Page 9


POLITICA INTELLIGENCE Legal Lamentations FOOD FOR THOUGHT POLICE It’s a dangerous world out there, and the homeland needs defending from malicious, evil terrorists, including the dreadedand dreddeddomestic bombthrowers at the all-volunteer Food Not Bombs. That’s the message University of Texas law students received on March 8 when FBI Senior Special Agent Charles Rasner visited their class to make a presentation entitled “Counter-Terrorism Efforts in Central Texas.” After clicking through PowerPoint slides discussing the FBI’s work against al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and neo-Nazi groups in Texas, Rasner unveiled the FBI’s terrorist watch list for Central Texas. The list included Food Not Bombs, an organization that collects food for the hungry; Indymedia, a grassroots media collective; and the Communist Party of Texas \(who knew Several students in the U.S. Law and National Security class raised a ruckus at the inclusion of these self-avowed nonviolent activist organizations among known terrorist groups. In response, Rasner threw up a number of defenses, students said, blaming the PowerPoint on someone else in his office and arguing that the groups’ inclusion “has nothing to do with their politics,” but rather because people in the organizations had broken the law. Elizabeth Wagoner, the law student who led the aggressive questioning, met with Rasner a few days later at her professor’s request. She told Rasner that she was concerned the FBI might be surreptitiously monitoring peaceful activist groups. According to Wagoner, the agent insisted to her that nothing prevents the FBI from attending public meetings to monitor a group’s activity. Rasner is a member of the FBI-led network of federal and local law enforcement agencies responsible for terrorism matters. “I think this is… more confirmation that they are in fact looking at left-wing groups under the rubric of terrorism,” Wagoner said. Rasner didn’t respond to requests for comment. In an e-mailed response to questions from the Observer, Professor Ron Sievert, who invited Rasner to speak to his students, vehemently denied that Rasner presented “anything labeled as a terrorist watch list….He did NOT condemn those particular groups as a WHOLE. He was VERY clear that the FBI only investigates criminal activity and does not interfere with First Amendment rights,” Sievert wrote. In addition to teaching at UT law school, Sievert works as a federal prosecutor in Austin. Will Harrell, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, had a different take. “In general what [Rasner] was saying is consistent with what we’re finding out about this [JTTF] program around the country,” he said. “They keep notes, they monitor organizations that wound up on their list.” On March 28, for instance, the ACLU of Colorado announced that documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request showed that JTTF agents conducted a domestic terrorism investigation of anti-war demonstrators carpooling in Denver to a 2003 anti-war demonstration. Harrell says that he is grateful that Rasner revealed what groups the agency is monitoring in Texas since it will make it easier to tailor the ACLU of Texas’ requests for information. “Thanks to the visiting lecturer, now that we know that there’s something there, we’ll begin to look more closely.” FIXING A BROKEN HOME Are your walls as studless as a Young Republicans meeting? Or does your faucet drip like a five-year-old’s nose during flu season. Those might not be your particular issues, but if you’re one of the tens of thousands of KB Home owners in Texas, you now might have an eas ier time than ever getting your home repaired, if it’s defective. Owners of houses built by KB Home used to have no choice but to suffer through a lengthy and sometimes expensive binding arbitration process when they had warranty problems with their homes. They now can have their day in court, thanks to the settlement in February of a class-action lawsuit filed in Laredo by a group of homeowners. In the class action, KB Home owners complained that the Los Angeles-based homebuilder unfairly mandated they agree to settle any warranty disputes through binding arbitration, which could end up costing homeowners upwards of $15,000, says Janet Ahmad, the San Antonio-based president of the consumer-advocacy group Home Owners for Better Building. As a result of the settlement, KB Home owners will be notified that they need not go through a binding arbitration process to deal with faulty construction. The case in Laredo follows a $2 million fine levied in August on the homebuilding company by the U. S. Federal Trade Commission. The FTC said the company violated a 1979 FTC consent order by requiring homeowners to pay arbitration costs and by furnishing buyers of new homes with purchase agreements that required binding arbitration of warranty disputes. KB Home didn’t have much to say about the settlement, but in a statement to the Observer, execs said the company would not “make the arbitration of warranty claims binding on home owners whose warranties are covered by the terms of a 1979 consent decree.” Before anyone thinks he or she will have an easy time when something under warranty breaks, think again. Before anyone can file suit, owners of houses built after Sept.1, 2003, will still have to deal with the Texas Residential Construction Commission, the indus 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 7, 2006