Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Formula for a Police State

On the night of March 15 in an Oceanside, California, parking lot, after a dispute over one car cutting off another, Frank White, an off-duty San Diego police officer, shot five bullets into Rachel Silva's car, hitting her in the arm twice, shattering a bone, and striking her eight-year-old son in the leg. She was unarmed. She has trouble moving her arm and might have permanent nerve damage. Oceanside Police Captain Tom Aguigui promises that the department is pursuing "a very fair and complete investigation" to determine "why this whole thing happened," but many details are being concealed from the public.

What does seem apparent, however, is something of a double standard. First, after Silva was hospitalized, the authorities decided to drug test her. Officer White, the one who did the shooting, was not tested. San Diego Homicide Lieutenant Kevin Rooney explained that police, whether on- or off-duty, are not drug tested after involvement in a shooting, barring some sign of intoxication. It is yet unclear what Silva's alleged signs of intoxication were or why shooting someone after a traffic dispute isn't probable cause for testing the way that, say, reckless driving is.

Nor was Officer White arrested. The Oceanside police did question him-while he was accompanied by a supervisor from his department, an attorney, and a police "peer support" representative. He is currently on paid leave.

Silva and her attorney have filed a claim for damages, in which she says she and White were yelling at each other when White pulled up on the right side of her car and began shooting as she tried to drive away. This account might help explain the bullet holes in Silva's windshield and passenger side window, as well as why White's driver's side window was broken.

Silva has two DUIs on her record and was driving on a suspended license, leading some to question her credibility, and yet it is hard to imagine things going the same way if White were not a police officer. If police arriving at the scene found an unarmed woman blacking out from massive blood loss, her young son bleeding, her car shot up, and an angry motorist having clearly done the shooting, would they have decided to drug test the shot woman and not the shooter? Considering the injured child, would they have let the shooter go so easily and kept such strict control over the investigation? Would they have characterized their probe as an attempt to discover why he did it-not just to find motive for what appears to be an open-shut case of criminal road rage, but seemingly to find an exculpatory explanation?

What if the tables were turned: if White had been an ordinary citizen and Silva a police officer-even an armed one? Does anyone truly believe the investigation would be undertaken in an identical manner?

Indeed, the very fact that this investigation is being approached secretively and as a special case shows there is something fundamentally flawed about the way police are viewed in our culture and by the police department itself. It should make no difference who did the shooting and who was shot. All that should matter are the facts of the case and whether the shooting was an act of aggression or self-defense. In a free, just society, police are not held to a different standard-unless, perhaps, a higher standard; after all, they are the ones paid by taxpayers to uphold the law.

Having a double standard that favors police is the formula for a police state. Whether in investigations, arrests, trials, or punishment, police should never get away with anything for which a member of the public would face severe consequences.

A police state is at our doorstep when the public fears the government and law enforcers enjoy impunity for negligent or malicious behavior. Freedom and justice are empty promises without equality under the law, including for the lawmen.

Frank White should be regarded innocent until proven guilty. But does anyone think he'd be treated the same way if he were not an officer of the law? Or that if found guilty he'll get the same punishment that Silva would have if she had shot him and his son? To ask the question is to answer it, which is a sad testament to the current state of the rule of law.

[I will be keeping up on this a bit. Not much in the last week has come out to add much clarity to the situation, though apparently Silva has a new attorney and there is some evidence she was in retreat when White shot her.
Also, a new claim on the boy's behalf accuses White of pointing the gun directly at him.]

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(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lifting drug prohibition wouldn't make us all drug addicts

Lifting alcohol prohibition did not make us all alcoholics

The ideal drug policy would apply to the currently illegal intoxicants the same distinctions we routinely apply to alcohol: between children and adults, between use and abuse, between abuse that harms only the user and abuse that harms others.

Selling drugs to minors should remain illegal. But adults should be free to decide for themselves what goes into their bodies, provided they do not violate anyone else's rights in the process.

Under such a policy, some people would use currently illegal drugs to excess, just as some people use alcohol to excess. But judging from history, current patterns of alcohol consumption and data on illegal drug use, the vast majority would not.

Until 1914, opiates, cocaine and cannabis were readily and legally available in the United States over the counter and by mail order. They were incorporated into a wide variety of medicines, tonics and popular beverages. Yet even the highest estimates of addiction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, offered by people making the case for prohibition, indicate that heavy users represented less than 1% of the population.

In the case of alcohol, moderation is the rule. About 10% of those who have consumed at least one drink in the last year qualify as "heavy users," meaning they've had five or more drinks on the same occasion on each of five or more days in the last month. The government's own survey data indicate that what's true of alcohol is also true of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and even heroin: The vast majority of people who try these drugs do not become addicts. In a legal market, the rate of addiction among users would be, if anything, lower, because the people who are most prone to addiction are probably the ones who are least deterred by prohibition. And before you imagine Americans flocking to crack and heroin the moment prohibition is repealed, consider the fact that these are distinctly minority tastes even among illegal drug users, who overwhelmingly prefer marijuana.

Cully, in your first post you accused me of sidestepping "the issue of morality," so let me be explicit. Psychoactive substances are not inherently good or evil; the morality of drug use depends on how the drug is used, for what purpose and in what context. Unwinding at the end of the day or on the weekend by smoking a little marijuana, for example, is morally indistinguishable from doing the same thing with beer, wine or liquor.

Your parade of horror stories, featuring a president high on heroin during a national crisis, meth-addicted child abusers and stoned school bus drivers, obscures the crucial distinction between use and abuse. We could just as easily have a president who is drunk during a national crisis, an alcoholic who beats his kids or an inebriated bus driver. There are ways to deal with such situations that do not require general prohibition. If a drunk wrecks his personal relationships, he pays a social cost; if he screws up at work, he may lose his job; if he assaults someone or endangers others by driving while intoxicated, he can be arrested. But unless his conduct rises to the level of a crime or tort, the law leaves him alone.

The anecdote about your friend "Bob," the lawyer whose alcohol abuse jeopardized his career, family and health but who "got professional help" and is now "a world-class advocate, father and husband," supports my argument. Would Bob have been better off if he had been arrested for alcohol possession and treated like a criminal?

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In What Sense is Polygamy Currently Illegal?

News stories on the FLDS case refer to them as polygamists but the legal arguments in the case seem to be based on the age of the wives, not their number. This raises an interesting question: In what sense is polygamy itself currently illegal?

The answer, I think, is that in most of the U.S, indeed most of the developed world, it isn't, even where there are laws that say it is. For the most part, restrictions on consensual non-marital sexual relationships between adults either do not exist or are not enforced. The same is true of restrictions on out of wedlock childbirth. So if three or more people want to engage in a long term sexual relationship, they are unlikely to be prosecuted for doing so.

What is illegal is marital fraud–engaging in what claims to be a legal marriage with one person without telling her that you are legally married to another. That, as I understand it, is the real substance of polygamy laws as they are currently enforced. In addition, of course, while a relationship involving more than two people may not be illegal, it also isn't legally marriage. That can matter in contexts such as inheritance, disputes over parental rights, and the like–the sort of contexts where same-sex marriage is still an issue even though same-sex relationships are legal. It also matters in the context of legal restrictions on sex by age, which frequently distinguish between marital and non-marital sex.

All of which seems to imply that the FLDS could legally conduct something close to their current marital practices if they were just a little more careful to conform to the letter, if not the spirit, of the relevant laws. To start with, they would want to locate in a state where the age of consent for marital sex is low--13 or 14--and not marry any girls younger than that age. They would have to refrain from having more than one wife younger than the age of consent for non-marital sex. A man who wanted to marry a second wife below that age would have to first legally divorce his first wife–but as long as she was at that point old enough to consent to non-marital sex he could continue living with her.

So far as I can tell, this would work, legally speaking. The remaining danger, assuming it were done openly, would come from non-legal objections to the practice which might take legal form. Texas raised its age of consent for marital sex from 14 to 16 only a few years ago. For all I know, that may have been a deliberate attempt to either get the FLDS in trouble or drive them out. And even with no legal changes, the law can be used selectively, as I think is happening in the present case, against a sufficiently unpopular minority.

It long ago occurred to me that there would be a simple way to maintain a low profile polygamous relationship in modern day America. Marry wife A, have a child by her. Divorce wife A, marry wife B, continue to live in the same neighborhood as wife A. If wife A is observed to be frequently in the house of husband and wife B–she would presumably want to maintain a legal residence somewhere else–that is easily explained by the desire of both parents to spend time with their child.

Does anyone know of counterexamples to my legal claim? Have there been people prosecuted for polygamy in recent years as a result of living and having sex with two or more people, where all of them were consenting adults?

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(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Out of the way, peasants

Readers have been shocked to learn that California has about 1 million citizens who are literally above the law. Members of this group, as a Register front-page article April 6 detailed, can drive their cars as fast as they choose. They can drink a six-pack of beer at a bar and then get behind the wheel and weave their way home. They can zoom in and out of traffic, run traffic lights, roll through stop signs and ignore school crossing zones. They can ride on toll roads for free, park in illegal spots and drive on High Occupancy Vehicle lanes even if they have no passengers in the car with them. Chances are they will never have to pay a fine or get a traffic citation.

They are a special class of people, basically exempt from the laws the rest of us must follow. This isn't a small number, either. Drivers of one of every 22 California cars and light trucks on the road have this special immunity, which should cause our government leaders and law enforcement authorities - always eager to protect us from any perceived problem - to demand a fix to this real public safety threat. Think about what this means: a million drivers who can endanger our lives with near impunity. I can hear it now: "There ought to be a law!"

But instead of pushing for a fix, most legislators are trying to expand the program so that even more people can have the special "we're above the law" license plates. What gives? The answer is sickeningly obvious. The Special People are those who work for law enforcement or other government agencies or are their family members.

Now you get it. Government officials are zealous about dealing with problems caused by average citizens, but they are far less interested in dealing with the excesses of fellow members of the privileged, government elite. There are rules for "us" and rules for "them" - usbeing the subjects and thembeing the rulers. Feel free to pound the table in anger now!

How did we get to this sorry place? In 1978, the state started a program to protect the confidentiality of peace officers so members of the public couldn't find their addresses on Department of Motor Vehicle databases. Over the years, the program has been expanded from one set of government workers to another. It now applies to corrections employees, social workers, nonsworn personnel who work in juvenile halls, parole officers, parking enforcement employees and on and on. Even county supervisors, city attorneys and city council members can be exempt from the state's traffic laws.

Even after the Register article exposed this outrageous situation, an Assembly committee voted to expand this special privilege to firefighters, animal control officers and veterinarians. Assemblyman Mike Duvall, R-Yorba Linda, explained his vote to the Register in this way: "I don't want to say no to the firefighters and veterinarians that are doing these things that need to be protected." That attitude explains why our society is moving in this direction. No one - not even a self-proclaimed believer in limited government - will stand up to groups of workers who have become as demanding, self-righteous and arrogant as those found in the French bureaucracy.

Americans used to be better schooled in the views of our nation's founders, who believed that government should be strictly limited and highly accountable. The Constitution, after all, is designed to protect the People from their rulers. These days, and especially after 9/11, Americans have become compliant and dangerously obedient to the authorities. Hence, they keep getting rolled. You know something's amiss when museum security guards, court workers, DMV employees and retired parking officers are part of the special-license caste.

The special-plate program works this way: The addresses are kept secret, so toll-road operators and parking enforcement cannot easily track down violators. The Transportation Corridor Agencies, which runs the toll roads, does not legally have access to the confidential addresses. The Orange County Transportation Authority has to go through additional hoops to get the addresses and admittedly doesn't pursue toll violations too zealously.

In one instance reported by the Register, one couple had racked up almost $35,000 in penalties from OCTA for driving on toll roads without paying. Regarding moving violations, when police see these special plates they either don't pull the drivers over or they don't ticket them if they do. The cops call this "professional courtesy." Officers know that those with the special plates are "their own," and officers are quite open about refusing to ticket other members of the Brotherhood. They scratch each other's back. "It's a courtesy, law enforcement to law enforcement," Sgt. Tom Lee of the San Francisco Police Department, told the Register. "We let it go."

Well, such "courtesies" are functions of police states, not free societies. In a free society, the government serves the people. No one is supposed to be above the law, not even animal control officers and their spouses. Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, calls the situation immoral, unfair and unethical. He has proposed legislation that would limit the practice. Spitzer deserves kudos for this effort, but I wouldn't expect the legislation to go far given the deference afforded public-sector union members and law enforcement in the state Capitol.

The whole thing is a scam. This confidentiality of plates is defended on grounds of safety - even though there's no example of anyone's safety having been jeopardized and even though so many of the workers who receive the protections are not in even remotely dangerous professions. Plus, the original rationale for the protection has evaporated. As the Register noted, "updated laws have made all DMV information confidential to the public." Pound that table again!

Wouldn't it be nice if the government, for once, put the public's safety above the concerns of its own workers and its own bureaucratic prerogatives? These days, the focus always seems to be on the safety of the government workers (FYI, no government job is in the top 10 list of most-dangerous occupations), even though the government's entire raison d'ˆtre(hey, French is appropriate, given the subject matter) is to protect us. Public-choice theory is correct - government workers function mainly to promote their own self-interest, and not to promote what some naively believe to be the public good.

Sadly, as the government expands, America is becoming a society where the public "servants" are now the masters. Government workers earn higher salaries than their cohorts in the private sector and far higher benefits - with a massive public unfunded liability (debt) as a result. The taxpayer eventually will be forced to clean up the fiscal mess. These same government employees have special protections from accountability. There's the Peace Officers' Bill of Rights, civil service protections and government unions, the last of which instill fear and trepidation into the hearts of politicians.

And now we learn that members of this coddled and powerful group (and their family members) don't even need to follow the basic traffic laws that apply to the rest of us. If you're not angry, then you must be a member of the special caste.

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Why Waco still matters

Every year for the last five years [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], I have written an article commemorating the Waco siege: the 51-day standoff from February 28 to April 19, 1993, between government agents - ATF, FBI and US military - and the Branch Davidians: a conflict ending in a conflagration that consumed the lives of 76 civilians, including 21 children.

That I've written about this so consistently raises some questions: Am I obsessed? Why do I, and a number of other commentators, feel the need to keep bringing up this sad episode in modern American history?

Waco still matters. Not just because it has become the paradigmatic symbol for federal police power gone out of control. Not just because it starkly demonstrates the American government's militarism unleashed against its own people. Not just because it showcases the propensity of politicians and law enforcers to deceitfully cover and obscure their wrongful actions. No, Waco's still important mostly because it shows exactly what happens when people resist the unjust incursions of their own government, including under democracy.

Consider, in contrast, what has happened quite recently in Texas. This time, state and local officials seized 416 children from the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints (FLDS) Church. The supposed justification was the abuse of minors, but there is in any event no reason to assume these children would be less abused in the custody of the Texas government, whose foster system has been rife with child rape, poisonings and murder.

This mass seizure of children featured officials "wearing body armor and carrying automatic weapons, backed by an armored personnel carrier." The militarization of domestic police has infected every level of American government, down to the local. The Texas police were ready to conduct a warlike raid of the Fundamentalist Mormon home, and the particular justification for it has shifted from a specific report of abuse (still unconfirmed, and possibly a prank) to a more general one, just as the rationale behind Waco shifted (from a methamphetamine lab, to illegal guns, to child abuse).

Thank goodness the family under siege this time around did not forcibly resist, because it could have ended violently, with many of those kids not just kidnapped, but killed. Is this not a lesson to learn from Waco - that outright resisting the police state will likely get you killed, and most Americans will still side against you? Indeed, it has been downright troubling how many Americans have unquestioningly swallowed the government's line on this FLDS affair, just as they swallowed the government line on Waco.

The police state in this country is very real, and for any who do not understand the truly violent nature of law enforcement, it is worth considering the costs of non-compliance. The truly unique thing about Waco was not just that so many innocent people lost their lives. The unique thing was that people resisted.* And that's why they lost their lives.

In America it has become increasingly easy to get oneself killed by the government. Simply "resisting arrest" - including arrest for a fabricated offense - can get one tased and beaten. Sometimes, even the most unsuspecting members of society, like Derek J. Hale, are murdered by the state. If your home is under full-blown siege by government jackboots, delaying compliance can mean death. It did in Philadelphia, at Ruby Ridge, and at Waco, Texas.

We should remember Waco as the quintessence of modern government police power - not gone out of control, but simply the way it acts when it meets enough resistance. Government power flows from the barrel of a gun, a gun with which taxpayers and subjects are threatened constantly. When the gun is literally aimed at a particularly unlucky denizen, his choices are quite limited.

This relates to the radical principle of resisting tyranny on which America was founded. The Second Amendment was not meant to protect the right to go hunting, despite what liberals might say. Nor was it principally meant as a defense against common criminals, as the right usually stresses. The idea is that people have a right to use force to defend themselves against and even overthrow tyrannical government - an idea that some NRA members sometimes utter out one side of the mouth, while the other side is busy defending the drug war, the empire, the Republicans, the Bush administration, the local police and the federal goons empowered by the war on terror.

Yet violently resisting government agents, even when one is in the right - or, as Cory Maye was, simply mistaken as to who was breaking into his house - does not tend to protect one's liberty, in most cases. It is worse than futile. It leads to increases in state power, in fact. So long as public opinion sides with the police brutalizers, kidnappers and murderers, violent resistance is generally at best counterproductive. Once public opinion turns against the state, however, violent revolution isn't even always necessary, as was seen in the glorious end of Communism in Russia.

So long as public opinion regarding such incidents as Waco remains as pro-state as it is, we have a long ways to go toward recapturing the spirit of the American Revolution in this country. The very way that Waco has been remembered indicates the uphill battle. For the last fifteen years, Americans have been in denial of the type of government they live under.

Since 1993, liberals have wanted to believe the Waco atrocity was the fault of the Branch Davidians, and not the fault of the government. Perhaps some official made a minor error, but none of the main blame should fall on government, not on the Clinton administration and not on the very idea of state power. No, the liberals of 1993 thought of government as an institution inseparable from the good society, an institution charged with doing all these great things - collecting taxes to pay for necessary "services," combating inequality, preserving the planet, ensuring economic fairness and defending human rights the world over. The left did not want to see the dark side of the regime they loved. And so, once the Branch Davidians - a true minority (incidentally, about half of them were people of color, as the left never noticed) - were viciously invaded and attacked, dozens of their members slaughtered by the government, most liberals refused to think the worst of their beloved warm-and-fuzzy Clintonian state.

The government of the 1990s was supposed to be the "good government" that liberals never cease to remind us we can have, once again, as soon as the White House is ridden of the Bush family. But George W. Bush didn't conduct the massacre at Waco. And even if Bill Clinton's wife blessedly loses the election, Barack Obama gives no guarantee that he will respect the fundamental rights of Americans any better than his predecessors. Certainly, McCain will not temper the police state any more than Bush has after Clinton. More Wacos are always possible in the current political climate.

And so in a sense, the liberals were right that blame didn't belong squarely with Clinton, just as today's conservatives are narrowly correct when they defend Bush against selective condemnation. But the modern right too seems not to understand the implications of Waco, or else it would be impossible for it to have taken the positions it has over the police state, including local police, these last fifteen (and actually fifty or more) years. Like yesterday's liberals, today's conservatives are just as na‹ve toward, or at least accepting of, the ugly underbelly of the government they're proud to live under.

The right tried to drive Clinton out of office - some for such crimes as Waco, but most for the crime of lying to the government. Today's better liberals, many of them, have long wanted to do the same to Bush. Nearly all Americans hope November will usher in a state both a little more effective and a little more palatable in the ways they'd prefer.

But this focus on the culprit in power misses the main point. While they do have moral responsibility for their actions, it is not just the men in charge of leviathan who must be driven out of office if we wish to prevent future Wacos, and reverse the precedent that parents must sometimes choose between seeing their children taken by the state or seeing their family killed.

It is rather the statist mindset - the ideology of state worship, on both left and right - that has brought us a standing army of militarized police forces in every corner on this country. Those forces were tyrannical before Waco, and they have been so ever since. Waco is not necessary to indict the police state. But it really should be sufficient to do so. That it has not been for so many people reveals the problem.

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(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Government Gone Wild: Extortion Edition

By now we are all aware that the government can seize your car, your house, your money, etc if they believe the items were purchased with the proceeds of drug transactions. However, the practice of seizing property is actually far more common than that, and far, far more sinister.

Are you aware that the government can steal your house, even if you don’t owe a dime on it, and sell it for as little as one year of back taxes? On top of that they pile on additional extortion fees, and you’ll end up either paying the taxes and fees, or being homeless. They’ll sell it for a small percentage of what the property is worth, and there are predators who actually make a living by buying houses this way, only to resell them.

Are you aware that if you are caught driving a motor vehicle with an expired registration, the government can steal it and place it in an impound, where you will be forced to also pay a high towing fee plus a shocking amount for it to just sit there (usually between $25 and $50 per day) until you pay their extortion fee? Are you aware that if you don’t pay that extortion fee (which at that point includes the fee to the towing company for towing and storage, plus the registration, plus the taxes, plus whatever ticket you got for not having an up-to-date registration) within a short period of time, sometimes as little as 30 days, they will sell your vehicle and you will no longer have any rights to it?

There are predators who actually make a living buying cars that way for resell, too, not to mention the predatory towing companies in cahoots with the government, who make all that extra money for doing nothing (in some places, the government has its own impound lot, but in most, the impound is merely the towing company’s premises).

So, what gives the government the right to take something which doesn’t belong to them, and the right to sell it and give you back nothing no matter how much it was worth, even if you owned the property free and clear?

Only the laws the government has written for its own benefit give them that right, of course. Nothing else gives them that right. There certainly is no constitutional right for the government to steal your property, nor is there a natural right for the government to do such a heinous thing. Extortion, especially on that level, is illegal for everyone except the government.

You are actually far more likely to fall prey to this government extortion scheme if you don’t owe money on your property. Of course, the government knows whether you own it free and clear or not, since they have specifically written laws stating that any lien interest must be filed with them.

Those who fall prey to these schemes are not just those who protest taxes. Instead, most victims are simply good people who fell upon hard times, and many times those hard times are directly caused by government extortion which snowballs.

Let’s say you inherited a home from your parents, and you have a car which you worked and paid for yourself. The home is bought and paid for as well, so you own both your car and your house free and clear. Then let’s say that you work too far away to get there any way except by automobile. You didn’t get your registration paperwork in the mail (not at all unusual in my experience), so you simply forgot it was due. You get stopped by the police because your registration is expired, and they ticket you and impound your vehicle.

At that point, you don’t have the money to get the vehicle out - it will cost you the towing fee, plus daily storage fees, plus personal property taxes, plus registration - and you can’t even make that kind of money because you have lost your job for missing work. You also can’t pay the fine you were levied because you didn’t have an updated registration, so your license is suspended until you pay that, plus about $50 to the DMV to reinstate your license (which in reality requires only a mouse click on a computer).

The only job you can get to feed yourself and your family, and be able to get there and back since you no longer have a car or a license, pays minimum wage. There is no way you will be able to afford to get your vehicle back. So you tell yourself, “that’s okay, I’ve been in hard times before. I’ll eventually I’ll get back on my feet again, and pay the fine and get another car. We’ll scrape by.” In the meantime, the government sells your car right out from under you.

A friend has an old moped they no longer use, and they let you use it so you can get back and forth to a little bit better job. There is no license plate or anything on it, so you assume you don’t have to have that. It’s slower than a bicycle, after all. You are pulled over by the cops, and hit with multiple tickets. You are ticketed for not wearing a helmet, for not having a license plate on it, for not having insurance on it, for not registering it and paying taxes on it …. the list goes on. You are fined hundreds of dollars, even though the vehicle isn’t even yours, and they impound the moped, too. To make sure it gets back the maximum return, the towing company actually sends a tow truck to transport a moped. You also go to jail for driving on a suspended license, even though no one with more than one brain cell would assume you need a drivers’ license to drive a moped, given that they are not supposed to be ridden on main roads because they are so slow.

Once you pay your bail with the little bit of money you’ve saved up to try to get back on your feet, you’re back to zero again. Chances are you’ve lost your latest job because you missed a shift and didn’t call in (since you are in jail, after all).

You get a notice for property taxes, but you can’t pay it so you figure you’ll pay them when you pay everyone else. The government can’t take your house, you think, because it’s paid for and you own it free and clear.

You get another crappy job, and start riding a bicycle to and from work. You are stopped for not having a license on your bicycle, and for not wearing a helmet. More fines ensue, and they impound your bicycle.

You start walking back and forth to work, taking the only job you can find within walking distance, and everything seems okay until a cop shows up giving you legal documents saying your home has been sold for back taxes, and you have only a short period of time (usually 30 or 60 days) to “redeem” what is yours. What’s worse, it has been sold to a stranger for only the amount of the taxes.

Where do you get the money to buy your house back from the extortion agents? At that point your credit is destroyed, so you can’t borrow it.

In many cases, you don’t get the money. The government sells your house and you end up on the streets, with no choice but to depend upon the government to feed and shelter your children, since you lost the good job when your car was impounded, lost another job when the moped was seized and sold and you were arrested, lost your bicycle because it didn’t have tags on it, and eventually ended up having to take whatever crap job you can find where you can walk to and from work. By this time you owe the government thousands in fines, you’re working and supporting a family on minimum wage, and now - as if all that isn’t bad enough - you’re homeless.

The government wants it that way. The more people depend upon it for basic necessities, the more power it has over all of us. It is nothing but communism in action: the people own nothing, because the state has the power to take anything it wants without compensation.

There are many people, every single day, who have encountered these problems, thanks to the many government extortion programs. In fact, I know people who have had these specific problems, so I know for a fact that it can happen, and that it does happen all the time. The mainstream media doesn’t cover it, because to get many stories they must have the cooperation of the politicians who enacted and support these extortion programs. However, whether we see it on the news or not, it is so common that the only thing I find surprising about it, to be quite honest, is that to my knowledge no one has yet snapped and killed someone for stealing their home. You will notice that I said “yet”. It will eventually happen, of that I have no doubt. When it does, I certainly hope libertarians will stand up loud and clear in their defense. I know I will.

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Miniscule monarchs of Metropolitan mortals

What conclusion should one draw from the fact that a major city is doing something that 90.34% of their citizens oppose? That percentage is from the St. Paul Pioneer Press poll, and the question is:

Should St. Paul relax its on-site CPR rules to allow small fitness centers like Anytime Fitness and Snap 24-7 Fitness to stay open around the clock?

That a public poll on any question can reach 90% should tell us that the question is a total head-slapper... so obvious that the question shouldn't even be needed.

St. Paul has an ordinance requiring fitness clubs to have a CPR-trained person "on duty" at all times, which they interpret as on the premises. The ordinance is a 1980's ordinance aimed at sex clubs, now being applied to fitness centers having nothing to do with sex (unless you consider sweat and bouncing flesh as sexy). The original ordinance was of course not concerned with public health but with harassing and hoping to eliminate sex clubs.

The whole point of fitness centers like Anytime and Snap is open hours and lower price. I've been working out at a Snap center for about a year, and it isn't unusual for me to be there alone, because I can and do choose my workout times to avoid crowds. Certainly, the thought has occurred to me that my strenuous activity could lead to a medical problem, but that thought occurs to me at home too, and I'm alone there much more. In fact, I started working out because I had a mini-stroke at home alone, and had to drive myself to the hospital.

The city issued a $500 fine against two fitness centers and when they were taken to court, Minnesota Administrative Law Judge Beverly Jones Heydinger, astonishingly to me, sided with the city.

In what fantasy world are these people living? Are they even cognizant of the idea of individual freedom? Customers of these fitness centers know before they sign up that there will be no attendant on duty. For some customers, that is precisely why they signed up. They want to work out alone, or at least in an uncrowded gym, for various reasons. One nationally known bodybuilder, who would be welcomed at any gym, chose a small 24/7 fitness center precisely because he wouldn't be bothered there by adoring fans. Others make the same choice because they don't want to display their current physical condition to others (solving the old dilemma of having to get in good shape before appearing at a busy "public" gym).

I've been impressed by the obese people working hard in a quiet gym, and I understand that they wouldn't be caught dead in a big gym. For them, the quiet little fitness center may be the difference between exercise and no exercise, between life and death. They should have that right... the freedom to make that choice when it is available.

As I've pointed out many times, laws, ordinances, and regulations almost always impact the poorer members of society more, and this is but one more proof. If CPR-trained attendants are required at these smaller fitness centers, their costs will go up substantially, driving the poorer of their customers back home without convenient, affordable exercise.

Not surprisingly, St. Paul City Council Member Dave Thune is one of those defending the ordinance. Thune is St. Paul's resident nanny... he simply knows what is better for each of us than we do. Thune said. "If they want to fight on this thing, I will get neighborhood groups and district councils who have suffered at the hands of adult bookstores to fight back."

Adult bookstores? Sex clubs? How can a rational adult equate those businesses to fitness centers? For those of you who don't remember, Thune was instrumental in bringing a smoking ban to St. Paul. If you blessed him for that, comprehend that your support then simply encouraged him to be convinced that he has the right to ban or control any activity he doesn't personally deem proper.

Could there be corruption behind the enforcement of this off-the-wall ordinance being applied to unattended fitness centers? I have no evidence of corruption, but the smaller centers being harassed have become very popular, taking business away from larger fitness clubs, who would love to see the ordinance applied to their upstart competitors. One might also find pressure from those who provide training in CPR. When there is a big financial advantage to be gained by larger businesses (the smoke), then there is very often political pressure brought to bear (the fire). Is it just a coincidence that as unattended, lower-cost fitness centers have become popular that an ordinance would be found to stop them in their tracks? I really doubt it.

I don't live in St. Paul, but their ignoble ordinance requiring CPR-trained attendants will have an adverse effect outside their borders. Such nanny ordinances often spread to other city governments, just as anti-competitive, cost-increasing licensing regulations do. City officials tend to jump on the nanny bandwagon, claiming "public safety" as their justification for abolishing freedom. They also tend to respond to the wishes of the wealthy to the detriment of the poor. This seemingly idiotic ordinance, not supported by the public, could well spread to your city, and be yet one more stifling, expensive restriction on our rights.

This should be a gimme-a-break non-issue... the ordinance should be repealed or modified so that it covers only it's real original intent. The idea that the city can inflict such an onerous, ridiculous requirement is ludicrous. The whole point of working out is to push your body hard enough to make it stronger and healthier. Working out at a fitness center is hardly the only place that people work up a sweat or increase their cardio rate. Will the city require CPR-trained medical workers to follow hikers around? Should mountain-climbers have attendants? Should every bus stop have a helper for those who run to chase buses? Will they have them standing by in all our homes in case we engage in strenuous sex? Will they be required on all job sites where physical labor takes place?

Report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Get arrested and then be barred from using your own money to defend yourself?

That is the obnoxious British policy that has just been struck down by the court

Anti-terrorism legislation was condemned as poorly thought-out by a senior High Court judge yesterday as he declared that the Treasury’s powers to freeze suspects’ bank accounts were unlawful. Mr Justice Collins said that terrorist financial orders — introduced by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor — were absurd,unfair and a breach of fundamental rights. The judge, who has lengthy experience of dealing with terrorism cases, said: “It was, frankly, another example of an immediate reaction without it being thought through properly — which is rather the pattern with the anti-terrorism measures.”

The Times revealed this week that the judge was preparing to criticise the asset-freezing regime in the latest of a series of rulings that have exacerbated tensions between the judiciary and the Government. There are now 59 people living in Britain on the Treasury sanctions list, including the radical clerics Abu Hamza al-Masri and Abu Qatada, who are both in jail. The Bank of England has frozen 274 accounts, containing 656,000 pounds. Abu Qatada had 180,000 cash in his home when it was raided in 2001 and, despite the sanctions, Abu Hamza made 120,000 on a property transaction while in prison.

Ruling on an appeal brought by five terrorist suspects — referred to in court as A, K, M, Q and G — the judge said that the sanctions had had “the most drastic effect” on them and their families. People on the terrorist list have to apply to the Treasury for a licence to spend money on groceries and anyone who provides them with “an economic resource” is liable to a criminal conviction and a jail sentence. The judge said the situation was “an absurdity” and recommended that two measures — the Terrorism Order and the al-Qaeda and Taleban Order — should be quashed. They will, however, remain in place pending an appeal that the ministers said the Government would pursue urgently.

The measures were adopted to give effect in British law to two United Nations Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on people alleged to be funding terrorism. The judge was critical that they were introduced as Orders in Council rather than through an Act of Parliament and were therefore not subject to debate by MPs and peers. He also criticised the absence of a procedure for suspects who wanted to challenge their listing as terrorists.

The Government, he added, should consider introducing measures in the Counter-terrorism Bill to provide for a tribunal at which people on the Treasury’s list could challenge the financial sanctions. The judge told government lawyers: “You are going to have to legislate at some stage, otherwise the State will not be able to put before the court the incriminating or allegedly incriminating material.” He said he had “real concerns” that the orders had introduced a criminal offence, of assisting a listed person, without consulting Parliament.

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said that the High Court had left Mr Brown’s asset-freezing regime “in tatters”. He added: “When you make laws in a hurry that are unfocused and arbitrary, the result is neither firm nor fair — just fragile.”

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, said that she was “very disappointed” with the ruling. Jane Kennedy, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said: “The Government continues to be fully committed to defending and maintaining our asset-freezing regime which makes an important contribution to our national security by helping to prevent funds being used for terrorist purposes and is central to our obligations under successive UN Security Council Resolutions to combat global terrorism.”

But Jules Carey, solicitor for G, said that the importance of the judgment could not be overstated. He said: “It is the sovereignty of Parliament that is at stake here, the foundation block of the British constitution. If Government can, without consulting Parliament, give itself powers to create criminal offences and take away fundamental rights then we are watching the sun set on democracy.”

Report here

Australia: Only months in jail for participants in vicious pack attack

The ringleader of a vicious gang attack that left an off-duty police officer lying unconscious in a pool of blood has walked free from court. Appearing in Southport District Court yesterday, Tiani Slockee, 18, was identified as the instigator of a brutal and unprovoked attack on Constable Rawson Armitage and his girlfriend, Michelle Dodge, at Coolangatta in November. Three of the nine teens who pleaded guilty to the assault were sent to jail by Judge John Newton, who ruled that Slockee, who spent 91 days in custody after the incident, did not have to spend any more time behind bars.

Judge Newton was condemning of Slockee's role in the bashing but decided against further jail time. "Neither of these attacks would have happened if it wasn't for your disgraceful behaviour," Judge Newton said. The Chinderah teenager, who left the court in tears with her terminally ill grandmother, said she was sorry for her actions. But some of her colleagues did not appear as upset, laughing and joking as they smoked cigarettes with friends outside the building.

The court was told that after an initial altercation between Slockee and Constable Armitage, the rest of the group joined the attack "like a pack of animals", leaving Miss Dodge fearing her boyfriend had been bashed to death. Harley Trindall, 18, was ordered to spend the next four months behind bars, in addition to the five months he has spent in custody since November for being one of the main players in the bashing.

His girlfriend, a 17-year-old captured on CCTV footage leaving the scene with clumps of Miss Dodge's hair in her hand, sobbed when the sentence was delivered, although she escaped detention and was instead placed on two years' probation. Two other males, aged 15 and 16, were each sentenced to 15 months' detention for stomping Constable Armitage's head as he lay unconscious on the ground.

Judge Newton said the behaviour of the 15-year-old, who grabbed on to a nearby fence to gain better leverage to jump on the officer's head, was disgraceful. "Your conduct was the most despicable of the entire assault," he said. "How you can jump on a man's head on two occasions as he lies helpless on the ground simply defies comprehension."

Each will serve about half of that time behind bars. The others were placed on probation, while an 11-year-old boy has pleaded not guilty to any role in the attack. He will face Southport Magistrate's Court next month.

Source. (Via Australian Politics)

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Polygamy, Cults & Kids - Oh My!

By now most have heard about the raid on the The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) compound - Yearning for Zion - in Edlorado, Texas. Over 400 children were removed, each of whom has been assigned a volunteer attorney (h/t to Margherita by email) to serve as guardian ad litem; all the children face the prospect of ending up in a secular foster system utterly foreign to the sheltered lifestyle from whence they were abruptly yanked. And separated from mothers who are agonized and desperately want their sons and daughters back.

I submit that to properly disentangle the issues involved in this case and come to any POV that might yield justice, it is necessary to accept that the words "cult," "polygamy" and "child abuse" all taken separately can cause a suspension of rational thought; string them in an indictment of one group and the likelihood for uncritical mob outrage inspiring and backing unwarranted or excessive state action against the group - to the detriment of reason and fairness - increases exponentially.

(A note about the term "cult": In common parlance, it simply translates into "A new religion I don't like." Mormonism proper was regarded as a cult at its inception, and still is by some. Technically, the FDLS, as a breakaway movement from the LDS, is a "sect," but the public antipathy toward sects is often equivelant to that for cults, and the terms often used interchangeably.)

Now of course, the justification for this mass abduction of FLDS children is the specific charge that girls below the age of consent are being coerced into plural marriages, and thereby raped, along with more vague accusations of generalized child abuse. And indeed, the FLDS "Prophet," Warren Jeffs, was convicted last year in Utah for being an accomplice in rape by arranging a marriage between a 14-year-old sect member and her first cousin - behavior the young woman, now 21, denies constituted rape, and she is still married to her cousin. But:
.prosecutor Brock Belnap won the day by arguing that what Jeffs did by urging the two to "go forth and multiply" was no different from sacrificing a young virgin for the harvest - a religious belief, but a criminal act. "This trial has not been about religion and a vendetta," Walls said on the courthouse steps after the verdict. "It is simply about child abuse."
Indeed, the legal strategy used so effectively in St. George grew out of a "polygamy summit" held in 2003 by the attorneys general of Utah and Arizona. They had brainstormed and decided to launch an aggressive effort to utilize child abuse, domestic abuse and fraud laws to break the cycle of child marriages.

So, we have multiple state attorneys general meeting to get "aggressive" about the FLDS - an unpopular religion on any front - and yet we are supposed to take it as indictment of the group that, my emphasis "[d]eep in the vast mesquite-covered scrubland of west Texas lies the spiritual center of a secretive polygamous sect." No group with nothing to hide would be "secretive," right? Let us consider some history, as recounted by the LAT in `06.
Horrified by stories of rape, incest and men taking young girls as brides, the new governor of Arizona quietly made plans to invade this polygamist settlement in the summer of 1953. Shortly before dawn on July 26, a raiding party of about 120 law enforcement officers - state Highway Patrol, sheriff's deputies and liquor control agents - descended on the community, which was then called Short Creek.

Me and my sister went into the garden and hid behind the bushes, and this policeman came looking for us," recalled Shari Hammon, who was 10 at the time. "He said, `Get out, ma'am,' to my sister, and my sister said, `Get the hell out of here!' "

The rest of the town, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gathered in the schoolyard, waving flags and singing "God Bless America." By day's end, families and crying children were separated in a scene that would haunt political leaders for years to come. In all, 36 men were arrested. Authorities loaded 86 women and 263 children aboard buses to Phoenix.

Public opinion turned sharply against the governor, J. Howard Pyle, and he was defeated in the next election. Arizona's state historian claims: "'We are a different society today than in 1953, and [state authorities] could take action without the political risk,' he said."

Yes, and is that a good thing? Is that fact maybe WHY the FLDS "cult" might be secretive and not very happy to see strangers, much less armed state agents at their compound doors?

The reality is, as the execrable Stanley Kurtz writes at NRO, it is polygamy itself - which Kurtz fears will facilitate acceptance of same-sex marriage - that seems evil and threatening to mainstream religions, and to many Americans in general. But why ought it, and especially why ought it be illegal? After all, if a bunch of dirty fucking hippies want to live together at the Make Love Not War Commune, and pretty young adults Flower, Peace, and Star wish to constitute the harem of teh groovy Karmic King, should they and their progeny be left unmolested simply because the parents do not claim to be married? Or what of adults who have multiple sex partners, or those who enjoy a menage a trois?


Mainstream Mormons did not give up polygamy voluntarily, they did so because of persecution, some of it lethal, and because of this moralistic, 19th century Supreme Court decision. The fundamentalists who nevertheless continue the practice, continue to be persecuted, which causes them to close off and be wary of outsiders, and no doubt that justified paranoia contributes to problems with inbreeding. (h/t mtraven) (Marriage or sex within too close a degree of consanguinity, unless both parties are sterilized, perhaps should be illegal.)

The Amish live closed off from the dominant culture. Hasidic Jews enter arranged marriages - and arranged does not equal coerced. I would not wish to live in patriarchal communities such as the Amish, Hasidic Jews.or as a member of the FDLS. But until and unless there is evidence that the adults in any of these communities are forcibly prevented from leaving should they so choose, how is it any of the state's business that segregated religious communities exist? Or that they arrange (as opposed to coercing) marriages? Or that secular society regards women in those communities as sickeningly subservient to the males?

Another point to bear in mind is a phenomenon that is well-established among religious studies scholars, namely, the "atrocity tale" genre that apostates who leave cults often peddle. (One example being former Roman Catholics who went on the stump and/or published absurd tracts and books - virtually always involving titillating allegations of sexual depravity - that fueled the anti-Catholic Know-Nothing movement in 19th century America.) Some of their claims are true; many often are exaggerated or even false. Thus, while it may be that some behaviors that could reasonably be considered child abuse occur in cults - including FLDS - claims by former members should not be accepted uncritically. (The psychology driving some apostates to exaggerate their experiences in a cult, or even make up tales, is a subject of vast literature, and I'll update on that point if any wish support for it.)


State and culturally hostility will often drive despised groups to withdrawal and secretiveness. This is wholly understandable. But when this dynamic alone allows hundreds of children to be snatched from their families and left bereft of mothers, something is wrong:
"The state of Texas has confiscated our children on an alleged allegation that has no facts. And now they're holding our children. And we want the children back," a woman who identified herself as Kathleen told CNN's Anderson Cooper..

"They are clean and pure," one mother said of the children. "This is the worst thing happening to them. They are learning terrible things from the questions being asked, things that they have never been exposed to. They have been so protected here.

Children are not exactly known to fare well in state systems, or once placed in the foster care (tho obviously some foster care parents are outstanding human beings). So before we all just discount the FLDS mothers who worry over their snatched, previously protected children (because said moms are purportedly deluded and blind to the "crimes" in their midst), we had better be damned sure that this raid and abduction of their kids has some basis in actual wrong-doings that should be crimes, and not in anti-cult moral panic.

Report here

Absolute immunity for prosecutors is too much

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Thomas Goldstein, an ex-marine who was convicted of murdering his neighbor. Goldstein served 24 years before his conviction was thrown out when the main witness against him, a career criminal who was given a deal on his own charges in exchange for his testimony that Goldstein confessed to him in a jail cell, was shown to have lied. Goldstein alleges that the district attorney's office who prosecuted the case routinely used the testimony of so-called "jailhouse snitches" it knew or should have known weren't reliable.

Goldstein's case is unusual because he's suing John Van de Camp, the district attorney who oversaw the office that convicted him. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has allowed Goldstein's case to go forward, setting up the hearing in the U.S. Supreme Court. The suit stems from federal law 42 U.S.C. 1983, which states that ".[e]very person" who acts under color of state law to deprive another of a constitutional rights shall be answerable to that person in a suit for damages," and provides a means for those wronged by government officials to file suit in federal court.

But there are exceptions to Section 1983 suits...In the case Imbler v. Pachtman 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court carved out a gaping exception for prosecutors. Prosecutors have what's known as "absolute immunity" from civil rights suits, provided they're acting in their capacity as prosecutors. Few people enjoy such protections in their own line of work. But this complete shield from accountability is especially problematic when we're talking about prosecutors. It's a job that's already plagued by incentive problems-unfortunately, we tend to measure a prosecutor's performance based on how many people he's able to throw in jail, not necessarily by how well he metes out justice.

Rarely, for example, does a prosecutor get public recognition for the cases he doesn't take. So we have people in a position where they have the enormous power to take away someone's freedom, incentives nudging them to err on the side of prosecuting aggressively, and absolute immunity from lawsuits should they overstep their bounds. It's a recipe for disaster.

Generally, it is smart public policy to shield prosecutors from lawsuits when it comes to determining in which cases they'll pursue charges. If we hamstring prosecutors into factoring potential lawsuits into determining whom to charge, we run the risk of bringing politics or the wealth and status of the accused into what should be a question of law, context, and propriety (any more than these things are already factor into such decisions, anyway).

But, I think you could make a good case that absolute immunity takes this idea way too far. Even police officers are given what's called "qualified immunity" from civil rights suits, which in 1983 the Supreme Court determined meant, "insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." That sets a hurdle for suits against the police, but not a wall. It might be time to consider applying that standard to prosecutors, too.

But the Goldstein case doesn't even seek to overturn the 1976 decision. That would take an act of Congress - and again, perhaps that's something Congress should consider. Instead, the suit targets Mr. Van de Kamp as the manager of the district attorney's office. It says that he's guilty of negligently overseeing his office, and allowing his subordinates to use unreliable, uncorroborated testimony from prison inmates.

Given the current makeup of the Supreme Court, I'd be pleasantly surprised if they allowed Goldstein's lawsuit to go forward. But they should. Other legal scholars have suggested that prosecutors should be subject to the less stringent but still protective "qualified immunity" standard when they take on the role of an investigator of fact gatherer - traditionally the role of police - in the course of prosecuting a case. That's a good idea, too.

There's plenty of evidence that absolute immunity is allowing some prosecutor's offices to run roughshod over civil rights. The New York-based Innocence Project reports that prosecutorial misconduct played a role in about 40 percent of DNA exonerations over the last decade or so. Such misconduct could include knowingly putting on false testimony, withholding exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys, and coercing witnesses, among other transgressions.

I recently reported a case in Reason magazine quite similar to the Goldstein case. In 2006, Church Point, La., resident Ann Colomb, 57, and her three sons were wrongly convicted in federal court of running a massive drug operation out of their home, thanks largely to the testimony of several jailhouse informants. Despite the fact that the family's home was modest, and that the sons held down several hard labor jobs and went to school during the years of the alleged conspiracy, the government witnesses - who were offered time off from their own sentences in exchange for their testimony - claimed to have cumulatively sold the family some $500,000 worth of crack each month.

The family was released from prison when it was revealed that the jailhouse witnesses in the case had participated in an information sharing network within the federal prison system. Inmates were sharing photos, case summaries, and even grand jury testimony about pending cases, memorizing the information, then offering to testify in exchange for breaks on their own prison terms. U.S. Attorney Donald Washington's office had been made aware of this network in a prior conspiracy case, yet his subordinates went on to ask some of the same witnesses to testify in the Colomb case. Even after the extent of the network was revealed in the Colomb trial, federal prosecutors attempted to use some of them again in yet another federal drug case.

Ann Colomb now suing Washington's office. Whether her suit will be permitted to go forward may depend on what the Supreme Court rules in the Goldstein case. As it stands, the family is broke from their criminal case. Though they were cleared of all charges, the government has yet to even apologize to them, much less compensate them for the five years they were under suspicion, of the four months they served in prison.

Downgrading prosecutorial immunity would not only go a long way toward puncturing the air of invincibility that pervades some prosecutors' offices, the discovery process in the cases that are allowed to go forward might reveal other cases of misconduct or wrongful conviction.

We shouldn't allow every aggrieved defendant to sue his prosecutor. But in cases where someone is exonerated after being convicted of a crime, where there's clear evidence that something went terribly wrong at trial, and certainly where a single prosecutor has overseen more than one exoneration, allowing civil rights suits against these government officials in their capacity as government employees might shine some needed - if uncomfortable - sunlight on a part of the criminal justice system that has for too long been immune from real accountability.

Report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Keep those cameras handy

Cops behaving badly have been caught on camera in sufficient numbers recently that it can be called a phenomenon. The Internet makes distribution of the resulting still photos and video a breeze, so that officials in range of surveillance cameras or even the tiny lenses on many cell phones can expect their worst conduct to be distributed far and wide. But police have retaliated as only they can, sometimes handcuffing anybody with the temerity to point cameras in their direction. That may be about to change.

Citing a 2003 criminal decision and the outcome of a resulting federal civil case, a Florida prosecutor has announced that no charges will be brought against a 20-year-old man who, while standing on a public road well away from official activity, photographed police vehicles parked outside a residence subject to a drug-related raid.
A person cannot be charged with obstruction or resisting arrest if the police detention is unlawful, an assistant state attorney, Tony Casoria, said in a memo released this week. Sievert did not physically interfere with the search warrant, the prosecutor said. Casoria said Sievert "took a photograph in a public place, across the street from the home where law enforcement were conducting their search." ...

In 2003, a state judge in Pennsylvania overturned the harassment conviction of Allen E. Robinson, who had taped police during a traffic stop. Robinson said he was concerned about unsafe truck inspections and set up a video camera. Robinson, a truck driver, sued the police, saying he was subjected to false arrest, excessive force and malicious prosecution. Robinson won in federal court in 2005.

"The activities of the police, like those of other public officials, are subject to public scrutiny," a federal judge wrote. "Robinson's right to free speech encompasses the right to receive information and ideas." The police, the judge wrote, citing a case in Texas, do not have "unfettered discretion to arrest individuals for words or conduct that annoy or offend them."

That's good news for people using increasingly ubiquitous video technology to monitor the conduct of government arm-twisters, and bad news for officials seeking to keep their activities under wraps.

Report here

Legal harrassment of rape victims in Australia

What goes on in our courtrooms and tribunals bears only a passing resemblance to the moral code by which the vast bulk of society lives and which maintains social cohesion.

This stark divide was distilled, unintentionally, in the April issue of the Law Society Journal, in a review of The Making of Me, by Tegan Wagner, the story of her gang rape, her ordeal with the legal system and her efforts to reclaim her life. The book is reviewed by Andrew Haesler, SC, who happens to be one of the three senior barristers who cross-examined Wagner, then 17, over a period of three days.

After offering faint praise, Haesler writes: "Her desperate desire for affirmation and self-righteous tone irritates, in a way the parents of a teenager would know. Tegan is not a dispassionate observer. Her critique of the trial process suffers as a consequence . "Tegan claims she was raped by three brothers. Only two were convicted. I acted for the brother who was acquitted. There were sound reasons for that acquittal. Tegan's 'fairer' system would have seen my client jailed for a very long time. Her rapes were unjust and wrong, but so, too, would be the conviction and long-term imprisonment of an innocent boy."

Excuse me while I go and vomit. Innocent Boy had already been convicted of gang rape. Twice. He was serving time in jail after being sentenced by Justice Brian Sully on April 22, 2004, more than a year before Wagner was cross-examined in May 2005. Innocent Boy avoided trial by jury because his elder brother, and co-accused, had deliberately aborted the trial. Innocent Boy avoided conviction in this matter because Justice Peter Hidden, even though he made it clear to Wagner that he did not doubt the veracity of her testimony, said he could not convict in the absence of any corroborating evidence. Innocent Boy is now the subject of a fourth gang-rape complaint, completely independent of the three earlier gang-rape cases.

As for Haesler's advocacy on behalf of Innocent Boy, I was in court at the time and this is a taste of what I saw: Haesler: "I suggest that in your evidence . you invented much of what happened in the bedroom?" Wagner: "I didn't invent anything." Haesler: "I suggest that both in your evidence and in the tapes you have hidden some of the things that you know occurred in the bedroom?" "I didn't hide anything. Everything that I remember I put down in my statement ." Haesler: "I suggest to you then you have not told the truth about who you went into the bedroom with initially?" "No, I have told the truth ." Haesler: "Then I suggest that you have invented or added at least one extra person?" "I have not invented or added anybody. It was three." Haesler: "You agree that your memory was affected in some respects by what occurred that night?" "Yes."

That was the core of his case: confusion or invention by the witness. It took him 432 questions. All up, the three defence counsel asked the victim 1971 questions, during which they repeatedly questioned her veracity and reliability.

Given the complete absence of any significant reform in this area, it comes as only a mild surprise to learn that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, has entered new territory by lodging a complaint with the Legal Services Commission over the recent conduct of a defence barrister in a rape case, Tania Evers. After a marathon three days of cross-examination of a 15-year alleged victim by Evers, the trial judge, David Freeman, aborted the trial because he said the marathon defence cross-examination had caused the trial to "run off the rails".

The alleged victim, who was 13 at the time of the alleged rape, must face another trial, if she can. This is the parallel morality of our court system at work. This is the closed logic of the justice system, where juries are actively prevented - by law and by practice - from accessing any and all material they might wish to assess in making a moral judgment.

Report here. (Via Australian Politics)

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A coverup that nearly worked

A former Scotland Yard detective was being questioned last night on suspicion of involvement in the murder of a man whose brutal killing he investigated 21 years ago. Sid Fillery, once a Metropolitan Police detective sergeant, was one of five men arrested yesterday in connection with the murder of Daniel Morgan, a private detective, in March 1987. Morgan, 37, was found dead in the car park of the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham, southeast London, with an axe embedded in his head.

The failure to catch Morgan’s killers has dogged the Metropolitan Police ever since. Five murder inquiries have been conducted, giving rise to allegations of corruption within police ranks and claims of a cover-up. Mr Fillery, 61, was a close contact of the dead man’s business partner, Jonathon Rees, and one of a number of officers who moonlighted as security guards for Southern Investigations.

A year after the murder he was discharged from the Met on medical grounds and took Morgan’s position as co-director of Southern Investigations. The agency was wound up in 2003 and Mr Fillery now lives in Norfolk, where he is involved in the management of a pub. Mr Rees, 53, was also arrested yesterday over the murder, along with three other men — James Cook, 53, Glenn Vian, 49, and Garry Vian, 47. All five men attended a Central London police station where they were being interviewed. In a related development, a serving Metropolitan Police officer was arrested on suspicion of misconduct in a public office. Scotland Yard said that his arrest was not connected with the murder but with more recent events linked to the suspects.

Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who is in overall charge of the inquiry, said that the arrests were proof of “the Met’s continued determination to bring those responsible for this murder to justice”. The drive to solve the case stems from the sense, at the highest levels in Scotland Yard, that the long failure to do so continues to taint the force.

The arrests come three years into the fifth police investigation into Morgan’s murder. The crucial breakthrough came last year when a “supergrass” approached police with evidence. The Times has learnt that the informant volunteered information about criminal activity, including a claim that he had been offered a substantial sum of money to kill Morgan.

It is understood that he has agreed to testify under the provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Policing Act 2005, which formalised Queen’s Evidence arrangements in British law. It is the first time that Scotland Yard has used the new legislation. The Times has also learnt that in the past three months another witness has come forward.

More here

Spitzerism Lives

Eliot Spitzer is no longer on the prosecuting side of the criminal justice system. But his brand of extrajudicial punishment is alive and well among U.S. Attorneys. Take the case of former Gen Re CEO Joseph Brandon, who was forced to resign on Monday although he has not been charged with any crime and was by all accounts a superb manager.

Without insisting on any grant of immunity, Mr. Brandon cooperated in an investigation of a fraudulent reinsurance transaction between Gen Re and AIG. That investigation resulted in the convictions of one AIG employee and six Gen Re executives. Prosecutors wanted to make it seven and named Mr. Brandon an unindicted co-conspirator. But instead of charging Mr. Brandon and having to convince a jury of his guilt, they made it clear to Warren Buffett, Chairman of Gen Re parent Berkshire Hathaway, that Mr. Brandon had to go, according to various media reports.

Mr. Buffett didn't respond to our call for comment, although news accounts duly note that he never hired Mr. Brandon and simply inherited him when he bought the company. Not so long ago, however, Mr. Buffett was full of praise for his manager.
In his annual letter to shareholders two months ago, Mr. Buffett gushed, "Now, thanks to Joe Brandon . . . the luster of the company has been restored." Mr. Buffett went on to say that Mr. Brandon and President Tad Montross "have been running the business for six years and have been doing first-class business in a first-class way, to use the words of J. P. Morgan." Sounds like Mr. Brandon deserved a raise, not a dismissal.

We're tempted to conclude that we wouldn't want to be in a foxhole with Mr. Buffett, even a "first-class" foxhole. But the sad truth is that the Sage of Omaha may not have had much choice. Fiduciary duty to Berkshire shareholders requires him to avoid a criminal indictment of Gen Re at any cost. Such a reputational blow is a likely death sentence for any financial company.

The Justice Department's 2006 McNulty Memo put modest limits on prosecutors' ability to extort settlements from corporations. But U.S. Attorneys still have a free hand to pressure companies to fire people as a show of cooperation. Georgetown business professor John Hasnas says prosecutors rarely if ever tell corporations to fire their target, although Mr. Spitzer was an exception. But all they have to do is to suggest that they are considering whether to indict the corporation, and that the extent of their cooperation will be considered in the decision, and "the message gets across."

So we have the spectacle of Nora Dannehy, less than two weeks into the job of Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, essentially deciding that she has the right to punish a man she wasn't able to make a formal case against. Even if you're never charged, much less convicted, prosecutors can still take away your livelihood.

There's also the not so small matter that firing Mr. Brandon may harm Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. Mr. Spitzer forced the dismissal of both Hank Greenberg at AIG and Jeffrey Greenberg at Marsh & McLennan. Both companies have since seen their businesses decline and their share prices plummet. We have come to a strange pass in this country when prosecutors who can't prove their case can nonetheless tell Warren Buffett who can run his companies.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Britain: Covered-up inquiry reveals errors in investigation of jailed man

Nine blunders were made by police investigating the death of a woman whose husband claims he was wrongly jailed for her murder, an inquiry report seen by The Times shows. The contents of the internal inquiry by Merseyside Police were not disclosed to the defence at Eddie Gilfoyle’s trial and the background notes have been destroyed.

Desmond Browne, QC, the Bar Council chairman-elect, is the latest high-profile figure to say he believes that the conviction of Gilfoyle, who has spent 15 years in jail, is unsafe. David Canter, the criminal profiler who helped the police investigation, wrote in The Times in February that new research had persuaded him to reconsider his opinion and he now believes that Gilfoyle is innocent.

Paula Gilfoyle was found hanged in her garage in Upton, Wirral, in June 1992. She was eight months pregnant. An apparent suicide note, written in her handwriting, was discovered and there were no signs of a struggle. After friends told police that she had not appeared to be depressed, Gilfoyle, a hospital porter, was arrested and accused of dictating the note by tricking his wife into thinking he needed it for a course in the study of suicide. He was charged with murder.

Because the death was initially treated as suicide, valuable scientific evidence was lost or destroyed. Merseyside Police asked Detective Superintendent E. Humphreys to review the initial police response and he produced his findings in August 1992. Gilfoyle was convicted of murder in July 1994 but his defence team was unaware of the contents of the report. “All the police officers who were involved have given a detailed account of their recollection of events,” Superintendent Humphreys wrote. But notes of these interviews, taken by an assisting officer, were destroyed. Superintendent Humphreys identified nine areas in which “the actions of personnel involved in the initial investigation of this matter contributed to an unsatisfactory result”. Gilfoyle has had two appeals rejected, but the Humphreys report has never been raised as an issue.

Mr Browne became involved when he represented a Channel 4 programme about miscarriages of justice. The channel was sued by a policeman who had investigated the Gilfoyle case. Channel 4 apologised. The barrister and his colleague, Matthew Nicklin, sent a 20-page report to the Criminal Cases Review Commission urging a fresh appeal. A copy has been passed to The Times. Among the concerns, it points to a failure to preserve evidence at the scene, a “conclusion-driven” police investigation and Mrs Gilfoyle’s privately depressed mental state.

The barristers conclude: “Neither of us believes that his conviction can be regarded as safe or satisfactory. Neither appeal involved the wide-ranging consideration of the efficiency of the investigation by Merseyside Police.”

Other high-profile observers have raised doubts about Gilfoyle’s guilt, including Alison Halford, a Merseyside assistant chief constable at the time of Gilfoyle’s arrest, and Graham Gooch, a retired superintendent who investigated the handling of the case for the Police Complaints Commission. Matt Foot, Gilfoyle’s lawyer, intends to use Mr Browne’s submission in a fresh appeal. He is studying whether the non-disclosure of the internal Merseyside investigation may provide grounds for a new hearing. Merseyside Police declined to comment.

Procedural blunders that may have stifled truth

“Incorrect prioritising of the call out by the divisional control room staff”: The first constable asked for CID and scenes of crime. But control room called coroner’s officer and police surgeon, who arrived before detectives

“Lack of scene-preservation and destruction of potential evidence”: Mrs Gilfoyle was said to have been found hanging with her feet resting on a pair of step ladders. But the ladders were taken from the garage into the house before a detective arrived. Sand by the door was trampled, destroying possible footprints

“The coroner’s officer making crucial decisions about the investigation and mode of death before the arrival of the CID”: The first policeman to arrive was the coroner’s officer, who decided that Mrs Gilfoyle took her own life

“The cutting down of the body by the coroner’s officer” He lay Mrs Gilfoyle on the floor to “preserve her dignity”: No detective saw her hanging, although exact details would be important to establish murder or suicide

“The decision of the coroner’s officer with regards to photographic evidence”: He said there was no need for photos as the coroner did not require them

“The lack of consideration to the advanced pregnant condition of the deceased”: This should have been suspicious enough for a full inquiry.

“The lack of communication”: When the detective inspector did arrive, he was mistakenly told that photographs had been taken

“The destruction of the ligature following post-mortem”: No officer attended the post-mortem examination. The ligature was burnt by the mortuary assistant. Experts could have deduced who tied the knot

“The initial officer allowing Edward Gilfoyle and his parents to leave before the arrival of the CID”: No one was questioned

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hoax confirmed in Mormon case

The arrest of a Colorado woman for allegedly impersonating an abused girl has cast doubt on the tip-off that led to a massive police raid on a polygamist compound in Texas. A total of 416 children were taken from the remote 1,700-acre Yearning For Zion (YFZ) ranch after an April 3 raid on the breakaway Mormon sect of the jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.

The controversial operation against the 10,000-strong Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was provoked by a call to an abuse hotline from a 16-year-old girl who identified herself as Sarah. The caller said that she had an eight-month-old baby and was pregnant with another child after her 50-year-old "husband" forced her to have sex. Authorities have been unable to locate Sarah despite interviewing the children, and doubts persist as to whether she really exists.

The whole operation has been thrown into question by the arrest on Wednesday of a Colorado Springs woman named Rozita Swinton. Ms Swinton, 33, is accused of making calls in which she claimed to be an abused child being held in a basement. She has also allegedly masqueraded as a desperate mother who threatened to abandon a newborn baby and commit suicide.

Flora Jessop, a former church member who runs a centre for teenage girls trying to escape the polygamist sect, told the Denver Post yesterday that she received a call from Ms Swinton claiming to be an abuse victim named Sarah on March 30. Texas authorities say that a girl with the same name also called a Texas hotline on March 29 claiming that she was suffering abuse in the polygamist compound. The hotline call was not made public until after the raid on the YFZ ranch. "It does kind of indicate [Ms Swinton] made those calls," Ms Jessop told the Denver Post. "There was no press on it at the time."

Ms Jessop said that she recorded between 30 to 40 hours of daily phone conversations with Ms Swinton, who alternately claimed to be Sarah, Sarah's twin sister Laura and Laura's friend. She would call after 8.30pm at night and speak softly, explaining that others in the compound were sleeping. "She was very convincing," Ms Jessop said. "She very much thought this out." Ms Jessop said that she confronted Ms Swinton when she called her two hours after her release on Thursday claiming to be Laura's friend. Ms Swinton admitted that her name was Rose, she said.

The raid has left a judge struggling to cope with the largest child custody case in American history. Judge Barbara Walther complained of a "free for all" as hundreds of state-appointed lawyers packed her courtroom and an overflow room three blocks away to represent each child. She must decide whether to return the children to their parents or to place them in foster care because of the risk of underage sex.

Angie Voss, a child welfare investigator, testified that the officials who raided the polygamist compound were told that there was no girl known as Sarah. But interviews have now identified five Sarahs, including three who could have been the girl who called to report abuse. "We learnt that a few of the girls know of the Sarah we were looking for and that she'd been seen last week and she had a baby," Ms Voss said. Ms Voss acknowledged that most of the children showed no signs of physical or sexual abuse. But she said that at least five girls under18 were pregnant or have children - with one becoming a mother at the age of 13.

She told the judge that they should remain in state care because they were "at risk". "They will continue to grow up in an environment where young women have sex with older men and young boys grow into adult men and have sex with young children," she said.

The sect is complaining that the raid - larger even than the infamous Short Creek raid in 1953, when 236 children were taken from the polygamist sect - violates its religious freedom.

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FLDS and the Oneida Commune

I teach a seminar on legal systems very different from ours. As it happens, today we will be discussing a student paper from a previous year dealing with the Oneida commune, the famous 19th century group marriage experiment. On the face of it, Oneida was guilty of the same offenses the FLDS is charged with. Sex between young women and older men (and young men and older women) was an explicit part of their system and they made no attempt to conceal it. Their marriage pattern was even stranger than polygamy, since everyone was married to everyone. Like the FLDS, they saw their sexual system as an important part of their religion. Like the FLDS, they had a charismatic leader with complete authority. The FLDS is charged with brainwashing its members, Oneida had a well organized system of criticism and indoctrination.

Oneida functioned openly, publishing descriptions of what they were doing and why for a period of decades, and its final collapse seems to have been due more to internal problems-the founder was getting old, there was no well established successor, and the second generation, as with Israeli kibbutzim, was less enthusiastic about the system than the first-than to external pressure, although there was some of that.

The FLDS, on the other hand, functioned only by staying under the radar of the formal legal system. In both its recent collisions with the law, the treatment looks close to a presumption of guilt. The leader was charged and convicted with being an accessory to rape on the grounds that a woman claimed, some considerable time after she was married, that he had helped pressure her into the marriage-a result I find it hard to imagine in an ordinary case. The recent raid seized all of the children and took them away from their parents although the allegations, if true-and very likely they were true, whether or not the phone call that set off the raid was real-were only relevant to a small fraction of the children.

I do not think I have yet read any defense of the FLDS-any public statement arguing that they should be left alone to implement their very odd, and quite likely illegal, pattern of behavior. Yet Oneida, once established, functioned openly, propagandizing for its system, for decades. Why the difference?

Three possibilities occur to me. The first is that nineteenth century America was a more tolerant society than twenty-first century America, at least with regard to issues having to do with young people having sex. The second is that the Oneida commune was supported by the surrounding community, in part because it was an economically successful system providing employment, at its peak, for about 700 of its neighbors. The third is that its more symmetrical sexual arrangements-young men with older women as well as young women with older men-were less offensive.

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Odd sect targeted for destruction?

There's a lot to dislike about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Basically, any religion that seemingly tailors its theology to assure old men a steady stream of teenage brides is worthy of regarding with a hairy eyeball. Church members also have a reputation for milking social services, using taxpayers to subsidize their way of life. But does that mean that FLDS adherents don't have a right to raise and educate their children as they see fit, so long as they don't subject them to abuse?

That's the big question hovering over the hearings in San Angelo, Texas. When authorities raided the Yearnings for Zion Ranch FLDS settlement and made off with 416 children, they didn't confine their interest to adolescent girls forced into relations with older men. They took children of both sexes, and much younger than any at risk of coerced marriage. And when the women of the community tearfully demanded the return of their children, "experts" were trotted out to insist that the grown adults protesting their treatment at the hands of the state had been "brainwashed" through physical and emotional abuse, religious faith and fear of banishment. So, of course, there's no need to pay them any attention.

Not everybody buys the argument that people who choose to live differently should be assumed to have been forced into that life. Nancy Ammerman, a professor of the sociology of religion at Boston University and author of a book on religious fundamentalism told ABC News:
"Brainwashing is actually extraordinarily rare," said Ammerman. "It implies that the person has literally lost the ability to think independently and to make choices. "We really don't have any evidence that anything even vaguely resembling that is going on with this particular group or with most religious groups."

Some of the FLDS women went with the children to watch over them while they were held at a state shelter. But don't try to ask them how they and the sect's younger members are being treated -- they've been cut off from outside contact. According to the New York Times, "Officials first confiscated all the cellphones held by the children and mothers who went with them to shelter to prevent communication with outsiders. Later, they separated the mothers from children older than 6 in hopes of getting them to talk without a parent in attendance."

Increasingly, the Texas raid is looking less like an effort to assure the well-being of a teenage girl who called for help -- and who may or may not actually exist -- and more like a scheme to destroy an unusual religious community with some admittedly unsavory practices. Government officials targeted the FLDS for destruction once before -- in the wildly misfired raid of 1953 that turned sect members from reviled outsiders into sympathetic victims of the state. Now, in more government-friendly times, authorities seem dead-set on destroying the sect by depriving it of a next generation.

The hearing in San Angelo has been described as "chaotic" with upwards of 350 lawyers -- many of them volunteers -- involved. That's a good thing when there's so much at stake.

At the end of the day, any FLDS members involved in coercing and abusing church members should be severely punished. But the overall treatment of the sect's children will tell us whether there's still room in the U.S. for people who want to raise their families according to beliefs and customs at odds with those of the mainstream.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mass Hysteria in Eldorado Texas

Eldorado must be near Waco

Everybody saw it on TV and the Internet: "heroic" federal law enforcement officers "rescuing" hundreds of young women from the "compound" of a "polygamist sect" in Texas, the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints Church, to the unanimous applause of the media hairspray set, and with no one to speak for those the government had singled out. Again.

It made me think of 1969, when I was appointed a district officer for the Toastmasters International Youth Leadership Program. I duly publicized the program, arranged for a meeting room at World Savings & Loan in Lynwood, California and conducted one meeting there. I would have had many more, except that one functionally illiterate security guard decided that I was hosting "young communist meetings", and that ended the program. I had become a victim of mass hysteria—at the time, the accusation that ended all dreams and aspirations was "communist".

When the "communist" label quit working, the government and their media lackeys—or vice versa—were pressed to come up with some new, indisputable accusation by which their enemies could be easily vanquished without trial. Thus we saw the vicious 1993 attack by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's criminally misnamed "Hostage Rescue Team" on the Branch Davidians for "child abuse" that was never proven—and in fact was repudiated by local law enforcement officials. The one girl who testified to abuse before Congress later recanted her story.

This is not the first massive raid on the FLDS. It happened before in 1953, in Short Creek, Arizona, now known as Colorado City. The raid resulted in the expense of thousands of Arizona government man-hours and millions of taxpayer dollars. Even without the Internet, word spread of the government's abuses in that case, and sympathy turned in the direction of victims of those raids, which led to the end of the career of John Howard Pyle, the Arizona governor who insisted on the raid. See Kidnapped from that Land by Martha Sonntag Bradley, the story of a young girl who was taken into "protective custody" in the incident.

It's important to understand that the Branch Davidian raid was carried out on the "strength" of a perjured (criminally falsified) affidavit, and that no warrant was ever presented before or during the government assault. History now repeats itself in the Texas Bible Belt. An alleged phone call from an alleged abused child was used as the excuse to issue search warrants for the entire FLDS community, the herding of all the women and children (the count is over 500 at this time) like animals, and the confiscation of all cellular telephones from those who remained. The government claims child abuse, I claim religious intolerance typical of many areas of the South, particularly Texas.

These holier-than-thou Texans accuse their victims of polygamy, which in the past was not just a part of the Mormon faith, but of the entire Judeo-Christian community. (The correct expression, by the way, is actually "polygyny", since none of the women in these cases ever seem to have multiple husbands.) Solomon, King of Israel, and other biblical figures practiced polygyny. According to Wikipedia, Hebrew scriptures document approximately forty polygynists, including such prominent figures as Abraham, Jacob, Esau, and David. Even Martin Luther condoned polygyny in certain circumstances, saying he could not "forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict Scripture."

Complaints against the FLDS also include arranged, or involuntary marriages, another practice which—whether we like it or approve of it, or not, today—dates back dozens of centuries in Western Civilization, most commonly in royal families, and is still a part of other "advanced" civilizations as this is written. How many of us know an Indian student or professor who (like Apu in The Simpsons) went home to visit his family, only to be saddled with a wife he didn't want?

Lastly, and most effectively, the government attacks the FLDS for the ages of the girls being married. Such an attack sidetracked the career of rock star Jerry Lee Lewis, when British tabloids exposed the age of his second wife Myra (she was 13, and Lewis' first cousin). A little research reveals that Priscilla Beaulieu was pretty young—14—when she began dating Elvis, and Shakespeare tells us that Juliet, the better half of the most famous of all fictional couples, was also 14.

Although we do not necessarily condone such practices—forcing anybody to marry anybody else violates the Zero Aggression Principle, as does the involuntary consummation of such a marriage—they are certainly no reason for the FLDS to be singled out by the jackbooted thugs. The charges leveled at them are the same as those of which the Branch Davidians were accused. There is no more reason to take them at face value in 2008 than there was in 1993. In such cases government is the demonstrable liar and mass-killer. The same cannot be said of its victims.

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"We Never Make Mistakes": Government Agencies, Banks, Bill Collectors all know the mantra of the bureaucrat

Our second youngest daughter, now a mother in her early thirties, suddenly has a problem not with one government agency, but with at least two, and potentially many more public and private bureaucracies.

Maybe it has something to do with her zodiac sign. Maybe she violated some arcane tabu. But she has run into "We mever make mistakes" before. The first time its was with a bank which had not properly credited a deposit to her account ; When she complained, she was told "We never make mistakes." Because Debbie has a hard head, a hot temper and the vocabulary of a fishwife, she finally intimidated the bank into checking the transaction, and they admitted the error. Now she faces the problem again.

Yesterday, she tried to file her income tax return electronically. On the electronic filing system, she was required not merely to list her social security number, but her date of birth. The IRS rejected the return on the grounds that she had given a false date of birth. In fact, she had given her correct date of birth, May 21, as recorded on her birth certificate. But the IRS insisted that she had been born on May 24.

She asked if the IRS could correct their information if she sent them a copy of the birth certificate. No, she was told, because the IRS was acting on information from the Social Security Administration. Her Social Security Account, which she had to provide this same birth certificate to apply for, listed her birthday as May 24.

So she called the Social Security office and asked them to correct the error they had made. She was told that she would have to come to the office with her birth certificate and her driver's license and wait in line to discuss the problem. Since it was their mistake for putting an incorrect date into the computer, she asked why she sould miss work to correct their mistake.

The answer was, "We can't correct the mistake." Having typed in the wrong date, the Agency was forbidden to make any changes to the original information. The only way that SSA could inform the IRS of her correct birth date was for her to come in and apply for a new Social Security card, opening a new account. This promised even more problems.

Given the time lag between applying for and receiving a new social security number, she will not be able to file her income tax return electronically. Next month, when her driver's license is due for renewal, she faces problems from the DMV for having a social security number different from the number in DMV's files. She will have to go to her bank and her employer to change her social security number there. And whenever she retires, she may find that she has no record of payments into her social sedurity account for all the years she has worked prior to 2008

But the bureaucrats never make mistakes, and when they do, the problem is yours, not theirs. "We never make mistakes" should be ranked with "The Check is in the Mail" and "I'm from the government, I'm here to help you." on the list of great lies.

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