February 2008 Archives

Wired reports:
The Air Force is tightening restrictions on which blogs its troops can read, cutting off access to just about any independent site with the word "blog" in its web address.

When I hear stuff this utterly stupid, it makes me want to scream.... Piles of torn out hair are accumulating around my desk as we speak," one senior Air Force official writes in an e-mail.

San Francisco Chronicle reports:

California State University East Bay has fired a math teacher after six weeks on the job because she inserted the word "nonviolently" in her state-required Oath of Allegiance form.

Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker and graduate student who began teaching remedial math to undergrads Jan. 7, lost her $700-a-month part-time job after refusing to sign an 87-word Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution that the state requires of elected officials and public employees.

Another one from the "won't see it in the American media" file - The Guardian interviews economist Joseph Stiglitz about his new book ("The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict" - it's on sale at Amazon). When the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of the war at "only" $500,000,000,000, Stiglitz thought that seemed low. So he spent a couple of years looking into it.

Three trillion. That's just America, folks. Not Britain's expenditures, for instance. And it's a conservative estimate, because it ignores the cost of economic burdens, just looks at actual expenditures.

The article's worth reading. Did you know the Pentagon spends $400,000 a year on a contractor who replaces a grunt costing only $40,000 a year? That's what they mean when they say "privatization". Remember how "privatization" is supposed to "save us money"? What they really mean is it will save them money, if by "save" you mean that their friends will make a lot of money.

The Constitution on ICE

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Have Arrest Warrant for One worker. Why Not Detain a Whole Factory Full at Gunpoint?

Sorry for the inconvenience, says government, but, after all, reasonable use of force and fourth amendment rights are, well, subjective.

Citizen's commission of labor groups launches investigation practices of enforcement actions by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). The Commission will investigate claims of unconstitutional workplace enforcement actions, including massive round ups and detention of workers and in particular ICE's use of arrest warrants for a limited number of illegal immigrants who work at a given company as a pretext to detain the entire workforce, including many U.S. citizens, while agents determine whether there are additional illegal immigrants among them.

"Tens of millions of workers in America go to work every day without . . . an awareness that at their workplaces, without any warning, they could be swept up in a massive raid conducted by heavily armed government agents," said Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and chairman of the National Commission on ICE Misconduct and Violations of 4th Amendment Rights. "Workers are not aware that they could be detained at gunpoint. That they could be handcuffed. . . . That they could be denied any contact with family members or legal counsel."

In the Washington Post ICE spokeswoman Pat Reilly explains, " "I would imagine that some people may be detained beyond what they feel is reasonable. But it's subjective," she said. "What we're trying to do is get to the bottom of who has the right to be here and who might be posing as a U.S. citizen."

Smoke-In to Protest Smoke-Free State

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Southern Illinois boat fiberglass and gel coat repair shop owner  (a non-smoker) defies state's ban on smoking at all business establishments.

The Southern.com reports:

A call from authorities hasn't halted one West Frankfort man's plans to host a peaceful protest against the state's recently implemented Smoke-Free laws.

John Hemminghaus has been passing out flyers and making phone calls to invite as many people as he can reach to a March 1 event he is calling a "Smoke In."

"This country was founded on civil disobedience," Hemminghaus said in a previous interview. "It has gotten to where, now, people are afraid to get into trouble. It kind of makes me mad that everybody has turned into cowards."

Monday afternoon, Hemminghaus said he was recently contacted by Williamson County State's Attorney Chuck Garnati in regards to his plans.

"Chuck said I would be taken into custody and get a $2,500 fine," he said. "Nobody I know can find where anybody in Illinois has been arrested yet."

Hemminghaus owns Wounded Rig Inc. - a boat fiberglass and gel coat repair shop - located on Illinois 37, just south of West Frankfort, although he falls under the jurisdiction of the Williamson County Sheriff's Department.

He said Garnati told him that law enforcement would be present at his event if he couldn't be talked out of hosting the rally.
(Thanks to the Agitator)

The War (Against Baggy Pants) Grinds On

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Baldwin, Fla. Town council passes law making it illegal within town limits to wear baggy pants, with punishments ranging from 40 hours of community service to a $500 fine.

The St. Petersburg Times (by way of Monty Python) reports:

"WHEREAS," begins Ordinance 2007-17, "the Town Council of the Town of Baldwin has found that the welfare of the residents of the Town of Baldwin is hampered and imposed upon by persons intentionally wearing their pants below their waist for the purposes of exposing themselves and their undergarments ..."

Baldwin has joined a debate that's gone national, raising issues of freedom of expression, indecent exposure and the possibility of racial profiling because the majority of the wearers of the baggy pants are young, black and mimicking hip-hop stars. Over the past few years, this has popped up from Connecticut to Missouri, with laws actually being passed in a handful of mostly small, southern towns - Louisiana, then Georgia, then Opa-locka in South Florida. Now here.

Ambrose read in the Jacksonville paper about Hawkinsville, Ga., and decided to follow along.

"Pull up your pants!" he said in a recent interview. "It's common decency, y'all!"

"They are underpants," said Marvin Godbold Jr., the longtime mayor. "They are to be worn under your pants."

"It's offensive," council member Libby Willis said.

The people here blame all this on lots of things: DCF, MTV, the Internet, Roe vs. Wade, Bill Clinton, Dennis Rodman, the end of corporal punishment, the breakdown of family values, just general godlessness. They say this mess started in the '90s, or maybe the '60s, or maybe right around World War II.

From the news behind the news department -- an excellent backgrounder from Holland about the liquid bombers -- you know, the ones whose dire threat to Western civilization means that we can't take breast milk for our babies onto planes any more because it could explode.

Well, except these liquid bombers didn't have a liquid bomb, there's no practical chemical means of making such a bomb, they didn't have plane tickets, or passports or -- well -- anything, really. Exactly the kind of threat the Bush Administration feels comfortable with: a toothless one.

It's a decent article. I'll be following DeepJournal from now on.

A Drug War Success Story

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Who says there's no free lunch, or

How the DEA  and US military helped turn a hard-scrabble Nicaraguan coastal town with 85% unemployment into a wealthy leisure class utopia.

If You're 17 and out after 10 You're Under Arrest

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 NJ suburban town police out on a "Friday night sweep"arrest 10 teenagers not for any acts they committed, but simply for being outdoors after the 10pm curfew.

The city's curfew ordinance states that it is unlawful for anyone under 18 to be in any public place between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., with limited exceptions.

It adds that it is also unlawful for parents or guardians to knowingly or by inefficient control allow their children to be in public places during the prohibited hours.

Millville, NJ is hardly alone. since the 1990s at least 500 cities and towns have imposed curfews as a "preventive deterrent" to juvenile crime, despite their questionable constitutionality and dubious effectiveness. Yet the practice continues to expand, with increasingly onerous requirements and punitive enforcement.

The making of a new class of social lepers
LA CityBeat reports:

When Ricky was 16, he went to a teen club and met a girl named Amanda, who said she was the same age. They hit it off and were eventually having sex. At the time Ricky thought it was a pretty normal high school romance.

Two years later, Ricky is a registered sex offender, and his life is destroyed.

Amanda turned out to be 13. Ricky was arrested, tried as an adult, and pleaded guilty to the charge of lascivious acts with a child, which is a class D felony in Iowa. It is not disputed that the sex was consensual, but intercourse with a 13-year-old is illegal in Iowa.

Ricky was sentenced to two years probation and 10 years on the Iowa online sex offender registry. Ricky and his family have since moved to Oklahoma, where he will remain on the state's public registry for life.

Being labeled a sex offender has completely changed Ricky's life, leading him to be kicked out of high school, thrown out of parks, taunted by neighbors, harassed by strangers, and unable to live within 2,000 feet of a school, day-care center or park. He is prohibited from going to the movies or mall with friends because it would require crossing state borders, which he cannot do without permission from his probation officer. One of Ricky's neighbors called the cops on him, yelled and cursed at him, and videotaped him every time he stepped outside, Ricky said.

"It affects you in every way," he said. "You're scared to go out places. You're on the Internet, so everybody sees your picture."

Six Years in Jail

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 For having her (Fully Clothed) breasts graze the back of a  13 year old boy's head in a crowded game room.

Williamette Week
reports. (excerpt below, worth reading in full)

An appeal last week to the state Supreme Court may be the final chance for justice for a former Boys and Girls Club staffer, found guilty of sexual assault in a case one ex-cop calls the worst travesty of justice he's seen in 20 years as an investigator.

If the court refuses to take up the case or rules against 27-year-old Veronica Rodriguez, she'll go to prison for five more years, after already serving one year for a crime she denies committing.

A Washington County jury found Rodriguez guilty in 2005 of first-degree sexual assault after police accused her of running her hands through a 13-year-old boy's hair and pulling the back of his head against her covered chest in the middle of a crowded game room at the Boys and Girls Club in Hillsboro.

Under Measure 11, a 1994 voter-approved ballot initiative setting mandatory minimum sentences, Rodriguez faced six years and three months in prison. But Circuit Judge Nancy Campbell gave her 16 months instead, saying the Measure 11 sentence would violate the state constitution as cruel and unusual punishment.

Rodriguez served one year at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, earning time off for good behavior. Meanwhile, prosecutors appealed her sentence, and in December a three-judge panel at the state Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that Rodriguez should serve out the remaining five years of her Measure 11 sentence. Rodriguez's appeal of that ruling landed at the Supreme Court on Feb. 13.

Rodriguez's conviction destroyed her career as a social worker. A registered sex offender as a result, she's now living in Spokane with her parents and working as a barista.
(Thanks to the Agitator)

So very, very wrong - envious of the air industry, Amtrak officials will be screening passengers, too. Think about this: you can't drive a train into a building, and you don't need to be on the train to blow it up (because trains, you see, run on tracks, which are by definition many miles long and fixed in position and, you know, on the ground instead of being a mile up in the air.)

Even if we stipulate -- which I don't -- that the TSA's measures for air security make sense, then those same measures simply don't make sense for rail. They just don't. The article I linked to (at the Chicago Trib) says, "Concern has been mounting" since the 2004 bombing in Madrid. But see -- in Madrid, they bombed the tracks. Not the train. So these measures wouldn't have done anything at all in that situation.

The only possible reason for these measures is to make officials think they have power over suspected terrorists (or anybody else they choose, as we are already seeing in airports), and to make the train-riding public aware that they are being watched and scrutinized. That's all it can be -- it's authoritarianism, pure and simple.

This just has to stop.

But let's look at who the author of this article, Sarah Karush, talked to, shall we?

  • Bill Rooney, VP of Security at Amtrak. Makes sense.
  • Alex Kummant, CEO of Amtrak. Still makes sense.

Maybe she could talk to somebody not at Amtrak? Sure:

Go ahead, click through to the CPT-MI. I'll wait here -- or, if you're impatient like me, you can just accept my assessment of that page, encapsulated in the phrase "tragedy of 9/11".

Did we hear from anybody who didn't think it's a good idea that Amtrak is going to spend a whole lot of money on security consultants to school the public in being good Germans, in return for not being able to do anything about any hypothetical terrorist threats? No, we did not. We just got a bunch of feel-good mumbling about progress, and "reality has changed and now everything has to be transformed" and "this model stands up in court" and "bad guys won't be able to anticipate this." Sure -- nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

So we have a nice little article about creeping authoritarianism -- but without questioning whether that's where America should be going.

Good job, Chicago Tribune.

Stupid Police Dog Tricks

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From the truth continues to remain stranger than fiction (or the drug war is weirder and more surreal than any bad trip dept.)

Cookeville, Tennessee police let their attack dog loose on suspect for no cause, after he's already put his hands up to comply with a stop. Dog bites man repeatedly. Cop searches suspects pockets and find NO DRUGS. Then (captured on video) another officer appears to give the arresting officer a signal  pulls something from his pocket, and (using the same hand) seems to put something into the suspect's  pocket. What happens next? Voila.

 The officer then pulls out a bag of pocket and proclaims "Whoa, Carlos, weed? Now you got you another freaking charge, how about that?"
(thanks to Jonathan Turley)

Complexity is Offensive

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So a college student complains when professor advanced the view that sexual orientation might be a complex mixture of nature and nurture, genetics and experience.

No big deal, right. The kind of discussion you might expect, or at least hope for, in a class on human heredity.

Yet, so freaked was the dean of San José/Evergreen Community College that the professor was terminated WITHOUT a hearing.
(Thanks to FIRE)




TSA steals food from baby

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From the feeling safer yet department: this in from the New York Times. Two doctors (man and wife) and their 10-month-old were flying from Chicago to New England. Worried about delays and the fact that baby food isn't actually sold at airports, they packed extra.

TSA didn't like that. So they confiscated the dangerous contraband, saying it was too much for a 2-1/2 hour flight (ignoring the whole winter thing.) Said the couple needed a note from a doctor to bring more. Reminded that they were doctors (thus that route to authoritarianism blocked) TSA said it had to be another doctor. But a phone call to the pediatrician wasn't enough -- no, they just had to confiscate the baby food. Baby food.

Get this -- a TSA spokesbeing said the officers "were behaving in a reasonable manner with people who were pretty insistent about what they wanted to bring through," adding, "Obviously this is one of those judgment call gray areas where the officer does have discretion."

The officer does have discretion. Translation: TSA owns your ass if you fly. Get used to it, because you have no recourse whatsoever. Oh, sure, file your complaint. But we don't have to act on it, there is no oversight of the complaints process at all, and we're still keeping your baby's food if we want to.

Good job, America.

Do You Have the Right to Haul Trash?

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Freedom of Enterprise, right?

Not if the government, in this case the city government of Seattle and state Supreme Court of Washington, decide to make your little local waste-hauling business (and all little waste-hauling businesses) illegal.

Why? So they can create a monopoly for two multi-national corporations.

(Thanks to Brian Doherty at Reason)

Banned in Boston- Political Protest Art

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Protest Artist Arrested for Carrying Placard Reading "Nooses On Sale" in Boston's financial district

The Boston Phoneix reports

22 years ago  artists Milan Kohout  was expelled from Czechoslavakia by the secret police. 

 After being forced out of Czechoslovakia, Kohout was granted political asylum in the United States, studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, became a US citizen, and -- now able to make his avocation his vocation -- joined Mobius, the internationally acclaimed local artists group.

Kohout, who has taught at Tufts and at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and participated in art programs in China, Taiwan, Croatia, Poland, and Cuba, is now facing criminal charges here in Boston as a result of a one-man performance he staged this past November in front of a Bank of America office in the Financial District.


Video Beating Interruptus

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Shreveport, Louisiana cop starts roughing up an (unarmed) woman who, after being pulled over for a DUI, gets argumentative. Midway through the scuffle beat down he gets the video shut off (for an unknown period of time,  the details of which hopefully will eventually be reconstructed in a civil suit). When cam starts up again the woman is lying handcuffed in a pool of blood.

The incident occurred last November. Fortunately the cop, Officer Wiley Willis, has been fired for what authorities say was his handling of the incident. No criminal charges have (yet) been filed in connection with the woman's injuries, which include, according to her attorney a broken nose, a severe cut on her forehead, two broken teeth and bruises on her arms and shoulder.

Thanks to Jonathan Turley

Steve Greenhut of the Orange County Register asks a good question:

What kind of society rips a 17-year-old autistic boy from his loving home and places him in a state-run mental institution, where he is given heavy doses of drugs, kept physically restrained, kept away from his family, deprived of books and other mental stimulation and is left alone to rot?

Greenhut reports on the experiences of a Russian immigrant family in California whose autistic child was forcibly removed on the basis of a judgement from a psychologist who'd never even met the child. As he writes:

The forced removal came after the Tseglins came to loggerheads with the government over Nate's proper treatment. The parents are opposed to the use of psychotropic drugs and argue that Nate has had strong negative reactions to them. They point to success they've had with an alternative, holistic approach that focuses on diet and psychiatric counseling. The government disagreed, so it took the boy away from home and initially placed him in a group home - where he had the same negative reaction to the drugs that his parents predicted would happen.

Of course, once social workers are involved in a family, they are reluctant to relinquish their power - something I've found in every Child Protective Services case I've written about. And even though the court determined "the evidence is clear that the parents have always stood by and tried to help their son," the court sided with the government. That's another common theme from these closed family-court proceedings - the social workers' words are taken as gospel, and the parents are treated like enemies and given little chance to defend themselves.

The details are complicated and discouraging. But, essentially, the parents were cut out of any decision-making regarding their son. They were given only short visits with him. After he ran away from the group home, the government transferred Nate to a mental hospital. The Tseglins say the drugs the hospital gave Nate caused him to have a "grand mal" seizure, and his health has continued to deteriorate while he languishes in a government mental facility. When they visited him over the summer, they found his face swollen. He faded in and out of consciousness and was suffering from convulsions. They believe he has been beaten and are worried about sexual abuse, given that he is housed with the criminally insane.

The Tseglins claim Child Protective Services has told them they have the "wrong set of beliefs" and even threatened to force them to undergo court-ordered psychological evaluation. The agency at one point suspended the parents' visitations as a way "to assist them in coming to grips regarding their son." The Tseglins, as former citizens of the Soviet Union, have good reason to be fearful of the authorities. But they tell me that they experienced nothing of this sort in the former communist nation. If their descriptions are correct, then the Soviets weren't the only ones who know how to create a totalitarian bureaucracy.

The family's legal argument is persuasive:

"Riva and her husband have cared for Nate, in their home, for his entire life, until he was dragged kicking and screaming away from his parents. ... The court found that it was very impressive that the parents 'were able to maintain Nate in the home for the better part of a decade when he was having some severe behavioral difficulties.' ... The court found further that when the parents put Nate on a 'more holistic approach' and ignored the professional opinions, that 'for a period of time, Nate responded very well to that.' Even though Nate subsequently deteriorated, the court found that he fared no differently using the more traditional medical approach.' ...

"In short, this case turns on value judgments, such as whether it is preferable for Nate to be maintained in his own home, subject to occasional physical restraint, surrounded by the love and devotion of his parents and brother, or whether Nate should be placed in a locked facility, subject to occasional physical restraint and constant chemical restraint, surrounded by strangers and a burden to the California taxpayer. ... The real issue in this case is that the agency and some medical personnel believe their opinions regarding Nate's treatment are better than the parents' choices, and have sought the judicial intervention to override the parents' decisions regarding their son."

It's hard to quarrel with a bureaucracy calling itself Child Protection Services, or with the idea of having some sort of community agency intervene to stop true abuse of children. But that power can and, according to Greenhut, has been abused capriciously and autocratically.

(Thanks to Lew Rockwell.com)

From Reuters

The Supreme Court on Tuesday turned down a legal challenge to the warrantless domestic spying program President George W. Bush created after the September 11 attacks.

The American Civil Liberties Union had asked the justices to hear the case after a lower court ruled the ACLU, other groups and individuals that sued the government had no legal right to do so because they could not prove they had been affected by the program.

The civil liberties group also asked the nation's highest court to make clear that Bush does not have the power under the U.S. Constitution to engage in intelligence surveillance within the United States that Congress has expressly prohibited.

The Supreme Court sided with the administration and rejected the appeal without any comment.

Still think the big corporations aren't out of control? Oh, sure, you can say that the telcos just wanted to help out, so it's important to let them off the hook for violating the law. But the real upshot for any corporation isn't patriotism -- it's the bottom line. If they do anything but the bottom line, their shareholders can sue them. So the telco immunity provisions in the spy law the House is heroically refusing to pass is just about the money.

Don't believe me? Well, the Washington Post tells us that now, Congress is working on legislation to make sure banks don't have to follow intellectual property law if it will cost them money. "They could save billions." Well, sure. They could save even more if they didn't have to give you your money when you asked for it -- perhaps we can look into that next.

The short version of the story is this: a little company in Texas called DataTreasury had a great idea to digitally scan and archive checks. And they patented that technology. Then banks realized it was a good idea -- so they started doing the same thing without bothering to pay DataTreasury their royalties. DataTreasury sued (natch), the banks tried to overturn the patent, and it was upheld. So the banks just went to Washington, cozied up to a guy named Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), and voilà! Mr. Sessions introduces legislation to let them off the hook. God knows their kids are probably at home without even beans to eat, at the outrageous rates DataTreasury is charging them to ... what's that? A penny a check? Oh.

Here's the key, with corporate thinking. The rules are only there to make sure they keep making money. They make the rules -- I didn't ask them to beef up intellectual property law. But when it becomes difficult for them to follow their own rules, the rules change.

OK, it's not getting my blood to boil like, say, the government killing a kid on the way to the hospital or something, but we have to find our outrage where we can.

Wikileaks Taken Off Line in US by court order

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Wikileaks, the self-proclaimed global whistle-blower web site that allows people to anonymously upload documents governments and corporations (for whatever reasons) don't want public, has always been controversial. Championed as an open-source pure free speech venue for anonymous truth-tellers and troublemakers to get important information out about abuses of power that otherwise wouldn't get out, criticized for lacking a journalistic vetting process to differentiate real muckraking from fake (and flake).

One thing's for sure they've already in their short existence pissed off plenty of the right forces, from the Chinese government to the Thai military junta. They've also pissed off a Swiss bank for publishing docs about a Swiss bank and alleged money laundering in the Cayman Islands.
Whether or not there are a legitimate legal grounds for retracting publication of those particular documents I don't know. but it seems quite outrageous to have a US court shut the entire site down.

ST. Paul PD Taser Ready for Protest

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Tasers would never be used to intimidate would be protesters and to chill dissent. So it's no doubt a coincidence I guess that the St. Paul PD has an additional 230 tasers on order which, just in time for the Republican National convention in town this summer, will give every cop on the force their own taser.

Thanks to Huffington Post
That's a proposal that making the rounds and apparently gaining momentum in several Massachusetts towns The ostensible purpose, keeping libraries safe from rapists and child molesters by having names and photos of library patrons checked against a database of registered sex offenders, seems on its face well-meaning and innocuous enough, as encroachments against basic freedoms often do. Of course, even if you accept the (dubious) premise that showing ID will deter sexual criminals, what's the use of checking names of only local registered offenders when a rapist could come from elsewhere in the county or state. Why not check names against wider available databases. And, while we're at it, why not (in the name of safety, of course) check ID against other databases to screen for other kinds of potential criminality. Or to make sure illegal immigrants aren't reading books at taxpayer expense.

Is it really just paranoia to see the introduction of library checkpoints as another step toward having ID checks routinized in other areas of public space (malls, parks, you name it).

Meet the Incapacitator

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Because tasers are used so sparingly and judiciously, only as a last resort against armed and dangerously violent criminals (not, for instance, against people already handcuffed and shackled) I guess we have nothing to worry about from a new "non-lethal" method of human incapacitation for use by law enforcement under contract by Department of Homeland security with help from the Los Angeles Police Department, for potential use by the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, Secret Service and air marshals and likely domestic police forces.  It is described as a high-tech flashlight, which flashes at such a high frequency that when it reaches the eyes of the target it overloads the brain, causing disorientation, blindness, headache, and nausea.
From the No wonder the Bill of Rights is in trouble dept.

According to a survey by the  McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum in Chicago only one in one THOUSAND Americans know that the first amendment contains five freedoms: speech, press, peaceable assembly, religion and petitioning of grievances. Only about one-quarter could name more than one first amendment freedom.
Thanks to Jonathan Turley
Bill in state house would give courts Power to Involuntarily commit 'habitual" drug users.

A bill introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature would allow judges to order "drug dependent" people into involuntary drug treatment, including inpatient treatment, upon petition by that person's family members. Introduced by Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland (D-Delaware), HB 1594 would allow for repeated 90-day commitment orders -- apparently without end.

The bill would allow the courts to order a drug and alcohol assessment by a psychiatrist, a psychologist specializing in drug and alcohol assessments and treatment, or a certified addiction counselor. If the assessors deem the respondent in need of treatment, the court could impose a 90-day treatment order. Before that period is up, another hearing would be held and another 90-day treatment order could be issued. According to the bill, "The court may continue the respondent in treatment for successive ninety-day periods pursuant to determinations that the person will benefit from services for an additional ninety days. The court may also order appropriate follow-up treatment. If the court finds, after hearing, that the respondent willfully failed to comply with an order, the court may declare the person in civil contempt of court and in its discretion make an appropriate order, including commitment of the respondent to prison for a period not to exceed six months."

Thanks to Stop the Drug War

Court records increasingly being kept form press, public scrutiny. I wonder what's happening in other states.

A Star Tribune investigation of federal court cases in Minnesota shows that 83 of 3,000 criminal cases filed between January 1998 through 2007 were under seal - a number that troubles government watchdogs.

About two-thirds of those cases have been under seal for more than three years.

When a case is under seal, nothing but a case number is public - the name of the person charged and the nature of the case are kept quiet. The public can't know if the case involves terrorism, juveniles, or something else.

"It used to be that sealings were extraordinarily, extraordinarily exceptional," said Martin Garbus, a First Amendment litigator in New York. But that's changing, he said.

It's easy to lose track of just how much information has disappeared into the White House. Fortunately, Paul Kiehl over at TPMmuckraker.com has been doing it for us, for over a year now. Check it out, and imagine what a fantastic job the administration must be doing.

Some highlights:
...In October 2007, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell reversed the practice of declassifying and releasing summaries of national intelligence estimates."
...A rule change at the U.S. Geological Survey restricts agency scientists from publishing or discussing research without that information first being screened by higher-ups at the agency.
...After the Bureau of Labor Statistics uncovered discouraging data about factory closings in the U.S., the administration announced it would stop publishing information about factory closings.
... In a related effort to prevent the release of information about his office, Cheney has also instructed the Secret Service to destroy copies of visitor logs.

I especially love imagining who Cheney isn't meeting with. Aliens? Bilderbergs? Lincoln's ghost? It's all up to you now, America. Now that's freedom.

The administration that got itself into power by getting a friendly Supreme Court to overrule a pesky lower one is looking to get that same ideologically corrupt court (with a couple more of its own cronies installed in it) to give its stamp to the notion that governments (read the executive branch) have unlimited power to declare who is an enemy combatant at will, without the need to explain or justify their decisions. 
A reason to be cheerful. A victory for the right to protest.

Decision clears defendants arrested on false pretext of obstructing the public highway near the Bush "ranch".

This shit has to stop. MichaelFuti was 14 months old, and from American Samoa. He was a US citizen, as was his nurse; his mother, traveling with him, had a visa to bring him to the hospital in Honolulu for heart surgery.

The illiterates we hire to police our airports, however, weren't clear on that concept (or so we think, because US Customs refuses to talk to the press.) They detained not just the mother, thinking her visa wasn't in order, but the two US citizens as well, because ... well, just because they could, apparently.

Michael's oxygen wasn't working right, though. And when the two women started to scream, our helpful officials refused even to open the door, instead instructing the subjects to remain calm.

The boy died later that morning. But at least our borders remain protected.

Good job, America.

My open letter to Claire McCaskill

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I am writing today to express my extreme disappointment with your vote on the Protect America Act extension this week.

When I donated to your campaign in 2006 based on your stem cell views, that was the first time I had ever been moved to contribute to a campaign at all.  As a progressive in Indiana, I'm used to not being represented in Congress, but your principled stand for science impressed me, Michael J. Fox got my attention, and Pig Boy got my dander up.

So I sent a little money, and so I've always felt a little proprietary about you. I suppose on some level, since you share my beliefs on one point, I expected you to share them when it comes to the rule of law as well.

Turns out you don't favor the rule of law at all, and that's really disappointing.  America's safety, such as it is, doesn't depend on protecting corporate lawbreaking from seeing the light of day.

Shame on you, Ms. McCaskill.  I don't say that lightly.  But I honestly can no longer imagine what you think you're doing there in Washington.

Why I keep coming back to Glenn Greenwald: he just has a way with words:

"Who would have guessed that after 235 years, the fate of America, its ability to survive as a Nation, would depend on giving license to AT&T and Verizon to break the law without being sued by their customers in court?"

You Have the Right of Free speech

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(unless it can be deemed in any way to be racist, sexist, indecent, scandalous, illegal, inciting, promoting of alcohol or illegal substances, or in any way oppressive in nature)".

FIRE's Speech code of the month

Judge dismisses renditions lawsuit in San Jose

When is a government founded on the rule of law (versus, let's say autocratic fiat) beyond the law? When it claims (by autocratic fiat) immunity from legal oversight and accountability on the basis of state secrets.

The SF Chronicle
report, reading like a montage of Lewis Carroll, Franz Kafka and George Orwell.

U.S. District Judge James Ware in San Jose said he had no authority to decide whether, as three current prisoners and two freed inmates alleged, Jeppesen International Trip Planning colluded with the CIA to violate their rights. The suit instead must be dismissed at the outset because its subject is a secret program that cannot be examined in a public proceeding, Ware said.

Public and confidential declarations filed by CIA Director Michael Hayden show that "proceeding with this case would jeopardize national security and foreign relations," Ware said.

"At the core of plaintiffs' case against defendant Jeppesen are 'allegations' of covert U.S. military or CIA operations in foreign countries against foreign nationals - clearly a subject matter which is a state secret," the judge said.

Texas Court Repeals Dildo Prohibition

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From the Sometimes the courts get it right and remind us that we still actually live in a free country department.

Thanks to Legal Satyricon.

From the "I predicted this" department - those fun-loving guys at DHS and FBI are warning that women appearing to be pregnant could actually be devious suicide bombers.

Some parts that tickled my funny bone: The security "expert" who "isn't surprised at the new lows terrorists will stoop to", and the fact that authorities have no "specific, credible intelligence" pointing to actual, you know, fake pregnancies used to kill people.

I'm not too surprised at these stooping lows, either -- and I wonder if the entire to-do isn't just a reason for this quote from the FBI:

Authorities are increasingly worried that al Qaeda is actively recruiting people who look like Americans and sound like Americans to carry out the next attack on America. "Whether it's Americans or whether it's people who can launch from Europe, because they have visas or passports that allow them to travel to the United States, they are looking at people who can operate in the west," says Philip Mudd of the FBI.

In light of yesterday's Guardian article entitled "Bush orders clampdown on flights to the US", I suspect that the money quote in the FBI's little speech isn't that some would-be terrorists have "visas or passports that allow them to travel to the United States."

Ya think, Sherlock? Like all the perfectly legal Saudi immigrants responsible for the last go-round? But note that nobody ever talked to the Saudis about that one -- we need their sweet, sweet oil. Instead, we beat up on poor countries in Europe, like the Czech Republic, with lots of citizens with family here in the States. Pressure them, and if they go for the bait it'll look like what you're asking is reasonable.

Well. Enough ranting, I suppose. The short version of this post could simply have been: "DHS still stupid, Bush still a jerk."

Democratic Senate Folds Like a Cheap Umbrella

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Checks and Balance?

Senate Authorizes Broad Expansion of Surveillance Act

The Senate yesterday approved a sweeping measure that would expand the government's clandestine surveillance powers, delivering a key victory to the White House by approving immunity from lawsuits for telecommunications companies that cooperated with intelligence agencies in domestic spying after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

On a 68 to 29 vote, the Senate approved the reauthorization of a law that would give the government greater powers to eavesdrop in terrorism and intelligence cases without obtaining warrants from a secret court.

Good analysis here by Jonathan Turley on Democratic leadership gave Senator Chris Dodd (Connecticut Senator who sponsored the amendment) the shaft. Plus Turley offer sa priceless portrait in courage:

"Neither Sen. Clinton nor Sen. Obama were present for the final vote. Yet, the key vote was the immunity question. It was not a close vote, but it was a shocking absence given the criticism leveled at the party elite for their failure to protect civil liberties. Clinton released a statement saying that she both supported changes and opposed them -- failing to note that it is hard to support or oppose anything when you do not exercise your vote."

And, for those who still care, Ryan Singel asks the question:Is Retroactive Telecom Immunity Unconsitutional?

No probable cause, No problem

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So says NJ court.

The state Supreme Court ruled Monday that police do not need a "reasonable suspicion of criminal activity" to run a check through a national crime database on a passenger in a car during a vehicle stop.

Do you Trust this guy with a gun?

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Thank god for cell phone cams. And thank god this cop didn't have his taser handy.

I'm not in favor of gratuitous police bashing, primarily because it detracts attention and focus from real instances of excessive force, like this one of a clearly emotionally unbalanced Baltimore cop verbally and physically abusing some teenage kids over, well, you tell me.
As Jonathan Turley (from whose blog the link comes) says, "Officers can have bad days and this is not a matter that should lead to termination. However, kids often complain (without such proof) of officers becoming abusive for no reason. The officer clearly used his authority improperly and excessively in dealing with the teenagers...What is remarkable is that the most calm voices in the scene are the teenagers -- a rather bad sign."  
I would like to thank Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for clarifying the administration's understanding of the constitution. We've had it wrong all these years...

In the interview with the Law in Action programme on BBC Radio 4, he said it was "extraordinary" to assume that the ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" - the US Constitution's Eighth Amendment - also applied to "so-called" torture.

"To begin with the constitution... is referring to punishment for crime. And, for example, incarcerating someone indefinitely would certainly be cruel and unusual punishment for a crime."

Yes, you read that right. If you haven't committed a crime, it's not cruel and unusual to incarcerate you indefinitely.

"I suppose it's the same thing about so-called torture. Is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to determine where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited in the constitution?" he asked.

Apparently it's pretty easy after the fact, when someone realizes how valuable the videotapes might be.

HS Students Freak-Out

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 When Administrators Try to Shut-Up Senior "Speak Out"

Redding, Connecticut

100 to 200 students sit-in to protest a controversial decision by school administrators to require classmate Cedric McDougal to revise a speech he submitted to a competition.

It began in the auditorium Thursday, Jan. 31, when students presented speeches submitted for the Senior Speech Competition, also known as "Senior Speak Out."

For the competition, seniors craft and present speeches on a topic of their own choosing in English classes. The speeches are voted on and whittled down to the best six, which are presented to the entire student body in two successive assemblies.

Cedric was among those seniors whose speech made it to the final round. Though the speech had been approved by the English Department, he was told by administrators in the weeks prior to the speakout that obscenities needed to be removed from his speech, which he agreed to do, he said.

But the afternoon before the day of the presentations, he was notified that full excerpts would also need to be removed or revised from the speech before it could be presented. Cedric said he considered this, but decided to not present on the basis the removal would have changed his message, and that it would have taken time to rewrite the speech.

"I was sort of forced into that position," Cedric said. "At least, that's how I felt."
The next day, however, as the assembly came to a close, Cedric took the stage and began to recite the uncensored version of his speech. Amidst a standing ovation, he was promptly escorted out of the auditorium by administrators.

The administration that came into office by getting a "superior" court to over-rule a lower court, is pushing hard to have two of its monuments to civil liberties, the "secret court" warrants provisions of the Patriot Act  and the claim of total executive freedom to designate enemy combatant status without providing reasons or details, both protected and extended the same way, by over-turning lower court rulings.

Meet The New Boss?

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Barack Obama was against the death penalty. Then he was for the death penalty but in favor of a moratorium like the one imposed by Republican Gov. George Ryan (as an expression of the concern people have about the increased evidence of many false convictions for crimes in general).  Now candidate Obama is simply in favor of the death penalty.

Obama comes off a bit better than the other Presidential candidates (at least the ones who might actually get elected, i.e. not Ron Paul) in this SF Chronicle article about the various candidates stands on the death penalty, crime and punishment, and the war on drugs -- but the piece doesn't leave much for antiauthoritarian types to feel hopeful about.

The piece focuses substantially on the "good old days" under President Clinton, which may give us a hint of what to expect from a neo-Clinton administration:

"Bill Clinton, by contrast, interrupted his 1992 presidential campaign and flew back to Arkansas for the execution of a brain-damaged killer named Rickey Ray Rector. As president, Clinton signed a 1994 crime bill that included a major expansion of the federal death penalty; according to the New York Times, first lady Hillary Clinton lobbied fellow Democrats for that provision. Bill Clinton also signed a 1996 law restricting state prisoners' ability to appeal their convictions and sentences in federal court."  

Long shot Republican holdout Mike Huckabee actually comes off a bit better than Clinton regarding the drug war: "One note of dissent came from Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, who opposes three-strikes sentencing laws saying they have "created a system that is overrun with people, and the cost is choking us."

Drive-By Drug Detection

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Attorney John Wesley Hall at FourthAmendment.com ponders the implications of  the potential application of Z-backscatter technology to drug detection searches not requiring  physical access by police.

Questions immediately arise, he writes, "and we have to know that law enforcement is already thinking about this: How fast and close must the subject vehicle be moving by (as in a train or tractor trailer) such that the technology must improve to the point that a ZBV van could be parked on a highway or a truck weigh station to scan everything going by? (They creep by at a highway weigh station, so this is already possible, but vehicles likely drive by too fast on a highway to register.)

What about parking in a driveway and scanning a house?"
ADD Make Way for ODD, as in Oppositional Defiant Disorder
(Thanks to

Threatening Landlords  in Northern California with Government seizure of property assets and prison.

With a nice $50 billion plus industry to protect you didn't think the federal drug warriors would let anything so insignificant as the tenth amendment and property rights get in the way, now. Did you?

(Thanks to the Agitator)

Republican Assemblyman Guy Houston "cannot stand by and do nothing while the City of Berkeley declares war on the United States Marine Corps."

So he's prepared to charge them 3.3 million dollars for exercising their rights, from state money intended for roads. This money is in addition to over 2 million in federal funds Senator Jim DeMint is threatening to withhold that we saw just last week.

It's like a swear jar. Criticize the government or fail to support the troops and they get more money to fund the war. But it sure makes you curious about one of Houston's opinions:

"One of the most important duties of government is to ensure that we are prepared for the unexpected. Natural disasters, emergencies, and terrorist attacks are realities and possibilities that we must be ready for."

Right... by withholding funds for our roads. We're ready for anything now.
For the maybe I'm just being paranoid  (But then again maybe not) file

Partnerships between government agencies and corporations are nothing new, nor inherently objectionable. At first glance InfraGard, which describes itself on its website as " an association of businesses, academic institutions, state and local law enforcement agencies, and other participants dedicated to sharing information and intelligence" about threats to the critical infrastructure (i.e. the electrical grid, telecommunications etc.) seems fairly innocuous. But a reading of Matt Rothschild's investigation of the organization in the Progressive prompts a number of very basic questions:

If the point of the organization is to only report potential threats relating to the infrastructure why are members also able to receive secret warnings of terrorist threat information and other privileged otherwise secret information from the FBI before the publixc or even elected officials?

Why are internal communications of the group considered beyond the reach of congressional or public oversight through the Freedom of Information Act?

Why is the surveillance corporate partners in this FBI operation not subject to any public guidelines or oversight regarding their methods and legal requirements?

If, as a few of Rothschild's sources claim, Infragard members have been deputized to act as a civil patrol in the event of an emergency (including having the power, perhaps, to use lethal force) what constituional right does the FBI have to organize and train a secret army?

So in testimony before Congress it turns out that the CIA now admits to three cases of waterboarding, which DOJ apparently said was just fine by them. And Mukasey says there's no reason to investigate any of that.

CNN says:

Mukasey said opening an investigation would send a message that Justice Department opinions are subject to change. "Essentially it would tell people, 'You rely on a Justice Department opinion as part of a program, then you will be subject to criminal investigations ... if the tenure of the person who wrote the opinion changes or indeed the political winds change,'" he said. "And that's not something that I think would be appropriate and it's not something I will do." Conyers, D-Michigan, and Mukasey argued over whether the Justice Department will provide documents on the waterboarding opinion to the committee. Mukasey refused, saying the documents are highly classified and that he had already said he is not going to open an investigation.

So (summarizing):

  • Now we admit we tortured
  • Mukasey admits DOJ said it was legal
  • He won't tell us who said it was legal, or exactly what they said
  • He won't tell Congress, either
  • Trust him.

Sure. A rule of law, not of men. That's what America used to be, once. Remember that?

In the expanding fronts of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs, the government can report one clear victory: Amy Winehouse was denied a Visa.

We can all rest easy.

From the government lying again department -- So. Backstory: there's this kid named Khadr in Guantanamo, captured in Afghanistan after a soldier said he threw a grenade and killed some Americans. The government says further details are all top secret and would endanger state security, so "trust us," but it turns out that:

  • The witness is the soldier who captured him -- who also shot him in the back. Twice.
  • The government sort of failed to mention that there were other people in the compound who could have thrown the grenade.
  • The actual testimony of the soldier makes that clear, but it was "too sensitive" for anybody but the government to see it
  • Except the government screwed up and copied it for reporters' background by mistake.
  • And after the reporters freaked out about having been given a document that proves the government only classified this report in order to make itself look better, the government demanded all copies back and threatened the reporters that they'd lose access in the future if they refused.

But, you know, 9/11 changed everything. We sure can trust the government to get things right when protecting us. Especially when shooting kids in the back and then trying to make it look like they're dangerous terrorists. And holding show trials. But not competently organized show trials, just massive screw-up after massive screw-up.

Oh, by the way, the scary terrorist kid? Was born in Toronto. Yeah. Everybody knows how those damned Canadians just turn out the terrorists right and left. Can we just agree to stop being scared of our own shadows now?

Lawmaker Wants to Alcohol/Drug Test Everybody

The legislation, introduced by Delegate Marvin E. Holmes, Jr. of Prince George's County, would require the Motor Vehicle Administration to test the breath and blood of driver's license applicants under 21 for alcohol and controlled substances. A positive test would result in the suspension of driving privileges for six months, although the applicant would be entitled to a hearing.

 I know it's a sign of paranoia to adhere to slippery slope arguments about civil liberties, but is there any reason not to believe that if this is passed it won't clear the way for the next logical step in this approach, mandatory random drug and alcohol tests for all drivers license holders, on and perhaps off the roadway.

(Thanks to Who's Your Nanny)

Without a Warrant? They seem to think so.
It's becoming an increasingly common practice, as the Washington Post reports. Using their authority to inspect goods and luggage of people coming in to the US to search for contraband without a warrant, customs and border agents are seizing laptops, cell phones and other electronic devices to download, inspect (and store?) their contents. Up till now the authoirty has just been assumed and asserted without any clear  legal guidelines. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Asian Law Caucus have filed a lawsuit to clarify which policies and laws govern the seizing and copying of the contents of electronic devices.

Jumbo Shotgun Tasers

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Just What We Need-Pump Action Tasers That Can Shock You From 65 Feet Away

Because short-range tasers have been used so judiciously for their intended purpose of as a non-lethal alternative to the use of guns by police to protect them in dangerous potentially life-threatening situations against armed criminals (not, of course, gratuitously to intimidate or control, say,  insufficiently docile but unarmed motorist pulled over for speeding violations or to shut up vociferously long-winded grand-standers asking questions at a political talk, or to strong-arm students caught without their ID in a university library) we should all feel safer now that Taser International's come out with a new  X12 LLS Mossberg(r) shotgun, which fires an eXtended Range Electronic Projectile (XREP) that can deliver an electrical shock to a target at a distance of up to 65 feet -- approximately double the range of traditional TASERs.

After a failed attempt in 2007 to protect students' free speech and press, Washington state legislators have again refused to pass a bill that would have safeguarded the First Amendment rights of student journalists at public high schools and universities.

Administrators would not have been allowed to exercise prior review over college publications under defeated bill.

Washington would have joined eight other states in protecting the free-expression rights of students: Oregon, California, Illinois, Kansas, Iowa, Massachusetts, Colorado and Arkansas. States began to seek their own protections for students' First Amendment rights after the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2005 in Hosty v. Carter that public college administrators could censor the student press. A similar decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1988 in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier allows high school administrators to censor student media.

Cleveland Rocks

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Underground smokehouses open amid crackdown on smoking, strip clubs

Ohio's crackdown on strip joints and barroom smoking has spawned as many as two dozen underground nightclubs that operate in houses across Cleveland.

Detective Tom Shoulders, a 2nd District vice sergeant, compares the smokehouses of 2008 to the gin houses of Prohibition in the Roaring '20s.

"You put too many restrictions on people, they're going to find someplace else to go for their entertainment," he said.

Informants tell police that smokehouse patrons, primarily white suburban men, bring their own liquor, cigarettes and cigars.

 Forced disappearance, torture, inhumane treatment. Violation of national and international laws.  What's the difference, when you can invoke state secrets privilege.
New Twist in Ohio Strip Search, Police Mistreatment Suit

Last week WKYC in Cleveland aired a video showing a woman named Hope Steffey being stripped naked inside a jail cell by at least seven Stark County, Ohio sheriff's deputies and jail workers. The fifteen month old video had surfaced as part of a law suit being brought by Steffey and her family alleging police mistreatment by the Sheriff's department.

The incident, as reported by WKYC and online magazine Raw Story, began when Steffey was attacked and injured by a relative and another family member called 911. The sheriff's deputy who responded to the call was confused and began treating Steffey as the perpetrator rather than the victim. According to Steffey, he threw her against his car and then picking her up and slamming her back onto the ground. Steffey says she was roughed up again in the jail before she was stripped, but thus far no video of that has been located, either. However, jailhouse surveillance cameras show a deputy with a handheld camera filming Steffey being escorted to her cell.

In the latest twist in the case both Steffey's lawyer David Malik and WKYC are investigating the possibility that additional video documentation of the incident relevant to the lawsuit exists and may be being withheld.

Transparency law passed last year by Congress has its central provision for an independent ombudsman to oversee Freedom of Information Act disappeared in Bush Administration FY09 budget.

Noticeably absent from President Bush's 2009 budget is funding for the job of overseeing all Freedom of Information Act disputes.

The ombudsman job at the National Archives and Records Administration was seen as the centerpiece of legislation passed by Congress last year and signed by Bush on Dec. 31 to overhaul the beleaguered law.

The president eliminated the job at the archives in his proposed spending plan and transferred the responsibility to the Justice Department.

The FBI Wants to Map Your Tattoos

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FBI wants palm prints, eye scans, tattoo mapping.

CNN reports:

The FBI is gearing up to create a massive computer database of people's physical characteristics, all part of an effort the bureau says to better identify criminals and terrorists.

The bureau is expected to announce in coming days the awarding of a $1 billion, 10-year contract to help create the database that will compile an array of biometric information -- from palm prints to eye scans.

A new policy being developed by the College of Literature, Science and the Arts that would regulate which student organizations and publications can pass out fliers, distribute publications and post informational signs in campus.To gain permission to post or distribute student-created fliers, posters or publications, each organization or publication would have to apply with and receive permission.

The administration claims regulations are not motivated by any desire to control content, but some student and student groups disagree, citing clauses in the policy that restricts certain kinds of content, like depictions or promotion of consumption of alcohol or other drugs and mandates new publications apply with and receive permission from the LSA Facilities and Operations Office.
Virginia Beach Police raid mall store, seize photos and cite store manager for obscenity.
Thanks to (Who's Your Nanny)
"When you build a system to spy on yourself, you entail an awesome risk," says group of computer security experts.
From the Worthy of Kafka Dept.

Dr. Moniem El-Ganayni, a long-time Pittsburg, Pa resident, Muslim imam and nuclear physicist with Dept. of energy security clearance who also worked part-time as a prison chaplain, has, over the past year lost his security clearance, his job and perhaps his career, becoming transformed from respected member of the Pittsburgh Muslim community and a founder of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh in Oakland to a national security risk and FBI target. The reason: a two sentence description of ant warfare. The Pittsburg Post-Gazette tells the story.

It all began with a book, "The Miracle in the Ant," one of numerous volumes published by Harun Yahya, an Islamic creationist from Turkey. The book details ant anatomy and behavior, and argues that these characteristics disprove the theory of evolution.

Dr. El-Ganayni had ordered the book for the Forest prison library and was passing out photocopied chapters for the Muslim inmates housed in segregation to read in their cells. Eventually, he came to the chapter called "Defence and War Tactics," about ants that produce acid, use camouflage or enslave other ants.

Then there's this passage, under the heading "Walking Bombs":

"The ultimate in public service is to destroy enemies by committing suicide in defense of the colony. Many kinds of ants are prepared to assume this kamikaze role in one way or another, but none more dramatically than a species of Camponotus of the saundersi group living in the rain forests of Malaysia."

A quick Internet search shows that this passage and others (minus the creationism) were lifted almost verbatim from "Journey to the Ants," by Pulitzer Prize winning biologists Edward O. Wilson and Bert Holldobler. "Journey" was published by Harvard University Press in 1994, six years before the Harun Yahya version.

Dr. El-Ganayni said he scanned the chapters before passing them out, and the "walking bomb" passage didn't seem problematic because it was a scientific description of an insect. The passage must have raised hackles at the prison, however, because the Rev. Glenn McQuown, the chaplaincy director, was asked to examine the book -- he declined to say by whom.

"In my view, the book was completely benign," said the Rev. McQuown from Fort Bragg, N.C., where he was about to deploy to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. He added that he would be happy to work again with Dr. El-Ganayni anytime and said, "I have him on my list to call for support as I prepare to engage with Muslims in Afghanistan."

Somehow, the prison literature made its way to the DOE. Dr. El-Ganayni is convinced it was sent in retaliation for his dispute with prison authorities, but Sue McNaughton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections in Harrisburg, said any prison employee or inmate could have put a copy in the mail.

In any case, the DOE questioning began. "They asked, 'Would you support killing Americans?' I said, 'Of course not.' 'Are you loyal?' I said, 'Yes.' 'Would you do anything to harm this country?' I said, 'No.' "

Then they asked if he advocated suicide bombing, and if the "walking bomb" passage could be read as promoting attacks against Americans.

"I couldn't believe my ears," Dr. El-Ganayni said. "I am an American. How could I advocate killing myself? I am also a Muslim, a man of peace. I do not advocate killing anyone."

He said he told his questioners that he was against suicide bombing, and explained repeatedly that the passage was about ants, not people.

"You can twist anything to mean something else if you want to," he said.

From his office at Harvard, Dr. Wilson, the world's foremost authority on ants and the real author of passage, said he was startled to learn that his words had become an issue for Dr. El-Ganayni. "My reaction is astonishment at the unfairness of it," Dr. Wilson said.

Dr. El-Ganayni said he was similarly astonished. "I told them, 'Look at my actions. I have been here since 1980; I never had a problem at work; I never broke a law; I never had any trouble except the dispute at the prison.'

"Now they are taking two sentences from a book about ants that anyone can get in the bookstore, and making it more important than [my] 27 years in this country."

Glenn Greenwald, as always, is erudite in his summary of the situation: Michael Mukasey, lauded by his supporters as an independent man who was the perfect antidote to Alberto Gonzales, has instead simply turned out to be more effective in his efforts to prevent harm to the Bush Administration.

Greenwald puts it this way: "The administration violated multiple federal laws for years in spying on Americans, blocked all efforts to investigate what they did or subject it to the rule of law, but then decided that the only real criminals were those who alerted the nation to their lawbreaking -- whistleblowers and journalists alike."

Yup, that's about the speed of it. Good thing Mukasey's his own man! Otherwise we might have some kind of governmental overreach or continued disrespect for the rule of law!

Zero tolerance, Sub-Zero Judgement

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From the just in case you thought this kind of thing was really just an urban legend department. Afraid not.

A seventh-grader at Northwest Cabarrus Middle School recently served three days of in-school suspension after turning over a plain, white Tylenol pill to staff that he had received from a classmate.

School officials said the student was punished for possessing medication that wasn't his.

Fish Lake Valley High School ( I feel sorry for these kids already) parents received an odd letter in January. County Superintendent/Principal Robert Aumaugher has taken it upon himself to ban speaking Spanish not only outside of class when at school, but on the bus as well. It's not totally clear what he hoped to accomplish for his students; in the opening paragraph of his letter he regrets not speaking Spanish himself and proudly states that his grandson is being raised bilingual. But what really threw me was this rather Zen, Orwellian weirdness...

A second reason for encouraging English to be spoken on the bus is for bus drivers who are not bilingual to maintain order and discipline. I was a kid and all of us can remember times when we were disrespectful to others. It is our belief that when a different language is being spoken and not understood by the driver it opens a door for a few to take advantage of the situation and exhibit disrespect. That we will not tolerate.

That's right; we're not tolerating any insults we can't understand. Even if you agree with his sentiment that "English is a power language", just imagine the uproar for a minute, if a principal were to ban prayer outside class or on the bus. And how are they going to do their Spanish homework? That's the door I'd take advantage of, "Ma'am, the principal said English is a power language, so I did my Spanish in English..."

Grand Inquisitions?

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Grand Jury investigations revving up on Puerto Rican nationalists and NY Times investigative journalist.

In theory, and, according to traditional practice, grand juries, (juries charges with examining evidence before brought forth by a prosecutor to determine  whether it warrants an indictment and trial), were meant as a check and balance on unscrupulous government prosecutors. In practice, however, grand juries have often been a tool of choice for prosecutors on a vendetta to launch "fishing expeditions" to gain evidence supporting indictments they might not already have. In a grand jury investigation prosecutors have nearly unbounded latitude to issue at will subpoenas to compel people to testify against targets of their investigations, and by compelling targets to testify against themselves, all without legal counsel (defense lawyers cannot be present at a grand jury investigation ) or public spectators, including media.  Critics of the system (which has been abandoned in most countries outside the US) have called them unconstitutional platforms for the government to pursue "witch hunts" by compelling and even coercing testimony. I Judge Sol Wachtler, the former Chief Judge of New York State, was quoted as saying that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to "indict a ham sandwich." In that context both these investigations, and reaction to them, will be well worth watching, especially in light of the fact that the USA Patriot Act allows all testimony from Grand Jury hearings (formerly completely secret) to be accessed by the FBI and other government law enforcement agencies.


Is it the Soviet Union yet? I know Phil just blogged this article last week, but I just now found the time to read the whole thing, and it's utterly chilling. ICE (Immigration Control, for those of you who aren't up on the latest bureaucracy stats) just imprisoned a guy from Georgia (well, he was born in Minnesota) because they thought he was a Soviet. They were going to deport him to, um, the Soviet Union -- I hope their time machine is in good working order -- but at the last moment his family managed to force them to acknowledge his birth certificate.

ICE maintains they did nothing wrong -- in fact, they maintain that they never make mistakes. "The burden of proof is on the individual to show they're legally entitled to be in the United States," said ICE spokeswoman Kice.

Yeah. That means, in case you aren't as paranoid as I am, that if they take you, it's your responsibility to get them a copy of your birth certificate, from a prison in another state. Do you think you can do that? Are you sure? Because once you're accused of immigration violations, you no longer have the privilege of a speedy, fair trial, unless you can prove you're a citizen.

Feeling safe yet?

News from my birth city -- seems graduate student Whitney Stump at Ball State in Muncie, Indiana, complained for a long time to the city that people weren't stopping at the signs at the four-way stop outside his home, putting his children in danger. (I hear that one -- at least he had signs.)

As he said, "If they're not going to provide a safe environment for me and my community, then I believe I have a moral obligation," so he bought some paint on sale at WalMart and painted a crosswalk on the street to slow people down.

Naturally, the city's response was clear. They jailed him. That'll show him what it costs to arrogate the government's power to oneself!

From California Lawyer Magazine today, we have an excellent backgrounder of the story of Mark Stein, the man who retired from AT&T in 2004 and went to the EFF in 2006 with proof that the telecomm giant was violating the law in helping the Bush administration spy on American citizens.

What? Well, why did you think the White House was so interested in retroactive immunity for the telecomms?

Incidentally, if that pisses you off as much as it does me, there's still time to contact your Senator and tell him or her that you think the rule of law is important to Americans. You have maybe another week.

I'm all confused. I thought we sent the troops to Iraq to defend our rights, like the right to free speech. I think we should bring them back to defend us from Senator Jim DeMint, who is bravely defending the budget from three Berkeley activists who chained themselves to the downtown Berkeley Marine recruiting office. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

DeMint began drafting legislation Friday to cut $2.1 million in federal funding to Berkeley in a current congressional budget bill and transfer the money to the Marine Corps. The funding would include $750,000 for prospective ferry service, $87,000 for the Berkeley Unified School District nutrition education fund and $243,000 for the Chez Panisse Foundation, which promotes nutritional awareness in school lunch programs.

There is no right to speech, if they can punish your community for exercising it.

Welcome to America: But Don't Get Sick

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Or We'll Strip-Search Your Children and Take Them Away

BBC Reports: Two British girls were sent to an orphanage for 30 hours and strip searched after their mother became ill during a holiday in the US.

Gemma Bray, 15, and her 13-year-old sister Katie also had their clothes taken off them and were asked if they had been abused or were suicidal.

Their mother Yvonne Bray of Appledore, Devon, says their human rights were infringed by the authorities.

She was hospitalised with pneumonia during a trip to New York.

The Administration for Children's Services in New York has declined to comment on the matter.

Montel Williams refused to discuss Heath Ledger on Fox and Friends, and Fox owned stations refused to renew his show for the 2008-2009 season. Coincidence? The Daily Kos has more, including the clip. Airtime is for authorized opinions only.

This just in from the Independent: weren't we supposed to be stopping this sort of thing, like bringing democracy to the Middle East and stuff? How much did we pay to topple the Taliban again? Weren't we supposed to get something for it?

The TSA has a blog

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So the TSA started a blog today. There were quickly 424 comments on the first post, generally split between the public (characterized by "you guys suck!") and TSA employees (characterized by "Gee, TSA sure is grand!").

Some of the TSA employee comments are fascinating. Things like, "The right to fly isn't granted by the Constitution," and "Most people thank us for the job we do." Anyway, go check'em out. I caution against posting anything negative if you intend to fly, given that the no-fly list is, well, secret.

As the Indiana state senate passes a bill that would make it a Class A misdemeanor to transport, shield or harbor an illegal immigrant and ICE ( US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) plans to massively escalate the number of illegal immigrants it detains and deports I wonder how many more stories like these we'll hear about (or worse, not hear about).

Is it monarchy yet? - OK. Correct me if I'm wrong, but my civics teacher told me that Congress enacts law and has control over spending.

Unless the spending is for permanent bases in Iraq, anyway. In that case, Mr. Bush says Congress can't tell him what not to spend money on. The King already knows what he wants to do, and no pissant body elected by the grubby people can tell him otherwise.

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