On March 1, 2011, after a long, dreary winter, my twenty-something daughter and a girlfriend were heading to a local tanning salon less than a mile from their house. On the way they noticed they were following a Maryland transportation authority vehicle equipped with rear mounted cameras and other equipment and joked that they should say nice things about the police in case they were being audio recorded. Upon arrival at the salon, they were surprised to find they were blocked in by this same vehicle. The officer stated he ran her tags and found her registration was suspended (not true) and the car insurance had lapsed (also not true). When she tried to check her tags he blocked her movement and confiscated her tags, issued her two citations amounting to around $400.00 and told her to get the car towed. In the meantime another officer arrived, unidentified, in an official car while the first officer, having now run her license, noted a DUI over 2 years old which had long been resolved and subsequently proceeded to not only search both women’s purses, but tore the car apart. A few days later, documentation in hand, my daughter attempted to retrieve her tags from the department of motor vehicles only to be told they had been destroyed. The case will go to court in June and the DMV has no idea why. Best case scenario? A glitchy database and an over zealous or bored employee. Whether this was an illegal stop remains to be determined. That this was an illegal search is clear. We want access to the video and audio of the stop and all written documentation. Without a lawyer and a subpoena, this will not be available to us until after adjudication in June, when this evidence is likely to go the way of the tags. Case closed? We’ll see.
Why tell this little story about my daughter? Whatever your political affiliation, it’s hard to explain the use of such elaborate and expensive “homeland security” equipment, paid for by taxpayers, to pursue two local women who were not breaking any law. A few years ago I wrote an article on St Johns County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the resources available in case of disaster. I was treated professionally and granted access to the center, the director and several employees. There was an almost plausible denial when I asked about the county’s relationship with the Joint Terrorism Task Force which led me later to further research on resources that could be brought to bear against the public in times of dissent.
A little history here: Way back in October 2003, when just about everybody realized after 9/11 that rescue operations needed to be on the same page, not to mention the same kind of radios, President Bush issued HSPD 5 and HSPD 8. (Homeland Security Presidential Directives). HSPD 5 told jurisdictions to get their act together on incident reporting by "establishing a single, comprehensive national incident management system." HSPD 8 required "a national domestic all-hazards preparedness goal, with established mechanisms for improved delivery of Federal preparedness assistance to State and local governments." St Johns County stepped up early to comply.
Here are some of the resources St Johns County can bring to bear during any “disaster”:
A comprehensive, scalable plan with reporting, tracking and cooperation among Emergency Support Functions and with lots of ancillary organizations like Salvation Army, churches and Red Cross,
A brand new Emergency Operations Center out SR 16, off CR 208,
5 Stationary cameras around town with zoom and infrared capabilities (with more planned) feeding into the EOC,
Access to various aircraft from other regions and 1 county helicopter with live video feed capability to the emergency operations center, media, and government,
A SWAT team and SWAT vehicles,
A Hazmat team and vehicle,
A bomb robot, a certified bomb team and bomb truck,
A mobile media communications center with TV, satellite, radio, internet and video feed capabilities,
A Command Task Force Unit with conference area, flat screens monitors, video mast, radio, TV, internet capabilities,
Underwater rescue vessel and diving teams,
and a Mutual Aid Agreement with other counties, regions and the state if things get really crazy, which brings me to several other levels of “support”.
From their website: “Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) are small cells of highly trained, locally based, passionately committed investigators, analysts, linguists, SWAT experts, and other specialists from dozens of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It is a multi-agency effort led by the Justice Department and FBI designed to combine the resources of federal, state, and local law enforcement.”
Local “task force fusion centers” have been set up all over the nation to provide the coordination between federal (FBI, ICE and DHS) state and local law enforcement in the event of an “attack”, a natural disaster and “civil unrest”. These centers have armed security guards authorized to shoot to kill in the event of an emergency. Ours is conveniently located in Jacksonville, the one no one seemed to want to discuss during the writing of my article.
Then there’s Infragard, a creepy corporate/security coalition that demands the anonymity of an AA meeting. From their Jacksonville website which is updated as of this writing: “InfraGard is a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) program that is dedicated to promoting information sharing between the public and private sectors regarding critical infrastructure protection issues.
The goal of InfraGard is to enable the flow of information so that the owners and operators of infrastructure assets can better protect themselves and so that the United States government can better discharge its law enforcement and national security responsibilities.” I don’t think their main focus is merely making sure citizens have access to drinking water or shelter in case of a hurricane.
However, not just anyone can join and once you’re in, you can’t really talk about anything to anybody and you have to agree to some “procedures” when discussing what Infragard really does:
“Independent of the type of presentation, (interview, brief, or published documentation) the InfraGard leadership and the local FBI representative should be made aware of the upcoming presentation. The InfraGard member and the FBI representation should agree on the theme of the presentation.
The identity of InfraGard members should be protected at all times. Names of individual members or their employers should not be disclosed without the permission of the individual and the employer.” What do you call this unholy and secretive alliance of corporate/government/local law enforcement? I call it alarming.
There’s more. Local law enforcement agencies have been receiving military equipment courtesy of Department of Homeland Security for years. We’re talking semi-automatic weapons, helicopters, tanks, combat gear. Some municipalities are now dressing their forces in black, resembling SWAT commandos instead of your friendly local peace officer.
Finally let’s not forget HR 1955, passed in an overwhelming 400-to-6 vote by the House of Representatives in 2007 in “Patriot Act” haste: The Homegrown Violent Radicalization Terrorism Act, which died in the Senate, twice, thankfully.
H.R. 1955 defines "homegrown terrorism" and "violent radicalization" nebulously; the former is merely "the use, planned use or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives," while the latter means "the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious or social change." Ideologically based violence, in turn, is defined as "the use, planned use or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual's political, religious or social beliefs." Force or violence is conveniently not defined.
Sounds fair enough, until you start crunching the language and come to the realization that practically anyone protesting anything, on any given day, could fit the description. Which is vague on purpose, as one realizes the further one digs.
We still have in place the National Security Letters which enable FBI access to private citizens’ library records, telecommunications and personal residences and businesses. We still have the telecommunications industry’s monitoring without warrant our calls and location. Witness the recent congressional pandering by Apple and others that this information is secure and necessary. Uh huh. And now the Judiciary Committee in Congress is set to pass the renewal of the mostly still unread and misunderstood Patriot Act which keeps most of these ridiculous spying-on-Americans tactics in place.
As the economy worsens, particularly here in Florida with draconian cuts to crucial social services, an unemployment rate of over 11% with the legislature just cutting benefits by 3 weeks, mandatory drug testing (paid for by these unfortunate individuals as well as all state employees based on no evidence of drug use at all) just so that corporations can receive tax breaks that will have no impact on the “deficit”, people will become angry, desperate and start to resist. Now that you’re aware of just some of the force that can be brought to bear against peaceful protestors, you’re bound to be as intimidated as my daughter. On her small case, we have decided to fight back. We want answers. We have decided some things are worth standing up for, like what used to be called the Fourth Amendment.
The First Amendment guarantees us right of peaceful assembly among other things. Can we defend our Constitution by standing our ground and not, as so many claim to be doing right now, in wrong-headed, vicious and uneducated words? Will we be intimidated or will we fight? Knowledge is power and now you have some knowledge. That means you have the power and that means you have to fight. This issue is beyond politics. This issue is at the very core of what we used to call “freedom” in America. We cannot remain silent. We cannot back down. We cannot give up. It will call for courage and sacrifice, in big ways and small. Can we do it?
I mean really, a smoking car left running in Times Square, one of the most surveilled areas in the nation on a Saturday night? A t shirt vendor calls the police. The stuff isn't even a working bomb. Yet Times Square shut down for 6 hours. We're hearing they have prints and can find the VIN number. OK, then what? Another fake anthrax accusation years after the fact?
I don't think this is what it appears to be on the surface. Call me crazy,and people here will, but if anyone wanted to seriously hurt some people this way, it'd have happened. What is this really about and what else was going on during those six hours?
And yeah, I hesitated to post this but it just doesn't make any sense no matter how I look at it. Who would risk the ton of government hurt piling on just to pull a prank or "make a statement"?
I was laid off in December 2008, a week before the holidays thank you. I'm almost 60, live in a small town with a large pool of college students to assume the low paying, tourist based jobs and haven't been able to find work nearby. I am unable to move like so many others. I'd make more applications if I could find jobs I am qualified for. (certified teacher with BA in secondary education plus years of managerial experience in the hospitality industry)
My usual payment of 298.00 for two weeks came in at an even 100.00 dollars this time, with no explanation, no recourse except a day on the phone the last time this happened and with no "catch up" payments later. Also, here in FL, my notices to remind me to file are always post dated 2 days after the filing date and arrive so that, if I forget (I never do), I'm too late to file. This has happened for the last year; I always check the envelopes postmarks, thinking they cannot be that dumb or evil. They are.
Your Top Ten always makes my week. I don't know how you find the time to "connect the dots". Did I really write that? Must be hypnosis.
Anyway, take care of the bigger picture my friend. We'll always be looking for you.
I am and always have been a progressive and way past the liberal left. I am sorry my post wasn't clearer for some of you. I'll really work harder in the future. I would like our illusion of government to work as it may have been intended, or at least in principle, the way we all have been taught. It's true there are responsive representatives in congress. I was speaking for what I felt was a majority of citizens who I know who write, call, fax, email and yes, even hit the streets from time to time.
I'm finding in my small community (in Florida, need I say more? and no, I don't have Grayson in my district)that meaningful action is coming from people, not agencies busy protecting their turf nor officials busy protecting their seats. Maybe that's the way back, bottom up. Most of us sure have the time these days.
Until we acknowledge that fact, we are powerless against the transnational corporations who decide what we see, what we read, what we buy and what we are supposed to fear. OK, not much new here to those who have been paying attention but consider this: we are frustrated with spineless politicians, denigrate Obama for caving to corporate interests, scream about tax dollars going to banks and "wars" we do not support and worry that the Dems will lose badly in elections in 2010 for all of the above. And yet, we do nothing but write stuff.
I do not believe what we have now can be considered government by consent, therefore all this is an illusion. As envisioned by the writers of the Constitution, the three separate branches with their own specific powers would have worked if ever it had been taken seriously over 200 years ago. The ink wasn't even dry before the deals were being made in back rooms. We are human beings, constantly worried about self preservation and under structures such as our Constitution, so revered and "defended", we are constrained in that pursuit of self preservation. We are told we have voices through our representatives; we have none. We are told our elected leaders protect and defend the Constitution; they do not. We are told we have "freedom"; instead we are spied upon, taken for fools to subsidize bailouts and wars and our kids can't even get out of the military when their time is up. That is not freedom. That is slavery.
I still believe we must vote, if only for the MSM to have something to report. I still believe we need to support the idea of governance by elected officials, but on our terms, not theirs or their corporate backers. But more importantly, I believe we need to organize in our own communities, be they urban, rural or some mix thereof. I'm talking local action. If your school board wants to shove religion in your kid's face, remove your kids and do not pay property taxes. If your elected officials will not address poverty/joblessness/homelessness in your community, do it yourself and shame them publicly in the process. If you do not want to buy a watered down, useless, health care "product" from a rapacious corporation, don't and let them get all tangled up trying to fine you, arrest you, collect from you.
There are more of us than there are of them. They can only detain and arrest thousands. We number in the millions. Why is it not possible for us to prevail? I bet there are lots of answers to that and I'm sure I've heard them all.
Who didn't see this coming? Between that big NON SURPRISE and the fact that two of our credit cards are raising fees and interest rates (for no reason on our part, never late, always overpaying, never over limit) we're screwed. I'm so mad. I cancelled one of the cards today for those reasons. I could barely understand the woman on the end of the phone, had to repeat myself strongly 5 times before she finally got it. Not that they are stupid: the first thing you get when you call their number is to push 1 to cancel your card. I guess that way you get shuttled to the worst, poorly paid operator.
We in St Augustine Florida have taken matters into our own hands. We have an active Food not Bombs, a couple churches and an advocacy organization called PUSH: People United to Stop Homelessness. www.pushsjc.org On Christmas Day we will have 5 separate serving sites of hot meals outside at 3PM til either the people or the food runs out. We take it out to where they live. This is what it will take to first, feed the hungry and second, draw attention to the need. Agencies and churches have done much to hold events days before Christmas but leave the hungry and homeless to their own devices on the actual day. We will stand in solidarity with them on the day that matters. You all are correct: we must do this ourselves, even if we don't have much to give.
I was stuck in a temporary in a middle school. Although the curriculum materials were top rate, they had never been opened until I arrived in the middle of the school year. The kids were totally behind from a semester of substitutes and playing games. I bought stuff for bulletin boards, art projects, special assignments to bring the kids up to speed. Nobody ever had pencils and paper. When I sent kids to the office, they came right back, wearing that special middle school smirk. One smart kid was so disruptive I kicked him out. The principal refused to allow me to meet with the parents and let the kid transfer out.
So, no administrative support (not politically correct), no supplies (no money) and kids who figured out the system on the first day (no respect). Somehow, in 5 months, I got 90% of the 8th graders to pass the county exit exam and to this day, still wonder if things have changed in the 4 years since I left.
It's a true sign of Sarah Palin's ego and overblown regard for her position in American politics that she would "have written" a book for a base that doesn't or won't READ. Heck, she doesn't even read. Anybody have any idea on how to track bulk sales of this book? It's the only way "Going Rogue" can get anywhere on a best seller list.
Only in America, land of opportunity. I guess Republicans would be proud of her entrepreneurial spirit. When you're 83, alone, female and don't have a lot of options to survive, posing for elder porn must seem like a good idea. Everybody's struggling in California right now as parts of the state burn even before the Santa Ana winds have hit. Taxes are through the roof and services are cut all over the place. People are losing their businesses and their homes and their financial ability to help family members is next to nil. Don't get me wrong, she has made this choice consciously, has tremendous pride, a sense of independence and doesn't want to be a burden on her surviving son. She worked all her life up until last year and has not been able to find employment since. Is she a victim and if so, of what? The elderly photographer who talked her into this? The economy that has made day to day survival so hard? The cultural dismissal in this country of old women?
All I know is this: when 83 year old women live out the remaining days of their lives undressing and performing for pornography pushers, something deep and horrible is wrong with this country.
WHAT ABOUT BOB?
If you spent anytime downtown at the Plaza in St Augustine Florida, you saw Bob. He usually sat alone at the north east end on a bench, long hair hidden under a knit cap no matter the weather, writing in his small notebook. It took me over a year to learn how to approach Bob and get him to look me in the eye and speak to me. When he did speak, you could hear an educated intellect in his language. From time to time, I’d notice the huge swelling of his hands and feet then he’d be missing for a week or so. I would later learn he’d been hospitalized to drain the fluid from his body only to return to downtown in hospital slippers to reclaim his bench. Once, clean shaven from a recent hospital release, I was shocked to see how young he really was. Over the course of the last two years, Bob had been taken to the hospital several times and then he died this year. Yes, Bob was homeless and his death was stoically accepted by the rest of the homeless community.
Even if you didn’t know Bob or don’t care one way or another about homeless people, the expensive, systematic and ultimately useless emergency medical care he received should concern you. Our community absorbed the cost of caring for Bob but we never followed through, to our communal moral disgrace. Housing First, with wrap around services to follow up on care, has been proven in cities all across the nation to not only be the most effective, cost efficient solution to chronic homelessness, it is the essential, moral one.
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