Monday, April 30, 2012

Constitutional rights are so overrated.

"One ... has to wonder how an American traveler in Europe would react if he were denied boarding on a flight from London to Rome because the German government had not received sufficient data from him."

So says a tour operator speaking out against the latest America-as-meddlesome-world-cop nonsense. If you're leaving a British airport to go to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, Fatherland Security now requires your full name, date of birth, and sex from your airline -- even if your plane never crosses U.S. airspace. You can't find out till you get to the airport whether the American government has allowed you to board your plane or not. The sad part is that the airlines are going right along with it and not fighting back.

But then most people don't seem to bother fighting back anymore. (Should we even be surprised at that, when most people are so apathetic that they can't even name the current chief justice of the Supreme Court?) It's notable that there was a public outcry over SOPA and PIPA, with even corporations fighting against the Internet censorship they'd bring. But now a bill infinitely worse than either SOPA or PIPA has passed the House with barely a whisper from the media or the public -- and Facebook, Boeing, Verizon, and a host of other corporations actually support CISPA. Perhaps it's because CISPA offers the illusion of cyber-security without threatening intellectual property. In other words, it doesn't have the potential to gore the corporate ox. What's more, the only thing corporations would ever have to do is turn over your private information to the government if some fed is concerned that you're being bad on the Internet -- and they're shielded from any kind of liability that may come from sharing that information. So it's no skin off their noses.

Bottom line: If you are deemed a "cyber threat," which could mean just about anything, your privacy on the Web is gone. CISPA also grants the government complete immunity from all privacy protections, and the program would even be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. So if you're under government scrutiny by way of CISPA and you want to know why, too bad.

As TechDirt's Leigh Beadon says, "Basically it says the 4th Amendment does not apply online, at all."

Software-freedom activist Richard Stallman agrees:
"What CISPA says as passed by the House of Representatives is any ISP, any website, any company that has some of your data in it can voluntarily hand it over to the government for a wide range of reasons," and it's up to the government to interpret it however they see fit, the father of the free software philosophy explained.

"So if they see the slightest bit that they think is odd in your email, they can hand it over to the government. And if the government says it has something to do with national security -- it is very easy to say that, whether it’s true or not -- then the government can study it for any purpose. This nearly abolishes people's right not to be unreasonably searched." 
Let's review Amendment Four, for those playing along at home:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and 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. 
Barky O'Bomber claims he'll veto the bill -- not because he thinks it's a bad bill, but because it doesn't go far enough. How's that hope and change working out for you?

If by some miracle CISPA doesn't pass, there are plenty more cybersecurity bills waiting their turn in Congress. Why is the government so desperate to throttle the Internet? Because the government saw how the recent revolutions abroad were spurred by the power of social media, and how the Occupiers here at home used the power of the Web with the same organizing spirit in mind. Naomi Wolf relates:
As one Internet advocate said to me: "There is a race against time: they realize the Internet is a tool of empowerment that will work against their interests, and they need to race to turn it into a tool of control." 
So, what other parts of the Constitution are under assault? Well, the First Amendment is taking a hit from a couple of fronts. Down in North Carolina, a blogger who's advocating a diet for fellow diabetics is being threatened with prosecution and jail time, essentially because he's pushing the diet without the consent of the state's "board of dietetics." Meanwhile, in Virginia, an anarchist who used the Freedom of Information Act found that a training guide for Richmond cops shows just to what extent the police are being militarized and how far they're willing to go in shutting down protest. This one line speaks volumes:
Current training and intelligence reveals that protestors are becoming more proficient in the methods of assembly.
Think about that for a minute. Richmond cops are being warned that protestors are getting better at assembly. Let's take a peek at the Amendment One, shall we?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The right to assemble, guaranteed to us in the Constitution, is being couched in negative terms by our own law-enforcement agents.

And don't even think about trying to go undercover to show the world the abuses taking place in factory farms and animal-research centers. The meat and dairy industry, along with other big agribusiness and pharma interests, are getting the identical bill introduced in several states around the country to criminalize undercover recording, thereby making sure that what goes on behind the scenes in labs and on factory farms never sees the light of day. 

Well, how about the right to privacy? you ask. Does the madness stop at CISPA?


The Senate has already passed a bill that would make recording devices mandatory in all vehicles beginning in 2015. The government will be able to track your whereabouts whenever it wants, and for any reason. As if that wasn't bad enough, the bill also gives the IRS the right to seize your passport if you're delinquent on your taxes.

How about parents' rights to raise their children as they see fit? 

Not if New York has its way: A bill there would essentially make children legal adults when it came to consenting to vaccines. So if parents have a health or religious objection to vaccinations, all a doctor would need to do is ask the child directly if he or she wants a shot. Kid says yes, and the parents have no more say.

OK, but we still have the right to vote, don't we, so we can get these people out of office? 

Well, sure, if you vote for the right guy. But if you like Ron Paul, places like Wyoming will result to any dirty tricks necessary to keep him from winning votes and delegates. Or if you live in the Seattle area, the GOP machine will come up with cockamamie excuses for why Ron Paul supporters can't even run a caucus meeting.

Sigh. But we have people on the lookout for nefarious behavior like this, and surely they'll speak up when they see abuses of power. 

They might, but the current administration is cracking down on government whistleblowers with a zeal that even the Bush regime didn't attempt. People are facing prosecution for things as varied as opposing waterboarding and calling out wrongdoing at the NSA. You don't go along with what Obama wants? Then he'll go after you under the auspices of an antiquated World War I-era law that was intended to deal with spies, not citizens keeping a watchful eye on their own government.

Er ... rule of law, maybe?

Well, there's that pesky problem with the border-patrol agents who beat a man to death. And then there's Obama's insistence on keeping a Yemeni journalist in prison -- which kind of gets back to the assault on whistleblowers. Salon recently wrote about Jeremy Scahill, a reporter for The Nation, and lauded the work he's doing, especially since the mainstream corporate media conveniently ignores the real stories:
In July of last year, he returned from Mogadishu and documented the Obama administration’s maintenance and proxy operation of secret CIA-run prisons in Somalia of the type that caused so much controversy during the Bush administration and which Obama supporters like to claim the President ended, and last month he returned from tribal regions in Yemen and detailed how U.S. civilian-killing drone strikes (along with its support for Yemeni despots) are the single most important cause fueling Al Qaeda's growth in that country.
Blowback, anyone?

Here's what Salon had to say about one of Scahill's more recent investigations:
As we now know, on December 17, 2009, President Obama ordered an air attack -- using Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs -- on the village of al Majala in Yemen’s southern Abyan province; the strike ended the lives of 14 women and 21 children. At the time, the Yemeni government outright lied about the attack, falsely claiming that it was Yemen's air force which was responsible.


There is one reason that the world knows the truth about what really happened in al Majala that day: because the Yemeni journalist, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, traveled there.


Despite that important journalism -- or, more accurately, because of it -- Shaye is now in prison, thanks largely to President Obama himself. For the past two years, Shaye has been arrested, beaten, and held in solitary confinement by the security forces of [former Yemeni President] Saleh, America's obedient tyrant. In January 2011, he was convicted in a Yemeni court of terrorism-related charges -- alleging that he was not a reporter covering Al Qaeda but a mouthpiece for it -- in a proceeding widely condemned by human rights groups around the world. "There are strong indications that the charges against [Shaye] are trumped up and that he has been jailed solely for daring to speak out about U.S. collaboration in a cluster munitions attack which took place in Yemen," Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, told Scahill.


Shaye's real crime is that he reported facts that the U.S. government and its Yemeni client regime wanted suppressed. But while the imprisonment of this journalist was ignored in the U.S, it became a significant controversy in Yemen. Numerous Yemeni tribal leaders, sheiks and activist groups agitated for his release, and in response, President Saleh, as the Yemeni press reported, had a pardon drawn up for him and was ready to sign it. That came to a halt when President Obama intervened. According to the White House’s own summary of Obama’s February 3, 2011, call with Saleh, "President Obama expressed concern over the release of Abd-Ilah al-Shai." The administration has repeatedly refused to present any evidence that Shaye is anything other than a reporter.


So it is beyond dispute that the moving force behind the ongoing imprisonment of this Yemeni journalist is President Obama. And the fact that Shaye is in prison, rather than able to report, is of particular significance (and value to the U.S.) in light of the still escalating American attacks in that country. 
In short: Expose the Obama administration's reign of terror overseas, and you get to rot in prison.

It's amazing our own reporters can say anything without repercussion -- but then, most of them are mouthpieces for their corporate masters who wouldn't say anything challenging anyway. At least David Rohde had the gall to set the record straight on our Nobel Peace Prize Winner-in-Chief:
Obama has embraced the CIA, expanded its powers and approved more targeted killings than any modern president. Over the last three years, the Obama administration has carried out at least 239 covert drone strikes, more than five times the 44 approved under George W. Bush.
OK, I give up. What can we do about any of this?

Well, since the Supreme Court ruled that you can be strip-searched over the most minor offense once you're arrested -- and since you can now be arrested for no reason whatsoever -- you can always beat the feds to the punch and show up for your TSA groping naked.

Or you can be happy that those mandatory spending cuts will be enacted since the Republicrats and Demopublicans couldn't agree on spending limits last year. Maybe more things like the Pentagon's "pain ray" won't be developed on the taxpayer's dime. That one was abandoned after flushing $120 million down the toilet. As one of our military geniuses put it: "You want to win the hearts and minds. ... You don’t want to kill the people that you’re trying to protect."

Gee, ya think? Not that blasting people with pain-inducing microwaves is going to win "hearts and minds," but it might at least disperse some of those crowds trying to exercise their Constitutional right to peaceful assembly.

After all, why let the Constitution get in the way of a government that has to protect us all to death? Freedom is too dangerous; we have to stop the Bad Guys Out There. And sometimes, apparently, you just have to destroy a nation in order to save it.

No wonder this guy added the caveat "if you can keep it" when asked what kind of government the Founding Fathers had given us:

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin, who most assuredly would never have let some TSA goon touch his junk.

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