Corporate Death Penalty

November 27th, 2010 by rlaager

I had a small comment in an interesting discussion on Slashdot about the idea of a “corporate death penalty”. At this point, I’m not saying I agree or disagree with the idea, but some good points were made.

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TSA Stories

November 27th, 2010 by rlaager

Here’s a collection of TSA stories:

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Legal Fictions

November 22nd, 2010 by rlaager

This weekend, while attending a wedding in the Twin Cities area, I received a parking ticket for violating a winter parking ban. (As it turns out, you can’t park overnight on any street in this jurisdiction from November 1 through April 1*.)

After getting this ticket, I researched winter parking ordinances a bit. They were something I never really cared about before since I’ve always had a yard, parking lot, or garage to park in. I can understand and support the city’s interest in properly cleaning streets to keep traffic flowing safely and smoothly.

In the course of my Internet searching, I found a number of people saying these ordinances were stupid because they applied regardless of the weather. So, one alternative would be to only restrict parking if it had snowed. But then, the driver would be in the position of going to bed on a clear night thinking they were okay and waking up to find they had been issued a ticket or towed. From the city’s point of view, this would mean there’d be more cars on the streets when they tried to plow, which either defeats the point of the ordinance or forces them to tow everyone (which is unpopular and difficult, especially considering that, by definition, the streets need plowing).

I can’t say that I have a better proposed ordinance. That said, this question remains: how is an out-of-town visitor supposed to know about these restrictions? There’s where the title comes from. The courts maintain this legal fiction that people are aware of every applicable law. (“Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”) Of course, with tens of thousands of pages of laws, there’s simply no way the average person can be aware. But we all try to act in a reasonable way, assume the laws are reasonable, and thus believe we’ll avoid breaking them. And, to help us out, the government puts up notices. This is why we have speed limit signs that say 55 mph, even though that’s a statutory speed limit in Minnesota.

Of course, there were no signs about the winter restrictions. However, from my previous experience in Minneapolis proper, there are such signs. And, as far as I understand, Minneapolis only applies these rules to major routes, not every single street. (I was not parked on a major street in this city.) I’m well aware of the fact that parking is a mess in urban areas, so I always look for signs and obey them. As I saw no signs on the street, I had no idea of this restriction.

So I called the city to find out how they thought I should know about this ordinance. The bottom line was that said the person I was visiting should’ve told me about it. Of course, in my case, they weren’t aware. Whether they should’ve been or not is irrelevant. The city is fining *me*. If the person I’m staying with is supposed to tell me about this ordinance, then the fact that they didn’t should be a defense for me (and presumably a crime** for them). Of course, it’s not. It’s just a convenient way to excuse not putting up signs.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that the people I was visiting should be charged with a crime or have to pay my ticket or anything. I’m simply pointing out the logical absurdity of the city’s position.

From what I hear, my city has an (unofficial?) policy of voiding your first “[winter] calendar parking” citation upon request. This seems like a reasonable balance between the city’s interests and visitor’s interests that still allows the city to save the cost of all the signs that would be required.

This citation was printed on US Letter (i.e. regular size) sized thermal paper (i.e. “receipt paper”), which was interesting. I’m sure this saves the officer a lot of time when filling out tickets and also ensures the ticket is readable. With such a fancy computerized system, it seems like they could easily automate the first-time waiver. In other words, they enter my license plate number just like they do now, and instead of printing a citation, it prints a warning. But if the next day/week/year they run me again, it prints out a citation. (Given that license plate and driver’s license numbers change, they’d probably have to store both as well as the name, but could then be reasonably accurate and err on the side of the vehicle owner(s).)

Alternatively, since this is an issue all throughout Minnesota, we could standardize this in a state law. This would simplify the restrictions by eliminating local variations. As a state law, it would also get more publicity when it was being debated in the legislature than a city ordinance would.

* As an aside, this is a strange choice for a cut-off date. Coupled with “through”, it means that you can’t park overnight until April 2nd. It seems like March 31st would’ve been a cleaner cut-off date.
** I use “crime” in the lay sense here; Minnesota law says petty misdemeanors do “not constitute a crime” and thus they can fine you without providing a jury trial or court-appointed lawyer (for indigent persons).

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Re:Bureaucracy

August 10th, 2010 by rlaager

Mirrored from Slashdot:

Make the following change to the Constitution:

Each year, before any new law can be created or any existing law modified, the Speaker of the House must first read aloud every last federal law on the books while all other members of Congress listen. If that takes more than one year (and the federal tax code alone would easily do so) then Congress is allowed only to repeal existing laws the following year. The next year after that, the reading aloud begins again and only if completed within one year can a new law be passed or an old law modified. –causality


This would never work, because as you pointed out, it’s impractical from the start. A better approach would be to pass a constitutional amendment that provides for a mandatory sunset of laws. Ideally, you’d also require codification of all laws.

So the amendment would say something like, “1) All new laws passed by Congress must be codified into titles. 2) Each title (or existing uncodified law) shall automatically sunset and be removed from the official record of titles after __ years from the later of its original passage or last renewal. 3) For the purposes of this amendment, laws existing at the time of this amendment’s ratification which were originally passed over __ years previous shall be considered to have been last renewed at a date within the last __ years, with the date randomly assigned by the ____ office.”

Thus, you’d cause all existing laws to sunset slowly over the next __ years (for whatever value you fill in), and they’d have to be codified when they were renewed.

Then, if you want to help keep laws simple (which seems good in theory, but may just push the complexity to the executive branch’s rulemaking process) and ensure there’s been adequate time to read them before voting (which I support), you could pass another amendment (or add another section) that says, “Any law passed by Congress must have been read aloud in full by a representative or senator, as appropriate, or it shall be null and void.” Obviously, the exact wording of these amendments might need some tweaking, but it seems more sustainable. –rlaager


The following was another reply to the posting I quoted above (i.e. it was not a reply to my reply):

I’d rather have a 66% required to pass laws, all laws have a sunset clause exponentially longer every time it is passed (1yr, 2yr, 4yr, 8yr, 16yr etc…) and to pass from a sunset vote it requires 75% acceptance due to being in action due to the benefits should be obvious. –ArsonSmith


Why do you need increasing sunset lengths? A statute against murder, for example, should be easy to renew. It’d take a few minutes at most, even if you require a voice reading of the full text. I’d imagine if you used unanimous consent or voice votes, you could renew all the obvious, non-controversial laws in a couple of days sessions, at most. Is someone really going to be the jerk that fillibusters the law against murdering the President (murder being a state issue and fillibusters being a federal Senate thing, I had to specify this more)? It seems like their party (since political parties aren’t going to disappear any time soon) would quash any attempts at that because of how the public would react. –rlaager

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Re:Wait hold on mugger…

January 30th, 2010 by rlaager

Mirrored from Slashdot:

I’m about as pro-gun as you can get, but when I hear stories about how Britain is locking up people for defending their families I get very suspicious. Do you have any links to one of these incidents? I imagine there is more to the story than is being told. — edwardsdl


http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/beds/bucks/herts/8469850.stm –timothy


From the article you linked to:

Lord Judge said: “This trial had nothing to do with the right of the householder to defend themselves or their families or their homes.

“The burglary was over and the burglars had gone. No one was in any further danger from them.”

This wouldn’t be legal in the U.S. either. –rlaager


Until the next day, say. –timothy


I knew someone would reply with this. Yes, we can all cheer personally that the bad guy is off the street and they’re not going to tie anyone else up. But from a legal point of view, once the immediate threat has ended, you can’t use force in self defense.

My point was that this is not an example of “Britain locking up people for defending their families”, especially with the implied contrast to the United States. Legally, they locked this guy (and his brother) up for chasing, beating, and permanently injuring a guy in the street. Had the same beating happened while they were still in immediate danger, the legal situation would’ve been entirely different. –rlaager

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