• Archive of "Democracy" Category

    Take a Valium, Lose Your Kid, Go to Jail

    September 29, 2015 // 13 Comments »


    Do we need another example of over-zealous law enforcement and government bullies gone wild? Yes, yes we do.

    An Alabama woman had her child taken away from her, and scored jail time, because she took a valium while pregnant.

    The ridiculous case begins inside the state’s massive meth epidemic. In 2006, Alabama passed a “chemical endangerment of a child” statute, the country’s toughest criminal law on prenatal drug use. The law targeted parents who turned their kitchens drug labs, putting their children at peril. No problem with that, book ’em.

    But within months, prosecutors and courts began applying the law to women who exposed their fetus to controlled substances in utero (the state holds that life begins at conception you see.) A woman can be charged with chemical endangerment from the earliest weeks of pregnancy, even if her baby is born perfectly healthy. The penalties are exceptional: one to 10 years in prison if her baby suffers no ill effects (!), 10 to 20 years if her baby shows signs of exposure or harm and 10 to 99 years if her baby dies.

    Note the term “controlled substance.” Women can still booze it up and smoke all the tobacco they want, even though both drugs have been long-proven dangerous to a fetus.

    Casey Shehi’s son (both pictured) was born fully healthy in August 2014. But the maternity nurse at the hospital took the baby from his mother’s also immediately. Casey had tested positive for benzodiazepines, the chemical found in valium and other “downers,” under Alabama’s mandatory drug screening for all women who give birth in the state.

    The baby was taken away until a urine test on him could be done. It turned up clean, and he was returned to his mother. Casey admitted to taking one of her boyfriend’s valium when she couldn’t sleep. He had a prescription for the medicine, she did not.

    A social worker then visited Casey at home. Alabama authorities have been aggressive about removing newborns from the custody of mothers who abuse drugs, typically placing a baby with a relative or foster family under a safety plan that can continue for months or years. The social worker concluded that this wasn’t one of those situations.

    Then one morning a few weeks later, when Casey was back at her job and the baby was in a daycare facility, investigators from the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office showed up with a warrant. They charged Casey with “knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally” causing her baby to be exposed to controlled substances in the womb. She was handcuffed right at work and taken to jail. After the arrest, the judge issued an emergency order granting her ex-husband sole custody. There wasn’t even a hearing.

    Casey Shehi is one of at least 31 women arrested in Etowah County since 2013 for this same offense. Some 479 new and expecting mothers have been so prosecuted across Alabama since 2006.

    The arrest left Shehi deep in debt. Between her $10,000 bond and lawyers for the chemical endangerment charge and custody case, there were a lot of bills. Every couple of weeks, she had to take a drug test at $75 a pop. And after all this and a lengthy court process, all charges against Casey were dropped and she regained custody.

    So, justice.

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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    A Day in America

    September 26, 2015 // 9 Comments »


    The Pope and the United Nations General Assembly were in New York on Friday.

    The entire metro area was thus designated by the Department of Homeland Security a “National Special Security Event (NSSE),” which offers law enforcement all sorts of semi-unConstitutional powers, for freedom.

    Under an NSSE, the local authorities give up their lawful jurisdiction, as an NSSE puts the United States Secret Service in charge of event security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation in charge of intelligence, counter terrorism, hostage rescue and investigation of incidents of terrorism or other major criminal activities associated with the NSSE, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of recovery management in the aftermath of terrorist incident.

    In other words, the Feds control your world. The practical result is a city put on lockdown, with streets closed and massive police presence.

    Apparently some motorcade or another was scheduled to pass through my boring, residential neighborhood, and there were cops everywhere. Here’s what a day in America now sounds like:

    COP: (semi-blocking sidewalk) Where you headed, sir?

    ME: To the bus. May I go?

    COP: Just wondering where you’re headed.

    ME: To the bus. Am I free to leave?

    COP: Do you have ID with you, sir?

    ME: Yes.

    (Silence. In New York, the police can only demand ID with probable cause, though they can ask for it anytime. I’m an older white male and so felt I might get away with not showing it “voluntarily,” and without a beating.)

    COP: You have a nice day, sir.

    If the cop had demanded my ID instead of letting me lawfully be on my way, I would have had the choice of standing my Constitutional ground, or likely spending a few hours in jail on some trumped up excuse, to teach me a lesson. Yep, freedom ain’t free. I was sweating balls.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Using First Amendment to Defend the Second Amendment

    September 21, 2015 // 7 Comments »

    Cody Wilson, who created computer code that will allow someone to 3-D print a handgun, is trying now to use the First Amendment’s right to free speech to assure his Second Amendment right to bear arms.

    And he has to sue to the U.S. Department of State to do it.

    A Plastic Gun

    3-D printing allows the use of plastics and some metals to create three dimensional objects, using an off-the-shelf “printing device” and computer code. You can create the code yourself if you are smart like Cody, or you can buy and download the code from a smart guy like Cody if you are not as smart. The printer takes that code and builds up the object, layer-by-layer (watch it work.) The tech is amazing, and is even being used now on the International Space Station to fabricate spare parts on demand.

    Two years ago Cody posted online what is believed to be the world’s first computer code to create a 3-D printable gun. Wilson’s files for what he called the Liberator, a single-shot pistol, were partly a statement about freedom in the digital age and partly an assertion of his Second Amendment rights.

    Enter the State Department

    A few days after the plans for the Liberator were put online, the State Department ordered Wilson to remove them, threatening him with jail and fines for breaking rules on the export of military data.

    State informed him that by posting his files online he may have violated a complicated set of federal regs, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which seek to prevent the export of sensitive military technology. The regulations are pretty heavy stuff, aimed at stopping the export of classified military hardware, weapons of mass destruction, that sort of thing.

    It is unclear that the intent of the regulations was something to do with 3-D printing of a single shot handgun. It appears that, in panic, the Federal government looked through its books for a way to stop people like Cody, and could not come up with anything else without violating the Second Amendment. Hence, the call to the State Department to step in as pseudo-law enforcement.

    Note also that no terrorists have been stopped. Wilson removed the code from the web as ordered, but not before it was downloaded 100,000 times. It thus exists forever in cyberspace. And while Wilson is no doubt a clever lad, he is not the first/last/only person to know how to program a 3-D printer.

    Wilson Fights Back

    Wilson’s first move against State was to spend two years and thousands of dollars on lawyers to him file paperwork to comply with the ITAR regulations. State, for its part, took no action on Wilson’s case (Wilson’s attorneys claim State is obligated to issue a ruling in 60 days and just did not.) The State Department also did not respond to Wilson’s queries that it has no authority to regulate his actions inside the United States, where he believes the Second Amendment applied.

    And so Wilson moved to the next step, filing suit via his company in May against the State Department, claiming that its efforts to stop him from publishing his plans amount to a prior restraint on free speech.

    Basically, Wilson is trying to use the First Amendment to protect the Second. Pretty sure that is a first.

    Wilson’s initial response from the judiciary was not warm. In August, a district judge denied a preliminary injunction against the State Department’s order, stating that any potential violations of Wilson’s Constitutional rights did not outweigh the public interest. Wilson filed an appeal to that decision and the case will be next heard by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.


    Regardless of one’s thoughts on weapons, the issues here are Constitutionally significant, testing the depth of the First Amendment in the face of ever-expanding technologies, as well as the balance between individual rights and public good. The latter test has always been how the courts have judged limits on free speech (“shouting fire in a crowded theatre.”)

    This one has Supreme Court written all over it.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Muslim 9th Grader Arrested for Bringing His Electronics Project to School

    September 16, 2015 // 12 Comments »


    Here’s some more even-tempered policing for you, another dose of freedom that makes us all safer.

    Stare into the face of (made-up) terror America.

    That evil child is Ahmed Mohamed, a brown ninth-grader in Irving, Texas, who likes to tinker with electronics. He built a simple electronic clock and brought it school to show it to his engineering teacher, like any nerd would do.

    The teacher praised the design but advised him not to show it to other teachers. Later, in Ahmed’s English class, the clock beeped while it was in his bag. When he showed the project to his English teacher, who no doubt was a trained bomb detector EOD person, she thought it looked like a bomb. No doubt the teacher had seen many home-made bombs in her career.

    Maybe you know about bombs, so look at the printed circuit board in the picture. Can you see all the explosives wired to it, the plastique and dynamite sticks? Maybe if it looked more like this:

    The teacher kept the clock and called for backup. The principal and a police officer pulled Ahmed out of class, and detained him, without legal representation or calling his parents, in a room where four other police officers waited. He said an officer he’d never seen before leaned back in his chair and remarked: “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.”

    “They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’” Ahmed said.

    “I told them no, I was trying to make a clock.”

    “He said, ‘It looks like a movie bomb to me.’”

    Police arrested Ahmed and led him out of school in handcuffs. His school gave him a three-day suspension for, well, something, and police are still investigating the incident.

    Lawyers who handle civil suits are welcome to contact the family. People who wonder why everyone thinks we are ass clowns who hate too much, well, there you are.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    DHS Pressure Shuts Down First Library to Offer Anonymous TOR Web Browsing


    tor logo

    UPDATE: The library again gave in to pressure — the good kind — and reinstated its Tor service. Go to hell, DHS.

    A library in a small New Hampshire town started to help Internet users around the world surf anonymously using Tor. Until the Department of Homeland Security helped shut them down, to protect America, ‘natch.

    New Hampshire is the state whose motto is “Live Free or Die.” Tor is a system that allows someone to browse the web and communicate anonymously.

    Tor is the only means, Edward Snowden tells us, that offers the likelihood that you can not be monitored by the NSA. Using Tor requires a special browser and some software, all free. Tor grants you anonymity by bouncing your browsing around all sorts of computers worldwide, called nodes, to hide it. It can get pretty complex in the real world, but that’s a simple way to understand it.

    So, to help its patrons live free and not die, the tiny Kilton Public Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire, was the first library in the country to become part of the anonymous Web surfing service Tor. The library allowed Tor users around the world to bounce their Internet traffic through the library as one of those nodes.

    Soon after, “The Department of Homeland Security got in touch with our Police Department,” said Sean Fleming, the library’s director. Then there was a meeting at which local police and city officials discussed how Tor could be exploited by criminals, and the library was pressured to “pause” the project until the board of trustees votes on whether to turn the service back on.

    Used in repressive regimes by dissidents and journalists, Tor is considered a crucial tool for freedom of expression and counts the State Department among its top donors, but only when it is used abroad. In America, Tor is seen as a weapon of terrorists and criminals.

    When the DHS inquiry was brought to his attention, Lt. Matthew Isham of the Lebanon Police Department was concerned. “For all the good that Tor may allow as far as speech, there is also the criminal side that would take advantage of that as well. We felt we needed to make the city aware of it.”

    Deputy City Manager Paula Maville said that when she learned about Tor at the meeting with the police and the librarians, she was concerned about the service’s association with criminal activities such as pornography and drug trafficking. “That is a concern from a public relations perspective and we wanted to get those concerns on the table,” she said.

    Of course DHS cannot say how many, if any, criminals and terrorists are using Tor and for what. And of course saying Tor as a tool can be used by criminals and terrorists is about the same as saying cars can be used by criminals and terrorists — they can! Getaway cars, car bombs, that sort of thing, which suggests maybe cars should also not be allowed in Lebanon, New Hampshire. For freedom!

    And hey, New Hampshire, if you are still serious about that “Live Free or Die” slogan, babies, you are already dead. You just don’t know it yet.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    FBI Saved 9/11 Day By Foiling Another Non-Terror Plot Plot

    September 14, 2015 // 7 Comments »


    Did you have a nice 9/11 day Friday? Did you know you almost were killed? No, not really, except…

    Whew. America survived another never was going to happen terror plot nearly completely driven by the FBI because the FBI arrested the lone, sad loser they tricked into the plot. See, that’s the sound of freedom. Never Forget, m*therfuckers!

    Here’s what sort of happened: A Florida man faces up to 20 years in federal prison after authorities say he was trying to help plan an attack on an upcoming 9/11 memorial in Missouri. The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Thursday that 20-year-old Joshua Ryne Goldberg was arrested and charged with distributing information relating to explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction.

    A criminal complaint says Goldberg began communicating online with an FBI informer in July and gave that person information on how to build a bomb with a pressure cooker, nails and rat poison. The complaint says Goldberg also instructed the informer to place the bomb at an upcoming memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, that was commemorating the 14th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

    Here’s what really happened: a college kid with a history of internet trolling was talking dumb sh*t online. The Australian intelligence services (i.e., the NSA monitoring Americans from abroad where it is legal, versus from inside the U.S. where it is not) alerted the FBI, who had one of their people make contact with the troll online and ease him forward with the plot. The troll ran a Google search for “how to build a pressure cooker bomb”.

    Boom! That resulted in charges of “distributing information relating to explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction.”

    Once again FBI informants have courageously defended us from a plot that probably would never have existed were it not for the involvement of FBI informants. Absolutely nothing to see here. No one was in danger. Nothing was foiled, but at least some of us may have been fooled.

    Happy 9/11 America!

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Quoted by the New York Times Sunday Magazine

    September 13, 2015 // 5 Comments »


    Before he was assassinated by a United States government drone under orders from Obama and in contemptuous disregard for the Bill of Rights, Fifth and Sixth Amendments, Anwar al-Awlaki was an American Citizen.

    I have written a fair amount about his death, one small piece of which was picked up by the New York Times Sunday Magazine:

    You can bomb a thing into oblivion, but you cannot blow up an idea. An idea can only be defeated by another, better idea. So killing al-Awlaki had no more chance of truly silencing him than turning off the radio and hoping the broadcast never exists elsewhere. In an environment where martyrdom is prized, America might begin to turn around its failures first by creating fewer martyrs.

    More on al-Awlaki elsewhere on this blog…

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Happy 9/11 Day: Fourteen Years Later, An Improbable World

    September 11, 2015 // 14 Comments »


    I really tried this year. I wanted to write a killer blog piece on the 14th anniversary of 9/11, something that summed up all that has happened, the wars, the loss of freedoms, everything. As I live in New York, Ground Zero is a subway ride away, so I went there, hoping for inspiration.

    Instead, I found people taking selfies in front of the memorials. European tourists asking for directions to the subway, vendors selling cheesy NYC souvenirs and NYFD Never Forget T-shirts. It wasn’t somber, it was just another New York tourist attraction. Meanwhile, there were bomb-proof trash cans, and “See Something, Say Something” signs everywhere.

    I went home and knocked off most of a liter of (Russian) vodka and at some point inspiration turned to me watching Cartoon Network.

    Then I read a terrific article on the meaning of 9/11 which said everything I was hoping to say until Sponge Bob stepped in. So here, guest blogger Tom Engelhardt speaks for us all.

    Fourteen Years Later, An Improbable World

    Fourteen years later and do you even believe it? Did we actually live it? Are we still living it? And how improbable is that?

    Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters. Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks. Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance). Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecution of whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing. Fourteen years of the demobilization of the citizenry. Fourteen years of the rise of the warrior corporation, the transformation of war and intelligence gathering into profit-making activities, and the flocking of countless private contractors to the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, and too many other parts of the national security state to keep track of. Fourteen years of our wars coming home in the form of PTSD, the militarization of the police, and the spread of war-zone technology like drones and stingrays to the “homeland.” Fourteen years of that un-American word “homeland.” Fourteen years of the expansion of surveillance of every kind and of the development of a global surveillance system whose reach — from foreign leaders to tribal groups in the backlands of the planet — would have stunned those running the totalitarian states of the twentieth century. Fourteen years of the financial starvation of America’s infrastructure and still not a single mile of high-speed rail built anywhere in the country. Fourteen years in which to launch Afghan War 2.0, Iraq Wars 2.0 and 3.0, and Syria War 1.0. Fourteen years, that is, of the improbable made probable.

    Fourteen years later, thanks a heap, Osama bin Laden. With a small number of supporters, $400,000-$500,000, and 19 suicidal hijackers, most of them Saudis, you pulled off a geopolitical magic trick of the first order. Think of it as wizardry from the theater of darkness. In the process, you did “change everything” or at least enough of everything to matter. Or rather, you goaded us into doing what you had neither the resources nor the ability to do. So let’s give credit where it’s due. Psychologically speaking, the 9/11 attacks represented precision targeting of a kind American leaders would only dream of in the years to follow. I have no idea how, but you clearly understood us so much better than we understood you or, for that matter, ourselves. You knew just which buttons of ours to push so that we would essentially carry out the rest of your plan for you. While you sat back and waited in Abbottabad, we followed the blueprints for your dreams and desires as if you had planned it and, in the process, made the world a significantly different (and significantly grimmer) place.

    Fourteen years later, we don’t even grasp what we did.

    Fourteen years later, the improbability of it all still staggers the imagination, starting with those vast shards of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan, the real-world equivalent of the Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand in the original Planet of the Apes.  With lower Manhattan still burning and the air acrid with destruction, they seemed like evidence of a culture that had undergone its own apocalyptic moment and come out the other side unrecognizably transformed.  To believe the coverage of the time, Americans had experienced Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima combined.  We were planet Earth’s ultimate victims and downtown New York was “Ground Zero,” a phrase previously reserved for places where nuclear explosions had occurred.  We were instantly the world’s greatest victim and greatest survivor, and it was taken for granted that the world’s most fulfilling sense of revenge would be ours.  9/11 came to be seen as an assault on everything innocent and good and triumphant about us, the ultimate they-hate-our-freedoms moment and, Osama, it worked. You spooked this country into 14 years of giving any dumb or horrifying act or idea or law or intrusion into our lives or curtailment of our rights a get-out-of-jail-free pass. You loosed not just your dogs of war, but ours, which was exactly what you needed to bring chaos to the Muslim world.    

    Fourteen years later, let me remind you of just how totally improbable 9/11 was and how ragingly clueless we all were on that day. George W. Bush (and cohorts) couldn’t even take it in when, on August 6, 2001, the president was given a daily intelligence briefing titled “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” The NSA, the CIA, and the FBI, which had many of the pieces of the bin Laden puzzle in their hands, still couldn’t imagine it. And believe me, even when it was happening, I could hardly grasp it.  I was doing exercises in my bedroom with the TV going when I first heard the news of a plane hitting the World Trade Center and saw the initial shots of a smoking tower. And I remember my immediate thought: just like the B-25 that almost took out the Empire State Building back in 1945. Terrorists bringing down the World Trade Center? Please. Al-Qaeda? You must be kidding. Later, when two planes had struck in New York and another had taken out part of the Pentagon, and it was obvious that it wasn’t an accident, I had an even more ludicrous thought.  It occurred to me that the unexpected vulnerability of Americans living in a land largely protected from the chaos so much of the world experiences might open us up to the pain of others in a new way. Dream on. All it opened us up to was bringing pain to others.

    Fourteen years later, don’t you still find it improbable that George W. Bush and company used those murderous acts and the nearly 3,000 resulting deaths as an excuse to try to make the world theirs?  It took them no time at all to decide to launch a “Global War on Terror” in up to 60 countries.  It took them next to no time to begin dreaming of the establishment of a future Pax Americana in the Middle East, followed by the sort of global imperium that had previously been conjured up only by cackling bad guys in James Bond films.  Don’t you find it strange, looking back, just how quickly 9/11 set their brains aflame?  Don’t you find it curious that the Bush administration’s top officials were quite so infatuated by the U.S. military?  Doesn’t it still strike you as odd that they had such blind faith in that military’s supposedly limitless powers to do essentially anything and be “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known”? Don’t you still find it eerie that, amid the wreckage of the Pentagon, the initial orders our secretary of defense gave his aides were to come up with plans for striking Iraq, even though he was already convinced that al-Qaeda had launched the attack? (“‘Go massive,’ an aide’s notes quote him as saying. ‘Sweep it all up. Things related and not.'”)  Don’t you think “and not” sums up the era to come?  Don’t you find it curious that, in the rubble of those towers, plans not just to pay Osama bin Laden back, but to turn Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly Iran — “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad.  Real men want to go to Tehran” — into American protectorates were already being imagined?

    Fourteen years later, how probable was it that the country then universally considered the planet’s “sole superpower,” openly challenged only by tiny numbers of jihadist extremists, with a military better funded than the next 10 to 13 forces combined (most of whom were allies anyway), and whose technological skills were, as they say, to die for would win no wars, defeat no enemies, and successfully complete no occupations?  What were the odds?  If, on September 12, 2001, someone had given you half-reasonable odds on a U.S. military winning streak in the Greater Middle East, don’t tell me you wouldn’t have slapped some money on the table.

    Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that the U.S. military has been unable to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, its two major wars of this century, despite having officially left one of those countries in 2011 (only to head back again in the late summer of 2014) and having endlessly announced the conclusion of its operations in the other (only to ratchet them up again)?

    Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that Washington’s post-9/11 policies in the Middle East helped lead to the establishment of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” in parts of fractured Iraq and Syria and to a movement of almost unparalleled extremism that has successfully “franchised” itself out from Libya to Nigeria to Afghanistan? If, on September 12, 2001, you had predicted such a possibility, who wouldn’t have thought you mad?

    Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that the U.S. has gone into the business of robotic assassination big time; that (despite Watergate-era legal prohibitions on such acts), we are now the Terminators of Planet Earth, not its John Connors; that the president is openly and proudly an assassin-in-chief with his own global “kill list”; that we have endlessly targeted the backlands of the planet with our (Grim) Reaper and Predator (thank you Hollywood!) drones armed with Hellfire missiles; and that Washington has regularly knocked off women and children while searching for militant leaders and their generic followers?  And don’t you find it odd that all of this has been done in the name of wiping out the terrorists and their movements, despite the fact that wherever our drones strike, those movements seem to gain in strength and power?

    Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that our “war on terror” has so regularly devolved into a war of and for terror; that our methods, including the targeted killings of numerous leaders and “lieutenants” of militant groups have visibly promoted, not blunted, the spread of Islamic extremism; and that, despite this, Washington has generally not recalibrated its actions in any meaningful way?

    Fourteen years later, isn’t it possible to think of 9/11 as a mass grave into which significant aspects of American life as we knew it have been shoveled?  Of course, the changes that came, especially those reinforcing the most oppressive aspects of state power, didn’t arrive out of the blue like those hijacked planes.  Who, after all, could dismiss the size and power of the national security state and the military-industrial complex before those 19 men with box cutters arrived on the scene?  Who could deny that, packed into the Patriot Act (passed largely unread by Congress in October 2001) was a wish list of pre-9/11 law enforcement and right-wing hobbyhorses?  Who could deny that the top officials of the Bush administration and their neocon supporters had long been thinking about how to leverage “U.S. military supremacy” into a Pax Americana-style new world order or that they had been dreaming of “a new Pearl Harbor” which might speed up the process?  It was, however, only thanks to Osama bin Laden, that they — and we — were shuttled into the most improbable of all centuries, the twenty-first.

    Fourteen years later, the 9/11 attacks and the thousands of innocents killed represent international criminality and immorality of the first order.  On that, Americans are clear, but — most improbable of all — no one in Washington has yet taken the slightest responsibility for blowing a hole through the Middle East, loosing mayhem across significant swathes of the planet, or helping release the forces that would create the first true terrorist state of modern history; nor has anyone in any official capacity taken responsibility for creating the conditions that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, possibly a million or more people, turned many in the Greater Middle East into internal or external refugees, destroyed nations, and brought unbelievable pain to countless human beings.  In these years, no act — not of torture, nor murder, nor the illegal offshore imprisonment of innocent people, nor death delivered from the air or the ground, nor the slaughter of wedding parties, nor the killing of children — has blunted the sense among Americans that we live in an “exceptional” and “indispensable” country of staggering goodness and innocence.

    Fourteen years later, how improbable is that?

    Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    UK Police Scanned the Faces of 100,000 People at Music Festival

    August 25, 2015 // 5 Comments »


    Hey, Big Brother? It’s me. Can we talk about facial recognition please?

    The Download Festival

    See, the police used facial recognition technology to scan the faces of thousands of attendees at the Download music festival in the UK without their knowledge.

    The excuse the Leicestershire Police used was that they were trying to catch “organized criminals” who specifically target music festivals to “steal mobile phones,” according to a report in Police Oracle. The collected footage is compared against a database of custody images to identify the criminals, in this case, an alleged music festival phone-robbing crime ring that nobody seemed to have heard about prior to it becoming the justification for searching an entire crowd who did nothing but show up to hear some tunes.

    The festival saw 91 arrests out of 100,000 people. Most were for alcohol-related mishaps, none for phone theft.

    Facial Recognition Technology

    Facial recognition technology is big business. The tech is evolving rapidly. Basically a computer digitizes an image of someone’s face in a way that makes fooling the system difficult, stuff like measuring the distance between eyes, the angle of one’s nose, ear lobe shape, the sort of stuff that can’t be thrown off by face paint, a hat, sunglasses or the like. And the software can be configured to zero in on someone who is wearing face paint, a hat and sunglasses, so nice try, you in the back row. You’re now a person of interest.

    Facial recognition is increasingly being used by law enforcement. In the U.S., it’s used by the FBI and local police departments. The largest scale use of the tech in America is at major sporting events like the Super Bowl, supposedly because terrorists are flocking there, even though they never have.

    Reports suggest airports scan passengers, hotels scan lobbies, stores scan aisles, casinos scan their gambling floors and many police street cameras are tied into the systems. Another publicly-known example occurred after the Boston Marathon bombing of April 2013. The subsequent Boston Calling music fest was subject to heavy use facial recognition surveillance, one guesses in case there were more Tsarnaev brothers out there.

    Nobody wants the World Series blown up by terrorists. And guess what — neither before nor after 9/11 has any terror group carried out a mass casualty attack (if you want to count the goofball Tsarnaev brothers in Boston as a terror group, and the [unfortunate] deaths of the three spectators there was “mass,” be my guest.) And of course neither facial recognition tech nor anything else seems to deter our regularly-scheduled mass shootings (been to the movies lately?)

    Why It Matters

    The concern over widespread and indiscriminate use of mass surveillance technology, such as facial recognition, is that it is widespread and indiscriminate, a form of search (your location) and seizure (your image and location data) that, in the U.S. at least, thumbs its nose at the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted actions. So it is simply wrong on its, well, face.

    Someone inevitably will respond to all this with a hearty “Well, I’ve got nothing to hide.”

    Good for you. You are quite a person if you indeed have nothing at all to hide. And maybe you really don’t, at least under today’s laws.

    But information collected never goes away. Your “nothing to hide” argument has built into it your full and true faith that every government, every company, every hacker that can, will or might gain access to that data will never do anything with it against your self-interest. You are asserting that no new technologies will emerge to manipulate that data in a way you blearily can’t conceive of now.

    That, my friend, is a lot of faith in Big Brother.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Chelsea Manning Faces Indefinite Solitary Confinement for Possession of Expired Toothpaste

    August 18, 2015 // 7 Comments »


    Chelsea Manning, who is currently serving a 35-year prison sentence for leaking government documents to WikiLeaks as an act of conscience (why she said she did it) concurrent with Hillary Clinton exposing much higher-level classified documents to the Chinese for her own convenience (why she said she did it), has been threatened with possible “indefinite solitary confinement” for a series of trivial infractions, including owning expired toothpaste and sweeping food onto the floor.

    Her (Manning, not Clinton) hearing is today, August 18.

    ACLU attorney Chase Strangio says Manning is additionally accused of “disrespect” for requesting her lawyer while speaking to a guard and “prohibited property” for owning books and magazines that include the Caitlyn Jenner cover issue of Vanity Fair.

    Manning’s supporters provided a detailed list of her alleged violations:

    Manning’s “prohibited property” included:

    Vanity Fair issue with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover, Advocate, OUT Magazine, a Cosmopolitan issue with an interview of Chelsea, Transgender Studies Quarterly, novel about trans issues, the book Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy — The Many Faces of Anonymous, the subversive book I Am Malala,” and legal documents being used for her pending appeals including the Senate Torture Report.

    Perhaps there is some validity to the Senate Torture Report being prohibited property, as it clearly is pornography.

    If you wish to support free speech, you can sign a petition supporting Chelsea online. I did.

    If you wish to simply rant about how she deserves it, and/or shout homophobic slurs, well, I guess we have the comments section below where you can relieve yourself.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton: A Tale of Two Retired Presidents

    August 17, 2015 // 13 Comments »


    With the sad news that Jimmy Carter has cancer, it is time to take a look at what Carter, and another former president, chose to do with their lives after leaving the White House.

    Seen the latest front-page Carter Center scandal? Hear about the six figure fees former president Jimmy Carter pulls in from shady foreign companies? Maybe not.

    Take a moment to Google Jimmy Carter. Now do the same for Bill Clinton. The search results tell the tale of two former presidents, one determined to use his status honorably, the other seeking new lows of exploitation for personal benefit.

    Carter’s presidency carries an uneven legacy. Yet his prescient but unwelcome 1979 warning that the country suffered a crisis of confidence, preventing Americans from uniting to solve tough problems, anticipated the faux bravado and true spiritual emptiness of Reagan’s “Morning in America.”

    Many feel Carter has been a better ex-president than he was a president. His Carter Center focuses on impactful but unglamorous issues such as Guinea worm disease. When Carter left office, the disease afflicted 3.5 million people. Now it’s expected to be only the second disease, after smallpox, to ever be eradicated worldwide.

    Carter, 90, still donates a week of his time each year to Habitat for Humanity. Not a photo-op, Carter goes out without the media in tow and hammers nails. Carter also tirelessly monitors elections in nascent democracies, lending his stature as a statesman to that work over 100 times already. Summing up his own term in office, Carter said “We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. We never went to war.”

    He is the last president since 1977 who can make that claim.

    Bill Clinton pushed the NAFTA agreement through, seen now by many as a mistake that cost American jobs. He pointlessly bombed Iraq and sent troops into Somalia (see Blackhawk Down.) Clinton is remembered most of all, however, for his oral affair with an intern, then fibbing about it, and ending up one of only two American presidents ever impeached as a result.

    As a former president, Clinton is nothing if not true to his unstatesman-like form. Bill makes six-figure speeches to businesses seeking influence within the U.S. government, earning as much as $50 million during his wife’s term as secretary of state alone. TD Bank, the single-largest shareholder in the Keystone XL Pipeline, was also the single-largest source of speaking fees for Bill Clinton. He used a shell company to hide some of the income.

    His own charity, humbly known as the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Global Foundation, is a two billion dollar financial tangle on par with a South American cartel. It spent in 2013 the same amount of money on travel expenses for Bill and his family as it did on charitable grants. Instead of volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, Bill takes his big donors on executive safaris to Africa. Many of those same donors also give generously to the Hillary Clinton campaign and its constellation of PACs.

    Voters should judge a candidate not just on examples of past competency, but with an eye toward the core things that really matter: character, values, honesty, humility and selflessness. Perhaps this tale of two presidents has a lesson in it for 2016.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Clinton’s Evolving Email Defense Does Not Hold Water

    August 14, 2015 // 14 Comments »


    Have you noticed that Clinton’s explanations/excuses/defenses about her private email server and the classified information it held never seem to last very long, and are typically replaced in a week or two with something new?

    Back in March the message was unambiguous: there was no classified material on her server. Then, after two Inspectors General said there indeed was classified material, the line was it was classified retroactively (as if that matters; see below). That soon fell to a line that the classified information was unmarked as such (as if that matters; see below). The newest is that well, Clinton herself did not send any of the classified emails. So, once again wrapped in new shiny paper, there’s nothing to see here, folks, let’s move along to the issues that really matter. I’ll tackle that as well, below.

    No one has better summed up the official Clinton Child’s Treasury of Excuses better than Senator Dianne Feinstein, who somewhat randomly released a statement “in response to allegations” regarding Clinton’s emails.

    Let’s break Feinstein’s statement down.

    The Dog Ate My Homework

    Feinstein: First, none of the emails alleged to contain classified information were written by Secretary Clinton.

    Here’s your talking point, somnolent media. It’s someone else’s fault.

    Of course, the Inspectors General were only allowed by the State Department to review 40 emails, four of which contained classified. So there are still some 30,000 left to look into to see if Clinton herself did respond to, forward or write any of them.

    Next is that the classified emails, no matter who wrote them, ended up in an insecure system because Clinton chose to do things that way in contravention of all good practice and rationality, if not actual law and regulation.

    She was the prime mover behind the lapses in security. And after all, the cops bust the owner of the crackhouse, not just the ‘heads inside. The “buck stops where” is the question. Clinton continues to claim total ignorance of the contents of her own email to this day. Is all that presidential?

    Lastly, no matter who wrote the emails, once Clinton saw them they became her responsibility to act on and secure. In real life, failure to report and secure classified found in an unsecure situation is also a violation of national security law. With that access comes responsibility. Remember, if you see something, say something!

    I Didn’t Know, Honest, Sir

    Feinstein: Second, none of the emails alleged to contain classified information include any markings that indicate classified content.

    There is no allegation. The Inspectors General of the State Department and the Intelligence community said the emails contain classified material.

    What everyone who has ever held a security clearance knows, and what the media, from left to right, cannot grasp is this: the information itself is or is not classified. The markings are there to show you what level of secure handling is required.

    I’ll try again for the slow learners at CNN.

    You are handed a piece of paper marked TOP SECRET//SI//TK/NOFORN (explained here). On the paper are written the negotiating positions of the Chinese Foreign Minister, whom you will meet tomorrow. The paper says these were obtained via a spy satellite listening in on the Minister in his inner office via electronic emissions.

    Now, cut off the part of the paper that says TOP SECRET//SI//TK/NOFORN. Does the sensitivity of the information change at that moment? Of course not.

    If you have lived in a remote cabin all your life, you may not grasp the sensitivity of knowing your opponent’s positions a day ahead of time and the sensitivity that this information was derived by some of America’s most secret sources and methods. But if you have spent your entire life in government, you damn well know that that information is not unclassified, whether it shows up in your email unmarked or otherwise.

    It really, really is that simple. Marked or unmarked, pro-active or retro-active, Clinton knew she was dealing with highly classified information on an unclassified system she herself set up and continued to use.

    Everything Else

    Retroactive classification means that something was classified when it was issued. The markings were applied later, but that does not relieve the holder of the information of the legal burden of protecting the information. Government employees have lost their jobs over this concept, and gone to jail. This has been confirmed as legal as high as the Supreme Court. See Department of Homeland Security v. Robert MacLean for the most recent case. Legally, citing retroactive classification is not a defense.

    “Everybody does it.” No they don’t. No other government employee, never mind Cabinet-level official, has created her own private email server in the history of the United States. If Jeb Bush had a private server as governor of Florida, that is not a charm point for him, but he also did not handle America’s most sensitive information, or any classified information at all. John Kerry and Condi Rice said they do not send official emails outside of the State Department system. Madeleine Albright said she may have sent a few back in the dawn of the Internet 14 years ago via AOL or Yahoo, and no one has suggested she sent anything classified. Colin Powell as Secretary of State said he sent a handful of emails on his AOL account, and no one has claimed there was any classified involved.

    Besides, “everybody does it” is an excuse that teenagers use when they’re caught smoking behind the school.

    Now, as for that “let’s get back to the issues” meme that many Clinton supporters like to go to.

    No one can anticipate what will happen during the four (or eight…) years of a presidency. So while experience matters significantly, judgement and trust matter perhaps even more. Those are the things that will see success or failure when the unexpected arises one night at 3 am.

    Lastly, I think also the point needs to be made that if the only standard we apply to candidates’ wrongdoings is if it is not criminal and illegal, it does not matter, sets a pretty low bar. I’d like to vote for a president who, in addition to not being a convicted criminal, is also somewhat honest, with good judgement and who at least feigns putting the nation’s interests before his/her own.

    If one cannot see that, at a minimum, Clinton exercised horribly bad judgement and cannot be trusted to protect America’s secrets, and if one cannot see that those are indeed issues for an election, then, well, I just don’t know what else to say here.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Classified at State: Double-Standards, or No Standards at All?

    August 13, 2015 // 25 Comments »

    Manning at State Department

    My thanks to The Examiner, OPSEC Team, The Hill and Daily Kos for their articles noting the discrepancy between how the State Department treated my non-disclosure of classified materials on an unclassified system, and Hillary Clinton’s actual disclosure of classified materials on an unclassified system. There seem to be double-standards being applied.

    Wait, what?

    My first book, We Meant Well embarrassed the State Department by pointing out the failure of State’s efforts in Iraq. In retaliation for this, the State Department used its security bureaucracy infrastructure to push me into retirement after they failed to prosecute me, and then failed to fire me.

    Here’s what they did

    In October 2011 I wrote this blog post, which linked to an alleged State Department confidential cable on the Wikileaks site. The document in question was and still is online for all the world to see. State has never acknowledged publicly its authenticity or its classification.

    I merely linked to it.

    Based on that link, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security conducted a full investigation into my ability to continue to hold the Top Secret security clearance I had held without incident for 23 years. They concluded I was no longer to be trusted.

    In fact, they said:


    The SUBJECT is me. SBU stands for Sensitive But Unclassified, a made-up level of classification the State Department routinely assigns to all of its unclassified information to allow it to withhold documents from journalists and others as required. DS/ICI/PR is the State Department Office of Diplomatic Security, Professional Responsibility Division.

    The investigation into my supposed misdeeds around classified materials included Diplomatic Security running the “hacker” program WGET against this blog, and amassing “Screen shots collected by the DS Computer Threat Analysis Division (DS/CTAD) from the article ‘Let’s Watch Qaddafi Get Beaten and (Maybe) Sodomized’ published on WeMeantWell.com on 10/26/2011.” Agents also printed out nearly my entire blog to preserve a paper copy, apparently in case I deleted the files from my server. Hmm.

    I was interviewed three times in depth by a team of security agents, who characterized my linking as “transferring [classified] information from Wikileaks.org” to my own, unclassified, blog. I learned later that Diplomatic Security had been monitoring my State Department computer to ensure I did not misuse it. Security also searched my official email back several years and interviewed my neighbors looking for, well, something to use against me.

    It was a lot of effort by a busy organization over what, even if it had been as they portrayed it, a pretty minor matter.

    Clinton v. Manning: Protecting Classified Information

    And of course during the Bradley/Chelsea Manning trial, itself concerning State’s Secret level cables, Hillary Clinton was clear on her position: “I think that in an age where so much information is flying through cyberspace, we all have to be aware of the fact that some information which is sensitive, which does affect the security of individuals and relationships, deserves to be protected and we will continue to take necessary steps to do so.”


    I’ve focused here on my own situation not because it was important nationally, or out of bitterness (OK, maybe a little, I’m human) but primarily because it is the example I know most about.

    But there are others.

    The Intercept points out NSA whistleblower Tom Drake, for instance, faced years in prison, and ultimately had his career destroyed, based on the Obama DOJ’s claims that he “mishandled” classified information (it included information that was not formally classified at the time but was retroactively decreed to be such). Less than two weeks ago, “a Naval reservist was convicted and sentenced for mishandling classified military materials” despite no “evidence he intended to distribute them.” Last year, a Naval officer was convicted of mishandling classified information also in the absence of any intent to distribute it.

    John Kiriakou was sent to prison in part for his alleged mishandling of a business card, unmarked as to classification, that the CIA claimed was sensitive. Robert Maclean, at TSA, lost his job because he revealed unclassified information that was later retroactively classified.

    There are many examples.

    What it means…

    You are welcome to say what you wish about the merits or lack thereof of how I was treated by the State Department when the issue was handling of classified information. This article is not to open an old can of worms. I retired from my 24 years at the State Department and that’s that as far as that’s concerned.

    The point here instead is that State appears to have a sliding scale of how it sees possible security violations by its employees — Hillary Clinton and me, in this instance. Because while all this was happening with me in 2011, Clinton was running her own email system, unclassified in name but with classified materials in fact.

    And when you have double standards, as everyone knows, you really have no standards at all.

    BONUS: That photo’s of me, on my last day of work at State, wearing my ‘Free Bradley Manning’ T-shirt on campus. Manning, of course, is in jail for disclosing Secret-level information. I lost my job over purported confidential information. Hillary’s server contained above Top Secret information, the same level of information Edward Snowden is accused of disseminating.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    The Destruction of Tariq Ba Odah by the United States of America

    August 10, 2015 // 18 Comments »


    Tariq Ba Odah has been convicted of nothing.

    He has nonetheless spent 13 years inside Guantanamo living in a cage, and he is dying. The United States refuses to release him. He now weighs only 75 pounds.

    So you know, the photo here shows an American POW from WWII who weighed 75 pounds.

    A lawyer for Tariq Ba Odah has asked a federal judge to order his release because of his “severe physical and psychological deterioration.” On Friday, for the third time, the Justice Department asked a judge to extend its deadline to respond, saying the administration needed another week “to further consider internally its response to petitioner’s motion.”

    Tariq Ba Odah, in Guantanamo with no trial and no conviction and no hope of release otherwise accordingly, has been on a hunger strike since 2007 and now weighs less than 75 pounds. He is living testimony that the United States continues to torture its enemies. He is living testimony that the United States fears 75 pound men.


    So you know, the photo here shows people from a WWII concentration camp who weighed 75 pounds.

    Tariq Ba Odah has been held in Guantanamo for more than 13 years. The Pakistani Army captured him along the Afghan border, and he is accused of having gone to the region to fight with the Taliban and of having received some weapons training.

    In his U.S. government file, he is “assessed” to have been an Islamic extremist and a “possible member” of al Qaeda. It says he “probably” manned a mortar at Tora Bora in Afghanistan. He is “reported” to have been an “important man” with al Qaeda. The file notes that he watching videos on TV about the bombing of the USS Cole, information worth including apparently.

    It seems incongruous that an important man in al Qaeda would have the job of mortarman.

    It is likely that tens of thousands of young men, maybe more, fought and continue to fight against the United States in Afghanistan. Only a handful are in Guantanamo. Vengeance 14 years after 9/11 is impersonal and arbitrary and thus somehow even more evil.


    So you know, the photo here shows a dog that has been starved to the edge of death.

    As far as releasing Tariq Ba Odah, the New York Times reports State Department officials say that the government should not oppose his release, citing his medical condition and the incongruity of sending American diplomats to ask other countries to take in such detainees even as the Justice Department fights in court to prolong their detention.

    But Defense Department officials say that not contesting Ba Odah’s lawsuit would create an incentive for other detainees to stop eating, causing problems at the military-run prison. Justice Department litigators, who the Times claims have the job of “defend[ing] the government’s authority, are also fighting Ba Odah’s petition.

    Why do educated men and women at the Department of Justice, cognizant of the irony of their actions given the name of where they work, do this? They’ll say, perhaps to themselves in some death-bed moment of desperate remorse, that they were only following orders. One hopes their god is more understanding, because we have heard that one before at Nuremberg.

    Despite continued forcing of food up Ba Odah’s anus or down into his stomach against his will and under restraint, Ba Odah appears to have developed an underlying medical problem that is preventing his body from properly absorbing nutrition no matter how much he is force-fed. The U.S. continues to force-feed him nonetheless.

    At this point someone will be asking: why doesn’t Ba Odah just eat?

    It is likely Ba Odah himself has thought about the same question. In my former career working for the Department of State, I was responsible for the welfare of arrested Americans abroad. Many threatened hunger strikes for reasons ranging from superficial to very serious. However, in my 24 years of such work, only one prisoner carried it out for more than a day or two, taking only small sips of water for a week. His captors, one of America’s closest allies in Asia, choose to not force-feed him, stating due to the nature of his “political crime” (espionage) that they’d prefer to see him die.

    During my daily visits I watched the man starve to death in real-time. It requires extraordinary will and strength to do that, pushing back against all of evolution and biology screaming inside your head to just eat. Close to death, the man choose to stay alive and eat for the sake of his family. It is no casual decision to do what Tariq Ba Odah is doing. Something very important must be at stake for a man to do what Tariq Ba Odah has done.

    For eight years.

    And for those who have trouble with the images, I’ll suggest you not support the politicians and policies that create them. And just because you don’t look at them, that doesn’t make them go away for the real people in Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Ready for 2024: Chelsea Clinton to Publish First Book

    August 8, 2015 // 4 Comments »


    While she is still a step or two away from her second term as president, Hillary is already grooming her daughter for the succession.

    Chelsea Clinton was, like William and Harry, born into royalty. Chelsea is only 35 years old and has already accomplished so much. What a bright future lies ahead! America is still a country where any child can grow up to someday become president — as long as your last name is Clinton.

    Chelsea’s latest faux-accomplishment is to announce she will write a children’s book, It’s Your World. Crazy coincidence: it will be published just weeks before the 2016 election when Mother Hillary will be hoping to follow Father Bill into the White House. Chelsea’s hard-hitting book, under the sub-heading “Get Informed, Get Inspired and Get Going!” will address issues such as poverty, access to education, and gender equality. Another coincidence: those are basically her mother’s campaign themes.

    Clinton the Younger is no stranger to the world of Clinton favors and corruption.

    Earning $445 Per Second at NBC

    Unlike most well-to-do young people who, after a decent education, take a series of unpaid internships and entry-level positions to begin working their way up some corporate ladder, Chelsea jumped more than a few rungs. Despite never having attended journalism school or otherwise having worked in the field, Chelsea was hired by NBC News to do feel-good stories as part of their “Making a Difference” series. Though the starting salary for such positions is already a chunky $100,000-200,000, Chelsea is being paid $600,000 a year for the same work.

    All told, in her almost three-year tenure at NBC, Chelsea has worked on all of 14 stories.

    Business Insider calculated since starting work in November 2011, Chelsea earned about $26,724 for each minute she appeared on air, or $445 per second. As in one-two-three, there’s your month’s rent.

    NBC has an eye for talent, at least the talent of children of important politicians. In 2009, it hired George W. Bush’s daughter Jenna to serve as a correspondent on the Today” show. In 2011, it hired Senator John McCain’s daughter Meghan as a contributor on MSNBC.

    More Chelsea $$$$$$$$

    In addition to her gig at NBC, Chelsea also serves Vice Chair of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

    Chelsea also benefits from a job as a board member for Barry Diller’s IAC/InteractiveCorp. Salary for Chelsea: $300,000. The board position also pays an annual retainer of $50,000 and a $250,000 grant of restricted stock.

    Chelsea, though she only graduated with a master’s degree in 2010, started teaching graduate level classes two years later at Columbia University’s School of Public Health. Chelsea holds another academic post, salary unknown, as assistant vice provost for the Global Network University at New York University.

    Chelsea’s personal fortune is estimated at $15 million, most earned as a consultant at McKinsey & Company and by working for Avenue Capital Investment Group as a hedge fund manager. Chelsea and her husband live in a $10.5 million condominium in Manhattan.

    A feature of oligarchy is the dynastic ascension of new leaders, children who rise to positions of power and wealth simply by the luck of birth. We welcome Chelsea Clinton to the club.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    August 6: The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima

    August 6, 2015 // 5 Comments »


    There is a lot to say about this day, when 70 years ago, the United States became the first and only nation to use nuclear weapons.

    So much is said every day about Iran and nuclear weapons, and terrorists and nuclear weapons, Putin with nuclear weapons and so forth, but that one fact remains among all the blather. For all the talk, only America has dropped the bomb.

    We did it twice (the Nagasaki bomb was on August 9) and we did it on two civilian targets. There is no use arguing that the two cities had significant military value; if there had been, they would have already been firebombed to tinder the way Tokyo and other cities in Japan had been. Nagasaki was a port, but not far away was the major naval base at Sasebo, which some say was not bombed because the U.S. planned to take possession of it after the war for our own navy (we did.) Both cities had some defense industry, but pretty much any place in Japan larger than a village also did.

    Civilians were not, in today’s language, collateral damage. They were the targets. The image above shows what one child victim then looked like as an adult.

    Please think of him when you hear some American say the Japs deserved it.

    So we’ll leave it at this. As part of my research for my next book, Hooper’s War, I found this, below, an accounting by the United States of the exact, precise number of school children it killed on that hot August morning in 1945.

    hiroshima school children dead

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    House Passes Law to Revoke Passports of Americans Affiliated with Terror Organizations

    August 3, 2015 // 16 Comments »

    passport revoked

    The House of Representatives quietly passed a bill at the end of July allowing the State Department to revoke or deny passports to Americans with connections to “foreign terrorist organizations.”

    The measure, which passed by a voice vote after only a 15-minute debate, in theory aims to prevent “lone wolves” from traveling abroad to join a terror organization, or, if their passports are revoked while they are abroad, from returning to the United States.

    “The Benedict Arnold traitors who have turned against America and joined the ranks of the terrorist army ISIS should lose all rights afforded to our citizens,” Ted Poe (R-Texas), the bill’s sponsor, said. “These people are not returning to America to open coffee shops, they are coming back to kill. We must stop them from coming back at all.”

    The full text of the three-page bill is quite open-ended as to how this process will work, stating the criteria only as “aided, assisted, abetted, or otherwise helped an organization the Secretary of State has designated as a foreign terrorist organization.”

    The travel restriction requires no presumption of innocence for the targeted individual, no explanation, no public presentation of evidence, no opportunity for a defense, no checks and balances on the power. The bill does not outline any appeals or other forms of due process for the target. The only stipulation is that the Secretary of State report the action to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in either classified or unclassified form. Senate approval is required for the new bill to become law.

    The Bill represents another step for a government that increasingly seeks to control its citizens by arbitrary standards (see the No-Fly list). But the bill is evolutionary, not revolutionary.

    The Government of the United States has had for some time the ability to take away passports from American Citizens because “The Secretary of State determines that the applicant’s activities abroad are causing or are likely to cause serious damage to the national security or the foreign policy of the United States.” That sliver of law means if the government feels it is against its interest for you to have a passport and thus the freedom to travel, to depart the United States if you wish to, it will just take it away. The law allows them to do this prospectively, the “or are likely to cause…” part of the law, meaning you don’t need to have done anything. The government just needs to decide that you might.

    The last public use of this law was in 2011, when prior to having him and his 16-year-old son away blown away via drone, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton secretly revoked the passport of Anwar al-Awlaki, al Qaeda propagandist and U.S. Citizen.

    I have been unable to track down other recent public examples where the U.S. Government revoked the passport of an American simply because his/her presence abroad bothered – or might bother – the Secretary of State. In fact, the only example I was able to locate was that of infamous ex-CIA officer Philip Agee, who in the 1970’s exposed CIA officers identities. It was Agee’s case that prompted a Supreme Court review of the Department of State’s ability to revoke passports simply because the government didn’t want you to travel abroad (the Supreme’s upheld the government’s ability to do so based on a 1926 law after lower courts said no.

    The Court stated “The right to hold a passport is subordinate to national security and foreign policy considerations.”

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    UN Gives U.S. Flunking Grades on Privacy

    July 31, 2015 // 12 Comments »


    For a nation that goes out of its way to tell everybody else what to do about freedomism, and which still has, on paper at least, Constitutional Fourth Amendment guarantees against unlawful search and seizure, America fails miserably in assuring its citizens their rights.

    In fact, according to a UN study, the self-proclaimed “Exceptional Nation” ranks with China, Bolivia and Djibouti. Yea us!

    A United Nations Human Rights Committee issued midterm report cards for several countries based on how well they adhered to and implemented its recommendations related to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, an international treaty outlining the rights of all individuals. The U.S. performance overall was “not satisfactory.”

    In particular, the committee noted that the U.S. government failed to establish an adequate oversight system to make sure privacy rights are being upheld, and failed to make sure that any breaches of privacy were regulated and authorized by law, such as requiring a warrant. The lowest grade reflected America’s failure to “ensure affected persons have access to effective remedies in cases of abuse.”

    The committee also expressed dismay at the U.S. failure to “establish the responsibility of those who provided legal pretexts for manifestly illegal behavior.”

    Last year, the Human Rights Committee submitted recommendations to the United States on areas where it could improve the privacy rights of its citizens, following revelations made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. But according to the midterm review, many of those suggestions were not addressed.

    So shut the hell up Americans. You’ll get your freedom when and if the authorities decide to give any to you.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Wesley Clark Calls for Internment Camps for ‘Radicalized’ Americans

    July 23, 2015 // 8 Comments »


    Retired general and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark on Friday called for World War II-style internment camps to be revived for “disloyal Americans.”

    In an interview on MSNBC in the wake of the mass shooting in Chattanooga, Clark said that during World War II, “if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp, they were prisoners of war.”

    (During WWII, the United States detained over 11,000 ethnic Germans in the U.S. The government examined the cases under the Alien and Sedition Acts individually in a form of limited due process, and detained relatively few in internment camps. However, over 120,000 Japanese-Americans were sent off to camps without any form of due process. Most Americans consider these actions along the most shameful abuse of government power and civil rights since the abolition of slavery. The United States continues to pay reparations to those interned.)

    Clark called for a revival of internment camps to help combat Muslim extremism, saying, “If these people are radicalized and they don’t support the United States and they are disloyal to the United States as a matter of principle, fine. It’s their right and it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict.”

    (It is unclear what “conflict” Clark is referring to, but we can assume it is the undeclared war on an idea, terrorism. Terrorism has existed roughly since the beginning of civilization, so the duration of any conflict against it seems open-ended.)

    Clark’s proposal appears to be based on the concept of targeting people for government scrutiny who are not “radicalized,” whatever that means, but who the government, or perhaps just Clark by himself, decides may become radicalized at some unspecified future date.

    “We have got to identify the people who are most likely to be radicalized. We’ve got to cut this off at the beginning,” Clark said. “I do think on a national policy level we need to look at what self-radicalization means because we are at war with this group of terrorists.”

    For those keeping score, Clark’s proposal would violate, at a minimum, the rights to free speech, due process and habeas corpus, and cruel and unusual punishment, all the while setting a precedent for “thought crime” in the United States.

    Here’s the interview. Please note how the MSNBC drone interviewer does not challenge Clark in any way:

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Jihadist 17-Year-Old Faces Prison for Tweets about Encryption and Bitcoin

    July 17, 2015 // 2 Comments »


    In the next release of statistics from the FBI and DHS about how many terrorist plot they have foiled, remember this one is included.

    A 17-year-old Virginia teen, Ali Shukri Amin, faces up to 15 years in prison for contributing to Coin Brief and for Tweets about encryption and Bitcoin. He recently pleaded guilty to providing material support to Islamic State for all that. Amin was a high school honors student in suburban Virginia until his arrest.

    Dana Boente, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said the youth’s guilty plea “demonstrates that those who use social media as a tool to provide support and resources to ISIL will be identified and prosecuted with no less vigilance than those who travel to take up arms with ISIL.”

    According to the defendant’s signed “Admission of Facts,”, Amin joined Twitter last June and acquired some 4,000 followers and tweeted about 7,000 times.

    His Crimes

    Here’s what, according to Amin’s court documents, landed him in prison:

    — An article he wrote explained what Bitcoins were, how the Bitcoin system worked and suggested using a new Bitcoin wallet, which keeps the user of Bitcoins anonymous. The article included statements on how to set up an anonymous donations system to send money, using Bitcoin, to the mujahedeen.

    — Amin tweeted that IS needed an official website and that IS should stop releasing propaganda “in the wild” and instead should consider using JustPaste.it.

    — Also also Tweeted this link about Bitcoin.

    — According to the government, Amin, “Through various tweets, provided information on how to prevent a website from being taken down, by adding security defenses, and he solicited others via Twitter to assist on the development of the website.”

    — On his blog, Amin “authored a series of highly technical articles targeted at aspiring jihadists and ISIL supporters detailing the use of security measures in online communications to include the use of encryption and anonymity software, tools and techniques, as well as the use of the virtual currency Bitcoin as a means to anonymously fund ISIL.”

    Amin, who apparently never left his suburban home, is also accused of “radicalizing” an 18-year-old Virginia youth who later traveled to Syria. Amin admitted that he helped the boy get a mobile phone, assisted him with travel, gave him a ride to the airport in his parents’ car and pointed him generally to where he would find IS supporters in Turkey.

    Let’s Be Afraid

    Critical to understanding how terrifying this arrest and prosecution are is understanding that Amin is going to jail not for what he wrote, but to whom he wrote to and, apparently, what he was thinking when he wrote it.

    In other words, information, some of it amazingly technical, is splattered all over the web about Bitcoin, security, encryption and the other topics the high school kid wrote about. The processes are the same whether the money is going to your cool Kickstarter indie band project, or to Islamic State. Amin did not add anything special to the huge pile of info out there.

    Instead, he was busted because he Tweeted and blogged openly in the direction of Islamic State. He was thinking nice thoughts about IS while doing it. There is no indication that IS asked him to do this, or responded to him, or even acted on any information he posted.

    It is worth noting that IS, like you, could Google “Bitcoin” or any other of Amin’s subjects and read as much material as they wished. In such a case, would those websites also have some culpability toward supporting terrorism?

    The limited assistance to the other boy in traveling notwithstanding, Amin seems to be headed to Federal prison for a thought crime tied up in violations of his First Amendment rights.

    Keep that in mind before you blog, Tweet, update your Facebook or click on some of the links above, because the Feds are watching.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    New Law Says Web Sites Would Have to Inform Law Enforcement about Readers’ ‘Terrorist Activity’

    July 16, 2015 // 14 Comments »


    Social media sites such as Twitter and YouTube would be required to report “terrorist” videos and other content posted by users to federal authorities under legislation approved this past week by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

    The measure, contained in the 2016 intelligence authorization, still has to be voted on by the full Senate. The measure applies to “electronic communication service providers,” which includes e-mail services such as Google and Yahoo. “Posted content” would likely also apply to readers’ comments, and in theory to authors’ postings such as this one.

    Companies such as Twitter have recently stepped up efforts to remove terrorist content in response to growing concerns that they have not done enough to stem whatever the government deems propaganda. Twitter removed 10,000 accounts over a two-day period in April. Officials want more. “In our discussions with parts of the executive branch, they said there have been cases where there have been posts of one sort or another taken down” that might have been useful to know about, a Senate aide said.

    The snitch bill is modeled after a federal law — the 2008 Protect Our Children Act — that requires online firms to report images of child pornography and to provide information identifying who uploaded the images to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The center then forwards the information to the FBI. Of course actual images of child porn are pretty straightforward to notice, exploit innocents and involve no legitimate protected speech.

    But otherwise, sure, it’s the same thing. Statement: I Like Terrorism = Child Rape Images.

    Industry officials privately called the new law a bad idea only because it sounds like an expensive hassle for them. “Asking Internet companies to proactively monitor people’s posts and messages would be the same thing as asking your telephone company to monitor and log all your phone calls, text messages, all your Internet browsing, all the sites you visit,” said one official.

    Wait, isn’t that what we’ve been told the NSA has been doing to us since 9/11?

    Still, national security experts who will likely personally profit from the measure say it makes sense. “In a core set of cases, when companies are made aware of terrorist content, there is real value to security, and potentially even to the companies’ reputation,” said Michael Leiter, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, now an executive vice president with Leidos, a national security contractor. “Rules like this always implicate complex First Amendment and corporate interests. But ultimately this is a higher-tech version of ‘See something, say something.’”

    But what about those nasty First Amendment issues?

    “The intelligence bill would turn communications service providers into the speech police, while providing them little guidance about what speech they must report to the police,” said Gregory Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology. “The natural tendency will be to err on the side of reporting anything that might be characterized as ‘terrorist activity’ even if it is not. And their duty to report will chill speech on the Internet that relates to terrorism.”

    America: A nation of snitches, watching each other, reporting whatever thing we think is suspicious or terrorism. To The Authorities. But it’s for our own good, right Citizens? I think I saw a Twilight Zone like that. No, wait, it was the McCarthy Era, sorry.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Remembering the Death of Kelly Thomas at the Hands of the Police

    July 7, 2015 // 10 Comments »


    If a video of ISIS doing this to an American played on TV this afternoon, all of the country would be in an uproar. When it happened in America, there was barely a whisper.

    This week marks the fourth anniversary of the beating death of American Citizen Kelly Thomas at the hands of the Fullerton Police. All three cops seen in the video were found not guilty. The victim, Kelly, is shown in the hospital just before his death.

    I’m sorry if the image offended you, or if you are thinking of clicking away and unfollowing me on Twitter, but I am offended by what is happening in our country.

    Who the Cops Work For

    Kelly Thomas was a homeless man diagnosed with schizophrenia who lived on the streets of Fullerton, California. He was known to frequent an alleyway near a swanky restaurant. The owner didn’t like that, and allegedly phoned in a fake 911 report that Thomas was vandalizing cars to get the Fullerton Police on the scene to “take care” of the problem.

    The cops did their job. The really cleaned up the stain of a homeless guy getting in the way of someone making money.

    Kelly Thomas was beaten and killed by cops Jay Cicinelli, Manuel Ramos, and Joseph Wolfe on July 5, 2011. Thomas was comatose on arrival at the hospital, where he was taken after the three cops had had their fill of beating him. He never regained consciousness, and died on July 10, 2011.

    For nine minutes and 40 seconds, the officers pummeled Thomas to the ground, with Ramos delivering volleys of punches and beating Thomas with his baton and Cicinelli tasing the homeless man twice in the face.

    Choked on His Own Blood

    Medical records show that bones in Thomas’ face were broken and he choked on his own blood. The coroner concluded that compression of the thorax made it impossible for Thomas to breathe normally and deprived his brain of oxygen. The cops who beat him into that condition did not render any first aid on the scene, which may have saved their victim’s life.

    Officer Manuel Ramos (the cop at the beginning of the video who asks “See my fists?”) was charged with one count of second-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter; Corporal Jay Cicinelli and Officer Joseph Wolfe were each charged with one count of felony involuntary manslaughter and one count of excessive force.

    All three pleaded not guilty.

    Justice, American Style

    A judge declined to dismiss the charges against the officers in January 2013, finding that “a reasonable person could infer that the use of force was excessive and unreasonable.” The case went to trial and Ramos and Cicinelli were found not guilty of all charges. Following the verdict for the two officers, the district attorney’s office announced it would not pursue the case against Officer Wolfe.

    The defense argued cops must protect themselves when they believe they are in danger, without fear of prosecution for handling the incident with force.

    If this wasn’t wrong, then nothing can ever be wrong.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Emma Watson Will Train Afghan Men to Be Feminists

    July 6, 2015 // 5 Comments »


    So here we skip over to Afghanistan.

    As the UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador, important actress Emma Watson (pictured above in traditional Afghan garb) has spent the last year trying to convince men that women’s equality is more than just a women’s issue. In the U.S., her “He for She” campaign gained the support of celebs like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who tweeted about it, and Steve Carell, who wore the campaign logo on his cufflink at the Oscars. Because of that tweet, and those now-famous cufflinks, women’s equality has been forever fixed in the Homeland.

    Ambassador Watson now has set out to complete her journey by taking the “He for She” struggle to Afghanistan. Apparently the Taliban, whom the U.S. is almost done defeating after 14 years of war, are not nice to their female property, and Emma is so on that thing.

    To kick off the UN campaign’s launch in Afghanistan last week, “local activists,” (i.e., a few women rounded up and paid taxi fare to attend) government officials (i.e., a few thugs who live off foreign graft rounded up and paid taxi fare to attend), and foreign dignitaries (i.e., a few UN interns rounded up and paid taxi fare to attend) met at a Kabul high school to demonstrate how men play an integral role in the fight for women’s rights. Using the slogan “A brave man stands for women,” activists took the stage and shared stories that attempted to reposition the fight for women’s rights as a courageous and valiant undertaking.

    The underlying message was that gender equality can’t be achieved unless men change the way they view women. It’s a major shift in tactics considering that up until recently, gender equality in Afghanistan has been framed largely as a cause taken up by women.

    Super quick reality check: So this has been the problem all along! The Taliban, and the thugs who preceded them, as well as the corrupt men who have been running Afghanistan for the last fourteen years of freedom under the direct supervision of the United States, just didn’t know that it was “a guy thing.” All those “honor killings” and rapes and child brides and murder of women, or that thing last month when a mob in downtown Kabul lynched a 27-year-old woman for allegedly burning a Quran, are just a perception issue.

    Easy fix. Ambassador Watson and the UN have set a lofty goal of acquiring signatures from 3,000 Afghan men and boys pledging to stand up for women’s rights on the “He for She” website (it is unclear 3,000 Afghans of any gender have access to the Internet.) It’s part of a broader aim to acquire pledges from one billion men and boys worldwide by the time the UN General Assembly convenes in September.

    This is all off to a great start — Emma’s website currently boasts 327,488 signatures! The bad news: the majority of them originated in the United States. Only 325 signatures came from Afghanistan, most likely from people rounded up and paid taxi fare to visit one of Kabul’s fine Internet cafes.

    But the program is not just sitting on its hands. It will fix all gender problems further in Afghanistan by gaining endorsements from “Afghan celebrities,” and screening a documentary film telling human-interest stories depicting the plight of Afghan women.

    And if all that fails, Ambassador Watson, who starred in the Harry Potter movies as empowered wizard Hermione Granger, will just wave her wand and shout “Reparo!” Come to think of it, that might have a better chance of helping than the rest of this silliness.

    Five points to Gryffindor!

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Home of the Brave: And Please Panic This July 4th

    July 3, 2015 // 18 Comments »


    America used to be a country with balls. Now, our government wants to make us into a nation of scaredy cats, existing in a state of constant fear and near-panic, like we were kids worrying if the school bully was waiting for us after school.

    Here’s the basic theme for this weekend: Americans need to remain vigilant to the threat of a terrorist attack, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Michael McCaul, warned. He said there has been increased chatter on social media that indicates terrorists may be planning to strike during the celebrations. “I am extremely concerned Syrian and ISIS recruiters can use the Internet at lightning speeds to recruit followers in the United States and then activate them to do whatever they want to do. Whether it’s military installations, law enforcement or possibly a Fourth of July event parade.”

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sitting here a week from today talking about an attack over the weekend in the United States. That’s how serious this is,” former CIA deputy director Michael Morell told CBS. “There’s been about 50 people in the last 12 months who have been arrested in the United States for being radicalized by ISIS, wanting to go fight there or wanting to conduct an attack here.”

    USA Today added to the fear-mongering, noting “While there was no specific or credible threat of attack, the official said the intelligence bulletin prepared by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI alerted local colleagues to the ongoing threats posed by the Islamic State and other homegrown extremists. The official was not authorized to comment publicly.”

    So let’s break this down, ahead of your BBQ, beach time and backyard sparklers.

    America has suffered one significant foreign terror attack in the 239 years since the July 4th we celebrate this weekend. That attack was fourteen years ago and while tragic, took a similar number of lives has the number of Americans who have died since from toxoplasmotic brain parasites. The 2011 Report on Terrorism from the National Counterterrorism Center notes Americans are just as likely to be “crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year” as they are to be killed by terrorists. Perhaps even sadder, about double the number of Americans killed on 9/11 have died in the still-ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Disagree with one set of numbers, pick your favorite statistic/comparison, but you get the idea.

    Noteworthy is that while fourteen years ago, and for most of the succeeding years, is that the government warned the attacks were to be carried out or threatened by foreigners. This weekend’s warnings, however, point at Americans who want to do harm to other Americans. That seems to be one of the most significant “achievements” of the fourteen year war of terror, turning us into them.

    So this July 4, in honor of America’s 239th birthday, our government tells us not to be brave and free, but to be scared and fearful. We need to watch around us, and we need especially to watch our fellow citizens. One of them might be a lone wolf, supposedly “radicalized” by 140 characters he read on Twitter. We are to balance in our minds the conflicting images of a government that takes away our civil rights and pisses away our tax dollars to protect us while simultaneously saying they may not be able to protect us.

    Whatever you do this July 4th, don’t look for me there. I’ll be at home, doors locked, weapons cocked and ready in abject terror, trying not to remember what I’ll be drinking to forget. Happy Birthday America.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    To Hell with It, South to Double-Down on Slavery (Satire)

    June 27, 2015 // 2 Comments »


    Noting that it has been a really bad week for bigots, the South decided the only answer is to double-down.

    “In one lousy week, everyone is taking down the Confederate flag, gays can now get married and people — even the blacks — can buy that Obamacare. It has just not been a good one for us. I even heard Cracker Barrel and Waffle House are switching away from trans-fats,” said spokesbigot ‘Clem’ (who isn’t sure that’s his real name.)

    “So what do you do? You fight back! The South will rise again!” shouted a second spokesredneck, letting out both a loud fart and a rebel yell from the broken down barco-lounger on his dilapidated front porch he could not rise from due to weighing 300 pounds and thus having to dress in a large Hefty bag.

    “Fighting back” in this instance is taking the form of actual slavery.

    “While it didn’t work out in the long game with Africans, oh, excuse me, ‘African-Americans,’ we want to try it again with other white people. We intend to enslave each other, kind of top and bottom, or least that’s what I heard. Or maybe it was on the online; Jeb just bought him a new modem for the AOL. Anyway, we’ll preserve the great Southern heritage and culture of dehumanization, narrow-mindedness and hate the only way we can at the present time, with white slaves.”

    “There are some details. First, we’ll need to come up with some good racial slurs to refer to each other as. The lame Supreme Court took away our good ones, so that’s a big issue right up front. Next, there is finding enough whites to be the slaves. We have a bunch of the good old boys down here wanting to volunteer, but we are also looking overseas, maybe to one of those European countries with a debt problem, to see if we can harvest some there. We’d kind of like to stick to the traditional way of bringing the slaves in by old-timey ships. Might attract some tourists, too.”

    “As for our manly essences, we will still spill them in service to the Lord’s decree that we reproduce. But if the Supreme Court wants us to be ‘fair,’ well, nobody is gonna be allowed to get married. We’ll do it in line with our culture, the way it has always been done: with our animals, our cousins, and our slaves.”

    “The government thinks it can take away our freedom to take away other people’s freedom, but we intend to show them.”

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    How to Waste Money in Afghanistan: Step-by-Step Instructions

    June 19, 2015 // 2 Comments »


    USAID just got caught wasting $769 million not supporting Afghanistan’s education sector.

    How could this happen?!? As a public service, here are your step-by-step instructions.

    — Start with the premise that schools in a wasteland like Afghanistan in support of a failed American policy are more important uses of American taxpayer money than schools in America (which is socialism, or a handout, or whatever, Ayn Rand.)

    — Send incompetent people (see below) to Afghanistan with a lot of money, say $769 million. Tell them to build schools. If you don’t have enough in-house incompetent people, like USAID, hire contractors, like USAID did.

    — Make sure those people never travel to where the schools are being built. Instead, have them rely on a known corrupt government to tell them where to spend the money. In our instant case, former ministry officials who served under President Hamid Karzai provided false data to USAID regarding the number of active schools in Afghanistan.

    — Make sure, as USAID, while spending all that money, not to ask if there are any schools actually being built. Instead, sit back and look the other way as Afghan officials doctored statistics, embezzled money, and interfered with university entrance exams to make it seem schools existed. These allegations suggest that the U.S. and other donors may have paid for ghost schools that ghost students do not attend and for the salaries of ghost teachers who do not teach.

    — Despite this, as USAID, announce at every opportunity that education programs are among your most successful work in Afghanistan. For example, USAID cited a jump in students enrolled in schools from an estimated 900,000 in 2002 to more than eight million in 2013 as a clear indicator of progress.

    — Make sure all your data supporting these successes is unverifiable, coming only from the Afghan Ministry of Education. Appear surprised when you learn, years and $769 million later, that the data has been falsified. Do not conduct any investigation of your own. Wait and see if some inspector general notices. You know most of the media won’t.

    — Ignore the fact that accurate data is essential for gauging progress and for making future funding decisions. Congress will help with this.

    — Make sure you have bosses in the field and at the State Department in Washington who do not care about accurate metrics or real results.

    — Repeat this process for fourteen years of the Afghan War.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    You Wanna Help Ed Snowden? Here’s How…

    June 3, 2015 // 4 Comments »

    snowden hopex

    One of the reasons Ed Snowden is not in prison is because he has great lawyers who have been willing to work pro bono on his behalf.

    I’m no Ed Snowden, but one of the reasons I am able to write this blog is because I had great lawyers in my fight against the State Department who were willing to work pro bono on my behalf.

    The one thing Snowden and I do really have in common is that we are represented by the same group of lawyers, the men and women at the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU can always use a financial hand, but today’s request for help is aimed specifically at the Government Accountability Project.

    The Government Accountability Project’s office which works specifically on national security whistleblower cases and represents clients who cannot afford legal fees for free, is facing a funding crisis. You can imagine the legal efforts that have been necessary to help Snowden, Tom Drake, John Kiriakou, Bill Binney (and me) through sometimes years of government efforts to silence them.

    The government has lots of money and resources; whistleblowers have only the Government Accountability Project.

    So here it is: please go to the Government Accountability Project GoFundMe page and give something.

    They have a group lined up to offer matching donations, so even a small contribution doubles itself automatically. Your donation is tax-deductible in the U.S. You can donate anonymously.

    The next whistleblower who will change history is out there, sitting in some government office, wondering if s/he will be alone when it is time to act on conscience and tell you the kind of things only someone inside the system can know. If you read this blog, I know you want to help him or her. Now, there is a way.

    FYI: I receive no money from any of this. My only association with the Government Accountability Project is as their legal client. They saved me and I’d kneel on broken glass if I thought that would help them continue their work.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Cops Slam Pregnant Black Woman to Ground, Let White Woman go Free

    May 30, 2015 // 10 Comments »


    The cops admit there had been no crime committed. They arrived at the scene to discover two women, one white and one black, unhappy over some minor parking lot thing at their children’s elementary school.

    Everyone admitted no damage had been done to either car. The women had already separated themselves, and neither had committed or threatened any violence.

    There was nothing to see or do, and in fact no reason for the cops to even be there.

    Yet within minutes (the action begins around 4:40 into the video, below) the scene involved two cops throwing the pregnant black woman, Charlena Michelle Cooks, to the ground, cuffing her and arresting her for resisting arrest. All because she did not identify herself quick enough for the cops. FYI: the cops did not ask the white woman for ID in the video.

    Nonetheless, officials with the city of Barstow, California insisted officers had acted properly when they used force to arrest a pregnant woman who refused to show them her identification, even though the charges were later dismissed.

    “I actually do have the right to ask you for your name,” the officer replies.

    “Let me make sure,” Cooks says as she makes a phone call to someone.

    The officer says he will give Cooks two minutes to verify his right to ask for her identification. But less than 20 seconds later, the officer and a colleague are performing a painful wristlock takedown on Cooks. The pregnant woman screams as she is forced belly first into the ground.

    American Civil Liberties Union attorney Adrienna Wong pointed out that Cooks had a right to refuse to show her ID.

    “Even if an officer is conducting an investigation, in California, unlike some other states, he can’t just require a person to provide ID for no reason. Officers in California should not be using the obstruction law, Penal Code 148, to arrest someone for failing to provide ID, when they can’t find any other reason to arrest them,” Wong added.

    “Imagine getting wrestled to the ground and handcuffed in front of your child’s elementary school,” another ACLU attorney remarked. “Imagine interacting with other parents afterwards. Imagine what kids who saw the incident tell your child. And if you think the whole incident happened because of your race, how does that impact your view of police?”

    To make matters worse, Cooks was banned from her daughter’s school until the charges were dismissed.

    In a separate settlement with the ACLU prior to the Cooks incident, the City of Barstow had already agreed to provide training to its officers after two brothers were arrested for refusing to provide identification. Charges against the brothers were dropped and the city agreed to pay $30,000 in damages.

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Judge Sets Limits on Some Invasive Border Searches

    May 27, 2015 // 3 Comments »

    fourth amendment

    Only a scant 14 years after 9/11 opened the door to unprecedented government violations of the rights of American citizens, what has come to be known as the Post-Constitutional Era, there are small signs that our somnolent courts are slowly rousing.


    The Case of Jae Shik Kim

    A federal judge determined the search of a traveler’s laptop without a warrant as he was leaving the country was unreasonable, in a ruling that could help derail the government’s long-held search criteria for international travelers.

    In the case, the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia allowed defendant Jae Shik Kim to suppress key evidence the government found after searching his laptop at Los Angeles International Airport. The Department of Homeland Security suspected Kim of illegally selling aircraft parts to Iran and seized his computer before allowing him to board a flight home to Korea in December 2012. The government cloned Kim’s hard drive, shipped it off to a forensic lab, and searched it, uncovering a series of alleged “incriminating emails” that formed the basis for the government’s case against Kim.

    The court concluded the government not only conducted an unreasonable search, but further violated the Fourth Amendment by shipping the computer to a second location where they continued the extensive search.

    The judge wrote:

    The government points to its plenary authority to conduct warrantless searches at the border. It posits that a laptop computer is simply a container that was examined pursuant to this authority, and it submits that the government’s unfettered right to search cargo at the border to protect the homeland is the beginning and end of the matter.

    But to apply those principles under the facts of this case would mean that the border search doctrine has no borders. The search of the laptop began well after Kim had already departed, and it was conducted approximately 150 miles away from the airport [at the forensics lab]. The government engaged in an extensive examination of the entire contents of Kim’s hard drive after it had already been secured, and it accorded itself unlimited time to do so.

    There was little or no reason to suspect that criminal activity was afoot at the time Kim was about to cross the border, and there was little about this search — neither its location nor its scope and duration — that resembled a routine search at the border.”

    The Constitutional Borderline

    Begin at America’s borders. Most people believe they are in the United States as soon as they step off an international flight, or as long as they are waiting for their outbound flight, as Mr. Kim was in the case above, and are thus fully covered by the Bill of Rights.

    Wrong. And the irony that a person can be separated from his Constitutional rights by a border marked by a pane of glass is not to be missed.

    The truth has, in the twenty-first century, become infinitely more complicated as long-standing practices are manipulated to serve the expanding desires of the national security state.

    Over the years, recognizing that certain situations could render Fourth Amendment requirements impractical or against the public interest, the Supreme Court crafted various exceptions to them. One was the “border search.” The idea was that the United States should be able to protect itself by stopping and examining people entering or leaving the country. As a result, routine border searches without warrants are constitutionally “reasonable” simply by virtue of where they take place. It’s a concept with a long history, enumerated by the First Congress in 1789.

    Here’s the twist in the present era: The definition of “border” has been changed. Upon arriving in the United States from abroad, you are not legally present in the country until allowed to enter by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials. You know, the guys who look into your luggage and stamp your passport. Until that moment, you exist in a legal void where the protections of the Bill of Rights and the laws of the United States do not apply. This concept also predates Post-Constitutional America and the DHS. Remember the sorting process at Ellis Island in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? No lawyers allowed there.

    The same process works in reverse; at some point as you depart the U.S., the government believes you are “outside” and thus lack any Constitutional protections. That’s what happened to Mr. Kim.

    What once were modest exceptions in Constitutional America morphed into a vast “Constitution-free zone.” The “border” is now a strip of land circling the country and extending 100 miles inland that includes two-thirds of the U.S. population. In this vast region, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can set up checkpoints and conduct warrantless searches. At airports, American citizens are now similarly subjected to search and seizure as filmmaker Laura Poitras — whose work focuses on national security issues in general and Edward Snowden in the particular — knows firsthand. Since 2006, almost every time Poitras has returned to the U.S., her plane has been met by government agents and her laptop and phone examined.

    Back to the Kim Case

    Hanni Fakhory, for Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the opinion in the Kim case wasn’t binding like an Appellate or Supreme Court decision that requires other courts have to follow suit. “But it’s persuasive because it adds to the growing body of case law that says digital devices are different,” he said.

    That means the next time the government searches someone’s phone, tablet or laptop on suspicion of criminal activity, a defense attorney can use the case as an example of an invalid forensic search, a deeply invasive search that reveals old emails, call records and other information that can’t be obtained just browsing through one’s device. It is a start.

    BONUS: The Supreme Court ruled last year in Riley v. California that law enforcement cannot search a cell phone during an arrest without a warrant.

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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Paranoia in a September 12 World

    May 18, 2015 // 4 Comments »


    It got me. Paranoia. Who is watching? What are the consequences in a September 12 world of things that used to be innocent?

    I began researching materials online that advise, in English, how someone might travel to Syria and join Islamic State (IS). Several media outlets mentioned an ebook IS created along those lines, but none linked to it or dove deep into what it said. I set out to find it, Googling away with “how to join Islamic State,” and “advice for jihadi travel.” I eventually found the ebook with the term “hijrah.” Used in canon to refer to Mohammad’s journey from Mecca to Medina, the word today colloquially refers to those who leave home for jihad.

    The ebook is brief, titled simply Hijrah to the Islamic State, some 50 pages with pictures and maps. The advice is mostly stuff you’d think people could figure out on their own. Bring a sturdy backpack, don’t tell Turkish immigration officials you are headed to Syria, don’t call attention to yourself in the airport, that sort of thing. There are a bunch of Twitter handles included so you can make contact with IS, but the few I checked were dead accounts.

    You could probably do better with Lonely Planet (which also advises travelers not to call attention to themselves, but to avoid being targeted by thieves, not anti-terror forces.) I found another site just for women seeking to join IS, assuring the traveler she’ll be in female-only accommodations and that they have diapers and baby stuff available. Otherwise, it was all about bringing books to read on the long trip and not forgetting needed medicines.

    I wrapped up my research with a quick buzz through Orbitz to see flight choices. New York was the default starting point because Orbitz had it already there from my previous searches. You can fly nonstop from the United States to Turkey, and then take a taxi to the Syrian border. Flights directly into Damascus involve a couple of stops, and most require you fly out of Newark. Jihad starts in Jersey, what a hassle.

    All in all, not much of story in the hijrah ebook, and certainly nothing at the they’re-seducing-our-kids-into-terrorism level, though New York Times called it “a remarkable ISIS travel guide” and authorities in the UK want to ban it from social media. The ebook is in reality near useless, except as another boogie man for westerners to point to.

    But I started to worry.

    Look at me: I Googled up a how-to manual for jihadis. I’d previously read al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine online (Islamic State has its own online magazine, and I read that too.) I looked into travel to Syria. I sought out a good translation of “hijrah.” Everything I did, I did from an office desk. It was all on the Internet, with no secret meetings in shadowy places. So it was OK, like going to the library, right?

    But I started to panic. How long until this reached critical mass, when some piece of software went “bing!” and some new protocol was applied to me? I have an international trip planned in a few weeks (plain vanilla Asia). Will I get selected for additional screening? Will I be questioned trying to exit or, later, when I re-enter the United States? Have I become paranoid? Should I be? Is it wise or stupid to worry about these things?

    I remember discussing the Jeffrey Sterling Espionage Act case, the case that at one point threatened to send reporter James Risen to jail for not revealing his sources. My friend said the case was probably one of the last of its kind. So the government learned its First Amendment lesson I asked? No, she said, next time the government won’t have to threaten a reporter; most reporters will either shy away from such stories, their editors will kill the reporting to avoid an expensive legal battle, or the government will already know who they talked to.

    I’m certain I am no James Risen. I’m pretty sure I didn’t write a more detailed story about the Islamic State travel guides because there was little to say, that the links I left out above were of little value. Google works at your house, too, if you really want to see them, and you’re not afraid of that, are you? The algorithms they — whoever they are — use are smart enough to see that I’m just a curious writer, and you’re just a curious reader, and none of us plans on joining IS, right?

    I still wrote a lawyer’s phone number in the back of my passport. Can’t be too careful these days, as people say. Threats are everywhere.

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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

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