

From Byron York, in the Washington Examiner:
"Amid airport anger, GOP takes aim at screening"

It is time for airports to stop using TSA. Get rid of them!

"The 2001 law creating the TSA gave airports the right to opt out of the TSA program in favor of private screeners after a two-year period. Now, with the TSA engulfed in controversy and hated by millions of weary and sometimes humiliated travelers, Rep. John Mica, the Republican who will soon be chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, is reminding airports that they have a choice.

"Mica, one of the authors of the original TSA bill, has recently written to the heads of more than 150 airports nationwide suggesting they opt out of TSA screening. 'When the TSA was established, it was never envisioned that it would become a huge, unwieldy bureaucracy which was soon to grow to 67,000 employees,' Mica writes. 'As TSA has grown larger, more impersonal, and administratively top-heavy, I believe it is important that airports across the country consider utilizing the opt-out provision provided by law.'"

P.S. I just learned that one airport, Orlando, has indeed kicked out the TSA. Let's hope more airports follow suit. From Gizmodo:
"Orlando Airport Kicks Out The TSA"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jessica Colotl

Well, it's been a little while. Yes, it is time for another immigration post.

I've talked about this case before (Immigration: "Messed-up system", Thursday, May 27, 2010). And now we get the latest news on the Jessica Colotl case.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
"Jury finds Kennesaw State student Colotl guilty on one of two charges"

From WSB Radio:
"Split Verdict in Colotl Case"

Both stories bury the lead, in my opinion. They talk about how Colotl was convicted on 1 of 2 traffic charges. But the bigger news is that immediately after conviction Colotl was turned over to federal immigration officials.

And then what happened? "But after 37 days of being held in several immigration detention centers, Colotl was granted a yearlong deportation deferment to finish her studies."

That's right, Colotl is clearly in this country illegally. And immigrations officials are doing ... nothing. Colotl could choose to get her degree and then disappear. Or just disappear now. Probably unlikely, but the point is that she could--and we (yes, including me) don't care.

And bravo to us. I think people who work hard to better themselves should be welcome here. You see, the fact that most people think it's okay that she stays and finishes her degree reveals that the foundation of our immigration laws is a fraud. We know deep inside that we would do the same thing if we were in Colotl's shoes.

Immigration laws do not address the root cause of the problem. Many people come here for the wrong reasons (from our overly generous welfare state). That is what we should be addressing.

In case you forgot, here are my thoughts on immigration and what we should be doing about it.

June 14, 2010
Address the root cause of illegal immigration

September 16, 2010
Immigration is a benefit

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Occasionally they tell the truth, part 8 - Krugman's death panels

Well, here you have it. Left wing nut job Paul Krugman tells the truth about "death panels." Lots of links for this, here are a couple:

"Paul Krugman Recommends 'Death Panels' to Help Balance Budget"

"Paul Krugman Suggests Death Panels and VAT"

"Some years down the pike, we're going to get the real solution, which is going to be a combination of death panels and sales taxes. It's going to be that we're actually going to take Medicare under control, and we're going to have to get some additional revenue, probably from a VAT."

This is, of course, the only logical conclusion to government-run health care. Someone has to decide where to draw the line. Who do you trust to make that decision? Some government bureaucrat? Or individuals who know their particular situation better than anyone else?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quote of the Day: Conan O'Brien, on his dream to be a talk show host on basic cable

Conan O'Brien is funny. He is back, of course, on TBS. Here is the story, from AP:
"Conan O'Brien returns to late-night TV with ease"

"He acknowledged that 'it's not easy doing a late-night show on a channel without a lot of money and that viewers have trouble finding. So that's why I left NBC.'"

"He boasted that his new show is already scoring 'in TBS' key demographic: people who can't afford HBO.'"

"And he insisted, 'I've dreamed of being a talk-show host on basic cable ever since I was 46.' He's now 47."

That last one was my favorite, by the way.

Here is Conan's take on how he ended up on TBS. From Gawker.TV:
"The Hilarious Sketch That Opened the First Episode of Conan"

Monday, November 15, 2010

Google map "war"?

Fascinating story on the impact of technology, Google Maps in this case, on our lives. What happens when an online map doesn't match longstanding accepted borders? Do people take such maps that seriously? Apparently some do...

From UPI:
"Nicaragua, Costa Rica tense over Google map 'war'"

"SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- Costa Rica is recovering from the shock of a Nicaraguan border incursion over the small matter of a Google map misunderstood by the invaders.

"Or perhaps the matter wasn't small at all, as the online map showed Costa Rican territory as Nicaraguan but under Costa Rican control, triggering the conflict.

"Nicaraguan troops crossed into Costa Rica, took down the nation's flag and hoisted Nicaraguan flag -- all in response to the Internet map.

"It wasn't immediately clear why the invading Nicaraguan force used Google Maps as a guide -- the first time on record that source was used as such an authority -- to launch an attack that could have been averted by consulting with a military map."

Here is Google's official response. Note that they got their data from the U.S. State Department. From the Google Lat Long Blog:
"Regarding the boundary between Costa Rica and Nicaragua"

And a very detailed discussion of this issue, from Ogle Earth:
"About Costa Rica, Nicaragua, their mutual border, and Google"

Last, but not least, here is a link to Google Maps zoomed in on the border in question:,-83.67651&spn=0.060932,0.07596&z=14

View Larger Map

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Those "Birthers" are at it again. Or are they...

Lefties are so stupid. Just try and watch this video without laughing.

"Is Obama A Keynesian Rally For Sanity, 10/30/10"