Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Category: Law Page 3 of 27

Transparency Is a Bipartisan Issue

It’s not just the Bush Administration that doesn’t understand what the Freedom of Information Act is about:

Now the Associated Press discloses that the Department of Homeland Security’s techniques for thwarting the president’s FOIA directive have taken a still creepier turn. Political hacks review each request, starting with a probe into the person who sent it:

For at least a year, the Homeland Security Department detoured requests for federal records to senior political advisers for highly unusual scrutiny, probing for information about the requesters and delaying disclosures deemed too politically sensitive, according to nearly 1,000 pages of internal e-mails obtained by The Associated Press. The department abandoned the practice after AP investigated. Inspectors from the department’s Office of Inspector General quietly conducted interviews last week to determine whether political advisers acted improperly.

The closing of the government to its citizens is something that should be pushed back against relentlessly, regardless of whether you like the crew in charge. John Byrne at Rawstory demonstrates:

One year later, Obama’s requests for transparency have apparently gone unheeded. In fact a provision in the Freedom of Information Act law that allows the government to hide records that detail its internal decision-making has been invoked by Obama agencies more often in the past year than during the final year of President George W. Bush.

Major agencies cited that exemption to refuse records at least 70,779 times during the 2009 budget year, compared with 47,395 times during President George W. Bush’s final full budget year, according to annual FOIA reports filed by federal agencies.

Yes, there will always be legitimate reasons to keep some information secret.  But the vast majority of these failures to disclose, I suspect, serve no legitimate public purpose.

Two Years Later: The Official Version of Alice Swanson’s Death

Two years ago today, Alice Swanson was struck and killed by a truck while riding her bike to work.   In the days, weeks, and months that followed, there was much discussion about what, exactly, happened (and how it could have been prevented).  The DC MPD, in my view, was not very forthcoming with the details of its investigation.  No charges were ever brought against the driver.  The document below – the “Final Overview Memo” from DC’s MPD – should have been made public a long time ago.

Update: This report was issued in December of 2008, and I obtained a copy not long after.  The report was not recently released by the DC MPD, and I apologize to readers for not making that clearer in my introduction.

Swanson Report Redacted

There are many lessons to be drawn from this memo, but for now, I’ll just urge that those who are interested in cycling safety (and its relationship to law enforcement) give it a full read.

Update II: After you’ve read the report above (and hopefully shared your view here), you should check out WashCycle’s analysis here.

Preserving BP’s Interests

Glenn Greenwald assembles evidence in support of claims that state, local, and Federal law enforcement officials are helping BP intimidate reporters and shield the cleanup operations from public scrutiny:

She documented one incident which was particularly chilling of an activist who — after being told by a local police officer to stop filming a BP facility because “BP didn’t want him filming” — was then pulled over after he left by that officer so he could be interrogated by a BP security official.  McClelland also described how BP has virtually bought entire Police Departments which now do its bidding:  “One parish has 57 extra shifts per week that they are devoting entirely to, basically, BP security detail, and BP is paying the sheriff’s office.”

Even better, in a linked ProPublica article:

A photographer taking pictures for these articles, was detained Friday while shooting pictures in Texas City, Texas.

The photographer, Lance Rosenfield, said that shortly after arriving in town, he was confronted by a BP security officer, local police and a man who identified himself as an agent of the Department of Homeland Security. He was released after the police reviewed the pictures he had taken on Friday and recorded his date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information.

The police officer then turned that information over to the BP security guard under what he said was standard procedure, according to Rosenfield.

Further:

More evidence here (h/t bamage):

Journalists who come too close to oil spill clean-up efforts without permission could find themselves facing a $40,000 fine and even one to five years in prison under a new rule instituted by the Coast Guard late last week.

It’s a move that outraged observers have decried as an attack on First Amendment rights. And CNN’s Anderson Cooper describes the new rules as making it “very easy to hide incompetence or failure“. . . .

[S]ince “oil spill response operations” apparently covers much of the clean-up effort on the beaches, CNN’s [] Cooper describes the rule asbanning reporters from “anywhere we need to be” . . . .

The unfortunate part is that Anderson – who has the name and resources to fight this – won’t push the line.  In fairness to him, I suspect the line they draw for him would be much further in than for your standard issue investigative reporter.   Further, he can’t be everywhere.  But that’s what BP and its corrupt law enforcement officers are relying upon.  To the significant detriment of all of us.

All Those Silly Protesters In Toronto Have *Nothing* To Do With Me, Right?

Right.

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Biden & Kagan Are Right. DADT Is Wrong.

Joe Biden states what I think is plain:

While serving as the school’s dean, Kagan blocked military recruiters from the campus because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — which Biden called “a very bad policy.”

Biden was asked, “She’s also raised some eyebrows, of course, well documented, when her time there at Harvard, the way that she banned military recruiters there on campus because of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule. I wanna ask you, not to get into that in particular, but I wanna ask you, was she right or wrong in doing that?”

“Well, she was right,” Biden said. “Let me put this quickly in perspective. For 20 years before she came there military recruiters were not allowed on the campus in the same way other recruiters were.”

In case halfwits like Sen. Sessions didn’t notice, that was the policy of nearly every law school of quality.  The kind of ignorant bigotry the GOP is trying to play to here isn’t, in fact, the norm everywhere.

Before You Get Excited About Elena Kagan

Read Glenn Greenwald.  Seriously.

Citizenship Means Nothing to Joe Lieberman

I’ve long known that Joe Lieberman and I see the world very differently, but I had no idea that we live in fundamentally incompatible worlds.  His solution to those pesky Constitutional rights enjoyed by citizens?  Strip ’em of citizenship!  The man – after how many decades in public office? – doesn’t appear to understand even the basics, when it comes to the Constitution.  I’m honestly shocked.

Update: Greg Sargeant says that Lieberman may actually be able to find others to publicly support this.  That is a line that, if crossed, makes the supporter someone who is a literal threat to Americans.  It is a completely and utterly unacceptable proposal, and any Senator or Representative who supports it should be drummed out of office.

Imagine

that this is you.  Or your mother or father:

Clay and his partner of 20 years, Harold, lived in California. Clay and Harold made diligent efforts to protect their legal rights, and had their legal paperwork in place–wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives, all naming each other. Harold was 88 years old and in frail medical condition, but still living at home with Clay, 77, who was in good health.

One evening, Harold fell down the front steps of their home and was taken to the hospital. Based on their medical directives alone, Clay should have been consulted in Harold’s care from the first moment. Tragically, county and health care workers instead refused to allow Clay to see Harold in the hospital. The county then ultimately went one step further by isolating the couple from each other, placing the men in separate nursing homes.

Ignoring Clay’s significant role in Harold’s life, the county continued to treat Harold like he had no family and went to court seeking the power to make financial decisions on his behalf. Outrageously, the county represented to the judge that Clay was merely Harold’s “roommate.” The court denied their efforts, but did grant the county limited access to one of Harold’s bank accounts to pay for his care.

What happened next is even more chilling.

Without authority, without determining the value of Clay and Harold’s possessions accumulated over the course of their 20 years together or making any effort to determine which items belonged to whom, the county took everything Harold and Clay owned and auctioned off all of their belongings. Adding further insult to grave injury, the county removed Clay from his home and confined him to a nursing home against his will. The county workers then terminated Clay and Harold’s lease and surrendered the home they had shared for many years to the landlord.

Three months after he was hospitalized, Harold died in the nursing home. Because of the county’s actions, Clay missed the final months he should have had with his partner of 20 years. Compounding this tragedy, Clay has literally nothing left of the home he had shared with Harold or the life he was living up until the day that Harold fell, because he has been unable to recover any of his property. The only memento Clay has is a photo album that Harold painstakingly put together for Clay during the last three months of his life.

I’ve quoted more than I should, here, but I wanted to make sure that you saw what happened.  This is what happens when you deny people the basic decency of equality.

The RIAA/MPAA Wants To Search You At The Border

I could – and will – go on for days about the obscenely anti-social policy positions pushed by the Recording Industry Association of America(RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).  They consistently try to co-opt public resources to force people to participate in their own failing business models.  This is mostly done under the public radar, with very little public realization of the rights that they’re losing.  This, unsurprisingly, emboldens the RIAA/MPAA to take ever more aggressive and ridiculous positions.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) highlights some of the latest efforts:

We’re not easily shocked by entertainment industry overreaching; unfortunately, it’s par for the course. But we were taken aback by the wish list the industry submitted in response to the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator’s request for comments on the forthcoming “Joint Strategic Plan” for intellectual property enforcement. The comments submitted by various organizations provide a kind of window into how these organizations view both intellectual property and the public interest. For example, EFF and other public interest groups have asked the IPEC totake a balanced approach to intellectual property enforcement, paying close attention to the actual harm caused, the potential unexpected consequences of government intervention, and compelling countervailing priorities.

The joint comment filed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and others stands as a sharp contrast, mapping out a vision of the future where Big Media priorities are woven deep into the Internet, law enforcement, and educational institutions.

Like what?  Well, the EFF goes on to quote the MPAA/RIAA filing:

Intimidate and propagandize travelers at the border

Customs authorities should be encouraged to do more to educate the traveling public and entrants into the United States about these issues. In particular, points of entry into the United States are underused venues for educating the public about the threat to our economy (and to public safety) posed by counterfeit and pirate products. Customs forms should be amended to require the disclosure of pirate or counterfeit items being brought into the United States.

Does that iPod in your hand luggage contain copies of songs extracted from friends’ CDs? Is your computer storing movies ripped from DVD (handy for conserving battery life on long trips)? Was that book you bought overseas “licensed” for use in the United States? These are the kinds of questions the industry would like you to answer on your customs form when you cross borders or return home from abroad. What is more, this suggestion also raises the specter of something we’ve heard the entertainment industry suggest before: more searches and seizures of electronic goods at the border. Once border officials are empowered to search every electronic device for “pirated” content, digital privacy will all but disappear, at least for international travelers. From what we’ve learned about the fight over a de minimis border measures search exclusion in the latest leaked text, ACTA might just try to make this a reality.

Remember – there are no Fourth Amendment protections at the US border. Better than even bet that we’ll see this happen. Especially if the public doesn’t pay attention.

Anything Else While You’re At It, Gov?

The Gov. Bob McDonnell Clown Show continues:

On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that McDonnell was instituting steeper re-enfranchisement requirements for formerly incarcerated people seeking to get back their voting rights. The new restrictions, which would have added a requirement that applicants submit an essay detailing their “contributions to society” since their release, would amount to a de facto literacy test for some of the least educated people in the state, as Chris Cassidy points out.

Disappointing, but entirely unsurprising.  And now he’s backing off, in a way that – well, let’s just say I’m having a hard time believing anything coming out of the Governor’s office:

After taking heat from local black legislators and civil rights leaders, McDonnell now appears to be backing off, saying that the whole thing was merely a “draft proposal,” which doesn’t explain why 200 people were sent letters saying they had to write an essay to the governor to get their voting rights back, or why one of his spokespersons defended the new process at the time as “an opportunity, not an obstacle.”

Oh, riiiight.  A draft proposal.  Maybe he was just trying to enlist the editorial talents of the 200 folks that got the letters?  Public outreach, right?

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