Category Archives: Privacy

This Advice Could Save Your Life and Preserve Your Liberty

garner

The fact that the police can get away with killing an individual who presented no threat to anyone with the whole incident caught on camera is quite disturbing. A grand jury decided not to indict a NYPD officer by the name of Daniel Pantaleo who used a choke-hold banned by his own department which resulted in the death of Eric Garner. Unlike the incident in Ferguson which contained conflicting testimony and forensics which support Darren Wilson’s version of the event, this event in New York was caught on video from at least two different camera angles (and available on YouTube for the whole world to see). This seems pretty cut and dry at least for an indictment.

So how is it that almost any accused individual brought before a grand jury is indicted unless the accused individual happens to wear a government issued costume? Are grand juries really that biased toward the police? After reading a few dozen comments on threads responding to the grand jury decision, I’m afraid the answer is yes (if you want to lose all hope for humanity, read the comment section to any article of consequence). I reach this conclusion because these are the sort of people who serve on juries and decide that it’s perfectly okay for the police to kill someone if the suspect had any criminal record of any kind, resisted in any way, or even “disrespected” the police on the scene.

The truth is that reforming the way police do things is going to take time as changing people’s attitudes is going to take time. There are things that we as individuals can do here and now so that we don’t become victims of the police, however. Many of these perfect, law abiding specimens of humanity who like to share their wisdom with the rest of us on the internet say that if Eric Garner hadn’t resisted (at all) he would never have been put in the choke hold that contributed or caused his death. On this point, I grudgingly have to agree.

I don’t say this because I believe the use of force against Garner was appropriate but because far too many people do (and juries are composed of people who aren’t always very reasonable).

One common thread in many of these viral videos where the police overreact is that the individual either resists (however mildly), makes a sudden move, or is perceived as being armed [1]. The worst thing you can do is give the cops a reason to use force and an excuse for jurors who will normally give the police the benefit of the doubt a reason to doubt.

So how does one increase one’s odds of surviving an encounter with an overzealous cop? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Before you end your session on the internet today, watch Flex Your Rights’ “10 Rules for Dealing With Police.” I have the entire series and a summary of the rules posted here. If you know how you can respectfully but firmly assert your constitutional rights before the next time you are confronted by the police, you will have advantages most people do not and you will reduce the chances that the encounter will escalate to violence.

2. Act as if the encounter is being recorded and your actions will be scrutinized in front of a judge, jury, and/or the general public. For better or worse, cameras have become ubiquitous, so the chances the encounter is being recorded increase everyday. Use this to your advantage. Better yet, if you have a camera phone, record the encounter yourself. Recording the police in public is legal almost everywhere in the U.S. Follow this link to be sure of the specific legalities of your state. Once you have the camera rolling, follow the aforementioned “10 rules” and be the kind of person a judge, jury, and the general public would be sympathetic toward. If you act like a jerk or are disrespectful in any way (regardless of how the cop acts) this could all backfire.

3. Don’t make any sudden moves and keep your hands visible at all times. If you are pulled over keep your hands on the steering wheel and turn on the dome light if its dark out. When the cop asks for your license and registration, say something like “My license is in my wallet” and very slowly reach for it and hand it over. Then say “My insurance card and registration is in the glove box” then slowly open the glove box and retrieve the documentation. Better yet, have the documentation ready before the cop comes to your window; its less movement and you know you will be asked to produce these items anyway. Had this man followed similar advice, he might not have been shot by a South Carolina State trooper.

4. Understand that you are NOT in control. If the police have decided to put cuffs on you and/or arrest you, do not physically resist, attack, or run. If you do, the results will not end in your favor. Whatever injustice has befallen you will not be settled until later. Also, keep your mouth shut and only speak of the event with your attorney.

Its my hope that these cases which have scandalized us all will lead to better understanding of how we can peacefully resist the growing police state. Its not my intention to blame the victims such as Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Kelly Thomas and countless others but to do my part in not creating new victims of overzealous cops afraid of their own shadows.

[1] Its become a pet peeve of mine seeing headlines that state that the police shoot an “unarmed” man. For one, unarmed does not mean harmless. Also, its probably safe to say that most of the time when the cops shoot an unarmed person, it was unclear if s/he was armed at the time. While we can and should scrutinize the police when they use force, we cannot expect them to have perfect knowledge in real time.

James Comey vs. your privacy

Today’s smartphones contain more data about your life than any other device in human history. It could be argued that they even contain more usable information about your whereabouts and activities than your own brain. Naturally, post-Edward Snowden, protecting that information is a priority for a lot of people.

James Comey wants access to all of that information and he’s willing to let bad guys get at it too:

“Encryption threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place.”

“Encryption isn’t just a technical feature; it’s a marketing pitch … it’s the equivalent of a closet that can’t be opened. A safe that can’t be cracked. And my question is, at what cost?” Comey said. “Both companies [Apple and Google] are run by good people, responding to what they perceive is a market demand. But the place they are leading us is one we shouldn’t go to without careful thought and debate.”

[…]

“With Going Dark, those of us in law enforcement and public safety have a major fear of missing out—missing out on predators who exploit the most vulnerable among us … kids call this FOMO,” he said.

Comey kept referring to the “debate” and “national conversation” that needs to be had regarding widespread encryption. That conversation, in Comey’s mind, should stop and start with the idea that there must be a “front door” means for the FBI, NSA, and other law enforcement agencies to blast through encryption. In other words, companies should be “developing [law enforcement] intercept solutions during the design phase,” a proposition that, beyond making encryption useless, is potentially not even technically feasible.

“Congress might have to force this on companies,” he said. “Maybe they’ll take the hint and do it themselves.”

Read the whole thing.

The own goal of Okcupid

The ousting of Brendan Eich from his post as CEO of the Mozilla Foundation is seen by many as a blow against intolerance. It is in fact the opposite, and if gay rights groups expand such ‘outings’ as a tool to suppress opposition, they risk deepening the antagonism and resistance by people who view them as a threat to our culture.

Let us start by examining Eich.  Eich is a well regarded software developer, one of the numerous people whose brilliant inventions have made the Internet the powerful, revolutionary tool it is.  In 1995, he was hired by Netscape to produce a tool for an upcoming release.  Rather than producing the limited implementation that his bosses had envisioned, Eich invented a new scripting language, now known as Javascript.  Javascript allowed local browsers to execute code to control browser behavior.  It revolutionized the Internet; rather than browsing through static web pages served by an overworked server, it allowed a website to push logic such as form validation to a user’s computer, allowing web pages to become dynamic entities that interacted with a user.  Javascript continues to be actively developed and is used universally to this day. Anyone who spends more than a few hours on the Internet a week is almost certain to benefit from it, and thus is the beneficiary of Eich’s wonderful invention.

Given his nearly two decades of experience in maintaining and improving a critical piece of the Internet infrastructure, Eich was a logical choice to lead the Mozilla foundation.  The flagship product of this non-profit is the Firefox browser, which traces its lineage to the Netscape browser, and Eich had been one of the people who had shepherded the project as it grew like a phoenix from the ashes of a defunct company.

Now let us turn to the OKcupid complaint that was served to people using Firefox.

Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.

Politics is normally not the business of a website, and we all know there’s a lot more wrong with the world than misguided CEOs. So you might wonder why we’re asserting ourselves today. This is why: we’ve devoted the last ten years to bringing people—all people—together. If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8% of the relationships we’ve worked so hard to bring about would be illegal. Equality for gay relationships is personally important to many of us here at OkCupid. But it’s professionally important to the entire company. OkCupid is for creating love. Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.

If you want to keep using Firefox, the link at the bottom will take you through to the site.

However, we urge you to consider different software for accessing OkCupid.

Now, let us be clear: the complaint against Eich had nothing to do with his job. Firefox was not an anti-gay software platform.  In fact, I doubt that it’s codebase contains any logic pertaining to sexual orientation.

The Mozzilla Foundation produces open source tools that allow people to publish informsation and communicate with each other via the Internet.  If anything the Mozilla Foundation has and will continue to help members of marginalized groups or groups that are discriminated against to connect with and support each other.

That wasn’t going to change with Eich at the helm.

So, OKCupid wasn’t upset at the way Eich was doing his job, they wanted to fire him because they hated that he had once supported a political movement they hated. They wanted nothing but failure for him.

But what was his crime?  The political movement he had given $1,000 to that lost in the courts.  Proposition 8 cratered.  Completely.  And with changing demographics, it will be decades before something like it has a chance of winning at the polls and being upheld by the courts.

In short what the senior officers of OKCupid were hoping to do was to intimidate the opponents of gay marriage into silence.  Rather than being gracious victors who foster peace, they wished to continue fighting.  And in doing so, they will only embolden their opponents in the culture war to fight harder.

Most of the opponents of gay marriage fear the cultural upheaval that would result from such a massive change to an institution that they see as the foundation of society.  The way to get them to accept the change is by showing them that the inclusion of homosexual relationships in the set of legally sanctioned unions will not destroy society, that their lives will continue, their communities prosper, and their children will be allowed to grow to realize their potential.

Attempting to destroy their livelihoods and drive them out of civil society will go against that goal.  Persecuting them will only harden their hearts against those who persecute them.   OK Cupid did not strike a blow for tolerance.  Rather, they flamed the fires of intolerance, and who knows what those flames will consume should those fires burn out of control.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Deny/Disrupt/Degrade/Deceive

Last week at United Liberty, Alice Salles posted a very disturbing article about the NSA and GCHQ intercepting and storing webcam images from supposedly private web chats. Between 3 to 11 percent of these images contain sexually explicit content. What would the NSA and GCHQ possibly want with these images apart from a few individual agents getting their jollies?

According to secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden, it seems that these images are to be used to embarrass any would-be critics of the NSA, GCHQ, or anything else the federal government doesn’t want the citizens to get too uppity about. Glenn Greenwald explains:

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.

Greenwald is in no way being hyperbolic here. Some of this might sound like some kind of Alex Jones nonsense, but these conclusions are based on actual leaked documents he shared in the article itself (I highly recommend everyone read these). Here are two leaked Power Point slides that I found to be very revealing and disturbing:

effects

Pay special attention to the last bullet point on the second slide: “The 4 D’s: Deny / Disrupt / Degrade / Deceive.”

These are the tactics that are to be used against American critics of the federal government! The federal government is using the internet via social media to destroy lives and reputations (for national security?). As outrageous and Orwellian as this all is, as I learned reading Jesse Walker’s latest book, these tactics are not new. J. Edgar Hoover had a program called COINTELPRO, and there was a similar CIA program during the Nixon administration dubbed “Operation CHAOS.” The only difference now is the technology to carry out these operations is vastly improved.

In the light of these blatant, strategic lies, how can we ever trust anything we are told by the federal government? It seems the “Innocence of Muslims” video deception Obama’s Ministry of Truth tried to sell us during the 2012 Benghazi attacks was only par for the course!

This revelation made possible by the hero and patriot Edward Snowden* should serve as a warning to us all any time the government accuses anyone of being a terrorist or a traitor to take such accusations with a great deal of skepticism.

*And yes, he is a hero and a patriot make no mistake about that.

BOOK REVIEW: The United States of Paranoia

Conspiracy theories are only believed by people on the fringe of American politics? Not so says Reason’s Jesse Walker in his latest book: The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory. Walker argues quite the opposite in his opening chapter: “The Paranoid Style is American Politics”:

By the time this book is over, I should hope it will be clear that when 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. (p. 24)

For those who are hoping that this is another book in which the author’s goal is to prove or disprove any particular conspiracy theory, Walker makes is clear that this is not what this book is about (for the most part). He also makes a point to acknowledge that some conspiracies have been proven true (ex: Watergate among these, see Chapter 7 for more examples), “At the very moment you are reading this, someone somewhere is probably trying to bribe a politician. The world is filled with plots both petty and grand…” (p.21). Instead telling the reader what to believe, Walker tells a history about what people have believed on this continent from colonial times to now and how these beliefs have shaped the political debate and very the culture itself.

Among the earliest examples of American conspiracies shaping politics and culture resulted in the infamous Salem Witch Trials of the late 1600’s. According to the belief at the time, witches conspired together and with the Devil to bring evil to the land. Disease and other misfortunes the colonists suffered were believed to be the direct result of these alleged Satanic rituals. Men and women were accused, tried, and executed with little or no evidence. The legacy of Salem continues today. When some public official is accused with wrongdoing, credibly or not, the accused and his or her defenders inevitably will call the proceedings a “witch hunt.”

Soon after the colonies won their independence from Great Britain and became the United States of America, the citizenry turned its distrust of power inward. Who could be trusted to lead this new nation and how could the people keep another tyrant or a cabal of tyrants from taking control? As it turns out, many of these fears were quite legitimate. Not everyone was satisfied with the Articles of Confederation. There were actual conspiracies afoot to overthrow existing system under the AOC in which the several states had most of the power while the national government had little. An attempted military coup called the “Newburgh Conspiracy” was stopped when George Washington convinced his fellow soldiers that overthrowing the government by force was not the right way to go about changing the political system.

» Read more

Bye Bye 4th and 5th amendment: Obamacare info may be used for Law Enforcement and Audit activities

Well… we knew that the 4th and 5th amendment meant nothing to them… never mind HIPAA… but really?

 

Obamacare Marketplace: Personal Data Can Be Used For ‘Law Enforcement and Audit Activities’

Maryland’s Health Connection, the state’s Obamacare marketplace, has been plagued by delays in the first days of open enrollment. If users are able to endure long page-loading delays, they are presented with the website’s privacy policy, a ubiquitous fine-print feature on websites that often go unread. Nevertheless, users are asked to check off a box that they agree to the terms.

The policy contains many standard statements about information automatically collected regarding Internet browsers and IP addresses, temporary “cookies” used by the site, and website accessibility. However, at least two conditions may give some users pause before proceeding.

The first is regarding personal information submitted with an application for those users who follow through on the sign up process all the way to the end. The policy states that all information to help in applying for coverage and even for making a payment will be kept strictly confidential and only be used to carry out the function of the marketplace. There is, however, an exception: “[W]e may share information provided in your application with the appropriate authorities for law enforcement and audit activities.” Here is the entire paragraph from the policy the includes the exception [emphasis added]:

Should you decide to apply for health coverage through Maryland Health Connection, the information you supply in your application will be used to determine whether you are eligible for health and dental coverage offered through Maryland Health Connection and for insurance affordability programs. It also may be used to assist you in making a payment for the insurance plan you select, and for related automated reminders or other activities permitted by law. We will preserve the privacy of personal records and protect confidential or privileged information in full accordance with federal and State law. We will not sell your information to others. Any information that you provide to us in your application will be used only to carry out the functions of Maryland Health Connection. The only exception to this policy is that we may share information provided in your application with the appropriate authorities for law enforcement and audit activities.

The site does not specify if “appropriate authorities” refers only to state authorities or if it could include the federal government, as well. Neither is there any detail on what type of law enforcement and/or audit activities would justify the release of the personal information, or who exactly is authorized to make such a determination. An email to the Maryland Health Connection’s media contact seeking clarification has not yet been answered

The second privacy term that may prompt caution by users relates to email communications. The policy reads:

If you send us an e-mail, we use the information you send us to respond to your inquiry. E-mail correspondence may become a public record. As a public record, your correspondence could be disclosed to other parties upon their request in accordance with Maryland’s Public Information Act.

Since emails to the marketplace could conceivably involve private matters regarding finances, health history, and other sensitive issues, the fact that such information could be made part of the “public record” could prevent users from being as free with their information than they might otherwise be. However, as noted, any requests for such emails would still be subject to Maryland’s Public Information Act which contains certain exceptions to the disclosure rules.

Read the fine print eh?

 These are such clear 4th and 5th amendment violations I can’t believe anyone didn’t immediately say “uh guys… we cant actually do this”…

… but as I said, we know that our elected and selected “lords and masters” don’t give a damn about the 4th or 5th amendments (or really any of the others ones any time they become inconvenient).

So while I’m sure they were told they couldn’t do it, I’m sure they said “ahh well the disclaimer and release is enough, we’ll be fine”.

 Yeah no.

 And as far as HIPAA goes… In reality these terms of use are not anywhere near an adequate HIPAA disclosure release, so using any of this data in any manner other than for healthcare purposes would be a federal offense.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Quote of the Day: Failed Attempt at Intimidation Edition

“If the UK and US governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these [Snowden] documents reveal, they are beyond deluded. If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further. Beyond that, every time the US and UK governments show their true character to the world – when they prevent the Bolivian President’s plane from flying safely home, when they threaten journalists with prosecution, when they engage in behavior like what they did today – all they do is helpfully underscore why it’s so dangerous to allow them to exercise vast, unchecked spying power in the dark.”

Glenn Greenwald writing in response to his partner David Miranda’s 9 hour detention by UK authorities at Heathrow Airport.

Reason’s Mike Riggs Interviews Radley Balko on Police Militarization

It’s been nearly a month since Radley Balko’s latest book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces was released. Now Balko is making the rounds with the various media outlets about this subject which normally receives very little attention by the media. As one would expect, Balko has more than his share of critics particularly from the cops-can-do-no-wrong crowd but there has also been a quite positive response by at least some members of law enforcement (particularly former cops who began their careers prior to the SWAT era).

In the video below, Reason’s Mike Riggs interviews the author.

(Note: Link above is taken from Reason‘s site, so if you click through and buy it from Amazon via that link, a portion of the proceeds go to Reason Magazine.)

Your Ox Will Eventually Be Gored

It seems logical that every American, regardless of political affiliation/philosophy, race, religion or creed, would be concerned about the revelations concerning domestic spying on the part of the NSA. If the Obama administration can spy on and mistreat the Tea Party and other right wing causes, the next Republican administration could spy on and mistreat Occupy Wall Street and other left wing causes.

As it turns out, this is not necessarily the case. According to an article by David A. Love, the black community has largely greeted this news with a shrug and a yawn.

Is this lack of concern because many blacks do not want to be critical of the first black* president? This might account for some of this shrugging but Love suspects that there is something much deeper at work here:

The black community has decades of experience being monitored, so this type of surveillance is nothing new. Given the long history of being spied upon, many blacks already assume they are being monitored by the government […]
[…]
African-Americans are no strangers to surveillance, as their activities were highly regulated through the slave codes, laws which controlled both slaves and free blacks.

The mistreatment of blacks did not end when slavery was abolished, of course. Love goes on to describe several other atrocities such as the Tuskegee experiment, J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal spying on Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and others.

Tragic chapters such as Tuskegee have been cited as a reason why African-Americans distrust the medical establishment and are hesitant to participate in clinical research. One study found that 67 percent of black parents distrusted the medical profession, compared to half of white parents.

As I read this, I wondered why there isn’t a similar distrust of the government as the medical establishment by blacks in general. The Tuskegee experiments were done at the behest of the U.S. Public Health Service, after all!

After finishing the article, I decided to read through the comments section (this is a blog that is dedicated primarily with concerns of the black community; the comments can sometimes be very illuminating). The very first comment by a user with the handle “Blackheywood Heywood” did not disappoint:

The US government began spying on Black folks before this government was created, yet it was no outrage.Give me a break, it seems slowly mainstream America is discovering how it feels to be thought of as suspicious or guilty before being accused, never mind arrested. Welcome to the world of the American Black male.

Heywood has a valid point. The answer to the question why the lack of outrage by the black community concerning the NSA and IRS scandals could just as easily turned against what Heywood called “mainstream America.” Indeed, where was the right (for lack of a better term) on these outrages? Where has the Tea Party been on the question of “stop and frisk,” in New York in which minorities are especially targeted to be searched, supposedly at random? Is this simply a case of “out of sight, out of mind?”

I believe there’s also another phenomenon at work: the memory hole. Near the close of the article, Love mentioned an event that took place in Philadelphia in 1985 I was completely unaware of:

On May 13, 1985, following a standoff, a Philadelphia police helicopter dropped a bomb on the house on Osage Avenue occupied by the black “radical” group known as MOVE. Police reportedly fired on MOVE members as they escaped the burning home […]
[…]
The 1985 bombing—which killed 11 people, including 5 children and destroyed an entire neighborhood of 61 row homes in West Philadelphia—marked the first such attack on U.S. citizens by government authorities. The survivors and victims’ families received $5.5 million in compensation from the city of Philadelphia.

I try my best to be informed about historical events as well as current events. How is it that this is the first I had ever heard about the Philadelphia Police dropping a freaking bomb on a neighborhood in an American city?** I must have been sick that day in American History class (I also didn’t learn about the Tuskegee experiments until well into my twenties; maybe I was sick on that day as well).

Maybe MOVE was a radical organization maybe it wasn’t*** but nothing could justify the police dropping a bomb on a neighborhood. Perhaps this atrocity is well known by people in the black community, both young and old but not so much outside the black community (or maybe I’m one of the few Americans who never heard about this but I doubt it).

MOVE probably wasn’t the first group the government described as “extreme” to a point where government officials ordered and used military force against its members; it certainly wasn’t the last. How many people out of a hundred know about what happened at Ruby Ridge? The Weaver family, why they were “extremists” after all and therefore, why should anyone care about their rights? How many people out of a hundred know about the conflicting accounts of what really happened at assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas? (Here’s a hint: a great deal more than what the MSM reported at the time). I suppose because these people were part of some sort of cult, their rights didn’t matter either!

This is where the real problem of indifference lies. I’ve heard far too many people with the attitude “it’s not my problem” or “it doesn’t affect me”. Even more disturbing is the attitude some people have that they are happy when someone of an opposing view has his or her rights of life, liberty, and/or property trampled on (i.e. “Screw them, they are ‘extremists’”). Far too often, concerns about civil liberties depend on whose ox is being gored at that particular time.

I would like to humbly suggest that if you are not as upset when its someone else’s ox, even if it’s the ox of your opponent’s, one day it will be your ox that will be gored. Perhaps Martin Niemoller said it best in his very short work “First they Came” describing how the Nazis took freedom away from the whole population, one group at a time. By the time the Nazis got around to taking freedom from what remained of the population, Niemoller concluded “there was no one left to speak for me.”

To be clear, I am not comparing the U.S. government to the Nazis. Such hyperbolic comparisons are not constructive and minimize the very crimes against humanity the Nazis committed. I am making a comparison about how populations respond to encroachments on liberty, however. As demonstrated in Love’s article, there are plenty of examples of injustice from American history.

Here are just a handful more:

  • The Indian Removal Act
  • Slavery
  • The internment of Japanese Americans
  • Jim Crow
  • McCarthyism

And many, many more.

Each of these policies were permitted to happen because the majority apparently felt that curtailing freedoms of these minorities would somehow not affect their own freedoms. We should acknowledge that these injustices occurred and try to learn the right lessons (rather than pretend the U.S. government or the American people have committed no wrongs ever) and move on.

Every injustice and every violation of rights of life, liberty, and property must be answered by all of us as if it’s our own liberty that is at stake.

*Yes, I’m aware that Obama is actually half black. However, if a man of his description was accused of committing a crime and at large, he would be described as a black man.

**In light of this, Rand Paul’s questions about government using drones to attack Americans on American soil no longer seem so far fetched, unfortunately.

***All I know is what I read in the cited article.

Quote of the Day: “Highest Honor” Edition

“Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American…”

- Edward Snowden in response to Cheney and others calling him a traitor for his NSA leaking.

Your Secrets Are Not Safe with the Government

During a recent show, Chris Hayes, host of All In with Chris Hayes, made some very important points worthy of sharing here about government secrecy and the government’s inability to keep secrets:

As of the end of 2011, there were 1.4 million people with top secret security clearance […] just one of the 1.4 million people is on trial for leaking a heck of a lot of secrets. Bradley Manning is the 25-year-old soldier accused of turning over files to Wikileaks including reports from Afghanistan and air strikes to killed civilians. His trial got under way and he faces prison. He is viewed as a hero and others see him as a villain and a traitor. What he is is proof that the government cannot keep secrets. If 1.4 million people had access, that access is not a secret in any real way.

For the purposes of this post, I’m not going to get into whether Bradley Manning is a patriot or a traitor but Chris Hayes’ main point about the ability of the government to keep secrets safe, especially among 1.4 million individuals. These secrets that Manning leaked were secrets which painted the U.S. government in a very negative light (to put it mildly) and therefore, had a great deal of incentives to keep these secrets from ever seeing the light of day (this seems to throw quite a bit of cold water on many of the Alex Jones conspiracy theories, at least in my mind). If these secrets could not be kept safe from public view, can anyone really make the case that the government would be better able or have greater incentive to keep secrets collected on American citizens?

This brings me to Hayes’ second point about the SCOTUS ruling regarding the keeping of DNA records in databases, even of suspected felons who were later found not guilty:

The court decided that information can be taken without your consent and kept in a database. All the precautions taken with the database, the state is not allowed to search it for fun or interesting facts about people. It can only be used to identify suspects. No matter how responsible the state promises to be with it, it is a government database subject to the statement forces that our top clearance systems. That system that they are trying to keep hackers out which is to say it is a system that cannot keep secrets.

As we now know, the IRS found all kinds of “fun or interesting facts” and used them against certain individuals and groups. What other creative uses will this government come up with to use the alarming volume of information collected of and against the people? Even if we are to believe that most of the people who have access to confidential information will not misuse it (I have no such confidence this is true), all it takes is one rogue individual. For those who may be reading this who have adopted the authoritarian “If you have nothing to hide” mindset, I would suggest reconsidering that premise and resist the growing surveillance state.

Libertarianism And Privacy In The Data Age

The world is changing. It’s happening rapidly. And it’s freaking people out.

Libertarians are concerned that constant surveillance, like that which helped identify the Boston bombers, is an infringement on our privacy. This can be true whether the cameras are public or private, as it’s not hard to justify a subpoena for a company’s tape after a terrorist attack. Couple this with facial recognition software, and eventually tracking people in a public place will be a matter of computing power, not of investigative work. Automotive “black boxes” and licence plate readers (on regular streets and toll roads) offer tremendous opportunities for vehicle tracking, notwithstanding my colleague Doug Mataconis’ concerns about the data we’ll be giving up if we move to driverless cars. It cuts both ways, too, as the government is quickly forced to deal with the oversight of 300 million people with video cameras in their pocket at all times.

And none of this even begins to scratch the surface of the personal tracking device nearly all of us carry — the smartphone. Even when we’re not deliberately “checking in” to a place on Google+ or Facebook, we’re in contact with cell towers, WiFi access points, while our phone can track our location down to a few meters via GPS.

The premise for a dystopian novel writes itself, my friends, and we’re all lining up like lemmings at the edge of the cliff. The question amongst many paranoid libertarians is simple: how do we roll it back?

As a technology fellow myself with a basic understanding of economics, I’m sorry to report that the question is obsolete.

Technology marches forward with little concern for how we want to use it. Data storage capacity (my field) continues to explode, although barely keeping up with the amount of data people want to store. Computing power is still tracking Moore’s law, and now even low-end, low power [and low-cost] processors abound in devices that would have been analog a decade ago (or didn’t exist). And as efficiency, size, and battery technology improves, these technologies become ever-more portable and thus ever-more prevalent.

You’re not sticking this genie back in the bottle. It simply won’t happen. And you know what? I’m here to tell you that perhaps that’s not a bad thing!

I want us to be able to catch the bad guys. There’s the old adage that “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”, and to an extent that’ actually true. If you don’t want to do the time, don’t do the crime. If someone commits a public bombing, or robs a bank, or kills/maims/rapes someone, I think actually having the tools to track down and catch that person is actually a good thing. It’s not catching criminals that’s the problem here…

…it’s that too many things are crimes.

You see, libertarians can’t roll back the clock on the surveillance/data age. That’s driven by society. But we *can* try to influence something far more important — the scope of what that data is relevant to.

Undoubtedly, we all do things today that are illegal. Usually multiple times before we’ve made it into the office. For some people, those things are as innocuous as not buckling your seat belt, jaywalking, or speeding. However, often those activities are certain things that are much more strongly disfavored by government despite being victimless activities — smoking a little pot, or paying for sex, or playing a little unlicensed poker with friends (or strangers). These are events that normally the government is not aware of, but even if your a target of or an innocent accessory to another investigation, the government can make your life hell if they catch you doing. And with this much data flying around, they can pretty well prove just about anything regarding what you’re doing if they try hard enough. All you need to do is to piss off the wrong petty bureaucrat, and they can work to destroy your life.

The goal is, and always should be, making it harder for the government to harass citizens over victimless crimes. And this can be done whether we have a surveillance state to catch the real criminals or not. The only difference is that when you don’t have a powerful surveillance apparatus (public OR private), fighting for libertarianism doesn’t matter all that much. When you DO have a powerful surveillance apparatus, fighting for libertarianism is absolutely critical.

We live in the surveillance/tracking/data age. That’s not going to change. And the very technologies which enable all the surveillance, tracking, and data collection are the same technologies that are being used daily to make our lives richer, easier, and more convenient. That’s a significant benefit to use personally and to society. It’s up to us to make sure that the unnecessary costs to our freedoms are as minimal as possible.

The Best Defense Against Terrorism

Terrorism

The specter of terrorism, especially on the American homeland is very frightening. These fears are especially acute in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack such as the bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday.

More recently and prior to this latest attack, however; according to a recent Gallup poll, terrorism received 0% when asked about America’s greatest problem. Sen. Mitch McConnell said in response to the mathon bombing: “I think it’s safe to say that, for many, the complacency that prevailed prior to September 11th has returned. And so we are newly reminded that serious threats to our way of life remain.

Is Sen. McConnell right? Have Americans become complacent to these “serious threats”? Are Americans to blame for failing to be vigilant? Should we demand the federal government “do something” more to protect us?

Since 9/11, Americans have surrendered liberty for the appearance of security. The USA PATRIOT Act and the Department of Homeland Security have been in place for more than a decade. The former has given government agents the ability to write their own search warrants (i.e. National Security Letters), the ability to monitor bank accounts and library records of unsuspecting individuals among other privacy invasions. The latter created the TSA which gave airline passengers the choice between a thorough groping or a virtual strip search among other indignities. There was also the “no fly list” which contained the names of individuals who could not fly under any circumstances. President Bush launched two undeclared wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (two battlefronts in the “war on terror” we were told) projected to cost somewhere between $4-6 trillion when all is said and done.

President Obama, far from being “weak” on terrorism as many of his critics suggest, broke his promise of closing Guantanamo Bay, renewed the Patriot Act, expanded the use of drones with a “kill list” which includes American citizens, and signed the NDAA which gives government agents the ability to kidnap American citizens and take them to Guantanamo Bay and detain them indefinitely. Osama bin Laden was also killed on Obama’s watch.

Yet with all of these policies being used to wage war on a common noun, somehow, two individuals managed to plant a bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon which killed three people and injured many more. What other liberties are we, the people supposed to surrender to make sure this “never happens again.”?

The truth of the matter is we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that any government policy can deliver such a promise no matter how many of our liberties we surrender. The government could take away all the guns, place all of our names in a database, implant RFID chips into our foreheads, track our every movement, go to war with three more countries, and certain individuals would still find a way to defeat these measures and commit acts of terrorism.

As discouraging as this may seem, there is one thing each and every one of us can do to defend ourselves against terrorism without sacrificing any liberty whatsoever (actually, re-claiming more of our lost liberties is part of the solution). But before this one thing can be revealed, we must first have a clear understanding of why some people resort to terrorism and how terrorism is supposed to work.

The “why” is simply that some people use the tactic in hopes of achieving (usually) a political end. These are usually people who do not believe they can accomplish their political aims peacefully through the normal political processes. The “how” is by engendering fear in carrying out attacks on unsuspecting people. The terrorists main goal is not necessarily to kill as many people as possible as it is to create so much fear that their enemies react emotionally as opposed to rationally.

Because the terrorist’s main goal is for each of us to live in fear that any moment we might be next, the answer is simply to not be afraid, stop acting out of fear, and stop allowing our leaders to legislate out of fear. This is the strategy Downsize D.C. has adopted and once I properly understood their reasoning, I have adopted this approach:

Here’s what it means to not be afraid, here’s what it means to fight a real war on terror, and here’s what it means to win that war, instantly . . .

  • It means that you do not participate in the public hysteria when terrorists attack, but instead react proportionally, placing the terrorist act in its proper place in the vast scheme of crimes, accidents, disease, natural disaster, and generic tragedy that is man’s lot on earth.

  • It means that you do not permit the politicians to feel terror on your behalf. It means that you discourage them from fomenting and exploiting hysteria to expand their own power at the expense of traditional American principles.

  • It means that you view terrorism as a matter for international police work, under the rule of law, and not a justification for bloated government programs, reckless wars, or the shredding of the Bill of Rights.

  • It means that you recruit others to adopt your war winning strategy of not being afraid.

Downsize D.C. also encourages Americans to write their legislators and include the following statement:

“I am not afraid of terrorism, and I want you to stop being afraid on my behalf. Please start scaling back the official government war on terror. Please replace it with a smaller, more focused anti-terrorist police effort in keeping with the rule of law. Please stop overreacting. I understand that it will not be possible to stop all terrorist acts. I accept that. I am not afraid.”

I think I would also add that we should stop treating these terrorists as if they are some larger than life super villain (Was it really necessary to shut down the entire town of Watertown, cancel sporting events, and stop trains from running for one person?). If and when the perpetrator is captured, he shouldn’t be treated any different than any other person accused of murder. If our government does anything well it’s putting people in cages.

For those who read this and are still afraid of being a victim of terrorism, let me offer a little bit of perspective. You are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease and 12,571 times more likely to die of cancer than a terrorist attack (so rather than worry about terrorism, pay attention to your health). You are also 1,048 times more likely to die in an auto accident than a terrorist attack (so pay attention to your driving and hang up that cell phone!). You are 8 times more likely to be killed by a cop or be electrocuted than be killed in a terrorist attack (so don’t fly your kite near power lines near a police station).

When was the last time you heard a politician point these things out?

The reason you haven’t is because politicians also benefit from fear. Think about it: what chance would the Patriot Act, NDAA, FISA, CISPA, gun control legislation, war, and laws named after dead children have of passing without the ability to scare the bejesus out of the general public? Fear is truly the health of the state.

Maybe the fact that most Americans have become “complacent” is a good thing!

Gay Marriage, Religious Rights, and Freedom of Association

(Re-post: originally posted November 23, 2008)

California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure aiming to outlaw same sex marriage, passed on a very close vote. Prop 8’s supporters* pushed a campaign of fear, misinformation, and a complete distortion of the meaning of individual liberty. This campaign commercial is typical of the intolerance and hysteria being promoted from the “yes” campaign.

Argument #1: Churches could be forced to marry gay people.

Argument #2: Religious adoption agencies could be forced to allow gay couples to adopt children; some adoption agencies would close their doors as a result.

Argument #3: Those who speak out against gay marriage on religious grounds will be labeled “intolerant” and subjected to legal penalties or social ridicule. Careers could be threatened.

Argument #4: Schools will teach students that marriage is between “party a” and “party b” regardless of gender. Schools also teach health and sexuality and would now include discussions of homosexuality.

Argument #5: There will be “serious clashes” between public schools and parents who wish to teach their children their values concerning marriage.

Argument #6: Allowing gays to marry will restrict or eliminate liberties of “everyone.” (Example: Photographers who do not want to work at same sex weddings)

Argument #7: If Prop 8 fails, religious liberty and free speech rights will be adversely affected.

My response to these arguments is that we should be advocating for more freedom for everyone rather than restrict freedom of a group or class of people. The state should recognize the same contract rights** for a gay couple as it would between a man and a woman. To get around the whole definition of marriage issue, I would propose that as far as the state is concerned, any legally recognized intimate relationship between consenting adults should be called a “domestic partnership.” From there the churches or secular equivalent to churches should have the right to decide who they will marry and who they will not (just as they do now).

Rather than subject an individual’s rights to a vote or either party forcing their values on the other, we should instead advocate freedom of association and less government in our everyday lives. Somewhere along the way, we as a people decided that the government should involve itself more and more into the relationships of private actors. The government now has the ability to dictate to business owners quotas of who they must hire, family leave requirements, how much their employees must be paid, and how many hours they work (among other requirements). For the most part, businesses which serve the public cannot deny service to individuals for fear of a lawsuit.

A return to a freedom of association society would remedy arguments 1, 2, 6, and 7 from this ad. As to Argument #3, the anti-gay marriage folks are going to have to realize that in a free society, they are going to have to deal with “social ridicule”*** or being called intolerant. Anyone who takes a stand on any issue is going to be criticized and called names. In a freedom of association society, an employer would have every right to decide to layoff individuals who hold views or lifestyles they disagree with.

While we’re on the subject of intolerance, perhaps we should take a moment to consider if people who would deny equivalent rights which come with marriage are intolerant. This ad is exactly the same as the previous ad except that the words “same sex” and “gays” have been replaced with “interracial.”

Believe it or not, there was a time in this country when there were such laws against interracial marriage. Those who argued against interracial marriage made very similar arguments to what the anti-gay marriage people are making now. Today most of us would say those people were intolerant.

Intolerance aside, Arguments 4 and 5 can also be answered by reducing the role of government in our lives. What the “yes” people should be arguing for is a separation of school and state. While we as a nation are trending toward more government involvement in K-12 education, those who do not want the government schools to teach their children the birds and the bees or enter into discussions of homosexuality can put their children in private schools which share their values or home school. School Choice is the obvious answers to these concerns.

Prop 8’s supporters have turned the whole idea of individual liberty on its head. They claim that in order to preserve the rights of the greatest number of people a minority of people necessarily must sacrifice their rights. This is absurd and dangerous. Perhaps it is this complete misunderstanding of individual rights among Californians which contributed to Prop 8’s passage.

When explained properly, the rights of life, liberty, and property is the easiest concept to understand.

Hat Tip: The Friendly Atheist

Posted Elsewhere:

Dan Melson @ Searchlight Crusade has written a very thought provoking post on this issue. Some of his arguments I agree with, others I don’t but all of his points are well argued.

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“Common Sense” Legislation to Curb Gun Violence?

Like most people who value individual liberty, I listened to President Obama’s speech about reducing gun violence with a great deal of trepidation. He presented several ideas such as limiting the size of magazines to 10 rounds, banning “military-style assault weapons” (i.e. any gun that looks scary to progressives who know almost nothing about firearms), and “universal” background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun just to name a few “common sense” reforms. In so many words he basically said that anyone who doesn’t favor these proposals is getting in the way of preventing future gun violence (Why even St. Ronald Reagan was even in favor of some of these proposals!)

One point of particular irritation for me is this notion being promoted by the Left that AK-47’s and other “weapons of war” should not be made available to “civilians.” President Obama rightly pointed out that these weapons with these magazines “ha[ve] one purpose: to pump out as many bullets as possible, to do as much damage using bullets often designed to inflict maximum damage.”

Well if we civilians do not “need” these weapons, why should the police have them? Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the local police also considered “civilian”? (i.e. civilian law enforcement). Why do the police “need” these awful “weapons of war” which “inflict maximum damage” to serve a warrant for a late night drug bust?* If everyone else should be limited to certain weapons with magazines containing 10 rounds or less, they too should be limited to what weapons are permissible (or at the very least, what situations these weapons should be used). To suggest otherwise would be to suggest that the police are “at war” with the “civilians” since war is all these weapons are good for.

As some who are critical of the president’s approach have correctly pointed out, these reforms would not have prevented the killing at Sandy Hook Elementary. Obama and his allies like to say “if these proposals save only one life…” but they fail to recognize that these reforms might save one life in one situation but might cost a life in another situation (such as a home invasion; the homeowner runs out of rounds due to smaller magazine capacity etc.). Most, if not all of these reforms are meaningless measures to prevent guns from falling into “the wrong hands” (at best) so that the president can say he’s “doing something” to prevent mass shootings.

Some of these proposals do seem reasonable based only on the broad outlines (as always, the devil is in the details). I don’t have a problem with person-to-person background checks** in the abstract. Why shouldn’t an individual be subjected to the same background check as when buying from a gun dealer when s/he is buying from someone who posted his firearm on Craig’s List? I would think that the seller would want to have the peace of mind and/or limit any exposure to liability for any misuse of the firearm.

There are many proposals that are being floated that need to be thought through rather than rushed through to score cheap political points. These proposals go well beyond the 2nd Amendment into areas such as free speech (i.e. censorship), doctor/client privilege (privacy), state’s rights, and more. I do think that we supporters of the right to bear arms need to try to offer up some “common sense” solutions of our own to reduce illegitimate force that either enhance liberty or at the very least, do not tread on the liberties of others.***

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“That’s a Violation of My Privacy!”


In Little Canada, MN the police are trying to argue that Andrew Henderson violated HIPPA (federal healthcare privacy law) when he recorded a police interaction with a third party which required an ambulance. His camera was confiscated, the file was deleted (according to Henderson), and is being charged with “disorderly conduct” and “obstruction of the legal process.” How filming the police from 30 feet away qualifies for either charge is beyond me.

Hat Tips: The Agitator (for the comic strip) and The Drudge Report (for the Little Canda story).

The Modern Republican Party is a Special Kind of Suck (Part 3 of 3)

Part 2

Did Voters Reject Capitalism?
Some on the Right have said that the 2012 election was a rejection of Capitalism. I’m not entirely sure I agree. Yes, there seems to be a large percentage of the electorate who want money to be taken away from the top 1 or 2% and redistributed to the remaining 99 or 98%. Yes, more people are reliant on some sort of government check than ever before. Is it possible that there was some other reason voters rejected the alternative Barack Obama in this election?

The answer to this question, I think, has more to do with where conservatives come down on certain divisive social issues. The rhetoric on issues like abortion and gay marriage for example have alienated certain people who agree with Republicans on taxes and spending may have otherwise voted for the Republican candidate. For voters who decide these issues are at least as important as economic issues, they either support Obama, support Gary Johnson,* or don’t vote at all.

Anti-choice Extremism of Suck
To be fair, abortion is an issue that even divides libertarians. Sadly, this is not an issue that is likely to disappear anytime soon.** But the way Republicans present the issue needs to change unless they want to continue to chase away the female vote. I don’t think it’s even necessarily about abortion per se but more the cavalier attitude some Republican politicians seem to have about anything concerning women’s reproductive cycles.

While it’s reasonable to say that the government should not force insurance companies to pay for contraception, when someone like Rush Limbaugh calls someone like Sandra Fluke a slut or a prostitute, for advocating the opposite view, this distracts from the argument. There has always been a double standard in our society concerning sex. Men are studs for putting notches on their bedposts while women are sluts for doing the same. Comments like these remind women of this double standard and make it seem that Republicans have not moved beyond this double standard.

They refer to the “morning after pill” (marketed as Plan B) as an “abortion pill” when in fact it is not. In fact, according to this article on WebMD the morning after pill doesn’t work for women who are already pregnant (that’s a different pill). The article further explains that the pill does one of two things depending on where a woman happens to be in her cycle when the pill is taken: 1. prevents or delays ovulation or 2. keeps the egg from being fertilized. Some may also recall that Ron Paul, who was arguably the most anti-abortion candidate in the race and someone who was an obstetrician by trade (i.e. he knows what he’s talking about) said as much in one of the debates when the morning after pill was brought up. Anyone who says the morning after pill is an abortion pill is either uninformed or lying.

You have Republican men like Todd Aiken talking about “legitimate rape,” basically saying to women who are real victims that if her body didn’t “shut that whole thing down,” they weren’t really raped to begin with, therefore; there shouldn’t be a legal exception for rape to allow for an abortion. Another senate candidate, Richard Mourdock, said that a pregnancy that is the result of rape is “a gift from God.” Seriously.

Whether they realize it or not, Republicans are basically saying that pregnant women are second class citizens. For nine months, her rights are second to the concern of the unborn child regardless of the circumstances of how the child was conceived and regardless of legitimate health concerns of the mother. It should come to no surprise that some women might object to these attitudes and vote accordingly.

The issues concerning reproductive rights are delicate but often not treated as such among Republicans. Maybe just maybe, the GOP should allow the women to be the spokespersons on these issues, even if they are staunchly anti-choice. Instead of a blanket one size fits all federal policy outlawing abortion; the GOP should say the issue should be decided state-by-state.

Anti-Gay Attitudes of Suck
Face it Republicans, gays are serving in the military and they will eventually have the ability to get married in all 50 states. The train has left the station a long, long time ago. You can concede that you have lost on this issue or you can continue to take a beating at the polls, and deservedly so.

So what’s a socially conservative person to do?

No one says you have to like the gay lifestyle. Go ahead and preach from your tax exempt pulpit about the immorality of homosexuality. Go ahead and write blogs or write on your Face Book wall about how much you disapprove. Whatever. It’s your right to be as intolerant as you want to be.

The problem for libertarians at least is when you want to use force via the government to get your way. Libertarians would also say that churches should not be forced by the government to marry gay couples (or any couple for any reason for that matter). Let the churches discriminate but also allow gay couples to have the same legal contract*** rights as heterosexual couples. And if a gay couple can find a church that will marry them, that should be the end of it. Who are you to infringe on their religious liberty?

Conclusion: Slaying the Suck
The days of appealing only to white Christian men over 50 are coming to an end as white Christian men over 50 are quickly becoming a minority. The Republican Party must learn to reach out to minorities, to women, and to younger voters.

Sure, Republicans had minorities speaking at their convention and I’m not accusing the GOP of tokenism (though I’m sure others, particularly on the Left will make that charge). But it simply is not enough to have Condoleezza Rice, Susannah Martinez, and Marco Rubio in the party to say that you are “inclusive.” Minorities need to be included in the conversation, heard as opposed to talked at. How are your policies better for them than the Democrats’?

Ask yourself: “If I were female, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Muslim, atheist, or gay, would I feel welcome in the Republican Party?” If the answer is “no,” the Republicans have some serious work to do if they want to win in the future. While none of these minorities in of themselves cost Romney the election, together they make up a significant voting bloc that would be foolish to ignore.

Some of the issues I have mentioned in this series are popular within the GOP but don’t necessarily play all that well outside the GOP (i.e. independent voters). This doesn’t mean surrendering their principles necessarily but it does mean re-thinking some of them, presenting their ideas better, and deciding which issues are worth fighting for and which (if any) need to be jettisoned.

While some people may have liked Mitt Romney’s economic proposals, they may have also disliked his social proposals. The problem with supporting a candidate for office is that the person you are voting for is a package deal. Some of us are simply unwilling to choose between economic liberties and civil liberties (and when the Republicans are only marginally better on economic liberty than the Democrats AND when Democrats are only marginally better than Republicans on civil liberties, some of us prefer the real deal and vote Libertarian).

In closing, I think Rep. Ron Paul had some very good thoughts in his farewell speech from the House that would serve as a guide on how the Republican Party can slay the special kind of suck that gave a terrible president a second term:

The problem we have faced over the years has been that economic interventionists are swayed by envy, whereas social interventionists are swayed by intolerance of habits and lifestyles. The misunderstanding that tolerance is an endorsement of certain activities, motivates many to legislate moral standards which should only be set by individuals making their own choices. Both sides use force to deal with these misplaced emotions. Both are authoritarians. Neither endorses voluntarism. Both views ought to be rejected.

Yes, these views ought to be rejected and the GOP should return to the strategy they used to win in 2010: economic issues front and center and social issues on the back burner.

*I am proud to say I was one of the 1% or roughly 1 million who supported Gary Johnson for president. Though in terms of the election is a small number but set a new record for the Libertarian Party.

**Call me cynical but I think both Republicans and Democrats want abortion to always be an issue for fundraising reasons. This is an issue that animates the bases of both parties.

***Don’t waste my time with the slippery slope arguments “that if gays can marry what’s next, people marrying their dogs?” or “marry children” or “marry their cars.” The key here is contract rights. Dogs, children, and cars all have one thing in common: none have the legal ability to enter into a contract.

In the U.S. State Department’s De-listing of MEK as a Terrorist Group, the “War on Terror” Loses All Meaning*

“In this world, there are good causes and bad causes, and we may disagree on where that line is drawn. Yet, there is no such thing as a good terrorist. No national aspiration, no remembered wrong can ever justify the deliberate murder of the innocent. Any government that rejects this principle, trying to pick and choose its terrorist friends, will know the consequences.” -President George W. Bush speech to the U.N. General Assembly on November 10, 2001

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists”- a refrain we have heard from many American presidents and American politicians over the years. But anyone who has taken even a cursory look at history knows that this is a lie. Not only does our government negotiate with terrorists and state sponsors of terrorism, the uncomfortable truth is that the U.S. itself is a state sponsor of terrorist groups when the group in question uses its tactics against enemies of the U.S. or her allies.

The latest example is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement that Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (a.k.a. MEK) will be de-listed as a “foreign terrorist organization.” MEK has been on the list since 1997. For those who are not familiar with MEK, this organization was once aligned with Saddam Hussein** and allegedly responsible for killing at least six Americans in the 1970’s along with a failed kidnapping attempt of U.S. Ambassador to Iran Douglas MacArthur II in 1971 and a failed assassination attempt of USAF Brig Gen Harold Price in 1972.

Lest there be any partisans on the Right trying to accuse the Obama administration giving in to terrorism, its worth pointing out that the campaign to de-list MEK has been a bipartisan effort. Rudy Giuliani, Tom Ridge, Fran Townsend, Michael Mukasey, Andrew Card of the Right have joined MEK advocates of the Left such as Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Bill Richardson, and Ed Rendell. Many of these advocates have been paid to speak out on MEK’s behalf; a crime of “material support” of terrorism under normal circumstances but apparently A-OK if done by prominent politicians.

So what exactly has MEK done to ingratiate itself to the State Department to be de-listed as a foreign terrorist organization? Has MEK ceased its terrorist activities or paid restitution (to the extent it could be paid) to its victims? According to Glenn Greenwald, its quite the opposite:

What makes this effort all the more extraordinary are the reports that MEK has actually intensified its terrorist and other military activities over the last couple of years. In February, NBC News reported, citing US officials, that “deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by [MEK]” as it is “financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service”. While the MEK denies involvement, the Iranian government has echoed these US officials in insisting that the group was responsible for those assassinations. NBC also cited “unconfirmed reports in the Israeli press and elsewhere that Israel and the MEK were involved in a Nov. 12 explosion that destroyed the Iranian missile research and development site at Bin Kaneh, 30 miles outside Tehran”.

In April, the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh reported that the US itself has for years provided extensive training to MEK operatives, on US soil (in other words, the US government provided exactly the “material support” for a designated terror group which the law criminalizes). Hersh cited numerous officials for the claim that “some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today.” The MEK’s prime goal is the removal of Iran’s government.

Despite these reports that the MEK has been engaged in terrorism and other military aggression against Iran – or, more accurately: likely because of them – it was announced on Friday the US State Department will remove MEK from its list of terrorist organizations. This event is completely unsurprising. In May, I noted the emergence of reports that the State Department would do so imminently.

Greenwald goes on to point out five lessons we should learn from MEK’s de-listing: 1. There is a separate justice system in the US for Muslim Americans, 2. the US government is not opposed to terrorism when its beneficial, 3.“terrorism” is a meaningless (and often manipulated) term, 4. legalized influence-peddling within both parties is what drives DC, and 5. there is aggression between the US and Iran, but it’s generally not from Iran. It’s quite a scathing indictment of what the U.S. government’s stated policy is regarding terrorism and what its actual policy is.

Over at Popehat, Ken writes his thoughts about MEK’s de-listing. Ken recalls how as a young lawyer, he was on a prosecution team responsible for prosecuting someone who had ties with MEK. By Ken’s account, there was “no doubt” that this person was guilty of running an immigration fraud ring as the evidence against him was “overwhelming.” Ken points out that this occurred before 9/11 and “Bob’s” sentence wasn’t any worse because of his involvement with MEK, though the prosecution team worked very hard was very proud of connecting “Bob” to the terrorist organization.

Needless to say, Ken isn’t very pleased with MEK’s de-listing either and for some very good reasons:

The six people the MEK killed in the 1970s are still dead. They were dead when the State Department designated the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization and they have been dead all the years since and they won’t get any less dead when the State Department removes the MEK from its FTO list. The MEK is the organization that once allied with Saddam Hussein; that historical fact hasn’t changed, although its political significance has. No — what has changed is the MEK’s political power and influence and the attitude of our government towards it.

[…]

The United States government, under two opposed increasingly indistinguishable political parties, asserts the right to kill anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror. It asserts the right to detain anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror, and to do so based on undisclosed facts applied to undisclosed standards in undisclosed locations under undisclosed conditions for however long it wants, all without judicial review. It asserts the right to be free of lawsuits or other judicial proceedings that might reveal its secrets in the War on Terror. It asserts that the people it kills in drone strikes are either probably enemy combatants in the War on Terror or acceptable collateral damage. It asserts that increasing surveillance of Americans, increasing interception of Americans’ communications, and increasingly intrusive security measures are all required by the War on Terror.

But the War on Terror, unlike other wars, will last as long as the government says it will. And, as the MEK episode illustrates, the scope of the War on Terror -the very identity of the Terror we fight — is a subjective matter in the discretion of the government. The compelling need the government cites to do whatever it wants is itself defined by the government.

Glenn Greenwald and Ken are both right on what the de-listing of MEK should tell us about the so-called war on terror. Our government is not serious about fighting terrorism, it condones it even as we surrender our liberties at home. This is especially true if the target of the terrorism is Iran or another “state sponsor of terrorism” we are all supposed to be afraid of and eventually be at war with.

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Anti-Choice* Extremism in Conservative Movement Lends Credence to the Left’s “War on Women” Mantra

One of the ways the Obama campaign and Democrats in general have been deflecting attention away from the poor performance of the economy has been to change the subject to social issues. Democrats know that independent women are reluctant to support Republicans because of this perception that Republicans do not care about the concerns of women. Democrats are doing all they can to reinforce this perception asserting that Republicans have engaged in a “war on women.” Among their talking points are that Republicans are opposed to “equal pay for equal work” laws, contraception coverage mandates for health insurance, and abortion even in the cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother (I have already debunked the alleged gender pay gap here and explained why there is no “right” to free contraception here). Republicans tend to lend credence to being anti-woman when they say things like the following:

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

That was Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s response to a question concerning whether or not a woman should have the legal right to terminate a pregnancy that was a result of a rape. How might a pregnant woman who was raped conclude from this statement? Was Mr. Akin implying that she wasn’t “legitimately raped” otherwise, she wouldn’t be pregnant? Why, every woman in America who has become pregnant who thought she was raped must not have actually been raped! No, these women must have enjoyed the experience, or at the very least consented according to fertility expert Todd Akin.

One would hope that some of the Republican men, especially those who are running for office, would have moved on past the misogynistic attitudes revealed in comments like these. Unfortunately, it seems that some continue to hold on to a similar attitude as Clayton Williams who once joked about bad weather and rape “As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”

Beyond idiotic statements like these, anti-choice activists have been pushing so-called “personhood” laws in various states to give every fertilized egg full legal rights that all people have. Personhood goes beyond the abortion issue and has some very bad unintended consequences. The Dominican Republic has such laws already on the books; just a few days ago, a teenager died most likely because doctors were afraid of running afoul of the law.

CNN reports:

(CNN) — A pregnant leukemia patient who became a flashpoint in the abortion debate in the Dominican Republic died Friday morning, a hospital official told CNN.
The 16-year-old, who had been undergoing chemotherapy, died from complications of the disease, said Dr. Antonio Cabrera, the legal representative for the hospital.

Her case stirred debate in her country, as her life was potentially at risk because of anti-abortion laws in the Dominican Republic.

Doctors were hesitant to give her chemotherapy because such treatment could terminate the pregnancy — a violation of the Dominican Constitution, which bans abortion. Some 20 days after she was admitted to the hospital, she finally began receiving treatment.

The patient, whose identity has not been released because she’s a minor and because of the hospital’s privacy policy, was 13 weeks pregnant.

Oh, well that’s the Dominican Republic. That would never happen here in the U.S., right? Don’t be so sure. Back in April, the Tennessee House passed a bill that would make every woman who has a miscarriage a murder suspect. The Georgia legislature considered a similar bill that would have required women to prove that their miscarriages “occurred naturally.” Having a miscarriage, a very common occurrence, is traumatic enough without being interrogated by some asshole detective downtown!

While some of these “war on women” attacks on Republicans are unfair in my judgment, Republicans don’t do themselves any favors by some of their more extreme anti-choice proposals and comments. Good people can disagree about abortion but those who are opposed to abortion need to do a better job of making their case without making women second-class citizens with fewer rights than “the unborn” whenever they happen to be pregnant.

***UPDATE***
The Republicans have added a “human life” plank to the draft of their party platform.

CNN reports:

Tampa, Florida (CNN) – The Republican Party is once again set to enshrine into its official platform support for “a human life amendment” to the Constitution that would outlaw abortion without making explicit exemptions for rape or incest, according to draft language of the platform obtained exclusively by CNN late Monday.

“Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” the draft platform declares. “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

Sigh.

My Republican friends: if you lose to Obama in November, don’t blame Libertarians. If you focus on these divisive social issues instead of the economy (and it IS the economy, stupid) you will lose and you will only have yourselves to blame.

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