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FACEBOOK VS. THE FIRST AMENDMENT, PRIVACY AND FREE ELECTIONS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 17, 2022 at 12:10 am

As it now operates, Facebook poses a direct threat to the First Amendment, the privacy of its users and democratic elections.

Facebook is the world’s largest social media company, with 2.936 billion users by April, 2022. Its social and political influence on the United States is enormous. According to its profile on Wikipedia:

“The subject of numerous controversies, Facebook has often been criticized over issues such as user privacy (as with the Cambridge Analytica data scandal), political manipulation (as with the 2016 U.S. elections) and mass surveillance.

“Posts originating from the Facebook page of Breitbart News, a media organization previously affiliated with Cambridge Analytica, are currently among the most widely shared political content on Facebook.

“Facebook has also been subject to criticism over psychological effects such as addiction and low self-esteem, and various controversies over content such as fake news, conspiracy theories, copyright infringement, and hate speech. Commentators have accused Facebook of willingly facilitating the spread of such content as well as exaggerating its number of users to appeal to advertisers.” 

To which can be added the following:

  • I was sentenced to “Facebook Jail” for two posts. The first of these stated: “Americans are historical illiterates.” This was labeled “hate speech and inferiority.” The fact that the distinguished historian David McCullough had said exactly the same meant nothing to Facebook.
  • Comedians have long gained laughs at Americans’ historical illiteracy: When Jay Leno hosted The Tonight Show, he often did “Jaywalking Tours” where he asked people about seemingly well-known historical events. It was common to see people say the Civil War happened in the 1940s (instead of 1861-1865) or to believe that the Texans won at the battle of the Alamo.
  • A second post deleted showed a group of heavily-armed Proud Boys standing around a cross.  Above this I had posted the caption: “Proud Boys posing with their latest victim.” This was labeled as “hate speech.” 
  • Since this post was bluntly critical of the Proud Boys, the question emerges: Does criticizing the Proud Boys—Fascists who played a major role during the January 6 attempted coup against the Capitol Building—constitute “hate speech”?   

Proud Boys 

Anthony Crider, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

  • I am currently banned from Facebook for posting the following: A Facebook member had posted this solution for achieving universal peace: All enlisted members of all the world’s militaries should refuse to serve. In 2002-3, I had watched President George W. Bush lie the country into a needless, bloody, budget-busting war in Iraq. Thus, I felt the poster’s “solution” required a serious dose of realism. 
  • So I posted a meme below it that contained an image of Herman Goring—chief of the German Luftwaffe (air force) during World War II. As a convicted war criminal, he should, I felt, have insight into how easy it is to lead a nation into war. And he did: “Naturally, the common people don’t want war, neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in every country.”
  • No sooner had I posted this than I found myself once again accused of violating Facebook’s “Community Standards.” As in past cases, Facebook did not deign to state, specifically, what standards I had violated, or how the post endangered other Facebook members. I simply found myself blocked from Facebook.

25+ Best Hermann Goering Memes | Goering Memes, His Memes, Are Memes

  • Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, disclosed tens of thousands of Facebook’s internal documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Wall Street Journal in 2021. She testified before Congress that Facebook promotes conflict to increase its readership and keep them reading—and buying. So the comment I made fell exactly into that category of exciting controversy. 

People who libel and/or harass others should be banned from social media. It’s precisely because Twitter refuses to do so that its reputation is fatally tainted.

But posting a comment that is based on accurate history should not qualify as hate speech. And none of the examples I have cited fit that definition.

Through its worldwide membership, Facebook exerts an influence that rivals—if not exceeds—that of most government institutions. Its greatest infamy: Allowing Russian trolls to play a lethal role in electing Donald Trump President in 2016. And no doubt they are preparing to do so again in 2024. 

In a highly polarized political environment, Mark Zuckerberg holds the unique distinction of having infuriated both Democrats and Republicans during his appearances before Congress. His secret: The overweening arrogance he routinely displays to those he considers lesser mortals. His motto is: ““Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.”

It’s long past time for those at the legislative level to show him that some things—such as the First Amendment, the right to privacy and elections free of foreign influence—should not be broken.  And that there is a high price to pay for those who do.

FACEBOOK VS. THE FIRST AMENDMENT, PRIVACY AND FREE ELECTIONS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 16, 2022 at 12:10 am

There is an urgent need for states—and especially the Federal government—to impose serious regulatory controls on Facebook.

Facebook is the world’s largest social media company, with 2.936 billion users by April, 2022. Its social and political influence on the United States is enormous. According to its profile on Wikipedia:

“The subject of numerous controversies, Facebook has often been criticized over issues such as user privacy (as with the Cambridge Analytica data scandal), political manipulation (as with the 2016 U.S. elections) and mass surveillance.

“Posts originating from the Facebook page of Breitbart News, a media organization previously affiliated with Cambridge Analytica, are currently among the most widely shared political content on Facebook.

“Facebook has also been subject to criticism over psychological effects such as addiction and low self-esteem, and various controversies over content such as fake news, conspiracy theories, copyright infringement, and hate speech. Commentators have accused Facebook of willingly facilitating the spread of such content as well as exaggerating its number of users to appeal to advertisers.”

Meta Platforms Headquarters Menlo Park California.jpg

Facebook / Meta headquarters in Menlo Park, California 

LPS.1, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

To which should be added the following:

  • Facebook operates as virtually a law unto itself, arbitrarily deciding which posts violate its “Community Standards” and deleting them (and their posters) without warning and right to appeal.
  • No details are ever given as to what about the post, specifically, posed a threat to other Facebook members.
  • Facebook claims that its users have the right to appeal: “You can disagree with the decision if you think we got it wrong.”
  • But then Facebook declares: “We usually offer the chance to request a review and follow up if we got the decision wrong. We have fewer reviewers available right now because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. We’re trying hard to priorities reviewing content with the most potential for harm. This means we may not be able to follow up with you, though your feedback helps us do better in the future.” 
  • Using COVID as an excuse to avoid responsible behavior is despicable. If Facebook is going to ban people for supposedly violating its “Community Standards,” there is a moral obligation—if not a legal one—to give them a chance to share their side of the story.
  • Facebook revenues have made its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, worth $71.5 billion. But Facebook refuses to provide its users with an 800 number so they can appeal directly to the Censorship Committee and share their reasons for posting the comments they did.   

Mark Zuckerberg F8 2019 Keynote (32830578717) (cropped).jpg

Mark Zuckerberg 

Anthony Quintano from Westminster, United States, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Nor does Facebook provide even an Instant Messaging capability, so members can do so. 
  • Facebook’s refusal to provide a contact number for its members exposes them to potential fraud. National Public Radio published a January 31, 2017 article on “Searching for ‘Facebook Customer Service’ Can Lead To a Scam.”
  • “According to Google data: “‘Facebook customer service’ gets searched, on average, about 27,000 times a month in the U.S.” Yet on its own “Help Community” page, Facebook admits: “Facebook doesn’t offer a phone number for support.” 
  • Nor do Facebook’s executives deign to respond to letters sent to them. I have sent letters to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and to Sheryl Sandberg, a member of its board of directors. Neither had the courtesy to reply.
  • Many of those I know on Facebook have been censored for posts that criticize Donald Trump. Apparently, “freedom of expression” exists only for those who support a man who staged an illegal coup to overturn a totally legitimate election.
  • Members can be banned from Facebook for posting entirely legitimate news stories. One such story described how Texas Congressman Joe Burton had sent a series of smarmy emails to numerous women—while posing as a paragon of “family values.”
  • The post was removed and its poster was sent the following message: “We removed content you posted. We removed this content because it doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards.” Then the member who posted it found himself blocked from Facebook.

facebook -community-standards-thou-shalt-not-have-personal-opinions-thou-50500808-1.png

  • One Facebook member posted an innocuous anti-Trump cartoon: A group of children are lined up at a house on Halloween. A woman at the door says: “Oh, look. We have a pirate, a witch and a Trump supporter [a boy wearing a white sheet as a ghost].” The post was removed and the poster blocked from Facebook:
  • Many Facebook users have found themselves punished after Facebook’s star chamber censors found a post they didn’t like from four years earlier.
  • Facebook’s arbitrary and punitive actions are so notorious they have become grist for countless memes—some of which are hilarious: “Warning: You have violated a rule we haven’t  made up yet. Because you’re a known troublemaker you’ve been banned for 30 days. Thank you for using Facebook, have a nice day.”

Our Favourite Banned Facebook Memes - The Inappropriate Gift Co

  • I was sentenced to “Facebook Jail” for two posts. The first of these stated: “Americans are historical illiterates.” This was labeled “hate speech and inferiority.” The fact that the distinguished historian David McCullough had said exactly the same meant nothing to Facebook.
  • Taken to its logical conclusion, only comments celebrating the ignorance of ignorant people will be considered acceptable on Facebook.

SURVIVING “FACEBOOK JAIL”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on June 16, 2022 at 12:10 am

Facebook likes to promote itself as a place for “more than three billion people around the world to share ideas, offer support and make a difference.”

But there are limits to the ideas that can be shared on Facebook. And while Facebook likes to boast about its “Community Standards,” these are enforced in a totally arbitrary way.

There is simply no predicting what will trigger Facebook’s ire and land a post—and its poster—in “Facebook Jail.” 

Facebook doesn’t restrict itself to banning posts that are libelous and/or harassing. Its definition of “Hate speech” is so all-encompassing it can be stretched to cover anything—including historically valid statements. 

Our Favourite Banned Facebook Memes - The Inappropriate Gift Co

In Part One I laid out the reason for my sending a letter of protest to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s longtime Chief Operating Officer.

In this part, I will offer specific steps Facebook can take to keep faith with its stated mission to be a place where people can “share ideas.” 

Noting that I had been banned from Facebook for seven days for posting “Americans are historical illiterates,” I cited the noted historian, David McCullough, and an article from the Smithsonian Institute to support my statement. 

At the 2015 National Book Festival

David McCullough 

fourandsixty, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

I then quoted my offending paragraph in full:

“Tyrants cannot be appeased by giving into their demands–it just convinces them that they can demand even more from their victims. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried that approach at Munich in September, 1938, giving Adolf Hitler a big chunk of Czechoslovakia. The reason: To prevent a war with Nazi Germany. Less than a year later, war broke out anyway.” 

This referred to yet another act of cowardice by Democrats in refusing to stand up to the aggression of the Republican Right.

There are serious historical parallels between the closing days of the German Weimar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler—and what is happening today in the United States.

Example: In the Weimar Republic, all that stood between Hitler and total power was a frail old man—President Paul von Hindenburg. In the United States, all that stands between Donald Trump and absolute power is a frail old man: President Joe Biden.

Revelan elogios de expresidente Donald Trump a Hitler | Cuba Si

Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump

Too many Americans remain ignorant of their own history—not to mention that of other countries.

That was the point of my post. But on Facebook, it’s “Hate speech” to point out the ignorance of criminally ignorant people.

Then came my third and last point.

Third: Facebook claimed: “You can disagree with the decision if you think we got it wrong.” That implied that I would be given the opportunity to state why I believed the decision was wrong and have that objection carefully reviewed. 

But, immediately afterward, Facebook stated: “We usually offer the chance to request a review and follow up if we got decisions wrong.

“We have fewer reviewers available right now because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. We’re trying hard to prioritize reviewing content with the most potential for harm. This means we may not be able to follow up with you, though your feedback helps us do better in the future.” 

Using COVID as an excuse to avoid responsible behavior is despicable. If Facebook is  going to ban people for supposedly violating its “Community Standards,” it has a moral obligation—if not a legal one—-to give them a chance to share their side of the story.

That is how a court in a democracy behaves. Making a decision based on whim and secrecy, with no appeal possible, is the behavior of a star chamber.

Facebook jail Memes

I then noted two ways by which Facebook could avoid such disgraceful episodes in the future:

  1. Providing its users with an 800 number whereby they can interact directly with the Censorship Committee and share their reasons for posting the comment(s) they did;
  2. Providing its users with at least an Instant Messaging capability, so they can do so.

My letter to Sheryl Sandberg closed as follows: 

Im aware that Facebook is a private company and thus can do whatever it likes. But it is also—supposedly—a market for the airing of competing ideas. And to behave in the despicable manner I have described is as much a disservice to the reputation Facebook wishes to have as to those who are negatively affected by its censorship decisions. 

Frankly, I don’t expect to get an answer from Sandberg, any more than I expected one from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. 

Still, there is this:

On August 23, 1968, Russian poet Yevgeney Yevtushenko sent a telegram to Communist Party Boss Leonid Brezhnev and Premier Aleksei Kosygin, protesting their invasion of Czechoslovakia. 

No doubt, Yevtushenko didn’t expect his protest to change Soviet policy—just as I don’t expect any major changes—for the good—from Facebook.

These will come about only if:

  1. Enough Facebook users get so fed up with arbitrary bullying that they seek another social media format to speak their minds; and/or
  2. Enough members of Congress demand major changes in the way Facebook regularly makes a mockery of the First Amendment. 

Neither of these is likely to happen anytime soon.

SURVIVING “FACEBOOK JAIL”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on June 15, 2022 at 12:10 am

Facebook likes to promote itself as a place for “more than three billion people around the world to share ideas, offer support and make a difference.”

But there are limits to the ideas that can be shared on Facebook. And while Facebook likes to boast about its “Community Standards,” these are enforced in a totally arbitrary way.

There is simply no predicting what will trigger Facebook’s ire and land a post—and its poster—in “Facebook Jail.” 

50+ Funny Facebook Jail Memes to Avoid Being Blocked / Get Out of It

It’s true that standards against libel and harassment are absolutely essential.

Twitter has earned an unsavory reputation for refusing to take action against those guilty of one or both. As a result, the Disney company has refused to partner with this company.

But Facebook doesn’t restrict itself to banning posts that are libelous and/or harassing. Its definition of “Hate speech” is so all-encompassing it can be stretched to cover anything. 

For example: On June 3, I received the following message from Facebook: “You can’t post or comment for 7 days. This is because you previously posted something that didn’t follow our Community Standards.

“This comment goes against our standards on hate speech and inferiority, so only you and the admins of Private Liberal Group can see it.

“If your content goes against our Community Standards again, your account may be restricted or disabled.” 

Meta Platforms Headquarters Menlo Park California.jpg

Facebook / Meta headquarters in Menlo Park, California 

LPS.1, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

And just what was my comment that qualified as “hate speech”?

Facebook refused to publish the comment or news story to which I responded. So I can only assume that I was referring to yet another act of cowardice by Democrats in standing up to the Fascistic Right:

“Americans are historical illiterates, and this is just another example proving it. Tyrants cannot be appeased by giving into their demands–it just convinces them that they can demand even more from their victims. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried that approach at Munich in September, 1938, giving Adolf Hitler a big chunk of Czechoslovakia. The reason: To prevent a war with Nazi Germany. Less than a year later, war broke out anyway.”

Apparently, for Facebook, “Americans are historical illiterates” qualifies as “hate speech.”  

When Donald Trump boasted, during his 2016 campaign for President, “I love the poorly educated!” he was not alone. The leadership of Facebook apparently feels the same way. 

Making a decision based on whim and secrecy, with no appeal possible—as Facebook routinely does—is the behavior of a star chamber.

In the past, I had sent letters to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, protesting Facebook’s star chamber approach to justice. Zuckerberg’s life features two accomplishments that dwarf all others:

  1. He’s worth $71.5 billion, courtesy of Facebook’s revenues; and
  2. In multiple appearances before Congress, he’s managed to unite Right-wing Republicans and Liberal Democrats—in their rage at his perceived arrogance and stonewalling.

I didn’t expect Zuckerberg to show the courtesy of a fair-minded CEO by replying to my letters—and I wasn’t disappointed.

Mark Zuckerberg F8 2019 Keynote (32830578717) (cropped).jpg

Mark Zuckerberg

Anthony Quintano from Westminster, United States, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

So, this time, on June 3, I decided to write someone else: Sheryl Sandberg, longtime Chief Operating Officer for Facebook. (She will be stepping down from that position in the fall of 2022, She will, however, remain a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)

Early on in my letter I quickly laid out my case:  Apparently what aroused the ire of Facebook’s Censorship Committee was my statement that “Americans are historical illiterates,” and this was interpreted as “hate speech and inferiority.” Taken to its logical conclusion, only comments celebrating the ignorance of ignorant people will be considered acceptable on Facebook.

Facebook Jail Memes - Geeks + Gamers

Then I offered three reasons why I strongly objected to the decision to ban my post—and me—from Facebook:

First: What I said about Americans’ historical illiteracy was entirely accurate. No less an authority than the acclaimed historian David McCullough has said: “I think we are raising a generation of young Americans who are, to a very large degree, historically illiterate.” 

Nor is he alone. A May 5, 2015 article by the Smithsonian Institute asks: “How Much U.S. History Do Americans Actually Know?” And it answers the question: “Less Than You Think.”

Comedians have long gained laughs at Americans’ historical illiteracy. When Jay Leno hosted The Tonight Show, he often did “Jaywalking Tours” where he would ask people about seemingly well-known historical events. It was common to see people say the Civil War happened in the 1940s (instead of 1861-1865) or to believe that the Texans won at the battle of the Alamo. 

Second:  I quoted the rest of my paragraph: “Tyrants cannot be appeased by giving into their demands–it just convinces them that they can demand even more from their victims. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried that approach at Munich in September, 1938, giving Adolf Hitler a big chunk of Czechoslovakia. The reason: To prevent a war with Nazi Germany. Less than a year later, war broke out anyway.”

I challenge you—and anyone else who reads this letter—to refute one line of that paragraph.

FBI DOESN’T SPELL P-O-T: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on May 23, 2014 at 12:11 am

On November 6, 2012, Americans overwhelmingly re-elected Barack Obama as President of the United States.

And on the same date, Americans in Colorado and Washington state overwhelmingly voted to decriminalize and regulate the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by adults over 21.

Both measures called for setting up state licensing schemes for pot growers, processors and retail stores.

But at the Federal level, marijuana remains a prohibited, Schedule 1 drug.

And in a marijuana-related decision–King v. Kentucky–the Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that police can force their way into a home without a warrant.

By an 8-1 vote, the Court upheld the warrantless search of an apartment after police smelled marijuana and feared that those inside were destroying incriminating evidence.

Police drug raid

Prior to the November 6 marijuana-legalization votes, the Obama Justice Department had issued a policy for handling states that had legalized “medical marijuana.”

This said that Federal officials should generally not use their limited resources to go after small-time users, but should investigate and prosecute large-scale trafficking organizations.

The result was increased Federal raids on marijuana dispensaries–much to the outrage of potheads and liberals.

Since the legalization of “recreational marijuana” in Colorado and Washington state, senior White House and Justice Department officials have considered taking legal action against those states to undermine their voter-approved initiatives.

The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in particular sees the legalization of marijuana as a direct challenge to its authority to enforce Federal anti-drug laws.

US-DrugEnforcementAdministration-Seal.svg

The agency’s official position in marijuana is as follows:

Marijuana is properly categorized under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. S 801, et seq. 

The clear weight of the currently available evidence supports this classification, including evidence that smoked marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical value in treatment in the United States, and evidence that there is a general lack of accepted safety for its use even under medical supervision.

The campaign to legitimize what is called “medical” marijuana is based on two propositions: first, that science views marijuana as medicine; and, second, that the DEA targets sick and dying people using the drug.  Neither proposition is true. 

Specifically, smoked marijuana has not withstood the rigors of science–it is not medicine, and it is not safe.  Moreover, the DEA targets criminals engaged in the cultivation and traficking of marijuana, not the sick and the dying.  This is true even in the 15 states that have approved the use of “medical” marijuana.

Click here: http://www.justice.gov/dea/docs/marijuana_position_2011.pdf

Among the DEA’s weapons: Federal asset forfeiture laws allow the Justice Department to seize properties used to facilitate violations of Federal anti-drug laws.

To increase the penalties for violating such laws, Congress amended the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984.

Section 881(a)(7) authorizes the forfeiture of real property “which is used, or intended to be used, in any manner or part, to commit, or to facilitate the commission” of a felony violation of the Federal Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.

Congress intended that section to attack the economic power underwriting illegal drug operations.  As a result, the Justice Department can seize houses and/or land from a landowner owing to a tenant’s illegal drug activity.

This holds true even if the landlord didn’t participate in or claimed to be unaware of the drug-law violations.

Before civil forfeiture can proceed, two requirements must be met:

  • An exchange of a controlled substance; and
  • A substantial connection between the property and the illegal activity.

Once the government has proved the property was used to “facilitate” the violation of Federal anti-drug laws, seizure of the property can occur.

This usually means invoking the “innocent owner” defense: “I didn’t know or consent to what was going on.”

It’s up to the landowner to prove his innocence.  And proving a lack of knowledge and/or consent is extremely hard.

If an “affirmative” defense can’t be proved, forfeiture of the property is virtually inevitable.

The U.S. Attorney General then has the legal right to sell the forfeited property.  The profits from this sale can then be forwarded to various agencies of the United States Government.

Prosecutors and case agents think of this as a tax on criminality.

There is an additional incentive for local and State law enforcement agencies to seize properties involved in drug-law violations: They are allowed to keep some of the proceeds once the property has been sold.

Thus, financially-strapped police departments have found pursuing drug-law crimes a lucrative way to fill their own coffers.

Still, the Federal Government finds itself not only at war with marijuana-legalizing states but with itself.

President Barack Obama has claimed that the affects of marijuana are no different than those of alcohol.  But Michele Leonhart, director of the DEA, opposes legalizing marijuana as “reckless and irresponsible.”

This has reportedly led her boss–Attorney General Eric Holder–to order Leonhart to “get in line” with the administration’s efforts to legalize marijuana and lessen the penalties for people who commit federal drug crimes.

Until there is a concensus by lawmakers and citizens on what America’s policy on marijuana should be, the results will be continued tension and confusion.

FBI DOESN’T SPELL P-O-T: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on May 22, 2014 at 12:50 am

The FBI has a problem.

The Bureau needs more specialists to combat cybercrime–especially now that the Obama Justice Department has indicted five Chinese military officials for hacking into American companies to steal trade secrets.

On the other hand: Many of the tech-savvy experts the FBI wants to hire are as much into marijuana as they are into computers.

On May 19, FBI Director James Comey tried to inject a note of humor into this situation when addressing a New York conference.

FBI Director James Comey

Comey said the FBI was grappling with balancing its desire to recruit a strong workforce against changing attitudes on marijuana use by states and young adults.

“Some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” said Comey.

The comment landed Comey in hot water at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committe on May 21.

“Do you understand that that could be interpreted as one more example of leadership in America dismissing the seriousness of marijuana use and that could undermine our ability to convince young people not to go down a dangerous path?” asked Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama).

“Very much, Senator,” Comey replied. “I am determined not to lose my sense of humor, but, unfortunately, there I was trying to be both serious and funny.

“I am absolutely dead-set against using marijuana. I don’t want young people to use marijuana. It’s against the law.  We have a three-year ban on marijuana.   I did not say that I am going to change that ban.”

By this, Comey meant that the FBI will not hire anyone who has used marijuana during the previous three years.

Comey was referring to marijuana’s still being illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.  Despite this,  many states now allow its use for “medical” purposes.

In Colorado and Washington state, it can be legally used for any purpose.

Which, in turn, brings up a salient point:

The dangers of secondhand smoke are now almost universally accepted, even by smokers.  But from a strictly health-related viewpoint, there is as much reason to restrict exposure to marijuana smoke.

Consider the following from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment OEHHA) of the State’s Environmental Protection Agency:

“MARIJUANA SMOKE LISTED EFFECTIVE JUNE 19, 2009 AS KNOWN TO THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA TO CAUSE CANCER [06/19/09]

“The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) of the California Environmental Protection Agency is adding marijuana smoke to the Proposition 65 list, effective June 19, 2009.

“Marijuana smoke was considered by the Carcinogen Identification Committee (CIC) of the OEHHA Science Advisory Board at a public meeting held on May 29, 2009.

The CIC determined that marijuana smoke was clearly shown, through scientifically valid testing according to generally accepted principles, to cause cancer.

“In summary, marijuana smoke is being listed under Proposition 65 as known to the State to cause cancer:”

Yet marijuana smoke is treated as something harmless, even as a subject for humor.

On “The Tonight Show,” Jay Leno often joked about the growing number of “patients” who need “medical marijuana” as a remedy for glaucoma.

In San Francisco–long known as a bastion of tolerance for drug-abuse offenses of all types–police are cutting back on the enforcement of drug crimes.

Marijuana

This is especially true in the case of marijuana.

The SFPD claims this reflects a shift to focusing on violent crime,

The decline is also partly due to a 10% staff cut during the past two years, as well as a $600,000 reduction in state and federal grants for drug enforcement.

The president of a property management agency recently told me that if a tenant complains of marijuana smoke pollution from another unit, the police will not enter the unit from which the stench is coming.

Yet marijuana remains illegal under the Federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), classified as a Schedule 1 substance.

A Schedule 1 substance is defined as having the following characteristics:

  • It has a high potential for abuse.
  • It has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  • There is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision.

And despite the unwillingness of the SFPD to enforce anti-drug laws, a 2011 Supreme Court decision allows police to force their way into a home without a warrant.

By an 8-1 vote, the Court upheld the warrantless search of an apartment after police smelled marijuana and feared that those inside were destroying incriminating evidence.

In addition, Federal asset forfeiture laws allow the Justice Department to seize properties used to facilitate violations of Federal anti-drug laws.

On November 6, 2012, Americans overwhelmingly re-elected Barack Obama as President of the United States.

And on the same date, Americans in Colorado and Washington state overwhelmingly voted to decriminalize and regulate the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by adults over 21.

Both measures called for setting up state licensing schemes for pot growers, processors and retail stores.

On December 6, 2012, hundreds of potheads gathered at Seattle Center for a New Year’s Eve-style countdown to 12 a.m., when the legalization measure took effect.

When the clock struck, they cheered and lit up in unison–as though inhaling cancerous fumes and a skunk-like stench was something to celebrate.

 

OBAMA LOSES, MACHIAVELLI RULES

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on September 19, 2013 at 12:00 am

I was thoroughly glad to see the era of George W. Bush come to an end.  He had, I believed, become a terrible liability for America–in both foreign and domestic policy.

In foreign affairs, America had become entrapped in a totally needless war in Iraq.  And by authorizing the use of torture, he had turned the United States into a pariah nation in the eyes of much of the civilized world.

Domestically, he had allowed the sheer greed and arrogance of America’s most powerful corporations to push the nation to the brink of bankruptcy.

So during the early weeks of President Barack Obama’s first term, I sent him a gift: My favorite selections from the two major works of Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince and The Discourses.

Niccolo Machiavelli

I hoped that, on at least some occasions, the new President would find useful advice in the wisdom of the father of political science.

Unfortunately, such has not been the case.

For example:

United Nations officials estimate that more than 6,000 people have died in Syria since fighting erupted in 2011 against the regime of dictator Bashir al-Assad.

During that time, the world made no move to intervene–for a series of excellent reasons.  Among these:

  • Since 1979, Syria has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism.
  • There are no “good Syrians” for the United States to support.  There is a civil war between rival terrorist groups.
  • Among these: Hezbollah and Hamas (pro-Assad); and Al Qaeda (anti-Assad).

This was the position of the United States as well.

Meanwhile, President Obama said on several occasions that if Assad used chemical weapons against his enemies, that would be “a red line in the sand.”

Then, on August 21, the Assad regime was accused of using chemical weapons in Damascus suburbs to kill more than 1,400 civilians.

On August 30, the Obama administration said it had “high confidence” that Syria’s government carried out the chemical weapons attack.

Having boxed himself in, Obama felt he had to make good on his threat–even if it risked the lives of those flying combat missions over Syria’s formidable air defenses.

He sent Secretary of State John Kerry before TV cameras to express America’s moral outrage at Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

And he positioned six American warships close to the Syrian coast.

On August 31, Obama announced that he would seek Congressional authorization before attacking Syria.  Obama said he was “prepared to give that order” to strike Syria because:

  • Syria’s use of chemical weapons “risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemicals weapons,” and
  • It put U.S. regional allies that share a border with Syria in danger.

It looked as though the United States was about to plunge into its third Middle East war in 12 years.

Then Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his own suggestion for averting war: Syria would agree to put its stocks of chemical weapons under United Nations control.

On September 14, the United States and Russia announced in Geneva that they reached a deal that provided a path for Obama to avoid the air strikes he had promised to launch against Syria.

Suddenly, Obama asked congressional leaders to delay votes on authorizing military action in Syria while the diplomatic process worked itself out.

As “Tonight” show host Jay Leno put it: Obama gave a speech calling for war–and then the rebuttal.

So what does Niccolo Machiavelli have to do with any of this?

In Chapter 19 of The Prince, his guide to successful rulership, he outlines “That We Must Avoid Being Despised and Hated.”

“The prince must…avoid those things which will make him hated or despised.  And whenever he succeeds in this, he will have done his part, and will find no danger in other vices….

“He is rendered despicable by being thought changeable, frivolous, effeminate, timid and irresolute—which a prince must guard against as a rock of danger….

“[He] must contrive that his actions show grandeur, spirit, gravity and fortitude.  As to the government of his subjects, let his sentence be irrevocable, and let him adhere to his decisions so that no one may think of deceiving or cozening him.”

By making a vigorous case for going to war with Syria, and then suddenly reversing himself, Obama has managed to offend everyone:

  • Right-wingers–who hoped to see America plunge into another Middle East war.
  • Liberals–who didn’t want to repeat the 2003 Iraqi war disaster.
  • Syrian rebels–who expected a full-scale American intervention to bring them to power.
  • The Assad regime–which no doubt believes Obama was bluffing.

Unfortunately, history is not a VHS tape that can be rewound.  No one–including Obama–gets a second chance to make a first impression.

By repeatedly showing timidity toward Republicans, Obama had forfeited credibility as a leader to be feared by his domestic Right-wing enemies.

President Theodore Roosevelt famously said: “I have always lived by a South African proverb: Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far.”

By speaking loudly and then putting his big stick aside, Obama forfeited credibility among his foreign enemies.

POT-HEAD HYPOCRISY – PART THREE (END)

In Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on January 17, 2013 at 12:01 am

On November 6, 2012, Americans overwhelmingly re-elected Barack Obama as President of the United States.

And on the same date, Americans in Colorado and Washington state overwhelmingly voted to decriminalize and regulate the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by adults over 21.

But at the Federal level, marijuana remains a prohibited, Schedule 1 drug.

And the Justice Department–seeing these initiatives as a direct challenge to its authority–are considering taking legal action against those states.

Among their weapons: Federal asset forfeiture laws which allow the Justice Department to seize properties used to facilitate violations of Federal anti-drug laws.

Prosecutors and case-agents view the seizing of drug-related properties as crucial to eliminating the financial clout of drug-dealing operations.

There is an additional incentive for local and State law enforcement agencies to seize properties involved in drug-law violations: They are allowed to keep some of the proceeds once the property has been sold.

Thus, financially-strapped police agencies have found pursuing drug-law crimes a great way to fill their coffers.

Nonsmoking tenants in apartment buildings who do not wish to inhale the cancerous fumes of marijuana smokers will likely find their options limited.

In San Francisco, landlords can ban smoking from common areas of their apartment buildings–such as the lobby and hallways. But if a tenant wants to toak up in his unit and that stench enters another apartment, city laws do not provide for a remedy.

In most cities and states, apartment residents will face a bitter truth: The legal system has not yet caught up with the scientific realities of the carcinogenic properties of tobacco–or marijuana–smoke.

This is comparable to the situation existing 25 years ago, when people could openly smoke in Federal buildings across the nation.  And when restaurants offered “non-smoking” sections–which were often polluted with the smoke of cigarettes, pipes and even cigars.

Over time, the law finally caught up with the lethal realities of secondhand tobacco smoke.  Unfortunately, it has not yet caught up with the equally lethal realities of secondhand marijuana smoke.

But a two-step remedy does lie at hand–for both nonsmoking tenants and cash-strapped Federal agencies:

First: If the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration finds widespread drug-abuse occurring within an apartment complex, it should arrest the tenants involved.

Second, more importantly, the Justice Department should levy a punitively large fine against the landlord on whose property these violations occurred.

The results of such a policy would be as follows:

  1. The violators of Federal anti-narcotics laws will be immediately put out of business.
  2. The revenues from the fine(s) can be divided between (1) financing future law enforcement efforts; and (2) financing the workings of Federal agencies generally.
  3. Thus, the Government can generate untold and desperately-needed revenues—without making itself politically vulnerable to the charge of raising taxes. Only law-ignoring landlords and their drug-dealing tenants will protest the enforcement of such fines.
  4. In San Francisco alone, more than two-thirds of its residents are renters.  Multiply the number of apartment complexes that exist just in this small city by the number that exist in larger ones—such as Los Angeles and New York—and you can easily imagine the revenues to be generated.
  5. Landlords who are assessed such fines will be served unmistakable notice that passively tolerating violations of Federal narcotics laws is no longer in their best interests.
  6. They, in turn, will take a far more pro-active approach to combing known drug-dealers and –abusers from their rolls of tenants.
  7. This, in turn, will make their complexes far safer for their law-abiding tenants.
  8. The Federal Government need not burden itself with assuming custody of such properties. Since landlords live essentially for their wallets, the levying of massive fines against them will send a message they cannot/will not dare ignore in the future.
  9. If the Federal Government chooses to seize apartment complexes found in violation of Federal anti-drug laws, it can strip the current owners of those properties and re-sell the complexes—as it now sells other properties bought with drug-tainted monies.
  10. Presumably the new owners of those properties will take warning from the successful prosecution of the previous owners.

Conventional remedies are useless against unconventional law-breakers.

By simply putting the onus on landlords to police their own buildings, the Justice Department can, in one stroke, accomplish a series of worthwhile goals on behalf of:

  • law-abiding tenants;
  • itself;
  • the Federal Government generally; and
  • those Americans served by its agencies.

POT-HEAD HYPOCRISY – PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 16, 2013 at 12:16 am

On November 6, 2012, Americans overwhelmingly re-elected Barack Obama as President of the United States.

And on the same date, Americans in Colorado and Washington state overwhelmingly voted to decriminalize and regulate the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by adults over 21.

Both measures called for setting up state licensing schemes for pot growers, processors and retail stores.

On December 6, hundreds of potheads gathered at Seattle Center for a New Year’s Eve-style countdown to 12 a.m., when the legalization measure took effect.

When the clock struck, they cheered and lit up in unison–as though inhaling cancerous fumes and a skunk-like stench was something to celebrate.

But at the Federal level, marijuana remains a prohibited, Schedule 1 drug.

And in a marijuana-related decision–King v. Kentucky–the Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that police can force their way into a home without a warrant.

By an 8-1 vote, the Court upheld the warrantless search of an apartment after police smelled marijuana and feared that those inside were destroying incriminating evidence.

Prior to the November 6 marijuana-legalization votes, the Obama Justice Department had issued a policy for handling states that had legalized “medical marijuana.”

This said that Federal officials should generally not use their limited resources to go after small-time users, but should investigate and prosecute large-scale trafficking organizations.

The result was increased Federal raids on marijuana dispensaries–much to the outrage of potheads and liberals.

Marijuana leaf

Since the legalization of “recreational marijuana” in Colorado and Washington state, senior White House and Justice Department officials have considered taking legal action against those states to undermine their voter-approved initiatives.

The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in particular sees the legalization of marijuana as a direct challenge to its authority to enforce Federal anti-drug laws.

The agency’s official position in marijuana is as follows:

Marijuana is properly categorized under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. S 801, et seq. 

The clear weight of the currently available evidence supports this classification, including evidence that smoked marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical value in treatment in the United States, and evidence that there is a general lack of accepted safety for its use even under medical supervision.

The campaign to legitimize what is called “medical” marijuana is based on two propositions: first, that science views marijuana as medicine; and, second, that the DEA targets sick and dying people using the drug.  Neither proposition is true. 

Specifically, smoked marijuana has not withstood the rigors of science–it is not medicine, and it is not safe.  Moreover, the DEA targets criminals engaged in the cultivation and traficking of marijuana, not the sick and the dying.  This is true even in the 15 states that have approved the use of “medical” marijuana.

Click here: http://www.justice.gov/dea/docs/marijuana_position_2011.pdf

Among the DEA’s weapons: Federal asset forfeiture laws allow the Justice Department to seize properties used to facilitate violations of Federal anti-drug laws.

To increase the penalties for violating such laws, Congress amended the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984.

Section 881(a)(7) authorizes the forfeiture of real property “which is used, or intended to be used, in any manner or part, to commit, or to facilitate the commission” of a felony violation of the Federal Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.

Congress intended that section to attack the economic power underwriting illegal drug operations.  As a result, the Justice Department can seize houses and/or land from a landowner owing to a tenant’s illegal drug activity.

This holds true even if the landlord didn’t participate in or claimed to be unaware of the drug-law violations.

Before civil forfeiture can proceed, two requirements must be met:

  • An exchange of a controlled substance; and
  • A substantial connection between the property and the illegal activity.

Once the government has proved the property was used to “facilitate” the violation of Federal anti-drug laws, seizure of the property can occur.

This usually means invoking the “innocent owner” defense: “I didn’t know or consent to what was going on.”

It’s up to the landowner to prove his innocence.  And proving a lack of knowledge and/or consent is extremely hard.

If an “affirmative” defense can’t be proved, forfeiture of the property is virtually inevitable.

The U.S. Attorney General then has the legal right to sell the forfeited property.  The profits from this sale can then be forwarded to various agencies of the United States Government.

Prosecutors and case agents think of this as a tax on criminality.

POT-HEAD HYPOCRISY – PART ONE (OF THREE)

In History, Law, Law Enforcement on January 15, 2013 at 12:03 am

The American Lung Association has brilliantly put the dangers of tobacco smoking into vivid perspective:

“Three decades ago, public outrage killed an automobile model (Ford’s Pinto) whose design defects allegedly caused 59 deaths.

“Yet every year tobacco kills more Americans than did World War II — more than AIDS, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, vehicular accidents, homicide and suicide combined.

“Approximately 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 24,518 people died of alochol, 17,774 died of AIDS, 34,485 died of car accidents, 39,147 died of drug use — legal and illegal — 16,799 died of murder and 36,909 died of suicide in 2009.

“That brings us to a total of 169,632 deaths, far less than the 430,000 that die from smoking annually.

“As for the part about World War II, approximately  292,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were killed in battle during World War II, according to a U.S. Census Bureau April 29, 2004, report in commemoration of the new World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.

“An additional 114,000 members of U.S. forces died of other causes during the war, bringing the total to 406,000 people.”

Click here: Tobacco – American Lung Association

Laws restricting where people may smoke have–in most parts of the country–caught up with the deadly realities of this habit.

No longer can smokers light up in restaurants, supermarkets, local, State and Federal buildings–and even hospitals.

The dangers of secondhand smoke are now almost universally accepted, even by smokers.  As a result, most smoking parents try to do it well out of range of their children.

The vast majority of employers ban smoking in the workplace–and, increasingly, are offering smoking-cessation programs as part of their medical insurance plans.

A growing number of apartment complexes now ban smoking by their residents–partly for the safety of tenants, and partly as a precaution against accidental fires.

So it comes as a shock to see how totally different are public attitudes toward the smoking of marijuana.

Marijuana plant

From a strictly health-related viewpoint, there is as much reason to restrict exposure to marijuana smoke as that from tobacco.

Consider the following from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment OEHHA) of the State’s Environmental Protection Agency:

“MARIJUANA SMOKE LISTED EFFECTIVE JUNE 19, 2009 AS KNOWN TO THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA TO CAUSE CANCER [06/19/09]

“The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) of the California Environmental Protection Agency is adding marijuana smoke to the Proposition 65 list1, effective June 19, 2009.

“Marijuana smoke was considered by the Carcinogen Identification Committee (CIC) of the OEHHA Science “Advisory Board at a public meeting held on May 29, 2009.  The CIC determined that marijuana smoke was clearly shown, through scientifically valid testing according to generally accepted principles, to cause cancer.

“Consequently, marijuana smoke is being added to the Proposition 65 list, pursuant to Title 27, California Code of Regulations, section 25305(a)(1) (formerly Title 22, California Code of Regulations, section 12305(a)(1)).

“In summary, marijuana smoke is being listed under Proposition 65 as known to the State to cause cancer:”

Chemical

CAS No.

Toxicological Endpoint

Listing Mechanism

Marijuana smoke

Cancer

State’s Qualified Experts

Yet marijuana smoke is treated as something harmless, even as a subject for humor.

On “The Tonight Show,” Jay Leno often jokes about the growing number of “patients” who need “medical marijuana” as a remedy for glaucoma.

In San Francisco–long known as a bastion of tolerance for drug-abuse offenses of all types–police are cutting back on the enforcement of drug crimes.

This is especially true in the case of marijuana.

The SFPD claims this reflects a shift to focusing on violent crime,

The decline is also partly due to a 10% staff cut during the past two years, as well as a $600,000 reduction in state and federal grants for drug enforcement.

The president of a property management agency recently told me that if a tenant complains of marijuana smoke pollution from another unit, the police will not enter the unit from which the stench is coming.

Yet marijuana remains illegal under the Federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), classified as a Schedule 1 substance.

A Schedule 1 substance is defined as having the following characteristics:

  • It has a high potential for abuse.
  • It has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  • There is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision.

And despite the unwillingness of the SFPD to enforce anti-drug laws, a 2011 Supreme Court decision allows police to force their way into a home without a warrant.

By an 8-1 vote, the Court upheld the warrantless search of an apartment after police smelled marijuana and feared that those inside were destroying incriminating evidence.

In addition, Federal asset forfeiture laws allow the Justice Department to seize properties used to facilitate violations of Federal anti-drug laws.

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