Quotulatiousness

November 15, 2017

Ignorance of the law … is inevitable, because there are so many laws

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

We’ve all heard the old saying that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”, but there has been such massive growth in the number and scope of laws in the last couple of generations that even the people who work in the legal field can’t possibly keep up. What chance do average citizens have to ensure they aren’t accidentally falling afoul of unknown (and for all practical purposes, unknowable) legal traps?

“Because I said so.” “Life isn’t fair.” “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” These are some of the great cop-outs of all time, and the last one is particularly troubling in a country with so many laws that it is impossible to count — let alone read — them all. When was the last time you sat down with a complete set of the federal, state, and local codes setting forth the tens of thousands of criminal violations for which you could be sent to jail? If you answered “never,” you’re in good company. Nevertheless, America’s judges still cling to the proposition that it’s perfectly fine to lock people up for doing something they had no idea was illegal. But it’s not fine, and the justifications for that palpably unfair rule have only grown more threadbare with time.

Laws Are Not Even Countable, Much Less Knowable

Things have gotten so bad that even an act as innocent as sharing a Netflix password or a bank website password with a family member could potentially carry criminal penalties if the website disallows password sharing. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 bans intentionally accessing a computer “without authorization,” and the Supreme Court has recently declined to hear a case from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Nosal, that held that password sharing could be prohibited by the Act. Although the majority opinion did not explicitly mention innocent password sharing, the dissent noted that the lack of any limiting principle meant that the majority’s reasoning could easily be used to criminalize a host of innocent conduct.

One rationale for the maxim that ignorance of the law is no excuse was to give people an incentive to educate themselves about legal requirements. But as any law student will attest, one can study those requirements for years and barely scratch the surface. Another rationale was to prevent people from escaping criminal penalties by claiming ignorance, even when they actually knew they were breaking the law. That might have made sense in ancient times when there were only a few dozen crimes on the books and all of them involved morally blameworthy conduct like murder, arson, or rape.

But today the law has grown so complicated, and the relationship between law and morality so attenuated, that these supporting rationales no longer make sense. There have been multiple attempts to count the number of federal crimes, including by the Department of Justice, and no one has yet succeeded. Title 18 of the United States Code, which governs crimes and criminal procedure, has over 6,000 sections, and it is estimated that there are more than 4,500 federal crimes and over 300,000 agency regulations containing criminal penalties. And of course, this does not include the dizzying array of state and local criminal codes, ignorance of which is practically assured but still not excused.

In 2009, Harvey Silverglate wrote Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. That was long enough ago that three is almost certainly an under-estimate by now … there are so many more laws and regulations that have been added (or “enhanced”) since then.

QotD: Some positive effects of a cashless society

Filed under: Economics, Law, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There’s a lot to like about the idea of a cashless society, starting with its effect on crime. The payoff to mugging people or snatching their bags has already declined dramatically, simply because fewer and fewer people are carrying cash around. I myself almost never have any of the stuff on hand. If it weren’t for the rising value of mobile phones, street crime would have largely lost its profit motive … and if better phone security makes it impossible to repurpose a stolen phone, that motive will approach zero.

A cashless society would also see a decline in the next level of robberies: stickups of retail outlets. There’s obviously no point in sticking a gun in the face of some liquor store clerk when all he can give you is the day’s credit card receipts. Even if these sorts of crimes are replaced by electronic thefts of equivalent value, this would still be a major improvement for society, simply because the threat of violent crime is uniquely terrifying and corrosive to community.

One step beyond that, there’s the effect on criminal enterprises, for whom cash is key. Making it impossible to transact business while keeping large amounts of money away from the watchful eye of the government will make it much harder to run an illegal operation. And while I love the tales of quirky bootleggers and tramp peddlers as much as the next fellow, the truth is that large criminal organizations are full of not very nice people, doing not very nice things, and it would be better for society if they stopped.

Megan McArdle, “After Cash: All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses a Bank Account”, Bloomberg View, 2016-03-15.

October 26, 2017

So what was the point in the Sudbury byelection trial?

Filed under: Cancon, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

I admit I didn’t follow this case in any detail, but what little I did read left me scratching my head over what the actual crime was supposed to have been. I certainly don’t have any partiality for the defendants, but there really didn’t seem to be any “there” there in any “breaking the law” way. Chris Selley (who actually did have to pay attention to the trial) seems to have felt much the same way:

Justice Howard Borenstein kicked the living daylights out of the Crown’s case in the Sudbury byelection trial on Tuesday, acquitting Liberal operatives Gerry Lougheed and Pat Sorbara of bribery without the defence calling evidence. The “directed verdict” means he didn’t think any Crown evidence would result in a conviction even if a jury believed it entirely — not a great look for the prosecution. Defence lawyers Brian Greenspan (for Sorbara) and Michael Lacy (for Lougheed) didn’t say whether their clients would pursue the Crown for costs, but they were otherwise inclined to orate. Both called it a “vindication.”

“This is as close in law as you can have to saying, ‘she’s innocent,’ ” said Greenspan.

“Nothing changed during this case. The evidence that was presented was the evidence that was available from the very beginning,” said Lacy. “And yet here we are, however many days later, with no case to answer for. (It) raises questions about why they prosecuted this matter to begin with.”

No kidding. I wouldn’t trust the lawyers the Crown came up with to wash my car, but they can’t have come cheap.

Under the circumstances, it’d be quite reasonable for them to attempt to recoup their legal costs.

So that was that. Two Liberals, three charges, three acquittals — and rightly so, says I. As I’ve said before, the Crown’s desultory shambles of a case managed to shift me from thinking Lougheed and Sorbara behaved greasily, if not illegally, to thinking they had barely done anything noteworthy. Both claimed to have no regrets on Tuesday; moments after the acquittal, the Liberals welcomed Sorbara back into the fold on Twitter. The opposition’s rote angry press releases ring rather hollow — especially in the Tories’ case, considering all the recent allegations of riding-level skullduggery.

On the bright side, we have some precedent at least. This is the first time anyone has ever been charged under the bribery provision of the Ontario Election Act, which dates from 1998. Seven other provinces have similar bribery provisions in their election acts; so far as I can tell no one has ever been charged under them either. The only mentions made of the new provision in debates at the Ontario legislature were about how everyone would surely agree it was a great idea. The next time politicians decide to tinker with the Election Act, they should get their intentions on the record. Had Borenstein sided with the Crown, he would nearly have outlawed politics altogether.

October 25, 2017

The new “movie plot threat” – The Revenge of the Return of the Bride of the Sex Trafficking Mafia

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The rising moral panic over sex traffic gets a well-deserved takedown by Lenore Skenazy:

We are in the midst of a massive mommy moral panic. Across the country, mothers are writing breathless accounts on Facebook of how sex traffickers nearly snatched their children at Target/Ikea/the grocery store.

While at Sam’s Club, one such post explains, “a man came up to us and asked if the empty cart nearby was ours.…He was an African American with a shaved head.…It seemed like an innocent encounter.” Innocent, that is, until the mom and kids headed to Walmart and there was the guy again, “feverishly texting on his phone but not taking his eye off my daughter.”

It could only mean one thing, she wrote: “I have absolutely NO doubt that that man is a trafficker looking for young girls to steal and sell.”

And I have absolutely no doubt that she’s wrong. This is what security expert Bruce Schneier has dubbed a “movie plot threat” — a narrative that looks suspiciously like what you’d see at the Cineplex. The more “movie plot” a situation seems, the less likely it is to be real.

But it sells. A Facebook post by Diandra Toyos went wildly viral after she said she and her kids were followed by two men at Ikea. “I had a bad feeling,” she wrote. Fortunately, she “managed to lose them.”

Which, frankly, is what one does at Ikea, even with people one is trying not to lose. Nonetheless, the post ricocheted through the media. CBS told viewers that while experts found the scenario unlikely, “that doesn’t mean Toyos didn’t have reason to be concerned.”

Actually, it does.

October 24, 2017

QotD: Tax complexity

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

What’s interesting about this [IRS] scam is that it’s a departure from classic confidence schemes. Think about something like the Nigerian e-mail scams, and how they draw their victims in: greed for a lucrative finder’s fee in exchange for doing something that sounds maybe a little bit shady, but maybe sort of noble too. The victim is then strung along by playing to the greed, and kept from talking to others who might point out the scam by because they think they are complicit in something legally questionable.

The IRS scam, on the other hand, works entirely by fear. It takes people who haven’t done anything wrong, and makes them afraid that they have. That’s a pretty hefty achievement. Imagine trying to extort money from someone by, say, claiming that they had murdered someone. You might elicit laughter, or bewilderment, but you’d rarely elicit much cash.

Which raises the obvious question: How did we get into a situation where it’s so easy for people to believe that the IRS is about to arrest them for a crime they weren’t even aware of having committed?

You guessed it: The IRS is incredibly powerful, and the tax code is incredibly opaque.

Like many journalists, my husband and I pay someone to do our taxes. We have to. The year we married, I realized that with two journalists who both had salary and non-salary income, home offices, various business expenses, and a new home purchase, our taxes had finally passed the point at which I was even marginally competent to do them. Before then, I had always done my taxes myself, and filed them with a sort of wistful hope that I had done them correctly. At this point it seems worth pausing to note that:

  1. I have an MBA.
  2. I write about tax policy for a living.

These things are surprisingly little help. Filling out your taxes is not a matter of being good at math, or accounting, or even knowing how various provisions of the tax code interact in revenue projections. It is entirely a matter of knowing what can be deducted, and how. And because our tax code is so complex, that doesn’t mean “read the statute”; it means “read the statute, and the case law, and develop a sense over long experience of how agents are likely to interpret this or that during an audit.” The only people who can do that are tax professionals; the rest of us are too busy earning a living in our own professions.

There’s no perfect measure of tax complexity, but consider one quick-and-dirty metric: the number of lines on a typical tax form, and the length of the accompanying tax booklet. Quartz did just that a while back, and found that the complexity had been steadily increasing.

Legal complexity does not accumulate linearly; it accumulates exponentially. When you have one law on the books, and you add a second, the new law may (or may not) have some unexpected interaction with the old law. This would be one complexity point for regulators to manage. But with each new law, the number of potential interactions grows quickly, until it passes the ability of any layman to grasp it (and eventually, surpasses the professionals as well, which is why they’re increasingly specialized in narrow areas). We are long past that point with the tax code.

Megan McArdle, “Why We Fear the IRS”, Bloomberg View, 2016-01-04.

October 17, 2017

This is how conspiracy theories begin and persist

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith handily illustrates how conspiracy theories get started and why they can last for so long (the use of the term “false flag” is a definite tell):

This is where I came in (does that even mean anything anymore?). Something terrible happens at the hands of a “lone gunman” (in this case, five dozen innocent individuals are randomly and cold-bloodedly murdered, and several hundred are hurt, inexplicably by a rogue multi-millionaire). The usual politicians respond by threatening to punish everyone who didn’t do it, by ripping away great chunks of their human, natural. civil, and Constitutional rights. The event is quickly veiled in an impenetrable cloud of contradictory lies which will not be parted, not for decades, and probably never. We have seen this all before, over and over again.

Look: I have no idea what happened in Las Vegas, neither do you, nor does anybody else I know, but based on what we’ve seen since 1963 in Dallas (or 1865 at Ford’s Theater), what I’ve read, and what I’ve heard, and everything like it that’s happened since, I would bet good money that the person or persons actually responsible collect a government paycheck. I keep hearing talk about Manchurian candidates and MK-Ultra, and each time, I’m closer to believing it. I try to keep in mind that, the more the truth is concealed, the more people will tend to make up their own truths. I only know that future historians are going to have a field day with the 20th and 21st centuries.

I’d like very much to know the truth. I’d like to know what invisible forces and events are shaping the world my grandchildren will live (and possibly die) in, but I have given up any expectation I ever had of such a thing happening. The “real facts” about the John F. Kennedy assassination are supposed to come out soon, but again, I’m willing to bet they will only confuse and obscure things. Those future historians I mentioned will probably be swimming in their own sea of bovine excrement.

I do know one perfect, gigantic fact, and it is nothing that anybody ever told me. It is something I figured out for myself. It is this: these things happen because some people have the power to make them happen and to cover them up, afterward. (I never believed the official story about 9/11, not from the first thirty seconds it was launched.) They happen because those with power want more power, and we let them take it — from us. The craving for power and unearned wealth is a deep sickness, a severe form of mental illness, and you can see the effect it has on people. In the end, I’ll bet that Luke Skywalker would have ended up shrunken and shriveled, first like the Emperor, and finally like Yoda. Possibly green, as well. The Force does that to people, apparently.

Now, take a look at George Soros.

September 21, 2017

“Once Obama and his allies launched their domestic surveillance operation, they crossed the Rubicon”

Filed under: Government, Law, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Daniel Greenfield explains why the recent news on wiretapping Trump associates might yet bring about a Watergate for the 21st century, only with Obama team members in the defendant roles:

Last week, CNN revealed (and excused) one phase of the Obama spying operation on Trump. After lying about it on MSNBC, Susan Rice admitted unmasking the identities of Trump officials to Congress.

Rice was unmasking the names of Trump officials a month before leaving office. The targets may have included her own successor, General Flynn, who was forced out of office using leaked surveillance.

While Rice’s targets weren’t named, the CNN story listed a meeting with Flynn, Bannon and Kushner.

Bannon was Trump’s former campaign chief executive and a senior adviser. Kushner is a senior adviser. Those are exactly the people you spy on to get an insight into what your political opponents plan to do.

Now the latest CNN spin piece informs us that secret FISA orders were used to spy on the conversations of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. The surveillance was discontinued for lack of evidence and then renewed under a new warrant. This is part of a pattern of FISA abuses by Obama Inc. which never allowed minor matters like lack of evidence to dissuade them from new FISA requests.

Desperate Obama cronies had figured out that they could bypass many of the limitations on the conventional investigations of their political opponents by ‘laundering’ them through national security.

If any of Trump’s people were talking to non-Americans, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) could be used to spy on them. And then the redacted names of the Americans could be unmasked by Susan Rice, Samantha Power and other Obama allies. It was a technically legal Watergate.

If both CNN stories hold up, then Obama Inc. had spied on two Trump campaign leaders.

Furthermore the Obama espionage operation closely tracked Trump’s political progress. The first FISA request targeting Trump happened the month after he received the GOP nomination. The second one came through in October: the traditional month of political surprises meant to upend an election.

The spying ramped up after Trump’s win when the results could no longer be used to engineer a Hillary victory, but would instead have to be used to cripple and bring down President Trump. Headed out the door, Rice was still unmasking the names of Trump’s people while Obama was making it easier to pass around raw eavesdropped data to other agencies.

No matter how bad the information gets, I doubt that Trump will go after Obama personally — ex-Presidents have an unwritten constitutional privilege that way, I understand — but some of his former cabinet and sub-cabinet officers might well be sacrificed to minimize long-term damage to the Obama administration’s various legacies.

On the other hand, CNN hasn’t been having a lot of luck with their big breaking stories lately … this might be another one of those “lots of smoke, but no fire” situations. Democrats facing tough races in 2018 will be hoping that there’s no “smoking gun” there as far as criminal prosecutions are concerned.

September 19, 2017

The Merchant of Death – Basil Zaharoff I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Britain, Business, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The Great War
Published on 18 Sep 2017

For arms dealers like Basil Zaharoff, the late 19th and early 20th century was a time of never ending business opportunities, the great European powers modernised their armies drastically and conflicts like the Russo-Japanese War or the Balkan Wars meant that weapons of all kinds were always in demand. But no other man knew how to influence and profit from the warring nations like “The Merchant of Death” – Basil Zaharoff.

September 4, 2017

QotD: Even a world of perfect abundance would not be a crime-free world

Filed under: Books, Economics, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

So, when I woke up this morning I woke up thinking of how time is different in different parts of the world, which is what the people (Heinlein and Simak included) who pushed for the UN and thought it was the way of the future didn’t seem to get (to be fair, in Tramp Royale it becomes obvious Heinlein got it when he traveled there, and realized it was impossible to bring such a disparate world under one government.)

A minor side note, while listening to City, there is a point at which Simak describes what he might or might not have realized was Marx’s concept of “perfect communism” where the state withers away because there’s no need for it.

Simak thought this would be brought about by perfect abundance. There are no crimes of property when everyone has too much. There are no crimes of violence either, because he seems to think those come from property. (Hits head gently on desk.)

This must have seemed profound to me when I first read the book at 12, but right now I just stared at the mp3 player thinking “what about people who capture other people as sex slaves?” “What about people who covet something someone else made, including the life someone made for themselves? Just because everyone has too much, it doesn’t mean that they don’t covet what someone else made of their too much.”

Which is why I’m not a believer in either Communism or for that matter big L Libertarianism. I don’t believe that humans are only a sum of their material needs and crime the result of the unequal distribution of property. (There is also the unequal distribution of talent, or simply the unequal distribution of happiness, all of which can lead to crime — after all Cain didn’t off Abel because he was starving.) And I don’t believe humans are ever going to become so perfect we can get away with no government, because humans will always (being at heart social apes) lust for power, recognition and heck simply control over others (which is subtly different from power.) So we’re stuck with our good servant but bad master.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Time Zones”, According to Hoyt, 2015-06-23.

July 25, 2017

“‘Legal fiction’ sounds better than ‘lie’, but in this case the two terms are near synonyms”

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The Instapundit Glenn Reynolds in USA Today on US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ passion for civil asset forfeiture:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to steal from you.

Oh, he doesn’t call it that. He calls it “civil forfeiture.” But what it is, is theft by law enforcement. Sessions should be ashamed. If I were president, he’d be fired.

Under “civil forfeiture,” law enforcement can take property from people under the legal fiction that the property itself is guilty of a crime. (“Legal fiction” sounds better than “lie,” but in this case the two terms are near synonyms.) It was originally sold as a tool for going after the assets of drug kingpins, but nowadays it seems to be used against a lot of ordinary Americans who just have things that law enforcement wants. It’s also a way for law enforcement agencies to maintain off-budget slush funds, thus escaping scrutiny.

As Drug Enforcement Agency agent Sean Waite told the Albuquerque Journal, “We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty. … It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty.”

“Presumed to be guilty.” Once in America, we had a presumption of innocence. But that was inconvenient to the powers that be.

As Tamara Keel said “Appointing Sessions was the opposite of ‘draining the swamp’; it was basically pumping in a whole bunch of vintage swamp water”

July 22, 2017

Civil asset forfeiture is “an unconstitutional abuse of government power”

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At the Hit & Run blog, Damon Root reports on at least one US Supreme Court justice’s strong views on civil asset forfeiture:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this week that the Justice Department will increase the use of civil asset forfeiture, the practice that allows law enforcement officials to seize property from persons who have been neither charged with nor convicted of any crime. “Civil asset forfeiture is a key tool,” Sessions declared. “President Trump has directed this Department of Justice to reduce crime in this country, and we will use every lawful tool that we have to do that.”

But civil asset forfeiture is not a “lawful tool.” It is an unconstitutional abuse of government power. The Fifth Amendment forbids the government from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Civil asset forfeiture turns that venerable principle on its head, allowing government agents to take what they want without the bother of bringing charges, presenting clear and convincing evidence, and obtaining a conviction in a court of law. It is the antithesis of due process.

By ordering the expansion of this unconstitutional practice, Sessions has placed himself on a collision course with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. As Thomas recently explained in a statement respecting the denial of certiorari in the case of Leonard v. Texas, not only has civil asset forfeiture “led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses” by law enforcement agencies around the country, but the practice is fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution.

As I described Sessions’ attitude in a post on Gab: “Asset forfeiture now, asset forfeiture tomorrow, asset forfeiture forever!” http://minx.cc:1080/?post=370736. The victims of asset forfeiture tend not to be the druglords or property tycoons … the majority are relatively poor and the asset being taken from them is often their primary financial possession. Druglords and tycoons can easily afford high-powered lawyers … poor people whose life savings have just been seized have no recourse at all in most states. As Senator Rand Paul said: “People who are victims of civil forfeiture are often poor, African American or Hispanic, and people who can’t afford an attorney to try to get the money that’s taken from them by the government”.

Megan McArdle points out that “civil asset forfeiture is […] almost the literal embodiment of that hoary old socialist proverb: ‘Property is theft’:”

Now, this may not seem unreasonable to you. Why should criminals be allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains? And fair enough, except for one small thing: They can take your stuff without charging or convicting you.

Law enforcement agencies have often been able to keep the seized assets for their own use, which has given them a keen interest in generating new civil asset forfeiture cases. As Justice Clarence Thomas remarked, while rebuking his colleagues for failing to hear a case on this topic, “this system — where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use — has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.” (And indeed, abuse is rampant.)

Because of those well-chronicled abuses, the Obama administration in 2015 ended what was known as the Equitable Sharing program, which allowed local law enforcement to seize assets and then transfer them to the federal government, with the federal government passing back part of the proceeds to the local department. This proved an excellent way to get around state laws, including those intended to funnel seized assets into state coffers. The Obama administration very sensibly decided that it didn’t want to help law enforcement become a sort of freelance tax authority, and shut this practice down.

Now Sessions has revived it. “How is this conservative?” demanded an earnest liberal of my acquaintance. And all I could reply was that that is a very good question.

July 12, 2017

Someone at the NRA finally speaks out on the shooting death of Philando Castile

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Radley Balko on the problems the NRA creates for itself by its reflexive support of the police, which weakens its efforts on upholding gun rights for ordinary Americans:

At long last, someone from the National Rifle Association has spoken up about Philando Castile. Sort of. During a CNN segment, NRA spokeswoman and pundit Dana Loesch said this:

    I think it’s absolutely awful. It’s a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided. I don’t agree with every single decision that comes out from courtrooms of America. There are a lot of variables in this particular case, and there were a lot of things that I wish would have been done differently. Do I believe that Philando Castile deserved to lose his life over his [traffic] stop? I absolutely do not. I also think that this is why we have things like NRA Carry Guard, not only to reach out to the citizens to go over what to do during stops like this, but also to work with law enforcement so that they understand what citizens are experiencing when they go through stops like this.

As Jacob Sullum points out at Reason, this is pretty weak stuff. A law-abiding gun owner was shot and killed by a cop after doing everything he was supposed to do. It then took more than a year for anyone from the nation’s largest gun rights organization to comment, and when she did, she offered a vague, heavily qualified, quasi-criticism of the cop while implying not only that Castile contributed to his death but also that he might be alive if only he were carrying an NRA Carry Guard card.

This is about par for the course for the NRA. This is the group that claims to be the only thing preventing the government from obliterating the Second Amendment, yet they’re noticeably quiet about the people doing the most violence to the Second Amendment — the armed, badge-wearing government employees we call law enforcement officers. For all the NRA’s dire warnings about government gun confiscation, the real, tangible threat to gun-owning Americans today comes not from gun-grabbing bureaucrats but from door-bashing law enforcement officers who think they’re at war — who are too often trained to view the people they serve not as citizens with rights but as potential threats. Here, the NRA just doesn’t want to get involved.

[…]

In short, the NRA seems to think we’re at risk of creeping tyranny and abuse of power from all sectors of government except from the men and women armed, badged and entrusted with the power to kill. That’s a problem, because if armed agents who enforce the laws on the ground aren’t required to respect our rights, our rights don’t really exist.

The Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way on the Castle Doctrine for the next 25 years, but if the police continue to kick down doors with impunity, law-abiding gun owners will be at risk, and the Second Amendment will be more of an empty gesture than a constitutional protection. The Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way on conceal carry for the next 25 years, but if the organization keeps pushing the line that cops are at war, that the populace is dangerous, and that every citizen is a possible threat, the right to carry a gun in public will always be constrained by cops conditioned to see every weapon as a threat to their existence.

Finally, the Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way and abolish all the state laws like those that ensnared Shaneen Allen, but as long as the NRA and its allies push rhetoric that makes white people (and white cops) see all crime with a black face, the right to bear arms for people who look like her — or who look like Philando Castile — exist only in theory.

July 8, 2017

Demonizing the Koch brothers

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Julian Adorney on the amazing contrast between the way the Koch brothers actually spend their money and the demonic sins they are regularly accused of by progressives:

The Koch Brothers recently announced a $21 million anti-poverty program in Dallas, designed to reduce gang violence and encourage young entrepreneurs. But their efforts to end poverty are unlikely to earn credit from progressives, who frequently demonize the family. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid routinely blasts them for, “crooked works” and “nefarious actions”; and when Charles and David Koch donated $100 million to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, leftists demanded (unsuccessfully) that the hospital return the gift.

Why are the Kochs so often criticized by the left, while far less progressive individuals are given a free pass?

Unlikely Alliances

The Koch brothers have spent at least $1.5 billion working to advance traditionally progressive causes. They have funded public television, museums, and hospitals. They contributed $25 million to the United Negro College Fund, the nation’s largest minority education group. The donation offers scholarships and support for historically black universities.

Politically, the Kochs have pushed for criminal justice reform. The brothers worked with Van Jones on his Cut50 project, which aims to cut America’s incarcerated population in half over the next ten years. The Kochs have partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for American Progress to reduce prison populations and enact more humane criminal sentencing. And in 2011, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers gave Charles Koch its annual Defender of Justice award.

But criminal justice reform is far from the only progressive cause the Kochs have embraced. They publicly oppose corporate tax breaks and subsidies — including the ethanol subsidies that boost their bottom line.

In spite of this, many progressives disdain the Kochs as far-right extremists. On his Senate website, Bernie Sanders claims that the goal of these, “right wing billionaires” is to, “repeal every major piece of legislation … that has protected the middle class, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the most vulnerable in this country.” The Koch’s high-profile efforts to help the most vulnerable population in the nation, those victimized by the criminal justice system, receives no mention.

[…]

Progressives vilify the Kochs for the same reason that many venerate FDR: politics encourages black and white formulations. Prominent Democrats lambast the Kochs as ill-intentioned billionaires, and the specter of the Kochs has played heavily in Democratic fundraising attempts. Fear motivates, and boogeymen inspire fiercer opposition than the complicated reality of the Koch brothers.

Similarly, Democrats may turn a blind eye to FDR’s anti-progressive actions because they don’t wish to tarnish one of their own. FDR’s economic policies owe much to fascism: Roosevelt admitted that he was, “deeply impressed by what [Mussolini] has accomplished.” Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration stated it more directly: “The Fascist Principles are very similar to those we have been evolving here in America.”

This similarity is easy to brush off if FDR is perceived as a leftists titan, because in the public eye progressives and fascists are diametrically opposed. It is harder to ignore when one accepts that FDR’s record on human rights was only a few degrees better than Mussolini’s.

July 5, 2017

QotD: Mussolini’s crimes

On the face of it, Mussolini’s collapse was a story straight out of Victorian melodrama. At long last Righteousness had triumphed, the wicked man was discomfited, the mills of God were doing their stuff. On second thoughts, however, this moral tale is less simple and less edifying. To begin with, what crime, if any, has Mussolini committed? In power politics there are no crimes, because there are no laws. And, on the other hand, is there any feature in Mussolini’s internal régime that could be seriously objected to by any body of people likely to sit in judgement on him? For, as the author of this book (The Trial of Mussolini by ‘Cassius’) abundantly shows — and this in fact is the main purpose of the book — there is not one scoundrelism committed by Mussolini between 1922 and 1940 that has not been lauded to the skies by the very people who are now promising to bring him to trial.

For the purposes of his allegory ‘Cassius’ imagines Mussolini indicted before a British court, with the Attorney General as prosecutor. The list of charges is an impressive one, and the main facts — from the murder of Matteotti to the invasion of Greece, and from the destruction of the peasants’ co-operatives to the bombing of Addis Ababa — are not denied. Concentration camps, broken treaties, rubber truncheons, castor oil — everything is admitted. The only troublesome question is: How can something that was praiseworthy at the time when you did it — ten years ago, say — suddenly become reprehensible now? Mussolini is allowed to call witnesses, both living and dead, and to show by their own printed words that from the very first the responsible leaders of British opinion have encouraged him in everything that he did. For instance, here is Lord Rothermere in 1928:

    In his own country (Mussolini) was the antidote to a deadly poison. For the rest of Europe he has been a tonic which has done to all incalculable good. I can claim with sincere satisfaction to have been the first man in a position of public influence to put Mussolini’s splendid achievement in its right light. … He is the greatest figure of our age.

Here is Winston Churchill in 1927:

    If I had been an Italian I am sure I should have been whole-heartedly with you in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism… (Italy) has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism.

Here is Lord Mottistone in 1935:

    I did not oppose (the Italian action in Abyssinia). I wanted to dispel the ridiculous illusion that it was a nice thing to sympathize with the underdog. … I said it was a wicked thing to send arms or connive to send arms to these cruel, brutal Abyssinians and still to deny them to others who are playing an honourable part.

Here is Mr Duff Cooper in 1938:

    Concerning the Abyssinian episode, the less said now the better. When old friends are reconciled after a quarrel, it is always dangerous for them to discuss its original causes.

Here is Mr Ward Price, of the Daily Mail, in 1932:

    Ignorant and prejudiced people talk of Italian affairs as if that nation were subject to some tyranny which it would willingly throw off. With that rather morbid commiseration for fanatical minorities which is the rule with certain imperfectly informed sections of British public opinion, this country long shut its eyes to the magnificent work that the Fascist régime was doing. I have several times heard Mussolini himself express his gratitude to the Daily Mail as having been the first British newspaper to put his aims fairly before the world.

And so on, and so on. Hoare, Simon, Halifax, Neville Chamberlain, Austen Chamberlain, Hore-Belisha, Amery, Lord Lloyd and various others enter the witness-box, all of them ready to testify that, whether Mussolini was crushing the Italian trade unions, non-intervening in Spain, pouring mustard gas on the Abyssinians, throwing Arabs out of aeroplanes or building up a navy for use against Britain, the British Government and its official spokesmen supported him through thick and thin. We are shown Lady (Austen) Chamberlain shaking hands with Mussolini in 1924, Chamberlain and Halifax banqueting with him and toasting ‘the Emperor of Abyssinia’ in 1939, Lord Lloyd buttering up the Fascist régime in an official pamphlet as late as 1940. The net impression left by this part of the trial is quite simply that Mussolini is not guilty. Only later, when an Abyssinian, a Spaniard and an Italian anti-Fascist give their evidence, does the real case against him begin to appear.

Now, the book is a fanciful one, but this conclusion is realistic. It is immensely unlikely that the British Tories will ever put Mussolini on trial. There is nothing that they could accuse him of except his declaration of war in 1940. If the ‘trial of war criminals’ that some people enjoy dreaming about ever happens, it can only happen after revolutions in the Allied countries. But the whole notion of finding scapegoats, of blaming individuals, or parties, or nations for the calamities that have happened to us, raises other trains of thought, some of them rather disconcerting.

George Orwell, “Who are the War Criminals?”, Tribune, 1943-10-22.

June 29, 2017

Words & Numbers – Just Say No to the War on Drugs

Published on 28 Jun 2017

Ted Cruz recently asserted that the United States military needs to be sent to Mexico to attack the drug cartels head-on.

This is a bad idea. But so is the drug war itself, both constitutionally and logically.

Forty-six years and one trillion dollars after its start, President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs is still going, with 300,000 people currently in jail on drug charges. Meanwhile, 26 times as many people suffer from alcoholism as do heroin abuse, and eight times as many die from alcohol abuse as do heroin.

Many who support the war do so with the best of intentions, but has it really helped? Or has it done more harm than good, like the Prohibition of the 1920s? Is this war even legal in the first place?

James Harrigan and Antony Davies discuss these questions in this week’s Words and Numbers. Watch the conversation below or on our YouTube channel, or listen to it on SoundCloud.

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