Friday, August 27, 2004

Bob Barr Speaks, and I Agree! (Imagine That!)

The FBI's Pre-emptive Interrogations of "Possible" Demonstrators:
Chilling Political Speech
By Bob Barr

Wednesday 25 August 2004

The FBI, no longer content with working to maintain order at political events, is now preemptively identifying and interrogating ("interviewing") possible demonstrators. It has summarized this strategy in a memo.

To make matters worse, the Department of Justice blessed the FBI strategy in its own memo - suggesting that no First Amendment concerns are raised by the interrogations.

As I will explain in this column, however, the truth is quite to the contrary: The strategy, as outlined in the memo, is a serious threat to free speech.

Back When Politics Was Fun, Protest Was Part of It
Throughout the Reagan and Clinton presidencies, and even to some extent during the Nixon years, politics was fun. At least, political protesting had its lighter moments. (Nothing was really fun during the dour Carter Administration, and George H.W. Bush's presidency was, well, pretty boring except for the First Gulf War.)

Who can forget the great costumes and Nixon face masks that appeared at many political rallies and other events during the 1960s and early 1970s? Reagan and Clinton masks, the latter sometimes adorned with long, Pinocchio-type noses, added color and a bit of levity to political demonstrations throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s. There was, in a word, tolerance.

Reagan, with his constant good humor, almost always disarmed protesters with his wit. Conservatives wearing anti-Clinton T-shirts frequently showed up at Clinton rallies. The worst they might face from the then-president's supporters were scowls.

This atmosphere didn't mean security was absent; it was very present. In the 1960s through the end of Clinton's second term in January 2001, everyone knew if you caused disruption, Secret Service agents would be on you in an instant, as they should be.

But during that period, you didn't feel you were doing something criminal if you simply decided to show up at a rally with a protest T-shirt on, or lugging around a sloppy paperboard sign criticizing the president. You didn't feel intimidated.

The Bush Administration: Squelching Disagreement and Dissent
Now, things are very different. The Administration and campaign of George W. Bush is squelching any possible hint of disagreement or protest at every political rally or gathering.

For example, people with T-shirts that hint at disagreement are not allowed anywhere near the events, nor even on the route traveled by the presidential motorcade. Think what they'd do to you if you showed up in a - shudder -- mask.

But it's gotten even worse than that.

The FBI's Preemptive Interrogation Memorandum
As the New York Times has reported, in an October 2003 memorandum to law enforcement agencies, the FBI expressed great concern over the possibility that marches and rallies in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco might become "violent, destructive, or disruptive."

The memo went on to urge law enforcement to monitor the Internet, because "protesters often use the Internet to . . . coordinate their activities prior to demonstrations." It also urged law enforcement to watch out for protesters who use cell phones to "coordinate . . . or update colleagues."

In the memo, law enforcement agencies at all levels of government are warned to be aware of "possible indicators of protest activity." Moreover, even though the memo does not cite any evidence of violence likely to take place at "possible protests," the Bureau's memo concluded by telling law enforcement agencies to "report any potentially illegal acts to the" FBI (italics added).

The Department of Justice Memo Blessing the FBI Memo
Doubtless, the Department of Justice, aware of the FBI memo, was concerned that it would be seen as urging law enforcement to begin monitoring persons who might be contemplating staging political protests protected by the First Amendment. So several months later, in April 2004 - as the New York Times also reported -- the Department of Justice, which oversees the FBI, issued its own memo - addressing, and dismissing, these constitutional concerns.

The memo came from DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). In the memo, OLC concluded, not surprisingly, that the monitoring, interrogating and gathering of evidence on potential political protesters raised no First Amendment concerns. In addition, it went on to conclude that even if, hypothetically, such activities did raise concerns, any "chilling" effect would be "quite minimal" and would be far outweighed by the overriding public interest in maintaining "order."

Evidence Suggests Protesters Are Subjected To Home and Office Interviews
No chilling effect? In the last few months, evidence has been mounting that special agents are showing up at the homes and offices of potential protesters - casting suspicion upon them in front of bosses, colleagues, family, friends and neighbors. This activity apparently has increased as the Republican Convention and the November election draw near.

If that's not a chilling effect, I don't know what is. The price of free speech should not be a high-profile FBI visit that makes all who know you wonder if you may be a criminal.

During these visits, the special agents "interview" the potential protesters to determine if they -- or anyone they know -- might be planning any political demonstrations. Of course, the "anyone they know" is especially worrisome - hints of McCarthyism.

Also according to the New York Times, the final question the FBI agents ask is this: Does the interviewee know that withholding information on whether they know anyone else who might be planning a demonstration or "disruption" is itself a crime?

One can only imagine how this parting shot plays out: "Oh, by the way, ma'am, before me and my armed partner here leave your house, we'd like to remind you that if you haven't told us if you know someone else who might be planning a demonstration, you have committed a crime and we can prosecute you for not telling us that. Have a good night, ma'am."

This, of course, is pure intimidation.

DOJ's Absurd Stance: Interrogation in Home or Office Is Not Interrogation
The FBI, seemingly, takes an absurdly narrow view of what kind of tactics would, in fact, chill speech - a view that excludes its own plainly chilling measures.

For instance, Joe Parris, an FBI spokesman, told the New York Times that, because "no one was dragged from their homes and put under bright lights," interviews of potential demonstrators are not "chilling."

So now we know the Administration's new First Amendment standard: So long as the government agents don't "drag you from your home" and interrogate you "under bright lights," you have nothing to complain or worry about.

The fact of the matter is, tactics such as those contemplated in last year's FBI memo, and approved by the Justice Department this past spring, do chill free speech. They do intimidate.

And, self-justifying memos by government lawyers notwithstanding, such tactics usher in an era of intolerance and fear that has no place in American politics.

Bob Barr served in the U.S. House of Representatives from January 1995 to January 2003. He was a senior member of the Judiciary Committee. He now practices law, writes extensively, works with the American Conservative Union, and consults on privacy matters with the ACLU.


Jump to TO Features for Saturday August 28, 2004

Another Prescient Mark Morford Column

It's an Angry, Violent, Warmongering World Out There Right Now. You Just Live In It
By Mark Morford
Friday, April 26, 2002

And all you really have to do is step away for just a short period of time, break away from the daily news grind and the everyday wars and the talking-head alarmism and the commonplace unrests and the wagging fingers of hissing foreign leaders and then come back, and you can see it clearly.

It dawns on you rather suddenly, especially if you've just taken a relatively lengthy hiatus/vacation where the pressures of the world all deliciously fell away and then you calmly return and peel your suntan and open the paper and scan the wires like you always have and suddenly it hits you, smacks your anima like a brick: There are no peacemakers in the world right now.

Crusty macho hawks run the planet like never before in our generation. Violent money-addled males with far too much power and far too little perspective are in charge of far too many corporations and lobbies and governments.

You are appalled. You are saddened. You are blackened at the karmic level. You realize you don't have nearly enough wine or painkillers or warm socks for the imminent nuclear winter.

But you are not naive. You are not stupid. You realize this is essentially the same as it ever was. It's a tragic cliche: Wars and violence and hatred and injustice and cruelty and angry old men ordering their tribes to kill each other in the name of oil and money and land and dogma. Film at 11.

Yet not all is bleak and bitter and Bush, of course. Plenty of good remains, you tell yourself. It's just your average, bitter, ultraconservative, anti-everything leadership right now and while it certainly feels more sinister and savage than usual that's just the way the cultural pendulum swings, you tell yourself, hopefully, trying to shrug it off.

But then again, not. Then again, it all seems much worse than it ever has in your lifetime. You don't want to believe it but you look and look and cringe and wince and it's all renewed nuclear strategy this and bloody Israeli conflict that, heightened tensions with Iraq here and brutal civil war there and far too much hey get your holy hands off me, Father, just about everywhere.

You can feel it. We're aching to annihilate Iraq. Craving some nuclear explosions in any of seven newly minted enemies. Actively avoiding the Middle East conflict like the plague, terrified our alliances could be imperiled, our oil interests compromised, Bush family friendships endangered.

World War III will not be two egomaniacal superpowers battling for supremacy and bragging rights. It will be scattershot and bewildering, a hundred different battles fought on a hundred different fronts for a thousand ever-shifting reasons, each and every one twisted and distorted by regulation GOP spin doctors who somehow convince the bulk of the populace that it's somehow patriotic to be cavity searched and fingerprinted and beaten with a stick when you buy groceries.

We are so close. We are on the verge of something very dangerous and irreversible. You can hear Dick Cheney breathing hard, just aching to press The Button. The human animal is capable of staggering atrocities and deadly choices and the thick-necked frat boys in charge right now are the most darkly capable we've suffered in decades.

No one is preaching peace. No one striving for genuine camaraderie or balance or compromise. And too few of us seem willing to believe that 9/11 has mutated into a brutish hollow excuse for the Bush administration to perpetuate a war for oil and to proclaim new enemies and to chip away at the Constitution and your civil liberties in the name of increased federal control and fewer dissenting voices.

And you have two choices, given your rather privileged American status allowing such choices at all: You can either quickly close the paper and turn off the TV and thank goddess that the world is variegated and colorful enough that you can live in relative happiness without having your soul pummeled on a daily basis by people who seemingly have zero connection to any sort of healthy spiritual reality or perspective. You can detach. Spin down. Avoid.

Or you can carefully dive back in, try to make sense of it all, get informed and slog through the macho muck and try to keep your soul from getting overly tainted, make a valiant attempt to make it though the day without slapping both hands to your head and screaming and jumping in front of a speeding ideology.

All the while realizing that if there's one thing the world needs right now, it's positivism and laughter and good sex and connective energy and an enlightened populace to counteract the forces that would drag us down to cesspools of thin-lipped white-knuckle rage. Too simplistic? Too naive? Hardly. Peace is always much braver and more difficult than war. Just try it.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

© : t r u t h o u t 2002

| t r u t h o u t | forum

Mark Morford Rocks The Vote Return to regular view
Sentient Non-Idiots For Kerry
Repubs pick a fight about Vietnam while Bush ruins America right now? Is the nation drunk?
- By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, August 27, 2004

And isn't it funny how at least 13 members of Congress have actually requested that the United Nations monitor this year's U.S. presidential election, just because, just in case, just to ensure there's no voter rolling and election rigging and chad hanging and outright shameless Florida reaming like last time?

And isn't it even more funny how, when firebrand U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, from Florida, brought the issue up on the floor of Congress, she was actually shouted down by the Republicans, scolded that she was out of order and told her comments should be stricken from the record?

And they all screamed and stomped and huffed and puffed and said no way should there be any oversight of this year's election, even though there is indeed a gross pile of mounting evidence that there's nothing stopping BushCo from simply stealing the election all over again. Isn't that funny?

It's enough to make you laugh 'til you gag. And choke. And move to Canada.

And isn't it hilarious how the absolute worst thing the Right has been able to dredge up about John Kerry is that he might sort of maybe have exaggerated some facts about his various Vietnam medals and acts of and valor and deeds of astounding heroism, which is sort of like saying well sure you saved 10 babies from that burning building, but jeez, you were wearing special shoes at the time and by the way couldn't you have saved 11? Traitor!

And how hard should we guffaw while we note that, as Kerry was volunteering in Vietnam and earning his medals and risking his life in the most volatile and ugly and pointless and lethal and hideous war in American history unless you count Iraq, which you really really should, Dubya was "serving" in the Air National Guard, which we all know translates to mean "hangin' down in Tijuana slamming tequila shooters and annoying the waitresses, all while praising Jesus that he had a daddy who could keep him away from scary complicated violent stuff."

Whoa. Let me take that back. That was totally out of line and inappropriate and disrespectful of our fine incoherent president, and I have absolutely no proof that Dubya was such an embarrassment, such an incompetent AWOL serviceman. Very sorry.

After all, as I've mentioned in this column before, no one really knows what Bush was doing all those blurry, gin-soaked years in the National Guard. No one knows, because all of Dubya's military-service records just recently disappeared from Pentagon archives. Poof! Just like that! And then some of the missing payroll records were magically "found" again, though they still don't answer any questions regarding Bush's whereabouts that year. Imagine! Isn't it funny? What a thing.

So, let's see: Bona-fide war hero turned incredibly articulate, educated, gifted Vietnam War protester and respected senator on one side, alcoholic AWOL failed-businessman born-again pampered daddy's boy evangelical Christian on the other. Is this really the contest? Bush slugs gin and tonics like Evian while Kerry is accused of ... what again? Not being incredibly heroic enough? Wow.

This is not, apparently, a hallucination. Kerry really is being forced to defend his well-documented war record, despite how all the proofs are there, in public view, on the candidate's own Web site, with nothing to hide and for all to see, whereas Dubya was (and still is) a famously inept embarrassment to the military, and is being forced to defend nothing about his own spoiled spoon-fed life, as he humiliates the nation at every utterance and attacks Kerry (and, by extension, John McCain) via GOP-sponsored henchmen while large chunks of his own embarrassing records have just, um, "disappeared."

What, too bitter? Resentful? Too much like I advocate stringing Karl Rove up by his large intestine and slapping him with a rainbow flag until he cries? All apologies.

Hey, it happens. Sometimes you just gotta purge. Vent. Let it all out. Because, really, it all makes you ask: Is everyone on drugs? Mass delusional? Are we just blind? Or is the vicious GOP spin machine really that powerful? Why, yes, yes, it is. And isn't it just the funniest thing?

But, wait, there's more. The GOP is also accusing Kerry of a nasty bout of "flip flopping" on a handful of issues. Griping that he's changed his mind on a few key pieces of legislation, not the least of which is his support for war on Iraq. And the USA Patriot Act. Which is, you know, sort of true.

But, then again, not really, not considering how nearly every single congressperson was equally duped by the vicious GOP war machine, the outright WMD lies and BushCo's post-9/11 propaganda and the invidious USA Patriot Act midnight ream-through. Hell, Kerry was just as misled as the rest of us.

Is Kerry culpable for his own choices and for making errors in judgment and for not always being absolutely flawlessly progressive in his decisions? Hell, yes. But does his record of such errors pale in comparison to Bush's mile-high ream of lies and flip-flops and outright slaps in the face of your humanity? Oh my God yes, yes, it does.

But lo, let us not hold back any longer. Let us now laugh out loud, hold our sides in pain, gasp for air as we look at the BushCo "flip flop" record, in sum. Let us observe the short list of issues about which BushCo has either completely reversed his position, or has simply openly lied to the nation about to further his administration's shockingly small-minded, self-serving corporate agenda:

The creation of the 9/11 commission. The Iraq WMD investigation. The Israeli/Palestine conflict. Nation building. Same-sex marriage. Veterans' benefits. The value of Osama bin Laden. The Saddam/al Qaeda link. North Korea. The U.N. vote on Iraq. "Mission accomplished." Ahmed Chalabi. Steel tariffs. The Department of Homeland Security. Campaign-finance reform. Energy policy. Hybrid cars. The deficit. Assault weapons. Abortion. Science. Global warming. The environment.

And the list, as they say, goes on. And on. And on.

It's a masterful deflection by the GOP spin doctors, really, away from Bush's truly appalling record of flagrant deceit and his title as the hands-down worse environmental president in the history of the United States, toward Kerry's much more highly respected record, wherein he has, among other accomplishments, earned the highest possible rating from various international environmental groups.

And, finally, isn't it funny -- in a nauseating, soul-mauling sort of way -- that 52 American soldiers have died in BushCo's completely useless little Iraq war just this month alone. How very touching, their noble sacrifice. Too bad Bush doesn't care.

Let us just laugh and laugh at how the media barely covers these pedestrian, boring deaths anymore, instead allowing the GOP to turn the debate into one about a miserable, lost war that happened nearly 30 years ago, all while U.S. soldiers continue to die every day, right now, for no justifiable reason whatsoever.

Yes, let us laugh until we cry. Let us note how the Bush-induced death toll is now up to 964 U.S. soldiers -- a staggering 855 above the total since the infamous, insulting "Mission accomplished" quip -- which is, if the GOP plays it just so, right on track to reach 1,000 U.S. dead by the time the Republican convention kicks into high gear. What fun!

And that 1,000th soldier will fall in abject pain, his or her life utterly wasted for a cause that never really existed, that no one actually believes in, that was all built on a lie to begin with. And he or she will die just as all the war hawks and all the right-wing homophobes and all the cigar-chompin' corporate CEOs gather in New York and pop their champagne and cheer the true triumvirate o' GOP happiness: God, guns and money.

Yes, it's enough to make you laugh out loud. Until you don't.


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