Thursday, December 14, 2017

America's Secret Police Unveiled (part 3)


Source: Texas Observer

Texas National Guard Using Airborne Stingrays for Domestic Surveillance


Last year, the Texas National Guard spent $373,000 in asset forfeiture funds to install stingray devices, called DRT boxes, on two RC-26 surveillance planes. For anyone unfamiliar with the subject, stingrays, also known as cell site simulators, are used to track people’s locations by intercepting their cell phone signals. The higher end ones can even be configured to eavesdrop on people’s phone calls and pickup the content of their text messages. The problem with law enforcement using this technology is that it doesn’t just target ‘the bad guys’ they’re looking for. Stingrays intercept every cellphone within a ⅓ mile radius. It’s a form of dragnet surveillance that treats the perps and innocent bystanders the same. This presents a challenge to two of our fundamental constitutional rights: our 4th amendment right to not be subject to arbitrary/warrantless searches and our 6th amendment right to know the nature of the charges and the evidence used against us. You see, stingray devices don’t just allow police to conduct dragnet and in many instances, warrantless surveillance, it also creates a dilemma for prosecutors who have to use the evidence gathered through these devices in court. As I noted in America’s Secret Police Unveiled (part 1) state and municipal law enforcement agencies get these devices through federal grant programs such as those run by the DOJ and DHS. As a condition of using this technology, state and municipal law enforcement agencies must adhere to non-disclosure agreements, which forbid them from revealing any information concerning the purchase or use of stingray devices to the general public, including during the course of criminal trials. As you can already guess, abiding by these non-disclosure agreements would entail either omitting the evidence entirely or using the evidence in a backhanded manner that keeps the defendant in the dark about the totality of the circumstances used to convict him, which is a violation of his 6th amendment right to know the nature of the charges and evidence used against him.

The problem with the military using this technology against U.S. citizens is even worse. The framers of the constitution knew all too well from history that civilian oversight of the military was crucial to preventing a military junta from taking over. In this case, the DRT boxes were supposedly used for counternarcotics operations in conjunction with the DEA, but the vice chairman of the Texas House committee that oversees the Texas National Guard didn’t even know they had been purchased. What’s more, these DRT boxes are the higher end stingrays I mentioned earlier that can be used to eavesdrop on phone calls and pickup text message content. So we potentially have a situation in Texas where a military force is conducting warrantless surveillance against U.S. citizens, because there are no policy guidelines on how and when they can be used.

If There Is No God, Murder Is Still Wrong



Usually, I have very little interest in the God debate between atheists and Christians, except when it comes to the origin of morality. I take exception to this subject because moral facts are just about the only thing I talk about here. When I condemn certain government policies, and especially those of my own government, I usually do so on the grounds that they violate moral law when constitutional law is not applicable. And even when constitutional law is applicable I still back up the argument against this or that policy with moral law. Of course, this naturally leads to the question where doe moral law comes from? I’ll address this below. I am an agnostic deist and as you may have guessed from the blog description a rational utilitarian. I don't think Dennis Prager made this video with my worldview in mind, or much less even knows that it exists, but I’m replying because Prager seems to imply in the video that his Judeo-Christian worldview has a monopoly on morality. He also dismisses every form of utilitarianism outright, by implication, since utilitarian theories are secular theories of ethics. Before debunking his claims, we should first examine his premises. His conclusion is based on a number of logical fallacies and false premises.

Ambiguity Fallacy

From the start of the video until the end, Prager fails to define his terms. Good, evil, right, wrong, and God are never defined. Without defining his terms Prager is simply playing a semantics game. He doesn't prove that you can't justify moral claims without belief in God; he just throws around ambiguous words, which vary in meaning depending on culture and time, loosely associating them with one another until he reaches his desired conclusion.

False Dilemma

Prager disingenuously implies in the opening that there are only two approaches to morality: the Judeo-Christian one and the secular one. This is a false dilemma on face value not only because other religions exist but also because there isn't a monolithic secular theory of ethics. Secular means they have only one thing in common; they are not religious based. It's illogical to jump to the conclusion that they share the same values. There isn't a common set of secular values anymore than there is a common set of non-American values. There are egoists, humanists, utilitarians, egalitarians, and libertarians. We don't have shared values. We only share one thing in common: a lack of supernatural basis for our claims.

False Equivalency

Prager's entire argument hinges on the premise that you can't provide any objective measurements or scientific facts that prove murder is wrong. This is not only a red herring, it's also a false equivalency. Physical units of measurements like the SI units themselves were invented by humans so they hardly serve as an example of something that's objective in the sense that Prager is trying to convey; something independent of any human's opinion. Furthermore, scientific facts aren't proven. The term proof is exclusive to the realm of logic, mathematics, and other bodies of a priori knowledge. Scientific facts and theories refer to organized bodies of a posteriori knowledge that even when corroborated several times over are still tentative at best. A scientific explanation is only objective in the sense that it was discovered through a uniform set of procedures called the scientific method (another invention of the human mind), has yet to be falsified (by another human mind), and offers the best established explanation for a specific phenomena (observed by the human mind usually by the aid of human inventions). Aside from the laws of physics, scientific facts and theories are rarely universal, unlike moral facts.

Non-Sequitur

You can't point to any pictures, objective measurements or scientific facts that demonstrate murder, theft, and rape is wrong; therefore, God made it wrong. This is a logically invalid conclusion because it is not implied in any preceding premise. In order for a conclusion to be both valid and sound, it must be implied in at least one of the preceding premises and all the premises must be true. The only conclusion that would logically follow here is that there are no objective moral facts in the sense that they can be demonstrated through the scientific method. The criteria itself isn't appropriate to the claim; it's like saying you can't prove water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius using Euclidean geometry.

The argument is also poorly framed. Morality is ultimately not a matter of isolated individual choices. Morality is about social influences. Crimes like murder and theft don’t just affect the victim; they have a rippling effect across society. Although we can’t make exact measurements, there are objective consequences to crimes like murder and theft, other than those suffered by the victim and perpetrator. For instance, places with lower crime rates, cities or countries with less murder and theft, tend to have higher standards of living than places with higher crime rates. We also know that places with higher crime rates tend to have lower property values as well and are generally less conducive to doing business than places with lower crime rates. Government corruption and criminality also tends to be accompanied by the same dire consequences that accompany higher crime rates. For instance, Norway is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, in terms of gdp per capita, and also has some of the lowest crime rates of any country which is accompanied by relatively little government corruption; on the other hand, Mexico is one of the poorest countries in the world, has some of the highest crime rates of any country and one of the most corrupt governments. I’m not suggesting that high crime rates and government corruption are a direct cause of prosperity and poverty; after all, correlations don’t tell us anything about the direction of phenomena. However, there is a high degree of comorbidity between poverty and high crime rates as well as between poverty and government corruption, and at the very least we could say these things exacerbate poverty and diminish the prosperity of a society.

Circular Reasoning

At about the 1:30 mark Prager finally gets around to defining wrong. Apparently it's whatever God says is wrong. How convenient, the desired conclusion is defined in the premise.

Morality Without God As An Explanation


Morality wasn’t handed down by any god or government. It’s not something we sat down and reasoned our way to. Morality is a product of human action but not of human design; it is a result of what we would call the emergent order. Just like our cultures, our norms and our markets, nobody in particular creates morals, rather they result from the interactions among different people and processes over time. Morals are objective only in the sense that they can be discerned by examining the objective facts of human nature. The first objective fact of human nature is that humans are social animals. Individuals don’t just pop into existence like virtual particles; our identities are formed as we are brought up through the various institutions of our society, starting with our families. Morality is a product of this process; it is ultimately an adaptation to the social state. It’s what allows societies to function, or rather what allows people to maintain the bonds necessary for the survival of societies, and the survival of our society is in our long term self-interest.

When we think about morality as a psychological adaptation, rather than a set of divine decrees we get a much clearer picture of why we need it, which is the entire point of having morals in the first place. Our sentiment of justice is ultimately an expression of the norm of reciprocity: a social instinct that predates human existence. It's not anyone's personal opinion. No one discerned it through conscious thought, but it became hardwired into human thinking through evolution. We also have an even more primitive instinct to preserve their own lives, and subsequently our own autonomy since a threat to the former is an implied threat to the latter. However, the innate desire to preserve one's autonomy is a purely selfish one. It’s only when this desire to preserve our own autonomy is coupled with mutual sympathy for every other person's desire to preserve their own autonomy that we arrive at a moral sentiment. A society in which people only pursue disparate self-interest would 1) be at a fitness disadvantage to societies where members were cooperative (i.e. a society in which the pursuit of self-interest is restrained by consideration for others) and 2) would become dysfunctional and quickly collapse hurting everyone in the long run. In our transition from nomadic societies to civilized societies common concrete ends (e.g. hunting) had to be supplanted by common abstract rules to ensure sufficient cooperation. Abstract rules such as do not murder and do not steal require reciprocity in our transactions with one another and mutual restraint from pursuing self-interest in ways that reduce other people's autonomy or capacity to preserve their own lives.

You have probably heard the saying ‘ there is still honor among thieves.’ Even criminal organizations have a code of conduct that they adhere to among each other. They might not recognize the code of conduct of the larger society, but they still need one among themselves to accomplish their malicious ends. Pursuing disparate self-interest without regard for others would even ruin criminal organizations.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Remember This When the Police Apologists Tell You - He Was Armed, Most Cops Are Ex Forces


Disclaimer: This video brought to you courtesy of Studio New Network. I am not the creator of this video.

It makes you wonder how many people police have murdered and then planted a gun on to make it look like justifiable homicide. We are already familiar with police sometimes planting drugs on suspects to embellish their own record and meet quotas, so planting guns on people isn't too much of a long shot (no pun intended), but it's one of those things the government will never tell us.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Sheriff Overrode Autopsy Findings to Protect Fellow Officers



Source: KQED News

Former chief forensic pathologist for San Joaquin County, Dr. Bennet Omalu, has alleged, along with his former colleague Dr. Susan Parsons, that Joaquin County sheriff/Coroner Steve Moore interfered with his work to cover up wrongful deaths that occurred in police custody or during the course of an arrest. The day before his resignation, he released a series of documents that reveal, among other things, that the sheriff labeled certain deaths in police custody as accidents rather than homicides, even when the evidence pointed to the latter, and withheld evidence of police using excessive force against suspects from Dr. Omalu. In one such instance, the California Highway Patrol withheld a taser report from Omalu in the case of Daniel Humphrey’s death. Omalu had originally attributed Humphrey’s death to a head injury he incurred while fleeing arrest on his motorcycle. It was not until two years later, when the deputy district attorney shared the taser report with him, that he learned that CHP had tasered the man 31 times. The sheriff had access to this report the day after Humphrey’s death. The sheriff would often ask Omalu to change the manner of death on his internal worksheets in cases where people had died after officers used tasers and chokeholds to subdue them. In another case, Abelino Cordova Cuevas was killed in a confrontation with Stockton police, who denied using a chokehold against the suspect. However, Omalu discovered that the man had died from asphyxiation and blunt force trauma, but the sheriff certified the death as an accident. The sheriff pulled the same stunt in the death of Filiberto Valencia, a schizophrenic man who broke into a group home and boarded himself in the bathroom. Stockton police beat him, sat on him and tased him, but the sheriff blamed his death on civilians. Similarly in the death of Samuel Augustine Jr, Omalu found that the man had suffered a traumatic brain and spinal cord injury during a confrontation with Stockton Police. He reported the manner of death as a homicide, but the sheriff objected and ruled his death an accident anyway.

Putting the sheriff in charge of coroner’s office creates an obvious conflict of interest, but it’s a common practice in California. California has taken police investigating themselves to a whole new level of stupid. In 50 of the 58 counties, the Sheriff also serves as the coroner and has the final determination over the manner of death. This confused me when I first heard about this story from Studio News, as I’m use to the Sheriff and Coroner being two different people. Even in a state as corrupt as my own, this sort of arrangement would never be allowed.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Utilitarian Case For Self-Ownership

I broach the subject of property rights quite often in my articles. I’d say probably 65% of my content is about property rights, and for a good reason. Property rights are foundational to civilization itself. The framers of our Constitution recognized this fact. The third, fourth, fifth, and 14th amendments to the constitution deal directly with issues involving property rights and the first amendment deals with property rights indirectly. For instance, the fourth amendment prohibits police from conducting ‘arbitrary searches and seizures’ and requires probable cause justification to search a person’s property. Similarly, the fifth amendment prohibits the federal government from depriving any person of their property without due process; the 14th amendment applies this same standard to state and local governments. The third amendment prohibits the government from quartering troops on private property, in peace times, without the owner’s consent. The first amendment deals indirectly with property rights by enshrining the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of the press, both of which require the recognition of property rights, especially freedom of assembly. I’d argue that the 13th amendment, the one that supposedly abolishes slavery, also deals with the subject of property rights, though not in the same manner in which we are accustomed to thinking about it. I would contend that it concerns the property one has in one’s own body and mind: self-ownership. It did after all make the once widespread practice of directly owning other people, for any reason except restitution, illegal. I’d further contend that it gave the government a legal monopoly over slavery, but this would detract from the subject at hand. My main point here is that the constitution recognizes self-ownership, not consistently mind you, but it is in writing. Of course, the constitution isn’t an infallible document; it was not handed down to James Madison by God himself in Philadelphia, so ultimately, we should defer to moral law when the constitution does err or omit certain natural rights.

Property rights arise from the division of labor; they are adopted because they are useful for the efficient allocation of resources, and nothing more. The human body is a scarce resource for which there is a demand. As strange as this may sound people’s bodies have a market value, and we know this from prior experience. Slavery, for instance, has been around for thousands of years and still persists today under the form of sex trafficking and human trafficking. People also claim ownership over others, or rather parts of them, through illegal organ harvesting, and we face the ever burgeoning problem of figuring out who owns your DNA. The principle of self-ownership isn’t just a metaphysical tautology, it’s a method for disputing competing claims over bodies. The alternatives to self-ownership are twofold; either you presume that the human body (and mind) is unowned or that people can assume ownership over others. Obviously, most people who object to self-ownership also find chattel slavery repulsive so they would choose the former alternative, but this would still place the human body in the same category as other unowned resources and imply that things like slavery and nonconsensual organ harvesting are amoral. For instance, we recognize that the act of cutting down a tree for wood is amoral in itself. We would hold a similar regard for the act of breaking stones. Saying that the human body is unowned places actions against a human body in the same category as cutting down a tree or breaking stones; it would imply that these actions are amoral in themselves. Slavery and organ harvesting would have to be considered amoral under that assumption. The only palpable option is to assume self-ownership.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

RE: Roaming Millennial On Human Rights



The problem with the debate over our rights is that no one ever brings a coherent definition of rights to the table. Doing so would require having a coherent theory of ethics, and this would further require one to understand what morality is and where it comes from. Most people don't have a coherent theory of ethics, and the debate over rights is usually a debate over gibsmedats, especially when liberals are involved. This lack of clarity over what constitutes a right is further compounded by the fact that most people approach morality and ethics in a mystical religious manner instead of in a scientific manner as they should. Conservatives and liberals alike tend to talk about morality as if it's some eternal ethereal thing that exists independent of the human mind. Roaming millennial deviates very little from this norm.

Moral Relativism Is Not The Problem


From the start of the video she confuses moral relativism with moral subjectivism. People who claim to reject moral relativism are usually moral relativists themselves. Moral relativism is the virtue ethics of Aristotle; it's habitually doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right manner, with the right intentions. It's the utilitarian ethics of Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill. The cardinal virtues, the law of equal liberty, and the greatest happiness principle are all relativistic. Moral relativism says certain actions are wrong except under particular circumstances. Moral subjectivism is a completely different animal. It's akin to the saying 'if it feels good do it.' This is probably the sentiment Roaming intended to address in her video.

Begging The Question


RM then defines human rights as something someone is entitled to, before abruptly drawing a dichotomy between legal rights and natural rights. This very ambiguous definition is begging the question. It does not address why people are entitled to certain things or how we arrive at these conclusions. Her explanation of natural rights similarly lacks substance. Reading an excerpt from a Wikipedia article on John Locke doesn't explain what natural rights are or where they come from. It does no justice to a theory as intricate as natural rights theory and makes the rest of her video completely pointless.

The Distinction Between Negative and Positive Rights


Skip to 8:21

The distinction between negative rights and positive rights is not as cut and dry as RM portrays and the example she gives for distinguishing between the two is completely asinine. If I became the last person in the country, morality and the concept of natural rights, would become meaningless. Morality is a social construct and rights are moral claims. They can only exist within a social context. You cannot act justly or unjustly in solitude; other people have to be around. If I was the last person on earth both sets of rights would disappear along with every other institution of society. Saying someone’s negative rights would be unaffected if everyone else vanished is just as absurd as saying the sanctity of marriage would be unaffected if everyone was a bachelor. Obviously, the very concept of marriage would be meaningless and irrelevant if married couple’s didn’t exist.

Morality Is An Adaptation


Morality wasn’t handed down by any god or government. It’s not something we sat down and reasoned ourway to. Morality is a product of human action but not of human design; it is a result of what we would call the emergent order. Just like our cultures, our norms and our markets, no one in particular creates morals, rather they result from the interactions among different people and processes over time (e.g. cultural evolution). Morality and rights are objective only in the sense that they can be arrived at by examining the objective facts of human nature. The first objective fact of human nature is that humans are social animals. Individuals don’t just pop into existence like virtual particles; their identities are formed as they are brought up through the various institutions of society, starting with the family. Morality is a product of this process; it is an adaptation to the social state. It’s what allows societies to function properly, or rather what allows people to maintain the bonds necessary for the survival of societies, and the survival of our society is in our long term self-interest.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Hawaii Re-thinking Their Gun Grabbing Scheme?

Not Really



Source: Hawaii News Now

I was first made aware of this issue by fellow content creator @choosefreedom and had planned to comment on it for the past week, but I haven’t had the time to do so until now.

For the past year, the Honolulu police department has sent letters to medical marijuana cardholders demanding that they “voluntarily” surrender any firearms they may own within 30 days. However, HPD is now reviewing this policy after further consideration. Is this a change for the better? Not really. The police department will still deny future gun permits to medical marijuana patients and steal guns from anyone they catch with a prescription. It’s not just Hawaii. The constitutional rights of potheads are at stake in every state that has legalized marijuana in some form or other. The rationale for denying second amendment rights to medical marijuana patients is that they are committing a felony offense at the federal level, and federal law stipulates that drug offenders shouldn’t be allowed to own guns. However grotesque we may think this law is, it is still true that felony drug offenders are prohibited from owning firearms. The question isn’t whether it’s true, but rather whether it’s right? In this sense it would be more appropriate to approach the subject on moral grounds rather than 2nd amendment grounds. After all, the bill of rights is not an exhaustive list of our rights. Rather than asking whether this violates the second amendment we should ask whether people should lose their constitutional rights for consuming certain plants and substances. What is the limitation of this new government power? Conceivably, the same rationale could be used as justification to deny other constitutional rights for consuming cannabis and other prohibited plants (e.g. Kratom in some states). Why not also deny people who consume prohibited plants the right to a criminal trial. The federal government already suspends the due process rights of citizens and noncitizens alike accused of terrorism. What precedent is there to prevent them from using indefinite detention against citizens accused of drug offenses. The federal government, in conjunction with police departments across the country, already deprive citizens of their property on mere suspicion that their property was involved in a crime (i.e. civil forfeiture). What is to prevent them from taking guns from people they merely suspect of using cannabis. Conceivably, medical marijuana cardholders could also have their houses arbitrarily searched for firearms from time to time. Since the government no longer respects our 4th amendment rights, they could use administrative warrants to ‘inspect’ the homes of medical marijuana cardholders. The consequence of such a law would be to deny certain people the equal rights of others for consuming a certain plant. It is basically telling them that they forfeit the same constitutional rights afforded to other Americans because they didn’t get the federal government’s permission to consume a certain plant, an act that in itself does not infringe on the rights of any other person, and given the fact that the act itself does not infringe on the rights of any other person it does not justify the forfeiting of any rights and the corresponding state violence against marijuana users.