Quotulatiousness

December 10, 2017

13 Non-Pedophile Reasons You Can Hate Roy Moore

Filed under: Humour, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

ReasonTV
Published on 8 Dec 2017

Even if you disregard the nine women accusing Roy Moore of sexual assault, there are plenty of reasons to despise him.
—–
Judicial incompetence, constitutional ignorance, and industrial strength bigotry are just some of the issues with the Alabama judge. In the latest Mostly Weekly Andrew Heaton covers some of the many reasons why Roy Moore sucks:

• He taught a class discouraging women from running for office.
• He’s referred to people as “reds and yellows”.
• He thinks the accusations of pedophilia are pushed by homosexuals and socialists.
• Accepted money from a Neo-nazi group.
• Said gay marriage was worse than slavery.
• Wouldn’t rule out death penalty for gays.
• Wants to rescind free trade agreements.
• He’s anti-immigrant.
• Believes Barack Obama wasn’t born in America.
• Believes 9/11 is God’s punishment for legalizing sodomy and abortion.

Mostly Weekly is hosted by Andrew Heaton, with headwriter Sarah Rose Siskind.

Script by Sarah Rose Siskind with writing assistance from Andrew Heaton and Brian Sack.

Edited by Austin Bragg and Siskind.

Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.

Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

December 3, 2017

Alberta debates marijuana legalization … oddly

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

Colby Cosh’s most recent column is a real-life illustration of the old Bastiat saying that “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended”:

I will leave better informed people to discuss Mr. Orr’s creative interpretation of the Cultural Revolution as being a proto-Reaganite anti-drug crusade. Actually, I am just informed enough to discuss it, briefly. Here’s the discussion: it’s bananas.

And yet! — the nonsense about China might not even have been the silliest part of the speech. Orr has concerns that legalized marijuana might not serve to suppress illegal production. This could, in itself, be a legitimate point. There is a genuine fear that the licensed vendors will set the price too high to compete with existing dealers. But it is not quite the point Orr chose to make. He seems to be convinced that licensed growers cannot compete with the black market at any price.

Why is it that criminals grow pot? Orr’s answer is not “because growing pot has, until now, been a crime.” That would be too easy. “Let’s look at it from a business point of view,” he suggests…

“The black market doesn’t have to pay taxes. They don’t have to pay (worker’s compensation). In most cases they don’t have to pay for any capital expenditures on land or buildings. They don’t have to buy business licences. In many cases they don’t pay for power… Anybody who tries to do this legally is going to have to pay all of these expenses, and you think you can compete financially on that level with them?”

This, of course, explains why, when we want furniture or shoes or chicken, we all invariably buy them in back alleys from underground businesses. But if Orr were to actually look around Alberta — even his own part of Alberta — he would see that lawful businesses do have some advantages.

Legal growers can raise hundreds of millions of dollars in capital markets not run by guys named Lefty or Snake. They can recruit scientists, professional marketers, and horticultural experts without having to hope Walter White shows up. They can exploit economies of scale. They can buy or rent acres of land without having to hide from helicopters. They can do business in broad daylight: they can rent billboards.

And meanwhile, it is not really as though illegal pot growers don’t have labour costs, or overhead, or capital and land requirements. Underground businesses that don’t pay “tax” still have to spend money, often more money, on the basic protective services that taxes buy the rest of us. Any economist could have told Mr. Orr as much. But I am afraid he got his economics out of the same Cracker Jack box his Chinese history came from.

November 24, 2017

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute makes Title IX applicable to non-students

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I only know about Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute due to the model railway club on campus, but the school should be more widely known now, if only as an object of derision:

Today, we’re writing about RPI’s attempt to subject a student from a different school to its disciplinary process — an attempt we’re only learning about because a court had to order RPI to stop violating the rights of John Doe (who used a pseudonym in his lawsuit). In a Nov. 6 ruling in Doe’s favor, a New York state court judge deemed RPI’s conduct “arbitrary” and “capricious,” and annulled RPI’s finding that Doe had sexually assaulted an RPI student.

This story begins in 2015 when Doe, a graduate student at a school that is not RPI, was in a relationship with an RPI student. Doe had never been a student at RPI. His only connection to RPI was his relationship with an RPI student. In the summer of 2016, after the relationship ended, the RPI student filed a Title IX complaint with RPI against Doe. As the court would later observe, the alleged conduct at issue in this case “took place off campus and was not in anyway (sic) related to an educational program or activity of RPI,” and that RPI “would have learned this from the complaint itself and statements made by the complainant.” Despite this, RPI launched an of Doe and interviewed him. Per the court, the interview constituted “a clear violation of [Doe’s] constitutional rights.”

It is not difficult to see why the interview raised concerns with the court. First, RPI conveniently failed to tell Doe why it needed to interview him in advance. Doe didn’t find out about the purpose of the meeting until just before it started, when RPI’s interviewers gave him some documents and told him he was the subject of misconduct investigation. If that weren’t enough to raise due process concerns, it was also “obvious” to Judge Raymond J. Elliott that there was “a language and a possible cultural barrier” between Doe and RPI’s interviewers. So RPI hauled Doe in for questioning without telling him why, sprung a serious charge on him, and failed to ensure that he understood what was going on.

[…]

But to say the court generally sided with Doe would be an understatement.

Most importantly, the court ruled that RPI went too far in asserting jurisdiction over Doe and subjecting him to its disciplinary process. The court held that RPI should not have interviewed him or included his statement in its report. The remedy in this case was voiding Doe’s statement, and because RPI relied on Doe’s statement, the court annulled the report. The court also found that RPI had “no legal authority or obligation … to report, inform, publish or share any information or documentation with [Doe’s] academic institution regarding this alleged incident, and that [RPI’s] determination that they have the authority to do so is arbitrary and capricious.”

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, WW1 — 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.

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