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Archive for September, 2010

The news of the White House’s designs on an internet “wiretapping” law have gutted me. I remember hearing about India, Saudi Arabia and the UAE rattling sabers against Research in Motion this spring to get access to encrypted communication. At the time, I thought, “Things are bad here, but they will never get that bad.” It took only a few months for me to be proven wrong.

It’s only the latest in a long line of attacks on civil liberties mounted against U.S. citizens since 9/11. There’s something about this one that really makes it hurt, though. This republic that taught the world so much about freedom and liberty is about to reduce itself to the level of petty Gulf state dictators who employ near-slave laborers and punish people for crimes against “public morality.”

Maybe worst of all, consider where it’s coming from: Obama. I voted for neither Obama nor McCain, but I sympathized with Obama in 2008. I wanted the Bush/Cheney executive powers rolled back. It wasn’t just that Obama made cursory mention of rolling back the veil of secrecy, closing Guantanamo Bay and restoring lost civil liberties, it’s that he was incredibly vocal about the issue. And now he has betrayed us in a way that is little better than Bush lying about WMDs in Iraq.

It’s clear that getting his little grubby-grubbies on executive power changed something in Obama, or maybe it just allowed the truth to surface. He is just as much a slobbering worshiper at the altar of Security, Secrecy and Power as the worst people in the Pentagon. He must never be trusted again, and the party-line fools who deny these truths should be spat upon and ignored.

This proposed law will be beyond poisonous to the cause of liberty both here in America and to people abroad who still have some notion that ours is a country worth emulating. It’s the sort of thing that Konstantin Pobedonostsev would have drawn up if they had the internet in late imperial Russia. I imagine the subhuman fascists who came up with these ideas laughing maniacally and touching themselves in an office deep inside in the Pentagon, amazed that the leadership of a country such as ours would even consider asking for these powers.

Here are the basic details:

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.

¶ Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them.

¶ Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.

¶ Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception.

And this allegedly because Faisal Shahzad, the crackpot with a firecracker, used encrypted p2p to talk to collaborators. Kiss your freedoms goodbye, America, because one schmuck tried to blow up a truck. This is why Americans fought against totalitarianism in WWII–so that we could replicate even more offensive versions of the same surveillance apparatus in our own country, sixty years later.

Glenn Greenwald, of course, weighed in with the best commentary on the matter. Money quote:

That concept — that the U.S. Government should not be monitoring, surveilling and collecting data on individuals who are not under criminal investigation — was once the hallmark of basic American liberty, so uncontroversial as to require no defense.  But decades of effective fear-mongering over everything from Communists to drug kingpins — and particularly the last decade of invoking the all-justifying, Scary mantra of Terrorism — has reduced much of the American citizenry into a frightened and meek puddle of acquiescence which not only tolerates, but craves, a complete deprivation of privacy.  Needless to say, both articles this morning are suffused with quotes from government officials tossing around the standard clichés about Scary Terrorists, Drug Lords, and other cartoon menaces hauled out to justify every expansion of government power and every reduction of individual privacy (that, of course, was the same rationale invoked by UAE and Saudi officials:  “The UAE issued a statement explaining the decision, saying it had come because ‘certain Blackberry services’ allow users to avoid ‘any legal accountability’, raising ‘judicial, social and national security concerns’.”).

We are a nation of cowardly slaves, driven by fear to concede ever-more powers to our masters. I fear the time to reverse the trend has passed. Neither party can be trusted, nor can our fellow citizens. All it took was a handful of lunatics starting in 2001 to reduce this country to a pile of ashes so completely wrecked and so worthless that 200+ years of far-deadlier enemies could scarcely have dreamt of it.

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You might remember me linking to a story by Paul Karl Lukacs about how he refused to answer questions from U.S. customs on a recent trip home. Given my recent difficulties with U.S. and Canadian customs, I found Lukacs’s strategy of non-cooperation fascinating. It’s not going to come much in handy going to Canada since, as they have reminded me before, going to Canada is a “privilege, not a right.” But with U.S. customs…well, eventually they have to let citizens back in the country. What’s the alternative? Deport us? If you know how hard it is to emigrate to another country with even the best of intentions, you’ll understand how laughable that suggestion is.

Lukacs just followed up with a more comprehensive, ten-point guide to customs strategy (H/T: Lew Rockwell.com). Read it, learn it, memorize it. I don’t necessarily recommend deploying these strategies since it will cost you time, maybe even to the point of ending up in detention, and maybe get you put on a watchlist or the dreaded no-fly list, but at least know what is in your arsenal as a citizen.

One of the money quotes:

That being said – and this is a point several commenters made – entering the U.S. is a cruder experience than entering most other countries. Although I enter China multiple times a year, I have never been asked a question by an immigration or customs officer. When I have entered Thailand without a visa, the officer’s questions have been limited to the duration of my visit (to make sure I am within the Kingdom’s visa waiver rules). Once, a German immigration officer wanted to know my plans, and that interview was polite and three questions long. And, in my reading of travel blogs, the U.S., Canada and Great Britain are the three countries consistently mentioned for their overreaching border officers. (emphasis mine, M.)

Having entered all three of these countries, I couldn’t agree more. Certainly there are outliers. Going into Ukraine, our train was searched by dogs. Entering Russia requires a visa. But even in those countries, my actual interactions with the border patrol were shorter, less intrusive and politer than what I’ve encountered in the U.S., the UK and Canada. Canada especially–I’ve been asked about my employment history, asked for contact information for the person I was visiting so they could call her and even had my hard drive searched for “obscene material.” It’s a veritable smorgasbord of dehumanization and shaming. The irony in the Anglophone countries that taught the world so much about civil liberties now working so hard to undermine them is deep and painful.

For U.S. citizens, I think the most important quote was this one:

A federal judge in Puerto Rico – a territory sensitive to the rights and privileges of its residents’ U.S. citizenship — said it best: “The only absolute and unqualified right of citizenship is to residence within the territorial boundaries of the United States; a citizen cannot be either deported or denied reentry.” U.S. v. Valentine, 288 F. Supp. 957, 980 (D.P.R. 1968).

Put that in your pocket. Remind the friendly customs people. See how they try to dodge that one.

Coming in a very close second:

3. Any Misstatement To A Federal Officer Can Result In Your Arrest.

If a federal officer claims you lied to him, you can be arrested and charged with the crime of making false statements. You do not have to make the statements under oath (which would be the different charge of perjury).

This statute – which is referred to as Section 1001 and which can be read here in all its prolix glory — is the reason why Martha Stewart has a Bureau of Prisons number.

The only way to immunize yourself against a false statements charge is to refuse to speak to federal officers.

This is such a big one. Don’t give them the rope to hang you. They interrogate thousands of people each day, hundreds of days a year. They are used to these interactions. They are pros. They have the power. We are amateurs. We get nervous and don’t know what to say. This leads to us saying dumb and/or inconsistent things. You might think you are above this reality, but you’re probably wrong. So play it close to the vest as much as possible.

Last one I want to highlight:

5. Politeness Would Make No Difference.

Many of the commenters took issue with my rude tone toward the CBP officers. This criticism is profoundly misguided.

To the authoritarian mind, there are only two responses to a demand: submission or defiance, and anything less than total submission is defiance. A Lutheran grandmother from Savannah with manners from an antebellum finishing school would be hassled if she refused to answer CBP’s questions.

Answering with a tart “None of your business” underscores that I will not be pushed around and – potentially important from a criminal procedure perspective – is an unambiguous statement that I am not waiving any rights. It is a line in the linoleum.

Definitely my experience so far. I’ve tried to be polite, especially with U.S. Customs. It’s been received positively once. Every other time, it’s been met with curtness and the same BS everybody else encounters. They’ve got an image to protect. Welcoming you back to the country with a slap on the back and a big smile isn’t part of it.

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If you’ve read this blog more than once, you know I am a harsh critic of the police. I deeply distrust them. I resent them for using force against a great number of peaceful people. I am tired of the way they hide behind their badges and appeal to fear whenever we criticize them. But last night, I witnessed a heartening episode involving the Seattle police.

As I was catching up on news last night, I heard someone yelling out in the street. It sounded like a drunk person singing and carrying on, so I ignored it.

I was in the kitchen making dinner later when I heard the yelling again–heard the yelling and saw the yeller, not more than forty feet from my kitchen window. He was a shabby fellow, accompanied by an equally shabby woman. Together they sat on the stairs of a nearby law office, presumably drinking. When passersby attracted his attention, the man would spring up and yell at them. The comments were worst and crudest when they were directed at women. This guy was beginning to upset me since he was on private property and menacing innocent people.

I considered going out and telling him to stop or risk me calling the cops on him. I figured he was mentally ill, homeless, drunk and/or high, so I didn’t really want to see him punished. Eventually he broke a bottle in the street, ticking me off even more. I was about to go outside when two police cruisers pulled up.

“Oh boy,” thought I. “This is about to get interesting.”

Instead, it was boring in all the right ways. The cops talked to the guy and his lady. There was no yelling or physical contact. I think they ran an ID check on them. After about five minutes, they told the two to move along or else the same person who called the cops before would call again. The cops left, followed shortly thereafter by the yeller and his girl. Crisis averted.

I was impressed by how the two SPD officers handled this case. This guy did not look like he needed any more bad favor from society. Yes, he was being a jerk, but putting him in a jail cell wouldn’t have helped. Seattle police have had their share of problems before, most recently in the flagrantly disturbing killing of the half-deaf whittler John Williams, but what these two did yesterday was law enforcement done right–a perfect example of the difference between police officers and peace officers.

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  • Radley Balko at Reason: covering the dismissal of felony charges against Anthony Graber, the Maryland motorcyclist who recorded a cop on his helmet cam. It’s tremendous news for people who love freedom. Balko poses a great question, though: “Instead, we have public officials who violated the law, who should have known they were violating the law, and who caused significant harm to someone else in the process. So what will be their punishment?”
  • Via Radley Balko at Reason, The Spokesman-Review: Washington State Patrol shoots an unarmed, pregnant woman in a drug raid. At least she is alive. I hope we can find out the shooter’s name and get the bully fired. I don’t care if you think you are following orders. Orders didn’t make you pull the trigger as you aimed a gun at an unarmed, nonviolent, pregnant fellow human being who at worst was engaged in the drug trade.
  • Via Damon Root at Reason, WSJ: previewing two big free speech cases about to come before the Supreme Court. The one that interests me is the case of a dead soldier’s dad who is seeking “emotional distress” damages from the Fred Phelps-Westboro Baptist Church scumbags for picketing his son’s funeral. Fred Phelps is a horrible human, but this response is entirely the wrong one. So long as he and his gang of dunces were not violating your private property rights, they were right to exercise their rights. Stop trying to ruin this country because your feelings got hurt.
  • NYT: the Venezuelan opposition has a pretty decent showing in parliamentary elections. Much as I love to see the Chavista thugs embarrassed even a little bit, I think the opposition miscalculated here. Chavez will never let himself be unseated through the ballot box. Better to avoid his system altogether, see things get worse in the short term and hope for enough people to get angry enough to put the vile fat man against a wall.
  • NYT: Chinese authorities look into a company that collaborates with local governments in putting petitioners in black jails. Color me skeptical on this one. My sense is that the black jail issue got too hot, so the Chinese are now scapegoating this company. Oh, but for the day when Wen Jiabao and his butchers learn what the inside of a cage looks like.
  • NYT: South African authorities shut down businesses for not following minimum wage laws…as the workers inside resist them. What a sad story. A crude devotion to ideology trumps the need of poor people to put food on the table. Leave the people alone, you paternalistic thugs.
  • NYT: Islamic thugs are restricting women’s rights in Chechnya, with what appears to be the full blessing of the republic’s president. I wish Russia would just cut ties with these people. It’s not worth the terrorist attacks and the budget drain to see women forced to wear the headscarf in a Russian Federation of supposedly equal rights before the law.
  • Atlantic Free Press: an inside look at mortar use in Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. military. Money quote: “A gunman fired a few cents worth of AK-47 rounds at the U.S. Marines and in response the Marines probably fired $10,000.00 in mortar rounds that all missed their target, yet killed an innocent. This incident could sum up the entire Afghan war and helps explain why American efforts have largely failed.” Our soldiers shouldn’t be put in this position. Bring them home.
  • NYT: remember how India tried to bully Research in Motion into giving them access to encrypted BlackBerry messages? Now they are talking about mobilizing against Skype and Google. Western companies are getting cold feet about doing business in India. Maybe the Big Brother squad will learn a valuable lesson, but I doubt it–it’s not like their jobs are at stake.

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Headline: “Remember, Remember Don’t Vote in November”

Money quote:

Upon this rock the entire church of state is built. Every nuance of the perpetual Black Mass we call “government” — every act of theft, extortion, brutality, murder, war read in solemn tone from the Liturgy of Realpolitik — justifies itself on the basis of this alleged “consent,” in turn symbolized by the stickers handed out across America to those leaving the polling place: “I Voted!”

And I concede this much: The political priesthood has a point. If you enter the church, if you kneel before the altar, if you swear your eternal fealty to Leviathan, if you accept the sacred ballot, make your mark upon it and place it in the magic box, how can you possibly not be bound up in and beholden to the miracle of counting the priests then perform?

So the language is a bit overblown and dramatic, but the point is spot on. Don’t vote. I love these people who claim that not voting means you don’t have the right to complain. Um, actually, Mr. Civics, voting means you don’t have the right to complain. Voting means you think it’s ok for whichever villain wins to use force against peaceful people. Voting means you think this system that sees no right or wrong, only big numbers, is ok. Voting means you accept being a slave.

By all means, learn the issues and candidates by heart. Know thine enemy. But never allow these sick people who want control over our lives to think they do it with our consent.

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I like Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution blog quite a bit. He never fails to have at least one quirky link worth reading each day. There are enough economic papers linked to to keep me on my toes. Plus there’s the food recommendations for which he is so well-known.

This weekend, Tyler did something rare and risky: attaching his name to concrete, long-term predictions about the future of America. I don’t agree with all of them, but they’re great food for thought. Let’s look at a couple of the most interesting ones.

3. Social Security won’t much change, keeping in mind that the number of elderly voters is growing larger every day.  Given all their elderly white voters, the Republicans are already “the party of Medicare.”  The Democrats have become “the party of Medicaid.”  That locks three major programs into place, more or less.  I don’t hear serious talk of major cuts in defense spending.

Depressed yet, young people? We’re the ones paying the bills for this crap. I guess we should have seen the Republican evolution on Medicare coming. Demographic trends are making the GOP the the party of older America, and it isn’t like their whoring out on this issue hasn’t been evident ever since Dubya’s disgusting, unnecessary, crippling Medicare Part D entitlement became a reality.

4. Taxes won’t be raised much (do the Dems seem to have great love for reversing the Bush tax cuts?), spending won’t be cut enough (the recent Republican document is extremely weak), and within twenty years we will have a sovereign debt crisis in the United States, as one day a Treasury auction won’t go well.  I’ll predict, but not favor, the emergency passage of a VAT, a’ la TARP, which will restore fiscal stability but lower the long-term rate of growth.  When that time comes, the VAT will indeed be necessary, though ex ante I would opt for less social protection and a higher rate of economic growth.

H0-hum, it just got worse. A sovereign debt crisis in America? What is this, a banana republic? But I don’t think Tyler’s too far off target, given the way we’re spending and the lack of political will we have for reversing that trend. Can you see Americans ever buying into the sort of austerity the Irish are phasing in right now? The one thing I sort of don’t like is that he seems resigned to accepting a VAT, even though he (like me) favors less social protection, i.e. lower spending. Don’t give up the fight, Tyler! Don’t let the “serious” people win on the VAT. Let’s reckon with the spending now, rather than postponing it again with a VAT.

6. We should try to take back many of our vanquished civil liberties.  Such a fight may or may not succeed, but at least fiscal considerations won’t rule out this counterblow for liberty.

Replace “many” with “all” and I am yelling “Hallelujah!” from the back of the room. Unlike bad spending and debt, you can’t just repudiate eroded/destroyed civil liberties. This boat has to get turned around immediately–if it’s not already too late, it will be soon.

12. In the meantime, the United States will experience an ongoing “late” period of cultural blossoming, driven by the proliferation and democratization of new electronic media.

Hey, optimism! The democratization through electronic media thing is huge, though. It’s entirely changed journalism. I wouldn’t be here without it.

I hope Tyler is wrong. I’m not much of a patriot, but it’s not like I want to see America fail. I’d love to see this country get back on the rails. But the thing is, the disagreements I have with him tend to be the result of him being too much of a realist. I don’t think his predictions will be far off target.

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  • Via the Volokh Conspiracy, WaPo: remember that slippery slope about state secrets we recently started down with the dismissal of torture lawsuits against the U.S.? Well, we’re gaining speed down the hill now. The White House is invoking the same state secrets idea in an attempt to dismiss a lawsuit about their planned murder targeted killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki.
  • Jacob Sullum at Reason: we covered scumball Connecticut AG/Senate hopeful Dick Blumenthal and his vile demagoguery against Craigslist before, but now he’s targeting other online adult services ads destinations. Sullum runs down the case of Backpage.com, which is so far resisting Blumenthal’s ludicrous rhetoric about “saving the children” and keeping its ads intact. It’s high time for Blumenthal’s opportunistic electioneering to get acquainted with the lower segment of his large intestine.
  • Radley Balko at Reason: any Balko post on cops is a must-read. In this one, he runs through a litany of recent cases of police misconduct. Spoiler: they’re egregious!
  • NYT: a campaign is launched to give the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. He is the president of their chapter of PEN and currently rots in jail for his role in drafting Charter 08, a human rights petition. The Peace Prize should be reserved for heroes like this guy, not spineless, war-perpetuating cowards like Obama.
  • Via Michael C. Moynihan at Reason, The American Muslim: a whole heap of cool Muslims sign a letter calling for tolerance and repudiating violence from the Muslim community. Sample: “We are even more concerned and saddened by threats that have been made against individual writers, cartoonists, and others by a minority of Muslims.  We see these as a greater offense against Islam than any cartoon, Qur’an burning, or other speech could ever be deemed.” This is exactly the sort of response I’d been hoping for from the Muslim community this past year. Good work, signatories!
  • Andrew Sullivan: reacting to an uber-lame LA Times op-ed against Prop 19, the pot legalization measure on California’s ballot. LAT thinks it might set up nasty conflicts with the federal government. Not controversy, no! Andrew: “If we had waited for the feds, we would have no gay marriage rights at all.”
  • Der Spiegel: you haven’t seen political fat city until you’ve seen the compensation scheme for top Eurocrats. All for doing jack-all except adding another layer of bureaucracy across Europe, writing more regulations and taking away more rights. Rework the old Churchhill quote a bit: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few for so little.”
  • The Globe & Mail: waaah, Quebecers seem to have gotten their feelings hurt by MacLeans ranking it the most corrupt province in Canada. Weenie MPs are predictably making stupid claims of the sort that the article fans “anti-Quebec prejudices.” Don’t want to get your feelings hurt and have the rest of the country resent you? Then stop getting a special settlement from everyone else and whizzing it away on corruption.
  • The Economist: if you want to get really depressed, this post comparing media in early Yanukovych Ukraine to media in early Putin Russia should do the trick. You can put me down in the useful idiot camp of people who thought a Yanukovych win would be a healthy thing for Russian-Ukrainian relations.
  • Der Spiegel: take a look behind the curtain at one of the West’s greatest stimulus programs of all, the NGO industry in Afghanistan. In some ways, it sounds even worse than the decadence of the Green Zone at the height of things in Iraq. Our troop are fighting, dying and killing for this.
  • Andrew Sullivan: reacting (negatively) to the GOP’s Pledge to America. They were supposed to have learned something this time. Instead, they’re pledging to keep entitlements holy and leave the bloated, disgusting defense budget alone. Rag on Obama for his deficits all you want, I don’t see this pledge making things a jot better.
  • Photography is Not a Crime: Carlos Miller covers the resolution to the case of George Donnelly, the Pennsylvania photography activist who faced eight years in prison for allegedly hitting a cop. Donnelly plead out for a fine. You might be thinking he sounds like a wing-nut, but cops deleted all of his video evidence of the event…they thought. There’s a video on the other side of the link where you can see that it was actually Donnelly being assaulted.
  • South China Morning Post: a nice profile of a Chinese dissident murdered during the Cultural Revolution who does not deserve to be forgotten. His mother later petitioned for and won his rehabilitation, something I’ll never understand. Why legitimize a gang of murderers?

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