Category Archives: The Surveillance State

Pennsylvania Department of Revenue Ad: “Find Us Before We Find You”

The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is currently running an ad – a friendly reminder to encourage PA residents who owe back taxes to pay up because the PDR knows where you live.

Creepy huh?

But don’t be alarmed PA residents who owe back taxes, go to the website (PAtaxPayup.com) and you will find that the PDR is actually doing you a favor: tax “amnesty” for those who pay by June 18, 2010. (The site even features a countdown clock that lets you know how much time you have left. How thoughtful!)

Here are the terms of the amnesty:

Pennsylvania authorized (under Act 48, signed into law on Oct. 9, 2009) a Tax Amnesty period from April 26 to June 18, 2010.

During this limited, 54-day timeframe, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue will waive 100 percent of penalties and half of the interest for anyone who pays his/her delinquent state taxes.

Individuals, businesses and other entities with Pennsylvania tax delinquencies as of June 30, 2009, are generally eligible to participate in the Tax Amnesty Program.

What a bargain! If you “voluntarily” pay your taxes by June 18th, not only do you get to avoid the whole armed government agents forcibly removing you from your home and taking you to jail thing but they will also take a little less of your money.

In some ways, this is one of the most honest PSAs ever produced by a government agency but still fails to directly address the question of what happens if PA residents allow the PDR to “find them” first. What the ad implies but does not directly say is “If we do find you first, we will make your life very miserable because, we, the government have the legal ability to use deadly force to get our way and you do not.”

Let’s put aside the whole debate about whether or not taxation is legitimate or if it is theft and consider the bigger message. Perhaps George Washington, the father of our country himself said it best:

“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”

Government = Force. Keep this in mind next time you want to ask the government to “do something” on your behalf.

Hat Tip: Reason Hit and Run (also take a look at the June 2004 Reason cover that is eerily similar to the above ad)

Ron Paul And Rudy Giuliani Still Sparring Over 9/11

In one of the early Republican debates in the 2008 election cycle, Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani sparred over the September 11th attacks and the role that U.S. foreign policy choices may have played in inciting the attacks:

On Iraq, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the Libertarian candidate for president in 1988, stood alone in railing against the decision to go to war, comparing it to a quagmire he said engulfed U.S. troops in Vietnam a generation ago. “We don’t go to war like we did in Vietnam and Korea, because the wars never end,” he said.

When Paul later suggested that terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, because of what he described as America’s 10-year campaign of bombing in Iraq, an angry Giuliani demanded that he retract the statement.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before, and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11,” Giuliani said.

Paul refused to give in, saying that terrorists react to the United States’ actions in the world. “If we ignore that, we ignore that at our risk,” Paul said.

Here’s video of that exchange from nearly three years ago:

That Giuliani-Paul exchange figured prominently in an ad that Trey Grayson ran several weeks ago in an effort to paint Rand Paul as a 9/11 truther.

Now, the battle has been joined again.

Today, Giuliani endorsed Trey Grayson, and issued this statement:

“Trey Grayson is the candidate in this race who will make the right decisions necessary to keep America safe and prevent more attacks on our homeland. He is not part of the ‘blame America first’ crowd that wants to bestow the rights of U.S. citizens on terrorists and point fingers at America for somehow causing 9/11,” Giuliani said.

He continued, “Kentucky needs a Senator who understands the threat posed by our enemies abroad. I witnessed firsthand the destruction and loss of life our enemies can cause. Like me, Trey Grayson knows we must stay on offense against terrorism, and he supports using all the essential tools we have in that fight, including monitoring the conversations and activities of suspected foreign terrorists as allowed by the Patriot Act. He is a fresh face that Republicans can trust to best represent their values – both on national security and fiscal responsibility – in Washington. Kentuckians could not elect a better Senator than Trey Grayson.”

Congressman Paul responded with a statement of his own:

The Neo-Con establishment is pulling out all the stops to beat Rand.

First, Dick Cheney endorsed his opponent. Next, Rick Santorum. And today, Mr. Big Government Republican himself is slithering into the race.

That’s right. Rudy Giuliani has stuck his beak into Rand’s race, endorsing his opponent and blaming Rand for being part of the “blame America” crowd. Disgusting.

Especially since Giuiliani is still committing the same willful distortion that he was guilty of three years ago:

Did Paul really say that American foreign policy was to blame for 9/11 ? Personally, I don’t think so. What he said was that American foreign policy was a contributing factor to the formation of the forces that now seek to destroy us.

And Andrew Sullivan contends that Giuliani openly lied about what Paul said:

Giuliani, interestingly, openly lied about Ron Paul’s position on 9/11. Paul specifically did not make a statement, as Giuliani immediately claimed, that the U.S. invited 9/11. I rewound to double-check. It was the Fox questioner who ratcheted up the stakes on that question, not Paul. Paul demurred on a specific answer and switched the question to the general issue of blowback. As to who’s right, the answer is both. Bin Laden – still at large and operating within the territory of Pakistan, an alleged ally which Cheney recently visited – both justified the 9/11 attack on those grounds but has a theology that doesn’t require such a casus belli. But now he doesn’t even need the theology. We have, alas, made more terrorists by our bungling in Iraq than Bin Laden could have dreamed of just six years ago.

That, I think, is the point that Congressman Paul, somewhat inarticulately, was making last night. American intervention and adventure-ism in the Middle East, which has been marked mostly by a history of bungling and backing the wrong guy 9 times out of 10, has helped guys like bin Laden recruit from among the Arab masses.

Another Rudy-Ron battle ?

I know who I’m putting my money on.

Time To Buy Prostheses For My Junk

I have to think that’s the only acceptable reaction to this:

The Transportation Security Administration is spreading airport body-scanner technology across the country.

A TSA official said Friday that units will be fielded next week in Chicago, and in the coming months at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; San Jose, Calif.; Columbus, Ohio; San Diego; Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; and Kansas City.

They are among 150 machines bought with money from the federal stimulus package signed into law by President Obama last year.

I figure if they’re gonna look, I might as well give them a show, right? Now, I’m not talking about some Dirk Diggler-esque salamander halfway down my leg…

I’m just wondering what it would take to get this made out of rubber?

Hat Tip: Jason Pye @ UL

LP’s Wes Benedict on ‘Limited Government’ Conservatives

Those of us who truly believe in limited government* tend to be simultaneously amused and irritated hearing the folks at CPAC speak of limited government as though it’s a principle they truly support. Yesterday, the Libertarian Party’s Executive Director Wes Benedict, monitoring the CPAC festivities from afar, said some of the things that many of us have been thinking:

Unlike libertarians, most conservatives simply don’t want small government. They want their own version of big government. Of course, they have done a pretty good job of fooling American voters for decades by repeating the phrases “limited government” and “small government” like a hypnotic chant.

It’s interesting that conservatives only notice “big government” when it’s something their political enemies want. When conservatives want it, apparently it doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants a trillion-dollar foreign war, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants a 700-billion-dollar bank bailout, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants to spend billions fighting a needless and destructive War on Drugs, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants to spend billions building border fences, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants to “protect” the huge, unjust, and terribly inefficient Social Security and Medicare programs, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants billions in farm subsidies, that doesn’t count.

It’s truly amazing how many things “don’t count.”

Benedict went on to point out the lack of concern these same people had with the government expansion of President Bush and the health care mandates of another CPAC favorite – Mitt Romney.

While I’m by no means a supporter of the Obama Administration, the idea that many Conservatives seem to have that all the problems we are faced with started on January 20, 2009 is completely ludicrous**.

These are the same people who would gladly support Sarah ‘the Quitter’ Palin, ‘Mandate’ Mitt Romney, or ‘Tax Hike Mike’ Huckabee – none are what I would call ‘limited government’ by any stretch of the imagination.

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Quote Of The Day

Bruce @ QandO, responding to this story about Obama pushing a “surge” of air marshals:

Mr. Obama – the idea is to get them before they get on the freakin’ airplane.

As he goes on to point out, passengers (due to human self-preservation instincts) have proven remarkably able to take down terrorists in-flight. Perhaps Obama should wonder how this guy got through all the security theater onto the plane at all.

Quote Of The Day

From Jonah Goldberg, re: airline security:

Anyone who flies regularly will tell you, the hellishness of airline travel is not primarily derived from the outrage of lost privacy, it’s derived from the outrage of inefficient, time-consuming idiocy. I would gladly trade the privacy invasion that would come with those body scanners in Total Recall in exchange for the ability to casually walk into the boarding area.

As I’ve mentioned before, my job has me on the road quite a bit, and thus I visit our illustrious TSA on a regular basis. I survive largely on airports having the black-diamond “Expert Traveler” security line and having a time-tested system of packing that gets me through the line quickly.

Unlike some libertarians, who choose not to fly rather than be subjected to TSA scrutiny, I see this as an unwelcome, unnecessary, but trivial evil. I view air travel as too important to me (both personally and professionally) to allow the government to slow me down. I know I’m going to be hassled, but it is most important to me that the hassling be kept to a minimal level and that it disrupt my plans as little as possible. I must admit that I was more than a bit irked over the holidays traveling with family, when the TSA screener wiped my infant son and I down for explosive residue (I was carrying him in a Baby Bjorn) “to make sure he was a real baby”. But even that was only an inconvenience, it’s not like he swabbed us for our DNA (at least that I’m aware of).

All that said, the level of idiocy is highly annoying. On short trips, I prefer not to check baggage, lest it get lost. At the same time, as a beer aficionado, I like to buy beer where I’m traveling that isn’t distributed in CA. With the liquid restrictions, I’m then forced to either forgo a purchase and not carry beer back with me, or wrap it in my luggage and check it on the return hoping that baggage handlers don’t leave me with a wet, smelly bag upon my arrival home. I often forgo the purchase these days rather than risk losing the bag or ending up with a mess.

However, I will take issue with one thing Goldberg says:

We keep hearing how we have to trade privacy for security. “No we don’t!” says the always helpful ACLU. “Yes we do!” say some security experts. “Maybe we do, maybe we don’t,” say others.

It’s all terribly tedious and it misses a very basic point: We already trade privacy, a lot of privacy, for security.

We already trade privacy for the appearance of security. Posts like this remind me that we’re actually not much safer as a result of all this hassle. It is truly security theater, designed to make us feel better but almost completely useless.

But while I’m certainly more concerned about privacy and government surveillance than the average joe, I’d be willing to trade the concern that some screener sees my naughty bits for a much quicker and less hassling airport experience*. And when I’m traveling with family, if it would make it unnecessary for me to take shoes off my toddler (getting them back on is the hassle), I’d be positively overjoyed.

Hat Tip: Curunir @ Distributed Republic
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Evil Doesn’t Need Warrantless Wiretaps — They Have Facebook

It’s not often when I come across something so bone-chillingly despicable that I want to post about it but can offer nothing to say beyond the mere actions taken… So look at what Iran is doing:

His first impulse was to dismiss the ominous email as a prank, says a young Iranian-American named Koosha. It warned the 29-year-old engineering student that his relatives in Tehran would be harmed if he didn’t stop criticizing Iran on Facebook.

Two days later, his mom called. Security agents had arrested his father in his home in Tehran and threatened him by saying his son could no longer safely return to Iran.

“When they arrested my father, I realized the email was no joke,” said Koosha, who asked that his full name not be used.

Tehran’s leadership faces its biggest crisis since it first came to power in 1979, as Iranians at home and abroad attack its legitimacy in the wake of June’s allegedly rigged presidential vote. An opposition effort, the “Green Movement,” is gaining a global following of regular Iranians who say they never previously considered themselves activists.

The regime has been cracking down hard at home. And now, a Wall Street Journal investigation shows, it is extending that crackdown to Iranians abroad as well.

In recent months, Iran has been conducting a campaign of harassing and intimidating members of its diaspora world-wide — not just prominent dissidents — who criticize the regime, according to former Iranian lawmakers and former members of Iran’s elite security force, the Revolutionary Guard, with knowledge of the program.

That’s just the start of it. Working with several Iranian ex-pats (who left in the wake of the Revolution), I wonder exactly how much they must value the freedom of living in America. But most of them still have family back home, and while the regime can’t touch them here on our shore, they can still reach deep inside and threaten those who my coworkers most care about.

I don’t often throw out words like “evil.” But there is little else to describe trying to silence critics abroad by threatening their innocent families in their homeland.

Hat Tip: Coyote Blog

The Cult Of The Imperial Presidency

whitehouse

Over the past 30 years, America has seen Presidential scandals ranging from Watergate to Iran-Contra to Travel-gate, Whitewater, the Lewinsky scandal, and the Valerie Plame affair. We’ve learned the truth about some of the truly nefarious actions undertaken by some of most beloved Presidents of the 20th Century, including the iconic FDR, JFK, and LBJ. And, yet, despite all of that, Americans still have a reverential view of the President of the United States that borders on the way Englishmen feel about the Queen or Catholic’s feel about the Pope.

How did that happen and what does it mean for America ?

Gene Healy does an excellent job of answering those question in The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, making it a book that anyone concerned with the direction of the American Republic should read.

As Healy points out, the Presidency that we know today bears almost no resemblance to the institution that the Founding Fathers created when they drafted Article II of the Constitution. In fact, to them, the President’s main job could be summed up in ten words set forth in Section 3 of Article II:

he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,

The President’s other powers consisted of reporting the state of the union to Congress (a far less formal occasion than what we’re used to every January), receiving Ambassadors, and acting as Commander in Chief should Congress declare war. That’s it.

For roughly the first 100 years of the Republic, Healy notes, President’s kept to the limited role that the Constitution gave them. There were exceptions, of course; most notably Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War but also such Presidents as James Polk who clearly manipulated the United States into an unnecessary war with Mexico simply to satisfy his ambitions for territorial expansion. For the most part, though, America’s 19th Century Presidents held to the limited role that is set forth in Article II, which is probably why they aren’t remembered very well by history.

As Healy notes, it wasn’t until the early 20th Century and the dawn of the Progressive Era that the idea of the President as something beyond what the Constitution said he was took forth. Healy documents quite nicely the ways in which Presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson to FDR went far beyond anything resembling Constitutional boundaries to achieve their goals, and how they were aided and abetted in that effort by a compliant Supreme Court and a Congress that lacked the courage to stand up for it’s own Constitutional prerogatives. Then with the Cold War and the rise of National Security State, the powers of the Presidency became even more enhanced.

One of the best parts of the book, though, is when Healy attacks head-on the “unitary Executive” theory of Presidential power that was advanced by former DOJ official John Yoo in the wake of the September 11th attacks and the War on Terror. As Healy shows, there is no support for Yoo’s argument that the Founders intended for the President to have powers akin to, or even greater than, those of the British Monarch that they had just spent seven years fighting a war to liberate themselves from. The dangers of Yoo’s theories to American liberty and the separation of powers cannot be understated.

If the book has one weakness, it’s in the final chapter where Healy addresses only in passing reforms that could be implemented to restrain the Cult Of the Presidency. I don’t blame Healy for only giving this part of the book passing attention, though, because what this book really shows us is that no matter of written law can stop power from being aggregated in a single person if that’s what the people want and, to a large extent, we’ve gotten the Presidency we deserve.

Healy’s closing paragraph bears reproducing:

“Perhaps, with wisdom born of experience, we can come once again to value a government that promises less, but delivers far more of what it promises. Perhaps we can learn to look elsewhere for heroes. But if we must look to the Presidency for heroism, we ought to learn once again to appreciate a quieter sort of valor. True political heroism rarely pounds its chest or pounds the pulpit, preaching rainbows and uplift, and promising to redeem the world through military force. A truly heroic president is one who appreciates the virtues of restraint — who is bold enough to act when action is necessary yet wise enough, humble enough to refuse powers he ought not have. That is the sort of presidency we need, now more than ever.

And we won’t get that kind of presidency until we demand it.”

And, if we don’t demand it we will find ourselves living in a country where the only difference between President and King is merely the title.

Government Reasonability Quiz

On Monday morning around 5:30 a.m. in Springfield, Virginia, Eric Williamson was making coffee (in the privacy of his own home) in the buff. Unbeknownst to Williamson, a woman and her 7 year old son could see him in all his glory as they took a shortcut through his front yard.

The woman, horrified that her and her son saw Williamson naked, called the police.

How does the police/District Attorney choose to deal with this situation? (Hint we are dealing with government officials here, throw common sense out the window)

A. Nothing. Police advise Williamson to make sure the windows are properly covered next time.
B. Nothing. The woman is advised not to take this shortcut again.
C. Both A and B.
D. The woman is charged with criminal trespass and violation of Williamson’s privacy. She could face up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted.
E. Williamson is charged with indecent exposure and could face up to 1 year in jail and a $2,000 fine if convicted.
F. Both D and E. Both parties broke the law as both parties violated the rights of the other.
G. Neither D nor E. Both parties broke the law, therefore the penalties offset and no charges will be filed. (Replay 3rd down?)

(See the correct answer below the fold.)
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PATRIOT Act – Much Ado About Drugs, Not About Terrorism

The PATRIOT Act was sold to the country as the line in the sand protecting us from the murderous hordes of Islamist terrorists. Passed in a hurry following 9/11, they told us that these powers were needed for terrorism only, and not for general law-enforcement. Civil libertarians didn’t believe this assertion, of course, and as usual when it comes to government power, we were right (link to PDF report).

In a traditional search warrant, the person/people/place being search are notified when the search is conducted. One aspect of the PATRIOT Act is the delayed notification warrant, aka the “Sneak and Peek”. For this, the search is conducted but the person being investigated is not told that the search was executed for some delayed time afterwards. For a terrorism surveillance case, this allows investigators to attempt to detect plots in the planning stage.

In the government’s FY2008 (Oct’07 to Sep’08), 763 new warrants were obtained. Of these new warrants, a mere 3 were for terrorism. What were the rest?

Table 2 presents the types of offenses specified in delayed-notice search warrant and extension requests reported in 2008. Drug offenses were specified in 65 percent of applications reported, followed by fraud (5 percent), weapons, and tax offenses (4 percent each).

Someday, the warnings issued by libertarians — rather than being ignored — will actually be heeded. On that day I will die of shock.

Hat Tip: David Rittgers, Cato@Liberty

Sorry Granny, “But For The Good Of Everyone, The Law Was Put Into Effect.”

I tells ya, sometimes ya just gotta to make an example of ‘em:

When Sally Harpold bought cold medicine for her family back in March, she never dreamed that four months later she would end up in handcuffs.

Harpold is a grandmother of triplets who bought one box of Zyrtec-D cold medicine for her husband at a Rockville pharmacy. Less than seven days later, she bought a box of Mucinex-D cold medicine for her adult daughter at a Clinton pharmacy, thereby purchasing 3.6 grams total of pseudoephedrine in a week’s time.

Those two purchases put her in violation of Indiana law 35-48-4-14.7, which restricts the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, or PSE, products to no more than 3.0 grams within any seven-day period.

When the police came knocking at the door of Harpold’s Parke County residence on July 30, she was arrested on a Vermillion County warrant for a class-C misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to 60 days in jail and up to a $500 fine. But through a deferral program offered by Vermillion County Prosecutor Nina Alexander, the charge could be wiped from Harpold’s record by mid-September.

You know the only thing worse than a police force given the discretion to determine whether or not a lawbreaker is a real threat to society and should be arrested for a crime — a situation which can lead to unintended consequences of racist enforcement, letting cronies off the hook, etc? A police force which enforces horrible, no-good, very bad laws evenly.

H/T: Reason

Hope And Change Update: Obama Backs Extension Of PATRIOT Act

The more things change, the more they stay the same:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration supports extending three key provisions of the Patriot Act that are due to expire at the end of the year, the Justice Department told Congress in a letter made public Tuesday.

Lawmakers and civil rights groups had been pressing the Democratic administration to say whether it wants to preserve the post-Sept. 11 law’s authority to access business records, as well as monitor so-called “lone wolf” terrorists and conduct roving wiretaps.

The provision on business records was long criticized by rights groups as giving the government access to citizens’ library records, and a coalition of liberal and conservative groups complained that the Patriot Act gives the government too much authority to snoop into Americans’ private lives.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama said he would take a close look at the law, based on his past expertise in constitutional law. Back in May, President Obama said legal institutions must be updated to deal with the threat of terrorism, but in a way that preserves the rule of law and accountability.

The most egregious thing about Obama’s extension proposal is that none of the provisions he wants to extend require a search warrant issued by a judge or even the existence of probable cause. Moreover, as Jason points out over at United Liberty, the PATRIOT Act itself has been rife with abuse ever since implementation:

In 2007, FBI Director Robert Mueller admitted to abuses of the PATRIOT Act. In fact, there were more than 1,000 instances of the FBI misusing the law. According to the Washington Post, the “audit [covered] just 10 percent of the bureau’s national security investigations since 2002, and so the mistakes in the FBI’s domestic surveillance efforts probably number several thousand.”

And yet Obama wants to extend it.

The more things change, the less hope I have.

Mother Jones Takes on the War on (Some) Drugs

The July/August 2009 issue of the Left-leaning Mother Jones dedicates several articles to the asinine War on (some) Drugs.
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The title of the magazine’s cover story states it best – “Totally Wasted: We’ve blown $300 billion. Death squads roam Mexico. Cartels operate in 259 cities. This is your War on Drugs. Any Questions?”

Reason’s Nick Gillespie points out that there are many areas that libertarians would disagree with (like I said, MoJo is a Left-leaning publication) but I think it’s good to expose a new audience to the failure that is this nation’s drug policy. From there we can debate the best way to bring the War on (some) Drugs to a conclusion.

Security Theatre Of The Absurd

Hey Cougars? Want to flash those pearly whites and shiny disposition when that mid-20’s waiter flatters you by asking for your ID at the bar? Well, good luck in Virginia… Smiling is forbidden:

Few places in Virginia are as draining to the soul and as numbing to the buttocks as the branch offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles. And yet, until recently, smiling was still permitted there.

No more. As part of the DMV’s effort to develop super-secure driver’s licenses and foolproof identification cards, the agency has issued a smile ban, directing customers to adopt a “neutral expression” in their portraits, thereby extinguishing whatever happiness comes with finally hearing one’s number called.

The driver’s license photo, it seems, is destined to look like a mug shot.

DMV officials say the smile ban is for a good cause. The agency would like to develop a facial recognition system that could compare customers’ photographs over time to prevent fraud and identity theft. “The technology works best when the images are similar,” said DMV spokeswoman Pam Goheen. “To prepare for the possibility of future security enhancements, we’re asking customers to maintain a neutral expression.”

At a Manassas DMV branch yesterday, that translated to a simple directive: “Don’t smile.”

Now, this is unlikely to be an issue for me. Given how much I hate stupid bureaucracy, inefficiency, waiting in lines, and the government in general, I’m most certainly not smiling in my license photo. And given that I’m tall (and thus the picture is slightly shot from below), let’s just say that if the picture were used for the nightly news, it wouldn’t fit for their feel-good story.

Every time you see government security, it must be weighed against government control. For example, it has been shown and explained numerous times that the government no-fly list is useless at fighting terrorism, as a committed terrorist will quickly and easily have the means to get a useable fake credit card and ID — or fake boarding pass and real ID — to get through a checkpoint — as the checkpoint workers do not verify names against the list. Thus, the no-fly list becomes another huge government database that has the power to make your life miserable if you accidentally get on it but doesn’t actually enhance security in any meaningful way.

But you know what all this security does? It makes normal citizens, whose interaction with the government is already rare and painful, even more difficult. But instead of taking the proper lesson from this — that government is largely useless and their security is entirely for show — they come away with a different lesson. They believe that perhaps banning smiling in a photo is just what is necessary to keep us safe, and that they should do what the bureaucrats ask without question. They are learning the lesson that obeisance is the key to security, even though reason and evidence suggest otherwise. They learn that it is not necessarily personal vigilance that is required to be safe, but rather letting the government keep ever-closer tabs on us. And that’s the wrong mindset for a country that used to have the values of America.

Then, of course, the story takes its truly absurdist turn:

When asked how DMV employees are able to determine when customers might be smiling too much, Goheen explained that the process is automated. Naturally, the new software is programmed to reject attempts at exuberance or human warmth. “It will send an error message if it detects a non-neutral expression,” she said.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from science fiction, it’s that the only way that we can defeat the evil android invasion when AI is first invented is to be able to detect the androids amongst us based upon their inability to behave like a human. It appears the machines are already trying to detect whether or not we can behave like them.

Hat Tip: Balko @ Reason

Boy Scout Training: “Put him on his face and put a knee in his back”

Boy Scouts
From the “Not The Onion” files comes a tale that I can’t even believe, much less figure out how to respond to. Is this really what the Boy Scouts are becoming?

The Explorers program, a coeducational affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America that began 60 years ago, is training thousands of young people in skills used to confront terrorism, illegal immigration and escalating border violence — an intense ratcheting up of one of the group’s longtime missions to prepare youths for more traditional jobs as police officers and firefighters.

“This is about being a true-blooded American guy and girl,” said A. J. Lowenthal, a sheriff’s deputy here in Imperial County, whose life clock, he says, is set around the Explorers events he helps run. “It fits right in with the honor and bravery of the Boy Scouts.”

The training, which leaders say is not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting, can involve chasing down illegal border crossers as well as more dangerous situations that include facing down terrorists and taking out “active shooters,” like those who bring gunfire and death to college campuses. In a simulation here of a raid on a marijuana field, several Explorers were instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout.

“Put him on his face and put a knee in his back,” a Border Patrol agent explained. “I guarantee that he’ll shut up.”

One participant, Felix Arce, 16, said he liked “the discipline of the program,” which was something he said his life was lacking. “I want to be a lawyer, and this teaches you about how crimes are committed,” he said.

Cathy Noriego, also 16, said she was attracted by the guns. The group uses compressed-air guns — known as airsoft guns, which fire tiny plastic pellets — in the training exercises, and sometimes they shoot real guns on a closed range.

“I like shooting them,” Cathy said. “I like the sound they make. It gets me excited.”

There is so much wrong here that I don’t know where to start. Maybe putting a 15-year-old into a bulletproof vest and running him through a course where his goal is to take down “active shooters” is one problem, since — you know — that’s such a HUGE part of the average cop’s day, would be a problem. Radley Balko, in his excellent work over at The Agitator, regularly points out the problematic aspects of training our police to be excitedly enacting para-military fantasies. There’s a fundamental difference between “to protect and serve” and seeing every person on the street as a potential “active shooter”.

When I was a kid, “troop leader” didn’t involve fatigues and a bulletproof vest.

But hey, this is the Boy Scouts, so it’s still a family-friendly environment:

Just as there are soccer moms, there are Explorers dads, who attend the competitions, man the hamburger grill and donate their land for the simulated marijuana field raids.

So don’t worry, fellas… You can avoid the humdrum days spent in your cubicle as a CPA or marketing nitwit by living vicariously through your kids, as they storm terrorist strongholds in Omaha, stem the illegal alien tide in California, or make the world safe from marijuana. Folks like Kathryn Johnston and Angel Raich are evil and must be stopped, and you need to bring train the next generation to bring the necessary firepower to handle them.

Hat Tip: Radley Balko

DHS Pulls Report On “Right-Wing Extremism”

It was just a little over a month ago that our own Stephen Gordon was among the first to break the story about a Department of Homeland of Security report that appeared to label most conservatives and libertarians in the country as “extremists.”

Now, the Washington Times reports that DHS has officially pulled the report:

A contentious “Rightwing Extremism” report that warned of military veterans as possible recruits for terrorist attacks against the U.S. was not authorized, has been withdrawn and is being rewritten, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Capitol Hill lawmakers.

“The wheels came off the wagon because the vetting process was not followed,” Ms. Napolitano told the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday.

“The report is no longer out there,” she said. “An employee sent it out without authorization.”

The report was shared with state and local law enforcement officials nationwide via the department’s internal Web site on April 7, angering Republican lawmakers and military veterans who said it unfairly stereotyped veterans.

Ms. Napolitano did not say when the report was taken off the “intel Web site” and all Homeland Security Department Web sites, but she said it is in the process of being “replaced or redone in a much more useful and much more precise fashion.”

Of course, that doesn’t really answer the question of whether or not the report reflects official thinking inside DHS as to what the difference is between a terrorist and a political protester.

Ashton Lundeby Update: Less Than Meets The Eye

Earlier this week, I wrote about the story of Ashton Lundeby — a 16 year-old kid being held in Indiana in connection with an alleged bomb threat — and his mother’s allegations that he son was being detained pursuant to the PATRIOT Act.

Well, it seems that there is much less to this story than there seemed to be at first blush.

First of all, it’s quite apparent that the PATRIOT Act is not even involved in this case. Lundeby was arrested under a 70 year old law that makes it a Federal crime to use telecommunications equipment to make interstate bomb threats.

Second, it’s quite obvious that Lundeby is not the innocent 16 year-old that his mother made him out to be in initial reports:

A 16-year-old North Carolina boy arrested for allegedly making a bomb threat against Purdue University had a secret identity as a superstar in an unusual online subculture — one dedicated to making prank phone calls for a live internet audience, his mother admitted Thursday.

“I heard the prank phone calls he made,” says Annette Lundeby of Oxford. “They were really funny prank phone calls…. He made phone calls to, like, Walmart.”

Lundeby confirmed that her son was known online as “Tyrone,” a celebrity in a prank-calling community that grew late last year out of the trouble-making “/b/” board on 4chan. Using the VOIP conferencing software Ventrilo, as many as 300 listeners would gather on a server run by Tyrone to listen to him and other amateur voice actors make often-crude and racist phone calls, some of which are archived on YouTube. The broadcasts were organized through websites like PartyVanPranks.com.

A former fan of Tyrone’s work helped lead the police to Lundeby’s son after the boy allegedly moved beyond pranks this year and began accepting donations from students eager to miss a day of school. In exchange for a little money, Tyrone would phone in a bomb threat that would shutter the donor’s school for a day.

“People would pay about five dollars, and they get to submit a number,” says Jason Bennett, a 19-year-old college student in Syndey, Australia. “It was getting way out of hand.”

Lundeby admits that her son received donations for his prank phone calls, but denies that he made bomb threats. She says her son was with her, coming home from church, at the time of the February 15 phone call that summoned a bomb squad and evacuated the mechanical engineering building at Purdue University in Indiana.

Bennett didn’t hear the Purdue call, but he says he heard Tyrone admit to that bomb threat later, and decided enough was enough. He contacted university police and began helping them get the goods on “Tyrone.”

Now this doesn’t mean that Lundeby is guilty of the charges against him, but these reports do cast serious doubts on his mother’s credibility, most especially on her assertion that her son is a victim of overzealous use of the PATRIOT Act. So, you know, sorry for jumping the gun on this story because, as Rick Sincere says, it’s pretty clear we’ve been punked.

The Latest Victim Of The PATRIOT Act: A 16 Year-Old Kid

Remember when we were told in the wake of the September 11th attacks that the extraordinary surveillance and investigative powers being granted to the Federal Government were intended solely to protect us from terrorist attacks ?

Well, perhaps someone can explain exactly how a 16 year-old in North Carolina constitutes a terrorist threat:

Oxford, N.C. — Sixteen-year-old Ashton Lundeby’s bedroom in his mother’s Granville County home is nothing, if not patriotic. Images of American flags are everywhere – on the bed, on the floor, on the wall.

But according to the United States government, the tenth-grade home-schooler is being held on a criminal complaint that he made a bomb threat from his home on the night of Feb. 15.

The family was at a church function that night, his mother, Annette Lundeby, said.

“Undoubtedly, they were given false information, or they would not have had 12 agents in my house with a widow and two children and three cats,” Lundeby said.

Around 10 p.m. on March 5, Lundeby said, armed FBI agents along with three local law enforcement officers stormed her home looking for her son. They handcuffed him and presented her with a search warrant.

“I was terrified,” Lundeby’s mother said. “There were guns, and I don’t allow guns around my children. I don’t believe in guns.”

Lundeby told the officers that someone had hacked into her son’s IP address and was using it to make crank calls connected through the Internet, making it look like the calls had originated from her home when they did not.

Her argument was ignored, she said. Agents seized a computer, a cell phone, gaming console, routers, bank statements and school records, according to federal search warrants.

“There were no bomb-making materials, not even a blasting cap, not even a wire,” Lundeby said.

And yet her son remains in custody in a juvenile facility in Indiana and the government doesn’t even feel obligated to explain the charges against him:

Passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., the Patriot Act allows federal agents to investigate suspected cases of terrorism swiftly to better protect the country. In part, it gives the federal government more latitude to search telephone records, e-mails and other records.

“They’re saying that ‘We feel this individual is a terrorist or an enemy combatant against the United States, and we’re going to suspend all of those due process rights because this person is an enemy of the United States,” said Dan Boyce, a defense attorney and former U.S. attorney not connected to the Lundeby case.

(…)

Boyce said the Patriot Act was written with good intentions, but he said he believes it has gone too far in some cases. Lundeby’s might be one of them, he said.

“It very well could be a case of overreaction, where an agent leaped to certain conclusions or has made certain assumptions about this individual and about how serious the threat really is,” Boyce said.

Gee, do you think ?

Here’s a report from a local television station in North Carolina about the incident:

Rick Sincere, whose post early this morning pointed me to this horrendous story, sums up all of this up quite nicely:

In addition to incompetences like this, government law enforcement agencies are extremely shy about apologizing for mistakes. (They almost never do so, unless by court order.) So Ashton Lundeby, no matter how strong the case for his innocence is, will likely be kept in jail for years as the government tries out new and more ridiculous charges against him, until they find one that sticks or they wear Ashton down so thoroughly that he confesses to crimes he did not commit (and probably did not occur).

Welcome to the new America, my friends.

C/P: Below The Beltway

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