Analysis too many officials think taking photos is a crime.
Here’s why they’re wrong.
By Glenn Harlan Reynolds 7.20.10.
Today, most people walk around with a camera of some sort in their possession. Point-and-shoots, DSLRs and tiny video cams--not to mention cellphones--have become ubiquitous. And yet it seems that in many public locations, security officials are touchier than ever about letting people actually use those cameras. Our guardians of public safety often have the idea that shooting pictures in public places might be a precursor to some sort of terrorism. It's an understandable concern, but misguided. I believe there is a good case to be made that having lots of cameras in the hands of citizens makes us more, rather than less, safe.
Here's how bad it has gotten: Not long ago, an Amtrak representative did an interview with local TV station Fox 5 in Washington, D.C.'s Union Station to explain that you don't need a permit to take pictures there--only to be approached by a security guard who ordered them to stop filming without a permit.
Legally, it's pretty much always okay to take photos in a public place as long as you're not physically interfering with traffic or police operations. As Bert Krages, an attorney who specializes in photography-related legal problems and wrote Legal Handbook for Photographers, says, "The general rule is that if something is in a public place, you're entitled to photograph it." What's more, though national-security laws are often invoked when quashing photographers, Krages explains that "the Patriot Act does not restrict photography; neither does the Homeland Security Act." But this doesn't stop people from interfering with photographers, even in settings that don't seem much like national-security zones.
Tennessee law student Morgan Manning has compiled a list of incidents in which individuals were wrongly stopped. Cases like that of Seattle photographer Bogdan Mohora, who was arrested for taking pictures of police arresting a man and had his camera confiscated. Or NASA employee Walter Miller, who was stopped for photographing an art exhibit near the Indianapolis City-County Building and told that "homeland security" forbade photos of the facility. More recently, a CBS news crew was turned back from shooting the oil-fouled gulf coastline by two U.S. Coast Guard officers who said they were enforcing "BP's rules."
Unfortunately, Manning notes, although such hassling is generally illegal, it's hard for the average citizen to get redress in court--how do you calculate the value of deleted snapshots or photos never taken in the first place?
As the examples above demonstrate, it's a problem that stems as much from cluelessness at the bottom of the chain of command as from heavy-handedness at the top. The officers who crack down on photographers no doubt believe they are protecting public safety. But evidence that photography might be useful to terrorists is slim. According to security expert Bruce Schneier, head of security technology for British Telecom, terrorists don't typically photograph targets in advance. "Look at the 9/11 attacks, the Moscow and London subway bombings, the Fort Hood shooting--no photos," he says. "I'm not seeing a whole lot of plots that hinge on photography." On his blog, Schneier advises: "If you're harassed, it's almost certainly a law enforcement official, public or private, acting way beyond his authority."
Not surprisingly, police tend to be particularly sensitive about being photographed themselves. And many of the cases cited by Manning involve officers discouraging citizens from filming them while they go about their duties. Though one can understand their skittishness, the fact is, our ability to document the actions of public officials is an important freedom, one that can serve as a check against abuses.
Police and prosecutors in Maryland have been taking a particularly hard line. In one case, motorcycle rider Anthony Graber left his helmet cam on while he was pulled over by a state trooper. A grand jury indicted him on several violations of the state's wiretapping laws. If convicted on all charges, Graber could face up to 16 years in prison. In alleging that the GoPro video camera on Graber's helmet constituted a "surreptitious" wiretapping device, prosecutors are making the claim that a person recording his own arrest is violating the police officer's right to privacy.
This is the sort of thing you might be tempted simply to toss in the crazy file. But, in fact, this is one of the comparatively few issues that could merit a new federal civil rights law. Under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, Congress is empowered to pass laws protecting civil rights against infringement by state and local officials, and that seems to be what's happening here. A clear federal law would limit cases, like Maryland's, in which local officials use their power to harass those who might keep an eye on them. Passing such a law would make us all safer.
Even in potential terrorism cases, the presence of lots of ordinary folks carrying cameras actually enhances public security. In the hours after the failed Times Square car-bomb attempt, officials searching for clues didn't just look at their own security-camera footage, they also sought out home movies shot by tourists.
So what should you do if you're taking photos and a security guard or police officer approaches you and tells you to stop? First, be polite. Security people have tough jobs and probably mean well. Ask them what legal authority they have to make you stop. (If you're in a public place, like a street, a park, etc., they have none; if you're in a private place, such as a shopping mall, they may have a basis for banning pictures.) Krages advises those hassled by security guards to threaten to call law enforcement. If it's an actual police officer who's telling you to stop shooting, ask to speak to a superior. And remember--you never have a legal duty to delete pictures you've taken.
More importantly, we need better education among security guards and law enforcement. In Britain, the country's police chiefs' association is attempting to educate officers about the rights of photographers. So far, nothing like that has happened in the U.S., but it should. Trying to block photography in public places is not only heavy-handed and wrong but, thanks to technology, basically useless. With the proliferation of cameras in just about every device we carry, digital photography has become too ubiquitous to stop. Let's have a truce in the war on photography and set our sights on the real bad guys. Who, it seems, don't carry cameras anyway.
Popular Mechanics contributing editor Glenn Harlan Reynolds, author of An Army of Davids (Nelson Current, 2006), teaches law at the University of Tennessee and blogs at Instapundit.
Marc 20 Anti Aer Protesters go to court - 3 Convictions and 3 Acquitals Mood:
bright Now Playing: Ant War March - Peace of the Action - John Gold, Cindy Sheehan, and Jim Veeder Topic: POLITICS
March 20 White House Arrest Trial Ends with 3 Convictions, 3 Acquittals
Monday, I spent a day in DC Superior Court supporting six anti-war activists on charges that arose from March 20 arrests at the White House while protesting the 7th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Elaine Brower and Matthis Chiroux were found guilty in a bench trial of "failure to obey a police order." LeFlora Cunningham-Walsh was found guilty of "crossing a police line." John Gold, Cindy Sheehan, and Jim Veeder were found not guilty of crossing the police line.
There are legal questions involved in the convictions which will likely be appealed. In the course of a permitted, peaceful march, at which symbolic cardboard coffins were left in front of buildings of the Veterans Affairs Offices and Halliburton, marchers dropped about a dozen of the coffins in front of the White House, in the designated "picture postcard" zone where tourists are always allowed, but political protest is not.
The prosecution produced a US Park Police video of the S.W.A.T. team leader Lieutenant Beck announcing, on a barely-audible bullhorn that the protest permit was revoked, and that everyone inside of an arbitrary police line of yellow tape and bike racks had to move. Police already had a continuous line of these bike racks and cops directly in front of the White House fence with plenty of safe space for them to "protect persons and property", that no one was attempting to challenge.
Where was the emergency or dangerous situation that the prosecution referred to which allegedly gave the park police the right to declare the "permit revoked?" Where was the threat to the area? Elaine Brower, who testified in her own defense, talked of years of opposition to the wars in which her son was deployed. She explained that she lay down on the sidewalk next to the symbolic coffins demanding an end to these illegitimate wars that have so adversely affected those military family members who stood beside her that day crying over the death of their sons. She argued that if tourists can be there at one moment taking photos unimpeded, why can't a permitted political protest be there at another?
Cindy Sheehan choked up on the stand, recounting her efforts after her son Casey was killed to stop the wars -- many miles of marching, thousands of speeches and interviews, her radio show, and even a run for Congress -- only to have a new, Democratic Congress and president expand the war in Afghanistan.
These activists all did the right thing in making visible non-violent protest, stepping beyond the bounds of what the government arbitrarily permits, and also refusing to accept any offer of a "plea bargain" in the process leading up to and on the day of the trial. All six defendants stood together in solidarity to demand their right to be heard and that all bogus charges are dismissed. Unfortunately, the end result was that three were ultimately convicted, and three were able to walk away with an acquittal.
That Saturday afternoon in March, Elaine and Matthis were calling on many more of the protesters standing there to join their impromptu action of lying on the sidewalk in front of the White House. If hundreds would have joined in, there likely would have been no arrests and no situation where the six arrested for basically a "traffic violation" were roughed up and held on cement floors in torturous conditions for 50+ hours. Given the max penalty for the infractions were fines, and no jail time, the government clearly was delivering a message that such protest will be riskier and more dangerous. None of them should have been convicted!
Dissent, truth-telling, and daring to speak about why these wars continue, through the Bush regime, escalating into the "change" we should be resisting, has to be our mission. While the Peace of the Action events attracted very few people last week, I applaud Cindy and those who came to protest. I also applaud those that were convicted who could have accepted the plea bargain from the government which ultimately allowed three others to have their charges dismissed.
The federal government is launching an expansive program dubbed "Perfect Citizen" to detect cyber assaults on private companies and government agencies running such critical infrastructure as the electricity grid and nuclear-power plants, according to people familiar with the program.
The surveillance by the National Security Agency, the government's chief eavesdropping agency, would rely on a set of sensors deployed in computer networks for critical infrastructure that would be triggered by unusual activity suggesting an impending cyber attack, though it wouldn't persistently monitor the whole system, these people said.
Defense contractor Raytheon Corp. recently won a classified contract for the initial phase of the surveillance effort valued at up to $100 million, said a person familiar with the project.
An NSA spokeswoman said the agency had no information to provide on the program. A Raytheon spokesman declined to comment.
Some industry and government officials familiar with the program see Perfect Citizen as an intrusion by the NSA into domestic affairs, while others say it is an important program to combat an emerging security threat that only the NSA is equipped to provide.
"The overall purpose of the [program] is our Government...feel[s] that they need to insure the Public Sector is doing all they can to secure Infrastructure critical to our National Security," said one internal Raytheon email, the text of which was seen by The Wall Street Journal. "Perfect Citizen is Big Brother."
A U.S. military official called the program long overdue and said any intrusion into privacy is no greater than what the public already endures from traffic cameras. It's a logical extension of the work federal agencies have done in the past to protect physical attacks on critical infrastructure that could sabotage the government or key parts of the country, the official said.
U.S. intelligence officials have grown increasingly alarmed about what they believe to be Chinese and Russian surveillance of computer systems that control the electric grid and other U.S. infrastructure. Officials are unable to describe the full scope of the problem, however, because they have had limited ability to pull together all the private data.
Perfect Citizen will look at large, typically older computer control systems that were often designed without Internet connectivity or security in mind. Many of those systems—which run everything from subway systems to air-traffic control networks—have since been linked to the Internet, making them more efficient but also exposing them to cyber attack.
The goal is to close the "big, glaring holes" in the U.S.'s understanding of the nature of the cyber threat against its infrastructure, said one industry specialist familiar with the program. "We don't have a dedicated way to understand the problem."
The information gathered by Perfect Citizen could also have applications beyond the critical infrastructure sector, officials said, serving as a data bank that would also help companies and agencies who call upon NSA for help with investigations of cyber attacks, as Google did when it sustained a major attack late last year.
The U.S. government has for more than a decade claimed a national-security interest in privately owned critical infrastructure that, if attacked, could cause significant damage to the government or the economy. Initially, it established relationships with utility companies so it could, for instance, request that a power company seal a manhole that provides access to a key power line for a government agency.
With the growth in concern about cyber attacks, these relationships began to extend into the electronic arena, and the only U.S. agency equipped to manage electronic assessments of critical-infrastructure vulnerabilities is the NSA, government and industry officials said.
The NSA years ago began a small-scale effort to address this problem code-named April Strawberry, the military official said. The program researched vulnerabilities in computer networks running critical infrastructure and sought ways to close security holes.
That led to initial work on Perfect Citizen, which was a piecemeal effort to forge relationships with some companies, particularly energy companies, whose infrastructure is widely used across the country.
The classified program is now being expanded with funding from the multibillion-dollar Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, which started at the end of the Bush administration and has been continued by the Obama administration, officials said. With that infusion of money, the NSA is now seeking to map out intrusions into critical infrastructure across the country.
Because the program is still in the early stages, much remains to be worked out, such as which computer control systems will be monitored and how the data will be collected. NSA would likely start with the systems that have the most important security implications if attacked, such as electric, nuclear, and air-traffic-control systems, they said.
TEL AVIV — An Israeli military investigation into its naval takeover of a Gaza-bound flotilla six weeks ago found that it was plagued by errors of planning, intelligence and coordination but that the killings of nine Turks on board were justified, according to an official summary of the findings released Monday.
Giora Eiland, a retired major general who led the inquiry, presented his classified findings to the military chief of staff; they were not released to the public. But a statement issued by the military said that the investigators faulted the military for not knowing who was on board one of the ships. A senior officer involved in the report said that at least 65 Turkish Islamic militants armed with metal sticks and knives were on the flotilla’s main ship, and had vowed to fight any effort by the Israeli Navy to board.
“The team concluded that not all possible intelligence gathering methods were fully implemented and that the coordination between Navy Intelligence and the Israel Defense Intelligence was insufficient,” the report’s official summary said. “The team also pointed out that the anticipated level of violence used against the forces was underestimated.”
The investigators praised the commandos who rappelled onto the main ship from helicopters, saying that they “operated properly, with professionalism, bravery and resourcefulness.” They called the use of live fire justified. No dismissals were publicly recommended, but officers said some demotions or dismissals might occur.
The military’s investigation, carried out by eight officers, did not deal with larger policy issues like the legality or appropriateness of Israel’s blockade against Gaza or its takeover of the six-boat flotilla in international waters on May 31. A second investigation, led by a retired Supreme Court justice and including two foreign observers, has just begun its work. Neither, however, seems likely to satisfy demands for a full international investigation by the Turkish government. Turkey has withdrawn its ambassador from Tel Aviv and threatened further steps unless Israel issues an apology and sets up an international inquiry.
On Monday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey stood by his country’s demands. “We will be a close follower of our expectations until the end,” he said during a visit to Belgrade, Serbia, according to the online edition of Zaman, a Turkish daily with close links to the government.
Everything that happened on board the Turkish flotilla six weeks ago remains a matter of controversy — who shot first, how aggressive the passengers were, how violent the commandos became, whether the action was justified in international waters. The cargo proved unquestionably humanitarian in nature — hospital beds, medicines, clothing — but the goal of the flotilla was to challenge Israel’s authority over what goes in and out of Gaza.
General Eiland, a former national security adviser, said in his briefing that more ships might try to breach Israel’s Gaza blockade and so lessons from what happened on the Turkish flotilla were important.
In fact, a Libyan vessel arrived in the area of Crete on Monday, with its crew saying it was scheduled to reach Gaza on Wednesday. Israeli officials have vowed to prevent it from getting through.
Israel created a blockade against Gaza, both by land and sea, three years ago, after Hamas, which had won elections the previous year, took full control of the Palestinian coastal strip. The goal of the blockade was to put pressure on Hamas, which rejects Israel’s existence and was firing crude rockets at its southern communities. Hamas has held an Israeli soldier captive in Gaza for four years. Israel has thousands of Palestinian prisoners in its jails and also set Hamas leaders and militants as targets.
The blockade, joined by Egypt, has suffocated the Gazan economy and barred people from coming and going except in medical emergencies, although food has always been let in. Following the takeover of the flotilla and the deaths on board, international pressure forced Israel to ease the land blockade.
Now the blockade is largely limited to the sea and to materials, like steel, that Israel fears could be turned into weapons by Hamas. There remains, however, intense international opprobrium because of the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and the sense that the policy has done little to weaken Hamas.
General Eiland’s report finds that there was at least one gun on board because an Israeli soldier took a bullet in the knee that was not from an Israeli weapon. It also contends that Israeli soldiers most likely fired only after having been fired upon first.
“All the shooting was either when the soldiers were in immediate danger of their lives or when they had to rescue fellow soldiers,” said a senior official involved in the investigation, speaking under military rules of anonymity. He added that there were between four and six events in which Israeli soldiers were fired upon with live fire by those on board.
Passengers aboard the flotilla have mostly told a very different story, with some witnesses accusing the commandos of shooting randomly as they came aboard.
Dan Bilefsky contributed reporting from Diyarbakir, Turkey.
Last week I was getting ready to head out to DC for Peace of the Action’s Sizzlin’ Summer Protest when I got a call with a 202 (DC) area code. This is how the conversation went:
Me: Hello, this is Cindy.
Caller: Hello, my name is (I forget) from PM Realty in Washington, DC.
Me: And? What can I do for you?
Caller: I was looking at your website and I noticed that I represent one of the clients you are going to protest next week and I want to know what you are planning.
Me: I am protesting a lot of places, which do you represent?
Caller: I represent the landlord?
Me: The landlord of the White House? Can you please be more specific?
Caller: I represent the landlord where General Atomics has offices.
Me: Oh (this was what I thought he was talking about), and what do you want to know?
Caller: Well, exactly what do you have planned?
Me: Well, I can tell you what we don’t have planned—we aren’t going to call a drone strike on the building and drop a hellfire missile on it.
Caller: I have to protect my clients.
Me: From what? Peace activists?
Then I hung up.
Today, my colleague, Josh Smith and I went to 1899 Pennsylvania Ave where General Atomics has its offices to recon for our protest tomorrow. If you go to the website of General Atomics, not only will you find out exactly where its offices are (they are not hiding), you will find out that General Atomics builds Predator unmanned aerial vehicles that are used by the US military to drop Hellfire missiles from thousands of feet above on to mostly civilian targets and have killed thousands of innocent people.
When we arrived at the building that is directly across the street from the World Bank in the NW quadrant of DC, we walked right in the front door and right up to the front desk (Josh was wearing his Peace of the Action shirt) and asked a uniformed security guard what floor GA is on. She looked at a list on the desk and said: “Third floor.” We thanked her and left. The reason we wanted to confirm that GA is in the building is because when we protested at the Joint Command for the Gulf Disaster in New Orleans, there was some controversy if we were protesting at the right place.
So, Josh and I left GA and walked across the street to the CVS to grab a cold drink. We walked back across the street to head for the Metro at Faragut Wast, and three men were congregated in front of 1899 Penn Ave checking us out. Two of the men were “suits” and one was a black man who was dressed in street clothes, but with a badge around his neck.
I took some pictures of the entrance and the address, and the black man quickly approached us. He said: “We want to know why you entered the building and asked what floor General Atomics was on.”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Security for General Atomics,” he answered.
Josh: “We asked because we wanted to know what floor it was on.”
Security: “Why do you want to know?”
Me: “It’s really none of your business.”
Josh: “Just stay away from us.”
Security: “Okay, okay.”
Then we walked away.
We cut through some buildings on the way to the Metro Station so I could find a bathroom. Josh and I went down to the train platform and were chatting about and chuckling about General Atomics being so concerned about a few people standing in front of their building with a banner, when Josh said: “Hey, isn’t that the security guy!?”
I turned around to where Josh was pointing, and sure enough, he was walking past us with a ball-cap on, carrying a backpack. When he saw that we recognized him, he sheepishly tipped his cap to us and said: “Hey, how’s it going?” Then he walked past us.
A train pulled up that wasn’t ours, so we jumped on it and tried to make our way back to where we were staying in a non-direct way.
So—what is this all about?
On Monday, my wallet was stolen and literally a few minutes after it was stolen, someone tried to use it at a DC Target Store to buy EXACTLY 911.00 worth of merchandise.
What are these evil “Jackwagons” up to?
What does Jackwagon mean? I don’t know, but I heard it today and liked it and without using profanity, it fits!
If you are able, join Peace of the Action as we protest an evil war profiteer in DC. (Safety in Numbers).
“Yes, and I am also aware that I am not violating it right now,” I answered.
That “stay-away” order was imposed on myself and five other people after we were arrested in front of the White House on the 7th anniversary of Shock and Awe this past March. I was just wondering if any of the law enforcement on duty even knew that I had a stay-away order--we were there only for about 5 minutes before I got my answer.
This nation is supposed to have been founded 234 years ago today on the principles of freedom. My son was supposedly killed in Iraq defending those freedoms, but if I crossed the imaginary line of oppression and suppression on the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue, I would have to go to jail for a mandatory sentence of six-months—and the police were fully aware of that fact. At one point, we had at least a half a dozen cops facing us and we only had about twice as many protesters.
This is a strange holiday anyway. We are supposed to honor the “founding” of a nation that was inhabited by millions of people at the time it was “discovered.”
The theme for our protest today was “Declare Your Independence from Oil” day and we passed out fliers to the tourists outlining the problem of this country’s addiction to petroleum and using our bullhorn to do chants like: “Drill, baby, drill; spill, baby, spill; kill, baby, kill.” I realize that this is a “holiday” and most people were coming to Lafayette Park as tourists, but it’s obvious that war, environmental devastation and economic oppression do not take holidays. People died today in the Middle East and Asia and millions of gallons of oil gushed out of the Oil-cano into the Gulf of Mexico as families clad in their Old Navy flag t-shirts started at us with anything from confusion to outright hostility.
It is really pathetic that even in the midst of a cataclysm of such an enormous magnitude, so many people seemed to be so unconcerned and apathetic. Many of us traveled thousands of miles to be here in DC to try and throw some light on the violence of this Empire and just a couple of dozen also showed up to be with us.
At one point, I had the bullhorn and I made an observation that the last time I was on the sidewalk next to the White House merely exercising my right to free speech and to peaceably assemble, I spent 52 hours in jail and two gentleman yelled: “Go back there.” Wow, in contrast to the couple that brought their two young sons to protest with us and “witness free speech in action,” wasn’t that a great message to send your children on the 4th of July—that it is “okay” to criminalize dissent?
About five hours after we arrived at the Park, a man on the street in front of the White House yelled that he “had a bomb.” The cops had the man (who had no shirt on and clearly had no bomb) in rapid custody and then they cleared the park in a very harsh way—even pushing a few people who had the nerve to ask why they had to move. I thought it was interesting that many of the families there from near and far, were shocked—shocked, I say—that they could be treated like common criminals, even though they hadn’t committed any crimes. We were barred from the park for over an hour, and many people who were angry at us for having a protest just minutes before, joined us—and we blocked 15th Avenue by H with a few of our newcomers. Some of them even promised to return tomorrow for our protest called: “Don’t Attack Iran you Effing Psychos.” (9am to 3pm in Lafayette Park).
One of my bullhorn chants today was: “We pledge resistance to the Empire.” I know I will be resisting, even if the crowds (that were as high as hundreds of thousands of people in 2005, to 24 today) dwindle down to just me.
If you are reading this and if you can make it to DC, please join us. We do live in a psychotic empire and the only thing that matters to the leaders and corporations is the bottom-line and the top dollar.
One last observation before I close—a highly fortified paddy wagon filled with heavily armed and armored robo-cops was parked across H St from our relocated protest.
One man went up to one of our comrades, pointed at the robo-cops and said: “those are REAL Americans.”
Now, doesn’t that just say a whole lot about our culture today? People who dissent from the status quo, like the “founders” of our country, are NOT real Americans, but those who are armed to the hilt and ready to crack some skulls open are Real Americans?
To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences. On this February day, as this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war.
Yet, this Chamber is, for the most part, silent -- ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.
We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events. Only on the editorial pages of our newspapers is there much substantive discussion of the prudence or imprudence of engaging in this particular war.
And this is no small conflagration we contemplate. This is no simple attempt to defang a villain. No. This coming battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world.
This nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time. The doctrine of preemption -- the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future -- is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self defense. It appears to be in contravention of international law and the UN Charter. And it is being tested at a time of world-wide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our -- or some other nation's -- hit list. High level Administration figures recently refused to take nuclear weapons off of the table when discussing a possible attack against Iraq. What could be more destabilizing and unwise than this type of uncertainty, particularly in a world where globalism has tied the vital economic and security interests of many nations so closely together? There are huge cracks emerging in our time-honored alliances, and U.S. intentions are suddenly subject to damaging worldwide speculation. Anti-Americanism based on mistrust, misinformation, suspicion, and alarming rhetoric from U.S. leaders is fracturing the once solid alliance against global terrorism which existed after September 11.
Here at home, people are warned of imminent terrorist attacks with little guidance as to when or where such attacks might occur. Family members are being called to active military duty, with no idea of the duration of their stay or what horrors they may face. Communities are being left with less than adequate police and fire protection. Other essential services are also short-staffed. The mood of the nation is grim. The economy is stumbling. Fuel prices are rising and may soon spike higher.
This Administration, now in power for a little over two years, must be judged on its record. I believe that that record is dismal.
In that scant two years, this Administration has squandered a large projected surplus of some $5.6 trillion over the next decade and taken us to projected deficits as far as the eye can see. This Administration's domestic policy has put many of our states in dire financial condition, under funding scores of essential programs for our people. This Administration has fostered policies which have slowed economic growth. This Administration has ignored urgent matters such as the crisis in health care for our elderly. This Administration has been slow to provide adequate funding for homeland security. This Administration has been reluctant to better protect our long and porous borders.
In foreign policy, this Administration has failed to find Osama bin Laden. In fact, just yesterday we heard from him again marshaling his forces and urging them to kill. This Administration has split traditional alliances, possibly crippling, for all time, International order-keeping entities like the United Nations and NATO. This Administration has called into question the traditional worldwide perception of the United States as well-intentioned, peacekeeper. This Administration has turned the patient art of diplomacy into threats, labeling, and name calling of the sort that reflects quite poorly on the intelligence and sensitivity of our leaders, and which will have consequences for years to come.
Calling heads of state pygmies, labeling whole countries as evil, denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant -- these types of crude insensitivities can do our great nation no good. We may have massive military might, but we cannot fight a global war on terrorism alone. We need the cooperation and friendship of our time-honored allies as well as the newer found friends whom we can attract with our wealth. Our awesome military machine will do us little good if we suffer another devastating attack on our homeland which severely damages our economy. Our military manpower is already stretched thin and we will need the augmenting support of those nations who can supply troop strength, not just sign letters cheering us on.
The war in Afghanistan has cost us $37 billion so far, yet there is evidence that terrorism may already be starting to regain its hold in that region. We have not found bin Laden, and unless we secure the peace in Afghanistan, the dark dens of terrorism may yet again flourish in that remote and devastated land.
Pakistan as well is at risk of destabilizing forces. This Administration has not finished the first war against terrorism and yet it is eager to embark on another conflict with perils much greater than those in Afghanistan. Is our attention span that short? Have we not learned that after winning the war one must always secure the peace?
And yet we hear little about the aftermath of war in Iraq. In the absence of plans, speculation abroad is rife. Will we seize Iraq's oil fields, becoming an occupying power which controls the price and supply of that nation's oil for the foreseeable future? To whom do we propose to hand the reigns of power after Saddam Hussein?
Will our war inflame the Muslim world resulting in devastating attacks on Israel? Will Israel retaliate with its own nuclear arsenal? Will the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian governments be toppled by radicals, bolstered by Iran which has much closer ties to terrorism than Iraq?
Could a disruption of the world's oil supply lead to a world-wide recession? Has our senselessly bellicose language and our callous disregard of the interests and opinions of other nations increased the global race to join the nuclear club and made proliferation an even more lucrative practice for nations which need the income?
In only the space of two short years this reckless and arrogant Administration has initiated policies which may reap disastrous consequences for years.
One can understand the anger and shock of any President after the savage attacks of September 11. One can appreciate the frustration of having only a shadow to chase and an amorphous, fleeting enemy on which it is nearly impossible to exact retribution.
But to turn one's frustration and anger into the kind of extremely destabilizing and dangerous foreign policy debacle that the world is currently witnessing is inexcusable from any Administration charged with the awesome power and responsibility of guiding the destiny of the greatest superpower on the planet. Frankly many of the pronouncements made by this Administration are outrageous. There is no other word.
Yet this chamber is hauntingly silent. On what is possibly the eve of horrific infliction of death and destruction on the population of the nation of Iraq -- a population, I might add, of which over 50% is under age 15 -- this chamber is silent. On what is possibly only days before we send thousands of our own citizens to face unimagined horrors of chemical and biological warfare -- this chamber is silent. On the eve of what could possibly be a vicious terrorist attack in retaliation for our attack on Iraq, it is business as usual in the United States Senate.
We are truly "sleepwalking through history." In my heart of hearts I pray that this great nation and its good and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings.
To engage in war is always to pick a wild card. And war must always be a last resort, not a first choice. I truly must question the judgment of any President who can say that a massive unprovoked military attack on a nation which is over 50% children is "in the highest moral traditions of our country". This war is not necessary at this time. Pressure appears to be having a good result in Iraq. Our mistake was to put ourselves in a corner so quickly. Our challenge is to now find a graceful way out of a box of our own making. Perhaps there is still a way if we allow more time.
Neither thugs nor criminals lurk behind the masks of black bloc protesters, a renowned police psychologist suggests.
Rather, what Mike Webster sees are “very thoughtful people”, an assessment that former Vancouver police inspector Dave Jones strongly disagrees with, likening them instead to thrill seekers.
“The vast majority of people in that crowd are not bad people,” Webster told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview, referring to the black-clad activists who smashed windows and torched police cars in downtown Toronto on June 26 during a protest against the G8 and G20 summits. “They’ve got the same kind of values that most of the rest of us have. If they didn’t, they’d be in jail, locked up in jail for murder.”
A B.C.–based crisis-management expert who has consulted with the RCMP, the FBI, and many other police forces inside and outside of Canada, Webster went as far as arguing that black bloc activists aren’t much different from “well-socialized young individuals” who go off to fight a war believing it’s an honourable thing to do.
Webster’s more than 30 years of experience includes serving as a consultant with law-enforcement agencies during high-profile events like the Waco, Texas, showdown in 1993, the 1995 standoff with First Nations people at Gustafsen Lake, and the 2002 G8 summit in Kananaskis, Alberta.
Webster said that one of the most important things to remember about crowd psychology is that most human beings develop a set of values that is generally consistent with that of the larger society.
However, he maintained that these morals “don’t run automatically all the time”, and that “human beings have mechanisms of moral disengagement that they use to turn off their morals and their ethics in certain situations.”
The psychologist suggested this isn’t different from soldiers going into combat. “If I can find a moral justification for my behaviour now, I can turn something that was previously illegal into something that is honourable,” he said. “The military does this all the time. They take well-socialized young individuals, take them to war, and they can kill the enemy with very little compunction.”
Referring to the thinking of protesters who engage in black bloc tactics, Webster said, “What they’ve done is they’ve instilled a moral justification. ‘What I’m doing is no longer bad. It’s good and I do this under a moral imperative now.’ So there’s one thing that I’m sure was going on in some of those heads.”
Another thing that goes on in the minds of these activists is what Webster describes as “attribution”.
“I say you made me do it,” Webster explained. “I’ve got a legitimate complaint here. There’s a segment of our society that’s being shortchanged in such and such a manner. And nobody’s willing to pay attention to them. So you’re making me do this.”
The phenomenon of “behavioural contagion” also rises when people gather in crowds, he said. According to him, this increases the potential for people to engage in acts they wouldn’t normally carry out, such as breaking store windows in the case of the black bloc rioters or stealing during mass lootings.
“We de-individuate,” Webster said. “That is, we have a lowered self-awareness. We get lost in this crowd, all this noise, all this activity, all this yelling, all this smoke, all this adrenaline, all this danger. We kind of lose our self-identity.”
A retired 30-year veteran of the Vancouver Police Department, Jones has his share of crowd-control experience. In 1998, he was the commanding officer of the antiriot squad that clashed with activists protesting the actions of then-prime minister Jean Chrétien in what became known as the “Riot at the Hyatt”.
For Jones, Black Bloc protesters are people who do “dirty work” for fun on behalf of their “more sophisticated” leaders.
“I think what’s going on is that there’s a lot of people now that treat these events as destination adventure holidays,” Jones told the Straight in a phone interview.
But he noted that events like the June 26 Black Bloc rampage in Toronto, the 1999 Battle of Seattle during a World Trade Organization conference, and the 2001 protests at the third Summit of the Americas in Quebec City raise a dilemma for governments.
“Do you simply say, ‘Okay, we surrender. We can’t have these things in major cities because of what are essentially a couple of hundred people’?” Jones asked. “Or do you say, ‘We’ll just go ahead.’?”
Jones said he has heard many people suggest holding conferences like that of the G20 leaders onboard aircraft carriers. He prefers out-of-the-way locations like Kananaskis. Regarding the latter location, Jones noted that security costs for the 2002 G8 summit were between $500 million and $1 billion, the larger figure being about the same amount spent on security in Toronto.
“It doesn’t matter where you do it or how,” Jones said. “There’s going to be security costs.”
Your 'umble observer.Saturday June 26th, the anti-G20 demonstration in Toronto was planned to start at 1 pm. I had been uncertain as to whether to go; originally a group of Tikkun Toronto veterans had planned an alternative demonstration, focussed around the slogan, “Open your heart to what matters more.” But the unexpected death of the brother of one core member, and difficulties around getting permission, and the predictions of violence and anarchy that the media had been purveying had reduced our enthusiasm below the critical mass we needed to make it happen. Perhaps, I thought, I don’t need to go. But the MSM descriptions of protesters against the G20 as “thugs and anarchists”, the spending of $1.2 billion on the summit, the revelation of new powers to arrest and detain that the police had been secretly given all made me feel that my right to peacefully gather with my peers was worth coming out to defend. As governments try to balance their budgets on the backs of the poor, lowering taxes on corporations and offering billions to financial institutions that have become too big to fail, surely someone should speak up. And if not me, then who? I created a “My Canada WAS a free country” t-shirt, and went down to the rally, humming the Rolling Stones’ “I went down to the demonstration, to get my fair share of abuse”.The Black Bloc at the G20 demo in TorontoIn front of Queen’s Park, the Ontario provincial legislature, there were about 25,000 people gathered. While waiting for the speeches, they chanted,”The people united, will never be defeated.” After years of hearing this, I couldn’t help but think that I wasn’t sure I still believed this. But as I wandered around, looking for all the friends and fellow travellers I knew were also there, I realized that it wasn’t really relevant, because while these people may have been many things, they weren’t united. Among the groups were the Ontario Federation of Labour (the organizers), CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees), assorted teachers’ unions, the Black Bloc, the Iranian and Iraqi communist parties (marching together!) , independent Kashmir, independent Khalistan, independent Palestine, independent Quebec, the Animal Liberation Front, the American Tea Party, “9/11 Was An Inside Job”, a lot of Trotskyist-Socialist-Marxist groups all selling newspapers, Greenpeace, an anti child-abuse group (are the G20 pro child-abuse?), a person with a sign protesting the mind-rays she claimed the government was using to control what people think, and the Judean People’s Front. (OK, I’m lying about them). But whatever this crowd might have been called, it wasn’t united. I wandered over to the OSSTF (my old school union) and met some long-time friends and fellow travellers, and we waited for the march to start. The speeches were pleasingly short, and largely inaudible, and then we were off on the predefined route. As the crowd headed down University avenue, I passed two women wearing hijabs, one of whom looked at my shirt, grimaced, and said, “My Canada used to be free, too.” I answered, “Maybe together we can get it back again,” and we all smiled at each other. The heavy weaponry on displayAs we walked along, the rain stopped, the umbrellas got put away, and the energy was good. There were a few differences from the usual demonstrations: the range of different issues, the Black Bloc who covered themselves up in hoodies and balaclavas, and were very unhappy when anyone took their pictures (above–more of my pictures of the demo are here). But the biggest difference was the massive police presence, with phalanxes of heavy weaponry closing us into the approved route. I’ve never seen that in Toronto – no one has – and as we marched past closed and boarded stores on Queen Street, the city felt less and less like the friendly place I’ve lived for 40 years. On Queen Street, the serpentine line of protestors with whom I was walking suddenly stopped, and no one knew why. We were at the point in the march where the Black Bloc had announced they were planning to leave the main group and head down to the fences and barricades that separated the G20 convention from us, and I was thinking about that. When I passed someone lying on the street, bleeding from an injury to his face and surrounded by people calling for medics, my spider-sense started tingling, and I ducked up some side-streets, coming out on Spadina where the demonstrators ahead of me should have been. No one was there: I could see the tail about a half mile north of me, and a big chaotic group milling about south of me, and I suddenly thought it was time to leave.That was when I learned that the streetcars and subway had been closed down, so I walked until 40 minutes later I managed to board a rogue streetcar whose driver had been told to go out to High Park, way off in the West, and hide in the bushes till it was safe to come out. He was picking up people as he went, not charging anything, and telling people waiting on the other side of the very strange and meandering route he took that there was no point to waiting. His route passed a block away from where I live, so (by then we were good friends) I thanked him and got home in time to take my dog for a walk and watch Ghana end US world cup media hegemony.By the time that was over the media was telling a non-stop litany about the three burnt police cars, the smashed windows, and that became the story of what had happened, on the web, on the radio, and world wide. At first I was appalled at the 25,000 protesters having the rally hijacked by the – at most – one percent of the protesters who were in the Black Bloc. But I wondered what the Bloc would have done if the police hadn’t been there? How far would they have gone? It seemed curious; I went on the protest because I was appalled at the police build up, and after seeing the anarchists, I was hugely more sympathetic to the need for police.But now, three days later, another side of the story has emerged. It turns out that the police cars were specially left out as bait for the anarchists. Some people have questioned whether the leaders who smashed windows were in fact police in a false flag operation, as has happened before in Canada. Was the police decision not to do anything while their cars were burnt, and store windows were smashed partially influenced by a desire to show how necessary their increased laws and weaponry was? It seems strange that with well over 5000 police on duty, and fewer than 100 Black Bloc members, there was no attempt to intervene.Certainly some of the police actions the next day, Sunday, were clearly excessive, with over 1000 people arrested, many of whom had been protesting peacefully and were released the next day. And when the dust had settled, no one had been injured, there had been very little theft, and the total damage was largely to the front windows of international corporations, and to those three police cars. That’s far less than has happened in both Montreal and Vancouver in the past decade when their hockey teams won rounds in the playoffs. (And that never happens in Toronto, because our hockey team never even makes it into the playoffs. I’m not going to talk about that.)
Those who use violence to enforce their will on others are my enemies, whether the shiny boots they wear are police issue, Black Bloc mufti, or both. It was worth going to emphasize that when the police chief says, as he did today, that the police were the only ones obeying the laws he’s lying: there were thousands of us who were law-abiding protestors. I’ve joined the Canadian Civil Liberties Union call for an external investigation, to clarify what really happened, and who was really doing it. And I’m more convinced than ever that the rest of us need to speak out, need to protest, need to form alliances. A bit more unity, and we’ll have a bit more of a chance against the boot boys. Without it, nada.