Leave Us Alone!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Holiday Greetings

I'm sorry I haven't posted here in a while. I've been busy with holiday crap. Here's hoping your holidays are going at least as well as could reasonably be expected.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

"My most solemn responsibility is to protect our nation..."

Or so President Bush said earlier this evening.

No, Mr. President, you seem to have forgotten your oath of office. Your most solemn responsibility is to "...preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Oh, I almost forgot, this is the president who allegedly said "Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

Every Move You Make

At Cnet News, Declan McCullagh exposes a "frightening proposal to track Americans wherever they drive."
The U.S. Department of Transportation has been handing millions of dollars to state governments for GPS-tracking pilot projects designed to track vehicles wherever they go. So far, Washington state and Oregon have received fat federal checks to figure out how to levy these "mileage-based road user fees."

Now electronic tracking and taxing may be coming to a DMV near you. The Office of Transportation Policy Studies, part of the Federal Highway Administration, is about to announce another round of grants totaling some $11 million. A spokeswoman on Friday said the office is "shooting for the end of the year" for the announcement, and more money is expected for GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking efforts.

Mr. McCullagh further states:
The problem, though, is that no privacy protections exist. No restrictions prevent police from continually monitoring, without a court order, the whereabouts of every vehicle on the road.

No rule prohibits that massive database of GPS trails from being subpoenaed by curious divorce attorneys, or handed to insurance companies that might raise rates for someone who spent too much time at a neighborhood bar. No policy bans police from automatically sending out speeding tickets based on what the GPS data say.

The Fourth Amendment provides no protection. The U.S. Supreme Court said in two cases, U.S. v. Knotts and U.S. v. Karo, that Americans have no reasonable expectation of privacy when they're driving on a public street.

(entire article here, link via Wolfesblog)

Anyone who values privacy should find this proposal to be unacceptable, but privacy doesn't seem to matter to most Americans these days. As Mr. Mccullagh notes:
One study prepared for the Transportation Department predicts a PR success. "Less than 7 percent of the respondents expressed concerns about recording their vehicle's movements," it says.

Privacy advocates seeking to turn public opinion against this proposal should frame it not only as an invasion of privacy, but primarily as a breach of security. The existence of a government record of all of your car's movements would raise the possibility that a stalker could get access to this record, either by hacking into the DMV's computers or bribing an unscrupulous DMV employee. People who have no problem with this proposal should ask themselves whether they want to leave themselves vulnerable to stalkers who know exactly where they go, and when.

Framing privacy in terms of security is nothing new. The Fourth Amendment states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The Fourth Amendment reminds us that security doesn't just mean security from criminals and terrorists. It also means security from one's own government.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

H.R. 3199 - Victory, for Now

The U.S. Senate defeated a cloture motion on H.R. 3199 yesterday, allowing a filibuster to continue. I wonder what effect this New York Times report had on the vote.

Opponents of the bill offered a continuing resolution to extend the so-called USA "Patriot" Act by three months while negotiations continue, but this was rejected by the White House and congressional Republicans. If the "Patriot" Act is as vital as they say it is, why would the GOP leaders let it expire? The Associated Press reports:
If the Patriot Act provisions expire, Republicans say they will place the blame on Democrats in next year’s midterm elections. “In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without these vital tools for a single moment,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. “The time for Democrats to stop standing in the way has come.”

So, there are two possibilities: either the expiring provisions of the "Patriot" Act really aren't as vital as the GOP leadership says they are, or the GOP would rather play political games than keep Americans safe from terrorism.

As for blaming Democrats in next year's elections, perhaps the GOP's strategists should read this article from Dave Weigel at Reason:

When Patriots Dissent
Surprise: Standing up to the PATRIOT Act can be good politics.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

S.B. 9 Update

Senate Bill 9, the so-called Ohio "Patriot" Act, passed overwhelmingly in both houses of the General Assembly yesterday. The following senators voted in favor:

Amstutz Armbruster Austria Carey Clancy Coughlin Dann Fedor Fingerhut Gardner Goodman Grendell Hottinger Jacobson Jordan Kearney Miller Mumper Niehaus Padgett Roberts Schuler Schuring Spada Stivers Wachtmann Wilson Zurz Harris

Only Senators Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) and C.J. Prentiss (D-Cleveland) voted against the bill.
The following representatives voted in favor:

Allen Aslanides Barrett Blessing Boccieri Book Bubp Buehrer Calvert Carano Carmichael Cassell Coley Collier Core Daniels DeGeeter DeWine Dolan Domenick Driehaus Evans C. Evans D. Faber Fende Flowers Garrison Gibbs Gilb Hagan Hartnett Harwood Hoops Hughes Latta Law Martin Mason McGregor R. Oelslager Patton T. Perry Peterson Raga Raussen Redfern Reinhard Sayre Schaffer Schlichter Schneider Seitz Setzer Smith G. Strahorn Taylor Trakas Uecker Wagner Wagoner Webster White Widener Widowfield Willamowski Williams Wolpert Woodard Husted

The following representatives voted against:

Beatty Brinkman Brown Chandler DeBose Fessler Hood Key Kilbane Koziura McGregor J. Miller Mitchell Reidelbach Seaver Skindell Smith S. Stewart D. Stewart J. Sykes Ujvagi Yates Yuko

I'm disappointed in the numerous Democrats who voted for this bill, although some of them, to their credit, including House Minority Leader Chris Redfern(D-Catawba Island), did vote for an earlier, unsuccessful motion to re-refer the bill to committee.

Back in March, when an earlier version of S.B. 9 was passed by a unanimous vote in the Senate, Senator Eric Fingerhut (D-Cleveland), a possible gubernatorial candidate, explained his vote in favor of the bill:
Now comes the part of the legislative process that is often hard to accept. There were two choices before us today: (1) if we did not support S.B. 9, the original bill, with all its dangerous elements, would have passed, but (2) if we supported S.B. 9, the much improved version would pass instead. As I have already indicated, we chose option two. One concerned constituent called me to express displeasure with my vote. He said that I had supported the “lesser of two evils” instead of the best option, which was to oppose the bill altogether. But opposing the bill altogether would have been nothing more than a “feel good” vote, because the bill was certain to pass - the only question was in what form.

I wonder what his excuse is this time. If Senator Fingerhut runs for governor next year, his primary opponent would be U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon), who voted against reauthorizing the federal "Patriot" act yesterday.

True to his word, my state representative, Rep. Dale Miller (D-Cleveland) voted against S.B. 9. Rep. Miller is running for the Ohio Senate next year. I'll certainly remember his vote against S.B. 9 when I vote in next year's primary. We need more like him in Columbus.

The ACLU of Ohio is asking members to call or write to Governor Bob Taft (R-Cincinnati) to ask him to veto S.B. 9, and provides talking points and the governor's contact information here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cory Maye Update

At The Agitator, Radley Balko provides an update on the Cory Maye case, as more facts have become available.

In another post, Mr. Balko comments on the militarization of American police:
Probably shouldn't surprise us that, when we declare war on drugs, cops will soon start treating civilians like enemy combatants, and homes like part of a battlefield.


At Battlepanda, Angelica has a long list of links to other blogs that have commented on the Maye case.

Ohio Senate Bill 9 Update

The ACLU of Ohio reported on Monday that a House vote on Senate Bill 9, the so-called Ohio "Patriot" Act, was expected yesterday. However, I haven't been able to find any news of the result of the vote and the Legislative Service Commission's status report still has no indication that the bill has passed the house, so there may still be time to contact your state legislators and tell them to vote no. You can find your legislators here. The ACLU of Ohio provides talking points.

H.R. 3199 Update

Earlier today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3199, the conference committee report on the reauthorization of the so-called USA "Patriot" Act, by a vote of 251 to 174 but there is still hope to stop it in the Senate. Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wi.), blogging at TPM Cafe, reports that Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.), Senator Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), and Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Ne.) have joined the opposition to H.R. 3199. A senate vote on H.R. 3199 is expected on Friday.

At CNet News, Declan McCullagh reports on some of the other provisions that have been tacked onto H.R. 3199, including "...mandatory drug testing, cigarette taxes and methamphetamine restrictions..."

Please keep the pressure on your U.S. senators to vote against a cloture motion on H.R. 3199. The ACLU makes it easy to find your senators' contact information.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Free Cory Maye!

At The Agitator, Radley Balko has several posts about the case of Cory Maye, a man currently on Mississippi's death row for defending himself and his daughter against a home invader. It turns out the home invader was a police officer and the son of the local police chief, executing a no-knock warrant against the wrong residence. Mr. Balko summarizes the incident here:

Cops mistakenly break down the door of a sleeping man, late at night, as part of drug raid. Turns out, the man wasn't named in the warrant, and wasn't a suspect. The man, frightened for himself and his 18-month old daughter, fires at an intruder who jumps into his bedroom after the door's been kicked in. Turns out that the man, who is black, has killed the white son of the town's police chief. He's later convicted and sentenced to death by a white jury. The man has no criminal record, and police rather tellingly changed their story about drugs (rather, traces of drugs) in his possession at the time of the raid.

The story gets more bizarre from there.

Maye's attorney tells me that after the trial, she spoke with two jurors by phone. She learned from them that the consensus among jurors was that Maye was convicted for two reasons. The first is that though they initially liked her, Maye's lawyer, the jury soured on her when, in her closing arguments, she intimated that if the jury showed no mercy for Maye, God might neglect to bestow mercy on them when they meet him in heaven. They said the second reason May was convicted was that the jury felt he'd been spoiled by his mother and grandmother, and wasn't very respectful of elders and authority figures. The facts of the case barely entered the picture. Gotta' love the South.

(link via Hit and Run, more updates on the Maye case at The Agitator's main page)

In the immortal words of Phil Ochs, "Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of."

Don't Say It That Way!

Republicans have been having a field day with this quote from DNC Chairman Howard Dean:

The idea that we're going to win this war is an idea that, unfortunately, it's just plain wrong.

With all due respect to Chairman Dean, giving the opposition such a useful soundbite was a bad move. I think he and other advocates of withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq should spin their advocacy differently. Instead of saying that victory in Iraq is impossible, they should say that victory has already been attained.

One could make the case that we've already won the war in Iraq. Saddam Hussein is out of power and on trial. We know now that he'll never develop weapons of mass destruction again. As of this Thursday, Iraqis will have gone to the polls three times. They have an elected government that is, on balance, less oppressive than Hussein's un-elected government was. Advocates of withdrawal should say that we have given the Iraqis a republic, and now it's up to the Iraqis to keep it.

Such a message would make advocates of "staying the course" look like the pessimists by forcing them to explain that we haven't won the war.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Una Idiota Autoritaria

Take a look at this latest incidence of authoritarian idiocy on the part of a school administrator, as reported in The Washington Post:

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Most of the time, 16-year-old Zach Rubio converses in clear, unaccented American teen-speak, a form of English in which the three most common words are "like," "whatever" and "totally." But Zach is also fluent in his dad's native language, Spanish -- and that's what got him suspended from school.

"It was, like, totally not in the classroom," the high school junior said, recalling the infraction. "We were in the, like, hall or whatever, on restroom break. This kid I know, he's like, 'Me prestas un dolar?' ['Will you lend me a dollar?'] Well, he asked in Spanish; it just seemed natural to answer that way. So I'm like, 'No problema.' "

But that conversation turned out to be a big problem for the staff at the Endeavor Alternative School, a small public high school in an ethnically mixed blue-collar neighborhood. A teacher who overheard the two boys sent Zach to the office, where Principal Jennifer Watts ordered him to call his father and leave the school.

Watts, whom students describe as a disciplinarian, said she can't discuss the case. But in a written "discipline referral" explaining her decision to suspend Zach for 1 1/2 days, she noted: "This is not the first time we have [asked] Zach and others to not speak Spanish at school."

(entire article, via MSNBC, here)

I have to hand it to Ms. Watts for doing something I never thought possible. She makes school suspensions for possession of aspirin and butterknives look almost reasonable by comparison.

Let's look at Mr. Rubio's description of the situation again:
"It was, like, totally not in the classroom," the high school junior said, recalling the infraction. "We were in the, like, hall or whatever, on restroom break. This kid I know, he's like..."

If anything needs correction, it would appear to be Mr. Rubio's use of English.

Hey, Look at Me! I'm a Guest-Blogger!

My first-ever foray into guest-blogging is up at The Balance of Power. Thanks to Mark White and the rest of the Balance of Power team for opening their forum to me.

USA "Patriot" Act Reauthorization Update

The conference committee on H.R. 3199, the reauthorization of the so-called USA "Patriot" Act, has reached a compromise. It looks pretty much like the deal that was reached in November, but some of the sunsets have been shortened from seven years to four years.

According to Caroline Fredrickson of the ACLU,

This sham compromise agreement fails to address the primary substantive concern raised by millions of Americans, as well as civil liberties, privacy and business organizations and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and in both chambers. It is unfortunate that some would cave in to political pressure from the White House and reject common sense protections that were included in the unanimously supported Senate bill.

If adopted, this reauthorization bill would continue to permit the FBI to access a huge array of extremely private records of innocent Americans without having to demonstrate a connection between the records sought and a suspected foreign terrorist or terrorist organization. A shorter sunset on a few controversial powers will not protect our privacy and does not redress in any way the FBI's ability to use National Security Letters to pry into people's private affairs, with no judicial oversight. We call on all fair-minded lawmakers to reject this hijacked legislation and stand firm against pressure from the administration to compromise on protections in our Bill of Rights.

(entire ACLU press release here)

According to Timothy H. Edgar of the ACLU,

The bill would leave the current, overbroad definition of domestic terrorism in place. That definition, laid out at 18 U.S.C. Section 2331, covers any unlawful activity that is dangerous to human life. Such a broad definition, which applies even to minor state crimes such as trespass or vandalism, could cover the civil disobedience activities of some protest organizations.

(entire memorandum here)

Just think of all of the crimes that this section defines as "domestic terrorism." Did you ever drink underage? Jaywalk? Get a speeding ticket? Congratulations, you're a domestic terrorist!

The San Francisco Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and others report that the current version of H.R. 3199 still contains language that would invade the privacy of cold and allergy sufferers in a (futile) attempt to curb methamphetamine use.

There's still hope to stop H.R. 3199. Six real patriots in the Senate have announced plans to filibuster the bill. Those six senators are Larry Craig (R-Id.), Dick Durbin (D-Il.), Russ Feingold (D- Wi.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.), Ken Salazar (D-Co.), and John Sununu (R-N.H.). Please call your U.S. senators and tell them to uphold the filibuster of H.R. 3199. The ACLU provides talking points and makes it easy to find your senators' contact information here. The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Downsize D.C., Gun Owners of America, and Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances also make it easy to take action on this legislation.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

New Featured Sites: HistoryMike's Musings and Liberty Just in Case

Thanks to Michael Brooks of HistoryMike's Musings and Mark of Liberty Just in Case for linking to Leave Us Alone!

At HistoryMike's Musings, Mr. Brooks writes about history and current events in northwest Ohio and throughout the world. HistoryMike's Musings currently has extensive coverage of the preparation for the upcoming National Socialist Movement rally in Toledo next weekend. Mr. Brooks also writes for The Toledo Free Press, where he recently scooped The Blade on the resignation of Lucas County GOP Chairman Doug Haynam.

At Liberty Just in Case, Mark and co-blogger Matthew discuss "...Politics, Culture, Religion and the Universe in general in the September 12th World." Mark and I had a good argument a couple of weeks ago about this essay about the war on terror and the U.S. presence in Iraq. We later found out that the essay had been misattributed to a retired general. Whoever wrote it, however, the essay certainly made Mark and me think. Mark and Matthew are also contributors to The Balance of Power and two of the guest-bloggers filling in for The Gun-Toting Liberal.

There are still ten openings on the Featured Site list. To add your site, just add Leave Us Alone! to your blogroll or list of links, then let me know about it by posting a comment here or sending me an e-mail at jasonsonenshein (at) aol (dot) com.

GM Kills One of the Few Good Things Going for It

In May of this year, General Motors' Oshawa #2 Plant in Oshawa, Ontario was awarded J.D. Power's Gold Plant Quality Award for the top-ranked car plant in the Americas in initial quality. GM's Oshawa #1 Plant was awarded the Silver Plant Quality Award for the second-ranked plant in initial quality.

Six months later, GM announced the impending closure of nine plants in North America, including Oshawa #2. GM also announced that it would cut a shift at Oshawa #1.

Not only are the Oshawa plants at the top of the quality rankings, they are some of the most efficient assembly plants in North America. The Globe and Mail reports that the Oshawa #1 and #2 plants rank first and fourth, respectively, in productivity among North American car assembly plants "according to the Harbour Report, which tracks efficiency."

I've experienced the quality of GM's Oshawa-built cars firsthand. My car, a 2001 Buick Century, was built in Oshawa, as was its predecessor, a 1992 Chevrolet Lumina. I have 104,000 miles on my Century and haven't had a major problem with it. My Lumina had over 170,000 miles on it when I finally replaced it. I've been extremely impressed by the quality and reliability of the Lumina and the Century. I feel bad for the GM employees in Oshawa whose jobs will be eliminated. They make a heck of a product.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ohio "Patriot" Act Update

Senate Bill 9, the so-called Ohio "Patriot" Act was reported out of the House Transportation, Public Safety, and Homeland Security Committee on November 15. The ACLU of Ohio reports that the bill "may be voted on in both the House and Senate by the end of this year."

Section 2909.31 of the latest version of the bill states:

(A) No person entering an airport, train
station, port, or other critical transportation infrastructure
site shall refuse to show identification when requested by a law
enforcement officer when there is a threat to security and the law
enforcement officer is requiring identification of all persons
entering the site.

(B) A law enforcement officer may prevent any person who
refuses to show identification when asked under the circumstances
described in division (A) of this section from entering the
critical transportation infrastructure site.

What qualifies as an "other critical transportation infrastructure
site?" A toll plaza or highway entrance ramp? The Lorain-Carnegie Bridge? The street and sidewalk in front of the federal building? Any street or sidewalk? If this thing passes, be prepared for a warrantless, suspicionless identification check any time you leave your home. Ihren Papieren, bitte.

If you haven't already done so, please contact your state representative and senator as soon as possible and urge them to vote "no" on Senate Bill 9. The ACLU of Ohio provides a sample letter, talking points, and a link to your legislators' contact information here.