Monday, July 12, 2004

Some examples of what we are losing

"There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." - James Madison, speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 16, 1788

June 11: Salon had an article about the failure of demonstrations at the G-8 summit in Georgia last month.
A distant location in a conservative state; a massive police presence; the fact that many protesters were either disillusioned by mass actions or intimidated by the brutal tactics meted out in Miami: Add these together, and you get the reason why the expected big protests against the G-8 barely materialized. And Sea Island is not the exception but, increasingly, the rule. Police and politicians in America are cracking down hard on dissent, whether by smashing heads, declaring a state of emergency or denying permits. For those committed to the idea that nonviolent protest is a fundamental American right, Sea Island is not a triumph of law enforcement but a cautionary tale.
The governor got around restrictions on using the military for law enforcement by simply declaring a state of emergency because of the risk of "unlawful assemblages" and other horrors too dreadful to imagine. The result was flooding the streets with National Guard soldiers along with,
according to Georgia authorities, around 20,000 police in the area. They cruised the streets in 30-vehicle convoys, lights flashing, with vans full of cops in riot gear bringing up the rear.
Meanwhile, Brunswick, Georgia, the nearest town to the summit site, passed laws giving police the authority to ban protests and to require permits for gatherings of more than five people.
Authorities are also using other techniques for stifling dissenters, or rendering them invisible. Often, those wishing to demonstrate against George W. Bush are shunted into isolated "free-speech zones," while his supporters are permitted to get close to him - and to TV cameras. ...

Throughout the country, activist groups have been infiltrated by police, often working for Joint Terrorism Task Forces under the jurisdiction of the FBI. And police have been increasingly violent in response to peaceful protest. Last November in Miami, 2,500 police in riot gear unloaded fusillades of crowd-control weaponry against 10,000 or so overwhelmingly peaceful protesters.

A Miami-Dade County panel charged with investigating the debacle issued a scathing report on police misconduct during the FTAA. According to a draft of their executive summary posted on the panel's Web site, "The members of the Independent Review Panel strenuously condemn and deplore the unrestrained and disproportionate use of force observed in Miami during the FTAA. Nationally televised images of police violence against non-violent protestors stained our community. For a brief period in time, Miami lived under martial law. Civil rights were trampled and the sociopolitical values we hold most dear were undermined." ...

In Georgia, it seemed clear what drove the massive police response. Officials there have pointed to what happened at the FTAA in Florida as a model, not a disgrace.
Another method increasingly being used is simply to not issue permits. Not to deny permits, which would allow for a challenge, but to stall, to raise objections, to "negotiate," to, that is, find ways to put off issuing permits until it's too late. To just somehow never get around to it - or to offer a last-minute, inconvenient, out of sight of the public and the media, alternative. That's what happened in Georgia.
At the last minute, Gov. Perdue intervened to help [organizers] secure a permit for Coastal Georgia Community College, an out-of-the-way campus on a stretch of road filled with fast-food franchises, a Bowlarena and little else.
The tactic of the stall is apparently also being undertaken New York regarding protests at the national party conventions. The city has denied a permit for use of Sheep Meadow in Central Park, a traditional place for large gatherings, on the grounds that there's a "new lawn" that would be "ruined" by the presence of a large number of people. Instead, they offered a site in Brooklyn, miles from the convention site, and the closed West Side Highway, a ridiculously inconvenient site that would produce a long, thin demonstration with most participants unable to hear any speakers. Negotiations in the face of the stall continue and even some city politicos are starting to make fed-up noises.

June 21: From the Salt Lake Tribune via a mailing from the Alternative Press Review:
Midvale - A nervous David Perez scurried down the hallway and ducked into Marshall Brown's classroom. ...

Assistant Principal David Breen, entered the room seconds later and ordered the Hillcrest High senior to take off his anti-war T-shirt. ...

School officials concede that they discouraged students from wearing anti-war T-shirts - especially immediately after U.S. troops invaded Iraq. Breen and his boss, Principal Linda Sandstrom, told The Salt Lake Tribune they hoped to pre-empt confrontations between anti-war students and classmates with family members stationed in Iraq. ...

District officials acknowledge that students have the right to wear anti-war shirts. But, they add, "it's difficult to control the reaction of students with strong opposing views."

Said Sandstrom and Breen in a joint statement: "Provocative acts sometimes provoke other individuals." ...

Breen and Sandstrom say only two such incidents - both from the 2002-03 school year - were reported to them. They intervened in those cases and asked the students to remove the anti-war T-shirts to prevent other teens from verbally or physically attacking them.
That's what's known as a "heckler's veto," that is, preventing someone from expressing a view not because of what they say but because of what the reaction might be. It's generally undertaken because frankly it just seems easier to control the speaker than to control the reaction and it's almost invariably done under the rubric of "protecting" the speaker. And it's also unjust, undemocratic, and unconstitutional. Speech that is safe, that is convenient for authorities, that is unprovocative, is not free - it's merely cheap.

June 25: Tiffany Schley was valedictorian of her 2004 graduating class at Brooklyn's High School of Legal Studies. In her speech at graduation on June 24, she complained that the school
was overcrowded and that the teaching and guidance counseling were inadequate.

Schley - accepted to Smith College on a full scholarship and voted "Most Likely to Succeed" by her classmates - was refused her diploma when she went to pick it up the next day.

Schley also said school officials had tried to rewrite the speech before the commencement, replacing negative parts with praise for the school and its administration.
And when she wouldn't go along, they apparently decided to punish her.

Embarrassed school officials quickly backed down and gave her her diploma on July 1, but Schley - damn good for her - isn't satisfied and is demanding an apology.

July 2: The Houston Chronicle carried a piece by software salesman Charles Green describing his run-in with the Transportation Security Administration.

It seems that he's writing a novel - or trying to, as he says. Sitting on a flight from New Orleans to Dallas a few weeks ago, he scribbled a line of potential dialog in the margin of a crossword puzzle he was working on. "I know this is kind of a bomb," it read. Apparently, a passenger sitting next to him saw the line, panicked, and told a flight attendant.

When the plane arrived in Dallas, he was questioned by an airport security person who upon being shown the crossword puzzle, demanded to know what the word "bomb" referred to. Even though he satisfied her as to the innocent meaning, he was surrounded by three hostile police officers who took him to the airport's police station for an "interview" with the TSA.
While two policemen guarded the door, the honcho behind the desk informed me that my choice of dialogue was unfortunate, that life was not a stage play and that the tiniest thing can ignite fear in American travelers these days. He wanted a summary of my novel's plot to get the context for why I'd written what I had. ...

Despite my stuttering, the inquisitor must have liked my story, because he let me off the hook. Or at least that's how he made sure I felt: that he was letting me skip ... this time.

Maybe he sensed that I white-knuckle on airplanes unless I have three shots of vodka. Perhaps my background check told him that I'm a secular Jew or that ex-girlfriends contend that my fear of commitment surpasses that of any Hugh Grant movie character. In other words, I don't exactly fit the profile of someone who would align with a radical cause to bring down an airplane he's already afraid he'll crash in. Even so, the honcho gravely warned me that while I hadn't crossed the line, I had walked right up to it. And for that I would be on Homeland Security's watch list.
That's right - he's being put on the watch list because he happened to use the word "bomb" on a plane even though no one else was even supposed to see it and both the security guard and the TSA goon admitted its use was totally innocent and he was no threat. Now, don't you regret all your doubts about the accuracy of watch lists and their ability to protect you from terrorists?

July 4: This one you may well have heard about; it did get some attention. This version is from the Charleston (WV) "Gazette" for July 8.
A worker with the Federal Emergency Management Agency who wore an anti-Bush T-shirt at the president’s July Fourth rally in Charleston has been sent home to Texas.

Nicole Rank, who was working for FEMA in West Virginia, and her husband, Jeff, were removed from the Capitol grounds in handcuffs shortly before Bush’s speech. The pair wore T-shirts with the message “Love America, Hate Bush.”

The Ranks were ticketed for trespassing and released. They have been given summonses to appear in court, Charleston Police Lt. C.A. Vincent said Wednesday.

FEMA spokesman Ross Fredenburg would not say Wednesday whether Nicole Rank had been fired. ...

Those who attended Bush’s speech were required to have tickets that were distributed by various employers in the area and by the office of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Those who applied for tickets were required to supply their names, addresses, birth dates, birthplaces and Social Security numbers.
So not only did they have tickets - otherwise they couldn't have gotten in - they were, we can assume, checked out in advance and were regarded, again we can assume, as no "threat" to Resident Bush. Still, they were handcuffed, arrested, and she's been sent home and fired because of t-shirts bearing a slogan unflattering to Shrub.

How appropriate it happened on July 4, don't you think?

July 10: The Indian newspaper Asian Age reports that in his new book about India, former US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott reports that he was told by George Fernandes that he had been stripped-searched twice at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC: once in early 2002 when he arrived for a visit, and again in mid-2003 as he was passing through the US on his way to Brazil.

What gives the story more than the pick-on-the-funny-looking-foreigner stories that have become so disgustingly routine is that at the time George Fernandes was the defense minister of India. The 2002 visit was an official one.

Yeah, so what? Can't trust any of them furriners, kin ya?

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