It Was Nice While It Lasted

17 05 2011

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I regret to announce the untimely demise of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution (1791-2011), at the hands of the United States Supreme Court (like a regular Court, but with tomatoes and sour cream). The Fourth Amendment fought the good fight for more than two centuries, but was eventually eaten away, bit by liberty-guaranteeing bit, over the last few decades while few people noticed. It finally succumbed to terminal frustration yesterday, May 16th, 2011, when the Supremes voted 8-1 that the police basically no longer needed a warrant to break down your door and search your house.

Many of us saw the end coming for the Fourth when the Supremes decided that we (the People) had no recourse if the police wanted to set up roadblocks and check to see if anyone was driving under the influence of alcohol. Apparently, the needs of the many to be free from the possibility of encountering a drunk driver outweighed the desire to be free from unreasonable searches. Not long thereafter, it was decided that- in the interest of the War on Drugs- we no longer had the right to be free from searches and seizures in our own homes if the police were afraid that evidence might be destroyed. Thus began a long period of increasing use of paramilitary raids on private homes using “no-knock” warrants.

This last, fatal injury came when the Supreme Court ruled that the police no longer even need to bother with a “no-knock” warrant if they claim to hear something which may or may not be someone possibly making noises which could possibly be the sounds of maybe destroying evidence- whether or not a crime had been previously suspected in the residence. The police can now claim “exigent circumstances” on almost any pretext and break in the door of any home if they think evidence of a crime may be in danger of being destroyed.

We are no longer citizens- we are serfs. Our rights against unreasonable search and seizure have been stripped from us in the interest of police convenience. What few rights remain to us are getting nibbled to death by ducks, and the majority of people in this country stand up and cheer because it is in the interests of “being tough on crime”. They are willingly trading liberty for security, blind to the historical truism that they will most likely fail to achieve either one.

It is especially depressing to note that the demise of liberties in the United States is accelerating at a time when oppressed people all over the world are just now beginning to realize the possibility of liberty for the first time. The people of Egypt and Tunisia have thrown off the yoke of their oppressors and are even now working out for themselves the rules for how their countries will be run. In Libya and Syria, people are standing up to the autocrats and dictators who rule them and many pay the ultimate price for their courage. The people of Yemen are very close to driving out their president under similar conditions, and at similar costs in lives. In China, people speak out against the excesses and failures of their police state in spite of the risk they might end up in prison- or simply disappear. Here in America … the Supreme Court of Indiana just ruled that citizens have no right to resist an illegal search of one’s home by police.

Some might say that these rulings are not such a big deal. Surely we can trust the police to use their new powers sparingly and only at great need. Sadly, we cannot. An Indiana Sheriff has already stated publicly that police can now conduct house-to-house searches if they feel the need to do so as a direct result of these recent rulings by the US and Indiana Supreme Courts. He even opined to the media that most citizens would welcome such exercises of byzantine power.

A perusal of English Common Law- upon which much of US law is based- shows that we have been cheerfully relinquishing our liberties to near duplicates of the same conditions which led to their creation. “King’s Messengers” and similar agents of the Crown once raided and searched the homes of Englishmen who spoke out against the government. Victims of those transgressions sought relief in the courts, eventually winning the same guarantees of liberty which we Americans have so recently abandoned. The similarities are rather startling- to me, at any rate.

Still worse are the attitudes of the people to whom I speak about these infringements of our liberties. Far too many people are willing to put up with violations of their inherent rights in the interest of convenience. They would rather allow warrantless searches of their homes, vehicles, and persons than face the possible delay while the police get a warrant. This exaltation of convenience over liberty is the final step from being citizens to becoming subjects.

An author named Mike McQuay wrote a series of dark novels about a dystopian future America where the police were blatantly agents of control for the political and corporate elites, and the wealthy few in their fortified mansions and villas were protected by gaudily-uniformed security thugs referred to as “fancy dans”. Ordinary people were treated harshly by these uniformed servitors for the benefit of the privileged few, with little to no recourse. I used to enjoy those stories. Today, they seem a little too close to reality for comfort.

Requiescat en pace, American liberty. I, at least, will miss you.

Bugler, taps.

Current status: Locked, loaded, and liquored up.

Current music: The World I Know by Collective Soul

Taken for granted

12 07 2009

I am deeply disappointed with my countrymen. It seems that interest in liberty can be extinguished by the passing of time and an abundance of cheap entertainment. The American people have turned their collective backs on the sacrifices of their ancestors. The men who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor would weep with shame at the self-indulgent parasites their descendants have become.

Liberty in this country is taken for granted. With a few noteworthy exceptions, none of the people living in the US today have had to exert the slightest effort to enjoy the blessings of liberty. They take their basic freedoms for granted, and ignorantly assume that the same happy state of affairs is the natural state of humanity. When they are inevitably exposed to the harsh realities of life in much of the world, Americans may write a few letters to Congress or send a few dollars to some charity or another and consider that they’ve done their part … until something more interesting is on TV.

Those to whom liberty is anathema have come to count on America’s miniscule attention span. Despite the extravagant way the last administration expended American goodwill, much of the world looks to the United States for leadership. The fact that the American people will reliably lose interest in anything in a matter of hours means that the enemies of liberty need only wait until the next television extravaganza to continue committing atrocities. The tyrants of the world will be very careful to keep their excesses out of view of the American imbeciles as much as possible. They will also take great pains to avoid directly threatening or attacking the US. We may be jaded, overweight dullards, but our patience and willful ignorance has limits.

Sadly, the villains ruling Iran have not yet grown so stupid as to push Americans beyond those limits. The government there has expended enormous resources trying to shut down the flow of information out of the country- to the point of making journalists, politicians, and anyone else who might become a threat just disappear. Possession of a cell phone or computer is not illegal in Iran, but those who own such devices risk arrest, beating, and death at the hands of the Basij.

Despite the vicious crackdown on all forms of dissent or protest, the streets of Tehran were filled with protesters again yesterday. In a sign that the protesters are growing increasingly annoyed with the Basij, more and more protesters are openly confronting them in the streets. Protesters make a point of taking pictures of Basij, then posting them online for others to help identify them. There is a growing dossier of Basij available online, with home addresses and photos. Whenever the government shuts the websites down, new ones pop up- often hosted on foreign servers and protected by Americans and Europeans who object to the Iranian government’s tyranny. Government websites doing the same thing for protesters are identified almost as quickly as they appear, and just as quickly shut down by foreign hackers.

A worrying sign for the government is the fact that businesses and the large merchant class in Iran is beginning to side with the protesters. Passive strikes- where the shops are open but not selling anything, and shoppers are present but not buying- are one way of getting around government prohibitions against public gatherings. Shopkeepers close their shops during protests, but allow injured or hunted protesters to take shelter within. The extensive middle class in Iran is sending more and more of their money to overseas banks, further robbing the government of desperately needed funds.

In their increasingly frantic attempts to shore up their position, Khameni and Ahmadinejad are destroying their own legitimacy, and the legitimacy of the Islamic Revolution. The protesters originally did not want to throw out the Islamic Republic. They wanted the government to follow the rules. When Khameni started taking the position that any dissent was equivalent to apostasy, he undermined the very heart of the Revolution. One of the core principles of Shi’a Islam is the requirement to protest apparent injustice. By declaring dissent a mortal sin, Khameni is violating one of the most cherished tenets of the religion he professes to protect. This declaration puts Khameni in company with the Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia, and definitely against the principle of the Revolution.

Despite the chaos and violence in the streets, the future of Iran will probably be decided in the Holy City of Qom. Many powerful men- all survivors of the Revolution- are watching the antics of the Supreme Leader and feeling the winds of change blow about them. If they support Khameni, they are becoming the same as the Sunni rulers of the old Caliphate. This would almost certainly mean another Revolution, sooner or later, where the clerics would lose all of their power and privileges.  If they support the protesters, they risk losing some of their power and privileges, but will retain enough.

The big question is how many of the supposedly Holy men have grown accustomed to the economic benefits of being on top. Rafsanjani may be a Grand Ayatollah, but he is first and foremost concerned with his business empire. So long as he retains that, he probably wouldn’t mind much if his political power were diminished. Many of the senior clerics are in similar situations. Many of these men are possible supporters of the current unrest.

Some of the clerics- including the universally revered Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq- are philosophically opposed to clerics having political power. Many of these clerics are also likely to support the protesters.

For the sake of an entire generation in Iran, let us hope the changes which will inevitably result from the unrest (sooner or later) are in the form of a step forward, and not a backslide into barbarism. That would lead to problems far outside Iran.

Not that the bulk of the US population would even notice.

Current status: Alert

Current music: Hazy Shade of Winter by the Bangles

Liberty Wept

6 04 2009


I’ve written at length about how our country seems to be turning into a police state. Police departments around the country are apparently regarding the citizens by whom they are employed as the enemy. In the name of the “War on Terror” or the “War on Drugs”, more and more of our precious liberties are getting filched away- nibbled to death by ducks. Merely understanding and standing up for one’s Constitutional rights is increasingly viewed with suspicion by almost every police department- or at least the ones which make the news. The most innocuous of behaviors is increasingly falling afoul of some Government regulation or another, which are frequently misapplied by law-enforcement personnel to the detriment of individual liberty in this country.

For example, a photographer standing on a public sidewalk in Phoenix, Arizona, was told by a police officer that he wasnot permitted to take a picture of one the Federal building. When the photographer asked what legal authority forbade taking pictures of a public building from a public sidewalk, he was brusquely told to “Google it”. There have been numerous reports of citizens getting harassed and even arrested for the “crime” of taking pictures or video of police in the performance of their duties on public thoroughfares. A group of police in Philadelphia have taken to raiding local grocery and convenience stores for the crime of selling small ziploc bags. Worse still, these Phillie cops go out of their way to disable all security cameras in the establishments they raid.

In the course of my job, I am frequently required to undergo periodic security training. The last annual training refresher I took instructed me to beware of suspicious activities such as owning firearms and practicing marksmanship. After hearing this little security tip, I immediately went to the Security manager for my building and reported myself for meeting several of the criteria which my training indicated were possible terrorist behaviors. He was less than amused, the more so since he would have to report himself under those same guidelines.

In yet another case, a self-described libertarian was at an airport to catch a flight when the Transportation Security Authority agents became suspicious of the cash he was carrying. When they asked him how much he was carrying, why he was carrying it, and what he did for a living, he replied by asking if he was legally required to answer those questions. This was deemed suspicious behavior, and the police and FBI were called. The FBI disgustedly told the TSA to let the man board his plane. In defense of the TSA, my few experiences with them have been uniformly professional and courteous.

When police perform traffic stops, they often ask if they can search the vehicle. If they are not granted permission to search, their frequent reply is the statement, “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you shouldn’t object to a search.” I have no problem with the police saying this in an attempt to induce cooperation, but I do have a serious problem when refusing to permit a warrantless search becomes probable cause for issuance of a search warrant.

Since when did refusal to permit a search become probable cause? I’m pretty sure the 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution are reasonably clear on this subject, but I’ll let you be the judge:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The supreme law of the land is the Constitution of the United States. Why, then, are we (the People) permitting our public servants to trample the liberties enshrined and guaranteed therein?

We (the People) have been sold a bill of goods by our elected officials. We are being told that these infringements upon our liberties are necessary to keep us safe from drugs, child molesters, terrorists, commies, albigensians, heretics, martians, or fill-in-your-boogieman-of-choice. And we (the People) have swallowed this line of bullshit with nary a twinge of remorse.

It has become easier to just go along with whatever new byzantine abuse of Government power comes down the pike than to stand up for our inherent liberties. The Rights guaranteed (not granted) by the Constitution are worthless if we (the People) do not stand up and demand that those rights be acknowledged. All rights come with concurrent responsibilities, foremost among them the responsibility to ensure the continuation of those rights.

Please note that I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. Anything you may have seen on TV may bear little or no relationship to the real world of police and courts. If you want legal advice, hire an attorney. Since I am neither licensed nor qualified to give legal opinions, the following is not intended to be legal advice. This is only my personal opinion and stated intent for my own actions when detained or arrested. Your mileage may vary. Follow this course of action at your own risk.

If the police want to search your house, car, office, or person, demand that they first get a warrant. When detained or delayed by the police for any reason, be courteous- but refuse to speak without an attorney. Ask if you are under arrest. If you are not under arrest, ask if you are free to go. If you are not free to go, demand to speak with an attorney. Do not raise your voice, swear, or argue. Simply refuse to speak without an attorney present.

Be warned, following this course of action will very likely result in increased police attention and possible arrest. The police will be extremely annoyed with you, and will use a wide variety of tricks to try and get you to talk to them. Even if you answer some of their questions, you are under no obligation to continue to do so. Here is the Wikipedia entry on the subject:

In the US, the Miranda warning is a warning given by police to criminal suspects in police custody, or in a custodial situation, before they are asked guilt-seeking questions relating to the commission of a crime. A custodial situation is one in which the suspect’s freedom of movement is restrained although he or she is not under arrest. An incriminating statement by a suspect will not constitute admissible evidence unless the suspect was advised of his or her “Miranda rights” and made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of those rights (the term “Miranda rights” is somewhat misleading, as the mandated Miranda warning simply clarifies preexisting Constitutional rights). However, a 2004 Supreme Court Ruling upheld state “Stop and Identify” laws, allowing police to require biographical information such as name, date of birth, and address, without arresting suspects or providing them Miranda warnings.

The Miranda warnings were mandated by the 1966 US Supreme Court decision in the case of Miranda v. Arizona as a means of protecting a criminal suspect’s 5th Amendment right to avoid coercive self-incrimination.

The wording of the so-called Miranda Warning varies from state to state, but the general meaning is fairly unambiguous. The police can stop you and demand that you identify yourself without necessarily placing you in a “custodial situation”. This does not necessarily mean that you have to provide some identification, only that you must give the police your name, date of birth, and address when requested. You are not legally required to answer any other questions, and you are within your rights to refuse to answer any further questions.

Given the increasingly hostile attitude of far too many police toward the citizens they allegedly serve, and the deliberate and methodical diminution of our precious liberties by both police and our elected officials, it is my opinion that everyone should do their utmost to protect the tattered remnants of our Constitutional rights while we still can. Furthermore, I call upon everyone to contact their elected representatives in both state and federal governments and remind them that they are public servants and we (the People) are the public. If those public servants wish to retain their cushy jobs and exorbitant paychecks, they had better start paying attention to the proper historical relationship between the US government and the citizens it is supposed to serve.

Here is a quote from Benjamin Franklin that needs to be more often on the public lips:

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

There are Four Boxes to be used in defense of liberty, in the following order: Soap, Ballot, Jury, and Ammo. On this page, I am calling for all Americans to use the first three. The precipice of tyranny is creeping up on us with cat-like tread. If we do not act now, we may soon be forced to resort to that fourth box. Like Pandora’s box, opening the Fourth Box will unleash horrors and chaos upon the world. Let us all work together to forestall its use. Write your representatives and senators. Stand up for your rights. Our liberties are under attack from within. Failure to use those first three boxes now leads inexorably to the opening of that Fourth Box, and nobody sane wants that.

Current status: Concerned

Current music: Man in the Box by Alice in Chains