Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

The Welfare State and Terrorism

Here are some very depressing stories showing the corrosive — and perhaps even deadly — effect of redistibutionist policies.

We begin with a story of a government that actually tried to do the right thing, but was thwarted by a supra-national court. The Daily Mail reports that a European Court has ruled that the UK no longer can impose restrictions on welfare payments to women married to suspected terrorists:

A European court has instructed Britain to drop restrictions which limit social security benefits paid to the wives of terror suspects. Ministers imposed tight rules on payouts to stop the money falling into the hands of alleged Al Qaeda fanatics. Under the restrictions, cash payments were strictly limited and families had to show receipts to justify every penny of spending. But yesterday the European Court of Justice said there was no danger of the handouts being used to fund terror and branded the measures unlawful.

Unfortunately, this story is not an isolated incident. Here’s a report from the Express about a Muslim cleric who collected welfare from the Brits while (to put it mildly) being a reprehensible jerk:

The twisted cleric provoked outrage by comparing British troops to Nazi stormtroopers and telling parents of dead soldiers that their children had died in vain. …Choudary, a former lawyer…rakes in more than £25,000 a year in welfare handouts.

CNN reports, “Since the mid-90s, London has been a haven for foreign jihadi preachers, organizers, agitators and propagandists, many of them recipients of generous welfare benefits.”  And the BBC notes that:

In November 2000, Mr Kaplan was convicted for incitement to murder and sentenced to four years in jail. Since then, intelligence reports say his followers have become even more devoted to Mr Kaplan, considering him a martyr for the cause of Allah. …Mr Kaplan is believed to have a fortune worth millions. Nonetheless, he claimed social benefits in Cologne for many years until 2m Deutschmarks (1m euros, £700,000) in cash was found in his flat.

This Mickey Kaus blog post has more nauseating details.

The most amazing story comes from Australia. Here’s a Youtube copy of a report showing that Aussie taxpayers gave $1 million in welfare over 19 years to an Islamic extremist who planned to kill thousands of innocent people.

The Lieberman-Brown Bill Merely Updates Expatriation Law for the 21st Century

Stripping the citizenship of those who take up arms against the United States is not a controversial proposition. Indeed, under existing law, American citizenship can be taken away from any adult who, among other actions, makes a formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign state, serves in the armed forces of a foreign state if such armed forces are engaged in hostilities against the United States, or commits any act of treason against the United States. The Lieberman-Brown bill, which adds to that list the provision of material support to State Department-recognized terrorist organizations (most notably Al Qaeda) or actively engaging in hostilities against the United States, is thus not problematic on its face. It merely clarifies, in an age where America’s enemies aren’t necessarily other countries, that a person need not ally himself with a hostile “foreign state” to risk expatriation.

Still, the Terrorist Expatriation Act does raise concerns about how the new citizenship-stripping provisions would be applied. Expatriation is a serious remedy that is warranted only in the most serious cases — such as, indeed, treason or taking up arms against your own country. If and when the act becomes law, courts will maintain a high bar for what constitutes “material support” of terrorist organizations (such that it constitutes relinquishing U.S. nationality), and the subject of the expatriation action will — under existing law that will remain unchanged — have notice and opportunity to challenge the decision.

In short, this is neither a radical threat to civil liberties nor an ineffectual political stunt. Assuming the above constitutional protections remain in place, the expansion of federal expatriation law should be seen as a prudent, necessary, and uncontroversial measure that deals with the realities of the modern world.

As Goes Greece,…

Today Politico Arena asks:

What are the implications for us of the crisis in Greece?

My response:

The questions posed to Arena contributors this morning, prompted by the unfolding Greek tragedy and its implications, are several, but they go well beyond economics. “Unwise lending and excessive borrowing” led to the tragedy, Steven Pearlstein notes in the Washington Post, but he adds that “there is little doubt that Greece’s debt crisis is of its own making, the result of corruption and tax avoidance and that seductive Mediterranean coupling of high living and low productivity.”

More immediately, in the Wall Street Journal today we find that when it comes to “overall ease of doing business,” the World Bank ranks Greece 109 out of 183 countries — “dead last among the 27 members of the European Union,” the Journal notes.  “You have to go up 30 slots to find the next worst EU performer, Italy.” Pointing to Sacramento, Albany, and Washington, for good reason, the Journal’s editorialists conclude that “Greece shows that the welfare state model of development, dominated by public unions, onerous regulations, high taxes and the political allocation of capital, has hit the wall.”

Indeed it has, but notice that underpinning this tale are political and moral concerns. To touch on just two, the European Union is a textbook example of the downside of political union. To be sure, there is an upside, especially when union eliminates parochial restrictions on free association, as has happened to a substantial extent under the EU. But to move beyond creating a free market, to create instead a regime of mutual obligations as reflected in the phrase “we’re all in this together,” is to invite the very moral hazard we see before us today. Angela Merkel is in a political bind precisely because, as Pearlstein notes, prudent Germans are recoiling “at the thought of bailing out the profligate Greeks.” Milton Friedman put it simply: No one spends someone else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.

And that leads to a second concern, of particular importance in our own case. It was to gain the benefits of union while avoiding its downside that America’s Founders drafted our Constitution so carefully, giving Congress the power to override state restrictions on interstate commerce, for example, but otherwise leaving us free, as private citizens and associations, to plan our own affairs and live our own lives. That, however, was anathema to the social engineers of the Progressive Era, the elites who sought “change” through the collective undertakings of the modern administrative state. “Our task now,” said FDR, is one of “distributing wealth and products more equitably,” precisely what the Constitution forbade. And so Roosevelt, with his Court-packing threat, turned the document on its head — or, as Rexford Tugwell would later put it, “To the extent that these new social virtues [i.e., New Deal policies] developed, they were tortured interpretations of a document intended to prevent them.” There followed, of course, endless redistributive schemes, federal, state, and local, that have brought us today to the “unwise lending and excessive borrowing” that surrounds and suffocates us.

As goes Greece,…

Not Enough Power … Additional Measures Needed

The Wall Street Journal reports that the federal government has insufficient power:

The attempted Times Square bombing has underscored the challenge of managing security threats from citizens with clean records, but U.S. authorities are limited in the tools they can employ to legally monitor travel and other behavior of Americans who haven’t otherwise aroused suspicion.

That’s rich.

The ‘What Reasonable Doubt?’ Act of 2010

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Scott Brown (R-MA), joined on the House side by Reps. Jason Altmire (D-PA) and Charlie Dent (R-PA), today introduced a little publicity stunt in legislative form called the Terrorist Expatriation Act, making good on Lieberman’s pledge to find a way to strip the citizenship of Americans—whether naturalized or native born—who are suspected of aiding terrorist groups. It does so by amending the Immigration and Nationality Act, which lays out the various conditions under which a person may renounce or be deprived of citizenship. 

A couple things to note about this:

First, the act as it stands now contains a provision that could probably be used to revoke the citizenship of terrorists. One of the ways to trigger the loss of citizenship is by:

committing any act of treason against, or attempting by force to overthrow, or bearing arms against, the United States, violating or conspiring to violate any of the provisions of section 2383 of title 18, or willfully performing any act in violation of section 2385 of title 18, or violating section 2384 of title 18 by engaging in a conspiracy to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them…

So why isn’t this enough to satisfy them?  Well, I left off the very end of the clause:

if and when he is convicted thereof by a court martial or by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Needless to say, actually “bearing arms against the United States” is a rather more serious offense than providing “material support” for terrorist groups.  Indeed, someone who knowingly provides funding or “expert assistance” (including legal or humanitarian aid) to a designated group may, under current law, be guilty of providing “material support.”  Yet these more serious acts of betrayal still require that someone be convicted in court before the penalty of expatriation can be imposed. If they want to revoke Faisal Shahzad’s citizenship, they can do it already: just convict him of one of those offenses.

Another clause of the existing law provides that someone who joins a foreign military may, indeed, lose their citizenship without being convicted of anything. But as a subsequent section of the statute makes clear, citizenship can’t be revoked on these grounds while the person remains in the United States.  They have to actually, physically “go over to the other side” and take up residence abroad. So again, the assumption is that someone residing in the U.S., and therefore subject to apprehension and trial, ought in fact to be tried before such a drastic step is taken, even if we’re prepared to skip the trial when someone is actually overseas and marching about in an enemy uniform.

Finally, note that the bill’s definition of “material support” for terrorist groups explicitly invokes the criminal statute covering such actions.  Which is to say, revocation of citizenship under the new bill is triggered by committing a particular federal crime. Except that the Immigration and Nationality Act only requires that one of the predicates for revocation be established by a “preponderance of the evidence.” So in effect, the bill takes what is already a crime and says: Proof of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” is no longer a prerequisite for the imposition of punishment for this crime. 

What a convenient end-run around that pesky due process!  Just think how we could reduce the burden on our courts by doing this for all sorts of crimes!

Cameras, Crime, and Terrorism

The attempted bombing in Times Square brought terrorism and the capabilities of surveillance cameras to the top of the headlines this week. As I pointed out in my Politico piece, cameras have not proven an effective deterrent to terrorist attacks. Cameras are generally useful in piecing together the plot after the attack (not so much in this case, since police were looking for a middle-aged white man and not a young Pakistani male) and helped in this capacity in the Madrid, London, and Moscow commuter system bombings.

I discuss the usefulness of cameras in this podcast:

Whether cameras are helpful enough to justify massive spending to install more of them in New York is another matter. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly seems to think so, even though it’s already been the site of significant surveillance funding from the federal government. Steve Chapman remains skeptical of them, and former NYPD counterterrorism cop Michael Sheehan is honest enough to admit that their value is in investigating attacks, not deterring them. London has a million cameras, making it the most heavily-surveilled city this side of Pyongyang. Though sold on a joint counterterrorism-crime rationale, they did not deter the 7/7 bombings and roughly 80% of crime in London goes unsolved. Of the cleared cases, roughly one in a thousand is a camera success story.

As Roger Pilon points out, cameras are useful in law enforcement operations outside of blanket surveillance. They can deter excessive use of force and other unlawful conduct by police officers or at least provide a means of punishing those responsible, as they did in the recent beating of University of Maryland student. Police officers realize this, and actively deter filming their questionable activities.

A camera is an honest cop’s best friend. It can provide a defense against groundless claims of brutality. At least eleven states and 500 local jurisdictions require that interrogations be videotaped. Beyond the protection of civil liberties and preventing false or coerced confessions, these videos make for highly probative evidence. The jury gets a window into the interrogation room. The defendant’s mannerisms, demeanor, and a lack of police coercion tied to the defendant’s statements make for good, and more transparent, policing.

A Warning Label — on the U.S. Constitution

Knowing of my interest in oddball warning labels, reader Clark S. alerts me to this $4.95 paperback copy of the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Articles of Confederation, which contains the following advisory (readers may need to scroll to the “Copyright” section, depending on how the page displays)

© Wilder Publications 2008

This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.

A bit of Googling revealed that the same publisher slaps the same boilerplate language on other reprints including the Federalist Papers and The Great Heresies by Hilaire Belloc. Do they perhaps put it on all works composed before a certain cut-off date? Wilder Publications is described here as in the business of “publishing print-on-demand books (mostly self-help and public domain reprints).”

I am happy to report that the Cato Institute’s excellent pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution daringly omits any warning and lets readers take the Constitution straight up.