Monthly Archives: March 2007

Why The Cops Spied on ‘Billionaires for Bush’

Billionaires for Bush put out a press release today in response to the news that the New York city police were spying on them:

Billionaires For Bush Respond to N.Y.P.D. Spying Report

- Billionaires to release own domestic surveillance files as gesture of good faith.

- “We guessed he was an undercover officer when he kept asking for stock tips.” Meg A Bucks, National Co-Chair.

New York, NY, March 27th, 2007 Stunned by a recent New York Times report revealing that Billionaires For Bush were the targets of widespread surveillance by the New York Police Department in 2004, we issue the following statement:

“We join the chorus of voices calling upon the city to make its files public. As a gesture of good faith, today the Billionaires For Bush make our own domestic surveillance files public.

Public scrutiny of these files will reveal that we have infiltrated city hall and all key city departments, including zoning, development, taxation, and the Brooklyn Public Library. Our most important informant operated at the highest echelons of municipal governance. His code name (presciently) was “Snow Shovel,” and files will reveal his identity as Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Snow Shovel (his Honor) operated as a double agent for Billionaires For Bush beginning in January 2004. During the R.N.C. he played a crucial role in banning protestors from Central Park so that members of Billionaires For Bush could play croquet. He continues to serve our interests well to this day. While we don't expect him to resign from his post, he no longer needs to feed us information. Another tax break for the upper brackets would be nice, though.”

About Billionaires For Bush
Armed with tuxedos, evening gowns, hard facts and a humorous spin, Billionaires for Bush is a do-it-yourself grassroots media campaign using humor and street theater to exposes politicians who support corporate interests at the expense of everyday Americans.

Posted in Civil Liberties | Leave a comment

Guns and Senatorial Privilege

The news that one of Senator Webb's aides has been arrested for (inadvertently?) carrying the Senator's gun into a Senate office building raises a fun question. It seems Sen. Webb gave the aide the gun which the Senator usually carries because the Senator was getting on a plane and couldn't take it on board.

It made me wonder if gun control laws of this sort, when applied to Senators and representatives in any way infringe Art. I, sec. 6, paragraph 1 of the Constitution which states,

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the treasury of the United States. They shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.

My suspicion that the answer is “no” and that it is proper to apply speed limits, DUI, and other rules of general public safety to Senators and Representatives appears after superficial research to be correct, but not quite for the reason I imagined, at least according to LII's annotated Constitution,

Privilege From Arrest

This clause is practically obsolete. It applies only to arrests in civil suits, which were still common in this country at the time the Constitution was adopted. 376 It does not apply to service of process in either civil 377 or criminal cases. 378 Nor does it apply to arrest in any criminal case. The phrase ''treason, felony or breach of the peace'' is interpreted to withdraw all criminal offenses from the operation of the privilege. 379.

Posted in Law: Reading the Constitution | Leave a comment

Gonzales Tries the ‘Pure Heart Empty Head’ Defense

The law as a rule frowns on the 'pure heart, empty head' defense, which is how we lawyers refer to claims that “I meant well; I didn't know it was wrong to borrow from the pension fund.”

Yet, amazingly, our Attorney General is now asserting a defense for the firings which is no more than that.

Gonzales: Firings were not improper Gonzales: What I can say is this: I know the reasons why I asked you — these United States attorneys to leave. And it — it was not for improper reasons. It was not to interfere with the public corruption case. It was not for partisan reasons.

[NBC's Brian Pete] Williams: To put this question another way — if you didn't review their performance during this process, then how can you be certain that they were fired for performance reasons?

Gonzales: I — I've given — I've given the answer to the question, Pete. I know — I know the reasons why I made the decision. Again, there's nothing in the documents to support the allegation that there was anything improper here. And there is an internal — department review to answer that question, to reassure the — the American people that there was nothing improper that happened here.

Got that? I had no role in the decision, I just signed off on it. I don't know how they came up with that list, but since I could never possibly have meant anything bad or partisan, and because I never had the brains to make any connection between the names on that list and high-profile Republican prosecutions, the public should give me credit for my pure heart regardless of whether there was anything in my brain.

Come on America. Leaving aside the rather dubious credibility of the claim that Gonzales is this clueless and dumb, can we afford an AG whose defense against charges of unethical and probably criminal activity is … blithering ignorance?

The Brits have a name for what Gonzales is claiming — “Nelsonian Knowledge,” based on the famous incident in which Admiral Nelson put a telescope to his blind eye so that he could say, “I see no ships signals”:

It is dishonest for a man deliberately to shut his eyes to facts which he would prefer not to know. If he does so, he is taken to have actual knowledge of the facts to which he shut his eyes. Such knowledge has been described as “Nelsonian knowledge”, meaning knowledge which is attributed to a person as a consequence of his “wilful blindness” or (as American lawyers describe it) “contrived ignorance”.
Twinsectra Limited v Yardley and Others, [2002] UKHL 12, at para. 112.

All this aside, given Gonzales's personal history as GWB's legal valet, it's hard to believe he lacked genuine, rather than merely Nelsonian, knowledge of what he was signing and why. Either way he doesn't deserve to stay in office; I suppose, though, the difference might matter to a grand jury.

Posted in Law: Criminal Law, Politics: US: GW Bush Scandals | 4 Comments

Family Values

Jim Morin has a great cartoon.


Click for a large version

Posted in Politics: US: 2008 Elections | Leave a comment

More Dispatches From the Land of the Free

They're not only watching us … they don't want us taking pictures in public. See The Cosmic Tap: An Accidental Interview with Lieutenant Phil Dreyer for what's only the latest in a huge series of incidents up and down the country in which police attempt threaten perfectly legal photographers.

Earlier (2004) item: A Snapshot of Our Freedoms

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Big Brother *IS* Watching You

City Police Spied Broadly Before G.O.P. Convention.

Not only did cops waste a phenomenal amount of resources infiltrating public meetings of obviously harmless groups such as Billionaires for Bush, but having made files about lawful activities by harmless groups they shared their files with cops nationwide.

For at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention, teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention, according to police records and interviews.

From Albuquerque to Montreal, San Francisco to Miami, undercover New York police officers attended meetings of political groups, posing as sympathizers or fellow activists, the records show.

In at least some cases, intelligence on what appeared to be lawful activity was shared with police departments in other cities. A police report on an organization of artists called Bands Against Bush noted that the group was planning concerts on Oct. 11, 2003, in New York, Washington, Seattle, San Francisco and Boston. Between musical sets, the report said, there would be political speeches and videos.

Political speeches and videos! The horror!

What NYC Cops did may well have been legal. But it was not only a distraction from real police work, but something that bespeaks a level of one-sided political paranoia that is a danger to democracy.

Can you imagine the police infiltrating the Federalist Society? Or a meeting of the Freepers? And even if you can, could two wrongs make a right?

Posted in Civil Liberties | Leave a comment

Herald Does Blogs in Teaching

The Miami Herald has a short article on blogs in teaching in today's education supplement, Blogs taking place of teachers' lounge chats, which includes some quotes from yours truly — although what I said is entirely about teacher-student communication and thus has little to do with their headline.

Posted in Blogs | Leave a comment