(MintPress) – Ask Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson what the scariest bill signed into law over the past year was and he often cites the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). During interviews and the third party presidential debate, Johnson has berated Congress and the president for their handling of the country since the calendar turned in January. The year 2012 has log-jammed state and federal lawmakers’ books with invasive abortion bills, changes to federal student loan laws and cyber security measures that opponents say invade privacy.
With a precedent spookier than anything you may see on Halloween, the NDAA for 2012 contains provisions that give the United States military the legal option to detain anyone it suspects of terroristic activity without trial, including Americans. Johnson, along with various constitutional law attorneys and organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have spoken out against the law, saying it is a violation of basic civil rights in America.
“I would not have signed the National Defense Authorization Act allowing for you and I to be arrested and detained as U.S. citizens without being charged,” Johnson said in an interview with Raw Story. “I would not have signed the PATRIOT Act. I think our civil liberties are being eroded on a daily basis all in the name of “keeping us safe”? Well, I think this is why we’ve fought wars, is to protect civil liberties.”
Forced ultrasounds prior to abortions
As lawmakers begin looking ahead to 2013, perhaps they should re-examine their body of work in 2012 and the relative approval ratings that have coincided with their voters. The Real Clear Politics Congressional approval average is 16.3 percent, up from a 2012 low of 11.3 percent in March. Coinciding with record-low approval ratings has been the contentious social issue of abortion in America. Without a federal position, many states have taken it upon themselves to rule on abortion.
In Virginia, the state copied neighboring North Carolina by requiring women to receive a transvaginal ultrasound prior to receiving an abortion. Opponents, such as Mother Jones contributor Kate Sheppard, say it is an unethical and invasive procedure for a legally protected procedure. Megan Carpentier, the executive editor at Raw Story, subjected herself to one of the newly required ultrasounds that are popping up in many states in April.
“It was uncomfortable to the point of being painful, emotionally triggering (and undoubtedly is more so for victims of rape or incest or any woman in the midst of an already-emotional experience) and something that no government should force its citizens to undergo to make a political point,” Carpentier wrote.
Virginia’s law is widely considered to be the catapult for the year’s “war on women” – a catch-all term used to describe proposed mandates on women’s health care, birth control and abortion regulations.
Student loan changes
In light of the stubbornly stagnant economy, Democrats and Republicans debated the merits of the government’s role in federal aid for college students. What resulted were changes in policies that could ultimately affect how students pay back tuition and their access to higher education. Nationally, colleges have raised tuition by an average of 4.8 percent over the last year – a rate that outpaces inflation. With booming student fees and miscellaneous expenses, the U.S. Department of Education says college costs increased by 15 percent from 2008 to 2010.
So it may not help students much that in 2012 Congress approved measures that eliminated the six-month interest subsidy grace period that graduating college students relied so heavily on and narrowed the qualifications for those who would qualify for the Pell Grant Program. Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said college will become unaffordable for the middle class if higher education trends and continued reluctance by Congress to support students in need continues.
“If we go on this way for another 25 years, we won’t have an affordable system of higher education,” Callan told the New York Times. “When we come out of the recession we’re really going to be in jeopardy, because the educational gap between our work force and the rest of the world will make it very hard to be competitive.”
With total outstanding student loan debt exceeding $1 trillion in America, many link the potential for a loan “bubble burst” to that of the collapse of the housing market.
“The government has artificially inflated a huge market for an intangible product called ‘education,’ price is accelerating upward, and the debt-holders are generally low-income young people with no way to evade repayment if things go bad,” wrote James Velasquez, education writer at PolicyMic.
Protesting and the First Amendment
When have state lawmakers gone too far with quelling peaceful protesters? Many say it was when various cities around the country began implementing “free speech zones” during widely-attended events. When Tampa and Charlotte played host to the Republican and Democratic national conventions respectively, the cities implemented “free speech zones” to keep protesters away from convention buildings and the public’s eye. The ACLU said free-speech zones imply that the First Amendment ends outside of the restricted areas.
“The biggest problem is the use of seemingly neutral laws to control protests to restrict certain kind of protests or keep inconvenient protests out of the public eye,” said Gabe Rottman, a policy adviser for the organization.
For over a year now, municipalities have worked on developing a response to the oftentimes large-scale protests carried out by the Occupy movement. While notoriously peaceful in nature, around 7,700 demonstrators have been arrested, with consistent reports of police brutality against the law-abiding protesters. Oftentimes, mayors of cities tell police forces when to respond. Such was the case when Occupy Minneapolis protesters met with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak in regards to excessive force used by police officers when dispersing a peaceful demonstration.
But protesters are not the only ones who have faced unlawful restricts; journalists covering the protests have as well. The result has been a tumble to No. 47 for the U.S. in the Reporters Without Borders freedom of press rankings. The organization cited the treatment and detention of some journalists covering the Occupy events as its reason for sending the U.S. down the list.
“The crackdown on protest movements and the accompanying excesses took their toll on journalists,” the report said. “In the space of two months in the United States, more than 25 were subjected to arrests and beatings at the hands of police who were quick to issue indictments for inappropriate behavior, public nuisance or even lack of accreditation.”
As cybersecurity grows, privacy goes
Start a conversation with an Internet junkie about the prospects of SOPA and PIPA and you’ll likely get a lecture in privacy and intellectual property. Both of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its counterpart, the Protect IP Act (PIPA) were ultimately shelved, but the spirit of the bills is still felt today as Congress continues to debate online legislation.
Both SOPA and PIPA looked to address the dissemination of copyrighted material over the Internet. The bills emphasized crackdowns on websites that merely “facilitated” or “enabled” copyright infringement, such as YouTube, which allows users to post music videos and other entertainment media.
But in light of the demise of both bills, the Cybersecurity Act has come to the forefront of Internet debate. Initially blocked in the Senate over the summer, Obama has said the piece of legislation is crucial in protecting U.S. infrastructure systems from online attacks. The bill would require private internet service providers (ISPs) and businesses to report any suspicious activity to the government. Speculation of Obama signing an executive order to implement the bill has circulated, but it remains to be seen if he will follow through so close to next week’s election.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been one of many free Internet advocates to come out against the act, saying it opens the floodgates for employers, ISPs and websites to unjustly spy on users’ activities.
“The bills are written broadly and deliberately to permit Internet backbone providers, ISPs, carriers and online service providers like Google, Facebook and Twitter to intercept your emails and text messages, and possibly even modify, block, or filter those communications,” the EFF wrote. “They have this ability if it’s done with the intention of thwarting vaguely-defined ‘cybersecurity’ threats … ”