Archive for January, 2013

“The shaping of the will of Congress and the choosing of the American president has become a privilege reserved to the country’s equestrian classes, a.k.a. the 20% of the population that holds 93% of the wealth, the happy few who run the corporations and the banks, own and operate the news and entertainment media, compose the laws and govern the universities, control the philanthropic foundations, the policy institutes, the casinos, and the sports arenas.” – Journalist Lewis Lapham

The pomp and circumstance of the presidential inauguration has died down. Members of Congress have taken their seats on Capitol Hill, and Barack Obama has reclaimed his seat in the White House. The circus of the presidential election has become a faint memory. The long months of debates, rallies, and political advertisements have slipped from our consciousness. Now we are left with the feeling that nothing has really changed, nor will it.

This is not by accident. The media circus leading up to the elections, the name calling in the halls of Congress, the vitriol and barbs traded back and forth among people who are supposed to be working together to improve the country, are all components of the game set up by those who run the show. The movers and shakers behind these engaging, but ultimately trite, political exercises are the elite, the so-called upper class, who benefit from the status quo. This status quo is marked by an economic crisis with no end in sight, by the slow but steady growth of a police state aimed at the lowest rungs of society, and a political circus which keeps us enraptured long enough that we don’t question what’s really going on.

Meanwhile, this elite, composed of corporations profiting off of our ignorance, avoid being brought to task for their destruction of democratic governance and the economy. These are the corporations who sent our economy into a tail spin and were then rewarded with taxpayer money. These are the corporations who write laws which eliminate real competition in the market in order to secure their profits through lucrative government contracts. These are the corporations who avoid criminal prosecution, and are instead slapped with meager fines which do nothing to halt their felonious activities.

We now live in a two-tiered system of justice and governance. There are two sets of laws: one set for the government and the corporations, and another set for you and me.

The laws which apply to the majority of the population allow the government to do things like rectally probe you during a roadside stop, or listen in on your phone calls and read all of your email messages, or indefinitely detain you in a military holding cell. These are the laws which are executed every single day against a population which has up until now been blissfully ignorant of the radical shift taking place in American government.

Then there are the laws constructed for the elite, which allow bankers who crash the economy to walk free. They’re the laws which allow police officers to avoid prosecution when they strip search non-violent criminals, or taser pregnant women on the side of the road, or pepper spray peaceful protestors. These are the laws of the new age we are entering, an age of neo-feudalism, in which corporate-state rulers dominate the rest of us, where the elite create the laws which can result in a person being jailed for possessing marijuana while bankers that launder money for drug cartels walk free.

Unfortunately, this two-tiered system of justice has been a long time coming. The march toward an imperial presidency, to congressional intransigence and impotence, to a corporate takeover of the mechanisms of government, and the division of America into haves and have nots has been building for years.

Journalist Chris Hedges, one of the few voices to speak against the corporate-state, who has put himself on the line by making a legal challenge to the President’s authority to indefinitely detain American citizens, summarizes the situation at hand:

 “Our passivity has resulted… in much more than imperial adventurism and a permanent underclass. A slow-motion coup by a corporate state has cemented into place a neofeudalism in which there are only masters and serfs. And the process is one that cannot be reversed through the traditional mechanisms of electoral politics.”

Indeed, electoral politics are off the table as a means of reforming the system. They are so thoroughly corrupted by corporate money that there is no chance, even for a well-meaning person, to affect any real change through Congress.

Just consider the last election cycle. Both parties spent $1 billion each attempting to get their candidate elected to the presidency. This money came from rich donors and corporate sponsors, intent on getting their candidate in office. This massive spending was mirrored at the congressional level, where business lobbying soared in the last three months of the year. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone spent over $125 million attempting to influence members of Congress, an 88 percent increase from 2011.

Indeed, lobbyists are the source of much corruption and exchanging of money in Washington, and their attempts to woo Congressmen only exacerbate the problems inherent to the institution. Jack Abramoff should know. Jailed for bribing public officials, the former lobbyist insists that the system is every bit as corrupt now as it was when he was convicted. From job offers for staffers and Congressmen after they leave Capitol Hill, to taking representatives to sporting events and fancy restaurants, there is no shortage of methods of influencing public officials to enact the policies of special interests. According to Abramoff, these tactics are still in use today, and “the system hasn’t been cleaned up at all.”

Once their foot is in the door, these lobbyists then offer up language for legislation that is “so obscure, so confusing, so uninformative, but so precise” as to make passage as easy as possible. This legislation cements the privilege of the corporations to do as they please, making all of their dubious activities “legal.”

This lobbying is buoyed by a congressional lifestyle which demands that our representatives spend the majority of their time fund raising for campaigns, rather than responding to the needs of their constituents. In November 2012, the Democratic House leadership offered a model daily schedule to newly elected Democrats which suggests a ten-hour day, five hours of which are dominated by “call time” and “strategic outreach,” including fund raisers and correspondence with potential donors. Three or four hours are for actually doing the job they were elected to do, such as attending committee meetings, voting on legislation, and interacting with constituents.

When half of one’s time is devoted to asking for money from rich individuals and special interests, there is no way that he can respond to the problems which pervade the country. And yet, even Congressmen in safe seats are expected to fundraise constantly so as to support their colleagues in competitive districts. As Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) put it, “…this is the mother’s milk of what [Congressmen] need to do to try to sustain their campaigns, and it’s the only system they have to work with.”

Thus, even well-meaning Congressmen face a Catch-22 where they are pushed to fundraise to secure their seats, but then once in office, it is basically impossible for them to do their jobs. The full ramifications of this are laid out by Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC):

“Any member who follows that schedule will be completely controlled by their staff, handed statements that their staff prepared, speaking from talking points they get emailed from leadership… It really does affect how members of Congress behave if the most important thing they think about is fundraising. You end up being nice to people that probably somebody needs to be questioning skeptically… You won’t ask tough questions in hearings that might displease potential contributors, won’t support amendments that might anger them, will tend to vote the way contributors want you to vote.”

The influence of corporate money on Congress is exacerbated by how out of touch Congressmen are with the daily struggles of most Americans. In February 2012, the median net worth of Congressmen was $913,000 as compared to $100,000 for the rest of the population. Aside from being immediately wealthy, Congressmen also weathered the tribulations of the financial crisis much better than the average American. An analysis of Congressional finances by theWashington Post in October 2012 revealed that the wealthiest one-third of Congress was largely shielded from the effects of the Great Recession. While the median household net worth of the average American dropped by 39 percent between 2007 and 2010, the median wealth of Congressmen rose 5 percent. It rose 14 percent for the wealthiest one-third.

At a time when most people in the country are suffering, Congressmen are profiting. This alone should demonstrate how out of touch our elected leaders have become. Members of Congress, entrusted to represent the best interests of the average American, instead play out a stilted, ineffective soap opera on our TV screens, complete with phony discussions of fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings which take the place of real proposals for meaningful change in the country.

There is no voice for the working American in the halls of Congress, the American who was promised a life beyond taxes, debt, and unemployment. There is no voice for the peace loving American, the American who understands that America’s military might is meant for defense of the homeland, not looking for trouble in faraway lands. There is no voice for the American who expects his representatives to abide by the Constitution, who laments the way Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court work together to take away our rights piece by piece. — John W. Whitehead

 

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We’re at an important crossroads in our country in terms of how the police operate and how the courts are not operating. The only thing, in my opinion, that’s standing between us and a total police state are the courts. We’re not going to get any help from Congress or the president. So are we going to have courts of justice or courts of order? Now courts of order are going to enforce the regime. Courts of justice are going to protect and uphold our Constitution. If we don’t have courts of justice–if they don’t protect the Constitution–then in my opinion, freedom as we have known it will be lost. — John W. Whitehead

Tune into my latest vodcast to hear more:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=aytoYIVWeo8

 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”―  Martin Luther King Jr.

As one who came of age during the civil rights era, I was profoundly impacted by the life and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. He taught me so much more than just what it means to look beyond the color of a person’s skin—he taught me that life means nothing if you don’t stand up for the things that truly matter. And what are the things that matter? King spoke of them incessantly, in every sermon he preached, every speech he delivered and every article he wrote. Freedom, human dignity, brotherhood, spirituality, peace, justice, equality, putting an end to war and poverty—these are just a few of the big themes that shaped King’s life and, in turn, impacted so many impressionable young people like myself.

Fast forward 40 years, and we find ourselves living through historic times, with the nation’s first black president embarking on his second term in office. The comparisons between President Obama and King have been inevitable and largely favorable, helped along by Obama, who spoke at King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2008, a year before taking office—accepted the Democratic nomination on the anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech—presided over the installation and dedication of a national monument to King in Washington, DC—and took his oath of office using one of King’s Bibles on the national holiday dedicated to King.

Clearly, there are similarities between the two men. As a McClatchey news article noted: “Both battled enormous odds to build historic multi-ethnic, multi-racial coalitions—one to advance the cause of civil rights only to be assassinated in 1968, the other to win the nation’s highest office. Both won the Nobel Peace Prize. Both could use soaring rhetoric to inspire millions. Both also had to overcome critics who accused them of socialist or communist sympathies, as well as black activists who maintained that they weren’t strong advocates for African-Americans.”

Yet as Fredrick Harris, the director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University, reminds us, “it is easy to assume that the president is an extension of King’s legacy and the civil rights movement. For black America, in particular, Obama has already joined the pantheon of great African American leaders, alongside Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Malcolm X and, of course, King. He has joined their ranks not for his activism or his efforts to break down racial inequality, but for the symbolic weight of being the nation’s first black president.”

We’d be doing King and his legacy a profound disservice, however, if we do not insist that Obama do more than pay lip service to the man he credits, alongside Abraham Lincoln, as being one of his two heroes. Indeed, Obama spent much of the last four years campaigning for re-election and will likely spend the next four attempting to establish a lasting legacy for his presidency.

If Obama wants to be remembered for anything more than the color of his skin, he would do well to brush up on King’s teachings, which were far more radical than the watered-down pap about him being taught today. The following key principles, largely absent from Obama’s first term in office, formed the backbone of Rev. King’s life and work.

Practice non-violence, resist militarism and put an end to war.

I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at New York’s Riverside Church (April 4, 1967)

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his murder, King used the power of his pulpit to condemn the U.S. for “using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted.” Insisting that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America can ignore its part in the Vietnam War, King called on the U.S. to end all bombing in Vietnam, declare a unilateral cease-fire, curtail its military buildup, and set a date for troop withdrawals. In that same sermon, King warned that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Contrast this with Obama’s use of the power of his office to expand America’s military empire at great cost to the nation, authorize drone strikes which have wreaked havoc on innocent civilians, and defend indefensible police tactics used in SWAT team raids and roadside stops. Obama’s national security budget for 2013, which allots a whopping $851 billion to be spent on wars abroad, weapons and military personnel, significantly outspends the money being spent on education, poverty and disease.

Stand against injustice.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”― Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963)

Arrested and jailed for taking part in a nonviolent protest against racial segregation in Birmingham, Ala., King used his time behind bars to respond to Alabama clergymen who criticized King’s methods of civil disobedience and suggested that the courts were the only legitimate means for enacting change. His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which makes the case for disobeying unjust laws, points out that “a just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

Contrast this with Obama’s ongoing endorsement of clearly unjust laws and government practices, some of which he has publicly acknowledged to be problematic or altogether wrong. For example, Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act, which respectively authorize the military to indefinitely detain American citizens, as well as spy on Americans who communicate with people overseas, whether they are journalists, family members, or business associates. Obama’s Justice Dept. has also urged the U.S. Supreme Court to grant police more leeway to strip search Americans and raid homes without a warrant. As King warned, “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

Work to end poverty.

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at New York’s Riverside Church (April 4, 1967)

Especially in the latter part of his life, King was unflinching in his determination to hold Americans accountable to alleviating the suffering of the poor, going so far as to call for a march on Washington, DC, to pressure Congress to pass an Economic Bill of Rights. In recounting a parable about a man who went to hell because he didn’t see the poor, King cautioned his congregants: “Dives didn’t go to hell because he was rich… Dives went to hell because he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible. Dives went to hell because he maximized the minimum and minimized the maximum. Indeed, Dives went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.”

Prioritize people over corporations.

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at New York’s Riverside Church (April 4, 1967)

With roughly 25 lobbyists per Congressman, corporate greed largely calls the shots in the nation’s capital, enabling our elected representatives to grow richer and the people poorer. One can only imagine what King would have said about a nation whose political processes, everything from elections to legislation, are driven by war chests and corporate benefactors rather than the needs and desires of the citizenry.

Stand up for what is right, rather than what is politically expedient.

“On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at National Cathedral (March 31, 1968)

Five days before his murder, King delivered a sermon at National Cathedral in Washington, DC, in which he noted that “one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.”

As King recognized, there is much to be done if we are to make this world a better place, and we cannot afford to play politics when so much hangs in the balance. It’s time, Mr. President, to wake up. To quote your hero: “[O]ur very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools.” — John W. Whitehead

Just when you thought you’d seen it all…

New York City has long been celebrated as the cultural capital of the world, renowned for its art, music and film. Presently, however, the “city that never sleeps” is serving as the staging ground for a futuristic police state operated, in large part, by Mayor Bloomberg and the New York Police Department (NYPD).

Boasting a $4.5 billion budget, a counterterrorism unit that includes 35,000 uniformed police officers and 15,000 civilians, and a $3 billion joint operations center with representatives from the FBI, FEMA, and the military, the NYPD operates much like an autonomous Department of Homeland Security—only without the constraints of the Constitution.

The capabilities of the department are astounding. The NYPD has radiation detectors on their boats, helicopters, and officers’ belts that are so sensitive they alert officers to citizens who have had radiation treatment for medical reasons. Moreover, the NYPD has a $150 million surveillance system, a network of 2000+ cameras, which is monitored by an advanced computer system. This computer system can detect suspicious packages and perform tasks such as pulling up all recorded images of someone wearing a red shirt, thus streamlining the process of tracking New Yorkers. The NYPD’s latest toy is Terahertz Imaging Detection, which allows police officers to peek under people’s clothing as they walk the streets. The NYPD cooperated with the US Department of Defense in creating this portable scanning technology. The NYPD even has the capability to take down an aircraft should the need arise.

The NYPD not only employs the latest technologies but also utilizes crackdowns and scare tactics that keep New Yorkers in a state of compliance. A 60 Minutes report describes the police state atmosphere: “At random, 100 police cars will swarm part of town just to make a scene. It happens with complete unpredictability. Cops signal subway trains to stop to be searched. And sometimes they hold the trains until they’ve eyeballed every passenger.”

Now, in their latest nod to so-called crime fighting, the NYPD is proposing that “pharmacies in and around the city to fight prescription drug thefts by stocking pill bottles fitted with GPS tracking chips.” Mind you, these are the same people who have required that GPS devices be attached to NYC taxis in order to track cabbies’ movements.

What WILL they think of next? — John W. Whitehead

What we are witnessing, thanks in large part to zero tolerance policies that were intended to make schools safer by discouraging the use of actual drugs and weapons by students, is the criminalization of childish behavior. Most recently, for example, two 6-year-old students at White Marsh Elementary School in Maryland were suspended for using their fingers as imaginary guns in a schoolyard game of  cops and robbers.

The age-old game of cops and robbers is one I played as a child. “I’m gonna get you, robber,” one kid yells, chasing his friend across the playground. The other boy turns and points his finger before racing away. The cops are in hot pursuit. “Bang, bang, you’re dead,” one shouts. “No! Bang, bang, you’re dead!” the other cries, before both melodramatically fall to the ground. Thus goes a game played by boys from time immemorial.

In a new wrinkle on this old game, however, it’s not the cop who gets the bad guy. Now, the game ends when school officials summon real cops–who arrest the kindergartners for engaging in juvenile crime. That happened at a New Jersey school, from which four little boys were suspended for pretending their fingers were guns. At another school, an 8-year-old boy was arrested and charged with terrorism for pointing a paper gun at classmates and announcing, “I’m going to kill you all.” Officials at a California elementary school called police when a little boy was caught playing cops and robbers at recess. The principal told the child’s parents their child was a terrorist. Unwittingly, the principal was right on target: These are acts of terrorism. The culprits here, though, are not overactive schoolchildren; those guilty of terrorizing young children and parents nationwide are school officials who–in an effort to enforce zero tolerance policies against violence, weapons and drugs–have moved our schools into a lockdown mentality.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents, nor are they limited to episodes of cops and robbers.

Nine-year-old Patrick Timoney was sent to the principal’s office and threatened with suspension after school officials discovered that one of his LEGOs was holding a 2-inch toy gun. That particular LEGO, a policeman, was Patrick’s favorite because his father is a retired police officer. David Morales, an 8-year-old Rhode Island student, ran afoul of his school’s zero tolerance policies after he wore a hat to school decorated with an American flag and tiny plastic Army figures in honor of American troops. School officials declared the hat out of bounds because the toy soldiers were carrying miniature guns. A 7-year-old New Jersey boy, described by school officials as “a nice kid” and “a good student,” was reported to the police and charged with possessing an imitation firearm after he brought a toy Nerf-style gun to school. The gun shoots soft ping pong-type balls.

Things have gotten so bad that it doesn’t even take a toy gun to raise the ire of school officials. A high school sophomore was suspended for violating the school’s no-cell-phone policy after he took a call from his father, a master sergeant in the U.S. Army who was serving in Iraq at the time. A 12-year-old New York student was hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. In Houston, an 8th grader was suspended for wearing rosary beads to school in memory of her grandmother (the school has a zero tolerance policy against the rosary, which the school insists can be interpreted as a sign of gang involvement). Six-year-old Cub Scout Zachary Christie was sentenced to 45 days in reform school after bringing a camping utensil to school that can serve as a fork, knife or spoon. And in Oklahoma, school officials suspended a first grader simply for using his hand to simulate a gun.

What these incidents, all the result of overzealous school officials and inflexible zero tolerance policies, make clear is that we have moved into a new paradigm in America where young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike.

Adopted in the wake of Congress’ passage of the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act, which required a one-year expulsion for any child bringing a firearm or bomb to school, school zero tolerance policies were initially intended to address and prevent serious problems involving weapons, violence and drug and alcohol use in the schools. However, since the Columbine school shootings, nervous legislators and school boards have tightened their zero tolerance policies to such an extent that school officials are now empowered to punish all offenses severely, no matter how minor. Hence, an elementary school student is punished in the same way that an adult high school senior is punished. And a student who actually intends to harm others is treated the same as one who breaks the rules accidentally–or is perceived as breaking the rules.

For instance, after students at a Texas school were assigned to write a “scary” Halloween story, one 13-year-old chose to write about shooting up a school. Although he received a passing grade on the story, school officials reported him to the police, resulting in his spending six days in jail before it was determined that no crime had been committed. Equally outrageous was the case in New Jersey where several kindergartners were suspended from school for three days for playing a make-believe game of “cops and robbers” during recess and using their fingers as guns.

With the distinctions between student offenses erased, and all offenses expellable, we now find ourselves in the midst of what Time magazine described as a “national crackdown on Alka-Seltzer.” Indeed, at least 20 children in four states have been suspended from school for possession of the fizzy tablets in violation of zero tolerance drug policies. In some jurisdictions, carrying cough drops, wearing black lipstick or dying your hair blue are actually expellable offenses. Students have also been penalized for such inane “crimes” as bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades. A 13-year-old boy in Manassas, Virginia, who accepted a Certs breath mint from a classmate, was actually suspended and required to attend drug-awareness classes, while a 12-year-old boy who said he brought powdered sugar to school for a science project was charged with a felony for possessing a look-alike drug. Another 12-year-old was handcuffed and jailed after he stomped in a puddle, splashing classmates.

There’s an old axiom that what children learn in school today will be the philosophy of government tomorrow. As surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs and strip searches become the norm in elementary, middle and high schools across the nation, America is on a fast track to raising up an Orwellian generation–one populated by compliant citizens accustomed to living in a police state and who march in lockstep to the dictates of the government. In other words, the schools are teaching our young people how to be obedient subjects in a totalitarian society. — John W. Whitehead

“The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official. The framers would be appalled.”—Herman Schwartz, The Nation

If you want a recipe for disaster, take police officers hyped up on their own authority and the power of the badge, throw in a few court rulings suggesting that security takes precedence over individual rights, set it against a backdrop of endless wars and militarized law enforcement, and then add to the mix a populace distracted by entertainment, out of touch with the workings of their government, and more inclined to let a few sorry souls suffer injustice than to challenge the status quo.

The resulting concoction, I can promise you, will be a messy, noxious stew unfit for consumption, miserable to digest and with after-effects that will leave you reeling and clutching your stomach in dismay. Such is the nature of life in the emerging police state that is America today, where roadside police stops have devolved into government-sanctioned exercises in humiliation and degradation with a complete disregard for privacy and human dignity.

Consider, for example, what happened to 38-year-old Angel Dobbs and her 24-year-old niece, Ashley, who were pulled over by a Texas state trooper on July 13, 2012, allegedly for flicking cigarette butts out of the car window. First, the trooper berated the women for littering on the highway. Then, insisting that he smelled marijuana, he proceeded to interrogate them and search the car. Despite the fact that both women denied smoking or possessing any marijuana, the police officer then called in a female trooper, who carried out a roadside cavity search, sticking her fingers into the older woman’s anus and vagina, then performing the same procedure on the younger woman, wearing the same pair of gloves. No marijuana was found.

Women Suing State Troopers Over Roadside Cavity Searches

Leila Tarantino was allegedly subjected to two roadside strip searches in plain view of passing traffic during a routine traffic stop, while her two children—ages 1 and 4—waited inside her car. During the second strip search, presumably in an effort to ferret out drugs, a female officer “forcibly removed” a tampon from Tarantino’s body. No contraband or anything illegal was found.

Meanwhile, four Milwaukee police officers have been charged with carrying out rectal searches of suspects on the street and in police district stations over the course of several years. One of the officers is accused of conducting searches of men’s anal and scrotal areas, often inserting his fingers into their rectums and leaving some of his victims with bleeding rectums. Half-way across the country, the city of Oakland, California, has agreed to pay $4.6 million to 39 men who had their pants pulled down by police on city streets between 2002 and 2009.

And then there’s the increasingly popular practice of doing blood draws at DUI checkpoints, where drivers who refuse a breathalyzer test find themselves subjected to forcible blood extractions to test for alcohol levels. Police in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, actually had a registered nurse and an assistant district attorney on hand “to help streamline the ‘blood draw’ warrants and collect blood samples from suspected impaired drivers” at one exercise in holiday drunk driving enforcement. A similar case, Missouri v. McNeely, which deals with a driver who failed a sobriety test, then refused a breathalyzer test and was subjected to a warrantless blood draw, is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Of course, the issue being debated in McNeely is not so much whether the government can forcibly take your blood but whether it can do so without a warrant. As important as the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement may be, it’s scant comfort in the face of a societal acceptance of roadside stops where blood is being drawn and cavity searches are being carried out.

No matter which way the Supreme Court rules in Missouri v. McNeely, it will do little to rein in this runaway police state of ours. Indeed, as we have seen repeatedly, by the time a case arrives before the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s almost too late for any real change to take place, especially when it’s a matter of government abuse. More often than not, during the course of however many years it takes for a case to make its way through the courts, the particular violations being challenged have already been accepted by the citizenry as part of the government’s modus operandi.

Such was the case with Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington, which attempted to challenge the practice of forcible strip searches by government officials, namely jail wardens. Albert Florence, an African-American man in his mid-thirties, was on his way to Sunday dinner in 2005 when his then-pregnant wife, who was driving, was pulled over by a New Jersey State Police trooper. Asked to show his ID, Florence soon found himself handcuffed, erroneously arrested for failing to pay a traffic fine, and forced to submit to two egregious strip and visual body-cavity searches at two different county jails. After spending six days in jail, Florence was finally able to prove his innocence. Outraged, Florence sued the jail officials who had needlessly degraded his bodily integrity.

It took seven years for Florence’s case to make it to the Supreme Court, and a year later, in April 2012, the Court handed down a 5-4 ruling which struck a blow to any long-standing protections against blanket strip searches, declaring that any person who is arrested and processed at a jail house, regardless of the severity of his or her offense (i.e., they can be guilty of nothing more than a minor traffic offense), can be subjected to a strip search by police or jail officials without reasonable suspicion that the arrestee is carrying a weapon or contraband.

However, all the while Florence was making its way through the courts, law enforcement officials were playing fast and loose with the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on searches and seizures, especially as it relates to violations of bodily integrity and roadside strip searches. Examples of minor infractions which have resulted in strip searches include: individuals arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, driving with an inoperable headlight, failing to use a turn signal, riding a bicycle without an audible bell, making an improper left turn, engaging in an antiwar demonstration (the individual searched was a nun, a Sister of Divine Providence for 50 years). Police have also carried out strip searches for passing a bad check, dog leash violations, filing a false police report, failing to produce a driver’s license after making an illegal left turn, having outstanding parking tickets, and public intoxication. A failure to pay child support could also result in a strip search.

This brings us to the present moment where we find ourselves hapless, helpless passengers in a runaway car hurtling down the road toward a police state, and the only hope of salvation rests with the Supreme Court, which is little hope at all when you consider that the Court has, in recent years alone, given a green light to all manner of police abuses, including the tasering of a pregnant woman for failing to sign a speeding ticket.

It must be remembered that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was intended to protect the citizenry from being subjected to “unreasonable searches and seizures” by government agents. While the literal purpose of the amendment is to protect our property and our bodies from unwarranted government intrusion, the moral intention behind it is to protect our human dignity. Unfortunately, the rights supposedly guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment have been steadily eroded over the past few decades. Court rulings justifying invasive strip searches as well as Americans’ continued deference to the dictates of achieving total security have left us literally stranded on the side of the road, grasping for dignity. — John W. Whitehead

 

For more information about John W. Whitehead and the work of The Rutherford Institute, visit www.rutherford.org.

Drones—unmanned aerial vehicles—come in all shapes and sizes, from nano-sized drones as small as a grain of sand that can do everything from conducting surveillance to detonating explosive charges, to massive “hunter/killer” Predator warships that unleash firepower from on high. Once used exclusively by the military to carry out aerial surveillance and attacks on enemy insurgents abroad, these remotely piloted, semi-autonomous robots have now been authorized by Congress and President Obama for widespread use in American airspace. The military empire is coming home to roost.

As the Orlando Sentinel points out, surveillance drones could soon be flying over Orlando skies as early as this summer.

Drone

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-drones-sheriff-orange-20130112,0,4271383.story