Tag Archive for 'civil-liberties'



Why Won’t Obama Curb the TSA?

Published April 29th, 2011 by tcarpenter

The Transportation Security Administration’s outrages against air travelers reached new heights earlier this month with the (very) thorough pat-down of six-year-old Anna Drexel at the New Orleans airport.  Not only did that action violate common sense, it violated common decency.  The girl’s parents caught the horrific incident on their cell phone video camera, and it immediately went viral on the internet.   After being subjected to what one critic later described as the “freedom fondle,” Anna burst into tears.  That was hardly a surprise.  She had been told repeatedly by her parents and teachers that it was wrong, wrong, wrong for any stranger to touch her in her private places.  Anyone, that is, except arrogant, thuggish bureaucrats working for the TSA.  Talk about mixed messages!

Angry members of Congress have introduced legislation to bar such procedures on young children in the future.  But why should legislation be needed to end the practice–and the TSA’s other offenses against the basic civil liberties of the American people?  The TSA is an agency of the executive branch.  President Obama is the head of the executive branch.  He could order an end to all such abuses with the stroke of his pen on an executive order.  Why has he not done so?  His failure on this issue is just the latest piece of evidence that all of his  rhetoric about “hope and change” in the 2008 presidential campaign was just that–empty rhetoric.  

Decent Americans have had more than enough of the TSA’s airport security theater–useless and obnoxious intrusions on our civil liberties in the name of preventing terrorism.   If President Obama is too timid or uncaring to rein-in this rogue agency, Congress should do it without further delay.

Security Gestapo Strikes Again

Published June 25th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Just when you think that the guardians of airport security, the TSA (Terminally Stupid Agency), can’t get any more obnoxious in the way that it treats hapless airline passengers, along comes this little gem.  The arrogant TSA bureaucrats have now moved beyond frisking grandmothers and small children as possible terrorists and are now humiliating amputees as part of the airport screening process.  Ah, our tax dollars at work.  Our civil liberties RIP.

My Least Favorite Cheney

Published March 7th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Vice President Dick Cheney always impressed me as the most dangerous and vicious member of the Bush administration.  He seemed to regard war as the answer to every foreign policy problem, and his contempt for the Constitution and civil liberties was legendary.

But his daughter, Liz Cheney, seems determined to outdo her father with respect to both of those repulsive attitudes.  She is fast becoming my least favorite Cheney.

Her organization, which has become a prominent lobbyist for war with Iran, has now taken dead aim at supposed terrorist sympathizers in the Obama administration.   Television ads are now running attacking the president for appointing officials to the Justice Department who had previously served as defense counsels–or even just peripheral members of defense teams–for accused terrorist suspects.  Smearing those attorneys as the “Al Qaeda Seven,” the ad implies that such legal work should disqualify them from appointments to office.

That is a “guilt by association” attack that would have made Senator Joseph McCarthy (who was notorious for such tactics) blush.  And it is an especially ugly tactic in this case.  Lawyers are expected to be willing to defend even odious individuals, and they routinely do so.  That is part of the code of their profession.  It is appallingly unfair to hold that duty against them, much less to imply that they endorse the values of those individuals.  Moreover, just because someone is accused  of being a terrorist does not necessarily mean that the person is one.  That’s why our justice system requires fair trials–and defense attorneys.

If the logic of Liz Cheney and her cohorts was correct, John Adams, America’s second president, should have been disqualified from ever holding any office of trust.  After all, he was the defense lawyer for the British Redcoats involved in the Boston Massacre.  Got an acquittal, too.  Wonder what Liz and her smear artists have to say about that episode?

The good news is that decent conservatives have rebuked Cheney for her odious tactics.  People should not have their patriotism or integrity impugned because they uphold the core principles of our legal system.  That she would do so says all we need to know about Liz Cheney and her neoconservative associates.

Death of Common Sense–New Episodes

Published September 29th, 2009 by tcarpenter

Just when you think law enforcement bureaucrats can’t get any more irrational, comes this story (hat tip to my Cato Institute colleague Dan Mitchell) from Indiana.  A grandmother ran afoul of the drug war laws by making two purchases of cold medicine for her family.

When Sally Harpold bought cold medicine for her family back in March, she never dreamed that four months later she would end up in handcuffs.

Now, Harpold is trying to clear her name of criminal charges, and she is speaking out in hopes that a law will change so others won’t endure the same embarrassment she still is facing.

…Harpold is a grandmother of triplets who bought one box of Zyrtec-D cold medicine for her husband at a Rockville pharmacy. Less than seven days later, she bought a box of Mucinex-D cold medicine for her adult daughter at a Clinton pharmacy, thereby purchasing 3.6 grams total of pseudoephedrine in a week’s time.

Those two purchases put her in violation of Indiana law 35-48-4-14.7, which restricts the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, or PSE, products to no more than 3.0 grams within any seven-day period.

When the police came knocking at the door of Harpold’s Parke County residence on July 30, she was arrested on a Vermillion County warrant for a class-C misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to 60 days in jail and up to a $500 fine.

The good citizens of Indiana can now rest easier knowing this nefarious drug lord has been apprehended.  Whatever happened to the concept of discretion by police and prosecutors?  Whatever happened to common sense?

And then there is this story about how a young couple lost custody of their young children for a month after a Wal-mart employee forwarded “bath-time” photos they had taken of the children to the authorities.  How many parents over the decades would have run afoul of such absurd suspicions of child pornography, if that standard had been the norm?

I’m interested in suggestions about how Americans can rein-in this runaway zealotry before it turns our country into something resembling the fascist and communist systems we used to abhor.

Inmates Running the Asylum, Episode 308

Published September 8th, 2009 by tcarpenter

Parents who dare to be affectionate to their children had better think twice about visiting Brazil with them after this episode.  I guess it’s nice to know that U.S. law enforcement bureaucrats are not the only ones who can be irrational zealots.  That realization, however, is mighty small comfort.  Why has common sense apparently died all over the world?

Another Episode of Hysteria In The “War on Terror.”

Published July 26th, 2009 by tcarpenter

The Bush administration apparently considered sending in the army to invade Buffalo.  Yes, the one in New York state.  The supposed justification was the need to apprehend a handful of terrorist plotters.  Never mind that federal law since the late 1870s explicitly prohibits using the military for domestic law enforcement.  Never mind that the terrorists in question were both small in number and decidedly low in IQ.  Never mind that we have the FBI as well as state and local law enforcement personnel to handle such matters, and that in this case they were clearly more than sufficient to deal with the alleged threat. 

Several Bush administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney (big surprise there!) wanted to send in the troops.  That would have been the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to squash an ant.  Had Cheney’s advice been followed, the main thing that would have been squashed was the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law.

I never thought I would say this, but thank the fates that George W. Bush was president.  As bad as he was–and he was truly dreadful on numerous issues–he was better than many of the people around him.  If someone like Cheney had been president, we would have had U.S. soldiers occupying American cities.  

The Bill of Rights definitely dodged some bullets during the previous administration.  Let’s hope the current one proves to be a lot better on that front.

Obama’s First Week: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Published January 25th, 2009 by tcarpenter

President Obama is certainly off to a fast start.  The record during his first week, though, is mixed. 

One good early action was his decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, shut down the secret CIA prisons in various overseas locations, and tighten the standards for interrogating terrorist suspects.  Gitmo and everything associated with it will likely go down as one of the more shameful episodes in American history.  Even though Bush administration officials repeatedly denied that the U.S. engaged in torture, the reality was otherwise.  Cynical euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation techniques” sounded like dialogue from characters in a George Orwell novel.  Of course, we all want to minimize the danger of new terrorist attacks, but there are certain lines that a society must not cross if it wishes to remain a moral society.  Torture is one of those bright red lines.

While President Obama’s decisions on that issue removed a stain on America’s honor, his proposed remedy for the ongoing economic recession embodies many of the worst ideas liberal Democrats have been peddling for decades.  Advocating another $825 billion in spending when the federal government is already running a deficit that is likely to exceed $1 trillion this year constitutes fiscal folly.  Even the underlying goal to jump start more consumer spending is flawed.  Jim Rogers, one of world’s most successful investors over the past three decades put the matter very well: “The idea that you can solve a period of excessive borrowing and consumption with more borrowing and more consumption” is “ludicrous on its face.”

The ugly portion of the Obama administration’s first week was the confirmation of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.   In her earlier confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she pledged that the administration’s foreign policy would be one of “smart power”–filching a term that I and other scholars have used for years.  That wouldn’t be so bad if what she advocated was even remotely smart.  But virtually everything she said was merely warmed over conventional wisdom–and usually the worst aspects of the conventional wisdom.  Clinton emphasized the supposed need to strengthen NATO–that Cold War-era dinosaur of an alliance–and add new members, such as tiny Balkan states, Georgia, and Ukraine.  The former are militarily useless (as is Georgia) and membership for Georgia and Ukraine would further damage the already tense relations between the U.S. and Russia.  The rest of her testimony was equally bad.  America must keep other useless, costly military commitments, such as the one to South Korea, somehow solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (like we haven’t been trying to do that for the past four decades), take a hard line with Iran (like we haven’t been doing that for the past three decades) and engage in more humanitarian interventions and nation-building missions.  Those, apparently, we can accomplish with all of our spare money and troops.  If there were such a requirement as truth in advertising for presidential appointees, Hillary’s foreign policy would have to be labeled “dumb power” not smart power.  For an approach that is actually smart power, check here.

Perversion of the Law in Pennsylvania

Published January 16th, 2009 by tcarpenter

I never expected to publish multiple blog posts on crazy measures regarding sexual conduct.  I assumed that the politicians in Washington state who want to criminalize relationships between teachers and adult students between 18 and 21 (see yesterday’s post) had plumbed the depths of arrogant stupidity.  But then I read this news story about the authorities in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and it became clear that the Puritanical zealots in Washington are rank amateurs.

Three teenage girls, all of whom are 14 or 15 years old, apparently took nude or seminude photos of themselves and then shared them with male classmates via their cell phones.  There is no question that the parents of those girls need to have a candid conversation with their daughters about the dubious wisdom of such conduct, including the important detail that once such photos enter cyberspace, they achieve immortality and can show up anywhere months or even years later.   The boys receiving such material might benefit from a meaningful discussion with their parents as well.

But the Greensburg police decided to file criminal charges against the girls for distributing child pornography and against the boys for possessing such pornography.  This episode is yet another example of the death of common sense on the part of law enforcement personnel–right up there with prosecuting a student for giving an aspirin to a classmate who had a headache, or handcuffing a kindergarten student for bringing a pen knife to school (incidents that have occurred in other jurisdictions).

It is a safe bet that the Pennsylvania criminal statute against child pornography was intended to bust adult exploiters of young children.  I doubt if any legislator who drafted that measure intended it to be used against kids who engage in the computer era’s version of playing doctor.  Perverting the intention of the law in that fashion is even worse than the attempt by zealous prosecutors to go after anti-abortion groups under the statute designed to dismantle organized crime syndicates.  I find many of the anti-abortion activists shrill and obnoxious, but it is preposterous to equate them with the mafia.

So, too, it is not only absurd but offensive to equate teenagers who may have engaged in unwise, even tasteless, conduct with the actions of true child pornographers.   The police department of Greensburg should be ashamed of itself for putting kids through such needless trauma.  If convicted, these teens could not only face jail time, but would have to register as sex offenders for at least 10 years.  Innocent lives would be ruined.

Just as small children should be kept away from knives and other sharp objects, police and prosecutors who can’t use common sense should be kept far, far away from instruments of power.  Greensburg, PA needs to rein-in its out-of-control cops.

Nanny State Strikes Again

Published January 15th, 2009 by tcarpenter

The court of appeals in Washington state has struck a blow for common sense.  A three-judge panel ruled unanimously that a criminal statute explicitly designed to prohibit teachers from having sexual relations with students who are MINORS did not apply to a case in which a high school choir director allegedly had a relationship with an 18-year-old student.  Duh!  I guess that’s why the law had “minors” in the title.

Now, I have no problem with rules by a school district, or even a college or university, that consider a sexual relationship between a faculty member and even an adult student to be professional misconduct and grounds for dismissal.   Among other problems, when a faculty member is sleeping with a student, immediate doubts arise about whether that faculty member can possibly be objective in grading the student’s classroom work.  There is also troubling potential for manipulation or blackmail by either party.  It is acceptable for an educational institution to establish rules against such relationships as a condition of employment.

But making such conduct between consenting adults a criminal offense is an entirely different matter.   That takes us back to the bad old days in which government presumed to meddle in every aspect of human sexual conduct–even by married couples.  Adults are adults, and in a free society they should have the right to decide with whom they have sex.  

Yet some state legislators in Washington are outraged by the court’s decision and now seek to modify the criminal statute to apply to students up to the age of 21.  Not surprisingly, that effort is being led by a conservative Republican.   It is bad enough when legislators act as though 16-and 17-year olds are all so innocent of sex–or are so stupid–that they should not be allowed to make decisions about the most intimate aspects of their own bodies.  But it is doubly outrageous when politicians try to extend such patronizing, intrusive laws to 18, 19, and even 20-year-old adults.  The appeals court got the decision right, and the self-annointed moral police in the state legislature should back off.

Glorifying Rogue Law Enforcement

Published December 31st, 2008 by tcarpenter

I’ve noticed a trend in movies and television programs the past few years that is more than a little disturbing.  It is the glorification of police and other security personnel who “cut corners” when it comes to the Bill of Rights and other legal restraints on governmental power.  True, it is not entirely a new phenomenon, as the Dirty Harry movies of several decades ago attest.  But it has gotten much worse since the 9-11 terrorist attacks.  The model for the “who gives a damn what tactics are used as long as the hero gets the bad guys” attitude is Jack Bauer on the television show “24.”  Now, on program after program, one finds overt sympathy for characters who don’t abide by silly rules–like those requiring probable cause for searching a suspect’s home or auto, or those that prohibit threatening or beating a suspect.  Beyond those aspects, there is a proliferation of shows like “Flashpoint” and “Homeland Security USA” that portray, without the slightest adverse implication, the growing militarization of America’s police.  There was a time most Americans would have cringed at the sight of “police” in full military gear breaking down doors and acting as though they were invading an enemy country.  Both in the world of entertainment and in real life, that no longer seems to be the case.

We need to remember that legal restraints on the conduct of police and other goverment officials are not quaint, irrelevant standards from another era.  They are essential protections that separate brutal, repressive countries from free ones.  An entertainment industry that glorifies misconduct by those who are supposed to uphold the law are conditioning viewers to tamely accept such abuses in real life.