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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 Alice Salles 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?

Better Economic Prospects, Not Incarceration, Behind US Crime Decline

in Criminal Justice, Economic Liberty, Economics, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Taxes by Alice Salles Comments are off

Better Economic Prospects, Not Incarceration, Behind US Crime Decline

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

For the past two decades, crime in the United States has declined considerably. Compared to the crime rate of the early 1990s, US crime rates have fallen about half while violent crime has fallen by 51 percent. Between 1991 and now, property crime has fallen by 43 percent.

Sign But while many understand that better economic prospects tend to help keep the crime rate low, many tend to attribute the considerable reduction to a series of factors that, when closely reviewed, have little to do with safety.

Some of the most common arguments brought up by experts include the expansion of enforcement agencies, “tough on crime” policies, and increasing incarceration rates. Some have even gone as far as claiming that legalized abortions had helped to boost safety, ignoring the fact that abortion rates have declined over the past decades.

But according to research on the subject by New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, socio-economic factors, not mass incarceration, has helped reduce the crime rates across the country.

According to the paper, increasing incarceration has had no effect on the drop in crime rates since 2000. When it comes to violent crime, the rate is also close to zero. States like Texas, California, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York have all seen a drop in crime as incarceration rates have also dropped.

Between 2000 and 2013, the study concludes, growth in income and decreased alcohol consumption have been the top factors responsible for the drop in crime, along with a boost in consumer confidence. Between 1990 and 1999, factors that helped to push crime rates down included decreased unemployment, growth in income, decreased alcohol consumption, and increased incarceration and police numbers.

But as the number of police officers increases, the number of low-level offenders behind bars shoots up. According to Brennan Center for Justice, the fact we have more low-level offenders in jail now than before impacts the crime reduction effect.

From the study:

“The incarceration rate jumped by more than 60 percent from 1990 to 1999, while the rate of violent crime dropped by 28 percent. In the next decade, the rate of incarceration increased by just 1 percent, while the violent crime rate fell by 27 percent.”

During a recent justice reform event organized by the grassroots organization FreedomWorks, Molly M. Gill, a former prosecutor who’s now the Director of Federal Legislative Affairs for Families Against Mandatory Minimums Foundation (FAMM), pointed out that “very few violent offenders end up in federal prisons.” Instead of violent criminals, federal prisons hold a great number of non-violent drug offenders, who account for more than 25 percent of the federal budget every year. Instead of rehabilitating them once they are inside the system, U.S. Justice Action Network Deputy Director Jenna Moll told attendees, prisons are often seen as the easy way out. During the FreedomWorks event, Moll also talked to attendees. She pointed out that a “national survey found prisoners prefer one year in prison versus five years probation,” adding that “if even prisoners know” prison is “the easy way out,” it proves that the system is not working.

In a 2000 article for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), economics professor Bruce Benson explained that, while few studies on the matter have been carried out, “Private security employment has accelerated since 1970,” leading him to believe that the “private security market … the second fastest growing industry in the United States” may have something to do with the drop in crime rates. To the economist, private-sector responses to crime should be studied as a major factor behind crime decline.

Libertarians Cheer New “Surveillance State Repeal Act”

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Activist Ammunition section in Volume 20, No. 12 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Two congressmen have introduced bold bipartisan legislation that will fully repeal the police-state 2001 U.S. PATRIOT Act and substantially roll back the U.S. surveillance state that has metastasized in recent years.

Repeal the Surveillance StateThe Surveillance State Repeal Act (H.R. 1466) was introduced on March 24 by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Thomas Massie (R-KY), and it offers a great opportunity for Americans to restore lost liberty and privacy in one swoop.

“The warrantless collection of millions of personal communications from innocent Americans is a direct violation of our constitutional right to privacy,” said Rep. Pocan. “Revelations about the NSA’s programs reveal the extraordinary extent to which the program has invaded Americans’ privacy.

“I reject the notion that we must sacrifice liberty for security — we can live in a secure nation which also upholds a strong commitment to civil liberties. This legislation ends the NSA’s dragnet surveillance practices, while putting provisions in place to protect the privacy of American citizens through real and lasting change.”

“The Patriot Act contains many provisions that violate the Fourth Amendment and have led to a dramatic expansion of our domestic surveillance state,” said Rep. Massie. “Our Founding Fathers fought and died to stop the kind of warrantless spying and searches that the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act authorize. It is long past time to repeal the Patriot Act and reassert the constitutional rights of all Americans.”

Libertarians and other defenders of civil liberties have cheered the bill.

The Surveillance State Repeal Act will:

  1. Repeal the 2001 U.S. PATRIOT Act, which among other things contains the telephone metadata harvesting provision by which the NSA has justified collecting phone information on millions of Americans.
  2. Repeal the FISA Amendments Act (which contains the email harvesting provision), with the exception of the provisions regarding FISA court reporting and WMD intelligence collection.
  3. Protect whistleblowers: Make retaliation against federal national security whistleblowers illegal and provide for the termination of individuals who engage in such retaliation.
  4. Ensure that any FISA collection against a U.S. Person takes place only pursuant to a valid warrant based on probable cause (which was the original FISA standard from 1978 to 2001).
  5. Retain the ability for government surveillance capabilities to be targeted against a specific natural person, regardless of the type of communications method(s) or device(s) being used by the subject of the surveillance.
  6. Retain provisions in current law dealing with the acquisition of intelligence information involving weapons of mass destruction from entities not composed primarily of U.S. Persons.
  7. Prohibit the government from mandating that electronic device or software manufacturers build in so-called “back doors” to allow the government to bypass encryption or other privacy technology built into said hardware and/or software.
  8. Increase the terms of judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) from seven to ten years and allows their reappointment.
  9. Mandate that the FISC utilize technologically competent Special Masters (technical and legal experts) to help determine the veracity of government claims about privacy, minimization and collection capabilities employed by the U.S. government in FISA applications.
  10. Mandate that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) regularly monitor such domestic surveillance programs for compliance with the law, including responding to Member requests for investigations and whistleblower complaints of wrongdoing.
  11. Explicitly ban the use of Executive Order 12333 as a way of collecting bulk data, which pertains to the collection and storage of communications by U.S. Persons.

Make no mistake: The bill faces an uphill battle in Congress. FreedomWorks chair Matt Kibbe called upon its 6.9 million members to fight for the bill, and created a web page where supporters of the bill can easily email this message to their representatives.

Libertarian Party chair Nicholas Sarwark called on all Americans who love liberty to create a grassroots campaign to support the Surveillance State Repeal Act, to contact their congressmen and women and urge them to support H.R. 1466, and to spread this message through social media and whatever other means possible.

In fact, Sarwick’s only complaint was that the bill, sweeping though it is, doesn’t go far enough.

“The Libertarian Party would like to see all aspects of government mass surveillance ended, including complete elimination of the secret FISA court whose work issuing warrants for terrorist and criminal suspects can be easily assumed by existing federal courts,” said Sarwark. “But this bill is a good first step.”

Do You Prefer Cats, Dogs — Or Liberty?

in Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the President’s Corner section in Volume 19, No. 2 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

As president of the organization that publishes the world’s first and most popular online political Quiz, I was naturally interested when TIME magazine posted an online political quiz this month in an article entitled “Your Personality Makes Your Politics.”

“Can TIME Predict Your Politics?” the article’s subhead asked.

Alas, for me — and, I suspect, many other readers — the answer was a resounding NO.

I took their quiz, and TIME’s description of my political views was wildly out of synch with what I believe. Not even remotely close. And I found some of the questions downright bewildering.

There are several reasons for this, which I’ll discuss in a moment.

But the main reason TIME got my position so very, very wrong is that my political view — libertarian — was not one of the possible answers.

Yes, that’s right. TIME’s quiz attempts to shoehorn every taker’s politics as some variant of liberal, conservative, or moderate.

TIME’s quiz uses the simplistic, inaccurate, discriminatory, discredited left-versus-right view of politics — which leaves out libertarians entirely.

And there’s simply no excuse for that.

Numerous recent surveys indicate that 15%-20% or more of Americans are more libertarian than either liberal or conservative. The 2012 Cato Institute book The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center explores these results at length, and concludes that 10 to 20 percent of Americans are fiscally conservative and socially liberal-libertarian.

In August 2000 the Rasmussen polling firm gave the Advocates’ World’s Smallest Political Quiz to nearly 1,000 representative American voters. Our Quiz is a far more rigorous test of one’s libertarian leanings than the looser definitions typically used by polling firms. Yet fully sixteen percent scored in the libertarian sector then — a figure roughly identical to Cato’s estimate.

And the numbers are growing fast. An August poll by FreedomWorks found that fully “78 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents self-identify as fiscally conservative and socially moderate.” Further: “Told that libertarians generally believe individuals should be free to do as they like as long as they don’t hurt others and that the government should keep out of people’s day-to-day lives, 58 percent of the full national sample said they agree.”

Any attempt to identify American’s political leanings that leaves out many of these millions of libertarians and libertarian-leaners is thus doomed to fail.

The inadequacies of the left-versus-right model of politics was the main reason David Nolan created his now-famous Nolan Chart back in 1971, the graphic foundation of the Advocates’ World’s Smallest Political Quiz.

By showing that there was more to politics than just left versus right, our Quiz has opened millions of minds to a more inclusive, more insightful political map.

This accuracy is one reason the Quiz rapidly became the world’s most popular political quiz. It’s been taken over 20 million times online. It’s been recommended by numerous major high school and college textbooks and is used in classrooms across America. It’s been translated into several languages and reprinted in newspapers and magazines with total circulations in the many millions.

All of this is because it works. Because it provides honest, essential, enlightening insights into politics. Because it realizes that no discussion of modern American politics makes sense without including the distinctive libertarian view (and its mirror-opposite, statism).

But back to the TIME quiz.

I have a lot of respect for the researcher behind TIME’s quiz. Jonathan Haidt is the author of the outstanding 2012 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, which is carefully researched and rich in political insights. I recommend it.

That book shows Haidt has a solid understanding of libertarianism and, more than that, an appreciation of what libertarians believe. And I’m a strong proponent of Haidt’s goal of fostering more productive political discussions through a greater understanding of different viewpoints.

TIME’s quiz isn’t a traditional political quiz. It tries to identify your politics based on a number of seemingly non-political questions that have been found to correlate with a person’s political leanings. The first question, for instance is, “Do you prefer cats or dogs?”

This is an interesting line of research, but since libertarians apparently aren’t included in this — and since the overriding value of libertarians is political liberty across the board, trumping cultural or lifestyle matters — I would think it would be hard to identify libertarians in such a way (though I could be wrong). Perhaps the quiz’s lack of a libertarian score indicates this.

A few of the questions also suffer from ambiguity in wording, something libertarians are especially sensitive to. Like “Respect for authority is something all children need to learn.” What KIND of authority? Political? Family? School? Religion? Tell us more! For libertarians, the key political question is always: Is force being initiated?

By the way, Haidt himself acknowledges the problems with the left-right line. In the introduction to his TIME quiz, he notes: “many people can’t place themselves along the liberal-conservative dimension — such as libertarians, or people who find wisdom on both sides on different issues.” The results, he says, is that the TIME quiz has “moderate predictive power.”

Given this, TIME’s Quiz — like all efforts at political measurement based on the hopelessly inadequate left-versus-right model — is doomed to not work for millions of us — or to produce less than satisfying results overall.

Back to the drawing board, TIME! Meanwhile, why not offer the World’s Smallest Political Quiz to your readers — as the Washington Post, London Sunday Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Miami Herald and many other outstanding publications have done?