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On diminishing expectations, or how an Australian liberal could enjoy tales of American motorists escaping red light camera fines just a little too much

As a liberty-loving individualist, it is easy to become pessimistic in the face of the ever growing authority of The State. Perhaps you were delighted to be a part of replacing your centre-left governing party with your centre-right opposition party, but your lesser of two evils still turned out to be pretty damn evil. Or perhaps you were one of those libertarians who embarrassed themselves way back in 2007 by getting all excited over that compelling Democratic candidate whose background screamed **extreme belief in government action across society** to the point that his beltway CV was visible from space, yet was Hopefully going to usher in a libertarian-flavoured Change somehow. Or perhaps you’re just one of those goodly folk drinking in the glorious sight of the irrepressible green shoots of free association, free enterprise and free will that sprout up in spontaneous order everywhere, whilst simultaneously despairing of their vulnerability to the everpresent Big Farmer (how to work a Big Pharma pun in here?) who really loves to harvest. Is his scythe getting sharper? That’s not a soithe, this is a soithe.

Even when faced with the depressing reality of the modern welfare state, you can still find hope in minor but heartwarming tales of individual defiance and bureaucratic incompetence. Consider an article with a very boring title published by Popular Mechanics. If I were the PM subeditor, I think I would have gone with a food metaphor; Several Small Delicious Canapes Of Little Nutritional Consequence Which Nevertheless Make For Highly Enjoyable Eating Plus A Few Which Give You The Trots. Much snappier than 10 Crazy Red-Light Camera Cases, right?

Not feeling it? Well, me neither. I’m not a fan of pieces with excessively long titles. Still, there’s plenty of grist for the anti-authoritarian mill here, anyway. O, the palpable, glorious schadenfreude felt reading about how the city of San Bernadino tried to wring extra red light camera tickets out of motorists by illegally shortening the yellow/amber/orange light (this is an international blog, after all) duration by a second and got busted. The blood-red light revenue infusion henceforth became a revenue haemorrhage, particularly when the company the city had hired to run the haemorrhage insisted on sticking to the terms of their contract. Most unsporting. This contributed to the city’s bankruptcy. What a shame. All right, you may feel pity for the unfortunate residents of San Bernadino – well, perhaps only for those who didn’t vote for a Democrat to create new problems as well as expand existing problems created by a previous Democrat. (Regarding the majority of those who didn’t vote for a Democrat, what was I saying about the lesser of two evils above? Drat.)

Ah, San Bernadino, sitting pretty in the California sun. No rustbelt industrial decay there. Things aren’t so bad. Its bankruptcy was not the biggest municipal default in American history. Detroit’s was bigger. It’s not the poorest city of significant size in the USA. Detroit is poorer. That must be of some comfort.

However, the tale of San Bernadino’s red light blues isn’t my favourite vignette from the article. It is the following:

When Tacoma, Wash., motorist Kevin Schmadeka received a ticket accusing him of running a red light, courtesy of the Australian company Redflex that installed the system, he wanted to face his accuser and challenge the ticket. Just one problem: He was told he’d have to pay $670 in travel expenses to bring in a Redflex employee from out of state. “When I was at the clerk’s office inquiring about chain-of-custody information, the employee at the counter mentioned that if I wanted to subpoena a camera company representative that there was a fee,” Schmadeka told TheNewspaper.com. The judge singled out the Sixth Amendment right to face one’s accuser and dismissed the charges against Schmadeka.

This has got it all! A city authority falling afoul of their nasty little arrangement with one of those horrible private sector firms which exist solely to assist government authorities big and small to meddle in the lives of their subjects more effectively. A plucky individual fighting City Hall by asserting his natural born rights – and winning. A judge telling the state where it can stick its not-just-ridiculous-but-also-unconstitutional bureaucratic imposts. USA! USA! USA! There’s hope for us all yet!

Incidentally, I found this jolly article on the venerable Instapundit. Trouble is that the venerable Instapundit is liable to follow such an article up with a link to some story about how the NSA’s been collecting your e-mails, toenail clippings and belly-button lint, or perhaps an update on the IRS’s campaigning efforts during the recent Presidential campaign, or maybe even the media’s primary role in exorbitantly publicising and racialising the Zimmerman trial…and you, as an Australian small government-type, you start to feel a bit depressed again. Come on, America! We’re relying on you to somehow tow us out of this illiberal bog our ruling class has quite contentedly driven us into! It is really quite depressing to see that you are stuck in the same mud (if not quite down to your wheel arches like us)!

But after that flush of exasperation has passed, your thoughts may drift back to sunny California and San Bernadino, and you realise…well, at least we’re not Detroit. There will always be Detroit.

11 comments to On diminishing expectations, or how an Australian liberal could enjoy tales of American motorists escaping red light camera fines just a little too much

  • Pat McCann

    I was born and raised in San Bernardino. The 50’s & 60’s were great. I left California in 1979 and haven’t been back except for short visits. I now live near Cleveland,OH. I head this tale from Ohio State. The ‘burb of Columbus,OH installed red light cameras. Some students found the license plate number of the Mayors wife. Photoshop copies put on their cars and ran the lights. Later one got a ticket. Went to court and asked for all the tickets issued in the last 6 months. And surprise, surprise, the Mayor’s wife had several hundred unpaid tickets. The camera’s were taken down…………

  • the other rob

    There will always be Detroit.

    Assuming that I’m not the only reader in whom this triggered memories of Casablanca, somebody wittier than I should come up with an exchange involving the sentence “We’ll always have Detroit.”

  • OK, this is totally OT, but I just have to say this: man, you can write!

  • Mr Waterton sure can write, and it is very nice to see him back.

  • Tedd

    “Critics say that America is a lie because its reality falls so far short of its ideals. They are wrong. America is not a lie; it is a disappointment. But it can be a disappointment only because it is also a hope.”
    –Samuel Huntington

  • jerry

    Him – It’s easy to see how the problems of 250 million other Americans don’t amount to a hill of beans in the world.

    Her – But ………………..

    Him – Here’s lookin’ at you American taxpayers ( sotto voce – which don’t exist in Detroit ). Since you’re going to have to cough up more money to allow Detroit to keep doing what it’s been doing for several decades ………………..

    wait for it –

    him – We’ll ALWAYS have Detroit ( sotto voce – like a mill stone around our necks !! )

  • the other rob

    Oh, very good Jerry!

  • James Waterton (Perth, Australia)

    Thankyou Alisa and Michael for your kind words in response to my whimsical ramble. It was one of those accidental posts, actually. Just started and didn’t stop. Not that anything especially consequential was divined, but I enjoyed the rant. To the charge of gross self indulgence, I plead guilty by reason of not knowing when to jam a crap in it.

    The Other Rob: yep, you got the Casablanca reference. There was another, slightly more obscure reference to a nevertheless fairly well-known sketch by an iconic comedic troupe I’m certain you’re familiar with in the sentence prior.

  • Julie near Chicago

    NickM links to Whited Sepulchre’s piece, which should be read by one and all — and for gosh sakes don’t miss the photos! (H.K. is a little glitzy for my taste, but Detroit is straight out of the noir tradition.) But then see the original article in The Globe and Mail, to which Sepulchre links. It contains more information, contrasting Canada’s situation and some possibilities with the situation and history of, and depressing suggestions of “reforms” for, Hong Kong.


  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    The Headline made me think that people were being fined for bringing their cameras into red-light districts! It’s not America that’s a disappointment- it’s the article!