The strange American ardor for passing laws, the insane belief in regulation and punishment, plays into the hands of the reformers, most of them quacks themselves. Their efforts, even when honest, seldom accomplish any appreciable good. The Harrison Act, despite its cruel provisions, has not diminished drug addiction in the slightest. The Mormons, after years of persecution, are still Mormons, and one of them is now a power in the Senate. Socialism in the United States was not laid by the Espionage Act; it was laid by the fact that the socialists, during the war, got their fair share of the loot. Nor was the stately progress of osteopathy and chiropractic halted by the early efforts to put them down. Oppressive laws do not destroy minorities; they simply make bootleggers.
H.L. Mencken, Editorial in The American Mercury, 1924-05.
May 26, 2016
April 29, 2016
The American of today, in fact, probably enjoys less personal liberty than any other man of Christendom, and even his political liberty is fast succumbing to the new dogma that certain theories of government are virtuous and lawful, and others abhorrent and felonious. Laws limiting the radius of his free activity multiply year by year: It is now practically impossible for him to exhibit anything describable as genuine individuality, either in action or in thought, without running afoul of some harsh and unintelligible penalty. It would surprise no impartial observer if the motto “In God we trust” were one day expunged from the coins of the republic by the Junkers at Washington, and the far more appropriate word, “verboten,” substituted. Nor would it astound any save the most romantic if, at the same time, the goddess of liberty were taken off the silver dollars to make room for a bas-relief of a policeman in a spiked helmet. Moreover, this gradual (and, of late, rapidly progressive) decay of freedom goes almost without challenge; the American has grown so accustomed to the denial of his constitutional rights and to the minute regulation of his conduct by swarms of spies, letter-openers, informers and agents provocateurs that he no longer makes any serious protest.
H.L. Mencken, The American Credo: A Contribution toward the Interpretation of the National Mind, 1920.
October 11, 2015
September 28, 2015
I’ve written on many occasions about what I call universal criminality, the crowning achievement of the modern police state, under which there are so many vague, overbroad and counterintuitive laws that every single person is in violation of at least a few of them at all times. Nearly any encounter with the police can be turned into “assault on a police officer” or “resisting arrest”, almost any business can be twisted into “racketeering”, virtually any financial transaction can be redefined as “money laundering” and even normal friendships or business interactions can be tortured into “conspiracy”. But while charges like these can be used to harass, bankrupt and imprison the target, possibly for many years, they often lack the firepower necessary to totally destroy his life forever; after his release from prison he might still be able to find work, have a normal social life and rebuild his shattered fortunes into some semblance of a comfortable existence. Worst of all (from the prosecutorial viewpoint), the public might even side with the victim, turning him into a martyr both during and after his state-sanctioned torture and caging. But there is one weapon in the state’s arsenal which, used properly, will utterly destroy a person’s life. At the end of the process he will have no money, no friends and no home; he will be completely unemployable and condemned to everlasting surveillance, shunned by society and unable even to avail himself of even paid companionship without triggering still more awful consequences. If the prosecutor is really lucky, his victim may even be murdered by the police or other thugs or take his own life. And all it takes to detonate this thermonuclear weapon of modern law is the sending of a single email.
Maggie McNeill, “Instant Criminal”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-09-19.
July 8, 2015
Minnesota students face new rules under which “everyone accused of sexual assault will very likely be technically guilty”
Reason‘s Robby Soave on the introduction of new “affirmative consent” rules at the University of Minnesota:
The proposed policy is currently under review for another 30 days before it becomes official. Its language is fairly standard, which leads me to believe that it will suffer from the same problems as other “Yes Means Yes” policies:
- It is the responsibility of each person who wishes to engage in the sexual activity to obtain consent.
- A lack of protest, the absence of resistance and silence do not indicate consent.
- The existence of a present or past dating or romantic relationship does not imply consent to future sexual activity.
- Consent must be present throughout the sexual activity and may be initially given, but withdrawn at any time.
- When consent is withdrawn all sexual activity must stop. Likewise, where there is confusion about the state of consent, sexual activity must stop until both parties consent again.
- Consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to other forms of sexual activity.
“It is the responsibility of each person who wishes to engage in the sexual activity to obtain consent.” But isn’t that redundant? All parties to a sexual activity must be willing participants in the first place, or else they are victims of rape under any standard. That’s what consent is: agreement to engage in sex. I presume the policy’s authors mean to say that it is the responsibility of each person who wishes to initiate the sexual activity to obtain consent. But such a requirement is at odds with the reality of human sexual activity — the initiating party is not always so clearly defined, especially when alcohol is involved (as it often is).
Equally troubling is the mandate that each and every sexual act be hammered out beforehand. May I touch your hand? What about your wrist? May I touch your shoulder? May I kiss this spot on your neck? May I kiss this other spot on your neck? May I kiss the first spot again while I touch your hand? Nobody is going to do this. Does that mean everyone is a rapist?
July 7, 2015
On June 25th, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation seized the venerable San Francisco escort website, MyRedbook, under the usual vague and evidence-free charges the US government always uses when it wants to destroy peaceful businesses who have hurt no one. This time […] the pretenses are “money laundering” and “racketeering”, but others cases include “conspiracy”, “mail fraud” and “tax evasion”. You may believe that these are actual crimes, but the truth is they aren’t (except on paper); they’re simply blunt instruments defined so vaguely that any competent prosecutor can jam nearly any business into one or more of them. Here’s how it works: “racketeering” can mean criminals operating a legitimate business, like when a mobster owns a restaurant. So a “racketeering” charge usually means “we think you committed crimes but can’t prove them, so we’re just going to assume you’re a criminal and prosecute you for owning a regular business.” Any money you’ve deposited is then called “money laundering” on the grounds that you deposited “criminal proceeds” from your imaginary crimes into your legitimate account; “tax evasion” is based on the pretense that you have failed to pay taxes on imaginary income they can’t prove you actually made; “conspiracy” means merely talking about committing the imaginary crimes, and so on. And if you believe that the targeted business is protected by the presumption of innocence, think again.
Maggie McNeill, “Bread and Circuses”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-07-11.
April 20, 2015
Last month, Elizabeth Nolan Brown reported on another case where the “interstate commerce” excuse is used to justify federal charges for a purely intra-state activity:
Until 2010, Oregon entrepreneur Lawrence George Owen, 73, owned one restaurant, eight strip clubs, and two adult-video stores in the Portland area. At these businesses, Owen installed ATM machines in case customers needed to take out cash. With that cash, customers could do an assortment of things — tip dancers, buy food and drinks, leave the establishment and go grocery shopping. And sometimes, customers used the cash to privately pay some strippers for sex.
Now Owen faces federal charges for “conspiring to use interstate commerce” in promotion of prostitution.
The charges are the results of a nine year joint-effort by Portland’s vice squad and the FBI. Between 2006 and 2009, undercover Portland police officers arranged for 18 acts of prostitution with dancers at three of the clubs. After that federal agents took over, searching Owen’s businesses and the homes of his alleged co-conspirators and seizing $843,000 in cash.
Owen, it should be noted, was living in Mexico most of this time. He is currently on a U.S. Marshall’s hold in a Portland jail, after being detained by federal agents in late February.
You might be wondering how Owen faces federal charges if all of the alleged prostitution-promoting took place in Portland. Promoting prostitution is only a federal crime under certain circumstances, such as when the perpetrator transports or coerces an individual across state lines for prostitution purposes. Using mail, telephone calls, or other “facilities of interstate commerce” in service of prostitution will also do the trick. But the FBI has no evidence that Owen enticed or transported strip-club employees from outside Oregon, nor that he used mail or telephone calls to help facilitate their prostitution efforts.
When the FBI wants to make a case against someone, however, they’ll find a way. In this case, the FBI decided that ATM machines count as “facilities of interstate commerce.”
April 10, 2015
Brendan O’Neill on the odd disconnect between American views of Scotland (roughly summed up by kilts, whisky, and Braveheart) and the reality:
… far from being a land of freedom-yearning Bravehearts, Scotland in the 21st century is a hotbed of the new authoritarianism. It’s the most nannying of Europe’s nanny states. It’s a country that imprisons people for singing songs, instructs people to stop smoking in their own homes, and which dreams of making salad-eating compulsory. Seriously. Scotland the Brave has become Scotland the Brave New World.
If you had to guess which country in the world recently sent a young man to jail for the crime of singing an offensive song, I’m guessing most of you would plumb for Putin’s Russia or maybe Saudi Arabia. Nope, it’s Scotland.
Last month, a 24-year-old fan of Rangers, the largely Protestant soccer team, was banged up for four months for singing “The Billy Boys,” an old anti-Catholic ditty that Rangers fans have been singing for years, mainly to annoy fans of Celtic, the largely Catholic soccer team. He was belting it out as he walked along a street to a game. He was arrested, found guilty of songcrimes—something even Orwell failed to foresee—and sent down.
It’s all thanks to the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, which, yes, is as scary as it sounds. Introduced in 2012 by the Scottish National Party, the largest party in Scotland the Brave New World and author of most of its new nanny-state laws, the Act sums up everything that is rotten in the head of this sceptred isle. Taking a wild, wide-ranging scattergun approach, it outlaws at soccer matches “behaviour of any kind,” including, “in particular, things said or otherwise communicated,” that is “motivated (wholly or partly) by hatred” or which is “threatening” or which a “reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive.”
Got that? At soccer games in Scotland it is now illegal to do or say anything — and “in particular” to say it — that is hateful or threatening or just offensive. Now, I don’t know how many readers have been to a soccer game in Britain, but offensiveness, riling the opposing side, is the gushing lifeblood of the game. Especially in Scotland. Banning at soccer matches hateful or offensive comments, chants, songs, banners, or badges — all are covered by the Offensive Behaviour Act — is like banning cheerleaders from American football. Sure, our cheerleaders are gruffer, drunker, fatter, and more foul-mouthed than yours, but they play a similarly key role in getting the crowds going.
The Offensive Behaviour Act has led to Celtic fans being arrested in dawn raids for the crime of singing pro-I.R.A. songs — which they do to irritate Rangers fans — and Rangers fans being hauled to court for chanting less-than-pleasant things about Catholics.
Even blessing yourself at a soccer game in Scotland could lead to arrest. Catholic fans have been warned that if they “bless themselves aggressively” at games, it could be “construed as something that is offensive,” presumably to non-Catholic fans, and the police might pick them up. You don’t have to look to some Middle Eastern tinpot tyranny if you want to see the state punishing public expressions of Christian faith — it’s happening in Scotland.
April 5, 2015
I saw this on Google+ and thought the two graphics included in the post were interesting enough to present on their own — because they pretty much tell the whole story in a glance:
In 1969, the prison population was 200,000 and the overall population was about 200 million people. This means that approximately 0.1% of all Americans were in prison in 1969. As of 2010, the prison population had expanded to 1.6 million while the overall population was 309 million. Therefore, the current prison population is 0.5%. The prison population has expanded 5 times when adjusted for population size while the rate of drug addiction has remained largely constant. I do not believe that any reasonable person can look at the statistics on incarceration versus drug usage and come to any conclusion other than that the Drug War has been an immense cataclysm for the American people and that this cataclysm has fallen horrifically and disproportionately upon the poor. From a drug usage standpoint the inner cities have not improved in the slightest when it comes to overdoses and other tertiary consequences of drug use and we have simultaneously turned our inner cities into armed police states where the inhabitants are frequently terrified of the police, where the police engage in the worst sorts of paramilitary tactics, and where a large portion of young men are hurled into prison cells and ruined in the prime of their lives.
But none of these bourgeoisie facts and evidence shall deter Mr. Walters from his noble, righteous quest! No, he knows the evils of marijuana which shall be visited disproportionately upon the poor, and he will not rest until such toxins are driven entirely from the field:
The focus on marijuana legalization trades on the public perception that the drug does little damage, and hence, that any criminal justice penalty for its use is an unnecessary affront. In fact, marijuana use does serious harm, and its legalization promises more use by the most vulnerable in communities like Angela Dawson’s Oliver neighborhood.
Personally, and I do realize this would shock Mr. Walters, I actually don’t care how damaging marijuana is to its users. Provided its users are of legal age and therefore are capable of consenting to its use, whether or not it is ‘damaging’ is of no relevance to me — consuming massive quantities of sugar is damaging, large amounts of fat is damaging, failure to exercise is damaging, drinking to excess is damaging — yet none of these are, or should be, illegal. Even if you prove the negative consequences of weed, it doesn’t matter — it is not the responsibility of the state to treat its citizens like children in need of mollycoddling and governmentally sponsored salvation and it certainly is neither the duty nor the purpose of the state to save us from the consequences of our own decisions.
March 27, 2015
Megan McArdle is being a downer about the idea that if we just stop throwing people into jail for non-violent drug possession, it’ll make a big dent in the prison population:
De-incarceration is clearly an idea whose time has come. But doing it means thinking clearly about de-incarceration. And as I discovered when I went to a recent event on the topic, most of us in the media don’t.
We’re hampered by the rampant perception that all we need is to wise up and stop incarcerating people for simply possessing drugs, something many of us feel shouldn’t be a crime at all and certainly shouldn’t merit prison time. At the event I attended, someone who has actually studied the matter closely pointed out what experts know and most journalists apparently don’t: Relatively few people are in prison for simple possession or for other minor crimes. The shock in the room was palpable.
I wasn’t shocked, but not because I am somehow immune to this delusion. Rather, I had it stripped from me a few years back, when I went to Hawaii to report on its innovative probation program, Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement. HOPE has sharply reduced the number of people who “flunk” probation and end up with long prison terms. To study it, I sat in a courtroom for a week and actually watched how the process worked. I’ve written about it in my book, but here’s something I didn’t write about: how shocked I was by the composition of the docket. I’d been expecting a lot more simple possession — and a lot less robbery, assault, domestic violence and burglary.
Even the most dedicated anti-incarceration activist would call these “real” crimes, and they were numerous. Even the most dedicated advocate of drug legalization — such as, say, me — would have to admit that a large percentage, perhaps the majority, of the people who committed “real” crimes had some sort of a drug problem — not as in “smokes more weed than they really should” but as in “admitted to the judge that they had smoked crystal meth recently enough to flunk the drug test they were about to be required to take.”
February 16, 2015
The most half-baked “weapon” in any policeman’s arsenal should never be raised to the level of a felony. “Resisting arrest” is the charge brought when bad cops run out of better ideas. This truism runs through nearly every law enforcement agency in the country. When you take a look at videographers and photographers who have been arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights (and backed by a DOJ statement), you’ll see plenty of “resisting arrest” charges.
When a San Francisco public defender tried to head off a detective who wanted to question and photograph her client without her permission, she was arrested for “resisting arrest.”
When someone has been brutalized by the police, the words “resisting arrest” are repeated nearly as frequently as the mantra that accompanies every taser deployment and baton swing (“stop resisting”). Resisting arrest is a dodge that makes bad cops worse and marginal cops bad.
Turning resisting arrest into a felony shouldn’t happen anywhere. But perhaps especially not in New York City.
To turn this into a felony is to grant bad cops a longer leash — and allows them to do much more damage. Not only will the victims of excessive force have to deal with injuries and psychological trauma, they may also find their futures severely disrupted by a felony charge that will follow them around for years.
The protests following the clearing of the officer involved in Eric Garner’s death, followed shortly thereafter by the murder of two NYPD officers by a civilian, have turned the NYPD against the public. Bratton’s support of this abhorrent idea makes it clear he’s willing to put more power in the hands of his worst officers. However bad he feels the situation is now, this action will only make things worse. The answer lies in greater accountability from the NYPD, not additional punishments for members of the public.
January 12, 2015
Elizabeth Nolan Brown on an interesting video game in development:
First, choose your city: Toronto, Vancouver, or Montréal. Next, decide whether avatar Andrea (Andréa, if you chose Montreal) will work on the streets, in a massage parlor, or as an escort. Then try to get screwed literally without being figuratively fucked by the cops—an ultimately no-win situation when it comes to The Oldest Game. Developed by a team of Canadian academics, the project is meant to highlight how the country’s new prostitution law, C-36, makes life more difficult and dangerous for Canadian sex workers.
The law, which took effect in December 2014, “continues to criminalize various aspects of sex work, often removing safeguards and strategies that place sex workers in dangerous situation, placing at risk the very vulnerable people the bill ostensibly exists to protect,” note the game’s creators.
Through various encounters with clients, colleagues and law enforcement in three difference Canadian cities, players will experience how the legislation changes the way sex workers live and work, and play through the additional challenges sex workers will face when trying to remain safe.
Sandra Gabriele, a Concordia communications professor and one of the project’s co-leads, is interested in using games as a form of journalism.
Published on 10 Dec 2014
On December 6th 2014 (the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada), Bill C-36 officially came into force. Replacing Canada’s previous laws on sex work, which were struck down as unconstitutional on On December 20th, 2013, the new bill have drawn a great deal of criticism for placing sex workers at even greater risk than they faced under the old legislation. The Oldest Game, a newsgame about sex work developed at Concordia University in Montreal QC, demonstrates how Bill C-36 will impact the lives of sex workers in Canada. Developed by Lisa Lynch, Sandra Gabriele, Amanda Feder, Martin Desrosiers, Stephanie Goddard, Ben Spencer, Esther Splett and Natalie Zina Walschots. Follow is on Twitter at @The OldestGame and visit our website, http://www.theoldestgame.com !
October 21, 2014
A man in Middlesbrough has been convicted of possessing illegal images of children … in his Manga collection. That is, cartoon drawings in the Japanese style called Manga. Gareth Lightfoot reports on the case for the Gazette:
A jobless animation fan has made legal history as he was convicted of having illegal pictures of cartoon children.
Robul Hoque, 39, is believed to be the first in the UK hauled before court over his collection of Japanese Manga or Anime-style images alone.
He admitted 10 counts of possessing prohibited images of children at Teesside Crown Court.
His barrister Richard Bennett said: “These are not what would be termed as paedophilic images. These are cartoons.”
And Mr Bennett revealed that such banned images were freely available on legitimate sites.
He said: “This case should serve as a warning to every Manga and Anime fan to be careful. It seems there are many thousands of people in this country, if they are less then careful, who may find themselves in that position too.”
Police found the images when they seized Hoque’s computer from his home on June 13, 2012, said prosecutor Harry Hadfield. He said officers found 288 still and 99 moving images, but none were of real people.
They were classified as prohibited images as they depicted young girls, some in school uniforms, some exposing themselves or taking part in sexual activity.
For obvious reasons, the newspaper article does not show any examples of the images in question, but Rob Beschizza warns you not to read his post at BoingBoing if you’re in England, as it does show an image that may or may not have been part of the investigation.
October 6, 2014
Published on 5 Oct 2014
Did you know police can just take your stuff if they suspect it’s involved in a crime? They can!
It’s a shady process called “civil asset forfeiture,” and it would make for a weird episode of Law and Order.
H/T to Dave Trant for the link.
July 3, 2014
In the Guardian, Faramerz Dabhoiwala reviews a recent “discovery” that Jeremy Bentham, far from being an innocent about sexual matters (as portrayed by his disciple John Stuart Mill among others), had thought deeply on the topic and had written much. After his death, these writings were ignored for fear that they would discredit his wider body of work.
Bodily passion was not just a part of Bentham’s life: it was fundamental to his thought. After all, the maximisation of pleasure was the central aim of utilitarian ethics. In place of the traditional Christian stress on bodily restraint and discipline, Bentham sought, like many other 18th-century philosophers, to promote the benefits of economic consumption, the enjoyment of worldly appetites and the liberty of natural passions. This modern, enlightened view of the purpose of life spawned a revolution in sexual attitudes, and no European scholar of the time pursued its implications as thoroughly as Bentham. To think about sex, he noted in 1785, was to consider “the greatest, and perhaps the only real pleasures of mankind”: it must therefore be “the subject of greatest interest to mortal men”. Throughout his adult life, from the 1770s to the 1820s, he returned again and again to the topic. Over many hundreds of pages of private notes and treatises, he tried to strip away all the irrational and religious prohibitions that surrounded sexual activity.
Of all enjoyments, Bentham reasoned, sex was the most universal, the most easily accessible, the most intense, and the most copious — nothing was more conducive to happiness. An “all-comprehensive liberty for all modes of sexual gratification” would therefore be a huge, permanent benefit to humankind: if consenting adults were freed to do whatever they liked with their own bodies, “what calculation shall compute the aggregate mass of pleasure that may be brought into existence?”
The main impetus for Bentham’s obsession with sexual freedom was his society’s harsh persecution of homosexual men. Since about 1700, the increasing permissiveness towards what was seen as “natural” sex had led to a sharpened abhorrence across the western world of supposedly “unnatural” acts. Throughout Bentham’s lifetime, homosexuals were regularly executed in England, or had their lives ruined by the pillory, exile or public disgrace. He was appalled at this horrible prejudice. Sodomy, he argued, was not just harmless but evidently pleasurable to its participants. The mere fact that the custom was abhorrent to the majority of the community no more justified the persecution of sodomites than it did the killing of Jews, heretics, smokers, or people who ate oysters — “to destroy a man there should certainly be some better reason than mere dislike to his Taste, let that dislike be ever so strong”.
Though ultimately he never published his detailed arguments for sexual liberty for fear of the odium they would bring on his general philosophy, Bentham felt compelled to think them through in detail, to write about them repeatedly and to discuss them with his acquaintances. In one surviving letter to a friend, he joked that his rereading of the Bible had finally revealed that the sin for which God had punished the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah was not in fact buggery, but the taking of snuff. He and his secretary had consequently taken a solemn oath to hide their snuff-pouches and nevermore to indulge “that anti-Christian and really unnatural practice” in front of one another. Meanwhile, they were now both happily free to enjoy “the liberty of taking in the churchyard or in the market place, or in any more or less public or retired spot with Man, Woman or Beast, the amusement till now supposed to be so unrighteous, but now discovered to be a matter of indifference”. Among those with whom Bentham discussed his arguments for sexual toleration were such influential thinkers and activists as William Godwin, Francis Place and James Mill (John Stuart Mill’s father). Bentham’s ultimate hope, “for the sake of the interests of humanity”, was that his private elaboration and advocacy of these views might contribute to their eventual free discussion and general acceptance. “At any rate,” he once explained, even if his writings could not be published in his own lifetime, “when I am dead mankind will be the better for it”.