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« Reply #150 on: May 20, 2009, 07:05:06 AM »

In October, British newspapers reported that Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government was working on a plan to monitor every phone call, Web-site visit, text message and email in the country, entering the information into a vast database that would be used to catch terrorists, pedophiles and scam artists. Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary (that is, a member of the Conservative opposition), warned that "any suggestion of the government using existing powers to intercept communications data without public discussion is going to sound extremely sinister." The Sunday Times reported a "fierce backlash inside Whitehall," with senior officials calling the database scheme "impractical, disproportionate and potentially unlawful." Michael Parker, the spokesman for a British civil-liberties group, told the Daily Express: "This is stalking. If an individual carried out this sort of snooping, it would be a crime."

Mr. Brown's government tried to blunt such attacks by saying that its electronic dragnet would not be as extensive as the press had claimed and that government investigators, in any case, would still need "ministerial warrants" to listen to or read the contents of communications. Not everyone felt reassured, however. Ken MacDonald, the director of public prosecutions for England and Wales, warned that "decisions taken in the next few months and years about how the state may use these [surveillance] powers, and to what extent, are likely to be irreversible," adding: "We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom's back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security state."

The episode illustrates two points that are reinforced by British journalist Ross Clark's wry and revealing book "The Road to Big Brother." First, despite the U.K.'s reputation as one of the most watched societies in the world -- it has more surveillance cameras per capita than any other country -- its citizens, including its law-enforcement officials, still care about privacy. Second, their complaints are more easily ignored than analogous complaints in the U.S., where the Fourth Amendment, along with various statutes, prevents the executive branch from unilaterally changing the rules that limit government snooping.

In the U.S., implementing a data-collection program like the one contemplated by the British government would require not only the "public discussion" demanded by Dominic Grieve but congressional authorization, which would in turn be reviewed by courts that are unlikely to allow the state to gather so much private information on so many innocent people. Nor would American courts let the police stop and search people's pockets and bags in any public place for any reason, a policy that Mr. Clark says may soon become British law.

The Road to Big Brother
By Ross Clark
(Encounter, 140 pages, $21.95)

Still, there is much that Americans can learn from the British experience with surveillance. Take all those cameras. So far in the U.S., they have been limited mainly to detecting traffic violations. Although traffic cameras have generated heated debate, the main concern has to do with whether they reduce or increase accidents and whether municipalities are sacrificing public safety for the sake of revenue (by reducing the duration of yellow lights, for example). But there is no constitutional barrier to erecting surveillance cameras throughout the U.S. -- provided they focus only on public areas. After all, the government could, in theory, post police officers on every corner, and they would be free to look and listen without violating anyone's Fourth Amendment rights. Looking and listening from a distance does not change the constitutional question.

Yet there is something to be said, fiscal concerns aside, for not having a cop on every corner. The sense of being constantly watched does tend to put a damper on things, potentially affecting the topics people discuss, the ways they dress, the businesses they visit, even the books they read while sitting on park benches.

By Mr. Clark's account, the cost of such surveillance is not worth paying. In Britain, he says, the evidence that the government's cameras are good at deterring or detecting crime is thin. Facial-recognition software aimed at catching known suspects has been a bust, easily foiled by poor lighting, hats, sunglasses and even a few months of aging. Mr. Clark argues that Britain's cameras are, in reality, a relatively cheap way of seeming to do something about crime. He finds that "electronic surveillance is not always augmenting traditional policing; it is more often than not replacing it, with poor results." Likewise, huge collections of information gleaned from private sources such as phone companies, banks and credit bureaus (along the lines of America's renamed but not abandoned Total Information Awareness Program) are apt to be unmanageable and rife with errors. Mr. Clark notes: "There is a fundamental rule about databases: the bigger they are, the more useless they become."

Again and again, Mr. Clark finds, high-tech systems that seem at first to be outrageous invasions of privacy turn out to be outrageous boondoggles that don't succeed at their official goals and actually get in the way of catching the bad guys and protecting the public. "The excessive collection of data tends to act as a fog through which authorities struggle to find what they are looking for," Mr. Clark writes. "The more Big Brother watches, the less he seems to see."

An excessively nosy government poses many dangers, as Mr. Clark emphasizes, including exposure to fraud and blackmail, unjustified interference with freedom of travel, and mistaken incrimination. But it is reassuring to realize that the government is not competent enough to be omniscient.

Mr. Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a nationally syndicated columnist.
« Reply #151 on: May 20, 2009, 01:16:08 PM »

Don't Covet Your Neighbor's Ass, Report Him for It

Radley Balko | May 20, 2009, 1:36pm

Since 2006, parts of the U.K. have participated in a public relations effort that encourages citizens to anonymously report neighbors who they feel are living beyond their means—for possible criminal investigation.

In partnership with regional chapters of the charity group Crimestoppers U.K., multiple local police forces have launched a program called "Too Much Bling? Give Us a Ring." The object of the program is to encourage people who suspect that a neighbor or acquaintance is living off the proceeds of crime to anonymously provide information about that person to the police...

A key component of the "Too Much Bling?" program is its effort to tap into any resentment and anger members of the public may feel toward suspected criminals.

In a release issued by the Sussex Police Department, which used the program to help seize more than Ł1.5 million between April and December of last year, Detective Sergeant Mick Richards said, "Members of the public are sick and tired of seeing people with no legitimate income living a lavish lifestyle. We are working hard towards taking the cash out of crime making use of all the powers granted to us under the Proceeds of Crime Act and other legislation.

"I am very aware that in these difficult times how disheartening it is to see people 'flashing the cash' when you know that it has come from a life of crime and that they appear to be 'getting away with it,'" he said.

Bling website:
« Reply #152 on: June 25, 2009, 11:09:57 AM »

Schneier on Security
A blog covering security and security technology.

June 24, 2009
Fixing Airport Security

It's been months since the Transportation Security Administration has had a permanent director. If, during the job interview (no, I didn't get one), President Obama asked me how I'd fix airport security in one sentence, I would reply: "Get rid of the photo ID check, and return passenger screening to pre-9/11 levels."

Okay, that's a joke. While showing ID, taking your shoes off and throwing away your water bottles isn't making us much safer, I don't expect the Obama administration to roll back those security measures anytime soon. Airport security is more about CYA than anything else: defending against what the terrorists did last time.

But the administration can't risk appearing as if it facilitated a terrorist attack, no matter how remote the possibility, so those annoyances are probably here to stay.
This would be my real answer: "Establish accountability and transparency for airport screening." And if I had another sentence: "Airports are one of the places where Americans, and visitors to America, are most likely to interact with a law enforcement officer - and yet no one knows what rights travelers have or how to exercise those rights."

Obama has repeatedly talked about increasing openness and transparency in government, and it's time to bring transparency to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Let's start with the no-fly and watch lists. Right now, everything about them is secret: You can't find out if you're on one, or who put you there and why, and you can't clear your name if you're innocent. This Kafkaesque scenario is so un-American it's embarrassing. Obama should make the no-fly list subject to judicial review.

Then, move on to the checkpoints themselves. What are our rights? What powers do the TSA officers have? If we're asked "friendly" questions by behavioral detection officers, are we allowed not to answer? If we object to the rough handling of ourselves or our belongings, can the TSA official retaliate against us by putting us on a watch list? Obama should make the rules clear and explicit, and allow people to bring legal action against the TSA for violating those rules; otherwise, airport checkpoints will remain a Constitution-free zone in our country.

Next, Obama should refuse to use unfunded mandates to sneak expensive security measures past Congress. The Secure Flight program is the worst offender. Airlines are being forced to spend billions of dollars redesigning their reservations systems to accommodate the TSA's demands to preapprove every passenger before he or she is allowed to board an airplane. These costs are borne by us, in the form of higher ticket prices, even though we never see them explicitly listed.

Maybe Secure Flight is a good use of our money; maybe it isn't. But let's have debates like that in the open, as part of the budget process, where it belongs.
And finally, Obama should mandate that airport security be solely about terrorism, and not a general-purpose security checkpoint to catch everyone from pot smokers to deadbeat dads.

The Constitution provides us, both Americans and visitors to America, with strong protections against invasive police searches. Two exceptions come into play at airport security checkpoints. The first is "implied consent," which means that you cannot refuse to be searched; your consent is implied when you purchased your ticket. And the second is "plain view," which means that if the TSA officer happens to see something unrelated to airport security while screening you, he is allowed to act on that.

Both of these principles are well established and make sense, but it's their combination that turns airport security checkpoints into police-state-like checkpoints.
The TSA should limit its searches to bombs and weapons and leave general policing to the police - where we know courts and the Constitution still apply.

None of these changes will make airports any less safe, but they will go a long way to de-ratcheting the culture of fear, restoring the presumption of innocence and reassuring Americans, and the rest of the world, that - as Obama said in his inauguration speech - "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."
This essay originally appeared, without hyperlinks, in the New York Daily News.
« Reply #153 on: July 27, 2009, 02:52:07 PM »

July 27, 2009

The Unlikely Orchid Smuggler: A Case Study in Overcriminalization

by Andrew M. Grossman
Legal Memorandum #44
George Norris, an elderly retiree, had turned his orchid hobby into a part-time business run from the greenhouse in back of his home. He would import orchids from abroad--South Africa, Brazil, Peru--and resell them at plant shows and to local enthusiasts. He never made more than a few thousand dollars a year from his orchid business, but it kept him engaged and provided a little extra money--an especially important thing as his wife, Kathy, neared retirement from her job managing a local mediation clinic.

Their life would take a turn for the worse on the bright fall morning of October 28, 2003, when federal agents, clad in protective Kevlar and bearing guns, raided his home, seizing his belongings and setting the gears in motion for a federal prosecution and jail time.

The Raid

Around 10:00 a.m., three pick-up trucks turned off a shady cul-de-sac in Spring, Texas, far in Houston's northern suburbs, and into the driveway of Norris's single-story home. Six agents emerged, clad in dark body armor and bearing sidearms. Two circled around to the rear of the house, where there is a small yard and a ramshackle greenhouse. One, Special Agent Jeff Odom of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, approached the door and knocked; his companions held back, watching Odom for the signal.

Norris, who had seen the officers arrive and surround his house, answered the knock at the door with trepidation. Odom was matter-of-fact. Within 10 seconds, he had identified himself, stated that he was executing a search warrant, and waved in the rest of the entry team for a sweep of the premises. Norris was ordered to sit at his kitchen table and to remain there until told otherwise. One agent was stationed in the kitchen with him.

As Norris looked on, the agents ransacked his home. They pulled out drawers and dumped the contents on the floor, emptied file cabinets, rifled through dresser drawers and closets, and pulled books off of their shelves.

When Norris asked one agent why his home was the subject of a warrant, the agent read him his Miranda rights and told him simply that he was not charged with anything at this time or under arrest. Norris asked more questions--What were they searching for? What law did they think had been broken? What were their names and badge numbers?--but the agents refused to answer anything. Finally, they handed over the search warrant, but they would not let Norris get up to retrieve his reading glasses from his office; only an agent could do that.

It was as if he were under arrest, but in his own home.

Attached to the warrant was an excerpt of an e-mail message, from two years earlier, in which a man named Arturo offered to have his mother "smuggle" orchids from Ecuador in a suitcase and send them to Norris from Miami. Norris remembered the exchange; he had declined the offer and had stated that he could not accept any plants that were not accompanied by legal documentation.

The agents questioned Norris about the orchids in his greenhouse, asking which were nursery-grown and which were collected from the wild. Norris explained that nearly all of them had been artificially propagated; one agent, knowing little about orchids, asked whether this meant they had been grown from seeds.

The agents boxed and carried out to their trucks nearly all of Norris's business records, his computer, his floppy disks and CD-ROMs, and even installation discs, and left him a receipt for the 37 boxes that they took. Then they left. Norris surveyed the rooms of his home. In his tiny office, papers, old photographs, and trash were strewn on the floor. Everything was out of place.

His wife arrived home shortly after the agents left. She had panicked when, calling home to talk to her husband, an agent picked up the phone and refused to put him on or answer any questions. It took the two of them hours to clean up the house and try to assess the damage.

A Passion Blossoms

George Norris, now 71 and arthritic, carries his large frame wearily. His gestures are careful, as if held back by pain or fear, and his stride slow and deliberate. And his voice, once booming, is now softer and tentative. Visibly, he is a man who has been permanently scarred by experience.

Yet his mood and movements become animated when he discusses the birth of his passion for orchids. His first was a gift, twice over: A neighbor had received the blooming plant, straight from the store, for Mother's Day, and she gave it to Norris after the flowers faded. At the time, he had a small lean-to greenhouse and dabbled in horticulture. He put it there and forgot about it. A year later, as he was doing the morning watering, his eyes were drawn to two stunning yellow flowers on stems shooting out of the plant. They were prettier than any other flowers he had ever seen.

He dove into the world of orchids with an unusual passion, reading everything he could find on the subject. One book extolled the diversity of species in Mexico. It was not so far from Houston, and his wife spoke fluent Spanish, so they planned an orchid-hunting trip. In every small town, the locals would point them to unusual plants, often deep in the woods. Norris managed to collect 40 or 50 plants, and their beauty and diversity were stunning. He was hooked.

That was 1977, years before an orchid craze would hit the United States. All of a sudden, Norris found himself part of a small, close-knit community of orchid enthusiasts and explorers committed to finding and collecting the unknown species of Asia, Africa, and South America. They communicated by newsletters and at regional orchid shows. While man had thoroughly covered and mapped the terrain of the world, the world of orchids was still frontier, with exotic specimens being discovered regularly.

Within a few years, orchids were taking up more and more of Norris's time and attention, and he had become dissatisfied with his work in the construction field. So he quit work and set off to see if he could make a living as a full-time explorer, finding orchids in the wild and introducing them to serious collectors in the U.S.

His new business was not initially a success. It took years to build up a mailing list of customers and credibility in the field. By the mid-1980s, he was beyond the break-even point, and from there, business kept growing. In 2003, revenues topped $200,000--a huge sum considering that most plants sold for less than $15.

Norris, meanwhile, was gaining prominence. Through word of mouth, and after seeing his orchids in collections, more and more enthusiasts wanted to be on his mailing list, and he began using his catalogue as a platform for his views on orchids, the orchid community, and even politics. Orchid clubs all around the South invited him to deliver talks and slideshows.

Norris made a name for himself as one of the few dealers importing non-hybrid plants, known as "species" orchids. He got commissions from botany departments at several universities that needed non-hybrid plants for their research, from botanical gardens, and from the Bronx Zoo when it needed native orchids to recreate a gorilla habitat. Years later, some of those orchids are still a part of the zoo's Congo Gorilla Forest.

Norris's work took him to Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, and other countries where exotic species grew wild. On each trip, he tried to meet local collectors and growers, contacts who could lead him to the best plants. Some of these, in later years, would become his chief suppliers.

Rules at the time were lax. In Mexico, Norris explained, "You could collect as many as you wanted" and get permits for them all. And with that paperwork, importing them into the U.S. was a breeze.

As orchids became more popular, however, that would change.

"The Regulation Is Out of Hand"

Passion for the flower is not enough today to succeed in the orchid business. Moving beyond the standard hybrids sold at big-box stores requires either gaining a detailed knowledge of several complicated bodies of law or hiring attorneys. This is a necessity because not only is the law complicated, but the penalties for getting anything wrong are severe: fines, forfeiture, and potentially years in prison.

Trade in orchids is regulated chiefly by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international treaty that has been ratified by about 175 nations. Though initially conceived to protect endangered animals, the subject matter was expanded to include flora as well.

CITES classifies species, and the limitations on their trade, in three appendices.

Appendix I species are the most in danger of extinction; importing or exporting them from any CITES country is prohibited, except for research purposes.
The species listed in Appendix II are less endangered and can be traded so long as they are accompanied by permits issued by the exporting country.
Appendix III species are listed by individual countries and are subject to the permit requirement only when they originate in the listing country.
Determining the listing of a plant is not always an easy task. Some species of orchids are listed in Appendix I, and so cannot be traded, and Appendix II covers the remainder. Exporters, however, often have a tough time identifying plants, especially those collected from the wild. The result is rampant mislabeling of orchid species. Usually, this has few consequences, because permitting agencies and customs agents, who tend to focus on animals and invasive species, rarely have the expertise to recognize the often subtle differences between varieties of orchids, especially when they are not in bloom.

Making matters even more complicated, CITES contains a major exception to the tough restrictions of Article I. Article I plants that are artificially propagated are deemed to be covered by Article II and so may be traded. But artificial propagation is not simply a matter of ripping a plant from the wild and breeding it in a nursery. To take advantage of the exception, nurseries must be registered with CITES and obtain a permit from their government to remove a small number of plants from the wild for the purpose of propagation. Then there is the difficulty--and often impossibility--of distinguishing Article I plants raised in nurseries from those collected from the wild.

Countries that have joined CITES agree to enforce its requirements within their laws. This means establishing agencies to research domestic wildlife and, when appropriate, grant permits. It also requires close monitoring of imports and exports to ensure that no Appendix I species are traded and that shipments of species listed in Appendix II and Appendix III are properly permitted. While the treaty requires countries to "penalize" improper imports and exports, it does not require any specific penalties; that is left up to each country's lawmakers.

In the United States, CITES is implemented through both the Lacey Act, a 1900 wildlife protection act that was amended in 1981 to protect CITES-listed species, and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Both, in their original forms, covered only animals; plants were added later and made subject to the same restrictions as animals. Taken together, these laws prohibit trade in any plants in violation of CITES, as well as possession of plants that have been traded in violation of CITES.

More specifically, federal regulations lay out the requirements for importing plants. Every plant must be accompanied by a tag or document identifying its genus and species, its origin, the name and address of its owner, the name and address of its recipient, and a description of any accompanying documentation required for its trade, such as a CITES permit. The importer is required to notify the government upon the arrival of a shipment. After that, the plants are inspected by the Animal and Plant Inspection Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which checks for possible infestations, banned invasive species, and proper documentation. Any red flags can cause a shipment to be turned back at the port of entry.

Violations also carry severe penalties. Under the ESA, "knowing" violations--that is, ones in which the dealer knew the basic facts of the offense, such as what kind of plant was being imported or that the CITES permit did not match the plant, though not the legal status of the plant, such as whether it was legal to import--can be punished by civil fines of up to $25,000 for each violation, criminal fines of up to $50,000, and imprisonment. The same conduct can also be punished under the Lacey Act, which allows civil penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation, criminal fines of up to $20,000, and imprisonment of up to five years.

Importers also face possible legal penalties under more general federal statutes, such as those prohibiting false or misleading statements to government officials (imprisonment of up to five years); the mail fraud statute (20 years); the wire fraud statute (20 years); and the conspiracy statute (five years).

The result is that minor offenses, such as incorrect documentation for a few plants, are treated the same as the smuggling of endangered animals and can lead to penalties far more severe than those regularly imposed for violent crimes and dealing drugs. Because this legal risk is so great, many orchid dealers have stopped importing foreign plants--even those that can be traded legally-- while others have sharply curtailed their imports.

Perversely, the result of this drop in legal imports has been a blossoming in black-market orchids, illegally imported into the country and commanding large premiums due to their rarity and allure. Meanwhile, those who continue to import plants through the proper channels, even if they do so with great care and top-notch legal advice, know that they could be ruined at any time by so much as a single slipup. As one academic ecologist put it, "The regulation is out of hand."

Worse than that, it's ineffective. "Habitat destruction poses much more of a threat to [the] survival" of orchid species than collection and trade do, concludes a recent survey of the ecology literature. In Singapore, for example, clearance of old-growth forest caused the extinction of 98 percent of orchid species versus 26 percent of other plants. While there are several examples of collection dealing the final blow to a vulnerable species--for example, the Vietnamese Lady Slipper--the vulnerability in each instance was due to development, particularly rain forest clearance.

CITES strictly regulates trade in orchids but does nothing to address this greater threat. Indeed, some argue that CITES has not protected a single species of orchid from extinction.
« Reply #154 on: July 27, 2009, 02:52:48 PM »

It may even have pushed a number of species into extinction. Orchid growers frequently complain that the treaty's restrictions on collection from the wild restrict preservation efforts in the face of habitat destruction. Under CITES, it is illegal to collect wild orchids for artificial propagation without a permit, but obtaining a permit can take months if it can be had at all. By that time, the point may be moot: The habitat has already been destroyed. And when collection is allowed, it is highly regulated and usually limited to just a few plants. If those plants cannot be propagated, there is no second chance; even if another specimen exists, if it was not legally collected, neither are its offspring.

Further, there is evidence that regulation has served to increase wild collection and smuggling of rare species. Trade in Phragmipediums surged in advance of their Appendix I listing, leading to the loss of several species. After the listing went into effect, black-market prices rose for many species, increasing incentives for smugglers. Growers, meanwhile, struggled to collect species from the wild legally for propagation. In this way, CITES benefits poachers while putting hurdles in the path of legitimate, conservation-minded collectors.

The other group that benefits are the large orchid growers of Germany and the Netherlands, which supply the bulk of the world market. The Dutch, in particular, lobbied for the inclusion of Phrags in Article I, despite little evidence that Phrags were more endangered than other orchids, on the grounds that they were difficult to distinguish from plants from the unrelated Paphiopedilum family. The listing stifled growing competition with European growers in the potted-plant market from lower-cost producers in South America. The respite, however, lasted only a few years--the time it took for dealers to cultivate ties with growers in Southeast Asia, whose output multiplied, and push prices down.

The fundamental problem may be that CITES is simply a poor fit for plants. As originally conceived, the treaty was intended to cover only endangered animals; plants were added toward the end of negotiations. The amendment was crude, doing little more than replacing "animals" in every instance with "animals or plants." An orchid picked from the wild, which could produce a thousand seedlings in short order, is subject to the same regulation as an elephant, a female of which species will produce fewer than 10 offspring in its decades-long lifespan. And by extension, that orchid and elephant are subject to the same means of criminal enforcement in the United States.

The difference, needless to say, is that elephant poaching may lead to that species' extinction, while picking the orchid will more likely lead to its species' preservation in the face of widespread habitat destruction. It is truly a perverse result that furthering the ends of CITES and U.S. environmental law carries the same massive penalties as frustrating them.

Business as Usual

George Norris was among that group of legal importers, counting on his common sense and understanding of orchids to see him through any legal risks. That would be his downfall.

Over the years, he had built relationships with orchid gatherers and growers around the world, and many became his suppliers. He worked the most with Manuel Arias Silva, who operated several nurseries in Peru and was known for cultivating the toughest species from the wild that few others could persuade to grow.

Norris had met Arias in the late 1980s, when Arias had just started his export business and was looking to build a customer base in the United States. The two hit it off immediately, and in 1988, Norris spent two weeks in Peru with Arias, collecting plants and surveying Arias's operations.

Their families also grew close. After meeting Arias's relations, Norris and his wife offered to take in two of Arias's sons, Juan Alberto and Manolo, who were badly scarred about their hands and faces from a fire years earlier, and to arrange plastic surgery for them. Kathy Norris persuaded a local hospital to donate its facilities, and Dr. David Netscher, a prominent surgeon and professor at the Baylor College of Medicine, agreed to do the work for $1,500 per child, barely enough to cover his expenses.

In 1993 and 1994, first Manolo and then Juan Alberto spent six months with the Norrises undergoing surgery, follow-up care, and recuperation. After that experience, the Norrises and the Arias family were in regular contact, exchanging family photographs and visiting from time to time.

Norris had other suppliers. One was Raul Xix, a native Maya in Belize who supported his 11 children and wife through odd jobs: building homes, tapping chicle trees, and collecting orchids from the jungle. Norris had befriended Xix on a trip and encouraged him to try his hand at exporting plants, a potentially more lucrative and dependable source of income.

Xix, Norris soon learned, had no business experience, could barely read and write, and knew little about exotic orchids. He would ship boxes loaded with all manner of flora, some not even orchids and many infested with ants, and though bearing CITES permits from Belize, few plants were correctly identified--not that it ever mattered.

Norris, charmed by Xix and admiring his work ethic, decided that he would be a regular customer and use their interactions to teach Xix the ins and outs of the business. Keeping that commitment was a challenge: Xix's first few shipments were a total loss, and others were turned back at the port of entry because of poor packing and infestations. But slowly, Xix did become more reliable.

For Xix and Norris's other suppliers, paperwork was more of a hassle than growing or gathering orchids. In most developing nations, months pass between applying for and receiving a CITES permit. To compensate, orchid exporters request permits early, long before the plants are ready to sell. In that gap between applying for a permit and receiving it, some plants die and others thrive. Or a big shipment comes in from the countryside. Or a new family or species comes into fashion overseas.

And then the permits arrive, and the plants are ready to ship. Because of the delay, only rarely does the permit perfectly match the merchandise. There are always at least a few discrepancies. Going strictly by the book would mean giving up the lucrative foreign markets that account for nearly all profits.

Importers face a similar dilemma. Fashionable plants come from foreign soil, and without imports, no boutique could attract collectors--that is, anyone willing to pay more than fifteen or twenty dollars for a flower.

In the 1990s, what these collectors wanted were Phragmipediums, better known as tropical lady slippers. Phrags became popular in the early 1990s after all of the species in the family were uplisted to CITES Article I, a move that many in the orchid business attribute to commercial rather than preservationist motives. Demand for the flowers surged.

Arias had been breeding Phrags for years from plants that he had legally taken from the wild. But in Peru, Phrags were common and almost worthless. So in 1998, he turned to the export market. It would be months or even years, Arias guessed, before he was approved to have all of them listed on his permits.

Arias began including Phrags in the price sheets that went to his best foreign customers. Norris ordered a few, along with hundreds of other plants. On the forms, they were described as Maxillarias, a type of orchid that Arias had cleared for export. Per usual industry practice, he received a separate letter matching the names on the permit with the plants' real identities.

Over time, Arias's nurseries received permits and CITES registration to grow many of the Phrags he had previously shipped under other names, and as that happened, he began labeling them properly in his shipments. But there were always at least a few in each shipment that were mislabeled because he had not yet received the proper permit.

But it was a flower that Norris never actually imported that would lead to the investigation and his arrest.

If there is a rock star of the orchid world, it is the Phragmipedium kovachii. James Michael Kovach discovered the flower while on an orchid-hunting trip to the Peruvian Andes in 2002 and sneaked it back into the United States without any CITES documentation to have it catalogued by Selby Botanical Gardens' Orchid Identification Center, a leader in identifying and publishing new species. Two Selby staff members, recognizing the importance of the discovery, rushed out a description of the new flower, christening it kovachii, after Kovach, and barely beating into print an article by Eric Christensen, a rival researcher who had been working from photos and measurements taken in Peru.

The most striking thing about the kovachii is its size. The plants grow thick leaves up to two feet in length. Flower stalks shoot up from the plant, rising two feet or more. But the real stunner is the flower: It is velvety, a rich pink-purple at the tips of its petals, brilliant white in the center. And the size! Some measure more than 10 inches across. The flower is a rare combination of grace and might, a giant unrivalled in its delicacy and elegance. Lee Moore, a well-known collector, dubbed it "the Holy Grail of orchids."

Pictures circulated on orchid mailing lists and discussion reached a fever pitch. "People decided they would become excited beyond all reason," said one orchid dealer. "Everyone wanted it. It was a meteoric plant." According to rumors, black-market specimens had sold for $25,000 or more.

The orchid fever was only heightened by the legal drama that had engulfed Selby Gardens and Kovach as a result of the find. The Peruvian government caught wind of the frenzy over the flower and, irked that its country had lost out on the honor of identifying the plant, pressed U.S. authorities to investigate for CITES violations. Eventually, criminal charges were brought against Kovach, Selby Gardens, and its chief horticulturalist, Wesley Higgins. All pleaded guilty, receiving probation and small fines.

Right after he heard about the kovachii, Norris contacted Arias to press for information about the flower, especially when they would be available for sale. With illegal trade in the flower already flourishing, Arias figured that he could get the right permits to collect a few from the wild for artificial propagation. Breeding the flower would not be easy--Phrags have a reputation for being difficult plants, and that is especially true of the rarer ones--but he had succeeded before with other tough plants and had a high-altitude greenhouse that would be perfect for the kovachii. Doing it legally could take a year or two, maybe even three.

Norris was more optimistic and ran with the information in his next catalog, boasting that he would have legal kovachiis for sale in a year, perhaps less--far sooner than anyone else thought possible. That caught the attention of an orchid researcher who had long believed that the U.S. orchid trade was overrun with illegal plants, threatening the survival of many species in the wild. Enforcement was a joke; there had been only one prosecution to date for dealing in illegal orchids. He decided to take a closer look at Norris's spring orchid specialties and brought Norris to the attention of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Around that time, a new customer placed an order for four Phrags and specifically asked Norris to include the CITES permits for the flowers. It was an unusual request. Usually, the Department of Agriculture inspectors took the permits at the port of entry for their records. Except for the few times that shipping brokers made copies, Norris hardly ever received them with plant shipments. Assuming that the request was just a misunderstanding, he shipped the plants with a packing list but no permits.

Several days after the orchids were delivered, Norris received another e-mail from the buyer, asking again for the permits. The Department of Agriculture had them, Norris responded, but he would try to get a copy. That, thought Norris, was the end of the matter. The buyer made another order for more Phrags a year later and again asked for the permits. Once again, Norris shipped the flowers without them.

Unknown to Norris, the buyer in these transactions was working with Fish and Wildlife Service agents. Because of the controversy over the kovachii, the Service had a newfound interest in orchids. A few prominent prosecutions would serve as a warning to the rest of the tight-knit orchid community.

That informant's two transactions with Norris would serve as the basis for the raid on Norris's home.

The Prosecution

The raid occurred in October 2003, but George Norris was uncertain of his fate for the next five months, receiving no communications from the government. On the advice of friends, he wrote a letter to the Miami-based prosecutor who was probably overseeing the case, explaining that he had never imported kovachiis--this was at the time that others were being charged for importing the flower--and asking for a meeting to answer any questions. At the very least, he asked, could the government tell him what he was suspected to have done? After a few weeks, his computer was returned, broken, and Norris resumed business as best he could, taking orders and showing off his plants at shows.

Meanwhile, Fish and Wildlife Service Agents were poring over the records retrieved from Norris's home, as well as others obtained from the Department of Agriculture. There was no evidence that Norris had ever obtained or sold a kovachii, but the agents did notice minor discrepancies in the documents. Some of the plants Norris had offered for sale were not listed on any CITES permits. Among those missing were three of the 10 Phrags in the informant's second order. The agents also found Norris's correspondence with Arias and Xix, which seemed to confirm their hunch: Norris had been engaged in a criminal conspiracy to skirt CITES and violate U.S. import laws.
« Reply #155 on: July 27, 2009, 02:53:07 PM »

Norris's business slowly recovered but suffered a devastating blow when Manuel Arias Silva was arrested in Miami one day before the Miami Orchid Show in March 2004. After that, everyone assumed that Norris would be next. Norris and his wife scrambled to sell Arias's flowers (mostly Phrags, by now properly permitted) at the show, earning just enough to pay his expenses and get him out of jail. With no one else to step in, they guaranteed Arias's $25,000 bail and $175,000 personal surety bond: He was now their responsibility. Rumors raged that Norris would be arrested on the floor of the show.

But it was another week before Norris was indicted. There were seven charges: one count of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, five counts of violating CITES requirements and the ESA, and one count of making a false statement to a government official, for mislabeling the orchids. Arias faced one additional false-statement charge.

On March 17, 2004, Norris and his wife flew to Miami, where he voluntarily surrendered to the U.S. marshals. The marshals put him in handcuffs and leg shackles and threw him in a holding cell with three other arrestees, one suspected of murder and two suspected of dealing drugs. Norris expected the worst when his cell mates asked him what he was in for. When he told them about his orchids, they burst into laughter. "What do you do with these things, smoke 'em?" asked one of the suspected drug dealers.

The next day, Norris pleaded not guilty, and a day after that, he was released on bail. The Norrises returned to Spring, Texas, to figure out their next steps. Their business was destroyed; their retirement savings and home were on the line for the Peruvian orchid dealer who was now living in the spare bedroom; and Norris, 67 and in frail health, faced the prospect of living out his days in a federal prison. Still, Norris believed he had not done anything wrong and would win out in the end.

So they made a go of fighting the charges. Norris hired an attorney who, with most of his experience at the state or county level, quickly found himself in over his head with the complexities of international treaties, environmental law, and the intricacies of a federal prosecution.

In April, the attorney accompanied Norris to what turned out to be a proffer meeting, at which defendants are typically offered the opportunity to cooperate with the government in exchange for leniency. Norris had not been told what to expect and did not have anything to say when prosecutors asked what he was willing to admit. They peppered him with names of other orchid dealers, but Norris was not inclined to inform on them--not that he knew enough about their operations, in any case, to offer anything more than speculation.

After that, Norris got a more experienced--and much more expensive--attorney. With bills piling up and the complexity of the case and the resulting difficulty of mounting a defense finally becoming apparent, Norris took the step he had been dreading: changing his plea to guilty. "I hated that, I absolutely hated that," said Norris. Five years after the fact, the episode still provokes pain, his face blushing and speech becoming softer. "The hardest thing I ever did was stand there and say I was guilty to all these things. I didn't think I was guilty of any of them."

While Norris and his wife were focused on his case, Manuel Arias Silva was plotting his own next moves. By mid-May, he had managed to obtain a new passport and exit visa from the Peruvian Consulate. On May 19, soon after they had returned to Texas from a hearing in Miami, Kathy Norris received a call from Juan Silva, in Peru, who was in tears. His father, he explained, had returned home to evade the charges against him in the United States. The Norrises would be on the hook for Arias's bail and bond--nearly $200,000.

Based on Norris's transactions with Arias, as well as those with Xix, the government recommended a prison sentence of 33 to 41 months. Such a lengthy sentence was justified, according to the sentencing memorandum, because of the value of the plants in the improperly documented shipments. Two choices pushed the recommended sentence up.

First, the government used Norris's catalog prices to calculate the value of the plants rather than what he had paid for them.

Second, it included all plants in each shipment in its calculations, reasoning that the properly documented plants--by far the bulk of every shipment--were a part of the offense because they were supposedly used to shield the others.

On October 6, Norris was sentenced to 17 months in prison, followed by two years of probation. In the eyes of the law, he was now a felon and would be for the rest of his life. The sentencing judge suggested to Norris and his wife that good could come of his conviction and punishment:

Life sometimes presents us with lemons. Sometimes we grow the lemons ourselves. But as long as we are walking on the face of the earth, our responsibility is to take those lemons and use the gifts that God has given us to turn lemons into lemonade.

Norris reported to the federal prison in Fort Worth on January 10, 2005; was released for a year in December 2006 while the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals considered a challenge to his sentence; and then returned to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence. Prison officials, angered by Norris's temporary reprieve, threw him in solitary confinement, where he spent a total of 71 days. He was released on April 27, 2007.

The Aftermath

George Norris has lost his passion for orchids. The yard behind their home is all dirt and grass, nothing more. The greenhouse is abandoned. Broken pots, bags of dirt, plastic bins, and other clutter spill off its shelves and onto the floor. The roof is sagging. A few potted cacti are the only living things inside it, aside from weeds.

A dozen potted plants grace the Norrises' back porch; three or four are even orchids, though none are in bloom. Kathy waters them. "They're the ones I haven't managed to kill yet," she says.

The couple's finances are precarious. Following the flood of 1994, Norris rebuilt most of their home himself, but they had to refinance the house to pay for materials. Kathy had to make those payments and all the others while Norris was in prison, relying on her salary as director of Montgomery County's Dispute Resolution Center, which she ran on a shoestring budget. The same discipline now reigns at home. "I figured out how to live on as little as it's possible to live on and still keep the house," says Kathy.

Neither Norris nor his wife knows how they will face retirement with all of their savings used to pay legal expenses. Arias's bond hangs over their heads as well, and the government has said that it will seek to enforce it. That threat keeps Kathy up at nights. She doesn't know what else they could give up, other than the house, or how they could possibly come up with the $175,000 still owed.

Norris has already suffered the indignity of his grandchildren knowing that he spent over a year in federal prison and is a convicted criminal. What hurts him now is that he cannot introduce them to the hunting tradition--small game, squirrels, and rabbits--that has been a part of his family, passed from generation to generation. As a felon, he cannot possess a firearm. They sold off and gave away his grandfather's small gun collection, which he had inherited. In poor health and unarmed, Norris fears that he cannot even defend his own family.

But the hardest blow, explains Kathy, has been to their faith in America and its system of criminal justice:

I got raised in a country that wasn't like this. I grew up in a reasonably nice part of Dallas, I came from a family where nobody had been indicted for anything, and so had George. And the government didn't do this stuff to people. It wasn't part of anything I ever got taught in my civics books.

That lack of faith is almost visible in George Norris's frailty and fear. "I hardly drive at all anymore," he explained. "The whole time I'm driving, I'm thinking about not getting a ticket for anything…. I don't sleep like I used to; I still have prison dreams." He pauses for a moment to think and looks down at the floor. In a quiet voice, he says, "It's utterly wrecked our lives."


Probably any dealer in imported plants could have been prosecuted for the charges that were brought against George Norris. His crime, at its core, was a paperwork violation: He had the wrong documents for some of the plants he imported but almost certainly could have obtained the right ones with a bit more time and effort. Neither he nor other dealers ever suspected that the law would be enforced to the very letter so long as they followed its spirit.

Norris was singled out because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. As controversy roared over the kovachii and prosecutors were gunning for a high-profile conviction to tamp down sales in truly rare and endangered plants, Norris bragged that he would soon have the extraordinary flower in stock.

To this date, he has never seen one.

Armed with overly broad laws that criminalize a wide range of unobjectionable conduct, prosecutors could look past that fact. Burrowing through Norris's records, they found other grounds for a case. One way or another, they would have their poster child.

This is the risk that all American entrepreneurs face today. Enormously complex and demanding regulations are regularly paired with draconian criminal penalties for even minor deviations from the rules. Minor violations from time to time are all but inevitable because full compliance would be either impossible or impossibly expensive. Nearly every time, nobody notices or cares, but all it takes is one exception for the hammer of the law to strike.

Andrew M. Grossman is Senior Legal Policy Analyst in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
« Reply #156 on: August 17, 2009, 05:51:21 PM »

It's Time to Legalize Drugs
By Peter Moskos and Stanford "Neill" Franklin
Monday, August 17, 2009

Undercover Baltimore police officer Dante Arthur was doing what he does well, arresting drug dealers, when he approached a group in January. What he didn't know was that one of suspects knew from a previous arrest that Arthur was police. Arthur was shot twice in the face. In the gunfight that ensued, Arthur's partner returned fire and shot one of the suspects, three of whom were later arrested.

In many ways, Dante Arthur was lucky. He lived. Nationwide, a police officer dies on duty nearly every other day. Too often a flag-draped casket is followed by miles of flashing red and blue lights. Even more officers are shot and wounded, too many fighting the war on drugs. The prohibition on drugs leads to unregulated, and often violent, public drug dealing. Perhaps counterintuitively, better police training and bigger guns are not the answer.

When it makes sense to deal drugs in public, a neighborhood becomes home to drug violence. For a low-level drug dealer, working the street means more money and fewer economic risks. If police come, and they will, some young kid will be left holding the bag while the dealer walks around the block. But if the dealer sells inside, one raid, by either police or robbers, can put him out of business for good. Only those virtually immune from arrests (much less imprisonment) -- college students, the wealthy and those who never buy or sell from strangers -- can deal indoors.

Six years ago one of us wrote a column on this page, "Victims of the War on Drugs." It discussed violence, poor community relations, overly aggressive policing and riots. It failed to mention one important harm: the drug war's clear and present danger toward men and women in blue.

Drug users generally aren't violent. Most simply want to be left alone to enjoy their high. It's the corner slinger who terrifies neighbors and invites rivals to attack. Public drug dealing creates an environment where disputes about money or respect are settled with guns.

In high-crime areas, police spend much of their time answering drug-related calls for service, clearing dealers off corners, responding to shootings and homicides, and making lots of drug-related arrests.

One of us (Franklin) was the commanding officer at the police academy when Arthur (as well as Moskos) graduated. We all learned similar lessons. Police officers are taught about the evils of the drug trade and given the knowledge and tools to inflict as much damage as possible upon the people who constitute the drug community. Policymakers tell us to fight this unwinnable war.

Only after years of witnessing the ineffectiveness of drug policies -- and the disproportionate impact the drug war has on young black men -- have we and other police officers begun to question the system.

Cities and states license beer and tobacco sellers to control where, when and to whom drugs are sold. Ending Prohibition saved lives because it took gangsters out of the game. Regulated alcohol doesn't work perfectly, but it works well enough. Prescription drugs are regulated, and while there is a huge problem with abuse, at least a system of distribution involving doctors and pharmacists works without violence and high-volume incarceration. Regulating drugs would work similarly: not a cure-all, but a vast improvement on the status quo.

Legalization would not create a drug free-for-all. In fact, regulation reins in the mess we already have. If prohibition decreased drug use and drug arrests acted as a deterrent, America would not lead the world in illegal drug use and incarceration for drug crimes.

Drug manufacturing and distribution is too dangerous to remain in the hands of unregulated criminals. Drug distribution needs to be the combined responsibility of doctors, the government, and a legal and regulated free market. This simple step would quickly eliminate the greatest threat of violence: street-corner drug dealing.

We simply urge the federal government to retreat. Let cities and states (and, while we're at it, other countries) decide their own drug policies. Many would continue prohibition, but some would try something new. California and its medical marijuana dispensaries provide a good working example, warts and all, that legalized drug distribution does not cause the sky to fall.

Having fought the war on drugs, we know that ending the drug war is the right thing to do -- for all of us, especially taxpayers. While the financial benefits of drug legalization are not our main concern, they are substantial. In a July referendum, Oakland, Calif., voted to tax drug sales by a 4-to-1 margin. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates that ending the drug war would save $44 billion annually, with taxes bringing in an additional $33 billion.

Without the drug war, America's most decimated neighborhoods would have a chance to recover. Working people could sit on stoops, misguided youths wouldn't look up to criminals as role models, our overflowing prisons could hold real criminals, and -- most important to us -- more police officers wouldn't have to die.

Peter Moskos is a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the author of "Cop in the Hood." Neill Franklin is a 32-year law enforcement veteran. Both served as Baltimore City police officers and are members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
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« Reply #157 on: September 01, 2009, 10:27:55 AM »

A Casualty of the Technology Revolution: ‘Locational Privacy’ Sign in to Recommend
           ADAM COHEN
Published: August 31, 2009
When I woke up the other day, I went straight to my computer to catch up on the news and read e-mail. About 20 minutes later, I walked half a block to the gym, where I exercised for 45 minutes. I took the C train to The New York Times building, and then at the end of the day, I was back on the C train. I had dinner on my friends Elisabeth and Dan’s rooftop, then walked home seven blocks.

I’m not giving away any secrets here — nothing I did was secret to begin with. Verizon online knows when I logged on, and New York Sports Club knows when I swiped my membership card. The M.T.A. could trace (through the MetroCard I bought with a credit card) when and where I took the subway, and The Times knows when I used my ID to enter the building. AT&T could follow me along the way through my iPhone.

There may also be videotape of my travels, given the ubiquity of surveillance cameras in New York City. There are thousands of cameras on buildings and lampposts around Manhattan, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, many near my home and office. Several may have been in a position to film dinner on Elisabeth and Dan’s roof.

A little-appreciated downside of the technology revolution is that, mainly without thinking about it, we have given up “locational privacy.” Even in low-tech days, our movements were not entirely private. The desk attendant at my gym might have recalled seeing me, or my colleagues might have remembered when I arrived. Now the information is collected automatically and often stored indefinitely.

Privacy advocates are rightly concerned. Corporations and the government can keep track of what political meetings people attend, what bars and clubs they go to, whose homes they visit. It is the fact that people’s locations are being recorded “pervasively, silently, and cheaply that we’re worried about,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a recent report.

People’s cellphones and E-ZPasses are increasingly being used against them in court. If your phone is on, even if you are not on a call, you may be able to be found (and perhaps picked up) at any hour of the day or night. As disturbing as it is to have your private data breached, it is worse to think that your physical location might fall into the hands of people who mean you harm.

This decline in locational privacy, from near-absolute to very little in just a few years, has not generated much outrage, or even discussion.

That is partly because so much of it is a side-effect of technology that people like. Drivers love E-ZPasses. G.P.S. enables all sorts of cool smart phone applications, from driving directions and find-a-nearby-restaurant features to the ever-popular “Take Me to My Car.”

And people usually do not know that they are being monitored. The transit authority does not warn buyers that their MetroCards track their subway use (or that the police have used the cards in criminal investigations). Cameras that follow people on the street are placed in locations that are hard to spot.

It is difficult for cellphone users to know precisely what information their devices are sending about their current location, when they are doing it, and where that information is going. Some privacy advocates were upset by recent reports that the Palm Pre, which has built-in G.P.S., has a feature that regularly sends its users’ location back to Palm without notifying them at the time.

What can be done? As much as possible, location-specific information should not be collected in the first place, or not in personally identifiable form. There are many ways, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, to use cryptography and anonymization to protect locational privacy. To tell you about nearby coffee shops, a cellphone application needs to know where you are. It does not need to know who you are.

When locational information is collected, people should be given advance notice and a chance to opt out. Data should be erased as soon as its main purpose is met. After you pay your E-ZPass bill, there is no reason for the government to keep records of your travel.

The idea of constantly monitoring the citizenry’s movements used to conjure up images of totalitarian states. Now, technology does the surveillance — generally in the name of being helpful. It’s time for a serious conversation about how much of our privacy of movement we want to give up.
« Reply #158 on: September 04, 2009, 02:54:15 PM »

Feds Bust Doctor for . . . Meeting Women on the Internet

Radley Balko | September 4, 2009, 11:15am

Last June, I put up a post about a Mississippi cardiologist named Roger Weiner. Weiner moved to the Mississippi Delta town of Clarksdale from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1999. I had contacted Weiner because he was involved in a protracted court battle with controversial Mississippi medical examiner Steven Hayne. You can read about that battle at the link above.

Weiner is an outspoken guy. He not only gave me an on the record interview about Hayne and what he, Weiner, perceived to be Mississippi's corrupt medical investigation system, he has also spoken out against the HMOs he says he came to the state to get away from. He was so disturbed by his experience with Hayne that he successfully ran for Coahoma County Supervisor. He also told me that though he'd never previously touched a gun in his life, after he was elected he felt compelled to keep a shotgun in his home, dryly explaining that, "Not everyone down here is happy about an East Coast Jew getting elected to county office."

In May of this year, Weiner was arrested by five FBI agents at the improbably named Shady Nook gas station. The charge? Violating the federal Mann Act—a century-old law banning the transport of women across state lines for "immoral purposes." Specifically, federal agents had posed as prostitutes on a chat room for a Memphis-based website called, a site aimed at pairing older wealthy men with young women.

The FBI claims Weiner agreed to pay agents posing as escorts to make the 80-mile trip from Memphis to Clarksdale to have sex with him. My sources in Mississippi told me at the time that unofficial word from the U.S. Attorney's office was that more serious charges against Weiner were imminent. The implication was that he'd be indicted for child pornography, or soliciting sex a minor. But as weeks went by, those charges never came. All the women, or fake women, Weiner is accused of soliciting were of age (one agent posted as a 31-year-old).

Now the solicitation charges themselves are looking pretty weak, too. U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers recently threatened to toss the entire case against Weiner unless U.S. attorneys turned over the cell phone records they had been keeping from Weiner's defense. As it turns out, there was a pretty good reason why the feds were keeping those records to themselves. It came out yesterday at Weiner's hearing. The Mississippi blog NMissCommentor was there:

What happened here was that the F.B.I. had a "tip" that Dr. Weiner was somehow involved in child pornography on the site  So they checked it out and discovered, nope, no child pornography there.  Case closed?  Nope, the F.B.I. then decided to run in some fake “sugarbabies”– agents masquerading as escorts– to try to lure Weiner into agreeing to meet them.  Some of the time, one of the agents playing "escort" was a guy!

Just to be clear:  Dr. Weiner never met one of these "women."  Dr. Weiner never paid one of these "women" a dime.  Dr. Weiner even told the first would be escort,  Ginger (well, the agent or agents masquerading as Ginger), that there was "a difference between a sugar baby and a hooker, and I’m not interested in a hooker."

According to a motion Weiner's lawyer filed in federal court, federal prosecutors left this information out of the affidavit they filed to get a search warrant for Weiner's home. The motion says "the Government knew when it applied for the search warrant that the defendant had already informed the Government agent that he was not interested in a hooker, wanted noting to do with a hooker, and the Government agent assured him that she was not a hooker." If you're going to arrest a man for soliciting prostitutes, it seems like it would be pretty important to include in your affidavit the fact that he specifically told an undercover agent he wasn't interested in a prostitute. Of course, you'd then have no pretext to search his home for the really juicy stuff.

Back to the NMissCommentor:

This led the F.B.I. to run in a second fake sugar baby, Mary.  And, because masquerading Mary was in Mississippi during all the conversations with Dr. Weiner, there was no chance of her crossing a state line, the very essence of a Mann Act violation!  (The U.S. Attorney argues that, well, he meant for her to cross a state line, because she said she was in Memphis)... gets even weirder.  Mary emailed the doctor that she was in Memphis on business, and would like to come down to see him.  He said nope, I’m on call and too busy.  She then asked how’s about tomorrow lunch.  He said don’t bother to come all the way just for me.  She then ventured– oh, I’ve got to drive back home from Memphis to Mobile, and can just pass through Clarksdale en route.  He said well all right, she got off the phone, and some brighter prosecution-side type thought–

–wait a minute, if she’s “going to drive home” and that’s why she’s “crossing state lines,” where’s the Mann Act violation!?

So she calls back to suggest, er, um, I’m not really going to Mobile at all, just coming to see you.  Shortly thereafter, five F.B.I. agents arrested Dr. Weiner at the Shady Nook north of Clarksdale.

Let me stress here that I have no evidence that the feds' pursuit of Dr. Weiner is in any way related to his outspoken criticism of Steven Hayne and Mississippi's death investigation system. But it sure seems like someone had a reason to . . . well, I'll just defer to Judge Biggers, here:

Judge Biggers asked some pointed questions:  Why are they prosecuting him?   Judge Biggers also said, "Something is going on here that is not on the surface that they would bring in 3 government agents in contact with him over and over again.  When he didn’t express interest, they bring in another one.  Something is going on that is not evident.  Perhaps [U.S. Attorney] Mr. Roberts can explain it."

Other comments from the bench:  “You’ve come a long way from the purpose of this statute in the bringing of this charge.”  “It took five F.B.I. arrest him?” (This drew a response from the prosecutor hemming and hawing about not being able to assume things just because the arrest involves a doctor and not second guessing the agents about safety).  And:  “This case seems like overload.”

It sure does. Let's assume for a second that the feds' pursuit of Weiner has nothing to do with his criticism of Hayne, the Coahoma County coroner, the medical establishment in Mississippi, or that it has any political motivation whatsoever. Let's just look at it as a question of priorities. Because that's troubling enough. Hayne and Michael West have been corrupting Mississippi's justice system for 20 years, with little attention from the federal government. Yet the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office have time to devote three agents and a team of prosecutors to invoke a century-old law against sex slavery to entrap a man who was using an Internet dating site to meet women.
« Reply #159 on: September 23, 2009, 08:36:11 PM »

The heavy handedness of the feds boggles the mind. What part of informed debate can't they wrap their heads around?

An Open and Honest Debate About Drug Policy in El Paso, Texas

Posted by Juan Carlos Hidalgo

Last January, the city council of El Paso, Texas, unanimously approved a resolution urging the federal government to support “an honest, open, national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.” Soon afterwards, the mayor of El Paso received a call from Washington, DC demanding that he veto the resolution, otherwise his city would be cut off from some federal money. He did. However, the city council approved a new resolution calling for a conference assessing U.S. drug policy and the War on Drugs.

That led to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) organizing a two-day conference on the 40th anniversary of the War on Drugs with leading experts from all over the world in the field of drug policy. The event was heavily attended by students, journalists and people interested in the subject. I had the chance to speak on the first panel, addressing the “History, Successes and Failures” of the War on Drugs. Not surprisingly, I failed at pointing out a single success from the current prohibitionist approach to drug policy. A summary of that first panel is available here.

Unfortunately, two Obama czars (on border and drugs) called off their participation just days before the conference. It was a missed chance to find out if there’s any change going on with the new administration regarding drug policy. In his opening remarks, Beto O’Rourke, the city councilman who introduced the original resolution that was later vetoed, said that he never imagined that calling for an “open and honest debate” on drug policy was going to be so controversial.

El Paso is at the crossroads of the War on Drugs. One of the safest cities in the Unites States, it’s just across the Rio Grande from one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez, where so far this year more than 1,000 people have died in drug related violence. El Paso is not isolated from this carnage. Both cities are deeply intertwined economically, culturally and by blood ties. “Todos somos juarences” (we are all Juarezians) was the most common phrase from residents of El Paso expressing concern about the situation in their sister city.

Needless to say, the participants at the conference were highly critical of the War on Drugs. Some speakers focused on the empirical evidence coming from countries with flexible drug laws, such as the Netherlands and more recently Portugal. Luis Astorga, a professor at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) gave an interesting presentation on the history of drug cartels in Mexico. Other presentations dealt with the social consequences of prohibition, and how the War on Drugs is affecting communities in Mexico and the United States.

As I’ve written earlier, in Latin America there have been growing calls in recent months to reconsider the War on Drugs. It is about time that this discussion also takes place in the United States. Kudos to UTEP and the city of El Paso for taking that step.
« Reply #160 on: October 31, 2009, 06:32:56 PM »

Gullible eager-beaver planet savers

Oct 29, 2009 by Mark Steyn
I’m always appreciative when a fellow says what he really means. Tim Flannery, the jet-setting doomsaying global warm-monger from down under, was in Ottawa the other day promoting his latest eco-tract, and offered a few thoughts on “Copenhagen”—which is transnational-speak for December’s UN Convention on Climate Change. “We all too often mistake the nature of those negotiations in Copenhagen,” remarked professor Flannery. “We think of them as being concerned with some sort of environmental treaty. That is far from the case. The negotiations now ongoing toward the Copenhagen agreement are in effect diplomacy at the most profound global level. They deal with every aspect of our life and they will influence every aspect of our life, our economy, our society.”

Hold that thought: “They deal with every aspect of our life.” Did you know every aspect of your life was being negotiated at Copenhagen? But in a good way! So no need to worry. After all, we all care about the environment, don’t we? So we ought to do something about it, right? And, since “the environment” isn’t just in your town or county but spreads across the entire planet, we can only really do something at the planetary level. But what to do? According to paragraph 38 on page 18 of the latest negotiating text, the convention will set up a “government” to manage the “new funds” and the “related facilitative processes.”

Tim Flannery’s disarmingly honest characterization passed almost without notice, reported as far as I can tell only by Brian Lilley of CFRB Toronto and CJAD Montreal. But professor Flannery has it right. Government transport policy is about transport, and government education policy is about education, but environmental policy is about everything, because everything’s part of “the environment”: your town, your county, your planet—and you. “We are the environment. There is no distinction,” declared another renowned expert, David Suzuki, last year. And just as the government now monitors air and water quality so it’s increasingly happy to regulate your quality.

In the name of “the environment,” the state gets to regulate everything you do. The cap-and-trade bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, for example, is a bold assault on property rights: in order to sell your home—whether built in 2006 or 1772—you would have to bring it into compliance with whimsical, eternally evolving national “energy efficiency” standards, starting with a 50 per cent reduction in energy use by 2018. Fail to do so and it would be illegal for you to enter into a private contract with a willing buyer.

Hey, but who would ever find out?

Don’t be so sure. In 2006, to comply with the “European Landfill Directive,” various municipal councils in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland introduced “smart” trash cans—“wheelie bins” with a penny-sized electronic chip embedded within that helpfully monitors and records your garbage as it’s tossed into the truck. Once upon a time, you had to be a double-0 agent with Her Majesty’s Secret Service to be able to install that level of high-tech spy gadgetry. But now any old low-level apparatchik from the municipal council can do it, all in the cause of a sustainable planet. So where’s the harm?

And once Big Brother’s in your trash can, why stop there? Our wheelie-bin sensors are detecting an awful lot of junk-food packaging in your garbage. Maybe you should be eating healthier. In Tokyo, Matsushita engineers have created a “smart toilet”: you sit down, and the seat sends a mild electric charge through your bottom that calculates your body/fat ratio, and then transmits the information to your doctors. Japan has a fast-aging population imposing unsustainable costs on its health system, so the state has an interest in tracking your looming health problems, and nipping them in the butt. In England, meanwhile, Twyford’s, whose founder invented the modern ceramic toilet in the 19th century, has developed an advanced model—the VIP (Versatile Interactive Pan)—that examines your urine and stools for medical problems and dietary content: if you’re not getting enough roughage, it automatically sends a signal to the nearest supermarket requesting a delivery of beans. All you have to do is sit there as your VIP toilet orders ŕ la carte and prescribes your medication.

But think of the environmental benefits: readers may recall Sheryl Crow’s brief campaign to get people to use only one sheet of toilet paper (I recommended an all-star consciousness-raising single—“All we are saying is give one piece a chance”). Last month, the Washington Post reported a new front in this war. Two-ply bathroom tissue, according to Allen Hershkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “is the Hummer of the paper industry.” Oh, and blame Canada, as that’s where most American two-ply comes from: this decadent Dominion is apparently the House of Saud of toilet paper. In Britain, where closed-circuit cameras monitor you to check you’re not eating a sandwich while driving, is it such a stretch to foresee those toilet sensors that wire your stool analysis to the government health centre also snitching on your two-ply Cottonelle? Or perhaps, if it’s a Matsushita toilet, a few extra volts from the buttock-zapper will be enough of a warning.

“The environment” is the most ingenious cover story for Big Government ever devised. You float a rumour that George W. Bush is checking up on what library books you’re reading, and everyone goes bananas. But announce that a government monitoring device has been placed in every citizen’s trash can in the cause of “saving the planet,” and the world loves you.

In 1785, the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham began working on his famous “Pan-opticon”—a radial prison in which a central “inspector” could see all the prisoners, but they could never see him. In the computer age, we now have not merely panopticon buildings, but panopticon societies, like modern London—and soon perhaps, excepting a few redoubts such as Waziristan and the livelier precincts of the Horn of Africa, a panopticon planet.

Yet high-tech statism still needs an overarching narrative. In the new school of panoptic fiction—such as John Twelve Hawks’s recently completed Fourth Realm trilogy—the justification for round-the-clock surveillance is usually “security.” But the “security state” is a tough sell: if you tell people the government is compiling data on them for national security purposes, the left instinctively recoils. But, if you explain that you’re doing it to “lower emissions,” starry-eyed coeds across the land will coo their approval. And the middle-class masochists of the developed world will whimper in orgasmic ecstasy as you tighten the screws, pausing only to demand that you do it to them harder and faster.

Consider a recent British plan for each citizen to be given an official travel allowance. If you take one flight a year, you’ll pay just the standard amount of tax on the journey. But, if you travel more frequently, if you take a second or third flight, you’ll be subject to additional levies—all in the interest of saving the planet for Al Gore’s polar bear documentaries and that carbon-offset palace he lives in in Tennessee. The Soviets restricted freedom of movement through the bureaucratic apparatus of “exit visas.” The British favoured the bureaucratic apparatus of exit taxes: the movement’s still free; it’s just that there’ll be a government processing fee of Ł412.95. And, in a revealing glimpse of the universal belief in enviro-statism, this proposal came not from Gordon Brown’s Labour Party but from the allegedly Conservative Party.

At their Monday night poker game in hell, I’ll bet Stalin, Hitler and Mao are kicking themselves: “ ‘It’s about leaving a better planet to our children?’ Why didn’t I think of that?” This is Two-Ply Totalitarianism—no jackboots, no goose steps, just soft and gentle all the way. Nevertheless, occasionally the mask drops and the totalitarian underpinnings become explicit. Take Elizabeth May’s latest promotional poster: “Your parents f*cked up the planet. It’s time to do something about it. Live Green. Vote Green.” As Saskatchewan blogger Kate McMillan pointed out, the tactic of “convincing youth to reject their parents in favour of The Party” is a time-honoured tradition.

The problem, alas, is that, for the moment, there’s still more than one party. But why? Last year, David Suzuki suggested that denialist politicians should be thrown in jail. And only last month the New York Times’s Great Thinker Thomas Friedman channelled his inner Walter Duranty and decided that democracy has f*cked up the planet. Why, in Beijing, where they don’t have that disadvantage, they banned the environmentally destructive plastic bag! In one day! Just like that! “One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks,” wrote Friedman. “But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.”

Forward to where?

Well, fortunately the Copenhagen convention’s embryo “government” appears immune to such outmoded concepts as democratic accountability.

Don’t take my word. Listen to what the activists are saying: it’s about every aspect of your life.

PS: Just to be safe, after reading this column, tear into pieces and flush down your toilet.

Oh, no, wait, don’t…
« Reply #161 on: November 09, 2009, 05:12:35 PM »

Pfizer abandons site of infamous Kelo eminent domain taking

By: Timothy P. Carney
Examiner Columnist
11/09/09 1:47 PM EST

The private homes that New London, Conn., took away from Suzette Kelo and her neighbors have been torn down. Their former site is a wasteland of fields of weeds, a monument to the power of eminent domain.

But now Pfizer, the drug company whose neighboring research facility had been the original cause of the homes' seizure, has just announced that it is closing up shop in New London.

To lure those jobs to New London a decade ago, the local government promised to demolish the older residential neighborhood adjacent to the land Pfizer was buying for next-to-nothing. Suzette Kelo fought the taking to the Supreme Court, and lost. Five justices found this redevelopment met the constitutional hurdle of "public use."

The Hartford Courant reports:

Pfizer Inc. will shut down its massive New London research and development headquarters and transfer most of the 1,400 people working there to Groton, the pharmaceutical giant said Monday....

Pfizer is now deciding what to do with its giant New London offices, and will consider selling it, leasing it and other options, a company spokeswoman said.

Scott Bullock, Kelo's co-counsel in the case, told me: "This shows the folly of these redevelopment projects that use massive taxpayer subsidies and other forms of corporate welfare and abuse eminent domain."
« Reply #162 on: February 16, 2010, 12:06:46 PM »

The Miracle of the Market
Campaign for Liberty ^ | 2010-02-16 | Jacob Hornberger

In preparation for the two recent back-to-back blizzards, D.C. residents were emptying the shelves of neighborhood grocery stores. Notwithstanding the pre-blizzard panic buying, what's interesting is that no one was freaking out about whether the stores would be adequately stocked after the blizzards.

After all, think about it: there is absolutely no government planning that goes into what is stocked in grocery stores. No federal Department of Food. No local or state planning commission. No grocery boards. No bureaucrats or bureaucracies. No laws requiring grocery stores to be well-stocked. No rules and regulations dictating how much of each food item, including bread, milk, and chicken, needs to appear on the shelves.

So, how in the world do grocery stores get stocked without government planning or direction? How is it that so much food appears, almost by magic, within a day or two after most of the shelves have been emptied? Indeed, how do grocery stores manage to have more than enough food for people throughout the year given that no government department or agency is doing the planning and issuing food directives?

Let's look at the situation another way. Suppose that in 1900, it was decided that food was just too important an item to be left to the free market. To ensure that there would always be enough food for people, state and local governments took over the grocery-store industry, just as they took over the education industry. To provide support for grocery stores, the U.S. government established the federal Department of Food to provide grants and set standards for the grocery stores, just as the U.S. Department of Education does for state and local public schools.

So, imagine that we're here in 2010, having lived under more than 100 years of a system of government-run grocery stores. Wouldn't people be incessantly complaining about the shoddy quality of products and services, as they constantly do with the state-run schools?

Along come libertarians and say the same thing about the grocery business that they say about the education business. Get government out of the grocery business, at all levels -- local, state, and federal. Abolish the federal Department of Food. Sell off all the grocery stores. Abolish all the taxes needed to run the grocery stores. Separate food and state, just as our ancestors separated church and state. Let the free market reign in the grocery-store industry.

What would today's statists say? They would say the same things they say when libertarians call for the same solution in education. "Where would the poor get their food? There would only be grocery stores for the rich. How could we count on the free market to make sure that there was the right amount of food for each grocery store? What if some grocery stores went empty while others were plentiful? How could we be sure that each grocery store received the correct quantities of each item? You libertarians are dreamers. Do you honestly believe that you could leave something as important as grocery stores to the free market?"

Yet, today no one gives a free market in food a second thought. Every day, people have a wide range of grocery stores from which to choose, each one vying for his business. Practically every day -- blizzards being a possible exception -- every one of those grocery stores is packed with food, all with a dizzying array of choices.

And it's all accomplished through the miracle of the market, with no government planning or direction. And no one gets freaked out about the fact that it all happens without government intervention. People just take it for granted.

Now, while we're on the subject of a free market in the grocery-store industry, can we talk about the same thing in the context of the education industry?

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.
« Reply #163 on: February 17, 2010, 05:42:14 AM »

Which describes exactly why I do not want to see the government get health care, especially in its current form.
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Posts: 15533

« Reply #164 on: April 08, 2010, 10:59:13 AM »

Up from Slavery
There's no such thing as a golden age of lost liberty
David Boaz | April 6, 2010

For many libertarians, "the road to serfdom" is not just the title of a great book but also the window through which they see the world. We’re losing our freedom, year after year, they think. They (we) quote Thomas Jefferson: “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” We read books with titles like Freedom in Chains, Lost Rights, The Rise of Federal Control over the Lives of Ordinary Americans, and yes, The Road to Serfdom.

The Cato Institute's boilerplate description of itself used to include the line, "Since [the American] revolution, civil and economic liberties have been eroded." Until Clarence Thomas, then chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, gave a speech at Cato and pointed out to us that it didn't seem quite that way to black people.

And he was right. American public policy has changed in many ways since the American Revolution, sometimes in a libertarian direction, sometimes not.

Brink Lindsey talks of an "implicit libertarian synthesis" in American politics today in his book The Age of Abundance. He argued in 2007:

Nevertheless, the fact is that American society today is considerably more libertarian than it was a generation or two ago. Compare conditions now to how they were at the outset of the 1960s. Official governmental discrimination against blacks no longer exists. Censorship has beaten a wholesale retreat. The rights of the accused enjoy much better protection. Abortion, birth control, interracial marriage, and gay sex are legal. Divorce laws have been liberalized and rape laws strengthened. Pervasive price and entry controls in the transportation, energy, communications, and financial sectors are gone. Top income tax rates have been slashed. The pretensions of macroeconomic fine-tuning have been abandoned. Barriers to international trade are much lower. Unionization of the private sector work force has collapsed. Of course there are obvious counterexamples, but on the whole it seems clear that cultural expression, personal lifestyle choices, entrepreneurship, and the play of market forces all now enjoy much wider freedom of maneuver.

Has there ever been a golden age of liberty? No, and there never will be. There will always be people who want to live their lives in peace, and there will always be people who want to exploit them or impose their own ideas on others. If we look at the long term—from a past that includes despotism, feudalism, absolutism, fascism, and communism—we’re clearly better off. When we look at our own country's history—contrasting 2010 with 1776 or 1910 or 1950 or whatever—the story is less clear. We suffer under a lot of regulations and restrictions that our ancestors didn’t face.

But in 1776 black Americans were held in chattel slavery, and married women had no legal existence except as agents of their husbands. In 1910 and even 1950, blacks still suffered under the legal bonds of Jim Crow—and we all faced confiscatory tax rates throughout the postwar period.

I am particularly struck by libertarians and conservatives who celebrate the freedom of early America, and deplore our decline from those halcyon days, without bothering to mention the existence of slavery. Take R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., longtime editor of the American Spectator. In Policy Review (Summer 1987, not online), he wrote:

**Read it all**
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« Reply #165 on: April 08, 2010, 04:05:30 PM »

Some valid points made therein.
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« Reply #166 on: April 09, 2010, 07:54:35 AM »

I can't believe myself.  I am actually posting a POTH editorial approvingly  shocked

Published: April 8, 2010
The Internet has given the government powerful 21st-century tools for invading people’s privacy and monitoring their activities, but the main federal law governing online privacy is a 20th-century relic. Adopted in 1986, it has had trouble keeping up with technological advances and is now badly out of date.

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Congress has not moved to fix this problem, but a surprising coalition of major technology companies and civil liberties advocates have produced a blueprint for updating the law and both houses of Congress are poised to hold hearings. Having lawmakers proclaim their concern and ask learned questions will not be enough. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act is long past due for an upgrade.

Privacy is central to American law. And in 1986, Congress applied that principle to electronic communications by setting limits on law enforcement access to Internet and wireless technologies. It was a laudable law at the time, but cellphones were still oddities, the Internet was mostly a way for academics and researchers to exchange data and the World Wide Web that is an everyday part of most Americans’ lives did not exist.

The law is no longer comprehensive enough to cover the many kinds of intrusions made possible by the advances of the past 24 years. In the absence of strong federal law, the courts have been adrift on many important Internet privacy issues. The law is not clear on when search warrants are required for the government to read stored e-mail, what legal standards apply to GPS technology that tracks people’s whereabouts in real time and other critical questions.

Digital Due Process — a coalition that includes Google, Microsoft, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the American Civil Liberties Union — recently proposed a good set of principles for addressing those issues. The coalition recommends that all private data not voluntarily made public, such as stored e-mail or private financial data, should be as protected as data in a person’s home. To get it, the government should need a search warrant.

For locational data — information about where a person has physically been, or currently is — the coalition also recommends that a search warrant be required. That would clear up a murky area of the law in which courts have reached different conclusions about information obtained through GPS devices, cellphone towers and other technologies.

The coalition argues that when federal law authorizes a subpoena for customer data, it should be limited to information about a particular individual or individuals. This would prevent fishing expeditions, such as a request for data on everyone who visited a particular Web site on a given day.

The coalition’s recommendations do not address other important Internet privacy issues that involve the ability of private companies to monitor and record their users’ behavior. They also sidestep questions about how accessible data should be to private litigants, such as one company suing another. The recommendations do not include requirements that companies report on the personal data they are collecting and storing — a kind of transparency that customers should be entitled to.

Despite that, the Digital Due Process has gotten this much-needed discussion off to a strong start and set the bar high for hearings by the Senate and House Judiciary Committees.
« Reply #167 on: April 09, 2010, 08:08:10 AM »

Yeah, I saw that elsewhere.  It is good this is coming up for discussion. I suspect the EFT (Electronic Frontier Foundation) is in the mix there too?
« Reply #168 on: April 09, 2010, 10:27:43 AM »

I'm in shotgun instructor class this week and hence am short on scribbling time, but will note in regard to GM's piece that just because there was no golden age of Libertarianism there's no reason not to strive for one, not because it will ever be achieved, but because I believe there is a deeply rooted human penchant to impose values and restrictions on others. You can't turn around without finding someone making adamant arguments as to why this, that, or the other liberty shouldn't be superseded for the sake of the community, children, Allah, Yaweh, whatever. I think keeping people individually or amalgamated in to governments collectively the f#ck out of my life unless I choose to let them in is a nobel end unto itself and so make no apologies for resisting what I see as endless encroachment efforts.
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« Reply #169 on: April 11, 2010, 10:34:59 AM »

Those that live without the rule of law are just as oppressed as those that live under a police state.
« Reply #170 on: April 11, 2010, 03:27:16 PM »

Libertarian = living with no law?
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« Reply #171 on: April 11, 2010, 09:32:26 PM »

I've seen more than a few anarchists designate themselves libertarians.

I'd like to hear what laws you do want to have and how you'd enforce them.
« Reply #172 on: April 12, 2010, 01:17:39 AM »

The mainstream libertarians seem to be more of the strict constitutionalist mindset.  The differences come when you try and determine what date you want to "roll back" to.  (just after prohibition, pre/post EPA, "great society", pre/post income tax, etc.)  Anarchists are just that, they seem to want no government at all, which tends to look like law of the jungle to me.........
« Reply #173 on: April 12, 2010, 08:18:03 AM »

I've seen more than a few anarchists designate themselves libertarians.

And this applies to me? Seems like an awfully broad brush with which to paint us freedom loving miscreants.

I'd like to hear what laws you do want to have and how you'd enforce them.

Should I start with the United States Code, Annotated, state law tomes, those of my county, or those of my town? Will it suffice to say I'm good with laws against murder, but not ones regulating the size of toilet tanks or what substances you can imbibe while at home?
« Last Edit: April 12, 2010, 10:13:59 AM by Body-by-Guinness » Logged
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« Reply #174 on: April 12, 2010, 08:48:30 AM »

Anarchists and libertarians are not the same.

Anarchists can range from "left" (communalists) to "right" (individualist). To somewhat oversimplify, the gripe is not government, it is against heirarchical authority structures in general. As such, "the state" is immediately targeted as bad ju-ju, but so are, say, certain business models & what are viewed as exploitative economic or social systems.

Libertarians also have a wide range of beliefs, but are minarchists, not anarchists, and view government, in the worst light, as a necessary evil.

What laws do libertarians want? Very few, and only those that protect individual rights (generally speaking).

How to enforce? A libertarian gov would be limited to core functions: military (whether standing or not), police, and courts. Some of that might even be farmed out.

David M. McLean
Skinny Devil Music Lab
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« Reply #175 on: April 12, 2010, 10:30:08 AM »

I've seen more than a few anarchists designate themselves libertarians.

And this applies to me? Seems like an awfully broad brush with which to paint us freedom loving miscreants.

**If my intent was to call you an anarchist, I'd call you an anarchist. I debated a "libertarian" elsewhere who asserted that there should be no govenment, no courts, no police.**

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« Reply #176 on: April 12, 2010, 10:31:55 AM »

I'd like to hear what laws you do want to have and how you'd enforce them.

Should I start with the United States Code, Annotated, state law tomes, those of my county, or those of my town? Will it suffice to say I'm good with laws against murder, but not ones regulating the size of toilet tanks or what substances you can imbibe while at home?


What if your next door neighbor wants to home brew his meth? Should there be a law?
« Reply #177 on: April 12, 2010, 10:44:47 AM »

What if your next door neighbor wants to home brew his meth? Should there be a law?

I think it should be available over the counter so he has no need to home brew it, mark it up substantially to cover his risk, defend it from predator who would rip him off, etc. The drug war has created far more pathologies than it has addressed.
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« Reply #178 on: April 12, 2010, 11:08:46 AM »

Just because it's legally available does not mean someone won't home brew their own. Meth is not expensive to make, especially if the precursor chemicals are unregulated.
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« Reply #179 on: April 12, 2010, 01:25:33 PM »

A justification for opposing meth lab next door is the unusually high risk of explosion and contamination.  Liberties tend to end when they cross over and take away someone else's liberty - (like abortion).

Over the weekend, a neighbor of a property of mine had a huge barn fire very close to my property.  My tenants were downwind and evacuated; any further spreading could have certainly taken lives.  Cause unknown so the lesson from it is unknown, point is that some regulation can be justified.  This was in a very unregulated, unenforced area, my other properties are in the highly and overly regulated city where virtually nothing is allowed.  Yet all my real damage seems to occur in the regulated area including vandalism, crime and continuous threats of closure from the regulators as I try be a law abiding citizen and eek out a living providing affordable housing.  They can't regulate reasonably and stop there. They can't send a statement or notice without a threat of closure, because that is their power. It becomes an occupation, a power and an entity all its own.

At our own home the neighbor built a tall home on a narrow lot and blocked all mid-day winter sun from our house forever.  There should a law against that. Actually 13 different ordinances prohibit what they built, so variances were approved to get the 'improvement', much like Kelo.  My pet peeve is the certain laws come with exceptions.  Real laws against real crimes like murder don't require exceptions.  For zoning and regulating people's lives and properties, the exceptions always bring us back toward third world bribe and corruption and power of the state, and away from equal protection.
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« Reply #180 on: April 12, 2010, 09:45:04 PM »

The devil is always in the details. Alcohol is legal, but still has laws regulating it, and still has law enforcement officers enforcing those laws.
« Reply #181 on: April 13, 2010, 05:22:06 AM »

Any law is a use of force, since the Police with guns show up to enforce it. what is required for any citizen to justify useing force (a gun?) against another?  If a law cannot meet those criteria, it should never have been written.
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« Reply #182 on: April 15, 2010, 11:54:34 AM »

You'll note that law enFORCEment has the use of force implied in the title. Without enforcement, there is no rule of law. It's worked pretty darn well for western civilization up to this point. Also, most calls are handled strictly by officer presence and verbal skills and the use of deadly force is a very tiny part of most officer's performance of their duties.
« Reply #183 on: April 21, 2010, 02:44:20 PM »

The Wrong Man


By David Freed

THE FIRST ANTHRAX attacks came days after the jetliner assaults of September 11, 2001. Postmarked Trenton, New Jersey, and believed to have been sent from a mailbox near Princeton University, the initial mailings went to NBC News, the New York Post, and the Florida-based publisher of several supermarket tabloids, including The Sun and The National Enquirer. Three weeks later, two more envelopes containing anthrax arrived at the Senate offices of Democrats Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, each bearing the handwritten return address of a nonexistent “Greendale School” in Franklin Park, New Jersey. Government mail service quickly shut down.

The letters accompanying the anthrax read like the work of a jihadist, suggesting that their author was an Arab extremist—or someone masquerading as one—yet also advised recipients to take antibiotics, implying that whoever had mailed them never really intended to harm anyone. But at least 17 people would fall ill and five would die—a photo editor at The Sun; two postal employees at a Washington, D.C., mail-processing center; a hospital stockroom clerk in Manhattan whose exposure to anthrax could never be fully explained; and a 94-year-old Connecticut widow whose mail apparently crossed paths with an anthrax letter somewhere in the labyrinth of the postal system. The attacks spawned a spate of hoax letters nationwide. Police were swamped with calls from citizens suddenly suspicious of their own mail.

See web-only content:

VIDEO: The author and Steven Hatfill speak with The Today Show’s Matt Lauer
Americans had good reason to fear. Inhaled anthrax bacteria devour the body from within. Anthrax infections typically begin with flu-like symptoms. Massive lesions soon form in the lungs and brain, as a few thousand bacilli propagate within days into literally trillions of voracious parasitic microbes. The final stages before death are excruciatingly painful.As their minds disintegrate, victims literally drown in their own fluids. If you were to peer through a microscope at a cross-section of an anthrax victim’s blood vessel at the moment of death, it would look, says Leonard A. Cole, an expert on bioterrorism at Rutgers University, “as though it were teeming with worms.”

The pressure on American law enforcement to find the perpetrator or perpetrators was enormous. Agents were compelled to consider any and all means of investigation. One such avenue involved Don Foster, a professor of English at Vassar College and a self-styled literary detective, who had achieved modest celebrity by examining punctuation and other linguistic fingerprints to identify Joe Klein, who was then a Newsweek columnist, as the author of the anonymously written 1996 political novel, Primary Colors. Foster had since consulted with the FBI on investigations of the Unabomber and Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park bombing, among other cases. Now he was asked to analyze the anthrax letters for insights as to who may have mailed them. Foster would detail his efforts two years later in a 9,500-word article for Vanity Fair.

Surveying the publicly available evidence, as well as documents sent to him by the FBI, Foster surmised that the killer was an American posing as an Islamic jihadist. Only a limited number of American scientists would have had a working knowledge of anthrax. One of those scientists, Foster concluded, was a man named Steven Hatfill, a medical doctor who had once worked at the Army’s elite Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), which had stocks of anthrax.

On the day al-Qaeda struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with hijacked jetliners, Hatfill was recovering from nasal surgery in his apartment outside the gates of Fort Detrick, Maryland, where USAMRIID is housed. We’re at war, he remembers thinking as he watched the news that day—but he had no idea that it was a war in which he himself would soon become collateral damage, as the FBI came to regard him as a homegrown bioterrorist, likely responsible for some of the most unsettling multiple murders in recent American history. His story provides a cautionary tale about how federal authorities, fueled by the general panic over terrorism, embraced conjecture and coincidence as evidence, and blindly pursued one suspect while the real anthrax killer roamed free for more than six years. Hatfill’s experience is also the wrenching saga of how an American citizen who saw himself as a patriot came to be vilified and presumed guilty, as his country turned against him.

“It’s like death by a thousand cuts,” Hatfill, who is now 56, says today. “There’s a sheer feeling of hopelessness. You can’t fight back. You have to just sit there and take it, day after day, the constant drip-drip-drip of innuendo, a punching bag for the government and the press. And the thing was, I couldn’t understand why it was happening to me. I mean, I was one of the good guys.”

Don Foster, the Vassar professor, was among those who set the wheels of injustice in motion. Scouring the Internet, Foster found an interview that Hatfill had given while working at the National Institutes of Health, in which he described how bubonic plague could be made with simple equipment and used in a bioterror attack. Foster later tracked down an unpublished novel Hatfill had written, depicting a fictional bioterror attack on Washington. He discovered that Hatfill had been in Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) during an anthrax outbreak there in the late 1970s, and that he’d attended medical school near a Rhodesian suburb called Greendale—the name of the invented school in the return address of the anthrax letters mailed to the Senate. The deeper Foster dug, the more Hatfill looked to him like a viable suspect.

“When I lined up Hatfill’s known movements with the postmark locations of reported biothreats,” Foster later wrote, “those hoax anthrax attacks appeared to trail him like a vapor cloud.”

In February 2002, Foster tried to interest the FBI in Hatfill, but says he was told that Hatfill had a good alibi. “A month later, when I pressed the issue,” Foster wrote, “I was told, ‘Look, Don, maybe you’re spending too much time on this.’”

Meanwhile, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a passionate crusader against the use of bioweapons, was also convinced that an American scientist was to blame for the anthrax attacks. In an interview with the BBC in early 2002, she theorized that the murders were the result of a top-secret CIA project gone awry, and that the FBI was hesitant to arrest the killer because it would embarrass Washington. A molecular biologist and professor of environmental science who had once served as a low-level bioweapons adviser to President Clinton, Rosenberg had taken it upon herself to look into the anthrax murders, and her investigations had independently led her to Hatfill. (Hatfill says he believes Rosenberg was made aware of him by a former acquaintance, a defense contractor with whom Hatfill had clashed over a proposed counter-anthrax training program intended for the U.S. Marshals Service.) Rosenberg wrote a paper she called “Possible Portrait of the Anthrax Perpetrator,” which was disseminated on the Internet. Although Rosenberg would later deny ever having identified him publicly or privately, the specific details of her “Portrait” made it clear she had a particular suspect in mind: Steven Hatfill.

Foster says he met Rosenberg over lunch in April 2002, “compared notes,” and “found that our evidence had led us in the same direction.” Weeks dragged on while he and Rosenberg tried to interest the FBI in their theories, but the bureau remained “stubbornly unwilling to listen.” Two months later, her “patience exhausted,” Rosenberg, according to Foster, met on Capitol Hill with Senate staff members “and laid out the evidence, such as it was, hers and mine.” Special Agent Van Harp, the senior FBI agent on what by then had been dubbed the “Amerithrax” investigation, was summoned to the meeting, along with other FBI officials.

Rosenberg criticized the FBI for not being aggressive enough. “She thought we were wasting efforts and resources in a particular—or in several areas, and should focus more on who she concluded was responsible for it,” Harp would later testify.

“Did she mention Dr. Hatfill’s name in her presentation?” Hatfill’s attorney, former federal prosecutor Thomas G. Connolly, asked Harp during a sworn deposition.

“That’s who she was talking about,” Harp testified.

Exactly a week after the Rosenberg meeting, the FBI carried out its first search of Hatfill’s apartment, with television news cameras broadcasting it live.

In his deposition, Harp would dismiss the timing of the search as coincidental.

Beryl Howell, who at the time of the investigation was serving as Senator Patrick Leahy’s point person on all matters anthrax, recently told me that asking Harp and other lead agents to sit down with the “quite persistent” Rosenberg was never meant to pressure the FBI to go after Hatfill. The meeting, Howell says, was intended simply to ensure that investigators cooperated with other experts outside the bureau and objectively considered all theories in the case in order to solve it more quickly.

“Whether or not Rosenberg’s suspicions about Hatfill were correct was really not my business,” Howell says. “It was really law enforcement’s prerogative to figure that one out.”

There was enough circumstantial evidence surrounding Hatfill that zealous investigators could easily elaborate a plausible theory of him as the culprit. As fear about the anthrax attacks spread, government and other workers who might have been exposed to the deadly spores via the mail system were prescribed prophylactic doses of Cipro, a powerful antibiotic that protects against infection caused by inhaled anthrax. Unfamiliar to the general population before September 2001, Cipro quickly became known as the anti-anthrax drug, and prescriptions for it skyrocketed.

As it happened, at the time of the anthrax attacks, Hatfill was taking Cipro.

Hatfill’s eccentricity also generated suspicion among colleagues and FBI agents. Bench scientists tend toward the sedate and gymnasium-challenged. Steve Hatfill was a flag-waving, tobacco-chewing weight lifter partial to blood-rare steaks and black safari suits that showed off his linebacker’s physique, a physician with a bawdy sense of humor and a soldier’s ethos, who told stories over cocktails of parachuting from military aircraft and battling Communists in Africa. While few people who knew him could deny his intellect or his passion as a researcher, some found him arrogant and blustery. Others feared him. Even his allies acknowledge that Hatfill could sometimes come across as different. “If you try to link Steve and the word normal, they’re not going to match up,” says Jim Cline, a retired Special Forces sergeant major and anti-terror expert who worked with Hatfill from 1999 to 2002 at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a large defense contractor.

It also happened that Hatfill was familiar with anthrax. He had done his medical training in Africa, where outbreaks of anthrax infections have been known to occur among livestock herds. In 1999, after going to work for SAIC, Hatfill had a hand in developing a brochure for emergency personnel on ways to handle anthrax hoax letters. In the long run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, he also oversaw the construction of a full-scale model designed to show invading U.S. troops what a mobile Iraqi germ-warfare lab might look like and how best to destroy it. But while he possessed a working knowledge of Bacillus anthracis, Hatfill had never worked in any capacity with the spore-forming, rod-shaped bacterium.

“I was a virus guy,” he told me, “not a bacteria guy.”

Still, when FBI agents asked to interview him 10 months after the anthrax murders, Hatfill says, he wasn’t surprised. In their hunt for what he believed were the foreign terrorists who had sent the letters, Hatfill assumed that agents were routinely interviewing every scientist who’d ever worked at USAMRIID, including those, like himself, who had never set foot in the high-security laboratory where anthrax cultures were kept. Hatfill answered the agents’ questions and willingly took a polygraph test, which he says he was told he passed.

“I thought that was the end of it,” Hatfill says. “But it was only the beginning.”

In June, agents asked to “swab” his apartment. Hatfill complied, feeling he had nothing to hide. On June 25, 2002, after signing a consent form at the FBI’s field office in nearby Frederick, Maryland, he came home to find reporters and camera crews swarming. TV helicopters orbited overhead. “There’s obviously been a leak,” Hatfill says one of the agents told him. He was driven to a Holiday Inn to escape the crush of news media and sat in a motel room, watching incredulously as a full-blown search of his home played out on national television. The experience was surreal.

Agents conducted a second search five weeks later amid a repeated media circus. This time they came equipped with a warrant and bloodhounds. The dogs, Hatfill would later learn, had been responsible for false arrests in other cases. Hatfill says he innocently petted one of hounds, named Tinkerbell. The dog seemed to like him. “He’s identified you from the anthrax letters!” Tinkerbell’s handler exclaimed.

“It took every ounce of restraint to stop from laughing,” Hatfill recalls. “They said, ‘We know you did it. We know you didn’t mean to kill anyone.’ I said, ‘Am I under arrest?’ They said no. I walked out, rented a car, and went to see an attorney about suing the hell out of these people.”

The FBI raided Hatfill’s rented storage locker in Ocala, Florida, where his father owned a thoroughbred horse farm; the agency also searched a townhouse in Washington, D.C., owned by his longtime girlfriend, a slim, elegant accountant whom Hatfill calls “Boo.” (To guard her privacy, he asked that her real name not be used.) Agents rifled through Boo’s closets and drawers, breaking cherished keepsakes. “They told me, ‘Your boyfriend murdered five people,’” she said to me recently, unable to talk about it without tears.

Hatfill was fired from SAIC. The official explanation given was that he had failed to maintain a necessary security clearance; the real reason, he believes, was that the government wanted him fired. He immediately landed the associate directorship of a fledgling Louisiana State University program designed to train firefighters and other emergency personnel to respond to terrorist acts and natural disasters, a job that would have matched the $150,000 annual salary he’d been getting at SAIC. But after Justice Department officials learned of Hatfill’s employment, they told LSU to “immediately cease and desist” from using Hatfill on any federally funded program. He was let go before his first day. Other prospective employment fell through. No one would return his calls. One job vanished after Hatfill emerged from a meeting with prospective employers to find FBI agents videotaping them. His savings dwindling, he moved in with Boo.

« Reply #184 on: April 21, 2010, 02:46:22 PM »

By this time, the FBI and the Justice Department were so confident Hatfill was guilty that on August 6, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft publicly declared him a “person of interest”—the only time the nation’s top law-enforcement official has ever so identified the subject of an active criminal investigation. Agents grilled Hatfill’s friends, tapped his phone, installed surveillance cameras outside Boo’s condo, and for more than two years, shadowed him day and night, looking for any grounds on which to arrest him.

Many of Hatfill’s friends, worried for their own reputations, abandoned him as the FBI gave chase. Certain of Hatfill’s innocence, his former colleague Jim Cline was among the few who stood by him, afraid that his increasingly socially isolated friend would kill himself to escape his torment. “When you have the world against you,” Cline says, “and only a few people are willing to look you in the eye and tell you, ‘I believe you’—I mean, to this day, I really don’t know how the guy survived.”

Virtually everywhere Hatfill went, the FBI went too, often right behind him—a deliberately harassing tactic called “bumper locking.” Hatfill believes that local authorities joined in tormenting him at the behest of the Justice Department. Coming home from dinner one Friday night, he was pulled over by a Washington, D.C., police officer who issued him a warning for failing to signal a lane change. Three blocks later, another cop stopped him, again for not using his turn signal. The officer asked if he’d been drinking. Hatfill said he’d had one Bloody Mary. He was ordered out of his car. “Not unless you’re going to arrest me,” Hatfill says he responded indignantly. The officer obliged. Hatfill spent the weekend in jail and would later be ordered to attend a four-day alcohol counseling program. The police, he says, refused to administer a blood-alcohol test that would have proved he wasn’t drunk.

Connolly, Hatfill’s attorney, offered to have Hatfill surrender his passport and be outfitted with a tracking device, to have FBI agents ride with him everywhere, to show them that they were wasting their time. The offer was rejected. “They were purposely sweating him,” Connolly says, “trying to get him to go over the edge.”

Much of what authorities discovered, they leaked anonymously to journalists. The result was an unrelenting stream of inflammatory innuendo that dominated front pages and television news. Hatfill found himself trapped, the powerless central player in what Connolly describes as “a story about the two most powerful institutions in the United States, the government and the press, ganging up on an innocent man. It’s Kafka.”

With Hatfill’s face splashed all over the news, strangers on the street stared. Some asked for his autograph. Hatfill was humiliated. Embarrassed to be recognized, he stopped going to the gym. He stopped visiting friends, concerned that the FBI would harass them, too. Soon, he stopped going out in public altogether. Once an energetic and ambitious professional who reveled in 14-hour workdays, Hatfill now found himself staring at the walls all day. Television became his steady companion.

“I’d never really watched the news before,” Hatfill says, “and now I’m seeing my name all over the place and all these idiots like Geraldo Rivera asking, ‘Is this the anthrax animal? Is this the guy who murdered innocent people?’ You might as well have hooked me up to a battery. It was sanctioned torture.”

Hatfill decided to redecorate Boo’s condo as a distraction from the news. He repainted, hung wallpaper, learned to install crown molding. He also began drinking.

An afternoon glass of red wine became three or more. At night, Hatfill would stay up late, dipping Copenhagen tobacco and getting drunk while waiting in a smoldering rage for his name to appear on television, until finally he would pass out and wake up gagging on the tobacco that had caught in his throat, or stumble around and “crash into something.” Boo would help him to bed. After a few anguished hours of sleep, Hatfill would see her off to work, doze past noon, then rise to repeat the cycle, closing the blinds to block the sun and the video camera the FBI had installed on a pole across the street. For a while, Boo bought newspapers, so the two of them could fume over the latest lies that had been published about him. But soon he asked her to stop bringing them home, because he couldn’t take it anymore.

STEVEN HATFILL WAS BORN ON October 24, 1953, and raised with a younger sister in Mattoon, Illinois. His father designed and sold electrical substations. His mother dabbled in interior decorating. He studied piano, soloed a glider at 14, and wrestled for the varsity team in high school. By his own admission, he was a poor student. “I never took a book home,” Hatfill says. But he read plenty on his own, especially about science and the military. In 1971, he enrolled at Southwestern College, a small liberal-arts school in Kansas affiliated with the Methodist Church, where he majored in biology and signed up for a Marine Corps summer leadership course with dreams of piloting jet fighters. But when his vision was measured at less than 20/20, he opted out of the program rather than accept a navigator slot. Midway through his sophomore year, he left college and went to Africa.

Hatfill says he always wanted to help people in the developing world. He got his chance at a remote Methodist mission hospital in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he learned blood chemistry, parasitology, and basic hematology in a rudimentary lab. A year later, he returned to the United States; he graduated from Southwestern in 1975, and signed up for the Army.

He took a direct-enlistment option to join the Green Berets, attended parachute school, trained as a radio operator, and was assigned to the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. When a back injury eventually disqualified him from serving with an operational A-Team, Hatfill reentered civilian life. He joined the National Guard, married the daughter of a Methodist surgeon he had worked with in Africa, and returned to Mattoon to work the night shift as a security guard at a radiator factory. His marriage soon faltered. After they separated, his wife delivered their only child, a girl. Hatfill would not see his daughter for 27 years.

From 1978 to 1994, Hatfill lived in Africa. He earned a medical degree from the Godfrey Huggins School of Medicine in Salisbury, Rhodesia, and saw combat as a volunteer medic with the territorial forces of the Rhodesian army, eventually being attached to a unit called the Selous Scouts, which was renowned for its ruthlessness in battle. While he was in Rhodesia, Hatfill says, a truck he was riding in was ambushed by Marxist insurgents. Leaping from the truck, he landed on his face, badly breaking his nose. For decades afterward he would have trouble breathing—which is why, in September 2001, he finally elected to have surgery on his sinuses, an operation that would lead doctors to prescribe him Cipro, to guard against infection.

Following his medical internship in Africa, he spent 14 months as the resident physician at an Antarctic research base. He went on to obtain three master’s degrees in the hard sciences from two South African universities and finish a doctoral thesis in molecular cell biology that described a new marker for radiation-induced leukemia.

Hatfill returned once more to the United States in 1994. He painted barns for six months on his father’s horse farm before taking a one-year fellowship to study a cancer protein at Oxford University. He parlayed the Oxford fellowship into a job researching cancer, HIV, and Lyme disease at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. In September 1997, Hatfill accepted a two-year fellowship as a medical doctor and hematologist to study Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers at USAMRIID. He was earning $45,000 a year.

Part of his research involved fatal viral experiments on macaque monkeys. Sometimes, with permission from staff veterinarians, Hatfill would slip the animals Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups to assuage his own guilt over helping cause them harm. He found his USAMRIID assignment both anguishing and rewarding. Some months, he never took a day off. “It’s altruism, in a way,” Hatfill says. “You’re trying to find cures for diseases to help people who have no other means of help. It was a privilege just to be there.”

THE FBI WOULD later speculate that Hatfill had somehow gained access to anthrax cultures while working at USAMRIID, perhaps through an inadvertently unlocked door. Drawing in part on the work of the Vassar professor Foster and the anti-bioweapons activist Rosenberg, federal investigators began trying to connect bits of circumstantial evidence, assembling them into a picture of Hatfill as the anthrax killer.

He’d been in Britain and Florida, respectively, when two letters with fake anthrax were mailed from those locations. His girlfriend was Malaysian-born—and a hoax package had been sent from Malaysia to a Microsoft office in Nevada. He’d been in Africa during a major anthrax outbreak in the late 1970s. Rhodesia’s capital city has that suburb called Greendale—and, as noted, “Greendale School” was the return address on the anthrax letters sent to Daschle and Leahy. He’d written that unpublished novel, which Don Foster had unearthed, about a bioterror attack on Washington. He was close to Bill Patrick, widely recognized as the father of America’s bioweapons program, whom he’d met at a conference on bioterror some years earlier. And, of course, he’d taken Cipro just before the anthrax attacks.

The government became convinced all of it had to amount to something.

It didn’t.

The FBI’s sleuthing had produced zero witnesses, no firm evidence, nothing to show that Hatfill had ever touched anthrax, let alone killed anyone with it. So thin was the bureau’s case that Hatfill was never even indicted. But that didn’t stop the FBI from focusing on him to the virtual exclusion of other suspects.

In law enforcement, there is a syndrome known as “detective myopia.” Former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates told me he suspected that FBI agents had succumbed to this condition, becoming so focused on Hatfill that they lost their objectivity. “This mostly happens when the case is important and there is pressure to solve it,” Gates says. “In the case of the FBI, the pressure most certainly can be, and is, political. When a congressman may be a victim of anthrax—well, the case needs to be solved or the suspect made impotent.”

Special Agent Harp, who initially headed the anthrax investigation, conceded after Hatfill sued the government in August 2003 that the FBI had been sensitive to accusations that it had stumbled in other high-profile investigations, and that it had consciously sought to assure the public that it was working hard to crack the anthrax murders. Part of providing such assurance involved actively communicating with news reporters. Questioned under oath, Harp admitted to serving as a confidential source for more than a dozen journalists during the case, but he insisted that he had never leaked privileged information about Hatfill, or anyone else for that matter.

Hatfill’s attorney has his doubts. After taking Harp’s deposition, Connolly says, he went home and half-jokingly told his wife, “We’re building a bomb shelter. If these are the guys in charge of our national security, we’re all in serious trouble.”

In their own depositions, both John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller, the FBI director, said they had expressed concern to underlings about news leaks that appeared to single out and smear Hatfill. Both, however, denied any knowledge of who specifically was doing the leaking.

In August of 2002, following the searches of his apartment, Hatfill held two press conferences to proclaim his innocence. He offered to undergo, and eventually took, blood and handwriting tests in an attempt to help clear his name. “I want to look my fellow Americans directly in the eye and declare to them, ‘I am not the anthrax killer,’” Hatfill told reporters. “I know nothing about the anthrax attacks. I had absolutely nothing to do with this terrible crime. My life is being destroyed by arrogant government bureaucrats who are peddling groundless innuendo and half-information about me to gullible reporters, who in turn repeat this to the public in the guise of news.”

One newspaper reporter even called Boo’s former in-laws in Canada, inquiring whether Hatfill had had anything to do with the death of her late husband—who had succumbed to a stroke a year before Boo met Hatfill. The call, Boo says, prompted her former brother-in-law to fly to Washington and demand, “What are you doing, living with this murderer?”

Months passed with Hatfill cloistered in Boo’s condominium, watching television and drinking alone. He binged on chocolate and fried chicken, putting on weight, growing too lethargic and depressed to even get on the bathroom scale. He developed heart palpitations. He wondered whether he was losing his mind.

Remembering what her boyfriend was like back then, Boo grows emotional. “I got tired of cleaning up your vomit,” she tells him over dinner at an Indian restaurant down the street from her condo. Tears stream down her cheeks. Hatfill chokes up too, the trauma still raw nearly eight years later.

“Every human being has to feel a part of a tribe,” he explains. “It’s programmed into us. And you have to feel that you’re contributing to something. They tried to take all that away from me. No tribe wanted me. I just didn’t feel of value to anything or anyone. I had Boo. Boo was my only tribe.”

The next morning, driving through Georgetown on the way to visit one of his friends in suburban Maryland, I ask Hatfill how close he came to suicide. The muscles in his jaw tighten.

“That was never an option,” Hatfill says, staring straight ahead. “If I would’ve killed myself, I would’ve been automatically judged by the press and the FBI to be guilty.”

SOME JOURNALISTS became convinced there was plenty pointing to Hatfill’s guilt. Among those beating the drum early and loud, in the summer of 2002, was Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times. At least initially, Kristof stopped short of naming Hatfill publicly, instead branding him with the sinister-sounding pseudonym “Mr. Z.” Without identifying his sources, in a July column Kristof wrote:

 If Mr. Z were an Arab national, he would have been imprisoned long ago. But he is a true-blue American with close ties to the U.S. Defense Department, the C.I.A. and the American biodefense program. On the other hand, he was once caught with a girlfriend in a biohazard “hot suite” at Fort Detrick, surrounded only by blushing germs.

With many experts buzzing about Mr. Z behind his back, it’s time for the F.B.I. to make a move: either it should go after him more aggressively, sifting thoroughly through his past and picking up loose threads, or it should seek to exculpate him and remove this cloud of suspicion.
One of those threads, Kristof reported, pointed to the possibility that Mr. Z was a genocidal racist who had carried out germ warfare to slaughter innocent black Africans. Kristof addressed his column directly to the FBI:

« Reply #185 on: April 21, 2010, 02:46:53 PM »

Have you examined whether Mr. Z has connections to the biggest anthrax outbreak among humans ever recorded, the one that sickened more than 10,000 black farmers in Zimbabwe in 1978–80? There is evidence that the anthrax was released by the white Rhodesian Army fighting against black guerrillas, and Mr. Z has claimed that he participated in the white army’s much-feared Selous Scouts. Could rogue elements of the American military have backed the Rhodesian Army in anthrax and cholera attacks against blacks?
Kristof didn’t mention that the majority of soldiers in the Rhodesian army, and in Hatfill’s unit, were black; or that many well-respected scientists who examined the evidence concluded that the Rhodesian anthrax outbreak emerged naturally when cattle herds went unvaccinated during a turbulent civil war. Kristof also failed to mention that Mr. Z had served in that war as a lowly private. To have been involved in some sort of top-secret Rhodesian germ-weapons program “would’ve been like a Pakistani army private being brought in to work on a project at Los Alamos,” Hatfill says today.

Kristof wrote that Mr. Z had shown “evasion” in repeated FBI polygraph examinations. He also claimed that following the anthrax attacks, Mr. Z had accessed an “isolated residence” that Kristof described as a possible safe house for American intelligence operatives where, the columnist reported, “Mr. Z gave Cipro to people who visited it.” Other journalists would later describe this mysterious residence as a “remote cabin,” a kind of Ted Kaczynski–style hideout where a deranged scientist could easily have prepared anthrax for mailing.

In fact, the “cabin” was a three-bedroom weekend home with a Jacuzzi on 40 acres of land in rural Virginia owned by a longtime friend of Hatfill’s, George R. Borsari Jr., an avuncular Washington communications lawyer and retired Army lieutenant colonel. Borsari says he found speculation that his place had been a haven for spies or bioterrorists laughable.

When an FBI agent asked Borsari if he would allow a search of the property, Borsari said no. “I told him, ‘I’m not going to be a part of your publicity game,’” Borsari says. No search was ever conducted, but by then the damage to Hatfill had been done.

In late 2001, before being publicly implicated in the anthrax attacks, Hatfill had attended a weekend dinner party at Borsari’s Virginia retreat along with more than a dozen other guests, including some of Hatfill’s co-workers at the defense contractor where he was then employed. Borsari, who’d read a recent article about anthrax-fighting drugs, said he jokingly asked Hatfill, “Hey, by the way, we’re your friends. How come we don’t have any Cipro?” Hatfill advised him to go to a hospital if he felt he’d been exposed to anthrax. In subsequent news reports, Hatfill was alleged to have warned everyone to begin taking Cipro, as if to suggest that another attack was imminent. “You can’t make this stuff up,” Borsari later told me. “But, apparently, they did.”

Though he cannot prove it, Hatfill says he believes that a friend-turned-political-enemy heard about the Cipro conversation from a co-worker who was at Borsari’s house that night, misconstrued it, and passed it on to federal agents. The same former friend, Hatfill asserts, also was responsible for undermining his efforts to secure a higher security clearance that would have enabled him to work on top-secret CIA projects when he was employed at SAIC.

The former friend, who works today at a high level within the intelligence community and requested anonymity after I contacted him, denies Hatfill’s version of events. He says he never approached the FBI regarding Hatfill, but would not discuss whether he ever talked with agents about him, suggesting instead that simmering workplace conflicts between Hatfill and former colleagues at USAMRIID could have prompted someone there to “drop a dime to the bureau.” “Steve always saw himself as having the purest of motivations. I don’t think that was always apparent to everyone around him,” the former friend says. “There’s a line from Tom Jones, ‘It’s not enough to be good. You have to be seen as being good.’ I don’t think Steve ever learned that lesson.”

Though the two have not spoken in more than a decade, he says he still regards Hatfill warmly.

The feelings are hardly mutual. Hatfill believes that his former friend helped perpetuate false and damaging rumors about him. As evidence for this assertion, Hatfill says he once confided to him about having taken a shower with a female colleague inside the decontamination area of a USAMRIID lab. The story, according to Hatfill, was a fiction meant to amuse and titillate. He says he told the story to no one other than this one friend. As the FBI began focusing on Hatfill in July 2002, The Times’s Nicholas Kristof would report Hatfill’s fictitious laboratory dalliance as fact.

Hatfill would later sue The New York Times for that and a host of other alleged libels. The case would eventually be dismissed, after a judge ruled that Hatfill was a public figure. To successfully sue for defamation, public figures must prove that a publication acted with “actual malice.”

IN LATE 2002, news bulletins reported that either an unnamed tipster or bloodhounds, depending on which report was to be believed, had led FBI agents to a pond in the Maryland countryside about eight miles from Hatfill’s former apartment. There, divers discovered what was described as a makeshift laboratory “glove box.” Reports speculated that Hatfill, a certified SCUBA diver, had used the airtight device to stuff anthrax microbes into envelopes underwater to avoid contaminating himself. The Washington Post reported that “vials and gloves wrapped in plastic” also were recovered from the water. Tests to determine the presence of anthrax produced “conflicting results,” The Post reported, yet so “compelling” were these finds that the FBI would later pay $250,000 to have the pond drained in search of more evidence. Nothing retrieved from the pond ever linked Hatfill, or anyone else, to the murders. According to some news reports, the laboratory “glove box” turned out to be a homemade turtle trap. But the pond story helped keep alive the public perception that FBI agents were hot on the trail, with Hatfill in their sights.

At Connolly’s urging, Hatfill reluctantly agreed to a few informal, one-on-one get-togethers with journalists to show them he was no monster. The effort did little to stanch the flow of negative reporting. Two weeks after Hatfill met with CBS correspondent Jim Stewart, in May 2003, Stewart aired a story on the CBS Evening News. The anchor, Dan Rather, read the lead-in:

 Rather: It has been more than a year and half now since the string of deadly anthrax attacks in this country, and still no arrests, even though investigators believe they know who the culprit is and where he is. CBS News correspondent Jim Stewart is on the case and has the latest.

Stewart: Bioweapons researcher Dr. Steven Hatfill, sources confirm, remains the FBI’s number-one suspect in the attacks, even though round-the-clock surveillance and extensive searches have failed to develop more than what sources describe as a “highly circumstantial” case.

And now one possible outcome, sources suggest, is that the government could bring charges against Hatfill unrelated to the anthrax attacks at all, if they become convinced that’s the only way to stop future incidents. Not unlike, for example, the income-tax evasion charges finally brought against Al Capone, when evidence of racketeering proved elusive.
After watching Stewart’s report that night, Hatfill recalls, “I just lost it.” He left an angry message on Stewart’s voice mail, vowing to sue. It was, as Hatfill looks back, the last straw. “I just decided I wasn’t going to let it get to me anymore. Screw ’em,” Hatfill says. “I mean, what more could the press and the FBI do to me than they already had?”

Plenty, as it turned out.

Boo was driving Hatfill to a paint store a week later when FBI agents in a Dodge Durango, trying to keep up with them, blew through a red light in a school zone with children present. Hatfill says he got out of his car to snap a photo of the offending agents and give them a piece of his mind. The Durango sped away—running over his right foot. Hatfill declined an ambulance ride to the hospital; unemployed, he had no medical insurance. When Washington police arrived, they issued him a ticket for “walking to create a hazard.” The infraction carried a $5 fine. Hatfill would contest the ticket in court and lose. The agent who ran over his foot was never charged.

“People think they’re free in this country,” Hatfill says. “Don’t kid yourself. This is a police state. The government can pretty much do whatever it wants.”

Sitting alone day after day, Boo’s condo by now completely redecorated, Hatfill realized that he needed something else to keep his mind occupied while waiting for his day in court. He decided to act as though he were starting medical school all over. He dug out his old textbooks and began studying. The hours flew by.

“I was back on familiar ground, something I knew and understood. It was therapy,” Hatfill says. “There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that there would be a payday eventually,” from lawsuits against those who had destroyed his reputation. “At that point, it became a waiting game for me. Everything else became tolerable.”

One afternoon, Hatfill was reading a scientific publication about problems researchers were having in developing promising new antibiotics, when he had a life-changing thought. Many antibiotics and anti-cancer agents, he knew, are synthesized from plants or derived from fungi found in jungles and rainforests. Instead of transporting samples to the lab, why not take the lab to the samples? The concept so excited him that Hatfill ran out and bought modeling clay to begin crafting his vision of a floating laboratory. FBI agents tailed him to a local hobby shop and back.

IN THE AFTERMATH of the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people, Hatfill joined a relief effort and flew to Sri Lanka in early 2005. Tending to the sick and injured reminded him that he still had something to contribute to the world. Finally, he says, he stopped worrying about the press and the FBI. He stopped constantly looking over his shoulder.

By early 2007, after fresh investigators were brought in to reexamine evidence collected in the anthrax case, the FBI came to believe what Hatfill had been saying all along: he’d never had access to the anthrax at USAMRIID; he was a virus guy. The FBI, meanwhile, began to focus on someone who had enjoyed complete access: senior microbiologist Bruce Edward Ivins.

Ivins had spent most of his career at USAMRIID, working with anthrax. Agents had even sought his advice and scientific expertise early in their investigation of Hatfill. Now they subjected Ivins to the same harsh treatment they’d given Hatfill, placing Ivins under 24-hour surveillance, digging into his past, and telling him he was a murder suspect. Soon Ivins was banned from the labs where he had labored for 28 years. In July 2008, following a voluntary two-week stay in a psychiatric clinic for treatment of depression and anxiety, Ivins went home and downed a fatal dose of Tylenol. He was 62.

Less than two weeks later, the Justice Department officially exonerated Steven Hatfill. Six years had passed since he was first named a person of interest.

« Reply #186 on: April 21, 2010, 02:47:18 PM »

As it had done with Hatfill, the press dissected the pathology of Ivins’s life, linking him, however speculatively, to the murders. Ivins was a devout Catholic, which could’ve explained why anthrax was sent to two pro-choice senators, Daschle and Leahy. Reports said that Ivins harbored homicidal urges, especially toward women. He had purportedly been obsessed with a particular sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, ever since being rebuffed by one of its members while attending the University of Cincinnati, which could’ve explained why the anthrax letters were mailed from a box near a storage facility used by the sorority’s Princeton chapter. Ivins, of course, was no longer alive to defend himself. But in him, the FBI had found a suspect against whom tangible evidence existed.

Ivins had been the sole custodian of a large flask of highly purified anthrax spores genetically linked to those found in the letters. He had allegedly submitted purposely misleading lab data to the FBI in an attempt to hide the fact that the strain of anthrax used in the attacks was a genetic match with the anthrax in his possession. He had been unable to provide a good explanation for the many late nights he’d put in at the lab, working alone, just before the attacks. Agents found that he had been under intense pressure at USAMRIID to produce an anthrax vaccine for U.S. troops. A few days after the anthrax letters were postmarked, Ivins, according to the FBI, had sent an e-mail to a former colleague, who has never been publicly identified, warning: “Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas,” and have “just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans.” The language was similar to the anthrax letters that warned, “We have this anthrax … Death to America … Death to Israel.”

Following his suicide, some of Ivins’s friends insisted that the FBI had pressured him into doing what Hatfill would not. Ivins’s own attorney, Paul F. Kemp, disagrees. “Dr. Ivins had a host of psychological problems that he was grappling with, that existed long before the anthrax letters were mailed, and long after,” Kemp told me.

Though Hatfill’s apartment in Frederick was less than a quarter mile from Ivins’s modest home on Military Road, and both men worked at Fort Detrick at the same time, Hatfill says the two never met. Hatfill was surprised when the FBI ultimately pinned the anthrax murders on a fellow American scientist.

“I thought it would eventually be proven that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks,” he says.

IN THE YEARS since the attacks, postal officials have equipped more than 270 processing and distribution centers with sensors that “sniff” the air around virtually every piece of incoming mail to detect deadly biohazards. The sensors have never picked up so much as a whiff of anthrax, according to a Postal Inspection Service spokesman, Peter Rendina. “Your mail,” Rendina says, “is safer today than at any other time in our history.”

The same, Hatfill believes, cannot be said about American civil liberties. “I was a guy who trusted the government,” he says. “Now, I don’t trust a damn thing they do.” He trusts reporters even less, dismissing them as little more than lapdogs for law enforcement.

The media’s general willingness to report what was spoon-fed to them, in an effort to reassure a frightened public that an arrest was not far off, is somewhat understandable considering the level of fear that gripped the nation following 9/11. But that doesn’t “justify the sliming of Steven Hatfill,” says Edward Wasserman, who is the Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, in Virginia. “If anything, it’s a reminder that an unquestioning media serves as a potential lever of power to be activated by the government, almost at will.”

In February 2008, Reggie B. Walton, the U.S. District Court judge presiding over Hatfill’s case against the government, announced that he had reviewed secret internal memos on the status of the FBI’s investigation and could find “not a scintilla of evidence that would indicate that Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with” the anthrax attacks.

Four months later, the Justice Department quietly settled with Hatfill for $5.82 million. “It allowed Doc to start over,” Connolly, his lawyer, says.

For Hatfill, rebuilding remains painful and slow. He enters post offices only if he absolutely must, careful to show his face to surveillance cameras so that he can’t be accused of mailing letters surreptitiously. He tries to document his whereabouts at all times, in case he should ever need an alibi. He is permanently damaged, Hatfill says. Yet he still professes to love America. “My country didn’t do this to me,” he is quick to point out. “A bloated, incompetent bureaucracy and a broken press did. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if I didn’t still love my country.”

Much of Hatfill’s time these days is devoted to teaching life-saving medical techniques to military personnel bound for combat. They are his “band of brothers,” and the hours he spends with them, Hatfill says, are among his happiest. He also serves as an adjunct associate professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University.

Then there is his boat.

Hatfill has committed $1.5 million to building his floating genetic laboratory, a futuristic-looking vessel replete with a helicopter, an operating room to treat rural indigenous peoples, and a Cordon Bleu–trained chef. Hatfill intends to assemble a scientific team and cruise the Amazon for undiscovered or little-known plants and animals. From these organisms, he hopes to develop new medications for leukemia, and for tuberculosis and other diseases that have been growing increasingly resistant to existing antibiotics. Any useful treatments, he says, will be licensed to pharmaceutical companies on the condition that developing nations receive them at cost. Hatfill hopes to christen the boat within two years. Scientists at USAMRIID, where the FBI once suspected him of stealing anthrax, have expressed tentative interest in helping him mount his expedition.

IN ADDITION TO SUING the Justice Department for violating his privacy and The New York Times for defaming him, Hatfill also brought a libel lawsuit against Don Foster, Vanity Fair, and Reader’s Digest, which had reprinted Foster’s article. The lawsuit led to a settlement whose dollar amount all parties have agreed to keep confidential. The news media, which had for so long savaged Hatfill, dutifully reported his legal victories, but from where he stands, that hardly balanced things on the ledger sheet of journalistic fairness.

Three weeks after the FBI exonerated Hatfill, in the summer of 2008, Nicholas Kristof apologized to him in The New York Times for any distress his columns may have caused. The role of the news media, Kristof wrote on August 28, is “to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Instead, I managed to afflict the afflicted.”

Many others who raised critical questions about Hatfill have remained silent in the wake of his exoneration. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, the molecular biologist who spurred the FBI to pursue Hatfill, retired two years ago. Through a former colleague, she declined to be interviewed for this article. Jim Stewart, the television correspondent whose report compared Hatfill to Al Capone, left CBS in 2006. Stewart admitted in a deposition to having relied, for his report, on four confidential FBI sources. When I reached the former newsman at his home in Florida, Stewart said he couldn’t talk about Hatfill because he was entertaining houseguests. When I asked when might be a good time to call back, he said, “There isn’t a good time,” and hung up.

“The entire unhappy episode” is how Don Foster, the Vassar professor who wrote the Vanity Fair article, sums up Hatfill’s story and his own role in it. Foster says he no longer consults for the FBI. “The anthrax case was it for me,” he told me recently. “I’m happier teaching. Like Steven Hatfill, I would prefer to be a private person.”

Foster says he never intended to imply that Hatfill was a murderer, yet continues to stand by his reporting as “inaccurate in only minor details.” I asked if he had any regrets about what he’d written.

“On what grounds?” he asked.

“The heartache it caused Hatfill. The heartache it caused you and Vanity Fair.”

Foster pondered the question, then said, “I don’t know Steven Hatfill. I don’t know his heartache. But anytime an American citizen, a journalist, a scientist, a scholar, is made the object of unfair or inaccurate public scrutiny, it’s unfortunate. It’s part of a free press to set that right.”

This past February, the Justice Department formally closed its investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks, releasing more than 2,500 pages of documents, many of them heavily redacted, buttressing the government’s assertion that Bruce Ivins was solely responsible for the anthrax letters.

When I asked FBI spokesperson Debra Weierman how much money had been spent chasing Hatfill, she said the bureau was unable to provide such an accounting. She would neither confirm nor deny that the FBI ever opened any administrative inquiries into the news leaks that had defamed him. The FBI, she said, was unwilling to publicly discuss Hatfill in any capacity, “out of privacy considerations for Dr. Hatfill.” Weierman referred me instead to what she described as an “abundance of information” on the FBI’s Web site.

Information about the anthrax case is indeed abundant on the bureau’s Web site, with dozens of documents touting the FBI’s efforts to solve the murders. Included is a transcript of a press conference held in August 2008, a month after Ivins’s suicide, in which federal authorities initially laid out the evidence they had amassed against him. But beyond a handful of questions asked by reporters that day, in which his last name is repeatedly misspelled, and a few scant paragraphs in the 96-page executive summary of the case, there is no mention anywhere on the FBI’s Web site of Steven Hatfill.

This article available online at:
« Reply #187 on: April 22, 2010, 06:55:51 AM »

You'll note that law enFORCEment has the use of force implied in the title. Without enforcement, there is no rule of law. It's worked pretty darn well for western civilization up to this point. Also, most calls are handled strictly by officer presence and verbal skills and the use of deadly force is a very tiny part of most officer's performance of their duties.

Bullcrap.  Neighbors make agreements all the time, and for that group of neighbors there is no force involved.  People do learn how to get along without laws, or the ones who refuse to get along end up finding another place where they do fit.  Yes, there should be a few basic laws as outlined by the constitution, but anything beyond those is definately something that is neighborhood level, not national, or even county level.  A police officer present is the defacto presence of coercion by deadly force by the government.   I do not call the police unless I feel there was a chance of someone/something needing shot.
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« Reply #188 on: April 22, 2010, 10:52:44 AM »

The argument here makes me think of the times I have been wronged by police, once by their action and others by their inaction over a couple of decades.  In the case of the action they took, they had to deal as I did with a false accusation and the truth sorted itself out over time.  In the cases of inaction, there were limited clues to solve those crimes so indicating there is little they can do about it was probably just the unfortunate truth that I didn't want to hear at the time.

Everybody comes at this with different experiences, but I must come down on the side of GM.  The system we have works pretty well.  Where I live I can't imagine locking my home or car and our town budgets for roughly half a cop.  In the inner city, a house unattended will find its plumbing pipes stolen.  We need some presence and availability of law enforcement, but some possibility of crime is better than living under total surveillance and police control.

Municipal budget challenges are one limiting factor on police forces and the rules they operate under are another.

Many of the complaints against police are really complaints against the laws, as Rarick suggests.  You may want only deadly crimes dealt in a peaceful  area but the Giuliani experience for big cities suggests that when they started writing tickets for littering, loitering and spitting, the murder rate went down.

My main gripes against the strong arm of government are against the other departments like inspectors, regulators, taxing authorities, eminent domain and IRS for examples.  Again, the laws we pass set us up for these types of abuse.  I have twice this year paid civil fines far greater than punishment for a misdemeanor for the crime of converting vacant property into code compliant affordable housing in the city of Minneapolis.  They call it an administrative fee not a fine, but if I don't pay the 'fee' it becomes a much larger fine and ultimately a taking.
« Reply #189 on: April 23, 2010, 04:39:10 AM »

I accept the need for police as a necessary evil.  When towns turn into cities there seems to be a transition where that kind of authority is necessary.  The town on little house on the prarrie did not need police, but New York city in that same time frame had its chief gang of enforcers that eventyually evolved into the NYPD.

There seems to be something inherent in large cities that overcomes what I regard as the regular human nature concept of respect.  You do not deliberately offend or act criminally in smaller towns, because people will know who you are and act appropriately.  Suddenly the grocer won't sell you food or othter things, the hardware store won't sell ammo for the gun, your neighbors let you know that you are on your own.  In a big city there are so many people that a person can get lost in the crowd, and will only see his circle of friends with any kind of consistancy, this allows for the break down of the shunning priciple and probably encourages the "just take it" impulse.

My problem is with national laws that are most often based on the urban outlook, that is where most of the representatives come from after all.  Most laws that may be entirely appropriate for the city, are just wrong in a rural setting.  Those range from anti-gun laws to the growing popularity of legislation of "greeness'.  In many ways the city raised people running the government have no clue how to really help people in a rural situation that King Charles had a clue about the colonies during the revolutionary war.  The constitution is a lot about self government and a little about fitting into a bigger world, the current federal government is a lot about outside government and the bigger world, and very little about letting people find their own solutions.

There in lies the dichotomy that is starting to create rifts and tears.  The independant minded farmers and other rural people that need that mindset to survive vs the collective solution and social compliance of the city dweller mindset that works in the city.  There are 2 different sets of ethics colliding here where there used to be some flexibility.  The government in recent years has been increasingly "centralizing" when a lot of stuff has been trending the other way.  The centralizing is causing inflexibility.............

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« Reply #190 on: April 23, 2010, 02:59:28 PM »

A very perceptive comment Rarick.  It tracks quite closely with a lot of the evolutionary biology/psychology based analysis of Konrad Lorenz (see thread dedicated to EB/EP/ and KL).  The human animal evolved in social units where all were known to all, yet in the nano-second of human history that is the city, city dwellers now operate much of their lives in the dynamic of the anonymous horde-- a dynamic for which our evolutionary history leaves us woefully underprepared.
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« Reply #191 on: April 24, 2010, 06:24:53 PM »

"When towns turn into cities there seems to be a transition... "

Not just anonymity from size but also from physics we know collisions increase with the square of density.  As the density increases, 'bumping into each other' increases exponentially.

The 'smart growth' advocates want us to live closer together while libertarians often prefer a yard, a driveway and a front door that is not shared with the neighbor.
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« Reply #192 on: April 27, 2010, 07:01:15 AM »

Are we sleepwalking into a surveillance society?
Although it is undoubtedly useful, personal identity technology could potentially lend itself to the gradual erosion of democracy and support for an authoritarian, protective state.

Personal Identity technology (ID-tech) is the complex of devices and techniques by which the identity of individuals is established and/or verified. It largely consists of biometric systems, that is, automated technical systems that measure physical human characteristics, some of them dynamically and in real time. The biometric device matches the input sample against a stored template, in order to include or exclude an individual from some action or activity. It is used for verifying who you are (with smart card, username or ID number) or identifying who you are. The data so collected could be used for purposes other than those initially intended.

Fingerprint biometrics were first used at the 2004 Olympic Summer Games, Athens. In the USA, Australia, UK, EU and other countries biometrics are being introduced into passport and visa control. For example, citizens of Brazil have their signature, photo, and 10 rolled fingerprints collected by passport requests. There is a very wide variety of uses e.g. in immigration, customs, ATMs, retail, schools, policing, and intelligence.

While ID-Tech has many uses and conveniences it poses risks to privacy, and most significantly is a technology that could lend itself to government tracking and profiling of individuals on a wider than acceptable scale. In a nutshell the convergence and synchronising of of ID-tech capabilities lends itself to the potential for a ‘Panopticon State’, one that has the policing powers to profile any citizen almost continuously and simultaneously in several dimensions of life, anywhere on the globe.

Both physiological and behavioural traits can be measured and recorded by biometrics systems. The former include fingerprinting, face identity, facial thermogram, hand and footprints, iris, retina, ear canal, DNA, and even personal odour and scent. The latter include computer keystroke dynamics, signature and writing, speech, voice (speaker), and gait. We should also note the potential of RFID (radio frequency identification) implants and body scans.

The benefits of biometric systems

Biometric systems have benefits in the prevention and reduction of crime generally, especially fraud and impersonation, and terrorism. They may also help to solve crime, including ‘cold cases’, and stop the evasion of arrest. It is often claimed, and may be true in many instances, that such systems make for an efficient use of resources (creating new demands, however). In the Super Bowl event of 2001 Florida police used the facial recognition software FaceIt to search the crowd for criminals, and found 19 people on arrest warrants. In the case of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann (2007), the UK police asked visitors at the Resort in Portugal in the two weeks prior to child’s disappearance to provide any photographs of passers-by for use in a biometric facial recognition system. Since 2001 a retinal system has helped apprehend thousands of persons re-entering the wealthy UAE with fraudulent travel documents.

How reliable are they?

There are many issues of technical reliability, and these will raise worries about misidentification. A biometric identification system is expected to be universally applicable, whereas some individuals may not qualify e.g. missing limbs, burns, loss of organ, injury-related changes to gait, and cataract. They must be capable of unique identification, whereas there is always some (very small) margin of fuzziness, especially with family relatives and twins. They should be resistant to the ageing of the individual; but faces etc. change with age, illness, and injury and cosmetic surgery.  There is also the problem of ‘data collection’ being affected by overload and noise, e.g. in a crowd. The efficiency and effectiveness may be in doubt because there will be thresholds of definition (eg, a face at a distance), too slow a response of the device, poor light, and software deficiencies. Biometric data will ‘ideally’ be correlatable with other individual data, whereas these may not be available or be compatible. There are also issues of standardisation and interoperability.

With all these difficulties, and the inevitable dose of human incompetence, one may give a sigh of relief for the future of individual freedom and privacy. However, great efforts and resources are being put into resolving them. Ultimately, developers of such technologies know that their techniques must be socially acceptable, whereas public may reject. We have recently seen that there have been human rights concerns about airport body scans (admittedly, a detection technology rather than an ID one).

The Hydra Effect

In any case, history has shown that technologies will be implemented, sometimes widely, even when there are known difficulties (as well as difficulties that emerge in practice). In this case a fundamental issue is that the identity of the ‘target’ person may be compromised. There is the impersonation issue: the system depends on the individual who is the subject of the test being correctly identified at original enrolment. If a biometric profile is stored for person ‘A’ then that data becomes definitive even if this person is not in fact A. This is fundamental, and has little to do with how sophisticated the technology is, and yet there is a tendency in some quarters to assume that the technology cannot be wrong. But if the ‘input’ is wrong, then the technology will simply process it efficiently.

There are least another two fundamental problems. Firstly, there is the possibility of someone using as a test input what is in fact a hacked copy of the stored template. (Some suggest a way around this is to technically exclude any absolutely ‘perfect match’.) Secondly, an ID device does not ‘know’ what it is looking at. For example, face recognition systems are fooled with a high-quality photograph of a face instead of a real face, so are unsuitable for unsupervised applications such as door access. There is a similar problem with fingerprints and iris patterns.

There are genuine concerns about the security of storage of biometric data.  It should be obvious, but is often forgotten, that a security system is only as trustworthy as the people operating it, from low level operatives to high level authorities. Malicious verifiers may wish to steal templates from the database (although it has been suggested this could discouraged with ‘reverse engineering’ technique). Then there is the possibility of the ‘secondary use’ of biometric data: a user who accesses two systems with the same fingerprint may allow another person to ‘impersonate’ him. Most of these problems, evidently, have to do with human not technological weakness. Technology does not make people better.

You may think that internal hacking is unlikely. Yet, to give one example, in 2007 tens of millions of credit card users were put at risk by financial-transactions company Heartland Payment Systems (USA) when malicious software was installed inside the system.

If dependency on such systems grows then permanent identity loss is not impossible. A system must retain the uniqueness of the trait template unchanged (changed within narrow range), over the lifetime of the individual. This ‘life-time’ property brings a risk. If biometric data obtained by unauthorized users (eg, compromised from a database) then the owner loses control over the data and loses his identity. Lost passwords can be changed, but e.g. if someone’s face is compromised from a database, they cannot cancel it or reissue it. A proposed solution is the ‘cancellable biometrics’ technique which distorts the biometric image before matching. But for every solution there is another problem. A criminal employee could undistort the template with knowledge of the distortion key. If we distrust the employees sufficiently to require a distortion key, why would we trust them with the distortion key?

There is what I call a ‘Hydra Effect’ in technology. In Greek mythology whenever the Hydra beast was decapitated it grew two more heads. Similarly, every technical solution creates at least one more problem, which is often trickier to solve. A technical solution is eventually found at great cost, and then more problems appear. There may well be diminishing returns on the resources being put into this ceaseless round of technical innovations that ultimately cannot overcome the fundamental issue of human weakness and failure.

Can we preserve our privacy?

We may take privacy to be the state of being free from unsanctioned intrusion into one’s personal life. It is a value that is embodied in human rights, national laws and diverse regulations. ID-technology gives rise to the possibility of the misuse (real or perceived) of personal biometric information for gainful intrusion. Examples of known misuses are surveillance videos of vehicle licence plates being used to record license plates to blackmail people, to stalk women and to track estranged spouses. In some cases it has been police officers who have been guilty of these offences.

Fingerprint recognition for the ignition of your car might seem like the latest desirable innovation in hi-tech protection. But one may forget the human factor. In 2005 Malaysian car thieves cut off the finger of the driver of a Mercedes S-Class car so that they could steal his car. If he had not had a sophisticated biometric device in the ignition he would at least still have his finger. In the USA and EU some fear that biometric information can be ‘skimmed’ and sold to criminals to identify individuals for ransom-kidnapping and the like. In even worse scenarios a racist or totalitarian government ( Hitler, Pol Pot, etc.) could use data to determine unwanted traits in humans for population control

The Panopticon state?

One future scenario that does not receive enough serious attention is the convergence of different ID-technologies into one (more or less) interconnected system. Intelligence services world-wide are well on their way. We could already be witnessing an information cascade, held back only by lack of harmonisation, human incompetence and poor communications. Public protest is not yet a major hindrance.

The utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham conceived a plan in 1791 for a new kind of prison, the Panopticon, the novelty of which was that any prison could be seen from anywhere at any time. A variety of modern technologies, including those based on biometrics, may be converging towards the possibility of a Panopticon State, in which any citizen can be tracked and a life-profile composed without their ever knowing. Body scans, bank details, credit card trails, Google, RFID, fingerprints, face and iris, recognition, GPS, health records, mobile phone use, bus and train cameras, spy satellites, street cameras, wire taps and now body scans could, in theory, be brought together in various configurations. Perhaps only the political will stands in the way.

Biometric information may be shared or different databases may be networked, eg, telebiometric systems join biometrics with telecommunications. There is the possibility of tracking individuals. For example, security cameras can be linked to a facial recognition system or a public transport system using biometry. At the moment, in most cases the information from different sensors generate differently encrypted outcomes so cannot be compared, but this can be overcome. The unification of different biometric outcomes by means of data exposure or through global or regional standardisation is not impossible. Already there are some public concerns about ‘leakage’ of fingerprint data from schools to health, insurance and other agencies with a discriminatory effect on access to services.

Sir Ken MacDonald QC,  the UK's Director of Public Prosecutions (2003-08) has said, "We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom's back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security State.” Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner is reported as saying “My anxiety is that we don’t sleepwalk into a surveillance society”. He was thinking mainly of the UK’s National Identity Scheme. These two people are hardly radicals, and know ‘from the inside’ what they are talking about.

We may think the main issue is National ID cards, but they have a lesser role than the database they are linked to, i.e. the National Identity Register.  A new law specifies 50 categories of information that the Register can hold on each citizen, including up to 10 fingerprints, digitised facial scan and iris scan, current and past UK and overseas places of residence, throughout their lives and with indices to other Government databases which would allow them to be connected into a personal profile. The legislation also says that any further information can be added. The amount of data which can be recorded on the scheme’s Register is unlimited. Still, the good news is that fingerprints are not yet being taken, and plans to take iris scans have been dropped, although not ruled out.

This is not the place to go into the detail of the scheme but the Home Office forecasts that 265 government departments and as many as 48,000 accredited private sector organisations would have access to the database, and that 163 million identity verifications or more may take place each year. The cost of the scheme is variously put at between 5 and 15 billion pounds over 10 years.

Naturally, the Commission for Racial Equality and ethnic/religious minorities are expressing concerns about discrimination. If one thinks this is far-fetched or alarmist one should recall that in the USA not so long ago the FBI head J. Edgar Hoover (and his vast fingerprint records) pursued not only  criminals, but people he chose to classify as "security risks," "subversives," "agitators," "deviants," "black nationalists," and "peaceniks."

Provisions for consent to biometric schemes

Public acceptance of the national ID scheme has been mixed and controversial (but not controversial enough), with diminishing support after reports of the loss of  millions of items of public service information  in several quarters (See the NGO called “NO2ID”). Meanwhile, some UK parents have been protesting school fingerprinting since 2001. These are used for purposes of registration, truancy control,  parental payments, replacements of library or meal cards, and possibly for exam ID.

Protests sometimes take a more colourful form. The Chaos Computer Club of hackers published a fingerprint of the German Minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Schäuble, in its magazine Datenschleuder (March 2008). The magazine included the fingerprint on a film for readers to give them access to whatever the Minister had access to. If they can do it, criminals can do it, and undemocratic governments can do it.

A particular focus for protest in the UK has been school fingerprinting without consent. One surprising facet of this is that the Data Protection Act does not explicitly require schools to gain consent. The Act is, apparently, about information, not images. More research also needs to be given to how the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act relate to the storage and transmission of ‘data’ which is perhaps not ‘information’ in the sense of text. A democratic future depends on asking many questions that are currently not even being conceived, let alone asked.

Professor Geoffrey Hunt teaches at St Mary's University College in London. This article by Professor Hunt was originally published on the website of BioCentre, a think-tank focusing on emerging technologies and their ethical, social and political implications.

« Reply #193 on: April 28, 2010, 05:06:17 AM »

It might be acceptable IF the ability to "pull the record" was severely hedged with protections, and the record was designed to loop with automatic self destruction on a time frame of a week to month, randomly determined by the machine.  People get stupid and if the parties determined "no harm" at the time of the incident, then it should not be a liftime ghost someone has to worry about.  The randomness of the erase would "keep honest people honest", and do the same with management.......

Any identification should be by the method evolution gives anyone, Face and Attributes.  By attributes would be height, body type, male, female, etc.  The deeper, and more intrusive means should require a warrent or subpeona.

The thing with technology is the ability of humankind to hack the system, so the "false positive" issue of Identifying the wrong guy must be addressed and other similar issues of unintended consequences.

All that said, I really do not like the stuff, just a basic reaction.
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« Reply #194 on: May 03, 2010, 06:49:44 AM »

Authorities were examining security cameras and other evidence to see if they could identify a possible suspect or motive -- and already had located video of the car being driven to the scene.

"Right now, we have no evidence that this was anything but a one-off" attack, Napolitano told "This Week" this morning.

"Tape is being reviewed and additional forensics are being done in addition to that," she added. "Times Square, I think, now is safe."
« Reply #195 on: May 03, 2010, 07:37:40 AM »

I hear they actually caught some frames of a man changing his shirt. Maybe then can send them off to one of the CSI labs for "enhancement."
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« Reply #196 on: May 03, 2010, 07:46:15 AM »

Generally, you can't do much with most video footage as fas as enhancement. You end up with bigger pixels, in most cases. However, given the number of various cameras this individual had to pass by, I'm willing to bet we'll have a good idea of what he looks like, if not who he is soon. It may also ID any accomplices, if any.
« Reply #197 on: May 03, 2010, 08:15:36 AM »

I was being tongue in cheek (and probably passive aggressive, too evil) Use to run a multimedia lab where the local PD was forever bringing us 96K frames of this and that and asking us to "enhance" it. Can't make data that isn't there, so most "enhancement" is more of a guess than anything you'd want to introduce as evidence. Bleeping CSI, however, has people thinking you can pull that stuff out of any pixel:

The passive aggressive part is this surveillance didn't prevent the crime, I'll be surprised if it solves it, and it could muddy the waters like the "white van" did during the DC Sniper's run. Not sure I'd celebrate it just yet.
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« Reply #198 on: May 03, 2010, 08:24:28 AM »

If he's arrested before he can build a better bomb, it will prevent a crime and save lives.
« Reply #199 on: May 03, 2010, 08:35:39 AM »

While if all LEOs are chasing shirt changers that aren't the right guy energy is diverted from perhaps more fruitful pursuits. Have a lot of buddies in the trades; they couldn't drive 20 miles in their white panel vans during the DC Sniper's rampage without being pulled over 4 times. Much as you can't pull data that isn't there out of a collection of pixels, I would hope there's not too much law enforcement attention focused on these few frames if other avenues prove more germane.
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