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James Bovard

Time for the US to End Democracy Promotion Flim-Flams


Democracy promotion has long been one of the U.S. government’s favorite foreign charades. The Trump administration’s proposal to slash funding for democratic evangelism is being denounced as if it were the dawn of a new Dark Age. But this is a welcome step to draining a noxious swath of the Washington swamp.

Nineteenth century humorist Josh Billings quipped, “A fanatic is someonewho does what the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the matter.” Similarly, the U.S. government intervenes to rig elections in case foreign voters don’t know the facts of the matter. The U.S. has interfered — usually covertly — in more than 80 foreign elections since World War Two to boost its preferred candidates.

Former CIA chief James Woolsey was asked last month on Fox News whether the U.S. government was continuing to meddle and “mess around in other people's elections?" Woolsey replied with a smile and said: "Only for a very good cause. In the interests of democracy." Obviously, democracy is ill-served if any U.S.-preferred candidate lose.

Nowadays, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is the flagship for U.S. political meddling abroad, and Trump proposes to slash its budget by 60 percent, from $170 million to $67 million. When Congress created the agency in 1983, it prohibited NED and its grantees from directly aiding foreign political candidates. But that law restrains NED as effectively as the Fourth Amendment’s restriction on warrantless searches leashes the National Security Agency.
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Gun Crackdowns Have Already Led to Too Many Federal Abuses


President Trump declared last week that the law enforcement should “take the guns first, go through due process second.” But the history of federal firearms enforcement shows that due process is often a mirage when federal bureaucrats drop their hammer. Before enacting sweeping new gun prohibitions, we should remember the collateral damage and constitutional absurdities from previous federal crackdowns.

Gun control advocates have called for prohibiting possession of AR-15 rifles — a ban that could create five million new felons overnight, since most owners would not meekly surrender their firearms at the nearest federal office. Others advocate outlawing all semi-automatic firearms — an edict first floated by the Clinton administration that would create tens of millions of new offenders.

But before vesting vast new power in federal enforcers, the record of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agency must be considered. A 1982 Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution report on ATF concluded, "Enforcement tactics made possible by current firearms laws are constitutionally, legally, and practically reprehensible.” Outrageous abuses have continued to the present day. An analysis conducted for the University of Chicago found that ATF heavily targeted racial minorities in its entrapment operations. And across the nation, ATF has been caught using mentally handicapped individuals in sting operations.
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Hollywood Hoopla Ignores Media's History of Servility


Much of the media nowadays is portraying itself as heroes of the #Resist Trump movement. To exploit that meme, Hollywood producer Steven Spielberg rushed out “The Post,” a movie depicting an epic press battle with the Nixon administration. But regardless of whether Spielberg’s latest wins the Academy Award for best picture on Sunday night, Americans should never forget the media’s long history of pandering to presidents and the Pentagon.
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25 Years Ago: Feds Attack at Waco in Name of Gun Control


Twenty-five years ago today, federal agents launched a military style attack on peaceful Texas residents who were suspected of having modified firearms. At a time when much of the media is in a frenzy in favor of gun control, the ATF raid on the Branch Davidians is a reminder of how armed bureaucrats will convert a right to regulate into a license to kill.

ATF agents never rehearsed how to conduct a legal, non-violent search of the Davidians’ residence. Instead, it was “Showtime” – the code name for the raid – and ATF invited television crews to film their triumph against bad guys. Federal agents shot first, apparently awarding themselves a divine right to kill the dogs outside before charging into the house.

With the profusion of politician calls for prohibiting semi-automatic weapons, Waco offers a somber reminder of how any such ban would be enforced.
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George W. Bush Doesn't Deserve the Media's Efforts at Rehabilitation


Our democracy is only as good as people trust the results,” former President George W. Bush declared in a presumably well-paid speech last week in the United Arab Emirates, a notorious Arab dictatorship. Bush is being exalted as if he is the second coming of George Washington thanks to his implied slams against the Trump administration. But Bush’s actions during his eight year reign did far more to ravage democracy at home and abroad than most people realize.
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Guilt by Musical Association


Should the feds be permitted to treat anyone who is not a choirboy like a criminal suspect? Unfortunately, local, state, and federal agencies have a long history of targeting, harassing, and entrapping fans of untraditional music. Because so many innocuous activities have become criminalized in recent decades, it has never been easier for the feds to tar any group they please. Precedents established against devotees of unruly music could be used in the future against peaceful libertarians.

From the 1930s onwards, the feds often went after jazz musicians in part because of their frequent use of marijuana — which was proscribed nationally by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. After the end of Prohibition, there were plenty of unemployed federal agents, and the launch of a new war — spurred by films such as Reefer Madness — provided full employment for meddlers with guns and badges.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the feds launched vendettas against Grateful Dead fans. Although the name “Deadhead” sounds ominous, Dead- heads tended to be aging hippies or naive college kids in ancient Volkswagen buses, lost souls who loved to talk about peace and nature and happiness and love. Cynics often joked that Deadheads should “Get a life!” Instead, the DEA acted as if Deadheads deserved prison sentences long enough to destroy their lives. Use of LSD — a hallucinogen — was widespread among Deadheads.
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Golden Boy Robert Mueller's Forgotten Surveillance Crime Spree


When Robert Mueller was appointed last May as Special Counsel to investigate Trump, Politico Magazine gushed that “Mueller might just be America’s straightest arrow — a respected, nonpartisan and fiercely apolitical public servant whose only lifetime motivation has been the search for justice.” Most of the subsequent press coverage has shown nary a doubt about Mueller’s purity. But, during his 11 years as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mueller’s agency routinely violated federal law and the Bill of Rights.

Mueller took over the FBI one week before the 9/11 attacks and he was worse than clueless after 9/11. On Sept. 14, 2011, Mueller declared, “Thefact that there were a number of individuals that happened to have received training at flight schools here is news, quite obviously. If we had understood that to be the case, we would have — perhaps one could have averted this.” Three days later, Mueller announced: “There were no warning signs that I’m aware of that would indicate this type of operation in the country.” His protestations helped the Bush administration railroad the Patriot Act through Congress, vastly expanding the FBI’s prerogatives to vacuum up Americans’ personal information.

Deceit helped capture those intrusive new prerogatives. The Bush administration suppressed until the following May the news that FBI agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis had warned FBI headquarters of suspicious Arabs in flight training programs prior to 9/11. A House-Senate Joint Intelligence Committee analysis concluded that FBI incompetence and negligence “contributed to the United States becoming, in effect, a sanctuary for radical terrorists.” FBI blundering spurred the Wall Street Journal to call for Mueller’s resignation, while a New York Times headline warned: “Lawmakers Say Misstatements Cloud F.B.I. Chief's Credibility.”
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Destroying, Suppressing Evidence is FBI Standard Procedure


Congressional investigators were rocked this weekend when the FBI notified them that five months of text messages from a top FBI investigator into the Trump campaign’s Russian connections had mysteriously vanished. The FBI-issued cell phone of Peter Strzok, whose previous texts to his mistress (also an FBI employee) showed fierce hostility to Trump, suddenly had problems due to “software upgrades” and other issues — and voila —all the messages between the two from Dec. 14, 2016, to May 17, 2017 vanished.
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Fed's Misconduct in Cliven Bundy Case Stems from Ruby Ridge


Federal judge Gloria Navarro slammed the FBI and Justice Department on Monday, Jan. 8, for “outrageous” abuses and “flagrant misconduct” in the prosecution of Cliven Bundy and sons, the Nevada ranchers who spurred a high-profile standoff with the FBI and Bureau of Land Management in 2014. Navarro condemned the "grossly shocking” withholding of evidence from defense counsel in a case that could have landed the Bundys in prison for the rest of their lives. Navarro, who had declared a mistrial last month, dismissed all charges against the Bundys.

Navarro was especially riled because the FBI spent three years covering up or lying about the role of their snipers in the 2014 standoff. The Bundys faced conspiracy charges because they summoned militia to defend them after claiming FBI snipers had surrounded their ranch. Justice Department lawyers scoffed at this claim but newly-released documents vindicate the Bundys. In an interview Saturday, Ammon Bundy reviled the feds: “They basically came to kill our family, they surrounded us with snipers. And then they wanted to lie about it all like none of it happened."

Many of the heavily-armed activists who flocked to the scene feared that the FBI snipers had a license to kill the Bundys. Their reaction cannot be understood without considering a landmark 1990s case that continues to shape millions of Americans’ attitude towards Washington: the federal killings and coverups at Ruby Ridge.

Randy Weaver and his family lived in an isolated cabin in the mountains of northern Idaho. Weaver was a white separatist who believed races should live apart; he had no record of violence against other races — or anyone else. An undercover federal agent entrapped him into selling a sawed-off shotgun. The feds then sought to pressure Weaver to become an informant but he refused.
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Cliven Bundy-FBI Debacle: Another Example of Why the Feds Need to be Leashed


The Justice Department was caught in another high-profile travesty last month that continues to reverberate through the western states. On Dec. 20, federal judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial in the case against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and others after prosecutors were caught withholding massive amounts of evidence undermining federal charges. This is the latest in a long series of federal law enforcement debacles that have spurred vast distrust of Washington.

Bundy, a 71-year old Nevadan rancher, and his sons and supporters were involved in an armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) beginning in 2014 stemming from decades of unpaid cattle grazing fees and restrictions. The Bundys have long claimed the feds were on a vendetta against them, and 3,300 pages of documents the Justice Department wrongfully concealed from their lawyers provides smoking guns that buttress their case.

whistleblowing memo by BLM chief investigator Larry Wooten charges that BLM chose "the most intrusive, oppressive, large scale and militaristic trespass cattle (seizure) possible'' against Bundy. He also cited a "widespread pattern of bad judgment, lack of discipline, incredible bias, unprofessionalism and misconduct, as well as likely policy, ethical and legal violations" by BLM officials in the case. BLM agents even "bragged about roughing up Dave Bundy, grinding his face into the ground and Dave Bundy having little bits of gravel stuck in his face'' while he was videotaping federal agents. Wooten also stated that anti-Mormon prejudice pervaded BLM's crackdown.
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