Monday, May 28, 2012

MD DEMOCRATS ON WAR: Dutch Ruppersberger on Drones, Takoma Park Civil Liberties, MoCo War Resolution & More

A True Memorial Day Message // Honor our Veterans with Good Policymaking

While most of Maryland's Democratic politicians will spend this Memorial Day purporting to honor veterans of America's foreign adventures, Maryland Juice prefers to highlight the areas where our elected officials can improve their voting records. After all, the best way to honor the members of our military is simply by not sending them on pointless, dangerous and expensive missions. Moreover, we should not ask Americans to continue giving up the lifestyle we claim to protect (ie: freedom, liberty and the "American way") in the name of amorphous and unquantifiable threats to our safety. Below, we highlight a few recent policy debates regarding war & peace, civil liberties & defense spending.

Maryland Juice would like to point out that time and again, it seems that Democratic Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger seems to love voluntary military spending, and he enjoys trampling on our civil liberties. But he does so in the name of America and our veterans, so it's all good. HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY!

JUICE #1: TAKOMA PARK PASSES RESOLUTION CONDEMNING INDEFINITE DETENTION OF CITIZENS WITHOUT TRAIL - Civil liberties advocates on both the right and the left have spent many months trying to fight a new assertion from the U.S. government, that it has the right to detain Americans indefinitely and without trial -- even if they are apprehended in the United States. But one of the pillars of the rule of law in America and an obvious check on potential abuse of power is the right of habeas corpus. Simply put, the idea is that the government can't arbitrarily jail people without giving them their day in court. Wikipedia explains habeas corpus as follows:
WIKIPEDIA: Habeas corpus ... is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention, that is, detention lacking sufficient cause or evidence. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to their aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system to assist wealthy landowners, but it is now available in many nations. It has historically been an important legal instrument safeguarding individual freedom of certain individuals against arbitrary state action. It is a writ requiring a person to be brought before a judge.
DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER JOINS REPUBLICAN BETRAYAL OF LIBERTY: The right of habeas corpus, however, has been gutted by Congress, under various provisions in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This result is a hangover from the Bush-Cheney-Ashcroft-era assault on civil liberties, since policymakers continue to be terrified when the amorphous bogeyman of "terrorism" is invoked by Republicans. Recently, Congress had the opportunity to undo the indefinite detention problem in the NDAA, but the repeal effort fell short. Six of Maryland's U.S. House members voted to solve the problem, but Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger joined with Tea Partier Andy Harris to uphold the government's right to jail Americans without trial, forever.

TAKOMA PARK SPEAKS OUT: The inexcusable voting behavior from some members of Maryland's Congressional delegation led Takoma Park advocates to push the City Council to condemn the NDAA's indefinite detention provisions. Last week, in a 5-2 vote, the City Council passed a resolution calling on Congress to end the practice. The 10th Amendment Center blog reported (excerpt below):
10TH AMENDMENT CENTER: Last night, May 21, 2012, the Takoma Park City Council voted 5 to 2 in favor of a resolution that condemns the controversial “indefinite detention” provisions of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). These provisions allow indefinite military detention – without charge or trial — of anyone, including a citizen of the United States, who merely has been accused of supporting an alleged terrorist group.

The Takoma Park resolution against indefinite detention passed following a citizen’s campaign led by the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC). “The Takoma Park City Council tonight stood up for its residents and the rule of law, and sent a strong message to Congress that they should clean up the mess they created,” said Thomas Nephew of the MCCRC, “The indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA are unconstitutional and threaten our rights to due process and the ability to confront our accusers.”

In testimony before the City Council last night, Jim Kuhn, also a member of the MCCRC noted that “a local vote tonight comes at a very opportune moment in the national debate.” Congress began debate last week on the 2013 NDAA, but the House of Representatives rejected an amendment that would have overturned the indefinite detention/no trial provisions (Representatives Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards who represent Takoma Park voted for the amendment). Instead, the House passed an amendment that further narrowed the Constitutional rights of citizens and non-citizens alike. The NDAA now moves to the Senate.

The members of the MCCRC plan to bring the Takoma Park resolution to the attention of Senators Cardin and Mikulski. “We expect our Senators to honor the Constitution and work to include language in the 2013 NDAA that will ensure that no president or government official will ever be able to order the military to put people in the United States into indefinite detention without charge or trial,” said Mr. Nephew....

ARE LOCAL GOVERNMENT RESOLUTIONS AN APPROPRIATE RESPONSE? - Many Democrats and Republicans alike are quick to condemn symbolic local resolutions on federal and global issues. In most instances, Maryland Juice is inclined to agree that symbolic local government resolutions can be odd uses of finite time and resources. But, when dealing with such persistent problems and the seeming neglect of these issues from our Congressional delegation, I am now very sympathetic to the cause. Finding unique ways of drawing attention to issues is especially critical when Maryland's U.S. House members seem to be unaware or disdainful of citizen sentiment on these issues. We recently noted, for example, that last week six out of eight members of our Congressional delegation voted to continue the war in Afghanistan.

MOCO ANTI-WAR RESOLUTION REDUX - In an even worse example, last year the Montgomery County Council tried to pass a resolution calling on our Congressional delegation to support a reduction in defense spending, in favor of preserving government services. Again, I would normally regard a symbolic resolution like that as neither here-nor-there in the grand scheme of policy -- but amazingly, defense contractor Lockheed Martin started aggressively lobbying against this vague, symbolic resolution. If the resolution was so stupid and pointless, why was a multinational corporation lobbying so hard against it? They weren't even named in the document, but The Washington Post reported that Maryland's Democratic politicians fell over themselves to stop the assault on wasteful defense spending:
WASHINGTON POST: ...The nonbinding resolution, introduced by County Council President Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring), had gained a 5 to 4 majority on the council and was scheduled for a vote Tuesday.

But late last week, lawmakers and Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin, a defense contracting giant that employs more than 5,000 workers in Montgomery, urged county officials against the resolution....

Council members and county officials were called by one of Lockheed Martin’s top lobbyists, a state delegate, and the offices of County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D).

None of the five council members who supported the resolution — Ervin, Marc Elrich (D-At Large), George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), Nancy Navarro (D-Eastern County) and Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) — have publicly pulled their support. But over the past week, at least Leventhal has regretted backing the measure.

Lockheed Martin declined to comment Monday, citing its policy not to speak publicly about conversations with public officials.

But company representatives reached out to Leggett’s office, to set up a meeting with Ervin last week, and state officials concerned over the measure called council members. Council member Hans Reimer (D-At Large) said Lockheed Martin lobbyist Lawrence Duncan reached out to him.

Del. C. William Frick (D-Montgomery), who represents the district encompassing Lockheed Martin’s headquarters and who discussed the resolution with Duncan, contacted council members, urging them not to pass the resolution....

ANOTHER CRACK AT THE MOCO COUNCIL WAR RESOLUTION: After reading about this behavior, overnight I became an immediate proponent of the MoCo resolution. At the point that Lockheed starting flexing its muscle and claiming ownership of our Democratic officials, it became necessary to prove otherwise. It appears as though Montgomery County's Peace Action group will be making another push to pass the resolution against defense spending through the County Council this year. Maryland Juice wishes them better luck on the endeavor this time around.

JUICE #2: PREDATOR DRONES AUTHORIZED IN MARYLAND - The privacy and liberty advocates at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently FOIA'd government documents indicating that local governments around the nation have been granted permission to fly predator drones in the United States:
EFF: This week the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally released its first round of records in response to EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit for information on the agency's drone authorization program. The agency says the two lists it released include the names of all public and private entities that have applied for authorizations to fly drones domestically. These lists—which include the Certificates of Authorizations (COAs), issued to public entities like police departments, and the Special Airworthiness Certificates (SACs), issued to private drone manufacturers—show for the first time who is authorized to fly drones in the United States.

Some of the entities on the COA list are unsurprising. For example, journalists have reported that Customs and Border Protection uses Predator drones to patrol the borders. It is also well known that DARPA and other branches of the military are authorized to fly drones in the US. However, this is the first time we have seen the broad and varied list of other authorized organizations, including universities, police departments, and small towns and counties across the United States...

We raised these questions in our meeting with the FAA today and were assured the agency will release additional records with this important information soon.... drones pose serious implications for privacy, and the public should have all the information necessary to engage in informed debate over the incorporation of these devices into our daily lives.  However, while we wait for additional information, these lists help to flesh out the picture of domestic drone use in the United States.

WTF: PREDATOR DRONES IN QUEEN ANNE'S COUNTY, MARYLAND??? - Amazingly, Queen Anne's County, Maryland was one of the handful of American jurisdictions to receive authorization to fly predator drones. Maryland Juice cannot even believe how nonchalantly the FAA has granted authorization for domestic drone use. In little-noticed news coverage, the Chestertown Spy reported in January of 2011, that Queen Anne's County bought a drone:
CHESTERTOWN SPY: The Chestertown Spy is more than a bit jealous to note that Queen Anne’s County law enforcement now have their very own aerial drone. Buried in a Washington Post article on the new domestic use of these unmanned small planes was the fact that the big QA is one of only five county or city governments that owns one.  One reason is cost. To get up and running is about $50,000 while a helicopter hovers around $2 million.
To be clear, the EFF documents make it appear as though Queen Anne's drone authorization has expired, but the situation certainly warrants additional scrutiny. Why did they need one in the first place?

JUICE #3: REP. DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER'S HUGE CONTRIBUTIONS FROM PREDATOR DRONE MANUFACTURERS - One reason for the creeping use of predator drones on U.S. soil could be simply that drone manufacturers appear to be donating heavily to members of Congress. Moreover, law enforcement never says "no" to new ways of spying on Americans. But earlier this month a group of activists sounded the alarms about Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger's involvement with drone manufacturers. Anti-war activist David Swanson wrote:
DAVID SWANSON: When the 2012 national Know Drones Tour comes to Baltimore on Thursday, May 3, it will challenge Congressperson C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, a member of the House Unmanned Systems (Drone) Caucus, to reallocate $190,000 in campaign contributions that he has received from drone makers and related businesses to benefit children in US drone strike zones and to the Baltimore City Schools.

“The Congress has done no effective oversight of US drone warfare and has opened US skies to drones carrying weapons and to drone surveillance of the US public,” said Nick Mottern, director of the Know Drones Tour.  “Congressman Ruppersberger, as a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence, has direct responsibilities related to drone war and drone surveillance,” Mottern continued, “and he can avoid any appearance of conflict of interest by sending his drone industry campaign contributions to kids who are being harmed by the US infatuation with drones and by resigning from the drone caucus, a lobbying group for the drone industry within the Congress....”

WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi recently produced a segment on the threat of domestic drone use, and I encourage readers to check it out. Will Maryland Democrats begin to do the right thing -- or will they continue upholding "conventional wisdom" about defense spending, voluntary war, and the assault on our civil liberties? It used to be the case that there was a partisan split on such matters, but increasingly, it seems that Maryland Democrats are drinking Lockheed Martin's Kool-Aid. BLECH!

P.S. - I almost forgot to mention that Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger was the lead sponsor of CISPA, a bill to allow government snooping of our social networking activity and Internet usage. Honestly, what is his problem???

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