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California: Closer to the End of ‘Policing for Profit’

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Advocates HQ Comments are off

California: Closer to the End of ‘Policing for Profit’

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

California has just taken another step to nullify a federal rule over its unconstitutional nature.

According to the Tenth Amendment Center, the California Assembly passed a bill that would keep state officials from using civil asset forfeiture to seize private property without due process while also effectively preventing federal agents to do the same in the Golden State.

Police StopSenate Bill 443 was introduced last year, and it was a response to the growing trend against civil asset forfeiture taking over the country. Organizations like FreedomWorks and Tenth Amendment Center are some of the leaders in this area, helping state legislators have access to reform ideas that render the federal rules unenforceable.

According to the libertarian justice firm Institute for Justice, civil asset forfeiture is “legal plunder,” because the practice gives federal and state law enforcement agencies the power to take a person’s property or assets, even if the owner hasn’t been arrested or convicted of a crime.

After passing the state Senate last summer, the bill failed in the Assembly. But once Assemblyperson Chris Holden made a motion to reconsider, the bill was placed in the inactive file and then brought up for a vote in the full Assembly on August 15.

If the bill is signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, the loophole in California law that allows officers to refer to federal agents in civil asset forfeiture cases in exchange for a portion of assets seized will be gone. Equitable sharing has been the only issue with California’s civil asset forfeiture laws, which are considered to be some of the strongest in the country. But up until now, the local protections against the practice meant nothing if federal agencies were involved.

Between 2000 and 2008, federal agents doubled their equitable sharing earnings. By the end of 2008, state officials across the country had helped the federal government seize about $400 million through the program.

With SB443, state prosecutors would be prohibited from going around restrictions imposed on state officials by passing cases off to the federal government. While this is good news, the bill still isn’t perfect.

If the amount seized is above $40,000, SB443 would allow state prosecutors to refer to federal officials under the equitable sharing program. The state could also have access to a portion of the assets seized if the owner of the property is convicted in a related criminal activity.

Despite its potential shortcomings, SB443 goes a long way to roll back federal intervention in local law enforcement activities, removing the financial incentive often tied to the practice.

Will other states follow?

Why Florida’s Asset Forfeiture Reforms Don’t Go Far Enough

in Economic Liberty, Issues, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Alice Salles Comments are off

Why Florida’s Asset Forfeiture Reforms Don’t Go Far Enough

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

If you only got your news from major publications such as the Huffington Post, you wouldn’t have learned that Senate Bill 1044, which was signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott this past Friday, does nothing to help Floridians protect their property from unlawful seizures from law enforcement agencies.

According to Tenth Amendment’s Mike Maharrey, the bill was a step in the right direction. But while the new law attempts to do the right thing, it doesn’t go far enough. It also fails to close the federal loophole that renders state reforms meaningless.

Florida According to SB 1044’s text, prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that property being targeted for seizure is linked to a crime before forfeiture is justified.

The bill also states that suspects must be formally prosecuted and convicted of a crime before asset forfeiture can be implemented. But due to the committee hearing process, Maharrey explains, the bill was somewhat diluted before the final text was sent to the governor’s desk.

Instead of applying the conviction requirements evenly, amendments added to the bill ended up trimming said requirements. Now, all that the law requires is an arrest before most assets are seized. To Maharrey, the fact the bill got a great deal of support from politicians from both sides of the aisles is proof that “reforms didn’t go as far as needed.”

But what the bill does get right can be easily neutralized by federal law.

The fact SB 1044 only restricts state agencies, Maharrey argues, gives local law enforcement officials and prosecutors a choice. Instead of taking on asset forfeiture by using their own resources, Florida can simply hand the case over to the federal government, rendering reforms passed into law toothless when it comes to protecting Floridians’ property from government abuse.

The Department of Justice has seized more than $4.5 billion from property owners across the country, which now sits in the agency’s civil asset forfeiture fund. According to the Institute for Justice, that represents a 4,700 percent increase over the last generation. When added to the Treasury Department’s civil asset forfeiture fund, the numbers are even more staggering. According to Cato Institute, the government took more than $5 billion from Americans in 2014 alone, making this the first time in history that the government has seized more money than burglars stole from private citizens.

According to Tenth Amendment’s Maharrey, the federal government is fighting hard to keep civil asset forfeiture laws in place because “the feds recognize paying state and local police agencies directly in cash for handling their enforcement would reveal their weakness.” Unless the federal government’s Equitable Sharing Program, which the Department of Justice has just launched once again, is slashed for good, state and local police will always have incentives to take part in the practice of seizing private property.

Until then, efforts like Florida’s must be celebrated, but not considered our only way out. State reforms will only be effective if they keep local agencies from having access to the stolen gifts presented by the federal government’s poorly written laws.

Freedom Is Indivisible

in From Me To You, Liberator Online by Brett Bittner Comments are off

Freedom Is Indivisible

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Economic freedom. Civil freedom. Religious freedom. Sexual freedom. Personal freedom. Political freedom.

Freedom is popular.

freedomAs such, some attempt to position themselves as its champions, by defining which carefully-worded sliver of freedom they feel comfortable permitting you to exercise.

Libertarians believe that freedom, while formed from many components, is indivisible. 

While some may value their economic freedom over their political or civil freedom, without the political freedom to choose between candidates and ideas and civil liberties to ensure that government has not improperly imprisoned the dissidents, economic freedom cannot exist.

The freedom to live your religious convictions cannot survive in an environment without the freedom to choose your mate or to have the ability to support your church financially.

Essentially, each aspect of freedom is interdependent on the others, and when you try to dissect and distribute only parts of the whole, freedom does not really exist. When only slivers are permitted, none of us live free.

As documented in the Declaration of Independence, rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were paramount in the founding of America. Our freedom engenders our ability live our lives as we see fit without the force or coercion of others.

This week, our friends at The CATO Institute and the Fraser Institute released the Human Freedom Index, which “presents the state of human freedom in the world based on a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom.”

As you will note, the United States is no longer the leading bastion of liberty we once were, falling to 20th out of 152 countries measured in the index. Expansion of the regulatory state, multiple “wars” (terror, drugs, poverty, etc.), and the victories of eminent domain and civil asset forfeiture over property rights all contribute to our loss of freedom. None of those factors is exclusively detrimental to one aspect of freedom, yet they all undermine our overall freedom.

So, the next time you hear someone espouse their love for their preferred aspect, remind them that freedom is indivisible, and that without all of it, none of us are truly free.

Texas Legislator Writes Best Marijuana Re-Legalization Law… Ever

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Activist Ammunition section in Volume 20, No. 10 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

David SimpsonDavid Simpson, a Texas Republican state representative who describes himself as a “constitutional conservative,” has introduced what is surely the best and most libertarian marijuana re-legalization bill yet.

His bill — introduced this month — would simply eliminate all references to marijuana in Texas law, presumably making marijuana as legal as rose bushes or pine trees.

And he justifies it as part of an overall personal and political philosophy based on Christian values, individual liberty and limited government.

Simpson explains his thinking in a remarkable op-ed in The Texas Tribune, entitled “The Christian Case for Drug Law Reform.” Excerpts:

As a Christian, I recognize the innate goodness of everything God made and humanity’s charge to be stewards of the same.

In fact, it’s for this reason that I’m especially cautious when it comes to laws banning plants. I don’t believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix.

[...]

[O]ur current ‘War on Drugs’ policies, though well intended, [are] spurring a proliferation of ever-changing exotic designer drugs and a disregard for constitutional protections in the name of eliminating drugs at any cost. Just think of no-knock warrants, stop-and-frisk, civil asset forfeiture and billionaire drug lords …state and federal agents are empowered to enforce laws with little to no regard for constitutional protections of individual rights, the sanctity of one’s home or the right to travel freely.

The time has come for a thoughtful discussion of the prudence of the prohibition approach to drug abuse, the impact of prohibition enforcement on constitutionally protected liberties and the responsibilities that individuals must take for their own actions.

[...]

Should we be concerned for our friends and neighbors who abuse a substance or activity? Yes, we should help them through sincere and voluntary engagement, but not with force and violence.

Is there a place for prohibition? Yes, a prohibition of aggression (Romans 13). Our laws should prohibit and penalize violent acts. This is the jurisdiction of the magistrates under the new covenant — harm to one’s neighbor.

Civil government should value everything God made and leave people alone unless they meddle with their neighbor.

As Reason magazine notes, “This is not just a brief against marijuana prohibition, or even the War on Drugs in general. It is a brief against using force to stop peaceful, consensual activity. … We need more Republicans like David Simpson.”

They Said it… With Rand Paul, Loretta Lynch, and More

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the They Said It section in Volume 20, No. 5 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

UNKNOWN MAN TO HEAD SECRET AGENCY: “The Central Intelligence Agency has selected a new top spy… He remains undercover and is known within the agency as ‘Spider’… His new role will be director of the National Clandestine Service, a position that effectively makes him responsible for all the CIA’s spying activities. … The CIA wouldn’t reveal any information about the new NCS chief.” — journalist Damian Paletta, “CIA Taps Undercover ‘Spider’ as Its Top Spy,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 29, 2015.

Rand PaulRAND PAUL SLAMS JEB BUSH’S POT HYPOCRISY: “This is a guy who now admits he smoked marijuana but he wants to put people in jail who do. I think that’s the real hypocrisy… a lot of people who made mistakes growing up, admit their mistakes but now still want to put people in jail for that. Had he been caught at Andover [Massachusetts, where Bush attended the elite Phillips Academy prep school], he’d have never been governor, he’d probably never have a chance to run for the presidency. … You would think he’d have a little more understanding.” — Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), quoted by The Hill, “Rand Paul Slams Bush Hypocrisy on Pot,” Jan. 30, 2015.

LYNCHING LIBERTY:
Loretta Lynch“Not only do I not support the legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support the legalization. Nor would it be the position should I become confirmed as Attorney General. … Civil and criminal forfeiture are very important tools of the Department of Justice as well as our state and local counterparts. … [Civil asset forfeiture is] done pursuant to supervision by a court, it is done pursuant to court order, and I believe the protections are there. … [Current and past NSA spying programs on U.S. citizens are] constitutional and effective.” — Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, remarks made during her confirmation hearings, Jan. 28, 2015, as reported by Reason.com.

CUT MILITARY WASTE: “Cut the defense budget by $300 billion. An alarming portion of the $600 billion to $700 billion defense budget is sheer waste caused by managerial inefficiencies and bloat. The inability of the Defense Department to audit of its own spending is scandalous. We can easily cut $300 billion from military spending while making ourselves safer by devoting the entire defense budget to defending ourselves in lieu of racing around the world in search of monsters to destroy.” — Bruce Fein, constitutional scholar and Associate Deputy Attorney General under President Reagan, ” A nonpartisan national security agenda,” Washington Times, January 19, 2015.

ONE GOV’T SCHOOL SYSTEM TO RUIN THEM ALL: “I assure you my son lacks the magical powers necessary to threaten his friend’s existence. If he did, I’m sure he’d bring him right back.” — Jason Steward, father of nine-year-old Aiden Steward, who was suspended from a Kermit, Texas elementary school for telling a classmate he could make him invisible with a magic ring. The family had watched “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies” a few days earlier. (New York Daily News, January 31, 2015.)

Robbery With a Badge: Shocking New Report

in Criminal Justice, Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 16 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Asset forfeiture is a dull name for a shocking little-known legal device Civil Asset Forfeiturethat allows law enforcement officials to take your cash and property — without a warrant or criminal charges of any kind — and keep most of the proceeds.

That’s right: they can do this even if you have not committed a crime. Even if you’ve never been charged with one.

The only way you can get back your money or property is to go through an exhaustive legal process to prove that your property was legally acquired. Yes, in essence, you must prove to the government that you are not guilty. And the process is so difficult, time-consuming and expensive that most don’t attempt it.

Even if you think you know about this vile practice, a new report by the Washington Post entitled “Stop and seize: Aggressive police take hundreds of millions of dollars from motorists not charged with crimes” has uncovered new information that will shock you.

Among the Post’s findings:

* Asset forfeiture has risen dramatically in the past decade. Thousands of Americans have had billions of dollars stolen by police — again, without being charged or convicted of a crime.

* The federal government has given millions of dollars to non-government organizations to train police officers in aggressive use of asset forfeiture. An estimated 50,000-plus police officers have had such training in the last decade.

* Says the Post: “Behind the rise in seizures is a little-known cottage industry of private police-training firms that teach the techniques of ‘highway interdiction’ to departments across the country.

“One of those firms created a private intelligence network known as Black Asphalt Electronic Networking & Notification System that enabled police nationwide to share detailed reports about American motorists — criminals and the innocent alike — including their Social Security numbers, addresses and identifying tattoos, as well as hunches about which drivers to stop. …

“A thriving subculture of road officers on the network now competes to see who can seize the most cash and contraband, describing their exploits in the network’s chat rooms and sharing ‘trophy shots’ of money and drugs…”

* “Some police advocate highway interdiction as a way of raising revenue for cash-strapped municipalities. ‘All of our home towns are sitting on a tax-liberating gold mine,’ Deputy Ron Hain of Kane County, Ill., wrote in a self-published book under a pseudonym. Hain is a marketing specialist for Desert Snow, a leading interdiction training firm based in Guthrie, Okla., whose founders also created Black Asphalt. Hain’s book calls for ‘turning our police forces into present-day Robin Hoods.’”

There’s much more in the Washington Post’s multi-part series, now online.

The Missing Ingredient in Your Fact-Based Arguments for Liberty

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 12 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Facts are essential to making the case for liberty. But you can make dry facts come alive to your listeners — by using the mind-changing power of stories.

Stories — both true and fictional — have a special power. The greatest teachers have Memorable Storiesalways used stories: think of the parables of Jesus, the fables of Aesop, the witty tales of the Taoist Chuang-Tzu. Nearly every culture uses stories both to entertain and to convey vital lessons.

Now we have scientific evidence that stories are extraordinarily effective. Bestselling author Carmine Gallo, in his book Talk Like TED, cites Princeton University research which used MRIs to study how the brains of audience members reacted to stories. The studies showed that stories actually activate all areas of the brain.

Says Gallo: “Brain scans reveal that stories stimulate and engage the human brain, helping the speaker connect with the audience and making it much more likely that the audience will agree with the speaker’s point of view.”

Obviously, if we want to successfully persuade others, we should be telling lots of stories.

When you can combine a story with your facts and figures, your audience listens. They identify. They are moved. They feel, as well as calculate. Further, while it’s hard to remember facts and figures, people remember stories — and eagerly share them.

Let’s take as an example the issue of medical marijuana. There are many logical, fact-based arguments that can — and should — be used in persuading others on this issue. But consider this story, a version of which was published in the Pittsburgh Press in the early 1990s, before liberty activists begin to have success in getting states to re-legalize marijuana for medical purposes:

James Burton, a former Kentuckian, is living literally in exile in the Netherlands. Burton, a Vietnam War vet and master electrical technician, suffers from a rare form of hereditary glaucoma. All males on his mother’s side of his family had the disease. Several of them are blind.

Burton found that marijuana could hold back, and perhaps halt, the glaucoma. So he began growing marijuana for his own use and smoking it.

Kentucky State Police raided his 90-acre farm and found 138 marijuana plants and two pounds of raw marijuana. At his 1988 trial, North Carolina ophthalmologist Dr. John Merrit — at that time the only physician in America allowed by the government to test marijuana in the treatment of glaucoma — testified that marijuana was “the only medication” that could keep Burton from going blind.

Nevertheless, Burton was found guilty of simple possession for personal use and was sentenced to one year in a federal maximum security prison, with no parole. The government also seized his house and his farm, valued at around $70,000. Under forfeiture laws, there was no defense he could raise against the seizure of his farm. No witnesses on behalf of the defense, not even a statement from the Burtons, were allowed at the hearing.

After release, Burton and his wife moved to the Netherlands, where he could legally purchase marijuana to stave off his blindness. Instead of a sprawling farm, they now live in a tiny apartment.

They say they would love to return to America — but not at the cost of Burton going blind.

See how that puts a human face on the medical marijuana issue?

There are equally moving, equally appalling stories about taxation, utility monopolies, First Amendment issues, gun rights, licensing laws, war… virtually any issue. Anywhere the government has committed aggression against individuals, there is a story to be told.

A great place to find such stories is the website of the Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian legal defense organization. IJ has done a wonderful job of collecting stories of heroic individuals fighting to defend their lives and property against oppressive government.

Whenever you come across heart-rending, powerful stories of victims of government, or people overcoming oppression, collect them for future use.

Most people decide what they believe not just on bare facts but also on feelings and emotions. Give them stories to hang your facts on, memorable stories that make your facts come alive, and you will be far more effective in your political persuasion.

They Said It… With The Economist, David Letterman, and More

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 6 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

FACES TO VOICES: “President Obama now is meeting with the G-7 leaders… it must be fun for him to put faces to the voices he hears on the wiretaps.” — David Letterman, March 24, 2014.

PERVERSE INCENTIVES: “The War on Drugs creates perverse incentives. When the police find The Economistassets that they suspect are the proceeds of crime, they can seize them. Under civil asset-forfeiture rules, they do not have to prove that a crime was committed — they can grab first and let the owners sue to get their stuff back. The police can meanwhile use the money to beef up their own budgets, buying faster patrol cars or computers. All this gives them a powerful incentive to focus on drug crimes, which generate lots of cash, rather than, say, rape, which does not. This is outrageous. Citizens should not forfeit their property unless convicted of a crime; and the proceeds should fund the state as a whole, not the arm that does the grabbing.” — editorial, The Economist magazine, “Armed and dangerous,” March 22, 2014.

WHY DOES THE GOV’T HURT SICK PEOPLE: “It states in the Bible not to abuse a drug, it doesn’t say you can’t use it. If you ask me, cannabis is a gift from God.” — preacher’s daughter Aimee Curry, who found marijuana was the only medicine that relieved agonizing muscle spasms from a near-fatal car accident. She told her story on CNN’s “Weed 2: Cannabis Madness: Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports,” Tuesday, March 11, 2014.

LEGAL POT GETTING PEOPLE OFF DANGEROUS PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: 

Dr. Mark Rabe

“Patients often come into my office and drop down a brown bag full of pill bottles on my desk and say,’I'm off Oxycodone; I’m off muscle relaxants. I’m off Ambien; I’m off Trazodone,’ because medical cannabis does the job better. Time after time these patients tell me that medical cannabis works better than the pills, and with fewer side effects. Cannabis has such a good safety profile and is much less addictive than opiates. In my mind, cannabis is a good potential replacement for opiates.” — Dr. Mark Rabe, a Northwestern University School of Medicine-trained physician who treats Aimee Curry, quoted above. Rabe noted that deaths from prescription drugs are on the rise, while death from marijuana overdose is virtually impossible.

NEW JERSEY GUN-GRABBER WANTS TO CLASSIFY ORDINARY GUN OWNERS AS “TERRORISTS OR GANGSTERS”: “Our top priority is a 10-round limit on magazine size. NobodyNew Jersey gun control activist Brian Miller needs a 15-round ammunition magazine unless they are a domestic terrorist or a gangster.” — New Jersey gun control activist Bryan Miller on proposed state legislation to outlaw possession of such guns in the state, including 43 commonly-owned rifles. The Post says the bill “has no grandfather clause and no amnesty period. So as soon as this legislation becomes law, everyone in possession of these rifles is automatically a felon and the guns are subject to seizure by the government. …The penalty is up to 10 years in jail and a mandatory minimum sentence of three to five years, with no chance of parole.” The legislation is expected to pass the state House and Senate and land on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk.

LIBERTARIAN PARTY’S NO-TAX CONVENTION:
Libertarian Party Executive Director Wes Benedict“Democrats and Republicans each got about $18 million of government money for their national conventions in 2012. We Libertarians pay for our own conventions.”— Wes Benedict, executive director of the Libertarian National Committee, quoted in the Washington Times, “Libertarians Strut Their Stuff,” March 19, 2014. Learn more about the upcoming LP convention — to be held in Columbus, Ohio, June 28-29 — here.

David Letterman

LETTERMAN ON TAX SLAVES: “The average American citizen — you hear the statistic all the time — works six months out of the year for the government. That’s how difficult the taxes are in this country. We work six months out of the year. Government employees don’t even do that.” — David Letterman, March 14, 2014.


NOT RIGHT AWAY:
Jimmy FallonYesterday Edward Snowden urged technology companies to improve their encryption techniques in order to prevent hacking. Then he said, ‘But not right away. I’m still using Obama’s Netflix password to watch ‘House of Cards.’”— Jimmy Fallon, March 11, 2014.