“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
How secure are property rights if the police can take your stuff and keep it, citing no particular reason at all? Not very secure. This is the way police work in the developing world. Of course, this practice is increasingly common in the U.S. too.
Municipalities around the nation are battling to stay afloat, and local police departments are increasingly focused on profits instead of “protecting and serving.” Retired LAPD deputy chief of police Stephen Downing told FoxNews Latino, “The federal government has turned policing into policing for profit.”
For example, the police seized $30 million in cash on the southwest United States border in 2011. Where does the money go? Well, if the local cops make the seizure, they keep the money. If the feds snatch the property, they keep it. If it’s a joint operation, they split the dough. Can you imagine the fights that must take place over the booty these police pirates are confiscating?
As of Sept. 30, 2011, the departments of Justice and Treasury held $1 billion in seized cash. So now cops are tracking down cash, rather than crime. Downing told Fox that departments now direct police assets to generate cash, instead of investigating murders and rapes.
Reporting from the border, Patrick Manning told Fox viewers that the average taxpayer loves these forfeiture laws because they keep their taxes lower. If cops can steal with impunity from not just crooks, but anyone, then taxpayers can get their policing at bargain tax rates. But this isn’t policing at all.
What if you’re a New Jersey insurance adjuster driving through Tennessee as part of your job? You’re stopped for speeding and asked if you happen to be carrying a large amount of cash. It so happened George Reby had $22,000 cash in a bag in his back seat. He’d been negotiating for a car on eBay and wanted to be ready if he could make a deal.
Officer Larry Bates of the Monterey, Tenn., police department seized the $22,000, figuring anyone carrying that much cash must be up to no good. “The safest place to put your money, if it’s legitimate, is in a bank account,” the officer explained. “He stated he had two. I would put it in a bank account. It draws interest and it’s safer.”
Reby was stunned that the cop could legally take his property for no apparent reason. “I never had any clue that they thought they could take my money legally,” Reby said. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Indeed, other than going too fast, Reby hadn’t done anything wrong, so Officer Bates didn’t arrest him. It was Reby’s cash that was suspicious, and it was the cash that the department wanted for its coffers. “No, it’s not illegal to carry cash,” Bates said. “Again, it’s what the cash is being used for to facilitate or what it is being utilized for.”
The local news channel pointed out to Officer Bates that he had no proof the cash was being used for no good. But Bates countered with, “And he couldn’t prove it was legitimate.”
It turns out that property can be confiscated if it’s thought that the money was involved in illegal activity. In Tennessee, if the out-of-staters do not hire attorneys and return for a hearing about their matter, they forfeit their property. Many aren’t given notice of the hearings.
Officer Bates conveniently left out of his report that Mr. Reby told him he was shopping for a new car. Also, Reby was arrested 20 years ago for cocaine possession. While not convicted, that moldy item was prominent in Bates’ report.
“Am I going to use it? Yes, I’m going to use it because he’s been charged with it in the past — regardless of whether it’s 10 or 15 years ago,” Bates said.
Because the local TV station reported on the story, Mr. Reby was able to get his $22,000 back from the Monterey Police Department in the form of a check, and with no apology in four months. That is much sooner than is typical. But of course, to get his money back, he had to show up in person, waive his constitutional rights, and sign an agreement not to sue the department.
Tennessee lawmakers debated a bill this year that would have created a special committee to look into the “policing for profit” issue, but the bill died. Property rights just aren’t on the front burner this year.
Anyone stopped driving through Tennessee on Highway 40 will be asked if they are carrying large amounts of cash by arresting officers who, by the way, may be working outside their jurisdiction but have agreements with the local county law enforcement agencies to share any loot they seize.
The economics are easy to figure out. Seizures pay for the programs and, thus, the jobs, so officers working for the 23rd Judicial District Drug Task Force and Dickson Interdiction Criminal Enforcement (DICE) must seize cash or drugs in order to stay employed.
This puts the state in a whole new light. As LFC Gold member seminar host and economist Robert Murphy explains, this looting though civil forfeitures “is a perfect vindication of the Rothbardian point that, in a very real sense, government is a gang of thieves writ large. Such a radical viewpoint sounds crazy to most Americans in the abstract, but when they watch the video, it’s hard to deny.”
Civil forfeiture turns the bedrock principle that Americans are innocent until proven guilty on its head. As the Institute for Justice (IFJ) points out in its report Policing for Profit, “With civil forfeiture, your property is guilty until you prove it innocent.”
In its report, the institute graded each state for their civil forfeiture laws. Only three states — Maine, North Dakota, and Vermont — received grades of B or higher. The other 47 states were graded C or D, with Tennessee earning a D-minus grade, the same grade given to the federal government.
The Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund took in $93.7 million in 1986, its second year in existence. By 2008, the fund held $1 billion in net assets. This growth proves that humans respond to incentives. As the IFJ report explains:
“All people work to better their position. Just as private citizens are motivated by self-interest, so too does it motivate government officials. While many individuals within a government organization may share a principled commitment to carrying out the mission of the agency, government officials, operating in what they perceive as their own self-interest, will also attempt to maximize the size and budget of their agency. Larger budgets will benefit everyone within an agency through higher salaries, greater job security, better equipment, and increased power and prestige. Such incentives can affect even the most well-intentioned law enforcement officers.”
So while law enforcement personnel are climbing the ladder to bureaucratic success by taking people’s property, the IFJ found that 80% of persons whose property was seized were never charged with a crime. There are only eight states that bar the use of forfeiture proceeds by law enforcement, while in 26 states, 100% of forfeiture proceeds are distributed to law enforcement.
There is no hue and cry over these confiscations, just as no one complains about the 2.5 million Americans behind bars. Nixon’s war on drugs, used to jail one in a hundred citizens, is now being used by law enforcement to steal money from law-abiding citizens whose only mistake is carrying too much cash.
The state’s organized thievery has lead TV producers and writers to portray “bad” guys with sympathy, while the state is cast as villainous bully. Walter White is forced to do what’s needed to survive on the series Breaking Bad. On The Wire, cops are portrayed as incompetent drunks at best and corrupt at worst. New Orleans cops are corrupt thugs on Treme. Nobody watching The Sopranos wanted Tony to be indicted. The Volstead Act is portrayed as a joke on Boardwalk Empire, while Nucky Thompson and other rival gangsters are portrayed as sharp businessmen. And in John Grisham’s latest thriller, The Racketeer, convicted lawyer Malcolm Bannister runs circles around the feds, to the delight of readers.
The police aren’t protecting and serving the public anymore. They are protecting their jobs and serving themselves, and they are willing to steal from you to do it. What that means is you must protect yourself. The highway robber you encounter may well be wearing a uniform.