Pastor Khanh Huynh, who leads the Vietnamese Baptist Church in Houston, is taking in stride the subpoena filed by his city’s mayor, lesbian Annise Parker, to obtain copies of his sermons and other communications with his congregation.
The city’s subpoenas for sermons and communications regarding homosexuality or the mayor were issued to five pastors after opponents of the ordinance filed a lawsuit. The opponents had gathered what appeared to be enough signatures to force the council to repeal the ordinance, but the city attorney determined thousands of petition signatures were not valid. The lawsuit against the city’s maneuver followed.
The pastors were part of a coalition of Houston-area churches that opposed the law, but they were not part of the lawsuit.
“The shame that the city of Houston has brought upon itself is real, but the claim that it has changed course is not. The city has so far taken no concrete action to withdraw the subpoenas. Furthermore, the subpoenas themselves are the problem – not just their request for pastors’ sermons,” she said.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has been loudly threatening to unilaterally petition the international community to recognize the State of Palestine and force an Israeli withdrawal, and upcoming changes on the UN Security Council might afford him the best opportunity in decades to do so.
Abbas wants the United Nations to officially recognize Palestinian sovereignty and independence outside the framework of a bilateral peace agreement with Israel, which looks to be increasingly out of reach.
He also wants the UN Security Council, the only UN body able to pass legally-binding decisions, to set a firm date for an Israeli withdrawal from all of Judea, Samaria and the eastern half of Jerusalem.
But Britain’s parliament last week held a non-binding vote in which is supported recognition of a State of Palestine, and if mid-term congressional elections go badly for the Democrats in America, there is growing speculation that the Obama White House might seek some retribution against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by withholding the US veto on the Security Council.
Israel can hardly be said to hold a balance of power with super-powerful Russia. But there are certain understandings in the eastern Mediterranean, where Israel remains a regional power, economically and militarily. And those understandings, carefully calibrated yet shifting during the course of the Syrian civil war, may have been rattled – despite the lack of official comment – by last week’s discovery of a Russian intelligence base in Tel el-Hara, Syria.
The Free Syrian Army revealed in an October 5 video that the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate’s OSNAC unit – its signals intelligence unit, much like the American NSA or Unit 8200 in Israel – had been operating from within a Syrian regime base near the border with Israel.
Russian troops had been collecting intelligence against Syrian rebels. This makes sense: Russia is deeply involved in the Syrian civil war and has often filled the role of international bodyguard for Bashar Assad. But the video also revealed that OSNAC officers had been collecting operational intelligence on Israel. This raises the question: To what extent has Russia been spying on Israel, and to what end?
Magen said it was hard to tell how long ago the Russian troops had abandoned the base or under what circumstances, but suggested that Russia, as befits a former superpower and an intelligence powerhouse, has deep intelligence penetration into Israel, including other signals intelligence collection posts, likely on Russian navy boats in the Mediterranean Sea.
The reason for this has less to do with Syria and more to do with Russia. He suggested that Russia might be repaying Syria for its agreement to allow Russia to operate, and that its motivation was not merely to improve Syria’s understanding of Israeli actions and deployments, but primarily to move the information to Iran and Hezbollah – as a currency to improve Russia’s regional standing and as part of its larger effort to track US allies.
“As part of Putin’s moves to restore the glory days of old,” Russia has redoubled its efforts to exert influence in the Middle East, investing its prestige and power in near-unprecedented ways in Syria and seeking to coax Egypt out of the US orbit into which it was lured after Camp David, said Dr. Jennifer Shkabatur, a Russia affairs lecturer at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
If there was any silver lining to the horrifying events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri which riled the month of August, it has finally brought the issue ofpolice militarization to the forefront. As outrageous as the police shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was, the brutal law enforcement response in the form of running roughshod over the First Amendment andresorting to quasi-martial law to mostly peaceful protests by local residents and activists was worse. To many observers, what took place in a Midwest suburb wasindistinguishable from scenes out of occupied Iraq.
How did this happen? For an answer, the writings of investigative journalist Radley Balko are an invaluable resource. Perhaps more than any other person, Balko has reported substantially on police militarization and injusticeacross the country for years.
The full details can be found in his book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces . This important book, which was recently released in its paperback edition, could not have arrived at a better time. Despite going into an intellectually rigorous analysis of law, politics, and history, Balko has a gift for storytelling, which highlights many heartbreaking stories and makesRise of the Warrior Cop an accessible and gripping read.
In the introduction, Balko begins with the provocative question:
How did we evolve from a country whose founding statesmen were adamant about the dangers of armed, standing government forces — a country that enshrined the Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights and revered and protected the age-old notion that the home is a place of privacy and sanctuary — to a country where it has become acceptable for armed government agents dressed in battle garb to storm private homes in the middle of the night — not to apprehend violent fugitives or thwart terrorist attacks, but to enforce laws against nonviolent, consensual activities?
In the lead-up to the American Revolution, British authorities used the hatedwrits of assistance to enforce tax laws and to crackdown on contraband in the colonies. This type of general warrant allowed for authorities to “search broad groups of people, for evidence of any number of crimes, sometimes over long stretches of time.” As bad as they were, Balko noted that in contrast to what police can do today, the writs of assistance could not be exercised at night and they required a knock-and-announcement before entry into a private home. Finally, it was the deployment of British soldiers to enforce the law that brought long-simmering tensions to a boil. After the Revolutionary War, with these abuses still fresh on their minds, the Founders framed and ratified a Constitution with a Bill of Rights.
The Fourth Amendment, in particular, was written explicitly to prohibit general warrants and to reinforce the Castle Doctrine, an even older principle carried over from the British common law that can be traced back to antiquity. The Castle Doctrine simply reinforces the timeless idea that "a man’s home is his castle." As explained by Balko:
Implicit in the sentiment is not only the right to repel criminal intruders but also the idea that the state is permitted to violate the home's sanctity only under limited circumstances, only as a last resort, and only under conditions that protect the threshold from unnecessary violence. Thus, before entering without permission, government agents must knock, announce and identify themselves, state their purpose, and give the occupants the opportunity to let them in peacefully. … The announcement requirement under English law was not a formality, as it has become in police raids today. It was elemental. Its purpose was to give the homeowner the opportunity to avoid violence, distress, and the destruction of his property.