• Archive of "Democracy" Category

    ‘Snowden’ Movie Trailer: Can Oliver Stone Make Whistleblowing Suspenseful?

    April 29, 2016 // 19 Comments »




    Of course he can. Have a look at the latest trailer for the upcoming Oliver Stone movie, SNOWDEN, due out in September.

    The Edward Snowden story is many things, but at some level, well apart from politics, it is a helluva thriller. Think of it: a young programmer, at great personal risk, figures out a way to gain access to a vast trove of very highly classified documents from one of America’s most secret agencies. He then discovers a way to beat all of NSA’s security to smuggle that information out of secure facilities. With the Feds no doubt on his heals, he finds his way to a foreign country, meets up with journalists, and reveals to Americans (and the world) that their own government has been illegally spying on them — reading their emails, listening to their calls, looking in their very bedrooms via hijacked webcams — for years. He then successfully eludes the full resources of the U.S. government and settles into a new life in Russia.

    So if that isn’t suspenseful, then not much can be.


    And it is hard to imagine a filmmaker more equipped to handle this story than Oliver Stone. Stone’s work has been all about creating narratives, often narratives contradictory to the mainstream, around significant historical and social events (Wall Street, W. Platoon, JFK). Snowden’s story may have found its natural storyteller.

    The trailer looks good, and shows a movie that is structured as a thriller, but one with a larger message. This film looks to be an excellent addition to the conversations about the changes he brought to the United States, and the world.



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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Thousands of Americans Are Hungry Because of Post-Prison Release Laws

    April 21, 2016 // 6 Comments »

    snap



    Food stamps are for hungry people, which we should not have in America. There are of course cheaters, just like there are wealthy people who cheat on their taxes. The tax cheats won’t starve to death, or see their children go hungry, but released drug felons in many states will.

    It used to be that when you served your time for a crime, your “debt to society” was considered paid, and you were ready to re-enter society. But for many released drug felons, the punishment continues long after they leave jail.


    The felony drug ban is a Congressional-mandated lifetime restriction on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF; note the word family there) and food stamps (SNAP) for anyone convicted of a state or federal drug felony, unless states opt out. In states where the ban applies, a person released from a prison sentence are denied basic assistance at a time of extreme vulnerability.

    A study by The Sentencing Project found that in the 12 states that impose the lifetime ban, an estimated 180,000 women alone are impacted. If you include the other 24 states that impose a partial ban, the number of people affected is significantly higher. And since law enforcement is happily conducted with racial bias, people of color are disproportionately denied assistance.


    The felony drug ban can be traced back to the 1990s, when politicians of both parties sought political gain by getting “tough on crime.” Senator Phil Gramm , the sponsor of the ban, argued that “we ought not to give people welfare benefits who are violating the nation’s drug laws.” After just two minutes of floor debate, the measure was adopted by unanimous consent as part of the 1996 welfare “reform” legislation.

    Of course there are other post-prison punishments on felons. The most significant is that few employers will hire an ex-felon, and more employers than ever now run mandatory background checks even for lousy minimum wage jobs.  Pell grants are not available for felons, and most schools will deny them financial aid, ensuring most can’t receive the education they need to get back on their feet. Men and women with prior drug convictions are also typically denied public housing and other benefits. A lot of banks won’t deal with a felon.


    Now, let’s see a show of hands out there.

    Who thinks making a man or woman unemployed, hungry, potentially homeless and without a chance at education is going to reduce the chances s/he won’t recommit a crime? Nope, it’s just damn mean and stupid.



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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    North Korea Election Monitors Leave New York in Disgust (Satire?)

    April 20, 2016 // 6 Comments »




    A team of North Korean election monitors left New York City in disgust, claiming that democracy was “dead to them.”


    Following a long series of primary election issues across the United States, where local scams, manipulated caucuses and voter disenfranchisement ran wild, the United Nations requested the North Koreans provide a team of election monitors (above) to oversee the highly-contested New York primary. In choosing North Korea for the job, UN officials cited the “great similarities between the North Korean and American systems.”

    “You people make me sick,” said team leader Kim Young Hee, spitting onto a homeless man living inside LaGuardia Airport who was clawing at his socks for nourishment. “All we hear on your stupid Voice of America shortwave broadcasts and smuggled laser discs of old American Idol shows is democracy this, democracy that from you capitalist pigs. Then we arrive and what do we find? A paper ballot-based voting system right out of the 1950s, run by ignorant old people who have no experience, little training and too much free time. In Pyongyang, they’d be working in the uranium mines, not hassling first-time voters and African-Americans!”


    Comrade Kim went on to cite the unequal application of voter ID laws, the way polling sites were shifted around without notice, and the fact that some 150,000 registered voters in New York were left off the polling lists and were thus unable to vote. He also could not score Hamilton tickets after being promised by a guy in the men’s room “he’d be right back with change”, but said he would leave that out of his report to the UN.

    “And all this when less than half of your eligible voters even bother to show up? In North Korea, we have 100% voter turnout every election, and stuff runs like clockwork. The Party would be locking up whole families of the officials involved in this kind of clusterfutz. Now, I’ll admit, we have only one candidate running like your Republicans do, but seriously, you’re America, the people who found a way through your ‘fast food’ to feed the masses even cheaper than we do in North Korea. Jeez people, you don’t have this computerized yet? Hell, we do, using a 286 Gateway PC running a pirated copy of DOS 4.0. Losers.”


    Wiping a healthy dollop of dog crap off his shoe after having set foot on a New York sidewalk (“I’d eat the bastard for that if we were back home”) Comrade Kim reminded his American handlers that if for some reason Dear Leader Trump lost in November, he’d always be welcome in Pyongyang.



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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Explaining Trump and Clinton to a Global Audience (and to Americans)

    April 18, 2016 // 10 Comments »

    Trump_&_Clinton


    As the presumptive U.S. presidential nominees emerge, at least for now — Donald Trump for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats — more and more friends from abroad have started asking me to explain how a person like Trump could get so far, so fast, given utter lack of experience.

    A few also ask questions about Hillary’s qualifications, mostly centered around the money flow from Wall Street, and the “donations” from foreign governments into the Clinton Foundation. Many from places where corruption is more surfaced recognize what is happening perhaps more clearly than Americans.

    What I try to explain is that the success of Trump and Clinton, especially over the candidates they have defeated, is based on the same dark spot inside the American body politic now: our society is motivated by fear, and fear produced the 2016 versions of candidates Trump and Clinton.

    For its faults — referring more to the American Soul than the American government — the pre-9/11 United States was a relatively hopeful place. Despite the underbelly of prejudices and the crushing of the middle class, there was a sense that things might get better, or at least not worse. War? The last big one was Desert Storm in 1991. Nobody would claim society was perfect, or even uniformly good, but it was different than now.

    Then across the span of a day, September 11, 2001, America changed. We became, as a nation, afraid.

    We were afraid of enemies most Americans had heard little about. We were afraid of what might happen next. We were afraid of an attack against the shopping mall, the school, the tiny place in our tiny town that didn’t show up well on most local maps, never mind one bin Laden might use. Our fears were carefully curated by opportunistic people in two successive administrations, who used that fear to manipulate democracy itself. They turned America’s vast spying apparatus inward, imposed a global gulag archipelago of torture sites and secret prisons, and institutionalizing the drone wars.

    Amid the various causes and justifications, that it is all about oil, or empire, what it is all about at the root level is fear. Fear of the latest bogeyman, fear screeches of groups on YouTube are real, and that they are ready to strike what we now all call the Homeland. That word never existed in America prior to 9/11.

    America lost its guts. We’re scared of scary things we can’t see and can only identify as monsters, like a child alone at night who hears every noise and assumes the worst.

    So into that setting emerges the presidential candidates that had to emerge, our first true post-9/11 candidates, the ones who picked up on the fears of Americans as a predator catches a scent.

    Donald Trump speaks pointedly to America’s fears — Mexicans swarming to take our jobs, trade agreements that will hand China the keys to the store (“They’re killing us!”), and weaknesses that allow Islamic State, Putin, the Iranians, and all the rest, to wait coiled on our borders. Afraid? Then you need Trump on that wall, you want him on that wall, for it is only because of rough men like him that you’ll be able to once again (“Make America Great Again”) sleep peacefully.

    Trump’s form of fear-mongering is basically from the same toolbox every autocrat and dictator has used since government was invented. Trump plays on what one can call “positive fear,” fear of what will befall us if he is not there to stop it.

    While Hillary Clinton is no stranger to calling up global demons, the biggest fear she plays on is American’s fear of change.

    Clinton is well on her way to defeating Bernie Sanders by convincing Americans they do not want the same comprehensive health care system every other evolved nation on earth has, that they do not want the no-cost higher education most/all of Europe and Asia profits from, and that Americans do not want a political system less subject to influence buying. She told Americans she alone would continue decades of mediocrity, because there really was no other way. Convincing people to vote against their own self-benefit is not easy, but fear is a powerful motivator.

    Clinton’s fear-mongering is more subtle than Trump’s. The fear she sells is not so much of something (Islamic State, Putin), but fear of the unknown, a kind of “negative fear.” So, despite the often ineffective health insurance provided under the Affordable Care Act, she tells supporters her opponent might even see that taken away if he reopens a debate with Republicans. She brushes off concerns about big money influence saying if it was good enough for Obama, then why change that?

    The rest flows quite naturally. It is little surprise that both candidates are shaping a meme that while you may not like or even wish to support them actively, you should vote for them anyway, for fear that the other one will win.

    Barring any unforeseen circumstances, either Trump or Clinton will take the White House, and fan the flames; fear requires regular booster shots, each one bigger than the last. And that should in fact make the rest of us very, very afraid.




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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Student Thrown Off Flight After Passenger Heard Him Say ‘God Willing’ in Arabic

    April 17, 2016 // 8 Comments »

    makhzoomi-800x430

    So once again people from The World’s Most Frightened Country (C) fully overreacted to nothing. One of the 230 million people worldwide who speak Arabic happened to be on an airplane and happened to use one of the most common expressions in his language.


    Hilarity ensued. Bigoted, frightened, discriminatory hilarity, in keeping with the American Way.

    UC Berkeley student Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, 26, above, whose family fled Iraq in 2002 after his diplomat father was killed under Saddam Hussein’s regime, was booted from a Southwest Airlines flight and questioned by the FBI after another passenger heard him speaking Arabic. Makhzoomi was flying home from attending a dinner at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council with Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon when he stopped to make a call to an uncle.

    Makhzoomi explained he was talking on the phone with his uncle and, as he said goodbye, he used the phrase “inshallah,” which translates as “if God is willing.” The student said that after hung up, he noticed a female passenger looking at him who then got up and left her seat.

    Moments later an airport employee made Makhzoomi step off the plane into the arms of security officers. Makhzoomi was told the woman thought he said “Shahid,” meaning martyr. Because in-shal-lah and sha-hid sound the same, at least to a dumb ass who speaks no apparent Arabic and likely learned the term shahid when it was last mispronounced on AM talk radio.


    The student was told he would not be allowed to get back on the plane. Security officers searched his bag again, asked him if he had any other luggage he was keeping “secret,” and publicly felt around his genital area and asked him if he was hiding a knife.

    “The way they searched me and the dogs, the officers, people were watching me and the humiliation made me so afraid because it brought all of these memories back to me,” Makhzoomi said. “I escaped Iraq because of the war, because of Saddam and what he did to my father.”

    Makhzoomi said the FBI questioned him about his family, and about his phone call and what he knew about martyrism. The FBI informed Makhzoomi that Southwest would not fly him home. He later booked a flight on another airline, arriving home nine hours later than expected.

    According to Southwest Airlines, the student was removed because crew members decided to “investigate potentially threatening comments made onboard our aircraft.”



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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    With Whistleblowers Jesselyn Radack and Tom Drake

    April 16, 2016 // 8 Comments »

    jess and tom

    I am very proud to call these two people friends:


    Jesselyn Radack, who blew the whistle on Department of Justice malfeasance in the handling of the “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh. Jess went on to become a key part of Edward Snowden’s defense team (full disclosure: Jess was also one of my lawyers in my own whistleblower struggle with the State Department.)


    Tom Drake, who blew the whistle on NSA domestic spying in the years right after 9/11, and who is cited by Edward Snowden as an important example as he decided whether or not to further expose the unconstitutional acts of the National Security Agency. In return for his truth telling, Tom was rewarded by being prosecuted under the Espionage Act, a tactic the Obama administration has now used seven times against intelligence whistleblowers, more than all previous administrations combined.

    We had a terrific lunch, and if only the walls could talk…




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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Does Over-Classification Matter With the Hillary Emails?

    April 15, 2016 // 8 Comments »


    Rules are for fools, and in this case the fools in question are you, me and what’s left of the American democratic system. Obama, in an interview, basically made it clear nobody is going to indict Hillary Clinton for exposing classified material via her unclassified email server, even if it requires made-up rules to let her get away with it.

    The president’s comments in an interview last Sunday that “there’s classified and then there’s classified” made clear he imagines national security law allows for ample, self-determined fudge room when exposing classified material.



    Does Over-Classification Matter?

    In case you are still not sure, nope, that is not the way the law works, and everyone (including me, for 24 years) who has held a security clearance knows it.

    Obama’s and Clinton’s defenders claim that much of what Hillary exposed was over-classified, and perhaps some should never have been classified at all. Maybe. After reading documents at the Top Secret level and above over more than two decades I can say, sure, sometimes it seemed odd that something was regarded as as secret as it was.

    That said, one’s personal opinion is not relevant. The document is what it is and one is bound to handle it appropriately. The same rules apply to the lowest new hire to the highest officials. Just because the secretary of state, or the president, does it does not make it legal.



    Originating Agency

    Clinton mishandled two broad categories of documents, those classified by her own State Department and those classified by other government agencies, such as the CIA. Had she believed that the documents were wrongly classified, she had recourses for both sets. She did not act on those available recourses.

    With documents originally classified by her State Department, Hillary had the authority to declassify them herself while Secretary of State (both Obama and current SecState John Kerry still hold that authority and could declassify any of Hillary’s redacted emails right now with the stroke of a pen.) The thing is if Clinton did choose to declassify a document, she would have had to follow procedure, including seeking internal recommendations, make her action public and of course be willing to release the document newly-declassified. She did not do any of that.

    For the other agency documents, Hillary did not have the authority to declassify them. Only the CIA, for example, can declassify a CIA document in this process. Hillary did however have the authority to request a review aimed at declassification by the originating agency. She did not do any of that.



    No Blood, No Foul?

    In addition to his made-up assertion that “there’s classified and then there’s classified,” Obama disingenuously stated Hillary did not expose any information of value to America’s adversaries and so should suffer not sanction, the national security equivalent of no blood, no foul.

    The Federal laws that control classified information, up to and including the Espionage Act, do not require proof that the disclosed material aided America’s adversaries, or that the information even reached America’s adversaries. Motivation to disclose the information is also not considered relevant, whether than motivation was sincere whistleblowing or inadvertent mishandling. Guilt is based on the disclosure alone. This is why Chelsea Manning was not allowed to defend herself in this way, and why Ed Snowden believes he cannot have a fair trial in the U.S.

    Snowden had the last word on Obama’s statements.

    “If only I had known,” tweeted Snowden. “Anyone have the number for the Attorney General?. Asking for a friend.”




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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    John Kerry, and the Legacy of Hiroshima

    April 13, 2016 // 11 Comments »

    JOHN KERRY

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow envoys from the G7 visited Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park on the margins of their summit meeting this week.

    Kerry was the highest ranking American government official to visit the Peace Park, the memorial dedicated to the victims of the world’s first nuclear attack on August 6, 1945.

    U.S. officials are considering a visit to Hiroshima by Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama during his trip to Japan for the G7 in late May. Obama, in 2011, expressed some interest in being the first sitting American president to visit the city, but never purused the plans.


    Fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter did visit Hiroshima in 1984, albeit as a private citizen after leaving office. Other high-level American visits have been scattered only over recent years; then-U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos attended the annual August 6 commemoration in Hiroshima in 2010, the first U.S. ambassador to ever do so. In 2011, in another first, the United States sent a (lower ranking) official representative to the annual memorial service in Nagasaki. Current ambassador Caroline Kennedy attended the Hiroshima memorial service to mark the attack’s 70th anniversary last year.

    Kerry, like his official predecessors to Hiroshima, expressed empathy for the dead without acknowledging culpability for the thing that killed them, almost as if it was an act of nature, or that someone else had done it.

    Regarding those predecessors, note the dates; the first American ambassador to visit Hiroshima wasn’t until 2010, 65 years after the atomic bombing. Kerry’s visit, 71 years after the attack, occurred only in the company of his G7 colleagues, and not on the highly-symbolic day of August 6.


    All countries get their own history wrong to some degree, and careful retrospection, absent that built into enforced penitence such as was applied to post-WWII Germany, is rare.

    Yet as the only nation to use nuclear weapons, and to have used them against near-wholly civilian targets, and having used them under circumstances of arguable necessity, one might expect, 71 years later and now full-allies with Japan, some modicum of introspection by the United States. Absent some academics and “peace advocates,” that has never happened.

    In the United States, sometime after with the public announcement in 1945 of the atomic bombings, the message was kneaded into public consciousness that the bombs were not dropped out of hatred, revenge or malice, but of military necessity. The attacks did not reflect American evil, but were merely an inescapable and ugly necessity of a war we didn’t start.

    The bombs, we were told, saved millions of lives that would have been lost in a land invasion. Both American and Japanese souls would have perished in that invasion, which seemed to characterize the atomic attacks as almost to the benefit of Japan, in that we killed fewer people that way. The bombs were just the lesser of two evils, it was war, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki were far from the first places civilians were targeted. An undercurrent is more disturbing — they deserved it, life is cheaper over there for Orientals. One way or another, there is a consensus woven into the American narrative that there was simply no choice.


    The deeper cause of a lack of introspection seems to lie in a national meme that no moral wrong was committed, and thus no internal soul-searching is necessary. The U.S. is obviously not alone in this way of thinking, and Japan itself is quite guilty of failing to look deep into itself over the atrocities committed in China, Korea and elsewhere during WWII.

    But “everybody does it” is obviously the kind of excuse five-year-olds use, and unworthy of the United States. And while other nations committed terrible actions in the Second World War, it is only the United States that has gone on to continue making war on a grand scale; over a million killed in Vietnam (no one knows for sure), an estimated million in Iraq (no one knows for sure), and somewhere between a quarter of a million and half a million in Syria (still accruing.)

    Never mind Korea, the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Haiti, Grenada, Central America, Afghanistan and the others, plus the new twist, global drone wars. Along the way were documented American threats to use nuclear weapons to break the Berlin Blockade, to defend South Korea, to smite the Russians during the Cuban Missile Crisis, to “win” in Vietnam and to save Israel during the Yom Kippur war, as well as other situations use was considered. The U.S. continues to maintain a deployed nuclear arsenal well-beyond any defense needs and in grand excess of that possessed by other nuclear powers.


    Perhaps some of those atomic threats are historically arguable, and some may have been more bark than intended bite, but in toto it is hard to dismiss America’s willingness to again use nuclear weapons; indeed, talk of “tactical nukes” comes up in many discussions of what to do if Iran were to develop its own atomic capability. In each threatened use of nuclear weapons, however accurate the delivery and however intended for a military target, the vast power of the bombs ensures civilians deaths and mass, indiscriminate, destruction. Those factors have not been a deterrent to nuclear threats and plans, and have certainly not deterred conventional warfare.

    Such thinking is a product of lack of introspection, a sweeping, national generalization that if we do it, it is right. John Kerry is an intelligent man, an educated man who has been to war. Perhaps, as he mumbled platitudinous talking points on his visit to Hiroshima, an additional thought or two about the real meaning of his very late presence there crept in?




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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    ‘The Boys Who Said No!’: New Documentary About War Resisters

    April 4, 2016 // 8 Comments »

    VIDEOPOSTER

    Evil is participatory, says interviewee David Harris at the beginning of a documentary in progress about Vietnam-era draft resisters, The Boys Who Said No!

    Evil continuing depends on people joining in, and the first step to stopping it, he continues, is withdrawing your own participation. So Harris said no to the Vietnam-era draft, and went to jail for it.

    The Boys Who Said No!

    The Boys Who Said No! is set during the late 1960s and early 70s, when thousands resisted conscription at the risk of federal prison. Unlike those who evaded the draft by fleeing to Canada, getting various deferments, or resorting to violent protest, the subjects of this film chose civil disobedience.

    It was a costly decision.

    An estimated 500,000 young men evaded or refused to cooperate with the draft, and 3,250 went to prison for their beliefs, the largest mass incarceration of war resisters in U.S. history. The film tackles this broad narrative mostly through the story of David Harris (who spent three years in Federal prison for refusing to be drafted, and for encouraging others to do the same) and his wife, folksinger Joan Baez. Interviews with many other draft resisters round out the narrative.

    As part of understanding the Vietnam era, the film also reviews the history of the draft, and opposition to previous drafts, and the Vietnam war. Resistance to the war is tied into the larger civil rights movement, two sides of the same coin in opposing unjust actions by the government, with the inclusion of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. visiting Joan Baez and those jailed for blocking the Oakland Draft Board in 1967.

    How Do You Say “Vietnam” in Arabic? Iraq

    To a younger audience, the film is perhaps a bit funny, guys with weird hair and unhip clothing burning whatever draft cards were. For a cynical generation, it is as easy to dismiss the value of individual action as it is wrong to do so. Indeed, the actions of one person alone can amount to little. But as an interviewee says, you never know who’s watching. The Boys Who Said No! illustrates how one can become two, two can become ten, and over time they together remind you all that sand on the beach was once a rock.

    The Boys Who Said No! thus resonates strongly today.

    It offers an answer to the question of what courage is in a modern world: not only choosing the harder right over the easier wrong, but being willing to pay the price for acting on conscience, for a good bigger than oneself. And in that definition, the actions of men like David Harris and the thousands who joined him in refusing the draft, become clearer. The path they put themselves on leads in a straight line through whistleblowers Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers), Drake and Binney (NSA), Manning and Assange (Iraq War), Kiriakou and Sterling (CIA) and Snowden.

    Acts of conscience never go out of fashion, and a country never has enough examples. That’s what makes a film like The Boys Who Said No! more than historical document.

    To many today the war in Vietnam seems as old as the battles at Gettysburg and Antietam. But think about this: Vietnam was a war started on false pretenses (U.S. ships attacked in Gulf of Tonkin, Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq), built on deeply flawed fear (Communism will overtake Southeast Asia, a caliphate will engulf the Middle East), a faux-threat to the United States/Homeland (Communists on the beaches of California, Islamic terrorists in your town) and the strategy of extraordinary means spent for limited ends. Very, very similar comparisons apply to America’s war in Central America during the 1980s.

    And before you dismiss that by saying the struggle against Islamic terror is “different,” remember this: history shows those who resisted the war in Vietnam, and that in Central America, turned out to be right.

    The Boys Who Said No! is currently in production, but in need of additional funding for completion. Take a look at a 17 minute excerpt, and visit the project’s website, Facebook, or Indiegogo page if you wish to contribute.

    A Bit More

    The Boys Who Said No! was directed is Judith Ehrlich, who won an Academy Award nomination for The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. The producer is Christopher C. Jones, who at age 17 refused to register for the draft, was arrested and served nine months in federal prison. As the documentary is not complete, my comments above are based on previews and clips I have seen.

    The film takes its title from a 1960s poster showing Joan Baez’ sisters sitting on a couch with the caption “Girls say yes to boys who say no.”




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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Freedom in North Korea (I Hate Travel Stories About North Korea)

    March 31, 2016 // 7 Comments »

    North-Korean-Propaganda-Poster-01



    Every travel story about North Korea reads the same:

    We went to North Korea voluntarily, and were shocked to find that we couldn’t like hang out at clubs with everyday Koreans, and the dudes there, like, spied on us.

    And we couldn’t use WhatsApp or take selfies anywhere we wanted, or like mock the hell out of the fat guy who dictates the place LOL. It’s like so oppressive and I’m so glad to be back in the U.S. where sh*t is totally free, I mean literally, bro.

    Wash, rinse, repeat.


    So here’s another one, from the New York Times who should know better but clearly had space to fill or something. This story not only drops the mic on the usual tired *ss tropes about North Korea, but it is written by a Korean-American so offended by the bad Korea she can barely contain herself spewing dumbbuttery.

    The writer, “Marie” Myung-Ok Lee, has a lot to say.

    She opens with this:

    North Korea recently sentenced Otto Warmbier, an American college student and tourist, to 15 years of hard labor. Not surprisingly in the surveillance state to end all surveillance states, there are security camera images of Mr. Warmbier trying to steal a propaganda sign from an off-limits area of the hotel. In photographs from the trial, he seemed utterly shocked that he was being prosecuted.

    Let’s unpack that.

    “Security camera images of a theft?” This is a surprise? Hell, every minute of my life in America is captured on security cameras, “Marie,” and yours, too. My apartment building has them in the halls and public areas, the police have them on the streets, the stores I shop in have them everywhere and the NSA uses my webcam to look into my bedroom.

    As for Warmbier looking “utterly shocked that he was being prosecuted,” the dude tried to steal something. What did he expect to happen to him, a pat on the back? You get prosecuted for theft anywhere in the world. Sure, 15 years is heavy, but we all know the North Koreans won’t keep him that long. At least he’s not a black guy in America, where he’d risk being beaten or shot for “resisting arrest” after his crime.


    Later in her article, Marie is outraged she can’t photograph what she wants to, because Government. I’d invite her here in the Homeland to take her camera out to snap a few photos at the nearest military base or nuke facility in her state, and see how the guardians of freedom react. Better yet, let her be beaten by a cop who objects to her exercising her right to film him doing his duty beating up peaceful protesters for “resisting arrest.”


    On her way out of North Korea, Marie discovers her luggage was searched, and expresses her shock and outrage, that sense of being violated.

    You’re right Marie, that certainly doesn’t happen in America. Except in major subway systems like New York and Washington DC where the cops do “random” bag searches as a condition of riding. Or at the airport where full-body scanners are employed on children, the elderly and the disabled.

    As someone who, during my whistleblower fight against the State Department, found myself “randomly selected” for detailed searches by TSA, and who has friends on the No Fly list with no explanation offered, and who is aware how the U.S. government detained and searched and confiscated the electronics of journalists like Laura Poitras because she covered Edward Snowden’s story, yeah, f*ck yeah, I can understand that sense of being violated.


    Only I didn’t need to go all the way to North Korea for it. I just had to open my eyes here at home. And yes, I understand about “matters of degree,” but caution that it is just a matter of degree, and the North Koreans have been in the police state game longer than the U.S. has. But we’re catching on.

    Look around; there’s no place like home.



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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Egyptian Student Deported for Threatening Donald Trump on Facebook

    March 25, 2016 // 9 Comments »

    elsayed



    A 23-year-old Egyptian aviation student in California has agreed to self-deportation the U.S. after a Facebook post threatening Donald Trump was turned over to the FBI, leading to a Secret Service investigation of the student, and ultimately his detention by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE).


    On February 3, Emadeldin Elsayed posted an article about Trump on Facebook along with the comment: “I literally don’t mind taking a lifetime sentence in jail for killing this guy, I would actually be doing the whole world a favor.” The Secret Service interviewed Elsayed the following day, according to his lawyer. Looks like someone spends a lot of time monitoring posts on Facebook for freedom.

    A week after the Secret Service investigated his comments, Elsayed was expelled from flight school, which made him ineligible to continue studying in the country on a visa, even though prosecutors decided not to charge him with anything.

    An immigration judge granted Elsayed voluntary departure, a form of repatriation that spares him a formal deportation but returns him to Egypt escorted by federal agents.


    Elsayed’s lawyer stated he doubted the government considered Elsayed an actual threat, as he was flying planes and taking classes at Universal Air Academy for more than a week after he was first interviewed.

    So… a stupid Facebook post, no criminal charges, not even pulling the kid off the flight line for a week, but, whatever, deport him anyway. Why, it’s almost as if the U.S. government is using the immigration system as a punishment tool against people that basically piss them off.


    BONUS: Elsayed will no doubt return to Egypt telling everyone there how well he was treated in the land of the free, which will help to assure any would-be radicals their dark images of America are wrong.

    BONUS BONUS: What was Elsayed upset about anyway? A perfect circle — Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the United States!



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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Hot Summer GOP Convention Coming Up After Appalling DOJ Report on Cleveland PD

    March 24, 2016 // 7 Comments »

    riot


    So summer is going to be lit in Cleveland.

    This July the GOP (Gasping Old Party) is going to hold its nominating convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Given the way things are headed, this may turn out to be a contested convention, where everyone but Donald Trump tries to make sure Donald Trump is not the Republican nominee. Trump, in a classy move, has suggested if he is not anointed there will be riots.

    And who will be in charge of security for all that rock and roll? The Cleveland Police Department.


    Yeah, that Cleveland Police Department.

    After the Clevo Devo PD gunned down child Tamir Rice in cold blood, the Department of Justice (DOJ) got out of its wheelchair and investigated the thuggery that passes for law enforcement in northern Ohio. As you read through some of their findings below, just allow yourself to imagine how that sh*t will work out with the sh*t Trump is talking about. Short answer: it’ll be a real poop storm.


    Here goes:

    — The DOJ found Cleveland police officers shooting at people who presented neither serious nor imminent threats. In a 2013 incident, a sergeant fired at a victim fleeing a home where he was being held against his will by armed suspects.

    — The report found officers striking suspects even after they had been handcuffed.

    — And using their tasers inappropriately.

    — Officers deployed unreasonable force against people with mental illness (careful Trump supporters, that means you)

    — Officers deployed unreasonable force against people needing medical care.

    Hah, hah. These stories don’t even touch on the DOJ’s other grave conclusion: the Cleveland Police Department and prosecutor’s office failed do much about such misconduct after it occurred.

    A long, hot summer ahead for people who just want to watch things burn.




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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Many Accused No Longer Provided Public Defenders in Louisiana

    March 21, 2016 // 8 Comments »

    justice


    Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate in the country in general as well as an extraordinary incarceration rate for African Americans, no longer provides public defenders to all its people accused of crimes; within months over half its public defender offices are expected to become insolvent due to lack of state-provided funding.


    This is a conscious decision to not provide Constitutionally-required legal services to the poor.



    You Have the Right…

    You know the drill from countless police dramas, the things mentioned when the cop reads a suspect his/her Miranda Rights: “…you have the right to an attorney. If you can’t afford one, one will be appointed for you…”

    The idea is that no one should enter the judicial process without representation and legal advice. One can argue how well the public defender system works in reality, but we can agree that not having any such system at all is worse.

    Want to test that premise? Welcome to Louisiana.



    Gideon v. Wainwright

    The right to an attorney in criminal proceedings is enshrined within the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, it was not until the 1963 Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright that the law established the right to free legal representation for felony criminal defendants who are unable to afford a lawyer and face the possibility of incarceration. Defendants who meet the criteria are assigned either full-time public defenders or lawyers appointed by the court and paid by the hour.

    “Reason and reflection,” Justice Hugo Black wrote in Gideon, “require us to recognize that, in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided to him.”



    All About the Benjamins

    The Louisiana state public defender indicated that 24 of the 42 local public defender offices will become insolvent and restrict services in the next few months. Public defenders in 13 of Louisiana’s 42 judicial districts are already restricting services. Some public defenders face caseloads of 1000 felonies a year, a rate more than five times as high as a recent caseload study concluded is proper.

    The reason is money.

    Louisiana is facing a huge overall budget deficit of nearly a billion dollars this year, double that next year, due to fiscal problems left by departing governor and once-a-Republican presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal. The state decided it needed to cut expenses and chose to underfund an office that represented a Constitutional right to some of the state’s most vulnerable people.

    Poor people are now more vulnerable than ever to misuse of arrest authority by the police, and racial discrimination in the court process. Of course as guilty verdicts rise, more people will go to prison, but apparently Louisiana is always willing to fund the expansion of its prisons.



    Not Just Lousiana

    Louisiana is not alone in defunding its public defender system. The Florida Supreme Court is considering a similar attempt by the Miami-Dade County public defender’s office to limit its caseload. Last year, the Missouri (home of Ferguson!) Supreme Court authorized public defenders with unmanageable caseloads to decline new cases. Texas routinely refuses to adequately fund county programs for the defense of the poor.

    So alongside the other parts of the Bill of Rights lost in post-Constitutional America, you can now add the Sixth Amendment. If America needed further proof that one gets all the justice one can afford to pay for, just look to Louisiana.

    BONUS: I have been unable to locate any information on any efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice to correct this growing trend.



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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Student Busted for Saying ‘ISIS’ During Pledge of Allegiance

    March 19, 2016 // 18 Comments »

    Hitler-Jugend_(1933)


    Ho, ho, another brainiac goes down as stupidity is mistaken for a real threat, apparently our national pastime. And then, my new favorite phrase, “out of an abundance of caution.”

    The fun started after a Connecticut high school student was pulled out of class and reported to police for substituting “ISIS” for the “United States of America” during the Pledge of Allegiance.

    A policespokesnazi said the 15-year-old student at Ansonia High School wasn’t charged, but the case was turned over to the Das Department of Homeland Security. Police say there is no danger to the community. Federal officials declined to comment.

    The boy, who wasn’t identified because he is a minor terrorist, now attends classes alone, isolated in a Board of Education annex building.

    An attorney representing the school and Board of Education says the boy’s dismissal was “out of an abundance of caution.” The boy’s mother said at a board meeting that removing her son from school was an irrational decision.


    So:

    — What kind of fascist society requires school kids to pledge allegiance? Didn’t that kind of thing go out of favor in like the 19th century? Why don’t we substitute blood oaths or some Hunger Games thing instead?

    — Why did the cops report the case to the Department of Homeland Security? And what do they do with this information? What kind of file is now going to follow this kid around for how long?

    — What’s up with this “out of an abundance of caution” thing? Where did it come from? Houses catch fire from time to time, a real danger, but the fire department doesn’t drive around spraying water on everything “out of an abundance of caution.”

    — Where did our sense of balance go? High school kids have always said smart ass things. That just makes them smart asses, not terrorists.

    “Out of an abundance of caution,” America really need to get its act together.




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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Talking More About Apple, Encryption and the Fourth Amendment

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    I had a chance to drop by Ron Paul’s web show to talk more about Apple, Encryption, the evil genius of the FBI/NSA, and the Fourth Amendment.





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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    India Denies Visa Request From U.S. Govt Religious Freedom Monitoring Group

    March 16, 2016 // 4 Comments »

    sad



    India has denied visas to a team from the United States government responsible for monitoring religious freedom.


    The organization, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, had planned a trip to India to assess religious liberty in the country. But India has not issued visas to members of the commission.

    Robert George, the group’s chairman, said that the team was “deeply disappointed” by the Indian government’s action. The group has traveled to China, Myanmar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam, “among the worst offenders on religious freedom,” he said.

    The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is a U.S. federal government commission, paid for by your tax money, and is the first of its kind in the world. Its proclaimed mission is to “review the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations and make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.” Based on its web site, the Commission seems to issue a lot of reports, testifies a lot before Congress on bad places America does not like such as Iran and China, and otherwise entertains itself with some kind of holier-than-thou America, F*ck Yeah! attitude.

    USCIRF is not the same as the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, which seems to do much of the same preaching, via the State Department’s annual reports on international religious freedom.


    Back to India.

    The Indian Embassy in Washington said in a statement that there had been no change in policy regarding such visits and that the Indian Constitution guaranteed freedom of religion for its citizens. “We do not see the locus standi of a foreign entity like USCIRF to pass its judgment and comment on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.”

    And that, indeed, is the point.

    Just exactly who do we think we are to have a taxpayer-paid U.S. government organization whose task it is to travel around the world going tsk-tsk at whether other countries, including India, the world’s most populous democracy, protect freedom of religion the way America believes it should be?


    Let’s enjoy one of those thought experiments.

    Can we imagine the United States (“In God We Trust,” where our Republican candidates openly advocate against Muslims, where violence toward mosques is on the rise, where “Christian values” are regularly used to oppose marriage rights, abortion rights, the science of climate change and evolution, subjugation of women’s rights, and so forth) welcoming a delegation from say, the government of Iran, here to assess religious freedom in America?


    Thank you for reading this, and God bless. And, by God, I of course mean a white, male, Christian God who mirrors my own set of personal beliefs in every way and not your God, who is not real.



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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    FBI Threatens to Demand Apple’s iPhone Source Code, Digital Key

    March 15, 2016 // 9 Comments »

    apple

    The FBI on Thursday threatened to raise the stakes in its legal battle with Apple, suggesting it could demand access to the iPhone’s source code and the electronic signature used to verify its software updates.

    Battle Over Encryption

    As part of the ongoing battle between the government and the tech industry over encryption in the United States, the FBI demanded Apple help it defeat the password security features on an iPhone 5C used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. Specifically, the FBI wants Apple to create a modified version of the iPhone operating software that would allow the FBI to run an unlimited number of brute force attacks against a phone’s password to gain access.

    When Apple refused to assist voluntarily, the FBI went to court, where a U.S. Magistrate Judge cited the 1789 All Writs Act as legal justification to force Apple to comply. Apple is now appealing that court decision.



    FBI Wants It All

    But in a new court filing on Thursday, the FBI said that if it can’t require Apple to create the weakened software, it may demand access to Apple’s actual source code instead. Source code is the programming instructions that run the iPhone, and controls every aspect of the phone’s operation, including security protections.

    The FBI also said it may demand Apple’s signature digital key, which is required to update software on all iPhones. That key is what allows Apple to push out updates with the assurance that only its software will be installed by a phone. With the digital key, the FBI would be able to push out malware and spyware of its own design to any Apple phone worldwide.

    Basically, with the digital key, the FBI would be able to fool technology globally that it “was Apple.” The key is a very powerful tool, to either ensure security, or defeat it.

    The Lavabit Case

    The Apple case is not the first time the government has demanded encryption keys from private businesses.

    In the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations, the government demanded the digital encryption keys used by a secure email service, Lavabit, alledgedly used by Snowden. Lavabit shut down its services in August 2013 to avoid being forced to compromise user data, with founder Ladar Levison saying at the time: “I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

    Lavabit has filed an amicus brief in support of Apple.



    The FBI’s Threat: Time to Get Scared

    In the Apple case, if the FBI got access to those two items, the source code and the digital key, the Bureau could write a security-weakened version of iOS and install it on any phone they wished. The FBI’s threat was thinly-veiled:

    The FBI itself cannot modify the software on Farook’s iPhone without access to the source code and Apple’s private electronic signature,” the agency wrote in its court filing. “The government did not seek to compel Apple to turn those over because it believed such a request would be less palatable to Apple. If Apple would prefer that course, however, that may provide an alternative that requires less labor by Apple programmers.

    Time to get scared.

    The government wants it all — not just your data, but the technical tools and code to control your devices and bypass any security and encryption you or the tech companies might employ. That would be the end of any Fourth Amendment protections left that apply to the digital world.



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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Calling Bull on Obama’s Call for Law Enforcement Access to Encryption

    March 14, 2016 // 12 Comments »

    fourth amendment


    As the government’s fight to eliminate encryption as we know it, and ensure themselves unfettered access to all of all Americans’ communications, spreads out of the most-mediagenic example with Apple, Barack Obama has weighed in, using some of the oldest and sleaziest scare tactics available.

    Speaking to an audience of technology executives at the South by Southwest festival, Obama said America had “already accepted that law enforcement can rifle through your underwear” in searches for those suspected of preying on children, and he said there was no reason that a person’s digital information should be treated differently.

    “If, technologically, it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system, where the encryption is so strong that there is no key, there is no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer?” Obama said. “How do we disrupt a terrorist plot?”

    If the government has no way into a smartphone, he added, “then everyone is walking around with a Swiss bank account in your pocket… This notion that somehow our data is different and can be walled off from those other trade-offs we make, I believe, is incorrect.”


    Obama has resorted to the low-level scare tactics, invoking a landscape where pedophiles and terrorist employ encryption to prey on our children, and blow up our homes. And the president insists we trust him on this, that should the government gain access to all of our communications via some encryption backdoor, the tool will only be used for hard-to-argue with good — specifically, child pornographers and terrorists.

    Now do keep in mind that this is the same president who promised us soon after the Snowden revelations came out in 2013 that the feds were looking at “only metadata” and not reading Americans’ communications.

    That said, maybe I am wrong to be so cynical. Maybe this time Obama is sincere in needing those encryption backdoors to protect us from the pedos and jihadis.


    So, Barack, let’s put up or shut up.

    You tell us exactly how many American communications your NSA, et al, have gathered in say the last five years. You then tell us how many of those communications had unbreakable encryption applied. Then tell us how many of those encrypted messages were directly connected to child porn or unambiguous terrorism cases. Then tell us exactly how many of those cases were left unprosecuted only because of some encrypted message.

    And no cheating by falling back on the equally old scare tactic of “well, if we disrupt on case, it’s all worth it, I mean what if it was your child.” We are talking about abrogating the entire Fourth Amendment here. And as you say safety is worth sacrificing for, I say freedom is worth dying for.

    You tell us all that, and let us — the people you are spying on — weigh out the risk-versus-gain, the so-called trade off between our freedom and our safety. And unless and until you’re ready to throw some real cards on the table, I call bullsh*t on your arguments. Sir.



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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    FBI Has New Plan to Spy on High School Students

    March 11, 2016 // 10 Comments »

    cve


    The FBI is instructing high schools across the country to report students who criticize government policies as potential future terrorists, warning that such “extremists” are in the same category as ISIS.

    The FBI’s Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools guidelines try to avoid the appearance of specific discrimination against Muslim students by targeting every American teenager who is politically outspoken, as if that somehow makes all this better. The FBI’s goal is to enlist every teacher and every student as informants. The concept is not dissimilar to attempts by the FBI to require tech companies such as Apple to become extensions of the FBI’s power. FYI, the FBI also now has full access to data collected on Americans by the NSA.


    You really do need to scan through the FBI’s materials, which are aimed directly at our children; my words cannot describe the chilling 1984-tone purposely adopted.


    As author Sarah Lazare points out, the FBI’s justification for such mass teenage surveillance is based on McCarthy-era theories of radicalization, in which authorities monitor thoughts and behaviors that they claim without any proof lead to acts of subversion, even if the people being watched have not committed any wrongdoing. This model is now (again, welcome back to the 1950s) official federal policy.

    The FBI guidelines claim “High school students are ideal targets for recruitment by violent extremists seeking support for their radical ideologies, foreign fighter networks, or conducting acts of violence within our borders… youth possess inherent risk factors.” In light of this, the FBI instructs teachers to “incorporate a two-hour block of violent extremism awareness training” into the core curriculum for all youth in grades 9 through 12.


    Here are the danger signs the FBI directs teachers keep a sharp eye out for:

    — “Talking about traveling to places that sound suspicious”;

    — “Using code words or unusual language”;

    — “Using several different cell phones and private messaging apps”;

    — “Studying or taking pictures of potential targets (like a government building);”

    — “Some immigrant families may not be sufficiently present in a youth’s life due to work constraints to foster critical thinking”;

    — “Encryption is often used to facilitate extremism discussions.”


    And just to make sure the connection with McCarthyism and the red baiting days of the 1950s is clear enough, the FBI materials warn “Anarchist extremists believe that society should have no government, laws, or police, and they are loosely organized, with no central leadership. Violent anarchist extremists usually target symbols of capitalism they believe to be the cause of all problems in society — such as large corporations, government organizations, and police agencies.”

    So, sorry, Bernie Sanders supporters.



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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    You Should Care About Apple, Your iPhone and the FBI

    March 8, 2016 // 9 Comments »

    spy

    Yep, you should care. Very much. Hang up the phone and listen.



    What This is All About

    The FBI wants Apple to help unlock an iPhone used by one of the attackers who killed 14 people in the December San Bernardino shooting. Specifically, the Bureau wants Apple to create new software that would override a security system on the phone designed to erase its contents after ten unsuccessful password tries. The new software would also eliminate the built-in pause required between tries.

    The software on the San Bernardino shooter’s phone, after ten tries, will automatically destroy any data on it as a security measure. The FBI needs that ten try limit, plus the required pauses between tries, taken away so that they can run a “brute force” attack against the password. A brute force attack runs an unlimited number of passwords (a1, a2, a3… aa1, aa2, aa3…) at high speed against the system until one works.

    Apple said no. The FBI took Apple to court, where it successfully argued an 1789 law that compelled cooperation with simple court orders applied to Apple’s encryption in 2016. Apple is appealing.



    What This is Really All About

    This is really all about encryption, and whether the U.S. government can force companies to bypass their own security systems on demand. It is about whether a tech company’s primary obligation is to provide secure products that protect the privacy of its customers (good and bad people), or to act as a tool of American law enforcement to strip away that privacy as the government requires.

    The battle is actually even more significant. Since the Ed Snowden revelations exposed the NSA spying on persons worldwide, including inside the United States, the Federal government has been demanding a “back door” into commercial encryption systems.

    Some simplified tech talk: encryption turns data from something that can be read into 23hd892k*&^43s. Two “keys” are needed; one to turn the data into unreadable text, and one to reverse the process. In the case of the iPhone, Apple holds the encrypting key, and the user the unencryption key, her password. A backdoor is a bit of computer code that would allow law enforcement to bypass that second key and read anyone’s data. That’s what the Feds want, as, per Snowden, some current, commercially available encryption may still be beyond the NSA’s ability to break, and some other encryption can only be broken slowly, with expensive computers.



    What This is Really, Really All About

    The fight isn’t over whether Apple can comply with the government’s request; technically it can. It’s whether it should.

    Efforts to force companies to create that desired back door have proven unsuccessful. Many tech companies resent that the NSA hacked into their systems whenever possible up until the Snowden revelations, and others fear a consumer backlash if they cooperate too broadly. Congress so far has been unable to pass laws compelling the creation of back doors. The FBI is so desperate that they even deleted “safety” advice they once issued recommending people do encrypt their phones.

    The San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone is seen by many as a test case.

    The request is technologically doable, the shooter is dead, fully without privacy and cannot countersue, a search warrant for the phone exists, the phone is physically in the FBI’s possession on U.S. soil and the circumstances are very much PR-friendly — the guy was a terrorist, and who knows, maybe the phone holds clues to prevent some future attack. You really can’t do better than that.

    Some 40% of Americans agree that Apple should unlock the phone. And just in case you still don’t get it, remember the government took the provocative step of asking the court to unseal the case, which would normally be secret by default.

    Apple is pushing back.

    The company filed a request to vacate response to the court order, claiming it violated the First and Fifth Amendments, and exceeded the powers granted to the government in the All Writs Act, that 1789 law. Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Google plan to file briefs supporting Apple’s position. Meanwhile, both the FBI and Apple want Congress to weigh in, and indeed the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on encryption issues.

    It is very likely the case will reach the Supreme Court.



    The Broader Implications

    The case the Supreme Court will almost certainly hear is not about a single phone, but about creating a legal precedent for the United States government to demand whatever cooperation it needs from private companies with stockholder obligations to bypass security and encryption as it wishes; FBI director Comey stated the case will “be instructive for other courts” when interpreting how far third parties have to go in helping the government hack their products.

    In an op-ed, the New York Police Department Commissioner and his intelligence and counterterrorism chief admitted that what Apple has been asked to do will drive how the government demands tech companies provide access to secured devices in the future.

    Apple CEO Tim Cook said this “is, in our view, the software equivalent of cancer.” Indeed, the Justice Department is already seeking court orders for at least twelve other iPhones.



    Why You Should Care

    If Apple fails, the U.S. government will be able to read the contents of any electronic device in the U.S., regardless of encryption. The legal precedent will absolutely spill out past the iPhone to all other devices. For anyone who lives, travels or passes through America, this will touch you. In addition, phone, email and social media data passes through the U.S. from many parts of the world even if the users on both ends are outside the country.

    In addition, what would Apple’s (Google’s, et al) response be to a request from your favorite bad government? What if China were to require it hold a backdoor key as a condition for sales in the Mainland? What if your favorite bad government overtly decided to use that backdoor to “legally” gather proprietary data from your company, against journalists and dissidents, or to amass blackmail information on a colleague?

    A win for the government in the Apple case would also further stretch the applicability of the All Writs Act to ever more information inside the U.S., or held by companies with ties to the U.S. — medical records, for example.

    For investors, will knowing the U.S. and your favorite bad government now have access to a device help or hinder sales (Apple has already claimed compliance will “tarnish the Apple brand”)?

    And of course once backdoors exist, who, in the age of leaks (Snowden hacked the NSA itself), can assure that the knowledge will not end up your favorite set of wrong hands, say perhaps those Russian gangsters who are always sending you Spam emails?

    Bottom Line: everyone has something they wish to keep to themselves. The Apple case will significantly affect how possible that will be going forward.



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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Justice Dept Grants Immunity to Staffer Who Set Up Clinton’s Email Server

    March 4, 2016 // 26 Comments »

    bryan at party



    You remember Bryan Pagliano, pictured above, the guy who ran Hillary’s IT during her 2008 presidential campaign. After Obama tossed Hillary the job of secretary of state, Hillary had Pagliano hired by the State Department. She also had him continue to administer her private server, supposedly paying him on the side for the help.

    Taking the Fifth

    In addition to everything else swirling in the cesspool of that email server, there are also questions about whether or not whether the State Department spent taxpayer money to manage Hillary’s email server. See, Pagliano was working for both State as a government employee and Hillary as a private employee at the same time. One wonders if he always kept the two tasks fully separate, and of course what a government employee was doing working privately for the Clintons at the same time.

    When asked back in September to provide testimony to Congress, Pagliano refused, asserting his Fifth Amendment rights.

    Now things have changed.


    Getting Immunity

    The Justice Department has granted immunity to the former State Department staffer, who worked on Hillary Clinton’s private email server, as part of a criminal investigation into the possible mishandling of classified information, according to a senior law enforcement official.

    The official said the FBI had secured the cooperation of Bryan Pagliano, who worked on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign before setting up the server in her New York home in 2009.


    What Pagliano Likely Knows

    Bryan Pagliano can shed light on several issues:

    — Pagliano’s dual role as government employee and Clinton employee opens a whole new arena for investigation against Clinton, similar to the one already ongoing with aide Huma Abedin, who at one point worked simultaneously for the State Department, the Clinton Foundation, Hillary herself and a private company closely tied to the Clintons.

    — While at State, what was Pagliano’s day-to-day job? What did he really do, not just his job description, but is actual work accomplishments? Is there a paper trail showing he did any actual work at all, or was the State “job” just a make-work position to get him on the payroll as a gift in return for his service to Clinton?

    — He listed on LinkedIn his political-appointee position as “Serve as strategic advisor and special projects manager to the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) / Deputy Chief Information Officer (DCIO) overseeing the operations of the Information Resource Management (IRM) bureau.” Employed at such a high level inside State’s IT structure assures that State’s most senior information officers knew about Clinton’s email setup, and apparently did not or were not able to stop it. Unless Brian never told his supervisor about his other job.

    — What was going on inside the State Department vis-a-vis the email server. Who knew about it? When did they know? Was it ever vetted/approved, and if so, by whom? Were objections raised by security personnel and how were those objections dealt with? Who is on the complete list of people who had email addresses on the server? What discussions took place inside State regarding the presence of classified information on the server? Were objections ever raised from outside State, say from the White House or the intelligence community?

    — Pagliano can also speak to what security measures if any were in place on Clinton’s server, and when were they instituted. He had visibility into server logs, showing any attacks or penetrations into the server.

    — Pagliano, as a State Department employee, had access to the State Department computer systems. He currently works as a computer contractor for State, and still has access to State Department computer systems. Has he ever been asked by Clinton to use his positions to gain information she would ordinarily not have access to, or to which she did not want her name attached?

    — Pagliano may have knowledge of where any backups of the server are, shedding light on what emails were deleted by Clinton before her “full disclosure” of what was in fact a highly curated batch of documents.

    There is a lot to learn from Bryan Pagliano. His testimony could be like when the Feds turn a Mafia accountant, a low-level guy with access to the family jewels.


    BONUS: The State Department’s Chief Information Officer, who should have stopped the Clinton email server? Well, well, she retired from State a few months before Hillary left, into a nice job at the IMF. It pays to be a winner!



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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Brave Afghan Forces Kill Inside Hospital, for Freedom

    March 3, 2016 // 10 Comments »

    child


    Apparently a new feature of the modern war of terror is the shameless, blameless, overt targeting of hospitals, doctors and bed-ridden patients, all without the means of even modest self-defense.


    Following the American destruction of a Doctors Without Borders facility in Afghanistan, the Saudi targeting, using American weapons, of hospitals in Yemen, the Israeli destruction, using American weapons, of Palestian hospitals in Gaza, and the Russia/Syrian destruction of a Doctors Without Borders facility in Syria, we now have another case, perpetrated against the rules of war, international treaties and simple humanity.

    (The child shown above was injured in Gaza, 2014. Serves her right for choosing to live among terrorists, amiright?)


    Afghan security forces, possibly accompanied by NATO advisers, raided a hospital south of Kabul and abducted and then killed at least three men suspected of being insurgents.

    The raid began in Wardak Province, 100 miles from Kabul, at a hospital run by the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, an international aid agency. Initial reports differed about whether the units involved in the four-hour raid, whose members descended from helicopters, belonged to the Afghan Army or the police. The number of casualties was also not clear, with different accounts suggesting that between three and five people had been killed.



    The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan denounced the raid, which it said the Afghan Army had conducted, as a gross violation of the Geneva Conventions.

    Yeah, whatever, how quaint.

    “Medical facilities and medical staff are to provide treatment to anyone in need, and patients are to be granted safety according to humanitarian law,” Jörgen Holmström, the Swedish group’s country director, said in a statement. “We will further investigate this violation and let those responsible be held accountable.”

    “Held accountable.” How quaint.

    A spokesman for Wardak Province’s police chief said elite police units, who were possibly accompanied by Americans, had conducted the operation.
    “Those killed in the hospital were all terrorists,” he said, adding that he was “happy that they were killed.”

    A spokesman for the American-led NATO coalition denied involvement. “At this point, we have no reports of any coalition operations near a hospital,” said Col. Michael T. Lawhorn.


    BONUS: The UN states Afghanistan chalked up record civilian casualties in 2015.



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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Scalia Dined at the Great Trough of Corruption

    February 29, 2016 // 13 Comments »

    Antonin_Scalia_2010



    Antonin Scalia was the longest-tenured justice on the current Supreme Court, and a great friend to conservatives in his opinions. It turns out he also ate his share at the great trough of American corruption.


    Though the information was somehow not exposed to the public over the decades Scalia was making decisions that affected all of our lives, now, just two weeks after his death, we learn that he was a frequent traveler, all paid for by private “sponsors.”

    When Scalia died, he was staying, for free, at a West Texas hunting lodge owned by a businessman whose company had recently had a matter before the Supreme Court.

    Then we learned that over the last ten years Scalia took 258 subsidized trips (2004 to 2014), with at least 23 privately funded trips in 2014 alone to legal hotspots like Hawaii, Ireland and Switzerland. A few weeks before his death, he was in Singapore and Hong Kong, all expenses paid. The information on all this comes from the New York Times, who either knew about it all for some time and just never got around to publishing it, or who did a helluva lot of research in the last few days.


    No Ethics

    Ethical standards supposedly prohibit judges from accepting gifts from anyone with a matter currently before the court. But those guidelines presented no barrier to John Poindexter, who invited Justice Scalia to stay at his West Texas ranch. One of Poindexter’s companies, the Mic Group, was a defendant in an age discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee who unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court for a review last year. Funny thing, that the Court refused to hear the case and thus let Poindexter off the hook.

    Maybe it was an open-and-shut case.

    Scalia is not alone in his piggery. The Times also dutifully reports in 2011, a liberal advocacy group, Common Cause, questioned whether Justice Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas should have disqualified themselves from participating in the landmark Citizens United case on campaign finance because they had attended a political retreat in Palm Springs, sponsored by the conservative financier Charles Koch. The disclosure report filed by Justice Thomas made no mention of the retreat. It said only that he had taken a trip, funded by the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, to Palm Springs to give a speech.



    Swine

    There is no such thing as a free lunch. People do not give away trips to Hong Kong, or pay $200,000 for a short speech, for nothing. They are buying influence and access. Simple test: do you think you could get a Supreme Court justice on his cell phone this afternoon? Do you think West Texas rancher John Poindexter can?

    Anyone who believes these payments, in cash or in air tickets, are anything other than bribes is an utter fool. Our democracy has been bought, and damn cheap, too.




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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Texas Academics Told to Avoid ‘Sensitive Topics’ to Prevent Angering Armed Students

    February 26, 2016 // 45 Comments »

    cowboys



    Here’s another swanky benefit of our out-of-control gun culture: university professors should be aware that their students might shoot them.


    The Texas state legislature voted last year to allow students to carry concealed handguns into classrooms, dorms, just about anywhere on campus, a practice with roots to when Socrates taught Aristotle.

    If students packing seems like a bad idea to you, imagine how you’d feel if you were a professor. There’s nothing quite like the free exchange of ideas when everyone is armed in math class.

    How about armed Texans in classes that teach Arabic, or Islamic Studies, or Hebrew, or evolution? Some good times ahead. The academic chilling effect seems pretty obvious. One wonders how many brilliant teachers will move to campuses in less-armed states, and how many researchers will avoid Texas for creating an academic environment incompatible with academics. It is possible that overall Texas will become even dumber.

    Public universities in Texas are grappling with how to implement the measure, which gives some flexibility to the institution. For example, the University of Texas at Austin will not allow guns in dorms but will allow them in classrooms, because somehow that makes sense. Libraries and cafeterias,maybe.

    Sporting events? Suck on hot lead, visiting team!



    If having armed students seems like it would pretty significantly alter the college classroom, you need look no further than the University of Houston. The university’s faculty senate held a meeting recently with a Powerpoint presentation aimed at assisting faculty in adapting to the new gun-toting normal. Here’s a slide:





    The slide stops just short of advising profs to wear kevlar to class, or to lecture from behind bullet proof glass or, in the language of Texans, simply pack bigger guns. Like the faculty parking that sets them aside from the kids, maybe teachers could be issued fully automatic weapons, while the kids were limited to semi-auto only, assuming that does not violate the only Amendment in the Bill of Rights Texans seem to be aware of. Grad students could get special firearms training to better prepare them for a life in academia. The concept of defending one’s thesis in front of a faculty committee takes on a whole new meaning.


    Wacky comparison: The military does not allow open-carry on most bases outside of war zones, and during training does not allow guns in barracks and classrooms (outside of weapons training.) Even in war zones, every soldier has received extensive training in his/her weapons, and is punished swiftly for safety violations. In some ways, you could say Afghanistan may be safer than Houston. Yi hah!



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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    San Bernardino Shooter’s Apple Password Changed While in Government Possession

    February 22, 2016 // 19 Comments »

    shooter


    They lie like a rug.


    In an attempt to convince Americans that having encryption and password-beating backdoors installed on their electronics so the government can snoop, the FBI first claimed the evil ISIS terrorists who shot up San Bernardino found a way to “beat” all of the resources of the NSA and lock down their iPhone to prevent further plots from being discovered. Lives were at risk, so the Fourth Amendment be damned!


    That wasn’t really true.

    It turns out, as the Justice Department acknowledged in its court filing, that the passcode of shooter Syed Farook’s iCloud account had been reset by the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, “in an attempt to gain access to some information in the hours after the attack… but that had the effect of eliminating the possibility of an auto-backup.” A federal official familiar with the investigation confirmed that investigators were indeed in possession of the phone when the reset occurred.

    So, OK, it wasn’t the darn terrorists who did it, it was the dumb hicks at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. Well, nonetheless, it wasn’t the FBI’s fault, so the FBI should be given the hacking tools needed to access all iPhone everywhere forever, or, maybe, something might happen again someday somewhere. At least with things in the FBI’s hands, such dumb mistakes wouldn’t happen.


    Only that wasn’t really true either.

    It turns out it was in fact the best of the best, FBI investigators seeking to recover data from the iPhone, who demanded a technician in the County Department of Public Health to reset the phone’s iCloud password. “The county and the FBI were working together cooperatively to obtain data, and at the point when it became clear the only way to accomplish the task at hand was to reset the iCloud password, the FBI asked the county to do so, and the county complied,” a spokesman for San Bernardino County said in an email. Except that wasn’t true or accurate and they screwed things up further by trying something dumb.


    So here is what is true.

    Apple could have recovered information from the phone had the Apple ID passcode not been changed under orders from the FBI, Apple said. If the phone was taken to a location where it recognized the Wi-Fi network, such as the San Bernardino shooters’ home, it could have easily been backed up to the cloud. The FBI then lied about whose incompetence lead to the mistake.

    In other words, while the FBI is demanding massive changes in how Apple protects your privacy, none of those change would even be necessary if anyone on the government side understood how iCloud works. And these guys want us to believe we can trust them with our data, and indeed, our freedom.




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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    You Can’t Earn a Living on the Minimum Wage

    February 20, 2016 // 17 Comments »

    child


    When presidential candidate Bernie Sanders talks about income inequality, and when other candidates speak about the minimum wage and food stamps, what are they really talking about?

    Whether they know it or not, it’s something like this.


    My Working Life Then

    A few years ago, I wrote about my experience enmeshed in the minimum-wage economy, chronicling the collapse of good people who could not earn enough money, often working 60-plus hours a week at multiple jobs, to feed their families. I saw that, in this country, people trying to make ends meet in such a fashion still had to resort to food benefit programs and charity. I saw an employee fired for stealing lunches from the break room refrigerator to feed himself. I watched as a co-worker secretly brought her two kids into the store and left them to wander alone for hours because she couldn’t afford childcare. (As it happens, 29% of low-wage employees are single parents.)

    At that point, having worked at the State Department for 24 years, I had been booted out for being a whistleblower. I wasn’t sure what would happen to me next and so took a series of minimum wage jobs. Finding myself plunged into the low-wage economy was a sobering, even frightening, experience that made me realize just how ignorant I had been about the lives of the people who rang me up at stores or served me food in restaurants. Though millions of adults work for minimum wage, until I did it myself I knew nothing about what that involved, which meant I knew next to nothing about twenty-first-century America.

    I was lucky. I didn’t become one of those millions of people trapped as the “working poor.” I made it out. But with all the election talk about the economy, I decided it was time to go back and take another look at where I had been, and where too many others still are.


    My Working Life Now

    I found things were pretty much the same in 2016 as they were in 2012, which meant — because there was no real improvement — that things were actually worse.

    This time around, I worked for a month and a half at a national retail chain in New York City. While mine was hardly a scientific experiment, I’d be willing to bet an hour of my minimum-wage salary ($9 before taxes) that what follows is pretty typical of the New Economy.

    Just getting hired wasn’t easy for this 56-year-old guy. To become a sales clerk, peddling items that were generally well under $50 a pop, I needed two previous employment references and I had to pass a credit check. Unlike some low-wage jobs, a mandatory drug test wasn’t part of the process, but there was a criminal background check and I was told drug offenses would disqualify me. I was given an exam twice, by two different managers, designed to see how I’d respond to various customer situations. In other words, anyone without some education, good English, a decent work history, and a clean record wouldn’t even qualify for minimum-wage money at this chain.

    And believe me, I earned that money. Any shift under six hours involved only a 15-minute break (which cost the company just $2.25). Trust me, at my age, after hours standing, I needed that break and I wasn’t even the oldest or least fit employee. After six hours, you did get a 45-minute break, but were only paid for 15 minutes of it.


    The hardest part of the job remained dealing with… well, some of you. Customers felt entitled to raise their voices, use profanity, and commit Trumpian acts of rudeness toward my fellow employees and me. Most of our “valued guests” would never act that way in other public situations or with their own coworkers, no less friends. But inside that store, shoppers seemed to interpret “the customer is always right” to mean that they could do any damn thing they wished. It often felt as if we were penned animals who could be poked with a stick for sport, and without penalty. No matter what was said or done, store management tolerated no response from us other than a smile and a “Yes, sir” (or ma’am).

    The store showed no more mercy in its treatment of workers than did the customers. My schedule, for instance, changed constantly. There was simply no way to plan things more than a week in advance. (Forget accepting a party invitation. I’m talking about childcare and medical appointments.) If you were on the closing shift, you stayed until the manager agreed that the store was clean enough for you to go home. You never quite knew when work was going to be over and no cell phone calls were allowed to alert babysitters of any delay.

    And keep in mind that I was lucky. I was holding down only one job in one store. Most of my fellow workers were trying to juggle two or three jobs, each with constantly changing schedules, in order to stitch together something like a half-decent paycheck.

    In New York City, that store was required to give us sick leave only after we’d worked there for a full year — and that was generous compared to practices in many other locales. Until then, you either went to work sick or stayed home unpaid. Unlike New York, most states do not require such a store to offer any sick leave, ever, to employees who work less than 40 hours a week. Think about that the next time your waitress coughs.


    Minimum Wages and Minimum Hours

    Much is said these days about raising the minimum wage (and it should be raised), and indeed, on January 1, 2016, 13 states did raise theirs. But what sounds like good news is unlikely to have much effect on the working poor.

    In New York, for instance, the minimum went from $8.75 an hour to the $9.00 I was making. New York is relatively generous. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 and 21 states require only that federal standard. Presumably to prove some grim point or other, Georgia and Wyoming officially mandate an even lower minimum wage and then unofficially require the payment of $7.25 to avoid Department of Labor penalties. Some Southern states set no basement figure, presumably for similar reasons.

    Don’t forget: any minimum wage figure mentioned is before taxes. Brackets vary, but let’s knock an even 10% off that hourly wage just as a reasonable guess about what is taken out of a minimum-wage worker’s salary. And there are expenses to consider, too. My round-trip bus fare every day, for instance, was $5.50. That meant I worked most of my first hour for bus fare and taxes. Keep in mind that some workers have to pay for childcare as well, which means that it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario in which someone could actually come close to losing money by going to work for short shifts at minimum wage.

    In addition to the fundamental problem of simply not paying people enough, there’s the additional problem of not giving them enough hours to work. The two unfortunately go together, which means that raising the minimum rate is only part of any solution to improving life in the low-wage world.

    At the store where I worked for minimum wage a few years ago, for instance, hours were capped at 39 a week. The company did that as a way to avoid providing the benefits that would kick in once one became a “full time” employee. Things have changed since 2012 — and not for the better.

    Four years later, the hours of most minimum-wage workers are capped at 29. That’s the threshold after which most companies with 50 or more employees are required to pay into the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) fund on behalf of their workers. Of course, some minimum wage workers get fewer than 29 hours for reasons specific to the businesses they work for.


    It’s Math Time

    While a lot of numbers follow, remember that they all add up to a picture of how people around us are living every day.

    In New York, under the old minimum wage system, $8.75 multiplied by 39 hours equaled $341.25 a week before taxes. Under the new minimum wage, $9.00 times 29 hours equals $261 a week. At a cap of 29 hours, the minimum wage would have to be raised to $11.77 just to get many workers back to the same level of take-home pay that I got in 2012, given the drop in hours due to the Affordable Care Act. Health insurance is important, but so is food.

    In other words, a rise in the minimum wage is only half the battle; employees need enough hours of work to make a living.

    About food: if a minimum wage worker in New York manages to work two jobs (to reach 40 hours a week) without missing any days due to illness, his or her yearly salary would be $18,720. In other words, it would fall well below the Federal Poverty Line of $21,775. That’s food stamp territory. To get above the poverty line with a 40-hour week, the minimum wage would need to go above $10. At 29 hours a week, it would need to make it to $15 an hour. Right now, the highest minimum wage at a state level is in the District of Columbia at $11.50. As of now, no state is slated to go higher than that before 2018. (Some cities do set their own higher minimum wages.)

    So add it up: The idea of raising the minimum wage (“the fight for $15”) is great, but even with that $15 in such hours-restrictive circumstances, you can’t make a loaf of bread out of a small handful of crumbs. In short, no matter how you do the math, it’s nearly impossible to feed yourself, never mind a family, on the minimum wage. It’s like being trapped on an M.C. Escher staircase.

    The federal minimum wage hit its high point in 1968 at $8.54 in today’s dollars and while this country has been a paradise in the ensuing decades for what we now call the “One Percent,” it’s been downhill for low-wage workers ever since. In fact, since it was last raised in 2009 at the federal level to $7.25 per hour, the minimum has lost about 8.1% of its purchasing power to inflation. In other words, minimum-wage workers actually make less now than they did in 1968, when most of them were probably kids earning pocket money and not adults feeding their own children.

    In adjusted dollars, the minimum wage peaked when the Beatles were still together and the Vietnam War raged.


    Who Pays?

    Many of the arguments against raising the minimum wage focus on the possibility that doing so would put small businesses in the red. This is disingenuous indeed, since 20 mega-companies dominate the minimum-wage world. Walmart alone employs 1.4 million minimum-wage workers; Yum Brands (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC) is in second place; and McDonald’s takes third. Overall, 60% of minimum-wage workers are employed by businesses not officially considered “small” by government standards, and of course carve-outs for really small businesses are possible, as was done with Obamacare.

    Keep in mind that not raising wages costs you money.

    Those minimum wage workers who can’t make enough and need to go on food assistance? Well, Walmart isn’t paying for those food stamps (now called SNAP), you are. The annual bill that states and the federal government foot for working families making poverty-level wages is $153 billion. A single Walmart Supercenter costs taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year in public assistance money, and Walmart employees account for 18% of all food stamps issued. In other words, those everyday low prices at the chain are, in part, subsidized by your tax money.

    If the minimum wage goes up, will spending on food benefits programs go down? Almost certainly. But won’t stores raise prices to compensate for the extra money they will be shelling out for wages? Possibly. But don’t worry — raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would mean a Big Mac would cost all of 17 cents more.


    Time Theft

    My retail job ended a little earlier than I had planned, because I committed time theft.

    You probably don’t even know what time theft is. It may sound like something from a sci-fi novel, but minimum-wage employers take time theft seriously. The basic idea is simple enough: if they’re paying you, you’d better be working. While the concept is not invalid per se, the way it’s used by the mega-companies reveals much about how the lowest wage workers are seen by their employers in 2016.

    The problem at my chain store was that its in-store cafe was a lot closer to my work area than the time clock where I had to punch out whenever I was going on a scheduled break. One day, when break time on my shift came around, I only had 15 minutes. So I decided to walk over to that cafe, order a cup of coffee, and then head for the place where I could punch out and sit down (on a different floor at the other end of the store).

    We’re talking an extra minute or two, no more, but in such operations every minute is tabulated and accounted for. As it happened, a manager saw me and stepped in to tell the cafe clerk to cancel my order. Then, in front of whoever happened to be around, she accused me of committing time theft — that is, of ordering on the clock. We’re talking about the time it takes to say, “Grande, milk, no sugar, please.” But no matter, and getting chastised on company time was considered part of the job, so the five minutes we stood there counted as paid work.

    At $9 an hour, my per-minute pay rate was 15 cents, which meant that I had time-stolen perhaps 30 cents. I was, that is, being nickel and dimed to death.


    Economics Is About People

    It seems wrong in a society as wealthy as ours that a person working full-time can’t get above the poverty line. It seems no less wrong that someone who is willing to work for the lowest wage legally payable must also give up so much of his or her self-respect and dignity as a kind of tariff. Holding a job should not be a test of how to manage life as one of the working poor.

    I didn’t actually get fired for my time theft. Instead, I quit on the spot. Whatever the price is for my sense of self-worth, it isn’t 30 cents. Unlike most of this country’s working poor, I could afford to make such a decision. My life didn’t depend on it. When the manager told a handful of my coworkers watching the scene to get back to work, they did. They couldn’t afford not to.




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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Majority of U.S. Public School Students Live in Poverty

    February 19, 2016 // 14 Comments »

    education


    For the first time since the Great Depression, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.

    The Southern Education Foundation reports 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches, a common indicator of food at-risk students living below the Federal Poverty Line.


    Bottom Feeders Not Fed

    “We’ve all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it’s here sooner rather than later,” said Michael A. Rebell of Teachers College at Columbia University, noting that the poverty rate has been increasing even as the economy has improved. “A lot of people at the top are doing much better, but the people at the bottom are not doing better at all. Those are the people who have the most children and send their children to public school.”

    Free, universal public education was a cornerstone of America’s growth, seeking to assimilate waves of immigrants and to provide them with the basic education needed in their day to participate in the economy, i.e., first an elementary education only, enlarged to include high school as demands changed. Things stalled out there.

    The trend toward majority-poor students in that public education system suggests further sorting out, at very early ages, of our once semi-egalitarian society into Haves (the one percent) and Have Nots (the 99 percent; the numbers are not that sharp yet, but definitely aimed that way.)

    Stupid people can’t get good jobs. But stupid people also do what they’re told to do, especially if they depend on you to keep their kids just barely out of starvation.


    We Don’t Need No Education

    In addition, the majority-poor schools are sliding away from their educational function and are becoming simply extension of the social services net.

    “When they first come in my door in the morning, the first thing I do is an inventory of immediate needs: Did you eat? Are you clean? A big part of my job is making them feel safe,” said Sonya Romero-Smith, a veteran teacher at Lew Wallace Elementary School in Albuquerque. Fourteen of her 18 kindergartners are eligible for free lunches. She helps them clean up with bathroom wipes and toothbrushes, and she stocks a drawer with clean socks, underwear, pants and shoes.

    Romero-Smith, 40, who has been a teacher for 19 years, became a foster mother in November to two girls, sisters who attend her school. They had been homeless, their father living on the streets and their mother in jail, she said. When she brought the girls home, she was shocked by the disarray of their young lives.

    “Getting rid of bedbugs, that took us awhile. Night terrors, that took a little while. Hoarding food, flushing a toilet and washing hands, it took us a little while,” she said. “You spend some time with little ones like this and it’s gut wrenching. These kids aren’t thinking, ‘Am I going to take a test today?’ They’re thinking, ‘Am I going to be okay?’”



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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Judge Orders Apple to Help FBI Hack San Bernardino Shooter’s Phone

    February 18, 2016 // 15 Comments »

    iphone-563069_960_720



    A magistrate judge in California on Tuesday ordered Apple to help the FBI retrieve encrypted data on an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers. Investigators have so far been unable to gain access to the data on killer Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone, which could contain communications between him and his wife and co-conspirator, Tashfeen Malik, and potentially others, prior to the December 2 shooting rampage that killed 14 people.

    “Prosecutors said they needed Apple’s help accessing the phone’s data to find out who the shooters were communicating with and who may have helped plan and carry out the massacre, as well as where they traveled prior to the incident,” NBC News reports. “The judge ruled Tuesday that Apple had to provide ‘reasonable technical assistance’ to the government in recovering data from the iPhone 5c, including bypassing the auto-erase function and allowing investigators to submit an unlimited number of passwords in their attempts to unlock the phone.”

    The court filing by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said “Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily.” Apple has five days to respond to the ruling.

    Can the Feds Break Into the iPhone?

    Some interesting issues afoot here. First, it appears the FBI cannot figure out a way to bypass Apple’s security feature, the one that bricks the phone after a certain number of unsuccessful login attempts. If Apple modified the phone so an unlimited number of attempts can be made, then the Feds would simply brute force the password, trying potentially millions of combinations.


    Or is it?

    America’s intelligence agencies have so far been unsuccessful in persuading manufacturers and/or Congress to create and pass on to them backdoors around security and encryption. The FBI may indeed know how to get into the iPhone, but wants to make this a public example case — who can complain about learning more about real terrorists (no ambiguity issues), and of course the phone’s owners are dead, and so cannot claim their Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure/privacy are being violated.

    Also of interest would be an Apple claim that while they will cooperate, it is technically impossible to comply with the request, i.e., the phone simply cannot be modified as the FBI wishes. Could a court require Apple to turn over all of their code and engineering documents so that the NSA could have a shot at what Apple said it could not do on its own?

    Equally interesting would be even if Apple can comply this time, would Apple run into future legal issues if they created a next generation phone that truly could not be modified no matter what, making it fully unhackable, even by their own engineers?

    Either way, the suit against Apple sets a precedent, likely making it easier for the Feds to compel cooperation from tech companies in more legally hazy cases in the future.


    Apple Responds

    Apple has vowed to aggressively fight the federal order to unlock the iPhone. CEO Tim Cook published a public response that said “We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”

    So the good (?) news is in 2016 we are now depending on a private company to protect our privacy against the wishes of our own government.




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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Hillary at Selma? Not in 2015…

    February 12, 2016 // 3 Comments »

    In the 2007 video below, when Hillary was last overtly running for president, at about the 0:37 mark she slips into a cliched African-American accent, kinda weird, and also weird that what appears to be a largely African-American audience applauds her. But that was 2007 and candidate Clinton shilling for Black votes.




    And in that same year, 2007, here’s both candidate Clinton, hubby Bill and then-candidate Obama marching in Selma:




    And here, in 2015, is Clinton in Selma:







    Oh, wait, she wasn’t there that year. Obama and his family were there. Hell, even George W. Bush and his wife Laura attended. Where was Hillary (and for that matter, Bill) on this very important 50th anniversary?

    In Miami, grifting at a Clinton Foundation Global Initiative event. The Clintons were in Miami, visiting Miami-Dade’s Coral Gables wealthy neighborhood for the weekend. Coral-Gables is 91 percent white and no doubt full of potential campaign donors. The Clintons did have time to drop by crappy Liberty City for a photo-op “community service” thing.

    Like they say, it is all about priorities.



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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    U.S. Passports of Sex Offenders to Be Marked

    February 11, 2016 // 17 Comments »

    frank moss


    There is of course no “right” to travel. The government, via the Department of State, decides who gets a passport and who may travel on one.

    The first step is that it is the Department of State which decides you are indeed entitled to a nice, blue passport. No birth certificate? Problem. Born in Canada, albeit to two American parents? Maybe we need to talk. Constitution-level stuff.

    Next up are the reasons you can have your passport revoked: treason, national security stuff, swearing allegiance to a foreign power. Pretty heavy stuff, lots of laws, and court challenges can be involved.


    Congress Restricts Travel

    But the Congress has quietly been side-slipping in restrictions on travel.

    An old one is child support. If you owe $2500 of it, no passport. Congress is also flirting with revoking or denying passports to Americans “affiliated” with terror organization and/or seeking to travel abroad for jihad. And there is a move to deny passports to Americans who owe too much in back taxes.

    Sex Offenders’ Passports to Be Marked

    Now, to that growing list add this one: Legislation requiring the State Department to identify registered sex offenders with a special mark on their passports, and to revoke those passports already issued unmarked, was signed on February 8 by Obama. The law (Public Law No: 114-119) also authorizes notification to a destination country (including its visa-issuing agents in the United States) of impending or current international travel of a child-sex offender to that country.

    International Megan’s Law, is supposedly to help prevent sex trafficking, since sex offenders “hop on planes and go to places for a week or two and abuse little children,” the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), said. Smith of course had no actual figures to substantiate his argument, nor did he acknowledge that State can already deny a passport to those convicted of sex tourism involving minors.

    Offenses Against Minors?

    In addition to the new law being the first time in U.S. history that a special class of Americans would be marked on their passports, a chilling event of its own, the law ignores the reality that the sex offender registry is another government “list,” such as no fly, that is relatively easy to get on and very hard to leave.

    Prosecutors have been seeking sex offender registration under child pornography charges against teens who sext, building registry cases against peeping toms, and overall unevenly applying state-by-state standards to something that now may have global impact.

    In at least ten states, you can earn sex offender designation from innocuous forms of indecency like streaking, mooning, or urinating in public. None of the registries provide any factual details of the offenses, just the names of the crimes, and sometimes not even that. So if a registry lists the offense of indecent exposure, for example, the passport people have no way of distinguishing a high school prankster who streaks a football game from a creep who heads off to a playground to flash children for sexual gratification.

    Many registries also contain numerous purely statutory offenders who are often also minors at the time of the offense, such as an 18-year-old who engages in consensual sexual activity with his 16-year-old girlfriend. In many jurisdictions, this would be labeled “sexual assault against a minor.”

    This has resulted in ever-growing lists of offenders. California has the largest list in the country with over one hundred thousand registered sex offenders.


    Everybody hates people who commit sex crimes, even more so those who commit them against children. But marking their passports represents nothing more than chilling use of government power that will accomplish nearly nothing at the loss of something greater.

    (example passport shown for illustration only)



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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, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

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