Published: Sat, 21 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Sat, 21 Jan 2017 05:46:20 -0500
Wed, 11 Jan 2017 12:25:00 -0500The second day of confirmation hearings into the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for attorney general takes place today, beginning with a series of testimonials from witnesses who will then be questioned by members of the committee. Reason's Eric Boehm noted that Sessions got away with offering only "unclear, useless answers on marijuana" during the first day of hearings, and some liberals wanted a more contentious hearing with aggressive questioning from the committee's Democratic senators and less of the Senate's typically staid rules of decorum that often provides cover for evasive answers. Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights told CNN, "The first day of Senator Sessions' confirmation hearing proved that the rushed nature of the confirmation process places senatorial collegiality over the advice and consent responsibilities that are the Senate's constitutional duty." Late in the first day of hearings yesterday, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) noted that police unions adore Sessions, to which Sessions added he believes the Obama administration failed to provide adequate support for local police departments. Sessions promised that as attorney general, he would place fewer restrictions on federal financial assistance to local PDs (who sometimes lose federal grant funding for lack of compliance with federal law) and cut back on efforts designed to curtail police misconduct. Sessions also reiterated his skepticism of consent decrees—federally enforced reforms and monitoring imposed by the courts on cities with demonstrated records of police misconduct. Sessions hedged just a bit in his opposition to consent decrees, saying some consent decrees "could be a legitimate decision." In the foreward for a 2008 paper published by the Alabama Policy Institute, Sessions wrote, "One of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed, exercises of raw power is the issuance of expansive court decrees." Ex-Reasoner Radley Balko posted in his Washington Post column a series of excellent questions pertaining to civil liberties and federalism that Sessions should be asked (but likely won't): You said this in 2007: "The civil libertarians among us would rather defend the constitution than protect our nation's security." Do you believe these two things are incompatible? If sworn in as attorney general, you'll take an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution. Let's say that once in office, you're faced with a situation in which you believe it is necessary to violate the Constitution in order to protect national security. Let's say that the actions you think you need to take aren't constitutionally ambiguous — you yourself believe they're unconstitutional. What would you do? ... You're also a strong advocate of "states' rights," or federalism. Many states whose legislatures don't share your view of civil asset forfeiture have passed laws to restrict or even end the practice. The federal government responded with its "equitable sharing" program, which allows police agencies in such states to call up a federal law enforcement agency such as the Drug Enforcement Administration when they want to confiscate some property. The investigation is then considered "federal," which means it's controlled by federal forfeiture laws, not the more restrictive state laws. This would seem to be a direct infringement on the intent of those states' legislatures, wouldn't you agree? The Obama administration has tried to limit the practice, though it hasn't ended it. Would you repeal the Obama reforms to equitable sharing, strengthen them or end them? Speaking of federalism, you also have some strong feelings about marijuana legalization. You recently said that "good people don't smoke marijuana" and that the drug is "already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it legal." You've been critical of Obama and his Justice Department for not cracking down on the states that have legalized the drug. Can you point to any data from Colorado or Washington that demonstrates a "disturbance?" Among those who testified agains[...]
Sun, 08 Jan 2017 09:59:00 -0500Nat Hentoff, the prolific critic, journalist, and civil libertarian, passed away yesterday at age 91. His son Nick reports that he "died surrounded by family listening to Billie Holiday," which I suspect is exactly how he wanted to go. Hentoff wrote many things, from young adult novels to the sleeve notes of an early Bob Dylan album. But he was most famous for two great passions: his defenses of the Bill of Rights, especially Amendment One, and his enthusiastic writing about music, especially jazz. When people talk about old-school liberals who'd defend to the death your right to say anything you want, chances are good that Hentoff is the fellow they've got in mind. In his columns for The Village Voice and The Washington Post and in articles for countless other venues (including Reason), he pounded away at the evils of censorship, and he didn't care if the censor had a left-wing agenda or a right-wing one. If anything, he seemed especially perturbed when people he expected to share his values started stomping on individual liberties. Hentoff was less likely to be called a liberal later in life. That's partly because his brand of free-speech absolutism was growing less common on the left, and it's partly because of his heterodoxy on abortion. (Hentoff was pro-life, arguing against abortion on the same grounds that he argued against capital punishment and war. Or, at least, against some wars—he eventually rended his seamless garment to support interventions in Rwanda and Iraq.) But you couldn't really cast him as a man of the right either: Besides his intense distrust for the police agencies that conservatives tend to revere, he was a longtime democratic socialist who held onto a lot of his leftist economic ideas in old age. It's not even quite right to call him an ACLU liberal, because he kept butting heads with the ACLU. (The nation's most prominent civil libertarian organization wasn't always civil libertarian enough for him.) Best to think of him as his own man, with at least a couple of views to offend pretty much anyone. He would have left a substantial legacy even if he had never written about politics at all, thanks to his work in the music world. His criticism covered several genres—one of my favorite articles of his was an appreciation of the country singer Merle Haggard—but his great love was jazz, a topic on which he wrote whole volumes. He produced several jazz albums too, by artists ranging from Max Roach to Cecil Taylor, and he had a hand in the great 1957 TV special The Sound of Jazz, which my colleague Kurt Loder once called "a landmark of televised jazz that has never been surpassed." (Watch it here.) But it was his political writing that left its biggest mark on me. I grew up reading Hentoff's attacks on censorship and surveillance, and whatever disagreements I sometimes had with him on other topics I learned a lot from his uncompromising consistency on those issues. For a taste of just how committed to free speech he was, I'll wrap up this obit with a video of him attacking the existence of libel laws, a hardcore position that even some of the fiercest civil libertarians aren't willing to accept. (For the record: I think he's right.) The video, shot in 1986, shows him debating the Objectivist philosopher David Kelley, who argues that we need libel suits to protect our "right to a reputation." When it came to regulations on speech, Nat Hentoff could make even a Randian look like a big-government guy by comparison: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ge57bIoTXoY" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">[...]
Thu, 17 Nov 2016 13:45:00 -0500
Last night on The Kelly File, Carl Higbie, the spokesman for a pro-Trump PAC, defended the idea of a federal registry of Muslims by citing the World War II–era internment of Japanese Americans as a precedent, weakly adding "call it what you will, it may be wrong":
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Megyn Kelly immediately leaped on this, and Higbie quickly declared that he did not in fact favor internment camps. The video then went viral.
The video also gave me a dose of deja vu. Last December, shortly after Trump started pitching the idea of keeping Muslims out of America, this exchange took place on Good Morning America:
(image) DONALD TRUMP: What I'm doing is no different than what FDR— FDR's solution for German, Italian, Japanese...
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're for internment camps?
TRUMP: This was a president highly respected by all. He did the same thing. If you look at what he was doing, it was far worse. I mean, he was talking about the Germans because we're at war. We are now at war. We have a president that doesn't want to say that...
STEPHANOPOULOS: I've got to press you on that, sir. You're praising FDR there. I take it you're praising the setting up of internment camps for Japanese in World War 2?
TRUMP: No, I'm not. No, I'm not. No, I'm not. Take a look at Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527—having to do with alien Germans, alien Italians, alien Japanese—and what they did. You know, they stripped them of their naturalization proceedings. They went through a whole list of things. They couldn't go five miles from their homes. They weren't allowed to use radios, flashlights. I mean, you know, take a look at what FDR did many years ago. And he's one of the most highly respected presidents by—I mean, respected by most people. They name highways after him.
The good news, I guess, is that Trump said he wasn't in favor of the camps. The bad news is that he thought Hey, at least it's not as bad as this stuff that FDR did! was a compelling argument, just as Higbie seemed to think It may be wrong, but it's a legal precedent! would be a compelling argument last night. Is this the way the next four years are going to go? "I'd like to point out that this bill is not nearly as restrictive as the Alien and Sedition Acts." "You may not like the Palmer Red Raids, but you must admit they showed this could be done." "Eisenhower was president when COINTELPRO started, and they've got a memorial to him right here in D.C.!"
You want some more bad news? Korematsu v. United States—the 1944 Supreme Court decision that declared the Japanese internment camps constitutional—is still technically the law of the land. Sleep tight, mates.
Bonus link: "America's Other World War II Internment Camps."
Fri, 11 Nov 2016 13:03:00 -0500Will President-elect Donald Trump be the autocratic leader feared by so many? Or is he all talk, and merely played the electorate using bluster and vulgarity as his means of shaking up the system? A number of pro-civil liberties organizations are willing to take Trump at his word, and have released statements indicating how they intend to resist any potentional assaults on American constitutional rights. Freedom of the Press Foundation's Trevor Timm wrote of the next president's aversion to the First Amendment and promised to hold him accountable if he makes good on any of his threats to sue journalists and their employers, or to "open up libel laws" to enable such efforts. Timm also noted Trump "has blamed 'freedom of the press' for a terrorist attack in New York and has said the press has 'too much protection' under the First Amendment." (To be sure, Hillary Clinton said essentially the same thing, but she's not going to be president, Trump is.) Amnesty International's Salil Shetty wrote in a press release that "President-elect Trump must publicly commit to upholding the human rights of all without discrimination." Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth wrote that although Trump "found a path to the White House through a campaign marked by misogyny, racism, and xenophobia," he should push to uphold the rule of law and lead a U.S. government that "demonstrates a better record on issues like the rights of women and children, criminal justice, Guantanamo, drone strikes outside conventional war zones, and justice for torture." (The "drone strikes" mention seems like a subtle—and necessary—dig at a favorite Obama administration tactic.) The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) outlined the many ways they plan to defend an assualt on civil liberties by the Trump administration, and its executive director warned the incoming president they "will see him in court" should he make good on a number of his proposed policies. Regarding Trump's plan to engage in the mass deportation of over 11 million undocumented immigrants, the ACLU says the government would have to arrest "more than 15,000 people a day on immigration charges, seven days a week, 365 days a year." To accomplish that would require actions which would "undoubtedly violate the Fourth Amendment's prohibition 'against unreasonable searches and seizures.'" The ACLU asserts that Trump's dubious threat to ban Muslim U.S. citizens or legal residents from re-entering the country would violate "the Fifth and 14th Amendments from revoking an American's citizenship and banishing him based on the person's creed," adding, "any religion-based bar on lawful permanent residents trying to reenter the country would violate the due process clause." The ACLU's lawyers also concluded that "Trump's policies, if implemented, would lead to a heavy edit of the Constitution. The First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution would no longer protect certain people."[...]
Tue, 08 Nov 2016 07:00:00 -0500
Election Day is upon us and Americans are heading to the voting booths by the millions. The choices before the electorate are, by and large, deeply unappetizing and, whatever the outcome of the elections, America's freedoms and institutions will likely continue to take a beating in the years to come. Last week, I looked at the state of freedom globally. Today, the focus is America.
First, consider the good news. The United States has maintained a perfect "democracy" score since 1871 and citizens continue to elect freely their local, state and federal governments.
America's record on protecting civil liberties, such as freedom of expression, also surpasses that of much of the world. Since Freedom House began collecting data on civil liberties in 1971, the United States has consistently received the best score possible.
Americans also have more extensive political rights than most of our fellow human beings, although the political rights gap is slowly narrowing.
Unfortunately, on several indicators, America has recently been trending in an unfortunate direction. Consider freedom of the press, measured on a scale from 1 (most free) to 100 (least free). Between 1993 and 2014, U.S. freedom of the press dropped by 10 points.
Government accountability (i.e., public perceptions of the extent to which citizens are able to influence their government) has also been deteriorating in the United States.
When it comes to corruption (i.e., perceptions of the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain, including both petty and grand forms of corruption, as well as "capture" of the state by elites and private interests), America's score is deteriorating.
The United States has also been falling in terms of government transparency, which measures the availability of credible aggregate economic data that a country discloses to the public.
Finally, consider economic freedom. Once again, we are moving—rapidly—in the wrong direction. Economic freedom in the United States still exceeds the world average, but if current trends continue, that will soon no longer be the case.
Americans have long enjoyed a level of freedom and quality of institutions that are still denied to the majority of humanity. But, if some of the worrying trends that can be seen above continue, America may not always be the "land of the free."
Tue, 01 Nov 2016 07:00:00 -0400These are interesting times to be an American. The people's trust in the U.S. institutions is plummeting and the outcome of the presidential election, however it ends, is unlikely to reverse that trend. Over at Human Progress, we have a whole section of the website devoted to "good governance" indicators. As you'll see in the charts below, it is a mixed bag. People around the world appear to be growing freer, but their governments are getting less transparent and more corrupt. Could these diverging trends be the key to understanding of the people's growing dissatisfaction with their ruling elites? Our political rights index reflects the ability of people to participate freely in the political process, including the right to vote freely for distinct alternatives in legitimate elections, compete for public office, join political parties and organizations, and elect representatives who have a decisive impact on public policies and are accountable to the electorate. On a scale from 1 (best) to 7 (worst), the world has experienced substantial improvement. Our freedom of the press index evaluates the legal environment for the media, political pressures that influence reporting, and economic factors that affect access to news and information. Freedom of the press, which is measured on a scale from 1 (worst) to 100 (best), is at an all time high. Our civil liberties index measures freedom of expression and belief, associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and personal autonomy without interference from the state. On a scale from 1 (best) to 7 (worst), the world has experienced considerable improvement since the early 1970s. Unfortunately, civil liberties have deteriorated somewhat since 2005. Our data on democracy versus autocracy over time codes democratic and autocratic "patterns of authority." It measures key qualities of executive recruitment, constraints on executive authority and political competition. It also records changes in the institutionalized qualities of governing authority. Country scores can be converted into three regime categories: autocracies (-10 to -6), anocracies or partial democracies (-5 to +5) and democracies (+6 to +10). Today, the average country scores a "4" and is considered a partial-democracy. The government transparency index measures the availability of credible aggregate economic data that a country discloses to the public. Here we have seen substantial deterioration since the apex of government transparency ten years ago. The corruption perceptions index scores countries on how corrupt their public sectors are seen to be, and captures the informed views of analysts, businesspeople and experts in countries around the world. Once again, corruption, which is measured on a scale from 0 (worst) to 100 (best) around the world, seems to be worsening. [...]
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 16:00:00 -0400A British man has been banned from entering bars after 9 p.m. and must alert police every time he intends to have sexual contact with someone new after being found innocent of sexual assault and rape charges in two jury trials. Think you must have read the above sentence wrong? Probably not. Despite being deemed innocent by his peers—twice—Nicholas Crawshaw, 23, is now subject to a civil "Sex Risk Order" after local cops weren't content to let the trials-by-jury stand. Initially, Crawshaw stood accused of sexually assaulting eight women between 2010 and 2015. In March 2016, a jury found him not guilty of several of the counts but couldn't decide on others, spawning a retrial. In that trial, which concluded October 18, Crawshaw was found not guilty of the remaining eight offenses. After spending 16 months in prison—and being cleared of all six counts of rape, three counts of sexual assault, and two counts of assault by penetration that had been facing him—Crawshaw was allowed to go free. Following the second trial, local prosecutor Alison Mutch said, "We respect the decision of the jury." But that respect was apparently short-lived. On October 21, just three days after Crawshaw was cleared of all charges against him, Cheshire Police initiated civil proceedings to impose an interim "Sex Risk Order" on Crawshaw. Speaking for Cheshire Police, Elizabeth Heavy told the court that Crawshaw was a "sexual predator" who had "admitted sexual contact" with several of the women who had accused him. Crawshaw "admitted in the course of criminal proceedings that he had sex with one complainant in a toilet in a nightclub," Heavy pointed out, and he said he met "many" complainants in nightclubs or bars. "It is for [these] reasons that the application has been drafted," she said. It's true that Crawshaw admitted to sexual contact with some of his accusers. It's also, on its own, irrelevant to whether he's a "sexual predator." The sexual contact Crawshaw admitted to was, he claims, consensual. The accusers claimed it was not. The jury found Crawshaw more credible. But West Cheshire magistrates agreed, at least temporarily, with the local cops' logic in this case. On Monday, they issued a temporary Sex Risk Order against Crawshaw which prohibits him from going into places that serve alcohol after 9 p.m. and requires him to inform local police beforehand every time he intends to have "sexual contact" with someone new. In November, magistrates will hold a full hearing to determine how long the order will stay in place. According to Sky News, more than 50 Sex Risk Orders have been issued by British authorities, although only one prior order requires its subject to notify the government of every new sex partner. That order, issued in 2015 against John O'Neill, was subsequently deemed "unpoliceable" by a York Magistrates' Court. However, the only adjustment York magistrates made to O'Neill's order was that he needn't inform cops 24 hours before starting a new sexual relationship but merely "as soon as is reasonably practicable."[...]
Thu, 22 Sep 2016 10:05:00 -0400Cook County's Tom Dart, the prostitution-obsessed sheriff who launched a national month of police playing sex workers to arrest "johns" and unconstitutionally threatened Visa and Mastercard for doing business with the ad-site Backpage, has found a new way to threaten people's privacy, screw over sex workers, and grow the police state. The latest Dart-led initiative involves creating a national database of prostitution customers, using solicitation-arrest data submitted by cops through a phone app. Demand Abolition—a Massachusetts-based advocacy group that recently gave Boston Police $30,000 to look into new strategies to target prostitution customers—reported on Sheriff Dart's new plot in a late-August post crowing that "1,300 sex buyers—a record—were arrested across 18 states in just one month" of Dart's National John Suppression Initiative. Now, the sheriff is using data from that sting to start a national database of people arrested for soliciting prostitution. You know, for research purposes. "We are well on our way to developing a stronger, more nuanced understanding of who buyers are—information that can be used to find new ways to change their behavior," Demand Abolition chirps. This year's sex stings led to an "unprecedented level of buyer data collected, and shared, by this year's arresting officers," notes Demand Abolition. This is thanks to a new app that streamlines the logging of prostitution arrest information. The app was developed at a January "social justice hackathon", in which a hundred or so techies were presided over by a team of anti-prostitution zealots from across the country—including Dart, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Seattle-area prosecutor Val Richey (for more on Richey's work, see my recent series of stories on Seattle prostitution busts). The presumably well-intentioned developers and data scientists were told their work would help put an end to human trafficking, but the tools they developed are designed for police to target and track adults engaging in consensual prostitution. The January hackathon, funded by Thomson Reuters' Data Innovation Lab, gave birth to what Demand Abolition is calling an "arrest app," which "allows officers to easily log arrest info into a national database, which Dart's team can then use to identify trends in buyer demographics." During the last John Suppression Initiative, cops logged info from 80 percent of all arrests into the database. Keeping the personal info of people arrested for prostitution-related charges in one handy national database might help with whatever new Vice-Squad-on-Steroids agenda that Dart is designing. But it's obviously worrisome from a privacy perspective. Keeping all that sensitive information in one place would seem to make it a ripe target for hackers, but nowhere do Demand Abolition or Dart even mention cybersecurity. It's also important to note that the people being logged in the database have merely been arrested for, not convicted of, any crimes. Yet the arrest app isn't concerned with case outcomes. If police arrest someone and the charges are later dropped or beat, that person will still be counted in Dart's database as having been picked up in a sex sting. I reached out to the Cook County Sheriff's Office to get more details about the app and database—what security measures are in place, whether the info collected is subject to public-records requests, etc.—and will update if I hear back. Update: Cook County Sheriff's Office Press Secretary Sophia Ansari said no individual names or case numbers will be entered into the database. "Demographic information entered includes age range, race, marital status and education level–but that information is never connected to an individual or a number that could be connected to an individual," Ansari said in an email. Nor does the database reflect what ultimately happens with cases.[...]
Wed, 21 Sep 2016 23:24:00 -0400
(image) What can we learn from the fact that a half-dozen Muslim terrorists on American soil had gotten onto the radar screen of U.S. law enforcement before committing their foul deeds? One lesson, as Scott Shackford has observed in these pages, is that the seeming detection failures of targeted investigations render absurd all the time wasted on dumb, constitutionally questionable mass surveillance. But that still leaves the Monday-morning quarterback questions of did the FBI blow it, and what could law enforcement do differently?
We chew on these subjects and more on tonight's Red Eye w/ Tom Shillue at 3 a.m. on Fox News, where I will be panelizing along with comedians Alli Breen and Sam Roberts, and Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth. Other topics include whether Jack Shafer is an American hero or anti-hysteria hysteric (or both), and whether this barftastic Joss Whedon celebrity vote-against-Trump ad will turn us all into alt-righties sooner rather than later.
To whet your late-night appetite, here's the last time I appeared on Red Eye:
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Wed, 21 Sep 2016 09:15:00 -0400
One Friday evening last September, Connecticut resident Michael Picard was doing what he usually does: standing on a strip of grass by an Interstate onramp and protesting the government.
Picard, a local privacy activist, often protests police DUI checkpoints, which he believes are unconstitutional and a waste of money. That night he was holding a sign warning motorists of a DUI checkpoint farther up the road. Picard, like any good protester these days, also had a camera to document his interactions with police.
What he ended capturing on video is now at the center of a civil rights lawsuit filed Monday on Picard's behalf by the Connecticut ACLU against three state troopers, whom Picard claims illegally seized his camera and then conspired to fabricate charges against him. Unbeknownst to the officers, though, the camera was still recording.
Watch the video:
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According the lawsuit, Connecticut state trooper John Barone confronted Picard, saying he had received complaints from passing motorists that Picard, who also open-carries a handgun, was waving his gun in the air. (The ACLU says there were never any such complaints and that Picard kept his gun holstered at all times.) After claiming it was illegal for Picard to film him, Barone snatched the camera and put it on the roof of his police cruiser while he and other officers discussed what charges to hit Picard with.
"You want to punch a number on this either way?" Barone asked one of his supervising officers, police slang for opening an investigation and entering a case number. "Gotta cover our ass."
"We could hit him with reckless use of the highway by a pedestrian and creating a public disturbance," Sgt. John Jacobi suggested.
"And then we claim in backup we had multiple people who stopped to complain," Master Sgt. Patrick Torneo added later in the conversation. "They didn't want to stay and offer a statement, so we took our own course of action."
The officers ticketed Picard, returned his camera and gun, and told him to protest in another location. It took Picard more than a year to get the criminal charges against him dismissed.
In the lawsuit, the ACLU says the three state troopers retaliated against Picard, violating his First Amendment rights to protest and film the government, as well as his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
"Community members like me have a right to film government officials doing their jobs in public, and we should be able to protest without fearing political retribution from law enforcement," Picard said in a statement. "As an advocate for free speech, I'm deeply disappointed that these police officers ignored my rights, particularly because two of the troopers involved were supervisors who should be setting an example for others. By seeking to hold these three police officers accountable, I hope that I can prevent the same thing from happening to someone else."
A spokesperson for the Connecticut State Police said the issue was subject to an ongoing investigation and declined to comment.
Wed, 14 Sep 2016 10:00:00 -0400David Beito and Marcus Witcher begin their paper in the latest Independent Review with a familiar-sounding story about a witch-hunting 1950s congressional committee demanding that a witness name names: Nobody was quite sure what Edward A. Rumely would say in testimony before the U.S House Select Committee on Lobbying in 1950. Would he name names, plead the Fifth Amendment, or defy the committee and thus risk possible jail time? Rumely chose defiance, declaring, "I will not give you the names of people who have bought our books. You are invading our constitutional rights." Instead of the Fifth, he pleaded the First Amendment. Even before this encounter, the chairman of the House committee, Frank Buchanan, had warned that the unfriendly witness risked a contempt resolution. He vowed not to "permit Mr. Rumely or his organization to divert this hearing into an argument over constitutional rights." It may sound like a Hollywood reenactment of the McCarthy era, but the Buchanan Committee wasn't hunting reds—not yet, anyway. Rumely was the co-founder of the Committee to Uphold Constitutional Government, a group that had been launched to stop Franklin Roosevelt's court-packing scheme and had gone on to oppose much of Roosevelt and Truman's policy agendas. The people Rumely was refusing to identify were the people who had purchased his group's books in bulk. The Buchanan Committee was investigating "lobbies," and it wanted to know who was buying the books on the grounds that this would reveal who Rumely's financial backers were. Beito and Witcher frame the Buchanan Committee's probe as the last act of the first Brown Scare, Leo Ribuffo's term for the '30s/'40s hunt for subversives on the right. But by the end of the story, they note, the congressmen were red-baiting as well as brown-baiting. Eager to prove its balance, the committee decided to investigate the Civil Rights Congress (CRC), a clash that culminated with the committee demanding that the group reveal the donors who had contributed to the CRC's defense of a black man facing execution in Jim Crow Mississippi. Along the way, one Georgia congressman denounced CRC witness William Patterson as a "black son of a bitch" and a "chocolate covered Communist." Transpartisan alliances formed. When Congress considered a resolution to hold Rumely in contempt, the opposition came from conservatives—and from Vito Marcantonio, the most left-wing man in the House. When Patterson was the one facing a contempt resolution, several southern Democrats switched sides and supported the measure, but the opposition that remained was still a radical/conservative coalition. Both resolutions passed, but the Supreme Court eventually ruled in Rumely's favor, a precedent that proved useful to people in other parts of the spectrum. "Joseph McCarthy's leftist targets cited United States v. Rumely when refusing to name names," Beito and Witcher note. And "in NAACP v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court cited United States v. Rumely when it upheld the NAACP's right to deny the state of Alabama the names of its members." It's a largely forgotten chapter in the history of civil liberties, and it should be especially engrossing to anyone interested in how anti-left and anti-right repression can feed on each other. I've barely scratched the surface of the story; to read the whole thing, go here.[...]
Wed, 14 Sep 2016 00:01:00 -0400Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine, use the same word to describe Donald Trump's praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin: "unpatriotic." Satisfying as it may be for Democrats to deploy that adjective against the nominee of a party known for its flag-waving jingoism, it is neither accurate nor adequate in describing what's truly alarming about Trump's admiration of the Russian strongman. "He is really very much of a leader," Trump told NBC's Matt Lauer last week. "I mean, you can say, 'Oh, isn't that a terrible thing.' The man has very strong control over a country." Trump, who also cited Putin's "82 percent approval rating," allowed that Russia has "a very different system" of government, and "I don't happen to like the system." Nevertheless, he said, "in that system, he's been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader." Clinton slammed Trump for "taking the astonishing step of suggesting that he preferred the Russian president to our American president," which she called "unpatriotic and insulting." Kaine said the "irrational hostility toward President Obama, which started the very first day of his term from some of these people, is unpatriotic, and we've got to call it out." Note how Clinton and Kaine equated Trump's insult to Obama with an insult to the nation. If you hate Obama, they suggested, you hate America. Teddy Roosevelt, no stranger to jingoism, thought conflating love of country with love of the president is the opposite of patriotism. "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong," he wrote in 1918, "is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." Patriotism is in any case a dubious virtue at best. An emotional attachment to the land in which you happen to be born is natural, but when elevated to a moral principle it easily morphs into state worship and warmongering. As a guide to judgment, patriotism is utterly subjective and unreliable. If it is unpatriotic for an American to say Putin is a better leader than Obama, it is equally unpatriotic for a Russian to say Obama is a better leader than Putin. The problem with Trump's comments about Putin is not that they show a lack of patriotism. The problem is that they reflect authoritarian instincts no president of a liberal democracy should have. Trump cannot credibly claim to dislike Russia's system of government while admiring Putin's strong leadership, because that system is what makes his strong leadership possible. In Russia's "highly centralized, authoritarian political system," the State Department notes, the executive branch dominates the legislature, pressures the judiciary, and routinely flouts notional guarantees of civil liberties. According to the department's 2015 report on human rights in Russia, "the government increasingly instituted a range of measures to suppress dissent," including politically motivated arrests and prosecutions; discriminated against sexual, religious, and ethnic minorities; and "failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity." The report says torture by police was common, there were "numerous extrajudicial killings," and "corruption was widespread" in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Freedom House, which classifies Russia as "not free," reports that Putin's regime last year "intensified its tight grip on the media, saturating the information landscape with nationalist propaganda while suppressing the most popular alternative voices." The report also notes that "the judiciary lacks independence from the executive branch," "there is little transparency and accountability in the day-to-day worki[...]
Fri, 09 Sep 2016 00:01:00 -0400In the 1985 dystopian science fiction movie Brazil the plot centers on the authorities' apprehension of an innocent man named Archibald Buttle. He was mistaken for the outlaw, Archibald Tuttle, after a fly landed on a printer head in a government office, thus causing the "T" to print as a "B" on the arrest warrant. Typical of its dark humor, the movie's real criminal is an unlicensed heating and air-conditioning repairman played by Robert De Niro. It's a satire of our modern society's impenetrable bureaucracies and the powerlessness we can feel when we're at their mercy. No wonder the Orange County Register named it one of the best libertarian movies of all time. I'm reminded of Brazil as I read news about federal efforts to crack down on "bad guys." Conservatives often express support for the "waterboarding" of terrorists. That sounds OK, provided the bureaucrats actually got the right guy. Same goes with those "no fly" lists that the Transportation Security Administration uses to keep suspected terrorists off airplanes. The lists and their criteria are secret. There's no due process, meaning that if you get pulled out of line you have no way to appeal that decision. The New York Times reported on an 8-year-old who a few years ago was stuck on a TSA "watch" list. Often, people with names similar to someone else's—think Buttle versus Tuttle—get stopped. Liberals can be just as unconcerned as conservatives over the veracity of these lists. For instance, California is the only state with the Armed Prohibited Person System (APPS). It's a state Department of Justice database used to send agents to people's homes to confiscate their weapons after the state determines they no longer are eligible to own them (e.g., after being convicted of a crime or being the subject of a restraining order). No one wants dangerous people to have access to an arsenal, but we again run up against the problem of lists. Anyone who has compiled lists realizes how quickly they become out of date, or how easy it is for a clerk to misspell a name. An analysis of the APPS list from the state auditor and a gun-rights group found that anywhere from 37 percent to 60 percent of the people on the list actually had a legal right to still own firearms. In a free society, it's not OK for an innocent person to have guns confiscated or kept from flying because of some mistaken entry on a ledger. It's infuriating how difficult it is to clear one's name after an error is detected. There are few things more aggravating than clearing up bureaucratic snafus—whether it's with a government agency or health insurance company. In August, the California state auditor looked at the CalGang program, which is a database, or list, used voluntarily by the state's law enforcement agencies to track gang members. The recent audit—focusing on four agencies, including the Santa Ana Police Department—found wild inaccuracies that are causing real harm to real people. For instance, the auditor analyzed the names of 100 people entered into the database and found "they lacked adequate support" for including 13 people on the list. Furthermore, "we found 42 individuals in CalGang who were supposedly younger than one year of age at the time of entry." Again, no one has sympathy for gang members. But what about people who aren't gang members who are included in the list? They are monitored by the police, "potentially violating their privacy rights," the auditor notes. It can also harm their job prospects, given that a number of agencies use the database to disqualify applicants. Santa Ana police officials agreed with the recommendations and vowed to correct the problems, which is the right attitude. But I have little faith in any government list of the citize[...]
Thu, 18 Aug 2016 13:00:00 -0400
The horrific deaths of Philando Castillo in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, give us an updated and up-close glimpse of police encounters gone bad—but they are rooted in decades of problematic policing in America. "Historically in this country, the police have never really been the friends of the black community," says Neill Franklin, a former officer with the Baltimore Police Department and current executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (L.E.A.P).
Franklin talked with Reason TV Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie at this year's Freedom Fest in Las Vegas, Nevada, pointing out that slavery may have ended officially in the late 1800s, but a lot of policing was born out of that era and the one that followed, when police deliberately enforced laws in ways that targeted black citizens. Even today, police are tasked with enforcing laws—from driving without a license to missing a court date—that tend to target poor communities and communities of color.
"You know a $250 fine doesn't mean much to people who have money," says Franklin. "But when you enforce these policies in poor communities, a hundred dollar fine can devastate a family."
It comes down to the need for a new model of policing in America, says Franklin, not just tweaks of the same old system. "What we have now is not like trying to fix a broken car, this car was a used car in the first place."
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Wed, 03 Aug 2016 11:18:00 -0400An investigation by The San Diego Union-Tribune reveals that the city's police department used a StingRay device on at least 30 occasions since 2011 to collect suspects' cellphone information. Often, it was used to investigate common crimes without a warrant specifically pointing out its use. StingRays—a brand of International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers—are devices that trick cellphones into connecting to them by simulating a cellphone tower. After connecting, a cellphone will transmit data to the StingRay, including information regarding calls, text messages, and the phone's location. San Diego police have said they only use the instrument to collect intelligence regarding location. These devices were marketed by the federal government as tools needed to track terrorism suspects. But privacy advocates have criticized their use, as they gather data not only from suspects but also from anyone else who happens to be nearby. In addition, police have often used them without a warrant and to deal with street crimes such as burglaries and assaults that have nothing to do with terrorism. It's difficult to know exactly how the device in San Diego was used thanks to a non-disclosure agreement between the police department, the FBI, and StingRay manufacturer the Harris Corporation. Documents collected by the Union-Tribune include pages that are "a solid block of black from the top of the page to the bottom." We do know, however, that police used the equipment in their everyday work—and that it met with mixed success. As the newspaper's Greg Moran wrote: In January San Diego police used it to try to locate a man who was a suspect in a series of vehicle burglaries. He was also wanted for robbery, burglary and making a criminal threat. Police had been able to get a rough location of the phone using GPS data [from] a different and less powerful surveillance method, but said the Stingray was needed to "narrow the search in order to locate the suspect." They found the phone at the home of a girlfriend of the suspect, then used the Stingray to follow the woman to see if she would lead them to the suspect, but he was not found, the records say. It's unclear if an arrest was ever made. Search warrants for the case remain sealed. Lawsuits brought by civil liberties groups reveal that when San Diego police sought warrants in many of these cases, they failed to mention the StingRay would be used to collect data, Moran reported. Court documents instead show they asked to use different devices that are not as powerful. The Los Angeles Police Department was caught doing something similar in 2013. There has been some progress toward controlling the use of IMSI catchers across the country. California now has laws requiring law enforcement to get a court order before using the gadgets. In March, Maryland's Court of Special Appeals ruled that police units could not track someone's phone without a warrant. Additionally, a federal judge in July withheld evidence in a case because federal agents failed to get a warrant prior to tracking a suspect's location, which led them to discover said evidence. And Kelly Aviles of the First Amendment Coalition told the Union-Tribune that since judges have become more aware of how the StingRay is used, they can start asking tougher questions.[...]