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Civil Libertarians Are in Love with Big Brother’s Body Cameras

By: Guillermo Jimenez - @tracesofreality - Dec 18, 2015, 3:37 pm
In the last year, the popularity and sale of police-worn body cameras has gone through the roof.
In the last year, the popularity and sale of police-worn body cameras has gone through the roof. (@kcautv)

EspañolCall me a cynic, but it seems like the wool has been pulled over our eyes.

Following a rash of police-brutality cases in recent years, civil libertarians across the country — and around the world, even — are now nearly in lockstep behind the idea of body cameras as a means to curb the use of excessive force.

However, the evidence that police-worn cameras will lead to greater accountability is next to nil, while all signs point to this technology as the next phase in the ever expanding police and surveillance state.

While the technology itself is still relatively new, the idea of body-worn cameras on law enforcement officers has been circulating for some time now. The scheme picked up steam after the release of the infamous Rialto study in early 2013 — a study which suffers from significant confounds and offers dubious conclusions about the effectiveness of these cameras, which I have written about extensively in the past.

Following the highly publicized police killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City, President Barack Obama issued an executive order authorizing US$263 million in taxpayer dollars to “improve training” in local police departments across the country, as well as the purchase of 50,000 body-worn cameras.

The move was loudly praised by civil libertarians, progressives, and specifically the Black Lives Matter movement, as an important step in addressing the crisis of police brutality and lack of accountability in our cities. Conservatives, on the other hand, generally scorned the president for “delegitimizing” the police, tying their hands, and even warned of Obama’s plans to “nationalize local police.”

As usual, the public was divided on the issue. Trapped in a sea of hysteria and sensationalism, few have been able to see the forest for the trees — or in this case, the panopticon for the surveillance cameras.

The same is happening now with the debate over the use of body cameras by Border Patrol agents.

US Customs and Border Protection — an agency with its own host of problems, and which has essentially granted its agents a license to kill with impunity along the US-Mexico border — has toyed around with the idea of body cameras since at least March of 2014.

They too were responding to charges of abuse and brutality, namely the killing of nearly a dozen unarmed Mexican teenagers, who were each accused of having “thrown a rock” at a Border Patrol agent. In each of these cases, the agent claimed he feared for his life, and had no choice but to return deadly fire against the alleged rock thrower.

Almost immediately after CBP’s announcement in March 2014 that it would look into issuing these cameras to field agents, the clamor began for the agency to quickly adopt the technology, likely to the delight of body-camera manufacturers like Taser Inc., which, coincidentally, collaborated with the Rialto Police Department in the aforementioned study. Incidentally, and unsurprisingly, the bodycam business has soared since Obama issued his executive order one year ago.

Just this past November, CBP made waves once again following initial reports that the agency would not distribute body cameras to its officers after all. The Los Angeles Times obtained a draft copy of an internal review that found that the cameras had “limited effectiveness,” and concluded that a “a full-scale deployment on every person is not necessary.”

Of course, those reports were met with derision from so-called civil-liberties groups and pro-immigration advocates, like the National Immigration Forum, which called on CBP to “step up” and issue the body cameras to “help keep people safe.”

Less than a week later, after some apparent backpedaling, CBP put out a press release stating that the agency will, in fact, “take steps to study expanded use of cameras in and around the border environment,” and will begin to use body cameras at “checkpoints, aircraft certificate inspections, vessel boarding and interdictions, and outbound operations at ports of entry.”

The press release concludes that “expanded camera use can have a wide variety of benefits for CBP.”

And that’s the key. It’s the answer to the question that most civil-liberties advocates, for whatever reason, fail to ask: who will actually benefit from this technology?

Our intuition tells us that police officers will behave differently if they know their actions are being recorded, but as I have explained before, this “observer effect” only works in the short term, and only if the person being observed believes that his actions will have consequences.

Given the staggering number of cases involving police misconduct caught on camera, in which the offending officer walks away scot-free, we have no reason to think cops will be held responsible for their misdeeds, and neither do they.

A YouTube search for “police brutality” will quickly illuminate the fact that we do not suffer from a lack of video evidence; we clearly have an accountability problem.

Putting more surveillance tools in the hands of the state cannot and will not solve this issue. What we need is a revolutionary change in our thinking, in our relationship with the state, and in our unwillingness to treat state agents as anything other than untouchable “heroes” who can do no wrong.

In addition, there are far too many people who resign themselves to the “something is better than nothing” manner of thinking. That is simply not true; when it comes to demands for the state to “do something,” many times, it’s much worse.

Body cameras on cops and Border Patrol agents are a terrible idea, but the public’s indignation over recent police-brutality cases has hit such a fevered pitch that is has managed to convince well-meaning civil libertarians to get behind the state’s false solution and demand more surveillance.

When the president announced his body-camera decree, civil libertarians treated themselves to a round of high-fives. Obama flexed his executive muscle, and civil libertarians actually cheered. Imagine that.

This is where we are in 21st-century America. In an age when most people shrug off state surveillance because they “have nothing to hide,” we are now begging Big Brother to watch us more, in the hopes that his agents will kill us less.

Guillermo Jimenez Guillermo Jimenez

Jimenez is the English-language deputy editor for the PanAm Post and host of the Traces of Reality radio show and the Demanufacturing Consent podcast on Boiling Frogs Post. He is based in South Texas, deep within the DHS "constitution-free zone." Follow @tracesofreality.

End to Export Tariffs Breathes Life into Argentina’s Agriculture

By: Belén Marty - @belenmarty - Dec 18, 2015, 11:12 am
ft-argentina-farmers

EspañolArgentina used to be the world's granary. Up until World War I, Argentina's per capita income was higher than the United States'. Its grains and meat exports made up 7 percent of world trade, and its GDP represented half of Latin America. However, increasing government regulations and taxes in the 20th and early 21st centuries killed the South American nation's most famous industry. Now that recently elected President Mauricio Macri revealed on December 15 that he would abolish tariffs on all agricultural exports except for soybeans, which will continue to be taxed at 30 percent, hope is growing among farmers again. PanAm Post sat down with Marcelo Hilario Rojas Panelo, a veterinarian, agribusiness consultant from the Buenos Aires province, and delegate at the Argentinean Rural Society. How are farmers taking Maurico Macri's announcement? People have a different kind of expectations now. They are happy because he made good on his promise, and that is going to get hopes up. There are some other things that cannot be fixed overnight. We need to open our meat markets again for real, so we can recover lost ground. All [tariffs] went to zero, except for soy beans that went from 35 to 30 percent. But it will eventually get to zero as well, in several 5 percent cuts. How long before cattle markets take off again? The livestock industry is not like agriculture. Ranchers need at least three years to reactivate their processes, but they have already started because they were expecting something like this. Cattle prices have gone up already, which means people are investing on livestock again. In two or three years we are going to see the results. What consequences can we expect from these new policies? Argentina could go back to exporting it historical average of 20 percent of meat production. With the Kirchner administration, we plummeted to 6-7 percent. A disaster. Perhaps we should get used to not relying on beef so much and start consuming other kinds of meat. We should begin exporting what we have and other countries want: the more expensive meat cuts that one eats in Argentinean restaurants. Uruguayans, for instance, increased exports of meat cuts that the world wanted, and they began eating the cheaper cuts. The expensive meat cuts should subsidize the cheapest ones. Would these new policies result in crop rotation? Absolutely. For wheat it's too late because the harvest is in a couple of days, so that will happen in the next season. Corn, although tardy, has been sown because the price expectations have changed. A missing element in the equation is the new US dollar price, when the government lifts currency controls and the markets sets the real price, not the AR$6 that we get for each dollar. Just six pesos? The official exchange rate is AR$9.20. After 35 percent in tariffs, you get a dollar rate worth AR$6. That is what the farmer gets for his crops, while he must buy many supplies such as machinery at the informal rate of AR$14 per dollar. It's madness. All that must change. What other measure should Macri take to improve agriculture? There's a lot to be done. Adjust the dollar rate, lift capital controls, get farmers to sell what they have stored and begin sowing. If farmers envision good times ahead, they will invest everything they have. We need more infrastructure: roads, trains, highways, especially for people who are far from ports. They basically have no profits after transportation costs. Don't forget that farmers, just like any other industry in Argentina, pay income tax. Macri said yesterday that they will pay more income taxes. So with tariffs above 35 percent, farmers ended up paying taxes on 65 percent of their profits. [adrotate group="8"] Why is a switch to income taxes positive? The benefit is that the income tax goes to all provinces, it is distributed across the country. With tariffs, in the previous administration, the money didn't even go through Congress. That means that the Kirchner administration arbitrarily spent the tariffs it collected Exactly. What happened with farmers who refused to sell their crops? Will they continue to do it? Keeping crops stores [was a measure] to fight inflation. What they did was to sell gradually what they needed. What would they have done otherwise with all that money? Nothing. So the farmer had a lot of money in his hands but no place to invest. If he kept the produce stored instead, inflation didn't eat profits away. It was not a measure against the Kirchner administration, but a way of preserving value. Translated by Daniel Duarte.

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