Archive for the ‘Fear your government’ Category

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Eyes on you

February 24, 2017

I came across this via Atlas Obscura. Res ipsa loquitur.

david_cerny_trifot_1

“Trifot” is a kinetic sculpture by Czech installation artist David Černý, who is known for his whimsical, provocative works like the babies crawling up Žižkov Tower and a bus doing push ups. This sculpture, installed outside the Czech Photo Centre gallery, offers a decidedly dark perspective on surveillance and privacy.

The 40-foot-tall statue is modeled on vintage cameras with eyeballs in place of lenses. The bulging eyes swivel about independently, watching passersby, who might be shocked to find themselves broadcast onto one of six monitors in the area.

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Just shut up and president (2)

January 28, 2017

David Harsyani writes a good column about how those who are supposed to serve the public prefer to lecture it instead. Get ’em, David!

Stop Telling Us How to Be Patriotic

Politicians have no business directing or defining patriotism, especially when their rhetoric sounds like 1950s-era Soviet sloganeering.

It was creepy when former President Barack Obama declared his first Inauguration Day as “National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation” and called upon us to find “common purpose of remaking this nation for our new century.” And it’s creepy when President Donald Trump declares his Inauguration Day as “National Day of Patriotic Devotion,” one in which “a new national pride stirs the American soul and inspires the American heart.”

This kind of self-aggrandizement is what you see under cults of personality, not American republicanism. Far be it from me to lecture anyone on how to love their country, but if your devotion to America is contingent upon the party or the person in office, you’re probably not doing it quite like the Founding Fathers envisioned. […]

We just survived eight years of a messianic presidency with a finger-wagging, patriotism-appropriating administration lecturing us on how to be proper Americans. If you didn’t support the administration’s point of view, then-Vice President Joe Biden might accuse you of “betting against America.” […]

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Thanks, Obama

January 26, 2017

You know, I managed to avoid using this title for a post all through Obama’s term in office. But he finally roused me to use it.

In short, what gets collected in Utah doesn’t stay in Utah anymore.

Here’s Judge Andrew Napolitano writing at Reason about a recent order by former Attorney General Lynch. (My emphasis.)

President Obama’s Parting Shot at Personal Freedom
To make things more convenient for the government, the Obama administration makes it easier for agencies to spy on citizens.

On Jan. 3, outgoing Attorney General Loretta Lynch secretly signed an order directing the National Security Agency — America’s 60,000-person-strong domestic spying apparatus — to make available raw spying data to all other federal intelligence agencies, which then can pass it on to their counterparts in foreign countries and in the 50 states upon request. She did so, she claimed, for administrative convenience. Yet in doing this, she violated basic constitutional principles that were erected centuries ago to prevent just what she did.

Here is the back story. […]

This is the New York Times article Mr. Napolitano links in his post. (I assume it was the basis for his post. My emphasis again.)

N.S.A. Gets More Latitude to Share Intercepted Communications

WASHINGTON — In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people. […]

At the risk of saying this too many times, let me repeat that you should never expect privacy (or anonymity) when using electronic messaging – e-mail, text, voice, and (probably) internet chat as well.

That’s not just a projection based the news items above; it’s based on stories I’ve heard from people. Your past can come back to haunt you. You probably don’t want to happen when you’re up against an over-eager prosecutor.

Protect your privacy.

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The beams in our eyes

December 26, 2016

Saying “The Russians hacked the election” is really lame in my view. It’s the kind of statement intended to get a knee-jerk reaction from the implication that Russians hacked the voting process. I don’t know of any reputable claims of that happening and I don’t believe it did.

Since the Democrats don’t disavow the content of their hacked e-mails, their claim that they were injured by the release of those messages basically shows that they were hoist by their own petard. "Oops… we didn’t want that to go public."

FWIW, the Wall Street Journal reports that Russian hackers tried to get into the Republicans’ systems too.

So John Podesta was hacked. The election was not.

Or see this tweet for an even pithier (and more amusing) summary.

Personally, I thought that Jonathon Gruber’s comments about how the PPACA was passed would be enough to keep anyone from voting for Secretary Clinton.


But all that said, a separate and more important point is that the U.S. isn’t blameless in this regard. This article from the Independent Institute’s The Beacon recounts ways the U.S. has interfered in the elections or governments of other countries.

Russia’s Election Hacks Are Child’s Play

The FBI and CIA are in agreement that Russia in some way interfered in the U.S. election. What is known so far is that Russian hackers were able to access the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Hackers also breached the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

According to sources, the Russian government sought to hinder the Clinton campaign and work to assist Trump in winning the presidency. […]

People seem floored by these revelations. How could Russia interfere in the workings of the U.S. political process? How dare they try to manipulate the outcome of a presidential election?!

I’m reminded of a Biblical passage.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own?

Those barking loudly over Russia’s involvement with the U.S. political process would do well to take a look at the history of U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. government has a long history, some two hundred years long, of interfering in the politics of other countries—and we’re not just talking emails. […]

1898—In the aftermath of the Spanish-American war, the U.S. government invaded the Philippines, reneging on a deal with Philippine rebels to help the nation win independence and overthrowing the country’s new government.

1903—The U.S. government helped Panama secede from Colombia. […]

1953—The U.S. government launched operations to overthrow the government in Guatemala. […]

1958-1960—CIA engineered at least three coups in Laos.

1966—Kwame Nkrumah was the Prime Minister of Ghana when the country gained independence from the British. The U.S. government was not fond of his socialist, anti-imperialist views. As such, the U.S. government, via the CIA, worked to oust him in a coup in 1966.

(Note: the above is woefully incomplete. For a couple more list of U.S. efforts to interfere in other countries’ governance, see here and here.) […]

And this article doesn’t mention either the U.S. involvement in the Iranian coup of 1953 (which succeeded) or the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 (which failed).


Update 1/1/17::

A little humor about the DNC hacking from IowaHawk, who was on a roll last Friday (the 30th).

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You’re on your own. Act accordingly.

December 16, 2016

This post originally appeared October 5th, 2016. (My emphasis.)

surveillance, whistleblowing, and security engineering

[Update (12/14/16): Reuters has specified that the rootkit was implemented as a Linux kernel module. Wow.]

Yesterday morning, Reuters dropped a news story revealing that Yahoo installed a backdoor on their own infrastructure in 2015 in compliance with a secret order from either the FBI or the NSA. While we all know that the US government routinely asks tech companies for surveillance help, a couple aspects of the Yahoo story stand out:

1. The backdoor was installed in such a way that it was intercepting and querying all Yahoo Mail users’ emails, not just emails of investigation targets.

2. The program was implemented so carelessly that it could have allowed hackers to read all incoming Yahoo mail. Of course this also means FBI/NSA could have been reading all incoming Yahoo mail.

3. Yahoo execs deliberately bypassed review from the security team when installing the backdoor. In fact, when members of the security team found it within weeks of its installation, they immediately assumed it had been installed by malicious hackers, rather than Yahoo’s own mail team. (This says something about what the backdoor code may have looked like.)

4. Yahoo apparently made no effort to challenge this overly-broad surveillance order which needlessly put hundreds of millions of users at risk.

At the time this was happening, I was on the Yahoo Security team leading development on the End-to-End project. According to the Reuters report, the mail backdoor was installed at almost the exact same time that Alex Stamos and I announced the open-source launch of a Chrome extension for easy-to-use end-to-end encryption in Yahoo Mail at SXSW 2015. Ironically, if only we had been able to actually ship E2E, we would have given users a way to protect themselves from the exact backdoor scenario that they ended up in! […]

Most of all, keep pushing for end-to-end encryption.

H.T. Paul B

Since you can’t generally verify your e-mail provider’s security, you can’t trust their security. The only alternative is to provide your own security.

And the bigger lesson is that the U.S. government is relentless in its secret surveillance.

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Feliz Navidad, Venezuela

December 11, 2016

Ho, ho, ho… The socialist destruction of Venezuelan society grinds on.

The BBC reports:

Venezuela seizes Christmas toys to distribute to poor

Venezuelan authorities have arrested two toy company executives and seized almost four million toys, which they say they will distribute to the poor.

Officials accused the company of hoarding toys and hiking prices in the run-up to Christmas.
Last week, the government issued an order to retailers to reduce prices on a range of goods by 30%.

Business owners say the order is a populist political move, and pushing them towards bankruptcy.

Venezuela’s consumer protection agency, Sundde, said toy distributor Kreisel had stockpiled the goods and was reselling them at a margin of up to 50,000%.

“Our children are sacred, we will not let them rob you of Christmas,” it said in a tweet, along with photos and video of thousands of boxes of toys.

[One tweet in Spanish omitted here.]

[…]

Via InternationalLiberty


During this last year, the Venezuelan government and its opposition have been in talks mediated by the Vatican. The topics ranged from politics to allowing humanitarian aid to Venezuelans. Here’s a report from the Caracas Chronicles about the humanitarian aid.

The government steals medicine donated by the Catholic church
The Humanitarian Channel Today

Remember the "Humanitarian Channel" the government and the opposition had agreed to set up in Vatican-mediated talks? That’s right, the one that was meant to be administered by Caritas, the Catholic Church’s global charity. That one.

How’s that been going?

Well, funny you should ask…

[Five tweets in Spanish omitted here.]

In short, the government’s tax inspectorate, Seniat, openly announces that they’re impounding church-donated medicines at port because they lack requisite customs paperwork. The shipment was declared "legally abandoned" and then "adjudicated" to the government-run Social Security administration.

You’d think that would make for some awkwardness at the next set of talks, right?

Joke’s on you: the government’s not going to talks anymore, sucker!


Left image caption: I hate you all…
Text: The ‘Grinch’ of Maduro and Diosdado robbed the Venezuelans of Christmas. The saddest in the 21st century

(Who’s Diosdado? The Frank Underwood of Venezuela.)

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What he said (11)

December 9, 2016

John Stossel wrote an op-ed and closed it with this:

I don’t want a “strong leader.” I want a president of this constitutional republic to preside over limited government and leave us free to lead our own lives.

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The State is not your friend (2)

December 7, 2016

This interesting article at The Economist comes via Paul B. Everyone knew that travelers’ luggage was being searched, but who knew there was an DEA-funded incentive program?

This stuff won’t stop until the legal theft we call civil asset forfeiture is outlawed and we put an end to the War on Drugs.

Transport employees in America were secretly paid by the government to search travellers’ bags

THERE are many reasons why you might have been stopped at an American transport hub and your bag searched by officials. You might have be chosen at random. Perhaps you matched a profile. Or you could have been flagged by an airline, railroad or security employee who was being secretly paid by the government as a confidential informant to uncover evidence of drug smuggling.

A committee of Congress heard remarkable testimony last week about a long-running programme by the Drug Enforcement Administration. For years, officials from the Department of Justice testified, the DEA has paid millions of dollars to a variety of confidential sources to provide tips on travellers who may be transporting drugs or large sums of money. Those sources include staff at airlines, Amtrak, parcel services and even the Transportation Safety Administration.

The testimony follows a report by the Justice Department that uncovered the DEA programme and detailed its many potential violations. According to that report, airline employees and other informers had an incentive to search more travellers’ bags, since they received payment whenever their actions resulted in DEA seizures of cash or contraband. The best-compensated of these appears to have been a parcel company employee who received more than $1m from the DEA over five years. One airline worker, meanwhile, received $617,676 from 2012 to 2015 for tips that led to confiscations. But the DEA itself profited much more from the programme. That well-paid informant got only about 12% of the amount the agency seized as a result of the his tips. […]

DEA delenda est

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Crony-in-chief?

December 4, 2016

Peter Suderman writes an interesting column at Hit & Run about Trump, politics, and free markets.

Yes, We Should Worry About Donald Trump’s Business Conflicts of Interests—and His Whole Approach to the Interaction Between Government and Business

The president-elect was a crony capitalist businessman. Now he’s set to become a crony capitalist politician.

As a real estate developer, Donald Trump made and sought special deals designed to use the power of government to improve his personal bottom line.

The first building project he ever developed, the Grand Hyatt hotel in Manhattan, was completed using a multi-decade tax abatement obtained using his father’s connections. This was not a broad-based tax cut so much as a state-granted subsidy that granted Trump’s project the financial wherewithal to proceed. In 1994, Trump proposed that the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut, become a partner with him on a $350 million theme park project, allowing him to get access to land by declaring a number of businesses as condemned properties. Over the course of his career as a developer, he repeatedly pressured the government to use eminent domain to clear private property owners out of the way, including one instance in 1994 in which he requested that the government kick an Atlantic City widow out of her home in order to replace it with a limousine parking lot. While campaigning for president, he aggressively defended the use of eminent domain, calling it a “wonderful thing,” and describing it as necessary for construction projects that create jobs.

For Trump, this is not merely a business strategy. It amounts to a working theory of how government and the private sector should interact. And it is one that should worry anyone concerned about maintaining a fair and proper division between the state and the private sector. […]

He doesn’t believe that the government’s role is to set clear ground rules and let market competition work things out. […]

Remember all the well-deserved grief Obama took for Solyndra and Fisker?

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…

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How crony capitalism works

December 2, 2016

Kevin Williamson has a good article about how Trump ‘saved’ jobs at a Carrier plant in Indiana. RTWT.

The Economic Stupidity of the Carrier Bailout

One particularly tough and indigestible nugget of talk-radio stupidity afflicting the guts of conservatism is the idea that there is some sort of fundamental difference between bribing a business with tax cuts and bribing it with a wheelbarrow full of cash. The Trump-Pence bailout of Carrier’s operations in Indiana provides an illustrative case. […]

Republicans might have had a little bit of a point in the question of general tax cuts: A tax cut and spending are different things, even if the budgetary effects are exactly the same.

But in the matter of industry-specific or firm-specific tax benefits of the sort extended to Carrier in Indiana, they do not have a leg to stand on. These are straight-up corporate welfare, ethically and fiscally indistinguishable from shipping containers full of $100 bills. […]

For Carrier’s accountant, any pecuniary benefit will do. So far as the bottom line is concerned, a $7 million tax credit is the same as a $7 million check or $7 million in Apple stock or $7 million in gold. It’s all +$7 million on the line where you want it. […]

This is a case of Frédéric Bastiat’s problem of the seen vs. the unseen. The benefits are easy to see, all those sympathetic workers in Indiana. The costs are born by sympathetic workers, too, around the country, and by their families and by their neighbors. But those are widely dispersed, so they are harder to see and do not hit with the same dramatic impact.

But the math is the math is the math. Trump and Pence are trying to sell you a free lunch, the same way the Keynesians and their magical spending multiplier do when they promise that government stimulus programs (Trump is pushing one of those, too) will somehow magically pay for themselves. […]

I suppose the good news for most of us is that the State of Indiana (and its taxpayers) will be the ones picking up the tab for this.

Bastiat’s That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen.

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#ExxonKnew in a Texas court

November 24, 2016

Here’s an update from Watts Up With That about the group of attorneys general who have issued subpoenas to ExxonMobil (and others). I first wrote about this last April in Sounds like a conspiracy to me.

Don’t mess with Texas – #ExxonKnew AG’s to be hauled into court

Judge to haul state AGs to Texas for deposition

A federal judge in Texas has ordered the attorney general of Massachusetts to appear for deposition next month in a lawsuit Exxon Mobil Corp. filed as part of an attempt to block investigations into what the company knew about climate change.

U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade ruled yesterday that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) should appear in Dallas on Dec. 13. The judge will enter a second order regarding Schneiderman’s deposition after he files an answer in the case.

Kinkeade issued the order one day after a telephone status conference with the parties.

It marks the latest victory for the oil giant in an escalating legal and political battle that has come under scrutiny by Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, fossil fuel industry advocates and environmental groups. […]

The company alleged in a filing last week that the two attorneys general were “conducting improper and politically motivated investigations of Exxon Mobil in a coordinated effort to silence and intimidate one side of the public policy debate on how to address climate change” (ClimateWire, Nov. 14).

Both attorneys general participated in a news conference this spring, along with former Vice President Al Gore, in which they accused fossil fuel companies of committing fraud by lying about climate change science and announced a multistate effort to hold them accountable (Greenwire, March 29).

Kinkeade issued an order in mid-October suggesting that Healey may have acted in “bad faith” against the company. He pointed to comments made during the spring news conference as cause for “concern.” […]

If you’re not familiar with all this, check ExxonMobil’s statement about this case and the site exxonknew.org.

The parallel I drew in my last post about this – between ‘Big Tobacco’ and ‘Big Oil’ – is explicitly mentioned at ExxonKnew.org.

This case seems to target a single business with deep pockets that’s unpopular with many people. Why aren’t coal companies or electric utilities or commercial airlines or automobile makers included? So ExxonMobil’s claim of "politically motivated investigations" seems like a fair question at this point.

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Ain’t nobody got time for that 4th amendment

November 17, 2016

Paul B sends a link to this story – which is surprising, even by current standards.

The bad news is that Matthew Corrigan called the wrong suicide hotline. The D.C. police came to his house, he came out and ‘surrendered’ to them, then the cops broke into his house (without his permission) but found nothing. Five hours later, the police re-entered the house, tossed the place, and charged him with ten weapons and ammunition violations. All this without a warrant and without a compelling reason for either of the two searches.

The good news is that the police officers’ qualified immunity was stripped by the appeals court and Mr. Corrigan’s suit against them can proceed. Good for the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, I say.

But read the whole thing. (My emphasis below.)

Appeals Court To Cops: If You ‘Don’t Have Time’ For ‘Constitutional Bullshit,’ You Don’t Get Immunity

A disabled vet with PTSD accidentally called a suicide prevention hotline when intending to dial the Veterans Crisis Line. Within hours, he was dealing with DC Metro’s finest, dispatched to handle an attempted suicide. This brief quote from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals opinion [PDF] — part of veteran Matthew Corrigan’s first conversation with responding officers — sets the tone for the next several hours of Constitutional violations.

The officer who had asked for his key told him: “I don’t have time to play this constitutional bullshit. We’re going to break down your door. You’re going to have to pay for a new door.” Corrigan Dep. 94:15–18. Corrigan responded, “It looks like I’m paying for a new door, then. I’m not giving you consent to go into my place.” Id. 94:19–21.

This is as much respect as the responding officers had for Corrigan’s Constitutional rights. The rest of the opinion shows how they handled the supposed suicide case with the same level of care. […]

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The conspiracy rocks on

October 27, 2016

Ron Bailey writes an update about the Attorneys General United for Clean Power, the group that’s issued subpoenas to ExxonMobil (and the Competitive Enterprise Institute) to investigate them for fraud regarding climate change regulations. This is a topic I posted about last April.

ExxonMobil Climate ‘Fraud’ Investigation Follies Continue

ExxonMobil is suspected by New York Attorney-General Eric Schneiderman of misleading shareholders about the damage that climate change regulations might do to its business prospects. Scheidnerman and nearly twenty other Democratic attorneys-general have joined together in an effort to prove these suspicions correct. Under New York’s capacious Martin Act, Schneiderman has issued investigatory subpoenas demanding that the company turn over various documents including those related to research results by company scientists and donations made to suspect academicians, think tanks, and advocacy groups. […]

In August, Schneiderman issued another subpoena demanding to see records held by the company’s accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Exxonmobil refused, asserting an “accountant-client privilege” under Texas law. Now a New York Supreme Court judge has ruled that New York law applies and ordered the company to comply with Schneiderman’s subpoena. (Note the Supreme Court is not the highest level of New York’s judiciary.)

“We are pleased with the Court’s order and look forward to moving full-steam ahead with our fraud investigation of Exxon,” said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in a statement. “Exxon had no legal basis to interfere with PwC’s production, and I hope that today’s order serves as a wake up call to Exxon that the best thing they can do is cooperate with, rather than resist, our investigation.”

The Washington Post reports that the company plans to appeal the decision.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade of Texas issued a discovery order to Massachusetts Attorney-General Maura Healey to turn over documents that would enable him to understand how she, Schneiderman and the other Democratic attorneys-general cooked up their joint investigation of ExxonMobil’s possibly fraudulent behavior. The joint investigation is governed by what is called a Common Interest Agreement among the Democratic AGs. In his order Kinkeade noted:

Attorney General Healey’s actions leading up to the issuance of the CID [Civil Investigative Demand] causes the Court concern and presents the Court with the question of whether Attorney General Healey issued the CID with bias or prejudgment about what the investigation of Exxon would discover. …

The Court finds the allegations about Attorney General Healey and the anticipatory nature of Attorney General Healey’s remarks about the outcome of the Exxon investigation to be concerning to this Court. The foregoing allegations about Attorney General Healey, if true, may constitute bad faith in issuing the CID….

At the Attorneys General United for Clean Power press conference in March 2016 featuring remarks by climate warrior Al Gore, Healey did say:

Fossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be, must be, held accountable. That’s why I, too, have joined in investigating the practices of ExxonMobil. We can all see today the troubling disconnect between what Exxon knew, what industry folks knew, and what the company and industry chose to share with investors and with the American public. We are here before you, all committed to combating climate change and to holding accountable those who have misled the public.

Could Healey’s statements be considered biased or prejudged? You decide. […]

As I reported when all this got started a year ago, ExxonMobil began disclosing its annual reports the possible risks to its business posed by climate change in 2006. That happens to be the same year in which the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report definitively stated: “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.” […]

The follies continue.

This effort by the AGs sounds like they’re hoping for something like the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. You remember that… a group of states collectively settled for a series of payments from the four major tobacco vendors. The tobacco companies "agreed to pay a minimum of $206 billion over the first 25 years of the agreement." (There are nine years left in that period.)

That settlement turned into a slush fund for many of those states since there was no monitoring of how the settlement money was spent by the states. If my speculation is right, maybe those states can be milking the petroleum companies by the time the tobacco money runs out.

What industry will come next?

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What rock has this judge been living under?

October 12, 2016

Kudos to Judge Bransford for doing her best to set this case to rights. (My emphasis below.)

Pre-Dawn No-Knock SWAT Raid for Minor Drug Charge Ruled Unconstitutional
2015 militarized raid resulted in “fifth-degree drug possession.” That’s the lowest drug charge possible.

A Hennepin County (Minn.) drug squad — known as the Emergency Services Unit (ESU) — conducted a pre-dawn no-knock raid on a house in North Minneapolis one morning in November 2015. They were looking for Walter Power, who they suspected of being a marijuana dealer. To search the home they believed Power to be sleeping in, they brought a force of between 28-32 officers, most clad in riot gear and carrying rifles, accompanied by a sniper seated atop a Ballistic Engineered Armored Response (BEAR) vehicle.

Why did law enforcement officials feel they needed to display a show of overwhelming force that would be intense even in a foreign occupied city? Because the primary resident of the house, Michael Delgado, was a registered gun-owner with a license to carry.

Convinced of the potential danger posed to officers when raiding a house with an armed occupant, Hennepin County District Judge Tanya Bransford signed off on the no-knock raid, but later told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that she did not know a platoon of up to 32 officers would be deployed to search the house, or that they’d throw flash bang grenades through the windows in addition to knocking down doors.

The raid resulted in the arrest of Power — the suspected marijuana dealer — for “fifth-degree drug possession,” the lowest possible drug charges on the books. Even this modest charge would be dropped after Judge Bransford declared the raid unconstitutional in a ruling last summer, arguing that Delgado and Power had been subject to unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Bransford wrote in her ruling “that the types of militarized actions used in this case seem to be a matter of customary business practice,” which she found troubling. […]

"[C]ustomary business practice." Roger that, yer honor. And "troubling"… that’s a nice, mealy-mouthed way to put it.

Do you ever wonder how some people in the Justice System® can claim ignorance of how other people in that same system are conducting business?

The next thing we’ll hear is that a judge somewhere is surprised to learn that cops sometimes use too much force and innocent people die as a result.

What the hell? Don’t these people read the news?

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It may be worse than Snowden said

October 5, 2016

Paul sends a link to this story from Reuters.

Yahoo secretly scanned customer emails for U.S. intelligence

Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company complied with a classified U.S. government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to an intelligence agency’s request by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.

It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified. […]

According to two of the former employees, Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey the directive roiled some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos, who now holds the top security job at Facebook Inc. […]

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Why are people fed up with political correctness?

August 6, 2016

This article by Noah Feldman appears at Bloomberg.com. The EEOC complaint he describes is practically a reductio ad absurdum of political correctness, IMO. Where does this stuff end?

When a Flag Crosses the Line to Harassment

Is it racial harassment in the workplace to display the yellow “Don’t tread on me” flag? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that it could be, depending on the context. The commission acknowledged that the Gadsden flag, which dates back to the era of the American Revolution, did not have racist origins. But it called for a careful investigation to see whether recent uses of the flag have been sufficiently “racially tinged” that it could count as harassment.

A strong argument can be mounted that this EEOC decision is a threat to the First Amendment — and that’s exactly the argument made by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh on his blog, the Volokh Conspiracy, in reporting on the commission decision. But on closer examination, I think the commission got this one right. When it comes to the meaning of symbols, social context is everything. Even symbols that have no direct historical connection to racism can change meaning over time. And if we’re going to have laws against workplace harassment, we have to prohibit all harassing behavior — including harassment that’s overtly political.

The Gadsden flag […] is said to have been designed or at least promulgated by Christopher Gadsden, a politician and patriot from Charleston, South Carolina. He was a member of the Marine committee of the Continental Congress; the newly formed Marines were reported to have used some version of the image and logo on their drums in 1775. […]

Gadsden made his money as a merchant in South Carolina, and both owned and sold slaves. As it happens, in common with other slaveholding members of the founding generation, he also sometimes spoke against slavery. In a 1766 speech, he referred to slavery as a “crime,” while observing that “slavery begets slavery” and predicting that South Carolina would see more of it.

But there seems to be no dispute that the flag, as used by the Marines and others in the Revolutionary War, was a message to King George, and had nothing to do with slavery or racism per se.

In his complaint to the EEOC, the anonymous writer objected to a co-worker wearing a hat bearing the flag “because the flag was designed by Christopher Gadsden, a ‘slave trader & owner of slaves.’”

On its own, that’s a pretty weak argument. The fact that a slave owner created a symbol doesn’t mean that symbol is racist. The Constitution itself, after all, was designed in large part by slave owners.

Needless to say, I disagree with Feldman’s conclusion (my emphasis above) and I agree with Eugene Volokh’s opinion; Volokh’s post is worth reading.

If we accept Feldman’s conclusion, where’s the stopping point? If the goal is to eradicate any historical reference that over time may be seen as racist in some social context, then there’s no limit to it. Will somebody, somewhere, someday be offended by something innocuous? It’s a sure bet.

Now… who wants decisions like those made by EEOC bureaucrats in Mr. Trump’s administration? Raise your hands.

Gadsden-flag

My suspicion is that maybe the complainer associates the Gadsden flag with the Tea Party and this is really an attack on what the complainer regards as offensive political speech. See this story from 2013. In that case, the EEOC’s decision is even more troubling.

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This has to stop

July 15, 2016

Like practically everyone who wasn’t there, I don’t know the details about the recent police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota. What I do know is that it seems outrageous to pull someone over for a taillight problem and then shoot him dead.

Was there any possible justification for the shooting in that case? I expect we’ll hear a lot of excuses but I’ll bet we never hear a respectable reason for it. (FWIW, my guess is that the Minnesota shooting was due to a lack of trigger discipline.)

So let’s hear from a couple of people who’ve been there & done that. First, U.S. Senator Tim Scott (S.C.) talks about his experiences with police (in Washington, D.C., I assume).

Tim Scott Shares Personal Stories as a Black Man of ‘Frustration’ with Cops

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) revealed today that he’s been stopped seven times in the past year by law enforcement for “trivial” reasons in a highly personal speech focusing on experiences of black men and police stops.

Scott called it his “most difficult” floor speech of the week because “it’s the most personal.”

The senator said most police “have two things on their minds: protect and serve.”

However, he added, “we do have serious issues that must be resolved” — the “deep divide” between the black community and law enforcement in many cities, “a trust gap” and “tension that has been growing for decades.”

“And as a family, one American family, we cannot ignore these issues.”

Stressing that Americans should be “thankful” for the good job most police officers do, Scott added that “some do not” do a good job. […]

“These are people lost forever. Fathers, brothers, sons. Some will say and maybe even scream, ‘But they had criminal records! They were criminals! They spent time in jail!’ And while having a record should not sentence you to death, I say, OK then — I will share with you some of my own experiences or the experiences of good friends or other professionals.” […]

“In the course of one year, I’ve been stopped seven times by law enforcement officers,” Scott said. “…Was I speeding sometimes? Sure.” Scott held up two fingers. “But the vast majority of time, I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reason just as trivial.” […]

Next some spot on commentary from The Atlantic. If we citizens allow the police to get away with murder — as we do, both literally and too frequently — then we ought to expect that we’ll reap the whirlwind.

The Near Certainty of Anti-Police Violence
By ignoring illegitimate policing, America has also failed to address the danger this illegitimacy poses to those who must do the policing.
TA-NEHISI COATES JUL 12, 2016 POLITICS

Last month, the Obama administration accused Donald Trump of undercutting American legitimacy in the eyes of the world. Trump’s call to ban Muslims wasn’t just morally wrong, according to Vice President Joe Biden, it called “into question America’s status as the greatest democracy in the history of the world.” President Obama followed Biden by asserting that Trump’s rhetoric “doesn’t reflect our democratic ideals,” saying “it will make us less safe, fueling ISIL’s notion that the West hates Muslims.” His point was simple—wanton discrimination in policy and rhetoric undercuts American legitimacy and fuels political extremism. […]

Last week, 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson murdered five police officers in Dallas. This abhorrent act of political extremism cannot be divorced from American history—recent or old. In black communities, the police departments have only enjoyed a kind of quasi-legitimacy. That is because wanton discrimination is definitional to the black experience, and very often it is law enforcement which implements that discrimination with violence. A community consistently subjected to violent discrimination under the law will lose respect for it, and act beyond it. When such actions stretch to mass murder it is horrific. But it is also predictable. […]

What does it mean, for instance, that black children are ritually told that any stray movement in the face of the police might result in their own legal killing? When Eric Holder spoke about getting “The Talk” from his father, and then giving it to his own son, many of us nodded our heads. But many more of us were terrified. When the nation’s top cop must warn his children to be skeptical of his own troops, how legitimate can the police actually be?

And it is not as if Holder is imagining things. When the law shoots down 12-year-old children, or beats down old women on traffic islands, or chokes people to death over cigarettes; when the law shoots people over compact discs, traffic stops, drivers’ licenses, loud conversation, or car trouble; when the law auctions off its monopoly on lethal violence to bemused civilians, when these civilians then kill, and when their victims are mocked in their death throes; when people stand up to defend police as officers of the state, and when these defenders are killed by these very same officers; when much of this is recorded, uploaded, live-streamed, tweeted, and broadcast; and when government seems powerless, or unwilling, to stop any of it, then it ceases, in the eyes of citizens, to be any sort of respectable law at all. It simply becomes “force.”

Finally, a white man’s view in the the Los Angeles Times. I’m not usually interested in "conservative" vs. "liberal" comparisons but this op-ed makes some good points despite those.

The conservative principle behind Black Lives Matter

It seems almost ghoulish to look for a silver lining in the dark cloud that blanketed the nation last week. But I think there was one. The killings by police in Minnesota and Louisiana, quickly followed by killings of police in Dallas, knocked the lazy certainty out of almost everybody.

At least for a moment, antagonists on either side of polarizing issues could see beyond the epistemic horizon of their most comfortable talking points. Black Lives Matter activists thanked the police for their protection and sacrifice. Conservative Republicans, most notably Speaker Paul Ryan and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, spoke movingly about race in America. Gun rights activists were dismayed that Philando Castille, the man shot by a police officer in Minneapolis, had followed all of the rules – he had a gun permit, cooperated with the officer, etc. – and was still killed. Liberals who insist that rhetoric from their political opponents inspires violence were forced to consider whether rhetoric from their allies might have helped inspire the shooter in Dallas.

It was a welcome change. “National conversations” are usually efforts to bully everyone into accepting a single narrative when the reality is that, in this country of more than 300 million, many narratives can be in conflict and still be legitimate. […]

I doubt the humility we’ve seen this week will last, but that it emerged at all is a source of hope.

I don’t know the root of this problem and I don’t have a solution. But it’s important that people realize that there really is a problem.

I regularly drive past a business that put up a sign this week (with a couple of small American flags, natch) reading, "We support and thank our police." That’s fine; I’m glad we have police forces too. But the sign made no mention of those who’d been kill by police.

That’s an injustice. If I owned land nearby, I’d put up my own sign as a memorial to the civilian victims of the police.


Update (July 17th):
Here’s a good video I found by "Mike the Cop", who’s part of Humanizing the Badge. So to keep a little perspective, here’s Mike:

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Here’s a good question

July 11, 2016

…in case you’ve been thinking "police state" is just a figure of speech.

Jeff sends a link to this op-ed from the Wall Street Journal. (My emphasis.)

Why Does the IRS Need Guns?

Special agents at the IRS equipped with AR-15 military-style rifles? Health and Human Services “Special Office of Inspector General Agents” being trained by the Army’s Special Forces contractors? The Department of Veterans Affairs arming 3,700 employees?

The number of non-Defense Department federal officers authorized to make arrests and carry firearms (200,000) now exceeds the number of U.S. Marines (182,000). In its escalating arms and ammo stockpiling, this federal arms race is unlike anything in history. Over the last 20 years, the number of these federal officers with arrest-and-firearm authority has nearly tripled to over 200,000 today, from 74,500 in 1996.

What exactly is the Obama administration up to?

On Friday, June 17, our organization, American Transparency, is releasing its OpenTheBooks.com oversight report on the militarization of America. The report catalogs federal purchases of guns, ammunition and military-style equipment by seemingly bureaucratic federal agencies. During a nine-year period through 2014, we found, 67 agencies unaffiliated with the Department of Defense spent $1.48 billion on guns and ammo. Of that total, $335.1 million was spent by agencies traditionally viewed as regulatory or administrative, such as the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Mint.

Some examples of spending from 2005 through 2014 raise the question: Who are they preparing to battle? […]

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Wait… you mean it’s not supposed to be rigged?

July 6, 2016

I don’t get too excited by political scandals. The large majority of them seem to be much ado about very little. But there are exceptions proving this rule, of course. I recall the day Richard Nixon left the White House. He wasn’t tarred and feathered… maybe because it would have been too good for him.

I’ll be very surprised, though, if the way Secretary Clinton and her staff handled e-mail correspondence was even a tenth as serious as Nixon’s crimes. Barring a revelation that the Clinton Foundation has profited from information Ms. Clinton leaked via insecure servers (always possible, I suppose) or some foreign government publishing emails that had been hacked from her servers (also possible), this looks like a bad decision made by a technically illiterate boss. And that’s hardly news; I mean, how many times does that happen?

Nonetheless, what the Secretary & staff did are accused of doing (and have kinda, sorta admitted doing) violated Federal law. Clinton rebuts FBI charge of recklessness, by the way.

So the contrast between how Ms. Clinton’s case has been handled and how Federal prosecutions of ordinary citizens are handled is striking. Innocent-until-proven-guilty applies to politicians too, so we’d need to wait for a judge or jury to convict her before we could say she’s guilty. But that can never happen if she’s never prosecuted, can it? The process was short-circuited in her favor.

As an example, here’s how the FBI treated a similar case last year for someone who wasn’t so favored. Folsom Naval Reservist is Sentenced After Pleading Guilty to Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Materials.

And here’s an editorial from today’s Wall Street Journal. (My emphasis below.)

Jim Comey’s Clinton Standard
He shows how she broke the law then rationalizes no indictment.

For our money, the most revealing words in FBI Director James Comey’s statement Tuesday explaining his decision not to recommend prosecuting Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified information were these: “This is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions.”

So there it is in the political raw: One standard exists for a Democratic candidate for President and another for the hoi polloi. We’re not sure if Mr. Comey, the erstwhile Eliot Ness, intended to be so obvious, but what a depressing moment this is for the American rule of law. No wonder so many voters think Washington is rigged for the powerful. […]

Yep. Secretary Clinton violated the letter of the law in several occasions… no biggie. But don’t you dare get caught doing that.

Here’s a clip called the Email Scandal Supercut from Reason TV. Nice juxtaposition.

For reference, FBI Director Comey’s full press conference.

But the best question I saw about this was Warren Meyer’s. (My emphasis again.)

Hillary Clinton and “Intent” — Can the Rest Of Us Get A Mens Rea Defense From Prosecution?

Yesterday, the FBI said that Hillary Clinton should not be prosecuted because, though she clearly violated laws about management of confidential information, she had no “intent” to do so. Two thoughts […]

If politicians are going to grant each other a strong mens rea (guilty mind or criminal intent) requirements for criminal prosecution, then politicians need to give this to the rest of us as well. Every year, individuals and companies are successfully prosecuted for accidentally falling afoul of some complex and arcane Federal law. Someone needs to ask Hillary where she stands on Federal mens rea reform.

If you’re not familiar with the term mens rea, follow the link at the end of that snippet. Basically, los Federales can prosecute you for crimes without having to show that you intended to commit a crime or that you were even aware that you’d committed one.

Here’s an example (from this post):

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Venezuelan CLAP

June 23, 2016

Wow… Take a lesson about how to FUBAR your country.

Whatever happened to “To each, according to his need”? I don’t recall that maxim mentioning party membership.

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