Category Archives: Civil Liberties

Sympathy for Paranoia

cat in the tin foil hat

The moon landing was faked by the U.S. government for propaganda purposes to win the Cold War. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 was actually an inside job as a pretext to go to war. Space aliens landed in Roswell, NM but the government has been covering it up. The Sandy Hook massacre was faked to increase support for new gun control laws; the “victims” were actually actors who are all alive and well today. The Illuminati is the secret entity which actually governs the whole world…

The natural response to these statements is to say “these people are mad barking moonbats” and to keep ourselves as distant as possible from the people making them. Those of us in the liberty movement who want to be taken seriously are very quick to renounce anyone who is within six degrees of Alex Jones or anyone else who states any of the above. It’s difficult enough to be taken seriously about legalizing drugs, the non-aggression principle, free markets, and freedom of association; the last thing we need is to be lumped in with “those people.”

While it is very important to defend the “brand” of the liberty movement, it’s also important to recognize the reasons why people believe some rather nutty things.

[W]hen I say virtually everyone is capable of paranoid thinking, I really do mean virtually everyone, including you, me, and the founding fathers. As the sixties scare about the radical Right demonstrates, it is even possible to be paranoid about paranoids. – Jesse Walker, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, (p. 24) (Read my book review here)

Once one learns about some of the activities governments been proven to have been involved in, some conspiracy theories no longer seem as outlandish. I used to refer to conspiracy theories and wacky beliefs as “black helicopter” stories and I’m fairly certain that others used the same terminology. Once I learned that black unmarked helicopters were used in the assault by the FBI on the Branch Davidians in Waco, TX,(Napolitano, p.110) I stopped calling such ideas “black helicopter.”

Not everything that sounds crazy is.
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Rand Paul Caters To The Insane Anti-Vaxxer Crowd

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On Monday, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a prospect for the 2016 Presidential Election, put forth his opinion on vaccinating children. It wasn’t Dr. Paul’s finest moment.

In light of the recent measles outbreak in California, Dr. Paul was asked about the disease, and the ant-vaccination movement, on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. He stated that while he felt vaccinations were a “good idea”, he felt that parents should have the option to decline them:

“I’m not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they’re a good thing, but I think the parents should have some input,” he added. “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children and it is an issue of freedom.”

Dr. Paul noted to Ms. Ingraham in his interview that he believed vaccinations should be optional. In the same show, Ms. Ingraham stated that she didn’t believe measles was “that big of a deal“.

Later in the day, in a CNBC interview, Dr. Paul used anecdotal evidence to state that parents were justified in their skepticism:

“I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” Paul, R-Ky., said in an interview with CNBC anchor Kelly Evans.

This coincides with fellow GOP hopeful Chris Christie, who explained that while he vaccinates his children and believes they are a good thing, believes parents deserve more input:

He said that he and his wife had vaccinated their children, describing that decision as “the best expression I can give you of my opinion.” He said they believe doing so is an “important part of making sure we protect their health and the public health.”

“But,” Christie added, “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

Mr. Christie made greater input into vaccinations for parents part of his campaign for Governor of New Jersey in 2009.

Some of these public statements of support for anti-vaccination proponents can be explained as a matter of timing: earlier in the morning, an interview the Today Show did with President Obama made clear his thoughts on the matter: there are no reasons not to vaccinate:

“I understand that there are families that in some cases are concerned about the effect of vaccinations. The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not,” the president explained.

Anti-vaccination proponents – often called “anti-vaxxers” – believe that vaccinations for many diseases once viewed as eradicated can cause mental defects, with autism being the most commonly referenced, due to the amount of mercury in the vaccinations. More fringe elements of the anti-vaxxer movement believe that the government intentionally puts mercury in vaccinations as a passive form of population control.

However, most anti-vaxxers, if I’m putting this bluntly, are not very smart. They read a few articles on Infowars, see Jenny McCarthy speak for twelve seconds, put on their finest tin-foil hats, and let loose their ridiculous, half baked ideas, just before their diatribe about chemtrails. These people are clearly cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. But what’s truly harmful is to have people like Senator Paul – a DOCTOR, for heaven’s sake! – and Governor Christie (a successful lawyer) giving oxygen to these people by enabling their nonsense.

The argument being made is that parents should have the liberty to do whatever they want with their children. However, that argument ends at my child’s body. This isn’t something like school choice, or even a voucher program that would use tax dollars in religious schools against the wishes of secular parents. Not vaccinating a child against measles puts that child’s life in danger before they even know what measles are. They also put other children at risk, particularly other children who either are not vaccinated or can’t be vaccinated due to other health concerns.

It’s one thing to argue that a parent – or even a mature minor has the right to put a child at risk if they believe the treatment is worse than the disease; I’m sympathetic to that argument to an extent. But a measles epidemic has been cut loose for the first time since “Leave It To Beaver” was being taped, and it’s affected a lot of people. Parents affected who willingly did not vaccinate their children should be held liable for the damage they have personally caused.

It’s easy to call the anti-vaxxer issue a bipartisan one – thank the “Whole Foods crowd” for that – but this is a problem that is disproportionate among hardcore, anti-government right wingers, who have been raised into a froth into believing that anything involving the government, or Barack Obama, is a bad thing. Such constant pandering – particularly by grifters like Sarah Palin and others – replaces education with nonsense because to them, these “facts” are education. Due to this, they distrust anything that goes against their worldview. “The CDC!? Liberal media fascists!” If President Obama said the sky was blue in a speech, that would be the tinder that starts a purple sky movement.

We expect “I’ve heard it causes brain damage!” to come from the wingnuts. But coming from Doctor Paul, a very intelligent man, calls into question his sincerity, his respect for the American primary voter – part of me thinks “he can’t believe that shit, can he?” – and his qualification to hold the highest office in the country.1

1 – I’m not holding Governor Christie to so strong a flame because I feel his statements, and clarifications, exhibit more nuance than those of Dr. Paul, who is no stranger to some real whoppers in his time.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Brandon Duncan May Do 25 to Life for Singing About a Gang

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In 2013, San Diego experienced a rash of shootings.

Brandon Duncan is a San Diego musician. He has no criminal record. He is not alleged to have pulled the trigger, to have been present, to know who was present, or even to have known contemporaneously that the shootings had occurred. He is not alleged to have masterminded the murders, paid anyone to commit them, or otherwise aided in their commission.

Nevertheless, Duncan may wind up doing 25 years to life for the shootings.

The reason?

Sales of an album Duncan made in 2012 may have benefitted from a surge in gang stature and respect in the wake of the shootings.

Duncan apparently creates music about gang activities. As Kevin Boyd reports at IJ Review, the lyrics include one line about holding a gun with no safety and another about a full clip making someone’s top disappear. The tracks can be heard here.

In any case, creating music about violence and criminal activity is not illegal. That is Constitutional Law 101. The First Amendment protects freedom of expression, including violent content in music, literature, art, media, video games, etc.

Mario Puzo could not do 25-to-life if an upsurge in Mafia violence caused a renewed interest in his Godfather novels. He could not do 25-to-life even if prosecutors alleged that his books glamorized organized crime, thereby contributing to an increase in such activity.

That California does not attempt to prosecute authors like Puzo invites speculation that the state is discriminating against certain content and certain genres of art and its creators. Italian-American authors writing fiction novels about Mafia violence are acceptable. African-American musicians creating rap music about street gang violence are not.

Whether or not such speculation is justified, prosecutors claim that Duncan is not merely a musician creating unsavory content. They allege that Duncan is actually a member of a gang based in Lincoln Park, California.

Of course, it is also not illegal to belong to a gang.

That too is Constitutional Law 101. The freedoms of assembly and expression necessarily entail the right to free association. The State of California can neither prohibit Duncan from associating with the people of his choosing, nor punish him for doing so.

But there is yet another dot to connect. Duncan is being charged under a California penal statute purporting to make it a crime to “benefit from” the illegal activities of a “criminal street gang” in which one “actively participates:”

…[A]ny person who actively participates in any criminal street gang…, with knowledge that its members engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity…, and who willfully promotes, furthers, assists, or benefits from any felonious criminal conduct by members of that gang is guilty of conspiracy to commit that felony and may be punished as specified in subdivision (a) of Section 182.

According to NBC San Diego, prosecutors explain their theory of this offense as follows:

“If you are a documented gang member, and you benefit from or promote the activities of the gang, you can be held responsible for crimes the gang commits,” the district attorney said.

To be found guilty, prosecutors must prove the suspects are active gang members, that they had “general” knowledge of the gang’s activity and that they profited, assisted or benefited from the activities. The suspects do not have to be directly involved with the crime to be found guilty.

Those benefits could be economic, like album sales, or intangible, like respect, the district attorney argues.

Prosecutors are apparently presenting the aforementioned music lyrics, plus social media pictures, to demonstrate Duncan’s membership in the Lincoln Park gang. They further argue that the sales of his 2012 album benefitted from the 2013 shootings.

Duncan’s defense attorney, Brian Watkins argues that the songs are just artistic expression, and that while Duncan has associated with some members of the gang because he grew up in the same area, he is not himself a member. In an interview with NBC San Diego, Watkins had this to say:

“I mean, to imprison someone for 25 years to life because of artistic expression is something not even the worst communist regimes have done…”

The DA’s office counters that the law was passed by the voters and found constitutional by California’s Supreme Court. That decision was People v. Johnson (2013), wherein the Court analyzed ways in which Section 182.5 diverges from the traditional crime of conspiracy:

[T]raditional conspiracy requires both the specific intent to agree, and specific intent to commit a target crime. … A 182.5 conspiracy does not require any prior agreement among the conspirators to promote, further, or assist in the commission of a particular target crime.

The Court seemingly reassures itself that the intent requirement is replaced with a requirement of “active and knowing gang participa[tion] … with the … intent to promote, further, or assist in the commission of a felony by other gang members.” However, just two paragraphs later, the Court concedes that:

[S]ection 182.5 brings within its ambit not only a gang member who promotes, furthers, or assists in the commission of a felony. It also embraces an active and knowing participant who merely benefits from the crime’s commission, even if he or she did not promote, further, or assist in the commission of that particular substantive offense.

So Section 182.5 dispenses with the traditional intent requirement, replaces it with a requirement that the defendant have been an active and knowing participant in the gang (but not the crime), and then punishes the defendant for receiving any benefit, however intangible, from a crime committed by other members of the gang.

That sure sounds like doing 25 years to life for one’s unsavory associations.

Long-standing criminal statutes already address racketeering, commission of or participation in, conspiracy to commit, or aiding and abetting a crime. What is the need for this particular statute other than to prosecute someone who cannot be demonstrated to have violated those traditional criminal statutes?

Ken White at Popehat reached out to the San Diego District Attorney’s office and reports that:

* The DA’s theory is that Duncan promoted the gang by writing rap music about gang activity, and that he received an “intangible benefit” — their words — by his music becoming more credible or popular. The DA did not present any evidence that the gang’s crimes had any impact on album sales.

* The DA tried to show that Duncan was a member of the gang by some photos of him with gang members throwing gang signs. But they asserted that his rap music also showed that he participated in the gang, one of the elements of the offense.

* The DA’s theory is that when a gang commits a crime all members of the gang automatically benefit for purposes of Section 182.5. That theory, if accepted, would effectively eliminate one of the elements of the crime so that the DA would no longer need to prove that any individual gang member “willfully promotes, furthers, assists, or benefits from” the criminal activity.

In short, based at least on reports of their stance at the prelim, the DA seems to be saying that Duncan violated the statute by being a member of the gang and by rapping about the gang.

In the meantime, Duncan said on an interview with CNN that the studio is his “canvas” and that he would love to continue to make music, but:

“[T]hese people have you scared to do anything around here.”

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Let Us Rediscover the Art of the Peaceful Protest and Civil Disobedience this MLK Day

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In the year 2015 there are many good reasons to protest: police brutality, injustice, the war on (some) drugs, the war on (some) terror, etc. One thing from Martian Luther King Jr.’s legacy that seems to be lost and something we should rediscover is the art of the peaceful protest and civil disobedience.

King understood that for positive change to occur, he had to truly win the hearts and minds of his fellow Americans. Being a positive example by showing the world that he and his followers would take a stand against injustice without resorting to violence was even more important than the words he spoke to that end. Certainly, not everyone believed in using the non-violent approach. Malcolm X and the Black Panthers believed that violence was necessary to achieve their shared goals.*

Who was right?

Personally, I find the pictures and the videos from the non-violent protests and the acts of civil disobedience to be far more compelling. There’s just something about seeing people refusing to act in a violent fashion against the state which inherently IS violence. This has a way of changing hearts and minds.

Contrast this with today’s protests in Ferguson, New York, and elsewhere concerning the police. For the most part, the protesters are peaceful and are using tactics which King would likely be proud. Unfortunately, however; it’s the nasty protesters that are violent, incite riots, or cheer at the news of cops being ambushed which receives far too much of the publicity. Even holding up signs like “The only good cop is a dead cop” or “fuck the police,” though certainly permissible as recognized by the First Amendment, turns people off who might otherwise be sympathetic to one’s cause.

Sadly, it’s not just a few misfit protesters who think that aggression is sometimes warranted to get one’s way. No less than the pope himself last week in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks said: “(If someone) says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

The leader of the same Catholic Church which normally advocates finding non-violent solutions to conflict (such as the Just War Doctrine) says that because someone says something offensive about one’s parents or faith it is permissible to use violence against that person! People’s feeling are more important than the concept of free expression.

I’m not interested in living in a world where I cannot insult the pope or his religion nor do I want to live in a world where the pope cannot insult me or my atheism. The world I am interested in living in is one where we can have passionate, even hurtful disagreements without fearing physical harm to my family, my friends, or myself.

Let us all rediscover the art of peaceful protest and civil disobedience on this Martian Luther King Jr. Day.

NY Jets RB Learns the Hard Way What Happens When You “Just Cooperate” With the Police

Chris Johnson

With the plethora of news stories about police misconduct, excessive force, non-indictments, and the understandable corresponding outrage to such perceived injustices in the waning days of 2014, certain law and order types thought it proper to offer some advice to stop the bloodshed. Quite simple advice really: obey the laws and/or cooperate with the police.

But maybe instead of “simple” I should say “simplistic.” It seems most of those who offer such advice are middle aged white guys who don’t fit the profile the police look for when they decide to stop someone who “looks suspicious.” Take this jackass by the name of Kelly Ogle for example:

It use to be simple… when you come in contact with a police officer, you do what they say.

Unfortunately, an unrealistic distrust of police officers is being fostered by some protesters, even some public officials, which is disgraceful.

Just “do what they say” and everything will be just fine huh?

Don’t tell that to NY Jets RB Chris Johnson. Johnson was recently pulled over in Orlando, Florida for rolling through a stop sign. According to a source close to Johnson, the police asked permission to search his vehicle. Because Johnson didn’t feel like he “had anything to hide” or wanted to “be cooperative,” he foolishly waived his Fourth Amendment rights and allowed the police to search his vehicle.

What did “cooperating” with the police get him? A second degree misdemeanor charge for having his lawfully owned firearm improperly stored in the vehicle according to Florida law. There’s a good chance that Johnson didn’t know he was breaking the law. As we have heard ad nauseum, ignorance of the law is not a legal defense for breaking the law (unless of course, you happen to be a cop).

Just over a month ago, I offered what I believe to be more constructive advice than that the aforementioned badge worshiper. There is a way to be respectful of the police while firmly and intelligently asserting your rights. It seems that had Johnson followed advice similar to mine than that similar to Kelly Ogle’s, he would likely not have been arrested.

Beyond knowing your rights and knowing how to deal with the police, how is one to know if s/he is committing a crime at any given time? In a country in which the average person commits as many as three felonies every single day (to say nothing of any number of misdemeanors a day), there’s no good answer…at least not yet. There soon may be an “ap for that,” however; if this Kickstarter project called “Atlas” generates enough donations by January 31st (they have a long way to go).

Here’s their promotional video explaining the project:

Even if this project doesn’t quite get off the ground, its good to see that there are people out there thinking about how to mitigate the reality of the numerous criminal laws on the books. But until that day comes, understand that when you are stopped by the police, they stopped you because they have some suspicion that you are breaking a law that you may or may not be aware of. Don’t help them by waiving your rights (“just cooperating”) as Chris Johnson did. You can’t assert your rights if you don’t know what they are. Now that you have found these links (here, here, and here), there is no excuse for ignorance of these rights.

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