In Texas a man was arrested ,under color of law, and faces prosecution simply for expressing disdain for public officials. Scott Ogle could face up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine for sending “annoying” emails to the Hays County Sheriff’s Office. In 2016, Ogle sent a series of angry emails to the Hays County Sheriff’s Office demanding to know why they had failed to respond to his requests for help. In his emails, Ogle called the Sheriff’s Deputies arrogant, condescending and belligerent, told them that they were pissing on the constitution, called one deputy a ‘little bitch’ and another a ‘little state weasle’. Mr. Ogle never threatened violence or imitaditation in his correspondence with the Sheriff’s office, but apparently making derogatory remarks about police is enough to be charged with a crime. Apparently, the state of Texas has their own hate speech law, under section 42.07(a)(7) of the Texas Penal Code, that makes it a crime to send “repeated electronic messages in a manner reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend another”: a law so broad that it could be used to criminalize any expression of disdain for public officials, something the first amendment was intentionally created to protect. Any proscribed restrictions or regulations of the content of speech must be clearly defined and narrowly limited in scope: not vague and subjective like the Texas statute in question. Anyone could find even the slightest criticism to be “annoying”, “offensive”, “alarming”, or “harassing” and thus any electronic communication of criticism could be deemed a criminal offense. States do not have the authority to add new categories of speech outside the scope of the first amendment apart from the historic and traditional categories of unprotected speech (i.e. true threats of harm, defamation, incitement of violence or any speech integral to criminal conduct).
Wednesday, May 15, 2019
One of the unintended consequences of the rush to create renewable energy sources is the displacement of indigenous and traditional societies from their ancestral lands, in large part because renewable energies require more land consumption. A Survival International Report from the previous decade highlights some of the ways in which authorized green energy projects have escalated human rights abuses and led to the erosion of land rights. For example, much of the land used to produce bio-fuels has been seized from indigenous societies in South America and South East Asia. The expansion of bio-fuel production is estimated to displace some 60 million indigenous people around the world, especially tribes in the Amazon such as the Guarani of Brazil who have already lost land to sugarcane plantations that are used in the production of ethanol. Hydroelectric dam construction has had a similar impact on indigenous tribes by flooding their ancestral lands and cutting them off from vital resources. Efforts to curtail deforestation and carbon emissions through carbon credit schemes, in which developed countries supposedly encourage developing countries to protect their forests by buying credits that represent carbon storage to offset their own carbon emissions, have also curtailed the land rights of indigenous tribes. These carbon credit schemes, known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest degradation (REDDs), have incentivized developing countries to restrict the hunting and foraging activities that indigenous tribes depend on for sustenance and have often led to the complete eviction of indigenous tribes from their ancestral lands.
As I noted in a previous post, much of the concern about carbon emissions and environmental degradation could be alleviated by simply recognizing and protecting land rights. Research conducted by the World Bank unsurprisingly found that allowing local communities to exercise stewardship over their own land is associated with significantly lower rates of deforestation than giving government agents exclusive control. Extractive industries (i.e. oil, gas, mining, & logging) depend on access to other people’s land just as much as renewable energies. Allowing them to use this land without the prior and informed consent of landowners and community stakeholders is kind of a defacto subsidy. Not allowing them to railroad their way onto other people’s land would undoubtedly cut down on their production.
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the StateSources: TechCrunch, Law Enforcement Increasingly Using Google Search Warrants, United States v. Wilson
-6th Plank of the Communist Manifesto
All means of communication are controlled by the federal government. So called ‘private’ telecommunications and tech companies such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and Google don’t just offer us a means of communicating and storing data; they are also tools of mass surveillance. These companies are little more than extensions of the executive branch who save police the cost and trouble building their own surveillance network.
In 2018, the NSA conducted some 9,637 targeted warrantless searches of the contents of our phone calls, texts, and emails, which was a 28% increase from the previous year. However, this is a conservative estimate that doesn’t account for search queries made by domestic law enforcement who also have access to the Bulk data collection. These warrantless searches, authorized under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, allow the NSA to collect data on both foreign nationals and American citizens from telecommunications and tech companies in secret, which then allows Law Enforcement to obtain fruit of the poisonous tree (i.e. evidence obtained without probable cause), under Executive Order 12333, and prosecute people using parallel construction
It was recently revealed, what we sort of already knew, that Google is also used as a means for dragnet surveillance. One man learned this the hard way. Jorge Molina was arrested for a murder he did not commit and spent a week in jail until he was able to prove his innocence. The only evidence linking him to the crime was his google data. Unlike traditional search warrants that specify person and place, police are now using google warrants to obtain the location data of all phones that have been near a crime, in other words, anyone who has ever walked or drove past a crime scene is now a suspect. Unfortunately for Jorg, the perpetrator, his mother’s ex-boyfriend, used his Honda Civic in the commission of the crime and he had just happened to be in the vicinity of the crime scene beforehand. Location tracking isn’t the only thing that Google does for police. An amicus brief filed in the case of United States v. Wilson reveals that Google also maintains an image matching algorithm that supposedly detects any child pornography uploaded through Gmail. While this might seem like a noble cause, there is no publicly available information on how this algorithm is able to detect child pornography by matching the hash value of images. There is also a much greater potential for abuse than simply falsely identifying images as child pornography. An image matching algorithm could also be used to keep tabs on members of subversive political movements, something Federal Law Enforcement agencies like the FBI have historically done to suppress political dissent.
None of this should be surprising. These same events precipitated during the height of the cold war (e.g. Project SHAMROCK, Project Minaret, COINTELPRO etc) and since the war on terror is in sense the new cold war, mass surveillance has become fashionable again.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted
- 8th Amendment to The Constitution
Sixty-nine year old Florida resident Jim Ficken may lose his house simply for failing to mow his lawn. The city of Dunedin, Florida has burdened him with $30,000 in fines because he let his grass grow over 10 inches for two consecutive months last year. Jim was unable to mow his lawn due to extenuating circumstances outside of his control. Last summer, he left town to arrange his mother's estate and paid a friend to mow his lawn while he was gone. However, his friend died, without his knowledge, and the grass continued to grow unabated. City Bureaucrats began assessing fines of $500 per day for each day that the grass remained over 10 inches tall. By the time Jim came home, the city had assessed $30,000 in fines. Jim mowed his lawn to remedy the code violation and tried to negotiate a smaller penalty, but the city refused to budge. Since Jim is retired and lives on a fixed income, he cannot afford to pay the absurd penalty, so the city has decided to foreclose on his home, potentially rendering him homeless. Imagine being such a draconian psychopath that you would you force someone to live on the streets just because they failed to cut their grass for reasons outside of their control.
This case needs no further explanation; it is obviously absurd to evict a homeowner from their own house for failing to maintain a certain aesthetic, but running extortion rackets is what governments do best. Apparently, this particular city has been able to run one of the most successful
code enforcement rackets in the country as they've been able to increase revenue from code violation fines 20x over the past decade from a measly $34,000 in 2007 to an impressive $1.3 million in 2018, which is probably the majority of their revenue. Despite the absurdity of the penalty, Jim does not have a guaranteed victory here. The Supreme Court has struck down similar schemes as unconstitutional, but they have never set a clear standard for excessive fines and fees. They have only recommended that it should not exceed a person's ability to pay, which most municipal governments routinely ignore by seizing property and often jailing residents who cannot afford to pay the fines levied against them. The Supreme court also has a poor track record defending property rights; they allow law enforcement agencies to take people's property without securing a criminal conviction and allow eminent domain takings of property for economic development purposes. Allowing this injustice to occur is not outside the range of possibility.
Thursday, May 2, 2019
One of the most misleading leftist talking points on illegal immigration is that illegal aliens don’t receive welfare benefits because they are ineligible. This is only half true; while they are ineligible for programs like Medicaid and CHIP, it doesn’t stop them from breaking the law to receive benefits. About a week ago ICE, in conjunction with a Boston Police task force, arrested twelve Dominican nationals for document and benefit fraud. The suspects used the identities of U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico, including their SSNs, to commit crimes and receive government benefits in the names of the victims of their identity theft. Ten of the suspects were illegal aliens, one was a legal permanent resident and one still had a pending application. Six of them had previous criminal records in the names of the victims of their identity theft.
This case is part of our ongoing effort to target federal crime in the Lawrence area,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling, “and we will keep up the pressure for as long as necessary. The 12 men and women charged allegedly stole and used the identities of U.S. citizens to live illegally in the United States, receive government benefits in the names of their victims, and even commit crimes in the names of those victims. This is a rampant problem, and my office is committed to helping those whose identities have been compromised to regain control over their lives.
As you might already suspect, this isn’t an isolated incident. Last year, the same LEOs arrested twenty-five illegal aliens, on similar charges, who had defrauded the federal government out of $250,000 in benefits including $200,000 for healthcare; this is just the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that taxpayers subsidize the healthcare of illegal aliens to the tune of $18.5 billion annually including $11.2 billion for federal programs such as the ACA and Medicaid. Of course, not all of this cost is borne through identity theft. Most of it comes from uncompensated care costs in hospitals and states like California that provide healthcare coverage to illegal aliens through state only programs.
What happened to Roderick Talley was not an isolated incident. The Little Rock narcotics unit served approximately 1,600 warrants over the past decade. Nearly all of them were no knock warrants. The Little Rock narcotics unit requested no knock warrants in all but 80 cases, and it appears they had a slight racial bias; 67% of the suspects targeted were black men. For comparison, black males only make up about 20% of the population of Little Rock. In Roderick Talley’s case, the no knock warrant was based on false information from a police informant. Talley did not have any cocaine on him, as alleged by police, but they still tried to drag him through the court system and it is very likely that others suffered a similar fate. Even though the Supreme Court requires individualized language in search warrants and probable cause affidavits, nearly every affidavit and warrant contained language justifying their exemption to the knock and announce common law standard, recognized in Wilson v. Arkansas, that had been copied from previous affidavits and warrants. None of the affidavits mentioned the individual suspect’s ability to destroy evidence or history of violence and only 23 of them even mentioned the suspect’s access to firearms. To add injury to insult, less than five percent of the suspects targeted in these no knock raids ended up in jail. The majority of no knock raids resulted in probation time for the suspects and many more resulted in no charges at all. Innocent people targeted in no knock raids do not go unscathed. Talley was relatively lucky to only suffer minor bruises from having his apartment door blown on top of him, many others were not as lucky. Babies have been maimed by SWAT teams indiscriminately using explosives. Innocent men, fathers who were only guilty of trying to protect their family from people they thought were burglars, have been killed by police in no knock raids. Like all wars, the drug war has produced a lot of collateral damage, mainly our constitutional rights and the innocent men, women and children that it was supposedly intended to protect from drug dealers.