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Politics Worsens Racial Divides — Markets Can Mend Them by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Do you know what inspired the great Frederick Douglass finally to escape from slavery? He was working for a man in Baltimore, Maryland, and getting paid at the end of the day. He took his earnings to his master, who then decided how much Douglass could keep. This struck him as inherently unjust, a wicked symbol of servitude.

He fled to freedom because he wanted to realize and retain his full value in the marketplace. Effectively, he cut out the middle man, the coercive hand that presumed to control his life and property. It was then that he truly began to live a full life.

So it has been since slavery finally was finally abolished in the United States. Markets and commercial culture have been the respite from servitude, the enabler of social peace, the means by which justice is realized, and a source of empowerment for all peoples. Markets turn tension to harmony, injustice to personal fulfillment.

But when government intervenes, much like the role of Douglass’s master, it creates conflict, unfairness, and harms people’s capacity to work toward a more peaceful and prosperous world.

This is the message I gain from a poll released last week. It reveals that both blacks and whites think race relations are generally bad, and by wide margins. In general, two-thirds of survey respondents say that people are not getting along and that tension is high.

The striking fact: This is the reverse of what people believed in the days after the election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president.

American civic culture has always treated the presidency as some kind of mystical pinnacle, a beautiful bellwether of where we are as a people and where we are headed as a country. The idea is that we all look to the great man to set the tone and shape the character of us as a people.

Surely, then, because most everyone but a few trolls wants peace, understanding, and cooperation between blacks and whites, the best path forward is to elect a person of color. Surely that will fix something. Right?

Of course it did not. It’s one thing to observe little improvement in these poll numbers but it is quite something else to see them flip to reveal more despair than ever.

During Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign, nearly 60 percent of blacks said race relations were generally bad, but that number was cut in half shortly after he won. It has now soared to 68 percent, the highest level of discontent among African Americans during the Obama years and close to the numbers recorded in the aftermath of the massive riots that followed the 1992 acquittal of Los Angeles police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King.

The presumption that a black presidency would repair the US race problem trivializes the on-the-ground reality. It presumes that people will respond to symbolism, to identity, to the perception of a new form of power-sharing in society, regardless of reality. Something similar is emerging in the case ofHillary Clinton: her womanness will surely bring new forms of gender justice and therefore harmony between the sexes. Based on the experience with Obama, we can look forward to a similar shot of optimism followed by a dramatic reversal of fortunes.

But let’s dig just a bit deeper into the polls, because it reveals something interesting. Though the news was buried in the story, the polls show a huge chasm between people’s macro and micro perceptions. It turns out that when people are asked about their own communities, which is to say their own lives, the picture is much brighter. Fully 77% said that race relations are good at this level — a number that has not changed in 20 years.

In other words, in terms of people’s experiences in daily life, we find evidence that both blacks and whites get along pretty well. And what does this mean? How do the races typically encounter each other in their own lives? Mostly it is through commercial settings. Shopping, trading, working, and engaging in all the normal activities of life, people find common interests despite their differences. Or it takes place in our social lives: at our houses of worship, the community pool, the neighborhood barbecue. On this very human level, it would appear that matters are better.

So in what respect do people perceive problems? It is when they reflect on the larger picture, which usually involves perceptions of politics and official institutions. Here is where differences manifest themselves. And in this respect, what has changed so dramatically over the past six years to signal new levels of racial tension? It is in the new every day: It is the treatment of blacks by civic institutions, meaning cops and criminal justice in particular. Here lies a major source of the problem.

You can see this in the data too. Here are the charts on how police treat people by race.

These are wide disparities. Among whites, 82% feel safe concerning the police, but only 58% of blacks say the same. Only 5% of whites believe that they have been singled out by police because of their race. Among blacks, 41% believe that — which is quite high (though not as high as I might have expected).

The polls are surely affected by the daily barrage of YouTube videos coming out that show horrendous treatment of black people by police. For white Americans, this has been a remarkable parade of injustice, causing a serious consciousness-raising on the part of every white person I know. Everyone has noticed has much more militarized policing has become over the last couple decades, but the problem is felt particularly intensely by blacks, who are disproportionately harmed by harassment and abuse.

My friend T.K. Coleman, who is black, posted a note a few days ago about his own experience. He and his wife were detained, handcuffed, and questioned for absolutely no reason. His account is harrowing.

He concludes:

There’s this naive idea floating around that people should never be afraid of cops as long as they’re innocent and compliant. For a lot of people in this country, that’s simply not true. …

But if we want to have intelligent discussions about authority in this country, we have to stop using a logic that tells us that people in authority always have a fair reason for doing what they do. We do a lot of talking about what people can do to avoid being abused by cops.

We don’t talk as much as we should about the abuse that happens to people who follow all those instructions. If we can’t question authority, we are doomed.

What we can tease out of these polls is the single most striking fact about human relationships. When they are politicized, and when we rely on government to rule our associations with others, the result is less harmony and more tension and injustice. But when we let go and let voluntary human associations take over, letting people trade and keep property and make decisions for themselves and cooperate as equals, we see progress toward what most everyone wants: peace, harmony, and mutually beneficial engagement.

The implications of this realization are epic. For hundreds of years, governments at all levels have been interfering in race relations, favoring or disfavoring one group or another, sometimes in petty ways and other times in egregious ways. In taking this path, governments have done no one any favors. And today, government remains the single biggest obstacle towards a more harmonious social life of inclusion and free association.

In these last days of his presidency, Obama has finally turned his attention to the problem of criminal justice and the horrible problem of prisons. Finally! I have no reason to doubt his sincerity, even if it turns out to be too little and too late. To the extent he manages to reform the system, removing the boot from the neck just a bit, he will have made his greatest contribution toward racial reconciliation.

In the long run, no one benefits from top-down control. If we are to forge good lives and good communities for ourselves, it is going to be by deferring to the emergent processes of social and economic engagement, one person at a time. Government divides people; markets bring us together.

Frederick Douglass made a courageous decision to seek his own freedom as a path to realizing his highest value in this world. He did this by saying no to the master who presumed to rule his life and property. So must we all.


Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World. Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.

Celebrate Independence With a Revolution Against the Surveillance State by Ryan Hagemann

In the decade before 1776, British courts began issuing “writs of assistance” for the general search and seizure of colonists’ documents. The intention was to permit British troops to inspect properties for smuggled goods, but these writs gave officials broad power to enter private homes to search for, and seize, anything and everything that might be considered contraband by the British Empire.

Such general warrants were among the many complaints the colonists levied against the crown and played no small part in the American Revolution.

This Independence Day, it would behoove us all, as Americans, to reflect on the motivations for the colonists’ revolt against Britain. In a 2013 piece at the Huffington Post, Radley Balko spoke on the core meaning of the Fourth of July:

Independence Day isn’t for celebrating the American government and whoever happens to be currently running it, but for celebrating the principles that make America unique.

And in fact, celebrating the principles that [animated] the American founding often means celebrating the figures who have defended those principles in spite of the government.

The list of modern Americans who have stood as stalwart guardians of the principles of liberty is regrettably short. More concerning, however, is what has happened in the years since 9/11, as fear and paranoia over terrorism gripped the American electorate and absconded with many of the basic liberties that the founding generation fought and died to uphold. America just isn’t what it used to be.

But the tides of unrestrained surveillance seem to be receding.

A few weeks ago, thanks to a vibrant and broad coalition of civil libertarians, grassroots organizations, and cross-aisle partners, America finally took the first step in reining in the secret surveillance state that Edward Snowden revealed to us almost two years ago to the day. The USA FREEDOM Act, for all its flaws, stands as the most significant piece of surveillance reform legislation since 1978 and signals Congress’s willingness to work on surveillance reform.

While there is much to do in preparing for upcoming battles over government surveillance, a look back at recent events can help shed light on how we as libertarians can best move forward.

Not surprisingly, the debate left some dissatisfied that the reforms did not go far enough, while others considered anything short of a full USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization to be an unacceptable compromise.

Filled with riotous rhetorical broadsides, the debate featured civil libertarians supporting reform against civil libertarians backing a complete, uncompromising end to the surveillance state, pitting Republican hawks against centrists and Democrats, and Sen. Rand Paul against pretty much everyone.

In a story of strange political bedfellows, Sen. Paul joined hawks such as Sen. John McCain and Sen. Richard Burr in voting against the USA FREEDOM Act. While Paul criticized components of the bill for not going far enough (all criticisms being perfectly fair and true), the political reality was such that this bill, however imperfect, was by far the best chance for reform in the near term.

As Cato’s Julian Sanchez noted prior to its passage: “While ‘Sunset the Patriot Act’ makes for an appealing slogan, the fact remains that the vast majority of the Patriot Act is permanent — and includes an array of overlapping authorities that will limit the effect of an expiration.”

In other words, the limitations of USA FREEDOM would actually be more effective than simply letting a two or three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act (temporarily) expire.

The heroes of this debate were a broad coalition of civil-society groups, technology firms, and nonprofits dedicated to moving the ball forward on reform, no matter how small the gain.

However, even as some are celebrating this small but important victory, there are troubled waters ahead for privacy advocates and civil libertarians. The upcoming Senate vote on the Cybersecurity and Information Sharing Act (CISA) is the next battle in the ongoing war against the surveillance apparatus. If passed, it would be one step forward, two steps back for the small victories privacy advocates have won over the past month.

I’ve written quite a bit on the issues that many civil libertarian organizations have with CISA, which is little more than a surveillance Trojan Horse containing a host of “information-sharing” provisions that would allow intelligence agencies to acquire information from private firms and use it to prosecute Americans for garden-variety crimes unrelated to cybersecurity, due process be damned.

A broad coalition of organizations has once more come together, this time to oppose CISA, to continue the battle against expanding the surveillance state.

In public policy, the Overton window refers to the spectrum of policy prescriptions and ideas that the public views as tolerable: the political viability of any idea depends not on the personal preferences of politicians, but on whether it falls within the range of publicly acceptable options.

That is why a willingness to compromise is so vital in public-policy discussions. Marginal reforms should be seen as victories in the slow but consistent effort to rein in the excesses of our Orwellian security order.

USA FREEDOM is far from ideal, and the expiration of provisions of the PATRIOT Act, such as Section 215, will not stop government surveillance in its tracks. The government can still use National Security Letters (NSL), and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act can still be creatively interpreted by the intelligence community to justify continued mass surveillance, to say nothing of Executive Order 12333, which covers surveillance conducted outside of the United States.

Nonetheless, the new law is an important first step towards tearing down the most onerous provisions of the PATRIOT Act in a piecemeal fashion. This may seem a daunting and less-than-ideal approach for many libertarians, but the alternative is merely symbolic gesticulation.

So where do we go from here?

Libertarians need to start working with nontraditional allies to support, on an issue-by-issue basis, real, practical reforms to the surveillance state. If we do not, we cannot hope to be effective and valuable partners to those individuals and organizations working tirelessly in support of the same values and freedoms that we all hold dear.

We must also recognize that there are limitations to compromise, and we should never forsake our core principles in favor of political expediency. But, on the margins, we can make significant contributions to civil liberties, especially in the ongoing surveillance reform debate. Recognizing the reality of what is achievable in the current political landscape is necessary for identifying and taking advantage of the available opportunities for restoring liberty.

We have a choice in the upcoming surveillance-reform fights: We can be positive contributors to a legacy of liberty for future generations, or we can continue to fancy ourselves armchair philosophers, ignoring public-policy realities and taking comfort in the echo chamber that never challenges our worldview.

Given political realities, marginal reforms constitute the fastest path forward. The American people are owed their civil liberties; hence, we must fight to move, however incrementally, towards a freer, more civil society.


Ryan Hagemann

Ryan Hagemann is a civil liberties policy analyst at the Niskanen Center.

RELATED ARTICLE: Cyber Security: Where are we now and where are we headed?

Money Will Be Digital — But Will It Be Free? by Andreas M. Antonopoulos

Bitcoin offers a glimpse into the future of money — a purely digital form of money that is individual, private, global, and free (free as in speech, not as in beer). Bitcoin is often compared with the existing banking system, juxtaposing its futuristic capabilities with the slow, antiquated, and cumbersome world of wire transfers, checks, “banking hours,” and restrictions.

But the future will not be a choice between “old money” and cryptocurrency. Instead, it will be a choice between two competing visions of digital money: one based on freedom and choice, the other based on control and surveillance, a dystopian totalitarian system of control from which no one can escape.

We are now at the crossroads, and we must choose the future of currency wisely.

Cash, checks, and other forms of tangible money have been gradually disappearing for decades. We are now rapidly moving toward a cashless society where all money is purely digital. In the past, cash payments were expected and preferred; credit transactions were suspect. But as we turned into a debt-based society, cash became the oddity. The inscription “for all debts public and private” no longer rings as true. Today, if you try to buy a car with cash, you’ll be treated with extreme suspicion. Large amounts of cash are now associated with criminal activity and the definition of “large” is getting smaller each day. This is how we arrive at a cashless society: by making cash itself suspect, then criminal.

The transition from cash to digital money is not just a change in form. It is a transition from transactions that are private, person-to-person, and decentralized to transactions that are monitored, intermediated, and under centralized control. In the last two decades, digital payments have become a powerful surveillance tool. Citizens who are concerned about their government monitoring their telephone calls are simultaneously oblivious to the fact that every transaction they make with a plastic card or an online payment network can be scrutinized without suspicion of a crime, without warrants or any form of judicial oversight. Most national governments, under the guise of counterterrorism laws, have empowered their law enforcement and intelligence agencies with unfettered access to financial data. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that these powers are used far more broadly every day, increasingly removed from the originally stated intent.

What a strange world we now live in. Total surveillance of every citizen’s transactions, without any basis or suspicion, is not just normal but presented as a virtue, a form of patriotism. Using cash or wishing to retain your financial privacy is inherently suspect, a radical position, soon to be a crime.

A future where all payments are trackable is terrifying, but a world with centralized control over transactions would be even worse. Digital currency with centralized control means the eradication of property as a right. Instead, your money exists only as a database entry where the balance is controlled entirely by a third party.

By managing the payment networks, a government has effective control over all participants, including banks, corporations, and individuals. Already, banks are extorted into adopting global financial blacklists for fear of being disconnected from networks like the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) and Automated Clearing House (ACH). This web of control is expanding and is used more and more frequently as a weapon of geopolitics.

The future of digital central currencies will make this control entirely individualized and easy to target. Attended the “wrong” protest? Your bank balance is now zero. Bought a suspicious book? Expect a visit from the police. Annoyed someone in power? They can trawl through your transactions until they find something juicy enough to leak.

Your movements can be tracked, your friends identified, your political affiliations analyzed and cross-correlated to your reading habits. No part of your life is private when every form of money is digital and every transaction can be tracked, blocked, seized, and deleted. Your life savings are yours only as long as you don’t offend someone in power. When money is centrally controlled, ownership of anything is a privilege the government can revoke. Property is not an inalienable right, but an advantage afforded to the those who acquiesce to the system. Combining surveillance of communications with complete control over money will result in tyranny the likes of which the world has never known.

Totalitarian surveillance of money is toxic to democratic institutions, and the power of surveillance erodes the social contract and corrupts those in power. There cannot be self-determination, freedom of expression, freedom of association, or freedom of conscience in a society where every penny you spend is monitored and controlled.

Even if you believe that your government is benevolent and will only use these extreme powers against “terrorists,” you will always live one election away from losing your freedoms. Even the supposedly benevolent governments in liberal democracies are already using their power over money to harass journalists and political opponents, while allowing their friendly bankers to finance tyrants, warlords, and militias across the world.

Bitcoin offers a fundamentally different future for currency. Bitcoin is digital cash; its transactions are person-to-person, private, and decentralized. It combines the best features of cash with the convenience, speed, and flexibility of a digital medium.

Bitcoin enables an alternative future of personal freedom and privacy that revokes the surveillance-state developments of the last few decades and reintroduces financial emancipation through the power of mathematics and cryptography. Through its decentralized global network, Bitcoin provides no central point to control, no position of power to enable censorship, no ability to seize or freeze funds through a third party without due process, no control over funds without access to keys.

Lacking a center of control, bitcoin resists centralization. Lacking concentration of power, it resists totalitarian domination. Lacking identifiers, bitcoin promotes privacy and makes total surveillance impossible. Disregarding political borders as network-irrelevant, it eschews nationalism and geopolitical games. Dispersing power, it empowers individuals.

Bitcoin is a protocol of free commerce, just as the Internet’s transmission control protocol/Internet protocol, or TCP/IP, is a protocol of free speech. Bitcoin’s design can be replicated to create myriad forms of decentralized money, all superior to the dystopian future we are otherwise headed for.

We can live in a world where money operates like any other medium on the Internet, free from control or interference. In a decentralized digital future, money will be controlled by individuals, banking will be an “app,” and governments will be as powerless to stop the flow of money as today they are powerless to stop the flow of truth.

In this future, money will be a tool of freedom from tyranny, an escape hatch from corrupt banks, a haven from hyperinflation. Four to six billion people without access to international financial services will be able to leapfrog the banking system and connect to the world economy directly. Individuals will not have to choose between directly controlling their own money and participating in a global financial network. They will enjoy global peer-to-peer finance, where trusted third parties and endless lines of bankers and intermediaries are things of the past.

While the future of currency is undoubtedly digital, it can take two radically different forms. We can live in a financial panopticon, a straitjacket of surveillance and tyranny. Or we can live in an open society where our privacy is protected by cryptography, not subject to the whim of every petty bureaucrat — where our digital money is global, borderless, anonymous, and controlled by the individual. The choice between financial freedom and financial tyranny is a choice between fundamental freedom and tyranny. Choose financial freedom: choose freedom.


Andreas M. Antonopoulos

Andreas M. Antonopoulos is a technologist and serial entrepreneur who advises companies on the use of technology and decentralized digital currencies such as bitcoin.

Texas Will Stop Putting Kids in Prison for Skipping School by Jason Bedrick

The AP reports some good news out of Texas over the weekend:

A long-standing Texas law that has sent about 100,000 students a year to criminal court – and some to jail – for missing school is off the books, though a Justice Department investigation into one county’s truancy courts continues.

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed into law a measure to decriminalize unexcused absences and require school districts to implement preventive measures. It will take effect Sept. 1.

Reform advocates say the threat of a heavy fine – up to $500 plus court costs – and a criminal record wasn’t keeping children in school and was sending those who couldn’t pay into a criminal justice system spiral.

Under the old law, students as young as 12 could be ordered to court for three unexcused absences in four weeks. Schools were required to file a misdemeanor failure to attend school charge against students with more than 10 unexcused absences in six months. And unpaid fines landed some students behind bars when they turned 17.

Unsurprisingly, the truancy law had negatively impacted low-income and minority students the most.

In the wake of the arrest of a Georgia mother whose honor role student accumulated three unexcused absences more than the law allowed, Walter Olson noted that several states still have compulsory school attendance laws that carry criminal penalties:

Texas not only criminalized truancy but has provided for young offenders to be tried in adult courts, leading to extraordinarily harsh results especially for poorer families.

But truancy-law horror stories now come in regularly from all over the country, from Virginia to California. In Pennsylvania a woman died in jail after failing to pay truancy fines; “More than 1,600 people have been jailed in Berks County alone — where Reading is the county seat — over truancy fines since 2000.”)

The criminal penalties, combined with the serious consequences that can follow non-payment of civil penalties, are now an important component of what has been called carceral liberalism: we’re finding ever more ways to menace you with imprisonment, but don’t worry, it’s for your own good.

Yet jailing parents hardly seems a promising way to stabilize the lives of wavering students.

And as Colorado state Sen. Chris Holbert, sponsor of a decriminalization bill, has said, “Sending kids to jail — juvenile detention — for nothing more than truancy just didn’t make sense. When a student is referred to juvenile detention, he or she is co-mingling with criminals — juveniles who’ve committed theft or assault or drug dealing.”

It’s encouraging to see movement away from criminalized truancy, but it’s not enough. As Neal McCluskey has noted, compulsory government schooling is as American as Bavarian cream pie.

We shouldn’t be surprised when the one-size-fits-some district schools don’t work out for some of the students assigned to them. Instead, states should empower parents to choose the education that meets their child’s individual needs.


Jason Bedrick

Jason Bedrick is a policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.

EDITORS NOTE: This post first appeared at Cato.org.

Why Is Snapchat More Secure than the Federal Government? by Andrea Castillo

Cyberhawks have seized upon this year’s massive hack of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to shove a wolfish surveillance bill in a sheepish cybersecurity bill’s clothing down America’s throat.

But the “Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015” (CISA) would have done nothing to stop the hack that exposed as many as 14 million federal employees’ personnel records. The pro-NSA crowd’s arguments are obvious nonsense — if anything, the OPM hack clearly demonstrates the danger of trusting incompetent government bureaucracies to manage huge datasets of sensitive personal information.

But amid all of the hubbub, these self-styled champions of strong cybersecurity — who also just happen to be anti-private encryption and pro-surveillance — have neglected to raise one important question: Why did a goofy picture-sharing app implement basic security measures before the central repository for all federal personnel data did?

This week, Snapchat announced that the private picture messaging service was offering two-factor authentication for its users. This basic measure of security helps to verify that the person logging in is indeed the legitimate owner of their account by sending out a text message with a special access code to the owner’s cell phone.

That way, a hacker must obtain both your password and your mobile phone to access and control your account. It’s simple, but simple security solutions can sometimes mean the difference between a foiled infiltration and a very, very bad day for a Snapchat user.

Of course, it is too much to expect the chief steward of federal employee information to implement such a simple policy. As the beleaguered office’s Inspector General reported last fall, OPM does not require multi-factor authentication to access its information systems.

If a careless OPM employee chose a weak and easy-to-guess password, or emailed it in plain text across an insecure channel, or merely left it on a sticky note on his or her desk (as is common practice in the federal government), than any common hacker could potentially access vast amounts of federal data.

In other words, an application for sharing pictures of wild parties and funny cats has better authentication standards than the federal government’s primary steward of millions of current and former federal employees’ and contractors’ addresses, Social Security numbers, financial information, and health records. Oh, and that of our military leadership and intelligence contacts — several of which are embedded deep undercover in dangerous missions — as well.

Hackers also accessed the feds’ cache of Standard Form 86 files for the aforementioned groups, dragging countless family members, friends, and colleagues into the databreach crossfire.

To call this a huge mess would be the second biggest understatement of the year. The biggest? That OPM’s substantial information security vulnerabilities are entirely unacceptable and directly at fault for the hack.

The OPM’s annual information security reports to Congress have admitted “material weaknesses” and “significant deficiencies” for years. The department lacked an IT team with “professional security experience and certifications”until 2013. Disgruntled employees could have merely walked off with this data if they wanted to, since OPM does not “maintain a comprehensive inventory of servers, databases, and network devices.” Nor did the OPM encrypt any of the data that the hackers stole — they might as well have just invited our forward friends in China to sweep in through the front door!

As Ars Technica’s Sean Gallagher concludes, “Considering the overall condition of OPM’s security, it’s no surprise that an attacker — almost any attacker — could gain a foothold inside the agency’s network. But attackers didn’t just gain a foothold, they had practically a free run of the networks.”

It’s true that Snapchat has hardly been a paragon of good cybersecurity in the past, as previous security vulnerabilities, breaches, misleading marketing, and the infamous “Snappening” testify. However, there is another important difference between Snapchat and the OPM that puts the humble app ahead of the mighty federal office: Snapchat has to learn from its mistakes.

As a private service provider in a hotly-competitive market that must keep its users happy to stay afloat, Snapchat moved quickly to get its security house in order after their big mistakes. They hired the former social network security leader for Google and started to build a “culture of security” within the firm.

They may still have a long way to go, but these investments and cultural prioritization are important first steps that demonstrate a proactive sense of ownership in their platform’s security. And of course, if they keep screwing up, they’ll be sued out the nose and go out of business for good.

We see no such sense of urgency with OPM. The agency received what could have been a saving wakeup call in last year, when it was discovered that Chinese hackers had accessed OPM databases in March of 2014.

OPM had the opportunity to implement simple encryption and authentication measures, tighten up their ship, and increase employee education about good data and security practices. No such luck! The office more or less continued on its merry way.

No one was fired back then and it looks like no one will get fired now. It’s government work, after all.

Unfortunately, OPM is hardly the only sucker on cybersecurity in the federal government, as my research for the Mercatus Center has found. This kind of unbelievably poor cybersecurity posture is the norm rather than the exception.

In fact, it’s hard to pick what is scarier: that the federal government operates under the digital equivalent of leaving all of their doors and windows unlocked and wide open, or that these same federal agencies want more power to manage your personal data through CISA.


Andrea Castillo

Andrea Castillo is the program manager of the Technology Policy Program for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and is pursuing a PhD in economics at George Mason University.

Airport Pirates Loot a College Student’s Life Savings by Trevor Burrus

Today, our friends at the Institute for Justice launched a new challenge to yet another instance of egregious civil asset forfeiture abuse.

Charles Clarke is a 24-year-old college student who found out the hard way that government officials can confiscate property on the mere suspicion that it has a “substantial connection” to a crime or is the proceeds of a crime. No underlying conviction is required.

Functionally, this means that officers can claim that “something was a little off” about your behavior, or that “something smells a little like drugs” and then have carte blanche to take whatever cash you have on you. After that, your cash is presumptively guilty, and it is up to you to prove its innocence.

In the winter of 2013, Charles was stopped at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport based on the officers’ assertion that his bag smelled like marijuana. Actually, it was based off of a drug dog’s “signal” that his bag smelled like marijuana. By claiming that a dog “alerted” an officer can obtain probable cause, but in reality the dogs are about as reliable as Clever Hans.

After searching his bag, the officers found no drugs or other illegal substances. They then asked him if he was carrying any cash. Charles volunteered that he was carrying $11,000–clearly thinking, not unreasonably, that in a just world there is no way the officers could just take his money. Charles’s mistake, however, was thinking that he lives in a just world, and the officers walked away with his life savings.

Charles had saved the $11,000 over the previous five years, from work, financial aid, educational benefits, and gifts from family. Now he must overcome the officers’ hunches by proving that his money came from legal sources.

By now, hopefully you’re familiar with civil asset forfeiture. Thanks in part to the excellent work of the Institute for Justice, as well as biting commentary from John Oliver and dogged investigative journalism from the Washington Post and the New Yorker (as well as Cato’s own work), civil asset forfeiture no longer exists in the shadows, where the perpetrators would have preferred it to remain.

In a time of sharp political divides, there’s one thing we all should agree on: police and other law enforcement officials should not be allowed to take assets based only on the suspicion of criminal activity and then be permitted to use those assets to purchase needed things for the department, like margarita machines.

Charles – who admittedly smoked marijuana on the way to the airport – lost his life savings to what amounts to legalized piracy. It seems Mancur Olson was on to something when he described the government as “stationary bandits.”

Thankfully, Charles has the saintly lawyers at the Institute for Justice on his side, who use the money from IJ’s generous donors to defend people like him from the most powerful organization in human history – the United States government.

Otherwise, Charles would be out of luck. His confiscated $11,000 is just small enough to make it almost not worth it to pay thousands in attorney’s fees in order to possibly get some of it back. It’s almost as if the officers who confiscated his money thought that Charles would be unlikely to have the resources to fight the seizure.

Last year, the officers at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport had a “good” year taking things from people who haven’t been convicted of a crime, raking in $530,000 from travelers similar to Charles. Under the federal “equitable sharing” program, the departments of the deputized airport police are allowed to keep up to 80 percent of that money.

The Institute for Justice is not only seeking to recover Charles’s money, they are challenging the constitutional deficiencies of the civil asset forfeiture program in general.

For more on Charles’s case, see Vox’s story.

For more on civil asset forfeiture, see our episode of “Free Thoughts” featuring Scott Bullock from the Institute for Justice.


Trevor Burrus

Trevor Burrus is a research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies. His research interests include constitutional law, civil and criminal law, legal and political philosophy, and legal history.

EDITORS NOTE: This post first appeared at Cato.org.

There Is No “Nationwide Crime Wave” — But Baltimore Is in Trouble by Daniel Bier

Heather McDonald’s Wall Street Journal op-ed “The New Nationwide Crime Wave” has exploded into the debate over police misconduct and criminal justice reform like a flash-bang grenade. It’s been discussed on numerous talk radio and cable news shows, and it’s been shared nearly 40,000 times on social media.

It’s a story engineered to go viral: It has a terrifying premise (crime everywhere is spiraling out of control!), a topical news hook (it’s all because of protesters!), a partisan bad guy (it’s all liberals’ fault!), and a weapons-grade dose of confirmation bias.

But there is no nationwide crime wave. It is completely manufactured by cherry picking data and misleading stats.

McDonald selects a handful of cities and quotes statistics to show that crime is exploding in “cities across America” this year:

In Baltimore… Gun violence is up more than 60% compared with this time last year, according to Baltimore police, with 32 shootings over Memorial Day weekend. May has been the most violent month the city has seen in 15 years.

In Milwaukee, homicides were up 180% by May 17 over the same period the previous year. Through April, shootings in St. Louis were up 39%, robberies 43%, and homicides 25%. …

Murders in Atlanta were up 32% as of mid-May. Shootings in Chicago had increased 24% and homicides 17%. Shootings and other violent felonies in Los Angeles had spiked by 25%; in New York, murder was up nearly 13%, and gun violence 7%.

Does this blizzard of numbers show a “nationwide crime wave”? No.

As John Lott points out at FoxNews.com,

Overall, the 15 largest cities have actually experienced a slight decrease in murders. There has been a 2 percent drop from the first five months of 2014 to the first five months of this year. Murder rates rose in eight cities and fell in seven. There is no nationwide murder wave.

Murder rates fell dramatically in some of these cities. Comparing this year’s January-to-May murder data with last year’s, we find that San Jose’s murder rate fell by a whopping 59 percent; Jacksonville’s fell by 31 percent; Indianapolis’ by 28 percent; San Antonio’s by 25 percent; and Los Angeles’ by 15 percent.

Even in the cities where murder is up compared to 2014, other categories of crime are down. New York, for instance, has had more murders but fewer burglaries and robberies. LA’s other violent crimes may be up, but murder is down.

She also implies that police are being attacked and killed more than ever: “Murders of officers jumped 89% in 2014, to 51 from 27.”

This 89% statistic is a deeply misleading view of the facts. Yes, 51 officers were murdered in 2014, compared to 27 in 2013. But 2013 was the safest year for police since World War II. It had the fewest shooting deaths for police since1887.

If you compare 2014’s 51 murders to other recent years, it’s not exceptional. In 2012, there were 48 officers killed. In 2011, it was 72. Over the last couple decades, the rate of police murders (and indeed work-related deaths from all causes) have fallen by nearly half, as have assault and injuries of police.

There’s another reason why McDonald quoted last year’s statistics for officer deaths when all of her other figures come from this year: officer shootings are down 27% so far this year.

Just like her other statistics, if she had given any context at all to the 89% figure, it wouldn’t have fit with her narrative of rising violence.

But never mind — as the author of this story, McDonald knows the cause of this fictitious trend: the “Ferguson Effect.”

The most plausible explanation of the current surge in lawlessness is the intense agitation against American police departments over the past nine months.

By her account, an “incessant drumbeat against the police” is behind the nonexistent “wave” of crime and violence against cops.

But this is also a myth. Public support for police has not waned. Gallup’s polling shows that confidence in law enforcement has been steady since the early 1990s.

That hasn’t changed, even after the protests against police abuse around the country. A Huffington Post/YouGov survey from April 2015 showed that 61% of Americans have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in their local department; 21% said “not very much,” and only 14% had “none.”

There is no national crime wave. Big cities are not facing a “surge of lawlessness.” There is no “war on cops.” The public hasn’t turned against the police.

So what’s going on in Baltimore? McDonald isn’t wrong about the spike in crime there. Baltimore City really is facing a breakdown in law and order.

Alex Tabarrok notes that police have made 40% fewer arrests since the start of the protests and the filing of criminal charges against six cops involved in Freddie Gray’s death.

As arrests have declined, crime has soared.

Tabarrok writes,

Not all arrests are good arrests, of course, but the strain is cutting policing across the board and the criminals are responding to incentives.

Fewer police mean more crime. As arrests have fallen, homicides, shootings, robberies and auto thefts have all spiked upwards.

Homicides, for example, have more than doubled from .53 a day on average before the unrest to 1.35 a day after (up to June 6, most recent data) – this is an unprecedented increase – and the highest homicide rate Baltimore has ever seen.

It’s not just murder. Shootings are up over 250%. Robberies are up 64%. Car thefts are up 42%.

It’s reasonable to assume that the increase in crime is at least partially related to the decline in police activity — criminals respond to incentives just like everyone else — but why aren’t police making arrests?

The answer might be found in the “De Blasio Effect.”

New York saw a similar “work stoppage” — that is, an unofficial strike — by the NYPD during its feud with Mayor De Blasio over his critical comments about the death of Eric Garner.

The NYPD retaliated: Arrests fell by 56% and criminal summonses fell by 92%, until the mayor made up with the department and police work resumed.

Kevin Drum speculates that BPD’s precipitous decline in arrests is a similar reprisal against the indictment of the officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death.

It’s certainly possible that has something to do with it, but officers appear to be genuinely spooked. About 130 cops were injured in the riots — that’s about 4.5% of the city’s officers down over the course of a week. That’s almost twice the rate of injury the average department sustains in a whole year.

Cops are understandably worried. Peter Moskos, a former BPD officer, says, “In Baltimore today, several police officers need to respond to situations where formerly one could do the job. This stretches resources and prevents proactive policing.”

There’s another issue: when crime spikes, police can be overwhelmed. Cases build up, and as new reports pour in, less and less time can be devoted to the old ones.

Most murders in Baltimore this year have gone unsolved. BPD’s clearance rate for homicides has fallen to just 40%, and the surge in killings can only make things worse.

Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said the rise in killings is “backlogging” investigators, just as the community has become less engaged with police, providing fewer tips.

Tabarrok is worried that a new equilibrium for crime could emerge in Baltimore. If crime continues to rise, clearance rates will fall further, detectives will get more backlogged, and it gets even harder to solve the next case. And if the probability of being caught and punished goes down, criminals will commit more crimes.

With luck the crime wave will subside quickly but the longer-term fear is that the increase in crime could push arrest and clearance rates down so far that the increase in crime becomes self-fulfilling. The higher crime rate itself generates the lower punishment that supports the higher crime rate

It’s possible that a temporary shift could push Baltimore into a permanently higher high-crime equilibrium. Once the high-crime equilibrium is entered it may be very difficult to exit without a lot of resources that Baltimore doesn’t have.

Some people see criminal justice reform as being anti-cop or “soft on crime,” but it’s not. Reform enables police to do a better job, which reduces crime — and that makes them and their citizens safer.

The best thing that Baltimore can hope for is that cops get back to work and start solving crimes. The best way to do that is for the community to engage with law enforcement.

Communities’ trust in police is key to fighting crime, and right now the BPD doesn’t have it. The Baltimore Sun has documented in excruciating detail the department’s history of corruption and excessive force, writing: “The perception that officers are violent can poison the relationship between residents and police.” And that leads to tips not given, 911 calls not dialed, and witnesses failing to come forward.

Real, credible reform, combined with accountability for misconduct and a strong commitment to community safety, is the best and probably only way to rebuild the relationship between citizen and cop and to turn crime around in Baltimore. The city and the police must embrace the task; they won’t accomplish it without each other.


Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the editor of Anything Peaceful. He writes on issues relating to science, civil liberties, and economic freedom.

The Feds vs. Reason.com Commenters by Ryan Radia

Our friends over at the Reason Foundation, a venerable libertarian think tank and publisher of Reason magazine, recently received a grand jury subpoena from a federal prosecutor in New York, reports Ken White at Popehat.

The subpoena demands that Reason disclose “all identifying information” it has regarding six pseudonymous users who posted comments about the death and afterlife of a federal judge on Reason’s Hit & Run blog.

These comments came in response to a May 31 post by Nick Gillespie about the trial and sentencing of Ross Ulbricht, who was convicted in February of running an Internet-based narcotics and money laundering platform known as Silk Road.

In late May, Judge Katherine Forrest, who sits on the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, sentenced Ulbricht to life in prison. This sentence was met with mixed reactions, with many commentators criticizing Judge Forrest for handing down what they perceived as an exceedingly harsh sentence.

A few Reason users, some of whom may have followed Reason’s extensive coverage of the fascinating trial, apparently found Ulbricht’s sentence especially infuriating.

One commenter argued that “judges like these … should be taken out back and shot.” Another user, purporting to correct the preceding comment, wrote that “it’s judges like these that will be taken out back and shot.” A follow-up comment suggested the use of a “wood chipper,” so as not to “waste ammunition.” And a user expressed hope that “there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman.”

Within hours, the office of Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, sent Reason a subpoena for these commenters’ identifying information “in connection with an official criminal investigation of a suspected felony being conducted by a federal grand jury.”

This doesn’t mean a grand jury actually asked about the commenters; instead, in federal criminal investigations, it’s typically up to the US Attorney to decide when to issue a subpoena “on behalf” of a grand jury.

The subpoena demands from Reason information about the six users, including their email and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses — which, if disclosed, could enable the government to uncover the true identities of the commenters, perhaps after another round of subpoenas are sent to the users’ respective Internet Service Providers.

Popehat’s Ken White is quite troubled by the government’s decision to issue this subpoena. Ilya Somin, writing at The Volokh Conspiracy, also objects to the subpoena. So do the Cato Institute’s Tim Lynch and Techdirt’s Mike Masnick, among many others.

I too find it quite concerning. Even if this subpoena is valid under current law — more on that angle in a bit — the government made a serious mistake in seeking to force Reason to hand over information that could uncover the six commenters’ identities.

Unless the Department of Justice is investigating a credible threat to Judge Forrest with some plausible connection to the Reason comments at issue, this subpoena will serve only to chill hyperbolic — but nonetheless protected — political speech by anonymous Internet commenters.

And if Reason decides to stand up for its users’ rights, the resulting court battle will amount to a waste of federal law enforcement resources that could instead help bring actual criminals to justice, as Tim Lynch reminds us.

To be sure, I have no problem with the feds seeking to locate and prosecute people who actually threaten to commit murder — which, if transmitted in interstate commerce, is a federal crime under Title 18 USC. § 875.

Threatening to kill a federal judge is especially problematic; assassinations of federal judges do happen from time to time. As such, it’s only natural that law enforcement takes such threats seriously.

Yet, while the comments identified in the subpoena are undeniably vile, they’re also protected by the First Amendment, and rightly so. Hyperbolic political statements have a long history in the United States.

For instance, Ken Shultz notes that Martin Luther King, Jr., once said that “the hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.” Sound familiar?

As for the comments about shooting a federal judge, consider the Vietnam War-era prosecution of Robert Watts for “knowingly and willfully threatening the President.”

At age eighteen, Watts said that if he were forced to join the military and “carry a rifle,” then the “first man I want to get in my sights is L.B.J.” The Supreme Court reversed his conviction, finding that Watts had merely “indulged” in a “kind of political hyperbole.” Id. at 708.

Although these statements, like the Reason comments quoted above, are understandably offensive to many listeners, causing offense alone is no basis for outlawing speech. To the contrary, “a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute,” as the Supreme Court has noted. Indeed, speech can sometimes “best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.”

As for the hyperbolic comments posted on Reason about Judge Forrest, they are plainly not “true threats,” but mere “angry bluster,” as Ken White explains in detail.

The remarks, he notes, were not directed to the Judge, or reasonably calculated to reach her; instead, they appeared on a libertarian political blog notorious for its trash-talking commentariat. The comments lacked any specifics about a specific person’s plans to actually carry out an act of violence; instead, they merely expressed a general desire that a particular person be killed.

And while courts have held on occasion that hoping for someone’s death without evincing a desire to personally kill them can be a true threat, this requires some “causal connection” between the statement and the desired outcome. Again, the Reason comments don’t come close to meeting this threshold.

In short, even if the six Reason users are indicted on federal criminal charges, the First Amendment means the government is all but guaranteed to lose (barring the unlikely scenario the US Attorney’s office is sitting on some damning evidence it hasn’t disclosed).

If the commenters didn’t break the law, then, why can the government use its subpoena power to force Reason to hand over whatever personal information it’s collected about them? Because, as Ken White frets, the US Attorney’s power to issue grand jury subpoenas is so broad that, in most cases, they can be quashed only “when they are irrationally burdensome … or for an improper purpose.”

Moreover, a grand jury — which, again, is typically just another word for “federal prosecutor” — is afforded “wide latitude” in investigating potential crimes, and the “law presumes, absent a strong showing to the contrary, that a grand jury acts within the legitimate scope of its authority.”

And when a grand jury subpoena is “challenged on relevancy grounds the motion to quash must be denied unless the district court determines that there is no reasonable possibility that the category of materials the Government seeks will produce information relevant to the general subject of the grand jury’s investigation.”

What about a grand jury subpoena that implicates First Amendment interests?

In theory, “where values of expression are potentially implicated,” a district court should act with “special sensitivity” to “prevent the chilling effect” of “prosecutorial abuse,” in the words of the Fourth Circuit.

In practice, however, courts are extremely reluctant to quash a federal grand jury subpoena on First Amendment grounds. For instance, the District Court for the District of Columbia held in 2011 that “merely issuing a subpoena to uncover the identity of the speaker so that the police can ascertain whether a threat is valid cannot be deemed a Constitutional violation.”

Where does all of this leave us? Reason could move to quash the subpoena — or at least petition the court to limit its scope to identifying information about the more threatening commenters — on the basis that, absent additional evidence that its commenters’ identities are related in any way to some criminally actionable threat, enforcing the subpoena would undermine Reason commenters’ constitutional interest in anonymity while generating information of “negligible value to the government.”

However, because Reason probably could not show the US Attorney is acting in bad faith, or that complying with the subpoena would be unduly burdensome, Reason’s chances of prevailing if it chooses to fight back are not good. That’s a problem for all of us.

This piece first appeared at CEI.org.


Ryan Radia

Ryan Radia is an Associate Director of Technology Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He focuses on adapting law and public policy to the unique challenges of the information age.

A Shrine to a Socialist Demagogue by Lawrence W. Reed

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — It’s May 27, 2015. Driving south on First Avenue toward Masaya on a hot, late-spring day in the Nicaraguan capital, my eye caught an image in the distance. “That looks like Curly from The Three Stooges!” I thought. Nah, what would he be doing here? Nyuk. Nyuk.

As we approached, I suddenly realized it only resembled Curly. It was actually somebody considerably less funny. The statue was a garish, tasteless manifestation of the late Venezuelan socialist strongman Hugo Chavez, surrounded by ugly, orange curlicues. I repressed the urge to gag as I stopped to take this photo:

Hugo Chavez shrine

This tribute to a man whose ceaseless demagoguery ruined his nation’s economy is the doing, of course, of Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega and his party. Ortega, like Chavez, engineered constitutional changes that may make him effectively president for life. He has worshiped state power since the 1970s. He was a Cuban-trained Marxist and cofounder of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, the Sandinistas. I visited the country five times in the 1980s to interview key political figures, and whenever I was there, Ortega was pushing government literacy programs; meanwhile, his government was harassing and shutting down the opposition press.

Back in the 1980s, Ortega relied heavily on subsidies from his Soviet and Cuban sponsors. But now that the Soviets are ancient history and the Cuban economy is on life support, he’s had to moderate. Nicaragua is a very poor country. Its per capita GDP is about a third of the world average, better than Yemen’s but not as deluxe as Uzbekistan’s. According to the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, however, it’s ranked better than you might expect at 108th in the world. Seventy countries are actually less free.

Who do you think is ranked at the very bottom, at 176, 177, and 178?

None other than the workers’ paradises of Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea.

If you want a glimpse of the current state of the Chavez/Maduro experiment in Venezuelan socialism, look no further than the relative scarcities of toilet paper (you’d better bring your own if you visit) and paper money (more abundant than ever at 510 percent inflation).

I asked my old friend Deroy Murdock, senior fellow with the Atlas Network, Fox News contributor, and keen observer of affairs in the Americas: How would you assess the legacy of the Venezuelan caudillo memorialized by Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua?

“Hugo Chavez arrived in Venezuela, determined to make his country a gleaming showcase of socialism, and renovate Cuba in the process,” Murdock said. “Now, Chavez is dead, Castro still lives, and both countries remain in dire straits. Chavez’s legacy is the enduring lesson that big government is bad, and huge government is even worse.”

Indeed. Seems pretty self-evident whether you look at the numbers from afar or walk the streets in person. Venezuela’s economy has been in free-fall for almost all of the past 15 years.

But there I was, gazing at a giant Hugo in Managua, a monument intended to say, “Way to go, man!” One wonders where an impoverished country gets the money or even the idea to construct such a hideous gargoyle.

Then I realized the answer: Ortega’s Nicaragua is run by socialists. And by typical socialist reasoning, you can be an architect of disaster but reckoned to be a “man of the people” just by claiming to be one.

If you produced the same results while advocating capitalism, you’d be reckoned a monster.


Lawrence W. Reed

Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed became president of FEE in 2008 after serving as chairman of its board of trustees in the 1990s and both writing and speaking for FEE since the late 1970s.

How Government Turned Baltimore into Pottersville by James Bovard

Baltimore’s recent riots are not surprising in a city that has long been plagued by both police brutality and one of the nation’s highest murder rates. Though numerous government policies and the rampaging looters deserve blame for the carnage, federal housing subsidies have long destabilized Baltimore neighborhoods and helped create a culture of violence with impunity.

Yet just last week, Baltimore officials were in Washington asking for more. Given the history, it defies understanding.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was created in 1965, and Baltimore received massive subsidies to build housing projects in the following years. Baltimore’s projects, like those in many other cities, became cornucopias of crime.

One 202-unit sprawling Baltimore subsidized housing project (recently slated for razing) is known as “Murder Mall.” A 1979 HUD report noted that the robbery rate in one Baltimore public housing project was almost 20 times higher than the national average. The area in and around public housing often becomes “the territory of those who do not have to be afraid — the criminals,” the report said. Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke in 1993 blamed maintenance problems at one public housing projects on drug dealers who refused to let city workers enter the buildings.

In the 1990s, the Baltimore Housing Authority began collecting lavish HUD subsidies to demolish public housing projects. But critics complained that HUD was merely replacing “vertical ghettos with horizontal ones.” Baltimore was among the first cities targeted for using Section 8 vouchers to disperse public housing residents.

HUD and the city housing agency presumed that simply moving people out of the projects was all that was necessary to end the criminal behavior of the residents. Baltimore was one of five cities chosen for a HUD demonstration project — Moving to Opportunity (MTO) — to show how Section 8 could solve the problems of the underclass.

But the relocations had “tripled the rate of arrests for property crimes” among boys who moved to new locales via Section 8. A study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that boys in Section 8 households who moved to new neighborhoods were three times more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and behavioral problems than boys in the control group.

A 2009 research project on Section 8 published in Homicide Studies noted that in the one city studied, “Crime, specifically homicide, became displaced to where the low-income residents were relocated. Homicide was simply moved to a new location, not eliminated.”

Ed Rutkowski, head of a community development corporation in one marginal Baltimore neighborhood, labeled Section 8 “a catalyst in neighborhood deterioration and ghetto expansion” in 2003.

Regardless of its collateral damage, Section 8 defines Valhalla for many Baltimoreans. Receiving a Section 8 voucher can enable some recipients to live rent-free in perpetuity. Because recipients must pay up to a third of their income for rent under the program, collecting Section 8 sharply decreases work effort, according to numerous economic studies.

Last October, when the local housing agency briefly allowed people to register for the program, it was deluged with 73,509 applications. Most of the applications were from families — which means that a third of Baltimore’s 241,455 households sought housing welfare. (Almost 10% of Baltimoreans are already on the housing dole.) Section 8 is not an entitlement, so the city will select fewer than 10,000“winners” from the list.

HUD’s Federal Housing Administration also has a long history of destabilizing neighborhoods in Baltimore and other big cities. A HUD subsidized mortgage program for low-income borrowers launched in 1968 spurred so many defaults and devastation that Carl Levin, then Detroit City Council president and later a long-term U.S. senator, derided the program in 1976 as “Hurricane HUD.

In the late 1990s, more than 20% of FHA mortgages in some Baltimore neighborhoods were in default — leading one activist to label Baltimore “the foreclosure capital of the world.” HUD Inspector General Susan Gaffney warned in 2000: “Vacant, boarded-up HUD-owned homes have a negative effect on neighborhoods, and the negative effect magnifies the longer the properties remain in HUD’s inventory.”

The feds continued massive negligent mortgage lending in Baltimore after that crisis, creating fresh havoc in recent years. In late 2013, more than 40% of homes in the low-income Carrollton Ridge neighborhood were underwater. Reckless subsidized lending in Baltimore and other low-income areas helped saddle Maryland with the highest foreclosure rate in the nation by the end of last year. One in every 435 housing units in Baltimore was in foreclosure last October, according to RealtyTrac.

President Obama said the Baltimore riots showed the need for new “massive investments in urban communities.” What Baltimore needs is an investment in new thinking. The highest property taxes in the state and oppressive local regulation often make investing in jobs and businesses in Baltimore unprofitable. Only fixing that will produce a stable community. Shoveling more federal money into the city is the triumph of hope over experience.

James Bovard

James Bovard is the author of Public Policy Hooligan. His work has appeared in USA Today, where this article was first published.

America’s Electronic Police State by Wendy McElroy

Big Brother is not only watching, but gathering more power.

The modern surveillance state is referred to as an electronic police state because it uses technology to monitor people in order to detect and punish dissent. The authorities exert social control through spying, harsh law enforcement, and by regulating “privileges” such as the ability to travel. But all of this starts with surveillance.

Information is power. Imagine if agents of the State didn’t know where you live. How could it collect property taxes, arrest you, conscript you or your children, or record phone calls? Imagine if the State did not know your finances. How could it snatch your money, garnish your wages, freeze accounts, or confiscate gold? Total information is total power. That’s why the surveillance state views privacy itself as an indication of crime—not as one of violence, but as a crime against the State.

Beyond the NSA

The National Security Agency (NSA) keeps making headlines as the quintessential force behind the American surveillance state. Civil rights advocates should be equally concerned about a quieter but no less insidious manifestation: the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).

The NCTC coordinates at least 17 federal and local intelligence agencies through fusion centers that amass information on average Americans. A fusion center is a physical location at which data is processed and shared with government agencies. Fusion centers also receive “tip line” information from public workers, such as firefighters, who report “suspicious” behavior observed during their interaction with people. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) began creating the centers in 2003. To date, there are seventy-eight acknowledged fusion centers.

The stated purpose of fusion centers is to prevent terrorist acts. But, for years, investigations have revealed that the monitoring has been used to exert social control and punish political opposition. In 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a report titled, “What’s Wrong with Fusion Centers?” One problem? Mission creep. The scope of their “protective” mission has “quickly expanded” to include the vague category of “all hazards.” The “types of information” gathered were also broadened to include non-criminal public- and private-sector data.

Two years later, the ACLU issued another paper that sketched the impact of this broadening mission. The ACLU quoted a bulletin from the North Central Texas Fusion System; law enforcement officers were told it was “imperative” to report on the behavior of their local lobbying groups, including Muslim civil rights organizations and antiwar groups.

Despite warnings, the fusion centers continue to collect data on the “suspicious activities” of non-criminals. In September 2013, the ACLU provided information from “actual Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) summaries obtained from California fusion centers.” Included in the SARs were Middle Eastern males who bought pallets of water, a professor who photographed buildings for his art class, a Middle Eastern male physician whom a neighbor called “unfriendly,” and protesters who were concerned about the use of police force.

If ever one were inclined to let such activities pass because those being watched have been Muslim, remember that power rarely restricts itself to any stated goal. As the definition of potential terrorist groups has been expanded to include groups such as the Tea Party, it has become evident that the line between terror group and political opposition has blurred.

The fusion centers share many characteristics of a surveillance state with the NSA. These characteristics include a disregard for civil rights, secret records, the use of informants, little to no transparency, the targeting of political opponents, and an ever-expanding mission.

In at least one sense, the fusion centers are more typical of the surveillance state. Since Edward Snowden’s revelations, the NSA has been under a spotlight that reduces its ability to hide activities such as the warrantless recording of emails and phone calls. But fusion centers still function with little visibility. The NSA is subjected to public controversy, with civil liberty groups pushing to rein in its power. By contrast, the fusion centers are comparatively invisible, which allows them to operate covertly in a manner more typical of a surveillance state.

J. Edgar would be proud

The surveillance state was rooted in a desire to stifle political discussion, not to thwart criminal acts. In his book J. Edgar Hoover and the Anti-Interventionists, historian Douglas M. Charles traced the birth of pervasive surveillance back to the Great Debate on whether America should enter World War II. Specifically, Roosevelt wanted to support the war and to silence powerful anti-interventionists like the aviator-hero Charles Lindbergh. Thus, Hoover focused on the America First Committee (AFC) in which Lindbergh and several senators were prominent.

Hoover, director of the FBI from 1924 to his death in 1972, is the founding father of the American surveillance state. It arose because national security allegedly required constant vigilance against “the enemy,” external and internal. The internal enemy could be individuals or a concept, like communism or terrorism.

As head of the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI), Hoover initiated the policies of extreme secrecy that bypassed the oversight of data collection. Ironically, Hoover had assumed leadership with a public pledge to end the agency’s civil liberty violations. Like surveillance agencies before and since, however, the FBI’s public statements directly contradicted its acts. For example, Hoover quietly coordinated with local police in much the same manner as the current fusion centers do. Information on a “suspect’s” sexual preferences (especially homosexuality), reports on his children and other family, as well as other sensitive data went into unofficial files that were labeled “personal, confidential”; these were inaccessible to unapproved eyes. When tidbits from the secret files were shared, the standard method was through a memo that had no letterhead, no signature, nor any other indication of the recipient or sender.

After December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor), America’s entry into the war became inevitable. Fearing a reduction in his power, Hoover claimed the AFC had gone underground even though the organization had clearly disbanded. Thus, Hoover continued surveillance by lying about the need to counter active subversion.

The gambit worked. Indeed, Roosevelt and subsequent Presidents were eager to weaken their opponents. The FBI’s growth was phenomenal. Charles explains, “In 1934 the FBI employed 391 agents and a support staff of 451 and was appropriated $2,589,500…. In 1945, the FBI had 4,370 agents, 7,422 support staff and an appropriation of $44,197,146.” It embraced illegal wiretapping and trespass, mail monitoring, anonymous informants, pointed investigations by government agencies such as the IRS, the selective enforcement of law, and FBI plants in targeted groups.

The Cold War built upon the information-gathering infrastructure. The Cold War’s extensive data sharing with foreign governments was also rooted in pre-WWII politics. “A hallmark of the Second World War, Cold War, and War on Terrorism, the intimate intelligence relationship between the United States and Great Britain had its origins during the Great Debate,” writes Charles.

Hoover’s secret files on political figures made him virtually untouchable. After his death, however, the FBI came under concerted attack for its domestic surveillance. The public was particularly outraged by revelations of how the FBI had targeted popular heroes such as the civil rights leader Martin Luther King. After the famous August civil rights 1963 march during which King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, a top Hoover aide wrote in an internal memo, “In the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech … We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.” Surveillance of King increased. Among other “information” gathered, the FBI taped an adulterous sexual encounter, which anonymously appeared in the mailbox of King’s wife.

FBI investigations into politically-oriented groups were officially restricted. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and passage of the PATRIOT Act, however, the FBI and other agencies gained the ability to conduct political domestic surveillance. The surveillance state that had been rooted in war and political maneuvering was given new life by the same two factors. It was also given power of which Hoover could only have dreamed.

The ACLU declared in yet another report (2008), “There appears to be an effort by the federal government to coerce states into exempting their fusion centers from state open government laws. For those living in Virginia, it’s already too late; the Virginia General Assembly passed a law … exempting the state’s fusion center from the Freedom of Information Act. According to comments by the commander of the Virginia State Police Criminal Intelligence Division and the administrative head of the center, the federal government pressured Virginia into passing the law…. There is a real danger fusion centers will become a ‘one-way mirror’ in which citizens are subject to ever-greater scrutiny by the authorities, even while the authorities are increasingly protected from scrutiny by the public.”

Since then, State surveillance has become more secretive and increasingly exempt from both oversight and accountability. Fusion centers now reach into private databases such as Accurate, Choice Point, Lexis-Nexus, Locate Plus, insurance claims, and credit reports. They access millions of government files like DMV records. Why is this important? Various laws have been adopted to prevent the maintenance of databases on average Americans, but if fusion centers access the existing files, especially private ones, they can bypass those laws.

The foregoing is a description of electronic totalitarianism. If its creation is invisible to many people, then it manifests yet another characteristic of a police state: People do not believe their freedom is gone until there is a knock on the door—one that comes in the middle of the night.

ABOUT WENDY MCELROY

Contributing editor Wendy McElroy is an author and the editor of ifeminists.com.