"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Political Repression’

“Take Back The Streets”: Civil Rights Report Finds Police Worldwide Criminalize Dissent, Assert New Powers in Crackdown on Protests

In Uncategorized on October 17, 2013 at 1:17 pm

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Oldspeak: “In a major new report, the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations details a global crackdown on peaceful protests through excessive police force and the criminalization of dissent. The report, “Take Back the Streets: Repression and Criminalization of Protest Around the World,” warns of a growing tendency to perceive individuals exercising a fundamental democratic right — the right to protest — as a threat requiring a forceful government response. The case studies detailed in this report show how governments have reacted to peaceful protests in the United States, Israel, Canada, Argentina, Egypt, Hungary, Kenya, South Africa and Britain. The report’s name comes from a police report filed in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets of Toronto to nonviolently protest the G-20 summit. A senior Toronto police commander responded to the protests by issuing an order to “take back the streets.” Within a span of 36 hours, more than 1,000 people — peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights monitors and downtown residents — were arrested and placed in detention…” – Amy Goodman & Juan Gonzalez

“Ever notice how when you see news of protest, in any particular protest/rebellion/revolution around the world, the police look the same? Dark colored. Armored. Heavily armed. Deploying chemical weapons. And brutal, usually without provacation from peaceful demonstrators.  The response of the State to peace and lawful dissent is violence, brutality, repression and mass arrests. The global control grid is continually growing, taking shape. We can take solace in the fact that our planet cannot continue to support the energy demands needed to maintain it. it is inevitable that the continued unsustainable  growth and complexity of this apparatus will at some point cause it to collapse on itself. in addition to extinguishing life on earth as we know it.” –OSJ

By Amy Goodman & Juan Gonzalez @ Democracy Now:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to a major new report detailing the global crackdown on peaceful protests, both through excessive police force and the criminalization of dissent. The report is called “Take Back the Streets: Repression and Criminalization of Protest Around the World.” It was put out by the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations. The name of the report, “Take Back the Streets,” comes from a police report filed in June 2010, when hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets of Toronto to nonviolently protest the G-20 summit. A senior Toronto police commander responded to the protests by issuing an order to, quote, “take back the streets.” Within a span of 36 hours, over a thousand people—peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights monitors and downtown residents—were arrested and placed in detention.

AMY GOODMAN: According to the report, what happened in Canada is emblematic of government conduct in the face of protest around the world: the tendency to perceive individuals exercising a fundamental democratic right—the right to protest—as a threat requiring a forceful government response. The case studies detailed in this report show how governments have reacted to peaceful protests in the United States, in Israel, Canada, Argentina, Egypt, Hungary, Kenya, South Africa and Britain.

For more, we’re joined by co-editor of the report, Abby Deshman, a lawyer and program director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. We’re also joined by Anthony Romero. He is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, author of the book In Defense of Our America: The Fight for Civil Liberties in the Age of Terror. And still with us, Hossam Bahgat—he is the founder and executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Abby, talk about the report.

ABBY DESHMAN: Sure. This is a collaboration between multiple domestic human rights and civil liberties organizations, that we’ve really come together to group our domestic work, group our national work and identify trends in how we feel the governments are responding to democratic dissent and protest in the streets. And, you know, gathering together this number of practitioners to really provide practitioners’ notes shows that there are very disturbing trends. People are taking to the streets across the world, and governments are responding with excessive use of force, criminalization and repression.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, when you say “disturbing trends,” governments have never looked kindly on dissent within their borders or by their own citizens. What do you see as new about what is occurring now? Because I remember years back when we at Democracy Now! covered the Seattle World Trade Organization protests live, there clearly were some new tactics by both the nonviolent protesters as well as the government response.

ABBY DESHMAN: Well, partly what’s new—I mean, at least for me; I’m young in this game—but partly what’s new is massive uprising in the streets. I think we are seeing, in the past three, five years, record numbers of people, in recent memory, taking to the streets. And we are seeing new police tactics—the numbers of arrests, the massive, hundreds of people rounded up at a time. There are new policing weapons: long-range acoustic devices, sonic cannon, excessive amounts of tear gas being used in Egypt. These are trends that are currently surfacing in multiple countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Romero, talk about the United States.

ANTHONY ROMERO: Well, it’s important to put the United States in the global context. And normally when we think about protest and freedom of speech, we think that’s been a right that’s been well established and well respected. And yet, you point out the difficulties we’ve seen with the WTO protesters, the protesters with the Occupy movement and, in particular, this case study that we highlight in Puerto Rico, a place where most Americans don’t think of Puerto Rico as part of the United States, but it is. The Constitution applies. Over four—close to four million American citizens live there. And yet, you have the second-largest police department in the nation, only second to New York City Police Department, and the massive levels of repression and shutdown of—of arrests, of tear-gassing, of beating of students, of labor leaders, the level of impunity that lasted for years, until the ACLU filed a report, lobbied our Justice Department, filed a lawsuit, and then the Justice Department stepped in, only recently, to try to put the Puerto Rico Police Department under better control of rule of law.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole tactic of picking people up en masse and then holding them, supposedly while protests continue, basically pulling them out without any real charges just to get them off the streets?

ANTHONY ROMERO: We saw that New York, right? I mean, that’s how they—that’s how they dealt with many of the protests here in New York, especially after the conventions—during the conventions, where they corralled record numbers of people, arrested them in record time, in ways that were just astonishing, held them often incommunicado for 24, 36, 48 hours—a form of preventive detention, if you will.

And I think one of the things we have to bear in mind is like, look, our government is shut down. Our government is not working. People are frustrated. People may take to the streets as an important part of demonstrating their unrest, their unhappiness with our government. And so, how we protect the rights of individuals to protest and to dissent is critically important, especially in our democracy, that’s so fundamentally broken down and at loggerheads at the moment. The people—it’s the government of the people, by the people and for the people. And when the government doesn’t respond to the people, the people have to take the government back.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But to follow up on this, because what the police departments do is they don’t mind having to deal with lawsuits later on. You know, years later they end up paying these settlements to protesters who had their civil liberties violated, but at that moment they’re able to effectively shut down the dissent. So, I’m wondering how can you, as a civil liberties lawyer, find—what ways can the courts be utilized to prevent these kinds of occurrences from repeating themselves over and over again?

ANTHONY ROMERO: I think part of it, you have to—even in cases where they infringe on civil liberties and freedom of speech and expression, you have to sue, to use that as a deterrent for further police departments, to shame them, to cost taxpayers money. We have to work with police departments, those that are open to it, to hear what their concerns are for public safety. They have real concerns around public safety; they can be addressed.

We also have to make sure that we don’t allow the excessive use of less lethal force. I mean, one of the things we’ve seen in the reports on Puerto Rico, as much in Egypt and Canada and Argentina, has been the increased use of police of certain weapons, of certain tactics, which they say is less lethal, but they end up in deaths. We have deaths in the arrests in Puerto Rico. We have deaths in Argentina. We certainly have deaths in places like Egypt. And so we have to make sure that we hold the police accountable for those—for those actions.

AMY GOODMAN: And then the issue of surveillance, like our last headline today—

ANTHONY ROMERO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —this undercover officer in the infamous West Side Highway videotape of the motorcycle gang and the guy with the SUV, that one of these officers, it turns out, was—one of these motorcycle riders was an officer, undercover, and he was undercover in Occupy Wall Street, as well—

ANTHONY ROMERO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —picked up at Grand Central.

ANTHONY ROMERO: When you look at the fact that it’s not just what they do at the protest itself, but prior to the protests the surveillance, prior to the protests the infiltration. We have police departments who brazenly brag about sending in undercover cops to pretend they’re part of the protest movements as a way to derail them or to shape them in the ways they want. All of this, in the context after 9/11, where any activity that disagrees with the government is—often vehemently, is seen as potential terrorist activity or a potential terrorist plot, the powers of the government to use of surveillance, infiltration, the police tactics, they all have to be seen as one part of an effort to shut down and to dispel dissent. We see it. We see the fact that there’s a quell on public dissent. Muslims are less likely to express themselves now. We hear that from our clients. We hear that from our—some of the litigation we bring. And so, it’s a very pernicious part that’s very, very real and often not uncovered until we put out reports like this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Abby, the Canadian example of the G-20 summit, what most surprised you in terms of as you were unearthing what happened there and the civil liberties violations?

ABBY DESHMAN: Well, actually, how high the police orders went. You know, we thought that this was a coordinated response. We saw that there was consistency, a really defined point in time when the policing turned during the G-20. We then had confirmation that there were orders all the way from the top, that these were not random acts by individual commanders panicking under situations, that these really were decisions that were taken by very senior police leaders to violate not only the rights of citizens, but their own policies and procedures about how to deal with protests, and really that they were taking notes from an international scene where this had happened before. We had not seen this technique in Canada. It was clear that it had happened at previous G-20 summits, and they were importing these policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Hossam Bahgat, we were just talking about the level of repression in Egypt, but fit this into this global context.

HOSSAM BAHGAT: Yes. While Egypt might be an extreme case, of course, because we have sort of crossed the threshold from just the violent repression of protests to mass and deliberate killings, really the trend in Egypt fits with the trend identified by the report in all of these case studies. We see, as Abby and Anthony mentioned, that the mass protests are not, of course, a new phenomenon, but they are taking new shapes. And whether it’s the Arab uprisings, the protests in Turkey and Brazil, the anti-austerity mass protests in Europe, the Occupy movement here, they are going to continue.

And we see the right to protest publicly and the right to dissent as an essential part of democracy. There is an attempt on the other side, by governments, to reduce the democratic rights of individuals to just voting, to being called in once every few years to cast a vote and then be sent home and leave the governance to the people that have been elected. The people refuse. The people see that, in many countries, the democratic institutions—and we’re talking in the United States here, but the democratic institutions around the world are not working and are not necessarily reflecting the wills of the people. And the people are going to continue to take their demands, yes, through channels like the media and civil society and labor unions and others, but they are going to go on the street, and they are going to protest publicly. And states need to know that they have a responsibility not just to protect this right, but to even enable people to express these rights, because the only other alternative—the killings that we’re seeing in Egypt or the killings that even started in Syria as just violence in the face of peaceful protests and turned into civil wars—these are recipes for only pushing the situation into very, very dangerous directions. And the violent response only leads to even violent protests.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and, Abby, I wanted to ask you—much was made, obviously, in Egypt and during the Arab Spring of the impact of social media and the use of the Internet by dissidents to mobilize, to communicate. In your report, did you dwell into the responses of government officials in terms of how they responded to the change in tactics of the popular movements?

ABBY DESHMAN: Yeah, absolutely. Police do say that they need new tactics because people can mobilize more quickly. Things are going out on Twitter, and then a large crowd forms. Things are very mobile on the ground. But the truth is, in my experience, during the G-20, we knew exactly what was going to happen, because it was on the Internet, it was on social media. The protesters themselves had classified their protests in terms of levels of risk. So I actually am very skeptical of those claims that they need new powers in order to try to police these new forms of protest. We knew exactly what was going to happen during the G-20 protests. They followed that pattern. The police simply weren’t prepared and then violated rights as their reaction.

AMY GOODMAN: And how should the state deal with violence?

ABBY DESHMAN: Well, the state does need to respond to violence. But I would say the state overresponds to violence, particularly in protests. So, there may be one or two or even 10 or 30 people in a crowd of thousands, tens of thousands, that commit property damage, that commit violent acts. The state often takes that as an authority to abrogate the rights of every single person in that crowd. They need to respond to violence. They need to protect the rights of all the other people in that crowd who are peacefully protesting and exercising their democratic rights. Their role is to facilitate protest, not to find excuses to shut it down.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the U.S. cutting military aid to Egypt, Hossam? How does that play into what the military government does with the protesters? Does it change?

HOSSAM BAHGAT: I mean, in Egypt, especially after the massacres, of course, our position was that there should be investigations, there should be an independent fact finding, and there should be accountability. And until that takes place and until the government also accepts responsibility for these killings, there should be a suspension of the provision of any arms or tools of repression from any country in the world. We’re not just talking about the U.S. military assistance. And any resumption of the sale of weapons or the provision of weapons or tools of repression to the Egyptian government must be conditioned on accepting the retraining and provision of, you know, new tools for riot control, but that business should not continue just as usual when it comes to Egypt.

Especially when—exactly like Abby said, the problem is now, in all of these demonstrations that we are seeing, in the report, all around the world, there is—there is always a few protesters that are going to use violence. The trend we’re seeing now is that governments use this to dub the entire protest—20,000, 30,000—as non-peaceful or as violent. And that leads to two things: One, the peaceful participants that are not using violence are, again, lumped together with the others and are deprived of their rights as peaceful protesters; and even those that do engage in stone throwing or other violence are robbed of all their other rights, including their right to life, of course. And the states are just using this as an excuse, sometimes through infiltration by provocateurs into these protests, in order to just remove entire protests outside the realm of protection of law.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to get back to Anthony Romero in terms of this whole idea of the Obama administration finally doing something in Egypt to cut off some of the military aid to the—to the coup leaders. How has the Obama administration dealt with the increasing repression by local police on public protesters? Has there been any—any actions by the Justice Department to try to rein this in, or have they basically been supportive?

ANTHONY ROMERO: They’ve basically been supportive. I mean, to be clear, the ACLU doesn’t take positions on foreign policy or the U.S. aid to Egypt, but we do look very closely about how our government, federal government, works with state and local governments. And the level of collusion between the federal agents, the FBI, and local police departments has become very troubling, the way they track and the way they monitor and do surveillance on Muslims. So, one of the key cases we have now is in New York City with the New York City Police Department, but it involves the FBI and the federal government. You see it in the immigration context, if you pull the camera back a little further back, where you find the FBI and the DOJ and Department of Homeland Security working with local sheriffs and police.

AMY GOODMAN: You have a case against Arpaio in Arizona.

ANTHONY ROMERO: Oh, it’s exactly that.

AMY GOODMAN: The sheriff, Joe Arpaio.

ANTHONY ROMERO: The sheriff, Arpaio, who resists a federal order from a federal judge to have a monitor and to have any type of accountability. But Arpaio was created by the policies of Janet Napolitano. I mean, Arpaio is not just a one—

AMY GOODMAN: When she was governor or head of the Department of Homeland Security?

ANTHONY ROMERO: Well, I would say more in the Department of Homeland Security, because it’s exactly that type of collusion that she encouraged—the 287(g) programs, the Secure Communities programs, that insisted that federal government officials work with local law enforcement officials. Now, Sheriff Arpaio has gone off the farm, but the fact is that there are too many local police departments that are working with the federal government on things like surveillance, on immigration, on dissent, on protest. And so, I think actually part of the responsibility does come from the federal government.

Newly-Released Documents Confirm Federal Agencies Coordinated Violent Crackdown Occupy Protesters

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Oldspeak:”China violently cracks down on protesters. Iran violently cracks down on protesters. North Korea violently cracks down on protesters. Syria violently cracks down on protesters. The United States violently cracks down on protesters. Ignore the populist rhetoric. The Obama Administration is no friend of the 99%. It has been working actively to quash dissent, restrict protest, and silence whisleblowers. “What these documents are beginning to reveal is also the coordination between federal law enforcement agencies and private corporate entities representing the 1% that wanted to see the Occupy movement removed from public view and shut out of America’s parks.”Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. This is what inverted totalitarian kleptocracy looks like. Government and corporate interests working in concert to deprive the people of constitutionally guaranteed rights.  At some point we’ll have to awaken to the reality that our beloved country is not that much different from the ones we’re told demonize. “Freedom Is Slavery”

Related Stories

Wikileaks: Internal Report Indicates U.S. Department Of Homeland Security Monitoring Occupy Wall Street Protests

Obama Administration Coordinated Local Police Crackdowns On Occupy Encampments Nationwide

Occupy Wall Street “Counterinsurgency” Has Infiltrated Protests; Seeks To Diffuse Message

FBI To Expand Domestic Surveillance Powers As Details Emerge Of Its Spy Campaign Targeting American Activists

By The Partnership For Civil Justice Fund:

Two days before the NYPD’s eviction of the Occupy Wall Street encampment from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, Brookfield Properties’ security was in direct communications and sharing information with the US Park Police in Washington DC, and communicating with other cities around the country, according to newly released internal documents from the National Park Service.

The documents were released late Friday to the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) in response to the civil rights legal group’s FOIA demands to the NPS, FBI, CIA, DHS and other federal law enforcement agencies seeking information about the role of Federal agencies in the coordinated nationwide crackdown that led to the eviction of Occupy encampments in cities throughout the United States. The request was made also on behalf of author and filmmaker Michael Moore and the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee The PCJF is making the documents immediately available for review, and highlighting key initial findings .

“When the PCJF issued this FOIA request we wanted to uncover and expose whether local government and local law enforcement agencies were working in a coordinated way with the federal government to suppress and shut down the Occupy Movement which had inspired the country starting in September, 2011,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. “What these documents are beginning to reveal is also the coordination between law enforcement agencies and private corporate entities representing the 1% that wanted to see the Occupy movement removed from public view and shut out of America’s parks.”

These initially released documents show:

  • The private corporate entity Brookfield Properties, which manages Zuccotti Park, had its security agency in communication with cities across the country about police actions designed to evict the Occupy movement and sought information as to Park Police plans to evict in D.C. 48 hours before OWS was evicted.
  • U.S. Park Police were communicating step by step, as they took action in regard to Occupy DC, with the Secret Service, DHS, and other police agencies as well as personnel affiliated with LEO.gov, the FBI’s nationally integrated network and alert system involving all aspects of civilian law enforcement, intelligence agencies and the military. As its website states, “LEO supports the FBI’s ten priorities by providing cost-effective, time-critical national alerts and information sharing to public safety, law enforcement, antiterrorism and intelligence agencies in support of the Global War on Terrorism.”

It is also noteworthy that the DHS has not produced the communications they participated in, in response to FOIA demands, confirming the PCJF’s assertion that the search they have conducted is inadequate. The PCJF has refused to narrow its request to DHS’ initial search and is demanding further disclosure.

More documents are being released to the PCJF. Please click here to be sure that you receive notice as documents become available. To read more about OWS FOIA updates visit www.JusticeOnline.org/ows.

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The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) is a not-for-profit constitutional rights legal and educational organization which, among other things, seeks to ensure constitutional accountability within police practices and government transparency in operations. The PCJF filed the class action suit challenging the NYPD’s October 1 mass arrest of more than 700 protestors on the Brooklyn Bridge. It has brought class action cases in which more than 1,000 persons were falsely arrested during protests in Washington, D.C., resulting in settlements totaling $22 million and major changes in police practices. The PCJF previously brought the successful litigation in New York challenging the 2004 ban on protests in the Great Lawn of Central Park. It is counsel with the National Lawyers Guild in Oakland, CA challenging police mass arrest tactics. It won a unanimous ruling at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals finding the MPD’s unprecedented military-style police checkpoint program unconstitutional. The PCJF previously uncovered and disclosed that the D.C. police employed an unlawful domestic spying and agent provocateur program in which officers were sent on long-term assignments posing as political activists and infiltrated lawful and peaceful groups. For more information go to: www.JusticeOnline.org.

 

 

Why Is the ACLU Helping The Richest Americans Buy Our Elections?

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Oldspeak: “Plutocrats come in Red and Blue. Elephantine and Asinine. You can bet your ass Newt Gingrich isn’t the only Presidential candidate with a Billionaire benefactor. Obama has them too, the difference is he’s not being called to account for it, he’s openly talked of raising ONE BILLION dollars to finance his reelection campaign. I ask you What’s democratic about that?  How does someone with the means to raise that sum of money represent the interests of all Americans? He doesn’t.  He represent the interests of his benefactors. As long as unlimited monetary donations from multinational corporations, foreign investors and god knows who else with millions to ‘contribute’ is allowed, plutocracy will be order of the day in the U.S. of A.  Need we any more evidence that the 2 party system has failed, and it hopelessly corrupted with money, greed, and cronyism? ‘The ACLU thrives on being attacked and sees itself as the last legal line of defense against state censorship. But an honest look in a mirror may reveal that its anti-censorship absolutism is helping the wealthy to eclipse and suppress—if not silence—political speech of millions of ordinary Americans.’ -Steven Rosenfeld

By Steven Rosenfeld @ Alter Net:

The American Civil Liberties Union has earned its reputation as the nation’s foremost legal opponent of government censorship and defender of First Amendment political speech. But increasingly, this national organization with 500,000 members and a $70 million annual budget has another legacy—helping the wealthiest Americans and institutions spend unlimited sums on elections.

This complex legacy follows a nearly four-decade history of filing briefs in the Supreme Court and lower federal courts, virtually all of them arguing that the door to censorship, via regulation of core political speech, must never be opened. But various forces in the courts, the political world, and inside the ACLU are converging that may prompt the ACLU’s national board to reexamine its hardened stance in a more nuanced light, just as it moderated its policy on public financing of elections soon after the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling.

The pressure went up considerably on Friday, as two U.S. Supreme Court Justices said the Court should reopen Citizens United, as they suspended a Montana Supreme Court ruling that upheld the state’s century-old ban on corporate electioneering. Unlike the ACLU’s national office, which urged the Court to remove restrictions on independent—or non-candidate related—electioneering, the Montana ACLU argued this wasn’t about censorship at all, but preventing corruption and ensuring Montanans’ voices could be heard in elections.

“Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,’” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with Justice Stephen Breyer joining. A hearing “will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidate’s allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”

Two phrases in the justices’ statement may have particular resonance for the ACLU’s national board—the “experience elsewhere” and “corruption or the appearance of corruption,” which suggest constitutional issues apart from censorship. In Citizens United, the ACLU had argued that independent expenditures were the kind of “speech that lies at the heart of the First Amendment” and must not be censored.

According to Burt Neuborne, the ACLU’s former national legal director and now legal director at the Brennan Center for Justice, only one perspective matters to an organization that has weathered criticism for decades for defending unpopular people and causes: whether new facts from current events and recent changes in law demand a reevaluation of their position. As the two justices suggest, the 2012 presidential campaign, in combination with the Court majority’s recent aggressive deregulation of campaign financing, may be that spark.

The presidential campaign has seen what’s left of the nation’s campaign finance laws flouted in a striking way that cannot have gone unnoticed within the ACLU; it has revealed that critical rulings in Citizens United (and the D.C. Circuit Court in a ruling that followed, SpeechNow.org) were at best politically naïve constructions. This is because 2012’s electoral landscape is presenting free speech issues that are not about state censorship—but what American democracy should look like and how big money functions in it.

The ACLU was not responsible for the Supreme Court’s decision to expand Citizens United from a narrow case to one remaking big portions of campaign finance law. But like many times before, it urged deregulation of electioneering—which the Court’s majority did for independent expenditures. Just weeks later, an appeals court in SpeechNow.org drew on this ruling, allowing individuals and corporations to make unlimited contributions to political committees, so long as those groups only make independent expenditures and do not coordinate with candidates. That is how today’s super PACs emerged.

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court made a series of remarkable assertions. It declared that independent expenditures could not corrupt candidates, as they would be truly independent and operate apart from the candidates. But neither the Supreme Court nor the Speechnow.org court said how to avoid coordination, assuming the problem away. Everyone on the Court but Justice Clarence Thomas held that disclosure of spending was permissible, not recognizing that current disclosure rules allow donors to operate in the dark behind innocuous stage names. Like coordination, corruption was also dumbed down. Invoking the long-established doctrine that the only legitimate reason for regulating campaign funds is curbing quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of it, the majority watered this concept down saying a lot about what corruption was not, namely access, influence and ingratiation of candidates, but next to nothing about what quid pro quo corruption was, apart from buying votes. Against this backdrop, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, made the startling assertion that limitless independent expenditures in elections could not possibly cause the public to lose faith in our democracy.

Needless to say, his prediction has not been borne out by events. Recent nationwide polling has found 55 percent of Americans oppose the decision, and bigger numbers believe that their voices are diminished compared to big donors and lobbyists. It is not hard to see why the public is upset and discouraged. Presidential candidates’ former campaign staffers are managing the supposedly independent committees, mocking that supposed independence. By uniformly taking the low road, they complement the official campaign’s positive messaging showing further coordination. The top donors use the fiction of independence to ignore federal contribution limits and write million-dollar checks, including to political non-profits that do not disclose their names. To suggest that an individual or corporation writing six- or seven-figure checks to back candidates or parties does not expect payback is naïve, former political consultants say. Meanwhile, a voluminous record discussing independent expenditures, coordination and corruption was before the Court during its deliberations. Citing this record, Justice John Paul Stevens in his Citizens United dissent wondered how the majority could be so indifferent.

“On numerous occasions we have recognized Congress’ legitimate interest in preventing the money that is being spent from exerting an ‘undue influence on an officeholder’s judgment’ and from creating ‘the appearance of such influence,’” he wrote. “Corruption operates along a spectrum, and the majority’s apparent belief that quid pro quo arrangements can be neatly demarcated from other improper influences does not accord with the theory or reality of politics.”

These developments raise specific First Amendment issues that are not about state censorship of political speech, but about corruption and distortions of the democratic process. These issues have been noted not only on editorial pages and parodied on late-night TV, but from within the ACLU itself. The Montana ACLU affiliate weighed in before the recent Montana Supreme Court decision, taking the opposite view of the national ACLU office. And New Mexico’s ACLU chapter did not interfere this month as that state’s legislature passed a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

Moreover, in recent weeks, a respected Second Circuit judge took issue with Citizens United in a concurring opinion in a case involving New York City’s public financing system. “All is not well with this law, and I believe it appropriate to state in a judicial opinion why I think this is so,” wrote Guido Calabresi, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and former Yale Law School dean, in comments to late 2011 ruling. Calabresi’s remarks address the majority’s contention in Citizens United—which echoes the national ACLU’s view—that unfettered political speech regardless of the speaker is paramount. He began by quoting Luke 21:1-4.

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Like Luke, Calabresi noted that the wealthy will drown out the political speech of poorer people by virtue of spending more to send a message—having a larger megaphone. Additionally, he said that such domination of the airwaves also “obscures the depth of each speaker’s views,” as one cannot tell if the voice being eclipsed is whispering, crying or yelling—conveying the intensity of their opinions. “And that is a problem of profound First Amendment significance.”

“There is perhaps no greater a distortive influence on the intensity of expression than wealth differences,” he wrote. “The wider the economic disparities in a democratic society, the more difficult it becomes to convey, with financial donations, the intensity of an ordinary citizen’s political beliefs. People who care a little, if they are rich, still give a lot. People who care a lot must, if they are poor, give only a little. Jesus’ comment about the rich donors and the poor widow says it all.”

In other words, in 2012, when supposedly independent super PACs and political non-profits are raising millions from wealthy individuals and corporations whose actions are coordinated in all but name only with the candidates, and disclosure by those political entities is untimely or non-existent, the nation is facing serious First Amendment issues that do not neatly fit the ACLU’s anti-censorship line.

Convincing the ACLU

The ACLU is a nationwide organization with independent affiliates in every state and Washington, DC, and a headquarters and national legal department in New York. Its board of directors has representatives from every state and from its 500,000 members. As such, it is one of the most powerful legal advocacy organizations in the country.

For decades, people inside and outside the ACLU have tried to get its board to moderate its campaign finance views. Since 1970, it has taken up the issue two dozen times. The key question, according to Neuborne, its former national legal director, is whether today’s rising calls to restrict the wealthiest Americans and institutions from spending unlimited money ‘independent’ of campaigns is just today’s version of censoring society’s latest villain, as the federal government once tried to do with Communists, Nazis, gays, minorities and pornographers—or is something constitutionally different going on in today’s deregulated campaign finance environment?

One of the ACLU board’s long-held assumptions, which was affirmed in the Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling, is that candidates and independent groups who spend their own money in elections constitute a form of free speech that must not be regulated. In Buckley, the Court held that a new congressional law’s limits on campaign spending by office seekers and independent groups were unconstitutional. It ruled, however, that campaign contribution limits were constitutionally permissible in the interest of preventing corruption or its appearance with candidates, an interest that candidate and independent expenditures did not prevent. Buckley’s framework has led to today’s billionaires writing million-dollar checks to the supposedly independent super PACs and political non-profits, and in turn, voters in 2012’s early presidential contests hearing their views dominate the airwaves and debate.

The ACLU includes Buckley on its list of its most important 20th-century victories. Moreover, in the 36 years since that case, with few exceptions, the Court and the ACLU board both have treated spending money in elections as the purest form of protected constitutional speech there is—not conduct that can be regulated. That is a key legal distinction. Other areas of First Amendment law are not this clear-cut and all kinds of speech are regulated without seeing censorship issues. That raises the question of why should political speech in elections be so black and white, or can it be balanced with other democratic interests?

The ACLU’s assertion that political messaging is pure speech whose regulation amounts to censorship infuriates not just state and federal judges but many democracy advocates, particularly those who believe big money distorts the process and acts to suppress the speech of people of lesser means.

“It’s not speech itself and it never has been,” said John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People. “It is conduct not speech, and any regulation of spending of campaign money in elections is the regulation of the manner of speech, to ensure that anyone who has a 1000-megawatt bullhorn is not able to drown out anybody else’s speech.”

A series of former top national ACLU officials have tried to get the national board to change its position. In fairness, the board did change its policy in April 2010 after Citizens Unitedsaying that spending limits were permissible for candidates that took public financing. And its board, noting this was unprecedented in ACLU history, agreed that “reasonable” contribution limits were acceptable, although that has been settled law since Buckley. But these changes re-enforced laws established decades earlier. And on the key holdings in Citizens United, the board did not budge.

“You can be furious at guys like that, especially when they win,” said Neuborne, who now believes the ACLU national policy is on the wrong side of history and the Constitution. He went before the board to make that case after Citizens United came out, debating Floyd Abrams, a famous First Amendment attorney whose legal career has spanned defending the New York Times to shielding major tobacco companies from federal health regulations.

“Their trumping legal argument is that you have to make an overwhelming showing of need before they will sit still for censorship. And they say your overwhelming showing of need is that rich people have too much power in the society, and they are distorting the democratic process. Their argument is, ‘Look, there are a lot of rich people and a lot of them disagree. So if the rich people cancel each other out, what’s the big deal? All they do is fund democracy. People get more speech and the rich folks pay for it.”

That’s not all the ACLU’s board says, said Neuborne. “Second thing they say [is that] if you think that rich folk’s speech is skewed, you have to show me facts to demonstrate that. You just can’t tell me it’s a problem. Show me which election it has happened in. Show me where one side blew out the other side to the point where the other side wasn’t able to make its case to the electorate. You know what, I can’t make that showing. The closest it happened interestingly was Florida, when Romney outspent Gingrich five to one. I think it demonstrably changed the outcome of the election. But you cannot argue that national elections are shifted that way, because in national elections that parties are relatively equally balanced in terms of money.”

Indeed, 2012 is turning into exactly that kind of political arms race. While most of the early independent spending has been in the Republican presidential race, the Democrats are quickly falling in line. The Obama re-election campaign has said it would refer donors to a super-PAC run by a top ex-Obama campaign staffer—another instance of admitting that these PACs were anything but “independent” of the campaigns, the concern that Justice Kennedy turned a blind eye to Citizens United. In liberal circles, Credo Mobile, a phone company that has raised millions for progressive causes, said it too would form a super-PAC for the 2012 election. So has ActBlue, which has a traditional PAC that can donate to candidates and an independent super-PAC.

Neuborne knows American elections do not benefit from this spiral—which only elevates the role of wealthier participants at the expense of Americans of more modest means. The question is how to convince the ACLU board. It may have debated its response to Citizens United too soon, he said, noting that Abrams argued the organization would look foolish after siding with the Court majority in the case and winning—only to reverse its position. That, however, was a political argument, not a constitutional one. Neuborne said 40 percent or more of the board believe it is time to take a more nuanced view.

“Where the ACLU goes off the rails is that it forgets at some point that spending massive amounts of money ceases to be analogous to just pure speech and becomes an exercise in power,” Neuborne said. “I think that the ACLU is forgetting that the First Amendment is democracy’s friend, not democracy’s enemy.  And when it demonstrably hurts democracy there has to be something wrong with a policy that just digs in and says, ‘Sorry, the First Amendment made us do it.'”

The ACLU’s national press office declined to comment or make any attorneys available for this article. Calls and emails to ACLU litigators, current and former, who litigated many of its political speech cases before the Court also were not returned.

However, Neuborne is hardly alone in his analysis of how First Amendment fundamentalism can fray the fabric of political speech and democracy. Supreme Court Justices, starting with Byron White’s dissent at the start of the Court’s modern deregulatory regime in Buckley, and John Paul Stevens, whose 2010 dissent in Citizens United, catalogued the dangers of unregulated big money in elections.

“While it is true that we have not always spoken about corruption in a clear or consistent voice, the approach taken by the majority cannot be right, in my judgment, “Stevens wrote. “It disregards our constitutional history and the fundamental demands of a democratic society.”

Unlike the 1976 Buckley decision, which slowly transformed America’s campaign finance landscape over many years, the impact from Citizen United has come in barely two years. The Court’s majority in Citizens United did not anticipate these consequences. It puts those who argued with the majority—such as the ACLU’s national office—in an awkward place, because as new facts have emerged, so have nuanced political speech issues that cannot be adequately answered by saying censorship is the most important First Amendment issue.

And Citizens United may be headed back to the Supreme Court. On Friday, the Court issued a stay in a suit challenging Montana’s 1912 ban on corporate campaigning. The Court could overrule Montana without a hearing—citing the supremacy of the nation’s highest court over state courts. Or it could hold a hearing to re-evaluate parts of it in light of new facts and public perceptions.

Should the Court hear the Montana case, the ACLU board may be pushed to re-evaluate its policy. Whether it will remains to be seen. The ACLU thrives on being attacked and sees itself as the last legal line of defense against state censorship. But an honest look in a mirror may reveal that its anti-censorship absolutism is helping the wealthy to eclipse and suppress—if not silence—political speech of millions of ordinary Americans.

Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/154184/

Obama Administration Coordinated Local Police Crackdowns On Occupy Encampments Nationwide

In Uncategorized on November 18, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Oldspeak:“Why is President Obama who ostensibly has expressed understanding and sympathy for Occupy protests, instead surreptitiously allowing federal law enforcement agencies to assist, advise, coordinate and plan tactics to raid and break up Occupy encampments? I wondered why all these ‘crackdowns’ happened in much the same militarized way, around the same day, around the same time in the dead of night in 18 cities.  ‘According to one Justice Department official, each of those actions was coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal police agencies. In several recent conference calls and briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on zoning laws and existing curfew rules. Agencies were also advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear. In particular, the FBI reportedly advised on press relations, with one presentation suggesting that any moves to evict protesters be coordinated for a time when the press was the least likely to be present.”  Given this information, we have to ask ourselves, in the ‘land of the free’; WHY? Why the Gestapo-like tactics? Why the hyper-militarized and violent responses to non-violent civil disobedience? Why the suppression of freedoms of assembly, press and speech? More change I can’t believe in.

Related Stories:

200 Arrested @ NYPD Crackdown On Occupy Wall Street: Zuccotti Park edia Blackout, Pepper Spray, Sound Cannons, Batons Raided Under MUsed, Tents Cleared

Occupy Wall Street “Counterinsurgency” Has Infiltrated Protests; Seeks To Diffuse Message

Related Video:

Michael Moore Connects The Federal Government To Occupy Raids

By Rick Ellis @ The Minniapolis Examiner:

Over the past ten days, more than a dozen cities have moved to evict “Occupy” protesters from city parks and other public spaces. As was the case in last night’s move in New York City, each of the police actions shares a number of characteristics. And according to one Justice official, each of those actions was coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal police agencies.

The official, who spoke on background to me late Monday evening, said that while local police agencies had received tactical and planning advice from national agencies, the ultimate decision on how each jurisdiction handles the Occupy protests ultimately rests with local law enforcement.

According to this official, in several recent conference calls and briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on zoning laws and existing curfew rules. Agencies were also advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear. In particular, the FBI reportedly advised on press relations, with one presentation suggesting that any moves to evict protesters be coordinated for a time when the press was the least likely to be present.

The FBI has so far failed to respond to requests for an official response, and of the 14 local police agencies contacted in the past 24 hours, all have declined to respond to questions on this issue.

But in a recent interview with the BBC,” Oakland Mayor Jean Quan mentioned she was on a conference call just before the recent wave of crackdowns began.

“I was recently on a conference call of 18 cities who had the same situation, where what had started as a political movement and a political encampment ended up being an encampment that was no longer in control of the people who started them.”

At the time this story was updated, Mayor Quan’s office had declined to discuss her comments.

UPDATE: Thursday, 11:30 a.m. CT Two civil rights legal groups have filed a comprehensive Freedom of Information request for any and all communications between federal law enforcement agencies and local police that are related to the “Occupy” protests.

UPDATE: Thursday, 10:15 a.m. CT. I was finally able to get an official response from the Dept. of Homeland Security, although it didn’ address many of my questions. I was also able to speak with several high-ranking DHS officials on background and deep background, which helped answer a few logistical questions (for instance, the role of the department’s Federal Protective Service).

UPDATE: Wednesday, 12:45 p.m. CT.
 Speaking of Homeland Security, the department’s Federal Protective Service (which is tasked with protecting federal buildings) has been spotted at a couple of ‘Occupy’ crackdowns, including one in Portland.

UPDATE: Wednesday, 11:15 a.m. CT. Here are a couple of relevant links that are related to this story.

Filmmaker Michael Moore was on “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” last night talking about this very issue. Click here to see the video.

The Associated Press has published a great piece on another set of conference calls about strategy,  these organized by the Police Executive Research Forum.

UPDATE: Wednesday, 10:10 am CT. I’m working on at least one new story for today, but I wanted to try and clear up a couple of questions I’ve gotten since this original story posted yesterday.

I have a hunch that Mayor Quan might have been referring to a conference call between a number of U.S. mayors in her interview, not one with law enforcement officials. But that’s just a hunch on my part, since her office has so far declined to offer any explanation of her comments to me.

My original source for the story (who still works at the Justice Dept.) stands behind the original story and we’re working to flesh it out in more detail today. I also have some other aspects of the story I’m working on as well.

I’ll post a link to my next story here or if you want to be automatically notified, subscribe to my feed here.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at rellisfall@gmail.com