Category Archives: Crime and Punishment

Quote of the Day: A Question for “Pro-Life” Death Penalty Advocates Edition

Matthew DesOrmeaux over at United Liberty poses a very important question to those in the “pro-life” community who support the death penalty. This question comes in response to a South Carolina judge vacating the conviction of George Stinney Jr. who was executed at the age of 14 in 1944.

Is the execution of an innocent person, even a child, enough to undermine faith in the criminal justice system as a whole, and capital punishment in particular? If one error is not convincing enough, is there some acceptable level of innocent life ended at the hands of the state (or their peers, if that makes you feel better) that would change your mind? Or is the (spurious) deterrent factor of the death penalty or faith in the process, regardless of further evidence, so strong as to make all wrongful convictions and executions irrelevant?

I’ve already seen one person respond in the comments section to the effect “Well that was during Jim Crow [1]; our criminal justice system is so much better now.”

Even as cynical as I am about the American criminal justice system, I believe it’s fair to say that there has been some improvements since 1944. I cannot imagine a 14 year-old being executed in 2014 (someone with the mental capacity of less than a 14 year-old…sadly yes but not an actual 14 year-old). DesOrmeaux’s overall point is relevant as the National Academy of Sciences found that currently 1 in 25 death row prisoners is innocent.

With the learning curve so steep for supporters of capital punishment, at this rate it will be 2074 by the time a Texas judge admits that Rick Perry allowed (likely innocent) Cameron Todd Willingham to be executed on his watch.

[1] For what it’s worth, George Stinney Jr. was black.

A Public Service for Our Readers Regarding Federal Drug Enforcement

We are posting this as a public service and informational notice, for our cannabis using, interested, curious, or just plain liberty oriented readers and friends…

Contrary to articles such as this:

Congress Effectively Ends The Federal Ban On Medical Marijuana
HighTimes

It seems the controversial $1.1T spending bill that is preventing the U.S. government from shutting down is chock full of surprises.

As you may know, much to the dismay of marijuana activists and lovers of democracy everywhere, the bill smacked down Washington DCs referendum that legalized recreational marijuana in the nation’s capital. What you may have missed (because those shifty politicians are doing everything under the table) is that the bill also quietly, but effectively lifted the federal ban on medical marijuana.

Let us be VERY clear… NO the federal government has not legalized, or ended the federal prohibition of medical marijuana.

No, really, they didn’t, no matter what High Times says.

Manufacture, distribution, transportation, storage, sale, possession, and use, of Marijuana are all still federal crimes. Further, they are automatic disqualification on a background check, or a drug test, or a security clearance etc… etc…

They also make one a prohibited person with respect to firearms, explosives, and destructive devices.

Yes… even in Washington and Colorado. 

All they did in this omnibus appropriations bill, was to partially defund and deprioritize enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition, against medical marijuana dispensaries only (NOT grow ops, or users) in those states with medical marijuana, between January and September.

That’s it. 

Here is the actual text, of the portion  of the bill in question:

“Sec. 538. None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. Sec. 539. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used in contravention of section 7606 (“Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research”) of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-79) by the Department of Justice or the Drug Enforcement Administration.”

There has been no real change in the law, there is just a change in the administration of a small subset of enforcement.

In fact, this action makes getting the changes we need in the law harder and less likely.

Far worse though, it furthers the toxic notion that we can just arbitrarily, capriciously, and disparately, choose to not enforce the law, when we feel like it… But then any time we change our mind we can go ahead and start enforcing it again.

This disrespects and debases the very foundation of rule of law.

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

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.

Quote of the Day: Grand Jury Decision Aftermath Edition

Scott Shackford over at Reason made an excellent point in the wake of the grand jury decision finding insufficient probable cause to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown.

Based on the information [St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert P.] McCulloch described tonight it may seem unlikely Wilson would have convicted, and perhaps that would have been the right decision by a criminal jury. That raises yet another question, though: Should we be upset at the amount of deference and effort made to find reasons not to indict Wilson in this case or should we be upset that the same doesn’t happen to the rest of us? Is the outrage that a grand jury didn’t indict Wilson or is the outrage that the grand jury indicts just about everybody else?

As far as I’m concerned, my outrage is that grand juries indicts just about everybody else. This jury heard the evidence with all the conflicting testimony and the rest of us have not. I cannot say whether this is a just outcome or not and neither can anyone else at this point. We will most likely never know for sure what happened that fateful day.

I imagine that at least a few of the protesters in Ferguson who have themselves (or know someone who has) been indicted with very little evidence then either strongly encouraged to take a plea deal or were convicted. It’s not to hard to see why some might feel that the criminal justice system works one way for the police and a different way for everyone else, regardless of the specific circumstances in this case (the specific circumstances in this case being all the grand jury should have been concerned about).

Quote of the Day: #Ferguson Edition

Here’s a great observation for Lucy Steigerwald writing from Rare:

Whether the shooting of Brown by Wilson was justified or not, it’s important to remember that there were good reasons people distrusted the Ferguson police’s narrative of events.

Police did everything wrong after Brown was killed. They left his body in the street, they refused to answer questions or identify the officer. They used military tech to answer the protests that resulted. They repeatedly teargassed crowds, arresting peaceful protesters and members of the media.

Officer Darren Wilson shouldn’t be punished for the impression that people — especially minorities — have of the police. If he doesn’t deserve prosecution, he shouldn’t be prosecuted. Whether he deserves harsh, little, or no punishment is still up for debate.

Read the whole thing. The entire article is worth quoting but I thought I would just wet your beak.

Hey FCKH8, I Have a Few ‘F-Bombs’ of My Own!

If you thought modern progressive feminists couldn’t be any more childish, you haven’t seen FCKH8’s latest viral video entitled: “F-Bombs for Feminism: Potty-Mouthed Princesses Use Bad Word for Good Cause.”

In the video (below), girls aged six to thirteen repeat progressive feminist bromides and talking points along with some F-bombs (as advertised) in an attempt to get this message to go viral (mission accomplished). As expected, the response by many is to be offended by having these ‘princesses’ use such foul language for any reason.

Personally, I think the whole thing is awful. I don’t like it when children are used for any cause foisted on children by adults, regardless of how noble the cause might be. It even turns my stomach a little when I see politicians use their own children in their campaign ads. It’s even more tacky to hear children speak about such things they most likely have no clue about. My daughter is pretty intelligent and the same age as some of these girls but I’m fairly sure she doesn’t even think about the ‘equal pay’ or ‘rape culture.’ Why should she? She’s nine years-old for crying out loud!*

So here’s the full uncensored version. If this is too much for your ears to handle, go here for the censored version.

Now, wasn’t that just precious!

More important than the shock value of elementary shool girls cursing like sailors…are the things these girls saying true? For the most part, no, these are the same old progressive feminist myths repackaged yet again. I’ve already dealt with the ‘equal pay for equal work’ nonsense here and here. You can also read this article 5 Feminist Myths that Will Not Die. I’ll let Julie Borowski take care of the rest as only Julie Borowski can – dropping her own F-bombs (Fact bombs, I should say) without actually cursing.

I have a few other F-bombs about gender disparities progressive feminists almost never bring up (and I’ll do so without exploiting any elementary age children to make my points):

A young man is required by law to sign up for Selective Service by his 18th birthday. In the event Congress decides to reinstate the draft, men exclusively are conscripted to risk life or limb for ‘his country.’ Also, of those who have died in all the U.S. wars (declared and undeclared) since the American Revolution, 99.99% were men. When men’s rights activists say that society has long decided that men are the ‘disposable gender’ this is one example of what they are talking about.

When young girls are circumcised we call it ‘genital mutilation’ and we are rightly scandalized by this barbaric practice. When baby boys have their genitals mutilated, we call it circumcision because either the boy should ‘look like his father’ or because some women prefer their partner to be circumcised. So much for ‘my body, my choice.’ And imagine the outrage if even one man said that because he preferred the look of a woman’s vagina without a clitorous, baby girls should have it removed?

When it comes to parenting and divorce, mothers get custody of the children roughly 84% of the time.

Let’s call this the gender ‘crime/time’ gap. For Similar crimes under similar circumstances, on average women serve 18.51 months vs. 51.52 months for men.

Since 1976, 15 women (2.9% of the executions) have been executed even though women are responsible for 10% of murders. While I am unapologetically opposed to the death penalty, as long as this barbaric practice is part of the system, this punishment should be an equal opportunity punishment without regard to sex, race, religion, economic or political status, or creed.

At least 3 states (California, Tennessee, and Kansas) require men to pay child support to his statutory rapist.

I could go on but I think I have made my point. There is inequality between the genders and both have their challenges. Personally, I would like to look at the individual rather than who is on ‘team penis’ or ‘team vagina.’ But first, we need to elevate the debate above the elementary school playground.

*This isn’t to suggest she isn’t already very opinionated or doesn’t care about important issues. That’s right, my daughter already has an issue she cares deeply about. Her issue: the alarming decline of the ‘big cat’ populations. According to National Geographic, there are as few as 3,000 tigers, 7,500 snow leopards, 10,000 cheetahs, and 30,000 lions left in the wild. I had no idea about this until my daughter started writing out a script she wanted to read over the intercom at her elementary school to collect money to help ‘save the big cats.’ I suggested that she should ask for donations to the local big cat sanctuary for her birthday instead of presents. Would you believe she was actually thrilled with this idea and followed through? I couldn’t be more proud of her. If she wanted to make a viral video about saving the big cats, I might make an exception to my ‘no kids’ rule because this is an issue that she actually cares about.

President Obama Appoints Drug War Opponent To Head DOJ’s Civil Rights Division

President Obama has appointed attorney Vanita Gupta to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. What should be of interest is Ms. Gupta’s opposition to the Drug War and calls for prison reform.

Reason has more:

A drug-war denouncing, prison-reform crusading, longtime civil-rights attorney is President Obama’s new pick to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division. Venita Gupta, 39, will take over as acting assistant attorney general for civil rights next week, and the White House will likely propose making it permanent within the next few months, according to The Washington Post.

Gupta has called the drug war “disastrous”, the asset forfeiture program “broken”, and police militarization “out of control”. She supports marijuana decriminalization and eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing. “It’s time for states to end the costly criminalization of marijuana and recalibrate sentencing laws so that the punishment actually fits the crime as opposed to a politician’s reelection agenda,” she wrote in a September op-ed for CNN.

This is a positive step from an administration that has been all talk on drug policy. While it is unknown if Gupta supports legalization, even just moving towards an approach of decriminalization, eliminating mandatory minimums, and reining in police militarization and the asset forfeiture program would be a very big positive step for civil liberties.

There has been one positive to the Eric Holder Justice Department, which is that the Holder Justice Department has been relentless in launching civil rights investigations in response to police brutality committed by local law enforcement. Gupta’s record and previous writings show that she would be as aggressive in this role as her predecessor, which is a very good thing.

All in all, this is a very good appointment by the Obama Administration that should be praised by anyone concerned with civil liberties.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

How ‘Affirmative Consent’ Laws Threaten Due Process

A few weeks ago, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the nation’s first “affirmative consent” law. When it was proposed back in June, I said the proponents were control freaks. The law essentially says that consent must be given, affirmatively and actively, for each act of a sexual encounter. In other words “yes means yes.” It sounds reasonable enough doesn’t it?

The law has already spread with lawmakers proposing similiar laws across the country. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo implimented the policy at the SUNY system of universities across New York with plans to incorporate it into state law. Lawmakers in Illinois, New Hampshire, and New Jersey have plans to introduce similiar legislation across the country.

While the lawmakers proposing the bills are all Democrats, the laws have found support in unlikely corners, social conservatives and even some libertarians. Townhall.com writer Conn Carroll supports the laws because he wants to discourage the “hookup culture.” Libertarian blogger Kelli Gulite argues that the laws clear up the “ambiguity of the existing consent standards.”

However, while the affirmative consent laws are a well-intentioned attempt to address a problem (rape), they ultimately do more harm than good, especially where civil liberties are concerned. These laws will result in (mostly) young men either being expelled from universities and/or charged with a crime they did not commit.

Here’s some reasons why affirmative consent laws are not the way to go:

1) Sets us on the road to “precrime”. One of the lawmakers proposing these laws for their state, N.H. State Rep. Renny Cushing state this “We need to change the dialogue and we need to start talking about prevention rather than have a legal concern about whether or not someone was capable of giving their consent.”

I’ve heard that before somewhere:

These laws will no more prevent rape than laws against hate speech will prevent murder.

2) It eliminates the presumption of innocence. The laws state that someone is guilty of rape if there was no yes. This will force the defendant to have to prove that there was a yes. That forces the burden of proof on the defendant, not the state and the university. The only logical way for a potential defendant to protect themselves from a rape allegation is to record the sexual encounter or some kind of proof that the encounter was explicitly consentual.

In other words, we’re right back to the problem these laws were trying to prevent “he said vs she said.” Under the reasonable doubt standard, that’s clearly not enough evidence on its own to force a conviction. However, in a campus proceding or a civil lawsuit, there is no reasonable doubt but only preponderance of evidence.

These laws codify the process of the campus-based procedings which have been criticized as essentially kangaroo courts that threaten the rights of the accused.

3) It will lead to the prosecution of boorish behavior and bad sex as rape. In her defense of these laws, Gulite wrote:

The best way to show why affirmative consent is a better standard than previous standards is through an example. Two students agree to have vaginal intercourse, but without warning or asking permission, the male student begins to have anal intercourse. Of course, the female could say no immediately after taking a few seconds to register what happened and the male could oblige. However, the sexual assault has already occurred.

Under the affirmative consent standard, the victim has recourse. Without it, she does not. (emphasis hers)

Perhaps I’m a caveman, but I fail to see a case for disciplining, suspending, or expelling the young man; let alone having him arrested and subjected to the legal process for essentially an act of boorish behavior. This particular example looks like something that should be best handled between the two of them without involving the university or the authorities.

If this woman has recourse under this example under affirmative consent, what about bad sex in general? Or if a woman regrets a sexual encounter the next day? We know false rape accusations happen, even if we don’t know what the exact percentage is. I fear this standard will just increase the number of them.

The road to hell, or the loss of liberties, is often paved with good intentions. The affirmative consent standards are an excellent example of this. We should resist the urge to “just do something” to address sexual assualt at colleges. We should also resist using the government to impose our own personal morality. All those will do is just lead to erosion of more liberties.

 

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Armed Customer Kills Armed Robber; Family of Robber May File Lawsuit

In January of 2012, two armed thugs entered a Waffle House in Chesnee, SC. One thing these thugs didn’t account for: the possibility that one or more of the customers might be carrying a concealed handgun. One customer by the name of Justin Harrison saw his opening to act and fired several shots at one of the thugs Dante Williams, DRT.* The other thug, unfortunately, escaped with his life (he’s now the taxpayers’ problem for the next 30 years).  

Tamika McSwain, cousin of Dante Williams, is upset that Harrison “took the law into his own hands”** and that charges were not filed against Harrison for doing so. Due to this perceived miscarriage of justice, McSwain says the family might file a lawsuit. McSwain also contends that more training should be required before someone earns their CWP. Harrison’s CWP instructor David Blanton, however; disagrees.

“Not only was he defending his own life, which the law says he can do [***] but there were other people in the restaurant,” Blanton said.

Harrison, in defending his own actions said “They got the gun, he [Williams] picked it up. He could have said no.”

And that’s the bottom damn line, Tamika: your dirt bag cousin could have said no. Your cousin made a very bad choice and he paid with his life.

Let me further say, I really don’t give a rat’s ass how “sharp” or “goofy” or how much he “loved to dance” or that you think he was “a respectable boy.” On that night at least, he was a thug. A thug who deserved to die. People like your thug cousin are the reason why we need to have the right to carry weapons in public places. I wish people like your cousin didn’t exist at all. In a world without people like your cousin, we could beat all the guns in the world into plow shears. But as long as we do have people in this world like your cousin, we will need guns and people willing to use them to defend the rest of us.

*Dead Right There

**This phrase drives me crazy. The law is always “in our own hands” particularly in a threatening situation like this one.

***Isn’t that so nice of the law to allow individuals to protect their own lives!

One Out of 25 Prisoners on Death Row is Innocent

Benjamin Franklin once argued: “It is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer.” The purpose of courts as drafted in the Constitution was to minimize the occurrences innocent people from “suffering” via an adversarial system in which the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty to a jury of his or her peers.

Regardless of these lofty goals, the question must be asked: how well has this system worked?

If the standard is that of Franklin’s (i.e. less than 1%), then the idea that a rate of 1 in 25 death row convicts are likely innocent is clearly unacceptable. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, to the best the researchers were able to determine, this about what the rate is.

Pete Yost for the Associated Press reports:

From 1973 to 2004, 1.6 percent of those sentenced to death in the U.S. — 138 prisoners — were exonerated and released because of innocence.

But the great majority of innocent people who are sentenced to death are never identified and freed, says professor Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law School, the study’s lead author.

The difficulty in identifying innocent inmates stems from the fact that more than 60 percent of prisoners in death penalty cases ultimately are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment. Once that happens, their cases no longer receive the exhaustive reviews that the legal system provides for those on death row.
[…]
Because of various assumptions, it might be best to use the margin of error in the study and say the innocence rate is probably between 2.8 percent and 5.2 percent, said University of South Carolina statistics professor John Grego, who wasn’t part of the study.
[…]
“The high rate of exoneration among death-sentenced defendants appears to be driven by the threat of execution,” says the study. “But most death-sentenced defendants are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment, after which the likelihood of exoneration drops sharply.” The study estimates that if all defendants sentenced to death remained in that status, “at least 4.1 percent would be exonerated. We conclude that this is a conservative estimate of the proportion of false conviction among death sentences in the United States.”

I have to say that, even as a fierce opponent of the death penalty, I would have never guessed the number of innocent individuals on death row to be this high. I was horrified by the notion that 1 in 100 or even 1 in 1,000 such individuals could be killed by the state, but 1 in 25?

This brings me to my question for those who support state sanctioned killing: is this an acceptable error rate to you? How many innocent people are we willing to sacrifice in order to kill the most heinous of individuals? Based on this study, the current policy is that we are apparently at peace with the idea of killing 4 innocent people to kill 96 guilty.

This is a price that a free and just country should be unwilling to pay.

LAPD Officers Fire Shots at Innocent People; Taxpayers Punished

Remember the LAPD shooting incident that occurred during their manhunt for Christopher Dorner just over one year ago? The one in which eight LAPD officers fired 103 shots into a vehicle that kinda sorta looked like the one Dorner was believed to be driving but turned out to be two women delivering newspapers without making any threatening moves to justify using deadly force whatsoever?

Though fortunately, both women survived, these eight cops would surely be charged criminally or at the very least never be allowed to work for law enforcement ever again…right? Maybe, maybe not (I have read conflicting reports). Some may be terminated while others may be retrained.

But the very idea that these cops should ever be allowed to have a concealed carry weapons permit (CCW) let alone patrol the streets as police officers is absurd and irresponsible. As outrageous as this determination is, there was actually an effort to clear the officers of any wrongdoing (These cops were dealing with a very stressful situation, after all). Thankfully, Chief Charlie Beck told the Police Commission that the officers should be found in violation of LAPD policy (I should hope this would violate LAPD policy!) at the very least.

The victims of this shooting/attempted murder will be compensated at the tune of $4.2 million plus an additional $40,000 to replace the vehicle at taxpayer expense. Certainly this is the very least the City of Los Angeles could do.

Any time one of these events happen, I can’t help but wonder, what would happen to a normal person who behaved this way? What would be the reaction if eight individuals sans the government issued costumes fired shots into a vehicle because they were feeling threatened by someone and resulted in the exact same outcome?

I think it is very safe to say that all eight would be doing hard time at San Quentin and would be paying damages to the women with their own money. It’s also safe to say that none of the 8 would ever be allowed to own a firearm in the future or allowed to vote if they lived long enough to get out of prison.

And rightfully so.

The government issued costumes should not protect individuals from an irresponsible, criminal act such as this. But unless and until we hold local governments and local law enforcement accountable, these criminal acts will continue and we will continue to foot the bill.

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.

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!

This is…

…why I don’t trust people who want power:

By mid-May Steve [Heymann] was acting weird. None of his raids seemed to have turned up what he wanted. Aaron’s lawyer was talking to JSTOR, which had found him through Steve. We had contacted people to talk to JSTOR, eminent people, many of whom were shocked by what was happening. JSTOR was key to the prosecution, it was the victim, and we were winning them over. Steve had agents drop off a warrant made out to Aaron [Swartz], rather than law enforcement. It demanded the JSTOR documents, with the location for serving the warrant left blank. Aaron showed it to me, and we tried to interpret it in bewilderment. Warrants are executed by officers, not suspects. Aaron then told me Steve had threatened to get him arrested for contempt of court if he didn’t turn over JSTOR files. It was all tricks and lies, but it just seemed crazy at the time. But tricks and lies are part of prosecutions, allowed, and perhaps even encouraged, by prosecutorial immunity.

Read the whole thing.

‘Super Epic’ Tweet of the Day

There’s some really great tweets about Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster. So far, this is my favorite:

Hey Ann, the War on (Some) Drugs is a Welfare Program

According to Ann Coulter, libertarians are “pussies” for wanting to end the war on (some) drugs and for agreeing with the Left on certain social issues such as gay marriage. Coulter was a guest on Stossel at the Students for Liberty Conference.

Coulter elaborated:

We’re living in a country that is 70-percent socailist, the government takes 60 percent of your money. They are taking care of your health care, of your pensions. They’re telling you who you can hire, what the regulations will be. And you want to suck up to your little liberal friends and say, ‘Oh, but we want to legalize pot.’ You know, if you were a little more manly you would tell the liberals what your position on employment discrimination is. How about that? But it’s always ‘We want to legalize pot.’

[..]

Liberals want to destroy the family so that you will have one loyalty and that is to the government.

Clearly, Ann Coulter hasn’t spent much time hanging around libertarians, going to libertarian events, or reading anything libertarians write. The war on (some) drugs is but one issue. The welfare and warfare state receives at least as much attention by libertarians as the war on (some) drugs. Libertarians have certainly been more vocal about the welfare state than the conservatives of her ilk. I suppose when we agree with her on these issues, progressives should say we are ‘sucking up’ to our conservative friends. It couldn’t be that we have our own principles (such as the non-aggression principle which neither the Left nor the Right practices) and our own reasons for having them.

And speaking of destroying families, what does she think the war on (some) drugs does to families? What about the “magnificent war” in Iraq (her words), war in Afghanistan, or war in general? I wouldn’t suppose war plays any role at all in destroying families. There are the multiple long deployments, soldiers coming home physically and/or mentally disabled, or worse, come home in a box. For all the concern about the destroying of families, one would think that Ann Coulter would want to be a little more careful about when troops are called to risk life and limb (maybe she should consider the Just War Theory ). I would further argue that the military adventurisim our military is engaging in is its own kind of welfare. Most of what our military does is defend other countries rather than ours.

When respoding to a question from a young woman in the audience asking Coulter why it’s any of her business what someone else puts in his or her body Coulter responded:

It is my business when we are living in a welfare state. You get rid of the welfare state then we’ll talk about drug legalization but right now I have to pay for, it turns out down the pike, your healthcare. I have to pay your unemployment when you can’t hold a job. I have to pay for your food, for your housing…

Coulter went on to say that if not for the welfare state, she would be okay with legalizing drugs.

What does she think incarceration does? When someone is incarcerated, s/he is quite literally being housed, fed, and provided healthcare at the taxpayers’ expense. In California, it costs taxpayers $75,000 per year for each inmate. As terrible as the welfare state is (and yes, it is terrible), I cannot imagine that ending the war on (some) drugs would be any worse for taxpayers as what drug prohibition has done. The drug war costs state and federal government over $30 million per day.

If Ms. Coulter wants to talk about people not being able to hold a job she should consider what wonders a criminal record does for a person’s job prospects. All too often, the only kind of job an ex-con can get is selling illicit drugs which s/he will eventually get arrested and be incarcerated once again. For some repeat drug offenders, the thought of going back to jail or prison isn’t much of a deterrant. It’s ‘3 hots and a cot’ plus security and structure (believe it or not, there are some people who don’t know how to live outside of prison).

Far from being pussies, Ann Coulter, we libertarians have the balls to be consistent in our criticism of the welfare state. Yes, Ann, we should join hands in opposing Obamacare, the out of control welfare state, and reckless spending. Rather than providing drug users food, housing, and healthcare via incarceration, why not join with us and say that everyone should be responsible for their own lives?

With freedom comes responsibility. Is that manly enough for you?

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