Results tagged “United States” from Six Hours A Week: Adventures in American Exile

Free Speech: Not Left, Right, Red or Blue

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wctu.gifLast fall I read about a man in Georgia whose Operation Rescue truck was impounded because it displayed mangled fetuses. This alarmed me. Though I wouldn't want to see a Truth Truck, I believe in an individual's right to one.

Bob Roethlisberger was arrested and jailed over Thanksgiving weekend in a northern suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, on the charge of "Disorderly Conduct" for driving Operation Rescue's Truth Truck bearing signs with photos of aborted babies. The Truth Truck was impounded.

Gwinnett County Police Department officers arrested Roethlisberger Saturday after telling him that signage on the Truth Truck was "vulgar and obscene." According to Operation Rescue, officers ransacked the back of the Truth Truck without a warrant and ordered Roethlisberger to change or remove the signs. When he refused, he was arrested and incarcerated for three days before being released on $1,000 bond.

Disorderly conduct charges were eventually dropped by the county Solicitor:

"I have reviewed the evidence and law in this case and concluded that the physical display of the images in question—as shocking and offensive as they are—does not constitute 'obscene and vulgar or profane language' as specifically prohibited by this statute."
This story was covered extensively by pro-life and religious blogs, but elsewhere not so much. It's a bummer when we let ideology blind us to what binds us. While we disagree profoundly, our rights to free speech unite us as Americans.

Operation Rescue wasn't alone in dealing with not-so-peachy speech restrictions last year. The ACLU of Georgia advocated for residents of a community called Avondale Estates that prohibited the display of signs on residents' property.

Ultimately, the Court struck down some of the sign ordinance provisions as unconstitutional.  In addition, the Court has awarded the ACLU of Georgia $142,329 in attorneys fees and expenses.  This ruling is significant because it analyzes and deals with the scenario where defendants may attempt to avoid fee liability by repeatedly and unilaterally changing ordinances.

Sheesh! Nonstop signage interference!

The bummer is that a lot of free speech advocates may turn up their noses at defending Operation Rescue.  When I mentioned the Truth Truck issue to a politically engaged left-leaner, she couldn't get past the anti-abortion aspect. On the flip side, isn't it likely that pro-life advocates won't be able to look past the ACLU's church/state separation agenda?

This divisiveness is disappointing when we all want safe, free, happy futures. It sounds as though evangelicals are turning more toward issues of racial disharmony, poverty, and the environment. It behooves those on the left to ensure that our free speech advocacy is as inclusive as possible -- even of people who might find our art offensive, or don't approve of our lifestyle choices.

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consv.jpgI first posted this in November and then removed it because it seemed too personal. Recent events have compelled to put it back up. We all want to be safe. The specter of terrorism does require vigilance. But destroying individuals' personal relationships and creating a general sense of fear and distrust cannot advance the cause of liberty. No one should be, in effect, imprisoned without having committed any crimes, or been tried for crimes. We all must be aware of the human element of the vast surveillance apparatus before its cancerous growth metastasizes beyond all control.

Yesterday's Wired Threat Level pointed out what it means for our government agencies to have total access to our communications. Ryan Singel lists the reasons there is a difference between your ISP and the government having access to your private information. Among them, the government can: put you on a watch list, find a tenuous connection between you and suspected bad guys in order to justify further surveillance, and build secret files on Americans' First Amendment-protected political activities.

This inspired me to reflect on some of the things I've learned about what sucks most when the government intrudes on one's daily life.
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People in states that have yet to hold primaries should insist that Clinton and Obama take a stand on the frightening Homegrown Terrorism Bill before they give either candidate a vote.

All the Michigan/Florida controversy and Superdelegate issues aside, it seems like forcing the Democratic contenders to fight for their right to represent is better for all of us than the early anointing that generally happens. If they address actual issues, rather than engaging in irritating "red phone" banter, that is. They don't have so many differences (on Iraq, health care, the economy) that will affect our everyday lives, but their willingness to address our civil liberties emergency - or not - will reverberate for generations.

Right now, the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee is mulling over the Homegrown Terrorism Act. Obama is on the Committee and as of late last year had not taken a position on this bill that will create vast new arenas for the monitoring of U.S. citizens.

After nearly eight years of unchecked lawlessness and abuse of executive privilege, it's time make sure the next president knows that we will watch him or her like hawks, not grant extended powers in our already endemic surveillance society for monitoring everyday people who oppose a given administration's policies. Essentially, these candidates, who have pledged their lives to public service, are agreeing to be monitored by us and it's our job to do so.

Right now, the most important questions to many are, "Will you take the lead in repairing our looted and vandalized systems of government?" "Will you restore the rule of law?" "Will you resurrect our image in the eyes of the world?"

I am looking at both Obama and Clinton right now, and though Obama seems more promising, and had the mettle to take a stand on telecom immunity, I'm still not convinced that he is prepared to lead us out of our civil liberties emergency.

Rather than simply giving candidates our support or not, we could hold to the notion that it is our job not just to get excited by a speech, go to a voting booth, and cling to a fantasy that vacant campaign promises will become policy. Rather, with our vote we are giving them permission to be accountable to us.

We can promise the candidates that we will remain active stewards of democracy. We will insist that basic Constitutional safeguards remain in place. We are not afraid to press for impeachment, to protest, to create new parties whose representatives - unlike Congressional Democrats - will do what they were voted in to do.

If your state hasn't voted, contact Clinton and Obama's campaign offices and ask whether or not they will at the very least ensure that the vague language that could threaten first amendment rights is removed from the Homegrown Terrorism Bill and that independent civil liberties oversight of the commission is provided.

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Thumbnail image for palmer raids.jpgWill the now-more-politicized-than-ever intelligence infrastructure, or the legal system, get to weigh in on the legality of surveillance targeting? With the House and Senate negotiating this week over how to amend the the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), it's more important than ever to understand the issues.

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) tells us that although Telecom immunity has gotten all the press (certainly I've been fixated on it), judicial supervision is most important:

The House bill, as noted, puts judicial approval where it belongs - at the beginning of the process. In a huge concession to the government's arguments, the House bill does not require judicial approval of individual targets, even if they might communicate with someone in the U.S. Instead, the House bill creates a system of "program warrants" or "basket orders," under which the government can designate the individual targets on its own discretion.

The House bill also takes significant steps to cut off an argument used by the Administration to justify post 9-11 warrantless surveillance outside the requirements of FISA. The House bill's "exclusivity" provision indicates that a Congressional authorization of the use of military force should not be construed to authorize surveillance unless it does so explicitly. The Senate bill, in contrast, merely repeats current law. It therefore invites the argument that Congress might implicitly authorize warrantless surveillance in the future when it authorizes the use of military force.
Yikes! The CDT provides an excellent overview, clearly breaking down what the issues are with the different bills, and what's at stake.

Send support to House leaders! Let them know you want legislation that maintains the rule of law.

~~ Center for Democracy and Technology


We Accept - Even Welcome - Privacy Loss

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Giving up privacy has been normalized to a paradoxical degree.

On the one hand, few Americans seem to know that relative to most of the developed world, ours is a surveillance society nearing the level of Russia or China. On the other hand, we have come to accept daily incursions on our privacy and other basic rights for the sake of convenience or "safety."

For someone like me, in her early thirties, there has been a gradual and bumpy trajectory from an expectation of privacy at my jr. hight locker, to getting used to being filmed at the ATM, to feeling like an out-of-touch old lady because I want my emails to be private.

What about kids marinating in the camera-filled, reality TV existence we've created for them? As Allison Orr of Australia's EDemocracy notes:

tjalien.jpgTonight the pundits talk about Hillary's support among white women, and other demographic fluff, as we wait for the results of the "Chesapeake Primaries" on the day the Senate handed telecom immunity to a pleased White House.

I'm a white woman. Clinton was generally my last choice until the field was narrowed to two. Because the Montana primary isn't until June 3, I had the luxury of waiting to see how she and Obama would respond to the FISA and Homegrown Terrorism debates before deciding.

Today Clinton neglected to vote on the FISA bill and she lost my vote.  She offers a Comprehensive Government Reform page on her web site, but won't stand up NOW against vast, illegal spying in our out of control surveillance society. Obama, on the other hand, voted against telecom immunity. I called Clinton's campaign office to let them know this decided it, and then donated to Obama's campaign.

I wish I could telekinetically impress upon MSNBC, CNN and all the rest: I don't care if Hillary cries, or wears a low-cut blouse, or would have stayed home making cookies, or screwed up on health care, gets pummeled by Chris Matthews, or has more experience than Obama. I don't consult my fallopian tubes before I check a ballot. Equality and justice are what matter to me. None of us (black, white, woman, Muslim, Jewish, LGBT) has rights if we don't have Civil Liberties.

(Also? Note to pundits: Ron Paul is not only the "anti-war" candidate. He is the Civil Liberties candidate. The other night a CNN talking head named "The Internet" as his demographic friend, rather than hundreds of thousands of Americans from a variety of backgrounds who are outraged by this criminal administration's war and its assault on domestic freedom.)

So, for now, Obama's got me even though I'm not riding his rhetorical "change" wave. We'll see how the Homegrown Terrorism Bill debate shakes down. Will he continue to show leadership rather than playing the safe Clinton game?

If you're feeling the warm and fuzzy Obama-as-second-coming vibe, I hope you'll cool down and make sure he knows that you're in his corner because he believes that a renewed America means an unwavering devotion to our founding documents. "Change" must mean the restoration of our democracy.

Update: In later updates on the FISA coverage it came to light that though Obama voted against telecom immunity, neither Clinton nor Obama voted on final passage of the bill. I don't yet understand why Obama would take a stand on telecom immunity and then NOT vote against the bill... More soon...

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edvarner.jpgI saw Obama slide this one by in the Vegas debate. Romney spouted it at the Reagan Library (I think -- they're all starting to run together), this notion that relying on nuclear power will somehow benefit national security through reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

This is very simple.

Most of the petroleum we import goes into our gas tanks. ONLY 1.6% OF OUR ELECTRICITY WAS GENERATED BY PETROLEUM IN 2006. That number is projected to stay the same through 2030. 

So: using nuclear energy has little to do with reducing dependence on foreign oil. It would increase our dependence on foreign uranium, which has its own host of national security implications.

Citizens have a right to basic information on questions of energy dependence and national security. In a democracy we rely on the media to do its job and challenge candidates when they make erroneous connections. Especially when such connections benefit the nuclear industry rather than the rest of us.

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vc77.jpgYes, the FISA debate is still upon us and I hope you've written like mad to your Senators.

But we must not forget about S1959, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007. (Too much of a mouthful? Follow ReasonableCitizen's lead and call it the AQ (or Anti-Quaker) Bill.) Below you'll find all the latest news as well as highlights of oppositional outcry from Sacramento to Atlanta.
 
Remarkably, in an apparent reaction to vast and sustained criticism, the Committee on Homeland Security released this Fact Sheet in December. (The Center for Constitutional Rights has a Fact sheet of its own here.  After reading it you can sign the anti- petition if it will make you feel better.)

Some folks seemed to think the bill was dead, but it clearly is not. I do think we have some time before it hits the Senate floor, however. My Senator, who is on the Homeland Security Committee, wasn't familiar with it when we spoke last week. If your Senator is also on that Committee, The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is asking you to meet with his or her aides.

And now, many smart reasons to fight this bill as though our Constitutional rights depended on it (Oh wait... They do...):

Bring the Bill of Rights to Your Town!

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bill_of_rights_630.jpgThe U.S. is a nation supposedly divided by red and blue, and definitely by pundits. But it doesn't have to stay this way.

More than anything, good and decent people of all stripes are dismayed over the deep divisions and polarization within the country, and looking for some positive first step they can take to build a bridge back to common ground.

This according to Chris Bliss, founder of MyBillofRights.org. Chris not only has an enviable name, but is a world famous juggler who happens to spend many more than six hours per week advocating shared American ideals.

It seems odd, doesn't it, that there are no monuments to the Bill of Rights in the U.S.? Anywhere? MyBillofRights.org seeks to place 3D odes to to the document on public lands in all 50 states.

Symbolic representations of what we share as U.S. citizens don't solve all of our problems, but really do have the potential to inspire. We must continue to strive to uphold the dreams and principles that our most essential documents represent. Shouldn't we be reminded of them at every opportunity? Progress has been made on erecting monuments in Arizona and Texas. Will your state be next?

MyBillofRights.org has provided a copy of the Bill of Rights here, with translations into 14 languages.

~~ MyBillofRights.org

martin Luther King 2.jpgUntil quite recently I wasn’t into monuments. I think it has to do with whatever generational/marketing segment I belong to: all about irony, and too aware of hypocrisy and injustice to spend my time remembering in any sort of predetermined “patriotic” manner.

A couple of weeks ago I finally noticed the Martin Luther King memorial at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco.

I had passed the roaring waterfall at least a few dozen times on the way to the MOMA or a movie and never stopped because I didn’t know that pictures of King and civil rights leaders and inscribed King quotations were hiding there beneath it. Visitors walking under the fall can’t avoid a slight spray. When I made it to the end and read the final quotation, realizing that the water represented King’s dream of justice washing over us, my own tears spontaneously started flowing.  Seriously. I had to pull myself together before buying my movie tickets.

Now it is one of my favorite places in the city; each time I’ve returned since, I've left feeling fortified by the reminder of the civil rights struggle and committed to doing my small part to promote justice. Monuments can work as important, non-cheesy, living remembrances.

Now, as MLK Day approaches, I'm trying to fill myself in on the history of the civil rights movement. Here's a short quiz to spark your memory (I got 8 out of 12... time to brush up!).

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birdseye-cutout.jpgPass the Freedom Fries!  The French are still filmed, monitored and intercepted less than we are, but barely. Their status also "deteriorated" in 2007.

The U.S. has been downgraded from "Extensive Surveillance Society" to "Endemic Surveillance Society," according to Privacy International's 2007 International Privacy Ranking released on Friday. We now share the "Endemic" distinction with China, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, and the UK. I should have expected the following, really, after recently letting go of my email privacy delusions:

In terms of statutory protections and privacy enforcement, the US is the worst ranking country in the democratic world. In terms of overall privacy protection the United States has performed very poorly, being out-ranked by both India and the Philippines.
It's worth noting that Canadian and EU papers have reported on this, but I have yet to find coverage in a U.S. newspaper. It's up to you and me to let our friends and family and presidential candidates know that we rank at the bottom when it comes to:
Suffrage.jpgLast week, we saw Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's strategic flip flopping on whether "homegrown terror" constitutes the U.S's greatest terror threat.

Now we see language from the Homegrown Terrorism Act popping up in last Friday's seemingly strategically timed plea agreements from two men who were caught in a Los Angeles-area terror plot. This is not incredibly surprising, given that this case supposedly inspired the Act. But we have to wonder if it's a coincidence that the pleas are being entered now, while we await Senate debate on the Act. From a Justice Department press release:

In plea agreements filed this morning and court proceedings conducted this morning in United States District Court in Santa Ana, James and Washington admitted that they conspired “to levy war against the government of the United States through terrorism, and to oppose by force the authority of the United States government.”
Isn't enough that these men were caught in a heinous terrorist plot? That should put them safely away. Why the need to get them to use language about opposing the government's authority? What was their incentive to do so?

Further, what is "force?" Aren't we obligated as patriotic citizens to constantly question our government's authority? Like the suffragists on hunger strikes who were force-fed in prison? Like Civil Rights marchers?  From the bill:
664px-Centennial_Bell_in_the_Independence_Hall_Belfry,_Philadelphia_-_Engraving_from_1876.jpgWhat is the greatest terrorist threat to the United States? It depends on the audience -- and what aspects of privacy you want it to give up.

If you're trying to convince Europeans to create an international fingerprint and personal-data screening database, it's international. If you want to persuade a domestic audience to nationally standardize drivers licenses, it's domestic.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said this two weeks ago when addressing a European audience about the ways they would need to give up their anonymity when traveling to the United States:

The United States faces a lower risk of homegrown terrorism than Europe and should concentrate efforts on developing a global system of anti-terrorist screening at airports and borders, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday.

When asked whether the United States considered a homegrown attack likely — the prevailing pattern in Britain, where legally-residing extremists have plotted or committed a string of attacks since 2005 — Chertoff said America needed to make screening of international travelers its most logical priority.

"We have less of a problem with homegrown terrorism than in Europe. That's not to say we don't have a problem," he said, noting arrests in May of six foreign-born U.S. residents on suspicion of plotting to attack the Fort Dix army base.

"So I don't mean to suggest that the exclusive remedy is preventing bad people from getting into the United States ... but that is the point of their greatest vulnerability," he said.

Now Reuters reports in a story entitled U.S. Says Homegrown Attack Poses Biggest Risk:

The United States faces a heightened threat of terrorist attack "for the foreseeable future" but any attack will likely be homegrown, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said on Wednesday...

"There's probably a greater risk in terms of likelihood from a homegrown attack than from a massive international attack," he added.

Chertoff described that sort of "homegrown" attack as a single person or small group of people living in the United States who were "recruited" on the Internet and had pledged allegiance to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.


So, what's going on? Why the different assessments? Could Chertoff's domestic rhetoric have anything to do with the likely soon-to-be-debated Homegrown Terrorism Bill?

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Happy Human Rights Day

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December 10 is a very beautiful day no matter how cold it is where you are: the U.N.'s Human Rights Day. This year is special because it marks the kick-off of a year-long celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

This theme for 2008, “Dignity and justice for all of us,” reinforces the vision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as a commitment to universal dignity and justice. It is not a luxury or a wish-list.  The UDHR and its core values, inherent human dignity, non-discrimination, equality, fairness and universality, apply to everyone, everywhere and always.  The Declaration is universal, enduring and vibrant, and it concerns us all.

Since its adoption in 1948, the Declaration has been and continues to be a source of inspiration for national and international efforts to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“Low Hanging Fruit” Vs. “Strange Fruit”

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tree drawing.jpgWhen it comes to my government’s intelligence agencies, I am, and likely always will remain, “low hanging fruit.”

Until last week I had scarcely heard the expression. Then two lawyers in two different offices separately described me thusly just hours apart on the same day. The phrase has been pinging around my brain’s background circuitry like a pinball ever since.

What does it conjure? A well-endowed gay friend made me laugh when he claimed to share the designation… Sometimes I imagine an easy-to-reach banana with my head on it…


Hushmail: So Long Privacy, I Hardly Knew You

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telegraphmap.gifFinding out that my Hushmail messages aren't as private as I thought they were makes me nostalgic (and pissed, of course).

When I studied abroad in Thailand as an undergrad I began to realize what made me U.S. American. Though I was full of youthful certainty about everything that was wrong with the U.S., and expected that my time in Prothet Thai would only reveal the ways our foreign policy and globalization generally had damaged the country, I unexpectedly came face to face with my own Americanness.

"Surprise radical, young know-it-all," nearly all of my experiences seemed to say. "Most of what you value dearly is ingrained in your culture! American Culture! Ha!" The ensuing identity crisis was long and ugly.

women aviation.jpgNo major patriotic accomplishments this week -- unless you consider losing sleep productive. Finding out that there are Guantanamo-like no-man's lands on U.S. soil scared the shit out of me.

Australian-born U.S. citizen Anne Summers recently had trouble entering and leaving the U.S.:

Summers was detained by armed agents for FIVE HOURS each way in LAX on her way to and from the annual meeting of the board of Greenpeace International in Mexico, and her green card was taken away from her. `I want to call a lawyer', she told TSA agents. `Ma'am, you do not have a right to call an attorney,' they replied. `You have not entered the United States.'

Apparently a section of LAX just beyond the security line is asserted to be `not in the United States' -- though it is squarely inside the airport -- so the laws of the US do not apply.

What?? Who approved this? Is there a list of regions in the U.S. where the law doesn't apply so, you know, we can avoid them if we want to?

Nazi Germany: Climate Change Lessons

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german forest.JPG Those of us who are stepping up to the climate change challenge must devote as much energy to civil liberties issues as we do to energy policy. If we don't, we may wake up one day soon in an America we don't recognize, and find ourselves unable to enforce even the most watered down carbon reduction schemes.

There are clearly many differences between our society today and Germany in the 1930s, but some similarities bear comparison. Unlike the Germans, we have the benefit of history.

In the 1930s, many middle-class Germans were dedicated conservationists with regional hiking clubs boasting thousands of local members. The National Socialists didn't just turn Germany into a fascist state over night: they gradually and legally seized power over a period of years. The outcome was not inevitable. As Thomas Lekan notes in his study of environmentalism in the Rhineland region, Imagining the Nation in Nature, it was important to win over the nature-loving demographic during the consolidation of power. In 1935 the Nazis made their dreams come true by passing the national Reich Nature Protection Law and making Germany the most progressive among industrialized nations in regard to landscape planning and conservation, according to Charles Closmann's essay in How Green Were the Nazis?


What does this have to do with us in the United States right now, you ask?

Six Hours A Week Is:

A coping strategy, advocacy outlet, and form of protection. My life has been nearly destroyed by the unconstitutional practices of politically/socially-motivated private intelligence contractors and the corruption and cronyism that allow them. Apparently because I speak out in ways that prioritize the little guy and human and environmental health above gargantuan profit margins, and believe that facts are as important as PR spin, I was someone who had to be completely discredited. In 2007, after a few months of a surreal and relentless invasion of privacy and dignity, I started to spend six hours each week researching, communicating about, and advocating legal and ethical responses to assaults on our shared democratic and republican ideals. For most of that time I was writing from the perspective of someone whose life was manipulated into a constant state of terror and emergency. In 2010, many of the array of entrapment attempts seem to have failed and it seems no longer possible to get away with such excessive, obvious harassment and overt interference. As we take more practical steps to address what has been allowed to happen to my family, we do expect to see some more harassment and intimidation. But I should be able to chronicle it from a more measured perspective, rather than that of someone in constant fear. Part of me would like to go back and delete earlier posts, because even I find them hard to relate to in some ways. But this blog has been one of our only forms of protection as everyone in any official capacity ignored the truth and tried to spin and frame us into the troublemakers and perpetrators of one form or another. So I leave it up as a form of protection, a record of what has occurred, and (with luck) the account of our way back to credibility and some form of legitimate justice. All content on this site is property of Kyeann Sayer. All rights reserved.

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