October 2009 Archives

Watford, UK Sets a new benchmark for absurdity

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In pursuit of its war on pedophilia, British town to require all parents to undergo criminal background checks before taking their children to the park.

The  Daily Mail online reports

Parents are being banned from playing with their children in council recreation areas because they have not been vetted by police.

Mothers and fathers are being forced to watch their children from outside perimeter fences because of fears they could be paedophiles.

Watford Council was branded a 'disgrace' yesterday after excluding parents from two fenced-off adventure playgrounds unless they first undergo criminal record checks.

thank to the Agitiator
In order to prevent the teenagers and college students of Maine from drinking the 28 bottles of Fentiman's lemonade it would take to obtain the alcohol content of a pint glass of beer, the state of Maine is forbidding the sale of a soft drink which has been freely available to minors, without incident, for some time.

Yahoo News reports

Call it a culture clash, trans-Atlantic style. The Brits think the Americans are puritanical and somewhat batty. The Americans find the Brits morally lax and too willing to bend the rules. It all started at a high school in Maine when a student consumed half a bottle of Fentimans Victorian Lemonade, then looked at the label and discovered it contained small amounts of alcohol, listed as less than 0.5 percent. By contrast, a typical American beer usually contains about 5 percent alcohol.

Thanks to the Agitator

American Stasi?

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When the infamous Operation TIPS  (Terrorism Information Prevention System) program, which would have "empowered" US workers with access to private citizen's homes with de facto spy powers to report on suspicious activities, was floated by the Bush White House in 2002, the program was thwarted, thanks to a broad (at the time nearly unprecedented) civil libertarian coalition uniting left and right.


Operation TIPS itself was killed by the US Congress, which prohibited the program explicitly in the Homeland Security Act, passed in November 2002.


Its spirit, however, is alive and well, reincarnated in programs like iWATCH, an initiative developed by Los Angeles Police chief William Bratton, designed to enlist citizens to actively look for signs of potentially suspicious behavior and report it to police.

While Bratton and the 63 police departments in the US and Canada which have endorsed the program present it as a 21st century version of Neighborhood Watch, critics (and negative reaction to the program, though not yet organized nationally, has begun to reach viral warp speed on the web) claim that, in addition to creeping out America with positively Orwellian promotional videos, iWATCH will encourage a Stasi like network of anonymous snitching.

In the words of the Los Angeles ACLU, iWATCH "actively encourages people to report a variety of ordinary activities--such as people who are wearing clothes that are too big, or who are drawing buildings, or who are doing something else that could be innocuous. That leads toward racial and religious profiling."

LAist reports that, according to the ACLU,

people will report ordinary behavior of people who fit a preconceived notion of what suspicious people look like. And what does that mean for the so-called suspicious person? "[They] could be visited by police and have personal data sent to government databases, where it could be used indefinitely to subject them to extensive searches at airports, deny them government jobs, and other unreasonable and/or illegal sanctions."

Jail time for shouting Fuck in an argument

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Mike Shahrokhi, 43, of Leawood, Kansas facing 30 days in jail for yelling out a string of expletives in a roadside argument with driver.

Fox 4KC.com reports

It may not be language that you'd want to your mother to hear you say, but is an angry burst of potty-mouth worth 30 days in jail? (Caution: potentially offensive and altogether naughty material ahead.)

Mike Shahrokhi, 43, of Leawood faces disorderly conduct charges that he says stem from a case of road rage along 135th Street in Overland Park. Shahrokhi admits dropping an F-bomb during an argument with another driver, but he says that it's ridiculous that he could be facing jail time over it.

"They want to put me in the Johnson County Jail for 30 days over dropping the F-bomb," said Shahrokhi. He says the incident began at 135th and Metcalf, and continued all the way to a convenience store at 135th and Nieman.

Shahrokhi says that when he stopped at the convenience store for a drink, the other driver continued jawing with him. So he says he shot back with some decidedly NC-17 words of his own.

"I pull up along side him, and essentially told him that I had intercourse with his daughter from behind, and she liked it," said Shahrokhi. "And he was on the phone with police."

Overland Park Police ticketed Shahrokhi for disorderly conduct, which includes using offensive, obscene or abusive language to arouse alarm, anger or resentment in others.
Thanks to the Agitator

Arrested for driving La-Z-Boy while intoxicated

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62 year old Proctor, Minnesota man arrested for driving La-Z-Boy powered by lawn motor while intoxicated.

NY Daily News Reports

At least he was in a comfy chair.

A Minnesota man has pled guilty to driving while drunk. The only hitch - he was driving a La-Z-Boy.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, Dennis LeRoy Anderson departed from a bar in Proctor, a town in northern Minnesota, and started to drive his chair home one night in August 2008.

However, the 62-year-old crashed the La-Z-Boy into a parked car. He was not seriously injured, but police found that his blood alcohol level was 0.29, more than three times the legal limit.

Anderson admitted to drinking eight or nine beers, a criminal complaint stated.

Thanks to Jonathan Turley

Judge: FBI need not lift 5 year old gag order

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In ruling on case of small ISP federal judge rules that, as long as the FBI says it's about national security, the gags on their self-serve warrants (aka Natioanl Security Letters) can be applied at their discretion, based on secret evidence.

Wired reports

A federal judge on Tuesday declined to remove a gag order imposed on the president of a small ISP who wants to reveal the contents of a national security letter he received from the FBI.

The NSL demanded the president of the New York company provide the government with e-mails from a customer the government deemed a threat. An NSL, a type of self-issued subpoena fortified by the Patriot Act, allows the FBI to obtain telecommunication, financial and credit records relevant to a government investigation without a court warrant.

The case last hit the courts in December, when the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a decision with  Sonia Sotomayor in the majority, narrowed the standard by which recipients of NSLs must keep mum.

Our Cartoon Debate on PATRIOT Act Reauthorization

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If the original PATRIOT Act was ill-advisedly passed in a state of panic, its reauthorization, should it occur, will be the result of bureaucratic inertia, the corruption of media discourse on matters relating to "national security," and, above all moral cowardice masquerading as political "realism.

Julian Sanchez writes in the Nation:

We know the rules by now, the strange conventions and stilted Kabuki scripts that govern our cartoon facsimile of a national security debate. The Obama administration makes vague, reassuring noises about constraining executive power and protecting civil liberties, but then merrily adopts whatever appalling policy George W. Bush put in place. Conservatives hit the panic button on the right-wing noise machine anyway, keeping the delicate ecosystem in balance by creating the false impression that something has changed. We've watched the formula play out with Guantánamo Bay, torture prosecutions and the invocation of "state secrets." We appear to be on the verge of doing the same with national security surveillance.

Originally posted on the Bill of Rights Defense Committee blog


From Law and Disorder Radio:

The government has stepped up its surveillance of a range of individuals and organizations, including volunteer-based groups. After providing free vegetarian food in hundreds of communities worldwide, Food Not Bombs has found itself a part of the domestic terrorism dragnet. Co-founded by Keith McHenry and seven friends, the group is dedicated to non-violent social change, and recovers food that would otherwise be discarded to serve hot free meals to the homeless, disaster survivors, rescue workers and others.

Listen and hear how a group dedicated to feeding the homeless and disaster survivors has been treated by US law enforcement and the military as a terrorist organization FOR TWO DECADES.

Originally posted on Bill of Rights Defense Committee blog

If one of the primary purposes of sex crime laws is to protect minors against violent ADULT sexual predators then why are 14 and 15 year olds the demographic with the highest incidence of sex crime arrests?

Diary of  a Nudist reports

America is turning its children into sex offenders. The chart above, from the US Department of Justice, illustrates how we are criminalizing what was once a normal part of adolescence - experimenting with sex. Via Andrew Sullivan's blog comes this essay.
In our new bizarre world of sexual offender legislation each child is a victim and a perpetrator. As the victim, they get no help, of course. The victim status is the excuse needed so that the sledgehammer may be used on the other child. So each becomes a perpetrator. They will be arrested; they will be forced into court. They are likely to be convicted and sentenced. They may be placed into the various prisons for children that have been established--places where they will learn what unwilling, sexual attacks are really like. They will be tortured by therapists and eventually released--maybe. Even that is no longer guaranteed under our sex panic. Today, someone who has served their sentence can then be held in preventative detention for the rest of their natural life because the mob demands it. And the politicians give the mob what it wants.
As any reader of this blog knows, I've been railing against the criminalization of "sexting" and other youthful sexual indiscretions for some time now. Teens have been having sex since long before recorded history, but it is only now in the age of technology and information that there is hard evidence that such activity exists. Where once a heavy petting session in the back seat of an automobile yielded merely some boastful claims and the hushed passing of secrets, now there are cell-phone photos, text messages, and Internet postings, all flowing in the trough for overzealous prosecutors, Christianist lawmakers and panicked parents to feed off.
Participating in annual St. Francis high School homecoming football game prank may have gotten one 17 year old a lifetime record as a criminal sex offender.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports

Streaking down the football field in St. Francis is no laughing matter. It's a crime.

St. Francis High School students have been disciplined for streaking at three Saints football games this season, and one of the teenagers could be charged with criminal sexual conduct because of his nudity. The 17-year-old's arrest at the Sept. 25 homecoming game brought angry students out of the stands.

"It was on the edge of being out of control," said Police Chief Jeff Harapat. "More than 500 kids surrounded the two officers, swearing, throwing pop bottles and tennis shoes. ... I guess they were upset that one of their fellow students was being arrested."

Another 17-year-old student was arrested for obstruction with force, disorderly conduct, possession small amount of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Harapat said the au naturel hijinks started a couple of years ago during the homecoming game. A streaker struck during last year's homecoming game and so police were ready this year. But a student "making poor choices" decided to streak at the first game of the season, likely in a game of "one-upmanship." Another streaking incident followed at one of the team's away games. By homecoming, the police were ready with blankets to take anyone into custody who decided to run naked.

Harapat said this isn't the type of behavior that he and others want to shrug off as "kids will be kids."

"At what level of a crime does that stop? For example, if you're at McDonald's and having a Happy Meal with your kids and some adult male gets kicked out because he isn't wearing a shirt. And he obviously isn't right in the head and he goes outside, pulls his pants down and pushes his butt up against the glass while you're eating. ... Now tell me what the difference is when we fill a stadium with parents, minor children, and some very small children and we have naked people running across the field," he said.

Thanks to the Agitator
Nobel peace prize winner asserting executive right to deny distribution of photos of torture because they'll be embarrassing to the United States.

Jonathan Turley writes

President Barack Obama, the world's newest Nobel peace laureate, is again expanding on the policies of former President George Bush and fighting to conceal evidence of U.S. torture and abuse. As did the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration is seeking to change the law after courts rejected its absurd argument that the President can withhold photos of detainee abuse simply because they are embarrassing to the United States. Democrats in Congress are assisting in the effort to try to stop the Supreme Court from considering the issue by preempting the litigation.

This is the problem of nominating someone for the Nobel prize less than two weeks after entering office, here. Obama has thus far worked as a barrier rather than a catalyst for international law and values in the areas of torture and abuse. His position in the case of ACLU v. Department of Defense is reprehensible and exceeds the arguments made by Bush. He is claiming that he can deny the media and the public such pictures simply because he views them as controversial and likely to cause anger from Muslims. It is an exception that would swallow the rule.

For the good of the children, of course, and because he find the idea of a black man and a white woman, "rather confusing".

Raw Story reports

A justice of the peace in northern Louisiana has refused to grant a marriage license to an interracial couple because he believes it would harm any children born of that relationship.

"I'm not a racist," Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in the state's Tangihapoa Parish, told the Hammond, Louisiana, Daily Star. "I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children."

The Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is calling the justice's move "tragic and illegal."

If you thought National Security Letters (which allow the FBI to write its own warrants) were outrageous, you should check out  the 258-page "FBI Domestic Investigations and Operations Guidelines (DIOG), released in heavily redacted form after months of Electronic Frontier Foundation struggling. The new guidelines no longer require the FBI to even go through the motion of pretending to document reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing or even "factual predicate" of POTENTIAL wrongdoing, before opening up an investigation on any American it chooses. These guidelines were squeezed in without public knowledge by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey  on Decmber 1 2008 during the last weeks of the Bush administration. And by all accounts Barack Obama and current AG Eric Holder have given no signal they have any intention to change them.

Nat Hentoff reports:

In the last weeks of the Bush-Cheney administration, FBI Director Robert Mueller and then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey rushed into law such unbounded expansions of the FBI's domestic surveillance powers that I was stunned. Years ago, I had often and critically reported on J. Edgar Hoover's ravenous invasions of Americans' personal privacy rights, including mine; but these new FBI guidelines, taking effect last Dec. 1, are unsparingly un-American.

As described by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an ever-watchful guardian of the Constitution, these Attorney General's Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations authorize the FBI - without going to a court - "to open investigative 'assessments' of any American without any factual predicate or suspicion. Such 'assessments' allow the use of intrusive techniques to surreptitiously collect information on people suspected of no wrongdoing and no connection with any foreign entity. These inquiries may include the collection of information from online sources and commercial databases."

FBI agents, moreover, as I have previously reported, can infiltrate lawful civic and political groups, along with religious places of worship, and may take into account, in their threat "assessments," race, ethnicity and religion. The press has largely been uninterested in this suspension of the Bill of Rights - but we know a lot about David Letterman.

President Obama has expressed no objections to these radical revisions of the Constitution, a founding document he used to educate students about at the University of Chicago. His attorney general, Eric Holder, said calmly during his Senate confirmation hearing: "The guidelines are necessary because the FBI is changing its mission ... from a pure investigating agency to one that deals with national security."

It was the same Eric Holder who said, while George W. Bush was president: "I never thought that I would see the day when a president would act in direct defiance of federal law by authorizing warrantless NSA (National Security Agency) surveillance of American citizens."

Thanks to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee

Having run out of room and power at its current Ft. Meade, MD, headquarters to house its proliferating array of acre-sized supercomputers, the National Security Agency (NSA) is currently building two gigantic data centers, one in Utah (a third larger than the US Capitol building), and the other a complex nearly as large as the Alamodome in Texas.

The purpose?

Though the details (as usual with things NSA) are classified, NSA scholar James Bamford suggests in a just published New York Review of Books essay/review of Matthew M. Aid's new book The Secret Sentry, the new data centers will likely become centralized repositories for an unprecedented collection of trillions of American phone, email, internet and other communications transactions each year.

James Bamford writes:

On a remote edge of Utah's dry and arid high desert, where temperatures often zoom past 100 degrees, hard-hatted construction workers with top-secret clearances are preparing to build what may become America's equivalent of Jorge Luis Borges's "Library of Babel," a place where the collection of information is both infinite and at the same time monstrous, where the entire world's knowledge is stored, but not a single word is understood. At a million square feet, the mammoth $2 billion structure will be one-third larger than the US Capitol and will use the same amount of energy as every house in Salt Lake City combined.

Unlike Borges's "labyrinth of letters," this library expects few visitors. It's being built by the ultra-secret National Security Agency--which is primarily responsible for "signals intelligence," the collection and analysis of various forms of communication--to house trillions of phone calls, e-mail messages, and data trails: Web searches, parking receipts, bookstore visits, and other digital "pocket litter." Lacking adequate space and power at its city-sized Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters, the NSA is also completing work on another data archive, this one in San Antonio, Texas, which will be nearly the size of the Alamodome.

Just how much information will be stored in these windowless cybertemples? A clue comes from a recent report prepared by the MITRE Corporation, a Pentagon think tank. "As the sensors associated with the various surveillance missions improve," says the report, referring to a variety of technical collection methods, "the data volumes are increasing with a projection that sensor data volume could potentially increase to the level of Yottabytes (1024 Bytes) by 2015."[1] Roughly equal to about a septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text, numbers beyond Yottabytes haven't yet been named. Once vacuumed up and stored in these near-infinite "libraries," the data are then analyzed by powerful infoweapons, supercomputers running complex algorithmic programs, to determine who among us may be--or may one day become--a terrorist. In the NSA's world of automated surveillance on steroids, every bit has a history and every keystroke tells a story.
Child excited about bringing Cub Scout pocket knife, fork and spoon utensil to school brings down the wrath of Zero Tolerance.

NY Times reports

Finding character witnesses when you are 6 years old is not easy. But there was Zachary Christie last week at a school disciplinary committee hearing with his karate instructor and his mother's fiancé by his side to vouch for him.

Zachary's offense? Taking a camping utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about recently joining the Cub Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary was suspended and now faces 45 days in the district's reform school.

"It just seems unfair," Zachary said, pausing as he practiced writing lower-case letters with his mother, who is home-schooling him while the family tries to overturn his punishment.

Thanks to True/Slant

The truism that cases the Supreme Court refuses to hear are often more important than ones it decides on is proven again, as the Supreme refuses to engage the question of whether students in public schools have a First Amendment right to refuse to stand and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Christian Science Monitor reports

A Florida teenager has lost his bid to have the US Supreme Court decide whether students in public schools have a First Amendment right to refuse to stand and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance.

The underlying lawsuit did not challenge the content of the Pledge. Instead, at issue was a Florida law that requires all public-school students, Grades K-12, to stand and repeat the Pledge, unless excused in writing by a parent.

The law was passed in 1942 and had apparently gone unchallenged until December 2005. That's when Cameron Frazier, a junior, arrived for his fourth-period math class at Boynton Beach High School and informed the teacher that as a matter of conscience, he would neither stand nor recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

"You clearly have no respect. You are so ungrateful and so un-American," the math teacher told Cameron in front of the class. "Do you know what's out there fighting our war? That flag you refuse to show respect to."

Cameron stood his ground. "No," he said. "Our soldiers are out fighting a war. The flag is an inanimate piece of cloth that doesn't move and surely can't hold a gun."

On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it would not hear the case. No reason for the decision was offered.

In seeking high-court review of the case, called Frazier v. Smith, Mr. Frazier's lawyers had asked the justices to decide whether he and other students have a constitutional right to refuse to be compelled by the government to repeat the Pledge of Allegiance.

To resolve the case, the justices would have had to clarify a landmark 1943 ruling in which the high court declared schoolchildren in West Virginia may not be required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The issue in the Frazier case was whether the First Amendment right established in the West Virginia decision belongs to the children alone or instead extends to the children through their parents.

A federal judge in Florida agreed that the right belongs to the students and struck down the Florida law. But a federal appeals-court panel later upheld the law on grounds that the First Amendment right belongs to parents of school-age children - not the children themselves.

Lawsuit charges Virginia Dept. of Corrections with censoring prisoner's reading materials.

Charlottesville Daily Progress reports

A monthly magazine has filed a lawsuit accusing Virginia Department of Corrections officials of violating the First and Fourteenth amendments by censoring magazines and books sent to Virginia's prisoners.

Prison Legal News Inc. filed suit Thursday in Charlottesville's federal court. The 7,000-circulation publication, which reports on prison issues, is seeking policy changes, unspecified damages and attorney's fees.

Defendants named included Gene M. Williams, the corrections agency's director; seven members of the Publications Review Committee; and wardens and operations officers at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women and at the Coffeewood Correctional Center in Culpeper County.

An agency spokesman directed comment to state Attorney General's Office spokesman David Clementson, who said his office doesn't comment on pending litigation.

The suit references a Fluvanna inmate who was told she couldn't get her subscription because a third party paid for it, which is not allowed. A Coffeewood inmate also received notice that he couldn't have two of the magazines, but he was not told what material was objectionable.

Charlottesville-based lawyer Jeffrey E. Fogel said inmates can appeal the decisions, but it's hard to do without knowing why the material was censored. The magazine received a letter describing some objectionable items, which included articles about a sexual abuse lawsuit against a prison and about an inmate who hid marijuana and tobacco in his stomach rolls.

Chula Vista declares war on soliciting day work on city streets.

San Jose Mercury News reports

Police posing as prospective employers have arrested 12 day laborers seeking work on the streets of an Orange County city.

Costa Mesa police Lt. Mark Manley said Friday officers fanned out across the city in plainclothes and regular cars about two weeks ago in response to residents' complaints about the workers blocking traffic.

Manley says once laborers agreed to take the jobs, they were arrested and brought to the city jail on suspicion of violating municipal rules governing work solicitation. Manley says some were screened by federal immigration authorities.

Anarchist Elliot Madison has his home ransacked, computers and papers seized. Apparently on account of tweeting with intent to inform protesters at Pittsburg's G20 about police whereabouts and activity.

Jonathan Turley reports

Elliot Madison, 41, is the subject of an intriguing -- and in my view compelling -- constitutional fight with both federal and state authorities. A self-described anarchist, Madison was arrested for using Twitter to send messages on the location of police during the G20 protests. Pittsburgh has been accused of excessive measures and this case appears to be one such case.

Madison says that he was arrested because his tweets were assisting people to evade the police. FBI agents executed a search warrant Thursday at his home in Queens and seized computers, political writings, anarchist literature, gas masks and a pound of liquid mercury. The mercury could suggest additional charges are to come.

However, arresting someone for communications based on public observations is an abuse of authority and a violation of the Constitution. The scene is uncomfortably reminiscent of the Chinese police seeking people with pictures of publicly viewed abuses, here. Likewise, the Iranian government arrested bloggers viewed as supporting the protests over the presidential election, here.

This case involves a more sophisticated assault on free speech rights: claiming that the tweets assisted criminal conduct. It is a theory that would gut the first amendment and create a chilling effect on citizen communications. We will see in the days to come if the police offer a different theory for the arrest.

The involvement of the FBI only deepens the concern over the first amendment. Citizens are allowed to share publicly available information, even if it assists people engaged in unlawful protests.


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