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The U.S. Supreme Court: Architects of the American Police State PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by John W. Whitehead   
Wednesday, 27 February 2013 10:16

“The unspoken power dynamics in a police/civilian encounter will generally favor the police, unless the civilian is a local sports hero, the mayor, or a giant who is impervious to bullets.” – Journalist Justin Peters

From time to time throughout history, individuals have been subjected to charges (and eventual punishment) by accusers whose testimony was treated as infallible and inerrant. Once again, we find ourselves repeating history, only this time, it’s the police whose testimony is too often considered beyond reproach and whose accusations have the power to render one’s life over.

In the police state being erected around us, the police can probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts. Making matters worse, however, police dogs – cute, furry, tail-wagging mascots with a badge – have now been elevated to the ranks of inerrant, infallible, sanctimonious accusers with the power of the state behind them. This is largely due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Florida V. Harris, in which the court declared roadside stops to be Constitution-free zones where police may search our vehicles based upon a hunch and the presence of a frisky canine.

This is what one would call a slow death by a thousand cuts, only it’s the Fourth Amendment being inexorably bled to death. This latest wound, in which a unanimous Supreme Court determined that police officers may use drug-sniffing dogs to conduct warrantless searches of cars during routine traffic stops, comes on the heels of recent decisions by the court that give police the green light to taser defenseless motorists, strip-search nonviolent suspects arrested for minor incidents, and break down people’s front doors without evidence that they have done anything wrong.

The Magician’s Con: Renewing FISA and the NDAA Under Cover of the Fiscal Cliff Debates PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by John W. Whitehead   
Tuesday, 08 January 2013 13:44

“If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.” – Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

What characterizes American government today is not so much dysfunctional politics as it is ruthlessly contrived governance carried out behind the entertaining, distracting, and disingenuous curtain of political theatre. And what political theatre it is, diabolically Shakespearean at times, full of sound and fury yet in the end signifying nothing.

Played out on the national stage and eagerly broadcast to a captive audience by media sponsors, this farcical exercise in political theatre can, at times, seem riveting, life-changing, and suspenseful, even for those who know better. Week after week, the script changes – the presidential election, the budget crisis, the fiscal cliff, the Benghazi hearings, the gun-control debate – with each new script following on the heels of the last, never any letup, never any relief from the constant melodrama.

The players come and go, the protagonists and antagonists trade places, and the audience members are forgiving to a fault, quick to forget past mistakes and move on to the next spectacle. All the while, a different kind of drama is unfolding in the dark backstage, hidden from view by the heavy curtain, elaborate stage sets, colored lights, and parading actors.

Compromise or Gridlock in Washington: Two Unpalatable Alternatives PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by Mark W. Hendrickson   
Thursday, 27 December 2012 10:52

As soon as the elections were over, a wave of commentaries extolling the virtues of compromise appeared in the press. The common theme is that it is time for Democrats and Republicans alike to end partisan gridlock – to make compromises that will shrink federal deficits without driving us off “the fiscal cliff.”

That said, gridlock has its defenders. They fondly remember “the good old days” in the ’90s when divided government (Democratic White House, GOP Congress) produced a gridlock that kept spending increases relatively modest and eliminated budget deficits.

Gridlock today, however, is not as benign as it was then. Also, the ’90s constituted a special case that cannot be replicated today.

EyeSee You and the Internet of Things: Watching You While You Shop PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by John W. Whitehead   
Wednesday, 19 December 2012 08:53

Gifts have been bought. Presents wrapped. Now all that remains is the giving and receiving. Oh, and the tracking, of course. Little did you know that all the while you were searching out that perfect gift, you were unknowingly leaving a trail for others – namely, the government and its corporate cohorts – to follow.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, the indifference of the general public to the growing surveillance state, the inability of Congress to protect Americans’ privacy, and the profit-driven policies of the business sector, the corporate state could write a book about your holiday shopping habits: the Web sites you’ve visited when trying to decide what to buy, the storefronts you’ve browsed while wandering the mall, and the purchases you’ve made.

Even the store mannequins have gotten in on the gig. According to the Washington Post, mannequins in some high-end boutiques are now being outfitted with cameras that utilize facial-recognition technology. A small camera embedded in the eye of an otherwise normal-looking mannequin allows storekeepers to keep track of the age, sex, and race of all their customers. This information is then used to personally tailor the shopping experience to those coming in and out of their stores. As the Washington Post report notes: “A clothier introduced a children’s line after the dummy showed that kids made up more than half its mid-afternoon traffic. ... Another store found that a third of visitors using one of its doors after 4 p.m. were Asian, prompting it to place Chinese-speaking staff members by that entrance.”

Can You Trust the President, Congress, or the Courts to Protect Your Privacy Rights? PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by John W. Whitehead   
Wednesday, 28 November 2012 14:05
“The game is rigged, the network is bugged, the government talks double-speak, the courts are complicit, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” – David Kravets, reporting for Wired

Nothing you write, say, text, tweet or share via phone or computer is private anymore. This is the reality of the Internet-dependent, plugged-in life of most Americans today.

A process that started shortly after 9/11 with programs such as National Security Agency (NSA) wiretapping and Total Information Awareness has grown into a full-fledged network of warrant-less surveillance, electronic tracking, and data-mining, thanks to federal agents having been granted carte blanche access to the vast majority of electronic communications in America. Their methods generally run counter to the Constitution, but no federal agency, court, or legislature has stepped up to oppose this rapid erosion of our privacy, and there is no way of opting out of this system.

Consequently, over the course of the past 12 years, Congress, the courts, and the presidents (both George W. Bush and Barack Obama) have managed to completely erode privacy in America. Complicating matters further is the fact that technology is moving so rapidly that we often find ourselves making decisions (or subjected to decisions) whose consequences we can scarcely comprehend.

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