Is Government Ever Faithful To The Constitution?

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When the government is waving at us with its right hand, so to speak, it is the government’s left hand that we should be watching. Just as a magician draws your attention to what he wants you to see so you will not observe how his trick is performed, last week presented a textbook example of public disputes masking hidden deceptions. Here is what happened.

Last week was dominated by two huge news stories. One was the revelation by the Senate Intelligence Committee of torture committed by CIA agents and contractors on 119 detainees in the post-9/11 era — 26 of whom were tortured for months by mistake. In that revelation of anguish and error were the conclusions by CIA agents themselves that their torture had not produced helpful information. President Barack Obama acknowledged that the CIA had tortured; yet he directed the Department of Justice not to prosecute those who tortured and those who authorized it.

The other substantial news story was the compromise achieved by Congress and the White House to fund the government through the end of September 2015. That legislation, which is 2,000 pages in length, was not read by anyone who voted for it. It spends a few hundred billion dollars more than the government will collect in tax revenue. The compromise was achieved through bribery; members of Congress bought and sold votes by adding goodies (in the form of local expenditures of money borrowed by the federal government) to the bill that were never debated or independently voted upon and were added solely to achieve the votes needed for passage. This is how the federal government operates today. Both parties participate in it. They have turned the public treasury into a public trough.

Hidden in the law that authorized the government to spend more than it will collect was a part about funding for the 16 federal civilian intelligence agencies. And hidden in that was a clause, inserted by the same Senate Intelligence Committee that revealed the CIA torture, authorizing the National Security Agency to gather and retain nonpublic data for five years and to share it with law enforcement and with foreign governments. “Nonpublic data” is the government’s language referring to the content of the emails, text messages, telephone calls, bank statements, utility bills, and credit card bills of nearly every innocent person in America — including members of Congress, federal judges, public officials, and law enforcement officials. I say “innocent” because the language of this legislation — which purports to make lawful the NSA spying we now all know about — makes clear that those who spy upon us needn’t have any articulable suspicion or probable cause for spying.

The need for articulable suspicion and probable cause has its origins in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which was written to prohibit what Congress just authorized. That amendment was a reaction to the brutish British practice of rummaging through the homes of American colonists, looking for anything that might be illegal. It is also a codification of our natural right to privacy. It requires that if the government wants nonpublic data from our persons, houses, papers or effects, it must first present evidence of probable cause to a judge and then ask the judge for a search warrant.

Probable cause is a level of evidence that is sufficient to induce a judge into concluding that it is more likely than not that the place to be examined contains evidence of crimes. In order to seek probable cause, the government must first have an articulable suspicion about the person or place it has targeted. Were this not in the law, then nothing would stop the government from fishing expeditions in pursuit of anyone it wants to pursue. And fishing expeditions turn the presumption of liberty on its head. The presumption of liberty is based on the belief that our rights are natural to us and that we may exercise them without a permission slip from the government and without its surveillance.

Until last week, that is. Last week, Congress, by authorizing the massive NSA spying to continue and by authorizing the spies to share what they have seized with law enforcement, basically permitted the fishing expeditions that the Fourth Amendment was written to prevent.

How can the president and Congress defy the Constitution, you might ask? Hasn’t every member of the government taken an oath to uphold the Constitution? Doesn’t the Constitution create the presidency and the Congress? How can politicians purport to change it?

The answers to these questions are obvious, as is the belief of most of those in government that they can write any law and regulate any behavior and ignore the Constitution they have sworn to uphold whenever they want, so long as they can get away with it.

 
COPYRIGHT 2014 ANDREW P. NAPOLITANO
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This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

Why Is Obama’s Administration Chilling Free Speech Yet Again?

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Earlier this week, the federal government’s National Science Foundation, an entity created to encourage the study of science — encouragement that it achieves by awarding grants to scholars and universities — announced that it had awarded a grant to study what people say about themselves and others in social media. The NSF dubbed the project Truthy, a reference to comedian Stephen Colbert’s invention and hilarious use of the word “truthiness.”

The reference to Colbert is cute, and he is a very funny guy; but when the feds get into the business of monitoring speech, it is surely no joke–it is a nightmare. It is part of the Obama administration’s persistent efforts to monitor communication and scrutinize the expressions of opinions it hates and fears.

We already know the National Security Agency has the digital versions of all telephone conversations and emails sent to, from, or within the U.S. since 2005. Edward Snowden’s revelations of all this are credible and substantiated, and the government’s denials are weak and unavailing — so weak and unavailing that many NSA agents disbelieve them.

But the government’s unbridled passion to monitor us has become insatiable. Just two months ago, the Federal Communications Commission, which licenses broadcasters, threatened to place federal agents in cable television newsrooms so they can see how stories are generated and produced. The FCC doesn’t even regulate cable; yet it threatened to enhance its own authority by monitoring cable companies from the inside.

What’s going on here?

What’s going on here, and has been going on since President Obama took office in January 2009, is a government with little or no fidelity to basic constitutional norms. There is no defense under the Constitution to any aspect of the government’s — federal, state, regional, local, or hybrid; or any entity owned or controlled by any government; or any entity that exercises the government’s coercive powers or spends or receives its money — monitoring of the expressive behavior of anyone in the U.S., not in a newsroom, on social media, or anywhere else.

The NSF’s stated purpose of the Truthy squad is to look for errors in speech, particularly errors that fuel hatred or political extremes. This monitoring — this so-called search for error — is totalitarian and directly contradicts well-grounded Supreme Court jurisprudence, for several reasons.

First, for the government to gather information — public or private — on any person, the Constitution requires that the government have “articulable suspicion” about that person. Articulable suspicion is a mature and objective reason to believe that the person has engaged in criminal behavior. Without that level of articulable belief, the government is powerless to scrutinize anyone for any reason.

The articulable suspicion threshold is vital to assure that people in America have the presumption of liberty and are free to choose their behavior unimpeded or threatened by the government. The feds cannot cast a net into the marketplace of ideas and challenge what it brings in. Were they able to do so, the constitutional protections for free expression and the primacy of liberty would be meaningless.

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This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

Hollow Justice And Courts Of Order In An Age Of Government-Sanctioned Tyranny

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“The Constitution is not neutral. It was designed to take the government off the backs of the people.”—Justice William O. Douglas

Justice in America makes less sense with each passing day.

A Michigan couple that has been raising chickens in their backyard as a source of healthy food for their family could get up to 90 days in jail for violating a local ban on backyard hens. A Kentucky prison guard who was charged with 25 counts of sexual abuse against female inmates, trafficking controlled substances, and 50 counts of official misconduct walks away with no jail time and seven years’ probation. A 53-year-old Virginia man is facing 20 years in jail for kidnapping, despite the fact that key evidence shows him to be innocent and his accuser a liar; yet the courts claim they’re unable to do anything about it. Meanwhile, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent refusal to hear the case of Jones v. U.S., judges can now punish individuals for crimes of which they may never have been convicted or even charged.

With every ruling handed down, it becomes more apparent that we live in an age of hollow justice, with government courts, largely lacking in vision and scope, rendering narrow rulings focused on the letter of the law. This is true at all levels of the judiciary, but especially so in the highest court of the land, the U.S. Supreme Court, which is seemingly more concerned with establishing order and protecting government agents than with upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Given the turbulence of our age, with its police overreach, military training drills on American soil, domestic surveillance, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, wrongful convictions, and corporate corruption, the need for a guardian of the people’s rights has never been greater.

Yet when presented with an opportunity to weigh in on these issues, what does our current Supreme Court usually do? It ducks. Prevaricates. Remains silent. Speaks to the narrowest possible concern. More often than not, it gives the government and its corporate sponsors the benefit of the doubt. Rarely do the concerns of the populace prevail.

In this way, preoccupied with their personal politics; cocooned in a priggish world of privilege; partial to those with power, money, and influence; and narrowly focused on a shrinking docket (the court accepts on average 80 cases out of 8,000 each year), the justices of the current Supreme Court rarely venture beyond their rarefied comfort zones.

Every so often, the justices toss a bone to those who fear they have abdicated their allegiance to the Constitution. In Riley v. California, for instance, a unanimous Court ruled that police need warrants in order to physically search the cellphones of people they arrest. Even in that instance, the victory rang hollow to those who understand that government agents, equipped with military-grade surveillance equipment, don’t need physical access to our phones in order to know who we’ve been talking to or texting and what we’ve been saying.

Too often, however, as I document in A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the Supreme Court tends to march in lockstep with the police state.

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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

“Parallel Reconstruction”: Big Brother’s Latest Scheme

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While the political commentators in the nation’s capital are wrapped up in the debate over what to do about ISIS, and as one third of the Senate and nearly all members of the House campaign for re-election, the president’s spies continue to capture massive amounts of personal information about hundreds of millions of us and lie about it.

The president continues to dispatch his National Security Agency spies as if he were a law unto himself, and Congress — which is also being spied upon — has done nothing to protect the right to privacy that the Fourth Amendment was written to ensure. Congress has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution; yet it has failed miserably to do so. But the spying is now so entrenched in government that a sinister and largely unnoticed problem lurks beneath the surface.

NSA documents released by Edward Snowden show that the feds seriously deceived Congress and the courts in an effort to spy upon all of us and to use the gathered materials in criminal prosecutions, even though they told federal judges they would not. Among the more nefarious procedures the feds have engaged in is something called “parallel reconstruction.” This procedure seeks to hide the true and original source of information about a criminal defendant when it was obtained unlawfully.

For example, if the NSA, while unconstitutionally listening to the conversations of Americans hoping to hear about plots to harm other Americans (it has revealed no such plots from among the trillions of private conversations it has monitored since 2005), comes across evidence of a bank robbery, the NSA will pass that evidence on to the Department of Justice. The NSA routinely does this notwithstanding representations to the FISA court that authorizes its spying that it is not in the business of gathering evidence in criminal cases.

It makes those claims because the George W. Bush and Barack Obama DOJs have argued to the public and to the FISA court that the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits all searches and seizures without a warrant, somehow applies only to criminal investigations and not to domestic spying. No Supreme Court decision has ever stood for that proposition, and the plain language of the Fourth Amendment makes no distinction between intelligence gathering and evidence gathering.

Rather, the language of the amendment is so broad and sweeping (“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated” except by a search warrant issued by a judge upon probable cause.) that for 230 years it has been held to restrain and regulate all government efforts to gather private information — no matter their purposes.

Nevertheless, the NSA’s agents and lawyers felt it necessary to concoct this groundless, disingenuous, and fictional legal distinction in order to persuade the FISA court that it is legally acceptable to permit untethered spying so long as the fruits of that spying are not used in criminal prosecutions. Curiously and naively, judges of the FISA court bought that argument.

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This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

Should We Just Follow Orders? Rules Of Engagement For Resisting The Police State

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“Let your motto be resistance! resistance! Resistance! No oppressed people have ever secured their liberty without resistance.”—Abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet

The perils of resisting the police state grow more costly with each passing day, especially if you hope to escape with your life and property intact. The thing you must remember is that we’ve entered an age of militarized police in which we’re no longer viewed as civilians but as enemy combatants.

Take, for example, Mary Elizabeth VandenBerg who was charged with disturbing the peace, a crime punishable by up to 93 days in jail and a $500 fine, for daring to vocalize her frustrations over a traffic ticket by reading a prepared statement to the court clerk and paying her $145 traffic ticket with 145 one-dollar bills. VandenBerg was also handcuffed, tasered, and pepper sprayed for “passively” resisting police by repeatedly stopping and talking to them and stiffening her arms. The incident, filmed by VandenBerg’s brother, is now the subject of a lawsuit.

Zachary Noel was tasered by police and charged with resisting arrest after he questioned why he was being ordered out of his truck during a traffic stop. “Because I’m telling you to,” the officer replied before repeating his order for Noel to get out of the vehicle and then, without warning, shooting him with a taser through the open window. The encounter, recorded with a cell phone by Noel’s friend in the passenger seat, offers a particularly chilling affirmation of how little recourse Americans really have when it comes to obeying an order from a government official or police officer, even if it’s just to ask a question or assert one’s rights.

Eighteen-year-old Keivon Young was shot seven times by police from behind while urinating outdoors. Young was just zipping up his pants when he heard a commotion behind him and then found himself struck by a hail of bullets from two undercover cops. Despite the fact that the officers mistook Young—5’4,” 135 lbs., and guilty of nothing more than taking a leak outdoors—for a 6’ tall, 200 lb. murder suspect whom they later apprehended, the young man was charged with felony resisting arrest and two counts of assaulting a peace officer.

What these incidents make clear is that anything short of compliance will now get you charged with any of the growing number of contempt charges (ranging from resisting arrest and interference to disorderly conduct, obstruction, and failure to obey a police order) that get trotted out anytime a citizen voices discontent with the government or challenges or even questions the authority of the powers that be—and that’s the best case scenario. The worst case scenario involves getting probed, poked, pinched, tasered, tackled, searched, seized, stripped, manhandled, arrested, shot, or killed.

So what can you really do when you find yourself at the mercy of law enforcement officers who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to “serve and protect”? In other words, what are the rules of engagement when it comes to interacting with the police?

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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom