Posts Tagged ‘Fourth Amendment’

Limbaugh, Rand Paul, the ACLU and Me

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

We’re just the people. We go to a job or look for one. We pay the bills. We fight the wars. We die in those wars. We’ve come to understand that the only time politicians care what we think is when there’s an election. We’re all V.I.P.s around election time.

Nowadays we have special significance ever since word got out that all our telephone records are routinely made available for scrutiny by the National Security Agency. This, it is clear, could cost votes and shorten political careers so for a while we will be taken seriously.

But usually, we’re just the people. We voted for Obama the first time because, after eight years of Bush, he was like a fresh wind blowing in. We were a little less enthusiastic the second time. And now, five months into Obama’s second term, we find ourselves aligned with Michael Moore and the ACLU, also with Glenn Beck, Rand Paul, and Rush Limbaugh on the question of government snooping into our telephoning history.

We find something dangerous and suspicious about the NSA making notes on who we call on the phone, when we call, what numbers we call, how long we speak. Yes, but government isn’t listening in on the conversation, we’re told by the very same government. That’s supposed to reassure us. But you don’t believe it, do you? Nor do I. 

I’ve been thinking about the words of the great Ma Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath” as she tells the son she loves: “Why, Tom – us people will go on livin’ when all them people is gone. Why, Tom, we’re the people that live. They ain’t gonna wipe us out. Why, we’re the people – we go on.”

I wonder if Ma Joad was just dead wrong, and that eventually them people – with their demands for lower taxes, with their specious argument that government should be run like a business (like Enron maybe?), and with their willy-nilly interpretation of the Bill of Rights – will win the war against us people. If us people lose that war, the nation will have been transformed into something unrecognizable.

As has been noted again and again, the framers could not have imagined the United States of the 21st Century. Maybe not, but it’s important to remember that the protections of the Fourth Amendment will live as long as people take the Bill of Rights seriously and do not allow it to become the plaything of those who see nothing amiss with keeping track of your telephoning.

The words of the Fourth Amendment are complicated only to the people who wish they did not exist: “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.”

Obama swore to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution and yet, as the ultimate the boss of the NSA, he seems to have done little or nothing to keep us protected from the big nose of government sniffing our affairs. It is not overly dramatic to suggest that never has the Fourth Amendment – and the rest of the Bill of Rights for that matter – been in greater jeopardy than now.

I’m 29 years late, but Happy New Year 1984 anyway.

The Constitution? What’s That?

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

If the American experiment with popular rule comes to an end, I’m convinced it will be as a result of otherwise sensible people allowing mold to grow on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Often we don’t abide by what the framers had in mind. One glaring example is over the question of how the United States shall go to war. The Constitution, in Article I, spells it out within a long list of Congressional powers and authority. Congress declares war.

The last time that happened was 71 years ago, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Since then, American presidents have sent troops and fleets to wage war in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Somalia, the Gulf and many other places with no congressional declaration sought or granted. I don’t recall any serious congressional objection to this presidential use of force.

In New York City, meanwhile, the mayor and his police commissioner are busy dismantling the Fourth Amendment – the one that forbids “unreasonable searches and seizures” – to ensure the continuation of their odious stop-and-frisk program. Briefly: A cop stops a “suspicious [read: nonwhite] person,” asks for identification, orders the “suspicious person” to empty his pockets, notices that along with some money and a handkerchief, the pocket contained some marijuana that is now showing, and promptly arrests the “suspicious person” for displaying marijuana in public. Never mind that to refuse to clear out his pocket renders the “suspicious person” guilty of ignoring a police officer’s command. Either way, there’s an arrest.

Last year, NYPD stopped and frisked 685,724 people: 53 percent were black (blacks comprise 26 percent of the city’s population); 34 percent were Latino (Latinos comprise 29 percent), and 9 percent were white (whites comprise 44 percent). The numbers suggest stop-and-frisk is something you might have encountered on the streets of Berlin around, say, 1939.

Racist? Not us, cry Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. If you bet $10 on the assumption that no relative of Bloomberg or Kelly has ever been stopped and frisked, pick up your money. You’re a winner.

If there’s been a popular movement involving huge numbers of middle class people marching on City Hall to protest this racist atrocity, I haven’t heard about it.

Now, in Middleborough, Mass., some residents are upset about people (especially high school students) swearing in public. And so, the Town Meeting voted to allow the police to fine people $20 for cursing in public. You might think the vote of 233 people who participated would have been about as close as 117 to 116 or that the measure would go down in flames. No such thing. The vote was 183 to 50. That’s 79 percent favoring a dubious move to get around the First Amendment.

It’s dangerous enough that the penalty for uttering a dirty word in public is strictly a police matter. It’s at an officer’s discretion, Police Chief Bruce Gates told The Patriot-Ledger.

Worse is the fact that there’s no official list of banned words. A dirty word is what a police officer on duty says it is.

Can you say “shit?” Probably not.

Can you say “asshole?” Maybe, maybe not.

And since this idiotic rule is up to the cop who hears it, can you say “cop?” Or “fuzz?” Can you call your boss a “son of a bitch?”

No one knows. But that’s OK in Middleborough where the people have accepted Gates’s explanation that the rule is not directed at what he called “ordinary swears,” whatever they are. Actually, he said, the rule is to prevent “profane [a word with religious overtones] language directed at some attractive female walking through town.” He didn’t say which member of the force will decide which females are attractive and thus deserving of protection or what official action he would take if he heard someone saying something profane to a female he finds unattractive.

What they’ve enacted in Middleborough sounds ridiculous. But it’s more than that. It’s dangerous. Oh, and I forgot to mention that children as young as 7 are eligible to be cited under Gates’s rule. He didn’t say what would happen if a kid and his mom and dad refuse to pay the fine.