Dammit, Democrats!

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The Fourth Amendment

Democrats have their Munsingwear all in a knot about Donald Trump’s authoritarian playbook — his attacks on a free press, directing Jeff Sessions to act as his personal lawyer, the firing of Jonathan Comey, and the possibility he may do the same with Robert Mueller.

But recently, when it came time to walk the walk for Democracy instead of just talk the talk, it turned out that Democrats were mostly talk. Sixty-five Democratic U.S. Representatives and twenty-one Democratic Senators handed Trump and the Republican Party an easy victory by extending warrantless spying on Americans. It was a needless and spineless capitulation by Democratic Party centrists, but it was also nothing new from a party that traditionally votes like Republicans on military and security issues. Dammit, Democrats!

Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act extends and expands the ability of spy agencies to monitor your digital communications without a warrant. With Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelation, the public now knows that Section 702 has been used illegally. Millions of communications are vacuumed up and stored annually. The hundreds of thousands of foreign targets have never been approved individually by a court but are essentially retroactive dragnets that frequently involve wiretapping American citizens. This could have been fixed because even Tea Party Republicans wanted the change.

But on January 11th sixty-five House Democrats — including Massachusetts stealth Republicans Bill Keating and Seth Moulton — voted “Yea” on the bill. They were the “usual suspects”: Aguilar (CA), Bera (CA), Bishop (GA), Blunt Rochester (DE), Boyle (PA), Brown (MD), Brownley (CA), Bustos (IL), Carson (IN), Cartwright (PA), Castor (FL), Clyburn (SC), Cooper (TN), Costa (CA), Crist (FL), Cuellar (TX), Delaney (MD), Demings (FL), Deutch (FL), Foster (IL), Frankel (FL), Garamendi (CA), Gottheimer (NJ), Grisham (NM), Higgins (NY), Himes (CT), Hoyer (MD), Keating (MA), Krishnamoorthi (IL), Kuster (NH), Langevin (RI), Lawson (FL), Lipinski (IL), Loebsack (IA), Lowey (NY), Maloney (NY), McEachin (VA), Meeks (NY), Moulton (MA), Murphy (FL), Norcross (NJ), O’Halleran (AZ), Panetta (CA), Pelosi (CA), Perlmutter (CO), Peters (CA), Peterson (MN), Quigley (IL), Rice (NY), Rosen (NV), Ruiz (CA), Ruppersberger (MD), Schiff (CA), Schneider (IL), Scott (GA), Sewell (AL), Sinema (AZ), Sires (NJ), Slaughter (NY), Suozzi (NY), Swalwell (CA), Thompson (CA), Torres (CA), Veasey (TX), and Wasserman-Schultz (FL).

On January 18th twenty-one Senate Democrats voted “Yea” on the Senate version: Carper (DE), Casey (PA), Cortez Masto (NV), Donnelly (IN), Duckworth (IL), Feinstein (CA), Hassan (NH), Heitkamp (ND), Jones (AL), Kaine (VA), Klobuchar (MN), Manchin (WV), McCaskill (MO), Nelson (FL), Peters (MI), Reed (RI), Schumer (NY), Shaheen (NH), Stabenow (MI), Warner (VA), and Whitehouse (RI).

Both members of the Democratic leadership and the former head of the Democratic Party all approved the blanket surveillance. And New Guy Doug Jones. No doubt it’s a good thing the new Alabama Senator is on the job instead of an alleged pedophile. But Jones, who was supported by Democrats of all flavors — I even sent him $50 — just voted away the privacy of 330 million Americans in one of his first official acts. This was not exactly what I was hoping for.

So, while the president bribes porn stars and deals with Russian mafiosi, re-tweets fascists and spits out racist invective, we’re ignoring Congressional and Senate abuses by both parties — one of the worst the dismantling of our democracy.

When I was a boy one of the great crimes of the Soviet Union and Germany of then-recent memory was the practice of arbitrary stops and requiring the papers of citizens: “Papiere!” some thug would demand. Nothing like that could ever happen in the USA — or so we thought. But with the so-called “border exception” to the Fourth Amendment — sometimes known as the Constitution-free zone — The U.S. has snuggled up closer to authoritarian rule. Citizens in Arizona are now accustomed to being stopped by border agents demanding: “Papiere!” But now “Papiere!” has come to New England.

If some day you happen to be driving up to New Hampshire you just might run into the Customs and Border Protection service. Last Fall the New Hampshire Union Leader reported roadblocks on I-93 near Thornton, during which travelers were stopped, asked about their citizenship, and sometimes hauled off to unknown detention centers. In addition, drug-sniffing dogs netted arrests for marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs. All without a warrant.

Likewise, the growing practice of demanding access to a traveler’s computer equipment is also a new feature of our gradual abandonment of the Fourth Amendment. The CATO Institute notes: “thanks to the ‘border exception’ to the Fourth Amendment, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers do not need reasonable suspicion or probable cause to search electronic devices at airports.” The Customs and Border Protection service reports that last year over 30,000 travelers had to fork over laptops, tablets, cellphones, and the passwords to everything in them. As the same statistics show, this practice was in full swing during the Obama administration.

At a time of daily revelations of corruption, incompetence and venality by a sitting president, the bar is admittedly pretty low for the rest of the political establishment. But it’s still worth prodding them to live up to expectations. I’m going to call both my U.S. Senators and thank them for opposing the FISA extension.

And then I’m going to have a long, loud conversation with one of Bill Keating’s staffers.

Class Warfare

Republicans laughing at the "little people"

With the help of more than 6,000 lobbyists the 1% of the 1% — America’s super-rich — managed to ram through a new tax code in the U.S. Congress designed entirely for themselves. Here in the Commonwealth similar looters are unhappy the “little people” have been fighting back.

The RaiseUp Coalition — a broad coalition of workers and social justice groups in Massachusetts — succeeded in getting the so-called “Millionaire’s Tax” on the 2018 state ballot. It took thousands of hours of ordinary people standing in the freezing cold or drizzle, and being chased from supermarket parking lots, to gather the signatures. Now, however, the richest of the rich are trying to have the ballot initiative blocked — by taking away our right to vote on it.

A complaint before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court claims Attorney General Maura Healey and State Secretary William Galvin overstepped their authority by permitting what is essentially a progressive income tax to be added to the ballot.

Healy and Galvin are being sued by Christopher Anderson, Westford, President of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, Inc. (“MHTC”); Christopher Carlozzi, Malden, State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business (“NFIB”); Richard C. Lord, Peabody, President and Chief Executive Officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (“AIM”); Eileen McAnneny, Melrose, President of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (“Foundation”); and Daniel O’Connell, Boston, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership (“MACP”).

When these lobbying groups were pocketing massive tax breaks not one of them one was screaming “Class Warfare!” But now when called upon to pay their fair share, well, things are quite different. Fourteen members of the Mass High Tech Council alone have managed to extort $144.7 million in tax breaks from the state — and the $150 million in salaries of the executives who run these companies were paid for almost entirely by taxpayers. Nevertheless, taxpayer largesse was never enough for these parasites.

If you are a voter, please sign the RaiseUp petition to demand that the tax initiative stays on the ballot.

And if you are a legislator — just pass the Millionaire’s Tax! If the people’s house were really doing the people’s work we wouldn’t need ballot initiatives like this.

Resistance to 287(g)

Three neighboring counties in the bottom right quadrant of the Commonwealth have Republican sheriffs in otherwise Democratic districts. It could have something to do with demographics — or maybe just neglect and Boston-centric politics. But it is surely a sign that not all is well with a party that habitually runs weak sheriff candidates — or none at all.

Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings recently joined fellow Republicans, Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson and Plymouth County Sheriff Joe McDonald, in signing a 287(g) agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Under such agreements ICE permits prison officials to volunteer as federal immigration agents. The Trump administration, which strongly promotes the program, sees 287(g) as a tool in its larger mass-deportation strategy. And the Republican sheriffs know it. “The president said our role is probably the most critical because we know the players in our communities and we know how to find them,” Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson said.

You wouldn’t know it from Hodgson’s many statements on right-wing talk radio, but 287(g) is not very popular — by any stretch of the imagination. At present ICE has agreements in only 18 states, and with only 60 law enforcement agencies. Massachusetts joins Arizona, California, Nevada, New Jersey, and Ohio — and the entire South — as participants. Now generally limited to a “jails” model because of previous abuses in the older “task force” and “hybrid” models, 287(g) agreements have a long history of civil rights abuses. For instance, in 2011 Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s agreement with ICE was terminated for civil rights abuses.

These ICE agreements impose costs of running a federal law enforcement program on state government and redeploy state corrections employees as federal agents. Sheriffs who enter into the agreements do so out of personal politics — not as part of their job description. And many local police forces find 287(g) programs undermine community trust.

According to the American Immigration Council, ICE agreements with local sheriffs are not properly supervised by ICE. Both the Boston Globe and the New York Times have featured articles on the lack of local accountability for county sheriffs — sheriffs who often operate as spokesmen for the Trump administration and anti-immigrant groups like FAIR and CIS. Understandably, there is growing resistance to 287(g) programs and a desire to slap some limits on them. And a lot is happening recently.

On January 3rd the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates voted 9-5 to support a resolution opposing the 287(g) program in Barnstable County. Because of weighted voting, however, the resolution failed.

On January 8th at 7PM at the Falmouth Public Library county residents will have a chance to discuss 287(g) agreements and learn about the Safe Communities Act — state legislation which puts some limits on a sheriff’s discretionary powers regarding ICE.

And at the Bristol County prison on January 11th at 6PM county residents will have a similar opportunity to express concerns about the 287(g) program — see http://www.bcso-ma.us/ for details of the public hearing. And do your homework if you plan on attending.