Washington Watch


Involuntary Treatment Banned

Sometimes if you stay with an issue long enough it becomes "noncontroversial" and you can win your points in surprisingly simple ways. An example is the issue of involuntary mental treatment for those accused of crimes and remanded to the State for psychiatric treatment.

The Senate is still trying to reform the federal criminal code. This year's bill, S. 1437 is much improved over the potentially repressive S. 1 which had civil libertarians exercised last session.

During markup sessions in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-WY) slipped in an amendment which gives defendants who have been declared incompetent to stand trial, or whose competency has been questioned, the right to refuse certain kinds of psychiatric "treatment" including psychosurgery, electroshock "therapy," and forced drugging. For these techniques to be used now requires a reasonably safeguarded informed consent in writing. Sen. Wallop's amendment was passed (waved off as "noncontroversial" by Sen. Kennedy, who was presiding) and is now a part of the Senate bill, which has been passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be considered by the full Senate in February.

Reforming the FBI and the CIA

Rep. Herman Badillo has introduced a bill to reform the nation's intelligence agencies, provide clear limits to FBI-CIA jurisdiction, limit abuses of power and punish deception of Congress and the public by intelligence agency officials.

H.R. 6051 (which is co-sponsored by representatives such as Conyers, Dellums, Drinan, Clarence Mitchell, Pete Stark and Charles Rangel) would change the CIA's name to the Foreign Information Service and ban covert actions, and change the FBI to the Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation and ban political and other non-criminal investigations. If the bill is passed, such activities as Cointelpro will be forbidden, the method of classifying government "secrets" would be revised, and victims of intelligence agency abuses or overzealousness would have statutory grounds for civil or criminal suits.

The FBI recently issued internal guidelines to control some of the bad-PR abuses of the recent past, but a recent Government Accounting Office report calls them vague and subject to varying interpretations, and still not followed very closely. The GAO's sample found that 73% of local preliminary investigations go beyond the 90-day limit without being reported to FBI headquarters, in violation of the guidelines. Also, only 10 of the 319 preliminary investigations surveyed by the GAO produced information useful to an eventual arrest. Any investigating agency will start investigations which turn out to be blind alleys, but this seems a little out-of-line.

Libertarian Advocate is supporting this legislation and urging supporters to write their Congressmen urging support and co-sponsorship. We don't share the sponsor's apparent faith that passing this law will end all abuses, but it seems like a constructive first step.

Write to: US House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515.

Airline Deregulation

It remains to be seen whether Senate passage of H.R. 6010, which deregulated cargo air transportation and allowed airlines to offer special fares to senior citizens, bodes well or ill for passenger deregulation. On one hand it may indicate Senate receptivity to the more comprehensive regulatory reform measure passed by the Commerce Committee and due for full Senate consideration in February or March. On the other hand it may eliminate some interest groups (senior citizens and freight shippers) from the ranks of those pressing hard for the more comprehensive reform measure.

Even if you've written before on this issue, letters to all Senators would be helpful at this juncture (US Senate, Washington, DC 20510).

Humphrey-Hawkins and the Washington Mood

There is some serious danger that an amended version of the Humphrey-Hawkins "full employment" bill, with a few compromises and fewer mandatory or automatic actions required of the president when unemployment reaches certain levels, will squeak through. That would be disastrous. One can hardly say that we now have an economy free of government controls and manipulations, but Humphrey-Hawkins, no matter how "watered down," would institutionalize certain kinds of federal economic planning and put in place some automatic forms of control which could mark a watershed change in the relationship between government and the productive sector of the economy.

While we can't afford to relax our vigilance, especially on Humphrey-Hawkins, I sense a certain caution about new proposals for even more government controls. Carter's problems with his energy package are well-known. The House killed a new banking regulation bill as well as the old treadworn Consumer Protection Agency.

Some of these legislative fiascos are due to Carter's uncertain and abrasive leadership style, but some of them may be due to an increasing realization that the money just isn't there any more. There are precious few "surpluses" left for politicians to feed their egos and sense of power by allocating. Everybody knows Social Security is broke. Everybody agrees that taxes are too high. Most people are suspicious and skeptical about government. The existence of these attitudes does not assure libertarian victories without a lot of effort, but the time may be getting riper for innovative non-government and anti-government initiatives.