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Enhanced border security that crosses the line

Post-9-11, most Americans appreciate the need for stepped-up security along our nation’s borders, north and south alike – provided people’s rights aren’t trampled routinely and with impunity in the process.

Huge sums are being spent on enhancing security, with more to come along the border with Canada, including more drones, electronic surveillance and manned checkpoints in places that once were “guarded” only by plastic highway cones.

This is all detailed in an excellent piece of journalism by Todd Miller at Mother Jones: US Quietly Ramps Up Security Along the Canadian Border.

Evenhandedly, Miller describes things you’ll probably deem necessary and worthwhile security measures, as we do. But you’ll also learn about some disturbing routine practices that cross the thin line that separates due caution and blatant harassment.

The abuse is insidious because if you’ve got red hair, blue eyes and your name is Tim O’Brien, Ben Willis or Guy Sturdevant, your chances of being subjected to it are probably on par with being struck by lightning. But if your first name is Mohammed, one of your parents hailed from the Middle East and you’ve got that sort of Mideast-type look about you, you’re a cinch to be treated as guilty until proven innocent of . . . apparently, being a suspicious type of person.

If you’re a suspicious-type person, all you have to do to wind up in the harassment trap is travel to Canada and go through a U.S. Border Patrol/Customs Service checkpoint on the way back.

How much stepped-up security is too much? Where is that line between due caution and the trampling of a citizen’s rights? What constitutes reasonable cause for suspicion?

If those questions matter to you, take the few minutes required to read Miller’s piece, but be prepared to be disturbed by what you’ll learn.

And if you do that, please swing back by here and share your thoughts in a comment.

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5 SCOTUS justices show their collective butt
with outrageous strip searches-for-all decision

Supreme CourtIn their infinite legal wisdom, four conservative Republican Supreme Court justices and one who swings both ways have ruled it’s OK for any suspect arrested and taken to jail for any infraction, no matter how minor, no matter the person’s age or likelihood of harboring contraband, can be subjected to a strip search.

So, some 17-year-old girl does a dumb-kid thing, shoplifting some mascara. She gets caught, is taken downtown, made to strip, turn around, bend over and spread her cheeks.

So, a retired schoolteacher who’s getting up in years and feeling cranky because of arthritis reacts with sarcasm when a policeman young enough to be his grandson pulls him over for failing to signal a lane change. The cop, channeling Barney Fife, decides this miscreant’s display of attitude warrants a trip downtown, booking and a strip search for obstructing an officer.

Then, there’s a whole lot of poor souls who get caught up in the fight against one of the nation’s leading “crime” problems: driving while black. For those members of the thin blue line blighted by bigotry, already empowered to do impromptu pat-downs and car searches as passers-by gawk, what better additional humiliation to bestow than sending their prey downtown for a strip search?

Sure, most law enforcement officers are decent, well-trained, disciplined and not given to abusing their authority. Trouble is, there’s always a few who are nothing more or better than poorly trained, badly behaved bullies with badges — and batons, guns and cuffs.

Now, thanks to conservative justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and swing-vote Anthony Kennedy, those bullies with badges have a new power tool they can abuse citizens with.

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Naomi Klein: OWS protesters exhibit wisdom
by not sullying cause with acts of violence

“Something else this movement is doing right: You have committed yourselves to non-violence. You have refused to give the media the images of broken windows and street fights it craves so desperately. And that tremendous discipline has meant that, again and again, the story has been the disgraceful and unprovoked police brutality. Which we saw more of just last night. Meanwhile, support for this movement grows and grows. More wisdom.

—Naomi Klein, author, from a speech titled,
“Occupy Wall Street: The Most Important
Thing in the World Now,” included in an
article at The Nation.

Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, excellently makes a point we were about to write a post on. So instead, we present this quote from a longer outtake in a post Dusty has written over at her Leftwing Nutjob blog. (We strongly recommend you follow the link and read Dusty’s post; you’ll be glad you did.)

Understandable though they sometimes are, angry, violent demonstrations turn off the larger public protesters hope to reach and spur to action. So far, Occupy Wall Street people, along with their “Occupy”-named counterparts across the country, have been remarkably peaceable and restrained, even in the face of unwarranted roughness by a few in law enforcement.

The demonstrators’ restraint speaks well of them as people. It also makes clear they’re serious about righting wrongs and restoring a measure of fairness to an economy, polity and society all badly out of whack.

OWS people’s restraint is all the more important because the squawking heads of the right-wing noise machine lie about them daily, depicting them as a mob of lowlife troublemakers, anarchists and slackers envious of others’ wealth and success.

No one should be fooled by these lies. Nor should they be persuaded by the fact these activists don’t have military-trim hair and don’t dress in business casual. Spending days out in the elements in a small park on a very busy street in New York City is no less roughing it than hiking in a rugged wilderness. With all the traffic going by, plus the weather, people get grubby and can do only so much freshening up in restrooms of nearby buildings.

New York spy agency overdue for oversight

spySince 9-11, New York City’s police department has developed a CIA-like intelligence agency, with personnel and training provided by the federal agency, and operational scope that ranges from Gotham’s Muslim neighborhoods to several U.S. states and foreign countries.

Details about NYPD’s intelligence unit and its activities are brought to light for the first time in an exceptionally well done investigative report by Associated Press reporters Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo.

The report draws a portrait of intensive surveillance and domestic spying as components of a determined, ongoing effort to prevent future terrorist attacks. While that goal can’t be faulted, the intelligence unit’s apparently routine crossing of the line of U.S. laws and traditions is troubling.

For example: “The department has dispatched undercover officers, known as ‘rakers,’ into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program, according to officials directly involved in the program. They’ve monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as ‘mosque crawlers,’ to monitor sermons, even when there’s no evidence of wrongdoing.”

More disturbing yet is the near complete lack of oversight and supervision of NYPD intelligence activities by elected officials that Goldman and Apuzzo found.

Neither the city council, which finances the department, nor the federal government, which has given NYPD more than $1.6 billion since 9/11, is told exactly what’s going on.

. . . “One of the hallmarks of the intelligence division over the last 10 years is that, not only has it gotten extremely aggressive and sophisticated, but it’s operating completely on its own,” said (Christopher) Dunn, the civil liberties lawyer. “There are no checks. There is no oversight.”

We get the impression that despite the unit’s willingness and ability to cross boundaries that apply to regular police work, and despite lack of proper monitoring by elected officials to date, it’s done little or no actual harm to innocent parties — so far.

What New York City’s Legislative Assembly, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the CIA should reckon with is the virtual certainty that it’s only a matter of time until that situation changes. The time to institute reforms is before serious harm is done, before there’s a major scandal and before lawsuits are being filed thick and fast.

We don’t begrudge New Yorkers proactive efforts to detect and deter terrorists. An effective intelligence-gathering capability makes sense.

But just as the CIA and Defense Department must make regular appearances on Capitol Hill to inform legislators what they’re doing and how they are doing it, and answer lawmakers’ questions, so too must New York’s police and intelligence people be subject to regular scrutiny by city legislators and elected leaders.

Lehman Bros. execs should be taken to court
even if damages, convictions aren’t assured

greedy guySuppose you’re the theater commander of a U.S. Army counterinsurgency campaign in a backward Mideast country, with 15 generals and colonels assigned to various provinces.

It comes to your attention the troops of Province V, under Col. Dempster, have conducted no major offensive operations, only five minor ones, and engaged the enemy another 20 times when ambushed, each time ending in retreat, in the year since Dempster assumed command.

By contrast, in Province IV the past year, Gen. Davis’ troops conducted three major offensives, 32 minor ones and engaged when ambushed more than 50 times, most ending in the attackers being killed or captured. The story in Province VI is similar, with Gen. Smith’s troops doing five major and 25 minor offensives, with 60 other engagements, most ending successfully.

How long would it take you to replace Col. Dempster?

We bring this up in the wake of last Friday’s Securities and Exchange Commission news dump* announcing that prosecutions are unlikely in the matter of Lehman Brothers’ financial chicanery and the fraudulent accounting practices — to which the Ernst & Young accounting firm was an accomplice — that cost investors billions, brought down the company and played a big part in the 2007-2008 financial meltdown that has cost taxpayers trillions and left more than 17 million unemployed.

And the reason? Holding high-profile, incredibly rich Wall Street crooks accountable for their crimes is hard work. The SEC might not win.

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A government probe into the fall of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc has hit so many snags that enforcement officials fear they may never be able to bring civil or criminal charges against company executives, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

According to the paper, Securities and Exchange Commission officials have begun to doubt they can prove that Lehman broke U.S. laws by moving nearly $50 billion in assets off its balance sheet to make it appear that the securities firm had lowered its debt burden.

Quoting people familiar with the situation, the Journal said SEC officials are also worried they might not win any lawsuit against former Lehman Chief Executive Richard Fuld Jr accusing him of improperly accounting for the value of a large real estate portfolio acquired with the takeover of Archstone-Smith Trust, or to hide losses to investors related to that deal.

If the SEC decides not to file charges against Lehman, the securities firm could escape criminal prosecution because the Justice Department often takes its lead from the SEC, the newspaper said.

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Narrow focus of Rep. King’s hearings
raises specter of politics, witch hunt

Rep. Peter King

Rep. Peter King

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., led the Homeland Security Committee he’s chairman of into hearings on “radicalization in the American Islamic community” this week, as if that was the sum total or most prevalent of potentially violent extremism endangering the country.

Current events intervened this same week, serendipitously making clear that’s not the case – and intensifying suspicions King’s hearings are politically motivated witch hunts in the low-road tradition of a fellow Republican, Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

First, on Wednesday in rural northeast Washington state, the FBI arrested a suspect in the Martin Luther King Day bomb-planting incident in Spokane. Far from being a radicalized Muslim, 36-year-old Kevin William Harpham, an Army veteran, in younger years seems to have been just an average young American.

A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity and declining to provide additional details because the case is ongoing, said Harpham was a white supremacist.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups across the nation, also said they have a record of him being a member of the white supremacist National Alliance in 2004. But the neo-Nazi group has fallen on hard times since the death of its founder William Pierce in 2002, Potok said.

“We don’t know when he joined or if he remains a member,” said Mark Potok of the Alabama-based SPLC.

Pierce was author of “The Turner Diaries,” a novel about a future race war that was influential in the white supremacist movement.

“The bombing attempt in Spokane demonstrates that the threat of domestic terrorism from elements of the radical right is very real. And the threat may be growing,” said J. Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC, in a press release.

Indeed, the threat presented by elements of the lunatic-fringe right is clear and present, as it has been since Timothy McVeigh, another radicalized Army veteran, blew up the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, killing 168 innocent people, many of them children.

Then today, this news emerged from Alaska via Reuters.

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Wikileaks founder and documents thief
deserve life behind bars in U.S. prison

brass screwPosting a quarter million diplomatic documents labeled everything from classified to top secret might be Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s idea of a good time, of some kind of public service or prank, but we’ve got another name for it: crime.

What Assange is doing directly threatens U.S. relations with other countries at a time when President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have worked hard to repair damage done by the Bush administration.

Worse, Assange’s criminal stupidity could get a bunch of people killed — and for what good purpose?

The transcripts of diplomatic cables include things that will anger and embarrass U.S. and foreign leaders and diplomats. The notoriety will surely add to Assange and Wikileaks’ rogue reputation.

Is that what it’s all about — stoking this irresponsible creep’s ego and building his brand? Wikileaks bills itself as a site that brings whistleblowers’ revelations to the world. The person who apparently supplied the U.S. diplomatic cables to Wikileaks is no whistleblower, however — if authorities have the right guy, he’s a traitor.

The possibility that a large number of diplomatic cables might become public has been discussed in government and media circles since May. That was when, in an online chat, an Army intelligence analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, described having downloaded from a military computer system many classified documents, including “260,000 State Department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world.” In an online discussion with Adrian Lamo, a computer hacker, Private Manning said he had delivered the cables and other documents to WikiLeaks.

Mr. Lamo reported Private Manning’s disclosures to federal authorities, and Private Manning was arrested. He has been charged with illegally leaking classified information and faces a possible court-martial and, if convicted, a lengthy prison term.

There is a place in this world for genuine whistleblowers. They are people who see wrongdoing where they work, or in some other setting, and make it known. That’s not the case with stealing and passing along 250,000-plus diplomatic cables.

What we have here is wholesale looting of sensitive information belonging to the U.S. government. Rather than pointing up wrongdoing, the material includes names and other information that could cause people who’ve been helpful to the U.S. to be imprisoned, tortured and/or killed.

It’s been reported Wikileaks revelations could put the final nail in the START treaty coffin Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., has been working on.

Pvt. Pfc. Manning, if guilty, is a traitor and a thief. No matter who supplied the cables, Assange is a receiver of stolen goods and an accessory to espionage.

Interestingly, a Swedish prosecutor is already after Assange for not one, but two, rape allegations. Assange denies the charges, claiming he’s been set up. But it comes as no surprise that after being notified the prosecutor wanted to interview him, Assange skipped the country, quickly returning to Britain.

From an October story about Assange and the fallout from publishing sensitive material about U.S. operations in Afghanistan:

Underlying Mr. Assange’s anxieties is deep uncertainty about what the United States and its allies may do next. Pentagon and Justice department officials have said they are weighing his actions under the 1917 Espionage Act. They have demanded that Mr. Assange “return” all government documents in his possession, undertake not to publish any new ones and not “solicit” further American materials.

Mr. Assange has responded by going on the run, but has found no refuge.

Return documents and not publish new ones? We see how that worked out.

The CIA should make providing Assange “refuge” in a U.S. lockup a top priority. This reportedly high-IQ former hacker needs some time off from “work” to think and reassess his priorities. A day for each stolen document he’s put up on the Web, at least. The same goes for whoever supplied the stolen documents to Assange.

Incident shows Rand Paul lacks character

thumb downBy now you’ve heard about the disgusting spectacle of Rand Paul supporters in Lexington, Ky., forcing a young woman from Moveon.org to the ground, where one repeatedly stomped on her back and stepped on her head, pushing it into the pavement.

The campaign “coordinator,” Tim Proffit, reportedly will be summoned to a court appearance, where a judge will decide whether he should be charged. A local police spokesperson said Proffit could be charged with misdemeanor assault.

The victim of this brutal, unwarranted assault, Lauren Valle, 23, was taken to a hospital and later released, reportedly having suffered a concussion.

Valle later told Greg Sargent of The Plum Line she believed the assault was premeditated.

Paul commented on the assault, saying he regretted the lack of civility in the campaign. His campaign later issued two or three statements disassociating itself from Proffit and deploring the violence.

We find two things highly revealing in what Rand Paul failed to say and do in response to this outrageous, violent attack by a middle-aged male bully on a young woman who hadn’t done anything wrong.

First, Paul failed to personally apologize to Valle. We don’t believe Paul told Proffit or anyone else to physically abuse opposition people. But as the candidate, he’s responsible for the actions of his campaign volunteers and workers. Had we been in Paul’s place, we would’ve gone out of our way to find and apologize to the victim in person.

The other thing Paul failed to do was pay for Valle’s medical care, or at least offer to do that.

Both actions would have demonstrated leadership, responsibility, character and common decency — three things Rand Paul is clearly lacking in.

As for the legalities, Proffit is an ignorant bully of the kind we find the tea party “movement” to be a magnet for. It appears Kentucky good old boys are all set to slap him on the wrist, with a wink and nod.

This neanderthal thug ought to be charged with assault and battery, be packed off to the local lockup for not less than 30 days and fined $500 plus court costs, plus reimbursement to Valle for her medical care.

Post-disaster chicanery exposes need for on-scene federal law enforcement

Where does BP America get off, blocking journalists from property the giant oil corporation doesn’t own because the media were out to show the suffering and mass deaths of creatures, and today interfering with an ABC News reporter doing his job on a public beach?

For that matter, why did BP stiff, and why is it now shunning, Alabama fire department people who want to help mitigate oil damage along that state’s coast?

Then, there’s the matter of lowballing estimates of how much oil is escaping from BP’s botched Deepwater Horizon well nearly a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico’s surface, now reported to be gushing up to twice as much as BP has let on.

The reason for the lowballing is obvious, because the more oil that has escaped, the more royalties BP must pay the federal government, and the higher the penalties BP will have to pay for the colossal damage it’s done to the environment.

What’s emerging is an obvious need for a different and more take-charge approach to handling large-scale disaster areas, such as the greater New Orleans area after hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Coast region in the oily wake of BP’s incompetence and greed-fueled recklessness.

The president should be empowered early on to designate a disaster area as a temporary federal reservation. Then, to maintain order, the president should send in federal marshals and/or military police, depending on the size of the disaster area. At the same time, the president should send federal observers and fact finders into the disaster area.

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Police, not military, take down Jersey jerks

Two New Jersey men headed to court on terrorism-related charges provide the latest in a long and lengthening list of terrorists and wannabes nabbed by law enforcement — before they could do their worst.

That fact wouldn’t be so notable, except that conservative Republicans keep insisting that anti-terrorism efforts aren’t for real, can’t be effective and just generally don’t count unless they’re military operations.

You know, things like missile launches, carpet bombings and invasions.

Had these Jerseyites with jihadist intentions crossed ex-President George W. “Mission Accomplished” Bush and ex-Vice President “Deadeye” Dick Cheney’s radar, Somalia would probably be getting the Air Force’s shock-and-awe treatment about now, ahead of Marine landings.

As it is, skilfull, patient police work, some of it undercover, developed what appears to be an airtight case against two alleged would-be killers, who are in custody and facing trial.

Don’t be surprised if, instead of offering kudos to the police involved, the crackpot crusder crowd starts carping about when the suspects were read their rights, or the fact they evidently haven’t been subjected to “ehanced interrogation techniques” to make them talk about the huge ring they surely were a part of.

Don’t ask how we know that. We just know.