• Archive of "Democracy" Category

    Inhuman Monsters: Islamic State vs Saudi Arabia

    November 21, 2015 // 16 Comments »


    Fun game time. Let’s see who are the most inhuman monsters in the Middle East, ISIS or Saudi Arabia.

    — ISIS commits terror acts against Western targets. Almost all of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, and most believe that Saudi money in part funded 9/11, and that Saudi money in part funds ISIS. Winner: Saudi.

    — ISIS beheads people. Saudi beheads people. In 2014, the Saudis beheaded 59 people. The headcount, as it were, for ISIS is unknown. Winner: So, ISIS, by a nose.

    — Both ISIS and the Saudis cite the Koran, Islamic teachings (the hadith) and Sharia law as justification for their brutal acts. Winner: Tie.

    — The U.S. claims Saudi as one of its closest allies in the Middle East and supplies them with weapons. The U.S. claims ISIS as its worst enemy in the Middle East, and supplies them with weapons stolen or retrieved from other U.S. allies. Winner: Big, big win for ISIS.

    — Saudi leaders are regularly invited to the White House. ISIS leaders are not. Saudi, FTW!

    — The U.S. claims not to know where Saudi money goes. The U.S. claims not to know where ISIS money comes from. Winner: Double-win for ISIS!

    — ISIS publishes a list of hadd crimes considered to be “against the rights of God,” such as theft, adultery, slander, homosexuality, and banditry. Saudi Arabia publishes a list of hadd crimes considered to be “against the rights of God,” such as theft, adultery, slander, homosexuality, and banditry. Winner: Dead tie.

    — ISIS tortures political prisoners. Saudi tortures political prisoners. Winner: Tie again!

    — ISIS and the Saudis are dedicated to Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam. Tie again!

    — ISIS uses atrocities against both its internal and external enemies. Saudi uses atrocities against its domestic enemies who oppose the royal family. Winner: Saudi.

    I could go on, but in the interest of efficiency, here, from Middle East Eye, is a handy chart:

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    Posted in Democracy

    Paris: You Don’t Want to Read This

    November 14, 2015 // 91 Comments »


    You don’t want to read this, and I take no pleasure in writing it, and no one really wants to hear it right now. But I believe it needs to be said.

    I join the world in grieving for the dead in Paris. I have grieved for the dead from 9/11 forward — the Australians who died in terror attacks on Bali in 2002, Londoners who died in terror attacks in 2005, the French citizens who died in the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January of this year, the Russians whose plane went down over the Sinai a week or so ago. So many more non-Western deaths barely noticed in the U.S. media. I grieve also for those killed in smaller attacks already smuggled deep into the obscurity of our memory.

    And so we Tweet hashtags and phrases in high school French and post GIFs to Facebook. We know what to do; we’ve done this before.

    But it has to be said, especially looking at the sick repetition of the same story, that despite fourteen plus years of a war on terror, terror seems to be with us as much as ever, maybe even more. It is time to rethink what we have done and are doing.

    Since that day in 2001, the one with those terrible sparkling blue skies in New York, we have spied on the world, Americans at home and foreigners abroad, yet no one detected anything that stopped the Paris attacks. We gave up much to that spying and got nothing in return.

    Since 2001, the United States has led nations like Britain, France, Australia and others into wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, with drone attacks on people from the Philippines to Pakistan to all parts of Africa. We have little to nothing to show for all that.

    Since 2001 the U.S. has expended enormous efforts to kill a handful of men — bin Laden, al-Zarqawi, al-Awlaki, and this weekend, Jihadi John. Others, many without names, were killed outside of media attention, or were tortured to death, or are still rotting in the offshore penal colony of Guantanamo, or the dark hell of the Salt Pit in Afghanistan.

    And it has not worked, and Paris this weekend, and the next one somewhere else sometime soon, are the proof.

    We gave up many of our freedoms in America to defeat the terrorists. It did not work. We gave the lives of over 4,000 American men and women in Iraq, and thousands more in Afghanistan, to defeat the terrorists, and refuse to ask what they died for. We killed tens of thousands or more in those countries. It did not work. We went to war again in Iraq, and now in Syria, before in Libya, and only created more failed states and ungoverned spaces that provide havens for terrorists and spilled terror like dropped paint across borders. We harass and discriminate against our own Muslim populations and then stand slack-jawed as they become radicalized, and all we do then is blame ISIS for Tweeting.

    Note that it is the strategy of Islamic terror to generate a crackdown in France in order to radicalise French Muslims. Hundreds of French citizens have already traveled to Syria to fight with groups including ISIS.

    As one of the most intelligent commentators on all this, Bill Johnson, said, terrorism is about killing pawns to affect the king. The attacks in Paris are not about the murder of 150 innocent people. Hell, that many die nearly every day in Iraq and Syria. The true test for France is how they respond to the terror attacks in the long-game — that’s the king in all this. America failed this test post-9/11; yet it does not sound like France understands anything more than America. “We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless,” French president Hollande said outside the Bataclan concert hall, scene of the most bloodshed.

    If I had exactly the right strategy, I’d tell you what it is, and I’d try and tell the people in Washington and Paris and everywhere else. But I don’t have the exact thing to do, and I doubt they’d listen to me anyway.

    But I do have this: stop what we have been doing for the last 14 years. It has not worked. There is nothing at all to suggest it ever will work. Whack-a-mole is a game, not a plan. Leave the Middle East alone. Stop creating more failed states. Stop throwing away our freedoms at home on falsehoods. Stop disenfranchising the Muslims who live with us. Understand the war, such as it is, is against a set of ideas — religious, anti-western, anti-imperialist — and you cannot bomb an idea. Putting western soldiers on the ground in the MidEast and western planes overhead fans the flames. Vengeance does not and cannot extinguish an idea.

    Start with those things and see, even if you won’t give it 14 years to succeed, if things improve. Other than the death tolls scaling up further, I can’t imagine we could be doing anything worse.

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    Posted in Democracy

    TSA Trained Disney World in Goofy “Terrorist Detection” Methods

    November 7, 2015 // 5 Comments »


    The same ridiculed and useless techniques used by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) to not find terrorists at America’s airports are now being used at Orlando theme parks, including Disney World, Seaworld and Busch Gardens, to not find terrorists.

    A Billion Dollars Hits the SPOT

    The Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT, program is TSA’s one billion dollar “behavioral detection” scheme. SPOT requires TSA staff to be on the lookout for indicators, “tells” to you poker players out there, that give away bad guys. Some of the actual indicators are listed on the graphic, above.

    There are actually 92 individual indicators (terrorists are sneaky!), divided into various categories with a point score assigned to each. Those categories include a preliminary “observation and behavior analysis.” Those passengers pulled over for additional inspection are scored based on two more categories: whether they have “unusual items,” like almanacs and “numerous prepaid calling cards or cell phones,” and a final category for “signs of deception,” which include “covers mouth with hand when speaking” and “fast eye blink rate.”

    TSA agents are also told to watch out for persons traveling “wearing a disguise.”

    You can also be judged less suspicious. Points can be deducted from someone’s score based on observations that they are part of an “apparent” married couple, as long as both people are over 55. No word on same sex couples. That’s two points deducted. Women over the age of 55 have one pointed deducted; for men, the point deduction doesn’t come until they reach 65.

    SPOT On Failures

    As to how well the SPOT program works, let’s check in with the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security.

    That office found in 2013 that TSA had failed to evaluate SPOT at all, and thus “cannot ensure that passengers at United States airports are screened objectively, show that the program is cost-effective, or reasonably justify the program’s expansion.”

    The Government Accounting Office and independent scientists who bothered to evaluate SPOT say it performs no better than a coin-toss at catching terrorists.

    Enter the Mouse

    With that kind of track record, you are left shaking your head when you learn that Orlando TSA officers trained 400 local cops and security for area attractions like Disney in the SPOT system, all of whom are now watching for “excessive throat clearing,” “improper attire,” “gazing down,” and “wide open staring eyes” as signs of potential theme park terrorism.

    At least now, with SPOT, everyone has a “scientific basis” for their racial profiling.

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    Posted in Democracy

    NYPD Officer Convicted of Lying About Photographer’s Arrest

    November 6, 2015 // 3 Comments »


    So this tells you about what you need to know about the cops’ respect for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know, as well as their contempt for the judicial system when caught in a lie.

    A New York police officer who arrested a journalist/photographer on assignment for The New York Times in 2012 was convicted, albeit three years after the fact, in what was a simple, straightforward case, of falsifying a record to justify the unlawful arrest.

    The officer, Michael Ackermann, 32, in the center of the photo above, was found guilty of a single felony count of offering a false instrument for filing. Officer Ackermann had claimed the photographer, Robert Stolarik, interfered with the arrest of a suspect by repeatedly discharging his camera’s flash in his face.

    A subsequent “investigation” found that Stolarik did not own a flash or have one on his camera at the time. One does wonder how long such an investigation might have taken, considering it should have taken about 10 seconds after the arrest. Got a flash, sir? No? Ok, thanks, you are free to go.

    “I think it’s important; it’s rare that people are held accountable for their actions,” the journalist said. “In this case, he lied, and he lied to protect himself, and it turned on him.”

    Officer Ackermann testified during the trial that he had made an “honest mistake” when he claimed Stolarik’s camera partially blinded him as he helped fellow officers make an arrest. He said he had mistaken ambient light at the scene for a camera flash.

    Wait, could we stop right there for a moment? Who has ever had a flash photo taken of themselves? You know, like when you see spots in front of your eyes for a few moments? Is there anyone other than this cop who can say with a straight face that it is possible to mistake a flash for no flash? In the dark, for God’s sake?

    The prosecutor rejected Officer Ackermann’s explanation and contended that his actions had interfered with the freedom of the press and had subjected Stolarik to unlawful search and seizure, violating his First and Fourth Amendment rights.

    Stolarik was taking pictures for a story about the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk tactics, themselves considered by many to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment, when he saw officers arresting a young black woman. He was thrown to the ground and arrested by Officer Ackermann, charged with obstructing government administration and, of course, resisting arrest. The charges were quickly dropped.

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    Posted in Democracy

    TSA Fails to Detect Weapons 95% of Time

    November 5, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    tsa toy

    They also cannot find their own butt squatting over a mirror, but they sure can grope yours.

    Remember airports before 9/11? You walked through a metal detector, had a quick bag check, all done by contract employees who swung between polite, and bored. Shoes stayed on, your laptop could stay in its case, it all took minutes and no one bullied you. No one touched your junk for freedom.

    Then, because of massive intelligence failures, some Saudis with simple box cutters were able to commandeer planes and do 9/11. The paradigm then was for passengers and crew to cooperate with hijackers, presuming they wanted the plane or money. Fast forward to now: we take our shoes off because some dumbass failed to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb years ago. We pull out all our electronics because, well, nothing really. We go through scanners that display our junk on screens. The government created a massive bureaucracy of TSA bullies to harass and embarrass us for the audacity of trying to fly somewhere. We all can now enjoy watching old ladies, people in wheelchairs and soccer moms groped in public.

    But at least that all keeps us safe, right?

    Well, there’s the problem.

    U.S. lawmakers and federal watchdogs took the occasion Tuesday to deride the Transportation Security Administration’s ability, or lack thereof, to adequately detect weapons and other contraband during the passenger screening process at the nation’s airports. And TSA didn’t just miss a few things. Nope, according to auditors from the Inspector General’s Office, posing as travelers, 95 percent of contraband, like weapons and explosives, got through during clandestine testings.

    “In looking at the number of times people got through with guns or bombs in these covert testing exercises it really was pathetic. When I say that I mean pitiful,” said Representative Stephen Lynch, speaking Tuesday during a House Oversight hearing concerning classified reports from federal watchdogs. “Just thinking about the breaches there, it’s horrific,” he added.

    “The failures included failures in the technology, failures in TSA procedures, and human error,” the Inspector General told the committee. “We found layers of security simply missing.”

    The General Accounting Office piled on, adding “TSA has consistently fallen short in basic program management.”

    TSA’s answer?

    Peter Neffenger, the new TSA administrator, said the agency was undertaking a “full system review.” It is also considering using dogs to search passengers as well.

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    Posted in Democracy

    UK Unveils Latest Plans Destined to Fail in Fight Against Extremism in Young Muslims

    November 2, 2015 // 4 Comments »


    UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced new plans to address the radicalization of young British Muslims, including measures to withdraw the passports of those believed to be at risk of joining jihadist groups abroad.

    As part of a strategy to tackle extremism, parents will be able to ask the government to seize the passports of 16- and 17-year-olds thought to be considering travel to Syria and Iraq. British parents can already request the cancellation of passports of those under 16. Another measure will ensure that anyone with a conviction for a “terrorist crime or extremist activity” will automatically be barred from working with children or other people regarded as vulnerable.

    Cameron’s critics worry that the new measures may be seen as heavy-handed and exacerbate the sense of alienation and resentment among young British Muslims, which is itself a driver of radicalization.

    Left unsaid is any tally of exactly how many 16- and 17-year-olds have traveled to join ISIS, the practicality of knowing where they are going since most would-be jihadis travel via a circuitous route, and the question of what happens to the 18-99-year-olds who want to join up. The vagueness of what constitutes a “terrorist crime or extremist activity” and who the hell are “other people regarded as vulnerable” is noted.

    Doubling down, Cameron described the battle against terrorism as the struggle of his generation. He is also expected to restate the case for expanding Britain’s laws on electronic surveillance, because why not throw that in while you’re on a roll.

    Apart from a natural desire to expand fascism, grow government power and try and tie himself to things like surviving WWII, an actual struggle of a generation, what might be driving Cameron (as well as his contemporaries in the U.S., who are frothing over similar ideas)?

    Simply this: pointless, knee-jerk reactions and security theatre are a whole lot easier to sell to the average frightened citizen than the idea that their safety actually depends on foreign policies that do not inspire rage and hatred in very large numbers of people.

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    Posted in Democracy

    For 13 Years: Torture of the Human Being Shaker Aamer by the United States

    October 31, 2015 // 8 Comments »


    Shaker Aamer was just released, after 13 years in captivity, from Guantanamo, and returned to Britain. His wife lives there, and he has permanent residence there. He was never charged with anything by the United States, simply kept. Here is what was done to him over the course of his 13 years at Gitmo.

    Bush denied, and Obama helped hide, the nasty stuff even existed, then used an ever-so-compliant media to call it all necessary for our security and very survival, then shaping dumb-cow public opinion with ersatz terms like enhanced interrogation to keep the word torture out of the discourse, then having the CIA destroy videos of the brutality, then imprisoning officials, such as John Kiriakou, who sought to expose it all, then refusing to hold hearings or conduct investigations, then employing black ops to try and derail even a cursory Senate report and finally allowing the torturers at the CIA themselves the final word on the watered-down public version of a Senate report on torture.

    The Torture of Shaker Aamer by the United States

    Yet, like a water leak that must find it’s way out from inside the dark place within your walls, some things become known. Now, we can read a psychiatrist’s report which includes, in detail, the torture enacted on just one prisoner of the United States, Shaker Aamer.

    The once-U.S. ally Northern Alliance captured Aamer in Afghanistan and sold him to the United States as an al Qaeda member. Who knows at this point who Aamer was at that time, or what he did or did not do. If you think any of that matters, and perhaps justifies what was done to him, stop reading now. This article cannot reach you.

    What was Done to One Human

    In his own words, Aamer describes the casual way his Western jailers accepted his physical presence, and skinny confessions made under Afghan torture, as all the proof necessary to imprison him in U.S. custody from 2002 until 2015. The U.S. created a world of hell that only had an entrance, not caring to conceive of an exit. In no particular order (though the full report dispassionately chronicles every act by time and location), the United States of America did the following to Aamer:

    — On more than one occasion an official of the United States threatened to rape Aamer’s five year old daughter, with one interrogator describing in explicit sexual detail his plans to destroy the child;

    — “Welcoming Parties” and “Goodbye Parties” as Aamer was transferred among U.S. facilities. Soldiers at these “parties” were encouraged and allowed to beat and kick detainees as their proclivities and desires dictated. Here’s a video of what a beating under the eyes of American soldiers looks like.

    — Aamer was made to stand for days, not allowed to sleep for days, not allowed to use the toilet and made to shit and piss on himself for days, not fed or fed minimally for days, doused with freezing water for days, over and over again. For 13 years.

    — Aamer was denied medical care as his interrogators controlled his access to doctors and made care for the wounds they inflicted dependent on Aamer’s ongoing compliance and repeated “confessions.”

    — Aamer was often kept naked, and his faith exploited to humiliate him in culturally-specific ways. He witnessed a 17-year-old captive of America sodomized with a rifle, and was threatened with the same.

    — At times the brutality took place for its own sake, disconnected from interrogations. At times it was the centerpiece of interrogation.

    — The torture of Aamer continued at Gitmo, for as an occasional hunger striker he was brutally force-fed.

    Torture Works

    The obsessive debate in this country over the effectiveness of torture rings eternally false: torture does indeed work. Torture is invariably about shame and vengeance, humiliation, power, and control, not gathering information. Even when left alone (especially when left alone) the torture victim is punished to imagine what form the hurt will take and just how severe it will be, almost always in the process assuming responsibility for creating his own terror.

    And there you have the take-away point, as briefers in Washington like to say. The real point of the torture was to torture. Over twelve years, even the thinnest rationale that Aamer was a dangerous terrorist, or had valuable information to disclose, could not exist and his abusers knew it. The only goal was to destroy Shaker Aamer.

    The combination of raw brutality, the careful, educated use of medical doctors to fine-tune the pain, the skills of psychiatrists and cultural advisors to enhance the impact of what was done worked exactly as it was intended. According to the psychiatrist who examined Aamer in detail at Guantanamo, there is little left of the man. He suffers from a broad range of psychiatric and physical horrors. In that sense, by the calculus his torturers employ, the torture was indeed successful.

    The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan failed at great cost, al Qaeda has been reborn in Africa and greater parts of the Middle East and the U.S. has willingly transformed itself into at best a bully abroad, and a police state at home. But no mind; the full force and credit of the United States of America destroyed Shaker Aamer as revenge for all the rest, bloody proof of all the good we failed to do.

    Never Again, Always Again

    Despite the horrors of World War II, the mantra– never again– becomes today a sad joke. The scale is different this time, what, 600? 6000? men destroyed by torture not six million, but not the intent. The desire to inflict purposeful suffering by government order, the belief that such inhuman actions are legal, even necessary, differs little from one set of fascists to more modern ones. Given the secrecy the Nazis enjoyed for years, how full would the American camps be today? Kill them all, and let God sort them out is never far from the lips.

    Torture does not leave its victims, nor does it leave a nation that condones it. The ghosts don’t disappear the way the flesh and bone can be made to go away.

    The people who did this, whether the ones in the torture cell using their fists, or the ones in the White House ordering it with their pens, walk free among us. They’ll never see justice done. There will be no Nuremberg Trials for America’s evils, just a collapsing bunker in Berlin. But unlike Shaker Aamer, you are sentenced to live to see it forever in your nightmares.

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    Posted in Democracy

    Tell Us Why We’re At War in Iraq Again, Mr. President

    October 30, 2015 // 18 Comments »


    When I was a kid, three presidents told us we had to fight in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, because if we didn’t fight them over there, we’d have to fight them on the beaches of California. We believed. It was a lie.

    I was a teenager during the Cold War, and several presidents told us we needed to create massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, garrison the world, invade Cuba, fight in odd little places and use the CIA to overthrow democratically elected governments and replace them with dictators, or the Russians would destroy us. We believed. It was a lie.

    When I was in college our president told us that we needed to fight in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua or the Sandinistas would come to the United States. He told us Managua was closer to Washington DC than LA was. He told us we needed to fight in Lebanon, Grenada and Libya to protect ourselves. We believed. It was a lie.

    When I was a little older our president told us how evil Saddam Hussein was, how his soldiers bayoneted babies in Kuwait. He told us Saddam was a threat to America. He told us we needed to invade Panama to oust a dictator to protect America. We believed. It was a lie.

    The next president told us we had to fight terrorists in Somalia, as well as bomb Iraq, to protect ourselves. We believed. It was a lie.

    The one after him told us that because a group of Saudis from a group loosely tied to Afghanistan attacked us on 9/11, we needed to occupy that country and destroy the Taliban, who had not attacked us, for our own safety. The Taliban are still there. But we believed. It was a lie.

    After that we were told that Saddam Hussein threatened every one of us with weapons of mass destruction, that the smoking gun would be a mushroom cloud, that Saddam was in league with al Qaeda. We believed. It was a lie.

    In 2011 the president and his secretary of state told us we needed regime change in Libya, to protect us from an evil dictator. We believed. It was a lie.

    In August 2014 the same president told us we needed to intervene again in Iraq, on a humanitarian mission to save the Yazidis. No boots on the ground, a simple act of humanness that only the United States could conduct, and then leave. We believed. It was a lie.

    Now we are told by that same president that Americans will again fight on the ground in Iraq, and Syria, and that Americans have and will die. He says that this is necessary to protect us, because if we do not defeat Islamic State over there, they will come here, to what we now call without shame or irony The Homeland.

    We want to believe, Mr. President. We want to know it is not a lie.

    So please address us, explain why what you are doing in Iraq is different than everything listed above. Tell us why we should believe you — this time — because history says you lie.

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    Posted in Democracy

    Wealth Therapists Now Exist to Help Super Rich Cope with Hardships

    October 24, 2015 // 5 Comments »

    Sure, 99 percent of us have problems: Can we feed our kids? Will we lose our home to predatory lending? How can we access decent healthcare? That sort of thing.

    But rich people have problems, too. Luckily, a group of brave psychiatric professionals, dubbed “wealth therapists,” have emerged to come to their aid.


    The UK Guardian (America’s best newspaper) profiled Clay Cockrell, a former Wall Street worker turned therapist, who spends his days helping New York’s wealthiest people.

    So what issues are America’s One Percent struggling with? Cockrell tells us there is guilt over being rich in the first place, which makes the rich feel that they have to hide the fact that they are rich. And then there is the isolation – being in the One Percent, it turns out, can be lonely.

    And the problem is growing. According to Oxfam, the richest One Percent have seen their share of global wealth increase from only 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014. It will break 51 percent by next year.

    The wealth therapists also say things have only gotten worse for their clients since the debate over income inequality that has been spurred on by movements like Occupy Wall Street.

    “The Occupy Wall Street movement singled out the One Percent and painted them globally as something negative,” said Jamie Traeger-Muney, another wealth psychologist. “I am not necessarily comparing it to what people of color have to go through, but it really is making value judgments about a particular group of people as a whole.”

    Traeger-Muney specializes in the unique issues inheritors face. “You can come up with lot of words and sayings about inheritors, and not one of them is positive: spoiled brat, born with a silver spoon in their mouth, trust fund babies, all these things,” she said, adding “I am shocked by things that people say. If you substitute in the word Jewish or black, you would never say something like that.”


    Hyper-wealthy, we all feel your pain. Thus, today, we are all part of the One Percent. #WealthyLivesMatter (say the wealthy.)


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    Posted in Democracy

    Power is No Substitute for Knowledge

    October 17, 2015 // 4 Comments »


    I welcome guest blogger William Astore today, whose own blog, The Contrary Perspective, is always worth your time. Bill?

    Francis Bacon is famous for the aphorism, “Knowledge is power.” Yet the reverse aphorism is not true. The United States is the most powerful nation in the world, yet its knowledge base is notably weak in spite of all that power. Of course, many factors contribute to this weakness. Our public educational systems are underfunded and driven by meaningless standardized test results. Our politicians pander to the lowest common denominator. Our mainstream media is corporate-owned and in the business of providing info-tainment when they’re not stoking fear. Our elites are in the business of keeping the American people divided, distracted, and downtrodden, conditions that do not favor critical thinking, which is precisely the point of their efforts.

    All that is true. But even when the U.S. actively seeks knowledge, we get little in return for our investment. U.S. intelligence agencies (the CIA, NSA, DIA, and so on) aggregate an enormous amount of data, then try to convert this to knowledge, which is then used to inform action. But these agencies end up drowning in minutiae. Worse, competing agencies within a tangled bureaucracy (that truly deserves the label of “Byzantine”) end up spinning the data for their own benefit. The result is not “knowledge” but disinformation and self-serving propaganda.

    When our various intelligence agencies are not drowning in minutiae or choking on their own “spin,” they’re getting lost in the process of converting data to knowledge. Indeed, so much attention is put on process, with so many agencies being involved in that process, that the end product – accurate and actionable knowledge – gets lost. Yet, as long as the system keeps running, few involved seem to mind, even when the result is marginal — or disastrous.

    Consider the Vietnam War. Massive amounts of “intelligence” data took the place of knowledge. Data like enemy body counts, truck counts, aircraft sorties, bomb tonnages, acres defoliated, number of villages pacified, and on and on. Amassing this data took an enormous amount of time; attempting to interpret this data took more time; and reaching conclusions from the (often inaccurate and mostly irrelevant) data became an exercise in false optimism and self-delusion. Somehow, all that data suggested to US officialdom that they were winning the war, a war in which US troops were allegedly making measurable and sustained progress. But events proved such “knowledge” to be false.

    Of course, there’s an acronym for this: GIGO, or garbage (data) in, garbage (knowledge) out.

    In this case, real knowledge was represented by the wisdom of Marine Corps General (and Medal of Honor recipient) David M. Shoup, who said in 1966 that:

    I don’t think the whole of Southeast Asia, as related to the present and future safety and freedom of the people of this country, is worth the life or limb of a single American [and] I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty bloody dollar-crooked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own design and want, that they fight and work for. And if, unfortunately, their revolution must be of the violent type…at least what they get will be their own and not the American style, which they don’t want…crammed down their throat.

    But few wanted to hear Shoup and his brand of hard-won knowledge, even if he’d been handpicked by President Kennedy to serve as the Commandant of the Marine Corps exactly because Shoup had a reputation for sound and independent thinking.

    Consider as well our rebuilding efforts in Iraq after 2003. As documented by Peter Van Buren in his book “We Meant Well,” those efforts were often inept and counterproductive. Yet the bureaucracy engaged in those efforts was determined to spin them as successes. They may even have come to believe their own spin. When Van Buren had the clarity and audacity to say, We’re fooling no one with our Kabuki dance in Iraq except the American people we’re sworn to serve, he was dismissed and punished by the State Department.

    Why? Because you’re not supposed to share knowledge, real knowledge, with the American people. Instead, you’re supposed to baffle them with BS. But Van Buren was having none of that. His tell-all book (you can read an excerpt here) captured the Potemkin village-like atmosphere of US rebuilding efforts in Iraq. His accurate knowledge had real power, and for sharing it with the American people he was slapped down.

    Tell the truth – share real knowledge with the American people – and you get punished. Massage the data to create false “knowledge,” in these cases narratives of success, and you get a pat on the back and a promotion. Small wonder that so many recent wars have gone so poorly for America.

    What the United States desperately needs is insight. Honesty. A level of knowledge that reflects mastery. But what we’re getting is manufactured information, or disinformation, or BS. Lies, in plainspeak, like the lie that Iraq had in 2002 a large and active program in developing WMD that could be used against the United States. (Remember how we were told we had to invade Iraq quickly before the “smoking gun” became a “mushroom cloud”?)

    If knowledge is power, what is false knowledge? False knowledge is a form of power as well, but a twisted one. For when you mistake the facade you’re constructing as the real deal, when you manufacture your own myths and then forget they’re myths as you consume them, you may find yourself hopelessly confused, even as the very myths you created consume you.

    So, a corollary to Francis Bacon: Knowledge is power, but as the United States has discovered in Vietnam, Iraq, and elsewhere, power is no substitute for knowledge.

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    Posted in Democracy

    Snowden: NSA, GCHQ Using Your Phone to Spy on Others (and You)

    October 15, 2015 // 11 Comments »

    snowden hopex

    You are a tool of the state, according to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

    The NSA in the U.S., and its equivalent in the UK, GCHQ, are taking control of your phone not just to spy on you as needed, but also to use your device as a way to spy on others around you. You are a walking microphone, camera and GPS for spies.

    Snowden, in a BBC interview, explained that for the most part intelligence agencies are not really looking to monitor your private phone communications per se. They are actually taking over full control of the phone to take photos or record ongoing conversations within earshot.

    According to Snowden, the UK’s spy agency, the Government Communications Headquarters, uses NSA technology to develop software tools to control almost anyone’s smartphone. He notes that all it takes is sending an encrypted text message to get into virtually any smartphone. Moreover, the message will not be seen by the user, making it almost impossible to stop the attack.

    GCHQ calls these smartphone hacking tools the “Smurf Suite.” The suite includes:

    “Dreamy Smurf” is the power management tool that turns your phone on and off with you knowing.

    “Nosey Smurf” is the hot mic tool. “For example,” Snowden said, “if the phone is in your pocket, NSA/GCHQ can turn the microphone on and listen to everything that’s going on around you, even if your phone is switched off because they’ve got the other tools for turning it on.

    “Tracker Smurf” is a geolocation tool which allows spies to follow you with a greater precision than you would get from the typical triangulation of cellphone towers.

    “Paranoid Smurf” is a defensive mechanism designed to make the other tools installed on the phone undetectable.

    Snowden said the NSA has spent close to $1 billion to develop these smartphone hacking programs.

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    Posted in Democracy

    Well, That was Awful: #DemDebate

    October 14, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    About the Democratic debate last night on CNN: Is this it? Is this the best the Democratic side of America can offer?


    I have to admit, by not screwing up, Hillary did well.

    She clung to her talking points tenaciously, brushed off any scandals (aided by CNN’s Anderson Cooper lobbing her softballs on the tough issues, and of course, Bernie absolving her of any email problems, the FBI investigation be damned), invoked her dead blue collar mom several times to the point where we were looking for the ghost to appear on stage, and absent a weird and untrue story about her and Barack chasing down some Chinese fellas to yell at them about climate change, told no apparent whoppers. She even made a funny about how long it takes us ladies to pee pee between commercials.

    She did muff on Wall Street, claiming oddly she “represented Wall Street” as Senator. That line will live on in a thousand Republican attack videos. In that same little speechlet, Hillary also mentioned in 2007 she went down to Wall Street and told them to “cut it out,” in relation to the massive financial crisis dumped on American a year later.

    Her statements about how well Libya worked out, and how she personally took down bin Laden with a rusty switchblade, were utterly false, but whatever, she’s said all that before. She did not shapeshift into her lizard form, and thus was the debate’s big winner.


    Bernie. Oh Bernie.

    Bernie played to his loyal base and left the vast pool of others disappointed. At times he sounded like your drunk old hippy uncle, ranting about revolution. His most salient points, about climate change and the one percent, were often shouted. One could imagine the spittle that some poor stagehand had to swipe off the lectern afterwards. It is very unclear how many voters Bernie persuaded to switch over to him. He instead cemented his place in history as an “issue” candidate, one who runs to push some ideas further into the mainstream with no hope of actually winning.

    Bernie’s ideas are good. But he needed to show enthusiasm, righteous anger, and instead we just got a lot of bitching. See ya, Bernie, you have achieved footnote-in-the-history-books status for all time.

    The Others

    The others really should have just stayed home. They were the equivalent of the Star Trek red shirts, background actors filling out scenes, handy to have around when a scriptwriter needs to kill someone off.

    Martin O’Malley was running for something, maybe Hillary’s foot massager come 2016, but stumbled to make any real points. He sounded desperate about his turn as Baltimore’s mayor, saying things were actually pretty good then. Come on Martin, we’ve all seen The Wire.

    Lincoln Chafee — brother, it is over, if it had ever begun. When you explained you flubbed an early vote in Congress because you were new and your dad had died, you sounded like an undergrad begging his Psych 101 prof for extra credit.

    Then there was Jim Webb, the man who has overnight spawned a million Tweets. Webb was angry. Webb whined about not getting called on. Webb didn’t seem to remember his kids’ names. Webb dragged his wife into this, twice, the only family member pictured out the audience unless someone was related to the Santa Claus guy. But Webb saved the best for last, playing out his PTSD live on stage, grinning manically while explaining how he killed a man in Vietnam. Get some help, Jim, we’re worried about you, man.


    And no props to CNN. A full thirty minutes of trash and commercials before the debate proper started? Why not bring out some Vegas showgirls? Letting Obama do a full-on promo piece saying “Vote Democrat?” Having their Official Black Guy Reporter Don Lemon ask one and only one question about #BlackLivesMatter? Then having the Official Hispanic guy (“Gracious, Anderson”) do the questions about weed and illegal immigration? And no questions at all about Israel, the Palestinians, the current war in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Planned Parenthood?

    The only question left: what was Joe Biden, watching this all at home, thinking?

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    Posted in Democracy

    Post-Constitutional America: What We’ve Lost Since 9/11

    October 13, 2015 // 10 Comments »


    Ed Snowden is right. We have lost too many of our freedoms. What the hell happened?

    The United States has entered its third great era is what happened. The first, starting from the colonists’ arrival, saw the principles of the Enlightenment used to push back the abuses of an imperial government and create the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The next two hundred some years, imperfect as they were, saw those principles progress, putting into practice what an evolving government of the people might look like.

    We are now wading in the shallow waters of the third era, Post-Constitutional America, a time when our government is abandoning the basic ideas that saw our nation through centuries of challenges. Those ideas– enshrined in the Bill of Rights– are disarmingly concise, the haiku of a People’s government. Deeper, darker waters lay in front of us, and we are drawn down into them. The king, jealous of the People’s power, wants some back.

    Pre-Constitutional America: 1765-1789

    History turns out to be everything that matters. America in its Pre-Constitutional days may seem familiar to even casual readers of current events. We lived under the control of a king, a powerful executive who was beholden only to the rich landowners and nobles who supported him. The king’s purpose was simple: to use his power over Americans to draw the maximum financial gain out of the colony, suppressing dissent in service to the goal and to maintain his own power.

    If you lived in Pre-Constitutional America, you knew that imposed laws could be brutal, and punishments swift and often extra-judicial. Protest was dangerous. Speech could make you the enemy of the government that ruled you. Journalism could be a crime.

    Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear?

    There were many offenses against liberty in Pre-Constitutional America. One pivotal event, the Stamp Act of 1765, stands out. To enforce the taxes imposed by the Act, the king’s men used “writs of assistance” that allowed them to burst into any home or business, with or without suspicion. Americans’ property and privacy were torn apart, ransacked, often times more as a warning of the king’s power than any “legitimate” purpose the original approved law might have held. Some American was then the first to mutter in ignorance “But if I have nothing to hide, why should I be afraid?” He learned soon enough everyone was treated as an enemy of the government, everyone, it seemed, had something to hide, even if it turned out they did not.

    The Stamp Act, and the flood of similar offenses, created in the Founders a profound suspicion of government unchecked, a confirmation that power and freedom cannot coexist in a democracy. What was needed, in addition to the body of the Constitution which outlined what the new nation’s government could do, was a remuneration of what that government could not do. The answer was the Bill of Rights.

    Never Again: 1789 – 9/11/2001

    There was no mistaking it: the Bill of Rights was written to make sure that America’s new government would not be the old government of a king. Each important amendment spoke directly to a specific offense committed by the king. The Bill would protect Americans from their government. The rights enumerated in the Bill were not granted by the government, but already present within the People. The Bill said what the government could not take away. Never again, the Founders said.

    For over 200 years the Bill of Rights expanded and contracted. Yet through out, the basic principles that guided America were sustained despite war, depression and endless challenges. It was a bumpy road, but it was a road that traveled forward.

    (The Founders were imperfect men, and very much of their era. As such, the rights of women and Native Americans were not addressed. Shamefully, the Bill of Rights did not destroy the institution of slavery, our nation’s Original Sin. It would take many years, and often much blood, to make up for those mistakes.)

    Post-Constitutional America: 9/12/2001 to the Present

    Then, one sharp, blue September 11 morning, everything changed, and our Post-Constitutional era began.

    You know the story: NSA spying, drone killing, Guantanamo, arbitrary arrests and police violence. And for every short-hand example, there are many other motes of shame you have probably thought of as you read. If not, open today’s newspaper or Google “NSA” and they’ll most likely be there. Remember too that Manning, Snowden and other whistleblowers were able to pass on only relatively small portions of the information the government is trying to hide, and we haven’t even seen all of the Snowden documents yet.

    But isn’t it all legal? Taking the most generous position, all the things the king did, and the government now does, were (albeit often in classified form) approved in (albeit often secret) courts. But in Constitutional America, there was a standard above the law, the Constitution itself. The actions of the executive and the laws passed by Congress were only legal when they did not conflict with the underlying principles of our democracy.

    The accepted history of our descent into a Post-Constitutional state is following 9/11, evil people under the leadership of Dick Cheney, with the tacit support of a dunce like George W. Bush, pushed through legally-lite measures to allow kidnapping, torture, imprisonment and indefinite detention, all direct contraventions of the Bill of Rights. Obama, elected on what are now seen as a series of false promises to roll back the worst of the Bush era-crimes, went full-in for the same or more. That’s the common narrative, and it is mostly true.

    What is missing is a more complete view. Even today, years after 9/11, 45 percent of Americans say that torture is “sometimes necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect the public.” Snowden’s revelations about the NSA revealed in depth how far the government has gone, though much of the raw outlines of what he filled in have been known for several years without much exposure in the mainstream media.

    Americans, ignorant of their own history, seem unsure whether or not the NSA’s actions are indeed justified, and many feel Snowden and the journalists who published his material are criminals. The most common meme related to whistleblowers is “Patriot or Traitor?” and toward the war on terror, “Security or Freedom?” There is no widespread movement toward any real change in what the government has been doing. It seems many Americans like it, and support it.

    To return to the set of rules, laws and beliefs that we still claim in high school civics classes define us, the Bill of Rights, means first deciding we will no longer agree to have those rights taken away from us. No, no, not taken away– given away, too easily. Too many Americans, compelled by fear and assured by propaganda, want the government to expand its powers further, embracing dumb-headly the idea that freedom is in conflict with security. The Founders, even as they remained under significant threat from the then-World’s Most Powerful Nation, knew all along the real dangers did not lie out over the water, but on land, at home, inside.

    But wait, people say. I write angry emails all the time and nobody has kicked down my door. I went to court for something and it worked just the way the rules said. I was randomly selected at the airport and it took five minutes, no big deal. True all. For people who’s last strongly held belief was over who got cheated on the last round of Dancing with the Stars, life isn’t very different.

    At issue in post-Constitutional America is not that all rights for all people all the time will disappear (though privacy seems on the chopping block.) It is that the government now decides when, where and how the rights which were said to be inalienable still apply. Those decisions will likely be made in secret and will be enforced without recourse. You’ll never know who is next.

    We are the first to see what is post-Constitutional America, and perhaps the last who might stop it.

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    Posted in Democracy

    Better Understanding Trump, A Man of His Times

    October 9, 2015 // 9 Comments »


    Demagogues come and go, and are certainly nothing new in politics in general (Hitler) and American politics in the specific (nearly every Republican candidate.)

    But Trump is special, a man of his times, as if evolution created him in match with his environment.

    Trump is a top-level predator, not smart enough to understand but somehow evolved enough to know: the myth of the American Dream is falling apart, and the angry low and middle class people who are experiencing the collapse are unable to understand what is happening to them, essentially that they got played in one of the grandest long cons in the history of grifting. Trump senses this, and tells them it is not their fault. Blame the immigrants, blame the Muslims and, even though the Dream dumped even harder on them, why not, blame the Blacks. It’s not you, folks. The deck is stacked, says Trump.

    Trump is of course right — the deck is stacked. But not in the way he says it is.

    The American Dream

    The myth of the American Dream has been the dominating factor in keeping most people mostly complacent in the United States for 150 years, and allowing most of us to blame a minority of us for shortcomings. You know it — work hard, and your life will improve. Well, maybe not your life, but your kids’, or at least your grandkids’. If that doesn’t happen, you probably didn’t work hard enough, try again next generation and it’ll most likely stick. And if that doesn’t work, it was the fault of the Irish immigrants, or the damn Chinese, or those welfare freeloaders.

    The thing that made the myth so powerful was that 10 percent of the truth that proves the 90 percent lie. As long as near-constant growth could be assured, enough pieces would fall to the the lower and middle classes to keep the Dream alive in their minds. It helped that a kindly media would promote the hell out of every exception, whether it was the shoeshine boy in the late 19th century who went to college, or the plucky guys who invented some new tech in their garage and became billionaires.

    Things did slip up from time to time, culminating in the Great Depression in the United States. The old economy, the heavy metal machinery and industrial one, had maxed out and financial scamming by the one percent of the day hit the tipping point. But some social programs to tamp down any real sense of rebellion and a timely world war reset the Dream. And better yet, the outcome of that war, with the U.S. emerging as the only superpower and the only intact economy, virtually in control of all the world’s natural resources, the newly-created monetary and trade system and, for a few years, as the sole possessor of the Bomb, created a new cycle of growth never before seen in human history.

    Growth Via Consumerism

    The new growth, based on all of the factors above, was fueled by consumerism, not big iron; the Dream would be succored by the recycling of the lower and middle classes’ own wages, upward of course. Earn more, spend more, need more, buy more. That sucking sound heard between 1950 until around 1975 was money moving upward, leaving a little trail of bread crumbly growth in its wake, just enough, but not too much.

    But a straight line is a straight line, and that movement of money had an end point, now fast approaching, where in 2015 one percent of Americans own some 43 percent of the wealth and through that, nearly all of the power. The cycle is accelerating, because, as proven by Thomas Piketty, wealth in capital form grows faster than wages. The race to one percent owning 99.9999999 percent is on.

    Now under certain circumstances such a situation would have people at the barricades armed with pitchforks. But myths die hard, and especially when the basic American Dream myth is backed by the additional proviso that if you are falling behind it is a) because you are not working hard enough or b) somebody is messing with your piece of the pie.

    No politician plans to tell lower and middle class people they aren’t working hard enough, though such prescriptions are nearly required to be spouted at folks already poor. Instead, it is that second part, blaming someone else, that has always been the tool smart pols use to cage votes.

    What is New

    No nothing new, right? Wrong.

    What is new is not the message Trump is promoting, but the America in which he is promoting it. It has become impossible for the lower and middle classes to not see that they are slipping behind. The industrial jobs are gone. People have been talked out of most union jobs, convinced somehow that organizing was not in their own interest. Food stamps and other need-based programs are finding more and more middle class audiences, as suburban people who once donated to charities are now lining up out front of them. The snowball is accelerating, downhill.

    And so there is Trump, a man of his times, telling people who still want to believe that it is OK to believe. Trump made it, so can they. America is f*cked up, just look around, but it is not your fault, voters. And it is certainly not Trump’s, squarely in the one percent, fault. Nope, it is someone else’s fault, and to people desperate to Believe, that is very, very powerful medicine.

    Watch out for this guy, Trump. He has tapped into something deep and fearful and motivating.

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    Posted in Democracy

    Take a Valium, Lose Your Kid, Go to Jail

    September 29, 2015 // 13 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    So, justice.

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    Posted in Democracy

    A Day in America

    September 26, 2015 // 9 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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

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

    ME: To the bus. May I go?

    COP: Just wondering where you’re headed.

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

    COP: Do you have ID with you, sir?

    ME: Yes.

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

    COP: You have a nice day, sir.

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

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    Posted in Democracy

    Using First Amendment to Defend the Second Amendment

    September 21, 2015 // 7 Comments »

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

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

    A Plastic Gun

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

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

    Enter the State Department

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

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

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

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

    Wilson Fights Back

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

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

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

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


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

    This one has Supreme Court written all over it.

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    Posted in Democracy

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

    September 16, 2015 // 12 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Posted in Democracy

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


    tor logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Posted in Democracy

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

    September 14, 2015 // 7 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Happy 9/11 America!

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    Posted in Democracy

    Quoted by the New York Times Sunday Magazine

    September 13, 2015 // 5 Comments »


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

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

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

    More on al-Awlaki elsewhere on this blog…

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    Posted in Democracy

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

    September 11, 2015 // 14 Comments »


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

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

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

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

    Fourteen Years Later, An Improbable World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Fourteen years later, how improbable is that?

    Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt

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    Posted in Democracy

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

    August 25, 2015 // 5 Comments »


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

    The Download Festival

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

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

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

    Facial Recognition Technology

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

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

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

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

    Why It Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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    Posted in Democracy

    Chelsea Manning Faces Indefinite Solitary Confinement for Possession of Expired Toothpaste

    August 18, 2015 // 7 Comments »


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

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

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

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

    Manning’s “prohibited property” included:

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

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

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

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

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    Posted in Democracy

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

    August 17, 2015 // 13 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Posted in Democracy

    Clinton’s Evolving Email Defense Does Not Hold Water

    August 14, 2015 // 14 Comments »


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

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

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

    Let’s break Feinstein’s statement down.

    The Dog Ate My Homework

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

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

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

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

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

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

    I Didn’t Know, Honest, Sir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Everything Else

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    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

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

    August 13, 2015 // 25 Comments »

    Manning at State Department

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

    Wait, what?

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

    Here’s what they did

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

    I merely linked to it.

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

    In fact, they said:


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

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

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

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

    Clinton v. Manning: Protecting Classified Information

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


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

    But there are others.

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

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

    There are many examples.

    What it means…

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

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

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

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

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    Posted in Democracy

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

    August 10, 2015 // 18 Comments »


    Tariq Ba Odah has been convicted of nothing.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    For eight years.

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

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    Posted in Democracy

    Ready for 2024: Chelsea Clinton to Publish First Book

    August 8, 2015 // 4 Comments »


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

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

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

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

    Earning $445 Per Second at NBC

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

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

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

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

    More Chelsea $$$$$$$$

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

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

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

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

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

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    Posted in Democracy

    August 6: The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima

    August 6, 2015 // 5 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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

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

    hiroshima school children dead

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    Posted in Democracy

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