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civil liberties

The Abominable No Fly List


Last week the United States government prohibited poet and journalist Amjad Nasser from speaking at an event to inaugurate the Gallatin Global Writers series at New York University. How did the government do this? By having a policeman at the event inform Nasser that he would be arrested if Nasser took his turn to speak at the event? No, that would be a clear prior restraint on speech in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution — a government action courts routinely rule is prohibited. Instead, the US government simply banned Nasser from flying to the conference.

Nasser recounts the process by which his participation in the event was blocked by a faceless Department of Homeland Security agent on the other end of a phone line at London Heathrow Airport. At the airport terminal, Nasser was handed a phone whereupon the US bureaucrat on the call peppered him with personal questions about Nasser and the event at which Nasser was planning to speak. Nasser relates that, after two hours on the phone, the questioner informed Nasser that Nasser was banned from taking the already booked, and by then already departed, US-bound flight.

While Nasser, a British and Jordanian citizen, had to answer a series of questions regarding his private affairs in hopes that he would just be allowed to board the plane and fulfill his speaking commitment, the US bureaucrat on the other end of the line was not obliged to even provide an explanation for why Nasser was prevented from boarding the plane.
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Pennsylvania Legislature Moves To Pass Injunctive Law In Wake Of Abu-Jamal Commencement Speech


There has been some predicable and understandable objections to the selection of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted killer of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981, as this year’s commencement speaker for Goddard College in Vermont. Faulkner’s widow and others have decried his recorded appearance from Mahanoy state prison in Frackville, Pennsylvania. However, as is all too often the case, politicians have responded to such good-faith objections with a highly questionable, poorly crafted law that allows victims to seek injunctions in future such cases.

Goddard College recognized Abu-Jamal as “an award winning journalist who chronicles the human condition.”

He addressed about 20 students receiving bachelor degrees from Goddard College in Plainfield, where he himself earned a degree from the college in 1996. He told them to
“Think about the myriad of problems that beset this land and strive to make it better.” While he did not discuss his crime, he such “Goddard reawakened in me my love of learning,. In my mind, I left death row.”

Abu-Jamal was a member of the Black Panther Party. He later became a radio journalist and president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. On December 9, 1981, Officer Faulkner was shot dead while conducting a traffic stop on a car driven by Abu-Jamal’s brother, William Cook. Faulkner shot Abu-Jamal in the encounter. The case became a national focus not only because of the death of a police officer but the later errors claimed in association with Abu-Jamal, who initially represented himself with disastrous results.
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Police Have No Right to Shoot Someone Running Away


Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, in a press conference notable for its brevity, identified the officer who shot Michael Brown as Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of his department. Information distributed to the media included reports suggesting that Brown was a suspect in a strong-arm robbery of a package of cigars at a local convenience store. Still photographs, reportedly of the incident in the local QuikTrip, show a large young man resembling Brown involved in what appeared to be an assault on a much smaller individual in the store.

If Brown was a suspect in a crime of that kind, this case would have uncanny similarities to the 1974 incident in which another teenaged suspect, Edward Garner, was fatally shot while attempting to flee from a Memphis police officer following a burglary. As noted previously, that case went before the Supreme Court a decade later, resulting in the 1985 Tennessee v. Garner ruling in which the Court held that “The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable.” This was a rejection of the “Any Felony Rule” under which officers in many states, including Tennessee, were authorized to use deadly force to stop a fleeing or resisting suspect.

The “Any Felony Rule,” it should be pointed out, didn’t enjoy universal approval, even in the supposedly barbarous 19th Century. In an 1858 editorial, the New York Times expressed alarm over the promiscuous use of lethal force by officers of the newly created NYPD against fleeing suspects: “The pistols are not used in self-defense, but to stop the men who are running away. They are considered substitutes for swift feet and long arms… [W]e doubt the propriety of employing them for such a purpose. A Policeman has no right to shoot a man for running away from him.”
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From Boston to Ferguson: Have We Reached a Tipping Point in the Police State?


The difference between what happened in Boston in the wake of the Boston Marathon explosion and what is happening now in Ferguson, Missouri, is not in the government’s response but in the community’s response.

This is what happens when you ignore the warning signs.

This is what happens when you fail to take alarm at the first experiment on your liberties.

This is what happens when you fail to challenge injustice and government overreach until the prison doors clang shut behind you.

Consider that it was just a little over a year ago that the city of Boston was locked down while police carried out a military-style manhunt for the suspects in the Boston Marathon explosion. At the time, Americans welcomed the city-wide lockdown, the routine invasion of their privacy, and the dismantling of every constitutional right intended to serve as a bulwark against government abuses.

Fast forward 14 months, and Americans are shocked at the tactics being employed to quell citizen unrest in Ferguson, Missouri—a massive SWAT team, an armored personnel carrier, men in camouflage pointing heavy artillery at the crowd, smoke bombs and tear gas—where residents are outraged and in the streets in response to a recent police shooting of one of their own: a young, unarmed college-bound black teenager who had the misfortune of being in the wrong time at the wrong place.
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The Absurd, Bureaucratic Hell That Is the American Police State

Police Tank

Whether it’s the working mother arrested for letting her 9-year-old play unsupervised at a playground, the teenager forced to have his genitals photographed by police, the underage burglar sentenced to 23 years for shooting a retired police dog, or the 43-year-old man who died of a heart attack after being put in a chokehold by NYPD officers allegedly over the sale of untaxed cigarettes, the theater of the absurd that passes for life in the American police state grows more tragic and incomprehensible by the day.

Debra Harrell, a 46-year-old South Carolina working mother, was arrested, charged with abandonment and had her child placed in state custody after allowing the 9-year-old to spend unsupervised time at a neighborhood playground while the mom worked a shift at McDonald’s. Mind you, the child asked to play outside, was given a cell phone in case she needed to reach someone, and the park—a stone’s throw from the mom’s place of work—was overrun with kids enjoying its swings, splash pad, and shade.

Connecticut mother was charged with leaving her 11-year-old daughter in the car unsupervised while she ran inside a store—despite the fact that the child asked to stay in the car and was not overheated or in distress. A few states away, a New Jersey man was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of his children after leaving them in a car parked in a police station parking lot, windows rolled down, while he ran inside to pay a ticket.
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Parallel Construction: Unconstitutional NSA Searches Deny Due Process


The NSA sits at the nexus of violations of both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments with a legal dodge called Parallel Construction.

Parallel Construction is a technique used by law enforcement to hide the fact that evidence in a criminal case originated with the NSA. In its simplest form, the NSA collects information showing say a Mr. Anderson committed a crime. This happens most commonly in drug cases. The conclusive information is passed to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), who then works backwards from the conclusion to create an independent, "legal" body of evidence to use against Mr. Anderson.

Example: an NSA email intercept shows our Mr. Anderson received a Fedex package with drugs, which he hid under his bed. The DEA takes this info, and gets a search warrant for the Fedex data, which leads them to Mr. Anderson's apartment. A new legal warrant authorizes a search, and agents "find" the drugs under the bed right where the NSA said they were in the first place.

Some may call this little more than illegal evidence laundering.
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The Stealing of America by the Cops, the Courts, the Corporations and Congress

Homeland Security ICE

Call it what you will—taxes, penalties, fees, fines, regulations, tariffs, tickets, permits, surcharges, tolls, asset forfeitures, foreclosures, etc.—but the only word that truly describes the constant bilking of the American taxpayer by the government and its corporate partners is theft.

We’re operating in a topsy-turvy Sherwood Forest where instead of Robin Hood and his merry band of thieves stealing from the rich to feed the poor, you’ve got the government and its merry band of corporate thieves stealing from the poor to fatten the wallets of the rich. In this way, the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. All the while, the American Dream of peace, prosperity, and liberty has turned into a nightmare of endless wars, debilitating debt, and outright tyranny.

What Americans don’t seem to comprehend is that if the government can arbitrarily take away your property, without your having much say about it, you have no true rights. You’re nothing more than a serf or a slave.
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The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Naked Truth About the American Police State

Homeland Troops

It’s vogue, trendy and appropriate to look to dystopian literature as a harbinger of what we’re experiencing at the hands of the government. Certainly, George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm have much to say about government tyranny, corruption, and control, as does Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report. Yet there are also older, simpler, more timeless stories—folk tales and fairy tales—that speak just as powerfully to the follies and foibles in our nature as citizens and rulers alike that give rise to tyrants and dictatorships.

One such tale, Hans Christian Andersen’s fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes, is a perfect paradigm of life today in the fiefdom that is the American police state, only instead of an imperial president spending money wantonly on lavish vacations, entertainment, and questionable government programs aimed at amassing greater power, Andersen presents us with a vain and thoughtless emperor, concerned only with satisfying his own needs at the expense of his people, even when it means taxing them unmercifully, bankrupting his kingdom, and harshly punishing his people for daring to challenge his edicts.

For those unfamiliar with the tale, the Emperor, a vain peacock of a man, is conned into buying a prohibitively expensive suit of clothes that is supposedly visible only to those who are smart, competent and well-suited to their positions. Surrounded by yes men, professional flatterers and career politicians who fawn, simper and genuflect, the Emperor—arrogant, pompous and oblivious to his nudity—prances through the town in his new suit of clothes until a child dares to voice what everyone else has been thinking but too afraid to say lest they be thought stupid or incompetent: “He isn’t wearing anything at all!”
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Federal Court Rules Government’s No-Fly List Is Unconstitutional


There is a major decision out of Oregon where U.S. District Judge Anna Brown has ruled that the government’s no-fly list is unconstitutional since there is no meaningful way to contest inclusion of the list barring you from commercial flights. Brown issued a 65 page ruling with the holding that the “inclusion on the no-fly list constitutes a significant deprivation of their liberty interests in international travel.” It is a refreshing opinion from the federal courts which tend to be highly deferential to the government in this area.

Central to the decision is Brown’s recognition that “international travel is not a mere convenience or luxury in this modern world. Indeed, for many international travel is a necessary aspect of liberties sacred to members of a free society.” We have all heard horror stories of how people are mistakenly placed on this list and how they find themselves in an endless bureaucratic process to correct such mistakes. 

The sheer stupidity of many of these mistakes has been shocking with government officials barring people with similarly sounding names to terrorists like Bin Laden or the cavalier addition of names despite the huge cost to the individuals. The list is a CYA moment for many officials who want to be more safe than sorry, but those unfairly placed on the list find themselves in a governmental nightmare of red tape and delay.
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Has the Dept. of Homeland Security Become America’s Standing Army?


If the United States is a police state, then the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is its national police force, with all the brutality, ineptitude and corruption such a role implies. In fact, although the DHS’ governmental bureaucracy may at times appear to be inept and bungling, it is ruthlessly efficient when it comes to building what the Founders feared most—a standing army on American soil.

The third largest federal agency behind the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, the DHS—with its 240,000 full-time workers, $61 billion budget and sub-agencies that include the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—has been aptly dubbed a “runaway train.”

In the 12 years since it was established to “prevent terrorist attacks within the United States,” the DHS has grown from a post-9/11 knee-jerk reaction to a leviathan with tentacles in every aspect of American life. With good reason, a bipartisan bill to provide greater oversight and accountability into the DHS’ purchasing process has been making its way through Congress.

A better plan would be to abolish the DHS altogether. In making the case for shutting down the de facto national police agency, analyst Charles Kenny offers the following six reasons: one, the agency lacks leadership; two, terrorism is far less of a threat than it is made out to be; three, the FBI has actually stopped more alleged terrorist attacks than DHS; four, the agency wastes exorbitant amounts of money with little to show for it; five, “An overweight DHS gets a free pass to infringe civil liberties without a shred of economic justification”; and six, the agency is just plain bloated.
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