Matthew Rothschild

"An Extreme Choice" -- What Two of Wisconsin's Leading Progressive Journalists Think About Mitt Romney's Pick of Paul Ryan

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney announced Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin would be his vice-presidential running mate. Ryan, now 42, was elected to the House of Representatives at 28. He’s a Republican representative. He’s also chair of the House of Representatives Budget Committee. He spoke in Virginia right after his selection was made.

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Obama Needs to Do More Than Swap Liberal Justices

While everyone’s talking about how the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor may affect the Supreme Court, we need to keep our eye on the current court — and on Obama’s arguments in there.

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Bush Wants Your Eyeballs

Big Brother wants your irises.

George Bush just issued a directive to expand the acquisition of biometric information, and to ensure that agencies across the executive branch share it.

And the Bush Administration may give it to foreign governments, too.

All this according to National Security Presidential Directive Number 59, also known as Homeland Security Presidential Directive Number 24, which George W. Bush signed on June 5.

The directive is aimed at "known and suspected terrorists," as well as "other persons who may pose a threat to national security."

The directive does not say how these other persons who "may pose a threat" are to be defined.

And the directive is so broadly worded that it appears to cover anyone the government has biometric or other personal data on.

"To be most effective, national security identification and screening systems will require timely access to the most accurate and most complete biometric, biographic, and related that are, or can be, made available throughout the executive branch," the document states.

Bush ordered executive departments and agencies to "use mutually compatible methods and procedures in the collection, storage, use, analysis, and sharing of biometric and associated biographic and contextual information of individuals." Agencies are supposed to share this information with each other "to the fullest extent permitted by law" whenever "there is an articulable and reasonable basis for suspicion" that an individual poses a "threat to national security."

The directive does not specify what an "articulable and reasonable basis" might be.

"Known and suspected terrorists," or KSTs, as the document calls them, are not the only concern of the Bush Administration.

It has whole groups of other people that it wants to gather biometric information on.

Within 90 days, the Attorney General is tasked to "recommend categories of individuals in addition to KSTs who may pose a threat to national security," and he is ordered to "set forth cost-effective actions and associated timelines for expanding the collection and use of biometrics to identify and screen for such individuals."

The Attorney General is to coordinate this "with the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], and the Director of Science and Technology Policy."

The Attorney General is also required to identify "legal authorities" to implement the directive.

The directive states that it wants to expand the use of biometrics on individuals "in a lawful and appropriate manner, while respecting their information privacy and other legal rights under United States law."

But the directive offers no suggestion about how those rights would be protected.

The directive also says that the Secretary of State "shall coordinate the sharing of biometric and associated biographic and contextual information with foreign partners."

Under what circumstances the Secretary of State would share such information with "foreign partners" remains unclear. All the directive says is that it would happen "in accordance with applicable law, including international obligations undertaken by the United States."

Give the Bush Administration's demonstrated disdain for applicable law and international obligations, and given its record of violating people's privacy rights, this is not reassuring.

Bush Closer to Bombing Iran

The odds of Bush bombing Iran have gone up dramatically this week.

There's just no other way to rationally interpret the resignation of Admiral William Fallon as head of Centcom.

Fallon resigned, and more likely was pushed out, after Esquire published an article on him entitled "The Man Between War and Peace." It said he was the one standing in the way of Bush bombing Iran.

He's not standing in the way any longer.

Actually, his rival, General David Petraeus, is now more powerful than ever. And as the Esquire article noted, Petraeus has said: "You cannot win in Iraq solely in Iraq."

Fallon seemed to understand the risk he was taking when he took the job as head of Centcom. He told Esquire: "Career capping? How about career detonating?"

Fallon's fate as a weathervane for war with Iran has been clear since the time of his confirmation, when he told a source that an attack on Iran "will not happen on my watch."

His watch just stopped.

He also said, a the time, "There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box."

But the crazies are still bounding around outside the box, and none crazier than Dick Cheney, who is off on a Mideast trip, ostensibly to deal with Israel and Palestine and also with high oil prices.

But there are other purposes, as well. Cheney is visiting Oman, "a key military ally and logistics hub for military operations in the Persian Gulf," notes U.S. News & World Report.

What's more, according to U.S. News, "two U.S. warships took up positions off Lebanon earlier this month." The Pentagon "would want its warships in the eastern Mediterranean in the event of military action against Iran to keep Iranian ally Syria in check and to help provide air cover to Israel against Iranian missile reprisals," the story said. "One of the newly deployed ships, the USS Ross, is an Aegis guised missile destroyer, a top system for defense against air attacks."

U.S. News cited three other signs why war is more likely now: Israel's airstrike on Syria, Israel's war with Hezbollah, and Shimon Peres's disavowal of unilateral action.

Here's one more: The director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, testified to the Senate on February 5 that maybe in last fall's NIE he overstressed the fact that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons work. And maybe he overplayed the fact that Iran doesn't know how to design a nuclear weapon just yet.

And maybe he should have highlighted the fact that Iran was still enriching uranium.

And maybe he should have emphasized that, therefore, Iran still poses a potential nuclear threat.

"In retrospect," McConnell said, "I would do some things differently."

Like give Bush and Cheney exactly what they ask for.

Something Admiral Fallon, to his credit, was not prepared to do.

The White House Has a Manual for Silencing Protesters and Demonstrations

So the truth comes out.

After a myriad of stories about people being excluded from events where the President is speaking, now we know that the White House had a policy manual on just how to do so.

Called the "Presidential Advance Manual," this 103-page document from the Office of Presidential Advance lays out the parameters for how to handle protesters at events.

"Always be prepared for demonstrators," says the document, which is dated October 2002 and which the ACLU released as part of a new lawsuit.

In a section entitled "Preventing Demonstrators," the document says: "All Presidential events must be ticketed or accessed by a name list. This is the best method for preventing demonstrators. People who are obviously going to try to disrupt the event can be denied entrance at least to the VIP area between the stage and the main camera platform. ... It is important to have your volunteers at a checkpoint before the Magnetometers in order to stop a demonstrator from getting into the event. Look for signs they may be carrying, and if need be, have volunteers check for folded cloth signs that demonstrators may be bringing."

In another section, entitled "Preparing for Demonstrators," the document makes clear that the intention is to deprive protesters of the right to be seen or heard by the President: "As always, work with the Secret Service and have them ask the local police department to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in view of the event site or motorcade route."

The document also recommends drowning out protesters or blocking their signs by using what it calls "rally squads." It states: "These squads should be instructed always to look for demonstrators. The rally squad's task is to use their signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform. If the demonstrators are yelling, rally squads can begin and lead supportive chants to drown out the protestors (USA!, USA!, USA!). As a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event site."

The document offered advice on how to recruit members for such squads: "The rally squads can include, but are not limited to, college/young republican organizations, local athletic teams, and fraternities/sororities."

The document does contain a warning in bold, however: "Remember -- avoid physical contact with demonstrators." It also advises to make sure that whatever action is taken to drown out the demonstrators does not "cause more negative publicity than if the demonstrators were simply left alone."

Is Martial Law Around the Corner?

Editor's note: After writing about the White House's issuance of a "National Continuity Policy" on May 9 which entrusts President Bush to lead the entire federal government, not just the Executive Branch, to ensure "constitutional government" in the case of a "catastrophic emergency," Progressive magazine editor Matthew Rothschild has followed up after consulting with the ACLU to see what they thought about it. (For another take on the National Continuity Policy, read Marjorie Cohn's article, "Don't We Have a Constitution, Not a King?")

A note of caution since I wrote about Bush's plans to anoint himself the insurer of constitutional government in the event of emergency.

I decided to see what the American Civil Liberties Union thought of the May 9 release of the National Security Presidential Directive, and to my surprise, the ACLU did not seem that concerned about it.

"These presidential directives on the continuity of government have existed for a long time," says Mike German, ACLU policy counsel. "All it does is establish that they should have a policy and coordinate that policy with legislative and judiciary. It doesn't change the order of succession, or anything like that."

Plus, he praised the Bush Administration for making the document public, since previous ones have remained classified.

"I'm glad they made it public," he says. "The fact that this was done in an open and transparent manner should be applauded."

As to the substance of the document: "It's impossible to know whether this is an attempt to usurp some authority that had otherwise not been contemplated by law," German says.

It certainly is curious as to why the Bush Administration released the document. The last paragraph is entitled "Security," and it states: "This directive and the information contained herein shall be protected form unauthorized disclosure, provided that, except for Annex A, the Annex's attached to this directive are classified."

But whatever the reason for the disclosure, the document is not reassuring, especially given Bush's demonstrated disdain for the Constitution.

Take his approval of warrantless NSA domestic spying. U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that it "undisputedly" violates the Fourth Amendment, "undisputedly" violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, violates the First Amendment, and violates the separation of powers. Not mincing any words, she added: "The Constitution itself has been violated."

Or take his policy of denying U.S. citizens due process. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the Supreme Court in the Hamdi case, said the President does not have a blank check in times of war. "We necessarily reject the Government's assertion that separation of powers principles mandate a heavily circumscribed role for the courts," O'Connor wrote. And she explicitly warned about an Executive Branch approach that "serves only to condense power into a single branch of government."

Condensing power into a single branch is precisely what concerns me about Bush's new directive.

The directive also uses fudge words that President Bush was fond of while he was trying to find ways to justify torture. The continuity of government directive says it will be implemented in a manner "consistent with" the Constitution and "consistent with applicable law."

Compare that with Bush's February 7, 2002, order governing the treatment of detainees: "The war against terrorism ushers in a new paradigm. . . . Our nation recognizes that this new paradigm -- ushered in not by us, but by terrorists -- requires new thinking in the law of war, but thinking that should nevertheless be consistent with the principles of Geneva."

In that context, Bush used the phrase "consistent with" to justify actions that were antithetical to the Geneva Conventions.

You have to wonder whether he's using that phrase in a similar way when it comes to the Constitution in times of an emergency.

What's more, there are the comments by former high-ranking officials in the Bush Administration who have said that martial law is coming if we're attacked again.

Wayne Downing was Bush's deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism under Condoleezza Rice early in the first term. On December 24, 2002, six months after he retired, he told The Washington Post: "The United States may have to declare martial law someday in the case of a devastating attack with weapons of mass destruction causing tens of thousands of casualties. This could mean that the military would be given the authority to impose curfews, protect businesses and communities, even make arrests."

General Tommy Franks, who led the Iraq invasion, told Cigar Aficionado in December 2003 that if terrorists attack us again, this time with a weapon of mass destruction, it will cause the "population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass-casualty-producing event. Which, in fact, then begins to potentially unravel the fabric of our Constitution."

Downing and Franks aren't the only former officials talking about martial law.

On April 7, 2004, Ted Koppel hosted a Nightline program on the very subject.

He said if Washington, D.C., is attacked, "Aren't we left for at least the foreseeable future with some sort of martial law anyway?"

Kenneth Duberstein, Reagan's chief of staff, responded: "You have to suspend rights."

Richard Clarke, who was Clinton's counterterrorism expert and was in the Bush Administration on 9/11, responded: "There would be a period of, for lack of a better term, something like martial law."

One month later, Koppel spoke at the University of California-Berkeley commencement and again addressed the martial law issue quite frankly: "Do not doubt for a moment that, at some point, during the next few years, one or the other of those weapons [chemical, biological, or nuclear] will almost certainly be used in an act of terrorism against the United States . . . in the United States. Then the time for discussing our civil liberties will be over. More than likely, the use of a chemical or biological weapon in a terrorist attack against the U.S. homeland would lead to the imposition of martial law. For how long and under what circumstances it would be lifted again has, to the best of my knowledge, never even been publicly addressed. But understand that the most implacable enemy of our civil liberties is fear. What we will do after the next terrorist attack is not a conversation that should be deferred."

So why is it being deferred?

Why is Congress not taking up the urgent need to hold hearings on this very subject?

Here are two more reasons to be worried.

The Northern Command, Northcom, created by Bush, already has plans to militarize the United States in the event of an attack.

"The new plans provide for what several senior officers acknowledged is the likelihood that the military will have to take charge in some situations, especially when dealing with mass-casualty attacks," Bradley Graham wrote in The Washington Post on August 8, 2005.

Then there is the revision to the Posse Comitatus Act, which Bush whisked through last October.

In an editorial on February 19 of this year, aptly entitled "Making Martial Law Easier," The New York Times wrote: "Beyond cases of actual insurrection, the President may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack, or to any 'other condition.' Changes of this magnitude should be made only after a thorough public airing. But these new Presidential powers were slipped into the law without hearings or public debate."

Interestingly, some in the Bush Justice Department didn't believe this Congressional change was even necessary. On October 23, 2001, then-Deputy Assistant Attorney General John C. Yoo and Robert J. Delahunty, then-special counsel in the Office of Legal Counsel, wrote a memo to Alberto Gonzales, then-White House Counsel, and William Haynes II, then-general counsel for the Pentagon: "We recently opined that the Posse Comitatus Act, 18 USCs.1385 (1994), which generally prohibits the use of Armed Forces for law enforcement purposes absent constitutional or statutory authority to do so, does not forbid the use of military force for the military purpose of preventing and deterring terrorism within the United States."

Now Congress has given Bush and the Pentagon this power anyway.

I hope the ACLU is correct, and that Bush's May 9 directive is nothing to worry about.

But given all that we know about the Bush Administration, I, for one, am not convinced.

What I am convinced of, however, is the need for Congressional hearings on this subject -- before it's too late.

Vet Prosecuted for Protesting Military Recruitment in Library

Tim Coli served in the first Gulf War and now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

On March 12, he and his wife, Yvette, went to the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library in Ohio. At 37, she is a student at Kent State and needed to study for a biology test. Tim, 40, was reading some books.

Then they noticed two military recruiters trying to enlist someone in a nearby room, with a large glass window.

She decided to take action.

She took out some 3x5 cards and wrote messages to the man being recruited and then put them up on the window sill.

"Don't fall for it! Military recruiters lie," said one.

"It's not honorable to fight for a lying President," said another.

She says she cleared it all first.

"Before I put those cards up, I went to a volunteer and I asked her if it was OK if I put those cards up in the window, and she said she didn't have a problem with that but talk to someone who works there," Yvette says. "The next person said it was fine so long as there is no confrontation. And she said, 'Between you and I, I wish they weren't here, either.' "

The recruiters were none too happy with the cards.

One of them came out and asked Coil who put them up.

When she admitted she had, he asked for her name, which she didn't give him.

He told her that she and her husband couldn't put the cards up.

"My husband asked him if he was trying to keep us from using our freedom of speech," Coil says.

He didn't answer that, she says, but he did tell her again to stop.

He took the cards and went to find the library director.

In the meantime, Coil put some more card on the sill:

"Don't do it."

"My husband is a Gulf War Veteran. He can tell you the truth"

"To the military, you are cannon fodder."

"Recruiters: You're fighting for my freedom of speech, too!"

The library director, Doug Dotterer, told them that if they put up one more card, he was going to ask them to leave, Coil says. He told them they couldn't display things that were disturbing other people in the library. She told him that the Army had its brochures out on a nearby table, and they were disturbing her, she says.

"My husband said that the library was a public place and we are allowed our freedom of speech," Coil says. "The director said it was his library, and so we would have to follow his rules."

When he left, they knocked on the window and urged the man being recruited not to join up.

Soon the police arrived.

They asked the Coils to leave the building.

"We said, 'Gladly,' " Yvette recalls.

But on his way out, Tim called the director a name.

"One more word from you and I'll arrest you," the police officer told Tim.

Then Tim shouted, "Don't let the military recruit people in the library."

Whereupon the police arrested him and took him to the station and booked him for disorderly conduct. A little while later, Yvette came and picked him up.

The district attorney did not return phone calls for comment.

Library Director Dotterer would not talk except to say: "I contacted my board president, who is an attorney, and he indicated that because this is an ongoing case we're not going to comment. What I would refer you to are the official police reports."

The police report says Coil was arrested for "causing a disturbance within a library."

At an April 30 pretrial meeting, Coil was asked if he wanted to make a plea and settle the whole thing.

"No, I'm not guilty," he said, according to his wife.

She explains: "We're Mennonite. To lie about that would be wrong. I don't want him to go to jail. Neither does he. He doesn't need that. But I believe that God's going to take care of it. We're OK with whatever happens. The point is if we don't stand for these freedoms and we don't allow ourselves to be put on the line for those things, there won't be an option anymore."

Attorney William Whitaker is representing the Coils.

"If a statute punishes this conduct, then that statute is unconstitutional since it sweeps protected speech within its orbit," he says. "They were engaged in protected First Amendment speech. It's legitimate to use the public library in the same way that the recruiters were using it."

On May 10, Yvette Coil says that her lawyer was advised that the state would drop charges if they would pay $100 in court fees.

"Tim said he should not have to pay for being harassed," says Yvette. "No one has the right to take your freedoms away."

The case is scheduled for June 5.

Attack of the Mortgage Vultures

George Bush likes to boast about the high rates of homeownership. But today in America, millions of homeowners are at risk of seeing their prized possession taken right out from under them.

Over the last decade, we have been witnessing some of the most brazen acts of mortgage entrapment ever to hit the American housing market.

Subprime lenders have coaxed eager consumers to buy or refinance their homes often with no money down, and at seemingly low interest rates. But now millions of homeowners are paying way more than they can afford.

Their dream of homeownership has quickly turned into a nightmare of foreclosure.

And this nightmare is beginning to rattle the economy as a whole.

All the while, the government has stood idly by.

Buying or refinancing a home is not what it used to be. Traditionally, you’d get your mortgage through a savings and loan. The banker there would inspect your income and credit history to see if you could pay back the loan, and you needed to come up with 20 percent of the loan as a down payment. The loan would have a fixed interest rate over fifteen or thirty years. The homeowner would have to set aside money for property taxes and homeowners’ insurance. And the mortgage would stay in the originating bank.

Things are different now, thanks to the so-called subprime mortgage market, which accounts for almost one out of every four home loans currently being written. Today, mortgage brokers barrage consumers with offers of no-money-down loans, and last year, “more than 37 percent of subprime loans were made without verification of borrowers’ incomes,” The New York Times notes. Nor do such lenders typically require borrowers to escrow money for property taxes and homeowners’ insurance.

The terms of the loans are also much different. Adjustable rate mortgages have proliferated, with consumers getting seduced by offers of low interest rates the first two years of the loan only to be slapped with steeply escalating rates in subsequent years.

And the original lending institution now often sells the mortgage on the financial markets rather than hold onto it. When times get tough, faraway investors are even less open to renegotiating terms than local savings and loans were.

The boom in this industry has been extraordinary. “From 1994 to 2005, the subprime loan market grew from $35 billion to $665 billion,” the Center for Responsible Lending notes in a report entitled “Losing Ground: Foreclosures in the Subprime Market and Their Cost to Homeowners.”

But so has the bust. “We estimate that one-third of families who received a subprime loan in 2005 and 2006 will ultimately lose their homes,” the report predicts.

While opening up the possibility of homeownership to people with lesser means or spottier credit is something that progressives have advocated for a long time, the way the private sector has done this has been criminal. “Because the subprime market is designed to serve borrowers who have credit problems, one might expect the industry to offer subprime loan products that do not magnify the risk of loan failure,” the report says. “In fact, the opposite is true.”

First of all, adjustable rate mortgages are inherently duplicitous. They play upon the attractiveness of low interest rates up front, and they exploit ignorance of higher rates later on.

Second, many who get subprime loans could easily have received safer, less expensive mortgages in the prime market but were steered into the subprime loan by a mortgage broker.

Third, these brokers sometimes get a cash bonus from the lender for getting the consumer to agree to a higher interest rate than the lender was expecting. And the broker’s incentive is not to ascertain creditworthiness but to clinch the deal. The broker bears no financial cost if the consumer ends up foreclosing.

Fourth, subprime mortgages often limit repayment of the loan’s principal, so that for many years the homeowner is just paying back interest and not accumulating equity.

Fifth, some subprime mortgages actually penalize the homeowner for paying off the loan ahead of time. This is especially pernicious, since if the consumer can’t make the payments and has to sell the home prematurely, the lender imposes a huge extra fee at closing, draining whatever equity the homeowner may have acquired.

African Americans and Latinos take subprime loans at astonishing rates. More than 50 percent of the home loans to African Americans are subprime. For Latinos, it’s 40 percent, the report says. “If current trends continue, it is quite possible that subprime mortgages could cause the largest loss of African American wealth in American history,” testified Martin Eakes, CEO of the Center for Responsible Lending on February 7 to the Senate banking committee.

Some mortgage executives are absolutely unapologetic. “People are adults and made choices in their lives because they wanted to own a home of their own,” Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozilo told Bloomberg news service on March 22. “America’s great because people can make those decisions for themselves.” Countrywide Financial is the nation’s biggest mortgage lender.

Given the reprehensible tactics in the industry, and given the softness in the housing market, foreclosures are going through the roof. They were 43 percent higher in the third quarter of 2006 than the third quarter of 2005.

“Foreclosure rates will increase significantly in many markets as housing appreciation slows or reverses,” the Center for Responsible Lending says. “As a result, we project that 2.2 million borrowers will lose their homes and up to $164 billion of wealth in the process.”

Such a loss constitutes a threat to the overall economy. Several leftwing economists, most notably Dean Baker, have been warning for years about the danger of the housing bubble bursting. Now that it has begun to pop, even the Federal Reserve has taken note, though it has tried to put a happy face on the situation. In testimony before Congress on March 28, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said, “The impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime markets seems likely to be contained.” But he added that the Fed needs “flexibility” in case the problem spreads.

Ironically, the Fed all along could have done something about the predatory practices in the subprime market. In 1994, Congress passed the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act. It gives the Fed the authority to “prohibit acts or practices in connection with—(A) mortgage loans that the Board finds to be unfair, deceptive, or designed to evade the provisions of this section; and (B) refinancing of mortgage loans that the Board finds to be associated with abusive lending practices, or that are otherwise not in the interest of the borrower.”

But the beatified former Fed chief Alan Greenspan was not all that concerned about the interest of the borrower. His interest lay with the financiers, so he hailed subprime lending as the “democratization of credit.” In fact, as Senator Christopher Dodd noted at a recent hearing, the Fed actually “seemed to encourage the development and use” of adjustable rate mortgages “that today are defaulting and going into foreclosure at record rates.”

Congress may finally be rising to its responsibilities. Representative Barney Frank and Senator Chuck Schumer both say they expect to introduce legislation that would crack down on the unscrupulous lending in the subprime market before the year is out.

But what’s the wait?

We can’t allow these vulture-like lenders to keep circling over the heads of vulnerable consumers. It is the proper role of government to defend the consumer against just such predatory behavior and to make the dream of homeownership something people can afford and enjoy, not something they get haunted by.

Mother of Suicide Vet Flies Old Glory Upside Down

Terri Jones lost her son Jason Cooper just over a year ago.

He was an Army Reservist in the Iraq War.

On July 14, 2005, four months after returning home to Iowa, he hanged himself.

He was 23.

Since then, Jones has been flying her American flag upside down, though someone came on her property once and turned it right side up, and another person stole it.

“We had a flag out the whole time Jason was in Iraq,” she says. “Once he died, my boyfriend Vince turned it upside down to protest everything that’s happening with our government, especially our soldiers being failed when they come home.”
Jones says Jason wasn’t the same when he got back from Iraq.

“He was a really upbeat, happy, funny kid” before he left, she says. “You could tell his smile was gone when he came home.”

He also had a hard time paying attention.

“We did notice right away that he’d space off while you were trying to talk to him,” she says. “His thoughts were floating off somewhere else.”

And the reaction of some of his friends caught him by surprise.

“He was excited to see them,” she says, “and he thought they would be, ‘Hey, Coop, good to see you.’ But instead, the first thing that would come out was, ‘Jas, you shoot anybody?’ He was so taken aback he didn’t know how to answer. He’d just say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ ”

Jones tells me her son was hit by enemy fire. “His flack jacket took 37 pieces of shrapnel,” she says. “He didn’t even get a bruise.”

Jones also told Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register of one haunting memory he had about an insurgent who executed an Iraqi child in full view of Cooper and other members of his unit.

Jason was having a lot of nightmares and flashbacks, his mother says. “His girlfriend said he’d wake up in night sweats, and she had to take him out for a walk at three in the morning.”

Jones says she really got worried three days before her son died.

“He called me at work towards the end of the day,” she says. “He was at the mall. He was crying. He was really disoriented. He didn’t know what was happening. He was afraid. He told me a friend of his had just died. I asked what his name was. And he said Jeremy Ridlen, who had died a year before.” (Ridlen, an Army National Guard Specialist, died in East Fallujah on May 23, 2004.)

Jones says her son “knew he needed help, but he didn’t want to go the VA.” She says he’d gone there the month before, after he hurt his wrist in a motorcycle fall. “When he went to the VA, they didn’t have room to treat him that day,” she says.

Plus, she says, he was worried about the stigma he might get if he appeared to be weak.

“He was still active duty,” she says, and “he knew he would have to go back” to Iraq.

Jones says the military isn’t doing enough for soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “They are not being take care of,” she says.

The VA denies this.

“We’re out there in their faces. . . . We’re all there for them,” Victor Tate, a VA outreach specialist in Iowa, told the Des Moines Register. “At no time in the history of America has more attention been paid to veterans.”

Now a member of Gold Star Families for Peace, Jones says she’s “forming a subchapter support group to help with military families who’ve had a suicide” after their loved one returned home.

“So far we know of about 70” such tragedies, she says.

Recently, Jones wrote a letter to Jason, which she posted on his memorial website.

“Jas, Mother’s Day came and went, and it was so hard not to hear from you. You always had something that you were so proud to give me. I still have petals from the pink roses you sent while still in training or all the drawings you loved to make. I carried your military boots in a Mother’s Day march in Washington, DC, to bring our troops home now. . . . I realized then that I did spend time with you on Mother’s Day and even though it wasn’t in a way that I would prefer, you will never be gone from me. You will always be in my mind and heart. . . . I hope you are in a sea of flowers now honey. No worries, no pain, just happy and enjoying the beauty of heaven. I miss you, buddy! I still wait for a phone call, I still long to hear ‘love you, Mama.’ . . . I am so grateful that you were my son to leave life-long memories. Love you the mostest, Mama.”

In that letter, she talked about the upside down flag. “I must admit that I never really liked the idea of the flag hanging upside down,” she wrote, “but it did represent a signal of distress so I agreed to keep it that way.”

One day early this March, Jones says someone turned their flag rightside up. “It happened between the time we went to the grocery store and came back. We were gone only half an hour,” she says. “I was kind of shocked. We live on a five-acre piece of land on a really long driveway, and the flag is on the house. They had to be watching us leave. That’s kind of weird, someone sitting out in a corner watching us somewhere.”

About a week later, she got an unsigned letter, postmarked March 13.

“I’ve noticed for quite some time now that you fly your American flag upside down. . . . Please don’t disrespect those who have fought and died on our soil preserving your very freedom and mine. . . . Let’s rally behind our troops and if they don’t believe in what they’re doing, let them voice it. Every single person in the armed forces today signed on the dotted line. . . . I know your flag is sending out a message that you might not have though it was sending. So I felt compelled to tell you what I thought.”

It was signed, “An extremely sincere fellow American citizen and proud of it.”

And in the P.S., the person added: “If it truly is that you hate living in this country and are ashamed of our freedom, then by all means, sir, why do you live here?”

In response, Jones wrote a letter to the editor of her local newspaper, the Chariton Leader.

“To the Person Who Didn’t Sign Their Letter,” Jones began. She explained that “flying our flag upside down in no way shows disrespect for our country. Flying the flag upside down is a sign of distress as stated in the United States Code of Flag Rules and Regulation.” She told of how her son was proud to be an American soldier, and even wanted to go back to Iraq. “But somehow, in four short months after returning home, his belief, pride, and willingness was eroded away by the invisible wounds of war.”

She discussed his suicide: “On July 14, after weeks of flashbacks and nightmares and having no medical help (yes, the VA turns them away) he took off his dog tags, walked to the basement of his home and wrapped a rope around his neck. And at 5 pm my precious son and proud warrior stepped off the chair.”

She asked for some understanding.

“Try explaining to Jason’s 13-year-old brother who planned on following Jason’s footsteps what went wrong,” she wrote. “Try explaining to the 8th Grade Confirmation Class who Jason had just personally thanked for their support during his deployment what went wrong. And mot of all, try seeing the fear in Jason’s Brother in Arms eyes as their trembling hands pull the American flag from his coffin and neatly fold it and present it to his family. Fearing their own future. So you ask why our flag is flying upside down. Because our soldiers are in distress and because of that very contract you talked about that they signed, they are not allowed to voice their opinion, so they rely on us to do so.”

She went on to say that “our country is in distress” for the way it has failed its vets. And she concluded: “When you drive by my house and see my flag flying I challenge you to help me turn it right side up. Show me that you are willing to do what it takes to help those that protect our rights and freedoms. And when I see that no soldier has been left behind, then that will be a day of joy for me to fly her right side up.”

Shortly after her letter appeared in the paper, her flag was stolen in the middle of the night. “They took the whole flagpole and everything right out of the holder,” she says.

“I just went and got another one and put it back up.”

Upside Down Flag turns Free Speech Upside Down

Scott Roe was practicing with his band, "Corruption of Blood," on July 3 at his home in Ottumwa, Iowa. The police came and said he was violating a new city noise ordinance. So that was the end of the practice session.

Roe wasn't happy about it, so he staged a protest the next day. He planted an upside down flag in his front yard and had a cutout of a police officer standing in front of it. The band's name was written in block letters across the flag.

It didn't take long for Officer Mark Milligan and Sergeant Chris Logan of the Ottumwa Police Department to show up.

A neighbor had evidently complained about the upside down flag in the yard.

The officers warned Roe that he'd be arrested if he didn't take the flag down.

He refused, asserting his First Amendment rights.

Whereupon he was arrested and charge with violating Iowa's flag desecration statute, Chapter 718A.

All of this according to the lawsuit that Roe has filed against Milligan and Logan and the Ottumwa Police Department.

Roe "faces 30 days in jail and a $500 fine," the Des Moines Register reports.

"No trial date has been set yet," says Randall Wilson of the ACLU of Iowa, who is representing Roe.

Roe's suit says the Iowa statute dates back to 1900 and is an "overly broad restriction of speech that is protected under the First Amendment."

Chapter 718A is a whopper. It reads: "Any person who in any manner, for exhibition or display, shall place or cause to be placed, any word, figure, mark, picture, design, drawing, or any advertisement of any nature, upon any flag, standard, color, ensign, shield, or other insignia of the United States, or upon any flag, ensign, great seal, or other insignia of this state, or shall expose or cause to be exposed to public view, any such flag, standard, color, ensign, shield, or other insignia of the United States, or any such flag, ensign, great seal, or other insignia of this state, upon which shall have been printed, painted, or otherwise placed, or to which shall be attached, appended, affixed, or annexed, any word, figure, mark, picture, design, or drawing, or any advertisement of any nature, or who shall expose to public view, manufacture, sell, expose for sale, give away, or have in possession for sale, or to give away, or for use for any purpose any article or substance, being an article of merchandise or a receptacle of merchandise or article or thing for carrying or transporting merchandise, upon which shall have been printed, painted, attached or otherwise placed, a representation of any such flag, standard, color, ensign, shield, or other insignia of the United States, or any such flag, ensign, great seal, or other insignia of this state, to advertise, call attention to, decorate, mark, or distinguish the article or substance on which so placed, or who shall publicly mutilate, deface, defile or defy, trample upon, cast contempt upon, satirize, deride or burlesque, either by words or act, such flag, standard, color, ensign, shield, or other insignia of the United States, or flag, ensign, great seal, or other insignia of this state, or who shall, for any purpose, place such flag, standard, color, ensign, shield, or other insignia of the United States, or flag, ensign, great seal, or other insignia of this state, upon the ground or where the same may be trod upon, shall be deemed guilty of a simple misdemeanor."

Wilson, legal director of the ACLU of Iowa, elaborates on the basis for the suit.

"The statute under which Mr. Roe is being prosecuted," Wilson tells me, "bans just about everything we do with flags these days: flag patches on clothing, bumper stickers, use in advertisements, and so forth. Amid all of this 'flag speech,' Mr. Roe's display was singled out for prosecution simply because he chose to criticize the police and how laws are enforced in his community. That's how it always goes: Flag desecration prosecutions are only used for political persecution.

Either this statute goes or the right to free speech goes. The two cannot peacefully coexist."

Roe does not have a listed phone number, and he did not contact me after I relayed my request through Wilson.

I spoke with the Ottumwa Police Department and was told that Milligan and Logan would not comment.

Ottumwa City Attorney Tom Kintigh says, "We've consulted our insurance company, and I don't know if they've assigned an attorney to it yet. We're waiting to hear back from them."

In his lawsuit, Roe is seeking the dropping of charges against him, a declaration that Iowa's flag desecration statute Chapter 718A is unconstitutional, and "an award of nominal and punitive damages from the Defendants in compensation for the deprivation of his constitutional rights."


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