Tag: Asset forfeiture

Ending Shared Theft

I can’t believe I’m going to say this but here goes. Ahem. Cough. Uh, is this thing on?

Hi. Um … here we go …

Eric Holder has done something right.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges.

Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.

Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.

The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. It allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.

I’ve talked about civil asset forfeiture many times. This is the vile practice where law enforcement officials seize your money, your car or your bank accounts and … well, basically keep it. You never have to be charged with a crime. They never have to prove the assets came from crime. They just take it, like a highwayman. And they are perfectly free to use those assets for any purpose, including, in one case, a margarita machine.

Some states have trained to “reign this in”. Granted, they haven’t reigned it in by say, abolishing it. But they’ve at least tried to redirect the money from going directly to law enforcement to going to schools or something. The Feds responded with their Equitable Sharing Program, where the police turn the money to the Feds to bypass state laws. The Feds keep a cut and then turn it right back over to the police. That’s the program Holder is suspending.

Now, to be fair, this is a directive. The next AG could reverse it. Hell, Holder could. Let’s not mistake this for, say, Congress passing a law to abolish it. Radley Balko breaks down the decision further, pointing out that federal investigations — such as investigations by the DEA or IRS — will still be able to use this tool. And, in fact, local law enforcement will be able to use Equitable Sharing when they are part of a federal or joint investigation. In fact, Holder’s justice department recently successfully argued before the Supreme Court, in Kaley, that the government could seize your assets before trial to keep you from hiring a good lawyer.

So let’s not dance in the streets just yet. But this is a step in the right direction. The next thing that needs to happen is for Congress to abolish the practice completely. Asset forfeiture may have made sense when we were seizing the 18th century smuggling ships of overseas booze barons. It makes no sense in a modern context. If the Supreme Court won’t abolish it, Congress must and should.

Want Help? Ask Conservatives

Everyone know that only Democrats care about minorities. Everyone knows that only Democrats care about the poor. Everyone know that only Democrats care about women. Republicans just like to cruise around in their limos laughing at the plight of those less fortunate than them. Meanwhile, Democrats can’t sleep at night because they are so worried about the oppressed masses. Right? Right?

Let me introduce you to Shaneen Allen:

Last October, Shaneen Allen, 27, was pulled over in Atlantic County, N.J. The officer who pulled her over says she made an unsafe lane change. During the stop, Allen informed the officer that she was a resident of Pennsylvania and had a conceal carry permit in her home state. She also had a handgun in her car. Had she been in Pennsylvania, having the gun in the car would have been perfectly legal. But Allen was pulled over in New Jersey, home to some of the strictest gun control laws in the United States.

Allen is a black single mother. She has two kids. She has no prior criminal record. Before her arrest, she worked as a phlebobotomist. After she was robbed two times in the span of about a year, she purchased the gun to protect herself and her family. There is zero evidence that Allen intended to use the gun for any other purpose. Yet Allen was arrested. She spent 40 days in jail before she was released on bail. She’s now facing a felony charge that, if convicted, would bring a three-year mandatory minimum prison term.

There is a wide prosecutorial discretion here (more on that in a moment) but it looks like the prosecutor is going to throw the book at her. Allen is the kind of person the Left is supposed to be in a tizzy over — a single working mom doing her best who is about to be crushed by the system. But the liberal Ecosphere has said little, if anything, about her. You know who is taking up her cause? If you said conservatives and libertarians, move to the front of the class. Here is National Review, for example, trying to make her case a national issue. True, this is because conservatives believe in gun rights and the second amendment. But they also believe in justice. And there is a growing awareness of the massive disparities in how gun laws are enforced.

As it turns out, Allen’s case isn’t unusual at all. Although white people occasionally do become the victims of overly broad gun laws (for example, see the outrageous prosecution of Brian Aitken, also in New Jersey), the typical person arrested for gun crimes is more likely to have the complexion of Shaneen Allen than, say, Sarah Palin. Last year, 47.3 percent of those convicted for federal gun crimes were black — a racial disparity larger than any other class of federal crimes, including drug crimes. In a 2011 report on mandatory minimum sentencing for gun crimes, the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that blacks were far more likely to be charged and convicted of federal gun crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences. They were also more likely to be hit with “enhancement” penalties that added to their sentences. In fact, the racial discrepancy for mandatory minimums was even higher than the aforementioned disparity for federal gun crimes in general.

This isn’t just a matter of black people committing more crimes. In cases where the prosecution is discretionary — such as the enhancement penalties — this is far more likely to happen to black criminals than white ones. And conservatives like Rand Paul have been making this point more and more forcefully of late.

Oh, speaking of Rand Paul … Just last week, Jon Stewart discovered civil asset forfeiture, the process by which the government can seize your property or money by alleging it has committed a crime (that’s not a typo; they literally charge the property with a crime). It will surprise no one that while asset forfeiture casts a wide net, it also has a tendency to fall heaviest on minorities and on poor people who can’t fight back. Anyone want to guess the party affiliation of the man who has proposed to overhaul asset forfeiture law and give people greater civil service protections?

The FAIR Act would change federal law and protect the rights of property owners by requiring that the government prove its case with clear and convincing evidence before forfeiting seized property. State law enforcement agencies will have to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property. Finally, the legislation would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury’s General Fund.

It’s not perfect. But it’s a huge improvement over the existing regime, where local law enforcement can bypass state regs by turning the seized money over to federal agents, who take a cut and give it directly back the law enforcement agencies.

But there’s still more. Let’s move away from crime and toward poverty itself. Last week, Paul Ryan suggested a new set of policies to try to reduce poverty. He would consolidate numerous programs into block grants to the states, expand the EITC, reduce regulations and push criminal sentencing reform. Even some liberals are admitting these are good ideas. They will reward work and expand opportunity — the two things the poor need a hell of a lot more than slightly larger piles of government cash.

There’s been some controversy over Ryan’s proposal to have chronically poor people meet with councilors who will help them improve their lives. But as Megan McArdle points out, while the chronically poor are a small part of the poor, they consume a huge chunk of the benefits. And it is chronic generational poverty that is the true suffering. Ryan’s plan sounds a bit too paternalistic to me. But it’s got to be better than the absent father method our current system upholds where we just throw money at poor people and hope it will magically make them unpoor.

So in just the last week, we’ve seen conservatives oppose arbitrary ruinous enforcement of gun laws, oppose asset forfeiture and propose a new version of welfare reform (after the last one lifted millions out of poverty). You add this to the ongoing push for school choice and you have a platform that would greatly enhance freedom and opportunity for millions of people, most of who are poorer and darker-skinned than your typical Republican.

And the Democratic Party? Well, their big issue right now is trying to save the corporate welfare that is the Ex-Im bank.

Look, I’m not going to pretend the Republican Party is perfect on these issues or any other issue. And there are plenty of Democrats who support the above policies. What I am going to suggest, however, is that the caricature of the GOP specifically and conservatives in general as uncaring racist sociopaths is absurd.

Update: This isn’t strictly related, but you know how Democrats have been whining about the cost of higher ed and the burden it is imposing on the middle class? Well evil conservative Republican Mitch Daniels is not whining, he’s doing something about it.

Theft By Any Other Name

This story is simply unbelievable. It’s got it all: incompetent city government, crony capitalism and stealing a marine’s home for an overdue $134 tax bill:

On the day Bennie Coleman lost his house, the day armed U.S. marshals came to his door and ordered him off the property, he slumped in a folding chair across the street and watched the vestiges of his 76 years hauled to the curb.

Movers carted out his easy chair, his clothes, his television. Next came the things that were closest to his heart: his Marine Corps medals and photographs of his dead wife, Martha. The duplex in Northeast Washington that Coleman bought with cash two decades earlier was emptied and shuttered. By sundown, he had nowhere to go.

All because he didn’t pay a $134 property tax bill.

The retired Marine sergeant lost his house on that summer day two years ago through a tax lien sale — an obscure program run by D.C. government that enlists private investors to help the city recover unpaid taxes.

For decades, the District placed liens on properties when homeowners failed to pay their bills, then sold those liens at public auctions to mom-and-pop investors who drew a profit by charging owners interest on top of the tax debt until the money was repaid.

But under the watch of local leaders, the program has morphed into a predatory system of debt collection for well-financed, out-of-town companies that turned $500 delinquencies into $5,000 debts — then foreclosed on homes when families couldn’t pay, a Washington Post investigation found.

As the housing market soared, the investors scooped up liens in every corner of the city, then started charging homeowners thousands in legal fees and other costs that far exceeded their original tax bills, with rates for attorneys reaching $450 an hour.

Here’s the short version: Coleman is a 76-year-old retired Marine who owned his $197,000 home free and clear. He also has been showing signs of dementia and, at one point, forgot to pay a $134 tax bill. His son eventually paid the bill — plus $183 in interest in penalties. But it was too late. The lien had been sold to a private company that demanded $5000 in legal fees. The son couldn’t come up with the money and court foreclosed. The Maryland firm that bought the house sold it for $71,000.

This is not an isolated incident. You really must read the whole thing if you have the time. Private companies now hold liens on thousands of properties and have foreclosed on hundreds, frequently over very small amounts of money (after inflating them to unpayable sums with often undocumented legal fees). Poor neighborhoods, already hurt by the recession, are being devastated by these seizures. And these are not people who bought homes to flip them or bought homes they couldn’t afford. These are people trying to be responsible who have, for various reasons, missed a tax payment. Or in many cases, haven’t but had liens put on their homes by mistake.

One 65-year-old flower shop owner lost his Northwest Washington home of 40 years after a company from Florida paid his back taxes — $1,025 — and then took the house through foreclosure while he was in hospice, dying of cancer. A 95-year-old church choir leader lost her family home to a Maryland investor over a tax debt of $44.79 while she was struggling with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home.

Other cities and states took steps to curb abuses, such as capping the fees, safeguarding houses owned by the elderly or scrapping tax sales altogether and instead collecting the money themselves.

Moreover, there is no supervision. Many of these private companies have already been prosecuted in other states for breaking laws and rigging bids. And the DC tax office has sold nearly 2000 liens by mistake.

A 48-year-old math teacher paid his taxes in 2007, but the tax office took his $1,400 payment and applied it to the wrong house, crediting an entirely different taxpayer.

A 58-year-old bank employee almost lost her house in 2010 because the tax office mistakenly sent bills and notices to a wooded lot across from a strip shopping center in Virginia — 12 times.

A 69-year-old hat designer was given the wrong payoff amount and ended up in court to save her property, owned by her family since 1943.

Those homeowners found out about the mistakes in time to fight. Ninety-five-year-old Daisy Dolsey, living in a nursing home and struggling with Alzheimer’s, wasn’t so lucky: She lost her $300,000 house over a $44.79 tax debt even after she paid her taxes.

This is an appalling scandal. This should be national news and the DC Council should be getting pilloried for refusing to address the issue. And it’s only a microcosm of government farming out duties to private companies — which might be defensible enough in a vacuum — but not holding those companies to any standard of behavior or any limitations on their authority. And for the companies it’s a gold mine — the Post reports that $5 million in suspiciously organized and unsupervised bids bought liens on 2/3 of a million in properties. They then charged the owners thousands in administrative and legal fees and foreclosed on the homes if the homeowners couldn’t cough it up

This is theft, plain and simple. This is government, industry and lawyers conspiring to rob people and not giving a fig what it does to the city.

And while I’m on my horse about property rights and corrupt government, the problem of asset forfeiture is only getting worse:

Leino is one of thousands of Philadelphia residents who each year find themselves facing the seizure of their possessions — cars, cash and real estate — via “civil asset forfeiture,” a legal construct that lets law-enforcement agencies seize property linked to crime and keep the proceeds. In Pennsylvania, civil forfeiture is carried out primarily under state drug laws. The Philadelphia DA brings 300 to 600 real-estate forfeiture cases per year, and thousands of cases against small amounts of cash seized in police stops that sometimes, but not always, result in arrests — together bringing nearly $6 million into its coffers annually.

In a series of reports for City Paper [“The Cash Machine,” Nov. 29, 2012] and ProPublica, this reporter has documented how the Philadelphia DA has made civil forfeiture into a vast, unaudited revenue stream, profiting from an upside-down legal process through which the DA has the power to bleed property owners dry of financial resources and imperil homeowners with minimal or no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Long before the forfeiture action against her house would be completed, and without a judge or jury ever seeing her face, Leino would be forced from her house and made homeless along with her three children. She would lose her most precious possessions, and ultimately be deprived of her family’s most valuable asset — all without Leino ever being accused of any crime.

Her husband, Sam, was accused. On Feb. 22, 2010, police officers arrived at the family’s house, at 2729 Orthodox St. in Bridesburg, to arrest Sam on charges of selling prescription pills. The officers would later testify that they observed Sam handing over small objects in exchange for money outside the house. After executing a search warrant, police recovered various painkillers. (Sandra Leino says her husband was partially disabled from a truck accident and took the painkillers himself, legally, for his pain.)

Sandra Leino and her three children were not accused of any crime; nowhere in police reports is there even a hint that any of them had done anything wrong.

That didn’t stop the DA from filing a motion to seize the Leino’s house that May — and then, for reasons that remain unclear, kicking them out of it the same month. (The DA’s Office responded to inquiries with a short statement describing the forfeiture action, but would not explain why Leino and her family were made to leave). Leino, her husband (out on bail awaiting his trial), and their children were forced from their home with nowhere to go. They stayed in a motel for one week.

While the family navigated a homelessness imposed on them by the District Attorney’s Office, the DA asked the city’s Department of Licenses & Inspections to conduct a “clean and seal” operation on the Leinos’ house. City officials arrived at the house shortly after the forfeiture motion had been filed (not granted) and began throwing out the Leinos’ possessions — among them pictures of the Leinos’ children growing up, antiques they had collected together as a hobby and a 5-gallon jar of pennies the family had filled as a way to save money.

The house was foreclosed on by the bank. Leino was convicted of a single felony charge. Oh, and the officers who brought the charges against Mr. Leino? Four of them were found to be part of drug-dealing ring within the Philadelphia police. Nearly 300 of the cases they brought have been dropped.

I highlight these two stories specifically because they involve people who are working class, not the rich folks that defenders of asset forfeiture and foreclosure corruption always insist are the real targets of the laws. Whenever you give government this kind of gangster power, it will be turned on everyone, but especially on those who do not have the resources for lawyers and publicity. These are poor and working class people, mostly minorities. The only crimes they have committed are missing a tax bill or low-level drug dealing (or living with someone who has done those things). And they are being robbed blind to stuff the coffers of police departments in one case and rich speculators in the other.

This is what happens when you don’t respect property rights and when you give the government authority to just take people’s possessions. You won’t see Donald Trump having his home sold to speculators. You won’t see a rich politician kicked out onto the street if her husband is dealing pain pills (according to four corrupt cops). Michael Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk wasn’t used on Wall Street execs. Our War on Drugs imprisons lots of poor people but sees rich drug users as “having a problem”. Our War on Prostitution thinks Eliot Spitzer should run for comptroller while survival-level sex workers should be imprisoned and raped.

Arbitrary government power is always turned against the powerless. There are some things we need government to do, but that power should always be supervised, constrained, reviewed and never allowed to play to the personal benefit of the rich and powerful. The nation has forgotten this lesson. But thank God for the Wapo, for the IJ and for independent journalists who are determined to make sure that this abuse and criminality does not go unnoticed.

Another Victory for the IJ

My favorite organization has won again:

When prosecutors tried to seize his family’s Tewksbury motel where drug incidents had been reported, Russ Caswell couldn’t believe the feds had the right to take a property from someone who was never charged with a crime.

Well, it turns out Caswell was right after all: A magistrate judge in Boston federal court just ruled that prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to justify seizing the Motel Caswell. They didn’t even come close.

I blogged about this case before. The Feds were trying to sieze a hotel because a few drug deals had gone down there even though the Caswells had called the cops. Motel Caswell ain’t exactly the Ritz — the online reviews are not kind. But the idea that the Feds could swoop in and seize it was ridiculous. And I’m glad they won.

Interesting side note: the US Attorney behind this case? Yeah, it’s Carmen Ortiz again, the same woman who is under fire for the Swartz case. Not having a good month is Ms. Ortiz.

We’ll Take That

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: thank God for the IJ:

Imagine you own a million-dollar piece of property free and clear, but then the federal government and local law enforcement agents announce that they are going to take it from you, not compensate you one dime, and then use the money they get from selling your land to pad their budgets—all this even though you have never so much as been accused of a crime, let alone convicted of one.

That is the nightmare Russ Caswell and his family is now facing in Tewksbury, Mass., where they stand to lose the family-operated motel they have owned for two generations.

Seeking to circumvent state law and cash in on the profits, the Tewksbury Police Department is working with the U.S. Department of Justice to take and sell the Caswells property because a tiny fraction of people who have stayed at the Motel Caswell during the past 20 years have been arrested for crimes. Keep in mind, the Caswells themselves have worked closely with law enforcement officials to prevent and report crime on their property. And the arrests the government complains of represent less than .05 percent of the 125,000 rooms the Caswells have rented over that period of time.

The Institute for Justice — one of those evil Right Wing groups that defense our civil liberties — is now fighting this in the courts.

Asset forfeiture is one of the most vile things out government does. The idea that started it was not completely insane: taking the property of people who did illegal things when the people themselves were not obtainable because they were overseas. It’s ridiculous and offensive to use asset forfeiture when the supposed perpetrator of the crime is standing right there. I don’t care what the Supreme Court says — charging someone’s property with a crime to bypass their Constitutional rights is simply not acceptable. And the federal government has made a bad situation far worse. If local authorities work with the Feds, they get to keep most of the property they seize.

Cops are taking the property of people who have not been charged with a crime and then using it for their own purposes. Can this be described as anything other than plain and simple armed robbery?

I have said before the Supreme Court is only one of the defenders of our liberty. Congress needs to step in and pass laws abolishing or severely restricting asset forfeiture. And if they don’t or won’t because they are pant-shittingly terrified of being seen as weak on crime, the President should issue an executive order suspending the practice. If you need to explain it, just run Russ Caswell in front of the cameras and explain that our government is stealing his hotel.

You can not possibly claim that you uphold the Constitution and support freedom and simultaneously support this bullshit. Citizens are being robbed by their own law enforcement agents. And, as we’ve see with all government abuses, it is only escalating, now extending to people who are bystanders of crime. This gangsterism can not end … it will not end … until we force our government to stop it.

There should not be a politician in this nation who can go another day without being asked if he supports this crap. And there should not be another politician who does support who is not thrown out on his police-state-loving ass. The lesson of the recent SOPA/PIPA fight is that we can make the politicians do the right thing when we want to. Do we want to?

(And while I’m at it: if you ever wish to donate money to a political cause, support the Institute for Justice. They are doing incredible work defending basic property and business rights. I can’t overemphasize their role in this.)

Update: Something to consider: one of the things assert forfeiture is used for is to deprive accused criminals of assets needed to procure legal defense. With no money to hire lawyers, people are reduced to either incompetent defense or plea bargain. Assert forfeiture is poisoning law enforcement in every way imaginable. It has to stop.

Tightening the Pot Noose

Barack Obama smoked marijuana. So did George Bush and Bill Clinton and probably a lot of other Presidents and most of Congress. Just keep that in mind as these hypocrites continue to crack down on legal pot:

Federal prosecutors have launched a crackdown on pot dispensaries in California, warning the stores that they must shut down in 45 days or face criminal charges and confiscation of their property even if they are operating legally under the state’s 15-year-old medical marijuana law.

In an escalation of the ongoing conflict between the U.S. government and the nation’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry, at least 16 pot shops or their landlords received letters this week stating they are violating federal drug laws, even though medical marijuana is legal in California. The state’s four U.S. attorneys were scheduled Friday to announce a broader coordinated crackdown.

16 is what they can confirm. The last time, the US Attorneys sent letters to all the dispensaries. This might seem like empty bluster. But when you combine this with a recent DOJ memo advising agents that cracking down would now be a priority, the IRS telling dispensaries they can not deduct any business expenses, the EPA starting to snoop around — and you’ve got a pattern. A pattern of hypocrisy, anti-federalism and bullshit.

This all comes, of course, from Gonzales v. Raich, one of the worst SCOTUS decisions of my lifetime. Give credit to Lee, who called it at the time:

Basically this is a huge green light for Congress to basically do whatever the fuck it likes if it can somehow, in some way, sorta, kinda tie it in to interstate commerce. Our highest court just sold us out. And Scalia, fucking Scalia, the one true federalist on the court, actually sided with the majority in this idiocy. I’m just disgusted by the whole thing.

It’s taken six years, but they are finally following through.

The thing is, they don’t have to do this. That’s one of the things these limp-dicked fascists don’t seem to grasp: that just because the government can do something, it does not follow that it must. Bush — fucking George Hitler Bush — understood this and had the DEA back off. Obama — Mr. Hippy Liberal Power to the People Man — is bringing down the hammer. Just something else to go with his generally hideous record on civil liberties and criminal justice.

Here’s my favorite quote:

Duffy, the U.S. attorney for far Southern California, planned to issue warning letters to property owners and all of the 180 or so dispensaries that have proliferated in San Diego in the absence of compromise regulations, according to Goldsmith.

“The real power is with the federal government,” he said. “They have the asset forfeiture, and that means either the federal government will own a lot of property or these landlords will evict a lot of dispensaries.”

Asset forfeiture. That relic of 18th century law in which you charge property with a crime and just fucking take it; no conviction required.

While I have every respect for federalism, there’s a part of me that wishes the governors of 16 states would stand up to this, would basically announced that any federal agent who raids a legal dispensary will be arrested for violating state law. It won’t happen, of course, but someone is going to have to stand up to these fuckers. Maybe we should just wheel a bunch of sick people into Congress and have them moan, groan and cry in pain until Congress fucking gets it, passes the Paul-Frank bill and ends this madness.

Forget Wall Street. Occupy the Capitol.

Update: It’s even worse. The Feds are threatening landlords with big prison sentences, especially if he dispensary is within 1000 feet of a school or park. Jesus.

A Nation of “Criminals”

The WSJ has been on a tear lately, looking at a variety of issues in law enforcement. Yeah, I know … they’re a Murdoch paper and only care about rich white people.

Uh-huh:

New York businessman James Lieto was an innocent bystander in a fraud investigation last year. Federal agents seized $392,000 of his cash anyway.

An armored-car firm hired by Mr. Lieto to carry money for his check-cashing company got ensnared in the FBI probe. Agents seized about $19 million—including Mr. Lieto’s money—from vaults belonging to the armored-car firm’s parent company.

He is one among thousands of Americans in recent decades who have had a jarring introduction to the federal system of asset seizure. Some 400 federal statutes—a near-doubling, by one count, since the 1990s—empower the government to take assets from convicted criminals as well as people never charged with a crime.

Last year, forfeiture programs confiscated homes, cars, boats, and cash in more than 15,000 cases. The total take topped $2.5 billion, more than doubling in five years, Justice Department statistics show.

Here is but one example, this one at the local level: a mayor is driving around in an SUV seized in a supposed pimp bust. Supposed because the owner of the SUV has yet to be convicted of anything. This is typical of forfeiture cases, which charge the property with a crime and require the owner to prove his innocence before returning it. And I’ll give you one guess as to what demographics these seizures hit hardest.

There was a time when asset forfeiture laws were justified: that time was the 18th century when authorities would seize smugglers’ ships because the owners of the ships lived in other countries. There is absolutely no reason that this archaic bullshit should still be practiced. But SCOTUS has consistently ruled in favor of this theft, even when an innocent person’s property is used for a crime (Bennis v. Michigan).

The last time our government did anything about this was ten years ago. And it was a Republican — Henry Hyde — who did it. There is zero chance that the “for the little guy” Democrats will, in any way, restrain the government’s power to seize people’s property. Not when they are getting such perverse pleasure out of arresting people and raiding factories because their guitars might have illegal wood in them.

At what point do we stop expecting mercy from our overlords and start demanding that they respect our liberty?