Every time I look at this young man’s photo, my heart breaks apart for him and his family:
Cameron D’Ambrosio should not be in handcuffs. He should not be in a court room. He should not have been arrested, and he damn well sure should not have been accused of Communicating a Terrorist Threat, or threatened with 20 years in prison for making what amounts to poor word choices.
This entire case is shot through with injustice:
Before charges were even formally filed, local newspapers were already posting pictures from Cam’s facebook and pointing to “disturbing” posts like “Fuck politics. Fuck Obama. Fuck the government!” and “satanic” imagery (like some image from a metal band’s poster.) All of this is free speech that is 100% protected by the 1st Amendment.
And then there’s this:
Fox News went so far as to say that Cam’s facebook profile had images that they “couldn’t show on TV.” They and other media outlets frequently and intentionally printed only a small section of the lyrics that Cam was arrested for allegedly writing, and took them out of context to make rap metaphors sound like a real threat.
The media printed:
“(Expletive) a boston bominb wait till u see the (expletive) I do, I’ma be famous”
The actual line is:
“(Expletive) a boston bominb wait till u see the (expletive) I do, I’ma be famous rapping”
Notice something? The context completely changes the meaning of the line. Suddenly something that sounds like a threat of violence is clearly just bragging about how good Cammy Dee is going to be in the rap game. Last we checked, teenage dreams of grandeur were not a crime.
Such omissions are scandalous. You can see one example here (they also incorrectly stated that Cameron pleaded “guilty.” He pled “not guilty.”). The source above also reported that Cameron was arrested on a previous assault and battery charge, but neglected to mention that those charges were later dismissed.
This case involves a number of horrifying breaches of journalistic ethics, paired with a complete, utter failure to exercise prosecutorial discretion. A young 18-year old man with his whole life ahead of him may spend the next 20 years of his life in prison for doing nothing more than posting uncouth status updates on his Facebook page. As Rob D’Ovidio, a criminal justice professor at Drexel University, said recently:
When I was young, calling a bomb threat to your high school because you didn’t want to go to school that day was treated with a slap on the wrist. Try that nowadays and you’re going to prison, no question about it. They are taking it more seriously now[.]
And then there’s this gem from the local police chief:
“There are no more threats that are high school pranks,” said Joseph Solomon, police chief, during a press conference Thursday afternoon. “If they’re thinking that way, they need to get their heads into 2013.”
This is the incarceration nation in motion. The fear of legitimate threats is used to extend the scope of punitive executive scrutiny to cases that otherwise would’ve been dealt with outside the criminal justice system. Stupid mistakes and ill-timed remarks become serious felonies with decades in prison as the penalty.
Cases like this highlight the need for people to push back against the overcriminalization of America. We need to stop sending our kids to prison for dumb mistakes. We need to stop traumatizing 18-year olds by making them do the perp walk, and then telling them they’re facing 20 years in prison for being oafish online. None of this is necessary. All of it is unjust, improper, and counterproductive.
[I]t is remarkable how media reactions to civil liberties assaults are shaped almost entirely by who the victims are. For years, the Obama administration has been engaged in pervasive spying on American Muslim communities and dissident groups. It demanded a reform-free renewal of the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, both of which codify immense powers of warrantless eavesdropping, including ones that can be used against journalists. It has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined, threatened to criminalize WikiLeaks, and abused Bradley Manning to the point that a formal UN investigation denounced his treatment as “cruel and inhuman”.
But, with a few noble exceptions, most major media outlets said little about any of this, except in those cases when they supported it. It took a direct and blatant attack on them for them to really get worked up, denounce these assaults, and acknowledge this administration’s true character. That is redolent of how the general public reacted with rage over privacy invasions only when new TSA airport searches targeted not just Muslims but themselves: what they perceive as “regular Americans”. Or how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman - once the most vocal defender of Bush’s vast warrantless eavesdropping programs - suddenly began sounding like a shrill and outraged privacy advocate once it was revealed that her own conversations with Aipac representatives were recorded by the government.
Leave to the side how morally grotesque it is to oppose rights assaults only when they affect you. The pragmatic point is that it is vital to oppose such assaults in the first instance no matter who is targeted because such assaults, when unopposed, become institutionalized. Once that happens, they are impossible to stop when - as inevitably occurs - they expand beyond the group originally targeted. We should have been seeing this type of media outrage over the last four years as the Obama administration targeted non-media groups with these kinds of abuses (to say nothing of the conduct of the Bush administration before that). It shouldn’t take an attack on media outlets for them to start caring this much.
In a free society, those who wield political power fear those over whom the power is wielded: specifically, they harbor a healthy fear of what will happen to them if they abuse that power. But the hallmark of tyranny is that the opposite dynamic prevails: the citizenry fears its government because citizens know that there are no actual, meaningful limits on how power can be exercised. A nation in which liberties are systematically abused - in which limitations on state power are ignored without consequence - is one which gives rise to a climate of fear.
This climate of fear, in turn, leads citizens to refrain from exercising their political rights, especially to refrain from posing meaningful challenges to government authority, because they know the government can act against them without real constraints. This is a more insidious and more effective form of tyranny than overt abridgment of rights: by inducing - intimidating - a citizenry into relinquishing their own rights out of fear, a state can maintain the illusion of freedom while barring any meaningful dissent from or challenge to its power. Here’s one four-minute video clipwhere I describe a personal example to illustrate how this pernicious fear climate operates; here’s another slightly longer video clip where I elaborate on this point more.
This morning, the New York Times reports on the US government’s practice of targeting US dissidents - or those whom it believes to be engaging in dissent - with extremely invasive border searches, including seizing (and sometimes keeping for months) their laptops and other electronic data, all without any warrants. …
Laptop seizures are far from the only tactic employed by the US government to put government opponents in a state of fear and thus deter others from engaging in similar dissident conduct. That is also the aim of measures such as the unprecedented persecution of whistleblowers; the prosecution of Muslim critics of US foreign policy for “material support of terrorism”, the targeted FBI entrapment and “preemptive prosecution” of US Muslims, NATO protesters, anarchist activists, and others with ideologies the US government dislikes; and - most of all - the ubiquitous surveillance state.
What makes this tactic particularly effective is that it will not affect those who have no interest in engaging in real dissent against the government. If you’re not a filmmaker who challenges the prevailing government narrative (Poitras), or a scholar trying to understand rather than demonize currents in the Muslim world (Abidor), or a lawyer involved in groups suing the US government for unconstitutional behavior (Wayne), or an activist advocating for WikiLeaks and working to protect online anonymity and thus thwart government spying and control of the internet (Jacob Appelbaum), or someone who supports Bradley Manning’s legal defense (David House), then you’re not going to be subjected to this sort of intimidation and rights-invasions, and it’s thus easy for you to simply assume that it does not exist.
In essence, the bargain offered by the state is as follows: if you meaningfully challenge what we’re doing, then we will subject you to harsh recriminations. But if you passively comply with what we want, refrain from challenging us, and acquiesce to our prevailing order, then you are “free” and will be left alone. The genius is that those who accept this bargain are easily convinced that repression does not exist in the US, that it only takes place in those Other Bad countries, because, as a reward for their compliant posture, they are not subjected to it.
But even in most of the worst tyrannies, those who are content with the status quo and who refrain from meaningfully challenging prevailing power systems are free of punishment. Rights exist to protect dissidents and those who challenge orthodoxies, not those who acquiesce to those orthodoxies or support state power; the latter group rarely needs any such protections. The effect, and intent, of this climate of fear is to force as many citizens as possible into the latter group.
The true measure of how free a society is how its dissidents are treated, not those who refrain from meaningful anti-government activism and dissent. To apply that metric to the US, just look at what the American citizens quoted in this Times article this morning are saying and doing.
I do not read Hustler magazine; I would rather read the New Yorker. I would be appalled, however, if the State were to exact from Hustler a tax that the New Yorker did not have to pay, on the ground that what appears in Hustler is insufficiently ‘cultural and artistic.’ That sort of discrimination on the basis of content would surely be unconstitutional.
Judge Robert Smith in his dissenting opinion in a New York State court case which determined that lap dances were not art, and therefore were subject to taxes that would not, for instance, apply to ballet. As Reason reported, “New York Court Determines When a Gyrating Ass May Be Taxed.”
Ah, content discrimination and government interference in the marketplace to promote a specific morality. So anti-liberty. So unconstitutional. So American.
Considering the discussions today on what limits there should be on speech, this excerpt from Murray Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty seemed relevant.
[T]he concept of “rights” only makes sense as property rights. For not only are there no human rights which are not also property rights, but the former rights lose their absoluteness and clarity and become fuzzy and vulnerable when property rights are not used as the standard.
In the first place, there are two senses in which property rights are identical with human rights: one, that property can only accrue to humans, so that their rights to property are rights that belong to human beings; and two, that the person’s right to his own body, his personal liberty, is a property right in his own person as well as a “human right.” But more importantly for our discussion, human rights, when not put in terms of property rights, turn out to be vague and contradictory, causing liberals to weaken those rights on behalf of “public policy” or the “public good.” As I wrote in another work:
Take, for example, the “human right” of free speech. Freedom of speech is supposed to mean the right of everyone to say whatever he likes. But the neglected question is: Where? Where does a man have this right? He certainly does not have it on property on which he is trespassing. In short, he has this right only either on his own property or on the property of someone who has agreed, as a gift or in a rental contract, to allow him on the premises. In fact, then, there is no such thing as a separate “right to free speech”; there is only a man’s property right: the right to do as he wills with his own or to make voluntary agreements with other property owners.
In short, a person does not have a “right to freedom of speech”; what he does have is the right to hire a hall and address the people who enter the premises. He does not have a “right to freedom of the press”; what he does have is the right to write or publish a pamphlet, and to sell that pamphlet to those who are willing to buy it (or to give it away to those who are willing to accept it). Thus, what he has in each of these cases is property rights, including the right of free contract and transfer which form a part of such rights of ownership. There is no extra “right of free speech” or free press beyond the property rights that a person may have in any given case.
Furthermore, couching the analysis in terms of a “right to free speech” instead of property rights leads to confusion and the weakening of the very concept of rights. The most famous example is Justice Holmes’s contention that no one has the right to shout “Fire” falsely in a crowded theater, and therefore that the right to freedom of speech cannot be absolute, but must be weakened and tempered by considerations of “public policy.” And yet, if we analyze the problem in terms of property rights we will see that no weakening of the absoluteness of rights is necessary.
For, logically, the shouter is either a patron or the theater owner. If he is the theater owner, he is violating the property rights of the patrons in quiet enjoyment of the performance, for which he took their money in the first place. If he is another patron, then he is violating both the property right of the patrons to watching the performance and the property right of the owner, for he is violating the terms of his being there. For those terms surely include not violating the owner’s property by disrupting the performance he is putting on. In either case, he may be prosecuted as a violator of property rights; therefore, when we concentrate on the property rights involved, we see that the Holmes case implies no need for the law to weaken the absolute nature of rights.
You and I both know how hard it would have been for the incredible growth the liberty movement has seen in recent years to have taken place without the Internet.
So right now, the big government statists in Congress are scheming to suffocate the technological revolution in a ball of bureaucratic red tape.
Our well-meaning government overlords are going to “protect consumers” like you and me with “net neutrality,” “open access,” and, of course, their favorite – “cybersecurity.”
But dig a little deeper, and you will find all we’ll get is higher costs, new taxes, lost or slower access - and government snoops expanding their “data mining” capabilities to spy on our every move.
In fact, just recently, we’ve seen a torrent of massive new regulatory schemes rearing their ugly heads in Congress, including:
*** Internet Sales Taxes designed to hike the price of goods sold over the Internet;
*** The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which would give the government the power to shut down any website simply because someone made the “allegation” there was a copyright violation;
*** The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which would gut privacy laws and allow Internet providers and websites to hand over personal data to ANY agency in the federal government;
*** The Internet “Kill Switch,” which would allow the President to shut down the entire Internet at a moment’s notice.
And this December, the United Nations is meeting to come up with even MORE recommendations for international Internet regulations!
The Wall Street Journal called it “a wake-up call for the world’s two billion web users, who take for granted the light regulation of the Internet.”
Please remind me, what exactly is it about the government that represents your views?
Sen. Rand Paul Introduces Amendment to Rein in FDA Abuse - 05/23/12
“Paul’s amendment to the Prescription Drug User Fee Act has two parts: Part I would allow the makers of health products to advertise their benefits. “There’s no earthly reason why somebody who markets prune juice can’t advertise it helps with constipation,” Paul said. Part II of the amendment would prohibit FDA employees (as well as all other Health and Human Services employees) from carrying weapons and making arrests without warrants.”
“I think we have too many armed federal agencies, and that we need to put an end to this. Criminal law seems to be increasing, increasingly is using a tool of our government bureaucracy to punish and control honest businessmen for simply attempting to make a living.
Historically the criminal law was intended to punish only the most horrible offenses that everyone agreed were inherently wrong or evil, offenses like rape, murder, theft, arson – but now we’ve basically federalized thousands of activities and called them crimes.”
Update: The amendment failed 78-15
Any common sense legislation that restores liberty to individuals and/or strips some power from the state is likely to receive bi-partisan opposition.
This is good.
While Rep. Justin Amash Pushes His Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, A Judge Has Temporarily Blocked Portions of the NDAA on First and Fifth Amendment Grounds →
On Wednesday, a federal judged blocked Section 1021, (AKA the indefinite detainment provision) of the the highly controversial National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest agreed with journalist Chris Hedges, writer Noam Chomsky, Mr. Pentagon Papers Daniel Ellsberg, and several other plaintiffs who argued in January that the NDAA might just have a chilling effect on free expression. Forrest also agreed that it violated the Fifth Amendment right to due process and that the thing just didn’t “pass Constitutional muster.” …
Meanwhile, scrappy young Congressman and advocate for actually reading bills before he votes on them, Justin Amash, is preparing to speak on the House floor about his (and Democrat Adam Smith’s) amendment to the NDAA. The amendment, which would explicitly say that the NDAA cannot apply to accused domestic terrorists, could potentially come up for a vote as early as Friday. Rep. Ron Paul is a fan, but the number of supporters are seemingly fairly small.
Statists, particularly on the left, often use the phrase: “Money is not speech.”
Usually, it’s employed in political discourse as a pitch to keep opposing political ideas from “overwhelming” the population with opinions the would-be censors find abhorrent. It’s a phrase that’s been in greater use (along with its rhetorical corollary “corporations are not people”*) since the Citizens United decision in 2010.
But the phrase reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of both money and speech.
First, when discussing speech, as in “Freedom of Speech,” it must be understood as not merely referring to audible vocalizations of words. What is meant is “Freedom of Expression,” and people may express themselves not only through speaking, but also with the written word, art, film, dance, fashion, music, silent protest, etc.
And, sure, it can be said that money qua money is not necessarily itself speech. It is, however, a facilitator of speech.
For example, Jackson can stand at location X and speak out loud to all passersby. He would be free to express himself however he wishes. He can also yell or cup his hands around his mouth in order for his speech to reach more ears. After all, he feels that what he is sharing is important and would like the largest audience possible.
Now, what if there was a device that Jackson could hold to his lips to amplify his speech and have it reach a larger audience still?
It just so happens that such a device exists: a megaphone. So how could he acquire this device? He could try to gather the raw materials to first make the tools and producer goods necessary to build the device and, subsequently, build those tools. Then he’d gather the raw materials to make the plastics and wiring of the device itself. Then, after teaching himself how to do so, he would mold the plastic, create and build a battery for power, and finally assemble the megaphone.
But Jackson is a fisherman. He lacks the requisite skills to build such a device, and teaching himself such skills would take time away from what he does well (and keeps his family fed). Luckily, there is a man in town, Ferguson, who specializes in such things. But Ferguson is not Jackson’s slave: Jackson cannot force Ferguson to give up his time, labor, and raw materials in order to build a megaphone for him. However, Jackson, as a fisherman, can offer Ferguson some fish in return for the megaphone. This is called direct exchange, or barter.
Ferguson, though, has no need for fish (the improbability of finding a trading partner who is desiring exactly what someone is willing to trade in direct exchange is called a “double coincidence of wants”). Yet he does want butter and salt, and is willing to take three pounds of each in return for his megaphone. So Jackson, before he can acquire the megaphone, must first acquire butter and salt and thus engage in indirect exchange to meet his goals. He heads into town and immediately finds many people willing to trade salt for fish, so he makes the trade that is most in his favor (with whoever is willing to accept the least amount of fish for his desired amount of salt). He also finds two different people willing to part with their excess butter, but neither want fish. One dairy farmer wants two pounds of bacon for his three pounds of butter, and the other dairy farmer is willing to part with three pounds of butter in exchange for 12 fresh eggs. So off Jackson goes in search of eggs and bacon, and to find out which one (12 eggs or two pounds of bacon) would require him to give up the fewest fish. When he eventually completes all his trades, he can then finally trade for the megaphone.
And if Jackson wished to disseminate his speech through flyers, he’d have the same options: he can either build an axe, chop some trees, create wood pulp, make paper, make pencils (an impossible process to do by himself), write on every flyer, etc. - or he can trade with the man at the paper mill and the woman with the printing press through the same series of complex exchanges outlined above.
As you can plainly see, despite being superior to direct exchange and its inherent limitations, this entire process of indirect exchange can be clumsy and complicated and uses up much time (the scarcest of resources) in finding the right trading partners and the best ratios (or prices). This is where money comes in.
In the example above, Jackson was able to trade for salt very quickly. This is because salt is more easily tradable, has higher marketability. Unlike chandeliers and wagon wheels, salt can be more easily transported and has more universal demand. Unlike cows and megaphones, it’s much easier to use in varying denominations and to make change. Unlike eggs and fish, it doesn’t have a limited shelf life before it spoils. For these and other reasons, people were much more likely to trade for salt, even if they didn’t need it. For them, salt wasn’t a consumer good (a good meant for direct use or consumption) or a producer good (a good intended to use as a tool or material to create a consumer good), it was a store of value and a relatively stable commodity that served to facilitate exchange. It was desired, not for its direct utility but in its capacity to be traded in the future due to its superior marketability, divisibility, stability, etc. So if salt, in Jackson’s economy of indirect exchange, becomes widely accepted as a medium of exchange, it then, in turn, becomes money.
Murray Rothbard explained what makes money:
“[J]ust as in nature there is a great variety of skills and resources, so there is a variety in the marketability of goods. Some goods are more widely demanded than others, some are more divisible into smaller units without loss of value, some more durable over long periods of time, some more transportable over large distances. All of these advantages make for greater marketability. It is clear that in every society, the most marketable goods will be gradually selected as the media for exchange. As they are more and more selected as media, the demand for them increases because of this use, and so they become even more marketable. The result is a reinforcing spiral: more marketability causes wider use as a medium which causes more marketability, etc. Eventually, one or two commodities are used as general media—in almost all exchanges—and these are called money.
Historically, many different goods have been used as media: tobacco in colonial Virginia, sugar in the West Indies, salt in Abyssinia, cattle in ancient Greece, nails in Scotland, copper in ancient Egypt, and grain, beads, tea, cowrie shells, and fishhooks. Through the centuries, two commodities, gold and silver, have emerged as money in the free competition of the market, and have displaced the other commodities. Both are uniquely marketable, are in great demand as ornaments, and excel in the other necessary qualities. In recent times, silver, being relatively more abundant than gold, has been found more useful for smaller exchanges, while gold is more useful for larger transactions. At any rate, the important thing is that whatever the reason, the free market has found gold and silver to be the most efficient moneys.
The establishment of a money on the market enormously increases the scope for specialization and division of labor, immensely widens the market for every product, and makes possible a society on a civilized productive level. Not only are the problems of coincidence of wants and indivisibility of goods eliminated, but individuals can now construct an ever-expanding edifice of remote stages of production to arrive at desired goods. Intricate and remote stages of production are now possible, and specialization can extend to every part of a production process as well as to the type of good produced. Thus, an automobile producer can sell an automobile in exchange for the money, e.g., butter or gold, and then exchange the gold partly for labor, partly for steel, partly for chrome, partly for rubber tires, etc. The steel producers can exchange the gold partly for labor, partly for iron, partly for machines, etc. Then the various laborers, landowners, etc., who receive the gold in the production process can use it as a medium to purchase eggs, automobiles, or clothing, as they desire.
The whole pattern of a modern society is thus built on the use of money…”
So when someone claims that “money is not speech,” what they are arguing for is limitations to be placed on using money to advance and promulgate speech or expression (usually with regards to their political adversaries). And, by doing so, they are ultimately arguing for limitations on speech itself. The solution to “bad” speech is more speech. Stifling speech by demonizing money only serves those who can afford to jump through the loopholes and, counter to expectations, buy themselves favors and exceptions from the would-be censors.
Money enables human cooperation and advancement; it allows for specialization and promotion above a primitive existence. To assign this tool of human progress nefarious characteristics simply demonstrates historical and economic ignorance.
The North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition is threatening to send a blogger to jail for recounting publicly his battle against diabetes and encouraging others to follow his lifestyle….
When he was hospitalized with diabetes in February 2009, he decided to avoid the fate of his grandmother, who eventually died of the disease. He embraced the low-carb, high-protein Paleo diet, also known as the “caveman” or “hunter-gatherer” diet. The diet, he said, made him drug- and insulin-free within 30 days. By May of that year, he had lost 45 pounds and decided to start a blog about his success.
But this past January the state dietetics and nutrition board decided Cooksey’s blog —Diabetes-Warrior.net — violated state law. The nutritional advice Cooksey provides on the site amounts to “practicing nutrition,” the board’s director says, and in North Carolina that’s something you need a license to do.
Unless Cooksey completely rewrites his 3-year-old blog, he could be sued by the licensing board. If he loses the lawsuit and refuses to take down the blog, he could face up to 120 days in jail.
The board’s director says Cooksey has a First Amendment right to blog about his diet, but he can’t encourage others to adopt it unless the state has certified him as a dietitian or nutritionist.
On January 12, Cooksey attended a nutrition seminar at a church in Charlotte. The speaker was the director of diabetes services for a local hospital.
“She was giving all the wrong information, just like everyone always does — carbs are OK to eat, we must eat carbs to live, promoting low-fat, etc.,” Cooksey said. “So I spoke up.”
After the meeting he handed out a couple of business cards pointing people to his website.
Three days later, he got a call from the director of the nutrition board.
“Basically, she told me I could not give out nutritional advice without a license,” Cooksey said.
This is all accomplished by characterizing disclosures in American newspapers about America’s wrongdoing as “aiding the enemy” (the alleged enemy being informed is Al Qaeda, but the actual concern is that the American people learn what their government is doing). As The New York Times‘ Charlie Savage wrote this morning, Obama has brought “more such cases than all previous presidents combined,” and by doing so, has won the admiration of the CIA and other intelligence agencies which, above all else, loathe transparency (which happens to be the value that Obama vowed to provide more of than any President in history).
There’s so much I’d love to say about this but I don’t want to sound even a little bit like a conspiracy theorist, so let’s just see where this goes.
SOPA and PIPA explained (by Khan Academy)
People banding together in groups and exercising their right to free speech, to protest a court decision that held that people should be able to band together in groups and exercise their right to free speech — that’s a little bit ironic.
This, from the Cato institute, sums up the Libertarian case against SOPA nicely: “If this passes, the only difference between the U.S. and China is what’s on the blacklist.”