Showing posts with label Civil Liberties. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Civil Liberties. Show all posts

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Australia Requires Back Door to Encrypted Communications

Let's say that you and a close friend or intimate created an impenetrable way of communicating with each other. No one else could understand it. Or perhaps you purchased a reinforced armored steel door for your home that can't be breached by anything short of a tank if the would be breacher lacks the key. Or imagine that you're a whistleblower journalist working on a stunning piece of work that will make the Pentagon Papers look like high school gossip. When you publish you will change American politics and history for ever. If anyone knew you had this information you or yours would have some "accidents" and/or the data would disappear. 

I think that most people would agree that the government shouldn't be able to demand that you provide them a codebook for your private conversations, a key to your door, transparent windows for your home and copies of your notes and contact information for your sources. Or at least the government shouldn't be able to do that unless and until you've been tried and convicted of some crime other than not letting the government know what you're talking about, writing about or doing in the privacy of your own home.

We hear a lot about how China continues to perfect the surveillance state. As it turns out although China is setting ugly new records in that regard, other countries are often doing their best to catch up.

SYDNEY, Australia — A new law in Australia gives law enforcement authorities the power to compel tech-industry giants like Apple to create tools that would circumvent the encryption built into their products.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Unpublished Letters From Nelson Mandela

Former political prisoners read unpublished letters from South African freedom fighter and later President, Nelson Mandela. It's important to remember that no matter what life throws at you, you can't let it break you.

Friday, March 16, 2018

CIA, Torture, Trump, Obama and Hypocrisy: Gina Haspel

Jeb Bush called Donald Trump a chaos candidate. Trump has been a chaos President with his public attacks on his hires and resulting constant personnel turnover. People like Trump thrive within organizational disorder.

Trump's recent firing of Secretary of Stae Rex Tillerson (did Tillerson think he'd get away with calling his boss a f***** moron) and possible reassignment of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to Secretary of State made some people point out Trump's crappy managerial style. Trump may nominate CIA deputy director Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo as CIA head. Haspel evidently oversaw and directed some torture. She destroyed the records of torture at CIA "black sites" during the George W. Bush administration. 

Gina Haspel is set to become the first female director in the 70-year history of the CIA. But smashing that glass ceiling will depend on offering the US Senate a convincing explanation about her dark past. More than a decade ago Haspel reportedly oversaw an infamous secret CIA prison in Thailand where a terrorism suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded, a process that simulates drowning. She is also said to have drafted orders to destroy video evidence of such torture, which prompted a lengthy justice department investigation that ended without charges

Some Trump opponents believe that Trump's endorsement of Haspel is horrible, wicked, evil and very bad. They claim that Trump's selection means that America now endorses torture. Bad Trump. There's at least one problem with this argument. When President Obama took office he could have turned Federal government machinery against the torturers. That move would have been moral if politically and perhaps even personally dangerous. President Obama and Attorney General Holder decided against that. As Adam Serwer points out:

Friday, September 29, 2017

NFL Protests

Donald Trump's attack on black athletes kneeling during the national anthem is red meat to a white base who are, not to put to fine a word on it, racist.

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a b---- off the field right now. Out, you’re fired!’ ”

The Republican voting base not only has a high level of animosity toward black people, just showing them a picture of a black man changes how they think on a variety of issues. This isn't news to anyone who bothers to read comments on stories in their local newspaper or heaven forbid, yahoo. But it's good to have data to back this up. Inevitably whenever a black athlete or other celebrity takes a political stand that questions the status quo around justice in America many non-black people question the black person's intelligence. Additionally they start to call the person "lazy", "spoiled", "ungrateful", "entitled", "pampered", "arrogant", or "overpaid" among other epithets. This language almost exactly tracks the language of white slave owners upset that their former slaves were leaving the plantation or the language of European colonialists bewildered and angered that they were being kicked out of Africa

This view of black progress, that achievement or success is only being allowed or tolerated because of white munificence, is a fundamental building block of white racism, regardless of whatever other politics the person displaying such racism might have. It's found among liberals as much as among conservatives. It's just expressed a little differently.

The Dog Was Here First: Southwest Airlines and Professor Daulatzai

We've seen people kicked off airplanes because they declined to purchase extra seats for children or because they refused to be bumped to a later flight or because they got into a dispute with the pilot or crew or because they refused to show proper id or because some bullying law enforcement or political official just wanted to flex his authority. I don't think I've ever seen someone kicked off a flight because they couldn't share the entire plane with a dog. This is not a brutal video all things considered but perhaps we have become so desensitized to anything involving police use of force that as long as there is no beating, shooting or tasing it's okay. Nobody of any gender, age or race likes having larger armed people touch their body without permission and force compliance. Is there a way to move a woman against her will without touching sensitive areas? Unlikely. I can't call it on this one. 

Fortunately I do not suffer from dog allergies. Occasionally people who do have such allergies will visit my home, which does have a dog present. Usually I will immediately put the dog in a separate area if the person has a serious problem and/or asks politely. But if the person tries to tell me what to do with my dog in my home my response might be a little different. Sometimes there is no way to square the circle and ensure that everyone has their rights respected. It's just a win-lose situation. Someone is going to lose. In the story below Maryland Institute College of Art and Harvard Professor Daulatzai lost her battle against the police and Southwest Airlines.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Salt Lake Police Arrest Nurse And Drag Her From Hospital

I'm not a lawyer. And I don't keep up with all of the ways in which the Federal government and various states and municipalities, often with winks and nods from the current Supreme Court, attempt to get around the limitations placed on government actions by the Fourth Amendment. But one thing which still seems to be in force, in law if not respected on the street, is that the police cannot absent your consent, your arrest, a warrant or some sort of probable cause take samples of your blood, your flesh, your DNA. A nurse named Alex Wubbels attempted to politely explain this to a police officer named Jeff Payne. Payne wanted to draw blood from a man who had been involved in an accident. Payne admitted to another officer that he did not have probable cause but wanted the blood drawn anyway. Wubbels refused and explained that the hospital policy, based on the law was that the hospital would not assist unless certain conditions were met. Payne apparently lost his temper and since he had been given previous authorization from his supervisor, arrested the nurse. Watch video below. Arrest starts at roughly 6 minute mark.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Border Searches, Privacy and Profiling

I've written before on seeming or actual violations of civil liberties under the Obama Administration. For the most part it's fair to say that progressives didn't care too much about such violations. They decided that they had bigger fish to fry. And with a few honorably consistent exceptions the conservatives who criticized the Obama Administration's civil liberties record were quiet as church mice when it came to local police violations of the civil/constitutional rights of black American citizens. So conservative critiques about the Obama Administration's hostility to freedom of the press or separation of powers or due process generally fell on deaf ears. Many conservatives were themselves oft indifferent to or opposed to expansive interpretations of civil liberties (that is after all why they were conservatives in the first place). Others were just using civil liberties as a convenient club with which to bludgeon President Obama. They would drop this club just as soon as a conservative President took office. There are two recent incidents that occurred under President Trump that are receiving some attention. They both occurred at the border. I'm no lawyer. It is my understanding however that the authorities have been given more leeway than normal to conduct questioning and searches at or near the border. This may especially be the case where the object of official interest is not an American citizen who has never been to the United States before. So far there is no right for such a person to travel to the United States. But in both of these recent cases the object of the additional and to my mind disturbing state actions was an American citizen returning home. Unfortunately the two citizens did not have the right skin tone, correct European styled name or especially, religion. And this could be what triggered the additional state scrutiny, regardless of their citizenship. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Free Speech and Violence

The whole idea of free speech in the United States and to a lesser extent what is referred to as the West is that the State, that is government authority, can not sanction or prevent people from expressing their views. There are of course exceptions to this. I don't really have an interest in detailing or debating every last single court decision or legal argument around such exceptions. I'm not a lawyer. That's not the point of this post. The basic concept of free speech is that each individual is free to distinguish between truth and fiction, good ideas and bad on his or her own, using the logic, free will and intelligence that he or she has been granted by their Creator. In the US at least (again exceptions duly noted) there is no such thing as blasphemy. That is the state generally can't outlaw your speech because the state says it has bad content or is hateful. You can write nasty things about Jesus or Muhammad or Moses. You can make fun of other races or genders. You can't be arrested or put in jail because of bad thought nor can the state prevent you from speaking because of bad thought. These free speech protections do not apply to private actors nor do they allow you to use free speech as part of other illegal actions and claim that the illegal action was protected because of free speech concerns. Free speech doesn't allow you to demand that other people listen to you. Free speech doesn't mean that you can heckle someone and prevent them from being heard. Free speech doesn't mean that you can't be harshly criticized for what you say. Free speech may not even mean that if you say or write something on your own time and dime which your employer or business partner doesn't like that you may find yourself out of a job or business relationship. If you annoy someone on social media that person is under no obligation to talk to you or let you use their platform. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

TSA Body Searches Angela Rye

People say that President-Elect Donald Trump will usher in a new era of fascism and lack of respect for rights. And perhaps he will. A man who has said that he will order torture of terrorism suspects, asks why we can't kill the family of terrorism suspects, refuses to admit that the Central Park Five were innocent and speaks approvingly of national stop-n-frisk, no doubt limited to majority Black areas, is not a man who has any great love for individual rights. I don't dispute that. My only issue with those who are suddenly discovering a fervent post-November 8th love for civil liberties is that right now, today, we are living in a country where there is less and less institutional and popular respect for or understanding of civil liberties. And this is happening under a Democratic Presidential administration headed by a former constitutional law professor. People worry about "normalizing" Trump. We have already normalized prison procedures for the entire dammed population that intends to travel by airplane. Like everyone else I have loved ones who I hope live to be as old as Methuselah. I don't want them harmed or killed by some religious nut who thinks God told him to blow up an airplane. But I also don't want them cavity searched by some bully with a badge who literally gets off on humiliating and searching people. I don't want people with "incorrect" political views harassed under color of law. As I wrote about a similar incident around airplane safety I definitely want some level of confidence that the people sitting next to me or mine on a plane have gone through the same boarding procedure as everyone else. But I would question if that procedure needs to include the touching of anyone's reproductive/excretory organs. There has to be a better way of doing this. But if I have to choose between liberty and safety I'm going to choose liberty. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem

If you have paid any attention to the news over the past two weeks you've seen that San Francisco Forty-Niners (former starting and now backup) quarterback Colin Kaepernick has attracted both praise and scorn for his act of refusing to stand for the National Anthem. Kaepernick is taking a stand so to speak to express his dismay at the status of black Americans and more specifically at the treatment of black Americans by the police. Kaepernick has mostly been met with outrage although he is starting to get more support (cautious and enthusiastic) from some of his fellow professional athletes outside of football, inside of football, and amateur brethren. And obviously since this is America a great deal of that criticism that Kaepernick has faced has been racialized. This has not just come from the usual conservative racists. People on both sides of the color line have questioned Kaepernick's self-described race, claiming that because he is biracial and relatively light skinned, he's not really black. People have called him ungrateful, ignorant, spoiled, entitled and all of the usual insults that accrue to someone who is going against the perceived grain. Those were the "nice" insults hurled by people who still needed to maintain public plausible deniability of their racism. Many people on twitter and blogs and website comment sections weren't restrained by such considerations and immediately reached for the tried and true racial slurs. Other people, including one pastor(!), just let their inner authoritarian come out to play and suggested shooting those people who didn't stand for the National Anthem. I didn't write on this earlier both because time to write has been at a premium of late thanks to a demanding Day Job and because I thought other people (including some of my blog partners) had pretty much already said everything worthwhile on the issue. Still, driving home a few days earlier listening to the condescending and clueless well known local radio host and writer Mitch Albom opine again on the issue as well as reading some other tweets I realized that maybe I did have something to write about this after all.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that for all intents and purposes Black Americans have legally been full citizens for a very short period of time in America. Until 1865 most Blacks in America were enslaved. Free or not, no blacks had any rights that a white person needed to respect. There was a Supreme Court decision making this crystal clear. Slavery ended in 1865. From 1865-1876 there was a halting and abortive attempt to redress the wrongs of slavery and extend full citizenship to blacks. This process was met with massive white resistance and terrorism. From the 1870s up until the 1960s Black Americans were effective non-citizens by force of law or threat of violence. It was only in the 1950s and 1960s that gradually and haltingly the most important laws that had enshrined black inferiority were removed or overturned. This also provoked massive white backlash in certain quarters, not just the South either. And although the law can make a bright line distinction as to what is no longer allowed the law can't automatically change what's in people's hearts and minds. You probably know all of this already. But I repeat it here to emphasize that for the majority of our country's history black people were non-citizens, either by law or by custom. As comedian Chris Rock said for Black people America is like a uncle who molested you as a child but later paid for your college education. There's a painful history there that can't be ignored or whitewashed. So it seems a little presumptuous to criticize any black person who doesn't ignore that history, particularly when as Kaepernick points out, some of the same ugly stuff that was in history books is still going on today. 

Next, there has never been a protest or movement for black progress that the majority of white people have supported from its inception. Black agitators who are recognized and admired today by some politicians or media talking heads are usually conveniently old or dead. When these agitators were alive, young and raising a fuss they weren't very popular with the mainstream. The criticisms that Kaepernick, and by extension any protester, faces are par for the course any time a black person speaks out about something he or she doesn't like. This is in in sharp contrast to a white person like Donald Trump. Trump has risen to prominence claiming that America is going to hell in a hand basket and is turning into a third world country. Somehow it's ok for Trump and his ilk to point out what they see wrong in this country but if a black person should do the same they're wrong or being divisive? Really? A police department with a history of racist comments and questionable use of force incidents by officers thinks that Kaepernick should apologize to them???? What sort of upside down world do we live in? Kaepernick is standing in a long line of black athletes such as Paul Robeson, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson, Jackie Robinson and many others who have spoken up about the injustice they've seen or faced. After all in 1972, using language which is similar to what Kaepernick used recently, the military veteran and baseball legend Jackie Robinson explained why he felt he could not sing the National Anthem or salute the flag. Was he a spoiled punk, as Sarah Palin claimed of Kaepernick? And contrary to Kaepernick's critics his net worth doesn't and shouldn't prevent him from speaking up. The fact that he and some others are willing to lose money for their stands should at least make some folks realize that there are serious questions here. The people who slam Kaepernick and other athletes as being disrespectful to military veterans do not speak for veterans. There are some veterans who support Kaepernick's right to protest and/or agree with his points.
Pride in being an American is not contingent upon standing for the anthem. As Kate Upton and Mitch Albom show, some people just don't get this. I doubt they ever will because they are self-evidently ignorant of this country's history and apparently indifferent to some current events. They can afford to be so because they don't have to worry about being harassed or brutalized by the police. They don't have to deal with trying to purchase a home and being steered away from the area they prefer. They don't have to accept living in a segregated community where properties either appreciate very slowly or depreciate over time because the larger community rejects people with their skin tone. They don't have to try to beg someone to try to rent lodgings to them or pick them up in a taxi. Their community doesn't have an unemployment rate twice that of the larger group's. If they are unfortunate enough to get caught up in the justice system they won't receive longer sentences for no other reason than their race. These things go on whether it is 9-11 or not. If you're nowhere to be found on these issues 364 days a year then I don't think you have the right to get upset when someone brings them up, even if it is 9-11. Cops are shooting black people dead and walking away clean. I must have missed Upton's or Albom's or Palin's outrage on those incidents. What I find unacceptable, to paraphrase Upton, is that the people who murdered John Crawford and Tamir Rice weren't even indicted. If you are angrier about some players declining to stand for the Star Spangled Banner than you are about a nationwide justice system that routinely produces such results something is wrong with your moral compass. What Upton and Albom and others don't seem to get is that protest by the very definition doesn't require their approval or sign off. All these conservatives who claim to be against "political correctness" sure do seem to have their own pc that that they are eager to enforce on everyone. Rather than write any more on this I think it would be useful to listen to Shannon Sharpe, former NFL star, give his take on the larger issue. No one has all the answers. But I have no use for anyone who tells Kaepernick or anyone else that they either must stand for the National Anthem (written by a slave owner who mocked black people btw) or should leave the country. Black people have been in America longer than most whites, after all. Perhaps the people insulting Kaepernick should go to another country?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Religious Accommodation in a Diverse Society: Is It Still Possible?

We've previously discussed religious accommodations in employment and education. It's hard to find agreement on these issues. What is important or sacred to one person may be minor, downright stupid or immoral to someone else. Even people who have otherwise supported broad religious accommodations have also recognized the danger that unlimited religious exemptions poses to many societal mores or laws. Religious freedom can't be a "I don't have to do anything you say" card. I am not religious though I mostly respect those who are. I don't think that we can make a general rule about when religious accommodations should be made. There are just too many different religions and dissimilar ways of experiencing the world. We must examine situations case by case. Most of us will probably agree that we shouldn't force people to violate their strongly held moral or religious beliefs absent an equally pressing moral claim. We can say that we won't allow religious claims to override actual physical harm to another human (but in the case of circumcision of infant boys we do just that while holding to that belief to outlaw FGM). We either don't permit or strongly discourage people of the Hindu faith from burning offerings and throwing them in the local river. The idea of "physical harm" is of course subject to our subjective ideas about damage. While I grudgingly admit that the relevant or applicable state laws might require it, my personal bias is that I am queasy at forcing an objecting photographer, painter or baker to produce goods or services for a gay wedding. I'm skeptical that the alleged harm outweighs the individual's right to expression. But religious accommodation is available to people of all faiths. Religious accommodation is not just something used by "backwards" conservative Christians to "mess with" liberals and gays. Religious accommodation is about more than gays and birth control. Some Orthodox Jews in NYC have worked it out so that some public pools are separated by gender at certain times of the day. I have a problem with this arrangement because everyone is paying taxes for this. Other Orthodox Jewish men have refused to sit next to women on airplanes. I have no sympathy for their claim. If they want to move they should do so but the woman shouldn't move nor should the plane be delayed. An Orthodox Jewish woman obtained a job offer as a 24/7 oncall data manager but only then informed her putative employer, the Dallas County Sheriff's office, that she would need to leave work before sundown on Friday. Always. Additionally she wouldn't be answering the phone or driving during the sabbath. So if there was an emergency during that time period obviously she would be unavailable. The Sheriff's office withdrew the offer and since this is America the woman sued. I don't think she should get anything because she can't fulfill the job's core requirements. Some Muslims, who are required to pray five times a day, sued their employer because they don't think the employer is making enough of an accommodation to their prayer needs. As the country becomes more diverse these problems will occur more frequently.

I think an employer should try to be reasonable (and that's what the law requires as far as I know) but I also can't have half my staff disappearing for 10-20 minutes or more for three times during the workday, especially if I am in a business where productivity is easily measured and has an immediate impact on profit. Other Muslim taxi drivers have tried refusing to pick up blind people with guard dogs or have refused to allow women to sit next to them. So one person's religious freedom or accommodation is often another person's unfair discrimination or special treatment. I heard about the Charee Stanley vs. ExpressJet case while listening to the radio on my commute home. I thought that it was an example of where things have probably gone too far.
A Muslim flight attendant is suing ExpressJet after it suspended her for refusing to serve passengers alcohol. The lawsuit accuses the airline of “revoking a reasonable religious accommodation and wrongfully suspending her from her employment,” the Council on American-Islam Relations Michigan Chapter said in a release Tuesday.
On Aug. 25, 2015, Charee Stanley was placed on unpaid leave after a colleague complained about her refusal to serve customers alcohol — which she did in deference to her religion. 

Stanley was hired by ExpressJet before converting to Islam, and was later asked to make arrangements for the flight attendant on duty to fulfill alcohol requests. Stanley poured all non-alcoholic beverages. “It was obviously seen as a reasonable accommodation and it was working for dozens of flights — so it was not an accommodation that was burdensome nor restricted people from getting alcohol on the flight,” Dawud Walid, Executive Director of the CAIR-MI, told the Daily News in an interview.

But in August, after Stanley's new partner complained, the airline lifted the accommodation. Stanley was placed on unpaid leave “and on track for eventual termination for her requesting an accommodation of being allowed to not personally serve alcohol rather than abandoning her religious belief and practice,” according to the lawsuit.

It's important to note that the EEOC dismissed Stanley's complaint without deciding if the airline broke the law. Now I don't drink so I would not be impacted by Stanley's refusal to serve alcohol. But just as with the Christian bakers or photographers being forced to provide services to gay weddings, when you serve the public sometimes you end up doing things that don't line up 100% with your religious or moral beliefs. If we're going to play hardball with that baker then we have to do the same with Stanley. If not serving alcohol is of supreme importance to Stanley then the proper next step for her is to find a job that better fits her religion. As a country we can't allow one religion to constantly win workplace accommodations while another religion constantly loses. That's not fair. It adds to bad blood. It seems as if some people suing for religious accommodation are crossing the line between seeking to live according to their religion and making other people live according to their religion. Occasionally serving alcohol is part of the job of being a stewardess flight attendant. It's minor but if you can't do it then you should find something else. You couldn't be a vet or pet groomer and refuse to touch dogs because your religion finds them unclean. Things are starting to get ridiculous in my non-legal opinion when Somali Muslim delivery drivers can refuse to deliver loads which contain alcohol and actually win a $240,000 judgment against their employer. To me it all depends on whether your religious accommodation request involves a critical part of your job. If profoundly devout people or more likely people of certain faiths or sects obtain a reputation for trying to make their workplace bend to their will, there's a non zero chance that some employers will do what they can to not hire certain people, illegal though that is. And that's lose-lose for everyone.

What's your take on these stories?

Has the demand for religious accommodation gone too far?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

San Jose Anti-Trump Protests and the Right to Assemble

I will not vote for Donald Trump in the fall election. There are numerous reasons for this, too many to list here. I think that Trump is despicable for spreading rumors and lies about President Obama's birthplace and religion. I think Trump is a bigot with a history of bigoted words and actions. But there are many people who will vote for Trump. I don't think that all of these people are horrible racists and/or inbred rural residents with stingy dental plans and roiling resentment over Reconstruction. But even if that were indeed the case the fundamental deal in America is that everyone gets to have a say, including people that we dislike or even hate. This was actually going to be another post on the importance of the entire First Amendment. That post may show up later with a slightly different emphasis, I guess. It all depends on the Day Job workload. But if you didn't hear about it already, on Thursday, people who were apparently opposed to Donald Trump physically attacked a number of Trump supporters at a Trump rally in San Jose, California. Now there are better writers than I who will argue in flowery abstruse academic language that Trump has legitimized a certain level of political violence through his ugly words and/or has no problem with violence as long as "his people" are delivering the beatdowns. In this POV all the San Jose protesters were doing is responding to previous violence. It's Trump and his goons who are the real bad guys. Right. This sounds good but it completely misses the point. Every American has the right to peacefully assemble and support the candidate of his/her choice without being physically attacked. Period. If we can no longer agree on that basic point then this country really does need to break apart. Let's call it a day. There is no level of rhetoric that makes it okay to respond with violence. SAN JOSE, Calif. —Protests outside a Donald Trump rally in downtown San Jose spun out of control Thursday night when some demonstrators attacked the candidate’s supporters. Protesters jumped on cars, pelted Trump supporters with eggs and water balloons, snatched signs and stole “Make America Great” hats off supporters’ heads before burning the hats and snapping selfies with the charred remains. “The San Jose Police Department made a few arrests tonight after the Donald Trump Rally,” police said in a statement. “As of this time, we do not have specific information on the arrests made. There has been no significant property damage reported. One officer was assaulted.” In one video circulating widely on social media, two protesters tried to protect a Trump supporter as other protesters attacked him and called him names. 

Perhaps the most jarring scene was that of a young female Trump supporter being attacked by a crowd of protesters. In multiple videos of the incident, the woman initially appeared to be happily posing in her Trump football jersey in front of the mostly male protesters, some of whom can be heard whistling and shouting at her. 
Then an anonymous arm rises over the crowd and tosses an egg at the woman, striking her in the head and eliciting howls and laughter from the crowd. A second later, a red water balloon bursts against the woman’s arm. At first, the woman tries to shrug off the attacks, smiling while appearing to reach out toward the Mexican flags that some protesters are waving. Objects keep crashing into the convention center windows behind her, however, and protesters can be heard screaming expletives at her. Suddenly, another projectile strikes her hard in the face. Eventually, someone comes to help her and, after she indicates that she is having trouble seeing, she is ushered back inside the convention center.

Although excessive American nationalism is unpopular with some, do protesters (citizens or not) really think that waving a foreign flag while attacking American citizens is going to make American voters more sympathetic to their cause? It irritated me and I despise Trump. It is a HORRIBLE bit of messaging. There's just no way around this. All the protesters are doing is confirming the stereotypical narrative of some Trump supporters. The proper way to respond to a charge that people of Mexican heritage and/or left wing political stances are violent is probably not for people with one or more or those characteristics to go into the streets and beat people up. I can respect the strong feelings of attachment to one's native land or to the land of one's parents. But carrying the Mexican flag while burning the US flag sends the wrong message to US citizens, even those who won't vote for Trump under any circumstances. In this country, ideally we have campaigns and elections in order to peacefully try to convince each other of the rightness of our positions. If political violence in the US becomes normalized again then I dare say we will start to look more like the countries which many of our current immigrants (legal or otherwise) fled. Or worse we will look like the US of the 1920s. And that would be a shame. Increased political violence based on ethnic grievance supports the thesis of people at both extremes of the political spectrum who are convinced that assimilation is a waste of time because demography is destiny. Whether it's an aged Trump supporter throwing elbows or a youthful Trump detractor punching someone political violence is wrong and dangerous. This needs to stop now before it winds up impacting the actual election. Do we really want to decide elections based on who can bring more button men to the polls? If anti-Trump protesters feel emboldened enough to beat up people for attending a Trump rally then what will they do to people who vote the "wrong" way? This may sound like fun and games if you're a thug who happens to live in an area where the overwhelming majority is demographically and ideologically identical to you. It's probably not so great if you are the lone Black family in the town of Keep Running N*****!!, Mississippi. No matter what your political beliefs may be using violence against people simply for having opposing thoughts is wrong. The only legitimate reason for violence is self-defense. Self-defense was not what happened in San Jose. That is not what this country is supposed to represent.

This isn't about whether we like Trump or not. I've been clear that I don't like Trump. It's about what's right or wrong. Since I called out the Trump bullyboys who felt empowered to throw elbows when they outnumbered people they didn't like I must do the same for the San Jose whack jobs who think they can put paws on their political opponents. That behavior is disgusting no matter who does it. Saying that Trump's supporters deserved some smacks is the same logic that blames an abused spouse for not shutting up and thus avoiding a beating. It's dumb logic. If the US can allow American Nazis to exercise their rights to protest, organize and march let's not have excuses claiming that the Trump supporters deserved what they got. I don't want a heckler's or rather rioter's veto on political speech. Once you start going down the path that your political opponents do not have the right to gather or speak then you're letting everyone know that you do not believe in or for that matter belong in a constitutional form of government. Again, some may believe and for all I know may be correct that Trump supporters are scum. But even scum get to vote and express themselves. On Thursday a small mob of people assaulted other people because they didn't like their political views. What happens when they decide they don't like what someone else wrote or what religion someone is? Free speech and the right to assemble are important elements of the fabric of democracy. When you start pulling those strings willy nilly the entire political quilt falls apart like a cheap suit. This crap needs to end. Because we know what the next move is. But who knows what happens after that? You want to beat Trump? You want to wipe the smirk off his face and those of his supporters? Register and vote. But attacking people at a political rally is stupid, counterproductive and morally abhorrent.

What's your take on these incidents?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Illegal Search or Unreasonable Citizen: California Family

Below the break you will see a video of a family declining a vehicle search by some sort of California Agriculture inspector. They are later pulled over by California State Police and arrested. The proximate cause of the arrest was the driver's (Brad Feinman) refusal to accept a ticket or provide identification. Of course once the police broke the vehicle window and hauled the family out, they searched the vehicle anyway. This video was hard to believe. Not because of the escalation of force by police officers. That part was easy to believe, especially the part where the Caucasian-American police officers did not immediately shoot or beat or tase the Caucasian-American citizens. No what I didn't know is that apparently the State of California has taken the power upon itself to search, excuse me, inspect vehicles entering the state. This appears to me to be an end run around the Fourth Amendment. It's being done under the bailiwick of the Agricultural Inspection station but to me it doesn't really matter why it's being done or under what supposed authority it's being done. I think it's wrong and should not be tolerated. What sort of country are we living in if government authorities can just search your vehicle without warrant or probable cause anytime they want to do so. Now there are smarter people than I and people who know the law much better than I who read this blog. I would be interested in knowing what they thought of this. But ultimately it doesn't matter does it. If someone is asserting authority to search your vehicle merely because you're entering the state and/or look suspicious it seems to me that California is giving a huge middle finger to the Fourth Amendment and associated civil liberties. This, among other reasons, is why I think the security apparatus that has grown up around airline travel post 9-11 is so pernicious. There really is no reason why such (VIPER) procedures can't be put into place for travel by train, bus or as we saw here, automobile. 

The idea that the search is "voluntary" because you don't have to enter into California seems to me nonsensical. Why not just get rid of the Fourth Amendment entirely? After all, imagine how much crime the state could deter or prosecute if police officers could enter your house any time they wanted to search it. Would I have done what this man did?  Would you have? I don't like needless confrontation, but I hope that I would have the stones to stand up. But is it my right to endanger a wife and child? I'm positive that a higher level of state violence would have been used against me and mine MUCH earlier in the process. I'm as sure of that as I am that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. So who can say what I would have done. As the song says you have to know when to hold them AND know when to fold them. I think that the citizen decided not to comply with any of the requests because consent at any point would seem to reduce his chances of fighting it later in court. But again I am not a lawyer. Maybe my fears and irritation are unwarranted and these "inspections" are just fine legally and constitutionally. If so then we need to change the laws and the constitution. Anyway, check out the long video below and share your thoughts. You may think that the man is a jerk or a zealot. You may think that he's playing with fire. I don't say no to that. But something is wrong if any state or federal agent is asserting a right to search your car without some sort of probable cause. And it seems to me that's what's happening. The video starts in real time roughly at 1:32.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

NSA bulk metadata collection found unlawful

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled that the NSA bulk collection of phone records or metadata was unlawful. It is not authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act. You can read the entire 77 page decision for yourself here if you are really into such things. I'm no legal expert but I am quite happy to see that at least somewhere in some part of our government there are some people who still take seriously the idea that the government doesn't automatically have the right to know EVERYTHING about you. Many people have cursed Edward Snowden and called him out of his name but this metadata tracking warrantless program was one of the things he revealed. This is why I think Snowden is and remains a hero and a whistleblower. Now that the legality of warrantless metadata collection has been found wanting, I hope that both the legislators who will be tinkering with the relevant sections of the Patriot Act and the citizens whom they purportedly represent will take some time to cogitate on what kind of world we want to build. Laws that are written in haste and panic as the Patriot Act was can often have some unforeseen and unpleasant consequences. But if we truly believe that a citizen has, absent individualized suspicion of wrong doing, a right to be left alone then we should applaud this ruling. This decision could start to ever so slightly hinder the government's "eye in the sky" as it were from rifling through our every communication and digital thought.  

I don't want the NSA performing the equivalent of "stop-and-frisk" in cyberspace. On the other hand, if we really want the Bill of Rights to be altered or suspended (or at least weakened for certain people or groups) then let's have that debate openly and honestly. But for now, although the court didn't specifically address all of the Constitutional issues inherent in these questions it's good enough for me that the court found that the NSA exceeded statutory limitations. As we've discussed before I remain amazed and a more than a bit peeved that people have been accepting of governmental misconduct and expansion of powers under the Bush and Obama Administrations that would have caused outrage and possibly impeachment under earlier Administrations. As a nation, we've become too trusting of the executive branch and too eager to give it more power and authority. I understand the desire to be safe and keep others safe. But there is no perfect way to do that. And grabbing everyone's email and phone metadata just because isn't allowed. I don't see this as a right-left issue but an issue of civil liberty and privacy. 
The US court of appeals has ruled that the bulk collection of telephone metadata is unlawful, in a landmark decision that clears the way for a full legal challenge against the National Security Agency.
A panel of three federal judges for the second circuit overturned an earlier rulingthat the controversial surveillance practice first revealed to the US public by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 could not be subject to judicial review.
But the judges also waded into the charged and ongoing debate over the reauthorization of a key Patriot Act provision currently before US legislators. That provision, which the appeals court ruled the NSA program surpassed, will expire on 1 June amid gridlock in Washington on what to do about it.
The judges opted not to end the domestic bulk collection while Congress decides its fate, calling judicial inaction “a lesser intrusion” on privacy than at the time the case was initially argued.
“In light of the asserted national security interests at stake, we deem it prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may (or may not) profoundly alter the legal landscape,” the judges ruled.
But they also sent a tacit warning to Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader who is pushing to re-authorize the provision, known as Section 215, without modification: “There will be time then to address appellants’ constitutional issues.”
“We hold that the text of section 215 cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” concluded their judgement.
"The orders at issue here contain no such limits. The metadata concerning every telephone call made or received in the United States using the services of the recipient service provider are demanded, for an indefinite period extending into the future.  The records demanded are not those of suspects under investigation, or of people or businesses that have contact with such subjects, or of people or businesses that have contact with others who are in contact with the subjects – they extend to every record that exists, and indeed to records that do not yet exist, as they impose a continuing obligation on the recipient of the subpoena to provide such records on an ongoing basis as they are created.  The government can point to no grand jury subpoena that is remotely comparable to the real‐time data collection undertaken under this program."

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lansing Michigan Satanic Temple Holiday Display

I am not religious. I am a big believer in the separation of church and state. I am also however a big believer in the right of the individual to make a stand based on his or her sincerely held moral, ethical or religious beliefs. Sometimes, these tenets can conflict. What is right or good is not immediately apparent. In the past few decades though what has been apparent is that some devoutly religious Christian people feel that there is a "war on Christmas" or that they are losing ground in American culture. This has provoked a backlash in which some Christians seek to leverage their majority status to place a Christian imprimatur on government and/or secular functions. The classic examples of this are attempts to make Christianity the official religion of a state or the entire country, Christian prayers at legislative sessions, which the Supreme Court upheld (wrongly imo) and the never ending battles over holiday nativity scenes at government buildings. When challenged over the last, people supportive of such scenes often ask those opposed what's the big deal, advise them to quit being so sensitive and suggest that they have a nice warm steaming cup of STFU. Well.
I am not among those who are outraged by nativity scenes but I definitely sympathize with those who are. And once you open the gates to allowing religious displays on government property, well then you need to understand that it's an all or nothing type of rule. The people in Lansing, Michigan, our capital, are learning that this holiday season as the Satanic Temple (Detroit Chapter) is moving ahead with plans to place its own holiday display on the Capitol lawn. The Satanic display was originally planned in response to a Christian nativity scene but the Christians were apparently lacking in organizational skills and so far have not finalized plans to get their nativity scene in place.

 I guess the Satanists were a bit more motivated. Being in the minority or being the underdog can certainly tend to make someone work a little bit harder. Until the Satanists announced their plans the only Christians who were working seriously on a nativity scene were from out of state.

The group, which describes itself as a collective of “Satanists, secularists and advocates for individual liberty," has received permission to put up a display on the north Capitol lawn from December 21 to 23.

"We would prefer that no religious iconography was displayed on Capitol grounds or on state grounds for that matter," said Jex Blackmore, founder and head of the Detroit chapter. "But if there was going to be a singular voice represented, we felt it was best to add to that representation of diversity here in Michigan."

John Truscott, a member of the Michigan State Capitol Commission, confirmed that The Satanic Temple has been granted approval for the temporary outdoor display.

"We are restricted by the Constitution and bound by the Constitution to recognize their First Amendment rights," said Truscott. "We don’t have the ability to reject them if they meet the guidelines of the Capitol."

But on a personal level, Truscott said he thinks it is "absolutely disgusting to hijack a Christian holiday," and he expressed hope that the public will "just completely ignore these negative forces."

Blackmore said that Satanists do not worship Satan as some might think but rather seek to separate superstition from religious beliefs and advocate individual liberty, rationalism and human knowledge. She said that is the reason that their display will be a "snaketivity" scene featuring a snake granting a book of knowledge. Blackmore's point is that the greatest gift is knowledge. People being who they are, once the news got out that the Satanists, of all people, would be placing a display on Capitol grounds, every politician and their mama ran to the nearest microphone to denounce the Satanists as evil, talk about how much they loved Jesus, and promised to ensure that a Christian nativity scene actually was erected. This last didn't seem to bother Blackmore as she said that the snaketivity scene would actually work better in conjunction with Christian iconography. But she did say that "If our Legislature finds it morally incomprehensible to respect the diversity of differences among Michigan citizens, then perhaps they are much better served as members of the clergy rather than representatives of the people." I can't disagree with that in this context. I certainly understand how some devout Christians might find the display of Satanic iconography offensive but just about every religion by definition has a bone to pick with someone else's religious claims. It's baked into the cake. People can try to paper this over by saying well, as long as we're all Christian we should have no issues, or as long as we're all followers of Abrahamic religions we're all good or as long as you're not an atheist I have no issues with you but the bloody history of inter and intra-religious conflict shows otherwise. The fact that a Christian finds Satanism offensive is irrelevant to whether a Satanist should have the same rights as anyone else to put up displays on public property. I would prefer no religious displays on public property but if we're going to allow it, we have to allow it for everyone. And the same logic applies to Christians who want to use religious beliefs to avoid or ignore certain secular laws. They should remember that everyone else also will get that same right. 

What do you think?
Does Blackmore have a point?
You're Queen or King for the Winter. Do you allow this Satanic holiday display?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Senate Intelligence Committee Releases CIA Torture Report

The Senate Intelligence Committee just recently released a declassified (by the White House) report on torture engaged in by the CIA and other agencies under the Bush Administration post 9-11. There's not too much here which is surprising or that was unknown to anyone who was paying attention to some of the leaks and other allegations that have come out over the past decade. And certainly it's not unknown to the people who were tortured or the governments which assisted the US in activities which are illegal under both national and international laws. No, the only people who might be surprised are American citizens who don't pay a tremendous amount of attention to what their government is doing. Because the Obama Administration whiffed on bringing these perpetrators to justice immediately after the inauguration it's unlikely that any of these folks will ever be identified and held to account under the American criminal justice system. Prosecutorial discretion is a wonderful thing sometimes, eh? But that aside as others have said in a democracy, in a constitutional republic, in America, theoretically the citizens are still the boss. And the boss always has the right and for that matter the obligation to know what his employees are doing. It is amusing to me that some of the conservatives who were against this release claim to be more concerned about the possible negative impact on US interests or citizens overseas than they are about the rights of US citizens to know the crimes the government has committed in their name. 

I think that secrecy in government, even where needed or legitimate, tends to corrode trust. But in this case, unlike say diplomacy, there is no need or right for the government to commit crimes and then claim that we have no right to know what they did. It's important to point out that the torture techniques were harsher and more expansive than we were first given to believe. They also didn't work. Although this report release is only a very small step in doing the right thing, I think it's a good start. Let justice be done though the heavens fall.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The CIA used sexual threats, waterboarding and other harsh methods to interrogate terrorism suspects and all were ineffective at eliciting critical information, according to a U.S. Senate report released on Tuesday. Senator Angus King, an independent, told CNN releasing the report was important because it could persuade a future president not to use these techniques.
Besides the now-well-known practice of waterboarding, tactics included weeks of sleep deprivation, slapping and slamming of detainees against walls, confining them to small boxes, keeping them isolated for prolonged periods and threatening them with death.
Three detainees faced waterboarding, the simulated drowning technique. Some were left broken by the treatment, pleading and whimpering, one described as assuming a "compliant" position on the waterboarding table at the snap of an interrogator's fingers.
"We did things that we tried Japanese soldiers for war crimes for after World War Two. This is not America. This is not who we are. What was done has diminished our stature and inflamed terrorists around the world."

  • Rectal feeding
  • Interrogators with histories of sexual assault
  • Russian Roulette
  • Kidnapping mentally challenged people to use as hostages
  • Stress Positions
  • Threats to kill and rape the children or mothers of prisoners

Executive summary of Senate Report

Friday, July 11, 2014

Snowden Reveals NSA Spying On Americans

In the movie Baby Boy the self-described OG named Melvin played by Ving Rhames sneers at his possible future stepson. Melvin says that everything that the younger man is currently experiencing on the streets, the older man has already seen. To him, he boasts, it's just a rerun. 
I thought of that scene when I read the latest news that contrary to what its apologists have been saying about the NSA and the associated security structure, the NSA and FBI actually are spying on American citizens with political views and/or ethnicity that are out of the ordinary. This is something that Americans have seen before with surveillance (legal and extra legal) on civil rights and anti-war or left-wing activists from the 50s through the 80s. Rinse and repeat. Additionally the NSA is NOT just collecting metadata but actual data that lays bare the lives of millions of Americans who are neither suspected of or charged with criminal activity. So when the NSA spokesmen say they don't collect the actual contents of Americans' communications they are lying. These lies were obvious. Of course if anyone ever bothers to ask the President about this I am sure he will say that he knew nothing about it and is outraged. He will launch a commission to get to the bottom of it. Maybe. Someday. He will want to be perfectly clear that no one is more outraged than him. Yada, yada, yada. Rinse and repeat. Look over here there's news about Kim Kardashian! Look over there there's news about that celebrity's love life! Buy this pill it will make you a sexual dynamo! Start this secret Hollywood diet to lose weight to fit into this dress! These are the things that most Americans care about much more than the NSA activities, unfortunately.

I'd like to share Glenn Greenwald's challenge to people who serenely state they have nothing to hide from the government. If you have nothing to hide and just can't understand why other people don't want the government snooping around their personal effects I think you're lying to yourself. Self-deception is not the worst thing. We all do it sometimes. But on the off chance that you're not lying to yourself, please drop me an email with all of your financial, employer, personal email and social media passwords, intimate communications between you and the provider(s) of your nookie (pictures are preferred), medical records, discussions with close family members, your resume, academic transcripts, job performance reviews and of course a picture of you bending over and coughing twice. We just can't be too sure these days. Don't want to do that? Think it's a little odd that someone wants that info? Don't trust me? But you must trust the NSA because they are getting all of that exact information. Without a warrant. Without your consent. Just like Snowden said they were. Who's the liar now? Hmmm. Similarly, while the NSA is casting a wide net to vacuum up sexy pictures that women sent their boyfriends or husbands, it and the FBI are specifically targeting prominent Muslim Americans. These people have not been charged with a crime.  Five of the Americans monitored were willing to step forward.
The National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans—including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers—under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies. According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the list of Americans monitored by their own government includes:
• Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;
• Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;
• Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;
• Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;
• Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.
The five Americans whose email accounts were monitored by the NSA and FBI have all led highly public, outwardly exemplary lives. All five vehemently deny any involvement in terrorism or espionage, and none advocates violent jihad or is known to have been implicated in any crime, despite years of intense scrutiny by the government and the press. Some have even climbed the ranks of the U.S. national security and foreign policy establishments.
“I just don’t know why,” says Gill, whose AOL and Yahoo! email accounts were monitored while he was a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates. “I’ve done everything in my life to be patriotic. I served in the Navy, served in the government, was active in my community—I’ve done everything that a good citizen, in my opinion, should do.”
In one 2005 document, intelligence community personnel are instructed how to properly format internal memos to justify FISA surveillance. In the place where the target’s real name would go, the memo offers a fake name as a placeholder: “Mohammed Raghead.”
There have been people who have questioned the validity of Snowden's claims or whether or not he is a whistleblower. Some of those people are quite expert in law, commerce, government or military. I respect their concerns. Truly I do. But I think that these latest revelations should end that discussion. The government is lying to its citizens. The NSA and FBI are out of control. The NSA can't be trusted with the information it has. No government could. Snowden revealed and has proved that your government was and is lying to you. He's a whistleblower in my book. The entire alphabet soup framework of security apparatuses and government agencies needs to be dismantled and brought back under strict constitutional control. I do not view this as a partisan issue. There are Republicans who are outraged by these reveals and Democrats who couldn't care less. And vice versa. A lot of Republicans like invasive overreaching busybody government as long as it's not trying to provide birth control. Although I rag on President Obama in truth this issue is something that didn't start with him and won't end with him. It's a problem that has gotten worse with each President in the 20th century but took off after WW2 and the creation of the national security state. This security state may indeed see itself as independent of whoever is in the White House. Presidents change but security interests and institutional interests, as defined by spies and law enforcement, do not. 

The bottom line is that in a free country we can't allow the government to spy on its people in this manner. Citizens who are afraid to express themselves politically, who censor private communications for fear of government surveillance, who consider other citizens unworthy of robust constitutional protections, are citizens who may have forgotten what it means to be American.

What do YOU think about these latest revelations?