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Lawmakers Cave to FBI in Patriot Act Debate

Lawmakers Cave to FBI in Patriot Act Debate
Powerful Senate leaders on Thursday bowed to FBI concerns that adding privacy protections to an expiring provision of the Patriot Act could jeopardize “ongoing” terror investigations.
By David Kravets | Wired

The Patriot Act was adopted six weeks after the 2001 terror attacks, and greatly expanded the government’s power to intrude into the private lives of Americans in the course of anti-terror and criminal investigations. Three provisions are expiring at year’s end.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee chairman, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) introduced last-minute changes (.pdf) that would strip away some of the privacy protections Leahy had espoused just the week before. The Vermont Democrat said his own, original proposal of last week could jeopardize ongoing terror investigations.

“All of us are mindful that threats against American safety are real and continuing,” Leahy said at the hearing . “I’m trying to introduce balances on both sides.”

He was discussing one of the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act — Section 215. That allows a secret court — known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court or FISA court — to authorize broad warrants for most any type of records, including those held by banks, libraries and doctors.

The Leahy-Feinstein amendment, which is likely to be adopted by the committee and sent to the full Senate next week, does not require the government show a connection between the items sought under a Section 215 warrant and a suspected terrorist or spy. Read more.

Portable Pain Weapon May End Up In Police Hands

Portable pain weapon may end up in police hands
By Paul Marks, New Scientist | Obama's Quagmire

The Pentagon’s efforts to develop a beam weapon that can deter an adversary by causing a burning sensation on their skin has taken a step forward with the development of a small, potentially hand-held, version. The weapon, which is claimed to cause no permanent harm, could also end up being used by police to control civilians.

The idea of the weapon is to “create a heating sensation that repels individual adversaries”, according to the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) in Quantico, Virginia, which develops less-lethal weapons for the US military and coastguard.

Tests with a rifle-mounted infrared laser, carried out at a US air force lab near Dayton, Ohio, have determined a combination of laser pulse power and wavelength that causes an alarming, hot sensation on the skin, but which stops short of causing a burn, says JNLWD project engineer Wesley Burgei. Read more.

Protection Or Peril? Gun Possession Of Questionable Value In An Assault, Study Finds

ScienceDaily (Sep. 30, 2009)--In a first-of its-kind study, epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that, on average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. The study estimated that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun.

The study was released online this month in the American Journal of Public Health, in advance of print publication in November 2009.

“This study helps resolve the long-standing debate about whether guns are protective or perilous,” notes study author Charles C. Branas, PhD, Associate Professor of Epidemiology. “Will possessing a firearm always safeguard against harm or will it promote a false sense of
security?”

A Second Bill of Rights

Let's Try Democracy By David Swanson, BlackCommentator.com Columnist

This is the second of three excerpts from Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union (Seven Stories Press) by David Swanson published here by the kind permission of the publisher.

Click here to read any of the commentaries in this series.

In places where we are not already protected, or where we have been shown to be vulnerable over the last eight years or before, legislation and amendments can be used to expand our existing rights and establish entirely new ones. All of our rights, new and old, should be properly protected by placing violations of them in the criminal code.

1. The Right to Vote

New Cookie Technologies: Harder to See and Remove, Widely Used to Track You

New Cookie Technologies: Harder to See and Remove, Widely Used to Track You
By Seth Schoen | Electronic Freedom Foundation

This is part 1 of a three-part series on user tracking on the web today. You can read Part 2 here.

Cookies are still a privacy problem for web users, many years after privacy advocates first raised concerns about their use to track web browsing. Today, cookies are one of the main mechanisms that advertising companies like Google use to track and profile users across sites and over time -- often building up a single gigantic profile for years and years. Many EFF members respond to this threat by using their browsers' cookie management features to limit which cookies they'll accept or how long they'll be retained.

But it turns out that the cookie situation is quite a bit trickier today, and sites that want to track users have new technical options that are hard for users to respond to. The traditional "cookie" is an HTTP cookie, invented by Lou Montulli and John Giannandrea at Netscape in 1994. But today many browsers implement a range of things with the same kind of cookie-like tracking behavior -- mechanisms that are far less familiar, harder to notice, and often harder to control.

A great overview of the wide range of cookie technologies confronting us today is Cleaning Up After Cookies, an article published last year by Katherine McKinley at iSEC Partners. McKinley describes five cookie-like tracking methods that go beyond traditional HTTP cookies, and explains how browsers often fail to let users exercise meaningful control over these varieties of tracking. Read more.

EFF Wins Release of Telecom Lobbying Records

EFF Wins Release of Telecom Lobbying Records | Press Release September 24th, 2009

Government Must Provide More Information on Campaign to Give Telecoms Retroactive Immunity

San Francisco - A judge ordered the government Thursday to release more records about the lobbying campaign to provide immunity to the telecommunications giants that participated in the NSA's warrantless surveillance program. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White ordered the records be provided to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) by October 9, 2009.

The decision is part of EFF's long-running battle to gather information about telecommunications lobbying conducted as Congress considered granting immunity to companies that participated in illegal government electronic surveillance. Telecom immunity was eventually passed as part of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) of 2008, but a bill that would repeal the immunity -- called the JUSTICE Act -- was introduced in the Senate last week.

"Today's ruling is a major victory for government transparency," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "As the court recognized, it was unlawful for the government to deny Americans access to this information in the midst of the debate over telecom immunity last year. We're pleased these records will now be available to the public as Congress considers the JUSTICE Act."

More Obama Administration Witch-Hunt Targets

More Obama Administration Witch-Hunt Targets
By Stephen Lendman

The FBI's top six news stories for the week ending September 25 were about arrests and/or indictments of suspected Muslim terrorists. Combined, they became the latest national security targets in America's war on Islam.

Waged relentlessly since 9/11, it continues unabated under Obama for the same political advantage George Bush sought by stoking fear to be used as a pretext to wage imperial wars and crack down ruthlessly at home with police state efficiency - today against Muslims, Latino immigrants, environmental and animal rights activists, and street protestors, tomorrow against anyone voicing dissent.

Najibullah Zazi - The FBI's Top Story for the Week Ending September 25, 2009

On September 24, an FBI press release announced the indictment of Najibullah Zazi, an Aurora, CO-based legal US resident from Afghanistan on a conspiracy charge "to use weapons of mass destruction (explosive bombs) against persons or property in the United States" based on allegations that he "received bomb-making instructions in Pakistan, purchased components of improvised explosive devices, and traveled to New York City on September 10 in furtherance of his criminal plans."

He was also charged with knowingly and willfully making false statements to the FBI regarding international and domestic terrorism. In addition, the indictment alleges that he and others traveled in interstate and foreign commerce and used email and the Internet to carry out his "criminal plans." If convicted, Zazi faces a potential life sentence even though he's likely another victim of police state justice in Washington's war on Islam.

New York Times writers David Johnston and Scott Shane called it "One of the Most Serious (Cases) in Years based on documents filed against Zazi that "he bought chemicals needed to build a bomb - hydrogen peroxide, acetone and hydrochloric acid - and in doing so, Mr. Zazi took a critical step made by few other terrorism suspects." He made his purchases at a beauty shop, hardly the sort of venue for terrorist supplies.

Hydrogen peroxide is a common bleaching agent and mild disinfectant. Acetone is an inflammable organic solvent used in nail polish remover, making plastics and for cleaning purposes in laboratories. Hydrochloric acid is used in oil production, ore reduction, food processing, pickling, and metal cleaning. It's also found in the stomach in diluted form.

If ACORN Disappeared, Who Would Aid The Poorest Of Us?

Guest OpEd: If ACORN disappeared, who would aid the poorest of us?
By Rory Lancman, NY State Assemblyman | NY Daily News

Wasn't it odd that so many ACORN workers hardly blinked an eye when a woman identifying herself as a prostitute showed up in their offices ostensibly to ask for guidance on how to buy a house? It's as if such people - prostitutes, people with substance abuse problems, young men with criminal records - show up at ACORN offices all the time asking for help.

Crazy, no? Or maybe that's what ACORN does. That and helping high school dropouts prepare for a job, building affordable housing for single mothers, signing kids up for health insurance, counseling homeowners facing foreclosure, and encouraging every American to exercise their right to vote. The uncomfortable truth is that tens of millions of Americans live the kind of lives where the availability of help from groups like ACORN is the difference between having food on the table or not, having a roof over their heads or not, seeing a doctor or not, and having a voice in the political process or not.

Recent disclosures about certain questionable practices at ACORN, the left-leaning nationwide community advocacy organization, have raised questions about the organization's very legitimacy.

But as ACORN rightly moves to get its house in order and restore its credibility, it might be worth taking a few moments to ask some other questions, not about ACORN but about ourselves, and our commitment to lifting up the millions of our fellow Americans who live in a netherworld of poverty, hopelessness and victimization.

You cannot understand the ACORN videos (understand, not condone), without making some honest effort to understand this netherworld in which ACORN and too few other hardy, modern day missionaries work to improve the lives of people most of us never see and never want to see. Read more.

New Broad FBI Surveillance Rules Are Unconstitutional

New Broad FBI Surveillance Rules Are Unconstitutional | Press Release

The FBI has released its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG), an internal policy document that explains how FBI agents would implement the unconstitutionally broad surveillance powers of the 2008 Mukasey Attorney General Guidelines (AGGs). One particularly bizarre provision allows the FBI to violate the AGGs without approval from, or notice to, the Attorney General. The DIOG, written on December 16, 2008, was released with heavy redactions late Friday as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Muslim Advocates.

The original Attorney General Guidelines were adopted in the mid-1970’s to limit the FBI’s investigative authority after it was discovered that the agency was engaged in widespread abuses and violations of constitutional rights – including politically-motivated spying on figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. Mukasey’s 2008 AGGs are much broader and allow FBI agents to use paid informants, spy on a person’s activities or engage in other types of intrusive surveillance without “factual predication” – that is, without probable cause or any evidence of wrongdoing.

It's Congress: Don't Forget to Wash Your Hands After Hearings

By Dave Lindorff

Some years ago, my wife and I, together with our young daughter, took a circuitous summer train trip through France, Italy, Austria and Germany. The last leg was an overnight express from Berlin that deposited us at the Gare du Nord in Paris just at sunrise. Feeling washed out from the ride, we made our separate ways to the facilities. I was standing at the urinal with a bunch of other men, relieving myself, when I heard this awful groaning coming from a stall. The groaning grew louder and more painful sounding. Some guy was obviously having a terrible time with his bowels. The agony continued, to the point that we who were by now washing our hands at the sinks were looking at each other in puzzlement, wondering what was going on. I even wondered if someone should ask if the poor wretch if he needed help.

G20 Media Support & Accountability Project

G20 Media Support & Accountability Project | Press Release

ACTIVISTS, STUDENTS & JOURNALISTS REJECT CITY'S G-20 BOASTS
Excessive Force, Canceled Permits, Police State Conditions Spark Outrage

"It's like martial law, but not." Riot officer caught on film justifying
take over of University of Pittsburgh student dormitory

"It was a huge success because minimizing any of the disruption that
could have happened like other cities, it allowed us continue to get out
the positive message overall." Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan
Onorato at Monday's Post G-2o Press Event

Pittsburgh - On Tuesday, local protest organizers, students and
journalists slammed City of Pittsburgh attempts to white-wash the police
state conditions and abuse of powers in the weeks preceding and during
the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh.

"The issue of G-20 police abuses is not just about Thursday or Friday's
police violence but the systematic shut down and abuse of Constitutional
rights that occurred for weeks leading up to those days," explained
attorney Jules Lobel, a Pittsburgh law professor and Vice President of
the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Dodd, Leahy, Feingold, and Merkley Announce Bill to Repeal Retroactive Immunity

Dodd, Leahy, Feingold, and Merkley Announce Bill to Repeal Retroactive Immunity | Press Release | Sept. 28, 2009

Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) announced today that they will introduce the Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act, which eliminates retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that allegedly participated in President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program.

“I believe we best defend America when we also defend its founding principles,” said Dodd. “We make our nation safer when we eliminate the false choice between liberty and security. But by granting retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies who may have participated in warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, the Congress violated the protection of our citizen’s privacy and due process right and we must not allow that to stand.”

Bush Officials Face Possible Liability For Violation Of Suspects' Rights

Bush officials face possible liability for violation of suspects' rights
Courts let 3 post-9/11 lawsuits try to hold Bush officials personally liable for terror policy
By Mark Sherman, AP | Raw Story

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft and one of his hardline lieutenants face the rare prospect of being held personally liable for alleged violations of individuals' rights in the aggressive aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

High-ranking officials usually are protected from such civil rights claims. Not necessarily in these cases.

Three federal courts have left open the possibility that former Bush officials may have to reach into their own pockets to compensate people who were swept up in the law enforcement and intelligence efforts after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In two cases, judges appointed by Republican presidents have refused to dismiss lawsuits at an early stage that were filed against Ashcroft and former Justice Department official John Yoo. One complaint challenges Ashcroft's strategy of preventive detention. The other seeks to hold Yoo accountable for legal memos he wrote supporting detention, interrogation and presidential power.

In a third case, the full federal appeals court in New York is reconsidering an earlier decision by three of its members to toss out a lawsuit by a man who was changing planes in the United States when he was mistaken for a terrorist and sent to Syria, where he claims he was tortured. Read more.

Secret Service Probing Facebook Poll That Asked Whether Obama Should Be Killed

Secret Service Probing Facebook Poll That Asked Whether Obama Should Be Killed
'Should Obama Be Assassinated?' Poll Pulled from Facebook Site
By Pierre Thomas | ABC News

The Secret Service is investigating the origins of a poll that appeared on Facebook that asked whether President Obama should be killed.

Posted over the weekend, the poll was removed by Facebook after the Secret Service received a tip and contacted the company, which was not aware of the survey, sources tell ABC News.

"When the Secret Service became aware of the poll we worked with Facebook to have it taken down and are conducting an investigation," said a spokesman for the Secret Service.

The poll asked: "Should Obama be killed?" The answer choices: "No," "Maybe," "Yes" and "Yes if he cuts my health care."

The Secret Service will be reaching out to the person who developed and posted the poll to determine intent. Read more.

ACLU In Court To Argue For Release Of Torture Documents

ACLU In Court To Argue For Release Of Torture Documents | Press Release
Government Continues To Withhold Key Documents In ACLU Lawsuit

The American Civil Liberties Union will be in federal court in New York on Wednesday, September 30 for oral arguments in its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit for documents related to the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas.

The ACLU and its co-counsel will argue for the release of redacted portions of Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos describing "enhanced interrogation techniques" authorized for use by the CIA, as well as documents describing the contents of destroyed videotapes depicting CIA interrogations. The government has said it will continue to withhold the documents and portions of documents regarding the Bush administration's torture program despite extensive public knowledge of the program.

The ACLU will also argue for the declassification of three detainees' names that were redacted in the OLC memos.

WHAT:
Arguments in the ACLU FOIA lawsuit for documents related to the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas, including OLC memos on CIA "enhanced interrogation techniques" and documents related to the contents of destroyed CIA interrogation videotapes

Robocops Come to Pittsburgh

…and bring the latest weaponry with them
By Mike Ferner, After Downing Street

Mike Ferner is a writer from Ohio and president of Veterans For Peace

No longer the stuff of disturbing futuristic fantasies, an  arsenal of “crowd control munitions,” including one that reportedly made its debut in the U.S., was deployed with a massive, overpowering police presence in Pittsburgh during last week’s G-20 protests.

Nearly 200 arrests were made and civil liberties groups charged the many thousands of police (most transported on Port Authority buses displaying “PITTSBURGH WELCOMES THE WORLD”), from as far away as Arizona and Florida with overreacting…and they had plenty of weaponry with which to do it.

Let's Kill Big Brother

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It's time to repeal telecom immunity for illegal spying, restore privacy protection to library and bookstore records, and roll back the worst abuses of the PATRIOT ACT.

Repeal telecom immunity and roll back PATRIOT ACT abuses

The House and the Senate are holding hearings on the reauthorization of three key provisions of the USA PATRIOT ACT which are set to expire on December 31.

Senators Feingold and Durbin are using this reauthorization process to reverse Bush era laws that take away our constitutionally guaranteed rights. To this end, they have introduced the JUSTICE Act to bring an end to telecom immunity and roll back some of the worst abuses of the PATRIOT ACT.

One or both of your senators has not yet co-sponsored the JUSTICE Act. Sign our petition and help us restore civil liberties stolen by the Bush administration in the wake of September 11.

The JUSTICE Act would completely repeal the provision of the FISA Amendments Act intended to legally immunize big telecoms that illegally assisted in the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program. It would restore protections for the privacy of library and bookstore records. It would also add strong checks and balances to PATRIOT ACT provisions governing FISA orders, wiretaps, and national security letters.

Finally, the champions of constitutional rights in the Senate are taking steps to undo the worst of the damage. Please join us in supporting the JUSTICE Act. Click here to sign your name.

Obama Asserts Power To Detain Suspects Without Trial

Obama asserts power to detain suspects without trial
By Tom Eley | WSWS

The Obama administration announced this week that it intends to continue the Bush administration policy of holding terrorism suspects indefinitely without charge or trial.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department said that President Obama may continue to hold “terror suspects” indefinitely and without judicial review based on the congressional Authorization to Use Military Force that came in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington—the same rationale used by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.

The move aims to institutionalize the previous administration’s assault on habeas corpus—the bedrock principle of democratic rights and the civil liberties laid down in the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

The announcement is a shift from a position Obama outlined in a May 22 speech at the National Archives. There he said he would go to Congress to obtain legislation to carry on the policy of indefinite detention, which he claimed was the only way of dispersing a section of the Guantánamo prison population too “dangerous” to try in civil courts.

In reality, the administration does not want to try these prisoners in normal civilian courts because such trials would expose the use of torture against the defendants, the evidence based on torture would be inadmissible, and civil trials might reveal embarrassing facts about the activities of US intelligence agencies.

“I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for Guantánamo detainees,” Obama said three months ago. “[G]oing forward, my administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime.” Read more.

Bill Quigley: Street Report From The G20

Bill Quigley: Street Report from the G20 | Center for Constitutional Rights

The G20 in Pittsburgh showed us how pitifully fearful our leaders have become. What no terrorist could do to us, our own leaders did.

Out of fear of the possibility of a terrorist attack, authorities militarize our towns, scare our people away, stop daily life and quash our constitutional rights.

For days, downtown Pittsburgh, home to the G20, was a turned into a militarized people-free ghost town. Sirens screamed day and night. Helicopters crisscrossed the skies. Gunboats sat in the rivers. The skies were defended by Air Force jets. Streets were barricaded by huge cement blocks and fencing. Bridges were closed with National Guard across the entrances. Public transportation was stopped downtown. Amtrak train service was suspended for days.

In many areas, there were armed police every 100 feet. Businesses closed. Schools closed. Tens of thousands were unable to work.

Four thousand police were on duty plus 2500 National Guard plus Coast Guard and Air Force and dozens of other security agencies. A thousand volunteers from other police forces were sworn in to help out.

Police were dressed in battle gear, bulky black ninja turtle outfits: helmets with clear visors, strapped on body armor, shin guards, big boots, batons, and long guns.

In addition to helicopters, the police had hundreds of cars and motorcycles , armored vehicles, monster trucks, small electric go-karts. There were even passenger vans screaming through town so stuffed with heavily armed ninja turtles that the side and rear doors remained open.

No terrorists showed up at the G20.

Since no terrorists showed up, those in charge of the heavily armed security forces chose to deploy their forces around those who were protesting.Read more.

Further Comments from Jerrold Nadler on the “New” State Secrets Policy

Further Comments from Jerrold Nadler on the “New” State Secrets Policy
By emptywheel | FireDogLake

...this Administration seems to be embracing - in the guise of classification authority rather than state secret privilege - its predecessor's argument that the courts simply lack the authority to disagree with the executive branch's claim of secrecy.

Given that Congressman Jerrold Nadler was one of the members of Congress who responded to DOJ's "new" state secrets policy by reiterating the need for legislation reforming state secrets, I asked his office for more information of where they think the "new" policy leaves efforts for legislation. A spokesperson provided the answers below.

I was curious, first of all, whether the "new" policy was a result of negotiations that have been going on for several months with Congress. It was not. Rather, it was the result of the DOJ review of the outstanding state secrets claims made by the Bush Administration. Read more.

Your Electronic Vote In The 2010 Election Has Just Been Bought

Your electronic vote in the 2010 election has just been bought
by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman | Free Press

Unless US Attorney General Eric Holder intervenes, your electronic vote in 2010 will probably be owned by the Republican-connected ES&S Corporation. With 80% ownership of America's electronic voting machines, ES&S could have the power to shape America's future with a few proprietary keystrokes.

ES&S has just purchased the voting machine division of the Ohio-based Diebold, whose role in fixing the 2004 presidential election for George W. Bush is infamous.

Critics of the merger hope Holder will rescind the purchase on anti-trust grounds.

But only a transparent system totally based on hand-counted paper ballots, with universal automatic voter registration, can get us even remotely close to a reliable vote count in the future.

For even if Holder does void this purchase, ES&S and Diebold will still control four of every five votes cast on touchscreen machines. As the US Supreme Court seems poised to open the floodgates on corporate campaign spending, the only difference could be that those who would buy our elections will have to write two checks instead of one.

And in fact, it's even worse than that. ES&S, Diebold and a tiny handful of sibling Republican voting equipment and computing companies control not only the touchscreen machines, but also the electronic tabulators that count millions of scantron ballots, AND the electronic polling books that decide who gets to vote and who doesn't.

Let's do a quick review:

1) ES&S, Diebold and other companies tied to election hardware and software are owned and operated by a handful of very wealthy conservatives, or right-to-life ideologues, with long-standing direct ties to the Republican Party;

2) As votes will be increasingly cast on optiscans, touchscreens or computer voting machines in the United States in 2010, what scant few so-called paper trail mechanisms that are in place will offer little security against electronic vote theft;

3) The source code on all US touchscreen machines now used for the casting and counting of ballots is proprietary, meaning the companies that own and operate the machines---including ES&S---are not required to share with the public the details of how those machines actually work; Read more.

NLG Observes Improper Use of Force by Law Enforcement at the G-20

NLG Observes Improper Use of Force by Law Enforcement at the G-20 | Press Release

PITTSBURGH, PA - September 25 - National Lawyers Guild members witnessed first-hand yesterday the unwarranted display and use of force by police in residential neighborhoods, often far from any protest activity.

Police deployed chemical irritants, including CS gas, and long-range acoustic devices (LRAD) in residential neighborhoods on narrow streets where families and small children were exposed. Scores of riot police formed barricades at many intersections throughout neighborhoods miles away from the downtown area and the David Lawrence Convention Center. Outside the Courtyard Marriott in Shadyside, police deployed smoke bombs in the absence of protest activity, forcing bystanders and hotel residents to flee the area.

Tomgram: Arundhati Roy, Is Democracy Melting?

Tomgram: Arundhati Roy, Is Democracy Melting? | TomDispatch

So you, as a citizen, want to run for a seat in the House of Representatives? Well, you may be too late. Back in 1990, according to OpenSecrets.org, a website of the Center for Responsive Politics, the average cost of a winning campaign for the House was $407,556. Pocket change for your average citizen. But that was so twentieth century. The average cost for winning a House seat in 2008: almost $1.4 million. Keep in mind, as well, that most of those House seats don't change hands, because in the American democratic system of the twenty-first century, incumbents basically don't lose, they retire or die.

In 2008, 403 incumbents ran for seats in the House and 380 of them won. Just to run a losing race last year would have cost you, on average, $492,928, almost $100,000 more than it cost to win in 1990. As for becoming a Senator? Not in your wildest dreams, unless you have some really good pals in pharmaceuticals and health care ($236,022,031 in lobbying paid out in 2008), insurance ($153,694,224), or oil and gas ($131,978,521). A winning senatorial seat came in at a nifty $8,531,267 and a losing seat at $4,130,078 in 2008. In other words, you don't have a hope in hell of being a loser in the American Congressional system, and what does that make you?

Of course, if you're a young, red-blooded American, you may have set your sights a little higher. So you want to be president? In that case, just to be safe for 2012, you probably should consider raising somewhere in the range of one billion dollars. After all, the 2008 campaign cost Barack Obama's team approximately $730 million and the price of a place at the table just keeps going up. Of course, it helps to know the right people. Last year, the total lobbying bill, including money that went out for electoral campaigns and for lobbying Congress and federal agencies, came to $3.3 billion and almost 9 months into 2009, another $1.63 billion has already gone out without an election in sight.

Let's face it. At the national level, this is what American democracy comes down to today, and this is what George W. Bush & Co. were so infernally proud to export by force of arms to Afghanistan and Iraq. This is why we need to think about the questions that Arundhati Roy -- to my mind, a heroic figure in a rather unheroic age -- raises about democracy globally in an essay adapted from the introduction to her latest book. That book, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, has just been published (with one essay included that originally appeared at TomDispatch). Let's face it, she's just one of those authors -- I count Eduardo Galeano as another -- who must be read. Need I say more? Tom

What Have We Done to Democracy?

Of Nearsighted Progress, Feral Howls, Consensus, Chaos, and a New Cold War in Kashmir
By Arundhati Roy

While we're still arguing about whether there's life after death, can we add another question to the cart? Is there life after democracy? What sort of life will it be? By "democracy" I don't mean democracy as an ideal or an aspiration. I mean the working model: Western liberal democracy, and its variants, such as they are.

So, is there life after democracy?

Attempts to answer this question often turn into a comparison of different systems of governance, and end with a somewhat prickly, combative defense of democracy. It's flawed, we say. It isn't perfect, but it's better than everything else that's on offer. Inevitably, someone in the room will say: "Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia... is that what you would prefer?"

Whether democracy should be the utopia that all "developing" societies aspire to is a separate question altogether. (I think it should. The early, idealistic phase can be quite heady.) The question about life after democracy is addressed to those of us who already live in democracies, or in countries that pretend to be democracies. It isn't meant to suggest that we lapse into older, discredited models of totalitarian or authoritarian governance. It's meant to suggest that the system of representative democracy -- too much representation, too little democracy -- needs some structural adjustment.

The question here, really, is what have we done to democracy? What have we turned it into? What happens once democracy has been used up? When it has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning? What happens when each of its institutions has metastasized into something dangerous? What happens now that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profit? Read more.

Why we do stupid things

Hummer Owners Claim Moral High Ground To Excuse Overconsumption, Study Finds

Science Daily (Sep 25, 2009) — Hummer drivers believe they are defending America's frontier lifestyle against anti-American critics, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Authors Marius K. Luedicke (University of Innsbruck, Austria), Craig J. Thompson (University of Wisconsin–Madison), and Markus Giesler (York University, Toronto) researched attitudes toward owning and driving Hummers, which have become symbols to many of American greed and wastefulness.

The researchers first investigated anti-consumption sentiments expressed by people who oppose chains like Starbucks and believe they are making a moral choice by shunning consumerism. To these critics, Hummers represent the ills of contemporary society. As one extreme example, on a website, people have posted thousands of photographs of middle fingers directed at Hummer vehicles.

You Have Only the Right to Remain Silent

Let's Try Democracy By David Swanson, BlackCommentator.com Columnist

We welcome David Swanson as a BC columnist. We have published his writings a number of times in the past and look forward to what he will be writing in the future.
This first column by Mr. Swanson is the first of three excerpts from Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union (Seven Stories Press) by David Swanson published here by the kind permission of the publisher.

According to the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The men who put their signatures to those words sought to endow each other with those rights, and those rights can be gained or lost. And since that day, people around the world have imagined, created, and struggled for a great many additional rights as well.

Al Franken Reads the 4th Amendment to Justice Department Official

Al Franken Reads the 4th Amendment to Justice Department Official
By Daphne Eviatar | Washington Independent

Just in case he wasn’t familiar with it, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) decided to read the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution to David Kris, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, who was testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee today to urge reauthorization of expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act.

Franken, who opened by acknowledging that unlike most of his colleagues in the Senate, he’s not a lawyer, but according to his research “most Americans aren’t lawyers” either, said he’d also done research on the Patriot Act and in particular, the “roving wiretap” provision that allows the FBI to get a warrant to wiretap a an unnamed target and his or her various and changing cell phones, computers and other communication devices.

Noting that he received a copy of the Constitution when he was sworn in as a senator, he proceeded to read it to Kris, emphasizing this part: “no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

“That’s pretty explicit language,” noted Franken, asking Kris how the “roving wiretap” provision of the Patriot Act can meet that requirement if it doesn’t require the government to name its target. Read more.

Center for Constitutional Rights Calls for Judicial Review of All Evidence When State Secrets Invoked

Center for Constitutional Rights Calls for Judicial Review of All Evidence When State Secrets Invoked | Press Release
Rights Group Critical of New DOJ Policy Promises

September 23, 2009, New York – In response to news the Attorney General is establishing new policy on the question of the use of the state secrets privilege, the Center for Constitutional Rights issues the following statement:

Leading Democrats Weigh In on New State Secrets Policy

Leading Democrats Weigh In on New State Secrets Policy
By Charlie Savage | NY Times

Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York and Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont have released statements responding to the Justice Department’s new policy on the State Secrets Privilege.

The two Democrats are leading efforts in the House and Senate to enact legislation restricting when and how the privilege may be used to withhold evidence from a court or shut down a lawsuit for national security reasons, and a crucial question raised by the Obama administration’s policy is whether it will blunt desire to pass such a law.

The New York Times previewed the new policy in an article in today’s newspaper. This morning, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. signed off on the policy, and the Justice Department has released the memorandum (read it below). Read more.

Obama to Set Higher Bar For Keeping State Secrets

Obama to Set Higher Bar For Keeping State Secrets
New Policy May Affect Wiretap, Torture Suits
Carrie Johnson | Washington Post

The Obama administration will announce a new policy Wednesday making it much more difficult for the government to claim that it is protecting state secrets when it hides details of sensitive national security strategies such as rendition and warrantless eavesdropping, according to two senior Justice Department officials.

The new policy requires agencies, including the intelligence community and the military, to convince the attorney general and a team of Justice Department lawyers that the release of sensitive information would present significant harm to "national defense or foreign relations." In the past, the claim that state secrets were at risk could be invoked with the approval of one official and by meeting a lower standard of proof that disclosure would be harmful.

That claim was asserted dozens of times during the Bush administration, legal scholars said.

The shift could have a broad effect on many lawsuits, including those filed by alleged victims of torture and electronic surveillance. Authorities have frequently argued that judges should dismiss those cases at the outset to avoid the release of information that could compromise national security.

The heightened standard is designed in part to restore the confidence of Congress, civil liberties advocates and judges, who have criticized both the Bush White House and the Obama administration for excessive secrecy. The new policy will take effect Oct. 1 and has been endorsed by federal intelligence agencies, Justice Department sources said. Read more.

Obama Administration Seeks Renewal of Three Key Parts of PATRIOT Act

The administration has asked lawmakers to extend powers allowing the government to collect a wide range of financial and personal records, as well as monitor suspects with roving wiretaps. The methods were authorized under the USA PATRIOT Act and are set to expire at year's end. The call for renewing the PATRIOT Act provisions comes as Democratic lawmakers and civil liberties groups want to revisit its broader powers. Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin has proposed a new bill that would overhaul the PATRIOT Act and other surveillance laws to include more privacy safeguards.

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