Category - USA: Domestic Issues

Law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did last year

Washington Post, By Christopher Ingraham, November 23

Here’s an interesting factoid about contemporary policing: In 2014, for the first time ever, law enforcement officers took more property from American citizens than burglars did. Martin Armstrong pointed this out at his blog, Armstrong Economics, last week.

Officers can take cash and property from people without convicting or even charging them with a crime — yes, really! — through the highly controversial practice known as civil asset forfeiture. Last year, according to the Institute for Justice, the Treasury and Justice departments deposited more than $5 billion into their respective asset forfeiture funds. That same year, the FBI reports that burglary losses topped out at $3.5 billion.

Armstrong claims that “the police are now taking more assets than the criminals,” but this isn’t exactly right: The FBI also tracks property losses from larceny and theft, in addition to plain ol’ burglary. If you add up all the property stolen in 2014, from burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and other means, you arrive at roughly $12.3 billion, according to the FBI. That’s more than double the federal asset forfeiture haul.

It’s OK to hack your own car, US copyright authorities rule

Reuters, October 27

Car owners and security experts can tinker with automobile software without incurring US copyright liability, according to newly issued guidelines that were opposed by the auto industry.

The Library of Congress, which oversees the US Copyright Office, agreed with fair use advocates who argued that vehicle owners are entitled to modify their cars, which often involves altering software.
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Automakers including General Motors and other vehicle manufacturers such as Deere & Co opposed the rules. They said vehicle owners could visit authorized repair shops for changes they may need to undertake.

However US copyright officials decided that altering computer programs for vehicle repair or modification may not infringe a manufacturer’s software copyright.

Senate passes controversial cybersecurity bill Cisa 74 to 21

Senate votes in favor of bill critics including Edward Snowden say will allow the government to collect sensitive personal data unchecked

The Guardian, By Sam Thielman, October 27

The US Senate overwhelmingly passed a controversial cybersecurity bill critics say will allow the government to collect sensitive personal data unchecked, over the objections of civil liberties groups and many of the biggest names in the tech sector.

The vote on Tuesday was 74 to 21 in support of the legislation. Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders voted against the bill. None of the Republican presidential candidates (except Lindsey Graham, who voted in favor) were present to cast a vote, including Rand Paul, who has made privacy from surveillance a major plank of his campaign platform.

Ahead of the vote a group of university professors specializing in tech law, many from the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy, sent an open letter to the Senate, urging them not to pass the bill. The bill, they wrote, would fatally undermine the Freedom of Information Act (Foia).
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FBI warns of possible “Halloween Revolt” by anarchists

CBS, October 27

The FBI has issued an alert to law enforcement about a possible “Halloween Revolt” by a dangerous anarchist group, an official has confirmed to CBS News.

Federal officials issued a bulletin to local police departments about the potential for attacks against their officers, CBS News has learned.

As first reported by the New York Post, a group known as the National Liberation Militia may be planning to dress in costume, cause a disturbance, and then ambush police who come to help. The Post reports the group has recommended members wear typical holiday masks and bring weapons like bricks and firearms.

Cisa amendment would allow US to jail foreigners for crimes committed abroad

Addition to controversial cybersecurity bill, which passed key Senate hurdle on Thursday, would lower barrier for US to pursue foreign nationals for cybercrime.

The Guardian, By Sam Thielman, October 22

An amendment to a controversial cybersecurity bill will allow US courts to pursue and jail foreign nationals even if the crimes they commit are against other foreigners and on foreign soil.

The main aim of the amendment to the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (Cisa), which passed a key Senate hurdle on Thursday, is to lower the barrier for prosecuting crimes committed abroad. But the amended law would make it a crime punishable by US prison time not merely to clone the credit card or steal the Netflix password of an American citizen, but to take unauthorized information from any American company, no matter where it happens.

In other words, if a French national hacks a Spanish national’s MasterCard, she could be subject to 10 years in US prison under laws changed by the bill.

The law has already attracted heavy criticism from American privacy advocates. The Electronic Frontier Foundation points out that the computer fraud laws that would be broadened by Cisa were used to prosecute the late founder of Demand Progress, Aaron Swartz, for downloading articles from JSTOR, the digital library of academic journals.

Think Police Can’t Use Illegally Obtained Evidence Against You? Think Again.

Thanks to the Roberts Court, there’s no penalty for ignoring a key 4th Amendment protection.

The Nation, By Paul Butler, September 24

Hudson v. Michigan (2006) is one in a series of cases in which
 the Roberts Court has blessed police officers with extraordinary power. This power authorizes cops to engage in the kind of violent and undemocratic policing that make places like Ferguson and Baltimore look less like American cities and more like the outposts of some totalitarian regime.

The scandal, it turns out, is not bad-apple cops. The scandal is that the conservative justices on the Roberts Court have provided the legal framework for black lives not to matter to the police.

The Constitution be damned: This was apparently the perspective of a Detroit police officer named Jamal Good, who admitted that he routinely violated the long-standing requirement that police “knock and announce” their presence before entering a home. Good found that the Fourth Amendment—with its pesky insistence that searches be reasonable—limited his ability to obtain evidence, so he simply ignored it.

Usually, the Supreme Court decides whether there has been a violation of the Constitution. In Hudson, the Court faced a different question: When a cop admits that he has broken the rules, should there be any meaningful sanction? The issue was whether the classic remedy for Fourth Amendment violations—the “exclusionary rule,” which renders evidence collected through unconstitutional means inadmissible in criminal court—applies to the knock-and-announce rule. In a 5–4 decision, the Court held that it does not.

Speaker John Boehner to resign from Congress

USA Today, By Deirdre Shesgreen & Cooper Allen, September 25

Washington — In a shocking announcement, John Boehner told his GOP colleagues he will step down as House speaker and resign his Ohio congressional seat on Oct. 30.

The speaker had planned to serve only through the end of last year. But he changed his plans after former congressman. Eric Cantor, then Boehner’s deputy, lost in a primary in one of the biggest upsets of the 2014 cycle. That changed Boehner’s calculation.

House Speaker John Boehner to resign at end of October

Washington Post, By Mike DeBonis & Paul Kane, September 25

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), faced with a constant conservative rebellion, told Republicans Friday morning that he will resign at the end of October, according to aides and lawmakers in a closed-door meeting.

The resignation will end a nearly five-year reign as speaker, allowing House Republicans to approve a short-term government funding bill that will avert a shutdown of federal agencies. Boehner’s hold on the speaker’s gavel had grown increasingly unsteady amid threats from more than 30 Republicans that they would force a no-confidence vote in his speaker’s position, which would have forced him to rely on Democratic votes in order to remain in charge.

Boehner, who capped his career with Thursday’s address by Pope Francis, met with a handful of the most conservative Republicans after the papal address to lay out the plan to fund the government. But those rebels continued to agitate and threaten to force a vote at sometime in the near future to vacate his speakership.

A believer in the institution, Boehner decided to walk away on his own terms rather than relying on Democratic support or becoming the first speaker to lose the gavel midterm.

His likely successor is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calf.), [Wikipedia] the No. 2 GOP leader who has been in office less than 10 years. McCarthy has widespread support in the Republican Conference but many believe he lacks the political and tactical gravitas to be a force in the House.

The Wikipedia article for Kevin McCarthy has a section “Political Positions”:

In 2010 McCarthy signed a pledge sponsored by Americans for Prosperity promising to vote against any Global Warming legislation that would raise taxes.

McCarthy does not support renewing the charter of the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., as he expects the private sector to take over the role.

McCarthy is pro-life and has received a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee. He has voted against ObamaCare, to ban abortions, to stop taxpayer funding of abortion and has also voted repeatedly to defund ObamaCare and repeal it.

Leaked Seattle Audit Concludes Many Mortgage Documents Are Void

The Intercept, By David Dayen, September 18

A Seattle housing activist on Wednesday uploaded an explosive land-record audit that the local City Council had been sitting on, revealing its far-reaching conclusion: that all assignments of mortgages the auditors studied are void.

That makes any foreclosures in the city based on these documents illegal and unenforceable, and makes the King County recording offices where the documents are located a massive crime scene.

The problems stem from the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS), an entity banks created so they could transfer mortgages privately, saving them billions of dollars in transfer fees to public recording offices. In Washington state, MERS’ practices were found illegal by the State Supreme Court in 2012. But MERS continued those practices with only cosmetic changes, the audit found.

That finding has national implications. Every state has its own mortgage laws, and some of the audit’s conclusions may not necessarily apply elsewhere. But it shows how MERS reacted to being caught defrauding the public by trying to sneak through foreclosures anyway. Combined with evidence in other parts of the country, like the failure to register out-of-state business trusts in Montana, it suggests that the mortgage industry has been inattentive to and dismissive of state foreclosure laws.

In Radical Shift, GOP Leaders Actively Embrace Catastrophic Climate Change

Climate Progress, By Joe Romm, September 11

Over the past year, GOP leaders, driven by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), have made a radical shift in the party’s public position on climate change. They are now actively seeking to destroy a global climate deal.

In any other universe this would be a major news story. But I guess the mainstream media has become so jaded to what the Koch brothers and Tea Party have done to the Republican party at a national level, that this radical shift seems just like another dog-bites-man-story, albeit one where the wound is fatal.

In fact, for most of the past quarter-century, most of the GOP leadership has at least given lip service to the idea that global warming is a global problem that needs a global solution. Not only have they abandoned that public position, but they now apparently believe the role of the “exceptional” and “indispensable” nation is to actively work to undermine the world’s best chance to save billions of people — including generations of Americans — from needless misery.
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