All posts by Thomas L. Knapp

Don’t Look, Ethel! (Really — Just Don’t Look)

RGBStock -- Naked Dolls

First, credit where credit is due:  Charlotte, North Carolina police haven’t arrested Gerard Leeper for standing naked in the doorway of his home in the city’s Cardinal Glen neighborhood. Yet.

Why? Because it’s not illegal to go naked on one’s own property in Charlotte. Yet. So, good call, Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD.

According to the Charlotte Observer, however, the CMPD is “trying to build a case against” Leeper and “will likely approach the legislature to recommend a stronger indecent exposure law.” They want it changed to cover things which can be seen from, not just in, “public spaces.”

That’s disturbing, for two reasons.

First, the job of the CMPD is to enforce the law, not to lobby the legislature.

Secondly, unless CMPD has solved all the real crimes in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, they shouldn’t even have time to worry about — let alone “try to build a case against” — some guy for standing around naked in his own house. Perhaps the county should look at cutting CMPD’s budget and manpower if it has spare resources to waste on this kind of non-problem.

But that’s the thing: Some of Leeper’s neighbors don’t consider it a non-problem. They complain that he stands naked in his doorway several times a week and has for a decade. They don’t like it. They don’t want to see it. They’ve had Home Owners Association meetings to discuss it. They’ve complained to Leeper. They’ve complained to the police.

And of course the police department — which answers to local politicians and taps the area’s taxpayers for its funding — hates telling local homeowners things they’d rather not hear. Thus the “case-building” and prospective politicking.

It seems to me that a ready answer to this “problem” can be found in the work of prominent American comedic singer/songwriter Ray Stevens. Specifically, in a line from his 1974 hit “The Streak.” In three simple words:

“Don’t look, Ethel!”

Yes, really. Just don’t look.

If you don’t want to see Gerard Leeper naked, don’t look at him.

If you can’t make yourself not look at him when you pass by his house, go out of your way to not pass by his house.

If you can’t avoid passing by his house, and can’t drag your eyes away from his occasional nakedness when you do, and just can’t stand what you see, move.

Yes, really. Move.

It’s not the government’s job to make sure you never, ever, ever see anything you don’t like, especially (although not only) when it’s on someone else’s private property. That’s YOUR job.

Leave the police out of it. Unless you see Sheb Wooley’s one-eyed, one-horned, flying, purple people eater. In that case, you should call 911 ASAP.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

An American Spelling Lesson: J-U-R-Y Does Not Spell “Rubber Stamp”

This is Swampyank's copy of "The Jury&quo...
“The Jury” by John Morgan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Break out the world’s smallest violin for prosecutors in Alachua County, Florida: They’re having problems finding citizens who’ll jail other citizens for marijuana possession. In one recent case it took hours to weed out (pun intended) prospective jurors who didn’t think marijuana should be illegal.

Cindy Swirko’s  “When opinions on pot, and the law, collide” (March 22, Gainesville Sun) is a refreshingly fair-minded piece on this “problem” and on the wider phenomenon of jury nullification.

Jury nullification occurs when a jury bases its verdict not on the facts of a case, but on the jurors’ opinion that the law is defective or morally wrong. That may sound strange but it’s an important part of American legal history.

Jury nullification was a key tool of the 19th century’s anti-slavery movement. The Fugitive Slave Act imposed criminal penalties for assisting fleeing slaves. Northern juries refused to convict Underground Railroad activists.

Jury nullification also helped end alcohol prohibition as juries frequently declined to convict bootleggers. In one (perhaps apocryphal) case, the jury allegedly “drank the evidence,” then acquitted.

In a 1969 case, United States v. Moylan — the defendants stood accused of impeding the military draft — the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held, unanimously, that “if the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, or exigent circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their logic or passion, the jury has the right to acquit, and the courts must abide that decision.”

As more and more Americans conclude that the “war on drugs” — especially marijuana — is impractical and immoral, that force is once again making itself felt.

Prosecutors hate jury nullification. It messes up their batting averages.

The measure of prosecutorial effectiveness is the conviction rate. That’s why “plea bargains” are so popular. 92% of Americans charged with crimes plead guilty in return for lesser charges or lighter sentences. Of the 8% who go to trial, 3/4 are convicted.

Yes, that’s right — of 50 Americans accused of crimes, 49 plead guilty or are convicted. But that one acquittal drives prosecutors nuts. So, with the cooperation of judges, they’ve turned jury selection into an extended interrogation with only one acceptable answer: “Yes, I will serve unquestioningly as your rubber stamp.”

The Fully Informed Jury Association (fija.org) fights this trend, working to ensure that prospective jurors know about their right to “judge the law as well as the facts,” and to explicitly codify in our laws an obligation of judges to inform them of that right.

Are your legislators sponsoring a Fully Informed Jury Act in your state? If not, maybe you should call their offices and ask why.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

This One Weird Trick for Balancing the US Government’s Budget

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Every year like clockwork, our masters in Washington cluck like hens over government spending. They lay new plans to reduce the annual budget deficit (currently hovering at around half a trillion dollars per year). They hatch new schemes to pay down their accrued debt (more than $18 trillion and increasing at a rate of more than $2 billion per day).

This year’s proposal from House Republicans would theoretically balance the budget … ten years from now. It would also theoretically reduce the debt from 74% of GDP to 18% … over the course of 25 years.

Many “moderate” Republicans and most Democrats criticize the plan as unworkable and, to use the expression favored by fraidycat clingers to the status quo, “unserious.” Why? Because they think ten years is unrealistically fast.

I agree. The plan is unworkable and “unserious.” But for the opposite reason. Ten years is far too long. Any plan relying on future politicians to stick to plans drawn up by today’s politicians is doomed to failure.

US Representatives are elected every two years, US Senators every six. While re-election rates are scandalously high, the faces do change over time. And the minds of long-term incumbents change as well. When the credit card doesn’t come with a limit, every crisis, real or manufactured, becomes an excuse to give up on fiscal discipline and treat themselves to a spending spree.

Fortunately, there’s a way out of this mess. It’s this one weird trick I learned in a high school math class. Wanna hear it? Here it is:

Congress should stop spending more money than it takes in.

Not ten years from now. Not five years from now. Not next year. NOW.

Yes, it really is that simple.

Will massive spending cuts sting? Yes, they will. Every household in America knows what it’s like to have to cut spending. We do it when we have to because we have to. Life isn’t fair.

How bad would it smart? Well, if Congress cut 2015 spending to the balance line, the federal government would still spend about half again as much this year as it spent in 2005. I’m sure you recall, as do I, that in 2005 America’s starving masses died in the ditches alongside its roads. Of course I’m just making that up. Remember? We couldn’t afford roads!

Where to cut? Well, if Congress reduced the budgeted cost of “defense” by 90%, the budget would balance and the US would still be the world’s first or second largest military spender (depending on which direction China’s military spending takes). But if the politicians want to split the cuts between various budget lines, fine.

Is it politically doable? Yes. The Republicans control Congress. If they don’t appropriate money for the executive branch to spend, the executive branch can’t spend that money. If the budget isn’t balanced, it’s because Republicans don’t want to balance it.

It’s time and past time for America’s politicians to start living within their ample means. Balance the budget. Now.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY