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February 8, 2009

The Way Forward (ACLU MA Conference 2009)

Closing Remarks given by State Representative Byron Rushing

What is a state representative? I understand freedom, but not anarchists. Just pretend to come out and do lobbying work. I'm trying to file bills electronically but not working just right. Ask your representatives to cosponsor these bills as the deadline has been extended. Go to wheredoivotema.com will find out your elected officials.

We are in an incredible experiment. When the constitution was written, most of the people in the world, were slaves, serfs, or controlled. Radical statement at that time. Committee around John Adams, speaking opportunity, to enter into agreement for democracy in this state without wars. Even after gaining control, couldn't imagine it would apply to all. Needed bill of rights before they would ratify the constitution. Most adults could not vote for George Washington, elected by tiny minority. Great words and sorted action. People had to organize to get into democratic structure of this new government. Words belonged to the people that heard them, not those that wrote them or said them. Doesn't matter that slaves or women were excluded if they could hear those words and understand that the words were for them.

We are engaged in a process of making real the radical ideals of liberty, freedom, and democracy. Need to leave this conference and go do it! Power never concedes without a demand. Find what a people will submit to and you have found what will subdue them. Hear the words and understood we are in the we. Everyone is not in the we, but the goal is for everyone to be in the we. No one in MA legislature remembers pain of getting equal marriage rights passed but they congratulate themselves about it.

How many of our rights are being taken away? People surprised people want to take these rights away. Always had these people, this struggle is forever. Must stay organized. It is not permanent unless we keep it permanent. Always people that want to benefit from someone else's oppression. We are here to say no to anyones oppression.

He is reading about the Great Depression. Two things happened to black people: white people went crazy and lynched black people in the south and poor people were better in 1941 than in 1928. Better off due to 1910s and 1920s leftist ideology. People had ideas that could be presented at that time and an administration willing to be a traitor to his class. Put in place a stimulus program to improve the economy by investing in the poorest people. Safety net from 1930s is mostly what we have still in place today. Democracy doesn't naturally happen or get expanded in a depression.

Can't back away from our great ideas, must insist upon them. Organize and have fun!

Tags: aclu

First Amendment, Spying and Secrecy: Why Accountability Matters (ACLU MA Conference 2009)

Workshop featuring
Michael (Wes) Macleod-Ball (see previous post)
Christopher Pyle, Professor of Politics at Mt. Holyoke College
and Moderator Susan Flannery, Director of Libraries for the City of Cambridge

First amendment gives us some of our most important rights. General principles are accepted but people don't always know their rights or legal ramifications. Battleground for the nation of what our values area. Challenges against the first amendment have been done by motivated groups and individuals.

Speaking as a former intelligence officer. NBC Night Line news came with secret documents about TALON and asked for comparison to 1970 reports. TALON was counter intelligence field activity started in 2003 with 1000 people to monitor threats against US military. Air Force used to track suspicious behavior around base reporting issue. Reports were garbage, didn't identify a single terrorist. It was like stirring the entrails of a Hoover vacuum cleaner. Raging Grannies, anti-war signing group, was under surveillance. Never can tell when they would be infiltrated by a terrorist group.

Why are they collecting this data? Likelihood of civil disturbances that the military might need to quell. 1960 chart tracked anti-war protests to predict urban riots. No correlation between unrest on campuses and in inner cities. Never predicted a riot. Now not only military but also department of homeland security. Really measuring paranoia of military.

When Christopher exposed the military surveillance he would have been denounced if it has any real value. Documents displayed were classified secrets. Contents of vacuum cleaner was worthless. Both shutdown.

They are so inept, can it do any harm? Yes. Wastes resources instead of spending it on body army. Essential apparatus of a police state. Information in the network is used to compile watch lists. More names than possible terrorists. Information is mostly erroneous or out of date. No sourcing of information making it hard to track validity.

Operation Trailblazer with no judicial warrant. Communication interception and algorithm for suspicious patterns. Generated lots of leads that FBI and CIA had to follow-up that were worthless. 1.2 billion dollars wasted. Mostly wasted on corporations instead of on staff. Making consultants rich at taxpayers expense.

NSA telephone matching network. Tracing leakers to known reporters.

State fusion center is designed to combine information from multiple sources. Want us to belief that collecting and connecting dots will reveal hidden information. Too many dots muddy the page. 16 national security agencies and many state facilities. Disincentive to share information as sharing that would expose information and invite meddling. New president is a fan of dot collection. Not only overloads system, wastes time and money, distraction.


Is accountability really necessary? Accountability isn't just Bush administration, some issues started before then. Can't ignore the past, otherwise we will repeat it. Only time we won't look back is on security issues, always look back on health care, etc.

Information that has been collected but rejected by DOJ is still maintained by FBI. NSL about 50,000 per year. Increasingly targeted at US persons. FISA board rejected request that then just became an NSL, justification was that they "disagreed with the court".

Fusion center emblematic of surveillance society we are moving to. Don't know how many there are. Obama administration hasn't clearly said if they will revoke fusion center issues.

Restoration: investigate commission, congressional select committee, routine congressional oversight, DOJ investigation, citizen's panel (doesn't have subpoena authority). Pushing for congressional select committee. Dedicated resources, comprehensive with new eyes, transparency, de-emphasize political retribution.

Scope: unwarranted surveillance, torture, rendition, destruction of evidence, etc.

"Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." said Benjamin Franklin.

Q: Homeland security department security chief, "Oh don't worry, we only get information from the federal government, we don't give anything back". Is there truth in that?
Christopher: Enormous variability between agencies. Documents suggest a two way street. Want newsletter, chat line, really want ability to swap information. Northern command has 30 million dollar building housing 290 intelligence analysts reading domestic intelligence. Culture of these groups isn't politically sophisticated, they divide it into us versus them. Assign us a security rating. Think people have certain dispositions.
Wes: Need lines of communication with organizational chart and rules.

Q: Non governmental lawsuit on behalf of people who had been tortured? Maybe civil versus criminal.
Wes: As a litigator I make a good lobbyist. State secret policy has prevented previous cases.
Christopher: Courts won't introduce testimony due to state secrets. Intimidating and free speech issues. Must show how their surveillance led to your future harm.

Q: Does federal government have the ability to demand surveillance from municipalities?
Wes: Default situation must be that there is a creditable reason to collect the information unless there is an exception.
Christopher: Used to talk about CONUS (Continental US) and SPOT (six paragraph report) reports. Example was what does the military need to know about a city. Started by asking when has the military gone into such places. Example in 1967 10,000 troops went into Detroit without any maps. Gather information about height of bridges, number of urinals, etc. Instead really wanted to collect persons active in civil disturbances to create a round up list. Who the military might encounter that would protest their presence. Governors no longer must give permission for federal government to go into their cities. Grounds for intervention can include the vague "or other crisis".

Tags: aclu

Taking Back America (ACLU MA Conference 2009)

Panel discussion featuring:
Michael (Wes) Macleod-Ball, ACLU Chief Legislative and Policy Counsel
William Strickland, Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Nancy Murray, Directory of Education, ACLU of Massachusetts
Glenn Greenwald (see previous post)
and Moderator Carol Rose (see previous post)

Q: How do Glenn's impediments align with the ACLU agenda?
Wes: Our Lobbying efforts have doubled since we now have a president that is receptive. Restore what we lost and push the envelope on issues to make progress. Might need to cut our losses to get back to where we were. Need single study to look at executive branch abuses over last 8 years. Patriot Act up for review and we should examine how we can fix it. NSL up to 50,000 a year. Need legislative to be equal power with executive and judicial. Should create congressional oversight committee to look at unwarranted increases in executive power. Something like the Church Committee or the Rockefeller Commission (the first having been much more effective).

Q: What are your feelings on the current situation?
Will: Guillotine Bush! There any many great American mythes. Bush was just a symbol of a 40 year scheme to take over government by the Republicans. Europe euphoric over Obama, but Will is pessimistic. We have had previous euphoria, 1836 Emancipation Proclamation and 1991 Nelson Mandella. Still much to be done. Linda Tripp phenomenon is an issue of Republican moles exposing things. Need to itemize these abuses (i.e. EPA, justice department, etc.). Need to note sacrifice black people have made to civil liberties including their lives, labors, and liberties.

Q: Post 9/11 abuses are being fought at the federal level, how to do it as state level?
Nancy: Patriot Act education happened at state level. 30,000 signatures to roll back Patriot Act. 1 of 7 towns in Massachusetts opposed Patriot Act. Had support but no teeth. Organize against DHS surveillance cameras in other communities. Boston is pilot city for a national suspicious activities report initiative. 63 questions to answer for an incident report. Possible iWatch initiative to have citizens report suspicious behavior. Example was a guy arrested taking pictures of trains as part of Amtrack's take a picture of a train campaign.

Q: Reaction to and role of media?
Glenn: Frightened that WIll was more pessimistic. One thing that is obscured, we sometimes believe the hype that we are fringe, don't care that privacy is important, okay if president breaks the law. Look at Cambridge, look at polls. People want Guantanamo closed. Split on prosecuting president. People want eavesdropping only with warrant. This is happening without a political leader advocating them. These core values are learned when young, but maybe dormant.

Q: Where should we should be focusing?
Bill: Can't solve overnight. Fight the visas that are stopping people coming into the country to testify about torture. Bush and Cheny classified 15 million documents including previously unclassified documents. Need comprehensive tally of corruption.
Wes: Information is key to all of it. Need to be smart about targets. Last three months was Obama transition team. Extension of employment verification, will focus on certain people. Used to read Watergate transcripts back and forth for entertainment.
Glenn: Prelude to prosecution is an airing of facts. Some of the worst abuses are probably still concealed. Foundation for popular opinion to proceed with prosecutions.

Q: Book by David Brock about the Republican Noise Machine. Right-wing talking points are covered in media, how can we educate them? Notice that the mainstream media isn't here.
Nancy: Recent case with many op-ed in Boston Globe. Why aren't more people concerned about this?
Glenn: Media isn't lacking in material. It isn't for checking government power, now it is more about safe guarding government. Journalists won't become what we envision them to be, shame into modifying isn't working, need new ways to disseminate information.

Q: Obama fitting into Washington nicely, and the executive orders and how they fall short.
Glenn: Too premature to condemn Obama for fitting into Washington class. His career hasn't been one of challenge, but coveting to advance his career. His political strength comes from the people who elected him. Individuals hold the power to backlash against the president. Executive orders were symbolic statement to repudiate last 8 years and placate this supporters but they leave unresolved all important questions. It was just sandpapering the rough edges instead of really fixing the problem. Steps are preliminary but more is needed.

Q: Economy hasn't been mentioned yet, job loss, retirement issues, obstacle or advantage?
Will: Capitalism has failed and failed globally. 10 trillion dollar plus debt. Bush's stimulus plan wasn't touched, but Obama's is being attacked. Need a new mindset. Ethical capitalism. Bush's tax policies and corporate greed. Spell out causes of crisis. Focus on corruption. Politics and culture are corrupted. Public control and interest of the media. Ridiculous discourse about water boarding instead of focusing on bigger picture.

Q: How to focus talk at state level.
Nancy: Need people stirring themselves to push for change. No safety net in this country. Economy will be primary. It isn't a single issue issue. Holistic treatment to talk to people when there minds are elsewhere. Focus on the "American that can be."

Q: National ACLU against impeachment. How to clean out our own organization?
Wes: Washington office thought impeachment had 0 chance. Needed resources elsewhere. Needed process to include forum to talk about abuses. Making impeachment as the goal instead of as part of the process.

Q: 0 chance shouldn't be the factor.
Carol: Let the central office know what you want, send support.

Q: Polls show people are against the abuses. Why has nothing happened? Maybe silent and what can we do.
Glenn: Public opinion is distorted by established media. Even if they believe some policies are true, politicians ignore the truth or announce it makes no difference. Economy engendering dissatisfaction among people against wall street and politicians, not directed at any political party. Politicians need to fear continuing to ignore public opinion.

Q: Why has it been so silent?
Glenn: Look at both parties reaction to the president violating laws. No one would go on air and take issue with president, say he was breaking the law. Disconnect between public opinion and Washington political class.

Q: Signing statements about how laws can be interpreted. How was this law dismantled, how to prevent it?
Wes: Mixed feelings. It isn't controlling law. The fact that is was created gives you something to look at it, to investigate. Heads up he isn't obeying the law. Usually used to give take on executive branch on the issue. Regulation lite. Would go with statute over law.
Glenn: Bush didn't really have the law. He could say it but didn't really have it. Only his statement of belief about the law.
Will: No leadership has confronted this abuse. Outrageous act, no one.

Q: Extended protections for whistle blowers.
Wes: Legislation in the works to extend protections. Issue with exception for national security departments. Special path for whistle blowers within national security arenas. Issues of insular behavior.

Q: What can we do to get people to care more about constitutional protections?
Nancy: Have been working in schools here. Last 10 years had to fight to get into school. Security more important than rights in schools. Rights Matter booklet into all school. Bill of Rights took individuals and social movements to make it real, started as just a piece of paper.

Q: Criminal investigation of executive branch. Investigate lawyers who wrote the letters? Disbar them.
Glenn: Precedence in Nuremberg trials for German lawyers. Would be too narrow if just against the lawyers. Lawyers capable, but not only the lawyers.

Q: Freedom of speech and power of speech. Deeply disturbed by guillotine Bush comment. Have that be the takeaway?
Will: Believe what I say. Media is corrupt and will take it out of context. Malcolm said law is whatever the white man says it is. Americans have no idea of the crisis that we are facing.
Wes: Power of speech versus freedom of speech.
Glenn: First amendment absolutistic. Excess of passion and deficit of passion, suffer more from deficit of passion.
Nancy: Put comment into historical context, reflected views of another epoch. People need to stir now. They had grievances then and now.

Tags: aclu

Keynote (ACLU MA Conference 2009)

Keynote given by Glenn Greenwald, Author and Columnist, Salon.com

Over the last 8 years we have seen the worst assault on civil liberties. ACLU has been fighting to restore those rights. Regards ACLU lawyers in high esteem since they chose that invocation over higher compensation in the private sector.

Hard time to write and to speak about civil liberties. Euphoria is still felt by many about Obama's election. That is cause for celebration but there many meaningful battles yet to be fought. A single election won't produce meaningful change unless we overcome certain impediments.

Obama is working to close Guantanamo but left open the possibility of creating a similar structure within US borders. Existing detainees would either be put on trial, released, deported, or retained and detained (kept without due process). Many impediments politically to get to a real change.

First impediment is that belief in the constitution now labels you as being a leftist ideologue. You are ridiculed for believing that a law or treaty must be abided by. Thought he was writing about issues with neutral point of view but labeled a liberal score-settler. Called a civil liberty extremist and it was meant as an insult. No way to look at constitution and not think of being extremist. Look at the wording. "No law", "Shall not", etc.

The second impediment is we are in a post partisan age. Hard being an ideologue. Worst is being a leftist ideologue. Obama is viewed as not being beholden to leftist side of party and is truly partisan. As such it is now hard to propose plans without coming off as an ideologue. Politically you must move to the center to make progress which dilutes the effectiveness.

Third impediment is the permanent Washington population that is really behind the change in policy over the last 8 years. President can't rule by fiat. This population has vested interest in not having investigations performed, as that would implicate them.

Fourth impediment is the consensus that we shouldn't prosecute top political leaders. Suggesting that would take away from new post partisan future and looking forward. Creates atmosphere of political immunity from prosecution. Without consequences politicians will continue to bend or break the laws. We can't be a nation of laws unless there are consequences for breaking the laws, we instead become a nation of men. Without prosecution the executive branch is reduced to being based on a character judgement, benevolence that he won't break the law.

Obama's civil liberties view is unclear. No single leader can affect change fighting against these impediments. Must need external citizen support or be forced to do so. A majority isn't needed, just a minority of highly motivated individuals that can pressure the president to enact change.

Tags: aclu

Beyond the Politics of Fear (ACLU MA Conference 2009)

Introduction given by Carol Rose, Executive Director, ACLU of Massachusetts

Conference theme is getting beyond the politics of fear and reclaiming our civil liberties.

Need to build a system of accountability and restore the rule of law. Ensure that the Obama administration and Congress keeps their campaign promises. Rollback the regime of secrecy.

Need to score victories in ever town like Cambridge's recent revocation of the surveillance cameras.

Work to curtail the Commonwealth Fusion Center which is a data mining operation and needs restrictions. A bill has been introduced to provide oversight of that center.

Massachusetts is among the worst in number of youths that we lock up. Must educate not incarcerate. ICE is handling immigrants poorly. Growing concern that students posting content on public sites are causing problems for them in school.

ACLUM is looking to increase membership from 20,000 to 30,000 in the next 5 years. Sign up now!

Tags: aclu

February 3, 2009

This Not That

I've gotten myself into a funk at home where I'm not interested in doing anything personally productive. I've got some projects I should be working on (read as a new Antennae release), some ideas that should be explored (read as playing with ANTLR), some loose ends to clean up (read as finishing the comments on my Nepal pictures), and we'll completely skip over how botched up I've been with personal communication lately. Instead of doing any of that, I find myself sitting in front of the television or mindlessly playing on the computer.

A new age book I have kicking around talks about Personal Velocity and the issues with being above (stress, burnout, anxiety) or below (boredom, apathy, depression) your optimal velocity zone. I did say it was new age :) Taken with a grain of salt it makes some sense. I personally think given my tendency this just happens from time to time.

The fact that I've been skimming 43 Folders has only made me more self aware of how out of the zone I might be. I wonder if part of that is that it has been awhile since I've felt passion for anything outside of work. While it doesn't look like I've written about it on this blog, I've ruminated on passion in the past, mostly around that fact that I wonder if I've ever had it (versus temporary infatuation) or that it has been a long time since I've felt it.

Tags: life work