Category Archives: Government Regulation

Torture and Denial

torture

If the tiny percentage of the torture documents that were released yesterday should give us a clue about anything, it should be the degree to which the federal government officials and politicians lie to cover their own asses. Those of us who called for the documents to be released were admonished that in releasing them, U.S. troops and diplomats will be put in greater danger. Of course if these “enhanced interrogation” techniques aren’t really “torture,” then it seems to me that those who are fearful of the release should have nothing to worry about (one can’t have it both ways). Why not prove to the world that everything going on at Gitmo and the various black sites are on the up-and-up?

Of course then there’s the argument: “The Bush administration/CIA/Senate did not know nor approve some of these techniques…”

Ah, the good old “plausible deniability” excuse. The people in charge can’t be held responsible because some underlings decided to go all Jack Bauer on the detainees.

no evil

Of course then there is the ass-coverer-in-chief President Obama responding to the report:

Today’s report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence details one element of our nation’s response to 9/11—the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, which I formally ended on one of my first days in office. The report documents a troubling program involving enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects in secret facilities outside the United States, and it reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests […] That is why I will continue to use my authority as President to make sure we never resort to those methods again.

President Obama is trying to convince the world that torture is a thing of the past which occurred when George W. Bush was president. Obama, we are to believe, ended torture on one of his first days in office. We are supposed to forget that he was also supposed to close Guantanamo Bay and that he has a secret kill list which sometimes includes American citizens (killing people without any sort of due process with a drone is morally superior to torture, you see).

Beyond this, President Obama is also misleading the world about no longer torturing detainees at the now infamous island prison which he promised to close. As The Intercept reports:

Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a 43-year old Syrian national, was among the six Guantanamo Bay prisoners freed last week and transferred to Uruguay after spending 13 years in U.S. detention. He had been cleared for release since 2009, yet the husband and father of three found himself imprisoned several years longer in circumstances characterized by indefinite detention, humiliation and inhumane treatment.

In response to what they saw as their increasingly desperate conditions, Dhiab and many other Guantanamo detainees repeatedly sought to employ the only means of resistance left available to them: refusing food. “We have given up the very things which are important: food and drink,” Dhiab stated last year, describing his motivations and those of his other hunger-striking prisoners. “And we have done so to get answers to our questions: What is our guilt and what is our crime?”

I suppose President Obama can use weasel words about not using torture to interrogate detainees but clearly torture is being used for other such things as force-feeding. Skipping ahead a little, the article continues:

While military officials may be able to casually characterize the force-feeding of such prisoners as some kind of innocuous guard-detainee interaction, they are correct that many others in the United States and around the world would likely not have the same reaction to such footage.

So far, the actual videos remain classified. At the end of The Intercept article a video was posted to show what is difficult to convey in words. The video (below) is a re-creation of what this force-feeding looks like.

Does this look like torture to you?

No?

Suppose it was American soldiers subjected to this treatment as well as what was detailed in the torture report? Would you still consider these techniques as “enhanced” but not torture? Suppose it was your own son?

Even if you think that it is permissible to treat actual terrorists this way, we should all agree that keeping individuals who haven’t been charged (again, this includes American citizens) or who have been cleared of any wrong doing should not be treated this way and should be returned to their homes.

We the people have the right to know what is being done in our name. The rest of the world needs to know that not all of us approve of what is being done in our name.

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.

Community Conservatism – Choosing Education that Works

MortarBoard

Making Education Work for the Middle Class

A) Simplify the Department of Education by Block Granting Most of its Budget to the States

Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Herman Cain all tried appealing to conservatives in the primaries in 2012 with the simple-minded proposal that we should simply abolish entire Federal departments. There is a certain libertarian appeal toward deleting expensive and useless departments with good-sounding mandates but bad results. We get that. But the public – the conservative public – rejected such notions and elected the guy that wanted to streamline the government and increase state power in an attempt to make government work properly, rather than giving up on government entirely. We believe most in the middle class want to see their government achieve results, rather than gambling that the results will happen naturally without government interference. We believe the GOP must embrace the notion of governing. One way to do that, is to let the states make decisions about education policy by handing them the money and reducing the role of the Federal department to that of balance sheet management and effectiveness monitor with a mandate to make sure that state programs are producing results and striking state policies that fail. We recognize that much of the spending is already block granted to the states – we are proposing to further shrink the Federal budget and return that money to the states with fewer restrictions on how it is spent.

B) Pass Federal Legislation Protecting the Right of Parents to Choose Homeschooling

There is a move afoot in some states to ban homeschooling – we have seen the same sort of movement in the EU and elsewhere in the developed world and it has led to some frightening limitations on liberty that no one should wish to see replicated in the US. The middle class, in particular, is interested in new and innovative education solutions including massive open online courses (MOOCs) at all educational levels and a variety of other homeschooling models – let’s get on the right side of history and liberty before we find ourselves unable to act decisively.

C) Incentivize States to Enact School Choice Laws

It is not within the appropriate jurisdiction of the Federal legislature to mandate open school choice, in our opinion, but we can encourage the states to accept that school choice is in high demand by the lower and middle classes by increasing federal awards to states that back successful public charter, public magnet, private, parochial and homeschooling alternatives monetarily and favor successful schools over bad ones in the distribution of education budgets, and by giving states bonuses that are efficient with their education funds (generate better performance to dollar ratios).

D) Back Trade Schools, MOOCs and Private Colleges with Oversight

One of the biggest problems with the alternatives to public colleges that prevent employers from giving much value to job applicants who obtain certifications and technical degrees from private technical schools, MOOCs and trade schools is that it’s the wild west for these colleges and they are under no obligation to provide a useful and quality education. Take a note here – because you will rarely see us asking for more federal regulation, but this is one such case. The Federal Government must promote alternatives to expensive public colleges to help ameliorate the growing higher education bubble and keep young people out of debt (and, in so doing, grow the future middle class). In order for us to break our addiction to student loans, we must empower high school kids to choose high school and college curricula that lead to technical certifications and trades, and we can’t do that until we can guarantee that our private and technical/trade colleges meet basic standards of educational value that will convince employers to hire people certified and degreed by such institutions. The standards need not be identical to the public system, but quality assurance should be required.

E) Encourage States to Enact Reforms that Limit Public Degrees that Do Not Produce

Here again, it would be beyond the scope of Congress to start outlawing college degree programs that do not produce expected revenue that justifies their existence – what we can do, however, is increase the available federal assistance for students who are majoring in a STEM, manufacturing, or technical field (and any other degree program with a solid history of wealth creation), decrease federal assistance for less productive or overrepresented majors, and tie interest rates to risk (a risky degree like puppetry or cultural studies should come with much higher interest rates than a STEM degree). Federal student loans should be treated like the investment they were billed to be, not like a pipeline of money that students may use and abuse to heart’s content. College degrees should improve the US economy, not burden it.

F) Pass a Law Requiring a Government Census of College Degree performance and Making Info Available Online

Openness and transparency in financial outcomes and expenditures usually has the immediate impact of change the demand for products based on rational financial decision-making. College degrees are a bit more emotional than the average investment opportunity, so having good data on which degrees are good investments and which are not will not stop bad degrees from existing, but I believe it will alter the number of students falling for them (because it will cause parents to deny their children’s requests to attend expensive colleges in order to study something that has a poor earning potential, along with making some students think twice about choosing bad or, at least, over-saturated, degrees). So require the department of education to conduct a census of colleges and universities and their various degree programs and report information such as the default rate on student loans for each school, each degree program and each combination of the two, the graduation rate, the employment numbers, and the net earnings of students (per capita) by degree program at each school. If a college degree is an investment, we should know what the investment is worth.

G) Pass a Law Guaranteeing the Right of Refusal to Parents

One more thing that Congress cannot tackle directly, but must move to address in what ways it can is ‘Common Core’. The concept of a Federally mandated curriculum is not compatible with liberty and the GOP should move to guarantee the right of all families to refuse to participate in common core and choose a different standard. This won’t help parents who are currently stuck in public schools and don’t have a viable alternative, but as GOP governors work on the problem of school choice, it will be crucial that alternative programs have the right to opt out of common core and use different teaching methods and standards.

Education is a state problem for the most part, as it should be, and in spite of efforts by leftists to nationalize and further institutionalize learning – but that doesn’t mean the legislature can’t take certain steps to lead on education policy and encourage the states to be bold and innovative o their own. Middle class families are aching for a better way forward for their children ad Congress should show that this is a priority for them as well.

Police should wear body cameras to protect themselves when they’re accused of wrongdoing

camera

President Obama has just proposed $263 million for police body cameras in an effort to improve police relations in the communities they serve. My co-contributor at United Liberty Matthew Hurtt argues that this is an overreaction and cautions that this is “further federalizing local law enforcement.” To this, I have to respectfully disagree.

The federal government has already “federalized” local police if by federalization he means providing military grade toys at a discount. I don’t quite understand how providing tools which can actually protect the public such as body cameras “further” federalizes the police. As long as these departments receive these toys, the public damn well has the right to review in HD quality video and audio how these toys are being used (along with the normal police activities).

The following post was originally published on 8/18/2014 @ United Liberty

 

It sems that there is at least one area of agreement (with caveats) between some in law enforcement and some civil libertarians: cops should wear body cameras. The how, when, and where is still a question for all concerned but at least there seems to be some agreement on the broad outlines.

PoliceOne.com‘s editor-in-chief Doug Wyllie argues that police departments should embrace the idea of body mounted cameras on almost every police officer. Wyllie writes:

In the week following the officer-involved shooting in Ferguson (Mo.), many have asked me for a comment and/or my commentary on the matter. My reply has generally been, “What, precisely, might that comment be? We know very little detail regarding the incident itself, so any ‘analysis’ on my part would be tantamount to irresponsible speculation. Further, analysis of the rioting and looting (and police response to same) would be redundant — we’ve got reams of columns on crowd control tactics and strategies.”

One thing, however, merits mention in this space. It’s directly related to the first thought that came to my mind when news of this tragedy broke: “Man, I hope that officer was wearing a body camera.”

By now, we can correctly surmise that he was not, and it’s a reasonable contention that if he had been wearing a body camera — and that video was examined by agency leadership and released responsibly to the public — Ferguson would probably have been spared the violence and unrest.

Wyllie anticipated that there would be some cops, departments, and PoliceOne members who would disagree with this notion. From there he offered 3 reasons why the upsides outweigh the downsides:

1. Officers’ fears about “Big Brother” are crushed by good, sound policy collaboratively created by all stakeholders — administrators, police unions, civil rights groups, local lawmakers, and others. Citizens’ fears about Fourth Amendment issues — for victims, witnesses, and other uninvolved persons — are similarly crushed by that same policy.

I must interject here. We have street cameras on just about every major intersection in every major city in America. If its good enough to place you and I under constant surveillance, its good enough for the police. The police should also be reminded that they do indeed work for us. Any time the police are on duty and in public, there is a chance that they are being watched by the public. They do not have a right to privacy when they interact with the pubic. This is especially true when the actions of the police have the potential to take freedom or life away from individuals concerned.

Wyllie continues with his other 2 points:

2. Concerns over budgeting for the investment in new gear (and training for same) are quelled by the statistical data suggesting that the outlay in cash is far less than the cost of settling frivolous (and baseless) lawsuits over alleged officer misconduct when no such misconduct occurred.

3. Any argument alleging that “the technology just isn’t there yet” is flat out false. Five years ago, such a statement may have held some water, but companies like TASER International, Digital Ally, L-3 Mobile Vision, and VIEVU now offer rugged, patrol-ready products with high-definition recording capabilities in light, wearable form factors.

Doug Wyllie sees the writing on the wall; he points out that the White House petition for the “Mike Brown Law” which says “all state, county, and local police [should be required] to wear a camera” already passed 100k signatures. Wyllie is probably correct arguing that there would be fewer misconduct lawsuits with the cameras. One PoliceOne member added:

Personally I look forward to being able to show the jury exactly what the POS I arrested was doing, saying and what he looked like when I arrested him; rather than the cleaned up chap in a borrowed suit that the defense brought to court.

I think its also fair to say that cops would be discouraged from being involved with any misconduct in the first place. If we lived in a world where everyone involved in a police encounter is being recorded, everyone involved has every reason to be on his or her best behavior.

Another posted:

I’m all for body cameras. Yet, when they go against what people want them to say, it will be: “The police fixed the cameras.”

To this concern I have two answers. First the technology is already available to determine if a video has been tampered with. If the video shows the video at the 5:07:29 minute mark and then it suddenly skips to the 8:10:12 minute mark, most people are going to understand that there is some missing footage. The second answer is to policy of how, when, and where body cameras will be used.

Will cameras solve all questions of misconduct? Of course not. Cameras certainly have their limitations. But having a video of an event presented to a jury is certainly better than relying solely on conflicting eyewitness testimony.

Point of clarification: One person who commented on the Face Book link mentioned “And audio might be nice.” I assumed Doug Wyllie meant that audio should be part of the video recording as well. After re-reading his article, I realize that he never mentioned anything about audio. Perhaps this too will become a very important part of the debate. It’s my position that audio should be included. Video alone might be helpful in very clear cut cases but distort the meaning of what the viewer sees in other cases.

Obama Using “Net Neutrality” to Obscure Federal Take-Over of Internet

fiber-optic-cable“The government will fuck the Internet up.”

So says Mark Cuban. Truer words were never spoken. Allowing the federal government to treat the Internet as a public utility, as President Obama is calling for, under the guise of “net neutrality,” is an abysmally bad idea.

To be clear, “net neutrality” and public utility regulation are two different but equally bad ideas. It appears Obama is using the former in a cynical bid to trick the electorate into accepting the latter. Neither is needed and both are undesirable.

“NET NEUTRALITY”

Net neutrality is the idea that, having paid for Internet service, consumers should have unfettered access to all content. It would prevent a whole host of business model experiments that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) might otherwise try:

  • Selling tiered data plans like cell phone companies do.
  • Developing their own content and then delivering that content at higher speeds than they deliver a competitor’s content.
  • Creating different “lanes” of Internet traffic and charging higher prices to content providers or users for access to the “fast lanes.”
  • Preferring certain content providers to others, likely depending on who pays.
  • Blocking users from using certain online content that takes up too much bandwidth and slows down the network for other customers.

I see none of this as frightening. We pay different rates based on the size and weight of the mail we send. We pay different rates for concert seats, cell phone plans, Netflix memberships, cable subscriptions and a whole host of other services.

The sun still rises.

What consumers who demand heavy content at low cost really want is to have other users overpay for light content while suffering the slow buffering speeds caused by the heavey users. As Casey Given, writing for Rare, observes:

Even if the FCC’s worst fears come to fruition and ISPs start charging cell phone-style “plans” for different levels of Internet access, online access would only become cheaper for low data users. As it is today, a grandmother who logs online once a day pays just as much as the tech-savvy teenager next door who regularly downloads gigabytes of data. As such, she is subsidizing his usage and could instead be paying a cheaper rate if her ISP offered varying plans.

In any case, ISPs own their technology and infrastructure. They invested in that property with the aim of making a profit. The idea that the public has some sort of claim against the property of ISPs reflects a sense of entitlement I cannot endorse. Rights are things we get to do—not things we get to have at others’ expense.

It is where we stand on this principle in the hard cases that defines us.

In addition to heavy content users, the other main beneficiaries of net neutrality are Internet giants like Facebook, Google and Netflix. These companies do not want to be charged by ISPs for the heavy traffic their users generate while slowing down buffering speeds for everyone else.

But is there any reason we should prefer the profit of big content providers over the profit of ISPs? Is there some principle that says Netflix should be allowed to earn whatever profit the market permits—but not the ISPs who deliver its content to consumers?

As Doug Mataconis wrote for TLP back in 2010:

It’s Comcast’s network, [it] should have the right to decide how it’s used and to take action to protect its property and its other customers.

PUBLIC UTILITY REGULATION

Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet is not the same as net neutrality. His plan is to treat it as a public utility, the “most draconian” level of regulation that could apply. It would require ISPs to provide universal service, i.e., “wire up every house.”

It would also allow them to charge the rates necessary to recoup that expenditure at a profit. In fact, public utility regulations allow the type of tiered pricing net neutrality advocates want to prevent:

What some critics of the Commission’s recent proposal may not realize is that even if the FCC agrees to impose the price, non-discrimination, and other forms of common carrier regulation on ISPs, Title II reclassification, would not necessarily ban paid prioritization. As former enforcement director at the Federal Trade Commission, David Balto, has pointed out, the title only prohibits “unjust and unreasonable” differences in services. Carriers regulated under Title II still “may offer different pricing (including volume and term discounts) … so long as they are ‘generally available to similarly situated customers.’”

In plain English, all this means that if some websites, like Netflix, want “faster lanes” on broadband networks, the providers of those networks can charge extra for that service even under Title II, so long as they stand ready to offer the same service to all similarly situated comers.

So Obama’s proposal presents a solution that does not fit the purported problem—which may not even exist.

In June 2006, there were two or more broadband providers in 92 percent of the nation’s zip codes, and four or more providers in 87 percent. A June 2014 study found at least two providers (wireline and wireless) for virtually all of the U.S., and at least two providers (cable and telephone) in nearly three quarters. Nick Gillespie reports at Time Magazine that 80% of households have at least two providers capable of delivering the Internet at 10Mbps or faster.

This access has been achieved even as prices have gone down:

President Obama’s call this week to regulate the Internet as a public utility is like pushing to replace the engine of a car that runs perfectly well. The U.S. data sector — including wired and wireless broadband — is the envy of the world, administering a powerful boost to consumer welfare, generating high-paying jobs and encouraging tens of billions of dollars in corporate investment. Indeed, the prices of data-related goods and services have dropped by almost 20 percent since 2007.

So what is really going on? Does Obama really think the future of the Internet requires the government to sort out squabbles between Netflix and Comast?

I doubt it.

Maybe it is intended to deliver to big donors. Maybe it is about the 16.1% tax on interstate revenues that would be paid by broadband consumers. Or maybe it is something more sinister. As Christopher Bowen wrote last week:

The problem with the government regulating the internet is that … when they get to determine the rules, the consequences turn sinister.

*     *     *

What about communications of interest to the government, such as anything with heavy encryption? Or Tor?

The government has a direct interest in controlling that kind of traffic—hello, Wikileaks/Edward Snowden/any other whistleblower—and if anyone thinks the federal government will look the other way on these things, they are naive.

This isn’t just a possibility, it’s the reality of current legislation on the books, as Chris Byrne pointed out in 2006. Every single packet, every communication, every image, would be captured and stored—by law—if common carrier became the letter of the law in regards to internet traffic, without a warrant, and it would take just a rubber stamp to get a warrant that would be used to punish anyone the government pleases…

REGULATION HURTS INVESTMENT IN INFRASTRUCTURE

For years, federal agencies themselves have resisted calls for regulation, on the states basis that forcing ISPs to treat content neutrally was not necessary, would impede the development of infrastructure, and would have an adverse effect on consumer welfare.

That is because developing the technology to respond to demands for bandwidth requires heavy investment. In fact, in 2013, telecom and cable companies topped the list of industries investing in the U.S., to the tune of $46 billion in investment.

Regulation cuts into the profits that encourage that level of investment.

This Cato Institute podcast, for example, covers the fact that Google Fiber does not provide Title II (public utility) services precisely to avoid the onerous regulations that come along with such endeavor. Another stark reminder of this basic fact came in the wake of the President’s message. On November 12, 2014, AT&T announced it would delay installing high-speed fiber-optic Internet infrastructure in 100 U.S. cities until the rules were clarified.

Perhaps this is why the American people oppose regulation. A November 2014 survey by Rasumussen Reports found that 61% oppose federal regulation of the Internet. Only 19% want more regulation than we already have. What is more, seventy-six percent like the quality of their Internet access.

Only 5% have complaints.

At best this is a solution in search of a problem. At worst, this is a Jonathan Gruber style misinformation campaign, designed to lull the public into complacency as the federal government assumes control of the Internet.

This time, let’s not fall for it.

Image via BandwithPlace.com

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