Sunday, July 07, 2013
Prior to July 4, 1776, not a single person in the world starved, got sick, worked hard for a living, or experienced any pain and anxiety. No one had ever been oppressed or unfairly exploited because the oppressive and unfair American system had not yet been created.
Since the beginning of time employment had been equally guaranteed to anyone who cared to work, along with an equal pay of exactly $1,000 a week regardless of outcome, occupation, or the geographical area. All work was equally pleasant and enjoyable. Those who chose not to work also received $1,000 a week in unemployment compensation and Union benefits. Other guaranteed people's rights included the right to housing and free universal health care, as well as the right to 100% literacy through federally funded public education.
People never heard of wars, crime, corruption, slavery, torture, murder, cannibalism, and man-made hurricanes. Peace and harmony reigned supreme because the concepts of greed, selfishness, and private property had not yet been invented by the American corporate interests and maliciously spread around the world as part of the American cultural hegemony.
What We Know About Government Is Scarier Than What it Knows About Us
Many libertarians, outraged by how our government spies on us, call me a "traitor" because I'm not very angry. I understand that the National Security Administration tracking patterns in our emails and phone calls could put us on a terrible, privacy-crushing slippery slope.
But we're not there yet.
We are less closely watched by government than citizens of other countries. There are about 3,000 government security cameras around New York City, but London has 500,000.
Some people in London love that, believing that the extra surveillance deters crime and catches terrorists. I thought government cameras helped identify the Boston Marathon bombers, but Ginger McCall of the Electronic Privacy Information Center told me that those cameras provide an illusion of security at a nasty price.
"These cameras reveal very private information -- where you go, who you go there with," she said. "They can record you going into the sex therapist's office, the gay bar, the abortion clinic, any number of places that you would probably not want other people to know that you're going ... "
She says that loss of privacy doesn't even make us safer.
"It isn't necessarily how we found the Boston Marathon bomber. There were a lot of things going on there ... eyewitnesses identifications, cameras that were not government-owned (often cellphones) and eventually the fingerprints of the older brother ... if the cameras were really successful, there would be no crime in London."
But "no crime" is too much to demand. I'm convinced that widespread use of cameras is one reason crime is down in America. Some criminals are caught, and others deterred.
It does make a difference if cameras are controlled by a city government or a private department store. No store can lock me up. But I hate to get bogged down in the surveillance debate when there are so many other ways that government clearly threatens our freedom and our finances, while accomplishing nothing.
Thinking about the NSA revelation, I also thought about other things my government does that I really hate. Within a few hours, I had a list of 100 -- it was surprisingly easy. I encourage you to start a list of your own. Here are just a few example of horrible, destructive government:
-- Government (federal and local) now employs 22 million Americans. That's outrageous.
-- Government runs up a $17 trillion deficit and yet continues to throw our money at things like $100 million presidential trips, million-dollar bus stops and pork projects, as well as thousands of programs that don't work.
-- It funds a drug war that causes crime and imprisons millions, disproportionately minorities. That's horrible.
-- It spends your money on corporate welfare. And farm subsidies. And flood insurance that helps higher-income people like me build homes in risky spots.
- Government keeps American Indians poor by smothering them with socialist central planning. It does this despite the fall of the Soviet Union and the obvious failure of socialism everywhere. That's evil.
-- So are "too big to fail" bank bailouts. And other bailouts.
-- I'm furious that there are now 175,000 pages of federal law. No one understands all the laws, but they keep passing more. How dare they!
NSA spying seems less horrible than these other abuses, especially if data mining might prevent terrorism.
I suspect people are outraged by the NSA in part because new threats seem scarier than old, familiar ones. That's a trick government itself exploits all the time: Each new drug, each new health threat, each new dictator is made to sound like the most horrible thing ever.
We should be wary of treating the new danger as if it's the biggest danger.
I don't suggest that we should be passive about data mining and surveillance. But we should not let the latest threat make us passive about the old ones, some of them much more clearly wrong.
What we already know about government is even scarier than what they know about us.
Commit Any Felonies Lately?
No? Militarized cops might attack you for buying bottled water or shoot your dog anyway
According to the Charlottesville Daily Progress, shortly after 10 p.m. on April 11, the 20-year-old U.Va. student bought ice cream, cookie dough and a carton of LaCroix sparkling water from the Harris Teeter grocery store at the popular Barracks Road Shopping Center. In the parking lot, a half-dozen men and a woman approached her car, flashing some kind of badges. One jumped on the hood. Another drew a gun. Others started trying to break the windows.
Daly understandably panicked. With her roommate in the passenger seat yelling “Go, go, go!” Daly drove off, hoping to reach the nearest police station. The women dialed 911. Then a vehicle with lights and sirens pulled them over, and the situation clarified: The persons who had swarmed Daly’s vehicle were plainclothes agents of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The agents had thought the sparkling water was a 12-pack of beer.
Did the ABC’s enforcers apologize? Not in the slightest. They charged Daly with three felonies: two for assaulting an officer (her vehicle had grazed two agents; neither was hurt) and one for eluding the police. Last week, the commonwealth’s attorney dropped the charges.
The agents’ excessive display of force is outrageously disproportionate to the offense they mistakenly thought they witnessed: an underage purchase of alcohol. But in a sense, Daly got off easy. A couple weeks after her ordeal, a 61-year-old man in Tennessee was killed when the police executed a drug raid on the wrong house. A few weeks later, in another wrong-house raid, police officers killed a dog belonging to an Army veteran. These are not isolated incidents; for more information, visit the interactive map at www.cato.org/raidmap.
They are, however, part and parcel of two broader phenomena. One is the militarization of domestic law enforcement. In recent years police departments have widely adopted military tactics, military equipment (armored personnel carriers, flashbang grenades) – and, sometimes, the mindset of military conquerors rather than domestic peace-keepers.
The other phenomenon is the increasing degree to which civilians are subject to criminal prosecution for non-criminal acts – including exercising the constitutionally protected right to free speech.
Last week A. J. Martin was arrested in Harrisburg, Penn., for writing in chalk on the sidewalk. Martin was participating in a health-care demonstration outside Gov. Tom Corbett’s residence when he wrote, “Governor Corbett has health insurance, we should too.” Authorities charged Martin with writing “a derogatory remark about the governor on the sidewalk.” The horror.
This follows the case of Jeff Olson, who chalked messages such as “Stop big banks” outside branches of Bank of America last year. Law professor Jonathan Turley reports that prosecutors brought 13 vandalism charges against him. Moreover, the judge in the case recently prohibited Olson’s attorney from “mentioning the First Amendment, free speech,” or anything like them during the trial.
In Texas last month, a woman was arrested for asking to see a warrant for the arrest of her 11-year-old son. “She spent the night in jail while her son was left at home,” reports Fox34 News. The son never was arrested. Also in Texas, Justin Carter has spent months in jail – and faces eight years more –for making an admittedly atrocious joke about shooting up a school in an online chat. Though he was plainly kidding, authorities charged him with making a terrorist threat.
Federal prosecutors also recently used an anti-terrorism measure to seize almost $70,000 from the owners of a Maryland dairy. Randy and Karen Sowers had made several bank deposits of just under $10,000 to avoid the headache of filing federal reports required for sums over that amount. The feds charged them with unlawful “structuring.” Last week they settled the case. Authorities kept half their money to teach them a lesson.
“I broke the law yesterday,” writes George Mason economics professor Alex Tabarrok, “and I probably will break the law tomorrow. Don’t mistake me, I have done nothing wrong. I don’t even know what laws I have broken. . . . It’s hard for anyone to live today without breaking the law. Doubt me? Have you ever thrown out some junk mail that . . . was addressed to someone else? That’s a violation of federal law punishable by up to five years in prison.” Tabarrok notes that lawyer Harvey Silvergate believes the typical American commits Three Felonies a Day – the title of Silvergate’s book on the subject.
As The Wall Street Journal has reported, lawmakers in Washington have greatly eroded the notion of mens rea – the principle that you need criminal intent in order to commit a crime. Thanks to a proliferating number of obscure offenses, Americans now resemble the condemned souls in Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” – spared from perdition only by the temporary forbearance of those who sit in judgment.
“What once might have been considered simply a mistake,” the Journal explains, is now “punishable by jail time.” And as 20-year-old Elizabeth Daly has now learned, you can go to jail even when the person making the mistake wasn’t you.
Prosecution in George Zimmerman's Trial Continues to Help His Case
Video via The Orlando SentinelVideo via The Orlando SentinelYesterday and today, the jurors in George Zimmerman's murder trial heard testimony from Chris Serino, the Sanford, Florida, police investigator who at one point recommended a manslaughter charge against him. Serino testified that he felt pressure from within the police department to make an arrest but that upon reflection he concluded there was not enough reason to doubt Zimmerman's account of the fight that ended in Trayvon Martin's death. While Zimmerman struck Serino as an overzealous neighborhood watch volunteer who unnecessarily set the stage for the confrontation with Martin, he also seemed to be telling the truth.
Although the prosecution has sought to highlight inconsistencies in Zimmerman's various statements, Serino conceded during cross-examination that "nothing major" changed from one interview to another. He said Zimmerman's story was supported by physical evidence, include a medical examiner's report that the front of Martin's hoodie was not touching his body when he was shot, suggesting that he was "hanging over" Zimmerman. Serino also noted that Zimmerman was "very elated" when he was told that the fight might have been caught on video, suggesting he believed such evidence would vindicate him. "Either he was telling the truth or he was a complete pathological liar," Serino said. Given all the evidence, asked defense attorney Mark O'Mara, did Serino believe Zimmerman was telling the truth? "Yes," Serino replied.
It is possible, of course, that Zimmerman was telling the truth as he perceived it but nevertheless did not have a reasonable fear of death or serious injury at the moment he shot Martin, as required for a self-defense claim under Florida law. Possibly relevant to that question is today's testimony from medical examiner Valerie Rao, who described Zimmerman's injuries (a bloodied, possibly broken nose, plus bumps and lacerations on the back of his head) as "minor" and "insignificant." On cross-examination, however, Rao conceded that the injuries were consistent with having his head banged against a concrete sidewalk, perhaps a few times, as Zimmerman has described. Furthermore, as O'Mara pointed out, the fact that the injuries Zimmerman suffered were not life-threatening does not mean there was no reason to fear more serious injury if the fight continued.
Another piece of evidence that may bear on the question of the threat perceived by Zimmerman is the recording of a 911 call in the background of which someone can be heard crying out. The prosecution has suggested the cries came from Martin, while the defense maintains they came from Zimmerman. Yesterday Hirotaka Nakasone, an FBI voice analysis expert, testified that the recording was too short and indistinct for any conclusions to be drawn about who was screaming. Nakasone is the same expert whom the defense used at a pretrial hearing to discredit prosecution witnesses who were prepared to testify that it was Martin in the background of the call. Judge Debra Nelson excluded the testimony of those witnesses, deeming it "not reliable."
It is worth emphasizing that all the trial witnesses so far—including the neighbor whose description of the fight supports Zimmerman's account—have been called by the prosecution, which seems to be actively undermining its own case. Hence the headline over a story in yesterday's New York Times: "In Zimmerman Trial, Prosecution Witnesses Bolster Self-Defense Claims." As Orlando defense attorney Diana Tennis dryly observed in an interview with the Times, "When you are talking about state witnesses as if they are defense witnesses, that is a problem for the State of Florida." The Times suggests the state is falling far short of proving that Zimmerman is guilty of second-degree murder:
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Posted by JR at 12:36 AM