Monthly Archives: August 2010

The worst president?

Over at the MoneyIllusion:

I had known for quite some time that Wilson’s economic policies were perhaps the worst in American history.  He presided over the creation of the Fed and the income tax, which went from 0% to something like 70% while he was president.  In the long run the Fed may have been a good thing, but there can be no doubt that 1913 was premature, we didn’t know anywhere near enough about monetary policy to warrant a central bank meddling in the gold standard.  He presided over a period of very high inflation after WWI, when we actually needed somewhat lower prices.  Then we had a severe depression in his last year of office.  Industrial production had fallen by 32.5% by March 1921 when Harding took office (and you think things are bad now!)


Recommended links

I’m getting a lot of traffic from my postings on the Columbia Tribune comment threads, so I’m going to take the opportunity to plug a few of my favorite Missouri publications.

1. The Missouri Record: A former debater started this excellent publication that includes content from well known politicians and scholars on Missouri-specific issues.

2. The Show-Me Daily: I disagree with several of the scholars here on specific issues, but Missouri is really lucky to have a true free-market think tank doing work in this state. I could plug any number of specific authors as well, but I will note that John Payne has been doing excellent work on police brutality and SWAT raids and highly recommend his work.

Outside of Missouri publications, I will also note that I have read Marginal Revolution and the Volokh Conspiracy almost every day for the last 5-6 years and I highly recommend you do the same.

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My Complaint to the Columbia Citizens Police Review Board

Dear Citizens Police Review Board,

During my remarks to the CPRB on August 11th, 2010, as an appellant to the Viets complaint filed in the Kinloch affair, I asked CPRB member Susan Smith a series of questions, to wit:

1)      Were any of the officers implicated in the complaint former students of yours?

2)      How many current Columbia Police officers were formerly students of yours?

3)      Do you think that this represents a potential conflict of interest?

To my questions, Ms. Smith replied, and I paraphrase 1) I don’t know, 2) I don’t know, and 3) I refuse to answer the question. Additionally, I note that in her answers to 1 & 2, Ms. Smith noted that it was impossible for her to know, since she teaches classes of 400 people and cannot be expected to remember all of her students. You may watch video of this interaction here (

The direction of my questions is clear; I think that the true answers to these questions might indicate a conflict of interest. However, I wish to begin by arguing that whether or not Mrs. Smith might face a conflict of interest in these proceedings, she is in clear violation of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) Code of Ethics, which is the binding legal code governing her participation on this board. Specifically, Mrs. Smith’s lack of clarity and refusal to answer implicates the standards NACOLE has created for Personal Integrity (emphasis mine):

Demonstrate the highest standards of personal integrity, commitment, truthfulness, and fortitude in order to inspire trust among your stakeholders, and to set an example for others. Avoid conflicts of interest. Conduct yourself in a fair and impartial manner and recuse yourself or personnel within your agency when a significant conflict of interest arises…

I should also highlight the NACOLE stipulation for Transparency & Confidentiality:

Conduct oversight activities openly and transparently providing regular reports and analysis of your activities, and explanations of your procedures and practices to as wide an audience as possible…

And additionally, the clause titled Outreach and Relationships with Stakeholders:

Disseminate information and conduct outreach activity in the communities that you serve. Pursue open, candid, and non-defensive dialog with your stakeholders…

I argue that Ms. Smith’s answers during the board meeting fail at meeting any of these ethical codes. It is clear that her answers do not meet the highest standards of personal integrity or truthfulness, and it is not clear that Ms. Smith has been forthright in avoiding the conflicts posed by her dual roles as an educator for law enforcement and an adjudicator for complaints made against law enforcement. Finally, it is abundantly clear that Ms. Smith has engaged me and other members of the public in a defensive and obfuscatory manner.

Specifically, Ms. Smith is a criminal justice instructor at Columbia College, and hence, an educator for students who may later be employed by the Columbia Police Department. A conflict of interest may not necessarily exist between a teacher and a former student, but the existence of any such relationships should be forthrightly declared to meet the NACOLE ethical standards. Moreover, even without the existence of any relationship that may compromise Ms. Smith’s ability to serve as a board member, Ms. Smith does have significant investment in her reputation as a criminal justice educator that may compromise her decisions on this board, especially if she is facing a decision that implicates her current, former, or future students with public disciplinary action.

Let me also note it is implausible that Ms. Smith should not be able to answer 1 & 2 in the affirmative; though she may teach large lecture classes, I do not find it plausible that she only teaches large lecture classes, or that she has never developed relationships with students. I ask that the board clarify Ms. Smith’s response to these points and discern if her answer during the board meeting is factually representative of the whole truth (that she only teaches large lecture classes, and that she does not know if former students currently serve on the police agency she sits in judgment on). I am also including an email (following page) from a former student of Ms. Smith indicating that she does teach smaller classes and does remember students as far as 3 years back as a further indicator that I do not believe Ms. Smith’s statements were plausible or in line with  NACOLE disclosure standards.

Most importantly, it is clear to me that Ms. Smith has done very little to engage citizens and build trust. The NACOLE ethical code is designed with that highest aspiration in mind and it is my judgment that Ms. Smith does not meet this standard.

For these reasons, I ask the Citizens Police Review Board to evaluate the fitness of Mrs. Smith to serve as a voting member of the board and to consider her removal under Ord. (Ord. No. 20331, § 1, 7-20-09), particularly:

(e)    The board may recommend to the city council that a board member be removed from the board if the member persistently fails to perform the duties of office.

Eapen Thampy

Policy Analyst
Americans for Forfeiture Reform

from CoMo Citizens <>
to Eapen <>
date Thu, Aug 12, 2010 at 1:39 PM
subject RE: Request for Susan Smith’s removal from the CPRB
hide details 1:39 PM (27 minutes ago)

I think that this letter is great, and if you have not sent it out please sign CoMoCitizens to it as well. I know for a fact that she does not teach large classes of 400. The classes at Columbia College only allow for 25 to 30, maybe a few more, students in a class at one time.  As a recent graduate of Columbia College, I have experienced the small class sizes that Columbia College has to offer, and it is almost impossible to not get to know your instructor.  As a matter of fact, Susan Smith remembered my wife who she had met 3 years ago only once.  I think that it would be in the best interest of all Columbia citizens if we did not have such a biased individual on the CITIZENS Police Review Board.  She has clearly shown her biases in previous Police Review Board meetings.


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Dan Viets on search warrants and violence in Columbia, Missouri

Dan Viets Attorney and Counselor

15 NORTH TENTH STREET COLUMBIA, MISSOURI  65201 (573) 443-6866/FAX (573) 443-1413

Dear Friends:

As most of you are probably aware, the Columbia Citizens Police Review Board has agreed to take up the appeal of our complaints regarding the Kinloch Court incident this Wednesday evening, August 11 at 7:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers in the new addition to the Daniel Boone Building.

Last week, the complainants were not allowed to speak before the commission.  The Chairwoman had told me that this may or may not change at this meeting.  It is likely there will be an opportunity for us to speak, but it may be after the Board has made its decision.

I know of no reason to expect that the Board will change its position.  The Board voted four to three last week to accept the decision and report of the police chief.  However, if the Human Rights Commission has replaced the member who recently resigned from the CPRB, that could change the outcome.

At any rate, it is my recommendation that we ask the CPRB to agree to investigate the question of whether search warrants should ever be used in the investigation of non-violent crime.  The CPRB is focused on the technical question of whether the complaint against the individual police officers has been properly handled.  I recommend that we ask them instead to look at the broader policy question and consider making recommendations for a change in the policy.

The execution of search warrants is an inherently potentially violent process.  The execution of a search warrant involves a home invasion.  Whenever a home is invaded, there is a real risk that the occupants of the home may respond with violence before they even realize that it is police officers who are invading their home.  The occupants of the home invariably are truly terrorized by people battering their door open, pointing firearms at them and screaming at the top of their lungs.  Frequently concussion grenades, referred to by police as “flash bangs”, are thrown near or inside of the home for the purpose of further disorienting the occupants.

There are alternative means for investigating such matters.  There is almost always a claim of an anonymous or confidential informer in the application for such search warrants.  That individual should be required to make a controlled buy of marijuana, either under surveillance or with recording or transmitting equipment.  This is commonly done and involves far less risk to the police and the occupants of the home.

I look forward to seeing you this evening.


Dan Viets

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Underrated books in political science or economics

I had occasion to reflect on this topic today as I was packing my books in preparation for a move. There are two that come immediately to mind, and I think they are must-reads for not just the specific audience of political science or economics readers, but also to the general public.

The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer. This book taxonomizes and characterizes mass movements brilliantly and with extremely elegant, sophisticated analysis. I think you should read this book with Hayek because Hayek, as smart as he is, has limits, and does not engage much beyond an analysis of why markets are good. Reality of course is more complex than markets, and markets should be understood in context of the cultural, institutional, and historical dynamics it exists in.

The Once and Future King, T.H. White. No, you shouldn’t read the book  because it got plugged in X-Men. You should read the book because it really is a brilliant piece of work and there are many individual passages that are superb explications of political and economic systems. As a work of literature it is sublime.

I’ll add to this later when I think of something.

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On consumption and wealth

These two pieces are some of the best economic writing I’ve read in the last couple of months, and I thought that they were really important, because they articulate a position that is far more intelligent than the knee-jerk GOP narrative that unfortunately takes up too much space in the public discourse.

In any case, here is Karl Smith on why taxation should focus on consumption, not wealth:

This is why its important that we keep our eye on consumption, not income. There is no inherent social harm in someone amassing a large fortune. Nor, does it necessarily contrast with our Rawlsian sense of justice. It matters crucially what they do with that fortune.

If they spend it all on gold rims and mansions in the Hills, then by all means tax that. However, it they keep putting the profits back into the business to create bigger and better organizations, then we should let that process feed on itself, rather than slowly bleeding it.  Nor is there any particular reason why we should want to tax away income that was going to go to charity in the end.

Yes, many of the wealthy spend their money on lives of luxury while poor children attend classes in broken down schools. But, then go after the life of luxury, not the wealth.

And here is Arnold Kling, in an essay called When Labor is Capital:

From our more Austrian perspective, the Keynesian prescription will fail. Government spending tends to create or reinforce unsustainable patterns of production—temporary housing booms, transitory increases in auto sales, and the like. However, there is no reason to expect unsustainable patterns of production to stimulate the creation of sustainable patterns of specialization and trade. If anything, it would seem likely that government support for unsustainable patterns of production could make the market’s recalculation problem more confusing. It will delay long-term recovery, rather than hasten it.

Some Keynesian economists have proposed an even more unlikely solution, which is to revive the New Deal program of government-created jobs, as in the Works Progress Administration. This idea represents a complete denial of the contemporary reality that labor is capital. Real employment in today’s economy represents a long-term investment, not short-term make-work.

What needs to emerge are new, sustainable patterns of specialization and trade. Government does not have much incentive to create sustainable patterns of specialization and trade. In fact, the political system tends to favor subsidies to outmoded and unsustainable businesses.

Government could reduce the cost of investing in labor-capital. If it can be done in a fiscally responsible way, it would help to reduce the marginal tax rates on investment (the corporate profits tax) and employment (the payroll tax). This may require offsetting tax changes, such as eliminating the mortgage interest deduction or the deductibility of employer-provided health insurance.

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The audacity of belief

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!

-Martin Luther King, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1964

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This is really, really smart

Stephan Kraus:

Deutsche Börse’s electronic trading system Xetra features volatility interruptions as safeguards against potential flash crashes. Volatility interruptions are automatically initiated if the potential execution price of an order lies outside a pre-defined price range around a given reference price. Once a volatility interruption has been initiated, continuous trading is interrupted and a change in trading form to auction is triggered. Market participants are informed of this market situation and may react to it by either adding, modifying or deleting orders and quotes. Continuous trading resumes after a certain minimum duration of the auction. In case of larger price deviations, the auction is extended until the volatility interruption is terminated manually. Given the described circuit breaker mechanism, a scenario similar to May 6 in the US is impossible to happen on Xetra. This is particularly true since the calculation of the DAX is based on Xetra data only, thereby effectively taking into account trading interruptions on Xetra while other platforms may continue to trade.

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On San Francisco

Many people have told me that this may be America’s most beautiful city, and I tend to agree. Spectacular views, and even the parts that are frequented by the homeless and by drug addicts are cleaner than most cities. On a similar note it is not advised to walk on the beaches  barefoot because of the risk of stepping on used needles.

The people here are extremely conscious of their language and of how the choice of language implicitly shapes the framework of even minor discussions. Cannabis consumption is common and ubiquitous and you are likely to see people smoking cannabis outside the downtown bars, in the middle of the city. It is a far cry from the shrill prohibitionists back East.

There are incredible restaurants here that are for the most part reasonably priced. Recommended are the ethnic spots of course, and there is a Buddhist temple that serves an excellent Sunday brunch in Berkeley that was a highlight of my visit.

Society seems to function well around a quasi-libertarian set of ideas, particularly the notion that no one should criminalize consensual behavior, or behavior that does not implicate anyone’s rights. Nudists, though not a quite-every-day phenomenon, may be seen fairly frequently, and participate in large social bike rambles.

There does seem to be an incoherence in discussions involving the prospect of federal action. There is anger here, great anger, that the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of Justice refuse to respect state laws regulating the cannabis industry here, but introduce the discussion on education, for instance, and the discussion turns almost automatically to the question of “Well what can the federal government do about these problems?”

There is the sense here that California is really too big and incoherent to be governed as one state, and that perhaps two states may be better for governance.

I was perhaps most disturbed by the sight of the city hall in San Francisco, which looks more like a palace than any other American building I have ever seen.

I also had the best Reuben I’ve ever had at at Morty’s Deli around the corner from UC Hastings Law School. The Reuben is one of my culinary benchmarks; every deli and sandwich shop in the country has one on the menu, and most are passable at best.

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A question of voice and not of standing

Over at the Columbia Missourian, Abby Rogers covers a complaint made by Ed Rosenthal, a California citizen, who challenged the exoneration of officers involved in a SWAT raid in Columbia, Missouri, back in February. Here is the video of the raid if you haven’t seen it:

There has been some pushback by the Police Department and people sympathetic to the notion that police should serve non-violent search warrants with overwhelming force that Ed does not have standing to file a complaint. I strongly disagree, and here is the content of a comment I posted to the Missourian’s comment boards on the subject:

The standing issue in Ed’s complaint presumes several unfair things. Ed does have long-standing relationships with members of this community, and it is unfair and unjust to presume otherwise out of ignorance. It is also unfair to stipulate who may file a complaint; this is an open and free land, and we conduct commerce and the varied activities of life in all other parts of this country, bound by the common laws. In a very direct sense any American who may conceivably conduct business in Columbia, or visit family, or for pleasure, has a direct and vested interest in not being in the wrong house at the wrong night and be the victim of overwhelming force in a community where voters have expressed their clear intent to relegate these offenses to the lowest law enforcement priority.

The other major issue is not of standing, but of voice. Overwhelming violence is used to capture offenders who are non-violent and may be acquired in much more peaceful ways. After being victimized, families are terrified of voicing complaint; they have already been violently attacked, and fear retaliation from a police force that does retaliate.

Reference particularly the case of the young man who publicly complained that his rights were violated and his complaint stymied by Columbia’s Internal Affairs department. A police officer posting under the cover of anonymity retaliated by illegally disclosing closed records of this young man’s juvenile history. There was an investigation, but the officer remains on the force. There is no way for this community to trust that someone who has once violated the awesome trust that comes with wielding the power of the state will not violate that trust again.

The tone of these incidents brings a chill to those who are convinced that their exercise of their free speech may yet again be violated with force or other retaliation. To cut off their access to voices from outside the community is to silence the voices that have real complaints and risk real retaliation from voicing their petition.

I have worked with Ed and represent dozens of Columbia residents who support what Ed has done in defense of our civil liberties. There was no need to serve the Kinloch warrant late and with violence; with simple forethought, they could have served the warrant safely and without harm to dogs.

And there was no reason to kick a subdued man, for whom there was no arrest warrant, while he was down and cuffed.

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