To grasp the implications of the secret laws and overreach we’re dealing with in Hedges vs. Obama, start here:
The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)
By James Bamford
March 15, 2012
Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.
“When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.” ~ Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, Senate Intelligence Committee
The refusal of government to define ill-defined terms in public law constitutes secret interpretations of the law – secret laws. The ACLU:
Our FOIA request was an effort to uncover more information about the way that the Justice Department has interpreted the statute, and the way that the FBI is using it. Because the Justice Department hasn’t produced any records in response to our request, we filed suit in October, 10 years to the day after President Bush signed the Patriot Act into law. We’ll file our opening brief in that case later this month. (3/15/2012)
Regarding that ACLU lawsuit and another filed by the New York Times, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Mark Udall stated in a recent letter to Eric Holder, the chief attorney for an administration that promised us it would be the “most open and transparent in history”:
It is a matter of public record that section 215, which is a public statute, has been the subject of secret legal interpretations. The existence of these interpretations, which are contained in classified opinions issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (or “FISA Court”) has been acknowledged on multiple occasions by the Justice Department and other executive branch officials.
We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act. As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows. This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.
The “FBI is using Section 215 much more aggressively. It’s using it more often. And statements by Obama administration officials raise the distinct possibility that the government is using the provision to support entire surveillance programs.
As Wyden and Udall say, the secrecy surrounding the government’s use of new surveillance powers is unwarranted and fundamentally antidemocratic. The public should know, at least in general terms, how the government interprets its surveillance authority and how that authority is being used.”
Yesterday, Naomi Wolf posted her notes from the first of the NDAA hearings in the Hedges vs. Obama case. The transcript excerpts speak for themselves.
When our judges, journalists, peaceful protesters and fiction writers are subject to the questionable doublespeak from a lawyer representing our president in a dire case involving our individual liberty, the people’s job as the guardians of freedom requires attention. This was not easy to read:
NDAA hearing notes ~ Naomi Wolf
March 30, 2012
To me, secret laws are like drawing a line in the sand in front of a walking blind man. The expectation can only be that he will cross the line.
If we could get a breed of gals that didn’t care, now, for their young uns…would be ’bout the greatest mod’rn improvement I knows on … ~Uncle Tom’s Cabin
The Nation’s Reproductive Rights and the Long Hand of Slave Breeding, by JoAnn Wypijewski, takes a step back to look at the big picture of “choice” in the U.S and how it applies to the conservative war on women.
Wypijewski speaks of her sister’s upcoming book, and her new-found reasoning that includes the propagation of slaves as an important consideration in the legislation we’re facing, and the equal rights of women in general. She finds there “is another logic, and it calls us to complete the unfinished business of emancipation.”
I like the article, but find it falls short by not including some of the other proposed legislation that adds reason to the madness. Those would include the push to end labor unions, repeal our child labor laws, and Virginia’s new law, for example, that allows discrimination against adoption on the basis of any moral reason a contractor puts forth to keep children’s rights under state control.
If all the outsourced jobs and industry return to American soil only after we’ve achieved a “competitive” edge – and they will – what does that mean? It means cheap labor, and lots of it. It means that the organization of workers will have been rendered futile. It means our corporations can compete with China’s standards of employment. It means child labor, something we put behind us long ago.
The concerted stages of deregulation for corporate profit over the people’s safety and workers’ rights in our country are all frightening to me. I think a large voting bloc is being used to promote corporate interests.
Abortion isn’t the issue we’re dealing with in the war on women. I think it’s about control … just like rape.
Christy Diane Farr
Every single day for seven months out of each year my fourteen year old son leaves our home wearing a hooded sweatshirt. He loves Skittles and tea. Never once have I worried he would be shot and killed for walking down the street and talking to a friend on a cell phone. Not one single time. Most days, I am ashamed to admit, I don’t even remember what a privilege that is.
White privilege? Um…yeah. My kid is white and he wears a hoodie, and when he and his friends cross the street between the closest snack vendor and our neighborhood, nobody stops them to ask what they are doing. They are not assumed to be up to no good, nor does anyone think they don’t belong here. They are white kids in rural Tennessee. They belong here–whatever the hell that means–and that turns my stomach inside out.
Occasionally, I do worry that he or his sister will be treated badly because I’m a lesbian, but even in our very conservative and sometimes close-minded town, I most often feel that they will be safe. Of course, you can’t tell by looking at my children that their mother is different from the other mothers. The same cannot be said of Trayvon Martin and his mother.
Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old in a suburb of Orlando, Florida, was shot and killed by a man who, even after being told by the 911 operator to back off, pursued him and shot him in the chest. His killer, self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, claims he was protecting his property and that ultimately, this was an act of self-defense.
No, my son is not bulletproof. Do not misunderstand me. Bullets care not for the color of my son’s sun-kissed skin, or his feathery blond hair. If someone shoots him in the chest — much less from a distance short enough that they could have instead reached out to shake hands — he will die… just like Trayvon Martin died.
But people who hold guns care deeply about the color of my son’s skin — as do teachers and neighbors, executives and stay-at-home moms, and every other person from sea to shining sea. . . even if they don’t want to.
The truth is, we all see color. People with every single shade of skin, from every age, political leaning, economic status, etc., see color if they see at all. We see one another through our filters, and sometimes our filters tell us lies. That’s what happened to George Zimmerman. His filter told him that a young black man walking through his gated community was “suspicious,” and it was a lie.
Tragically, Zimmerman believed the lie. There is no part of me that believes, based on what I’ve read and watched, that he shot Martin for recreation. This was not a hate crime in the same way that Mathew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., were murdered for being gay or black. This was violence perpetuated by fear, a reaction to the little voices in Zimmerman’s head that misconstrued a situation into a fantasy — a deadly one.
I’m unsure which of those two scares me more but, honestly, I believe it is the latter. It’s the kind of fear that lives right here in my community, in our schools, our neighborhoods. And fine, I’ll admit it, even in my head.
This is the same fear behind the failed attempt to prohibit the government in Nashville, Tennessee, from using any language other than English. This is the same fear that creates opposition to place of worship because those who attend will worship God as Muslims instead of as Christians. This is the same fear that compels others to “protect traditional marriage” by banning marriages like mine. This is the same fear that… well, look around you. Examples of this fear are woven consistently and strongly throughout life as we know it.
I can’t stop thinking about the fact that Trayvon Martin was hunted by his killer. Evidenced by the recording of his own 911 call, Zimmerman literally chased him down. Trayvon was trying to get away because he was scared. Zimmerman was so consumed by his fear that he couldn’t even recognize that he was actually giving Martin a reason to act suspiciously, to try to get away. A man with a gun was hunting a boy with Skittles and tea, and the man was so consumed by his fear that he couldn’t even see what was happening inside him.
The fear-driven killing of Trayvon Martin isn’t the first of this kind, not even close. But every tragedy like this, every injustice, seems like trying to start a wave at a football game. Some attempts cultivate the attention of 20 or 75 or 300 or 1,000. Some go all the way, around and around until the people are one.
Never has there been an experience like this that went completely unnoticed. But, never has there been one in which everyone allowed themselves to be consumed by the wave of possibility. There’ve been maybe 10,000 people enraged or engaged, or even a million or more, but not everyone.
We’re being given that invitation again now. Nothing we can do now will justify the taking of Trayvon Martin’s life. Period. But, please, please, please let this be the last false start of that wave that can take the fearful energy that is consuming our country, and return it to love.
Let us be consumed this time. Let us rise up and demand justice. Let us throw up our arms, long and strong and proud, so that others will feel encouraged to join us. Let us raise our voices stronger than we’ve ever raised them before. Let us have the courage to explore how this tragedy could happen in America in the year 2012.
Let us at least have the courage to admit that this did happen, that it happened on our watch; and let us not pretend that we didn’t have plenty of evidence that it could. No more silence, for that is the darkness that breeds fear and we can no longer afford to sacrifice even a single person to hate. Let us be honest with ourselves today. Let us be broken open by the horror of this story, for it is only in that openness that a seed of hope can be planted.
Let us consider the equity of our mindset: If you would feel outraged if that bullet had gone into my precious son’s white chest, then — for the love of whatever you find holy — be outraged right now.
“Our son is your son.” – Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s Mother
I, like most of you, am not an attorney or an investigator, and I don’t even live in Florida. I am a white woman whose heart has been shattered by this vicious reality check. But, what now? How can we let this life-changing experience change us? We can see the need for healing, for change, for this wave of love, but we are paralyzed.
This simply is not enough. Stopping here, with the horror and heartache, and slowly returning to who/what we were before Trayvon Martin died simply isn’t enough. I am reminded of a conversation I had many moons ago with my friend Caroline Blackwell who is now the Executive Director of the Metro Human Relations Commission in Nashville, Tennessee. She has been a most inspiring and gentle guide as I’ve begun to explore matters of diversity and inclusion.
Nearing the end of this conversation, I was completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the obstacles, all that stands between our reality today and true equality for all. I stumbled and bumbled, and finally, I was able to choke out, “There’s so much that’s broken. Where do we… How can it… What can I do?” What follows is the essence of what I learned from her that day.
We start by talking about it, people like you and me, and others who care about these issues, so that others can begin to care, too. We talk about what we see and what we think, and feel. We create safe spaces, like the circles we use here in our community, in which people can come together to talk about our needs and our fears, our hopes and realities. We explore our thoughts and our beliefs, with ourselves and with others. By sharing ourselves in this way, we begin to learn to value our differences and similarities . . . We start by talking about it.
by Christy Diane Farr
The one is made up of all things, and all things issue from the one. ~ Heraclitus’s 10th fragment
In 1782, the Great Seal of the United States said E Pluribus Unum – “Out of Many, One”.
I’ve always liked that a lot. Solidarity is what perpetuates the rule of the American people.
“Divided we fall” is pretty basic and understandable.
Then in 1956, Congress passed and President Eisenhower approved of a Joint Resolution of the 84th Congress declaring “In God We Trust” the national motto of the United States. However you feel about the intention to erect a wall of separation between church and state, on that day it went legislatively and divisively over the dam.
But here’s the thing: In 2011, our lawmakers (Forbes, R-VA) wasted all the time it takes and taxpayer dollars to reaffirm “In God We Trust‟ as the official motto of the United States. Why did they do that when it was already a law on the books? They were pandering to a voting bloc – the religious right. It served no other purpose.
Laws without cause are a rip off and they’re dangerous. If there’s no realistic purpose for a bill, it should go to File 13 and the bill’s sponsors should go with it. There’s too much else that needs to be done for us to put up with dubious bills and legislators with hidden agendas. Examples of that are so prevalent today it’s sickening. And meanwhile, needed legislation is ignored.
Iris Scanning – As Occupy Arrestees Arraigned, Iris Scans Affect Bail
Protesters “and their legal advisers were surprised yesterday to learn that the size of their bail was being affected by whether defendants were willing to have the distinctive patterns of their irises photographed and logged into a database.”
There is no law on the books for the ongoing use of Iris Scanning. Peaceful, non-violent, Occupy protesters in New York have once again been arrested and are being subjected to a hand-held scanning device that photographs and collects distinctive biometric information to be logged into a national database.
According to Paul J. Browne, chief spokesman, “a legal review by the department had concluded that legislative authorization was not necessary.”
In America, if there’s no law on the books, there can be no penalty for non-compliance. When someone hasn’t been charged with a crime, much less convicted, it seems to me that a “policy” leveraging the amount of the people’s bail and time spent in jail would be considered an issue worthy of the time and resources necessary for lawmakers to do their jobs and determine its legality.
The voting bloc for that is all the American people.
“This is an unnecessary process,” Mr. Banks said. “It’s unauthorized by the statutes and of questionable legality at best. The statutes specifically authorize collecting fingerprints. There has been great legislative debate about the extent to which DNA evidence can be collected, and it is limited to certain types of cases. So the idea that the Police Department can forge ahead and use a totally new technology without any statutory authorization is certainly suspect.”
Suspect? The NYPD is the world’s seventh biggest army! With that kind of power, I would have to say this policy is more than suspect, and that it needs to be yanked until legislated and the American public can catch up with the massive shift in private data handling that is progressing at an uncanny pace without public debate.
“Out of Many, One” is a fearful concept for those who would deem the power of the people a threat. We, all together, are the voting bloc that counts – and the one lawmakers and police departments are expected to protect and serve.
The many ways in which we’re being divided into subgroups as election pawns is counterproductive to our freedoms, our rights and true national interests.
“Divided we fall” is pretty basic and understandable.
“The House Health and Human Resources Committee is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday, and Odom said he expects it to pass in the GOP-dominated House. It will then move to the state Senate, where Republicans are also in the majority.”
The Life Defense Act of 2012, sponsored by state Rep. Matthew Hill (R-TN), mandates that the Tennessee Department of Health make detailed demographic information about every woman who has an abortion available to the public, including her age, race, county, marital status, education level, number of children, the location of the procedure and how many times she has been pregnant. Each report would also have to include the name of the doctor who performed the procedure. (…)
Rep. Gary Odom (D-Nashville) called the bill “very dangerous,” and said the Republicans who voted it out of a House subcommittee offered “no explanation as to why this was something that needed to be done.”
When public servants try to pass a law knowing well that its result will endanger the lives of fellow Americans, their own constituents, an explanation is in order. Earlier this month, Hill said, “The Department of Health already collects all of the data, but they don’t publish it. All we’re asking is that the data they already collect be made public.”
Okay, why? When it will obviously invade protected privacy by publicizing doctor-patient privileged information and could result in murder, why do it?
Tennessee Rep. Gary Odom (D) said, “I think in some small communities that woman would be identified, I think that by publicizing this, it would have serious consequences. … We know what has happened to physicians who perform abortions that there has been violence. … There could be violence against the women. … This is a dangerous piece of legislation. … I think this is full of meanness.”
Meanness? Laws without cause are dangerous. Any political party willing to risk our lives to advance some agenda they have for down the line is dangerous. The precedent set by this law would be dangerous. If you’ve been wondering just how far they’ll go to reverse Roe v. Wade, this one puts it right on the line.
An Opensalon editor’s pick has more here:
The State of Tennessee Needs to Know All About Your Abortion
Personally, I’m a single-payer gal and look forward to a universal plan for Americans, but the article sounded like exciting good news for the Affordable Care Act. At the same time, I wondered how long it would take for “the medical loss ratio rule” to be attacked. It didn’t take long.
The Medical Loss Ratio Rule:
The MLR rule provides unprecedented accountability of health insurance companies. It will provide protection and value to approximately 74.8 million insured Americans. Estimates from last year indicate that, starting in 2012, up to 9 million Americans could receive rebates worth from $0.6 to $1.4 billion. However, the existence of the MLR requirement may have improved the pricing patterns of plans; some reports indicate that premium increases were tempered by the prospect of having to pay rebates. The rule, unchanged from the earlier publication, also allows insurers to include payments recovered through fraud reduction efforts in their calculation of incurred claims (up to the amount of fraudulent claims recovered), thereby encouraging plans to fight fraud. The final rule streamlines reporting and rebate requirements, and reduces the administrative burden on issuers and employers, while continuing to ensure that consumers receive maximum value for their health care dollar.
Also, consumers don’t have to pay taxes on the rebates they get from insurance companies that violate the spending rules. It’s free money.
ProPublica has been following this issue. In Senate Bill Could Roll Back Consumers’ Health Insurance Savings, it looks like the bills designed to render the rule ineffective are well under way and worth a call or visit to your representatives.
“Insurance companies have supported the two bills, claiming that the rebate rule, as it stands now, stifles jobs and actually drives up insurance premiums.”
However, a “2011 government report found that most insurance companies were, in fact, lowering their premiums to meet the requirements, as the administration had hoped.”
The bills are:
- S. 2068: Access to Independent Health Insurance Advisors Act of 2012 (Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Ben Nelson, D-Neb.)
- H.R. 1206: Access to Professional Health Insurance Advisors Act of 2011 (Rep. Mike Rogers, 6th term Republican from Michigan 8th District)
As usual, the corporations want to socialize their overhead and have the people pay the commissions they owe to agents and brokers – clearly an administrative cost of doing business. The MLR doesn’t threaten anybody or anything other than fraudulent business practices and the drive to maximize industry profits. It’s a regulation that protects the people and provides that only a reasonable amount of our premiums will be spent on non-medical related administrative costs like advertising.
Here’s how these insurer-supported bills are being framed and pushed by our “servants” on both sides of the aisle to accommodate their corporate buddies:
Landrieu, Isakson Introduce Bill to Protect Small Insurance Agents, Consumers
This legislation addresses a provision of the Affordable Care Act known as the medical loss ratio (MLR) that has had dramatic, unintended consequences for nearly a half million licensed independent agents and brokers, and their employees. Due to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) interpretation of the MLR provisions in the health reform law, health insurance carriers are required to treat agent and broker commissions as part of their administrative costs. This threatens the ability of independent agents and brokers to stay in business and serve the public.
It does nothing of the sort! The MLR rule merely places the burden of paying these commissions and other administrative costs on the insurance companies rather than the people, and it may be our best hope for adequate control over cost shifting and other typical abuses.
These bills are designed to chip away at the only thing that slipped passed the industry lobbyists who helped write the Affordable Care Act. If the bills go through, the bomb in Obamacare will be a big bang for corporate profits and those wonderful bonuses that their CEO’s manage to wrangle up every year.
Funneling the people’s money up to the top is what neoliberals are good at, and it’s exactly what they’re doing, here.
Paul Krugman has more on the lies being spread by our “servants” about the Affordable Care Act: Hurray for Health Reform
“For now, however, most of the disinformation involves claims about costs. Each new report from the Congressional Budget Office is touted as proof that the true cost of Obamacare is exploding, even when — as was the case with the latest report — the document says on its very first page that projected costs have actually fallen slightly. Nor are we talking about random pundits making these false claims. We are, instead, talking about people like the chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, who issued a completely fraudulent press release after the latest budget office report.”
Worker safety comes before corporate profit only when politicians and business alike understand the advantage to being “on the side of the angels“.
Once learned and understood, we’re supposed to have safe working conditions for good reason. This morning, in Dying for Work, Leo Gerard, International President, United Steelworkers, brings back to the surface something we know, or should know, in the light of new-found accountability under corporate personhood.
If corporations are people, as Mitt Romney and the Republican majority on the Supreme Court claim, then their privileges as humans come with the responsibility to act humanely. Corporate-people must fulfill their obligations to workers and communities. Profit can’t be their sole raison d’etre. That’s not how it is with flesh-and-blood people. If it were, then society would condone profit-motivated murder, like killing a parent for insurance money. Now that they’re people, corporations have an even greater duty to prevent deaths on the job. And if they don’t, they must be held accountable in criminal court the same way a money-grubbing son would be if he murdered his parents for the life insurance
The legacy of those who died on March 25, 1911 should be honored, but unless enforcement effectively deters profit-driven corporate offenders, it’s meaningless.
Crosby Stills Nash and Young
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.
I found a safety pin in the carpet and remember being surprised and delighted when I got it open. I used it to scratch the paint off the face of my sister’s new dolly. After the tear fest that followed her outrage, torrents of Bible verses and lectures about jealousy fell on my young ears and then Daddy got home to teach me several other consequences of destructive behavior. I remember it well.
Feelings about fairness are rooted in every social problem.
A sense of fairness, whether innate or learned, is something I imagine most parents attempt to highlight in their children, and learning to respect the property of others is basic. Understanding why we wouldn’t is more subjective, requires empathy and addresses the feelings of persons negatively affected. When authoritative consequences drive home the point that punishment follows for those who disobey the law, it only works if the laws are understood, reflect society’s morals and ethics, and if the punishment is applied fairly across the board.
“Do as I say, not as I do” and “Do what I say without question” are old style authoritarianism, ineffective leadership, and not the least bit democratic. We need to get that mentality out of our government. When the American people react en mass out of feelings of unfairness, we don’t need to have the sin spanked out of us. We need representatives willing to listen first, ask and answer questions, and attend to our needs – whatever we say our needs are. Their secrecy and the favoritism they show to corporations is abhorrent. They need to keep their religion to themselves and legislate in fairness with the hearts and minds of the people as their priority. That could begin with laws that respect the peoples’ property.
When young lessons are twisted up in a mix of religious and economic self-righteousness, the result is confusion, then anger, then rage. The same goes for a nation with laws that allow corporations to abuse or destroy our property while others are subjected to jail time.
If my factory emissions cause your emphazima, loss of employment and homelessness, even death – that’s too bad. Illness, cancer, toxic waste, the destruction of our environment – it’s all the same. Erin Brockovich was popular because our hearts and minds were with her in a desperate struggle to right a wrong, but the rarity of her success is what made it a story.
Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by.
It’s role reversal. The people are the teachers, not the government. And the parents of America’s children have their hands full trying to convey that message, I’m sure. It must be tough, for example, teaching children that their bodies are their most precious possessions, to be cared for and treated with respect by all. This, at the same time the state of Virginia among others have the audacity to force medical procedures on unwilling women for a purpose clearly not covered in the law – a future mandate for women to endure unplanned pregnancy and bear unwanted children.
Another thing I know parents struggle with today, because it’s getting difficult for everyone, is providing and modeling healthy nourishment. Having compromised the standards for the most fundamental requirements of the human body – in favor of corporate profits, government agencies have made a mockery of our basic needs. Body, heart and mind – it takes clean air and water, healthy food. John Prine suggests,
“Blow up your T.V.
throw away your paper,
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches”.
And while you’re at it, exercise the freedom to make your own spiritual choices. The religious doctrine of others is healthy food for thought and a joy to study and consider – during the process of independent, personal resolve.
I jumped off the track with John Prine, but while I’m here, I’ll say what I’m thinking: there’s nothing reasonable about making smiles illegal. “Well done, hot dog bun, my sister’s a nun.” Try explaining that one to your kids, but you might hold off on the drug war. They’ll eventually see through it like everybody this side of “Just say no”, another authoritative instruction from the old school that never worked and never will.
Back to religion – by their very nature, spiritual choices are unregulated; they come through a variety of life and family experiences. Legislation that favors your experience over mine is categorically wrong, but a good example of the confusing religious and economic self-righteousness being dished out by ‘Daddy’ these days.
Among various other discrimination, Virginia’s new adoption law allows state agencies to say, “You may adopt this child if you’re a Christian, but not if you’re a Jew”. If you live in America, have a brain cell and are raising a child, that’s another one that should be difficult to explain, especially for Christians. Subjecting the soft skin of children to the warehousing of orphanages when they deserve, have a right and an opportunity to become a family member in a safe, protective and loving home, is not exactly ‘witnessing’. If I were an orphan under those circumstances, I can’t think of anything that would drive me away from Christians more completely.
And you, of tender years,
Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.
The point is, good parents are what we need and I hold them in the highest esteem. Having the know-how, intuition, courage and stamina to make positives from negatives and prepare young minds for a go at the world ahead is more than I can grasp, but I appreciate them and the challenges they face.
One of the most important lessons in fairness and how our children will work toward it is in our Bill of Rights. The First Amendment enshrines the right to assemble peaceably, to speak freely, and to petition for governmental redress of grievances. In light of what happened at the Capital in Richmond on Saturday during the rally for women’s rights, I’ve wondered how parents are supposed to teach their children to be good citizens who practice healthy, peaceful redress efforts without being afraid or intimidated. (If you don’t know what happened, here’s March 3rd, 2012 – Of Protests and Bitch Slaps, by Jack Johnson, and excellent account of the rally and of the arrests that followed.)
The following is an example of good parenting that I think fits the bill. I saw it earlier today, and don’t know the mom who posted it, but see if you don’t agree that she has the “hearts and minds” of her children in full view of their future and our needs as a nation:
“Since Saturday I have been wondering about an appropriate role in the re-surging women’s rights movement. As I watched civil disobedience play out on Saturday I kept wondering, what can/should I do? What is my role in this?
I am a mom.
I am needed at home.
My life is busy.
You are too.
I sometimes wonder if some elected officials count on us being so busy as to not pay attention to what they do. I am not *that* busy anymore. But what, given the requirements of being a mother, should I be doing?
I am a mother.
I have two daughters.
I will teach.
Today I called the Capitol Tour Desk to inquire about having a picnic with my children on the grounds. I am told that we are allowed to bring food or purchase food at their underground café and eat anywhere on the grounds except inside in the historical part of the building.
I plan to take my girls for a field trip to discuss civil disobedience, democracy, and the women’s rights movement. I may do this more than once and I am putting the intention into the universe that other mothers will feel the strength of this lesson for the next generation. The erosion of personal freedoms is not to be tolerated. This Thursday I plan to sit on the steps in the same spot that the protesters were sitting and bring my laptop with the YouTube video of what happened in that spot.
Think of the tremendous life learning opportunity we have before us to teach the next generation. I am not looking to turn this into anything other than what it is… mothers teaching their children and remaining visible even while handling our busy lives.
I was thinking I might head over there this Thursday a little before lunchtime. Anyone care to join me???”
(That will be tomorrow, March 8, 2012)
Some News from APV, Virginia:
Today Governor McDonnell signed HB 462 (the Mandatory Ultrasound Bill) into law. We are deeply disappointed by his decision, but not deterred. There is no doubt that our voices have been heard ‘loud and clear’, not just by our representatives, but by the press and therefore the country. We have gotten our message out there. We have been remarkably successful in fighting some of the worst legislation out of the GA this year with the odds against us. We have forged alliances and gathered people who will not forget, and we will continue to build momentum to take this state back. We’re in this for the long haul. Make no mistake, we ARE winning.
Sculpture “Non-Violence” in memory of John Lennon, Manhattan, by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd
Gad! No wonder the people in this country are struggling. This issue is disturbing on so many levels that just being aware of it is intimidating! If it continues unabated like it is now, just imagine what life in the good ole USA will be like for Americans down the road a ways. You think they’ll be safe enough?
The cost of America’s police state, by Stephan Salisbury, is a good recent piece on the what, where, when, why, and how of the militarization of our local police forces, the vast network of video surveillance interlinked with information databases, “fusion centers”, and more.
One thing not mentioned in the article is 1033. But more than a year ago, Benjamin Carlson covered it in BATTLEFIELD MAIN STREET, and I think it’s key in understanding how all this got its big heave-ho. Here’s an excerpt, and the article has some great photos of the equipment being distributed at the time.
“Passed by Congress in 1997, the 1033 program was created to provide law-enforcement agencies with tools to fight drugs and terrorism. Since then, more than 17,000 agencies have taken in $2.6 billion worth of equipment for nearly free, paying only the cost of delivery.”
In today’s Mayberry, Andy Griffith and Barney Fife could be using grenade launchers and a tank to keep the peace. A rapidly expanding Pentagon program that distributes used military equipment to local police departments — many of them small-town forces — puts battlefield-grade weaponry in the hands of cops at an unprecedented rate.
Through its little-known “1033 program,” the Department of Defense gave away nearly $500 million worth of leftover military gear to law enforcement in fiscal year 2011 — a new record for the program and a dramatic rise over past years’ totals, including the $212 million in equipment distributed in 2010.
The surplus equipment includes grenade launchers, helicopters, military robots, M-16 assault rifles and armored vehicles.
And the program’s recent expansion shows no sign of slackening: Orders in fiscal year 2012 are up 400 percent over the same period in 2011, according to data provided to The Daily by the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency. (…)
Experts say the recent surge is simply the continuation of a decades-long trend: the increasing use of military techniques and equipment by local police departments, tactics seen most recently in the crackdowns on Occupy Wall Street protesters across the country. But critics of the program say that the recent expansion of 1033 distributions should be setting off alarm bells. (…)
Arthur Rizer, a Virginia lawyer who has served as both a military and civilian police officer, stressed that their outlooks and missions are fundamentally different.
“If we’re training cops as soldiers, giving them equipment like soldiers, dressing them up as soldiers, when are they going to pick up the mentality of soldiers?” he asked.
“If you look at the police department, their creed is to protect and to serve. A soldier’s mission is to engage his enemy in close combat and kill him. Do we want police officers to have that mentality? Of course not.”
The intimidation factor associated with having a military presence instead of a “protect and serve” mentality in law enforcement from coast to coast is obvious. If you haven’t noticed it, try a little redress of grievances with a group of like-minded, concerned citizens some day soon. At this rate and before too long, most people will be afraid to object to any legislation that comes down the pike, and I’m not sure that isn’t the precise intention of all this beef-up. If you read the articles above, you may disagree, but I think it’s already out of control in every way. Regardless of the “freebies” provided to local law enforcement, we can’t afford it. It’s an oppression tactic, and we don’t want to be an oppressed people. At least, that’s not what I had in mind.
How do you go about turning something like this around before it gets worse? Salisbury offers a clue or two pointing out: “This is not simply a police issue. Law enforcement agencies may acquire the equipment and deploy it, but city legislators and executives must approve the expenditures and the uses. State legislators and bureaucrats refine the local grant requests. Federal officials, with endless input from national security and defense vendors and lobbyists, appropriate the funds.” [emphasis mine]
But for some historical context, validation and encouragement, this recent interview with Jonathan Schell did it for me. It’s worth your time, “hearts and minds”.
Part 1, Protests – View from Top
By all rights, this should have been a boring article. Saturday, March 3, over a thousand activists converged on the steps of the State Capitol building. They assembled there to petition their government for a redress of grievances, in this case, asking Governor McDonnell not to sign into law a piece of legislation—HB462. Many of the marchers argued that HB462 was designed to shame and humiliate women seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy; something that had won the Republicans of the Virginia General Assembly overwhelming ridicule and nationwide notoriety. A massive protest barely two weeks earlier, organized by Speak Loudly With Silence, had flooded the State Capitol with protestors lining the walkway from the General Assembly building to the State Capitol. Saturday Night Live made jokes about the invasive transvaginal ultrasounds required by the language of HB462, with one wit noting that she really enjoyed ‘Transvaginal Airlines.’ Realizing that his conservative base had badly overstepped, Governor McDonnell suggested that they soften the language somewhat lessening the ‘transvaginal’ part of the bill and allowing for a less invasive abdominal ultrasound. The amendment passed, but it hardly lessened the fury of Pro-Choice activists who saw the bill as an intrusion of government into women’s reproductive rights, the proverbial war on women.
One activist, Sheila Jones, noted that over a million women marched to block such governmental overreach in reproductive health matters years ago. “I thought we’d taken care of these atrocities [on women’s rights] back then, and we haven’t,” On that Saturday, she wore a t-shirt from the 1992 Pro-Choice rally at the National Mall, “So I had to come back down here and do this for all of the young women that now are fighting for the same thing that we thought we had taken care of 20 years ago.”
If you happened to be standing on the top steps of the Virginia Capitol this last Saturday at around 2:00 pm, you would have seen something to make Sheila proud: a stream of hundreds (over a thousand by most estimates) Pro-Choice activists, many wearing red arm bands, filling the State Capitol grounds and waving signs that read “Life Begins when you Stand Against Madness”, “Gov. McDonnell Get Out Of My Vagina” and “Mind Your Own Private Parts.” All the while they chanted “Kill the Bill.” You may also have seen two or three Capitol Police officers on bicycles creating a mini phalanx attempting to block the protestors as they ascended the Capitol steps, but impotent against the sheer number of outraged citizens the General Assembly of Virginia had managed to piss off.
Now, as in the first protest march, the activists had a permit to assemble by the Bell Tower, but not on the Capitol steps. Eileen Davis, who helped organize the original Speak Loudly With Silence along with APV board member, Clair Tuite, saw this and quickly spoke to Capitol Police Col. Pike. “Just let this play out,” she pleaded. She asked for time. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. No good. According to Ms. Davis, Col. Pike argued that if he did this for one group, he’d have to do it for every group. Luckily for Col. Pike, State Police just happened to be on hand that day; State Police in full riot gear, as chance would have it….
Shortly, thereafter, the call went out that the activists had to leave the steps. “Alright everyone we have 5 minutes and then Capitol Police are bringing in the troopers!”
They weren’t kidding. State Police Troopers went quickly on the march themselves. Over-armored and over-weaponized, they made a tidy black row, creating an ominous phalanx of plexiglass covered helmets and body-length shields to separate those who refused to move off the steps from those who were further out on the State Capitol grounds. They wore the familiar body armor reminiscent of Darth Vader with padded elbows and padded knees and bullet proof vests, and thick scarves around their faces in case they might need to use tear gas (in order to disperse, through chemical weapons if necessary, the group of men, women and children requesting a redress of grievances by sitting peaceably on the Capitol steps). Captain Goodloe of the Capitol Police refused to say how many State Troopers in riot gear were on hand that day, but the number was right around 20, and even that number, apparently, wasn’t sufficient. To protect the Commonwealth from the dreadful depredations of 31 protestors sitting in silent protest, his men needed back up.
That’s why they brought in the Capitol Police tactical force, or the Men in Green. At a distance I mistook them for an armed military presence. Close up, I realized they were not, but they are no less scary. I was assured, later, that they were indeed just ‘police’… A somewhat rarefied variety of the Capitol Police, like our S.W.A.T. teams, apparently. They were decked out entirely in green camouflage, with green helmets that looked exactly like military helmets and they wore the same specialized padding the State Troopers wore and they carried –this is the scary part—assault weapons (like the kind they use in the military when they are ‘assaulting’ something deadly – an enemy military force equipped with Light Weight Anti-Tank Weapons, say, or bombs made of plastic explosives or nuclear weapons hijacked by maniacal terrorists for that matter—not, however, American men, women and children interested in petitioning their government for a redress of grievances). They also, by the way, spent a fair amount of time passing canisters back and forth that may have been tear gas, or, as I was told, flash grenades. No one was sure, and when asked, the officers refused to answer.
Labor organizer, Muna Hijazi, was dismayed by the heavy police presence: “The show of force was amazingly ugly and over the top.” Delegate Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond also spoke out. She said she had “never seen a similar police presence [even] when guns rights advocates assembled on Capitol Square on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.” She thought there was a slight political slant in such policy decisions.“ The men and women who marched on Capitol Square have a right to peacefully protest without the threat that they will be arrested for exercising that right,” McQuinn said in a news release. “At several recent women’s rights events, there has been an overabundance of police presence. In fact, the Capitol Police tactical team has been at all of the events,” she said.
Despite this show of force, thirty-one protestors chose not to relinquish their right to assemble on the Capitol Steps that day. Some were arrested to assert their first amendment right to peaceably assemble, after all the protestors had a permit for their assembly at the Bell Tower about 50 yards away and were within their time frame for that permit. No other like-sized protests were met with this ugly show of a police presence. Others who were arrested were protesting in favor of a woman’s right to choose. They were given numbers to call, legal advice and opportunities to leave. But they refused.
As an historical note, up until the 1970s, protests were allowed anywhere on the State Capitol grounds—or more accurately were not required to be ‘permitted’. This picture, taken in 1969 by APV member Mike Garrett, shows hundreds of anti-war protestors flooding the steps and covering the entire front of the of the State Capitol building. No arrests, no State Troopers and certainly no Men In Green. That’s mostly because up until then there weren’t that many protests to worry about. But by the 1970s –in the aftermath of the civil rights marches and the beginning of the anti-war protests– the Virginia Assembly decided that protests required permits with limited time durations and specific geographic areas –down to the foot and yards, apparently.
Protestors of this Saturday, March 3rd, 2012, locked arms and huddled. One by one they were pried apart and handcuffed, then led, dragged or carried to awaiting white buses emboldened with the initials DCP that drove them to the station at Ninth and Leigh Street.
Now, here’s where things get interesting. Those arrested Saturday afternoon were charged with either trespassing or unlawful assembly and were taken to the Richmond City Jail. Both charges are Class 1 Misdemeanors, usually processed with a summons (basically, like a traffic ticket) to return to court at a convenient date. But that’s not what happened to our March 3rd protestors. Not by a long shot.
Ninth and Leigh is an nondescript block, which, if you didn’t know better you would mistake for a faceless bureaucrat building ringed by a large parking lot. Maggie N., who works everyday as a Registered Nurse at MCV just across the street from Ninth and Leigh, had no idea what went on there. “I didn’t even know there was a jail here.” It’s easy to miss because the spot is actually about 10 -20 feet below street level, dug out, effectively, so unless you knew that the police vans backing up to the garage doors held desperate criminals, or, in this instance, disoriented women’s rights protestors, you’d never guess its true function.
On the afternoon of March 3rd, two white buses containing handcuffed activists parked in front of those two double garage doors and essentially spent three to four hours while the activists waited in handcuffs, either on the bus or inside the garage doors without water, without food and without access to a lawyer. Keep in mind, every one of them was ultimately charged with a Class 1 Misdemeanor that should have required the equivalent of a traffic ticket. Said one Richmond Police Officer (who preferred anonymity), “I think that this is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen.”
That’s how the male protestors that day were treated. But there was special treatment for the female activists. Many of them were made to wait a total of eight to nine hours before the last of them was finally processed and released. They were made to wait eight to nine hours with hands tied behind their backs, without food and without water and without access to a lawyer.
The wretched conditions for the activists were well known. Fellow protestors had taken up a position around the block-wide dug-out at Ninth and Leigh and spent all of that Saturday night banging on the metal rails, chanting “Give Them Water” and “Take off the cuffs” and trying to update anyone of influence in the city to let their general condition be known. Stories trickled out about their treatment. Apparently, one bus contained a primitive bathroom facility while the other did not. The women were kept on the bus without the bathroom, so, if nature should happen to call within their 5-9 hour wait, they were taken off one bus, transported to the other bus and allowed to use the restroom. Each time this happened the activists circling the lot would shout, “Give them water.” When women were finally released, one of the first things they looked for was some soap and water to clean up, because none had been provided in the primitive bathroom.
Initially, when asked why they couldn’t receive water, the protestors were told that while on the buses, the prisoners were under jurisdiction of the Capital Police. The Richmond City Police claimed that they were not supposed to assist them until they were taken into the building and processed. When the Capitol Police heard that, they repudiated it in the strongest terms, and said that, in fact, it was the City Police who had a policy of not allowing prisoners to drink water. Either way, the women did not receive water for easily seven hours that day, even when complaining of headaches or nausea.
In some instances, the treatment of the women approached the absurd. When Gabi S. was asked what country she came from, she replied “Israel”…. Before she was led away, the police officer asked her, “How do you spell that?” She was later placed in solitary confinement for two hours, apparently because she hailed from a different country. She noted in a short summary of her time there: “So yesterday I was arrested for peacefully protesting. I was pulled from the group of women to be fingerprinted, given a mug shot, strip searched and put in solitary confinement. After 2 hours in there without any updates I was allowed out to see the nurse because my wrists were swollen from the handcuffs [a frequent complaint from other protestors]. When I was eventually released I was told that I had been processed differently because I was born in another country, Israel….” But Quincy M. who hailed from Scotland and didn’t have a social security number (or US citizenship), was not put into solitary confinement, and was released hours before Gabi so it’s difficult to determine if there was any rational procedure being followed, outside of general harassment.
Activists, Glen B., who works for the Sierra club and was released after being held for about four hours, said that holding the women under such conditions was abominable. “We can’t let them get away with this. This state, remember, Virginia, has a history of abusing prisoners, of sterilizing its own citizens. What they are doing here is inexcusable, unacceptable and un-American”
Eileen Davies put it more bluntly, “Attorney General Cucinelli is trying to bitch slap all these women.” Indeed, rumors that someone in the nether reaches of State government was requesting a particularly long and punitive process for the detainees did not seem outlandish. Each activist arrested had a thorough background check which is unusual for a Class 1 Misdemeanor. Wayne Powell, a criminal defense lawyer running against Eric Cantor in the 7th district, offered to represent the detainees pro bono and was outraged by the delays, the fact that he was not allowed to speak with his clients, and the enforced background checks. “This is nowhere close to standard operating procedure for this kind of offense.” A few of the arrestees were even given relatively large bails – up to $500, some for prior offenses, but at least one was given the large bail for putting into words what many of the activists felt—a resolve not to be ground down by the excessive use of force, the government overreach, and the punitive harassment involved in their detention.
When asked by the magistrate if he intended to return to the Capitol grounds after he was released, activist Jonathan C. answered simply, “What time is it?”
If you appreciate that 31 of the courageous M3 protestors chose to be taken to jail in defiance of Virginia’s attack on women’s rights, rather than retreat and just go home when they were given the option, you might consider donating to their legal fund today. You can do that here. I’m grateful for what they did and wish them a speedy and fair experience with Virginia’s court system! Big thanks to all 31!
One more important thing: The ACLU is investigating the conditions of detention for March 3rd, 2012 protestors at the State Capitol. If you or someone you know has information regarding the arrests and/or detention conditions, please contact Tom Fitzpatrick at 804-644-8080 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And stay tuned for updates, as I imagine this story will be unfolding for some time to come ….
(All photos, unless otherwise identified, are from Style Weekly Magazine’s Facebook page.)