Apr 24

“The Right to Due Process and Trial by Jury”

Jury11Serving on a jury is a pain, isn’t it? You have to explain to your employer that you got selected for jury duty while he looks at you like it was somehow your fault. It means blocking off an entire week so you can decide whether this kid really burgled somebody’s house. You might be tempted to just return a guilty verdict and wash your hands of the whole thing by the end of it, and you probably would if you didn’t realize that the fate of a young man is in your hands. He might really be guilty, but it’s worth picking over the evidence one more time to be sure.

However, “the right to due process and trial by jury” is one of those necessary parts of the American Bill of Rights that helps to keep the judicial system in check. The relevant Constitutional Amendments are:

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Fifth Amendment Explained

And:

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Sixth Amendment Explained

If you’re a Christian, you might remember the Parable of the Unjust Judge in which a woman kept coming back and pleading for justice and finally she got it. He didn’t really care about her case. He just wanted her to stop bothering him. Judges in those days didn’t really have a lot in common with ordinary people and he couldn’t relate. A jury of one’s peers might at least comprehend the circumstances that led up to the alleged crime even if those circumstances don’t excuse theft.

Whenever you get called for jury duty, remember that you might end up being a defendant in a court case someday. Then you’ll have to decide whether to trust the judgment of whoever is sitting in the front of the courtroom or go with a jury trial. Maybe you happen to know that the judge is a real stickler who wouldn’t accept excuses short of being attacked for why you might have shot somebody’s dog. So you choose a jury trial in the hope of getting people on the jury who might have seen that dog running around loose sometimes, and you know how some breeds have a reputation for being aggressive. Being a defendant can be as annoying as being a juror sometimes, especially when you know you never shot that dumb dog in the first place. And, of course, you get the occasional silliness:

Cat Called for Jury Duty

This should theoretically be an easy one on Mars. If Fred and George have been going at it again, just make it part of your weekly meeting to settle their latest dispute and make sure to keep the video system where they can’t tamper with it. As any good investigator knows, evidence that has been tampered with can be the worst to deal with because it wouldn’t be admissible in court. Anyway, we might need that video to prove that Fred is the one who whizzed on the lettuce as part of his latest snit with George, and we definitely need to find where those two rascals have been hiding the moonshine still.

Now it amounts to the fact that your jurors are your fellow colonists and you’re living in a place where everybody knows everybody else. They will have very little incentive to rule unfairly on cases because that kind of thing causes resentment and resentment will breed more trouble. You might try bribing a few, but only if you think you can stand the idea of doing extra chores and giving up your last case of Mars Bars that everybody knows you have even though you’ve been trying to be discreet about it. Hey, people notice when there are candy wrappers on the floor. That doesn’t necessarily last, of course, and the thing about bribes is that Fred could be outbid by George who has gotten pretty used to scrubbing toilets by now. So you might want to consider keeping things honest.

The Fifth and Sixth Amendments

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Apr 22

The Right to Face One’s Accusers

 

Image credit: DonObservs

So you might have read “The Count of Monte Cristo.” The fellow who becomes the Count gets thrown in jail without so much as seeing his accuser until after his escape. Could that really happen? You might not think so if you are used to the American judicial system, but it really can and does happen in places around the world and the accuser doesn’t necessarily have to be a romantic rival. More often, it’s an enemy who wants to get rid of somebody so he can advance his own agenda or even a government who wants to get rid of somebody who is inconvenient.

I bet many people who have been in that situation wish there was something like the “truth spell” in Mercedes Lackey’s Heralds of Valdemar novels really existed and would be automatically applied anytime there’s a criminal case. That would at least cut down on the problem of innocent people going to jail while the guilty walk free. Even when the innocent person is released, that’s years out of his life that he’s never going to get back. Failing that, the false accuser should be made to look the defendant in the eye while making his accusations.

That can be tough when someone is accused of a violent crime and the victim has to be in the same room with him and recount what happened. She has already been through a lot and now she’s paying for the fact that too many people have falsely reported similar crimes. It’s worse for vulnerable children who have been victims of abuse. Some judges have allowed video testimony so the children don’t have to sit there and answer the lawyers’ questions while the abusive parent glares at them. It can get to the point where the rights of the victim should be weighed against the rights of the accused. In some cases, I could see some kind of screen between the two so the victim at least feels protected.

It also has to be a nuisance for the state employees who have to transport people who aren’t exactly Boy Scouts. Even when they’re innocent of this particular crime, maybe they’ve been in and out of jail so many times that they’ve just become familiar faces. They’ll escape if they get the chance and, like Dexter, might have been clever about avoiding the legal system in the past.

But it’s also one of several constitutional rights in America. Specifically, Amendment VI of the Constitution reads:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

The inconvenience is designed to let alleged criminals at least get a good look at their accuser and you’ll probably notice that facing one’s accuser usually doesn’t mean a fistfight for all that you hear infrequent stories about courtroom brawls. Mostly it’s meant as a way to give false accusers a chance to make fools out of themselves in court when they run up against the “innocent until proven guilty” thing and the usual penalties for perjury. Basically, if you want to prove your allegations, you have to be smarter than the defense who could pick you to pieces even when everybody knows that the defendant really did kill that kid in the hoodie.

And, of course, our two rascally Martian colonists, Fred and George, are about to go at it again. Fred has just accused George of eating all the strawberries, so again we have to call all the Martian colonists together to settle it. I’m sure you’re wondering why we haven’t kicked them out of the colony by now, but who else is going to do punishment duty by cleaning the latrines? Well, we just have them sit on opposite sides of the habitat so they won’t start a fistfight while we hash it out and consult the video evidence again. Maybe George really did eat the strawberries, or maybe Fred did and is trying to blame it on George. That’s the point behind the right to face one’s accusers: so they don’t hang you out to dry for something you didn’t do.

The Rights of the Accused

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Apr 22

The Right to Equal Opportunity Regardless of Race or Sex

If you’re an employer, you probably know how difficult it is to find a truly good employee. You might have learned from the last time you hired a complete jerk that somebody who can present himself well in an interview is not necessarily going to be your best pick. Once they’re hired, they can be notoriously difficult to get rid of without lots of documentation, too. This is why Human Resources sometimes gets a bad reputation. Some HR departments just don’t like to admit that they’re capable of making a mistake.

It’s worse when race and gender become factors. Anytime you make a hiring decision, you’re risking a lawsuit when the obviously unqualified candidate with black skin was passed up for the qualified person with white skin. On the one hand, there are still employers who won’t hire a black man under any circumstances even though they won’t admit it. On the other, people forget that “equal opportunity” should strictly mean that race and gender won’t be factors if you’re willing to put the work in and become the candidate who is perfectly suited for the job. This becomes a case where a basic tenant of capitalism should ideally come in — namely, you want the best employees you can get for the money you spend on salaries and fringe benefits. And that’s going to fly out the window when accidents of birth become factors.

One thing that many Americans forget is that “The right to equal opportunity regardless of race or sex” is not the same thing as affirmative action. Equal opportunity only means that people have the right to be judged strictly on their ability to do the job regardless of factors that they have no control over. Affirmative action is all about filling an artificial quota of minorities in a way that drags down the idea that, in America, you can make it purely on merit. I know certain elements will probably howl about racism when they see this, but consider the fact that at least one Supreme Court judge who happens to be African-American went on record with a complaint that he had sometimes been perceived as less qualified than his peers on several occasions because he studied law at a university that uses affirmative action. Basically, it’s one thing to legitimately prove you’re just plain good and quite another to be perceived as the guy who just coasted through because a school didn’t want to be perceived as racist.

We should eliminate three factors from the system, then. Obviously, all forms of bigotry need to go, as it holds down some highly qualified people — and, yes, it is possible to be a member of a minority and still be a bigot. Affirmative action should not even be a factor in recruiting. If you attract enough qualified minorities without it, you’re obviously running a good school or a business that is not unfriendly towards the idea of hiring minorities. And useless lawsuits from the prospective employees who were obviously not qualified need to go. There is such a thing as extortionist lawsuits. That kind of thing is why liability insurance exists and why HR departments are afraid to hire the absolute best candidates they can regardless of race or gender.

In fact, holding people back strictly because of race or gender could well strike the first few generations of future Martians as insane. It’s a world where everybody will have to actually do something useful for the colony regardless of who they are. With the Mars One and NASA selection processes, it’s very likely that there won’t even be anybody there who doesn’t belong at first. Even when travel between Earth and Mars becomes more routine and we start seeing the lazy bum who thought Mars would be easy, it’s likely that he will end up in Loser’s Row without the rest of us really having to do anything with him. When somebody else decides to plant another colony, I hope they land far enough away that they won’t give us problems over the fact that we’re the natives. (But don’t worry. By that time, we’ll all be so used to surviving in the harsh Martian landscape that we can take them just by being more clever than they are.) Eventually when their colony and ours get big enough to grow together like every “Twin Cities” arrangement you’ve ever seen, we might as well make it one city where everybody works together without worrying about who’s a Mars One candidate and who isn’t — though we will respect you more if you’ve already proven that you have what it takes to live on Mars.

Instead of whining that “Life is not fair,” we should instead be saying that nothing in life is free. Equal opportunity should mean exactly that. As many obstacles are removed as possible until there is nothing between you and the finish line except maybe some hurdles. You might win if you can run the race without creaming yourself on one of the hurdles, and, yes, it is possible to jump over them. It becomes your job to figure out how to do that and simply walking the entire course and then waggling your finger and saying, “I won!” will probably just annoy the real winners.

The main problem is that artificial obstacles get erected and becomes institutionalized. Suddenly there’s a wall you need to scale and no drop-down on the other side, so you’ll never reach the finish line. You judge people by their appearance whether you realize it or not. What’s up with that chick with pink hair, right? Maybe she’s just going through an adolescent phase where she thinks her funky hair color is cool. At least it’ll grow out when she gets sick of it. In some places, she would be judged a lot more harshly than that. These are the places where women risk all kinds of atrocities if they so much as set foot outside the home. It’s one of those situations where you almost want to reach into the Deep Space Nine files and unleash Quark’s “Moogie,” Ishka, on them so she can charm the socks of the leadership and help them realize what a powerful economic force women can be. As even Quark put it in his capitalist-centric attitude, “Earning money, and spending money!”

It’s why I admire the women in poor countries who can keep a fruit stand open and why equal opportunity can help bootstrap an economy that could use a boost. You’re boosting productivity when you bring in the people who aren’t afraid of hard work and are willing to do what it takes to succeed, regardless of race or gender.

Some Readings on Equal Opportunity

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Apr 22

“The Right to Equal Protection Under the Law Regardless of Race, Creed, Colour, or Country of Origin”

So here’s a tricky case for you. You’re serving on a jury and some black teenager is brought in, wearing the usual orange jumpsuit. He looks like an arrogant little punk. This is the third time he’s been caught snatching purses and he might have gotten off too lightly the first couple of times. Maybe he expects to get off lightly this time, too. The case doesn’t go too well for him. Who’s going to believe somebody who’s already been caught twice before? When he takes the witness stand in his own defense, he whines about racism. Little twerp, right? If you’re not one of those people who buys it when the punk knows he has it coming, you might as well do what his parents obviously failed to do and teach him that his choices have consequences.

Really, a truly fair justice system isn’t going to care about your race or where you came from. “Equal protection under the law” doesn’t mean you aren’t going to pay for it if you commit a crime. It does mean that you should ideally be judged by the facts presented in court. It would be convenient to have one of those black curtains hanging around the defendant’s box so nobody really seas what the defendant looks like because, even when you don’t think of yourself as racist, it’s easy to think that somebody looks like a lost cause. It won’t do much about to hide their accent or their lack of fluency in English except maybe by having a stand-in speaking for them. It’s about balancing the punk’s right to a fair trial and fair sentence (Remember, he’s already been convicted twice) against the white grandmother’s right to expect that he won’t be trying to steal her purse anymore. In fact, the right to fairness regardless of an accident of birth has been enshrined in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a rather long one which says in its first section:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The 14th Amendment Explained

Perhaps it would be easier to leave behind distinctions of race, creed, color and national origin. With Mars One, we will pretty much have to. Occasionally, one Aspiring Martian or another will get accused of trying to turn Mars One into a one-person show simply because she implied that she wants to turn it into a platform for people like her who get treated like second-class citizens. If you become an inspiration to others simply by being yourself, fine, but remember that your teammates are your equals and won’t be very impressed if you treat them like they’re just supporting cast members because they don’t share your agenda. Honestly, you might find yourself without a team real fast if you’re going to act like a jerk about it and you could be eliminated in an individual competition when the rest of us who are used to teamwork help one another and leave you behind. It’ll be more about the fact that you’ve annoyed the rest of us than about your race when we know that we’re all going to be Martians.

On the flip side, with about one thousand Round 2 candidates still in the running, there may still be a few who look good on paper but won’t be able to handle the diversified bunch that we are. Culture shock will be part of this. International travelers often run into trouble because they ignorantly violated some local custom or law. Flirting can take different forms in different parts of the world. The way I heard it, that might have been part of the problem with at least one international study involving a few people in a small habitat. Several people, including the crew members, may have forgotten that something that’s normal in one society might not be in another. We’re going to get the cultural differences. It’ll be a matter of recognizing and dealing with them as they come up. Eventually, we’ll just have one culture – a Martian one.

However, there will be the individuals who deliberately keep the blinders on and refuse to adapt to the fact that they’re going to be on an international crew no matter what they do. It’s like that one person on a jury who takes one look at the black kid and decides that there’s no way that little punk can be innocent even though the prosecution team never nailed down their case and proved that he was guilty. It ends up being a hung jury because of this one guy, basically wasting a week out of everybody’s lives. I certainly hope that our theoretical Aspiring Martian who maybe didn’t know what he was getting into and might not have been all that great to begin with doesn’t end up dragging down three very qualified people just because he can’t cope. Maybe that was the point behind the “What sort of person would you rather not work with” question on the original Mars One application: to weed out the obvious problems. When race becomes a factor in any kind of decision making on a Martian colony, you might as well give it up because anyone who can’t come up with a better argument than what amounts to a personal attack shouldn’t even be there. We call that “trolling” on the Internet. Keep in mind that we won’t be Irish, Egyptian, American and Russian anymore. We’ll be Martian and we should be able to leave behind the baggage by this point.

I might have mentioned that video evidence should count for a lot in a Martian colony in which video cameras are everywhere. Our two rascals, George and Fred who have feuded so much that we’ve all been tempted to confine them to opposite sides of the colony, have proven that the other one started it several times just by showing us the video. While they might not necessarily be twins, the idea that they might be different races simply should not matter when you can get a tamper-proof video camera. On a world where everybody is theoretically equal, you won’t get much respect if you try to play the race card, either. If the prosecution team actually comes out and calls the defendant a little black punk, they probably won’t score many points with any reasonable modern-American jury. That should go double if a Martian defendant is facing a crowd of his peers

Anyway, we all know that those crazy Earthers can’t seem to get their act together, but that shouldn’t mean that a fourth-generation Martian society should automatically peg the newcomer who just rode in from Earth the next time there’s a burglary because maybe he came to Mars to get away from all that and he was clumsily trying to flirt with a sexy skinsuit model when it happened. It could’ve been George again, so be sure to do a proper investigation before you call out the lynch mob.

It sure would seem easier to just avoid denoting certain classes of people, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, that’s what happens when history is littered with about a bazillion religious sects that have all claimed to follow the “one true way” and more races than anybody except maybe some scholars and U.N. officials with time on their hands have ever bothered to count. Blending all that together into one human race might make “equal protection under the law” a whole lot easier, but that will mean leaving behind a lot of multi-generational baggage and that’s not an easy concept for so many billions of human beings who are used to squabbling over the one-tenth of a percent of us that is different. And of course some classes of humans wind up on the bottom of the heap where “equal protection” becomes a pipe dream when true justice should ideally just pay attention to the facts of a case rather than where somebody’s ancestors might have come from.

More About the 14th Amendment

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Apr 21

“The Right to Vote for Representational Government”

Image credit Minn Post

If you go to the polling place in Woodford County, Illinois, on Election Day, you might notice that it’s a steady stream but not a flood of people. It’s not a large county; in fact, the county seat of Eureka is best known for being the place where Ronald Reagan went to college. We’re not an area that is going to make or break an election unless it’s a really close one between a couple of local politicians, but at least the people who actually care about the way an election turns out is going to go vote. It’s about people exercising their right to vote for a representative government.

Is a representative government better than a direct democracy in which each person gets one vote on each little issue that comes up? Well, imagine that each resident of Woodford County were to gather in Eureka’s courthouse, possibly the only place in the entire county big enough to hold everybody if you were to turn it into an auditorium, every Saturday to vote on issues like repaving that stretch of Route 116 that has become a little too rough for comfortable driving. You have to sit through a long, boring meeting and you probably just wish you could pick a few people to handle it. That’s the whole point behind voting for representatives in the first place. It’s a kind of middle ground between direct voting and a dictatorship and you hope that your representatives would be smart enough to listen to what voters want.

Representative government does have its downsides. American politicians get accused of becoming part of the culture at Capitol Hill, where representatives listen to the ones who have the most money, the best lobbyists, and can shout the loudest. The fact that it’s a two-party system, mostly just Democrats and Republicans, doesn’t help when all they do is defend their corners. It would be interesting to send several Libertarians to Washington, D.C., in November just to see what happens.

As the Australians have figured out, the right to vote doesn’t mean much if you don’t use it. Because voting is a requirement enforceable by fines if you can’t come up with a legitimate excuse why you didn’t, they have a pretty good turnout every election year — more than 95% if I remember correctly. Maybe American politicians would listen more if we could get that kind of turnout because that’s the closest you’re going to get to direct voting until somebody invents a system that makes such a thing efficient enough to encourage participation from ordinary people in a populous country like Australia and the U.S.

In some nations, they might have a guy who says he’s a president, but the people don’t remember being in anything resembling a voting booth lately. Even when they have, terror and intimidation are factors. The Taliban are still around and would be very happy to derail the democratic process by keeping the same groups of people they used to oppress away from the voting booth. Presidential candidates could become targets for assassins in many places. The problem with this kind of thing is that it causes potential voters to stay home and that means the terrorists win. A bill of rights on a piece of paper doesn’t mean you’re in the safe zone. Your right to vote doesn’t mean much if you get bullied into not using it.

It also doesn’t mean much if you voluntarily stay away from the polling place because you think it’s a waste of time. You know the ones who vote in the primaries? Those are the ones who are deciding who your choices are going to be in November. Which means that the primaries are as important as the general election and the people who vote in the primaries sure aren’t wasting their time. You could get a complete upset that discombobulates the mainstream media and the Capitol Hill establishment if you can carpool with a group of friends to the polling place before going to work.

So it doesn’t make much sense to stay away from the pools when voting theoretically only takes a few minutes. Go as part of a group if you think somebody’s going to be standing at the door to intimidate you into voting a certain way. Like most bullies, they’ll either run crying to their bigger, stronger daddies or decide it’s not worth it if you give them a few black eyes. That’ll give you time to cast your votes, at least.

If you live in a dictatorship where you don’t have the right to vote, getting out of there does have some merits. Even a dictator won’t have much of a leg to stand on without support from the common people. That may be the main reason that they discourage people from emigrating, but that’s a whole other blog entry. But if you can get yourself and your family into a country with more freedoms, it can be worth it.

More on the Right To Vote

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Apr 18

“The Right to be Free of Arbitrary Arrest or Long Imprisonment Without Trial”

So you hear about somebody who has practically gotten caught red-handed while murdering a family in their own home. If you’re like most people, your first thought is that this sicko should be put in a straitjacket and locked away if not put to death for what he did. It’s an ordinary human reflex and maybe he deserves it. But, in America, that doesn’t mean he’s not going to stand trial when it’s his turn because we have this thing called the Bill of Rights, which along with addressing many flaws in the judicial system that the Founding Fathers considered important issues, forbids arbitrary arrest and long imprisonment without trial. The Sixth Amendment specifically reads:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

It’s a way to avoid the scenario like you might have seen in “The Count of Monte Cristo,” in which a man accuses a romantic rival of treason to the Crown, thus removing him from the picture by having him locked up without so much as an appearance in front of a judge. And of course the accused manages to escape and comes back to haunt his accuser under the guise of the Count. Most prisoners in that situation wouldn’t be so lucky. You think it’s bad that innocent people are sent to prison now, it was really bad when you could be locked up just on a whiff of suspicion. Some nations are still that way; in fact, the notorious North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un disposed his uncle over such crimes as not clapping enthusiastically enough! No hint of anything resembling a trial, either.

Obviously, some people don’t think such things could happen to them. You hear about the guy who spent years in solitary confinement because they basically forgot about him and the chick who got charges dropped after ten years in jail without a trial, but those are fairly infrequent in America. More common are the cases in which somebody got off because he claimed that too many Twinkies caused mental impairment. They still call cases like that the “Twinkie defense.” I’m not making this up. But if you tried the Twinkie defense in some little dictatorship, they’d probably just laugh at you, assuming you made it as far as the courtroom.

One thing that will make justice tricky on Mars is the fact that we won’t even have formal jails. At most, we’d be able to confine a colonist who has snapped and become a danger to his own habitat while we decide what to do about it. We just don’t want to take too long, because we might someday need that habitat as a backup when another one malfunctions. It also wouldn’t look so good if he hangs himself out of sheer despair of ever seeing another human face again, not that we really need a psychopath running loose just so he has company. So by the time it even becomes an issue, we could all be so used to settling such things quickly that anyone who tries to pull some “procedural” claptrap to delay the process could just be looked at like he’s weird right before we vote that idea down. Then it becomes a matter of the best way to handle our violent psychopath in a world in which there’s no easy way back to Earth and psychiatric services are very limited. (Yeah, I know. It’s very possible that a future Martian society will be a harsh one by most standards. But at least it’ll be a fair one if we do it right.)

Most criminal cases don’t involve a violent psychopath. Fortunately for us, most infractions in a Martian colony will probably just involve something minor enough that assigning the most onerous chores will be the usual penalty. A few months of having to go out and sweep the dust off the solar panels should be punishment enough for most people. But at least you’ll have a chance to explain yourself in front of your fellow colonists even though that, too, could well be embarrassing enough when you’re living in a community where everybody knows everybody. Getting accused of something can be a nuisance even when you successfully prove that you couldn’t have been the guilty party. But once you’ve had the chance at a fair trial, you can hopefully slip back into obscurity (assuming you’re not one of those ex-convicts who just can’t seem to keep their names out of the newspapers) and get on with your life.

The Right to a Speedy Trial

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Apr 18

“The Right to be Free of Chattel Slavery”

Image Credit Yah’s People

Sometimes when I walk through the halls of Illinois Central College, I see one of the local campus organizations raising funds to stop world slavery. You an actually take a quiz to see how many slaves make the products you use at their booth. I’ll buy a brownie if it’s really going to help even though stopping slavery is going to be more complicated than just giving them fifty cents. Slavery might still be illegal in most of the Western world, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still exist.

When most Americans think of slavery, they tend to picture an ugly part of our history in which most black people were slaves, and then there was a war. It gets dismissed as something that happened in the past even though we’re still kind of dealing with the consequences. It wasn’t easy to go from pictures of slaves working on Southern plantations to Barack Obama and we still get accusations of racial profiling in law enforcement. But the improvements here in America don’t really help that kid who is out harvesting chocolate instead of going to school because his master said so. Fair trade is good, but not when the landowner is a dishonest one who pockets the profits instead of using the extra money to pay his workers.

“The right to be free of chattel slavery,” as Robert Zubrin’s Martian Constitution puts it, doesn’t mean you don’t still have to work for a living. It just means that, if you hate your boss, you can choose to tell him what you really think of this job without much more worry than maybe having to find another one. He can’t sell you. Even if your stuck with a contract, well, I hope he didn’t hold a gun to your head and make you sign it, and you might have a legal case if he did. Until then, consider that a lesson to never let yourself get so desperate that you’ll sign any piece of paper that comes your way, read everything carefully to make sure you’re not going to get burned by the fine print, and make friends with a good lawyer who can interpret any unintelligible legalese for you.

That’s right, contracts can be trouble. Indentured servants are just one step above slaves in that they’ve agreed to work for somebody, usually in exchange for payment of a debt or lump sum up front. And sometimes they didn’t even voluntarily agree to it. Families have sold their daughters into prostitution rings and suddenly they have a “debt” they need to work off. When the pimps can tack charges for room and board on top of the original “debt,” it becomes one that never goes down. In some countries, that’s technically illegal but enforcement is lax and the pimps tend to have an inflated sense of entitlement. On one documentary I saw a while back, one prostitution ring had been raided and the man in charge wanted compensation because those girls were expensive. That’s compensation he’s never going to get because those girls were technically never his property in the first place.

But what if you did voluntarily agree to such a thing? Depending on the terms of your contract, you might not be entirely out of luck. One thing I’ve liked about being a freelance writer in my spare time is that it’s not too hard for me to pick up a few jobs on the side when I want extra money. Robert Zubrin’s fictional native Martian in “How To Live On Mars,” a frontiersman to the core, suggested picking up some extra jobs here and there if you’re unlucky enough to have had to rely on the Martian Authority to pick up the tab for your trip from Earth. That can be valid on Earth, too, if you can find the time and energy for freelance work and your boss is a reasonable one who respects you as someone who is moving up when you come to him with your offer.

On Mars, we should all theoretically be equal or at least part of a true meritocracy in which you don’t get ahead by acting like a lazy jackass who tries to make everybody do your work for you. We should just all accept that you don’t buy and sell people the way you would chickens, and people should have the dignity of being their own masters who at least decide what they’re working for. Mars is not going to reward the couch potato any more than it rewards the kind of idiot who winds up in Losers’ Row. But at least you’ll have the right to tell another person to go stuff himself if he tries to turn you into a slave.

Slavery Around the World

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Apr 16

The Right to be Free of Warrantless Searches

Image credit Political Chips

So you’ve got a couple of police officers knocking at your door and they want to search your house for contraband weapons. If you’re a smart American, you’ll want to see a warrant first. Two reasons: First, they’re required to have a warrant to make a search, and, second, what if they’re a couple of crooks posing as cops and they’re pulling an elaborate ruse to get into your house and rob it? It wouldn’t be the first time a couple of creeps posed as cops and, anyway, there is such a thing as the Fourth Amendment that reads:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Michael Badnarik Explains the 4th Amendment

If you really are hiding a rocket launcher in your house, shame on you and it’s your fault if it goes off in your basement and ruins the foundation of your house, but that doesn’t mean cops can search your house just anytime they feel like it. Imagine living in a country that doesn’t guarantee protection against unreasonable searches. Sometime after Albert Einstein had left Nazi Germany, he heard that the Nazis had ransacked his old house, looking for dangerous weapons. He was heard to comment that they wouldn’t have found anything more dangerous than a kitchen knife. This sort of thing was happening all over Germany besides people being arrested for no better reason than that they were Jewish. It was fortunate for Einstein that he was able to find a comfortable research position in America. Too many other people weren’t so lucky. This is what happens when civil rights are thrown out the window. Could it happen in America? It will when the Constitution becomes no more than a piece of paper to be waved around when convenient and put away when it gets in the way of something the government wants to do.

It has happened on infrequent occasions such as the Red Scare in which McCarthy and his associates were wiretapping just about everybody who was at all influential without bothering with warrants. They wanted evidence that Communist agents were everywhere. Normally, illegal wiretaps would never have been admissible in court, but this didn’t stop McCarthy from trying and actually succeeding in destroying the careers of a lot of good people over a few youthful indiscretions such as supporting organizations that were front groups for the American communist party. It was fortunate that McCarthy eventually imploded and took most of his cronies with him.

You’ll probably think that this will never happen to you until you’re confronted with a wiretap conscript of a phone conversation you had with a friend in which you casually mentioned that you wouldn’t mind seeing that jerk of a boss get hit by a pickup truck or something. Hey, I’ve put up with the lame boss too and it doesn’t justify even making idle threats when going to the job sites would be a more effectively way to deal with the situation. But, unless the police have a legitimate reason to think you’re going to be the one with the pickup truck, they shouldn’t be wiretapping your phone in the first place because that could have just been you venting your frustration.

“The right to be free of warrantless searches” is as much about avoiding the damage caused by an ungentle search as it is about keeping the authorities from wasting their time on people who are probably innocent. If they’re searching for pot, they’re thinking of all the places that an imaginative pot dealer could conceivably hide it, so they take apart the mattress. In America, you probably take it for granted that you would be paid for the mattress whether they actually find pot or not because, effectively, it was seized property. In countries that don’t guarantee that you’ll be compensated for it, you would be out several hundred dollars because a really good mattress is not cheap and the police simply would not care because it’s not their problem. (Being paid for seized property is in the Fifth Amendment if you’re curious.)

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with Mars. If you have a vague memory of some dude who sells vanity deeds for Martian real estate, you’re right, but that won’t mean much unless you actually go out and put a homestead on “your” land. In that case, I pity the fool who goes out and tries to search your homestead for an illicit moonshine still. Once we’ve reached the point where Martian colonists don’t necessarily have to live in communal frontier settlements where just about anything is put in a common pot, that is going to happen at some point. Until then, the worst of it will be tracking down whoever’s been stealing all the carrots or using more than his fair share of the power.

Cases Involving the Fourth Amendment

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Apr 16

The Right to a Comprehensive Legal System Based on Justice and Equity

Do you ever hear about how certain types of people are disproportionately sentenced to longer jail terms? If you live in America, you might have. Of course, a lot of people take the attitude of, “If you do the crime, you do the time.” I’m not advocating releasing potentially dangerous criminals from prison right this minute, regardless of what race they are, and I’ll admit that I have very little patience for people who play the race card when they know perfectly well that they have it coming. They do it because they know it works. And I won’t argue with the fact that places that are tough on crime tend to have lower crime rates. Even the rampantly liberal California has tried with the “Three strikes and you’re out” policy designed to get repeat offenders off the streets. Ideally, a few years in prison should make people think twice before having a relapse anyhow. But a system that favors the rich over the poor even when their cases are very similar is flawed.

It’s easy to blame the judges for being human. They can make mistakes, a small minority could be bribed, and you hear about activist judges whose rulings have little to do with the laws on the books or who made the better case. In fact, we won’t get a judge that is 100% impartial on all issues until we can automate the job. A computer wouldn’t get emotionally attached to the issue at hand or bring its own opinions into the case. With some completely honest programmers, it could at least be counted on to make rulings based on whomever delivers the best case with completely legal evidence. Until then, the best we’ll be able to do is the jury system. I know it’s a nuisance to have to serve as a juror, but juries of average citizens can at least consider the facts of a case from the perspective of people who have everyday lives outside of a courtroom.

On the flip side, some judges probably wince inwardly whenever they watch a defense lawyer on the government payroll make some rudimentary mistake. A lot of judges used to be lawyers, so at least they know the ropes pretty well. This defense lawyer might be somebody who just graduated from law school and is building experience so he can get into a private firm. Or he might be getting pretty close to retirement and just doesn’t care about his reputation anymore. These are the ones who usually get assigned to defendants who can’t afford a lawyer of their own. As any savvy consumer know, your cheapest option isn’t necessarily your best bargain and that’s how you hear about rich lawbreakers getting off with lighter sentences. They can simply afford lawyers who know how to either win criminal cases or get a good plea deal.

So the wealthy businessman gets the good lawyers and the public defenders get this arrogant little twerp who has been accused of a drive-by shooting. (Yeah, I can sympathize with the public defenders too. They get stuck with all the shit that goes on in the ghetto.) And that’s just America, theoretically the land of equality for all that the capitalist system seems to reward both the people who suck it up and do what it takes to succeed in life and the ones who don’t cheat too obviously. Putting all the lawyers on the government payroll and paying them all equally might seem to solve the problem if people wouldn’t howl about the inevitable addition to the national deficit (Does the government really need to be paying that many more salaries?) and the truly good trial lawyers wouldn’t howl about having to take a cut in pay. Make all the lawyers equal, and theoretically that will be a first step towards leveling the playing field between the stock broker who is accused of running a Ponzi scheme and the teenager who is accused of stealing somebody’s wallet. But I’m sure we all know that’s not going to happen.

You might be one of those people who just takes it for granted that your judicial system is skewed one way or the other. Some places go way beyond handing down tougher sentences for certain minorities. You might have heard about India’s caste system in which there is a whole group of people that is considered “untouchable” and gets stuck doing everybody else’s dirty work. The issue appears to crop up every election season in India: Some politicians just shrug and say that’s just the way things are. Others want to have a form of affirmative action in which a certain number of jobs are set aside for the “untouchables.” Probably the issue won’t ever become solved until everybody quits worrying about whatever the equivalent of India’s caste system is in your country and, paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr. here, simply judge people not by the color of their skin or any other factor that they can’t change, but by the content of their character.

You could Google actual lists of the most corrupt countries on Earth. If someone screws you over and you can’t afford a bigger bribe than your opponent, you might as well forget about justice. The people who complain about the privileges of the rich and powerful ought to be focusing on corruption on this level. At least in America, Microsoft won’t really have a leg to stand on if you decide to buy a custom-made computer with Linux as an OS. It would be very difficult for them to force the right to establish a monopoly in a kangaroo court even when the judge owns Microsoft stock. If he’s honest, he’ll remove himself from the case for a conflict of interest.

Remember that direct voting thing I was talking about in another blog post? That’s probably going to be our method for settling disputes on Mars in the absence of a formal courtroom. I won’t say it’s going to be a perfect system. It’s always possible that Fred will be spending a lot of time trying to ingratiate himself with other colonists so he can call in favors the next time George accuses him of something. Then he’d better hope that his fellow colonists don’t already have him pegged as a suck-up and general troublemaker. There are bullies who can be charming to everyone but their chosen victims, though, so George would be well-advised to have video evidence on his side. This would theoretically not be too difficult with the Mars One system unless Fred has been tampering with the cameras.

However, there are benefits to having direct voting as a justice system. I’ve said that we’ll probably have some kind of a barter system on Mars. If I had to use my avocados plus take on a lot of chores just so I could bribe enough people to vote my way, it would probably get to the point where it’s just not worth it. And our fictional Fred is lazier than me. So I could possibly use the Socratic method to make both Fred and his supporters look like idiots by exposing weaknesses in their arguments or at least helping the supporters see that Fred is all hot air and no substance. Letting George win this round could make Fred think twice about causing trouble in the future.

Would it be possible to have a completely perfect justice system? Not for as long as humans are involved. Not even the jury system is foolproof when so many jurors just want to get the verdict in and go home. You hear so many stories of people going to jail for crimes they didn’t commit partly because of stuff like that. That’s why America has so many constitutional guarantees designed to protect people from runaway law enforcement and judicial systems. It’s a way to put checks on a system that everybody knows is going to be flawed anyway.

More On This Topic

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Apr 15

The Right To Own Property

Image credit: Secrets of the Fed

You own a nice home in the suburbs. The biggest nuisances involved are keeping up with the mortgage payments, mowing the lawn and handling the occasional home improvement project. The winter’s been especially harsh this year and maybe you need to think about taking care of that draft by the window that seems to have gotten worse.

But now the government comes in and says they need your property for a special project. You’re going to get a fair price for your house right? Apparently, not if you live in Russia. A lot of people have been forced out of their homes to build the Olympics complexes and they haven’t been compensated for the loss. A lot of those dogs running around on the streets might have belonged to those families and were probably as confused and dazed by the loss of their territory as their humans were. I think a lot of Americans forget that people in other countries don’t necessarily have the same rights we do, including the right to own property and be compensated if the government needs a place to put a new Olympic stadium.

Eminent Domain Abuse, Right Here In The U.S.

It does call up images of Arthur Dent from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy laying across his porch in a last-ditch effort to save his home, doesn’t it? And they blamed him for not going to the basement of the local city hall to view the plans, too. It’s like they expect people to be out doing their shopping and they decide, “Hey, I think I’ll go to the city hall to make sure they haven’t been up to any monkey business,” like it’s completely routine to get your house seized for a new freeway. It could happen to you if you aren’t careful.

It also helps to know a good lawyer who knows about eminent domain law. There are actually people who specialize in getting property owners the best possible deal when the government wants to take over. The truly good ones can shut the whole thing down in cases in which eminent domain is being abused, and it does happen. Reference a recent case in which the court ruled against Bluegrass Pipeline’s wish to use eminent domain to seize land easements so they could run a natural gas pipeline through. Despite their claim that it would serve the public interest, eminent domain in the United States was never meant to serve businesses that simply want to avoid negotiating with landowners that don’t want to sell their land in the first place. One shouldn’t become complacent, however. One single court case means nothing when Bluegrass Pipeline announced plans to appeal and somebody’s car wash is about to be seized because a wealthier businessman wants to put a shopping center on that property along with neighboring properties.

“The right to own property” is inevitably going to become a hot issue on Mars a few generations down the road. At first, we’ll just take it for granted that everything in our little Martian settlement will be held in common. You could probably even swap bunk beds if you wanted to though your own bed might well be the only private place you have. However, eventually somebody’s going to get flat out fed up with his fellow colonists and want to bug out with “his” share of the resources. Do we stop him on the grounds that the oxygen generator he wants to take is needed by the entire colony? Or do we have enough spares that we can be pretty much like, “Screw it, get lost, feel free to come crawling back when you’ve had enough,” and let him go off into the hinterlands with his own habitat and basic survival supplies? Maybe we need some clear demarcation that these things over here belong to the community as a whole and these are the things that belong to each colonist. Then if we have to use somebody’s individual resources, it’ll become a matter of, “Hey, if I could borrow your Android tablet for a few days, I’ll help you plant that basil you’ve been wanting,” instead of just some thug in authority saying, “Give me your tablet.” Maybe by then, the idea of personal property could well be just a leftover figment of the human animal’s instinct to carve out his or her own space and the third- and fourth-generation Martians just consider private property to be your own habitat and whatever’s inside that you legitimately own. But if somebody else wants it, this should be a matter of two people negotiating a fair price or maybe the owner of the habitat simply refusing to sell. I’ve told people that you’re not going to get around the fact that Mars will have an economy even when you want to leave behind the worst elements of capitalism. Greed is one of those elements and local governments seem to enjoy flexing their muscles just to prove that they have the little bit of power that they have along with suiting the purposes of their friends in big business. The Fifth Amendment was designed to put a stop to that kind of behavior.

Any theoretical future Martian government shouldn’t get involved in a private matter like somebody wanting to trade habitats unless it can conclusively prove that the colony will turn into a flaming rubble without intervention. Even in the case where we need a makeshift jail, it shouldn’t be hard to just confine somebody to his own habitat. Otherwise, everybody will be better off simply acknowledging that there are some things that the colony owns and other things that are private property that the owner can sell or use.

More About Eminent Domain in America

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