August 2008 Archives

War Powers in Perpetuity

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Bush administration proposes Congress certify notion of an open-ended, never ending war on terror, justifying the permanent exercise of executive war powers. What's more the "oppositional" Democratic congress, perpetually "nervous about casting a vote against a measure that affirms the country's war against terrorism" may, author Eric Lichtbrau assesses,go along with it.

NY Times reports

Tucked deep into a recent proposal from the Bush administration is a provision that has received almost no public attention, yet in many ways captures one of President Bush's defining legacies: an affirmation that the United States is still at war with Al Qaeda.

Seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Bush's advisers assert that many Americans may have forgotten that. So they want Congress to say so and "acknowledge again and explicitly that this nation remains engaged in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated organizations, who have already proclaimed themselves at war with us and who are dedicated to the slaughter of Americans."

The language, part of a proposal for hearing legal appeals from detainees at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, goes beyond political symbolism. Echoing a measure that Congress passed just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, it carries significant legal and public policy implications for Mr. Bush, and potentially his successor, to claim the imprimatur of Congress to use the tools of war, including detention, interrogation and surveillance, against the enemy, legal and political analysts say.

Some lawmakers are concerned that the administration's effort to declare anew a war footing is an 11th-hour maneuver to re-establish its broad interpretation of the president's wartime powers, even in the face of challenges from the Supreme Court and Congress.

The proposal is also the latest step that the administration, in its waning months, has taken to make permanent important aspects of its "long war" against terrorism. From a new wiretapping law approved by Congress to a rewriting of intelligence procedures and F.B.I. investigative techniques, the administration is moving to institutionalize by law, regulation or order a wide variety of antiterrorism tactics.

"This seems like a final push by the administration before they go out the door," said Suzanne Spaulding, a former lawyer for the Central Intelligence Agency and an expert on national security law. The cumulative effect of the actions, Ms. Spaulding said, is to "put the onus on the next administration" -- particularly a Barack Obama administration -- to justify undoing what Mr. Bush has done.

It is uncertain whether Congress will take the administration up on its request. Some Republicans have already embraced the idea, with Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, introducing a measure almost identical to the administration's proposal. "Since 9/11," Mr. Smith said, "we have been at war with an unconventional enemy whose primary goal is to kill innocent Americans."

In the midst of an election season, the language represents a political challenge of sorts to the administration's critics. While many Democrats say they are wary of Mr. Bush's claims to presidential power, they may be even more nervous about casting a vote against a measure that affirms the country's war against terrorism. They see the administration's effort to force the issue as little more than a political ploy.

Mr. Bush "is trying to stir up again the politics of fear by reminding people of something they haven't really forgotten: that we are engaged in serious armed conflict with Al Qaeda," said Laurence H. Tribe, a constitutional scholar at Harvard and legal adviser to Mr. Obama. "But the question is, Where is that conflict to be waged, and by what means."

With violence rising in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden still at large, there are ample signs of the United States' continued battles with terrorism. But Mr. Bush and his advisers say that seven years without an attack has lulled many Americans.

"As Sept. 11, 2001, recedes into the past, there are some people who have come to think of it as kind of a singular event and of there being nothing else out there," Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey told House lawmakers in July. "In a way, we are the victims of our own success, our own success being that another attack has been prevented."

Mr. Mukasey laid out the administration's thinking in a July 21 speech to a conservative Washington policy institute in response to yet another rebuke on presidential powers by the Supreme Court: its ruling that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay , were entitled to habeas corpus rights to contest their detentions in court.

The administration wants Congress to set out a narrow framework for those prisoner appeals. But the administration's six-point proposal goes further. It includes not only the broad proclamation of a continued "armed conflict with Al Qaeda," but also the desire for Congress to "reaffirm that for the duration of the conflict the United States may detain as enemy combatants those who have engaged in hostilities or purposefully supported Al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated organizations."

That broad language hints at why Democrats, and some Republicans, worry about the consequences. It could, they say, provide the legal framework for Mr. Bush and his successor to assert once again the president's broad interpretation of the commander in chief's wartime powers, powers that Justice Department lawyers secretly used to justify the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects and the National Security Agency's wiretapping of Americans without court orders.

Thanks to Raw Story

Using the pretext of possible fire code violations Minneapolis cops raid headquarters of group organizing protests at the Republican National convention with guns drawn, detaining and photographing all 50 people in the premises, though arresting no one and finding no illegal activity they seized seized materials including laptops, protest literature, bus schedules, sign-making materials and a topographical map of St. Paul, site of Xcel Energy Center, the convention hall. Apparently this was one of numerous raids taking place at suspected lodging places of activist groups in St. Paul and Minneapolis for this week's planned protests.

CNN reports

Police raided a rental hall used by a group organizing protests at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Friday.

The RNC Welcoming Committee, which describes itself as "anarchist/anti-authoritarian," accused St. Paul police of trying to disrupt their protest planned for Monday, the day the GOP convention is set to begin.

Although no one was arrested, the group said police temporarily detained and photographed at least 50 people who were inside the building.

St. Paul Police spokesman Tom Walsh said they were executing a search warrant.

"The cause for the search warrant is not public at this time," Walsh said.

As many as 30 police officers entered with guns drawn, according to witnesses in the building.

"The convergence center is simply a gathering place and is not used for illegal actions -- it is a place for workshops and trainings," a statement from the protest group said. "Tonight, we were watching films and sharing food.

"We are now accused of a simple fire code violation," the statement said.

Oddie Miller, a 19-year-old from Fort Collins, Colorado, said it was "just a space to get food, free Internet, community organization."

"There were no bombs or anything in there," Miller said.

Thanks to jgodsey

ACLU request for public release of unclassified materials from secret court hearings rebuffed.

Ars Technica reports

In an opinion issued late Thursday, a judge for the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court denied a motion by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had sought permission to participate in secret proceedings under the controversial FISA Amendments Act signed into law by President Bush last month.

Pursuant to the new law, the FISC is empowered to review the targeting and minimization procedures employed by intelligence agencies carrying out warrant-less surveillance of foreign targets. Almost immediately upon the law's passage, the ACLU filed a motion making two requests of the Court: First, it asked that the government release unclassified, public versions of pleadings before the FISC and significant legal opinions issued by the court. Second, it had asked for permission to submit briefs and participate in hearings implicating the "scope, meaning, and constitutionality" of the new statute. Administration lawyers had strenuously urged the court to reject both requests.

Judge Mary McLaughlin did just that yesterday in an 11-page opinion, summarily denying the civil liberties group's motion. After considering and rejecting the possibility that there might exist any common law or First Amendment right to the release of FISC records, McLaughlin declined to authorize such release as a matter of discretion, concluding that such a move "would create risks to national security that far outweigh any potential benefit to be gained by providing the ACLU with access to the requested records."

As for the request to participate in hearings, the judge noted that nothing in the provision of the FAA establishing limited judicial review of targeting and minimization procedures suggested that Congress had intended for third parties to be involved. By contrast, she wrote, other provisions--such as the one establishing a process for telecoms to appeal surveillance orders--explicitly allowed for such third-party participation, implying that in the absence of such explicit allowance, the hearings were to be ex parte affairs.

McLaughlin also appeared to accept the government's argument that the ACLU would be unable to provide "meaningful input" in such hearings without access to classified details of targeting and minimization rules. Moreover, she argued, because hearings would be limited to making narrow determinations of whether these procedures met statutory requirement, it was unlikely that the Court would need to "reach beyond the Government's procedures and conduct a facial review of the constitutionality of the statute."

ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer called the ruling "disappointing" in a statement today. The court, argued Jaffer, "should not be deciding important constitutional issues in secret judicial opinions issued after secret hearings at which only the government is permitted to appear."
Attempting to make a "blue wall of silence" official policy Chief bans all city police from speaking to media.

The Flint Journal reports

The American Civil Liberties Union is asking for a temporary injunction to force the city of Flint to immediately stop enforcing a ban on police officers speaking to the media.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday asking a judge to strike down the ban instituted by interim Police Chief David Dicks. The motion for a temporary injunction was filed Thursday.

A hearing date is expected to occur next week, Gibbs said in an e-mail. "The ACLU has a right to file lawsuits and stand up for what they believe is right," Dicks said. "My decision is based on a legal update from the Supreme Court set in May 2008."

According to Dicks, the court ruled a police officer speaking about official duties or internal works of the department is not protected by free speech and can be disciplined.

Gibbs said the ban on Flint police officers is so broad it applies to an officer talking to the media about any departmental manner that affects the public.

"I can say that the courts have recognized some speech made by governmental employees that is not related to public concern and doesn't have protection of the First Amendment," Gibbs said. "But his ban goes beyond forbidding that kind of speech. His ban is so broad that it forbids people from speaking about manners of public concern that have been consistently found to be protected under the First Amendment."

Tapping a mini-keg at a July 4th party with students (all of legal drinking age) gets Iowa Central college president bounced from position.

Des Moines Register reports

Iowa Central Community College President Robert Paxton will collect $400,000 from the school in return for his resignation.

After 13 years as president of the Fort Dodge school, Paxton resigned Wednesday, one day before the school's board of trustees was scheduled to discuss an undisclosed "personnel matter."

The special meeting was called after The Des Moines Register published a July 4 photograph of Paxton aboard a boat with a group of young people, holding the spigot of a small beer keg suspended over a young woman's open mouth.

College trustee Mark Crimmins was aware of the photo before it was published and told the Register that Paxton had done nothing improper and the matter wasn't deserving of the board's attention.

When questioned by the Register, Paxton initially denied knowing anything about the photo or any recent boat outings with young people. After being told that Crimmins had already informed the Register that he had seen the photo and the two men had discussed it, Paxton acknowledged the photo's authenticity. He said he had done nothing illegal or improper.

But the photograph, along with Paxton's explanation for it, was picked up by other media outlets and sparked a heated debate in Fort Dodge over the personal conduct of public officials.

At today's board meeting, the trustees met for eight minutes and agreed, without discussion, to accept Paxton's resignation and approve a compensation package for him. The deal calls for Paxton to receive $200,000 in January 2009 and $200,000 in January 2010.
Trustee Larry Hecht said the board felt the compensation package was fair to all parties.

"The thing we struggled with was whether his personal life was, you know, his," he said. "I think we all thought that was true. On the other hand, his position -- I guess what you do in your personal life does affect the public's perception of what you do on the job."

Hecht said the decision to accept the resignation was "heart-breaking" given Paxton's dedication to the school. Asked why there was no discussion of the compensation package, Hecht said, "It wasn't like he killed somebody or stole money, so where we'd end up court was 'who knows.'"

Paxton was not present for the board meeting, but said in a written statement to the board, "It was a true joy and honor to serve" the school.
Thanks to Raw Story

Yankee stadium security accused of forcibly ejects man for wanting to use the bathroom during 7th inning stretch singing of God Bless America.

The Gothamist reports

From the inbox: Baseball fan Brad Campeau-Laurion says a uniformed police officer (perhaps off-duty but working security for overtime) forcibly ejected him from the stadium last night during the Yankees-Red Sox game.

Why? He says all he did was try to go to the bathroom while "God Bless America" was played during the 7th inning stretch. His letter reads (plus some updates after the jump):

"I attempted to get up to use the restroom, rather urgently, during the 7th inning stretch as God Bless America was beginning. As I attempted to walk down the aisle and exit my section into the tunnel, I was stopped by a police officer. He informed me that I had to wait until the song was over. I responded that I had to use the restroom and that I did not care about God Bless America.

"As soon as the latter came out of my mouth, my right arm was twisted violently behind my back and I was informed that I was being escorted out of the stadium. A second officer then joined in and twisted my left arm, also in an excessively forceful manner, behind my back. I informed them they were violating my First Amendment rights and that I had done nothing wrong, with no response from them.

"I was sitting in the Tier Level, and of course this is the highest level of the stadium and I was escorted in this painful manner down the entire length of the stadium. About halfway down, I informed them that they were hurting me, repeated that I had done nothing wrong, and that I was not resisting nor talking back to them. One of them said something to the effect that if I continued to speak, he would find a way to hurt me more.

"When we reached the exit of the stadium, they confiscated my ticket and the first officer shoved me through the turnstiles, saying 'Get the hell out of my country if you don't like it.'

"Nowhere on the Yankee Stadium ticket policy nor on any posted sign does it say that forced patriotism is a required element to attend a baseball game. Nowhere in the laws of this country would that begin to be defensible.

"Furthermore, when the two officers returned to their section, Steve who was still in the stadium overhead one of the officers say 'We got to watch ourselves. One day we're really gonna get in trouble.' They were also spreading rumors with a fan with whom they were friendly that I had said 'This country sucks.'

"I do not believe in God, nor am in support of this country to a degree of patriotic fanaticism. The fact that I wanted to use the restroom instead of standing through God Bless America should not be grounds for a forcible ejection from a baseball game."

The man tells us he's left a message with no response from the Operations Office at Yankee Stadium. He's also contacted Norman Siegel, the ACLU, and filed a complaint with the NYPD Civilian Complaint Review Board. We're still working on getting a response/denial from Yankee stadium, but a regular attendee of Yankee games tells us, "This tip doesn't surprise me at all. Everyone has to stand, just like in school, and you'll get berated and harassed if you don't."

UPDATE: We just spoke to Brad, whose story is attracting a lot of attention. He has a few comments, based on your reactions:

1) I was not drunk. I had two beers about an hour apart and this was about an hour after my last one (hence, needed to pee). I have receipts to prove this, as I was using my credit card, and my friend who was with me as a witness.

2) Yes, I am Red Sox fan. I have lived in New York for over 8 years and I do not cheer loudly or wear blatant Red Sox attire at the games. In fact, I was dressed in business attire - dress shirt/pants/shoes.

3) I may have affected a little attitude, but nothing that warranted a violent response.

Last year, the NY Times looked at this confining policy. Apparently, post September 11, fans had complained that other spectators weren't singing or observing a moment of silence; spokesman Howard Rubenstein told the Times, "Mr. Steinbrenner wanted to do all games to remind the fans about how important it is to honor our nation, our service members, those that died on Sept. 11 and those fighting for our nation."

  Thanks to Jonathan Turley

In the name of  homeland security Minneapolis police five days before convention harass collective of NY independent journalists in town to cover RNC.

Twin Cities Daily Planet reports

Cameras, camcorders, cell phones, computer, notebooks - even clothes and a sleeping bag - were confiscated by Minneapolis police in the name of Homeland Security Monday night, according to a trio of young artist-journalists in town to report on the RNC.

Anita Brathwaite, age 20, had just arrived on the bus from Chicago late on August 25, ready to report on the RNC. Vlad Tichberg and Olivia Katz, fellow members of New York's Glass Bead Collective had arrived earlier. They met her at the bus station, and the trio headed back to the home in Northeast Minneapolis where they planned to stay while reporting on the convention. According to their attorney, Bruce Nestor, they boarded the 17B bus, getting off at Washington and 27th Avenue, and walking the final two and one-half blocks at about 1:30 a.m. on August 26.

Then two Minneapolis squad cars stopped them. In the initial conversation, Brathwaite said, the officers asked them about robberies in the neighborhood. Then they were ordered to put their hands on the hood of the squad car and officers began searching them. When they asked if they were under arrest, the officers said no. They asked if they were free to go - no, again. At some point, a white SUV from the Hennepin County Sheriff's department pulled up, but no one got out of that vehicle.

"We kept saying we do not consent to any search," Brathwaite said, but the officers searched their belongings anyway. The three young people were questioned separately, photographed, and released, but police refused to return their belongings. They even took the backpack and sleeping bag that held all of Brathwaite's clothing and personal belongings for the week ahead.

"To add insult to injury," Tichberg said, "they refused to give us a receipt for our belongings. This is completely outside what I would call a law and order society."

Attorney Bruce Nestor says that he was informed that police are now seeking a search warrant to search the items for evidence of trespassing in a railroad yard, a misdemeanor offense. In his fifteen years of practicing law, Nestor said, he has never seen confiscation of belongings under similar circumstances for investigation of a misdemeanor. The trio insist never went into the railroad yard, and that video from the squad cars will show that they did not.

The one-line police report says, "S1, S2 and S3 were observed walking out of the railroad yard at 26th AV and 6TH ST NE." In a section labeled "Incident Details," the report lists two offenses. Trespassing is a violation of 385.380. The other offense is called "Homeland Security Offense," but no statute or description is given. None of the three have been charged with any offense at press time.

ABC News reporter cuffed and thrown in paddy wagon after photographing Democratic senators and lobbyists leaving meeting at hotel.

ABC News reports
Police in Denver arrested an ABC News producer today as he and a camera crew were attempting to take pictures on a public sidewalk of Democratic Senators and VIP donors leaving a private meeting at the Brown Palace Hotel.

Police on the scene refused to tell ABC lawyers the charges against the producer, Asa Eslocker, who works with the ABC News investigative unit.

A police official later told lawyers for ABC News that Eslocker is being charged with trespass, interference, and failure to follow a lawful order. He also said the arrest followed a signed complaint from the Brown Palace Hotel.

Eslocker was put in handcuffs and loaded in the back of a police van which headed for a nearby police station.

Eslocker and his ABC News colleagues are spending the week investigating the role of corporate lobbyists and wealthy donors at the convention for a series of Money Trail reports on ABC World News with Charles Gibson.

Thanks to Lew rockwell

AKA Freedom of Assembly

Raw Story reports

Denver police have taken 100 protesters into custody after ordering them to disperse and spraying them with pepper spray from cannons.

The action happened last night but more details have emerged this morning.

Riot police forced several hundred protesters out of the civic center and blocked them before they could reach the 16th St. Mall. They used at least two armored vehicles, according to the Denver Post.
A spokeswoman for the convention's Joint Information Center, "said one officer fired pepper spray during the initial confrontation near the City and County Building and one officer fire pepper spray on 15th Street. She also said one officer fired pepper balls in once instance, but wasn't sure of the timing."

The spokeswoman said the office fired his spray after protesters "charged the police line." She did not cite any violence on the protesters' behalf.

Police processed detainees until nearly 1am ET last night. They were then loaded onto sheriff's detainees for transport to a temporary "processing center" set up just for the convention. Denver Police have been criticized by civil liberties groups such as the ACLU, which released a leaked memo showing that the police had classified all manner of people as a threat, including those on bicycles, wearing football helmets, or carrying city maps or protest signs.

"I'm a little in shock," said Joey-Kenzie, 21, of Denver, told the Post after spending about an hour and a half in the crowd of people pinned in by SWAT officers.

Officers group surrounded the protesters, leaving them no way out.

"At one point we didn't know what we were going to do, we were going to get arrested or maced," Kenzie added, saying. police never asked for her identification.

Larry Hales, speaking for the group Recreate 68 said his group did nothing wrong Monday and had a permit for the Civic Center gathering when police closed in and created havoc.

CNN reported on the protests Monday. A reporter from the scene said he'd seen no violence from the protesters, and complimented police on their handling of the scene earlier in the day.

One protester told the paper the police had used the spray "like a supersoaker."

The paper offered a chaotic blow by blow of the moments leading up to the police spray.

Denver Streets Blockaded (By Police)

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Video showing peaceful march surrounded and penned in by phalanx of militarily armed police.
Thanks to American News Project and Alternet

Guard from security firm hired by Dept. of Homeland Security ejects woman as she tries to pick-up social security card. 
Fresno Bee report

A woman wearing a T-shirt promoting lesbianism said she was forced the leave a federal building Monday by a security guard who didn't approve of her attire.

Lapriss Gilbert said she was picking up a Social Security card for her son when the guard was offended by her "" shirt and threatened her with arrest.

She was eventually allowed inside after her mother called police, according to a Los Angeles Daily News story.

The guard, whose name was not immediately available, works for Paragon Security, which contracts with the Department of Homeland Security.

Lori Haley, a spokeswoman within the Homeland Security Department, said the guard's actions were inappropriate and unacceptable.

"We have notified his company, Paragon, of our position in the matter," Haley said.

A message left with Paragon Security was not immediately returned Monday night.

Gilbert said the guard cited a document, the Rules and Regulations Governing Conduct on Federal Property, as proof he had jurisdiction over her clothing. The document does not address what type of clothing is allowed in federal buildings.

Gilbert called the guard's actions "shocking."

"As an African-American and a lesbian, I haven't been through one day without facing some sort of discrimination," Gilbert said.

Her mother called police after Gilbert was kicked out, but another security guard escorted her to the front of the Social Security line before officers arrived, the Daily News reported.

According to a police report, a witness described Gilbert as "peaceful and quiet" before the guard told her to leave.

Thanks to Wendy McElroy


Cointelpro redux? Will Potter posts leaked presentation, "Animal Rights Extremists: Targets, Tactics Business Response & Countermeasures," from the Overseas Security Advisory Council, a division of the U.S. State Department, outlining how the government and corporations can wage a Green Scare on naimal rights and eco-activists.

From Green is the New Red

A PowerPoint presentation, leaked from a division of the State Department, reveals that the government is briefing corporations about animal rights activists and offering "countermeasures" to protect corporate profits.

For years, the government has relentlessly pushed to label animal rights and environmental activists as "eco-terrorists" and domestic terrorists. The FBI even labels these groups the "number one domestic terrorism threat." But this State Department PowerPoint puts the "Green Scare," as many activists are calling it, in much different perspective.

It spells out, with startling candor, that animal rights and environmental activists are less a threat to national security than to corporate financial security. And it shows that the targets of this "War on Terrorism" aren't just people burning SUVs: the targets are people using their First Amendment rights.

It's a harrowing glimpse at what this country has become: the dissolution of all lines between corporate interests and government interests, between "terrorism" and free--albeit controversial--speech.

The presentation, "Animal Rights Extremists: Targets, Tactics Business Response & Countermeasures," is by the Overseas Security Advisory Council, a division of the U.S. State Department. It was leaked to me by someone who attended the briefing, and I have made it available for download at

The notes section of the PowerPoint shows the comments of State Department officials, including a listing of illegal activist tactics by groups like the Animal Liberation Front, from arson to the beheading of a snowman (seriously). [If that seems unbelievable, check out the memo from DHS about "eco-terrorism" like tying up company phone lines.]

But what's most disturbing is how this presentation on "extremism" and "eco-terrorism" includes so much First Amendment activity. The first slide on "major tactics" lists four "extremism" examples: one has only happened in the UK ("physical assaults") and the other three are legal (posting personal information, videotaping, and demonstrations at executives' homes).

The State Department admits as much, noting that activists "push the envelope right up to the line where another step would mean they are breaking the law." In other words, most of these "terrorists" aren't committing any crimes.

But that hasn't stopped the government from surveilling, harassing and demonizing legal activists. In fact, this State Department briefing includes a flier for the Animal Rights 2006 National Conference, a mainstream event with hundreds of attendees where I spoke about the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. This year, among the "terrorists" in attendance was Heather Mills.

"Although many legitimate activists attend these events," the presentation notes, "the conference holds workshops on successful tactics used against your companies..."

So what gives? Why are these activists such a threat?

The first reason: money. These activists are directly targeting corporate profits. "Although incidents related to terrorism are most likely to make the front page news, Animal Rights Extremism is what's most likely to affect your day-to-day business operations..."

These activists don't just want reforms, they want to force corporations like Huntingdon Life Sciences out of business. And they're "calculating, persistent and often effective."

The second reason: activists aren't afraid. Despite the "eco-terrorism" rhetoric, despite the FBI attempting to infiltrate vegan potlucks, despite Joint Terrorism Task Forces arresting activists for wearing masks, and on and on and on, activists aren't backing down and they aren't caving in to fear. That, after all, is the entire point of all the "eco-terrorism" scare-mongering: to instill fear in everyday people and make them afraid of using their rights. If this chilling effect doesn't occur, well, the government and corporations have quite a problem on their hands.

"Never confront the protesters," the State Department warns corporations. "These individuals are clever. Most of them know what their rights are..."

Thanks to Counterpunch

Lawyer claims police demand for protester IDs not based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Rocky Mountain News reports

Two protesters were arrested Sunday for not giving their names to police, raising questions about when that constitutes a crime.

"Isn't this America?" asked Denver attorney John Holland. "Don't you have the right to protest? Don't you have the right to remain silent?"

Law-abiding protesters don't have to give their names to police, he said.

But police can "require" a person to give their name and address when there is a "reasonable suspicion" that a crime has been, is being or is about to be committed.

"Cops don't have any right to demand identification from people unless they have reason to believe a crime has been committed, and then you are obligated to give your name," said Denver lawyer David Lane.

"Otherwise they have no authority to do that," he said. "The cops can't just walk up to any old person on the street and demand ID and then arrest them if they say no. You are not allowed to lie to the cops but you can say, "Take a walk.'"

In this case, the two protesters whose faces were covered with bandannas attracted police attention by engaging in "suspicious" activity by ducking down and appearing to hide items behind public toilets near 7th and Lawrence Streets as police passed by.

"Why didn't they see what they put behind the toilets before they asked them for their names?" Lane asked. "Those protesters may end up in federal court on a civil rights violation case and I'd be happy to represent them."

The duty to respond to a request for identification, Holland said, "depends on a reasonable suspicion of committing a crime, not that you're dressed in a mask and attending a demonstration. They better have something on the criminal side or it is a wrongful violation of your constitutional right to protest."

The two protesters, Austin Hunter and Frank Anello, were cited for violating a Denver city ordinance for giving false information to police.

Police listed them as "John Does", but it's unclear whether the two gave John Doe as their names or if police identified them as John Does after they refused to identify themselves.

Hunter told the judge, "I didn't give them any information at all."

The two gave their names in court after the judge told them he couldn't set bond unless they identified themselves.

Telling police your name is John Doe or Bugs Bunny could be construed as giving false information, "but what that means to any reasonable person is that I'm not going to give you my name," said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Under the city code, not giving your name or saying you are John Doe is still a violation under the Denver ordinance if police say they are investigating something.

A 1994 U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld the authority of police to demand identification upon "reasonable suspicion" of a crime, Holland said.

"But they can't just stop you for running breathlessly down the street," he said. "There has to be a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct."

The court held that requiring identification under such circumstances did not violate Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights to be protected against unreasonable searches and self-incrimination, he said.

In the case of the two protesters,"police may have found something or may say they are worried about threats to public safety or that something dangerous could have been put behind the toilet," Holland said.

"To hide something in a public place is not a normal behavior," he said. "You've got this tension in a sitaution like this, between their duty to protect the public from dangerous conditions and our constitutional right to protest."

Holland advised protesters asked to identify themselves to ask the police what their concern is. If police say they suspect criminal conduct, police have the right to demand identification.

"Reasonable suspicion is central here," Holland said. "What is the conduct that is criminal? They can't 'suspect' everything that is not something they would do. If they're just targeting protesters and picking them up, First Amendment rights to protest are being violated."

Joe Biden -- Drug War Extremist

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(Written by  RU Sirius)


Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden has been arguably the most extreme drug warrior in the United States Senate since at least 1982 when he coined the mega-authoritarian phrase "drug czar" to describe the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.  He is also the man who is most responsible for pushing the "Rave Act" through Congress.  The "Rave Act" is possibly the most absurd and potentially repressive piece of legislation the Congress has passed in recent years (and that's saying something!).


Biden's act was originally titled "Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy." The bill was introduced in 2002 during the great Ecstasy (aka MDMA) panic of the early 2000s.  (More people die from bad reactions to normal doses of aspirin than from MDMA every year.) It was reintroduced in 2003. That year, another version of the law, titled "The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act" was added to the "Amber Act," an emotionally fraught piece of legislation that created a national system for responding to child abduction, and which very few congress-people dared vote against.  The "rave act" part of this legislation, signed into law by President George W. Bush, makes the sponsor of any public event legally responsible for any illegal drug exchanges or use that occurs at their event.  The initial bill actually singled out raves as the likely enforcement target, but that language was changed as clearly prejudicial. In the words of a missive from the Drug Policy Alliance, which organized the opposition to this law, "Because of its broad language, the proposed law would even potentially subject people to twenty years in federal prison if guests smoked marijuana at their party or barbecue."


In fact, taken literally, the sponsor of the recent 68th annual Jackpine Gypsies motorcycle rally at the Buffalo Chips Campground, in South Dakota where John McCain was third-billed behind Kellie Pickler and Kid Rock, and where the smell of marijuana smoke  wafted through the air - would be up for 20 years in an iron cage. A month after Biden's act was signed into law, DEA agents in Montana used it to intimidate the owners of a venue into canceling a benefit to raise money for Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. 


It is unclear whether this law has been used since that time, but every time the host of a private party, musical event, or Republican Party rally doesn't do everything within his or her power to make sure that absolutely nobody in attendance uses or exchanges any plants or chemicals that are currently illegal, he or she is technically liable for a punishment that is far more severe than the punishment that is meted out to the user or (probably) the dealer of the illicit substance.


Biden also wrote the law against shipping drug "paraphernalia" through the mail - that's the one that put Tommy Chong in jail.


Regarding medical marijuana for pain management, in 2007 Biden said, "There's got to be a better answer than marijuana."  Of course, as every educated, informed person knows, the opiate drugs currently used for the management of intense pain are addictive, substantially harmful to health, and often fatal.  The off-prescription use of these narcotics is the biggest drug problem today, particularly among young people. Marijuana has very few health counter-indications and there has never been a fatality from smoking or eating it.


There may be some recent signs of moderation in Biden's lifelong rut war fanaticism.  In 2007, Biden introduced a bill to end the discrepancies between the punishment for possession of powdered and crack cocaine, effectively reducing the draconian sentences for possession and/or sale of small amounts of crack.  And while campaigning in the recent Presidential primaries, Biden said he would end federal raids on medical marijuana patients (Of course, G.W. Bush said the same thing during the 2000 election campaign... and Bill Clinton told Rolling Stone we should decriminalize marijuana as he was leaving office).


It's interesting to note that earlier in the campaign, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, a stalwart advocate of drug reform, was much discussed as the leading contender to become Obama's VP pick.  Webb withdrew his name from consideration for that spot and has since commented on valuing his freedom to speak his mind. 


Obama's positions on drug reform have been a moving target. Most famously, in 2004, Senator Obama said, "I think the war on drugs has been a failure, and I think we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws." He went on to say that he opposed "legalizing" marijuana.


For the most part, Candidate Obama has been silent on the drug war, although he recently suggested that an extra DEA office would be just what the doctor ordered for New Orleans.


Looking on the bright side, it's possible that a stalwart drug warrior like Biden would have the credibility necessary to start winding down the excesses of the drug war (the "Nixon Goes to China" theory that only conservatives can get away with introducing certain types of reforms).


Really, the most disheartening thing about Obama's selection of Biden for Vice President isn't the selection itself, but the fact that Biden's history as a drug war fanatic doesn't even warrant mention... on CNN, MSNBC (including Keith Olbermann), or even on the first day's coverage at Huffington Post.  The terrible reality is that the approximately 11 million pot smokers and the many other mostly responsible users of recreational drugs that don't happen to be on the approved list just don't count at all as far as the American political mainstream is concerned.














NY State Police Riding the Drug War Gravy Train

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Seized assets from drug raids have become the cash cow of choice for NY state and local police.

Op-Ed from Buffalo News

On the streets, New York's police chiefs are losing the decades-long drug war but, ironically, back in their precinct headquarters, many of these officers depend on drug raids to fatten their operating budgets.

Many states, wary of overzealous police departments, require that the proceeds from seized assets be used for education or other non-police purposes. But the 1984 federal Comprehensive Crime Control Act offers a way to get around these state laws.

State and local police departments, working with U. S. agents, "federalize" money and property seized during local drug raids. The federal government gets at least 20 percent of the seized assets, but the feds give back up to 80 percent of the seizure -- now exempt from state law -- to state and local police agencies.

According to federal statistics, the share going to New York law enforcement agencies went from $31 million in 2000 to $34 million in 2007.

Not all police departments ride this drug raid gravy train. But those that do profit handsomely. While the Erie County Sheriff's Office drug raid income went down from $39,000 in 2000 to $21,000 in 2007, the Buffalo Police Department's share of seized assets grew from $272,000 to $306,000.

The Amherst Police Department's slice went from $7,000 in 2000 to $37,000 by 2007 and the Cheektowaga Police Department did well too, going from $17,000 to $22,000 during that period. The Hamburg Town Police Department, however, took in $2,700 in 2007, down from $18,000 in 2000.

At the state level, the New York State Police's income from seized assets shot up from $2.4 million in 2000 to $6.9 million in 2007 and the State University of New York at Buffalo Police "earned" $1,682 in 2007.

Property owners need not be charged with a crime for their property to be taken. The property itself, however remotely associated with the drug trade has, under civil forfeiture laws, "committed" a crime and can be seized. For example, a motel is seized because drugs were traded on the premises despite the owners' extensive efforts to prevent such activity; boats and airplanes damaged beyond repair during fruitless searches for drugs go uncompensated by the government; and cash is seized only to be returned years later after the owner is forced into a long and costly legal battle.

One study reports that 40 percent of the nation's local police agencies depend on seized assets as a budgetary supplement. Why is this bad news?

Years ago the primary reason police seized assets was to break up the illegal drug supply lines. Today, however, that original goal has been largely replaced by self-serving budgetary considerations. Citizens can now legitimately ask why their local police force conducts drug raids. Is it to rid the town of drugs, or are the raids an easy source of extra income that harms innocent people along the way?

Thanks to Who's
your nanny

7th grader in Missouri town barred from school after dyeing her hair pink in honor of her dead father.

CNN reports (video)

KMBC Kansas City reports

A southern Missouri school district has suspended a pink-haired seventh-grader.Mountain Grove Middle School student Amelia Robbins said she dyed her hair pink to honor her father, who died of cancer when she was 6 years old. She said that to her, pink is the cancer color.The 12-year-old said that when she finished 6th grade with pink streaks in her hair, school administrators warned her not to continue wearing the color. But with her mother's permission, Amelia dyed all of her hair pink, and her school year ground to a halt just days after it started.
She doesn't think her hair color is a distraction.The school handbook said administrators have the authority to decide whether a student is causing a distraction. Officials declined to discuss specifics of Amelia's case.
Thanks to jgodsey

Cops shut down roadside stand where eleven-year-old Katie and three-year-old Sabrina Lewis were selling spare melons, radishes, and  zucchini from their family garden . City mayor calls girls self-centered, saying, ""They may start out with a little card-table and selling a couple of things, but then who is to say what else they have. Is all the produce made there, do they make it themselves? Are they going to have eggs and chickens for sale next." 

KGO-TV San Francisco reports

Two young East Bay girls are trying to find out if you really can fight city hall. The youngsters are battling to get their produce stand back after the city of Clayton shut them down.

The mayor himself is getting involved in this issue; he says the produce stand, operated by two young sisters, had to be shut down because of public safety and a zoning ordinance. But members of the Lewis family say - we have just begun to fight.

On a Clayton street corner is where 11-year-old Katie and 3-year- old Sabrina Lewis had been selling their families surplus fruits and veggies - stuff like:

"Zucchini, melons, tomatoes, radishes," said Sabrina Lewis.

They did it for maybe four hours on Saturday mornings to make a little money. They haven't sold a thing since the police showed up recently in response to one complaint to the mayor's office.

"They said traffic was being stopped and then they came up with we can't have a roadside stand and then they said it was a commercial enterprise," said Katie Lewis, former produce seller.

As for the traffic issue, neighbor Terri Highsmith says there isn't one.

"On the weekends is when I mostly notice them selling. I come and go a lot and I've never seen any traffic problems," said Highsmith.

Clayton Mayor Gregg Manning disagrees. And wonders what Katie and Sabrina might do with that produce stand if the zoning laws weren't enforced.

"They may start out with a little card-table and selling a couple of things, but then who is to say what else they have. Is all the produce made there, do they make it themselves? Are they going to have eggs and chickens for sale next," said Manning.

Lucky for Katie and Sabrina their folks don't have lemon trees.

"Lemonade stands are technically illegal, but they don't last long enough to do anything about," said Manning.

Thanks to Reason Hit and Run

So says police bulletin sent out in advance of DNC protest rallies.

Raw Story reports

Almost everyone can be a potential violent protester at the Democratic National Convention, according to a new bulletin issued by the Denver Police Department and leaked to the ACLU.

The bulletin lists myriad items police should watch out for, including "caches of supplies that could be used by violent demonstrators." The publication intended for commissioned police officers was provided to RAW STORY Thursday.

On the list? Plastic shields, football helmets, gas masks, baseball catch protectors, cases of nails, hand held radios, maps, bicycles, and protest sign handles ("perfect for swinging at first responders"). The police say they're also worried about people with large numbers of city maps or "camping information."

"Football, baseball, motorcycle and bicycle helmets are all used by violent protesters," the bulletin warns. "Bicycles are used to blockade sidewalks, streets and can be used to slow down responding emergency vehicles."

Camping information is a threat, too, such as "information concerning the camping, boarding or housing of potential violent protesters that have rented campaign spaces, rented farms or land for the time period around the DNC."

Maps are worrisome because they're "frequently used by violent protester [sic] to plan direct actions against conventioneers."

New Justice Dept. guidelines to let FBI to open an investigation of an American, conduct surveillance, pry into private records and take other investigative steps "without any basis for suspicion."

NY Times reports

A Justice Department plan would loosen restrictions on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to allow agents to open a national security or criminal investigation against someone without any clear basis for suspicion, Democratic lawmakers briefed on the details said Wednesday.

The plan, which could be made public next month, has already generated intense interest and speculation. Little is known about its precise language, but civil liberties advocates say they fear it could give the government even broader license to open terrorism investigations.

Congressional staff members got a glimpse of some of the details in closed briefings this month, and four Democratic senators told Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey in a letter on Wednesday that they were troubled by what they heard.

The senators said the new guidelines would allow the F.B.I. to open an investigation of an American, conduct surveillance, pry into private records and take other investigative steps "without any basis for suspicion." The plan "might permit an innocent American to be subjected to such intrusive surveillance based in part on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or on protected First Amendment activities," the letter said. It was signed by Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

As the end of the Bush administration nears, the White House has been seeking to formalize in law and regulation some of the aggressive counterterrorism steps it has already taken in practice since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Congress overhauled the federal wiretapping law in July, for instance, and President Bush issued an executive order this month ratifying new roles for intelligence agencies. Other pending changes would also authorize greater sharing of intelligence information with the local police, a major push in the last seven years.

Third-grader one of many still waiting to get off sprawling secret TSA list.

CNN reports

James Robinson is a retired Air National Guard brigadier general and a commercial pilot for a major airline who flies passenger planes around the country.

He has even been certified by the Transportation Security Administration to carry a weapon into the cockpit as part of the government's defense program should a terrorist try to commandeer a plane.

But there's one problem: James Robinson, the pilot, has difficulty even getting to his plane because his name is on the government's terrorist "watch list."

That means he can't use an airport kiosk to check in; he can't do it online; he can't do it curbside. Instead, like thousands of Americans whose names match a name or alias used by a suspected terrorist on the list, he must go to the ticket counter and have an agent verify that he is James Robinson, the pilot, and not James Robinson, the terrorist.

"Shocking's a good word; frustrating," Robinson -- the pilot -- said. "I'm carrying a weapon, flying a multimillion-dollar jet with passengers, but I'm still screened as, you know, on the terrorist watch list."

The American Civil Liberties Union estimates more than 1 million names have been added to the watch list since the September 11 attacks.

The FBI, which manages the Terrorist Screening Database, disputes that figure. It says that there are about 400,000 actual people on the list and that about 95 percent of those people are not U.S. citizens.
There's going to come a point in time where everybody's on the list," Robinson said.

Robinson is not the only person with that name flagged on the list.

Since airing a story this summer about how Correspondent Drew Griffin began getting told he was on the watch list -- coincidentally after he wrote a series critical of the TSA's Federal Air Marshal Service -- CNN has received dozens of e-mails and iReport submissions from viewers who also have found themselves on the watch list.

It turns out that three people named "James Robinson" found their names on the list in early 2005. Do you think your name is on the list?

Besides the airline pilot, there's the James Robinson who served as U.S. attorney in Detroit, Michigan, and as an assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration; and James Robinson of California, who loves tennis, swimming and flying to the East Coast to see his grandmother.

He's 8.

The third-grader has been on the watch list since he was 5 years old. Asked whether he is a terrorist, he said, "I don't know."

Though he doesn't even know what a terrorist is, he is embarrassed that trips to the airport cause a ruckus, said his mother, Denise Robinson.

Denise Robinson said that no one in the government even told her her son is on the watch list but that it wasn't hard to figure out. Checking in at curbside three years ago, the family was told they couldn't get boarding passes and were hustled to the ticket counter.

She said the ticket agent made a number of phone calls and kept asking which among her husband and two sons was James.

"And all of a sudden he says, 'How old is he?' " Robinson recounted. She said she responded numerous times, "He's 5."

The agent handed them paperwork and refused to tell them what the problem was but urged them to fill out the forms. The documents were Department of Homeland Security paperwork to get off the watch list.

Not knowing which of the three might be targeted, she sent in the required documents for the entire family -- and got back one letter, addressed to James.

Congress has demanded that the TSA and Homeland Security fix the problems with the list that are making travel so difficult for so many Americans. Prominent lawmakers, including Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy and civil rights leader-turned-Georgia congressman John Lewis, also have encountered watch list difficulties.

"I want the burden of clearing this up to be on the agencies that are the holders of responsibilities: the Department of Homeland Security and the attorney general of the United States," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, who has called for investigations into why Griffin wound up on the list after his critical reporting.

The FBI won't confirm any name on the list. And the TSA says Kennedy and Lewis aren't on the list, even though they have been stopped.

But although the list is clearly bloated with misidentifications by every official's account, CNN has learned that it may also be ineffective. Numerous people, including all three Robinsons, have figured out that there are ways not to get flagged by the watch list.

Thanks to

Metal Cages Await Convention Protestors

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A sequestered detention center in a warehouse complete with chain-link cells topped by razor wire. On the walls a sign saying, "Warning! Electric stun devices used in this facility."

CBS4 Denver reports

CBS4 News has learned if mass arrests happen at the Democratic Convention, those taken into custody will be jailed in a warehouse owned by the City of Denver. Investigator Rick Sallinger discovered the location and managed to get inside for a look.

The newly created lockup is on the northeast side of Denver. Protesters have already given this place a name: "Gitmo on the Platte." 

Inside are dozens are metal cages. They are made out of chain link fence material and topped by rolls of barbed wire.

"This is a secured environment," Capt. Frank Gale of the Denver Sheriff's Department told CBS4. "We're concerned about how that's going to be utilized by people who will be potentially disruptive."

In past conventions, mass arrests have taken place.

With Denver's jails already overflowing, new space had to be created and officers trained.

Each of the fenced areas is about 5 yards by 5 yards and there is a lock on the door. A sign on the wall reads "Warning! Electric stun devices used in this facility.CBS4 showed its video to leaders of groups that plan to demonstrate during the convention.

"Very bare bones and very reminiscent of a political prisoner camp or a concentration camp," said Zoe Williams of Code Pink.

Williams was one of those arrested at the Republican Convention in New York in 2004.

"That's how you treat cattle," said Adam Jung of the group Tent State University. "You showed the sign where it said stun gun in use and you just change the word gun for bolt and it's a meat processing plant."

Gale would not discuss the facility at this time.

"We want to make sure we got our game plan set," he said, "We want to make sure the entire procedure is laid out all the personnel know what they are supposed to do."

The plans were to keep this lockup a secret, at least for now. The sheriff's department said late Tuesday the mayor's office would be releasing a statement about it early next week.

Thanks to Huffington Post

Virginia eighteen year olds being held in prison without bail for leaving defaced playing cards at local Wal Mart mimicking movie The Dark Knight.

The Roanoke Times reports

Two Pembroke teenagers have been charged in connection with a series of playing cards that were defaced with threatening writing and left at stores in Christiansburg and Pearisburg -- a gesture police said the teens admitted had been inspired by this summer's Batman movie, "The Dark Knight."

Justin Colby Dirico and Bryan Eugene Stafford, both 18, admitted to leaving cards that bore handwritten messages inside the Pearisburg Wal-Mart, according to police Chief J.C. Martin.

Martin would not say how they identified the suspects but said the teens admitted Tuesday during police interviews they were responsible for the cards, which they patterned after elements of "The Dark Knight." Both were charged with conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism.

In Christiansburg, the same pair of teens was charged Wednesday with disorderly conduct in connection with cards left inside the town's Kmart, said police Maj. Dalton Reid.

Martin said police were contacted Saturday by a Wal-Mart employee, who reported finding several defaced playing cards throughout the store.

Four cards were also found at the Christiansburg Kmart between Aug. 7 and Sunday, Reid said. The cards had "Joker" written on them and Reid said police considered them threatening. The threats on the Christiansburg cards were less specific than the ones found in Pearisburg, but they also referred to Aug. 15.

The teenagers "were real remorseful. They said they never had any intentions of harming anybody," Martin said after talking with them. He said it appeared to be "a prank that kind of got out of hand."

He said he believed the Aug. 15 date was randomly selected and bore no real significance.

Similar cards continue to be found at other locations. Pearisburg police were notified Monday that a card with a similar threat had been left on the windshield of a vehicle parked at the town's Dairy Queen. The vehicle belongs to a Dairy Queen employee who, Martin said, may know one of the teens.

Another defaced playing card was found Wednesday at a Pearisburg auto parts store and was turned over to police.

Reid said Christiansburg police have reason to believe similar cards were placed in two other Christiansburg stores, though none has turned up.

In "The Dark Knight," Batman's nemesis, the Joker, presents jester-faced playing cards as his signature and uses them to mark the scenes of his crimes. At one point in the film, the character hides cards in the possession of three public officials he's trying to assassinate, but he does not use the cards to deliver specific threats. Throughout the movie, the character does use graffiti and defaced signs and photographs to send threats and messages.

Dirico and Stafford are being held at the New River Regional Jail without bond.

Thanks to Jonathan Turley

43 women, wives of men taken away in the massive raid on undocumented workers at a Postville, Iowa meatpacking plant last May , along with their 150 children, remain "walking detainees" in the town, unable to leave, unable to work, outfitted in leg bracelets monitoring their movements. 

The National Post reports:

The town of Postville, Iowa, population 2,000, has been turned into an open-air prison. Jerry Johnson, who works at nearby Luther College, called it something out of a bad science-fiction movie or the kind of thing a 1930s totalitarian regime might have cooked up.

"This was not only a grievous injustice but a shame on the state of Iowa and the federal government," said Mr. Johnson. "These were good, decent people who were also the most defenseless."

On May 12, immigration officials swooped in to arrest 400 undocumented workers from Mexico and Guatemala at the local meat-packing plant, a raid described as the biggest such action at a single site in U.S. history. The raid left 43 women, wives of the men who were taken away, and their 150 children without status or a means of support. The women cannot leave the town, and to make sure they do not they have been outfitted with leg monitoring bracelets.

"The women are effectively prisoners," said Father Paul Ouderkirk at St. Bridget's Roman Catholic Church. "The difference between them and anybody who is in jail is that in jail the government pays for them, but if they're on the streets we pay for them.

"What kind of a government makes prisoners of 43 mothers who all have children and then says, 'You can't work, you can't leave and can't stay?' That boggles the imagination."

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the law does not provide for work authorization for illegals.

Since the raid, St. Bridget's, with a staff of four, has raised $500,000 to pay for rent, clothing, food and other necessities of life. Donations have come from other faith groups and individuals who have read about the raid.

Fr. Ouderkirk, who has spent 50 years as a priest and had been in retirement for five years, was called back to active duty by the parish when the crisis hit. "It is the most difficult, most challenging situation I have ever faced. And yet, strangely, the incident that has been most strengthening of my faith. It shows there are a lot of compassionate people because if there weren't, we wouldn't be able to do what we're doing."

He said the women and children were so terrified that they refused to go back to their apartments. They lived at the church during the first week after the raid.

Meanwhile, the men were taken to the National Cattle Congress building in Waterloo, Iowa, where immigration judges were on hand. They were charged and then sent to nine different prisons around the state. Fr. Ouderkirk said some of the men were deported and others are serving five-month prison terms for violating immigration laws - but he said no one ever explained why some were held and others sent home.

Jeff Wood set to be electrocuted next week in Texas despite the fact that he's never even been accused, much less tried, for either planning or committing murder.

Alternet reports

Texans -- or at least Governor Rick Perry and his supporters -- seem to love the death penalty almost as much as flying the state flag.
the story of a young man named Jeff Wood, set to be put to death on August 21, more poignantly highlights the injustices of the Texan judicial system.

Despite the fact that the death penalty is supposedly reserved for only the most heinous crimes, Wood is sentenced to death for a murder that prosecutors have never accused him of committing -- one that took place when he wasn't even in the same building. Rather, he was outside in a gas station parking lot, waiting in a pick-up truck for his buddy, Daniel Reneau, to come out of a road-side store with drinks and snacks. Wood contends that he didn't know Reneau was planning to rob the store -- a frequent hang-out spot for the two of them -- and that he also had no idea Reneau was going to murder the store clerk, Kris Keeran, a friend of both men.

But after hearing a shot ring out on the morning of January 2, 1996, Wood ran inside and saw Keeran laying dead from a single .22-caliber bullet that entered between his eye and his nose. Reneau was holding the gun, which he then turned on Wood, ordering him to grab the store's surveillance video. Wood -- who suffers from learning disabilities and mental problems as a result of severe physical abuse during his childhood -- complied. Reneau took the store's safe, and the two of them fled to Wood's brother house.

Wood and Reneau had talked with the manager of the store about robbing the place on New Year's Day, when the register would be full of money from the night before. But after Wood backed out, he assumed, since he heard no more about it, that the robbery plan was kaput. Instead, Reneau decided to go through with it on his own. Wood contends he had no idea Reneau was even packing a gun at the time of the robbery.

Reneau was executed for the murder in 2002. But thanks to the Texas "Law of Parties", anyone who conspires with another person or a group to commit one crime (like robbery) and happens to commit another crime in the process (like murder) can be found guilty of the secondary crime -- even if the individual in question wasn't directly involved in planning it or carrying it out. And when the secondary crime is murder, that person can also be put to death for it. That's the state's justification for why Wood is on death row -- except, of course, that Wood claims he wasn't involved in planning the robbery and that he would never have helped Reneau try to get away with it if Reneau hadn't trained a gun on him. As such, there's been a huge public outcry in support of Wood; the second of two rallies this month to draw attention to his plight will take place on Saturday, August 16.

Wood's situation is similar to another recent case in Texas, that of Kenneth Foster -- the one that drew the attention of the European Union. Like Wood, Foster did not participate in the actual murder he was sentenced to die for. Like Wood, Foster did not hold a gun at any point while the crime he was linked to was committed. Like Wood, Foster has maintained -- convincingly -- that he had no foreknowledge the murder was going to happen. Like Wood, Foster was forced to drive the "getaway" car.

Following demands from around the world that Texas review the Foster case, the Texas board of pardons and paroles recommended that his sentence be commuted -- a rare occurrence. Even more unusually, Governor Perry actually took the board's advice and, three hours before Foster's execution was set to happen, stopped it: the first time in nearly seven years in office that he had done so (excluding cases in which Supreme Court rulings had barred the execution of juveniles and the mentally disabled).

Will Perry commute the sentence this time, for Wood, like he did for Foster? The cases are so similar that there seems to be hope that he will. Then again, when announcing his decision in the Foster case, Perry didn't mention how problematic the Law of Parties is; instead, he cited a procedural flaw. (Foster was tried simultaneously with the guy convicted of the actual murder; that's what Perry referred to after commuting his sentence.) So who knows.

But maybe Perry and the state of Texas should finally start to think about how unconstitutional it is to execute someone based on the Law of Parties. After all, in their 1982 ruling in the case of Enmund v. Florida, the Supreme Court found it was unconstitutional to execute the driver of a get-away car in an armed robbery. The court's rationale was that the 8th amendment forbids imposing capital punishment on someone "who aids and abets a felony in the course of which a murder is committed by others but who does not himself kill, attempt to kill, or intend that a killing take place or that lethal force will be employed". Why can't Texas see that by using the "Law of Parties" as a justification for execution, they are not just aiding and abetting but planning and carrying out pre-meditated murders which should not be occurring -- and contributing to a cycle of violence and injustice?

Texas Woman fined for using fuck in conversation at

Houston Chronicle reports

If all storms had a name, this one would start with the letter F.

As Tropical Storm Edouard closed in on the Texas Gulf Coast last week, a storm of a different kind was brewing inside the sporting goods section of a Wal-Mart store in La Marque. It started with the F-word.

And now a 28-year-old single mother must go to court if she wants to fight a ticket for using profanity.

On Aug. 4, as local residents prepared for deteriorating weather conditions, Kathryn "Kristi" Fridge made a last-minute stop at the Wal-Mart at FM 1764 and Interstate 45 with her mother and 2-year-old daughter.

Finding the batteries shelf bare, she expressed her displeasure and disbelief to her mother.

"I was like, 'Dang.' I looked at my mom and said, 'They're all ----ing gone," Fridge recalled.

Suddenly, Capt. Alfred Decker, the La Marque assistant fire marshal, appeared from around the corner, dressed in a fire department uniform.

"He said, 'You need to watch your mouth,' " Fridge said.

Perplexed by who the man was -- his badge said "fire department" -- Fridge offered a scant apology.

"I was like, 'Oh, OK. Sorry?' " she said.

Fridge walked away, but said the man ordered her to come back. She then protested, telling him she was having a private conversation with her mother that was none of his business. When the man ordered her to come to him and she refused, she said he pulled out his handcuffs.

Chief defends the action

La Marque Fire Chief Todd Zacherl said Fridge made such a scene in the Wal-Mart that night, disrupting the peace, that Decker had no choice but to act.

"She cussed him, she cussed everybody. By now, we have a huge group of people looking," Zacherl said.

Fridge emphatically denied that, saying while she did curse in casual conversation with her mother, she never cursed at Decker, even during their confrontation. Her mother agreed.

"She never got nasty with him, she never cussed at him," said Fridge's mother, Kathryn Rice of Santa Fe.

Decker ordered Fridge to come out to his car because that's where his citation book was stored, Zacherl said. Fridge eventually complied, but admits she used the offending word again when she turned to a crowd of onlookers while being led outside and yelled, "Can you believe this? He's ----ing arresting me for saying ----!"

"When I got outside, I saw he was a fire marshal -- I saw his car. I said, 'You're not even a cop!' He said, 'I can do this,' " Fridge said.

Decker asked for her name, and Fridge said she began to spell it out verbally and in sign language, which angered him. As their confrontation continued, he handcuffed her.

Zacherl said the assistant fire marshal did so for his own safety because Fridge was being belligerent and because he had to turn his back to get his ticket book and check on the radio if she had any arrest warrants.

Ultimately, Fridge was released and ticketed for disoyrderly conduct, a Class C misdemeanor. She can pay a fine or appear in court to contest the citation.

Thanks to Wendy McElroy

Banning Clotheslines and Window Fans

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Disaster Law and Inequality

HOAs (Home Owner Associations) as petit-authoritarian mini-states (backed in many cases by the legal machinery of the real state). As Stan Cox writes, "Twenty percent of Americans now live in homes subject to rules set by homeowner associations, or HOAs. These private imitation governments have sweeping powers to dictate almost any aspect of a member's property, from the size of the residence down to changes in trim color and the placement of a basketball hoop."

Counterpunch reports:

Susana Tregobov dries clothes on a line behind her Maryland townhouse, saving energy and money. But now her homeowners association has ordered her to bring in the laundry. The crackdown came after a neighbor complained that the clothesline "makes our community look like Dundalk," a low-income part of Baltimore.

Tregobov and her husband plan to fight for their right to a clothesline, but the odds are against them. Although their state recently passed a law protecting homeowners' rights to erect solar panels for generating electricity, it is still legal in Maryland for communities to ban solar clothes-drying.

Twenty percent of Americans now live in homes subject to rules set by homeowner associations, or HOAs. These private imitation governments have sweeping powers to dictate almost any aspect of a member's property, from the size of the residence down to changes in trim color and the placement of a basketball hoop.

The more restrictive HOAs cling to outdated standards that treat necessary features of an ecologically resilient future -- renewable energy devices, clotheslines, fans in windows, awnings, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, compost bins, natural landscaping -- as eyesores to be buried under restrictions or banned outright.

Meanwhile, HOAs commonly mandate large, centrally air-conditioned square footages, two-car garages, lawn sprinkler systems or synthetic lawn fertilizers and weed-killers. You'd think that in 2008, community leaders would be embarrassed to enforce overconsumption and pollution, but these property cops seem determined to impose their narrow aesthetic preferences on everyone else.

Sick Hong Kong man detained for old visa card infraction is allowed to die slow painful death over the course of a year without medical attention at three detainee facilities awaiting hearing on his case.

NY Times reports

He was 17 when he came to New York from Hong Kong in 1992 with his parents and younger sister, eyeing the skyline like any newcomer. Fifteen years later, Hiu Lui Ng was a New Yorker: a computer engineer with a job in the Empire State Building, a house in Queens, a wife who is a United States citizen and two American-born sons.

But when Mr. Ng, who had overstayed a visa years earlier, went to immigration headquarters in Manhattan last summer for his final interview for a green card, he was swept into immigration detention and shuttled through jails and detention centers in three New England states.

In April, Mr. Ng began complaining of excruciating back pain. By mid-July, he could no longer walk or stand. And last Wednesday, two days after his 34th birthday, he died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a Rhode Island hospital, his spine fractured and his body riddled with cancer that had gone undiagnosed and untreated for months.

On Tuesday, with an autopsy by the Rhode Island medical examiner under way, his lawyers demanded a criminal investigation in a letter to federal and state prosecutors in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, and the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the detention system.

Mr. Ng's death follows a succession of cases that have drawn Congressional scrutiny to complaints of inadequate medical care, human rights violations and a lack of oversight in immigration detention, a rapidly growing network of publicly and privately run jails where the government held more than 300,000 people in the last year while deciding whether to deport them.

Thanks to jgodsey

So says the Bureau of Veteran Affairs. Ignoring House and Senate bills would force the VA to become a voter registration agency like state motor vehicle departments the Bureau issues new rules that banned election officials -- whether local registrars or secretaries of state -- from registering voters, saying it was a partisan activity that interfered with its medical mission. 

Alternet reports

The first large block of voters to be disenfranchised in 2008 are the wounded warriors from recent wars and homeless veterans living at hundreds of Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the country, according to veterans and voting rights activists.

"President Bush and Karl Rove are attempting to block voter registration of at least 200,000 and possibly as much as 400,000 veterans," said Paul Sullivan, president of Veterans for Common Sense, referring to injured former soldiers from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in various VA treatment facilities, veterans living in the VA's nursing homes, and homeless veterans living in VA shelters.

"We may have all kinds of hurdles," Sullivan said. "We may have the clock running out on us, but we will not give up. This needs to be shoved in the face of every single elected official in the country. We can fix this in a second We are talking about two or three sentences in legislation. We are talking about the integrity of our democracy."

In recent months, the Department of Veterans Affairs has resisted efforts by U.S. senators and top state election officials to allow voter registration drives in its facilities. Just last month, the VA issued new rules that banned election officials -- whether local registrars or secretaries of state -- from registering voters, saying it was a partisan activity that interfered with its medical mission. In most states, any time a person changes their residence they must update their voter registration in order to vote.

The VA's ban on registration drives, even by state constitutional officers, provoked a rebuke from the National Association of Secretaries of State -- a resolution urging the VA to rescind its policy -- and revived the issue in Congress, where separate House and Senate bills would force the VA to become a voter registration agency like state motor vehicle departments, where people are proactively given an opportunity to register to vote. Under the VA's current policy, any resident in its facilities must seek help with voter registration and voting.

The problem with the congressional efforts, according to Sullivan and others following this issue, is that the VA appears to be on course to run out the clock before meaningful voter registration drives could be undertaken for this year's presidential election.

Under the most optimistic scenario, even if the Congress passed legislation within a week of reconvening, which would be mid-September, the president would have two weeks to sign it into law. That timeline places the bill's potential adoption very close to the first week in October, when voter registration closes for the November election in 27 states. Moreover, at that time, state election officials would have little time to organize and implement voter registration drives, voting rights activists said.

"This is a bill you can't vote against," said Scott Rafferty, who sued the VA in 2004 when the agency blocked voter registration efforts by Democrats at its campus in Menlo Park, California, but allowed the Republican Party onto the campus to register voters. "But it is almost physically impossible to get it passed and implemented in time."

Restraining order against three Massachusetts Institute of Technology students prevents them from giving a presentation of their findings about security holes in Boston's subway system. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority filed suit claiming student's work violates national security.

Wall Street Journal blog reports:

Are subway fare cards computers? Does a hacking exploit that leads to free subway rides threaten national security?

Those are among the odd questions raised by a lawsuit that prompted a federal judge Saturday to issue a restraining order against three Massachusetts Institute of Technology students, preventing them from giving a presentation of their findings about security holes in Boston's subway system. The episode is likely to rekindle a debate about how to properly disclose security vulnerabilities, and whether laws against computer crimes trump the First Amendment.

The students were expected to give a talk Sunday at the Defcon security conference in Las Vegas. Their 87-page presentation, "Anatomy of a Subway Hack," promises, among other things, to teach how to generate stored-value fare cards. (The MIT student newspaper has posted the slides and other related documents.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, not surprisingly, didn't care for their research. It filed a suit, naming not only the students but the university and Ronald Rivest, a prominent computer-security researcher who supervised their work.

The MBTA's legal papers argue that the student's behavior violates the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and that one of its fare cards "constitute a computer," within the meaning of the law. The MBTA argued for a restraining order, in part, because the students caused damage that "constitutes a threat to public health or safety," and "affects a computer system used by a government agency for national security purposes," citing the role of the MTBA in Homeland Security efforts.

Those arguments seem a bit tenuous. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil-liberties group representing the students, immediately branded the judge's restraining order an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech. "Squelching research and scientific discussion won't stop the attackers," the group stated. "It will just stop the public from knowing that these systems are vulnerable and from pressuring the companies that develop and implement them to fix security holes."

But there is a more subtle issue here. The MBTA says it wants the students to follow a security-industry practice dubbed "responsible disclosure," which involves first providing details about a flaw to the owners of an affected computer system-giving them sufficient time to fix the flaw before making details public.

It's a sound practice. The question is, should it be a legal obligation enforced by government agencies and federal courts?

No Smoking Outdoors, anywhere in LA

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Proposed legislation would ban smoking on restaurant patios, outside of office buildings, in hotel lobbies and most other public areas.

Cigar Aficionado reports

If the recent vote by the Los Angeles City Council to ban new fast food restaurants in parts of the city for one year is any indication, the ability to enjoy a cigar in the nation's second-largest municipality is now under threat.

The Los Angeles Business Journal reported yesterday that L.A. Councilman Bernard Parks will propose legislation tomorrow that would ban smoking on restaurant patios, outside of office buildings, in hotel lobbies and most other public areas. A spokesperson for Parks confirmed the councilman's intentions to Cigar Aficionado.

If such a measure is approved, L.A. will become the largest city in the country to adopt a comprehensive ban. Other California cities, such as Beverly Hills, Burbank, Calabasas and Santa Monica, have already imposed broad restrictions on smoking in public.

Los Angeles has been a relatively friendly place for smoking. Except for parks and beaches, smoking is allowed in any area considered outdoors. Many restaurants and clubs have created patios, some of them almost fully enclosed, and have welcomed smokers. Some downtown clubs have outdoor cigar patios.

Under the proposal to be made by Parks, citizens breaking the law could be fined. The ban, said a Parks spokesperson, was based on health concerns.

US Military Thinking Inside the Box

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Use of wooden segregation cages to store Iraqi prisoners exposed by blogger.

CNN reports

The U.S. military is segregating violent Iraqi prisoners in wooden crates that in some cases are not much bigger than the prisoners.

The military released photos of what it calls "segregation boxes" used in Iraq.

Three grainy black-and-white photos show the rudimentary structures of wood and mesh. Some of the boxes are as small as 3 feet by 3 feet by 6 feet tall, according to military officials. There was no image released of a box that size.

The average Iraqi male is 5 feet 6 inches tall, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Health. That leaves little room for a prisoner to move once placed inside.

Centcom photos here

Thanks to jgodsey

Taser Patrols in High Schools

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School district proposing bringing cops armed with tasers into Uniontown,Pa. schools, saying, "We have to think of the future.There had been recent incidents outside of the school where police would need Tasers, and it's possible

that similar incidents could make it into the schools.

  Pittsburg Union Tribune reports:

The Uniontown Area School Board, as well as concerned citizens and parents, had an opportunity Wednesday to learn about Tasers that will be proposed in the school district and share their opinions on the subject.

Even before Don Homer, the director of security for the school district, could show the proposed Tasers to be used and explain how they operate, those attending a special meeting voiced opposition.

One resident, Mary Hackney, a teacher at Laurel Highlands School District for 35 years, said she had to break up many fights in her years but no incident required a Taser.

"This is not a safe idea," Hackney said.

Thanks to Lew Rockwell

Unpaid ticket leads to tax line and zoning violation which lead city to take away $245 thousand house.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports

Peter Tubic ignored a $50 parking fine in 2004, and on Monday, it cost him his $245,000 house.

In what city officials believe is the first case of its kind, the city foreclosed on Tubic's house on W. Verona Court after repeated attempts to collect the fine - which over the years had escalated to $2,600 - had failed.

"Our goal isn't to acquire parcels," said Jim Klajbor, special deputy city treasurer. "Our goal is to just collect taxes. . . . It is only as a last resort that we would pursue . . . foreclosure."

Thanks to Jonathan turley
Emboldened by court rulings justifying inspection of personal data devices at the border without probable cause DHS decides to take that inch a mile, declaring the right to seize laptops and other devices at will, but to share that data as it sees fit with essentially zero oversight.

CNET reports

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has concocted a remarkable new policy: It reserves the right to seize for an indefinite period of time laptops taken across the border.

A pair of DHS policies from last month say that customs agents can routinely--as a matter of course--seize, make copies of, and "analyze the information transported by any individual attempting to enter, re-enter, depart, pass through, or reside in the United States." (See policy No. 1 and No. 2.)

DHS claims the border search of electronic information is useful to detect terrorists, drug smugglers, and people violating "copyright or trademark laws." (Readers: Are you sure your iPod and laptop have absolutely no illicitly downloaded songs? You might be guilty of a felony.)

This is a disturbing new policy, and should convince anyone taking a laptop across a border to use encryption to thwart DHS snoops. Encrypt your laptop, with full disk encryption if possible, and power it down before you go through customs.

Here's a guide to customs-proofing your laptop that we published in March.

It's true that any reasonable person would probably agree that Customs agents should be able to inspect travelers' bags for contraband. But seizing a laptop and copying its hard drive is uniquely invasive--and should only be done if there's a good reason.

Sen. Russell Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, called the DHS policies "truly alarming" and told the Washington Post that he plans to introduce a bill that would require reasonable suspicion for border searches.

But unless Congress changes the law, DHS may be able to get away with its new rules. A U.S. federal appeals court has ruled that an in-depth analysis of a laptop's hard drive using the EnCase forensics software "was permissible without probable cause or a warrant under the border search doctrine."

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