November 2008 Archives

Vets group defending Vietnam veteran John Miska who was repeatedly threatened with arrest for distributing free artificial flowers at the National Mall and Lincoln Memorial. The flowers are assembled by other disabled veterans and are meant to remind others of the sacrifices veterans have made for the U.S.

he Rutherford Institute is defending a disabled vet who distributes "Buddy Poppies."


Institute President John Whitehead is representing disabled Vietnam veteran John Miska who was repeatedly threatened with arrest for distributing the artificial flowers. The flowers are assembled by other disabled veterans and are meant to remind others of the sacrifices veterans have made for the U.S.

"He hands out Buddy Poppies in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall, by the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam memorial and other places in D.C., but he's been continually threatened by the Park Police," explains Whitehead. "Once he was fined and taken to court for handing out "Buddy Poppies," he notes.

Whitehead argues that Miska has never been abusive to people and is not selling anything. "[T]his is not a panhandler who is grabbing people on the shoulder. This is a guy who's sitting there holding out a poppy and that is all he's doing," he continues. "Sometimes people give him money and that money is going straight to the Vietnam veterans to help the veterans so if there's any case that screams out for justice, it's this one."

Whitehead and Miska have filed a lawsuit arguing that Park Police are infringing on Miska's First Amendment rights.


State legislators amended Homeland Security's religious duties to come before all else, including such mundane matters as the distribution of millions of dollars in federal grants and analysis of possible threats. What better way to counter warped religious fundmentalism.

Lexington News reports

Under state law, God is Kentucky's first line of defense against terrorism.

The 2006 law organizing the state Office of Homeland Security lists its initial duty as "stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth."

Specifically, Homeland Security is ordered to publicize God's benevolent protection in its reports, and it must post a plaque at the entrance to the state Emergency Operations Center with an 88-word statement that begins, "The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God."

State Rep. Tom Riner, a Southern Baptist minister, tucked the God provision into Homeland Security legislation as a floor amendment that lawmakers overwhelmingly approved two years ago.

As amended, Homeland Security's religious duties now come before all else, including its distribution of millions of dollars in federal grants and its analysis of possible threats.

The time and energy spent crediting God are appropriate, said Riner, D-Louisville, in an interview this week.

"This is recognition that government alone cannot guarantee the perfect safety of the people of Kentucky," Riner said. "Government itself, apart from God, cannot close the security gap. The job is too big for government."

Nonetheless, it is government that operates the Office of Homeland Security in Frankfort, with a budget this year of about $28 million, mostly federal funds. And some administrations are more religious than others.

Under previous Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a lay Baptist preacher, Homeland Security interpreted the law at face value, prominently crediting God in its annual reports to state leaders and posting the required plaque.

Under Gov. Steve Beshear, officials this week said they didn't know about the plaque until the Herald-Leader called to ask whether it's still there. (They checked; it is.) The 2008 Homeland Security report, issued a month ago, did not credit God, but it did complain about a decline in federal funding from Washington.

Thomas Preston, Beshear's Homeland Security chief, said he isn't interested in stepping into a religious debate, and he hasn't given this part of his duties much thought.

"I will not try to supplant almighty God," Preston said. "All I do is try to obey the dictates of the Kentucky General Assembly. I really don't know what their motivation was for this. They obviously felt strongly about it."

There is no reference to God in Homeland Security's current mission statement or on its Web site, which displeases Riner.

"We certainly expect it to be there, of course," Riner said.

Thanks to Bibliophile Bullpen

No more school reenactments of Pilgrim-Native American "feast for Claremont kindergarden class.

LA Times reports

For decades, Claremont kindergartners have celebrated Thanksgiving by dressing up as pilgrims and Native Americans and sharing a feast. But on Tuesday, when the youngsters meet for their turkey and songs, they won't be wearing their hand-made bonnets, headdresses and fringed vests.

Parents in this quiet university town are sharply divided over what these construction-paper symbols represent: A simple child's depiction of the traditional (if not wholly accurate) tale of two factions setting aside their differences to give thanks over a shared meal? Or a cartoonish stereotype that would never be allowed of other racial, ethnic or religious groups?

"It's demeaning," Michelle Raheja, the mother of a kindergartner at Condit Elementary School, wrote to her daughter's teacher. "I'm sure you can appreciate the inappropriateness of asking children to dress up like slaves (and kind slave masters), or Jews (and friendly Nazis), or members of any other racial minority group who has struggled in our nation's history."

Raheja, whose mother is a Seneca, wrote the letter upon hearing of a four-decade district tradition, where kindergartners at Condit and Mountain View elementary schools take annual turns dressing up and visiting the other school for a Thanksgiving feast. This year, the Mountain View children would have dressed as Native Americans and walked to Condit, whose students would have dressed as Pilgrims.

Raheja, an English professor at UC Riverside who specializes in Native American literature, said she met with teachers and administrators in hopes that the district could hold a public forum to discuss alternatives that celebrate thankfulness without "dehumanizing" her daughter's ancestry.

"There is nothing to be served by dressing up as a racist stereotype," she said.

Last week, rumors began to circulate on both campuses that the district was planning to cancel the event, and infuriated parents argued over the matter at a heated school board meeting Thursday. District Supt. David Cash announced at the end of the meeting that the two schools had tentatively decided to hold the event without the costumes, and sent a memo to parents Friday confirming the decision.

Cash and the principals of Condit and Mountain View did not respond to interview requests.

But many parents, who are convinced the decision was made before the board meeting, accused administrators of bowing to political correctness.

Kathleen Lucas, a Condit parent who is of Choctaw heritage, said her son -- now a first-grader -- still wears the vest and feathered headband he made last year to celebrate the holiday.

"My son was so proud," she said. "In his eyes, he thinks that's what it looks like to be Indian."

Among the costume supporters, there is a vein of suspicion that casts Raheja and others opposed to the costumes as agenda-driven elitists. Of the handful of others who spoke with Raheja against the costumes at the board meeting, one teaches at the University of Redlands, one is an instructor at Riverside Community College, and one is a former Pitzer College professor.

Raheja is "using those children as a political platform for herself and her ideas," Constance Garabedian said as her 5-year-old Mountain View kindergartner happily practiced a song about Native Americans in the background. "I'm not a professor and I'm not a historian, but I can put the dots together."

The debate is far from over. Some parents plan to send their children to school in costume Tuesday -- doubting that administrators will force them to take them off. The following day, some plan to keep their children home, costing the district attendance funds to punish them for modifying the event.

"She's not going to tell us what we can and cannot wear," said Dena Murphy, whose 5-year-old son attends Mountain View. "We're tired of [district officials] cowing down to people. It's not right."

But others hoped that tempers would calm over the long holiday weekend, and the community could come together to have a fruitful discussion about Thanksgiving and its meaning.

"Its always a good thing to think about, critically, how we teach kids, even from very young ages, the message we want them to learn, and the respect for the diversity of the American experiences," said Jennifer Tilton, an assistant professor of race and ethnic studies at the University of Redlands and a Claremont parent who opposes the costumes.

Thanks to Jonathan Turley
Norwalk, Conn. school teacher Julie Amaro's computer got attacked by malware which downloaded porn files she couldn't get rid of. Though forsensic analysis made it crystal clear her computer had been attacked that didn't stop technology illiterate school administrators and prosecutors from having her arrested and taking away her teacher's license permanently.

Mediapost reports

Adware and spyware have caused a lot of damage to people's computers, but mainly the harm has been limited to the cost of repairing a hard drive. Now, however, it's clear that a malware application has wreaked havoc beyond a fixable computer problem. Connecticut resident Julie Amero now has a criminal record and will lose her teaching license, thanks to an infected computer.

In 2004, at the height of the spyware/adware problem, Amero was working as a substitute teacher in Norwalk, Conn. when a computer she was using suddenly started spewing pornographic pop-ups. She was unable to stop these images from displaying. Forensics analysis has since definitively shown that the machine was infected with adware/spyware.

But some Web-illiterate prosecutor brought charges against Amero for exposing children to pornography. And jurors, who apparently weren't familiar with spyware, convicted her last year.

Since then a judge overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial. But Amero didn't want to risk another trial and the prosecutor's office refused to withdraw this case, even though the case had long since turned into an embarrassment for the authorities. So Amero took a guilty plea to disorderly conduct, and will surrender her teacher's license, to make this incident go away.

Meantime, much has changed in the adware/spyware space since 2004, when unwanted installations were proliferating. Some of the most notorious players -- including Direct Revenue and Gator -- have folded. Another big adware company, Zango, was fined $3 million by the Federal Trade Commission and promised to better police affiliates. None of those companies were implicated in the Amero situation. But all of them, not to mention the countless smaller ones, have at one time or another been accused of using questionable installation methods.

For Amero, it's beyond unfortunate that she was victimized first by a malware program that she couldn't shut down, then again by a criminal justice system that doesn't appear to understand the Internet.

Alburquerque Police: Snitches Wanted

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The economy may be moving into deep freeze, but there's always opportunity to be a paid police informant.

Fox News reports

An ad this week in the alternative newspaper The Alibi asks "people who hang out with crooks" to do part-time work for the police.

It reads in part: "Make some extra cash! Drug use and criminal record OK."

Capt. Joe Hudson says police received more than 30 responses in two days. He says one tip was a "big one" but wouldn't elaborate.

An informant whose tip helps officers arrest a drug dealer could earn $50. A tip about a murder suspect could bring up to $700.

It's not the first time department has run ads. In a program 10 years ago, police received so many calls they turned the phones off.

Thanks to Wendy mcelroy

From the Scarlet Letter dept. Back in 1997 Wendy Whitaker a  17 year old high school sophomore had oral sex with a sixteen year old classmate, and was arrested under the state's sodomy laws. Because of that arrest she was registered as a sex offender. Because of her sex offender status she  and her husband have been evicted from their home which is located within 1000 feet of a school.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports

The lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that seeks to overturn parts of Georgia's sex-offender registry law is now trying to eliminate her classification as a sex offender.

Wendy Whitaker's status as an offender violates the Constitution's guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment, says her new lawsuit, filed Friday in Columbia County Superior Court.

Whitaker, 29, is on the registry for having consensual oral sex with a classmate three weeks before his 16th birthday. Whitaker had just turned 17. Both were high school sophomores.

Because of her 1997 sodomy conviction, Whitaker must register as a sex offender for life and comply with the law's residency restrictions that bar her from living within 1,000 feet of designated areas where children congregate.

"I am at my wit's end and in a constant state of stress because I never know what's going to happen to my family and our home," Whitaker said in a statement issued Friday.

The suit was filed on Whitaker's behalf by lawyers for the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta.

Russ Willard, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, declined comment, saying the office had yet to see the lawsuit.

Whitaker's designation as a sex offender is grossly out of proportion with the severity of her crime, the suit said.

It cites the 2007 decision by the state Supreme Court that overturned Genarlow Wilson's conviction in Douglas County. Wilson was serving a 10-year sentence for having oral sex with a 15-year-old when he was 17.

The gravity of Whitaker's offense "bears no reasonable relationship" to the harshness of her penalty, such as the state high court found in Wilson's case, the lawsuit said.

In the separate, federal suit, filed in 2006, Whitaker and other plaintiffs are seeking to overturn the law's provisions that make it a crime for sex offenders to live or work within 1,000 feet of places children congregate.

At a recent hearing, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper declined to halt Whitaker's eviction from her home near Augusta because it is within 1,000 feet of a day care center and church.

Whitaker testified that if she and her husband are forced out of their home, it will go into foreclosure because they cannot afford both rent and a mortgage.

Friday's lawsuit also seeks to halt Whitaker's eviction from her home in Harlem.

Thanks to the Agitator

It was Lysander Spooner I believe who equated the state with highway robbery. The case of Kenyatta Hillman, stopped by Orange County sheriff's deputies for suspicion of marijuana possession (soon proven groundless),and then victim of confiscation of his Xbox by the police makes it clear that that particular Spoonerism is no hyberbole. reports

The Orange County Sheriff's Office is trying to explain why a deputy walked off with someone else's Xbox following a traffic stop. The owner says he was in a car that got pulled over at Silver Star and Hiawassee roads for speeding, but instead of issuing a speeding ticket the deputy took his Xbox.The owner showed up with the original box and receipt to claim his Xbox, but when deputies looked for it they couldn't find it in the evidence room.Orange County deputies stopped Kenyatta Hillman and his friend on Friday afternoon for speeding. When deputies pulled them over, they searched the car because they said they smelled marijuana. They didn't find any drugs, but found an Xbox with eight games."He said, 'When you got your receipt and box and we'll meet someplace, you show me your receipt and I'll give you your game.' I didn't understand them," Hillman said.
The deputy ran the serial numbers and it did not come up as stolen, but he took the game system anyway. He told Hillman he wanted to make sure no one reported it stolen. Deputies told Eyewitness News there had been a lot of burglaries in the area and Xbox systems are hot.Hillman then took his empty box and receipt to the sheriff's office to get his Xbox, but no one was able to find it."They said, 'We don't know what is going on. It was no arrest, no police file, no case. We can't find it,'" Hillman said.Hillman believes he was stopped because he's poor and the because of the way he looks."It's probably the neighborhood. It's probably, look at me, because of my hair, the way I dressed," he said.When Eyewitness News called the Orange County Sheriff's Office, a spokesperson said they couldn't find the gaming system because it had not yet been transferred to the evidence room.Later, Hillman got a hold of the supervisor, Sgt. Hosey. Hillman said Hosey told him he had the system and would give it back."'I can't do anything this week. I'll call you Friday and I'll meet you Friday and then give you your Xbox back,'" Hilman described.The sheriff's office said it does not believe Hillman stole the system and he is free to pick it up. The sergeant who is handling the situation said he'll give it him Friday because he is busy during the week.

Thanks to jgodsey

A Freedom of Choice Hero

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That'd be Arigul Tursunwho escaped from a government mandated abortion by Chinese authorities. Cheers to her defiance in the name of choice, as we'd cheer any woman who defied a government dictating completion of an unwanted pregnancy. 

ABC News reports

A six-month pregnant mother of two who faced a forced abortion by Chinese authorities has been freed and allowed to continue her pregnancy, according to Radio Free Asia. The case had attracted international attention and outrage.

Arigul Tursun was scheduled to undergo the abortion against her will as early as today because authorities said she was entitled to only two children, according to the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

"I am all right and I am home now," Tursun told RFA.

The local population control committee chief reportedly said Tursun was released because "she wasn't in good enough health to have an abortion."

Tursun had earlier escaped from the hospital where she was kept under guard. Her husband said village authorities threatened to confiscate his house and farmland if his wife wasn't found. Police later tracked her down at the home of a relative.

The case sparked outrage in the U.S. among members of Congress. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) called forced abortions a "barbaric practice" and made a personal appeal on behalf of Tursun directly to the Chinese ambassador.

Twice Arzigul has fled and been recaptured by China's population control cadres," said Smith. "Is the Chinese government really going to forcibly abort a third-trimester baby, after the mother's desperate efforts to save her child have become a global news story? We hope and pray they will hear the mother's plea and refrain from such brutality."

Rep. Joe Pitt (R-Penn.) also called for Tursun's release. "I call on the Chinese government to immediately intervene in order to stop any forced abortion from taking place," said Pitt. "Though we know Chinese authorities regularly used forced abortions to enforce its coercive population control program, carrying out this brutal procedure with the world watching Arzigul Tursun's case would display an utter disregard for any notion of human rights by Chinese authorities."

It's not (literally) a free speech or constitutional rights issue per se because HSF is a private institution. But what makes it an insult to civil freedoms (our gig) is how the HSF, the largest funding vehicle, formed with the express purpose of helping poor but deserving Latino youth to get access to education, has allowed itself to acquiesce in the stigmatization of the children of undocumented immigrant workers.

From Open HSFScholarships

There are an estimated 65,000 undocumented students who have lived in the United States for 5 or more years and graduate from High School each year. While only a percentage of these students are of Latin-American descent, they still make up a large number of students who are not eligible for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) scholarships. As educators, we often see that undocumented students are our best, brightest and hardest working students. HSF is a private organization that has the power and the ability to ensure the continued and future academic success of these bright, dedicated students. In 2006 - 2007, the HSF awarded $26 million in scholarships to Latina/o students. Since HSF purports to serve the Latin American community, the Association of Raza Educators implores the HSF to open its scholarships to ALL Latina/o students, regardless of citizenship status.

Thamks to Jeff Ecc

It's illegal for the FBI to use cell carriers to help surveil indivisuals without a warrant, according to statutes like Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) and the Stored Communications Act. But apparently they've been deploying a constitutional "workaround" of sorts, called "triggerfish".

Ars Technica reports 

Courts in recent years have been raising the evidentiary bar law enforcement agents must meet in order to obtain historical cell phone records that reveal information about a target's location. But documents obtained by civil liberties groups under a Freedom of Information Act request suggest that "triggerfish" technology can be used to pinpoint cell phones without involving cell phone providers at all.

Triggerfish, also known as cell-site simulators or digital analyzers, are nothing new: the technology was used in the 1990s to hunt down renowned hacker Kevin Mitnick. By posing as a cell tower, triggerfish trick nearby cell phones into transmitting their serial numbers, phone numbers, and other data to law enforcement. Most previous descriptions of the technology, however, suggested that because of range limitations, triggerfish were only useful for zeroing in on a phone's precise location once cooperative cell providers had given a general location.

This summer, however, the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the Justice Department, seeking documents related to the FBI's cell-phone tracking practices. Since August, they've received a stream of documents--the most recent batch on November 6--that were posted on the Internet last week. In a post on the progressive blog Daily Kos, ACLU spokesperson Rachel Myers drew attention to language in several of those documents implying that triggerfish have broader application than previously believed.

As one of the documents intended to provide guidance for DOJ employees explains, triggerfish can be deployed "without the user knowing about it, and without involving the cell phone provider." That may be significant because the legal rulings requiring law enforcement to meet a high "probable cause" standard before acquiring cell location records have, thus far, pertained to requests for information from providers, pursuant to statutes such as the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) and the Stored Communications Act.

The Justice Department's electronic surveillance manual explicitly suggests that triggerfish may be used to avoid restrictions in statutes like CALEA that bar the use of pen register or trap-and-trace devices--which allow tracking of incoming and outgoing calls from a phone subject to much less stringent evidentiary standards--to gather location data. "By its very terms," according to the manual, "this prohibition applies only to information collected by a provider and not to information collected directly by law enforcement authorities.Thus, CALEA does not bar the use of pen/trap orders to authorize the use of cell phone tracking devices used to locate targeted cell phones." 

Perhaps surprisingly, it's only with the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001 that the government has needed any kind of court order to use triggerfish. While previously, the statutory language governing pen register or trap-and-trace orders did not appear to cover location tracking technology. Under the updated definition, these explicitly include any "device or process which records or decodes dialing, routing, addressing, and signaling information."

93 Days in Jail for Having a Couch in his yard

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New Hampshire libertarian talk show host to be jailed on multiple "contempt of court" charges for fighting a city code violation fine imposed against his "bird watching" couch.

Free Keene reports

Nationally syndicated radio talk show host Ian Freeman will spend 100 days in jail because he questioned the legitimacy of a system which would penalize him for having a couch in his yard and conduct his trial in secret.

Keene resident Nick Ryder wrote on the Free Keene blog that the courtroom at Freeman's trial Friday afternoon at Keene District Court in Keene, N.H., was stacked with police "to try and outnumber the liberty activists."

Judge Edward Burke had hardly arrived in the courtroom before ordering Freeman jailed for 30 days for contempt of court and the proceedings moved to another room where spectators would not be allowed to hear what happened.

When word finally filtered out of the closed proceeding, Freeman had somehow gotten two more 30-day sentences for contempt and 10 days for refusing to pay a fine for having an illegal couch. The official reasons for the contempt charges were not immediately clear.

"It was oppressive," said Dale Everett, 40, of Keene. "They had a notice posted obviously targeting us, liberty activists, saying that anyone who didn't stand for the judge would be 'subject to sanction.' So I left. I wasn't prepared to get arrested today."

Freeman is the owner and host of the Free Talk Live radio show, which airs six nights a week on approximately 45 radio stations nationwide. Free Talk Live is an open format show, where callers can bring up any topic, with no caller refused. The hosts bring a libertarian perspective to the ensuing conversations.

The controversy began in August when Keene housing inspector Carl Patten visited Freeman's duplex, half of which he rents out, and cited him for a couch on his tenants' side of the yard.

Freeman said at the time he did not believe the city had a right to tell him whether he could have a couch on his yard. The couch was decorated for Halloween, complete with a pumpkin and lounging scarecrow.

After refusing to pay the fine and being threatened with arrest at his first hearing, Freeman attempted to negotiate with the city.

Patten claimed that he cited Freeman after receiving a complaint. Freeman said he would remove the couch if given an opportunity to speak to the original complainant, "like an adult, instead of calling in men with guns." The city refused and demanded he come to trial Friday, where he was jailed for contempt almost immediately.

"The Judge sees himself as royalty," wrote Jim Johnson of Winchester on the New Hampshire Underground forum, "no one may question or disrespect his benevolent self."

Code enforcement activity has been on the rise nationwide with the failing economy reducing local governments' revenues and local bureaucrats desperately trying to take money from anywhere they can get it, using any excuse.

Free Talk Live recently interviewed one victim of code enforcement, 83 year old Ageda Camargo of La Quinta, Calif., who is being harassed by bureaucrats there over a garage which was converted into a bedroom decades ago, before she bought the house.

When the laws are unjust, as the vast majority of today's laws are, then a court of law will dispense injustice. Freeman's protest of the injustice done to him has not gone unnoticed. Many liberty activists have said the court's action has motivated them to get even more involved.

"The tyranny was stifling," Everett said. "It's the kind of experience that makes you rethink everything. And just to be clear, I don't mean rethinking everything in terms of backing off. Quite the opposite."

Thanks to Lew

Under Arrest for Being Too Happy

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On election night a crowd of revellers spontaneously formed in North Charles Village, Baltimore, as in many locations around the country jubilantly, and non-violently, celebrating the victory of Barack Obama at the polls. Until the Baltimore Police, apparently without warning, and without provocation or cause, busted up this peaceful assembly, cuffing and arresting scores of people, including author Michael Hughes, and tossing them in a paddy wagon down to city jail.

Baltimore City Paper reports

It was sometime between 2 and 3 a.m., and I was handcuffed and sitting inside a Baltimore police paddy wagon.

"Officer," I yelled.

"What?" a cop brusquely answered from outside the van.

"Officer, I need to use the bathroom. I really have to go." It was the third time I'd asked since my arrest, over an hour earlier. It was no joke -- my bladder felt as if it was going to rupture.

"You'll have to wait 'til we get downtown," he answered.

I grimaced. Behind my back, my wrists chafed against sharp, plastic cuffs. I squeezed my legs together. "I think I'm going to piss myself," I said to my only companion, a skinny kid in khakis and a pink oxford with a popped collar. He shook his head but didn't answer. My entire body began shaking, and I doubled over, sliding to my knees on the floor in pain. I remembered reading about a study in which volunteers were paid good money to piss their pants, and none could do it -- such is the power of social conditioning.

"Fuck," I said, and felt warmth spreading between my legs.

It struck me, then -- the pathetic and surreal absurdity of my situation. Why was I, a 42-year-old husband and father of two young daughters, a senior employee of Johns Hopkins, a freelance journalist, and a law-abiding, civic-minded guy, sitting in my piss-soaked underwear in the back of a paddy wagon outside the Northern District police station?

The day had begun with such promise.

That day I served as a Baltimore City election judge. I didn't do it for the measly paycheck but considered it a chance to connect with my neighbors. A handful of people were lined up when I arrived at 5:45 a.m., and an hour later the line stretched around the inside of the school and out along the sidewalk. The mood was electric. I saw lots of familiar faces and many, many new ones.

Some I'll never forget. A bearded 75-year-old white man holding a Noam Chomsky book said to me, "I didn't think I'd be around for the last election. And I know I won't be around for the next one. But this one ... " he smiled.

A visually impaired black woman asked me and another judge to read the ballot for her. We read it all (yes, every last word of the bond issues) and when we finished, she pressed the button and turned to us with tears in her eyes. "That's the first time I ever voted," she said, and hugged us. My eyes welled up, too.

A smiling blonde woman approached the polls and explained to us that she had flown home to vote, in person -- from Sudan.

As soon as the polls closed, I put on a bootleg Obama T-shirt I'd bought on Greenmount Avenue. It was over-the-top -- an enormous image of Barack's face covering most of the shirt.

Later that night, I watched on a friend's television as a wave of blue swept over America. Eight of my friends had gathered, and after Obama's acceptance speech in Chicago, we heard car horns, whooping, and cheers from 33rd Street.

"Let's go," my friend Dan said.

I haven't seen such spontaneous celebration in the streets since the Ravens won the Superbowl. All around us cars honked, while people cheered and chanted "Obama!" and "Yes, we can!" We noticed an enormous gathering in North Charles Village, and as we approached several of the people in the crowd saw my Obama shirt and started cheering.

"This is amazing!" Dan said.

And it was. The crowd was an amalgam of the forces that had swept Obama into power: multiracial, young, old, straight, gay, with one commonality -- they were all smiling. Students were holding American flags aloft with pride. Students! Ecstatic! About a presidential race! Strangers hugged and danced and high-fived one another. Tears flowed.

I need to write about this, I thought. I need to remember all of it, and document it, because it will never happen again.

Even the police were swept up in the mood, smiling and posing for photos. An occasional handful of students would venture into the streets to high-five enthusiastic, honking motorists, only to be waved back by the police, but otherwise, it was as peaceful and well-behaved as a high school pep rally.

Then I looked up the street, to where the police had blocked off St. Paul Street with almost a dozen cruisers. A phalanx of about a dozen cops had lined up.

They began marching, and I saw one of the cops holding a pile of plastic flexicuffs. No one had a bullhorn or a PA. They just moved into the crowd and started yelling at people. There was no clear officer in charge, just a group of belligerent, angry police.

My brother came running up the sidewalk. "Some guy just got tasered!" he said. I saw some cops walking back toward us, so I crossed the street to stay out of their way. The first arrestees were being led to the paddy wagon. I pulled out my cell phone and started snapping pictures.

A beefy officer saw me taking photos and approached. I held my hands at my side and said, "I'm a journalist. I'm just taking pictures."

He slapped my cell phone out of my hand and grabbed my shirt. "Well, write a nice, long story about this," he said, spinning me around as another officer cuffed me. I was in the paddy wagon before I could even comprehend what was happening. After processing at Northern District I was thrown into a concrete cell, strip-searched, fingerprinted, and subject to the singular degradation of a long night spent in Central Booking.

To the Baltimore City Police: I have met plenty of decent, respectful cops in this city. I could single out those who arrested and cuffed me, but I won't. This isn't about individuals -- throughout the ordeal, I met many who were appalled at the behavior of their comrades. One complimented my Obama T-shirt and loosened my cuffs. Another strip-searched me while shaking his head in disgust. "Welcome to the Baltimore City Police," he said.

To Mayor Dixon: I hold you accountable for the appalling, irresponsible behavior of your police force. They turned a peaceful, orderly, euphoric celebration of democracy into a brutal, embarrassing fiasco. People spontaneously celebrated in cities across our country -- indeed, the world -- without major incidents. Baltimore failed. Shame on you if you don't address this and apologize. And oh, by the way, thanks for not returning any of my calls despite promising to do so.

Most importantly, to the voters of Precinct 12, Ward 8, and the students, professors, teachers, and other citizens who gathered in Charles Village to celebrate the end of eight years of divisiveness and toxic politics and to inaugurate the beginning of an era of new possibilities: thank you. Because of you, I know my country, and my city, is in good hands. You made me proud.

Finally, to the officer who dared me to write about my arrest: Here you go, sir -- as requested. I just hope you read it.

Thanks to Alternet

President Obama, Tear Down This Cage!

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Will Barack Obama walk the walk on civil liberties? Nat Hentoff offers an acid test.

From the Village Voice

If our new president intends to try to make America resemble what it was meant to be, he will have to deal with the noxious residue of the Bush-Cheney war against terrorism. Barack Obama will be confronted, as Harold Reynolds predicted in the October 29 New York Law Journal, with bringing justice to "thousands of . . . men and women cut off from access to their families, tortured, humiliated . . . and kept off stage to this day by Bush's resistant administration."

Among these purported menaces to national security are survivors, if they can be found, of CIA secret prisons ("black sites"); victims of CIA kidnapping renditions; and American citizens locked up indefinitely as "unlawful enemy combatants."

We have one such pariah right here in New York at the Metropolitan Correction Center. He is 28-year-old Sayed Fahad Hashmi, whom I first told you about in this column last week. Confined in extreme isolation as if he were in a supermax prison, Hashmi was put away about a year ago by Bush's Attorney General Michael Mukasey under what are euphemistically called Special Administrative Measures (SAMs).

Of the 201,000 prisoners presently in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, fewer than 50 are so dangerous to the state that they are held under SAMs, which can be imposed in one-year increments. Mukasey was supposed to inform Hashmi's lawyer, Sean Maher, on October 29 whether those fierce conditions that were described here last week would be renewed for another year. But as of this writing, no word has come from the Justice Department, and the keys to Hashmi's cell will soon be in the hands of Barack Obama's attorney general. When Jeanne Theoharis--a professor of political science at Brooklyn College who has been leading the campaign to get Hashmi out of the cage where he's been jammed for his daily one hour of "recreation"--asked a Bureau of Prisons staff member how Hashmi has been SAM'd without even being charged with violence, she was told curtly: "He's being charged with terrorism, right?"

Enough said.

President-elect Obama, a former lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago, should educate the Bureau of Prisons about elementary due process and should distribute copies of the Bill of Rights to its staff.

Mukasey was formerly a widely praised federal judge in New York before being employed by Bush, and he will now leave office as a chief law-enforcement officer that put the Bill of Rights under SAMs. When he authorized stashing Hashmi in New York's supermax, he explained, "There is substantial risk that Hashmi's communications or contact with persons could result in death or serious bodily injury to persons."

Wow! What did they have on this guy that he was extradited to the U.S. from London, where he had earned a master's degree in international relations at London Metropolitan University after graduating from Brooklyn College?

Hashmi has no criminal record anywhere and no history of committing acts of violence. But--and here's why he's under 23-hour lockdown in New York--he had a friend, Junaid Babar, stay over at his London apartment for two weeks. In the apartment, Babar stored luggage containing raincoats, ponchos, and waterproof socks. Babar--not Hashmi--later delivered them to the third-ranking member of Al Qaeda in South Waziristan, Pakistan. When, later in New York, a Grand Jury charged Hashmi with "conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization," the socks, ponchos, and raincoats were transformed into "military gear." Also, an accusation exists that Hashmi let his houseguest use his cell phone "to call other conspirators." I have seen nothing to indicate Hashmi had any idea whom Babar was calling.

Particularly interesting about Babar is that he himself has pleaded guilty to five counts of material support of Al Qaeda and--gee whiz!--has agreed to serve as a government witness in terrorism trials in Britain, Canada, and at Hashmi's trial here next year. The Justice Department says Babar is the "centerpiece" of its case against Hashmi.

In return, under a plea bargain, Babar will get a reduced sentence. You get the picture.

But if Hashmi is convicted next year, he may be sentenced to 70 years of meditation on his nonexistent crimes under the care of the Bureau of Prisons. When he gets to trial, unless President Obama takes an interest in his case, Hashmi's lawyers note: "The government may act to withhold evidence from his attorneys, yet share that evidence with the judge. There is some evidence that the government may also choose to share evidence with the defense lawyers, but not permit Hashmi to see it." After all, he may get it to Osama bin Laden.

Right now, during preliminary court proceedings, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska has closed some of the proceedings to the public and reporters, having ruled that some of the evidence is classified. Those must have been some explosive socks that Babar stored in Hashmi's London apartment! Maybe they were inspired by a classic James Bond movie!

A Port Lucie, Fla. teenager was playing a joke on his 13 year old friend, pretending he had a bag of pot. Police charge him with: possession of a counterfeit controlled substance with the intent to deliver. reports

A planned trick on a friend involving a bag of parsley turned into an arrest for a 15-year-old local boy, according to a police report released Monday.

The 15-year-old boy and a 13-year-old boy told police Friday morning they were headed to another friend's home. At the time, they were walking across Crosstown Parkway during school hours.

The elder boy said he was going to play a trick on his friend. He said he had a bag of parsley that he was going to make his friend think was marijuana. The parsley, which he got from his kitchen cabinet, was in a clear plastic bag and appeared similar to pot.

The last time the boy smoked marijuana allegedly was the day before.

The 15-year-old boy was arrested on a charge of possession of a counterfeit controlled substance with the intent to deliver.

Thanks to the Agitator

Police say county initiative making personal marijuana use in private "the lowest law enforcement priority", which passed overwhelmingly last week, will have no impact on law enforcement practice.  

Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports

The Police Department won't ease enforcement of marijuana laws following the passage of a ballot initiative making that the "lowest law enforcement priority."

"No. 1, it's not a law. It's a resolution," Police Chief Lawrence Mahuna said. "No. 2, there will be no change how we prioritize the enforcement of marijuana.

"The resolution does not invalidate federal law," Mahuna said. "It doesn't legalize marijuana. It's still a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

We will continue in our efforts to reduce the availability of illegal marijuana," he said.

"Nothing that's in a resolution can nullify and -- to put it simply -- trump a federal law," Mahuna said. "We can't back a resolution contrary to federal law. And it's in contravention of state law."

The initiative took effect upon its approval.

Adam Lehmann, director of Project Peaceful Sky, which pushed for the measure, emphasized that the initiative does not decriminalize marijuana.

"It's only for adult personal use on private property. And really, we talked with some law enforcement officers who wanted to stay anonymous, who were supportive of the bill," Lehmann said.

Both Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida, the county's top civil attorney, and Lehmann disagreed with Mahuna that it was a resolution. The charter states that an initiative approved by a majority of voters becomes "an ordinance of the county."

Ashida said that, as directed in the voter-approved initiative, the County Council cannot accept any funds for marijuana eradication programs, and that the county clerk must send out an annual letter to state and federal elected officials requesting "that ... government remove criminal penalties for the cultivation, possession and use of cannabis for adult personal use."

The clause that gives law enforcement officials the biggest headache states that "the cultivation, possession and use for adult personal use of cannabis shall be the lowest law enforcement priority for law enforcement agencies" in Hawaii County. This priority is defined as "a priority such that all law enforcement activities related to all offenses other than the possession of cultivation of cannabis for adult personal use shall be a higher priority than all law enforcement activities related to the adult personal use of cannabis."

Lehmann has previously said it will give police the option of reserving funds to focus on more serious crimes, like methamphetamine abuse, rather than going after small-time pot growers.

"Technically by law (the police) have to honor and respect the local law, but the truth of the matter is that it will be left up to the individual officer's discretion," Lehmann told the Tribune-Herald in June.

In May, Ashida wrote to Lehmann that "the Council could not legally, in our opinion, set the order of priority for the enforcement of our criminal laws. Such proposed action would run afoul of the doctrine of separation of powers." He explained that the County Charter allows the council to set the policy but the administration executes that policy.

"In this case, that means the police and the police alone are responsible for determining law enforcement priority," Ashida wrote.

"This priority is not something that is given to anybody but the police chief," Mahuna said. "Nothing will change."

Responded Lehmann: "That's his decision. He could make a different decision. We hope to work with him. I just can't express that enough."

Voters passed the initiative in Tuesday's election 53.1 percent to 38.6 percent, with 8.3 percent leaving the question blank.

"I will always respect what the voters decide," Ashida said.

However, he said, "you cannot do by initiative what you cannot do by ordinance."

Prosecuting Attorney Jay Kimura said Tuesday the initiative was unenforceable as written, and that he would check with the state attorney general to see what could be done to implement the initiative.

Lehmann disagreed with Kimura.

"We believe that we've made the adjustments so we believe that provision can be mandated," Lehmann said.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency won't change its approach in the light of the initiative.

"In a nutshell, we're going to continue to enforce the drug laws, which includes marijuana," said Tony Williams, DEA assistant special agent in charge, speaking from Honolulu. He said the focus will remain on those who cultivate marijuana and distribute narcotics.

Thanks to Drug War Rant
10th Annual Pumpkin Run,  a yearly Halloween ritual in Boulder often including up to 100 drunken midnight streakers with carved pumpkin over their heads, was busted by police for the first time ever this year. A dozen runner ticketed by indecent exposure will likely be registered as sex offenders with the state.

The Boulder Daily Camera reports

Twelve of the runners who streaked the Pearl Street Mall on Friday night wearing nothing but pumpkins on their heads will have to register as sex offenders if they are convicted of indecent exposure.

The 10th year of the Naked Pumpkin Run started as usual -- with laughter, beer and a whole lot of pumpkin carving. But the nude run, which has grown in recent years to include well over 100 people, ended with police citing 12 of the streakers for indecent exposure, a Class 1 misdemeanor. Police have warned runners in the past that the activity isn't legal, but this is the first time officers showed up en masse to enforce the law.

Now the ticketed runners, whose names have not yet been released, will have to register as sex offenders -- a scarlet letter that could mark their professional and personal lives for years -- if the charge of indecent exposure sticks.

"It's very nasty," said Alexander Garlin, a local lawyer who has experience defending sex-related criminal charges. "Over the years, the system, the way of responding to individuals who are called sex offenders, ultimately has become institutionalized. There's a whole industry around this, and certain critics have charged that the industry is too much one-size-fits-all."

Convicting a naked pumpkin runner of indecent exposure in court, however, may not be completely straightforward. According to state law, the prosecution must show that the defendant "knowingly exposed his genitals to the view of any person," which is the easy part in this case, and that the exposure likely caused "affront or alarm" to someone.

The "affront and alarm" is the obvious place to begin a defense, Garlin said. In the case of the pumpkin run, which didn't start until nearly 11 p.m., many of the people packed onto the mall said they were there specifically to see the nude runners.

"How does a jury figure out if someone is guilty (of affronting and alarming) beyond a reasonable doubt?" Garlin said. "I would guess the average Boulderite is not likely to be affronted or alarmed -- entertained, maybe."

If the cited runners don't want to test their luck in court, they could try to plead to a lesser charge. In this case, the obvious alternate would be "public indecency."

Oddly, public indecency may sound worse on paper -- it includes doing such things in public as having sex, masturbating or fondling someone else -- but it carries far less serious consequences. Public indecency is a Class 1 petty offense and does not require registration as a sex offender.

"Public indecency has a real kicker -- it's generally nakedness plus some pretty hard-core conduct," Garlin said.

Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner said his officers cited the runners because "first of all, it's illegal," he had a high enough staffing level that night and he was concerned that the event was getting out of hand.

"This isn't OK," he said. "It is against the law. You can't do this with immunity."

Indecently exposed

Nudity in Boulder isn't exactly uncommon, and in the past couple of years a growing number of people have been questioning how nudity is dealt with by police under different circumstances. For example, why weren't a group of naked cyclists given tickets in July when a naked jogger was cited for indecent exposure in June?

Large naked events, such as Friday's Naked Pumpkin Run and the Naked Bike Ride, haven't typically drawn much police attention. But this year, a dozen people were cited with indecent exposure after jogging down the Pearl Street Mall wearing nothing but a carved pumpkin over their heads.

Thanks to the Agitator
Nat Hentoff reports on the case of Sayed Fahad Hashmi.

For the past year, a 28-year-old Muslim American student, Sayed Fahad Hashmi--the first person extradited to the United States from Britain to face charges of terrorism--has been held at the Manhattan Correctional Center under conditions of confinement that are the very definition of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment."

He has not been charged with being a member of Al Qaeda or for providing any money or resources to any terrorist. He is here--for a trial months away in 2009--for letting a former acquaintance, Junaid Babar, stay for a couple of weeks in his London apartment, where Babar stored several ponchos, raincoats, and waterproof socks in a suitcase. (Hashmi was still in London after receiving a master's degree from London Metropolitan University.)

Babar--not Hashmi--gave these socks and ponchos, it is alleged, to a high-ranking member of Al Qaeda.

That gives you some indication of Hashmi's supposed connection to terrorism.

Says Hashmi's New York-based attorney, Sean Maher: "We are talking about socks here."

We are also talking about what has happened to this country after Dick Cheney--on September 16, 2001--said, "We also have to work, though, sort of on the dark side, if you will. . . . It's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective."

Before I go further into the particulars of the case against Hashmi, I must first explain why three letters from civil liberties groups have been sent in the interest of what remains of our Constitution to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, under whose authority Hashmi is imprisoned here under Special Administrative Measures that violate Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and our own torture laws. The Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Association for Muslim American Lawyers wrote to Mukasey asking him not to renew on October 29 these Special Administrative Measures for this prisoner who has not been convicted of anything and, under what used to be American law, is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

On a 23-hour solitary-confinement lockdown, Hashmi, was not allowed family visits for months. Now, he can see one person for an hour and a half, but only every other week. He is permitted to write only one letter a week to a single member of his family, but he cannot use more than three pieces of paper per letter. (I would be grateful, Mr. Mukasey, for an explanation of how these restrictions serve our security needs.) Mr. Hashmi is forbidden any contact--directly or through his attorneys--with the news media. He can read newspapers, but only those portions approved by his jailers--and not until 30 days after publication. And he is absolutely forbidden to listen to news radio stations or to watch television news channels.

You will not be surprised to learn that he is under 24-hour electronic monitoring and is forbidden to communicate with any of the other inmates. However, a merciful Justice Department allows him one hour of recreation every day--inside a cage. His attorneys are concerned, to say the least, that this extreme isolation "will cause lasting psychological, emotional, and physical damage" to their client. Among the scientific evidence they cite are the findings of Craig Haney, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Having reported for Legal Times on "supermax" prisons in the United States--about which Professor Haney has been an expert witness in court cases--I was familiar with the Haney's conclusion, cited by Hashmi's lawyers: "There is not a single published study of solitary or supermax-like confinement . . . that failed to result in negative psychological effects."

Years ago, I read Charles Dickens's account of the first American version of a supermax prison in his American Notes. Notwithstanding all he had seen in the bowels of British prisons, Dickens was horrified. With American know-how, today's supermaxes are far worse.

Professor Haney's research was brought into this case by Hashmi's lawyers because, they state: "The continuation of such draconian pre-trial conditions of detention will not only harm Mr. Hashmi's health, but also"--and this is crucial to what used to be known as due process of law in our Constitution--"the potential mental and physical deterioration that will follow such conditions [of confinement] will impact Mr. Hashmi's ability to assist counsel in preparing for trial."

Hashmi's defense lawyers continued with the hope of attracting the attention of General Mukasey, formerly a much-praised federal appellate judge in New York: "Because there are less restrictive means to protect the government's security interests without causing direct harm to Mr. Hashmi, any deterioration in Mr. Hashmi's health or ability to assist in his defense will be directly attributable to the government" (emphasis added--as if they care).

Not only will Hashmi have been stripped of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, but he will also be deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to be in sufficient condition to help his counsel prepare for his defense--and thereby receive a fair trial.

Last August, Jeanne Theoharis, an associate professor of political science at the City University of New York's Brooklyn College, was instrumental in organizing a "Free Fahad" campaign that enlisted more than 550 prominent academics to sign a petition to the Justice Department protesting the fearsome conditions of Hashmi's confinement and the corollary undermining of his right to a fair trial. Among them were Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Duncan Kennedy of Harvard; Seyla Benhabib at Yale; Eric Foner and Saskia Sassen of Columbia University; and Professor Theoharis's father, Athan Theoharis, of Marquette University (emeritus), from whose work I've learned a lot about the FBI, constitutional law, and the determination to safeguard the latter from the government.

Hashmi was a student of Jeanne Theoharis at Brooklyn College, and as the Chronicle of Higher Education reported in a front-page August 8, 2008, story: "Ms. Theoharis recalls that her student took a keen interest in civil liberties. Mr. Hashmi wrote his final paper for her class on the contradiction between basic American freedoms and the U.S. government's treatment of citizens since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. . . . He also loved a vigorous discussion with his fellow students, sometimes lingering after class to finish a debate.

Mr. Hashmi, in his cell here in New York, is witnessing the disappearance of the basic American freedoms he so enjoyed exercising. To be continued.

Thanks to

Judge upholds right of White House to withhold free speech rights of anyone they deem a "potential troublemaker".

The Denver Post reports

A federal judge has dismissed part of a lawsuit filed by two activists who said their rights were violated by White House officials and volunteers when they were removed from a 2005 visit to Lowry by President Bush.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Wiley Daniel ruled that Leslie Weise and Alex Young had no constitutional right to be present at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum because it was a "limited private forum or limited nonpublic forum."

"President Bush had the right, at his own speech, to ensure that only his message was conveyed," Daniel wrote. "When the president speaks, he may choose his own words."

Daniel's order dismisses the case filed against three volunteers and White House officials. Motions are pending from two of the other defendants.

Weise and Young were among three people, referred to as the "Denver Three," removed from the museum before Bush started speaking. They had obtained tickets for the taxpayer-financed event from a local congressional office, but when they pulled into the parking lot in a car bearing the bumper sticker "No More Blood For Oil," they were pegged as potential troublemakers by White House staff.

The White House has a policy of excluding troublemakers -- even potential troublemakers -- from appearances by Bush. Daniel ruled that previous courts had allowed a restriction of speech at presidential events.

Thanks to Rational Review

64 year old molecular biologist Alexander McPherson has refused to participate in the state-mandated course, saying, "I have consistently refused to take such training on the grounds that the adoption of the requirement was a naked political act by the state that offended my sensibilities, violated my rights as a tenured professor, impugned my character and cast a shadow of suspicion on my reputation and career".  

The Orange County Register reports

A prominent UC Irvine biologist who generates millions in research funding might be placed on an unpaid leave for refusing to take sexual harassment prevention training he calls a "sham" that offends his sensibilities and casts suspicion on his reputation.

UCI has already relieved Alexander McPherson of his duties supervising scientists in his lab, where he studies proteins, the "building blocks of life." The campus also ordered that his teaching responsibilities be reassigned, but the order was rescinded.

Campus officials say McPherson, 64, could be placed on leave if he doesn't attend a training course Nov. 12 to comply with Assembly Bill 1825. The state law, passed in 2004, requires businesses that regularly employ 50 or more people to have supervisors undergo sexual harassment prevention training.

McPherson, who has generated about $20 million in research funding since joining UCI in 1997, says he won't attend the course, even if it leads to his suspension from a job that pays $148,740 a year.

"I have consistently refused to take such training on the grounds that the adoption of the requirement was a naked political act by the state that offended my sensibilities, violated my rights as a tenured professor, impugned my character and cast a shadow of suspicion on my reputation and career," McPherson said.

"I consider my refusal an act of civil disobedience. I even offered to go to jail if the university persisted in persecuting me for my refusal. We Scots are very stubborn in matters of this sort."

McPherson says he has never been accused of any form of sexual harassment and offered, in writing, to allow the university to make his personnel records public to prove his claim.

Tim Osborne, chairman of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and Albert Bennett, dean of the School of Biological Sciences, declined to comment on the matter, referring inquiries to other executives.

Susan Menning, a campus spokeswoman, said UCI does not comment on personnel matters.

She added that "those who do not comply (with the requirement for training) by Oct. 6 will be relieved of all supervisory responsibilities, including supervision of staff and graduate students."

McPherson, who has had experiments fly on the space shuttle, Mir space station and the International Space Station, said he wasn't fully relieved of those responsibilities until Oct. 31.

The showdown between McPherson and the university has largely taken place through e-mails that have created a rift that comes at a sensitive time. UCI is seeking millions of dollars from the National Institutes of Health for a graduate trainee program that McPherson would help run. If McPherson is placed on unpaid leave, it could damage UCI's bid for the money.

The dispute began to escalate Oct. 6 when Osborne told McPherson by e-mail that he was being relieved of supervisory and teaching duties. McPherson was preparing to travel to the East Coast for personal and professional reasons, and he hotly objected to UCI's action.

"The state has no right whatsoever, in my view, to inflict its narrow political, social, or cultural proclivities on me, an individual," he told Osborne by e-mail.

"This sexual harassment edict is a blunt political act, and I will not be subject to their will. ... My greatest amazement is that so few of my colleagues at UCI and at other campuses have not spoken out against this offense. What is next? Kneel and kiss the ring of the State Assembly leader? Political re-education camp?"

Thanks to Jonathan Turley

Obama (and Biden) on Civil Liberties

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It's hard to imagine anyone in favor of personal freedom, civil liberties or the constitution won't toast hardily, or something, if and when Republicans go down in humiliating defeat nationally tonight.
All the more reason to scrutinize their successors.

JD Tuccille examines their records. Obama here, Biden here.

Running for office is all about contrasting yourself with the competition, and when it comes to civil liberties issues and the Bush administration, there's a host of material with which to work. Given the Bush administration's miserable record on issues such as due process and privacy, it's a bit mystifying that Obama hasn't taken the opportunity to offer himself as a clearer alternative to the current occupant of the White House.


For instance, Obama has promised to "close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists." That's encouraging stuff in the age of the security state, but you'll have to go digging to find it. The candidate isn't talking up his position on the stump, nor is it featured in a civil liberties section on his Website -- because there is no civil liberties section.

The ACLU's seal of approval

That said, Barack Obama has a credible 82% lifetime score from the ACLU, with an 80% rating during the 110th Congress.

As a U.S. senator, the Democratic presidential hopeful voted for an (unsuccessful) effort to block the government "from engaging in massive, untargeted collection of all communications coming in and going out of the U.S." On the same note, he voted (again, unsuccessfully) for stronger legal hurdles before the government could intercept private communications, and favored stripping telecoms of legal immunity for their collaboration with the government in warrantless wiretapping schemes.

Obama also supported the Specter-Leahy Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have restored habeas corpus rights to people being detained without charges in the course of the "war on terror."

And, the candidate voted for an effort to kill Real ID -- a scheme to turn driver's licenses into national identification cards.

Jarringly, Obama voted to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act even after complaining that it needed greater civil liberties protections. He also voted for the FISA Amendment Act, authorizing warrantless wiretaps and telecom immunity -- and effectively nullifying some of his earlier votes. In doing so, he called the FISA bill a "vital national matter."

I part company with the ACLU when that organization gives Barack Obama a thumbs-up on a vote for hate crimes legislation -- a position he trumpets on his Website. Legislation that penalizes one person more harshly than another for the same violent act, depending on what they were thinking at the time about "sexual orientation, gender identity, gender or disability," puts government in the business of regulating thoughts.

Decriminalize it! No, don't!

On the matter of the drug war, which has crowded America's prisons with nonviolent offenders and its newspaper headlines with tales of little old ladies and dogs slaughtered in the name of prohibition, Obama is an advocate of reform -- timid reform. After first flirting with marijuana decriminalization, he backed off the idea when the Washington Times covered his supposed reformist principles. Obama now supports increased use of drug courts to channel first-offenders into rehab instead of prison. He also wants to "review" mandatory minimums (PDF) and end the bizarre disparity in sentences between powder and crack cocaine. He would also end federal involvement in medical marijuana raids.

These are all worthwhile proposals, but they barely chip at the problems inherent in criminalizing trade in and consumption of popular intoxicants. Even if legalization or decriminalization are off the table, how about stepping down the militarized nature of drug-law enforcement which turns so many encounters with the law into tragedy?

Still, this is probably the best we'll get from a major-party candidate.

Killer instinct

Barack Obama's state of Illinois is home to one of the great object lessons in the flaws inherent in allowing the state to kill in the name of justice. After a series of scandals over legal misconduct in the trials of prisoners who ended up on death row, then-Governor George Ryan commuted the sentences of 167 inmates to avoid the specter of (more) innocent people facing execution. Under the circumstances, Obama's boast that he "drafted and passed a law requiring videotaping of interrogations and confessions in capital cases to ensure that prosecutions are fair" and that "As president, Obama will encourage the states to adopt similar reforms" seems ... rather restrained.

Pro-choice, all the way ...

Obama is a reliable supporter of individual choice on the abortion issue, as well as access to birth control and sex education. No surprise then that he has the enthusiastic support of NARAL, which gives him a 100% rating for his congressional votes. His Website explicitly states he "will make preserving women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as President. He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in that case."

... except on self-defense

As much as NARAL likes Obama, that's how much the NRA hates him. While the Democrat says he "believes the Second Amendment creates an individual right, and he respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms," his interpretation of "individual right" leaves a lot of room for restrictions. He supports retaining the restrictions of the Brady Law, supports handgun registration and licensing and voted as a state senator to limit Illinois residents' purchase of handguns. He opposes concealed carry and private ownership of so-called "assault weapons." He may have advocated an outright ban on handguns, depending on whether you believe his explanation about how his "yes" answer to a question on the issue ended up on a questionnaire.

Gun scholar John Lott, Jr. says Obama told him face-to-face, "I don't believe that people should be able to own guns."

Share the misery

On gay marriage, Obama splits the difference by opposing equal-treatment of same-sex relationships, but also opposing a constitutional ban on the same. That effectively leaves the ball in the states' court, where there's been steady movement toward civil unions and even (in Massachusetts and California) full wedded bliss for gays and lesbians. It's not an especially brave position, but it gets the feds out of the way.

Shut your mouth

The ACLU has rightly spanked Obama for his support of campaign finance restrictions that impose onerous rules on politically active organizations, effectively muzzling free speech. The Obama campaign has also tried to use campaign finance restrictions against his rivals -- Hillary Clinton in particular. Obama isn't alone in being bad on this issue (as I'll discuss elsewhere), but it suggests limited respect for freewheeling political expression.

You gotta serve someone

I've already addressed Barack Obama's enthusiasm for national service -- compulsory national service -- elsewhere, so I won't belabor the point. Suffice it to say that his plan to force high-school kids to work in government-approved schemes is extremely troubling. You either own your life or you don't -- and if a politician is willing to treat people as chattels of the state ... well ... you have to question his overall civil libertarian credentials.

My take

Barack Obama hasn't especially emphasized civil liberties issues in his campaign, but his support for restoring habeas corpus, blocking Real ID and closing Guantanamo by themselves put him head and shoulders above the current president. Add in his taste for some elements of drug-policy reform and his raves from NARAL, and he looks reasonably good.

The problem is that Obama's civil libertarian stances look awfully ... rote. It's almost as if he received his positions from central casting for a Democratic legislator. Pro-choice? Check. Anti-gun? Check. Oppose outrageous Republican wiretapping schemes? Check. Drug reform? Check.

But even his adherence to traditional Democratic positions doesn't seem especially ... passionate. He supported the PATRIOT Act when it seemed convenient, voted for warrantless wiretapping when opposition threatened to draw energy from his presidential campaign, claimed to be pro-gun when the courts and public opinion were obviously moving toward individual rights ...

And wouldn't those security-state powers come in handy for a newly minted Democratic president?

I strongly suspect that none of these issues are especially important to the senator from Illinois beyond their impact on his political ambitions. Looking at the record, it's hard to imagine a President Obama expending much political capital to reform the death penalty, ameliorate drug prohibition or rein-in the "war on terror" brigades -- or, on a positive note, to ban guns and impose national service.

But, after eight years of George W. Bush, even that much is refreshing.

The idea being any bar patron is a potential drug dealer. So, of course, all must be searched.

BBC reports

Pub-goers in Aberdeen are facing a drugs test before entering bars as part of a crackdown by Grampian Police.

Officers in the force will be the first in Scotland to use an Itemiser - a device which can detect traces of drugs from hand swabs in a matter of seconds.

The test is voluntary, but customers will be refused entry if they do not take part. They could be searched and even arrested if traces are found.

The device was trialled by the police force in the area earlier this year.

The Itemiser allows police officers or door staff to swab customers hands as they enter a pub or club. It can tell almost instantly if drugs are present - including cocaine, cannabis, heroin and ecstasy.

The device can show three possible results: green, amber or red.

Customers who get a green reading are allowed entry to the pub, those who get amber are given a drug information pack and those who get red could be searched by police.

If drugs are found on that person they could be arrested and a report could be sent to the procurator fiscal.

Police said the device deters unwanted drug dealers.

Det Supt Willie MacColl, national drugs co-ordinator for the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), said: "This project offers an opportunity for collaborative working to implement an alternative intervention that will help change attitudes and reduce demand for controlled drugs.

"We hope that over time the model can be developed and used by community partnerships in other towns and cities across Scotland to reduce the harm caused by drugs."

Ch Insp Innes Walker, of Grampian Police, said that as a result of the trial period in October "people had a greater confidence that they could enjoy a night out without fear of encountering drugs".

The Itemiser is already being used in pubs in England where concerns have been raised about the possibility of customers getting a positive reading simply by touching a surface where there are traces of drugs.

But a spokeswoman for the SCDEA said the device was able to tell the difference between this type of contamination and drug use.

Encouraged by his art teacher 10 year old Jordan Hood drew a picture of a vampire for Halloween art class. Which got him taken from school by campus police, and suspended for being too good.

Savannah Morning News reports

Fifth-grader Jordan Hood thought the bloody vampire he drew in art class was scary, but he had no idea it would elicit a horrifying response from one of his teachers.

Tuesday morning, Jordan was assigned to draw a scary Halloween mask in art class.

By the end of the day, Jordan was being told he could not return to Pooler Elementary School until he passed a psychological evaluation.

"We live in an age where there is some hypersensitivity," Bucky Burnsed, Savannah-Chatham school system spokesman, said Thursday. "But the child is back in school where he belongs."

During art class Tuesday, Jordan drew a scarred vampire with bloodshot eyes and with blood dripping from its nose, mouth and down its cheeks. Art teacher Lloyd Harold helped the boy shade the sketched eyes to give the drawing an even creepier look.

"The assignment was to draw a scary mask or picture - basically a Halloween activity," Harold said.

As a final gory touch, Jordan used a red marker to write "I Kill For Blood" under his drawing.

The picture was not destined for the cover of Fangoria magazine, but it fulfilled the requirement for fifth-grade Halloween art.

However, when Jordan's homeroom teacher, Melissa Pevey, saw the drawing, she found it disturbing. Pevey was concerned enough to contact assistant principal Valerie Johnson and Campus Police.

But it wasn't blood and gore that bothered Pevey. She believed the blood looked a lot like gang-related teardrop tattoos, and she thought the words "I Kill For Blood" could be tied to an infamous Los Angeles street gang known as The Bloods.

Jordan's mother, LaKisha Hood, was shocked to find that her son's art lesson had evolved into a gang investigation.

"They told me the droplets could actually be a gang symbol for the number of people he killed," she said.

Burnsed said the district has asked teachers to be wary of anything that might be harmful to students. He also said the district has provided gang-identification training.

He did not know whether classroom teachers were trained in gang symbolism.

"The teacher was concerned and referred it to the Campus Police," Burnsed said. "(Campus Police Capt. Joan) Sasser wasn't sure that it meant anything."

So they resolved the issue by requiring Jordan to undergo psychological testing with Gateway Mental Health.

Jordan's family didn't want him to miss school, so he went in for testing first thing Wednesday morning - getting him back to school in time for the fall dance that afternoon.

Although he only lost about two hours of instruction, his mother fears the incident also might cost him a bit of innocence and trust.

"He didn't know anything about gang symbols until the teacher accused him," she said. "We moved to Pooler thinking he'd be in a more diverse school with better opportunities.

"And so far, it hasn't been a pleasant experience."

Thanks to Jonathan turley

Pushing Toward the Panopticon

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New DARPA surveillance technology project in search of algorithms to analyze video footage from Drone aircraft to analyze and monitor movements and behaviors of people below. Said to be in development for military use against insurgents and potential terrorists. Any bets on when it'll be 'adapted" for civilian use, like over American cities? 

From Robert Parry in the Consortium News

In its final months, the Bush administration is pressing ahead with a new generation of spy technology designed to strengthen the U.S. military's ability to detect and eliminate suspected insurgents in Iraq and elsewhere based on computer analyses of their movements and activities.

The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has begun granting contracts to software firms to create algorithms that can be applied to the real-time video feeds from drone aircraft so the data can be sorted and stored on a wide range of human activities, from digging a ditch to climbing into a car to kissing someone.

The contracts represent the latest step in the Bush administration's seven-year drive to develop high-tech spying capabilities that can be applied to a variety of situations and locales to detect terrorist or insurgent activities.

The new DARPA project would develop algorithms that would identify specific human activities - both by individuals and by groups - and evaluate if these actions suggested behavior that would justify a military response.

The list of activities that would draw attention to a single person include "digging, loitering, picking up, throwing, exploding/burning, carrying, shooting, launching, walking, limping, running, kicking, smoking, gesturing," according to DARPA's contract description.

For person-to-person activities, the project would identify and catalogue cases of "following, meeting, gathering, moving in a group, dispersing, shaking hands, kissing, exchanging objects, kicking, carrying together."

Categories relating to vehicles include getting into or out of a car, opening or closing the trunk, driving, accelerating, turning, stopping, passing and maintaining distances.

According to DARPA's description, the research project addresses challenges faced by intelligence analysts in processing and retrieving the vast amounts of visual data created by live video feeds from Predator drones and other aerial surveillance over Iraq and Afghanistan. By identifying and indexing specific actions, the analysts would be helped in evaluating potential threats and could retrieve video regarding similar behavior.

"The U.S. military and intelligence communities have an ever increasing need to monitor live video feeds and search large volumes of archived video data for activities of interest due to the rapid growth in development and fielding of motion video systems," said the DARPA document, written in March but withheld from the public until September.

Kitware, a software company with offices in New York and North Carolina, won an initial $6.7 million contract for what is technically called Video and Image Retrieval and Analysis Tool, or VIRAT.

In a statement about the contract award, Kitware projected that through its proposed system, "the most high-value intelligence content will be clearly and intuitively presented to the video analyst, resulting in substantial reductions in analyst workload per mission as well as increasing the quality and accuracy of intelligence yield."

Anthony Hoogs, Kitware's project leader, said, "This project will really make a difference to the war fighter."

To carry out the project, Kitware said it was teaming up with two leading military technology companies, Honeywell and General Dynamics, as well as a number of academic researchers. [See Kitware Awarded $6.7M DARPA Contract.]

Repression Works

Though this DARPA project is not expected to be completed until early next decade, other technological breakthroughs reportedly have helped U.S. forces identify and kill insurgents in Iraq.

In his latest book, The War Within, Bob Woodward writes that highly classified U.S. intelligence tactics allowed for rapid targeting and killing of Iraqi insurgent leaders, representing a more important factor in undermining the insurgency than President George W. Bush's much touted troop "surge." However, Woodward withheld details of these secret techniques so as not to undermine their effectiveness.

Still, there have been previous glimpses of classified U.S. programs that combine high-tech means of identifying insurgents - such as sophisticated biometrics and night-vision-equipped drones - with old-fashioned brutality on the ground, including on-the-spot executions of suspected insurgents. [For details, see's "Bush's Global Dirty War" and "Iraq's Laboratory of Repression."]

However, the marriage of advanced technology and military repression has raised concerns among some human rights advocates that these techniques could open the door to an Orwellian future in which authoritarian regimes repress popular resistance.

DARPA, with its mandate to push the envelope on the application of technology for military and intelligence purposes, also has been caught up before in controversies about balancing security against liberty.

In 2002, DARPA came under criticism when it unveiled plans for Total Information Awareness, a project that sought to detect terrorist activities by mining electronic data about virtually everyone on earth, anyone who participated in the modern economy.

The plan was to map out "transactional data" collected from every kind of activity - "financial, education, travel, medical, veterinary, country entry, place/event entry, transportation, housing, critical resources, government, communications," according to the DARPA Web site.

The program would then cross-reference this data with the "biometric signatures of humans," data collected on individuals' faces, fingerprints, gaits and irises. To run the sensitive project, the Bush administration selected retired Admiral John Poindexter, who was convicted of five felony counts in the Iran-Contra Affair (though a conservative-dominated appeals court later reversed the jury verdicts).

Public and congressional outrage over this massive data-mining operation supposedly killed the TIA program in 2003, but the National Journal revealed in February 2006 that the project was ended in name only, kept alive within the secret budget of the National Security Agency.

One TIA component, called the Information Awareness Prototype System, was renamed "Basketball" at NSA, but still provided the basic architecture tying together information extraction, analysis and dissemination tools developed under TIA.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration began deploying similar advanced technology to Iraq with the goal of throttling the insurgency that was challenging the U.S. military occupation.

In effect, Iraq was transformed into a test tube for modern techniques of repression, including use of night-vision optics on drone aircraft, heat resonance imaging, and firepower that is both deadly and precise.

The new techniques marked a modernization of tactics used in other counterinsurgencies, such as in Vietnam in the 1960s and in Central America in the 1980s.

In Vietnam, U.S. forces planted sensors along infiltration routes for targeting bombing runs against North Vietnamese troops. In Guatemala, security forces were equipped with early laptop computers for use in identifying suspected subversives who would be dragged off buses and summarily executed.

Last year, a conservative counterinsurgency expert sent me a video, spliced together by the U.S. military in Iraq, showing how some of the modern techniques worked in Iraq. The video showed night-vision aerial surveillance of suspected "terrorists" as they moved in the dark with what was described as a truck-mounted anti-aircraft gun, the muzzle still warm from firing.

The tiny figures of these "terrorists" then walked into a forested area where they were mowed down by miniguns from an AC-130. Their truck also was blown to bits.


Besides using Predator drones to monitor the movement of Iraqis from the sky, massive amounts of biometric data have been collected on the country's people for use in identifying suspected insurgents.

Explaining the value of this computerized database, Pentagon weapons designer Anh Duong told the Washington Post that it gave valuable information to soldiers on the ground.

"A war fighter needs to know one of three things: Do I let him go? Keep him? Or shoot him on the spot?" Duong said.

Though Duong is best known for designing high-explosives used to destroy hardened targets, she also supervised this Joint Expeditionary Forensics Facilities project, known as a "lab in a box" for analyzing biometric data, such as iris scans and fingerprints, that have been collected on more than one million Iraqis.

The labs - collapsible, 20-by-20-foot units each with a generator and a satellite link to a biometric data base in West Virginia - let U.S. forces cross-check data in the field against information collected previously that can be used to identify insurgents.

Duong said the next step would be to shrink the lab to the size of a "backpack" so soldiers who encounter a suspect "could find out within minutes" if he's on a terrorist watch list and should be killed. [Washington Post, Dec. 1, 2007]

By identifying and indexing a wide range of human activities captured on surveillance videos, the new DARPA project could augment some of these other security projects, already in place or in development.

Regarding the video analysis, however, DARPA specifically prohibited inclusion of biometric algorithms for identifying people by their gaits or other individual features. However, those elements, which are being developed separately, presumably could be added to the overall technological package at a later date.

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