“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 […]
Proponents of liberty argue over what parts of the economy or society government should not touch. Government should get out the education business, stay out of health care, and even leave roads and infrastructure to the private sector.
But when it comes to criminal justice, even many libertarians think government should supply the police and court system. And truly, government controls the criminal justice system. The results are tragic.
The government determines who is a criminal and who is not. The rate of violent crime has fallen, but some commentators guess that each of us commits three felonies a day. Mothers, fathers and grandmothers are being locked away for decades because they bought too much Sudafed in too short a period of time.
For instance, Diane Avera of Meridian Mississippi a 45-year-old grandmother must serve a year in jail unless she wins her appeal.
Diane was arrested and sentenced to jail in Alabama for buying cold medicine because authorities believed she was going to use it to make methamphetamine.
Being needlessly snared in the nation’s drug war has been a nightmare for Ms. Avera, a woman who does personal care for the sick, disabled, and elderly. “I keep thinking I’m going to wake up, but I never do.”
This wasn’t against the law until the second Bush administration made it so.
Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs” kicked off in 1971, and four decades later, America is the world’s most prolific jailer. There are 2.3 million Americans behind bars, the result of a trillion tax dollars spent and 45 million drug arrests made. The results: plenty of drug use, plenty of drugs, and a criminal justice system dependent on an increasing number of lawbreakers to pay salaries and benefits.
And their results are predictable.
Public safety is no longer the issue. The incentive at city hall is to lock up nonviolent offenders to make arrest quotas. Catching violent criminals is too time-consuming and costly. What has grown is the criminal justice industrial complex: a huge law enforcement and judicial system leviathan that feeds on an ever increasing crop of petty laws and legislation.
What’s worse is that in the information age, criminal justice has become a spectator sport. The public can watch real cops in action on reality TV or live courtroom drama on cable. Hollywood can barely compete with footage of real people being snared in America’s criminal justice dragnet. Society’s squeaky clean can sit back, relax and sneer in judgment at their neighbors who can’t quite seem to play by society’s ever-changing rules.
In our small city, a biweekly paper called The Jailbird is being sold around town. Yes, for a buck, the reader can ogle mug shots of local people who have been arrested in the surrounding three counties. “Drunk Drivers — Drug Pushers — Deadbeat Dads” it shouts from the tippy-top of the cover.
For $58, you can even have The Jailbird sent to your home. After all, as the back cover asks, “Who do you know in this week’s copy of The Jailbird?” You wouldn’t want to miss it if a neighbor of co-worker made an appearance.
With everyone tripping over laws they can’t see, it’s just a matter of time before we all take a turn in the pokey. For instance, if you are stopped for a having a few too many and driving home (or walking home, for that matter), guess what? Not only will you likely make the local paper, but now, at least in our small Southern town, there is paper (all 16 pages of it) devoted to providing visual proof that the state is tough on crime.
So what kind of heinous crimes are represented on the front page of “the Bird” Year 1,Issue 9? Possession of methamphetamine, possession of cocaine, forgery, possession of oxycodone, shoplifting. Not exactly John Dillinger-level stuff.
Inside, it’s more of the same: writing bad checks, bail jumping, DUI, running a red light, failure to pay child support, commercial gambling, no driver’s license, no car insurance, speeding, possession of marijuana, public intoxication, carrying false ID, violation of unemployment compensation law, sale of a short-barreled gun, possession of illegal ammunition and hunting doves over bait.
Whew, it’s a relief to have these hardened criminals off the streets.
In numerous places, the Bird cautions us that “Suspects pictured are innocent until proven guilty.” We’re told this on both the “Hotties & Hunks” page and the “Crazy Captions” page, where the Bird prints what it calls “funny arrest photos” and includes clever captions. For instance, a picture of a bald gentlemen with a particularly menacing look is provided the caption “Moe and Curly called, they said you could come pick up your stuff on the front doorstep next Monday….”
Or “Pepito’s pork tamales with habanero sauce, the day after…” is the caption under the picture of a serious looking young Hispanic man biting his lip.
Despite the disclaimer, in the court of public opinion, these citizens have already been convicted, served up to be humiliated by their sanctimonious neighbors and the town’s bluenoses.
Sure, a few folks pictured in the Bird are accused of violent offenses. But most are not. In fact most are accused of things that wouldn’t be a crime in a free society. This only makes sense. Half the inmates in federal prisons are there for drug offenses. In state prisons, which have a much higher inmate population, over 20% of prisoners are serving time for drug offenses.
Laissez Faire Club author Lysander Spooner wrote a wonderful piece called “Vices Are Not Crimes” in 1875. Spooner pointed out that vices are acts in which someone hurts himself, while crimes constitute harming another person.
If there is no criminal intent, there can be no crime. In the case of vices, “the very essence of crime — that is, the design to injure the person or property of another — is wanting,” explains Spooner.
“For a government to declare a vice to be a crime,” Spooner wrote, “and to punish it as such, is an attempt to falsify the very nature of things.” But for its own purposes, the state has turned nature on its head to feed its criminal justice apparatus. And sadly, ordinary people whose only crime was to make a transaction with another consenting adult rot in jail as tribute to the system.
The old saying among judges is, “Hang ’em high so the voters remember you on Election Day.” Tough, hard-nosed judges continue to be elected around the country, enforcing draconian three strikes laws and the like, enacted by legislators pandering to a busybody citizenry that believes that laws can make them safe and absolve them of any responsibility for their own well-being.
As the U.S. economy continues to be regulated and inflated into oblivion, breaking bad may be the only way to put food on the table. A frightening prospect, with the police state lurking around every corner. When the state controls criminal justice, it considers all of us criminals.
Just a few weeks ago, the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force arrest three young people in Seattle for now reason on than that they are self described anarchists. They have not been formally accused of any crimes. They have been held in solitary confinement and treated as terrorists — again without any evidence. One of them, Leah-Lynn Plante, made a video that you should watch to get a sense of the new criminal class.
Douglas E. French