a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

“It happens every day”: DHS supplied e-mails to MD State Police

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 20th February 2009

I guess I thought this would get a little more attention than it has.  On Tuesday, the Washington Post’s Lisa Rein reported:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security tracked the protest plans of a peaceful Washington area antiwar group and passed the information to the Maryland State Police, which had previously labeled the activists as terrorists in an intelligence file. The federal agency obtained two e-mails containing plans for upcoming demonstrations at a military recruiting center in Silver Spring in 2005, the first indication that DHS might have worked with the police to monitor advocacy groups.

While a DHS spokesman claimed the communications were “taken off the Internet,” that is disputed by Pat Elder, a leader of the group involved (the now dissolved DC Anti-War Network, or DAWN):

“They would have had to join our group as a member,” said Pat Elder of Bethesda, the leader of a national network that opposes military recruitment in high schools. He said he was in contact in 2005 with an activist in Atlanta about how to build the cardboard coffins frequently used by protesters against the Iraq war as a symbol of what activists have called needless military deaths.

The e-mails were forwarded to the Maryland State Police from a DHS office in Atlanta.

Nice database work!
It’s interesting how well coordinated the passage of information was.  It’s as if… as if… why, it’s as if there was some kind of federal database that would enable far-flung agencies to be aware of a mutual interest in a given “terrorist” like Mr. Elder once he was entered in the system.

Read the rest of this entry »

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links for 2008-12-10

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 11th December 2008

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*Every* day is Constitution Day

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th September 2008

I helped get a mass mailing out the door on Wednesday, to members of the facebook and “Get FISA Right” groups.  The full text is here or here; from the mailing:

…This election needs to be about more than lipstick, hockey moms, and Blackberries. It’s time to talk about the Constitution and how the two candidates propose to undo the damage of the past eight years.We’re contacting editorial boards across the country asking that they:

  • urge presidential candidates to present their views on constitutional issues on September 17 — and for the rest of the campaign
  • prepare editorials on restoring the rule of law to the next administration and Congress
  • report on and analyze how the candidates would exert their executive authority as President. (Charlie Savage and the Boston Globe did this late last year; it’s time for a remake.)

In addition, we believe it is critical that the televised presidential debates pose questions about constitutional issues like warrantless electronic surveillance, torture, abrogation of habeas corpus, and how to restore our Constitution.

Again, we need your help — in two ways.

1. Please take a moment to write and send a *short* letter (best no more than 4 sentences!) to the editor of your local newspaper, putting these demands in your own words. We wouldn’t be “Get FISA Right” if we didn’t hope you’d mention rolling back the infamous FISA Amendment Act, but these letters will really have more impact if we don’t provide a canned script for you to follow.

If you don’t know your local paper’s letter to the editor email address, use this tool to find ones in your area. (Please don’t send the same letter to multiple newspapers, though.)

2. Help us with our op-ed piece. Collaborative writing — of open letters, blog posts, ad scripts — has always been one of Get FISA Right’s strengths; and with the media attention we’ve gotten so far, we think we’ve got a good shot at getting this op-ed piece placed. Please join in here. […]

The conception and execution of this was interesting; the American Freedom Campaign held a press conference last Friday that a couple of us from “Get FISA Right” attended.  The editorial board outreach effort was AFC’s, and we thought we’d see if we could lend a hand by encouraging a fairly large base of support (about 23,000 people on myBarackObama, and another 2,300 on facebook) to support that with letters to the editor.  The drafting process took place on a “wiki” site (the same one being used for the op-ed piece), which makes it easy to see how a document has changed as different authors add to or subtract from it, and makes collaboration possible even when writers are literally on opposite sides of the country.

Anyhow.  There are plenty of other initiatives going on about constitutional, rule of law, civil liberties and human rights issues this campaign season.  A selection:

Meanwhile, as “Get FISA Right” superactivist Jon Pincus writes, it seems like one of the biggest barriers we face is a deep unwillingness to cover these issues by the media, matched by a general reluctance among politicians to talk about them.  Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, a rare exception, wrote about this in “It’s the Constitution, Stupid“:

Maybe I live in a teensy little rarefied bubble, in which a handful of constitutional law professors, tetchy libertarians, and paranoid bloggers have been tearing their eyebrows out for the past seven years over the president’s use of the “war on terror” to run his tanks over great swaths of the Constitution and much of the Bill of Rights. Maybe I overestimate American concern that their president likes to eavesdrop on their phone calls and root through their library records. Yet Jane Mayer’s book The Dark Side is on the best-seller list. Sixty-one percent of Americans oppose warrantless wiretapping. And both presidential candidates have recognized Guantanamo for the international disaster it is. So clearly somebody cares about the loss of civil liberties in America. It’s just that nobody wants to talk about it.

Jon concludes:

Like a lot of people, I believe that this election’s a choice between restoring the Constitution and continuing down the path to fascism and a police state.  Okay, maybe that’s not the most pressing issue to everybody … but it certainly seems worth talking about.

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Going forth for the Fourth on the Fourth

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th July 2008

Once again, I rented some “Minuteman”/colonial town crier type duds and joined the Takoma Park Fourth of July parade and spectacle. I had about a thousand little 4 by 5 fliers with phone numbers for Senators Cardin, Mikulski, and (sigh) Obama, urging them to vote against the FISA Amendment Act. Here’s a reproduction and text version of the flier (4 to a page) I used, which quoted the 4th Amendment as well. The text is from something I ran across at the site about this issue, I just rearranged it a bit. (For incoming visitors, more specific information about the issue — joining the group, links to the ACLU, etc. — is in the prior post, Celebrate the Constitution this 4th of July!)

Both my spouse Crickey and my friend (and fellow impeachment activist) Michelle Bailey came along to help pass out the fliers; Michelle also snapped some photos like the one here.

Some notes: people — even Obama supporters with buttons or stickers — were disappointed in Obama’s reversal on this. The phrase that helps the most with recognizing the issue is “telcom immunity” — maybe Takoma Park is exceptional, but that got pretty high “issue recognition,” to coin a phrase.

As anyone knows who’s done this kind of thing more than once, you wind up getting a “rap” down if you didn’t already have one — some stock phrases to get across what the issue is about. Not saying it’s golden, but one thing that worked was this:

“…telcom immunity is a terrible idea looking back” — thumb one way — “…we’ll never find out what happened. And it’s and even worse idea looking forward” — thumb other way — “some other company, under some other president — asked to do something sketchy? They’ll think to themselves ‘why not — phone companies got away with it.’

I also talked with people about how the bill threatens the Fourth Amendment (in my opinion) by settling for a judge authorizing protocols for “computer dragnets” rather than insisting on probable cause for a specific person and reason.

In addition to “thanks for doing this” from many parade watchers, I got good reactions from parade participants and local politicians Jamie Raskin, Heather Mizeur, George Leventhal, and Tom Hucker, so that was a plus as well. Raskin and Mizeur are delegates to the Democratic Convention in Denver (Obama, “super” who’s endorsed Obama, respectively).

I had a blast; I like doing this kind of thing — whether in costume or not. Thanks again to Michelle and Crickey for joining me, and for the great photos they took; slideshow here.

UPDATE, 7/6: eRobin works the crowds in Philadelphia about the FISA Amendment Act.

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Celebrate the Constitution this 4th of July!

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th July 2008

..stop the FISA bill! Don’t let illegal wire-tappers off the hook!

What is it? The FISA Amendments Act — H.R. 6304 — will, as a letter from the ACLU to Senators puts it,

unconstitutionally and unnecessarily [permit] the government to vacuum up Americans’ international communications, without a connection to al Qaeda, terrorism, or even to national security. While there is limited prior review by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the protection afforded by that review is almost completely illusory. H.R. 6304 also grants retroactive immunity to companies that facilitated warrantless wiretapping over the last seven years.

When is the vote?

Tuesday, July 8.

Why is the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) a bad idea?

  • The bill gives telecommunications companies immunity from lawsuits for cooperating with George Bush’s illegal warrantless electronic surveillance. That will block one of the only means of finding out exactly what was done, and will set a bad precedent for the future — should companies automatically cooperate with a president even if they suspect what’s being ordered might be illegal? (Some, like Qwest, did not.) As a friend of mine wrote, Retroactive immunity for lawbreaking telecoms is forever. The precedent it would set is also permanent.”
  • The bill is so complicated, vague, and poorly debated that even experts are not sure what additional powers are being conferred to the president. That’s never a good idea — even if you like the current president or the likely next one, you may not feel the same way next year or five years from now.
  • What seems likely is that vast “vacuum cleaner” surveillance protocols are envisioned, with a court only seeing how the protocol is constructed — not who specifically is being surveilled, and why. Goodbye “probable cause” — the foundation of the 4th Amendment, saying the government must have a good, specific reason to search you, your effects, or your communications.
  • That, in turn, will likely ratify an exponential increase in “false positives” — people who seem like they might be a security threat, but turn out not to be. Even if you don’t care about your 4th Amendment rights (i.e., “who cares — I have nothing to hide”), it should concern you that the NSA is wasting its time and the time of other agencies with an explosion of useless leads to follow up.

What can I do?

  • Call your Senators. For citizens of Maryland, the phone numbers are
    • Senator Cardin: 202-224-4524
    • Senator Mikulski: 202-224-4654
  • Call Barack Obama’s presidential campaign: 866-675-2008. Unfortunately, Obama has said he would support the bill — despite pledging last fall to oppose any bill with telecom immunity.
  • Join online “Senator Obama – Please, No Telecom Immunity and Get FISA Right” groups at and facebook. (Both facebook and are easy to join if you haven’t already.) The “” group is already the largest group at the Obama web site.

What might I say in a phone call?

I’m a constituent and I urge you to oppose telecom immunity and the FISA Amendments Act. As a constituent, I am very troubled that during this patriotic holiday season, the Senate appears ready to toss civil liberties and the rule of law out the window, and so I urge you oppose telecom immunity with every vote that you have when the FISA bill comes to the Senate floor on Tuesday, July 8th:

Vote “YES” on the Dodd-Feingold amendment, which would strip telecom immunity from the bill entirely.

Vote “YES” on the Bingaman amendment, which would delay implementation of telecom immunity until after Congress has received the Inspectors General report on the president’s warrantless surveillance program.

Vote “NO” on the cloture motion to end debate on the FAA,

And finally, vote “NO” on the FISA Amendments Act, an unconstitutional and dangerous bill that would radically expand the president’s spying powers and immunize the companies that helped him break the law.

(Via Electronic Freedom Foundation)

Where can I learn more about this?

Thanks for visiting! Please join the fight.

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On the other hand: a changed system

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd February 2008

Scott Horton, writing in Harper’s Monthly, concludes a piece on the subversion of the Justice Department:

It is improbable that any contender who prevails in the 2008 presidential election will renounce the Bush model of a redefined presidency. A newcomer will likely differentiate his (or her) policies on a number of points, pulling back somewhat from positions (such as the presidential right to torture or wage pre-emptive war) that have drawn sharp criticism. But these changes will be introduced as a matter of presidential policy, not because the president is bowing to law defined by Congress or to constitutional constraints.

Our Constitution provides a mechanism for countering transformational excess, but the people’s representatives thus far appear to have decided that the impolite process of impeachment is only for presidents who have affairs. Given this failure of will, we must be prepared to accept a changed system in which the will of the people is subsumed by good manners and fearful politics. As long as this new democracy prevails, little will matter beyond the will of the president.

We are henceforward at the mercy of the noblesse oblige a given president brings to the job — and whether he or she is lucky. And that is not enough. Say both Obama and Clinton are constitutional paragons — the minute they are gone, the Department of Justice, the Office of Legal Counsel will revert to whoever the next president is. Will the laudable customs and habits a Barack Obama or a Hillary Clinton instill in their administrations survive them? No. Will they survive another September 11? No.

We once assumed that Congress would check the executive branch. We now know to our detriment that it will not; rather, representatives and senators mostly see themselves as an auxiliary support of the executive branch, or as a cabal contending for it in the future. By definition, no presidential candidate can repair this damage; no matter who wins the White House in November, I believe we must also work for the return of a true first branch of government, a militant Congress.

I voted against Representative Chris Van Hollen in the recent primary. I will vote against Senator Barbara Mikulski when or if that time comes. Both have failed to protect the Constitution and the rule of law from the depredations of this administration. I can only think that Representative Van Hollen reckoned his duties to party fundraising and chain of command higher than his duties to protect and defend the Constitution from the impeachable acts of this president and vice president. I can only think that Senator Mikulski believes that when a law like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is broken, we must change the law to suit the lawbreaker. Neither will have my support in the future.

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The really important news on what is now truly a Super Tuesday

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th February 2008

I may need to send Ron Paul a contribution. Some of his supporters have been saying John McCain is ineligible to be President because he was born in the Canal Zone, but while Article II of the Constitution seems to bear them out —“no person except a natural born Citizen… shall be eligible to the Office of President.” — it all depends on what ‘natural-born citizen’ means, doesn’t it, says the Washington Post’s Ron “Political Junkie” Rudin:

Some might define the term ‘natural-born citizen’ as one who was born on United States soil. But the First Congress, on March 26, 1790, approved an act that declared, ‘The children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond sea, or outside the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural-born citizens of the United States.’ That would seem to include McCain, whose parents were both citizens and whose father was a Navy officer stationed at the U.S. naval base in Panama at the time of John’s birth in 1936.

Well waddayaknow. Not clear if it takes both parents being U.S. citizens, so that may take a little bit of litigation… And then: Thomas in 2012! (Hear all the T’s? Alliteration. Plus I’ve already got my slogan: “Change I can believe in.”) I have, like, twenty friends on Facebook, so this should be a cinch.

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Help a Posner-fightin’ blogger out

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 31st January 2008

Dave Neiwert (“Orcinus”) is doing a bit of fundraising over at his blog, and you should head over and give him some of your hard-earned cash for… what? For nothin’.

Actually, not for nothing. Neiwert is an excellent writer, author, and journalist, who now contributes to the liberal/progressive supersite “firedoglake” as well. In a recent post there, “Repackaging Korematsu,” he picks up on Stephen Griffin‘s observation (at “Balkinization”) that a certain variety of legal mind is now trying to peddle the story that Korematsu v. United States — the Supreme Court ruling OK’ing the Japanese internments during World War II — was only a terrible decision in guilt-ridden, liberal, 20/20 hindsight. Among said peddlers, I’m not surprised to learn, is the “pragmatist” judge and frequent op-ed scribbler Richard Posner. Griffin:

Apparently making a comment about liberals today, Posner states: “Liberals detest Korematsu, but not because it allowed pragmatism to trump principle; rather because of suspicion of the military and a sense of shame about the history of the nation’s mistreatment of East Asians.”

And surely we can all agree that suspicion of the military and shame about mistreating East Asians are mere emotional outbursts, unworthy of such eminent and pragmatic folk as ourselves. But Griffin and Neiwert make the point that the internments weren’t just opposed in hindsight; Griffin writes that “[m]ost responsible lawyers with access to relevant information knew the internment was unjustified at the time.” Neiwert:

The problem, of course, is not that “pragmatism trumped principle” in the Korematsu ruling — it’s that hysteria trumped both pragmatism and principle, a hysteria fueled by unchecked military officials seeking to accrue new powers outside the purview of the courts. […]

Neiwert makes a couple of important points that extend and crystallize Griffin’s post. First, the argument helps “the Bush administration further open wide the hole in the Constitution (one, in fact, largely created by the internment episode) by wildly expanding executive-branch powers during wartime.”

The second and perhaps even more instructive point is that the “Korematsu — you had to be there” notion was also circulated by the eminent legal thinkers and noted online harpies Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin,* illustrating the principle that in the wingnut ecosphere, the worse the idea, the more often it is reconsumed and re-excreted.

Another “Balkinization” post by Eric Tamanaha once crystallized my own feeling that while Judge Posner might write elegantly, he was a worthless guide to human rights, civil liberties, and especially to how to safeguard them with the laws he’s supposed to judge by. According to Tamanaha, Posner once wrote:

The way I approach a case as a judge–maybe you think it heresy–is first to ask myself what would be a reasonable, sensible result, as a lay person would understand it, and then, having answered that question, to ask whether that result is blocked by clear constitutional or statutory text, governing precedent, or any other conventional limitation on judicial discretion. That is how I would proceed if asked to decide a case challenging the legality of the NSA surveillance program.

Perfect: start with the result you want, and work your way back to the legal flim-flammery you can employ to justify it. Those of us watching this kind of thing from home may often feel powerless to stop it. But with David Neiwert’s help, at least you know what’s going on and can observe the life cycle of a nasty little wingnut idea, from its birth as a judicious little sentiment in a $34.95 hardback by Judge Posner, to its final instar as degraded spewings by Coulter or Malkin.

So when you give Neiwert a nice donation, why, it’s almost like you’re personally kicking Posner or Malkin in the shins. Surely that’s worth a little something.

* See Muller vs. Malkin and Malkin v. Muller on this site. — It’s not clear Neiwert means to imply otherwise, but it seems to me Posner’s arguments preceded Malkin’s. Judging by the “Bush v. Gore” description in Griffin’s post, he seems to be citing Posner’s 2001 book “Breaking the Deadlock,” though the judge appears to have made a similar argument in a 2003 book “Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy”. Either way, Malkin — whose book was published in 2004 — is likelier to have picked up the general idea from Posner than the other way around.

UPDATE, 2/1: LOC photo added. — My post fails to mention that Mr. Neiwert has written a book about the Japanese internment, “Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community,” so I’m correcting that here.
UPDATE, 2/26: Kip Esquire (“A Stitch in Haste”) is another Posner-fightin’ blogger, e.g., More Posner Rantings Against Civil Liberties, 9/27/06.

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A walk to strengthen a weakening Constitution

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th January 2008

We the People
John Nirenberg talks with two supporters
next to a “We the People” banner signed by
impeachment supporters.
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew

John Nirenberg is a retired college professor from Vermont who began walking from Boston’s Faneuil Hall to Washington, D.C. on December 2 last year to demonstrate his support for the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney. In the first entry on his web site about the march — March In My Name — he explained:

I’ve decided that being outraged isn’t enough. Bush and Cheney have so perverted our system of government, I have to do more than just be angry. What can we do as citizens? As a former Social Studies and American History teacher I remember telling my students to get involved, to vote, to speak their minds. Today, unfortunately, that’s not enough. We voted for change a year ago and nothing has happened. Congress is controlled by the Democrats but instead of holding the administration accountable for its wanton disregard of the Constitution, gets scolded by Bush for inaction and is intimidated by Cheney! Yikes, what’s a citizen to do?

I have chosen to march for the impeachment of both Bush and Cheney for their many high crimes and misdemeanors including placing themselves above the law.

I joined several dozen other impeachment supporters in accompanying him on the last leg of his journey on Saturday morning at the National Arboretum. We chose a huge and seemingly abandoned parking place for the rendezvous with John and his support crew. Not abandoned enough, though — the cars had to be reparked elsewhere, we were told by Arboretum police (or rent-a-cops, not sure which to be honest). Fine, whatever.

Around quarter to 10 the initial group — about twenty of us — started walking west down New York Avenue, which (other than the Arboretum quickly left behind) is initially a fairly bleak urban panorama — gas stations, overpasses, Washington Times printing plant, cheap motels. But as it bends southwest it begins to descend into Washington proper. I stopped briefly to take in a nice view of the city and the Capitol building in the distance. The weather was fine; blue skies and a sunny day; it must have been a great sight indeed for John after his long walk south. Along the way, we got mostly honks of support and thumbs-up reactions, though on one occasion an angry fellow yelled out of his window… what was it… oh, yes: “You guys are the greatest for sticking up for our Constitution!” At least, that’s how I remember it now.

Cheney: “I’ve got my own branch, so
go f*** yerself.”
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew

We made for Union Station, where additional supporters rendezvoused with us around 11:30, among them AfterDowningStreet‘s David Swanson, with his wife and little boy (Wesley; not quite two; loves pigeons; cute as a button; smiles or wails enormously as warranted.) We were also joined by Deborah Vollmer, who is once again challenging Chris Van Hollen in the primary (February 12) for the Democratic candidate for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District. Ms. Vollmer is running a decidedly low-budget, shoestring type of campaign, but I hope her advocacy for impeachment and for a tougher Democratic stance on ending the Iraq War cuts into Mr. Van Hollen’s totals a month from now.

As we waited for others to join us, security personnel again approached. We had set down our signs, and assured the security people we were just passing through. But they preferred we do so sooner rather than later; with two new participants costumed as Bush and Cheney in prison stripes, we apparently seemed like an imminent threat to make a slow Saturday more interesting than they wanted it to be.

Union Station being private property, we made a kind of slow retreat across the Liberty Bell plaza in front of the station, with “Bush”, “Cheney,” and two Code Pink “policewomen” blowing whistles at them. Cheney was very good; he found a little branch of a bush and started waving it around, declaring “I’ve got my own branch now, so go f*** yerself.” Some concern was expressed about young Wesley’s exposure to such language, but he either didn’t hear or didn’t care, and survived.

Impeachment advocate, Capitol
in background
. Note the poncho.
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew

Our destination was the National Archives — home to original copies the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Archives (or NARA, National Archives and Records Administration) have spared no expense to protect the physical documents from decay; in 2003, the documents were enclosed in “new airtight containers made of aluminum, titanium, and glass that will be filled with argon gas.” But we quickly learned that while the Archives may be wizards at protecting the documents themselves, they’re not so good at protecting the values those documents are supposed to represent and protect.

We gathered on the right side of the staircase — next to an inscription intoning “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” — and were quickly met by NARA rent-a-cops. “You can’t have those signs here,” they said, meaning our local green “IMPEACH THEM” signs or the Vermonter’s yellow counterparts. “This is a place of business,” one of the security people explained. “Business!?” I reacted, only to be hushed (wisely) by fellow Takoma Park impeachment activist Lisa Moscatiello, who was trying to defuse the situation and negotiate some kind of compromise. But we eventually capitulated and crossed the street to march up and down the block for a short while holding our signs.

We gathered to listen to brief remarks by Nirenberg, Swanson, and Ray McGovern — an ex-CIA agent who has been a vocal war opponent and impeachment advocate. For his part, Nirenberg said that his walk was simply “Phase One” of his efforts, which will now turn to lobbying Congressmembers to take up impeachment hearings. John will meet with Rep. Wexler, who also wants impeachment hearings, and hopes to meet with Nancy Pelosi, who still wants them off the table. I confess I didn’t take notes about Swanson’s and McGovern’s remarks — I agreed with them, and noted that Swanson also thought the “place of business” comment was a strange view of the mission of the National Archives. Like much of the march, the remarks were videotaped by Michelle Bailey, and will soon be available for viewing on her web site (“Impeach Them!“). [UPDATE: see above]

And then it was over, or so it seemed. Having walked hundreds of miles to see them, John and others wanted to go in and have a look at the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. I stayed across the street with the signs and other paraphernalia of the march — bullhorn, satchels, whatnot. But inside, one last disappointing brush with our diminished United States of America was unfolding.

“To your right, the National Archives. The Archives
are charged with hermetically sealing off the
Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and
the Bill of Rights from the American people and
any complaints they might have about their
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew

As John’s wife Allyson reports at the March in My Name site, she was stopped and told she couldn’t enter wearing the yellow rain poncho with a protest slogan on it. The slogan — “Save the Constitution”!*

I tried to talk to the guard about my goal in being in the building – simply to see the Constitution of the United States. He wasn’t convinced and kept repeating his mantra, “Just take off the poncho and you can go in.” I asked him what was wrong with my poncho. He replied that they do not allow protests inside the building. I said that I was not protesting, that I was just an American citizen visiting the most important document of our country. […]

I asked for a copy of the policy that mandated I remove my objectionable clothing in order to see the Constitution. They would provide nothing… I asked them how the policy is practiced – that knowing how they interpret and implement the policy might help me understand the policy or law I was violating. They simply and finally said, “You will have to leave if you do not remove your garment.”

So she chose to leave.

And, as I was turning to leave, I told him he was part and parcel of the reason that I found it necessary to articulate my point of view to “Save the Constitution,” on my clothing. “You might want to read the Constitution before you leave work today to find out what this is all about.” I said as I left.

She told us outside, “I’m not going to take off a poncho with a political statement on it to go in and see the document giving me the right to keep it on.”

I’m almost as dissatisfied with myself as with the cops involved — for not being surprised or immediately outraged any more. In the scheme of things, it’s obviously not a major incident if someone doesn’t get to wear precisely what she wants to precisely where and when she wants to, and I don’t feel comfortable trying to make a cause celebre out of it compared to homelessness, the war in Iraq, or our broken, stupid health care system, to name but a few alternatives. Yet I should think someone or other in NARA ought to blush if they ever read this account or others like it. Either their rules or their personnel did a silly, stupid, bad thing on Saturday.

Viewed in retrospect, as dispassionately as I’m able to, we were repeatedly and unjustifiably put on the defensive throughout the day for peacefully, imaginatively, and determinedly doing nothing more than saying what we thought about a highly important political issue. Completely shrugging off these little slights is just conditioning for shrugging off the next bigger one. Meanwhile, I’m just waiting for someone to say “what if anyone just had whatever they wanted on their t-shirt, or baseball cap — then what?” Because my answer would be: “Then the Bill of Rights would be working as intended.”

John Nirenberg walked to the National Archives to help defend its most cherished contents: the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But by the time he got there, it was just a place of business, more concerned with “defending” them from him.

* The full text of the poncho reads: Save the Constitution — Impeach Bush/Cheney — Tell Speaker Pelosi (202) 225-0100 — Pretty inflammatory stuff!

NOTES: For a few more photographs of mine, go here; for a lot more, see Michelle’s slideshow; as mentioned above, she’ll also have video soon; check this post for updates.
UPDATE, 1/15: More discussion at my post about this at American Street; see also Avedon Carol (“The Sideshow”) and
UPDATE, 1/15: David Swanson (“”) writes: “[Fellow Nirenberg marcher] Suzanne Haviland reported that a guard told her, “The reason I’m stopping you is that you are wearing something that criticizes the President. I’m a federal employee, and I’m not allowed to criticize the President.” I remember hearing about this, too, but didn’t know who to attribute it to.
UPDATE, 1/16: Libby (“The Newshoggers”): Is this freedom?
EDIT, 1/16: Allyson, not Allison.

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2008 presidential candidates on executive power: an interactive, downloadable spreadsheet

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th December 2007

The spreadsheet below organizes the responses of twelve presidential candidates* to twelve questions about their views on executive power, in light of President Bush’s myriad abuses thereof. The questions were posed by the Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage; the Boston Globe web site with the questions and all the answers is here (“Candidates on executive power: a full spectrum,” Dec. 22).

I developed this so I could play around with grading the responses and see if I could find someone head and shoulders ahead or behind the rest of the pack. Rather than give the full answer to each question, I’ve excerpted the key part or summarized the answer; the full answer can be accessed via the candidate or question links. I graded on a fairly generous 0-4 scale, with answers I saw little or no problem with getting a 4, little problems getting a 3, and so on. I also gave -1’s to “declined to answer” or the like. The last two questions (about who advises the candidates, and whether they think all candidates should answer) struck me as less informative for my purposes, so I gave them lower weights in my results. The weighted average scores — 3.8 for Obama, 3.6 for Clinton in the image above — are the overall score to look at.

The upshot: I see much to welcome about the three top Democratic candidates — or at least expect of them — and little to make me think one or the other is definitely best on this score. Edwards spoke in more of a campaign soundbite format, Obama tended to give long answers. I was mildly surprised that I thought Biden (also prone to some very long answers) did the best overall of the Democrats, but again, the differences were slight. While I’m an Edwards supporter, his answers were sometimes not fully responsive to the question or my concerns for the future; thus, I didn’t reward him merely saying he didn’t “envision” disregarding a congressional statute limiting troop deployments. I’m not sure what happened to Kucinich and Gravel, but they’re missing from this survey, which seems a shame to me.

On the Republican side, I thought Ron Paul was far and away the best of the bunch, though he’d be merely in the middle of the Democratic pack given his answers to congressional limits on troop deployments, and making detainee habeas rights a matter of the specific war involved. McCain was, I thought, noticeably worse than any of the Democratic candidates — yet he’d be a huge improvement on Bush. Romney, on the other hand, distinguished himself by giving one disturbing answer after the other, perhaps most notably his answer to Question 7:

If Congress defines a specific interrogation technique as prohibited under all circumstances, does the president’s authority as commander in chief ever permit him to instruct his subordinates to employ that technique despite the statute?

ROMNEY: A President should decline …to provide an opinion as to whether Congress may validly limit his power as to the use of a particular technique…

… but also Question 10:

Is there any executive power the Bush administration has claimed or exercised that you think is unconstitutional? Anything you think is simply a bad idea?

ROMNEY: The Bush Administration has kept the American people safe since 9/11. The Administration’s strong view on executive power may well have contributed to that fact.

So given a chance to put some daylight, any daylight at all between himself and Bush, Romney chose not to. Elect this man at your peril, America.

But Giuliani, Thompson, and Huckabee, by contrast, distinguished themselves by not answering at all — something I can understand for one or the other question, but not for all of them. To me, the issue of overreaching executive power is one of the most fundamental and important issues of the past 7 years, and of this election; a candidate who refuses to inform the public about any of his positions doesn’t deserve anyone’s vote, and his voters are raising their hands that they’d like to live in a dictatorship.

But why take my word for it when you can download this spreadsheet and come to your own conclusions? I don’t see the stuff above as my final answer, for that matter; I could be convinced I’ve got the scores wrong for one set of questions or another, or for one candidate versus another.

Anyway, have a look. For a more convenient look at the spreadsheet itself, go here. To download it to your computer in a useable, interactive Excel form, click here.

* Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel either weren’t asked or didn’t respond in time — judging by how they’re not listed as “declined to state” for any of the questions.

UPDATE, 1/15: For other reactions to the questionnaire, see the estimable law professors Marty Lederman and Jack Balkin (”Balkinization”), as well as Andrew Sullivan, Arianna Huffington, Glenn Greenwald, and more.

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