At Cafe Hayek, Russ Roberts writes,
Either ObamaCare is going to be dismantled or the government is going to take over the insurance industry. The latter is an unlikely possibility given the botched logistical performance of the roll-out of ObamaCare. I just don’t see how these kind of unexpected changes are going to survive politically. They keep coming and they’re creating a drumbeat of dissatisfaction for a lot of people. The political system will not ignore those feelings.
Then in the comments section he responds to some people who disagreed with that prediction:
Many politicians may prefer a single-payer system. But they will be unable to achieve their goal if they are not in office. There are different ways to botch things. Most of the botching takes place below the radar. This is out in the open and the politicians are panicking already.
When the WaPo runs page 1 stories showing problems with ObamaCare it's hard for the narrative to get accepted. The story I quoted was on Page 1 above the fold. Powerful sign that O'care is in trouble.
I respectfully disagree with Roberts's prediction and agree with his commenters who think the imminent failure of and widespread dissatisfaction with Obamacare will merely hasten the takeover of the entire health insurance industry in the United States (and increase the federal and state governments' involvement in the provision of healthcare itself).
But a lot of people have made that prediction. My (probably also non-unique) prediction about Obamacare, its popular support level, and liberal Democrats' response to its certain failure is this: Despite all the structural, medical, and financial problems caused directly by Obamacare and other intrusive legislation that Congress may pass to try to solve the problems it created, a majority or at least sizable minority of Democratic voters will blame the free market (and the pursuit of profits, selfishness, the rich, etc.) for the failure of Obamacare. They will say Obamacare failed because it did not mandate enough government activity, and not enough of the evil free market was eliminated. Liberals' response to the disaster that is Obamacare will be to double down on their demand for a complete government takeover of the entire health insurance industry, replacing it with a single-payer system, i.e., completely socialized health insurance.
Russ Roberts is right that very few voters will tolerate the inconvenience and increased financial burden that Obamacare will place on them. But they are the same people who thought the solution to our bloated, Frankensteinian corporate-socialist mess of a healthcare industry was more government involvement (Obamacare or anything else the Democrats would pass). Republican voters are the types of people who think Republican politicians offer a good alternative to the Democrats on...any issue. The voters of the future will simply be too biased, petty, ignorant, stupid, or incurious to realize that governments have caused nearly every single problem any healthcare industry in the developed world faces. The voters of the future will largely be aged baby boomers and grown-up children of the 1990s and 2000s, two voting blocs that practically revel in their complete disregard for anything that sounds like objective economic analysis, and who will reliably vote for anybody with a (D) after their name against all common sense. The politicians will arouse a furor for more governmental fixes for the problems government created, and voters will either already be on board or will go along to avoid being perceived as heartless reactionaries who want to put old people out on the streets.
Aditya Chakrabortty writes a chilling column on the efforts by British universities and local police departments to crack down on student protests and other demonstrations. It's hard to imagine there's an advanced, Western society in which human beings' freedom to assemble and demonstrate—peacefully, by the way—is so readily and blatantly suppressed. And on university campuses, no less—places where freedom of thought, debate, protest, and all other forms of peaceful political activism are supposed to be valued.
Cambridge police are looking for spies to inform on undergraduate protests against spending cuts and other "student-union type stuff". Meanwhile, in London last Thursday, a student union leader, Michael Chessum, was arrested after a small and routine demo. Officers hauled him off to Holborn police station for not informing them of the precise route of the protest – even though it was on campus.
The 24-year-old has since been freed – on the strict condition that he doesn't "engage in protest on any University Campus and not within half a mile boundary of any university". ... But I suppose there's no telling just what threat to law and order might be posed by an over-articulate history graduate.
While we're trawling for the ridiculous, let us remember another incident this summer at the University of London, when a 25-year-old woman was arrested for the crime of chalking a slogan on a wall. That's right: dragged off by the police for writing in water-soluble chalk. ...
It all sounds farcical – it is farcical – until you delve into the details. Take the London demo that landed Chessum in such bother: university staff were filming their own students from a balcony of Senate House (the building that inspired the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, appropriately enough). Such surveillance is a recent tradition, the nice man in the University press office explains to me – and if the police wanted the footage that would be no problem.
That link with the police is becoming increasingly important across more and more of our universities. London students allege that officers and university security guards co-ordinate their attempts to rein in demonstrations while staff comment on the increased police presence around campus. At Sussex, student protests against outsourcing services were broken up this April, when the university called in the police – who duly turned up with riot vans and dogs. A similar thing happened at Royal Holloway university, Surrey in 2011: a small number of students occupied one measly corridor to demonstrate against course closures and redundancies; the management barely bothered to negotiate, but cited "health and safety" and called in the police to clear away the young people paying their salaries.
For the police, this is part of the age-old work of clamping down on possible sources of civil disobedience. But the motivation for the universities is much more complicated. Their historic role has been to foster intellectual inquiry and host debate. Yet in the brave new market of higher education, when universities are competing with each other to be both conveyor belts to the jobs market and vehicles for private investment, such dissent is not only awkward – it's dangerously uncommercial. As Andrew McGettigan, author of The Great University Gamble, puts it: "Anything too disruptive gets in the way of the business plan."
Besides the wholly socialist and market-insulated nature of colleges and universities across the world, there has been a clear tendency since the mid-20th century for Western universities to promote anti-free-market ideas and suppress their students' civil liberties. In other words, their very structure, their financial model, their funding sources, the worldviews they tend to foster, and their isolation from market forces make universities some of the most anti-individualist, anti-libertarian institutions in our society. Therefore, even if now more than ever "universities are competing with each other to be both conveyor belts to the jobs market and vehicles for private investment", this changes virtually nothing about their socialist, anti-free-market nature.
In this context, and especially when we consider the increasingly punitory, militaristic nature of law enforcement/criminal justice systems (in the U.S., at least), not to mention the genuinely Orwellian tactics of the NSA and GCHQ, in addition to the never-ending, obsequious apologies for the total security state by sycophants on the left and the right, the increasing police presence on campuses and the collaboration between university administrators and police departments is not surprising. It is a natural progression in each institution's pursuit of a common goal: to maintain power, order, wealth, and security, if necessary by oppressing the unwashed masses of ruffians who would disrupt their status quo.
Despite the unfortunate fact that workers' unions and trade unions of all kinds have historically been guilty of rent-seeking efforts to suppress competition and artificially bolster wages through the political process (not to mention much more nefarious activities by union bosses who cozy up to politicians), unionization per se is one of many ways in which free individuals, especially relatively weak and poor individuals, can voluntarily assemble to achieve a common goal. So are public protests and other demonstrations. These rights are absolutely vital civil liberties of the individualist, libertarian tradition. The right to peaceably assemble and protest the grievances of the government is enshrined right there in our First Amendment, though the U.K. doesn't have anything so specific and powerful. If there is any political philosophy in the modern English-speaking world that is closely associated with the Bill of Rights and the Americans who wrote it, it is individualism and libertarianism.
So what does Aditya Chakrabortty conclude is the root cause of this administration-backed police suppression of student demonstrations, and its bully tactics designed to intimidate students who dare protest the power and wealth imbalance that is inherent to universities (and seems to be getting worse)? He blames a free-market mentality:
Where universities were historically places of free expression, now they are having to sacrifice that role for the sake of the free market. For students, that comes in the form of a crackdown on dissent.
This is just incoherent. The single most basic idea underlying free-marketism is individualism—the supreme right of individual people to keep what they own, to trade what they want under the terms they want, and to freely associate with whomever they want in whatever way they want.
I haven't read anything else Aditya Chakrabortty has written, but I'd wager that the type of intellect that would associate suppression of individual rights and civil liberties with the "free market" is the same type of intellect that would oppose the individualist philosophy in general, would think the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and would think that modern society's obsession with selfishness and elevation of individualist over collectivist virtues is the primary cause of many of society's ills. Either way, millions if not billions of people think that way, and they would probably also swallow his tripe about police suppression of public demonstrations and intimidation (in some cases, outright abuse) of the demonstrators as being somehow connected to the "free market".
Let's try to get this straight: Aditya Chakrabortty and his ilk bemoan the hyper-individualism of libertarian/free-market ideology some of the time, but then when university administrators and police departments team up to suppress our individual rights, that's also the fault of the libertarian/free-market ideology? The free market is too individualist when we're talking about wealth, property rights, and regulation, but it's too anti-individualist when we're talking about civil liberties and peaceful demonstrations?
I'm sorry, but whatever "market" we're talking about in the context of police suppression of student assemblies and campus demonstrations, it is nothing approaching "free".
Maybe he's confusing "pro-business" with the "free market". He wouldn't be the first. I'm guessing Aditya Chakrabortty can name no more than five dead economists. I would also guess that the one historical figure he would most associate with the "free market" is Adam Smith. Even though Smith isn't as revered by modern free-marketeers as several economists who came after him, we accept him as our original ambassador. What did Smith think of businessmen and their relationship to the rest of civil society? In The Wealth of Nations, he wrote,
The interest of [businessmen] is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public ... The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ... ought never to be adopted, till after having been long and carefully examined ... with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men ... who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.
This is standard dogma among libertarians and other free-marketeers today. It is all too obvious that the interests of businesses do not align with the interests of the individual, the masses of poor and middle-class people, or the free market. Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner seems to make half his living exposing the insidious cooperation between big businesses and the federal government. Radley Balko makes his living detailing the fundamental conflict between law enforcement agencies and both the rights and safety of the general public. To the people who hold individualist, libertarian, free-market views, it is very strange indeed to associate the free market with this partnership between wholly Statist universities and wholly Statist police departments.
Tim Cushing of Techdirt.com wrote about the now-infamous case of the Utah couple who were fined $3500 for writing a negative review of KlearGear.com. They refused to pay, which prompted KlearGear to follow through on its threat to send their debt to a collections agency, thereby ruining that couple's credit rating. Read his short article; the details of the depth of KlearGear's depravity are hard to believe, but they serve a salutary reminder that not all malicious, psychopathically predatory monsters find their way into government service. Also read Ken White's post about it at Popehat.com.
The purpose of this post is merely to help spread the word about KlearGear's immorality and criminality, in the hope that others will do the same, resulting in the existence of so many web pages about their pure evilness that these pages will overwhelm the positive or neutral search results for KlearGear.com, so that anyone who ever seeks to learn anything about KlearGear will discover what depraved, predatory psychopaths ran that place (and provided it legal services). Basically, I aim to help amplify the Streisand effect as much as possible.
I found these comments in the aforementioned Popehat discussion interesting:
Attempting to research KlearGear and determine ownership. So far, I've only been able to find the following, on the BBB page for the company:
Principal: Mr. Randall Prescott (Legal)
Found someone else associated:
On LinkedIn, Rob Key appears to be the CMO of KlearGear.
Further investigation of Rob Key turns up this PR article, which lists his contact information as:
pr (at) kleargear (dot) com
Phone (616) 965-2426
Fax (616) 965-2427
BBB says their legal dept. is here:
7122 Oaklawn Drive, San Antonio, TX 78229-3021
which turns out to be Chenal Corp.:
seems shady so far…
Edit – BINGO! Paydirt!
Adding to my last comment, which is in the moderation queue, and per this article, Lee Gersten is the president of KlearGear (can't find contact info on him), and Rob Key is the CMO and press contact.
You can contact Rob at:
email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
From Rob Key's email format, it might be a good guess that Gersten can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Also, their "media relations" page mentions:
2885 Sanford Ave SW Suite #19886
Grandville, MI 49418
Phone (616) 965-2426
Fax (616) 965-2427
I wonder how busy he is today…if he exists.
More contact info for Robert Key from
chenal media, chenal brands, and chenal corp appear to all be related.
there appears to be a real connection between Chenal Brands, Inc. and Kleargear as noted by several commentators above. (see these press releases)
KlearGear.com (a wholly-owned subsidiary of catalog and e-commerce conglomerate Havaco Direct Inc.)
"Guys love gadgets, and KlearGear.com has over a thousand gadgets, tools, office toys, and home and office decor ideas for any techie dad," stated Will Bermender, President of KlearGear.com. "
From various press releases from Havaco and KlearGear:
Look up kleargear on Pipl.com
Will Bermender – http://www.pinterest.com/kleargear/
Will Bermender, Los Angeles, CA, US, Texas, US – Executive Chairman at Chenal Media, Board …
Will Bermender (peoplesmart)
Location: San Antonio, TXMaple Grove, MNOsseo, MNFarmington Hills, MI
William Franklin Bermender
Chenal Valley Dr, Apt 2304 (no coincidence, not included in search)
Old address, latest address is san antonio texas
Havaco Direct, Inc is the corporate name of Klear Gear. It is a Delaware corporation.
File Number: 3745438 Incorporation Date / Formation Date: 12/29/2003
Entity Name: HAVACO DIRECT, INC.
Entity Kind: CORPORATION Entity Type: GENERAL
Residency: DOMESTIC State: DE
REGISTERED AGENT INFORMATION
Name: THE COMPANY CORPORATION
Address: 2711 CENTERVILLE RD STE 400
City: WILMINGTON County: NEW CASTLE
State: DE Postal Code: 19808
These domains are apparently associated, but not all have websites and some seem to have expired:
Interesting. Kleargear's Suite # is 19886 in both California and Michigan locations. This is also the suite # associated with parent company Chenal Media, but it only shows up if you look at a cache of chenalmedia.com. (http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:4_lK8y9I6noJ:chenalmedia.com/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us)
Amusingly, Total S.A.'s legal page says, "If you wish to create a hypertext link to this Web site, you must obtain prior written authorisation from the Company using the contact details stipulated at the end of this document." Right. Good luck enforcing that.
Anyway, as was mentioned previously, the Chenal Media website is actually the Total S.A website. Check the source code of the page (view-source:http://chenalmedia.com/). It redirects to http://total.com/en. So does http://www.chenalco.com/
Total S.A. is a french oil and gas company. So is Chenal Media pretending to be Total S.A., did somebody buy their website and redirect it, or did Total S.A. buy those websites and redirect them in order to [insert complicated and opaque justification].
They also have a ChenalCorp.com website, but it will not pull up. The cached version doesn't have much information. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:l_kjzd5dcSoJ:chenalcorp.com/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
Is it possible that this is a money-laundering operation? What would explain the almost invisible, or possibly non-existent, employees/executives and unusual operations other than something shady?
The fake photos raise a question — It is theoretically possible there is no one named "Will Bermender," "Lee Gersten," "Randall Prescott," "Rob Key," or "Megan Tolcher" actually associated with this company. If someone is uploading fake photos to represent those names, it's possible the identities were stolen, too.
I guess we can conclude that Chenal is for sure a fake company and being the parent company to Kleargear, it too is fake. Perhaps Kleargear is one of these internet sites set up for the sole purpose of stealing identities.
Many injustices committed by the State make more sense when you consider the possibility that the real goal of government—as championed or at least sanctioned by the majority of the populace and as carried out by State officials—is to wield power over others. Power usually for some (however vaguely stated) goal, but sometimes for no discernible purpose whatsoever. It is probably true that a given person's desire to wield power over others, the strength and severity of such power that that person will support, and that person's concern for the consequences of this power-wielding are strongly influenced by how different those "others" are perceived as being.
Most people (seem to) consider drug users, drug dealers, and others convicted of drug-related charges as violent miscreants who deserve their sentences and who make our cities safer by being locked up. Importantly, most people don't personally know anyone railroaded by the criminal justice [sic] system and its War on Drugs, and they seem to consider those people not victims of the State but rather some kind of boorish, uncivilized perpetual delinquents who are not part of our civil society, who don't deserve any benefit of the doubt, who don't deserve any mercy or even lighter sentences, who must have done something or other that was worthy of a prison sentence because they're those types of people.
While many seem to be coming around on the decriminalization of marijuana, most Americans still strongly support the criminalization of harder drugs such as cocaine, crystal meth, and heroin. When you hear about the crimes the State commits against nonviolent people in its enforcement of said criminalization, you start to realize that most Americans are awful, despicable people. And they have put in power exactly the type of government they want. Oh, I grant you, no one ever seems to be satisfied with the particular policies and functional details of any state or federal government at any time, but the broad strokes reflect the desires of the American populace perfectly.
So you’re a judge, and Sharanda P. Jones comes before you for sentencing for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.
She’s a 32-year-old mom with a 9-year-old daughter and no prior arrests, but she has been caught up in a drug sweep that has led to 105 arrests in her Texas town. Everyone arrested is black.
There are no drugs found on Jones, but her supposed co-conspirators testify against her in exchange for reduced sentences. The whole case is dubious, but she has been convicted. What’s your sentence?
You have little choice. Given the presumptions of the case, she gets a mandatory minimum sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Jump to today and already Jones has spent 14 years in prison and is expected to die behind bars — for a first offense.
Ricky Minor, a meth addict and father of three, was found with 1.2 grams of meth in his home, along with over-the-counter decongestants that can be used to manufacture meth. He was initially charged under Florida law and says he faced a two-and-a-half-year sentence. Later indicted under federal law, he pleaded guilty because his public defender said that otherwise the prosecutors would also pursue his wife, leaving no one to raise their children. Minor had several prior nonviolent offenses, for which he had never served time, and these required Judge Clyde Roger Vinson to sentence him to life without parole. Judge Vinson said that the sentence “far exceeds whatever punishment would be appropriate.”
Danielle Metz became pregnant at 17 and later married an abusive man who was also a drug dealer. To placate him, she says, she sometimes helped him by fetching cocaine or collecting money from Western Union. After one clash in which he punched her in the face, she took the kids and left him. Two months later, she was indicted. She says that she was prosecuted primarily to induce her to testify against her husband, but that she wasn’t knowledgeable enough to have useful information to trade for a reduced sentence. She has now spent more than 20 years in prison.
Those examples come from a devastating new report, "A Living Death," by the American Civil Liberties Union. It identified more than 3,200 such nonviolent offenders sentenced to die behind bars.
Four out of five are black or Hispanic. Virtually all are poor. Many had dismal legal counsel. Some were convicted of crimes committed when they were juveniles or very young adults.
These people are victims of America’s disastrous experiment in mass incarceration. From the 1930s through the early 1970s, we incarcerated people at a steady rate. Since then, incarceration rates have roughly quintupled. America now imprisons people at more than five times the rates of most Western countries.
Large-scale atrocities like the War on Drugs make more sense when you consider that wielding power over others and controlling their lives to the greatest practical extent are the primary goals of politics and government as most Americans see them, and nice-sounding goals like keeping our children safe, ensuring everyone is treated equally under the law, and protecting our lives, liberty, and property are only secondary, post hoc justifications for the primary goal.
I don't mean quantitatively, with equations and graphs and models, but more philosophically and methodically.
At the mathematics blag The Aperiodical, I found this post about the central difference between math and science:
Up to a point, it might seem reasonable to explore an issue by finding a bunch of examples and extrapolating a general rule that your examples seem to obey. I realise there’s a little more to it than that, but this is basically what science does. This process is called inductive reasoning, because a general theory is ‘induced’ from the ground up.
Mathematics, on the other hand, follows a deductive process. A set of basic ideas are assumed (we call these axioms), and a series of propositions are ‘deduced’ from these via proof. Of course, in reality there are mathematicians on the applied side who are effectively doing science, but at its heart, mathematics is a process of deductive reasoning.
So science induces from evidence, while mathematics deduces from assumed truths. This is why a mathematical truth (a true statement within a constrained system) remains true throughout time, while scientific truth (an idea based on a lot of evidence) can be overturned by new observations.
Ludwig von Mises's philosophy of praxeology is also deductive, as it proceeds from the action axiom and draws conclusions about human nature, action, time preference, and decision-making that must always be true.
Praxeology starts from the undeniable axiom that human beings exist and act, and then logically deduces implications of this fact. These deduced propositions are true a priori; there is no need to test them in the way that a physicist might test a proposed "law" of Nature. So long as a praxeological statement has been derived correctly, it must necessarily contain as much truth as the original axioms.
Mathematics is a subset of logic whose true substance is not directly quantitative or computational, but rather logical and theoretical, which can be applied to make quantitative computations in specific situations. Praxeology is also a subset of logic, and its deductive, a priori nature makes praxeological economics, popularly called Austrian economics (after Mises and his forebear Carl Menger) much more closely related to pure mathematics than Austrian economists and their detractors seem to realize.
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports wrote an excellent article about the emotions and passions that have erupted in response to the "Nightmare in Maryville". One of Wetzel's main points is that we shouldn't let our emotions get carried away and lead us to incorrect conclusions and rash judgments, such as the conclusion that Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice dropped the charges against two boys because of who their families are—specifically, Matthew Barnett, whose grandfather was a longtime politician from Maryville. Reading his article, I felt like he could have been talking about me, as well as thousands of other concerned citizens and amateur blaggers, many of whom tend to take an issue—or one small aspect of an issue—and run with it, drawing conclusions and leveling condemnations according to their pre-established worldviews.
I think I do that a lot less than I used to, because I have made a conscious effort to sound less like an amateur basement-dweller shouting from his blagging chair and more like someone who is worth reading or at least not dismissing outright. The main three ways in which I try to achieve this are backing up all my fact-based claims with sources (links), backing up most of my opinions and conclusions with fact or sound logic (such as economic theory), and making concessions where they are due (instead of glossing over points that might detract from my argument or trying to explain them away somehow). I don't know where my previous post about the Nightmare in Maryville falls on the spectrum between amateur outrage-blagging and thoughtful, journalistic consideration (which, lamentably, often amounts to drawing no conclusions and taking no side at all), but I'm pretty sure it's not too close to either end.
In that vein, I wanted to respond to the aforementioned point of Wetzel's, specifically this passage from his article:
The obvious and first reaction here is one of anger. A young girl taken advantage of, raped, discarded in the frost grass by callous older boys, who because of their athletic ability and family connections are protected by the powers that be in this small backward town.
That may be a true version, although to make that immediate conclusion is to engage in stereotyping. It is to assume that in Maryville no one cares about sexual assault or young girls. It is to conclude that judgments have been blinded by loyalty to a local powerhouse high school football team. It is to presume the possibility of some political muscle – Barnett's grandfather is a former state representative –– trying to make this go away and a prosecutor bending to it.
Those are huge leaps to make here. At least at this point with what is currently known.
He is slightly off base here. It is technically stereotyping to assume that tribalism, blind loyalty, political power, and good-ol'-boy connections, not to mention backwardness and barbarism, are what led to some townspeople's reactions and to prosecutor Robert Rice dropping the charges against rapist Matthew Barnett and iPhone recorder Jordan Zech. But the good thing about stereotypes is that they're usually true. Especially about the government and other powerful, well-connected people. (Also, I don't know how Wetzel could conclude that our condemnation of some townspeople's reactions was off base; why else would they be sticking up for obviously horrible people and blaming the victims? How is it stereotyping if we only condemn the ones who are worthy of condemnation? I haven't read any column or blag post that condemns the entire town of Maryville, only the despicable people.)
Anyway, the assumption that Robert Rice is a corrupt crony who would rather commit the crime of dropping a case for what amounts to personal reasons than, y'know, do his job, is backed by a long, detailed history of such cronyism in the United States and across the world. Sometimes prosecutors, judges, juries, and the law enforcement/judicial system in general do their job right. Take the conviction of Kwame Kilpatrick and the conviction of Steubenville, Ohio, rapists Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond. But only part of the law enforcement/judicial system seems to have done its job right in the Maryville rape cases. This is not some wild, unsubstantiated assumption based on my desire to find fault in every government employee and my instinctual desire to defend the seemingly weak against the seemingly strong. It is based on Maryville Sheriff Darren White's certainty that two rapes, in addition to other crimes, had occurred and that the ample evidence pointed entirely to that conclusion. It is also based on the already-realized conviction of the 15-year-old rapist of the 13-year-old girl. What did he do that was so much worse than Matthew Barnett? (Was it based entirely on age?)
So it is not just anger and passion that lead people to conclude that something is amiss in the Nodaway County judicial system. It is the evidence, as presented by Sheriff White, the two girls, their families, and—oh, by the way—Matthew Barnett and Jordan Zech themselves, who admitted to everything they had done but claimed the rape was consensual.
A key point is that prosecutor Rice dropped all charges against Barnett and Zech, not just the rape charge, which depends on whether the sex was consensual, i.e., whether the girl was coherent and capable of consent at that point. Everything I've read indicates that no other facts of the case are in dispute, even by the rapists and their conspirators. Why would the slam-dunk charges (the iPhone recording and leaving the girl in sub-freezing weather) be dropped? It isn't a problem of evidence, testimony, or any other legal/procedural snag. Therefore, it is not a "huge leap" to conclude cronyism and ethical violations.
Another, minor point of Wetzel's that I dispute is that we Rice-bashers assume that Barnett's grandfather must have contacted Rice and urged him to drop the charges. Both Rice and the former politician deny that, and they might be telling the truth. My point is that a specific urging or communication needn't have taken place regarding this particular case or under any other circumstances, at any time. Rice might just want to protect a politically powerful family and another longstanding, popular Maryville family, because that's the way things are done or that's the way he wants to do them in this case. He might just be operating the only way he knows how: to protect the powerful and well connected at the expense of the weak and not well connected. That was half the point of my first post about this case.
Finally, regarding Wetzel's overall point that we shouldn't rush to judgment or jump to conclusions: It is rarely wrong to take a default stance against the government. It is rarely unwise to make a default assumption of corruption, cronyism, or incompetence in government employees and government offices. As I wrote recently about the NSA, it has repeatedly, invariably proven incorrect and unwise to assume the NSA always follows the law, doesn't violate people's privacy, doesn't violate the Constitution, does nothing harmful or unjust with its data, only collects a limited amount or a limited type of data, only focuses its vast efforts on legitimate counterterrorism, and is honest and forthright with Congress and the American people. Many civil libertarians and other fans of Greenwald and Gellman assumed the worst about the NSA early on in their Snowden leak publication process, before a lot of facts were made known. It turns out we were right to assume the NSA was far worse than we knew. Taking this type of default position about the Steubenville case would have been wrong, but the Maryville case is different and I think we're right. If we ever learn the whole truth, I think our assumptions will be vindicated.
So it is not a "huge leap" to assume the prosecutor dropped the charges because of cronyism. In this case, given the evidence published by the Kansas City Star, the quotes from Sheriff White, the dropping of all charges and not just the rape charge, and the testimony of the girls, their mothers, and the boys themselves (not to mention the conviction of the 15-year-old rapist!), it is a huge leap to take Robert Rice at his word and assume he was acting ethically and within the law. Giving that benefit of the doubt to Robert Rice or any other person in power is the wrong default position to take. You might retort that no one should have any "default" position but rather should consider each situation separately based on the facts. That's wise too, but note that being skeptical of all sides and making no assumptions is also a default position, or at least a default strategy. My point is that when the State or any other person(s) in a position of power is involved, the best default position is to assume they have somehow wronged the weaker and less connected party. In addition to being correct the vast majority of the time, this default assumption reinforces a distrust of government power and often leads to the discovery of more and deeper problems than the initial facts indicated, both of which are good and necessary to a healthy, free society.
Oh, but in a libertarian society, the privileged, powerful, and connected would trample the rights of innocents without consequenceOctober 15, 2013 – 4:02 pm by John
If you haven't heard about the "Nightmare in Maryville, Missouri", you might want to make sure you read about it on an empty stomach, because it will probably make you physically sick. In brief, a 14-year-old girl and a 13-year-old girl were raped by popular older boys, one of whom, Matthew Barnett, is the son of a popular politician from the town and the other also from a well-liked, longstanding family in that town. The 14-year-old was drunk, which was partially the fault of the boys, and after being raped was left on her front lawn in sub-freezing weather (January). The Mayrville sheriff's department said they collected ample evidence, all of it pointing towards rape and endangerment of minors, and that it seemed like an open-and-shut case. But since the families of the accused, or at least one of them, are powerful and well connected, the prosecutor naturally dropped all charges against the boys*, even the charges stemming from the recording of sex acts on an iPhone and leaving the girl in sub-freezing weather, neither of which anyone disputes. Also naturally, half of the town taunted, bullied, harassed, ostracized, and blamed the victims, which I am constitutionally incapable of understanding.
[*Correction: I hear from this Dan Wetzel article that the boy who raped the 13-year-old girl—the boy who isn't the son of a politician—actually has been charged, convicted, and punished by the juvenile judicial system. I guess his family isn't powerful and connected enough. A third boy, Jordan Zech, the 17-year-old who recorded the rape on an iPhone and who participated in dropping the 14-year-old off on the lawn, was the second boy whose charges were dropped.]
One thing that can't be denied about this horrible case is that a lot of the town's disgusting reaction stems from the fact that Maryville is a small-ish, rural, close-knit community consisting mostly of families that have lived in the same town and known all the other families for generations, which (according to the Kansas City Star article) has resulted in a very tribal, outsider-distrusting, protect-their-own mentality, which I'm not sure can be diminished by any political change. (The family of the 14-year-old had recently moved to Maryville from 40 miles away.) But that mentality wouldn't explain a lot of other victim-blaming that occurs in cases that you hear about all the time around the internet. I have no explanation for that phenomenon in general. People suck, I guess?
But another thing that also can't be denied is that the very trait that Statists claim as the greatest advantage of monopolistic government is exactly what allows crimes like these to go unpunished: the girls and their families have no other recourse for justice. Their one and only option, the county court system, has decided to protect its good ol' boy network instead of fulfilling its moral and legal obligations, so now there is nothing else they can do within the law.
This clearly makes the prosecuting attorney compliant in those boys' crimes and therefore a criminal deserving of prosecution himself. This is an important point: Whatever advantage might be gained by granting the State a monopoly on criminal justice, the result is that there is no other authority to which citizens can turn when the State wrongs them. The State can't possibly be expected to treat accusations and cases against itself impartially, and we see in this instance that it can't or won't consider these families' concerns about the prosecutor at all. There is no possibility of a case being brought against the prosecutor or his office or the county—not realistically. The families of those girls can't sue the prosecuting attorney or the county or the district attorney's office or the state of Missouri for the crimes of the county, or at least that one attorney. There is a 0% chance that the prosecutor will be subject to any discipline, or even an investigation, or even a meeting, or even an email or phone call, for his cover-up of these privileged, connected boys' crimes. He belongs in prison, right next to those sociopathic scumbags, in the general population of the state penitentiary. Instead, they will likely go the rest of their lives without suffering very seriously for any of their other crimes, of which there are sure to be many.
These are direct, predictable, and all-too-common consequences of monopolistic government: the powerful and well connected trample the rights of the weak because the weak have no recourse other than the very State that is the source of the power and connections of their aggressors.
I can identify at least one other lesson about the powerful and privileged that is reinforced by this story: People in power are so used to serving that power, are so used to being completely brazen about their daily business of keeping wealth and power in the hands of the powerful few and out of the hands of the weak, dispersed masses, that they don't even see anything wrong with it, and even if they did, they wouldn't know how to conduct their business differently anyway. This complete obliviousness (or shamelessness) led the prosecutor to say, with a straight face, such things as, “There wasn’t any prosecuting attorney that could take that case to trial. It had to be dismissed.” And to call it a case of “incorrigible teenagers” drinking alcohol and having sex. And to say, “They were doing what they wanted to do, and there weren’t any consequences. And it’s reprehensible. But is it criminal? No.”
We see this obliviousness (or shamelessness) all the time in the financial sector, from the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department to Wall Street banks: Despite all the fraud and other crimes committed by billionaire CEOs, mortgage lenders, and investment banks, and despite all the wealth they have destroyed or transferred from average Americans to themselves, and despite all the outrage directed at them from average Americans, and despite politicians' claims that they'll clean up Wall Street and punish white-collar criminals, little has changed and they're richer than ever. The same is true of the National Security Agency and all of its crimes and lies: they continue to spout "9/11!" and change nothing. The same is true of the revolving door between government and lobbying and "consulting" jobs. The same is true of the War on Drugs and its murder of innocents, including pets.
The power elite in every society and in every era focus their daily lives on empowering and enriching the already powerful and rich, and they are so used to doing so that they can't even change tactics in rare, high-profile, particularly egregious situations when every sensible person sees right through them.
In response to the Senate Judiciary Committee's bill that purports to define what a journalist is, journalist Charles P. Pierce responds with the appropriate amount of fury:
Hey, Dianne, here's the thing on that First Amendment business. I get to define what you do for a living. And if I decide to define what you do for a living is to be a mewling apologist for the national-security community and a lapdog for the surveillance state, I get to do that, and I get to do it in a newspaper, or video, or on-line, or on a pamphlet stapled to a telephone pole outside your door, if I so choose. You get to sit there, collect your government salary, raise money from plutocrats, and shut...the...hell...up.
Which part of "Congress shall make no law..." do you not understand?
...if we accepted a shield law, then we also would have to accept government's right to define who it would be that the shield law covered, which meant we had to accept the government's right essentially to define what a journalist was....
In response to this passage of the L.A. Times story linked above...
The final hurdle for the Judiciary Committee was defining who is a journalist in the digital era.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) insisted on limiting the legal protection to "real reporters" and not, she said, a 17-year-old with his own website.
"I can't support it if everyone who has a blog has a special privilege … or if Edward Snowden were to sit down and write this stuff, he would have a privilege. I'm not going to go there," she said.
Feinstein introduced an amendment that defines a "covered journalist" as someone who gathers and reports news for "an entity or service that disseminates news and information." The definition includes freelancers, part-timers and student journalists, and it permits a judge to go further and extend the protections to any "legitimate news-gathering activities."
But the bill also makes it clear that the legal protection is not absolute. Federal officials still may "compel disclosure" from a journalist who has information that could stop or prevent crimes such as murder, kidnapping or child abduction or prevent "acts of terrorism" or significant harm to national security.
And out comes the kitty, screeching from the burlap. This isn't a law to protect journalists. If it were, that list of loopholes at the end wouldn't be quite so lengthy -- or quite so vague. (You can drive a team of ploughhorses through "information that could stop or prevent crimes such as...") This is a law to protect secrets. This is a law that redefines the exercise of a constitutional right as a privilege "protected" by the government. This is a law that allows the government to define what "the press" is under the First Amendment, and, my god, if that's not the primary consitutional heresy in that regard, I don't know what is. And I don't care that a judge can "extend" that privilege. That's not a judge's job, either.
... But there is nothing about the technology -- or about the effects that technology has had on the profession -- that requires us to abandon the fundamental requirement that journalism always -- and let us speak slowly, lest the gobshites misundertand us, a-l-w-a-y-s, is a profession outside of, and adversarial to, government, politics, and, yes, indeed, even the doings of the all-to-human, error-prone heroes of our intelligence apparatus. Nothing about the internet changes that.
It has been argued -- and, occasionally, by me -- that the worst thing that ever happened to journalism was that it became the professionalized province of the educated. ... There are far too many people right now in Washington who are far too comfortable in being a de facto part of the country's power structure. Their profession is not mine. Let me be quite clear. If you accept the Congress's right to define what a journalist is, you are a miserable traitor to the profession you presume to practice. You have, quite simply, become something less worthy than an informer, something lower than a jailhouse snitch.
Isn't it just typical that politicians would dress up a bill that takes away citizens' rights—and, make no mistake, was designed to take away rights—as a bill that "protects" people and their rights? Look at the headline of that L.A. Times article: "Bill to protect journalists clears Senate panel". Look at some of the sentences from the article:
Journalists and bloggers who report news to the public will be protected from being forced to testify about their work under a media shield bill passed by a Senate committee Thursday.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press says the bill, if enacted into law, "goes a long way toward ensuring that reporters will be protected from subpoenas for their confidential information and sources.
President Obama told the Justice Department to develop new guidelines to protect journalists, and he pledged strong support for the media shield bill that was pending in the Senate.
Schumer, however, noted that putting the guidelines into law would prevent the Obama administration and future administrations from overstepping their authority.
Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein are disgraceful, power-hungry creeps who disdain the rights of individuals and the Constitutional limits placed on governments. That's all there is to it. They crave power and control of all kinds. They are repulsed, possibly physically sickened, at the idea of individual citizens living freely, making their own decisions freely, engaging in voluntary associations and transactions freely, publishing their own thoughts freely, without the explicit permission of the State. I am completely convinced that if they had their way (they and many others in government), no human being would be able to do a single thing—take a single action outside of sitting and breathing—that didn't have prior governmental approval and regulation. Well, obviously, no one outside of them and the rest of our wise and gracious overlords.
Finally, note also this telling sentence from the L.A. Times article:
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill on a 13-5 vote and sent it to the Senate floor. Its sponsors are optimistic it will win passage there, but its fate remains in doubt in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Everyone who is even a slightly civil-libertarian liberal/progressive/Democrat supporter should let that statement sink in: The majority-Democrat Senate and its majority-Democrat Judiciary Committee favor this unconstitutional, civil liberties–ravaging bill, and the Republican-controlled House is likely to defeat it. This is yet another entry in the long, sad chronicle of Democrats don't give a big fat flying fuck about civil liberties, individual rights, or the common man. They disdain the common man and his rights, and always have.
Via Facebook I hear about this letter that the U.S. clothing store Forever 21 sent to many of its employees, telling them they will be cut from full-time to part-time to avoid incurring the costs of medical and dental insurance mandated by the looming Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.
One or two of my Facebook friends shared this photo, from the Facebook page of some outfit called "U.S. Uncut". I don't know anything about U.S. Uncut and don't care to, but some of the comments to their original posting of this letter are beyond stupid, beyond moronic, and into brain-dead-lump-of-carbon territory: The commenters say they're going to boycott Forever 21 for caring so little about its workers, mistreating them all to pad their bottom line, while not even mentioning or probably even thinking about why Forever 21's executives considered this move beneficial.
They're going to boycott a clothing store for making an employment decision that was basically forced on them by federal legislation. Legislation that these very commenters almost certainly supported and continue to support. Commenters who probably voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 (or would have if they were old enough) and who will vote straight Democratic in 2016. Who voted and/or will continue to vote for the very politicians who imposed this bloated, corporatist, cronyist monstrosity of a healthcare bill on an entire nation.
Their hypocrisy and their obliviousness to that hypocrisy are staggering. Their stupidity and complete lack of awareness of anything outside their little sphere of adolescent life are mind-numbing.
The people who have excused, defended, rationalized, and given the benefit of the doubt to the U.S. government and the NSA since Glenn Greenwald began publishing Edward Snowden's leaks are looking more and more pathetic with every new revelation. If nothing else, this shows that you can rarely go wrong assuming the worst of the State.
When Greenwald first published the court order requiring Verizon to give phone records to the government, the NSA apologists said, "I'm sure there is a good reason, and this isn't permanent, and it was approved by a court, so it isn't unconstitutional."
When the Guardian revealed PRISM, the program that gives NSA access to tech companies' user data, all the NSA apologists could focus on was Greenwald's supposedly inaccurate phrase "direct access" and his supposed agenda in trumping up the accusations to foment outrage at the government.
When the Guardian published the details of NSA's program known as Boundless Informant, the NSA apologists cried, "Oh, it only collects metadata, so no one's privacy or Constitutional rights have really been violated. It's all approved by the FISA Court anyway, so it's not illegal."
When the "only metadata" defense was proven blatantly wrong, the NSA apologists said, "They only record the phone calls believed to have some connection to terrorism, and they don't even listen to all of them anyway. If you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear."
When the Guardian detailed NSA's warrantless collection of Americans' communication records, the NSA apologists said, "It doesn't need a warrant because it only inadvertently collects the data, and it is only targeting communications with non-U.S. people anyway, and it won't act on any of it unless there is a legitimate connection to terrorism."
When the FISA Court allowed the declassification of a 2011 ruling that found some of NSA's surveillance activities unconstitutional, the NSA apologists said, "See? The system works! They stopped their unconstitutional activities! And I'm sure they will never do anything unconstitutional again! And no, of course the perpetrators shouldn't be held accountable for their crimes. They're protecting us from Terrorism! With a capital T and that rhymes with 'me' and I'm a Statolatrist boob who is constitutionally incapable of thinking for myself or distrusting a government official!"
When civil libertarians around the country accuse Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA Director Keith Alexander, and President Obama of lying directly to Congress and the American people about what NSA does and what it is capable of doing, the NSA apologists cry, "What lies, specifically? Who has lied, what did they lie about, and who did they lie to? What specific statement is materially, factually incorrect or misleading?" They make these bewildering comments despite the abundance of evidence of lie after lie after lie after lie after lie after lie after lie.
When the Guardian publishes further damning evidence of NSA's unconstitutional transgressions in the form of XKeyscore, the NSA apologists say, "Whose rights, specifically, have been violated? What harm has come to anyone because of this?"
Well, besides our right to privacy, which has been violated regardless of how our private information was used by NSA, and besides Edward Snowden, who was unjustly driven from his home, charged under the ludicrous Espionage Act, and harassed while seeking asylum from the predatory U.S. government, it seems that Ladar Levison had to shut down his email service Lavabit to avoid giving its users' private information to the NSA or Department of Justice [sic]. In case it still isn't clear to the dolts who continue to make excuses and rationalizations for the NSA and the Obama administration, I will explain basic human rights to you: Ladar Levison and any other individual and any other company has the right to keep their information, their files, their computers, and their data out of the government's hands because there is no reason to suspect them of any wrongdoing and no reason to suspect that information will reveal anything about a crime committed by one of its users or anyone else. Snowden has done nothing wrong and committed no aggression against any person or group (except, I guess, the U.S. government, which we should all realize by now is a good thing, to be celebrated). The government is the aggressor in this situation and Levison the victim, and he is perfectly within his rights to act in self-defense to protect his private property and the private property of Lavabit's users. He would also be perfectly within his rights to continue running the service and to defend himself, his home, and his business with lethal force when the government came knocking, but he would almost surely lose that fight, along with his freedom and possibly his life. These absolute rights are shared by all of Lavabit's users, which is why Levison was right to stand up for them by refusing the government's demands and shutting down the service.
When Charlie Savage revealed that NSA is searching the contents of nearly all Americans' emails and text messages that cross U.S. borders, the comments defending the practice are so stupid they practically drool. "If that's the cost of saving several thousands of lives, I think it's a pretty small price to pay." "This is a common accepted corporate/business practice...why are we worried about the government doing this to protect us from terrorists?" "Of the billions of emails sent every day, less than .01 percent will ever be reviewed by human eyes. If you are a law-abiding citizen, those eyes are not wasting their time on you."
One of the many problems with such "reasoning" is that governments are by their nature in conflict with their subjects and inevitably seek to grow more powerful and more controlling. The U.S. government has grown more powerful by the year since its inception, especially since about the 1930's. One way they do this is by outlawing more and more things so that it is impossible to live a truly "innocent" life in the eyes of the law. Some lawyers and civil libertarians say that state or federal prosecutors could find reason to prosecute every single American adult for breaking some law, and innocent Americans are pushed into confessing to crimes they didn't commit every day.
Now we know via Reuters that the targets of DEA and IRS criminal investigations may have had their due-process rights violated because the government officials conducting the investigations and the federal prosecutors trying the cases lied about the sources of their information on the accused. They lied about the specific nature of their evidence and the specific sources of their evidence, prompting many defense lawyers to challenge the practice and request access to DEA's hidden evidence. To NSA's credit, it denies most requests from other agencies for its own surveillance data, but it's not a big leap for NSA to start sharing its data to help prosecute Americans for victimless crimes. It is short-sighted to start opposing violations of privacy and due process only after they have resulted in wrongful convictions. How many NSA apologists would have defended this DEA practice and its "Special Operations Division" before they heard about it obstructing the due-process rights of criminal defendants? For god's sake, how many defend it now? Can they even concoct a scenario in which they wouldn't support everything their government did as long as the president's name is followed by the correct letter and he says the words "terrorism" and "9/11" often enough?
There has been no instance in this NSA/Snowden controversy in which it has been wrong to take a default stance against the government. It has never proven rash or overreactive to assume that NSA's activities were at least as bad as each new revelation indicated, if not worse. It has never once proven unwise or inaccurate to believe Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden and to assume every word out of every Obama administration official is a lie (keeping in mind that lies of omission, for example keeping secrets about surveillance of American citizens, are still lies).
Those of us who assumed the worst, who believed Snowden and Greenwald when they said the worst was yet to be revealed, have been vindicated time and again. Skepticism of the State and its claims and its intentions has proven the wiser course, as it so often does. Those who gave the benefit of the doubt to the U.S. government and its NSA, who chose to focus their skepticism on Greenwald and Snowden, should be unable to say any more for all the crow they're eating. They should be embarrassed. They are an embarrassment. They're an embarrassment to freedom and individualism, to the civil disobedience and mistrust of power that characterize any healthy society. People like the NSA apologists and the Obama cheerleaders are the main threat to peace and freedom in the world today, far more so than any president or dictator. They are the ones who give tyrants their power. They are the masses who give the illusion of consent to all the violations of our rights that governments perpetrate. I don't see too many of them apologizing or admitting they were wrong on Twitter, Facebook, or the comments sections to the increasingly frightening articles that provide each new revelation. I want to see them publish blag posts, Twitter updates, and opinion columns admitting they were wrong—admitting they should have trusted Glenn Greenwald and not James Clapper or Barack Obama. I want to see them admit their shame at having supported Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner and all the other elected criminals who defeated the Amash amendment. I want to see at least some of them come into the light of civil libertarianism and start calling for actual reductions of State power, not mere Congressional acts to contain it or limit it to less unconstitutional means.
That is a question I've encountered more often than I expected in the social-mediasphere and in the comments to articles written by Glenn Greenwald and others. These skeptics say: Is the National Security Agency's surveillance really excessive or over-reaching if it hasn't actually been used to violate anyone's rights or perform any extralegal activities? Does it collect anything beyond metadata of American citizens without a court order or without suspicion of terrorism-related activities? No matter what it collects, how much it collects, and about whom, is there any proof that NSA or another government agency has used any of this data to violate any rights of any American citizen?
The answer to all of these is Yes, for the following reasons.
1. We have a reasonable expectation of privacy. There is no practical, technical, legal, or other reason we should expect our phone conversations, phone metadata, text messages, private emails, internet browsing history, or any other private activities to be accessible by any employee of any government agency or private company. If anyone wants their private activities to remain private, for any reason, including merely sticking it to the government, then they have that absolute right, period. It is irrelevant whether NSA or any other branch of the federal government or any law enforcement agency has used anyone's phone/internet data to violate any other rights; their right to privacy was violated, against their knowledge and without their permission. This has indisputably happened to millions of American citizens who are not suspected of crimes, who are not guilty of any crimes, who are not connected to any terrorist group, and who are not the subject of any (legitimate) warrant.
For a good summary of the privacy violations committed on a massive scale and on a daily basis by NSA, see this FAQ by ProPublica.
2. As summarized in that FAQ, NSA records several types of activities beyond mere phone metadata: emails, Facebook posts, and instant messages; extensive details of our internet activity; and the complete audio content of an unknown number of phone calls. Regardless of the FISA Court's rubber-stamp approval process, the NSA seems to have collected data and records beyond mere metadata—data and records of people not suspected of any criminal or terrorist activity—which violates our privacy and violates the legal guarantee, specified in the Fourth Amendment, that such invasions are prohibited without a specific, individual warrant (as opposed to a broad warrant that says "we want to collect a ton of information and see if we can find any terrorists").
3. The fact that anyone wants all of this data about hundreds of millions of people is proof that they shouldn't have it. The type of person who wants access to NSA-type data is the type of person who is least fit to have it, because that's the type of person who will use it for oppressive, tyrannical purposes. This assertion is backed up by the record of every powerful government in the history of the world. General Keith Alexander, Director of the NSA, is a perfect example of this type of person. The end-goal of establishing an infrastructure like what the NSA has built and continues to build is to spy on and control every citizen it possibly can—to create a super surveillance state in which everyone is considered a suspect and in which we have no recourse when our privacy is violated and our lives are intruded upon. This is the type of state in which people are considered guilty until proven innocent, in which strident defenders of the police state rationalize all of its depredations, and in which crimes are concocted in order to justify the continuous expansion of government powers and put more people behind bars.
4. We have both a legal and a moral right for the law to apply equally to all people at all times, but powerful government officials are clearly exempt from many laws. For instance, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should be tried, convicted, and imprisoned for lying to Congress. He could also plausibly be prosecuted for obstruction of justice. Not only will that never happen, he hasn't even lost his job or suffered anything approaching a reprimand. In all likelihood, he will retire from government service in a few months or years and get a high-paying private consulting job. Many ordinary Americans are railroaded every year by the justice system for far lesser crimes than perjury, often completely victimless crimes. James Clapper is an admitted perjurer who will never, ever suffer for it in the least bit. This is wrong, and his defenders are wrong to enable the existence of separate standards of justice for the weak vs. the powerful.
5. We have a legal and a moral right for government officials to be completely truthful to us and to keep no secrets. The Obama administration has lied about NSA's spying programs repeatedly (see here and here and here and here and here). The government is supposed to serve the people, and this requires it to be subservient. Any government that keeps secrets from the public is not subservient but rather is accumulating excessive power and doing things it shouldn't be doing. If the government has done nothing wrong, then why does it want to keep secrets from us?
It should be noted that the State is a far, far greater threat to human liberty, safety, and prosperity across the world than all terrorist groups and (private) criminal rings put together. The main reason the U.S. government, military, and citizenry face any threat of terrorist attacks is because our government is so intrusive and aggressive throughout the world, stirring up hatred and resentment and creating more terrorists than it could possibly catch or kill. Therefore, whatever secrets the State's cheerleaders claim it needs to keep, it doesn't. Being powerful, secretive, and above the law are the primary problems with all governments, so a diminution of government that included abolishing all secret surveillance programs would simultaneously eliminate most of the motivation for terrorist attacks and end the intrusive, unconstitutional surveillance of innocent people.
6. Maybe if the Obama administration and NSA would actually divulge all of the information that we have a right to, and stop lying and sidestepping and hedging and evading and re-defining words, we would become aware of more egregious activities than we already are. You could argue that governments have an interest in keeping some secrets for national-security purposes, but any person who claims the United States government has a legitimate national-security interest in more than a small portion of the data that NSA has collected on American citizens has their head in the sand and cannot be reached by facts or logic.
7. To conclude with the question posed in this post's title, yes, there is at least one identifiable American citizen whose rights have been violated by the United States government in connection with NSA's activities: Edward Snowden.
In leaking the documents about NSA programs to Glenn Greenwald, Barton Gellman, and others, Edward Snowden surely committed illegal acts, but he has done nothing wrong. He did nothing that was any more wrong than Bradley Manning did, yet he knows from Manning's example and from Obama's war on whistleblowers that he would never again be a free man if he remained on U.S. soil. The very nature of the powerful, punishing U.S. government has prevented Edward Snowden from remaining in his home country with his family and friends. The Obama administration has pursued and prevented him from settling peacefully into his lifelong exile. If he did come home, his life and liberty would be forever forfeit to the police state that necessitated his fleeing in the first place.
What was wrong and should have been illegal was for the government to implement any of these controversial programs to begin with, and it continues in its wrongdoing by failing to divulge every detail of them, at least as they pertain to American citizens. Edward Snowden has righted some of these wrongs by making them public knowledge, so he should be celebrated as a whistleblowing hero and lauded as a champion of civil liberties and limited, transparent government. He and Bradley Manning should share the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.
It is irrelevant whether Edward Snowden violated any laws in blowing the whistle on NSA. Illegal does not mean immoral, and we should all know that the law often has little to do with right and wrong. He is the one who has been wronged by being driven from his home and pursued for extradition for actions that were not wrong but rather were noble and good.
Amazingly, I'm only two days behind in reading and posting links to these excellently written and insightful columns. My post from earlier today was originally going to be two or three paragraphs of commentary followed by quotes from these two columns, but I got a little carried away. Ken White of Popehat.com and William Saletan of Slate.com said everything better than I could have, obviously.
I particularly liked these passages from White, though obviously the whole thing is worth reading (it's not long):
First, experience has taught me not to trust the news media, and therefore not to form confident opinions about the merits of a case based on what the media chooses to emphasize. The media in the Zimmerman case has been deceitful and sloppy. This is not a surprise. The media is good at advancing its chosen themes and bad at reporting accurately about complex legal proceedings like a criminal trial. The media rushes to judgment when a suspect or defendant "looks guilty," ignores or minimizes police and prosecutorial misconduct in order to preserve its relationships with sources (or does so because it has, despite its reputation for liberal bias, uncritically accepted law enforcement narratives and is content to act like the state's cheerleaders), obsesses over tawdry minutiae to the exclusion of substance, and remains lazy and/or defiantly ignorant and wrong about law. I have prosecuted and defended numerous cases that were covered by the media; I have never seen them get all of the details right, even on relatively straightforward matters.
Second, I've been a criminal defense attorney for 13 years now, and it's changed the way I view trials. They aren't (or at least should not be) a vehicle for society's judgment. That's the view the prosecution often hopes to promote, in order to convince jurors to vote their fears and anxieties about crime, which they are told relentlessly (and falsely) is out of control. No: a trial is an attempt by the state to exercise power over an individual, limited by the requirements of the Constitution and the rules of evidence and criminal procedure. The question at hand is can the government offer admissible evidence proving this person guilty of this crime beyond a reasonable doubt to a panel of jurors. When judges and jurors take their job seriously, it acts as an effective bulwark between the incredible power of the state and the freedom of the individual.
Third, the more I observe American culture, the less enthused I am at the notion that a jury's verdict in a criminal case is wrong if it doesn't reflect the collective beliefs of our society. Too often the collective belief of society is that people accused of something probably did it. Too often the collective belief of society is that a properly functioning justice system is one that produces a conviction. Too often the collective belief of our society is that the state, and law enforcement, are entitled to trust — not trust but verify, but uncritical trust, at least when the government actors wear a badge and carry a gun. Too often the collective belief of our society is that how we feel about a thing is entitled to legal force, even in the face of specific rights and privileges of another citizen.
People assail results like the acquittal of George Zimmerman. But critics don't tell us what the alternative should be. Shall guilt or innocence be determined by society's reaction to the vapid summaries of prosecutions on cable news? Clearly not. Should verdicts necessarily reflect social consensus of the time about the crime and the accused? Tell that to the Scottsboro boys — theirs did. Should we make it easier to convict people of crimes in order to reduce injustice against the weak? How foolish. The weak already suffer because it is too easy to convict — because we love to pass criminal laws, but hate to pay for an adequate defense. Thanks to "law and order" and the War on Drugs and our puerile willingness to be terrified by politicians and the media, one-sixth of African-American men like Trayvon Martin have been in prison, trending towards one-third. The notion that we can improve their status in America by making it easier to convict people and by undermining the concept of a vigorous defense is criminally stupid. The assertion that an acquittal is wrong and unjust might, in some cases, be true, in the sense that some juries will vote their ignorance or racism or indifference. But the assertion that an acquittal is by its nature unjust because of how we feel about the case serves the state — the state that incarcerates 25% of the world's prisoners.
It's tragic that Trayvon Martin was killed, and I believe that George Zimmerman bears moral responsibility for his death. The banners of racism that have unfurled in defense of Zimmerman repulse me. I would be damn worried about my kids if I lived in George Zimmeran's neighborhood. But ultimately I am more afraid of the state — and more afraid of a society that thinks case outcomes should depend upon collective social judgment — than I am of the George Zimmermans of the world. Critics might say that view reflects privilege, in that as an affluent white guy I am far less likely to be shot by someone like Zimmerman. Perhaps. But I am also vastly less likely to be jailed, or be the target of law enforcement abuse tolerated by social consensus. Weakening the rights of the accused — clamoring for the conviction of those we feel should be convicted — is a damnfool way to help the oppressed.
If you care at all about the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case, chances are you've at least come across the link to Saletan's Slate piece if not already read it. There are many good parts:
Trayvon Martin is dead, George Zimmerman has been acquitted, and millions of people are outraged. Some politicians are demanding a second prosecution of Zimmerman, this time for hate crimes. Others are blaming the tragedy on “Stand Your Ground” laws, which they insist must be repealed. Many who saw the case as proof of racism in the criminal justice system see the verdict as further confirmation. Everywhere you look, people feel vindicated in their bitter assumptions. They want action.
But that’s how Martin ended up dead. It’s how Zimmerman ended up with a bulletproof vest he might have to wear for the rest of his life. It’s how activists and the media embarrassed themselves with bogus reports. The problem at the core of this case wasn’t race or guns. The problem was assumption, misperception, and overreaction. And that cycle hasn’t ended with the verdict. It has escalated.
The initial portrait of Zimmerman as a racist wasn’t just exaggerated. It was completely unsubstantiated. It’s a case study in how the same kind of bias that causes racism can cause unwarranted allegations of racism. Some of the people Zimmerman had reported as suspicious were black men, so he was a racist. Members of his family seemed racist, so he was a racist. Everybody knew he was a racist, so his recorded words were misheard as racial slurs, proving again that he was a racist.
...the wounds, blood evidence, and DNA didn’t match Zimmerman’s story of being thoroughly restrained and pummeled throughout the fight. But the evidence didn’t fit the portrait of Martin as a sweet-tempered child, either. And the notion that Zimmerman hunted down Martin to accost him made no sense. Zimmerman knew the police were on the way. They arrived only a minute or so after the gunshot. The fight happened in a public area surrounded by townhouses at close range. It was hardly the place or time to start shooting.
That doesn’t make Zimmerman a hero. It just makes him a reckless fool instead of a murderer. In a post-verdict press conference, his lawyer, Mark O’Mara, claimed that “the evidence supported that George Zimmerman did nothing wrong,” that “the jury decided that he acted properly in self-defense,” and that Zimmerman “was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense. I’m glad that the jury saw it that way.” That’s complete BS. The only thing the jury decided was that there was reasonable doubt as to whether Zimmerman had committed second-degree murder or manslaughter.
Zimmerman is guilty, morally if not legally, of precipitating the confrontation that led to Martin’s death. He did many things wrong. Mistake No. 1 was inferring that Martin was a burglar. In his 911 call, Zimmerman cited Martin’s behavior. “It’s raining, and he’s just walking around” looking at houses, Zimmerman said. He warned the dispatcher, “He’s got his hand in his waistband.” He described Martin’s race and clothing only after the dispatcher asked about them. Whatever its basis, the inference was false.
Mistake No. 2 was pursuing Martin on foot. Zimmerman had already done what the neighborhood watch rules advised: He had called the police. They would have arrived, questioned Martin, and ascertained that he was innocent. Instead, Zimmerman, packing a concealed firearm, got out and started walking after Martin. Zimmerman’s initial story, that he was trying to check the name of the street, was so laughable that his attorneys abandoned it. He was afraid Martin would get away. So he followed Martin, hoping to update the cops.
Mistake No. 3 was Zimmerman’s utter failure to imagine how his behavior looked to Martin. You’re a black kid walking home from a convenience store with Skittles and a fruit drink. Some dude in a car is watching and trailing you. God knows what he wants. You run away. He gets out of the car and follows you. What are you supposed to do? In Zimmerman’s initial interrogation, the police expressed surprise that he hadn’t identified himself to Martin as a neighborhood watch volunteer. They suggested that Martin might have been alarmed when Zimmerman reached for an object that Zimmerman, but not Martin, knew was a phone. Zimmerman seemed baffled. He was so convinced of Martin’s criminal intent that he hadn’t considered how Martin, if he were innocent, would perceive his stalker.
The grievance industrial complex is pushing the Department of Justice to prosecute Zimmerman for bias-motivated killing, based on evidence that didn’t even support a conviction for unpremeditated killing. Zimmerman’s lawyers have teamed up with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, inadvertently, to promote the false message that Zimmerman’s acquittal means our society thinks everything he did was OK.
It wasn’t OK. It was stupid and dangerous. It led to the unnecessary death of an innocent young man. It happened because two people—their minds clouded by stereotypes that went well beyond race—assumed the worst about one another and acted in haste. If you want to prevent the next Trayvon Martin tragedy, learn from their mistakes. Don’t paint the world in black and white. Don’t declare the whole justice system racist, or blame every gun death on guns, or confuse acquittal with vindication. And the next time you see somebody who looks like a punk or a pervert, hold your fire.