“Domestic Terrorism”: the next excuse for an erosion of civil liberties?

dayton

Dayton, Ohio – 9 dead; El Paso, TX – 22 dead; Virginia Beach, VA – 12 dead; Umpqua Community College, OR – 9 dead; Columbine High School, CO – 15 dead; Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, FL – 17 dead; Orlando, FL – 49 dead; Sutherland Springs, TX – 27 dead; Sandy Hook, CT – 28 dead; Las Vegas, NV – 59 dead.

And the tragic list goes on and on.

The perceived threat of mass shootings by American citizens now dwarfs the threat of attacks by Islamist terrorists, according to a recent Fox News poll. 60 percent fear the former more than the latter.

The poll revealed that this attitude holds true for Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, men and women, whites with and without a college degree, urban, suburban, and rural residents, and (by a margin of 53 percent to 23 percent) gun owners.

With this kind of public fear, it’s not surprising that there’s now a lot of talk about what should be done, what current laws need to be better enforced, what new laws are needed and what resources should be devoted to combating a rising threat.

“Now is the time to move past the politics that have prevented needed action, to get started on a comprehensive review of the actual threat and to recommend possible and substantive plans to public officials at the federal, state and local levels,” say Javed Ali, a Towsley Policymaker in Residence at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and Josh Kirshner, former special assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

John R. Alle and Brett McGurk, former special presidential envoys for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, asserted a similar view in an Aug. 6 Washington Post opinion column: “The United States now faces a new national security threat. The enemy is not the Islamic State but domestic and homegrown white nationalist terrorism. And “terrorism” is the term that must be used.”

History shows us, however, that we should be extremely cautious about over-reacting in the heat of the moment, heading pell-mell down the road of tougher, more intrusive measures designed to counter what is perceived as a rising threat.

Caution was certainly not the byword when, immediately following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress considered The USA PATRIOT Act (officially titled the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act”).

The American Civil Liberties Union urged Congress to reject the Patriot Act. “The American Civil Liberties Union believes that the USA PATRIOT Act gives the Attorney General and federal law enforcement unnecessary and permanent new powers to violate civil liberties that go far beyond the stated goal of fighting international terrorism,” the ACLU said in a letter to Senators.  “These new and unchecked powers could be used against American citizens who are not under criminal investigation, immigrants who are here within our borders legally, and also against those whose First Amendment activities are deemed to be threats to national security by the Attorney General.”

But the objections of the ACLU and others went unheeded. President George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act into law on October 26, 2001.

As the Constitutional Rights Foundation noted, “Soon after September 11, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft brought before Congress a list of recommended changes in the law to combat terrorism. Some of these measures had long been opposed by members of Congress as infringing on the rights of Americans. But September 11 had swept away all previous objections.”

Sept11

Still, vociferous critics of the hastily written Patriot Act quickly emerged after it went into effect.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said the law “gives sweeping search and surveillance to domestic law enforcement and foreign intelligence agencies and eliminates checks and balances that previously gave courts the opportunity to ensure that those powers were not abused.” The law and potential follow-up legislation “threaten the basic rights of millions of Americans,” the Foundation said.

The 9/11 Commission led by former New Jersey Governor Tom Keane and former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton, put forward a broad swath of recommendations that generated objections, too.

Critics said, for example, that the recommendations could lead to such things as: privacy violations; the development of massive databases about citizens who were not the targets of criminal investigations; lowering the bar for launching foreign intelligence wiretaps and searches; exposing people to guilt by association.

Another fast-track move after 9/11 was the creation of a massive Department of Homeland Security (DHS) because of concerns about the lack of coordination and intelligence sharing among government agencies. was a central concern that led to the cabinet department’s creation.

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 became law on November 25, 2002, combining 22 different federal departments and agencies. Today it has more than 240,000 employeesin a sprawling federal bureaucracy and is widely accused of general mismanagement, misallocated investment, and civil liberties abuse.

Washington Post investigation found that many DHS employees said they had “a dysfunctional work environment” with “abysmal morale.”

Making its job more difficult, a complex tangle of 90 congressional committees and subcommittees oversee DHS. I’ve worked on the Hill and I assure you that level of Congressional connections is simply unmanageable.

Keane and Hamilton have now resurfaced to advocate another commission on domestic terrorism similar to theirs with a similar mandate. Who knows what mischief could occur in another commission with this charge.

Robert M. Chesney, Director of the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas School of Law, has written in Lawfare about whether a federal ‘Domestic Terrorism’ statute should be created, a purely domestic surveillance system should be established or legislation should be passed to create a domestic version of the designated foreign terrorist organization list, complete with a ban on material support to such groups.

In the aftermath of recent mass shootings, President Trump vowed Monday to give federal law enforcement “whatever they need” to investigate and disrupt hate crimes and domestic terrorism.

Republican Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California have already introduced bills that would provide federal law enforcement with tools to combat domestic terrorism. Both bills they raise domestic terrorism to the moral equivalent of international terrorism,

The McSally and Schiff bills are essentially the same. Both would create a new crime of domestic terrorism, making it illegal to kill, kidnap or assault another person; create a substantial risk of serious bodily injury by intentionally destroying or damaging property; or threaten to do so “with the intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion[,] or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping,” in the language of the House bill. The wording of the Senate bill is substantively similar.

Both bills also amend 18 U.S.C. § 2339A, which makes it a crime to provide material support or resources “knowing or intending that they be used in preparation for, or in carrying out, a violation of” certain statutes. The new provision adds to that list of crimes the new domestic terrorism offense.

“These bills would provide much-needed tools to federal agents and prosecutors who sometimes find themselves without adequate means for addressing domestic terrorism,” Barbara McQuade, a Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, has argued in Lawfare.

But federal action could also lead to surveillance systems of once unimaginable breadth, all in the name of security. China is already well on the way to showing what can happen.

China is close to having 600 million surveillance cameras watching its population.  “The cameras feed government databases in real time and, with the assistance of sophisticated facial-recognition software,” F.H. Buckley wrote on Aug. 29  in the Wall Street Journal. “Beijing eventually expects to be able to identify everyone, everywhere within three seconds of anything happening. That may deter crime, but it will also enable the government to monitor people it thinks undesirable.”

 

chinasurveillance

China’s facial recognition technology identifies visitors in a display at the Digital China Exhibition in Fuzhou, Fujian province, in May 2019.

Then there’s China’s emerging Social Credit System. Under this system, the government plans to create a big data–enabled surveillance infrastructure to manage, monitor, and predict the trustworthiness of its people and implement a punishment/reward system based on scores.

Proposals for combating domestic terrorism in the U.S. are also surfacing at the state level.

In New Mexico, for example, the governor, key lawmakers and members of law enforcement have said they will pursue several initiatives. Proposals include increasing penalties for hate crimes, improving mental health care, proposing additional gun safety legislation and creating a state counterterrorism unit.

And in Texas, the governor is launching a domestic terrorism task force that will analyze current and emerging state threats to improve prevention strategies.

All of this activity, and likely more to come, increases the likelihood of actions that are done in haste, not well thought out and potentially endanger civil liberties.

“…proposals tend either to be duplicative of laws that already exist or expansive in ways that violate First Amendment rights of speech and association,” David Cole, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the New York Times earlier this month.

Former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel advised never letting a crisis go to waste. Politicians and ideologues are unlikely to let the much- hyped threat of domestic terrorism go to waste.

Then there’s the law of unintended consequences. As James Risen, Senior National Security Correspondent at The Intercept, a left-leaning online news outlet, put it, “…simplistic answers like launching a domestic war on terror would certainly lead to unintended consequences that would cascade for decades, and might be worse than those that stemmed from the original global war on terror.”

A lot to think about.

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Gannett/GateHouse deal: diminishing diversity of thought in American media

killingjournalism

If you want to see how a multi-outlet media company can play politics, take a look at Sinclair Broadcast Group.

According to Acronym, a progressive organization focused on winning elections through innovative digital advertising and organizing programs, much of the spending by Donald Trump’s re-election campaign on Facebook + Google last week focused on the release of the campaign’s new red “Keep America Great” hats.  Right in sync, over the weekend, Sinclair, the conservative owner or operator of 191 television stations in the U.S., promoted “news” stories about the availability of the hats.

The planned merger of two other American media giants, Gannett and GateHouse Media, announced on Aug. 5, 2019, could bring more such coordinated propagandizing.

If the merger goes forward, it will not end well.

(UPDATE: The Columbia Journalism Review reported on Oct. 9, 2019 that GateHouse’s acquisition of Gannett is set to go through before the end of the year, Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor reports. Once it does, the combined company could lay off as many as 3,000 employees (the equivalent of rival chain McClatchy’s entire workforce), though the cuts are likely to fall mostly on the business side, sparing newsrooms for now. Gannett and GateHouse shareholders will vote on the deal November 14.)

GateHouse’s acquisition of Gannett is set to go through before the end of the year, Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor reports. Once it does, the combined company could lay off as many as 3,000 employees (the equivalent of rival chain McClatchy’s entire workforce), though the cuts are likely to fall mostly on the business side, sparing newsrooms for now. Gannett and GateHouse shareholders will vote on the deal November 14.

  • GateHouse’s acquisition of Gannett is set to go through before the end of the year, Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor reports. Once it does, the combined company could lay off as many as 3,000 employees (the equivalent of rival chain McClatchy’s entire workforce), though the cuts are likely to fall mostly on the business side, sparing newsrooms for now. Gannett and GateHouse shareholders will vote on the deal November 14.

Completion of the deal would mean the creation of a massive media company with 263 daily media organizations across 47 states and Guam, plus USA TODAY and hundreds of weekly and community papers.

Newspapers across the country may be struggling, but this deal isn’t the best solution. It will lead to centralized editorial control, stifle local creativity, guarantee additional pressure to impose draconian cost cuts and bring brutal widespread layoffs.

Consolidation can also have major consequences in the coverage of elections.

horse race reporting research elections politics

A study published in the Journal of Political Communication found that corporate-owned and large-chain newspapers were more likely to publish stories that frame elections as a competitive game than newspapers with a single owner.

Researchers for the study were Johanna Dunaway, an associate professor of communication at Texas A&M University, and Regina G. Lawrence, associate dean of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication Portland.

When journalists covering elections focus primarily on who’s winning or losing — instead of on policy issues — voters, candidates and the news industry itself suffer, a growing body of research has found, according to Journalist’s Resource.

Denise-Marie Ordway, a writer for Journalist’s Resource, says academic studies find that horse race reporting is linked to:

  • Distrust in politicians.
  • Distrust of news outlets.
  • An uninformed electorate.
  • Inaccurate reporting of opinion poll data.

Ordway adds that horse race reporting:

  • Is detrimental to female political candidates, who tend to focus on policy issues to build credibility.
  • Gives an advantage to novel and unusual candidates.
  • Shortchanges third-party candidates, who often are overlooked or ignored because their chances of winning are slim compared to Republican and Democratic candidates.

 

GateHouse, owned by the private equity firm New Media Investment Group (NYSE: NEWM), already has a reputation for aggressive cost-cutting and layoffs at properties it owns.

In Oregon, multiple rounds of layoffs have taken place since GateHouse took over The Register-Guard in Eugene on March 1, 2018,

“What’s happening with the Guard isn’t unique to the Guard,” Tim Gleason, former dean of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, told the Eugene Weekly.”It’s what’s happening all over the country as these venture capital firms buy newspapers and then largely gut them,”

In May 2019, Gatehouse laid off staff at a wide swath of papers it owns, including The Columbus Dispatch, the Lakeland (Florida) Ledger, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the Worcester (Massachusetts) Telegram & Gazette. the Providence Journal and The Beaver County (Pennsylvania) Times.  The Times newsroom had 60 staffers in the early 2000s; it is now down to 12 to put out a three-section paper six days a week.

Robert Kuttner and Hildy Zenger lay much of the blame for the evisceration of local newspapers on private equity companies like GateHouse.

“The malign genius of the private equity business model…is that it allows the absentee owner to drive a paper into the ground, but extract exorbitant profits along the way from management fees, dividends, and tax break,” they wrote in The American Prospect., a progressive political and public policy magazine.

“By the time the paper is a hollow shell, the private equity company can exit and move on, having more than made back its investment.”

It’s not a pretty picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much ado about nothing: Joaquin Castro and Trump campaign contributors

Well, cry me a river.

crymeariver

This past Tuesday, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D – TX), brother of Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro, posted on Twitter the names of 44 San Antonio, TX residents who have contributed the maximum allowed under federal law to President Trump’s reelection campaign.

“Their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as ‘invaders,’ “ the tweet said.

From the firestorm of criticism that erupted, you’d think Castro paid a group of Antifa thugs to attack conservative journalist Andy Ngo.

“Democrats want to talk about inciting violence? This naming of private citizens and their employers is reckless and irresponsible,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. “He is endangering the safety of people he is supposed to be representing.”

“People should not be personally targeted for their political views, period,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was shot and during a Congressional baseball game two years ago, posted on Twitter.  “This isn’t a game. It’s dangerous, and lives are at stake. I know this firsthand.”

Seven Republican members of the House Freedom Caucus, which includes many of the more conservative House Republicans, have even called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate Castro for his Twitter post.

“Posting a target list of private citizens simply for supporting his political opponent is antithetical to our principles and serves to suppress the free speech and free association rights of Americans,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to the Ethics panel Friday.

“Joaquin Castro shared personal info on Trump donors. Despicable!,” Donald Trump Jr. said in a text message to the president’s supporters.

Cry me a river!

The fact is all the information Castro tweeted is readily available to the public.

Federal Election Commission (FEC) guidelines provide that individuals can contribute up to $2,800 to federal candidates per election, with a primary and general election counting as separate elections. That means a donor can give $5,600 combined. Cash contributions of $50 or less can be anonymous.

Once contributions add up to more than $200 during a two-year cycle to a particular candidate, campaigns are required to report the donations to the FEC. Reports must include the amount donated, the date of receipt, and the contributor’s name, address, occupation, and employer.

All that data is then posted on the FEC’s website, which can be easily accessed by me, you, Tim Murtaugh, Steve Scalise, the House Freedom Caucus,  Donald Trump Jr. and anybody else, even the Russians.

The non-partisan non-profit Center for Responsive Politics also aggregates the FEC data in multiple formats on the website Open Secrets.

So, if you want fake political news, here it is.

Is TriMet “riding the winds of change”? Not really.

Portland-Streetcar-cm

Think TriMet’s New Electric Buses Run on Wind Power? Think Again.

By Rachel Dawson

TriMet unveiled five new battery-electric buses (BEBs) in April 2019, the sides of which all donned images of windmills and sweeping gusts of wind. The BEBs each cost around $1 million, nearly twice as much as a traditional diesel bus. And these buses are just the beginning: The TriMet board voted last year to replace the entire fleet with battery-electric buses for $1.18 billion by 2040, a $500 million premium over a diesel fleet.

TriMet has been hailed an environmental hero for “riding the winds of change.” TriMet Spokesperson Roberta Altstadt claimed that TriMet was the first in the United States to “operate an electric bus on 100% renewable energy.” Without further research, it would be easy to think that TriMet’s new buses ran on clean wind energy. And that is exactlywhat TriMet is hoping you would think. But you would be wrong.

If the buses don’t run on 100% wind power, how is TriMet able to get away with saying they do?

TriMet spends $228.75 per month on what are known as renewable energy certificates (RECs) from PGE. RECs are a tradable commodity sold by renewable energy facilities (such as wind farms) to the wholesale market, that purport to represent the “environmental amenities” of certain renewable energy projects. By purchasing the RECs, TriMet has bought the legal right to claim it is using renewable energy; however, the agency has not purchased any energy itself.

This would be like my paying someone else to exercise at the gym for me, and then telling my family and friends I go to the gym. The person I pay reaps both financial and physical benefits while I merely get to pretend I have them.

Supporters of RECs claim the certificates offset fossil fuels and pay for the generation of new renewable energy. However, these claims are not entirely accurate. According to Daniel Press, a Professor of Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz, “RECs do little to reduce emissions in the real world because they have become too cheap to shift energy markets or incentivize businesses to build new turbines.” The income generated from RECs does not come close to the millions needed to construct more wind turbines, which means that RECs themselves don’t offset fossil fuels.

Despite its claims, it would be impossible for TriMet to run on 100% wind power unless it disconnected from the regional mixed grid and hooked up to its own personal wind farm. Even then, TriMet would be forced to rely on other backup power sources due to the volatility of wind generation.

While a wind turbine may be available to produce energy around 90% of the time, the average wind farm in the United States in 2018 had a capacity factor of only 37.4%. The capacity factor refers to the amount of energy produced in a year as a fraction of the farm’s maximum capacity. Wind farms produce electricity when winds reach about nine miles per hour and stop at roughly 55 mph to prevent equipment damage. If the wind isn’t blowing (or isn’t blowing strongly enough), little to no power can be generated.

This poses problems, as the electrical grid requires constant equilibrium or blackouts will result—power supply must meet energy demand. Every megawatt of wind power has to be backed up by an equal amount of traditional, “non-green” sources like coal and natural gas to account for times when wind energy isn’t generated. This would be like keeping a car constantly running at home in case the one you’re driving on the road fails.

Instead of a wind farm, TriMet receives its electricity from Portland General Electric, the same mixed grid your home is likely powered by. In 2020, this mixed grid will be made up of 37% natural gas, 28% coal, 18% hydro, 15% renewables, and 2% purchased power (power purchased on the wholesale market). Since wind only makes up a portion of renewables used by PGE, less than 15% of the electricity used by the “wind” buses is powered by wind. A greater percentage of the electricity used by TriMet’s BEBs comes from coal plants than wind farms.

If TriMet were honest with its riders, it would replace the windmills on the sides of the new buses with coal, natural gas, and hydroelectric power plants. In the name of accuracy, TriMet could place a windmill in the corner, demonstrating the small percentage of power generated by wind farms.

So instead of riding the “winds of change,” keep in mind that you’re just riding a really expensive bus.

Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.