Saturday, June 02, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #59 - Part 2

More attacks on participation in the political life of the nation

Updated Two weeks ago, I talked about loss of the Commons, about the attack on the idea of a social community involving shared resources and a shared community responsibility for the welfare of all.

I talked last week about some means being used to limit participation in the political life of the nation as part of that attack. This week I'm going to mention some more.

I've talked several times about attempts to limit the franchise, that is, to limit the ability of people to vote, usually in reference to these insane voter ID laws. But that's not the only way. Another way, which I have also mentioned before, is registration restrictions: Just make it harder for people to register to vote in the first place. Another way is simply kicking you off the rolls.

Florida became notorious in 2000 when a purge of supposedly ineligible voters wound up wrongfully stripping thousands of mostly black - and therefore mostly Democratic - voters of their right to vote. Florida is at it again. The state wants to kick literally tens of thousands of people off the lists of registered voters, using various excuses including "we think you're a felon," "we think you're dead," and - the big one this time - "we think you're not a citizen." Taken together, Florida claims this totals as many as 239,000 voters.

The state, under the baleful eye of Governor Voldemort, is pressing this even as local election officials openly doubt both the accuracy and the quality of the data the state is providing. So why is the state pushing this despite the objections of its own local election officials? Interestingly, in an initial list of nearly 3,000 voters to be purged from the list, nearly 60% are Latino - who are largely Democratic voters. Doubly interestingly, the state is doing this so close to a federal election - close enough, in fact, to have already potentially violated federal law on the matter - that legitimate voters wrongfully affected by this may well not have enough time to get it resolved and get back on the rolls before the election. That is exactly the pattern we saw in 2000.

In early may, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner - this year's Katherine Harris - released a statement in which he said the presence of just one ineligible voter on the state's voting rolls represents a real threat to the integrity of the voting process. Apparently, the possibility of thousands of eligible voters being wrongfully kept off the rolls is not a concern for him - provided it's the "wrong sorts" of voters who are affected.

Last week I also mentioned the weaponization of police. This is seen not only in the almost common use of pepper spray against protesters, such as in the now-notorious case at UCal Davis, but in something which I haven't mentioned for a while: tasers, one of the hi-tech ways being increasingly used by cops to control individuals and crowds. And they want to be able to use them pretty much in any way and to any degree they find convenient.

In 2004, cops in Seattle used a taser three times in less than a minute on a pregnant woman who refused to sign a traffic ticket because she incorrectly thought doing so was an admission of guilt. She sued, but last fall the cops won, with a majority of the 9th Circuit Appeals Court ruling that while the cops had used excessive force, the relevant law was not clear in 2004 so they had qualified immunity and couldn't be sued. However, by its very nature that decision also put cops on notice that future such incidents could well be actionable - that is, the cops could possibly be sued.

So even though they won, the cops are appealing to the Supreme Court because they want the Court to rule that tasers are, in their words, a "useful pain technique" and therefore their use can't be considered excessive force. It is not excessive force, they are claiming, to repeatedly taser a nonviolent, nonthreatening person because the cops - there were three of them at the scene - were so damned lazy or such wusses that they couldn't be bothered physically pulling this woman out of her car. In a supporting brief, the Los Angeles police argued that - get this - if the determination of excessive force is not overturned, it "won't be long before the word spreads throughout society's criminal underground that the Ninth Circuit hasn't simply given them a 'get out of jail free' card, but a 'never have to go to jail in the first place' card.” that is how far this madness goes; that is how determined cops are to be able to used tasers any time, to any degree, on anyone they choose.

The Supreme Court is supposed to decide on May 31 whether or not to hear the case. I'll tell you what they court did next week.

Oppressive violence from police is only one threat we face to our ability to participate in the political life of the nation. Increasing surveillance is another. Last week I mentioned the federal government's moves to enable increasing surveillance of internet communications, that is, increasing surveillance of your online life. There is, as you surely know, a companion effort ways to increase surveillance of your physical life.

This summer, the Army is to present a demonstration of so-called "ground-based sense-and-avoid" technologies with the goal of winning FAA approval of far larger numbers of military drone flights in US civilian airspace - a success which in turn will be, in fact already has been, used to advance the ability of local police forces to do the same.

Lobbying both by the military and by private contractors has become intense, particularly by the latter, who see a booming future of local police buying drones. As a result, this year's FAA reauthorization bill requires the agency to safely allow unmanned aircraft to fly in US.commercial airspace by 2015. What's more, the FAA recently issued streamlined licensing rules for using drones for police and other so-called "public safety agencies" and the Department for the Protection of the Fatherland is working to speed the introduction of the rules and so the drone flights.

Drone manufactuers call them "force multipliers" for local cops, who then soft-pedal the implications by going on about "finding the lost child" and "finding the wandering alzheimer's patient" - while in the next breath exulting about how with drones they can read a license plate from 400 feet up. So in a couple of years you can go out your front door wondering if some police force eye in the sky is watching your every move.

Talking about surveillance, how about this:

The Illinois chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relation says that across the 19 states where CAIR has offices, there have been "dozens" of complaints by American Muslims, American citizens, discovering they are on the "no fly" list for who knows what reason and then being told by FBI agents that they could get off the list if they agreed to go undercover, spy on other Muslims, and report information back. Remember, the only people who would complain would be those who said no. There is no way to know how many said yes.

And there are even more direct threats. I've talked before about the National Defense Authorization Act, which included a particular provision - Section 1022, to be precise - that would allow the White House to have the military imprison people indefinitely, without trial or even charge, based solely on the president's decision that the person is a suspected terrorist.

Well, on May 16, Federal Judge Katherine Forrest found that the law is unconstitutional and violates the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights to free speech, against unreasonable seizures, and to due process.

She did so after a Kafka-esque hearing in which lawyers for the government repeatedly refused to explain what the law's impossibly vague terms like "associated forces" and "substantial support" mean and instead tried to argue that the seven plaintiffs - who included journalists, researchers, activists, and a member of the Icelandic parliament - did not have "standing" to sue. That is, they couldn't sue because the law hadn't affected them - they hadn't been indefinitely detained. Which means that the government argument is that the only folks with standing are those already beyond the reach of judicial system.

However, the day after that decision, welcome as it was, the House of Representatives voted to keep Section 1022 intact by rejecting an amendment to guarantee civilian trials for any terrorism suspect arrested in the US. Suppo0rters of the amendment said letting president decide to detain anyone - including Americans - deemed to be a terrorist was granting the executive too much power. And with over 400 accused terrorists having been tried and convicted in civilian courts while dozens of plots were prevented, the law was unnecessary.

But oh no, we can't do that, cried the opponents. Why, it would tie the president's hands! It would interfere with the ability of the president to act like a military dictator! Don't you know we're at war? You want to give terrorists special rights!

I bet it does come as a surprise to you to hear that a trial is a "special right."

When the NDAA first passed, supporters of the provision in question responded to civil liberties concerns by calling them silly: This would never apply to americans! Don't be daft! But now, like right wingers so often do, they are airily acknowledging what they previously vociferously denied. Everyone agrees now that except for the injunctive relief offered by Judge Forrest, federal law now allows the president - this or any future president - to imprison anyone, including American citizens taken on American soil, indefinitely and without charge based solely on the the president's unreviewable, uncheckable assertion "I think you're giving substantial support - whatever that means - to a terrorist-associated force - whatever that means."

And I do mean everyone. Back in February, the White House released rules waiving Obama's authority under Scetion 1022. But by waiving the authority, they are acknowledging it exists and therefore acknowledging it can be asserted by any future administration. What makes that statement doubly bizarre is that is said the provision "does not apply to US citizens" - but in the hearing before Judge Forrest, government lawyers refused to say that the provision would not be used against the US citizens who were among the plaintiffs.

Okay, that's enough for now. I'm sure there will be more in the future.

Update: The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of the case involving the Seattle cops. The net effect is that while the cops got away with it this time, they might not in a similar situation in the future.


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