Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Go To Original
The US Supreme Court ruling on Monday that police can collect DNA samples from arrestees is another major attack on constitutional rights and an expansion in the powers of the state.
The 5-4 decision has vast implications not just for facilitating the growth of the state database of genetic information—which currently includes more than 11 million individuals—but for the basic right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The decision allows for the collection of DNA information of individuals who are not convicted of a crime, and are therefore presumed innocent, to be used as evidence in cases for which the state has no reasonable suspicion that they are guilty.
In overturning a previous ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, argued that swabbing for DNA samples is akin to fingerprinting and mugshots—a “legitimate police booking procedure” that can be used to identify the arrestee. In fact, the acquired evidence is not used primarily for identification, but for submission in government databases.
Kennedy was joined by most of the traditional right-wing of the court, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, along with a traditional liberal, Justice Stephen Breyer. The dissent was written by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The case, Maryland vs. King, involved a Maryland man, Alonzo Jay King Jr., who was arrested in 2009 on assault charges. Before being convicted on assault, his DNA was obtained. This led to his conviction in an unrelated rape charge from 2003.
The Maryland appeals court overturned the rape conviction, ruling that the state law authorizing DNA collection from arrestees was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which says that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, house, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”
The Maryland court ruled that the “weighty and reasonable expectation of privacy against warrantless, suspicion-less searches” overruled any “purported interests in assuring proper identification,” and that DNA provided a “vast genetic treasure map” for the state to utilize.
It speaks to the decay of liberalism that it was left to the arch-reactionary Scalia to make certain valid points, from a libertarian perspective, in opposition to the majority ruling. Reading his decision from the bench, Scalia noted that the majority was carrying out a “sleight of hand” by justifying the collection of DNA data as necessary for identification.
“Make no mistake about it: because of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.” He added that “the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would not have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.”
The same logic that is used to justify warrantless seizure of DNA evidence could be employed to argue for a vast array of intrusive information-gathering activities by the state—any one of which might also have the effect of obtaining information to solve past crimes.
In opposing the decision, Steven Shapiro, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, noted that it “creates a gaping new exception to the Fourth Amendment,” which “has long been understood to mean that the police cannot search for evidence of a crime—and all nine justices agreed that DNA testing is a search—without individualized suspicion. Today’s decision eliminates that crucial safeguard.”
Moreover, while Maryland’s law limits DNA collection to those arrested for “serious” crimes, laws in other states are much broader. Twenty-seven states as well as the federal government have laws or regulations that allow for this practice.
A friend of the court brief from the Electronic Privacy Information Center noted that the Combined DNA Indexing System (CODIS) has been vastly expanded over the past several years. While it “once included DNA profiles of only convicted sex offenders,” it “now contains more than eleven million profiles.”
The EPIC brief noted, moreover, that CODIS “is not strictly limited, as all law enforcement agencies in the country, at the federal, state and local levels, have access for purposes of DNA matching. As CODIS expands, individual privacy rights are implicated, and not just for the individuals whose DNA is collected; the ability to search for partial matches also implicates the privacy rights of family members whose DNA is a close enough match that the person is flagged in a CODIS DNA search.”
Over the past decade, the state, under the banner of the “war on terror,” has begun constructing vast databases of emails, text messages, Internet activity, financial information and criminal and medical records. There is no doubt that DNA data will be incorporated into this systematic spying operation directed at the American people.
The Supreme Court decision is another in a long line of judicial attacks on fundamental democratic rights.
Go To Original
A new study from the St. Louis Federal Reserve documents the vast disparity in the fortunes of American families since the financial crisis of 2007-08, with the bulk of the “recovery” in aggregate wealth going to the richest layers of the population.
The report, “After the Fall: Rebuilding Family Balance Sheets, Rebuilding the Economy,” found that “only about 45 percent of the average inflation-adjusted household wealth that was lost since the onset of the downturn in 2007 has been recovered.”
To support claims of economic recovery, the Obama administration and the political establishment as a whole have cited the fact that aggregate net worth at the end of last year had almost reached the level it was prior to the crash of 2009. While total net worth was estimated at $67.4 trillion in 2007, it reached $66.1 trillion at the end of 2012, recovering 91 percent of its losses.
However, this masks the enormous growth of inequality. Of the $14.7 trillion accrued since 2009, the majority, $9.1. trillion, “was due to higher stock-market wealth,” the majority of which is owned by the wealthiest families. With more than a touch of understatement, the report states: “Considering the uneven recovery of wealth across households, a conclusion that the financial damage of the crisis and recession largely has been repaired is not justified.”
The wealth of the rich has surpassed pre-recession highs, while that of the vast majority has stagnated. In other words, the net impact of the crisis has been an aggregate transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.
This outcome is a direct product of the response of the American ruling class, led by the Obama administration, to the crisis. Trillions of dollars have been allocated to bail out the banks, and the US Federal Reserve pumps $85 billion into the financial markets every month to maintain the new asset bubble. At the same, wages have been driven down and social services slashed, while nothing has been done to help those most severely impacted by the crisis.
The St. Louis Fed noted that prior to the economic crash, US households had accumulated an average debt-to-income ratio of 133 percent, due in large part to soaring housing prices and predatory lending by the banks. In the wake of the crash, average household wealth fell 15 percent.
The impact of the crisis disproportionately affected low-income Americans, though the primary categories examined by the report are those of race, age and education level. The class impact—both of the crisis and of the subsequent “recovery”—finds distorted reflection in these alternate categories.
“Although many subgroups experienced large declines, the Fed’s survey suggests that families that were young, that had less than a college education and/or were members of a historically disadvantaged minority group… suffered particularly large wealth losses.”
These families are among “the most economically vulnerable groups because of the particular occupation and sectors in which they were overrepresented, such as low-wage service-sector jobs and construction.”
Youth were particularly hard hit. The report found that from 2007 to 2010, homeowners under 40 saw a staggering 44 percent wealth loss in their homes, with a disproportionate impact on minority youth, including Hispanic and African American youth.
For lower-income families, homes tend to be the primary asset. For African American or Hispanic homeowners under the age of 40 who had not received a high school diploma, 85 percent of all wealth in 2007 was tied to real estate. For both college graduates and high school graduates in this category, 70 percent of wealth was tied to homes.
The report states that chances for post-secondary success increase seven-fold for a youth who had personal savings, regardless of family income. Inversely, lifetime earning potential is also hindered by excessive amounts of debt. The Federal Reserve found that those with a four-year college education and overhanging student loans had a net worth of $186,000 less than their non-indebted peers.
A recent New York Federal Reserve study found that, for those who had student debt, the average level of debt for youth aged 25 had risen to $25,000. Nearly one in five young people were at least three months delinquent on payments.
A number of recent reports corroborate the St. Louis Fed’s findings. Last year, a US Federal Reserve study found that the global economic recession had set families back by nearly 20 years, erasing 39 percent of all household wealth between 2007 and 2010.
Another recent study, released by the University of California, found that since 2009 average real income for families had grown by only 1.7 percent. However, behind this 1.7 percent growth, the top one percent saw their incomes jump by over 11 percent, while the income of the bottom 99 percent declined by half a percentage point during the same period.
Nearly five years after the onset of the greatest financial crisis in a century, bankers and wealthy hedge fund managers have been supplied with access to virtually endless funds by the Obama administratio, while simultaneously declaring there is “no money” for basic social programs benefiting the working class.
The results, reflected in the St. Louis Fed report, are the outcome of this process.