Joel Bowman: G’day, Doug. Greetings from Medellin, Colombia.
Doug Casey: Medellin. A delightful place. I was there a couple of times during the Bad Old Days of FARC and the drug wars.
Joel: Thankfully that’s largely settled down now. The bad press lingers, of course, but perhaps that’s a story for another day. Let’s jump into our ongoing REAL State of the Union dialogue, shall we?
Doug: Ready when you are…
Joel: Readers who have been following along these past few weeks will be familiar with our little project, whereby we examine the present day United States against the ideals enumerated by the Founding Fathers in the Bill of Rights.
[Ed. Note: If you’re just joining us, you can catch up here:
- 1st Amendment – Part I, Part II, Part III & Part IV
- 2nd Amendment – Part I, Part II
- 3rd Amendment – Part I, Part II
Today, we pick up the action with the 4th Amendment, which reads as follows…
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
As with all of the Amendments discussed previously, it helps to view them within their historical context. Can you tell us, Doug, a little bit about what was going on in America during the late 18th Century that might have prompted this particular amendment?
Doug: In those days the British government issued “general warrants” and “writs of assistance.” General warrants allowed the Crown’s agents to conduct a search for any reason—or no reason. Writs of assistance allowed searches for “smuggled” goods—i.e., those that were imported without paying duties. It was a very contentious issue. John Hancock, for instance, made his fortune smuggling. And nobody wanted armed men rooting around their homes at will. It violated the principle of common law—which trumps legislative law—that a man’s home is his castle.
The Fourth Amendment is routinely abused when it comes to physical searches, and essentially disregarded when it comes to the use of electronics or other technology.
Yes, it's true that cops have to get a judge to issue a search warrant. But they’re notorious for going “judge shopping”. And it’s easy to fabricate an excuse—a supposedly open door, or supposed noise heard inside, among many other things—to enter premises uninvited. In reality, if they want to invade your home, they can.
Look what happened to Roger Stone recently, which is all too typical in this era of militarized police. Instead of giving him or his attorney a phone call to say, “Please come downtown, we want to talk to you”, they sent in a SWAT team for a pre-dawn raid, with 29 heavily armed operatives, including armored vehicles.
What’s more shocking, although it was a surprise to Stone, is that CNN knew all about it. They like to have a lap dog making their side of the story the official accepted narrative. The whole thing was actually aired live on national cable television. It was all about intimidation. Violence porn, if you will.
It’s becoming a tradition in the US. The most outrageous example was the raid on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas in 1993. Instead of knocking on the door to ask questions, agents provoked a firefight that wound up with scores of completely innocent people being barbecued, or assassinated by snipers. But there was no outrage from Boobus americanus.
In Stone’s case it was fortunate the show of brute force didn’t get out of hand. Here was a well-known public figure who was not only unarmed, but doesn’t even own a gun, was not a flight risk, was in no way a danger to anyone, and was represented by counsel known to the government.
I’m reminded as well of the Elian Gonzalez case perpetrated by Janet Reno. This picture says it all. I don’t think George Washington or Thomas Jefferson would have approved.
It’s obscene. And it’s getting worse. The story of a couple in their 50s who were shot and killed by police in a Houston raid just last week makes the case. (Ed. Note: Readers are cautiously invited to the read the horrifying account, here.)
If you ever wondered what it was like to live in a state with a Gestapo, Stasi, or an NKVD, I’m afraid you’re about to find out.
Joel: And of course, with the advent of civil asset forfeiture, dirty "coproaches" have every incentive – including financial – to seize as much loot as they possibly can from a citizenry essentially denuded of their most basic rights.
A story published in Reason Magazine recently revealed that, in South Carolina, police hauled in $17 million over a three year period thanks to this “loophole,” whereby suspects needn’t even be charged with a crime, much less convicted, before their property is “confiscated.”
As the article points out, what takes a few minutes for the cops to seize can – and often does – take many months for innocent victims to reclaim, if they even get it back at all...
Doug: That’s exactly right. You're not secure in your home, nor are your papers safe. Forget about anything you say or write electronically.
This violation of your basic rights has been building over time. But it’s going to get worse. Why? Because governments—national, state, and local-- are bankrupt at this point. They’re desperate for revenue, and forfeiture is an increasingly important form of taxation.
Not to mention that the arresting agency or police force gets a substantial portion of the bounty. Cops love it. It gives them an off-budget way to buy cop toys and pad their educational funds. It's totally corrupt.
The amount that is confiscated by cops – completely illegally, totally counter to the 4th Amendment – is actually greater than the amount that's stolen by common robbers and con artists.
It’s hard to get the precise amount, of course, because it’s not in the cops’ interest to advertise such blatantly immoral behavior. But they’re becoming more brazen, because the general population has let them ride roughshod over their rights. The average citizen is now used to this kind of treatment. He sees cops on TV—who are always good guys, of course—confiscate goods from bad guys. So citizens take it for granted that public servants should do these things.
Joel: One of the sheriffs in that South Carolina story was actually driving around in a shiny new SUV he had “confiscated” from an alleged drug-dealer. Reason Magazine also reported that in Cook County, Illinois, cops seized $150 million over a five-year period. That’s more than 23,000 seizures, conducted mostly in the poorest neighborhoods. The cops took everything from cans of peas to a Rolls Royce automobile, valued at roughly $200,000. About three quarters of all seizures were — gasp! — cash.
Doug: Right. And nobody thinks any of this is a problem. When 'Miami Vice' was on the air— a very popular show back in the ‘80s— the DEA agents were driving around in stolen Ferraris as if it was their birthright.
Joel: To the “good guys” go the spoils… even if the “good guys” are actually the bad guys?
Doug: For sure. The public reflexively believes somebody is probably a “bad guy” if the government accuses them. There's a presumption of guilt, not innocence, at this point.
The 4th Amendment is actually a dead letter. Its ritual observance is like Kabuki theater. Just for show. Agents only have to go through the motions of getting a search warrant.
For instance, if you're driving, get stopped, and don’t consent to a search, the cop may radio for a drug dog. Not only will that exercise take a few hours of your time, but when the dog arrives, the cop can interpret whatever the drug dog does as a positive read, so he can search your car. Forget about drugs. God forbid you have more than a few dollars on you. It’s likely to be forfeit on suspicion.
All levels of government in the US get about a D- when it comes to the 4th, as does the American public itself. They don't care. They're used to watching no-knock raids where the cops break the door down, and two seconds after announcing, "Police!", a battering ram comes out.
Often not even on the right door. Sometimes they act on a tip, get the wrong address, and wind up shooting the homeowner. God forbid you try to defend yourself if somebody breaks down your door in the middle of the night… It might be the police!
Joel: Indeed, better let them in just in case; maybe they want to relieve your wife of her jewelry on a “hunch” that it may be involved in a crime...
It's interesting you mention the search warrants. As it happens, police don't need a search warrant in cases where there isn't what they call a reasonable “expectation of privacy.” Now, that pertains to the individual’s expectation, but also what they call a “societal” expectation of privacy, which is clearly a far more nebulous concept and one entirely susceptible to loose interpretation.
You've mentioned in these conversations how American culture has changed since these amendments were authored, how so very few people today consider – and would defend – these rights as their default position.
In America: 2019, almost nobody operates with an “expectation of privacy.” Rather, people operate with the expectation that the government will snoop on them, will pound down their door and seize their stuff. It’s almost a given. This is a kind of tyranny that’s smuggled itself in under the bar of low expectations.
Doug: That's absolutely right. I'm afraid that my fellow Americans are basically a bunch of whipped dogs that, when confronted with an authority figure, tend to roll over on their backs and wet themselves.
Joel: Alas, it’s a dismal state. And there’s more to it, too. For example, what of the “expectation for privacy” on the Internet? There’s no way the Founders could have envisioned a World Wide Web, much less contemplated the myriad complexities of the Digital Age.
They wrote about people being secure in their “persons, houses, papers, and effects,” but had no idea of emails, phone calls, digital files, WhatsApp messages, etc.
Doug: I imagine that, since electronic communications, emails, .pdfs, and things of that nature have largely replaced paper documents, the Founders would have considered your electronic communications as sacrosanct under the 4th Amendment. But today that’s just more blurred ink on a dead letter, as we’ve already observed.
The truth is, you have absolutely positively zero privacy regarding anything on the Internet. That's totally out the window. And to think otherwise is simply foolish.
Consider the Orwellian National Security Agency. They should rename it the ONSA, not just the NSA.
They have on the order of 30,000-40,000 employees and a $10 billion annual budget. The exact numbers are impossible to get a hold of since, unsurprisingly, the government doesn’t like it when citizens invade its “privacy”. After all, the chimera of “national security” is part of its name.
At any one time, the NSA has tens of thousands of snoops spying on people all over the planet, gathering “metadata” on tens, perhaps hundreds of millions. And, undoubtedly, very precise personal data on particular individuals.
Bad guys? Undoubtedly a few. But my guess is that they have detailed files on many, many powerful people. It’s available for blackmail when the situation—in the opinion of whoever—calls for it. It’s what Hoover used the FBI for. But on a vastly grander scale.
Then you’ve got things like drone surveillance, so called “stop and frisk” procedures, the gropers at the TSA, and a dozen or so other agencies keeping tabs on your every move. The whole situation is completely beyond the pale and rapidly deteriorating.
The 4th is one of the most important Amendments. They’re all intended to keep the State at bay. And it’s one of the most egregiously violated. Worse still, nobody seems to care.
Joel: Thanks, Doug. I guess we’ll leave it on that cheery note for this week.
Doug: Yes, it’s good to try keeping a Happy Face, and look on the bright side when talking about personal freedom. You don’t want to seem restive, because Big Brother is watching.
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