You are hereCivil Rights / Liberties
Civil Rights / Liberties
It's Official: 2009 Was Record Year For Lobbying, Despite Recession
By Arthur Delaney | Huffington Post
Every big sector spent more, first and foremost the pharmaceutical and health products industry, which spent $266.8 million -- "the greatest amount ever spent on lobbying efforts by a single industry for one year," according to CRP. Business associations spent $183 million, oil and gas interests spent $168.4 million and the insurance industry shelled out $164.2 million.
The final reports are in and we can now officially say that 2009 was the most profitable year ever for the lobbying industry.
The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics tallied lobbying income data from tens of thousands of disclosure filings, and the data show that special interests of all stripes spent $3.47 billion lobbying the federal government in 2009, up from $3.3 billion the previous year.
How did the influence industry manage such a banner year despite a battered economy? The simple answer is that the Obama administration's aggressive change agenda has prompted businesses to open their wallets to an unprecedented degree in the hope of preventing reform. Read more.
By Linda Milazzo
Tomorrow morning, ABC's Jonathan Karl will audition to replace George Stephanopoulos on the network's flagship Sunday morning program, This Week. Karl's exclusive "get" for his hosting debut is former Vice President Dick Cheney, whom Karl last interviewed on December 16, 2008 - a month after Barack Obama was elected President, and a month after Jonathan Karl was named ABC's Senior Congressional Correspondent.
The IndictBushNow movement has captured the imagination and support of hundreds of thousands of people.
This is a grassroots movement and it is a classic example of the people acting together to defend democracy and the Constitution from government law-breakers.
The struggle for government accountability has entered a new phase. This movement needs your active participation.
Powerful corporate forces who have bowed in the past to pressure from the Bush-Cheney gang are now trying to block this movement from getting our message out.
IndictBushNow had spent weeks communicating with CBS representatives for the launch in Washington, D.C., for our wrap-around bus ads that read: "TORTURE is not just wrong ... it is ILLEGAL. Because NO ONE is above the law," followed by our organization's website address.
But now, CBS officials have suddenly changed their tune. In a communication we have just received from CBS Outdoor (which has the contract for the placement of bus ads in the nation's capital), the advertising media giant rejected our bus ad, suddenly claiming it constituted "attack advertisement." Read more, take action.
Protest at the University of HI Challenges Intelligence Community Centers of Academic Excellence & CIA Campus Recruitment
Protest at the University of Hawaii Challenges Intelligence Community Centers of Academic Excellence and CIA Recruitment on Campus
By Ann Wright | Click "Read more" below for large photo
Hawaii activists protested on February 10, 2010, the University of Hawaii’s participation with U.S. intelligence agencies in a symposium on national security and called on students and faculty to remember the criminal track record of these agencies in torture, assassination, kidnapping and illegal prisons.
Protesters called on the University administration to reject any request by the federal government to create a National Intelligence Center of Academic Excellence (ICCAE, pronounced “icky”) at the University of Hawaii.
Government intelligence agencies, including the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and Homeland Security, have created in the past four years twenty-two Intelligence Community Centers for Academic Excellence on university campuses to provide “systematic long-term programs at universities and colleges to recruit and hire eligible talent for [intelligence community] agencies and components” and to “increase the [intelligence recruiting] pipeline of students.”
The EU Parliament voted today–by big margins–to end the temporary deal allowing the US access to data from SWIFT.
The European Parliament on Thursday broadly rejected an agreement with the United States on sharing information on bank transfers that was aimed at tracking suspected terrorists through their finances.The vote in Strasbourg, France, underlined differences between the United States and the European Union over how to balance guarantees of personal privacy with concerns about national and international security.
A resolution to reject the deal passed 378-196, with 31 abstentions. The vote means that the agreement, which provisionally went into force at the beginning of February, cannot be used as planned.
The agreement would have freed the United States from having to seek bank data on a country-by-country basis. But Washington still could press for access to the data through such avenues.
Remember, this deal would have given European citizens more protections than Americans currently get from their banks (because it would have allowed them to check whether their data had been accessed). Read more.
My Country Has Been Hijacked
Munich Peace Rally Speech
By Cynthia McKinney
Thank you for allowing me to come from the United States and participate in this rally for peace.
My country has been hijacked by a criminal cabal intent on using the hard-earned dollars of the American people for war, occupation, and empire.
As a result, the national leadership of my country, both Democratic and Republican, became complicit in war crimes, torture, crimes against humanity, and crimes against the peace.
As a Member of Congress from the Democratic Party, I drafted Articles of Impeachment against George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice. Later, when Democrats voted to support more war rather than take care of the needs of the people, I declared my independence from them and all national leadership; the Green Party nominated me to run for President, which I did on a platform of truth, justice, peace, and dignity.
I watched as Candidate Barack Obama came here to Germany to speak. I saw tears on the faces of many in the crowd who believed that, finally, there was something worth believing in again. That America had turned a page from its evil playbook that had so outraged and disappointed the world. That good was finally about to triumph over evil.
I know that beleaguered people all over the world, victims of cruel and deadly military, economic, imperial policies finally could believe in hope and change. And America could be believed in again.
Everywhere I went all over the world there were pictures of Barack Obama, slogans "Yes, We Can," and the words "Hope" and "Change" plastered everywhere.
And after eight years of George W. Bush, Barack Obama seemed to be the man the world was waiting for.
So when the Candidate became the President, we held our breath in anticipation.
That torture and rendition; spying on innocent, dissenting Americans; war and occupation; crimes against the U.S. Constitution and crimes against the peace would end and that the United States would finally join the community of nations.
Sadly, one year into the Presidency of Barack Obama, that is not the case.
No more illegal wiretapping of American citizens....This administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not. - Barack Obama, Aug. 1, 2007
On second thought, never mind.
With the world's attention riveted by the earthquake in Haiti, few noticed when, late last month, a federal judge took a pair of sharp scissors to the Bill of Rights. But on Jan. 22, federal district judge Vaughan Walker agreed to dismiss a lawsuit over warrantless wiretapping, as the administration - the current one - had requested.
The suit was the second of its type to get tossed out. The first suit was filed against AT&T, and it accused the company of forking over to federal agents the calls and e-mails of customers in the United States. But Walker dismissed that suit last June, after Congress passed legislation granting retroactive immunity to telecom compa-
nies for cooperating with federal surveillance efforts.
The second suit was filed against the National Security Agency. Walker threw it out on the grounds that the plaintiffs could not show they had been individually harmed, because they could not "differentiate themselves from the mass of telephone and Internet users in the United States." They needed a "direct, personal stake" to claim standing for the right to sue, not merely "a right to have the government follow the law."
This seems to suggest that as long as the government is hoovering up vast amounts of communications records from many thousands of Americans - "dragnet surveillance," as the Electronic Frontier Foundation calls it - no harm done: The more people the government wiretaps, the more authority the federal government has to do so.
That is...interesting. Because the Obama administration had asked to have the case dismissed on entirely different grounds - the state- secrets doctrine: Litigating the dispute would require the government to disclose "a range of facts concerning whether, when, how, why, and under what authority the NSA may have utilized certain intelligence sources and methods," it argued, which could lead to "exceptionally grave harm to national security."
"Congress has not waived sovereign immunity," says the administration's brief, "and summary judgment for the Government on all of plaintiffs' remaining claims against all parties...is required because information necessary to litigate plaintiffs' claims is properly subject to and excluded from use in this case by the state secrets privilege."
This is precisely the position taken by the Bush administration. Indeed, by some lights the Obama position is even worse, since the Bush program was created while the country was in full panic mode after 9/11. Obama not only has had time to reflect from a distance; having reflected, he concluded the Bush position was wrong. Then he turned around and embraced it. Read more.
[Padilla] claimed that Yoo, as a Justice Department lawyer and self-described member of the Bush administration's "war council," approved his detention and wrote legal opinions that justified his treatment.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White refused to dismiss the suit in June. It was the first time a court had held a Justice Department attorney potentially responsible for the abuse of prisoners.
Yoo has appealed, saying the suit would interfere with presidential war-making authority. The Obama administration has taken his side, arguing that courts should not meddle in questions of national security.
But in filings over the last 10 days, groups of constitutional law professors, legal ethics scholars and former government attorneys urged the court to keep Padilla's suit alive.
They argue that this is not a dispute over legal advice, as Yoo contends, but the case of a lawyer who allegedly stepped out of his role to take part in planning detention and interrogation policies, and then devised legal opinions to justify those policies.
As reports circulate that the Justice Department has softened its criticism of attorney John Yoo for memos approving the Bush administration's treatment of terrorism suspects, several prominent lawyers are urging a federal appeals court in San Francisco to hold Yoo accountable. Read more.
"If we don't act quickly, the court's ruling will have an immediate and disastrous impact on the 2010 elections," said Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate.
Democratic leaders in Congress unveiled proposals Thursday that would limit the impact of a Supreme Court decision allowing unfettered corporate spending on political campaigns.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) called for a ban on companies with more than 20 percent foreign ownership, government contractors and bank bailout recipients from participating in U.S. elections. They also want to require companies to inform shareholders about political spending, and to mandate that corporate chief executives to appear in any political advertising funded by their companies.
Schumer told reporters that the proposals will be introduced later this month. Read more.
Nurse Whistle-Blower Not Guilty for Reporting Doctor
Texas Nurse Fired After Sheriff Seizes Computer and Finds Letter of Complaint
By Susan Donaldson James, Steve Osunsami and Michael Murray | ABC News
A Texas jury has found veteran nurse Anne Mitchell not guilty of harassment after she wrote a confidential letter to the Texas Medical Board complaining about a doctor she believed practiced shoddy medicine.
Her lawyer, John Cook, announced the verdict today on the fourth day of the trial in Andrew, Texas.
Mitchell, 52, could have faced 10 years in prison for doing what she believed was her obligation under the law -- to report unsafe medical practices.
The verdict could have had a profound effect on whistle-blowers in Texas and nationwide. People are certainly talking. Phil Parks told ABC News, "I think that nurses must be on the side of patients. They spend more time with patients than doctors do." Read more.
Americans have been losing the protection of law for years. In the 21st century the loss of legal protections accelerated with the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” which continues under the Obama administration and is essentially a war on the Constitution and U.S. civil liberties.
The Bush regime was determined to vitiate habeas corpus in order to hold people indefinitely without bringing charges. The regime had acquired hundreds of prisoners by paying a bounty for “terrorists.” Afghan warlords and thugs responded to the financial incentive by grabbing unprotected people and selling them to the Americans.
The Bush regime needed to hold the prisoners without charges because it had no evidence against the people and did not want to admit that the U.S. government had stupidly paid warlords and thugs to kidnap innocent people. In addition, the Bush regime needed “terrorists” prisoners in order to prove that there was a terrorist threat.
As there was no evidence against the “detainees” (most have been released without charges after years of detention and abuse), the U.S. government needed a way around U.S. and international laws against torture in order that the government could produce evidence via self-incrimination. The Bush regime found inhumane and totalitarian-minded lawyers and put them to work at the U.S. Department of Justice (sic) to invent arguments that the Bush regime did not need to obey the law. Read more.
By Dave LIndorff
I guess I may as well get out front of things here. I’m about to fly to Switzerland to lead a panel on how to change pro-capital punishment attitudes in a country at the Fourth Congress Against the Death Penalty, being sponsored by the United Nations in Geneva. And judging from the stories I’ve been reading about the Transportation Security Administration, or at least its Philadelphia International Airport operation, and the Philadelphia Police who backstop the TSA here, I’m afraid I’m liable to be hauled away as a suspected terrorist before I can get on my flight.
Why? Because I will be carrying copies of one of my books, which has the title “Killing Time” (It’s an investigation into the death penalty case of Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, and was published in 2003 by Common Courage Press), and more importantly, because I just got a haircut.
By David Swanson
On Democracy Now! on Tuesday, Congressman Dennis Kucinich said he was working on a Constitutional Amendment to address both "Citizen's United" and "Buckley v. Valejo," meaning the Supreme Court decisions giving corporations outrageous and destructive powers of "free speech" and defining the spending of money as "speech."
Glenn Greenwald replied to the Congressman that the First Amendment forbids making laws about free speech, even to limit free speech to human beings. But Kucinich, and so many others, including the campaigns at http://freespeechforpeople.org and http://movetoamend.org , are not proposing to pass laws. They are proposing to amend the Constitution. Greenwald can prefer the current Constitution with corporations holding almost limitless "rights" to buy off elected officials. But he cannot argue that the new Constitution, following an amendment process, would be unconstitutional.
By David Swanson
Walking through Charlottesville, Va., today I saw a sight that is increasingly common in the United States: men in prison uniforms, watched by guards, out working in public, in this case shoveling snow. I asked them if they were being paid for their work, and they just laughed.
A short while later I ran into a city official who was clearly familiar with the prisoner snow-shoveling program. He told me it was nothing new, part of "work release," gave the prisoners a chance to get outside, and that the prisoners were paid.
I pointed out that when asked if they were paid they laughed at me.
Then this official explained that he meant they were paid about 25 cents an hour.
ScienceDaily (Feb. 4, 2010)— Male homosexuality doesn't make complete sense from an evolutionary point of view. It appears that the trait is heritable, but because homosexual men are much less likely to produce offspring than heterosexual men, shouldn't the genes for this trait have been extinguished long ago? What value could this sexual orientation have, that it has persisted for eons even without any discernible reproductive advantage?
One possible explanation is what evolutionary psychologists call the "kin selection hypothesis." What that means is that homosexuality may convey an indirect benefit by enhancing the survival prospects of close relatives. Specifically, the theory holds that homosexual men might enhance their own genetic prospects by being "helpers in the nest." By acting altruistically toward nieces and nephews, homosexual men would perpetuate the family genes, including some of their own.
ScienceDaily (Jan. 28, 2010) — The presumption that children need both a mother and a father is widespread. It has been used by proponents of Proposition 8 to argue against same-sex marriage and to uphold a ban on same-sex adoption.
On the other end of the political spectrum, Barack Obama endorsed the vital role of fathers in a 2008 speech: "Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation."
The lead article in the February issue of Journal of Marriage and Family challenges the idea that "fatherless" children are necessarily at a disadvantage or that men provide a different, indispensable set of parenting skills than women.
Washington, Feb 5 -
Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) yesterday wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder following news reports that Americans have been included on targeted assassination lists maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The reports indicate that the President has authorized military operations with the express understanding that Americans might be killed under this policy. In the letter, Kucinich requests the legal basis for revoking the constitutional rights of any American citizens.
“Due process of law is a fundamental principle in our Constitutional structure. Even the most superficial reading of Article XIV makes it clear that extrajudicial killings of U.S. citizens by the U.S. government or its agents are by definition outside the law,” wrote Kucinich.
“The government has the right and the obligation to protect the citizens of this country. However, I reject the notion that we can accomplish this goal only by violating international law and trampling on the Constitution. Protecting the constitutional rights of some citizens should not require revoking the constitutional rights of other citizens,” said Kucinich in the letter.
Read the full letter here.
Personal Corporatehood: Coping With the Reason Divided of Citizens United
By Randall Amster, J.D., Ph.D. | Truthout
There's great consternation brewing over the recent Supreme Court decision that cements and extends the misbegotten logic of "corporate personhood," and rightly so. Surely, one of the most farcical and tortuous doctrines ever established in our system of jurisprudence, this conflated concept has drawn the ire of (small-d) democrats at least as far back as Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in 1816, "I hope we shall ... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
...Just imagine the benefits. When someone asks you for a favor, you can off-puttingly reply, "I have to check with my board of directors at next month's meeting; someone will get back to you then." When you want to meet with your Congressperson on matters you feel strongly about, the receptionist will announce, "Senator, a corporation is here to see you," which will likely get you instant access. If you go public, you can sell shares in yourself and make a tidy sum (just be sure to retain a controlling interest). If someone irritates you or has something you want, you can likely get the Marines sent in to deal with them. You can avoid having to appear personally at court hearings, sending your hired-gun attorney instead. And you can't be thrown in jail, since a corporation itself cannot be imprisoned. See?
At the end of the day, we "natural persons" can try and fight city hall on this one, or we can get in the game and embrace the benefits of artificiality. In a world of surfaces, where profiteering masks as politics and gerrymandering as justice, this may well be the best of all strategies for survival. Read more.
By Dave Lindorff
There were two points in President Obama’s State of the Union address that provoked resounding and universal applause in the chamber from the assembled senators and representatives of both parties. One point was when the president said he wanted to start his job-creation program “in small businesses, companies that begin when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides its time she became her own boss.” The other point was when he said, “While we're at it, let's also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment; and provide a tax incentive for all businesses, large and small, to invest in new plants and equipment.”
Airport Body Scanning Raises Radiation Exposure, Committee Says
By Jonathan Tirone | Bloomberg
Air passengers should be made aware of the health risks of airport body screenings and governments must explain any decision to expose the public to higher levels of cancer-causing radiation, an inter-agency report said.
Pregnant women and children should not be subject to scanning, even though the radiation dose from body scanners is “extremely small,” said the Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety report, which is restricted to the agencies concerned and not meant for public circulation. The group includes the European Commission, International Atomic Energy Agency, Nuclear Energy Agency and the World Health Organization.
A more accurate assessment about the health risks of the screening won’t be possible until governments decide whether all passengers will be systematically scanned or randomly selected, the report said. Governments must justify the additional risk posed to assengers, and should consider “other techniques to achieve the same end without the use of ionizing radiation.”
President Barack Obama has pledged $734 million to deploy airport scanners that use x-rays and other technology to detect explosives, guns and other contraband. The U.S. and European countries including the U.K. have been deploying more scanners at airports after the attempted bombing on Christmas Day of a Detroit-bound Northwest airline flight.
“There is little doubt that the doses from the backscatter x-ray systems being proposed for airport security purposes are very low,” Health Protection Agency doctor Michael Clark said by phone from Didcot, England. “The issue raised by the report is that even though doses from the systems are very low, they feel there is still a need for countries to justify exposures.” Read more.
The Supreme Court’s seismic January ruling that corporations are free to spend unlimited amounts of their profits to advertise for or against candidates may have been the latest shakeup of campaign finance – but gaping holes already allow corporations to spend enormous sums without leaving a paper trail, a Raw Story investigation has found.
Campaign finance experts confirmed that though disclosure rules remained intact in the new Supreme Court decision, there are effective methods to circumvent them.
Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, an attorney and campaign finance expert at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, said corporations already effectively end-run campaign finance law by shuffling money through trade associations.
“One of their favorites right now is spending through trade associations,” Torres-Spelliscy said.
Trade associations are considered tax-exempt non-profit organizations under US law. While they must report contributions received from other corporations to the Internal Revenue Service, the document itself remains confidential and is not made available to the public. Read more.
So, Where Is The Peace Movement?
By Steve Fine
Our Neighbors for Peace and Justice, San Fernando Valley weekly peace vigil has been running continuously in Studio City, California, since November of 2002, which makes it one of the oldest in the Los Angeles area, if not the country. But as a vigil, it is not unique, rather one of thousands that rose up spontaneously during the lead up to the Iraq war, as average people from all walks of life came together on the local level to protest. In the process, the people at our vigil who kept coming formed bonds of friendship and camaraderie that have sustained us through thick and thin.
For those who are unaware of the vigils movement, a quick definition: A neighborhood peace vigil is a rally with signs, banners and candles held on a weekly basis at the same location, most commonly organized by one or two people who are not professional activists. (Nor are they dupes of corporate financed astro-turf grassroots propagandists, the right wing equivalent.) Each “vigil” is independent, since they are neighborhood based, and yet, they all do the same thing; thus each becomes a model for expanding to more areas. In the Los Angeles area during the lead up to the Iraq War the expansion was so sudden and explosive that there was an attempt to establish a coordinating network. Something similar needs to be created now on a national level, but this time it would be to nurture the growth of a vigils’ revival via an online service that could provide an organizational framework in which each group becomes part of a dynamic grassroots mobilization. The goal would be to force into the mainstream a debate about war spending and the domination of militarism over our government.
During the Bush years and continuing to this day, the media’s tendency to ignore the neighborhood vigil’s call for peace has been all but guaranteed while they have lavished coverage upon the slightest belch coming from the right. So it’s not surprising we are not the first thing that comes to peoples’ minds when they think of the peace movement. Still the corner, as we call our location in Studio City, continues to get its message across to thousands of motorists every Friday night. And like many other vigils we also put on community forums and coordinate with other groups’ activities. So we do have an impact at the local level, which is the whole point.
We’ve become such a well-known fixture in the community that everyone in the valley knows us. This is something other long-standing peace vigils can attest to around the country. So never minimize the impact one small vigil can have even when there isn’t a coordinating structure on a national level. In short, we keep the movement alive while others try to figure out if it even exists.
Activists To Capitol Hill Today: "Reject the PATRIOT Act Reauthorization!" - Sign Petition To Support Them
On February 3, activists from across the country will be on Capitol Hill to tell members of Congress to reject the PATRIOT Act unless serious reforms are included. If you can't come to Washington, add your name to this petition. We'll deliver the petition and signatures to each Congressional office we visit. This petition campaign is initiated by the Bill of Right Defense Committee, which will compile the final petition list (your name, city and state will be shared with BORDC).
We, the undersigned, write to urge President Obama and members of Congress to reject the PATRIOT Act in its current form, rather than extend its expiring provisions without imposing meaningful protections to ensure transparency and enable oversight going forward.
When the Act was originally passed, civil liberties advocates decried it, both for the inadequate congressional process exploring its sweeping changes to longstanding law—including some that federal courts have since held unconstitutional—and also for giving the government the authority to invade the privacy of law-abiding individuals without meaningful checks and balances. The Act has been in place for nearly a decade, and its implementation has repeatedly demonstrated that those fears were, and unfortunately remain, well-founded. Read the rest of the petition, sign.
Autopsy: FBI Agents Shot Detroit Imam 21 Times | Democracy NOW!
In Michigan, explosive details have emerged from the long-awaited release of the autopsy report for a Detroit-area Muslim imam slain by the FBI in October. The imam, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, headed a Sunni Muslim group called the Ummah. He was shot dead during an FBI raid shortly after being indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit federal crimes. Local Muslim leaders have questioned if authorities are trying to cover up facts surrounding his death. The autopsy report was finally released Monday after a lengthy delay. It shows Abdullah died from twenty-one gunshot wounds and was found with his wrists handcuffed behind his back. House Judiciary Chair John Conyers is expected to join a coalition of civil rights and Muslim groups today to call for a Justice Department probe.
The widow of a Detroit imam shot to death by FBI agents said today that she was appalled to learn her husband died from 21 gunshot wounds.
“It’s really hard and it’s really painful for me,” Amina Abdullah, 36, said of the autopsy report detailing the death of Luqman Ameen Abdullah. “I was shocked. I was almost going to faint. I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t sleep.”
Amina Abdullah was married 10 years to the imam, said her attorney Nabih Ayad. Ayad also said the government is trying to deport her to Tanzania.
“She’s concerned about going back home,” Ayad said.
Amina Abdullah appeared at a news conference this morning in Detroit with U.S. Rep John Conyers, who is calling for an independent investigation into the imam’s Oct. 28 death in a Dearborn warehouse.
Ayad told reporters he would also like a second autopsy done because he is concerned about reports of lacerations to Abdullah’s hands and wonders if an FBI dog bit him before he fired back. Read more.