Archive for the ‘Civil Liberties’ Category

Democrats stayed up all night fighting to expand unconstitutional Bush-era powers

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

Originally published at Rare

I’m months from my thirtieth year on this earth, and starting to feel old.

Before you get offended by this, consider that when I was in college, Democrats were the anti-war party. I mean a let’s-reject-Hillary-for-Obama-because-he’s-anti-war kind of party. Code Pink was essentially mainstream on the left a decade ago. George W. Bush-era surveillance was markedly beyond the pale. The Patriot Act? Sedition? The TSA? Absurd.

Enter the left, circa 2016. What do today’s protests look like? A Civil Rights era-style sit-in. This is noteworthy given the historical implications of such an act. For a spectacle this extensive—in which Democrats have been literally sitting on the House floor holding up the works—the objective had to be worthy.

So what’s led Democrats to this extreme behavior? Their goal is to use Bush’s no-fly list as a means to deny you your basic constitutional rights.

It’s true: In the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, Democrats are promoting a vast expansion of war on terror-era powers that strip innocent people of their second, fourth, and fifth amendment rights. They’re pushing the use of a secret government list, in which the people on it, often arbitrarily assigned as a terrorists, have no means to combat the designation.

Essentially, what Democrats spent hours demanding, into the thick of the night and into Thursday morning upending regular legislative order for, is the expansion of broadly defined national security powers not long ago opposed by their party and in most cases, them specifically.

Interestingly, House Democrats have both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on their side. And though they’ve dwindled in numbers, a few vestiges of the principled left remain in opposition to this attempt, in concert with libertarians and conservatives.

The ACLU, for example, opposes using the no fly list as a means to deny gun rights. And not because they’re particularly pro-second amendment, but due to an understanding that secret government lists aren’t a metric citizens should accept as a replacement for our traditional “innocent until proven guilty” standard.

Libertarian-leaning Republican Congressman Justin Amash summed the scene up well by tweeting a relevant family anecdote.

This is a matter our friends on the left ought to consider. Particularly those who crow about how Trump is “literally Hitler.” Do liberals really trust a man like him with the kind of power they’re seeking to expand? A man who suggested that putting Muslims in internment camps might not be such a bad idea since, after all, FDR did the same to the Japanese?

It’s easy to sit on the House floor and create a spectacle, demanding a vote on gun control legislation that wouldn’t have even prevented the terrorist attack they’re politicizing. It’s less easy to admit that the answer isn’t a new law made in haste, but a hard look at our national security and intelligence apparatuses.

After all, Orlando terrorist Omar Mateen was investigated by the FBI twice, reported again to the FBI for suspicious behavior just days prior to his attack, and no follow up was initiated.

There are unfortunately no easy answers to the question of how to prevent lone wolf terror attacks, no matter how understandably desperate many are to find them.

To the Democrats sitting on the House floor so they can feel good about “doing something,” I’d suggest that denying innocent Americans their basic due process rights is no solution.

Gay groups and gun advocates are teaming up across America to promote LGBT self-defense

Friday, June 17th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

While Senate Democrats filibustered in an effort to pass gun control legislation (the specifics of which wouldn’t have stopped the Orlando terrorist Omar Mateen), some LGBT community members are doing the opposite of what so many politicians now demand: Gay men and women are arming themselves.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, several LGBT organizations are working to get their community properly trained and armed.

Derek Washington of Get Equal Nevada said, as reported by KTNV News:

“We’re at risk. We’re under attack. We’re not just under attack from Muslim terrorists. We’re under attack from Christian terrorists. We are under attack from drunk frat boys. We’re always under attack.”

Washington wants LGBT members to get concealed carry permits: “I want those courses packed. After Orlando, it is our responsibility to care for us. We can’t depend on anyone else,” he said.

Leading this Vegas-based effort is Out For Liberty, an organization that is offering gay nightclub workers—who are legally allowed to carry guns while working behind the bar, per Nevada law—free training courses. The group is also offering discounted rates to LGBT locals.

In Houston, Texas, a gun range has decided to offer free concealed carry courses to LGBT individuals.

“We want to make them aware they can come here, they can feel safe here, they can get their concealed handgun license or their license to carry and they can carry a gun and they can feel good about it,” said Jeff Sanford, owner of the Shiloh Indoor Shooting Range, to KPRC News.

This tracks with a broader trend of increased interest in firearms training within the LGBT community. “Gun shops typically see a spike in customers after mass shootings. But this time, many are seeing shoppers they’ve never really seen before: More gays and lesbians,” reported FOX 31 Denver.

Hours after the Orlando shooting Sunday, the Pink Pistols, a national pro-gun LGBT organization, had its membership spike from 1,500 to 3,500. The organization’s website explains their mission, stating, “We teach queers to shoot. Then we teach others that we have done so.”

“Armed queers don’t get bashed.”

The Pink Pistols website continues, “We change the public perception of the sexual minorities, such that those who have in the past perceived them as safe targets for violence and hateful acts — beatings, assaults, rapes, murders — will realize that that now, a segment of the sexual minority population is now armed and effective with those arms.”

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, gay-friendly neighborhoods have been plastered with posters depicting a rainbow adaptation of the iconic “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden Flag – typically associated with conservative causes such as the tea party movement – affixed with text that says #ShootBack instead of the traditional “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Rand Paul is working to end the draft—among other things libertarians will love

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential race may be a historical footnote, but the senator libertarians know and love is back at it as Congress works through its annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is passed yearly to allocate defense spending.

As civil liberties advocates will recall, the NDAA was controversially used in 2012 as a vehicle to allow the indefinite detention of American citizens on the mere suspicion of involvement with terrorism. This year however, Sen. Paul is harnessing the NDAA process to promote liberty-aligned priorities.

Sen. Paul has thus far introduced several amendments to the appropriations bill. The most exciting include ending the military draft, declassifying 9/11 documents that allegedly show Saudi involvement in the attacks, and forcing a new congressional vote to authorize Obama’s ongoing Middle Eastern wars.

Ceasing the use of military drafts has long been a libertarian priority, and Paul’s amendment is an exciting addition to the recent discussion about whether the U.S. should also draft women, or if this outdated practice of conscription is even necessary anymore.

And Paul’s move to declassify 28 pages worth of documents that allegedly implicate the Saudi government in the 9/11 attacks comes on the heels of heated debate about this issue among lawmakers.

In the House, Reps Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Walter Jones (R-NC), and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), have been pressing this matter for months, with a major assist from former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.). Graham co-chaired the intelligence committee that wrote the classified pages in 2002.

This helped lead to the recent passage of a Senate bill that allows Americans whose family members were lost during 9/11 to sue the Saudi Arabian government. Sen. Paul and many others now believe it’s long past time to declassify the information that would apparently justify this legislation.

Sen. Paul is also using the NDAA debate to force a matter that has long been a pet issue of his: Acquiring congressional authorization for acts of war abroad.

Paul recently authored an op-ed at Time Magazine on this topic, writing: “One generation cannot bind another generation to perpetual war. Our Constitution mandates that war be authorized by Congress.”

Paul’s point of contention is that the Obama administration is still working off of two Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF) measures passed by Congress in 2001 and 2002, even though many new fronts of war have been opened since.

In addition to his work on making the NDAA even the slightest bit more liberty friendly, Sen. Paul is a sponsor of other great standalone legislation. Paul’s most notable recent accomplishment is the passage through the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the Bonuses for Cost-Cutters Act.

This bipartisan piece of legislation would empower federal workers to identify ways to save taxpayer money by giving them bonuses for helping to reduce spending; a seemingly commonsense measure that has evaded Congress so far.

It’s only been three months since Paul ended his presidential bid. Obviously, he’s been busy, pursuing these and other important measures, working across the aisle to achieve his goals when necessary.

Liberty-lovers can sleep a little easier knowing he’s there.

These are the only 3 Republicans in the House who voted to close Guantanamo Bay

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Most Republicans oppose President Obama’s plan to close the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, where terrorists are often held indefinitely and without trials. But in a recent House vote, three Republicans—congressmen Mark Sanford, Justin Amash, and John Duncan—broke ranks and supported an amendment that would have shuttered the controversial holding facility.

Sanford explained to McClatchy DC that his opposition to Guantánamo is consistent with his concerns about indefinite detention, a controversial provision that was added to the annual National Defense Authorization Act in 2012, under which those merely suspected of terrorism could be held without constitutionally required due process.

“Indefinite detention is not consistent with the values that America was based on,” said Sanford. “I think if you look at the military tribunals, there was finality to the process: ‘We find you guilty in military tribunal, we’ll take you out back and shoot you, or we’ll let you go.’ It was not, ‘We’re going to hold you for the next 40 years.’”

From a libertarian or constitutional conservative standpoint, Sanford’s outlook makes sense. It’s not that we aren’t going to punish terrorists—he mentioned military tribunals, after all. It’s that throwing someone into a prison like Guantánamo Bay on the mere suspicion of terrorism and holding them indefinitely without charge or trial is anti-American from a human rights and constitutional standpoint.

The issue of closing Guantánamo has resurfaced recently, as Obama struggles to fulfill a promise he first made over seven years ago.

“Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values,” said President Obama earlier this year. “It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law.”

That’s a nice statement, but civil liberties advocates on both the right and the left have reason to be skeptical. After all, Obama signed reauthorizations of the Patriot Act and new indefinite detention provisions into law, even after talking a big game about what a civil libertarian he was.

Nevertheless, the president does seem committed to at least attempting to move past the wartime abuses of his predecessor, while acknowledging the difficulty of the logistical challenges.

As Obama said: “The plan we’re putting forward … isn’t just about closing the facility at Guantanamo. It’s not just about dealing with the current group of detainees, which is a complex piece of business because of the manner in which they were originally apprehended and what happened. This is about closing a chapter in our history.”

Obama doesn’t have nearly the support he needs from Congress to close Guantánamo. The recent amendment, even with backing from the three Republicans, failed by a margin of 259-163.

After his truck was stolen by law enforcement, this cop is working to reform civil asset forfeiture

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Stephen Mills is a 24-year army veteran turned Apache, Oklahoma, Chief of Police. He also owns a ranch in nearby Grady County, where he employed a worker who was arrested for stealing oil field equipment while driving one of Mills’ work trucks. This happened in 2010, before Mills became an officer in the area.

As Mills explained in a video produced by The Heritage Foundation’s The Daily Signal, “I assumed [the police] were seizing [the truck] as evidence of the crime. I called them to ask when they were going to be done with it, and I could get my truck back. And what I was told was it wasn’t being taken as evidence. They were seizing it under civil asset forfeiture, because it was used in a crime.”

The Daily Signal’s Melissa Quinn summarized the problem well:

“Civil forfeiture is a tool that gives law enforcement the power to take people’s cash, cars, and property if they suspect it’s connected to criminal activity. The procedure was expanded in the 1980s and hailed as a tool law enforcement needed to fight the war on drugs.”

While the War on Drugs excuse is a standard explanation used by law enforcement to justify the practice of deeming property, not just people, as culpable in a crime, it’s clear the practice is abused far beyond that scope.

The ranch hand who was arrested in Mills’ vehicle wasn’t charged with drug trafficking. He was caught stealing property from an oil field – in a truck that didn’t belong to him! Yet the vehicle was seized, no questions asked. In many cases, property is stolen by cops under this standard, even when no crimes were committed by the owners.

State Senator Kyle Loveless, an Oklahoma Republican who introduced a bill to reform this practice, explained to The Daily Signal that, “Every way across the board in different agencies, city, county, statewide agencies, the system is fraught with abuse.”

Added Loveless, “Innocent people’s stuff is being taken. The system is so perverted that it is like climbing Mount Everest to get your stuff back.” As Loveless concluded, “[I]t comes back to should the government be able to take someone’s stuff and keep it without charging them or proving it, and I say no.”

While civil asset forfeiture remains a major issue, there’s more bipartisan awareness about its problematic nature now than ever before. State legislatures across the country are working to tamp down on this practice.

Unfortunately, many police unions and prosecutors continue to support civil asset forfeiture, largely because, as State Senator Loveless explained, they use the property seized to make up for budget shortfalls. But reform is possible if there’s enough public outcry about this unconstitutional practice.

Ultimately, Mills is right when he says, “The Constitution protects our personal property. When the government uses civil asset forfeiture laws to go in and deprive a person of their property, whether they’re taking it from drugs or not, they’re circumventing the due process that is written into our Constitution.”