Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Criminalizing everyone

“You don’t need to know. You can’t know.” That’s what Kathy Norris, a 60-year-old grandmother of eight, was told when she tried to ask court officials why, the day before, federal agents had subjected her home to a furious search.

The agents who spent half a day ransacking Mrs. Norris’ longtime home in Spring, Texas, answered no questions while they emptied file cabinets, pulled books off shelves, rifled through drawers and closets, and threw the contents on the floor.

The six agents, wearing SWAT gear and carrying weapons, were with - get this- the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Kathy and George Norris lived under the specter of a covert government investigation for almost six months before the government unsealed a secret indictment and revealed why the Fish and Wildlife Service had treated their family home as if it were a training base for suspected terrorists. Orchids.

That’s right. Orchids.

By March 2004, federal prosecutors were well on their way to turning 66-year-old retiree George Norris into an inmate in a federal penitentiary - based on his home-based business of cultivating, importing and selling orchids.

Mrs. Norris testified before the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime this summer. The hearing’s topic: the rapid and dangerous expansion of federal criminal law, an expansion that is often unprincipled and highly partisan.

Chairman Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, and ranking member Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, conducted a truly bipartisan hearing (a D.C. rarity this year).

These two leaders have begun giving voice to the increasing number of experts who worry about “overcriminalization.” Astronomical numbers of federal criminal laws lack specifics, can apply to almost anyone and fail to protect innocents by requiring substantial proof that an accused person acted with actual criminal intent.

Mr. Norris ended up spending almost two years in prison because he didn’t have the proper paperwork for some of the many orchids he imported. The orchids were all legal - but Mr. Norris and the overseas shippers who had packaged the flowers had failed to properly navigate the many, often irrational, paperwork requirements the U.S. imposed when it implemented an arcane international treaty’s new restrictions on trade in flowers and other flora.

The judge who sentenced Mr. Norris had some advice for him and his wife: “Life sometimes presents us with lemons.” Their job was, yes, to “turn lemons into lemonade.”

The judge apparently failed to appreciate how difficult it is to run a successful lemonade stand when you’re an elderly diabetic with coronary complications, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease serving time in a federal penitentiary. If only Mr. Norris had been a Libyan terrorist, maybe some European official at least would have weighed in on his behalf to secure a health-based mercy release.

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The Power to Fax

Mises Daily: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Last week, this office had to send a fax, and the receiving number was the same for fax and voice lines. Of course that trick never really worked well in the 1980s, and it doesn’t work well today. The fax didn’t get there, and I had to go through the error logs to figure out why, and then try again. That meant hunkering down, again, over a machine with a wired phone sitting on top — a living relic of a bygone era.

By then I had already crumpled up the original — I had forgotten the faxing convention of waiting to make sure it went through — so I had to print out again, and check the number, and punched it in properly. And so on.

You may or may not know the drill. There is a an entire generation coming of age without a clear sense of what a fax machine is or why one should need one at all.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Lawmakers question whether Obama is adhering to War Powers Resolution in Libya

Is President Obama breaking the law in Libya?

Both the White House and congressional leaders appear eager to avoid that question — five days after Obama missed a legal deadline for obtaining Congress’s permission for military operations there.

But during a House hearing on Wednesday, legislators from both parties blasted Obama for appearing to disregard the 1973 War Powers Resolution.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

There’s a Secret Patriot Act, Senator Says

You think you understand how the Patriot Act allows the government to spy on its citizens. Sen. Ron Wyden says it’s worse than you know.

Congress is set to reauthorize three controversial provisions of the surveillance law as early as Thursday. Wyden (D-Oregon) says that powers they grant the government on their face, the government applies a far broader legal interpretation — an interpretation that the government has conveniently classified, so it cannot be publicly assessed or challenged. But one prominent Patriot-watcher asserts that the secret interpretation empowers the government to deploy ”dragnets” for massive amounts of information on private citizens; the government portrays its data-collection efforts much differently.

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The Lone Star State, a No-Fly Zone? Why Texas Dropped Its Anti-TSA ‘Groping’ Bill

By: Frances Romero

Although Texas is notorious for advocating for states’ rights — Gov. Rick Perry has openly suggested secession — state officials had to drop a bid to prevent TSA agents from conducting “invasive searches” after the federal government threatened to shut down all airports in Texas.

Last week the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for TSA agents to “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly [touch] the anus, sexual organ, buttocks, or breast of the other person, including touching through clothing, or touching the other person in a manner that would be offensive to a reasonable person.” But as the Texas Senate debated the bill Wednesday, support for its passage began to thin. Why? Because the federal government had intervened to warn that if the bill passed, all airports in Texas could get shut down.

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