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Arbitrary enforcement, secrecy, self-interest, and the loss of government legitimacy

The drug war and the national security scandals have overlapped in so many ways, not the least of which is a growing sense of the erosion of the very foundation of legitimacy of government.

Certainly in a Democracy at the very least, the citizens must be able to give informed consent regarding core governmental authority, with some system of accountability for government action, and without arbitrary actions by the government against its citizens. Yes, it’s true that this is a Representative Democracy, so that each decision is not micromanaged by the populace, but we’re talking about day-to-day decisions, but rather the very foundation.

When a government acts to prevent an informed citizenry, avoids accountability, and acts in arbitrary ways that benefit those with power at the expense of those without power, then that government has lost its legitimacy.

In marijuana policy, the confusing smoke signals continue to burn

Here’s just one of many little symptoms of the problem…

This article talks about how the government is moving to seize a building from a family who rented space to a marijuana dispensary in California, without proper notice, and in a totally arbitrary manner that makes no sense regarding enforcement of laws or justice, has the effect of harming a completely innocent person, and enriches the agency doing the seizing.

But why not stop with the mixed signals, end the winless and costly war on drugs, and legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, which is nowhere near as big a social or medical problem as perfectly legal alcohol?

And if we’re not yet ready for that, can’t the feds simply shut an “illegal” pot dispensary rather than steal an entire building from a law-abiding landlord?

That’s the big question. If the goal is enforcement of the law, then seizing that building, or the Caswell Motel, or Camp Zoe make little sense (but lots of profit). Follow Americans for Forfeiture Reform for loads of instances where forfeiture is the arbitrary act of profit-seeking governmental entities and individuals.

State Officials: DOJ Has Given ‘Tacit Approval’ for Legalized Marijuana

Colorado officials say they believe they have “tacit approval” from the U.S. Justice Department to implement voter-approved laws legalizing marijuana.

“We seem to have tacit approval at this point,” State Sen. Pat Steadman, a Democrat who co-sponsored two bills establishing the state’s regulations for recreational marijuana, told TPM in a phone interview Tuesday.

Another source directly involved in conversations with Justice, who asked not to be named to speak freely about private discussions, agreed with that characterization.

“They’re well aware of what we’ve been up to,” the source told TPM. “I do think that it’s fair to say that we have their tacit approval at this point.” […]

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said back in February that the Justice Department was in the “last stages” of reviewing the initiatives and guidance should be coming “relatively soon.” But there has been no further information from the department since then.

How pathetic is this? This should be a major scandal! The top officials in a state go to Washington, DC to ask the federal government for clarification regarding a major change in the laws that sets up a conflict between state and federal laws, and they get nothing. They can’t ignore the state law and they get no help from the feds, so they have to go with the “tacit approval” validation, meaning they’ll set up legal systems knowing full well that federal agents could arbitrarily swoop in at any time and arrest people or seize assets.

What kind of government is that? Limbo is not a system of justice.

There’s a judicial concept called Void for Vagueness:

In American constitutional law, a statute is void for vagueness and unenforceable if it is too vague for the average citizen to understand. There are several ways, senses or reasons a statute might be considered vague. In general, a statute might be called void for vagueness reasons when an average citizen cannot generally determine what persons are regulated, what conduct is prohibited, or what punishment may be imposed. Criminal laws which didn’t state explicitly and definitely what conduct is punishable for example are void for vagueness. A statute is also void for vagueness if a legislature’s delegation of authority to judges and/or administrators is so extensive that it would lead to arbitrary prosecutions.

Of course, this is specific to lawmaking, but the concept should apply to enforcement as well. When laws are interpreted in secret by the government, and no guidance is given other than vague, pleasant-sounding platitudes by the Attorney General while the DEA, FBI, NSA and federal attorneys mount offensives, what is the citizenry to do?

And the secrecy in government has become extremely pervasive…

Government Confirms That It Has Secret Interpretation of Patriot Act Spy Powers

The government has just officially confirmed what we’ve long suspected: there are secret Justice Department opinions about the Patriot Act’s Section 215, which allows the government to get secret orders from a special surveillance court (the FISA Court) requiring Internet service providers and other companies to turn over “any tangible things.” Just exactly what the government thinks that phrase means remains to be seen, but there are indications that their take on it is very broad.

Is that not Kafkaesque? There are laws you must follow, but we’re not going to tell you what they are, or our interpretation of what they mean, but you must follow them anyway, and we’re going to gag you so you can’t talk about these laws you must follow, and if you try to take it to court, we’re going to invoke national security and say that the courts can’t be allowed to discuss it, plus since it’s secret it doesn’t exist anyway.

Think that’s an overstatement? Put yourself in the shoes of the founder of Lavabit:

Feds Threaten to Arrest Lavabit Founder for Shutting Down His Service

Power corrupts, and without good accountability, too many of those in government will use that power arbitrarily and destructively (even when their intentions are good). A compliant and disengaged citizenry is the fuel for widespread government corruption. It is our job to make sure everyone is engaged and aware. These corrupt practices cannot continue in the light.

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27 comments to Arbitrary enforcement, secrecy, self-interest, and the loss of government legitimacy

  • ezrydn

    Thanks, Pete, for reminding me why I left the US 13 years ago. I’m just an American vet that decided “Jack Boot” living wasn’t for me and did something about it.

    • Pete bulkner

      Fucking traider

      • Windy

        What the hell is wrong with traders (I assume you misspelled the word)? Without traders we wouldn’t have anywhere near the goods and foods we have available to us.

        If you (again misspelled) and meant “traitor”, you are so far off the rails you might as well be in the deepest cave in the world. And you should damn well get yourself a real education cuz you sure didn’t learn anything about our form of governance, the Constitution, or what treason actually means from your government schooling.

  • jean valjean

    wheres our vaunted “free press” in this scandal? oh there they are in their government cheerleader outfits

  • darkcycle

    Yep. That Constitutional Republic we had there? It’s gone now.

    • Windy

      It’s been gone for quite some time, some of us recognized it long ago, but more and more are waking up to that unpleasant fact now, now that it may be too late to restore it by peaceful means.

  • Howard

    “This article talks about how the government is moving to seize a building from a family who rented space to a marijuana dispensary in California, without proper notice, and in a totally arbitrary manner that makes no sense regarding enforcement of laws or justice, has the effect of harming a completely innocent person, and enriches the agency doing the seizing.”

    It’s worse than that. Much worse. In the Tony Jalali case referenced above, the city of Anaheim joined the federal suit against Jalali, with the obvious intention of sharing the spoils in the event Jalali’s property is seized and sold.

    Here’s why it’s worse, from the linked article;

    “And at its convention center, Anaheim hosts an annual event billed as the “the world’s biggest marijuana festival.”

    Clearly, the city of Anaheim is a landlord renting to a tenant (the festival organizers) that is in violation of federal law. Why, then, hasn’t the fed moved to seize the convention center?

    I mean, W…T…F!

  • Duncan20903

    Here’s something from the “res ipsa loquitur” category that we’ve missed…the DEA Museum is on a tour of the Country. The tour is called Target: America

    • Nunavut Tripper

      Of particular interest is the sponsors list on the DEA Museum website. The Semblers and Carlton Turner were among others.
      Also the testimonial from Susan F , age 4 was rather articulate for a munchkin.

      • Howard

        Might as well include the quote from Susan F. age 4;

        “Incredible Exhibit! Target America provides prevention and intervention through education by opening eyes to the dangers of addiction! This was the greatest experience of my life… to save lives and to give addicts out there hope! There is help in our community!”

        I can see why it must have been the greatest experience of her life. After all, she was only 4 years old when she penned this quote. The DEA must be so proud, with America in their cross hairs they bagged this brilliant toddler, improving her life forever. Bravo.

    • darkcycle

      No, that sideshow gets dragged out when they have willing venue (not very often, apparently). I saw this a couple of years ago, the last time they had some Grade School gymnasium to display in.

      • Duncan20903

        .
        .

        Well that description sure wouldn’t keep anyone from falling asleep out of utter boredom. You people from outside the beltway just don’t grasp the importance of the right spin. That is why you can’t get rid of any of those ponies Mr. Obama has given you.

        But regardless of the substance (or lack thereof) of this particular dog & pony show it was the pure unadulterated irony of the fact that the DEA decided to call it Target America which made me think it post worthy. That sounds more like what al Queda does than a Federal police agency. Who ever is in charge of al Queda/the Taliban or the freedom fighters (or whatever they’re called) can only have a wet dream about being able to do even half the damage done to our society by the DEA.

        They could put it on display in a West Virginia outhouse and that irony would remain. Oh Mr. DEA man, your Freudian slip is showing!

    • Jean Valjean

      you just couldn’t make this stuff up….have no sense of irony at all? “Opening eyes to the damage the drug war causes” would be more fitting.

  • Brian Schmied

    This is just one more move to create a code of law so vague and open to interpretation that the government can take unjustifiable actions to control their political opposition and further concentrate power.

  • Howard

    Related to the ‘tacit approval’ part of Pete’s post;

    http://tinyurl.com/lkcsu5k

    This had better be more than a polite invitation. More like a summons. I fear a benign dog and pony show. I hope I’m wrong.

  • DdC

    ☛ It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their choice, if the laws are so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they… undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow.
    — James Madison, Federalist Number 62.

    ☛ Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.
    — Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

    ☛ The purpose of education is to make the choices clear to people, not to make the choices for people.
    — Peter McWilliams,
    Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do

    ☛ The point is that a great army of the American people oppose these laws. Nobody can say that that is a healthy condition in our democracy. Nobody can say that people like ours are comfortable when so many of our thinking citizens resist the attempt on the part of the government to regulate their conduct by law. The natural result of it is the breeding throughout the length and breadth of the country of a disrespect for all law. Nobody can gainsay the fact that the Prohibition law and the Volstead Act have found a new line of endeavor for the underworld; they brought to life the bootleggers, and the bootleggers begot the hijackers, and the hijackers the racketeers, so that gangland is interested in the maintenance of Prohibition because by its operation they are benefited. I believe in temperance. We have not achieved temperance under the present system. The mothers and fathers of young men and young women throughout this land know the anxiety and worry which has been brought to them by their children’s use of liquor in a way which was unknown before Prohibition. I believe in reverence for law. I raise, therefore, what I profoundly believe to be a great moral issue involving the righteousness of our national conduct and the protection of our children’s morals.
    — Alfred E. Smith,
    presidential campaign speech,
    Sept. 29, 1928, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

    ☛ Written laws are like spiders’ webs; they hold the weak and delicate who might be caught in their meshes, but are torn in pieces by the rich and powerful.
    — Anacharsis (f.c. 600 BC), in Plutarch’s “Solon”

    ☛ And here we come to the vital distinction between the advocacy of temperance and the advocacy of prohibition. Temperance and self-control are convertible terms. Prohibition, or that which it implies, is the direct negation of the term self-control. In order to save the small percentage of men who are too weak to resist their animal desires, it aims to put chains on every man, the weak and the strong alike. And if this is proper in one respect, why not in all respects? Yet, what would one think of a proposition to keep all men locked up because a certain number have a propensity to steal?
    — Felix Mendelsohn, 1915

    ☛ “I am against Prohibition because it has set the cause of temperence back twenty years; because it has substituted an ineffective campaign of force for an effective campaign of education; because it has replaced comparatively uninjurious light wines and beers with the worst kind of hard liquor and bad liquor; because it has increased drinking not only among men but has extended drinking to women and even children.”
    — William Randolph Hearst,
    initially a supporter of Prohibition,
    explaining his change of mind in 1929.
    From “Drink: A Social History of America”
    by Andrew Barr (1999), p.239.

    Al Capone and Watergate

    ☛ Laws do not persuade just because they threaten. — Seneca, A.D. 65

    ☛ For over fifty years the United States has been committed to a policy of suppressing the “abuse” of narcotic and other “dangerous” drugs. The primary instrument in carrying out this policy has been the criminal sanction. The results of this reliance on the criminal sanction have included the following:
    (1) Several hundred thousand people, the overwhelming majority of whom have been primarily users rather than traffickers, have been subjected to severe criminal punishment.
    (2) An immensely profitable illegal traffic in narcotic and other forbidden drugs has developed.
    (3) This illegal traffic has contributed significantly to the growth and prosperity of organized criminal groups.
    (4) A substantial number of all acquisitive crimes – burglary, robbery, auto theft, other forms of larceny – have been committed by drug users in order to get the wherewithal to pay the artificially high prices charged for drugs on the illegal market.
    (5) Billions of dollars and a significant proportion of total law enforcement resources have been expended in all stages of the criminal process.
    (6) A disturbingly large number of undesirable police practices – unconstitutional searches and seizures, entrapment, electronic surveillance have become habitual because of the great difficulty that attends the detection of narcotics offenses.
    (7) The burden of enforcement has fallen primarily on the urban poor, especially Negroes and Mexican-Americans.
    (8) Research on the causes, effects, and cures of drug use has been stultified.
    (9) The medical profession has been intimidated into neglecting its accustomed role of relieving this form of human misery.
    (10) A large and well-entrenched enforcement bureaucracy has developed a vested interest in the status quo, and has effectively thwarted all but the most marginal reforms.
    (11) Legislative invocations of the criminal sanction have automatically and unthinkingly been extended from narcotics to marijuana to the flood of new mind-altering drugs that have appeared in recent years, thereby compounding the preexisting problem. A clearer case of misapplication of the criminal sanction would be difficult to imagine.
    — “The Limits of the Criminal Sanction,”
    by Herbert Packer, 1968

    ☛ Be on the watch for the false prophets that come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will recognize them. Never do people gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles, do they? Likewise every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces worthless fruit; a good tree cannot bear worthless fruit, neither can a rotten tree produce fine fruit. Every tree not producing fine fruit gets cut down and thrown into the fire. Really, then, by their fruits you will recognize those [men].
    — Matthew 7:15-20

    ☛ You need only reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the struggle for independence.
    — C.A. Beard

    • Windy

      “I am against Prohibition because it has set the cause of temperence back twenty years; because it has substituted an ineffective campaign of force for an effective campaign of education; because it has replaced comparatively uninjurious light wines and beers with the worst kind of hard liquor and bad liquor; because it has increased drinking not only among men but has extended drinking to women and even children.”
      – William Randolph Hearst,
      initially a supporter of Prohibition,
      explaining his change of mind in 1929.
      From “Drink: A Social History of America”
      by Andrew Barr (1999), p.239.

      And then he reversed his stance, yet again, when it came to cannabis/hemp prohibition.

    • allan

      if they started w/ respecting science the whole mmj states’ thing would fall right in place. But nooo… apparently Obama is no Bill Nye.

    • Duncan20903

      We’ve got them on the ropes. On the ropes I tell you!

    • Servetus

      Tuesday, September 10, at 10 a.m. in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building. A witness list will be announced closer to the date of the hearing. Reporters interested in covering the hearing should RSVP to their respective press galleries.http://tinyurl.com/k6mwsws

      The “witness list” is classified. Love it.

  • cy klebs

    The NY Yankee logo is also a sponsor of TA. Make like you doesn’t remember those 10$ beers at the stadium I hope the Tigers win!

  • War Vet

    And the ‘War on Something Else’ gets a grand sendoff and boost from the precedents of the War on Drugs. We are potentially coming up to days that make the War on Drugs seem like feeble activities in comparison to that which might come. But I will not lose hope . . . Excelsior fellow couch mates.

    I cannot help but think the murder of the Australian student in Oklahoma and the murder of the WWII vet in Washington by (mostly) black teens had a lot to do with how the War on Drugs is essentially and slowly robbing and altering the black community at both an accelerated rate and trickle down rate -while extending racism in one form or another . . . what happens when the War on Drugs increases the disparity and crime of the ghetto and the locking up, killing (because of increased gang activity due to drugs)and robbing opportunity of black parents . . . influencing their role models to make money rapping about gangs and hustling? What if the War on Drugs had an ultimate 15% influence on these kids lives/upbringing?

  • allan

    sigh… saw this on my googlenews feed:

    Report: Underage Tobacco Sales at Record Lows – ABC News

    New statistics show that the sale of tobacco to minors in the U.S. were held near all-time lows last year under a federal-state inspection program intended to curb underage usage.

    Gosh… further proof (as if it’s needed) that education and regulation beats Prohibition. Even with the kids.

    Don’t need secret courts and underhanded, over-bearing authoritarianism, thank you very much.