First it's Bob Herbert.
Suppress the Vote?
Bob Herbert, The New York Times, Monday, August 16, 2004
The bare bones -
This probably simple law enforcement. Yes, Bush cannot win in November without Florida. Yes, elderly blacks in Florida are overwhelmingly Democratic. Yes, Jeb Bush, the governor, is the president's brother and seems to have authorized this. Yes, many of these folks are active in get-out-the-vote activities, stuff like that group the Orlando League of Voters. But this is probably simple law enforcement - which officials refuse to discuss.
... State police officers have gone into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando and interrogated them as part of an odd "investigation" that has frightened many voters, intimidated elderly volunteers and thrown a chill over efforts to get out the black vote in November.
The officers, from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which reports to Gov. Jeb Bush, say they are investigating allegations of voter fraud that came up during the Orlando mayoral election in March.
Officials refused to discuss details of the investigation, other than to say that absentee ballots are involved. They said they had no idea when the investigation might end, and acknowledged that it may continue right through the presidential election.
"We did a preliminary inquiry into those allegations and then we concluded that there was enough evidence to follow through with a full criminal investigation," said Geo Morales, a spokesman for the Department of Law Enforcement.
The state police officers, armed and in plain clothes, have questioned dozens of voters in their homes. Some of those questioned have been volunteers in get-out-the-vote campaigns.
Not to worry. You have to trust them.
Then there are lawyers. One lawyer representing the seventy-three-year-old president of the Orlando League of Voters, is getting snooty -
This probably simple law enforcement - and the secondary effect - scaring the crap out of people who might vote the wrong way thus keeping a troubling demographic away from the voting booths, and afraid to even file an absentee ballot - is probably not what they intended at all. They were just doing their job.
Joseph Egan, an Orlando lawyer who represents Mr. Thomas, said: "The Voters League has workers who go into the community to do voter registration, drive people to the polls and help with absentee ballots. They are elderly women mostly. They get paid like $100 for four or five months' work, just to offset things like the cost of their gas. They see this political activity as an important contribution to their community. Some of the people in the community had never cast a ballot until the league came to their door and encouraged them to vote."
Now, said Mr. Egan, the fear generated by state police officers going into people's homes as part of an ongoing criminal investigation related to voting is threatening to undo much of the good work of the league. He said, "One woman asked me, 'Am I going to go to jail now because I voted by absentee ballot?' "
According to Mr. Egan, "People who have voted by absentee ballot for years are refusing to allow campaign workers to come to their homes. And volunteers who have participated for years in assisting people, particularly the elderly or handicapped, are scared and don't want to risk a criminal investigation."
There is an implicit message, sure. If you vote, or help the elderly or handicapped or low-income local black folks to vote, you could be in real trouble. Who needs a criminal investigation?
Actually, this is pretty clever. We have an investigation that cannot be publicly revealed and knocks on the door and lots buzz-cut white guys in suits asking questions - and they cannot tell you why they're asking these questions but can that tell you if you don't answer their questions you could be in deep shit.
Pretty clever. These Bush kids know how to play the game, and use all the available tools. Why don't the Democrats ever think of things like this? This works.
The second item in the Times?
F.B.I. Goes Knocking for Political Troublemakers
Eric Lichtblau, Monday, August 16, 2004
As you recall, the preamble to the Constitution says that one of the purposes of government is to "insure domestic Tranquility." (The eighteenth century was when one capitalized proper nouns, of course.) This seems to mean that it is the responsibility of government to enforce law and to preserve order so that citizens may go about their daily business peaceably and secure in their lives, possessions, and rights. Fair enough.
What Eric reports?
Minimal? Well, I guess - if the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel says that the impact here is negligible and constitutional, well, they must know. They are lawyers, reporting to John Ashcroft. You have to trust them.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been questioning political demonstrators across the country, and in rare cases even subpoenaing them, in an aggressive effort to forestall what officials say could be violent and disruptive protests at the Republican National Convention in New York.
F.B.I. officials are urging agents to canvass their communities for information about planned disruptions aimed at the convention and other coming political events, and they say they have developed a list of people who they think may have information about possible violence. They say the inquiries, which began last month before the Democratic convention in Boston, are focused solely on possible crimes, not on dissent, at major political events.
But some people contacted by the F.B.I. say they are mystified by the bureau's interest and felt harassed by questions about their political plans.
"The message I took from it," said Sarah Bardwell, 21, an intern at a Denver antiwar group who was visited by six investigators a few weeks ago, "was that they were trying to intimidate us into not going to any protests and to let us know that, 'hey, we're watching you.' ''
The unusual initiative comes after the Justice Department, in a previously undisclosed legal opinion, gave its blessing to controversial tactics used last year by the F.B.I in urging local police departments to report suspicious activity at political and antiwar demonstrations to counterterrorism squads. The F.B.I. bulletins that relayed the request for help detailed tactics used by demonstrators - everything from violent resistance to Internet fund-raising and recruitment.
In an internal complaint, an F.B.I. employee charged that the bulletins improperly blurred the line between lawfully protected speech and illegal activity. But the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, in a five-page internal analysis obtained by The New York Times, disagreed.
The office, which also made headlines in June in an opinion - since disavowed - that authorized the use of torture against terrorism suspects in some circumstances, said any First Amendment impact posed by the F.B.I.'s monitoring of the political protests was negligible and constitutional.
The opinion said: "Given the limited nature of such public monitoring, any possible 'chilling' effect caused by the bulletins would be quite minimal and substantially outweighed by the public interest in maintaining safety and order during large-scale demonstrations."
No you don't.
Bob Harris makes these comments:
This probably simple law enforcement - and the secondary effect - scaring the crap out of people who might say things in public that question the motives and actions, and even the intelligence of our current leaders - is probably not what they intended at all. They were just doing their job, insuring domestic tranquility and that sort of thing.
The agents usually ask the same three questions. Are you planning violence or other disruptions? Do you know anyone who is? Do you realize it is a crime to withhold such information.
Now as the tales of Martha Stewart and others remind us, it's the third question that looms. Lie to fed, suffer the consequences. And given that the latter investigations fall under the rubric of Stopping Domestic Terrorism, one can't help but suffer the fear, illogical or not, that a small cramped space at GITMO and an Ashcroft press conference awaits you.
The FBI has been urging local police departments to report suspicious activity at political demos. Including a request for details regarding everything from violent resistance to Internet fund-raising and recruitment. An FBI employee filed an internal complaint regarding the latter, charging that it improperly blurred the line between lawfully protected speech and illegal activity.
That's where Ashcroft's Office of Legal Counsel weighed in. No longer content to authorize the use of torture -- okay, it was just an opinion, since disavowed -- the OLC gave the Feebs a hearty thumbs-up.
... yes, I'm willing to admit that there are public safety concerns in play whenever large groups of people gather to demonstrate. It's just that as always, the Ashcroft Justice Department seems to be not only overreacting, but wasting resources as well.
... Rest easy, America. No Denver anti-war group intern is going to push you around!
These two Times items suggest that scaring the crap out of people who are troublesome - those who might vote the wrong way and those who might ask the wrong questions - could be the primary intention here. The government can claim the primary intention in both cases is simply enforcing the law, that the secondary effects never occurred to them.
Which is true? It seems to be a matter of how trusting you are.
We trusted the government on that WMD business, and on the obvious ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. We trusted them on the idea that cutting taxes on the rich would makes us all rich and make the jobs come back. We trusted them on lots of things. Why not on these two?
Are there only so many times you can go back to that well before you find it's now dry? Maybe so. Or maybe not. We will see about that in November.