The Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards were established in 1979 to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to protect the First Amendment rights of Americans. They are looking for nominees for this year’s awards, and I’d like to send them a name.
Who should it be?
Nominees traditionally come from the fields of journalism, arts and entertainment, education, publishing, and law and government. They are honored at a reception at the Playboy Mansion, and receive $5,000 to continue their work. Readers here know some of the past awardees: Whistleblowers Thomas Drake, Morris Davis, Norman Lear, Michael Moore, Bill Maher — the whole list back to 1980 is here.
I suspect Edward Snowden and those connected to him as journalists and lawyers will already have a long line of people ready to nominate them. Any would be people who deserve the honor. But let’s put our heads together and see if we can come up with someone not so much in the public eye, someone working for our rights who could really use the attention that even being nominated will bring.
Ideas? Put them in the comments. If the person is not well-known, a link would be helpful.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Florida’s Orange County Public Schools announced this week students must have parental permission if they want to kneel during the national anthem at football games or otherwise silently protest, such as refusing the say the pledge of allegiance.
The move comes after students in a single school district knelt in solidarity with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest against social injustice in America.
Exercising First Amendment rights in Florida now requires parental permission.
As Unconstitutional as They Come
The school announcement is so wholly unconstitutional as to be laughable, except that it is Florida, the state immune from reality.
Previous decisions in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals already found the portion of Florida law requiring students to “stand at attention” during the anthem violates the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has long upheld not participating in the pledge, or remaining seating during the anthem, is protected speech under the First Amendment.
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), was the courageous wartime decision by the Supreme Court holding that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protected students from being forced to salute the American flag and say the pledge of allegiance in school. The Court stated constitutional rights are to be “beyond the reach of majorities and officials.” It held that the state did not have the power to compel speech for anyone.
Barnette overruled a 1940 decision on the same issue, Minersville School District v. Gobitis, which said dissent was to try to change a school policy democratically — i.e., through the same system that imposed the restraints being challenged.
The Court has also upheld that the Bill of Rights applies to students in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969).
Officials claim they are following a state law regarding the pledge of allegiance that requires participation in patriotic gestures (they are of course following the exact law the 11th Circuit has ruled unconstitutional, which makes it not really a law anymore, but whatever, Florida uber alles.)
And so in sweaty Collier County one principal is telling students that they’ll be sent home if they don’t stand during the anthem at sporting events.
“You will stand and you will stay quiet,” Lely High School Principal Ryan Nemeth announced. “If you don’t, you are going to be sent home and you’re not going to have a refund of your ticket price.”
Ouch! No refund of the ticket price for you, commie ISIS terrorist students, unless you have a note from home.
I want to read about the first student, who, when asked for his note giving him permission to remain seated during the pledge, hands over a copy of the Bill of Rights and says f*ck you, Florida.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Snowden is a helluva movie, kicking an audience’s ass on a number of levels. I had a chance to see the film last night at a preview event; it opens everywhere on September 16. Go see it.
On one level the film presents Snowden’s story as a political thriller. A brave but frightened man, certain he is doing the right thing but worried if he can pull it off, smuggles some of the NSA’s most secret information out of a secure facility. He makes contact with skeptical journalists in Hong Kong, convinces them of the importance of what he has to say, and then goes on the run from a U.S. government out to arrest, or, possibly assassinate, him. In interviews Stone has made clear that he has dramatized and/or altered some events, and that his film is not a documentary. It does keep you on the edge of your beliefs, watching a story you know as if you don’t.
The next level of the film is a carefully constructed vision of the national security state, seen through Snowden’s eyes. For many Americans, this may be the first time they will react emotionally to the way our government spies on us. It is one thing to “know” the NSA can access webcams at will, it is another to watch a technician “spy” on a Muslim woman undressing in her bedroom.
When Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) slaps a piece of tape over his own webcam before an intimate moment with his girlfriend (played by Shailene Woodley), he has the wool taken from his eyes, his trust in government shattered. He is all of us.
The final level of Snowden is perhaps the most important.
Director Oliver Stone is in the business of creating counter-myths at critical points in time, and his work is best understood in that context.
Even as most Americans still believed the myth that while the Vietnam was bad, the warriors were not, Stone showed us the dark side in Platoon. In the 1980s, when making money was seen as the best of America, Stone gave us Wall Street, and turned the myth “greed is good” from an instructional line out of an MBA program to a condemnation of how we all suffered when the bubble broke in the financial markets.
And so with Snowden, which makes clear the myth of a benign national security (“nothing to hide, nothing to fear,” they’re the good guys protecting us) is anything but. The NSA and other agencies want to vacuum it all up, every communication, everywhere. They then move on to controlling our communications; the movie illustrates the depth of NSA’s penetration into the Japanese electrical grid by imagining a black out of Tokyo, and shows us how an NSA technical mistake reveals how they could shut down the Internet across the Middle East.
In what is the most Oliver Stone-like scene in perhaps any of his movies, Snowden’s CIA boss confronts him, suspicious of wrongdoing. Their video conference discussion starts with Snowden at one end of the table, the boss’ face on a monitor at the other. As the scene unfolds and the intensity increases, Snowden moves closer to the screen until his head is a small dot, and the boss’ face takes over the audience’s whole field of view. The government itself has morphed into Big Brother before your eyes.
For many aware viewers, a lot of this may seem old hat — of course the NSA is doing all that.
But imagine the impact of Snowden. Thoughts that have largely been laid out only on blogs and left-of-center, non-main stream media, are now in suburban multiplexes, all carefully wrapped inside a thriller Tom Clancy fans will enjoy.
You can’t get much more radical than that.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
The United States over the weekend denied travel to a former British ambassador, Craig Murray, who was also a British diplomat for some 30 years, and is the author of several books.
Murray has stood twice for election to the House of Commons. He was “honored” by being thrown out of Uzbekistan by its repressive government after risking his life to expose appalling human rights abuses there. He is not a terrorist and is not a social media jihadi. He has no criminal record, no connection to drug smuggling, and does have a return ticket, a hotel reservation and ample funds to cover his expenses.
He is however seen as a threat to the United States.
Ambassador Murray was headed to the U.S. this week to be Master of Ceremonies at an award ceremony honoring John Kiriakou, the CIA torture whistleblower. Kiriakou was the only U.S. government official to go to jail in connection with the torture program, and all he did was help expose it to the media. The event is sponsored by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (of which I am a member.)
Murray has also spoken in support of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange. Hmm. Might have something to do with this visa problem.
No one has told Murray why he cannot travel to the U.S., though he has been here numerous times over the past 38 years. Murray learned of his travel bar when applying for the online clearance the U.S. requires of all “visa free” travelers. Murray was electronically informed to contact the State Department to see if he might qualify otherwise.
Ambassador Murray was stopped by what the State Department and Homeland Security calls “a hit.”
What happens is dozens of American intelligence agencies pour names into a vast database, which includes everyone from Osama bin Laden (his name has allegedly never been removed in some sort of reverse tribute) to the latest ISIS thug to all sorts of others who have little or no actual reason to be there, such as Murray.
The likely salient part of the database in Murray’s case is called CLASS, part of the Consular Consolidated Database. It is the largest known data warehouse in the world. As of December 2009, the last time information was available, it contained over 100 million cases and 75 million photographs, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35,000 records per day.
When one of those persons labeled a bad guy applies for entry or a visa to the U.S., the computer generates a hit. A hit is enough to deny anyone a visa-free trip to the U.S. with no further questions asked and no information given. Technically, the traveler never even officially knows he was “a hit.”
Bang, you’re dead.
If Murray chooses to follow the process through and formally applies for a visa to the United States, the State Department in London will only then examine the hit. In 99.9999 percent of the cases, all the State Department official will see in their computer is a code that says “Contact Washington,” officially a Security Advisory Opinion, or SAO.
The State person abroad will most often have no idea why they are refusing to issue a visa, just that they can’t. They sign their name to a blank check of a refusal. They make a potentially life-altering decision about someone with no idea what the evidence against them, if any, is. The traveler of course has no chance to rebut or clarify, because they too have no idea what is being held against them. There is no substantive appeal process and of course everything in the files is likely classified.
The “contact Washington” message triggers a namecheck process in DC that rumbles around the intelligence community looking for someone who knows why the U.S. government wants to keep Murray out of the United States next week. That process can take anywhere from weeks to forever, and taking forever is one strategy the U.S. uses when it just wants some troublesome person to go away. For politically motivated cases such as Murray’s, that is what is most likely to happen: not much. Murray may thus never learn why he cannot travel to the United States.
That is what free speech (and free speech covers not only what people say, but what people, Americans in this case, in America may choose to listen to) is about in 2016.
America is now afraid of people like Ambassador Craig Murray.
BONUS: Murray has only been denied travel to one other country, Uzbekistan. Such is the company America now keeps.
MORE BONUS: Those who think this is the first time the U.S. has used a visa denial to stop free speech, please see the case of scholar Tariq Ramadan, denied the opportunity to teach at Notre Dame. There have been many more such cases, albeit less mediagenic. This is policy now for America, not an exception.
Special thanks to Member of Parliament Birgitta Jonsdottir (above), Sunna Ævarsdóttir, Sara Oskarsson, and to Icelandic state television Ruv for the interview (below).
The audience was remarkably well-informed on whistleblower issues, with questions not only about high-profile folks like Ed Snowden and Chelsea Manning, but also important whistleblowers like Tom Drake, Bill Binney, John Kiriakou, and Jeff Sterling, who may not be as well known to many Americans.
There was also among the people present an overt fear of the direction the United States continues to head, beyond the symptoms of Hillary and Trump. The endless wars of the Middle East progulated and/or encouraged and supported by the U.S., the global pestilence of the NSA, and the lashing out of America against Muslims and human rights were all of deep concern.
As for Iceland’s Pirate Party itself, it is poised to gain control of the government this October. Recent polls suggest the Pirates lead with about 30 percent of the votes.
Some attribute this success to Icelanders’ growing dissatisfaction with the political establishment, exacerbated when former Prime Minister Sigmunður Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign over the Panama Papers-money laundering scandal earlier this year. Among the Pirate Party’s platform are plans for greater use of direct democracy and Icelandic citizenship/asylum for Snowden.
I just wrapped up a couple of days of jury duty.
Note “jury duty,” which is very different than serving on a jury. I didn’t do that. Being on an actual jury involves making a careful judgment on someone’s life. I did jury duty, which involves waiting and sitting and waiting, while watching your last hopeful images of democracy fade away.
You Are Summoned
Jury duty starts with a summons. The government officially demands you show up at a courthouse on a specific day and time. Not asks, not invites, demands. You, with the big mouth all about rights and the Constitution and racism in the justice system, time to get real. So I showed up on the specific day and time, actually about 15 minutes early to allow for security.
Security. Even more so than at the airport, people showed up with an impressive array of personal electronics, like the shipping computer at Amazon had a glitch that flung new products at them even as we stood in line. And we did stand in line. For 45 minutes, mostly outside on the sidewalk. And learned in the end there were two courthouses and many of us (me) were in line for the wrong one.
To the end of a new line for you, Sparky. Freedom isn’t free.
The Waiting Game
I got to the jury room over an hour late only to learn that because so many people make the line mistake and because security is slow, the 8:45 stated arrival time with threats of fines if you are late is kind of an artifact from 1856. It was about 10:30 before a guy who said he’d been doing this exact same job for 34 years began speaking to us as if we were slow children or fairly smart puppies. The bulk of his explanation was about how most of us would get our $40 a day jury payment, and the many exceptions to that. It was then lunch.
Several of us went out together. The only consistent topic of conversation was how each planned to avoid serving on a jury.
After a nice lunch, we gathered to learn that about half of us would be siphoned off for jury selection. The other half would spend the next four hours in that room, enjoying listening to two lethargic window box air conditioners try and cool a room big enough for half court basketball. The other thing was a death struggle over the handful of electrical outlets, and to try and get on to the limited WiFi. Part of the problem was that there seemed to be no filters or restrictions, so the guy near me streaming Frozen sucked about more bandwidth than the entire row behind him trying to get to Gmail. Yeah, First World problems, but we were indeed in what was rumored to be a First World city.
The hours ended. We were unneeded. We were dismissed until re-summoned tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow is Another Day
The next morning we all knew what line to be in and how security worked, so there was a hive mind decision to not come on time. Instead, the gang from the day before drifted in over the course of the morning. I got there early enough to open four simultaneous WiFi connections and begin downloading multiple torrents of movies I could care less about. I had a moment of pleasure hearing some guy say “Please God, I just need to log on to the trading site, London is closing.”
And then for my sin I was given a mission. I got called to jury selection, along with about 20 other waiters.
We were brought to an unventilated hallway to wait for 30 minutes before entering an actual courtroom. Behind the judge were gold metal letters about 10 inches high that read IN GOD WE TRUST, and many flags. We did an olde timey swearing in, and then were invited to visit the judge and explain any “issues” we might have that would prevent us from serving on a jury.
It was pathetic.
Nearly everyone bitched, whined, begged and complained that they could not do it. Who knew everyone in the courtroom had both a special needs child and a sick mother and had to work nights and took medications and felt they could not faithfully follow the law due to some special need, or conviction, or conscience, or whatever, please your honor, whatever will work. The judge turned down some, accepted some. If anyone needed some stock footage to hit on the search term “cynical,” this would do.
I got bounced out of the jury selection in the next phase. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney asked us questions about our jobs, our thoughts on law enforcement (especially if we trusted police to testify honestly) and the like. I answered every question completely candidly and was thrown back to wait three more hours until “jury duty” was over. The only way I could have served would have been to lie. And I could have, and in what way does that make sense?
This is a Mess
So look, this system is a mess. I’m not sure how to fix it all, but here are some ideas.
The 19th century notion that everyone simply must find a way to put their life on hold does not work. I’m really sorry and I get the civic duty part Jefferson and Madison intended, but telling single parents to just figure out child care, Wall Street brokers to just not care about millions of dollars, students to just miss class, and people who work freelance or hourly to just suck it up and lose their already limited income is not 2016.
If assigned to an actual jury, you stay with the trial until it is done. Might be a few days, might be a few weeks, or if you pull a murder case or one of the many medical malpractice suits, it could be a month+. You don’t know. You just have to figure out how to be there. For $40 a day.
That money thing is not a small deal. $40 a day, minus the minimum five dollars commuting to court and back costs, means you are getting about half the minimum wage in New York, and even that takes six to eight weeks to be sent to you by a check I am somewhat skeptical will ever arrive. If you are already living on the margins, you cannot afford to serve on a jury.
It seemed that the better dressed and more educated a potential juror sounded, the better excuse s/he had for the judge on why s/he could not serve. Why, it was almost as if they prepped for this. Meanwhile, a lot of folks whose English was poor or who sounded as if they did not get much of an education had no excuse the judge would accept. There were magic words and some knew them and some did not.
I Don’t Feel So Good
And there was where democracy died. I had a hard time identifying anyone present who wanted to sit on a jury. It seemed almost everyone wanted out, though only some figured out how to do it successfully. I don’t feel good saying it, but my limited window into all of this suggests juries might just be made up of people who can’t get out of it. Hard to say how bitter that makes them feel listening to an actual case.
I believe in this stuff. But it was very hard for me to give up a week or a month’s worth of income. I work 100% freelance and if I am not around to write I do not get paid. Half minimum wage is not helping me meet expenses. I hate that but it is true. I went home angry at myself. I don’t feel better now.
There is a nasty pattern in American political speech, going back into the 1980s at least: when a senior U.S. official labels you a thug, often times wars follow. Thug is the safest word of American Exceptionalism.
So it is with some concern that lots of folks are pushing each other away from the mic to call Putin a thug (fun fact: Putin has been in effective charge of Russia for 15 years. As recently as the Hillary Clinton Secretary of State era, the U.S. sought a “reset” of relations with him.)
While the current throwing of the term thug at Putin is tied to the weak evidence presented publicly linking a Russian hacker under Putin’s employ to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computers, there may be larger issues in the background. But first, a sample of the rhetoric.
Putin the Thug
Obama on Putin: “a thug who doesn’t understand his own best interests.”
Mario Rubio on Putin: “A gangster and a thug.”
Paul Ryan’s spokesperson on Putin: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug.”
John McCain on Putin: “A bully and thug.”
And for fun, Sir Peter Westmacott, Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. in 2014, on Putin: “A thug and a liar.”
Thugs in American Military Adventurism
That word, thug, seems to be a sort of dog whistle that when blown signals Americans and their media to psyche up for a new fight. For example:
John Kerry on Bashar Assad: “A thug and murderer.”
John Kerry on Islamic State: “Daesh [ISIS] is in fact nothing more than a mixture of killers, of kidnappers, of criminals, of thugs, of adventurers, of smugglers and thieves.”
George W. Bush on al Qaeda: “If we let down our guard against this group of thugs, they will hurt us again.”
George W. Bush on Saddam Hussein: “He is a thug.”
Bernie Sanders on Gaddafi: “Look, everybody understands Gaddafi is a thug and murderer.”
But Why Putin, Now?
Perhaps what we’re seeing here is a realignment for the next iteration of America’s perpetual war. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the conclusion of the Cold War (“the end of history”, as one author called it), there was no global enemy. No big nasty to spur weapons procurement, or to justify a huge standing military with hundreds of bases around the world, or to pick fights with to allow a boring president to morph into a superhero war president.
A lot of people had a lot of power and money in play that demanded some bad guys. An attempt was made in the 1980s to make narco lords the new major bad guys, but they were too few in number and the popularity of drugs among Americans got in the way. Following 9/11, the bad guys were supposed to be “the terrorists.” The George W. Bush administration riffed off that theme, appointing Saddam a massive weapons of destruction threat and tagged on Iran and North Korea as part of an Axis of Evil, because, well, no one knows, things sound good in groups of threes.
Saddam turned out to be a bust, and the Iraq War ultimately very unpopular. Bin Laden never launched a second attack on the U.S., and the Taliban were hard to picture, coming and going as they do. The U.S. made a good faith effort trying to label all sorts of others, Gaddafi, Assad, ISIS, et al, as global enemies worthy of perpetual war but they either were defeated, or are just plain are kicking American butt. Meanwhile, the Middle East in general turned into a huge, complicated, sticky clusterf*ck quagmire.
A New Hope Emerges
Like Batman, Washington needs an Arch Enemy, preferably one poster-child kind of guy who can be shown on TV looking like a Bond villain. With actual nukes (Washington spent years trying to convince us the terrorists were a 24/7 nuclear threat [smoking gun = mushroom cloud] and the damn terrorists never complied.)
Enter Putin The Thug.
Americans are already well-prepared by the old Cold War to see Russia as an evil empire, and Putin does look the part. A new Cold War with Russia will require lots of expensive military hardware, plus a large standing army and new areas of Europe to garrison. It might breathe new life into a NATO wondering why it still exists.
For politicians, shouting about Muslim threats has proven to have a downside, as it has enflamed many Muslims and pushed them toward radicalization. It turns out also there are Muslim voters, and people who like Muslims, in the U.S. Putin doesn’t vote, only a handful of hippies think he’s a good guy, and he can be slapped around in sound bites relatively without risk.
It is a political-military-industrial complex wet dream.
And so I predict in the coming Hillary regime a tamping down of terrorism stuff and a ramping up of a new Cold War. After all, isn’t that what her mentor Henry Kissinger would do?
What to do about all those darn videos showing cops murdering people?
They make it much harder for law enforcement to lie about their own actions, and just get everyone all fired up. Why not ask Apple (for starters) to build in a “feature” on a future generation of iPhones that will allow cameras to be disabled remotely?
A patent granted to Apple this month details technology that remotely disables iPhone cameras using infrared sensors. Someone you do not know and cannot see will be able, without your permission, to disable the camera on a phone you own and are legally using, perhaps to take video of your son’s Little League game, perhaps to take video of a police officer choking to death an innocent man.
Apple’s patent application used the example of a rock band wanting to prevent audience members from recording a concert. Nasty bootleggers and their darn YouTubing!
While the First Amendment, backed up by much case law, guarantees the right of citizens to record the actions of government employees, including the police, conducting their duties in public places, the Amendment does not guarantee corporate America has to sell you the technology to do so. It is Constitutionally unclear if a police force using such technology to block video would violate the First Amendment (hey, you could switch over to your Dad’s camcorder that’s in the basement), but knowing the way things work, the cops would try it first, worry about court cases later.
And indeed you can hear the arguments terrorism, national security event, blahblahblah. Perhaps the police could designate First Amendment Video Zones outside any large event where citizens could shoot video of each other to their heart’s content?
Another interesting legal question would be the effect of citizens using some other technology to disable the technology used by police to disable camera phones. Would that become illegal, the way some states have made the use of radar detectors in your car illegal?
So as the cops like to say, “Hey, nothing to see here folks, move along.”
How ya’ doing? I mean money-wise. Too much? Maybe not enough?
So let’s listen to economist Paul Krugman explain why we are so screwed. Not we will be screwed, or maybe things will go that way, or we will in the future. Nope, it already happened, though most of us haven’t yet figured it out.
Krugman, and the economist he discusses, Thomas Piketty, paid attention in math class, and the other classes, too. That’s why they understand this stuff and I’m still trying to suss out why no matter how many hours I stay on the job and how much I save, it is never enough.
In case you’re reading this on your 15 minute break at Target, I’ll try to summarize.
The American Dream (Patrimonial Capitalism)
The myth of the American Dream is the dominating factor in keeping people mostly complacent in the United States. 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 work, it is the fault of the Irish immigrants, or the darn Chinese, or those welfare freeloaders. Ask Donald Trump how it all works.
The thing that makes the myth so powerful is that the tiny percent that is true sounds better than the 99 percent which is a lie. As long as near-constant growth could be assured, enough pieces would fall to the the lower and middle classes to make the Dream seem real. It helped that a kindly media would promote the heck 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. See, you can do it too, just like if we run hard enough, everyone can be in the Olympics. It’s just a matter of wanting it, believing in yourself, having passion and grit, right?
The Undeniable Reality of the Now
The bulk of the industrial jobs are gone and never coming back; ask Detroit, or the people in Youngstown and Weirton. People have been talked out of most union jobs, convinced somehow that organizing was not in their own interest, and now they find themselves accepting whatever minimum of a wage they can get. Food stamps and other need-based programs are finding more and more middle class users, as suburban people who once donated to charities are now lining up out front of them. Health care paid for by our own taxes is seen as a give away to lazy people. This is the stuff Bernie Sanders talked about.
Like with gravity, the universe doesn’t care if you “believe” it or not; it is just true, independent of what you “think.” That you have been taught this all is something you can choose to believe or not is the weight that holds us all down.
Drilling Down Into Our Miserable Lives
In case you have a few more minutes on your break, or if you’ve been laid off since starting this article, here are some more things happening out there whether you believe in them or not. You can read more about all of this in Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the Twentieth Century.
— Our income inequality rate is higher than it ever has been in our own history, is growing, and is higher than in countries in Western Europe and Canada.
— The inequality is driven by two complementary forces. By owning more and more of everything (capital) rich people have a mechanism to keep getting richer, because the rate of return on investment is a higher percentage than the rate of economic growth. This is expressed in Piketty’s now-famous equation R > G. The author claims wealth is growing at six-to-seven percent a year, more than three times faster than the size of the economy.
— Wages are largely stagnant, or sinking, driven by factors in control of the wealthy, such as automation that eliminates human jobs and the not-adjusted-for-inflation minimum wage more and more Americans now depend on for their survival.
— All of this is exacerbated by America’s lower tax rate on capital gains (how the rich make their money) versus wages (how the 99 percent make their money.)
— Because rich people pass on their wealth to their relatives, the children of rich people are born rich and unless they get really into fast women and cocaine, will inevitably get richer. They can’t help it. The gap between the one percent and the 99 percent must grow.
— Social reforms, such as increased education opportunities and low-cost health care, are incapable without tax changes significantly affecting income equality. The only people who can change society are those who profit from it not changing. That’s the big reveal on why we are in so much trouble.
FUN FACT: Until slavery was ended in the United States, human beings were also considered capital, just like owning stocks and bonds today.
The bones of our democracy — the core elements that separate that way of life from others — lie in the First Amendment to the Constitution, specifically the rights to free speech and a free press.
Without the ability to speak freely, and to have things about our government reported equally freely to us, most of the rest of the concept of what was laid out on July 4, 1776 and later falls away. Thomas Jefferson himself stated that an “informed citizenry” was the key to everything.
So it is with more than a little anxiety that we learned secret rules allow the FBI to spy on journalists with such ease that the restraints are really nothing more than a bit of paperwork. As always, the ostensible justifications for another deep step into Post Constitutional America are terrorism, security, protecting the homeland. And, as always, the outcome seems to be much more about stomping out whistleblowers than anything else.
As revealed by an anonymous whistleblower to The Intercept (the government refused to release the information), secret rules allow FBI agents to obtain journalists’ phone records with approval from only two internal officials. No warrant needed. No outside oversight. No courts, no judges, no hearings, no public records.
The rules govern the FBI’s use of national security letters (NSL), which allow the bureau to obtain information about journalists’ calls without going to a judge or informing the news organization being targeted. National security letters are themselves an anti-Constitutional outgrowth of the Patriot Act and its successors. The letters allow the FBI and other law enforcement agencies conducting a national security investigation to demand access to information without a warrant, and, in most cases, prohibit the organization required to supply the information (for example, a library asked what books you read) from even acknowledging the request was made.
The FBI issued nearly 13,000 NSLs in 2015 alone. No one outside of government knows why they were issued, who was affected, and what information was gathered.
The FBI’s secret rules in the specific cases of whistleblowers and leaks only require an additional couple of internal signatures. In addition, the rules specify any extra oversight layers do not apply at all if the journalist is believed to be a spy or is part of a news organization “associated with a foreign intelligence service” or “otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign power.” That will easily rope in any national media service, and most likely is broad enough to pull in quasi-national media outlets like the BBC or Japan’s NHK. And once again, it is the FBI itself defining who is and who isn’t whatever it wants them to be.
In an era when our government conducts more and more of the “people’s business” in secret, the need for brave men and women to step and an provide information, and the need for brave journalists to report that information, is ever more urgent. Without men like Edward Snowden working with journalists, we would never have known the depths of the NSA’s spying, for example. And without the heroic efforts of the person who leaked these once secret FBI rules, we would never have known what new tools the government had granted itself to weaken the press freedoms that otherwise helped sustain this nation for centuries.
Short answer: nobody knows, but the media is treating it as a fact based primarily on a single technical source employed by the Democratic National Committee. I read the source’s publically available explanation. Here’s what I found.
A Quick Taste of Media Conclusions
Despite a line in paragraph five saying “Proving the source of a cyberattack is notoriously difficult,” the New York Times offers the following statements.
— “researchers have concluded that the national committee was breached by two Russian intelligence agencies;”
— “Though a hacker claimed responsibility for giving the emails to WikiLeaks, the same agencies are the prime suspects;”
— “Whether the thefts were ordered by Mr. Putin, or just carried out by apparatchiks who thought they might please him, is anyone’s guess.”
— “It is unclear how WikiLeaks obtained the email trove. But the presumption is that the intelligence agencies turned it over, either directly or through an intermediary. Moreover, the timing of the release, between the end of the Republican convention and the beginning of the Democratic one, seems too well planned to be coincidental.”
There’s more, but you get the picture. The article also quotes Clinton staffers citing unnamed experts and researchers.
Who Are These Experts?
The only experts cited work for a company hired by the Democratic National Committee to investigate the hack. There is no indication of any neutral third party investigation. The company, Crowdstrike, issued a publicly available report on what they found.
The report title makes clear the company’s conclusion: Bears in the Midst: Intrusion into the Democratic National Committee.
What Does the Report Say?
The report has some technical explanations, but focuses on conclusions that seem to be at best presumptions, despite the media treating them as fact.
— The key presumptive conclusion seems to be that the sophistication of the hacks points to a nation-state actor. “Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none and the extensive usage of ‘living-off-the-land’ techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter. In particular, we identified advanced methods consistent with nation-state level capabilities.”
— The hackers, two separate entities Crowdstrike says worked independently, used techniques known to be used by Russians. Better yet, with no evidence at all presented, Crowdstrike concludes, “Both adversaries engage in extensive political and economic espionage for the benefit of the government of the Russian Federation and are believed to be closely linked to the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services.” Also, for one of the alleged hackers, “Extensive targeting of defense ministries and other military victims has been observed, the profile of which closely mirrors the strategic interests of the Russian government.”
— By the end of the report Crowdstrike is just plain out called the hackers “Russian espionage groups.”
FYI: Fidelis, another cybersecurity company, was hired by Crowdstrike to review the findings. Fidelis worked exclusively and only with data provided by Crowdstrike (as did several other companies.) Fidelis They concluded the same two hackers, COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR APT, committed the intrusion, but made no comments on whether those two were linked to the Russian government.
Um, Valid Conclusions?
Despite the citing with certainty of experts and researchers by the media and the Clinton campaign, the only such expert who has made any findings public has basically thrown out little more than a bunch of presumptions and unsubstantiated conclusions.
Left undiscussed are:
— the commonality of hackers using “false flags,” say where an Israeli hackers will purposely leave behind false clues to make it seem that a Hungarian did the work. As one commentator put it sarcastically “The malware was written in Russian? It was a Russian who attacked you.
Chinese characters in the code? You’ve been hacked by the Peoples Liberation Army.”
— the question of if the hackers were “Russians,” can anyone tie them to the Russian government? Joe Black Hat breaking into some system in Ireland may indeed be an American person, but it is quite a jump to claim he thus works for the American government.
— there is also a significant question of motive. For Putin to be the bad guy here, we have to believe that Putin wants Trump in power, bad enough to risk near-war with the U.S. if caught in the hack, and bad enough to really p.o. Clinton who will be nominated this week anyway, and hoping of course that evidence of dirty tricks by the DNC released in July will be enough to defeat her in November. That’s a real s-t-r-e-t-c-h, Sparky.
— other than those private persons who hack for their own entertainment or personal political beliefs, most work for money. They steal something and sell it. Information from the DNC system would find an easy buyer.
— Who might be intersted in buying these emails? Along the range of actors who would benefit from exposing these emails, why would the Russians come out on top? Perhaps the Republicans? China? Pretty much any of the many enemies the Clintons have amassed over the years? Hell, even Bernie Sanders, whose complaints about the DNC were validated by the email release. The suspects based on motive alone make up a very long list.
For some intelligent analysis suspicious that the DNC hack was a Russian intelligence job, try this.
For some more technical information on one of the alleged DNC infiltrators, here you go.
The disclosures of dirty tricks directed against Bernie Sanders contained in those emails are startling, and only add to the whirlpool of corruption and sleaze surrounding Hillary Clinton and the wheezing corpse of the democratic process.
There’s a lot to unpack here:
— The same people on the Clinton team who made enormous efforts to claim her private email server, which operated unencrypted over the Internet for three months including during trips to China and Russia and which contained Top Secret national security data, was not hacked by the Russians now are certain that the DNC server was hacked by the Russians.
— Many in Camp Clinton and the media labeled Bernie Sanders’ supporters are paranoid when they made claims during the primaries that the DNC was working against them. The hacked emails confirm the DNC was working against them, including suggestions that the DNC find ways to suggest Sanders was an atheist to discredit him in religious areas.
— Persons who claimed many in the media, including CNN, were biased in favor of the Clinton campaign during the primaries were dismissed. The hacked emails confirm the DNC was working closely with the media to seek negative coverage of Sanders and positive coverage of Clinton.
— Politico now admits it was a “mistake” sending the DNC an article draft in advance. The writer showed the draft to the DNC even before his own editors saw it.
— Facebook admits to blocking Wikileaks links to the DNC email hack from its newsfeeds (but blames spam filters.)
— The DNC appears to have expended significantly more efforts toward defeating Bernie Sanders than they did against any of the Republican candidates.
And some more:
— Instead of focusing on the contents of the hacked emails and the dirty tricks they exposed, many mainstream media outlets headlined instead the Clinton campaign talking points that the Russians hacked the emails and released them in an effort to derail her candidacy in favor of Donald Trump. Many of the same stories suggest Trump is some sort of pro-Putin stooge.
— On 60 Minutes, Clinton refused to say intervention by the DNC to favor one candidate was “improper.” Her non-answer was edited out of the interview broadcast.
— After DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced her resignation following this week’s Democratic convention, the Clinton campaign announced Wasserman Schultz would be hired by them as “honorary chair of Hillary’s campaign’s 50-state program to elect Democrats in every part of the country, and as a surrogate for her campaign nationally.”
— Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be replaced as DNC chair by (only now former) CNN commentator Donna Brazile. Brazile argued the pro-Clinton side of debates on CNN throughout the primary season.
— In the hacked emails, Brazile said “I will cuss out the Sanders camp!” over complaints by Sanders of inadequate representation by the DNC. In March while still employed by CNN, Brazile called Sanders’ decision to run as a Democract for the additional media exposure “extremely disgraceful.”
And very sadly:
— Bernie Sanders, his campaign sabotaged by the DNC with what were once “paranoid” accusations now proved, still endorses Hillary Clinton and will still speak at the Democratic National Convention.
It pains me to say as his once-supporter that the man has no courage. Even Ted Cruz stood up for himself in front of the Republicans in Cleveland. It is a sad day when we learn Ted Cruz has more balls than Bernie Sanders.
Those who are calling all this a coup of sorts, they’re wrong. It’s a surrender. But in the words of Hillary Clinton, what difference does it make?
In another step towards the fascist state Donald Trump has warm dreams envisioning, FBI agents and Cleveland police officers “visited” the homes of local activists in an attempt to gather intelligence on possible planned demonstrations surrounding the Republican National Convention. Such actions step over the line of information gathering into the realm of seeking to chill free speech.
Activists said they viewed the visits as intimidating. A spokeswoman for the local branch of the FBI acknowledged only that “community outreach” took place as law enforcement officials try to ensure the GOP convention is a “safe and secure” event. During their visits, officials asked activists about past addresses, political and social affiliations, and plans for the RNC. The questions appear on their face of dubious constitutionality.
A spokesperson for the National Lawyer’s Guild, a group prepared to defend those arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights outside the convention, first reported the visits by teams of federal and local law enforcement officials.
Some of the activists are involved with groups planning RNC demonstrations, while some aren’t, the spokesperson said. She also said that some of the people who were visited were among the 71 people who were arrested in May 2015 in the aftermath of protests that broke out following the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a then-Cleveland police officer who had been charged with voluntary manslaughter in connection with the 2013 shooting deaths of two Cleveland motorists following a police chase.
The FBI and police made no attempts to hide what they were doing; in fact, quite the opposite.
For example, in a June 8 public hearing, Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba told members of City Council’s public safety committee that Cleveland police have “a real, real good idea of who we think is coming here and what their objectives are. And if we can deter those objectives, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Cleveland purchased a $10 million “protest insurance” policy to protect against civil rights lawsuits resulting from the convention.
Once upon a time, all of America was a First Amendment Zone. That’s now as dead as Alexander Hamilton.
The city of Cleveland revealed part of its security plan for the
Nuremberg rally Republican National Convention. Securing the convention will require a heavily policed, fenced off 3.3 square-mile First Amendment Zone. A fun fact is that the First Amendment Zone is about the same size as Baghdad’s Green Zone.
(Pictured above is the free speech zone from the 2012 Democratic Convention)
The Zone concept in Cleveland is to ensure that the people’s rights to free speech are “preserved,” only someplace far enough away that no one can hear them, and surrounded by police so that the speech stays in line.
The ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit to change or block the Zone; the result was only a slight enlargement of the area allotted.
“What the city has done here is draw a gigantic blanket area that covers most of downtown Cleveland,” says Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. “When the government takes the extreme step of limiting speech and assembly in any way, the burden is on them to justify that those restrictions are reasonable.”
Access into the Cleveland Zone will be controlled by law enforcement, who also will regulate protests and other activity (no details available on what that means; I guess people will need to experiment with what free speech will get them Tasered.) No tennis balls, baseballs, umbrellas with metal tips, ladders, sticks, poles, strollers, flashlights, balloons (?) or bike locks will be allowed. The Zone will be overseen by the Cleveland police, the FBI, FEMA, and the U.S. Secret Service.
Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson has said the Zone and other crowd control measures are “an attempt to balance between safety, security and constitutional rights of people and ensure we have a successful convention.”
Ah yes, the old standby of “balancing” security and inalienable rights. Gotta love that. Now let’s go bust some hippie heads!
BONUS: The use of First Amendment Zones is Constitutional under many circumstances. The Supreme Court, via Ward v. Rock Against Racism, developed a four-part analysis to evaluate the constitutionality of time, place and manner (TPM) restrictions. To pass muster under the First Amendment, TPM restrictions must be neutral with respect to content, narrowly drawn, serve a significant government interest, and leave open alternative channels of communication. The test case had to do with a concert that people nearby felt was too loud, and has been expanded to cover the use of First Amendment Zones.
A guy who wasn’t feeling the patriotism decided to burn an American flag and tell the world about it on Facebook — only to get arrested the next day after neighbors complained.
Bryton Mellott, 22-years-old, of Urbana, Illinois, was taken into custody after police received calls about his Facebook posts, which included a picture of him setting the Stars and Stripes on fire (above) and a message explaining that he was “not proud to be an American. In this moment, being proud of my country is to ignore the atrocities committed against people of color, people living in poverty, people who identify as women, and against my own queer community on a daily basis.”
Despite a very clear 1989 Supreme Court ruling (Texas v. Johnson) affirming that flag burning is a form of political speech fully protected by the First Amendment, cops charged Mellott under Illinois’ flag desecration statute, a law written years before the Supreme Court ruling and which is now unconstitutional.
Sergeant Andrew Charles of the Urbana Police Department said his town had never charged anyone under that law in 27 years, but that police proceeded with the arrest out of an attempt to “balance civil liberties with issues of safety.”
He never explained what safety was involved, how any safety issues might have been resolved by the arrest or why no one in Urbana has kept up with the Constitution, which is online.
The state’s attorney assigned to the case immediately decided not to proceed with a prosecution. No penalties for the cops, however!
Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey announced that his agency is recommending no charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of an unclassified personal email server while secretary of state. Comey offered that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Clinton.
The implications of these statements, and what happened before and after the announcement, represent what most likely represent the virtual end of the 2016 election cycle. Come November votes will be counted but the single, major, unresolved issue standing in the shadows behind Clinton is now resolved in her favor.
The director of the FBI labeled the leading contender for the presidency and her staff as “extremely careless” in their use of email, and this is generally seen as positive news by her supporters, the new standard now being not under indictment. Comey also stated that some 110 emails were classified ( at least 24 as Top Secret; one was found to be marked classified on Clinton’s server) when they were transmitted and received, an action that appears to be now inconsequential under national security laws. A New York Times tally found more than 2,000 classified emails.
There was no electronic connection between the Federal government’s classified systems and Clinton’s unclassified server. This indicates that on 110 separate occasions Clinton and/or one of her correspondents retyped information from a classified format. This means any classified markings (i.e., “Top Secret”) were removed in the process. “This classified information never should have been transmitted via an unclassified personal system,” Steve Linick, the State Department inspector general, said in a statement signed by him and I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the intelligence community.
The Inspectors General for the Intelligence Community have stated that some of the classified documents were marked at the highest levels to protect sources and methods used to spy on North Korea via satellite. Emails contained the names of CIA officials. There is no evidence, nor did Comey suggest, that these actions were inadvertent, accidental, occasional, incidental, or other than intentional. It was Clinton’s decision to create the email system that allowed these events to take place. Clinton herself, given her decades of experience in government, clearly could recognize highly classified material, marked or unmarked. Standard Form 312, signed by Clinton and every other security clearance holder in the government, specifically notes that the laws apply to both marked and unmarked classified material. The legality of retroactive classification has been tested at the level of the Supreme Court.)
While Director Comey maintains there was no intent, or gross negligence, by Clinton to violate the law, it is difficult to reconcile those actions and that statement.
Hillary Clinton’s earliest statements, that no classified information traversed her server, later changed to “no marked” classified information (the statement itself irrelevant) did not appear to be addressed by the FBI in the context of perjury or obstruction. In addition, Josh Rogin of the Washington Post reports Clinton’s lawyers deleted all e-mails they did not produce to the State Department and then cleaned devices in such a way to preclude forensic recovery.
The standards applied in the Clinton case are at extreme variance from how classified information violations elsewhere in the government are applied. Space precludes listing examples in detail, but the cases of CIA officer John Kiriakou (served three years in Federal prison for exposing a single, unmarked unclassified business card with the name of a CIA employee) and TSA air marshall Robert Maclean (fired for exposing a text retroactively classified) stand out. Even David Petraeus, who transmitted classified information via his Gmail account to his mistress, received some minor legal punishment and was forced to resign.
There is simply no precedent to the Clinton decision. One wonders if the millions of U.S. government civil employees, military personnel, and contractors will be held to what appear to be lesser standards than previously held. That certainly wasn’t the case of Marine Major Jason Brezler, who shared classified information with colleagues in Afghanistan in to warn them about a Taliban conspirator, and was forced out of the service in response.
Director Comey spoke broadly. He did not, for example, directly address the 18 USC 1924, which states “Whoever… becomes possessed of documents or materials containing classified information of the United States, knowingly removes such documents or materials without authority and with the intent to retain such documents or materials at an unauthorized location shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.” This is the statute under which David Petraeus was prosecuted. It is difficult to reconcile the text of that law with the fact that classified documents resided on a server (for part of the time) at a private company, connected to the internet. A private SPAM filtering service apparently also had access to the classified emails.
An important issue not addressed by the FBI is the effect Clinton’s actions had on the Freedom of Information Act.
During her entire tenure as Secretary of State and for some time afterwards, State maintained it had no email records to produce in response to requests. Those statements — while technically true in that State did not control and could not search Clinton’s personal server — blocked journalists, activists, citizens, and for a time, Congress, from documents they were lawfully entitled to. The State Department says it will now require 75 years to release all of the documents currently under request.
The State Department’s own Inspector General found these actions to be in contravention of the Federal Records Act, and presents what might be seen as chilling preview of press relations and the public’s right to know for the next four years.
In addition, Clinton deleted about half of the emails from her personal server without oversight. It is unclear whether or not any of those would have been responsive to Freedom of Information Act requests, or contained additional classified information. The FBI did say emails it found in others’ Inboxes, ones not turned over by Clinton, the State Department, were work related. Clinton had previously claimed she turned over all work-related emails.
In the Clinton case, we are also left with unanswered questions about the timeline of events. Bill Clinton met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on June 28, according to both, to make small talk about grandchildren. On July 1 Lynch announced she would accept Director Comey’s recommendation on the email case. On July 2 the FBI interviewed Clinton for several hours. On June 3, the New York times stated Clinton is considering keeping Lynch in her administration if she wins in November. On July 5 President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton flew together on Air Force One to their first scheduled campaign. Only hours later Comey made his announcement, meaning that whatever Clinton said on Sunday was evaluated and processed in less than two days following a year of active investigation. The appearance of impropriety alone remains damaging to the image of our nation.
Few believed, right or wrong, that Hillary Clinton would face criminal charges over her handling of classified material. Yet the many unanswered questions and issues not addressed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation remain. It seems unlikely that even if the majority of voters in November see the issue put to rest, that Republicans in Congress will feel the same come January.
Have a look at Reuters.com to see what I have to say!
Here’s where things stand.
The only mainstream candidate in recent decades to come along with new ideas, a model of not accepting big money with strings attached, and willing to address the critical issues in America of economic inequality and lack of health care for many, is done.
Unless Lin-Manuel Miranda does a musical of his life, Bernie’s just a footnote in the history books. But the stigma that he won via a set of tricks to include the “superdelegate system,” some election fraud, and overt partisanship by the Democratic National Committee and much of the media, never mind what Obama does with the FBI report into her mishandling of classified information, lingers like the smell of ripe sh*t in a stadium toilet.
The Republican candidate pulled in a helluva lotta votes via old-fashioned demagoguery, modern racism, and some clever Tweets. Trump is running strong in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. But his own party hates him, many refuse to endorse him, a lot of people are hoping he self-destructs, and many more want some magic process to replace him with one of the “good Republicans” who already failed in the primaries.
And then Hillary. She has famously high negatives, is distrusted by a vast number of Americans, believed to be an actual criminal by large numbers, and has yet to answer for her emails and her corrupt Clinton Foundation. She is the textbook case of big money, big donor politics, and a lifetime Washington insider. Republican hatred for her assures Congress will do as little as possible for any agenda she puts forward if elected, assuming she has one other than to immediately start her campaign for a second term while further enriching herself.
That all adds up to a miserable picture of America in 2016. We have a reality TV star and real estate developer running against the only candidate in American history seeking the White House while under an active FBI criminal investigation.
What’s a voter with still intact critical thinking skills to do? Fall victim to the emerging meme of both candidates, vote for the lesser of two evils, pick me or you’ll get the other one? Are we really supposed to participate in an electoral process that is subtitled “Pick the One That Sucks a Little Less?”
No. Let the whole damn thing burn down and collapse.
Let Trump/Clinton take us into as many wars as they hope to, bleed our youth and our treasury dry. Stand back as three military personnel a day commit suicide. Fight the Russians, ISIS, the Chinese, militarize Africa like 21st century colonialists, set up more secret prisons, expand Guantanamo, torture, hell, rape the families of “terrorists” in front of them to force confessions on anything and everything and then use that info for a new war. Fake WMDs in Iraq? That was amateur work.
Let them concentrate more and more wealth into a tiny group, such that the concept of the “One Percent” is quaint; let it be the .01 percent. Let them deliver cash and gold directly to the front door of the White House and stop pretending such things are “contributions.” Let people go hungry, make higher education only for the rich or those stupid enough to take on a lifetime of student loan debt. Watch people suffer from lack of basic health care. Stop wasting money on infrastructure that wealthy people never use anyway. Thin out the herd with lead-soaked water.
Throw up billboards reminding everyone that the NSA is spying on everything they do, and make kids rat out their parents who smoke weed. Unleash the drones over America and stop wasting money “prosecuting” American terrorists. Keep the prisons looking like plantations.
And then stand back and watch it all burn down. Turn us loose to eat each other. Make us fight for scraps and scavenge trash piles. If anything is left after all that, then maybe we can try again. If not, we should all just smile and welcome Chelsea Clinton to the White House in 2024.
The web’s biggest content providers have started using automation to remove “extremist propaganda” videos from their sites.
YouTube (owned by Google) and Facebook are among the sites deploying systems to block or rapidly take down Islamic State videos and other similar material, sources said, though no company would confirm the action.
The technology employed was originally developed to remove copyright-protected content on video sites. It looks for “hashes,” unique digital fingerprints that Internet companies automatically assign to specific videos, allowing all content with matching fingerprints to be removed rapidly. Someone finds an offensive video, tags it, and then searches find other copies across the Internet.
Newly posted videos would be checked against a database of banned content to identify unauthorized information.
The system was kicked off in late April, amid pressure from an Obama White House concerned about online radicalization. Internet companies held a conference call to discuss options, including use of a content-blocking system put forward by the private Counter Extremism Project, a nonprofit controlled in part by George W. Bush Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend.
Get it yet?
Government and private industry will decide what content you (as well as journalists and academics) may see on the Internet. What is and is not allowable will be decided by a closed process, and will be automated. A database will be drawn upon for decision making.
Databases and tagging can be hacked/manipulated, perhaps by governmental intelligence organizations, maybe some bad guys, hell, even by advertisers to control what is available to you online.
Since content removed equals content prohibited, you’ll never know what you can’t see. The obvious slippery slope is in decisions about what is “extremist” and what is legitimate free, political speech that, while offensive, has a right to be heard and a place in the market of ideas.
So how about blocking all videos of police violence during say a Ferguson/Baltimore scenario, so as not to “inflame” a situation?
And even if Government A plays nicely, Government B may not, and dictatorships and oligarchies will have a new tool for repression. In the same way Western companies are forced now by China, for example, to adjust content, they will likely be forced to add things to the no-fly database of ideas. Corporations will be in a position to censor things on behalf of governments.
Via the Edward Snowden documents, we already know that many tech companies cooperate directly with the NSA and others, either voluntarily, or under pressure from secret national security practices and laws. It is not a matter of “it can happen here,” but one of “it is already happening here.”
But, some will say, Google, et al, are private companies. They can do what they want with their businesses, and you don’t have to use them.
Certain private businesses, such as power companies and transportation providers, have become clearly so much a part of society that they indeed can’t just do what they want. They become public utilities, and there is no doubt that organizations like Google are squarely in the category.
Lastly, for those who prefer dictionary things, do check up on the definition of true fascism: a collusion between government and industry.
Now this is one way to stop terrorism, particularly the funding of ISIS. Did the United States clamp down on Saudi Arabia funneling millions to ISIS and other Sunni terror groups? Use American military power to stop the illegal weapons trade to ISIS? Bomb the hell out of the oil wells and transit systems ISIS uses to raise hard currency?
Hell no. The government of the United States used its full resources to steal $42 from some drunk dude who wrote “ISIS Beer Funds!!!” in the memo field on Venmo when he tried to pay back his buddy for a night out.
Hipster dude Ben told Ars Technica his story:
Telling a friend you’re paying him back for “ISIS beer funds!!!” is not a particularly good joke. I knew this as I was typing it at 2am on a Sunday, but what I did not know is that it’s an even worse joke on Venmo because the federal government will detain your $42.
Almost immediately after I hit send, Venmo — you know, the app that allows people to send money to each other via their phones — blasted an e-mail into my inbox. The company wanted to “better understand a recent payment,” specifically:
On 02/21/16, you sent a payment for the amount of $42.00 for, “ISIS beer funds!!!” We’re trying to understand your reference to “ISIS,” the purpose of this payment, including a detailed explanation of what you intended to pay for and the establishment/location, if applicable.
Dude Ben, perhaps floating on $42 worth of brewskis, doubled down for the fun, replying:
“ISIS beer funds!!!” when more accurately it could be described as “it is beer funds!!!” The $42 was payment to a dear friend for two pitchers of Samuel Adams Boston Lager, minus his serving plus tip to the waitress, at the Slaughtered Lamb Pub (a much friendlier establishment than the name would suggest!) in a somewhat “hip” part of New York City’s West Village. Thank you for your query, and if you have any further questions, it is possible to reach me at this e-mail address.
Venmo didn’t buy it. “Unfortunately,” wrote someone who signed the e-mail as Heather, “due to OFAC regulations, we are not allowed to give the funds back to you or issue a refund.”
OFAC is the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the part of the Federal government that is supposed to stop billions in drug and terror money from being transhipped through a false account in Panama to an Internet cafe in Damascus. You would certainly think they would have other things to worry about than $42 in a bar in New York, but you would be wrong.
Our Ben is presently filling out forms for OFAC trying to get his $42 back. One hopes he has learned his lesson — never fund terrorism while drunk.
BONUS: Here’s a guy whose check to his dog walker was stopped because he wrote the dog’s name, Dash, in the memo field, which the Fed thugs read as Daesh, one Arabic term for ISIS.
The State Department this week, apparently with a straight face, defended its claim that releasing all the emails sought by the Republican National Committee (RNC) would take 75 years.
“It’s not an outlandish estimation, believe it or not,” spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. “It’s an enormous amount of FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests,” he added. “Very broad and very complex.”
The RNC has sued the State Department seeking all emails to or from Clinton’s former chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, senior adviser Jacob Sullivan and undersecretary for management Patrick Kennedy from 2009 to 2013. The State Department has claimed that the result would yield roughly 1.5 million pages of documents that it and other federal agencies would need to go through page by page.
The Department claimed in a court filing last week trying to kill the RNC lawsuit that the emails are “complex” and include “classified documents and interagency communications that could have to be referred to other agencies for their review.”
Because the State Department expected that it could process roughly 500 pages per month, processing all 450,000 pages would take 900 months, or 75 years.
— If Clinton had not used her private server while in office, any FOIA requests for her documents would have been processed all along from 2009 forward, instead of being clumped into a huge pile just months before the election. If blocking FOIA was indeed her goal (it was), she did an excellent job.
— Also, that bit about “classified documents and interagency communications that could have to be referred to other agencies for their review” is kinda noteworthy given that any emails to and from Clinton traveled via unclassified means. But whatever.
— Lastly, it is sort of quaint that State’s estimated processing time seems based on the assumption that however many people are now working on the FOIA review will not increase despite increased demand and despite the delays being caused by Clinton’s own decision to not use official email.
I gotta say, State is really betting the farm, the cow and the corn on this one, hoping Clinton is elected and that most of this will just fade away, or really be sucked down a 75 year long tunnel as the Republicans hold hearings until the end of time. Because a Republican administration would basically at this point gut the State Department and turn the main building into a Trump mini-mall.
But wait, seriously, 75 years? How the hell can a spokesperson say those things without a room full of reporters throwing their pens at him?
BONUS: But it’s just a fishing expedition, says every Hillary supporter. To which one must consider saying, f*ck you. The Freedom of Information Act requires the government to turn over records for whatever purpose. There is no part of the Act that allows anyone to judge the reason for the request, so just go away and shut up, because you’ll vote for her even if she skins a puppy alive on the Jimmy Fallon show. The rest of us still are in possession of our critical thinking skills for the time being.
Graphic courtesy of friend of the blog Mac Beaulieu
If not Donald, someone else would be Trump. America has been waiting for him.
Trump is a racist, who feeds back to angry white America what it wants to believe, that its problems are the cause of Blacks, Latinos, women, immigrants and fill in the blank _____ and not related to a broad reorganization of American society into a tiny one percent of controlling wealth holders and everyone else. Trump’s supporters want to think those groups rose up to take their jobs, but instead do not realize they themselves were just pushed down into the same ranks America’s traditional oppressed occupy. Trump tells them they are victims of an unfair world, ironically true in a way that must make him snigger off stage.
Trump is a fascist, who promotes an America at war with anyone who challenges its self-image. For the past 15 years politicians and media have fed the raw meat of revenge to Americans, so it should be no surprise that Trump’s shouts to invade and bomb and torture are so enthusiastically received (some may argue, and it is not a tough argument to make, that such war fever has been fanned from the day WWII ended and the war on terror is just the continuation of the war on communism.)
Trump is a bully, literally making calling others names a cornerstone of his public discourse. The coarsening of American public life has been a steady factor in our lifetimes, beginning perhaps with Bill Clinton, whose ideas of how to act in the nation’s highest office made it a daily occurrence to hear the term oral sex on TV news. After calling the president a whoremonger, it is a straight shot to Little Mario. And of course, don’t the guys on late night TV use funny names for politicians anyway? And now the Democrats have picked it up, making up names like “Dangerous Donald.”
Trump is an opportunist, knowing that social issues such as gun control bring in the crowds (no one is going to repeal the Second Amendment) while mattering not a whit to the world he and the other power brokers care about. What is really important is maintaining the military industrial complex and being able to manipulate the tax/economic/investment systems. In their minds, only stupid poor people worry about guns, gays, transgender toilets and the like, so feed them that as a distraction. We don’t need bread and circuses, we have a world of right wing talk radio that makes Fox look middle-of-the-road.
Welcome to Weimar: America is Now Ready for Trump
Others have tried to be Trump and failed. Nixon had most of the pieces in place, but fell victim to a media that still cared back then to do its job. That’s no longer a problem.
Reagan came very close and set much in motion, but had America’s reliable Russian enemy pulled out from under him and could never get up enough fear over his signature wars in Central America. The various evangelistic candidates of the 80s and 90s also tried hard, but most fell victim to sex and money scandals.
In 2016, America was ready for its little Hitler.
The Bush years weakened the institutions of America (the press in particular; how’d that Iraq thing go? Ready to condemn torture yet? You guys realize more Americans get their news from TV comedians now than newspapers, right?)
The Republican party, by pushing forward Caligula’s horse in the form of Sarah Palin, laid bare its contempt for the electorate.
Obama, full of pretty words, cynically picked up his office and that Nobel while twisting the knife into the corpse of democracy with drones.
The Congress threw away its Constitutional role and empowered a strong man executive because it could not agree on anything else.
The 24/7 news cycle, which meant Americans were never without fear being thrust into their faces, combined with the “see something, say something” report-your-neighbors mentality and insured a population ripe for exploitation.
The one percent nailed things after the 2008 economic crisis (Throw them in jail? They got the government to pay off their financial malfeasance for them), pretty much ensuring their hold forever on power, even as we down here argue over what level of poverty a minimum wage should allow us.
A Man of His Time
Trump sensed all this perhaps without even understanding it, like a predator catches a scent and knows it’s dinner. He added in his own amazing media skills. He realized he could say anything, and contradict himself from speech to speech. The media and public certainly wouldn’t care, they’d encourage it as entertainment. And of course if neither your public nor your journalists know any history, then you can lie to them to your heart’s content.
All that said, no one should count Hillary out; she is armed with her own skills at manipulation, and has powerful backers. She indeed may end up as president. But that only means the next iteration of Trump, whoever he or she is, waits a bit longer. The broader processes of history, in this case the sad end of our democratic experiment, can be delayed but not denied.
After all, Germany wasn’t built in a day.
The Internet is a blunt weapon, so a few things: I do not support Trump in any way, and I am writing to understand his rise, not to agree with it. Any references to Hitler are not to create a direct Trump = Hitler meme, but to illustrate how processes of history work. Now relax, and enjoy the show.
In a statement I never expected to see in print, half of voters said in a survey a presidential candidate should continue to run for America’s highest office even if she is indicted for national security crimes.
For those who want historical markers to look back on, charting decline in civilization and deviations from reality, well, there’s a good one.
The latest Rasmussen Reports survey, taken in late May, finds most voters (65%) believe Hillary Clinton is a lawbreaker, but half of all voters also say a felony indictment shouldn’t stop her campaign for the presidency.
Among Democratic voters, 71% believe Clinton should keep running even under indictment. Nearly half say it will have no impact on their vote. It is unclear that, in theory, that any of those surveyed understand a candidate indicted in the fall of 2016 could face trial/impeachment while in office in 2017.
Those surveyed are saying that even if the FBI releases a report saying their lengthy investigation shows there is enough evidence to bring Clinton before a grand jury, that does not matter to them.
In what I hope is a statistical anomaly, eight percent say indictment makes them more likely to vote for the former first lady.
Just to make this as clear as possible, Hillary Clinton is the only presidential candidate in the history of the United States to be running while under an FBI investigation for national security crimes that could reach as high as the Espionage Act. About 65% of American voters already believe she broke laws, ahead of the FBI results and when asked before the State Department Inspector General’s report was released.
But they’ll vote for her anyway. I am rarely at a loss for words, but this time I just don’t know what to say anymore.
Last week the State Department revealed that an unknown official within its public affairs office ordered the scrubbing of roughly eight minutes from a video of a State press briefing, which included a discussion about negotiations related to the Iran nuclear deal.
In the deleted portion, then-spokesperson Jen Psaki (above) was asked whether her predecessor lied when she said secret bilateral talks with Iran had not yet begun, when later U.S. officials said they were already ongoing at that point.
A few days later, after the news broke of the deletion, Secretary of State John Kerry said that whoever called for deleting the several minutes of video was being “stupid, clumsy and inappropriate.” Kerry emphasized that he intends to find out who was responsible, adding that he didn’t want someone like that working for him.
No One is Responsible
However, on the same day Kerry issued his intention to find the responsible person, the current State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said the investigation to determine who ordered portions deleted from a video was over.
“We believe we have conducted an inquiry into this incident,” Toner told reporters. “We have exhausted our efforts to look into the incident and responsibility.”
According to State, the investigation learned that the technician who made the cut from the YouTube video did so on orders from someone in the public affairs office, but that no one remembered who. Despite no one remembering who gave the order, State was clear that its investigation ruled out former spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Toner also added in his briefing to reporters that there was no rule or regulation barring such editing, and it was thus allowed. Toner’s statement mirrors almost exactly the language Hillary Clinton has used to justify her use of a private email server while Secretary of State.
When the editing was first uncovered by a journalist at Fox News, the State Department blamed the missing minutes on a technical “glitch.”
Anything Familiar Here?
We have become all-too-used to government lies; they are now expected and quickly dismissed as business as usual. Still, State’s actions deserve special note for their utter contemptuous nature.
To begin, the deletion was actually not that big of a deal. The statements cut out were made in 2013, and the video itself was buried on YouTube. The events have passed, and the false statement could have easily be brushed away as necessary during secret negotiations. In the broad scope of things, they really didn’t matter, yet State felt compelled to hide them anyway. Even the hiding was crude, a simple edit of an event witnessed by a room full of journalists. Not exactly subterfuge.
That contempt was carried forward into 2016, when State tried to blow the whole affair off by claiming it was a technical glitch. When they got caught in the lie, the next step was a faux-investigation that revealed nothing, except to purport to clear the senior person involved in the mess and the one who presumably had the most to gain from the deletion (Psaki now works in the White House.)
The State Department then doubled-down with new lies, allowing Secretary Kerry to demand resolution while simultaneously announcing the issue is closed and no further “resolution” is going to happen, absent a Congressional inquiry that will no doubt be stymied by slow responses from State and cries that it is all just another political attack by the Republicans.
Any of this sound familiar?
BONUS: The White House was also caught this week deleting an embarrassing line from the official transcript of a press briefing on the same topic. Probably just a coincidence…
The State Department Inspector General’s (IG) investigation report leaked out a day early on May 25 makes a number of significant points. These matter, and need to be considered by anyone voting in November.
What’s in the IG Report
— Neither Clinton nor any of her senior staff would participate in the IG’s investigation.
— Clinton never sought approval, legal or technical, for her unprecedented private email system.
— IT staffers and others at State warned her against it.
— Had she sought approval, the State Department would not have granted it.
— Clinton violated Federal Records laws.
— Clinton did not turn over all of her work-related emails. Several (unclassified) were quoted in the IG report that had never been released.
— Clinton violated State Department policies and guidelines in place at the time, even as the State Department enforced those on the rank-and-file.
— IT staff at the State Department who raised concerns internally were falsely told the server was approved and ordered to not discuss it further.
— Clinton’s use of a non-standard email account caused many of her emails to not reach their recipients inside State, and ended up instead in Spam.
— State Department staffers not in Clinton’s inner circle aware of her private email address could not communicate with the head of their agency.
— His State Department bosses did not know their employee, Bryan Pagliano, was simultaneously working directly for Clinton maintaining her private server.
— The server came under severe enough hacker attacks that its administrator had to physically unplug it to prevent intrusions.
The question of classified material handling is, by agreement, being left by State to the FBI, and is thus not addressed in the IG report.
All of that is in the report. I’ve read the whole thing, and if you do not believe my summary, above, or wonder what specific laws and regulations are being cited, you can also read the whole thing and learn for yourself.
— For the first time, a set of actual facts of Clinton’s actions and decisions have been laid out by an independent, government entity. The IG was appointed by Obama and his report is dispassionate. No one can realistically claim this is a hit job. Sources are cited and laws footnoted.
— Clinton did break Federal Records laws and violate State Department regulations that her organization held others to.
— Despite repeated promises of transparency and cooperation, neither Hillary nor any of her senior staff would agree to participate in the IG’s investigation. Former Sectaries of State Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright did participate fully and voluntarily in the investigation. Clinton alone did not.
— Clinton never sought approval, and ignored advice to stop what she was doing. She ran the server with no oversight. With no oversight, the only check on Clinton was Clinton herself.
— That lack of oversights extended to potential destruction of evidence. It was Clinton alone who determined which emails to turn over to the State Department as “work related” and which to delete, some 30,000. It was Clinton who made the decision to then try and wipe the server clean. It is unclear whether or not the FBI can forensically retrieve and review those 30,000 deleted emails.
Simply put, what she did wasn’t supposed to be done.
Why It Matters
— Hillary Clinton lied when she claimed her actions were approved. She lied when she said there were no regulations in place at the time of her server decisions. She lied when she said she broke no laws. She lied when she said this all was a Republican hit job. She lied when she said she would cooperate with any investigation.
— Hillary Clinton covered up her actions for four years as Secretary, then another two years after she left office, and only admitted to anything after it hit the news last year.
— Hillary Clinton asks voters to trust her with the most important job in America. She has not shown she is trustworthy.
— Hillary Clinton asks to be America’s leader. She did not lead her State Department, and she showed contempt for its rules. She did not lead by example.
— Hillary Clinton made clear by her actions that she believes rules that apply to others do not apply to her.
— Hillary Clinton by her actions succeeded in hiding all of her official emails from the Freedom of Information Act for six years in open contempt for that process and the American people.
— Hillary Clinton purposefully and willfully created a system that exempted her from the oversight applied to every other government employee.
— Hillary Clinton alone in the entire U.S. government conducted 100% of her official business on a private email server.
The other shoe has yet to drop. Though the Inspectors General from the intelligence community have stated unequivocally that Clinton did handle highly classified material on her unsecured server, the FBI report on the same matter has not yet been released.
For those who wish to defend Clinton with the “but everybody did it” argument, Condoleezza Rice did not send any emails on any unsecured system at all. Powell and Albright sent a handful in the early days of the web. All of them cooperated in the State IG investigation. None of them ran a fully private system for four years and most importantly, none of them are asking us to trust them now running for president.
If your support is whittle down to a sad Hillary is down to “well, she’s not Trump,” do be careful what you wish for. She’s not Trump, but she is all of the above.
For those who wish to defend Clinton by saying “she’s not indicted,” well, actual criminality is a pretty low bar to set for the most important job in America. Also, the FBI has yet to release its report which may point to actual national security violations.
And lastly, it is not about crime per se, but about trust and judgement.
BONUS: If Bernie Sanders will not discuss any of this publically, he does not want to be president.
One of the latest tools for violating our privacy and creating the American police state are license plate scanners.
This technology allows the police to cruise through a city at normal speed and photographically gather images of vehicle license plates, along with geolocation data. This is all stored, and can easily be used to create a record of everywhere your car has been. Coupled with cellphone and WiFi data being collected along with its own geodata, and tied to things like tracked credit card activity, emails and the now-ubiquitous public surveillance cameras, it is very, very easy for law enforcement to know where you are, where you have been and have a pretty good idea of what you were doing.
Run that same process for lots and lots of people, and you can also tell who spent time with who.
Expand that process nationwide and you truly have a police state.
How to do that? Contact a private company called Vigilant Solutions. They collect license plate scanning information from multiple police departments as well as their own network of private plate scanners and facial recognition/facial cataloging technology and then sell it in database form to law enforcement.
The Vigilant database is massive, with over 2.2 billion location data points, and it is growing by almost a million data points per day. The database means, for example, that the New York police can now monitor you and your car whether you live in New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, or elsewhere.
The database also boasts a full suite data analytics tools which allow police officers to track cars historically or in real time, conduct a virtual stakeout, figure out which cars are commonly seen in close proximity to each other, and predict likely locations to find a car.
Data, once collected, can exist forever. Whatever it is being used for now, it will also be available for other uses in the future, enhanced by new exploitive technology.
As Vigilant puts it on its website, “Data is cumbersome; intelligence is actionable.”
Let’s Google It
All that is quite dangerous enough. However, the latest wrinkle is that the police in at least one city are going as far as disguising their license plate scanning vehicle as an innocent Google Maps truck. You don’t even know your location information is being gathered this way.
Matt Blaze, a University of Pennsylvania computer and information science professor, noticed an SUV tucked away in the shadows of the Philadelphia Convention Center, bearing a logo for Google Maps. Blaze, based on his profession, also identified mounted on top of the vehicle two high-powered license plate reader cameras. To the average passerby, it might appear to be a Google street view vehicle.
After initially denying it, the Philly cops eventually admitted the van was their’s, but refused further comment.
“We can confirm that this is not a Google Maps car, and that we are currently looking into the matter,” a Google spokesperson said. She would not elaborate as to whether the company was concerned that law enforcement was using a vehicle with warrantless surveillance technology while pretending to be a Google vehicle.
It is impossible to escape this network of warrantless search and still live in society. Our cars, our phone, our credit cards and our very faces have been corrupted by a police state into tools of surveillance.
Or have they?
Twitter claims it does not want intelligence agencies using a Tweet-mining service for surveillance purposes. The company recently restated its “longstanding” policy of preventing a company called Dataminr from selling information to intelligence agencies that want to monitor Tweets.
“Dataminr uses public Tweets to sell breaking news alerts to media organizations, corporations and government agencies,” a spokesman for Twitter said in a statement. “We have never authorized Dataminr or any third party to sell data to a government or intelligence agency for surveillance purposes. This is a longstanding policy, not a new development.”
There are multiple issues worth unpacking here.
— The reality-to-b*llshit level on this is very high. Twitter sounds nicely righteous, but the whole affair is one FBI front company signing up with Dataminr away from being meaningless.
— In fact, Dataminr retains its contract with the Department of Homeland Security, which it classifies as something other than an intel agency.
— Can Twitter actually stop Dataminr from gathering information about Tweets? Not really, as Dataminr uses public Tweets to do its work. It seems Twitter just asked Dataminr nicely to stop. And how many other companies out there are doing the same thing?
But questions about the actual impact of Twitter’s statements aside, the worst thing about all this is that Americans are now fully dependent on corporate good deeds for the protection of their privacy. Yes, yes, we all “choose” to use social media, as we choose to use smartphones and have bank accounts and fly to Chicago. But c’mon, absent moving off the grid next to the Unabomber’s old cabin, how realistic is it for surveillance zealots to keep hiding behind the choice argument?
And for those familiar with the actual definition of fascism, collusion between the state and corporate interests, welcome to your latest piece of evidence. We have only has much privacy as Twitter and the government agree we may have.
Sample Dataminr screen:
Thomas Jefferson said that an informed citizenry is critical to a democracy, and with that as a cornerstone the Founders wrote freedom of the press into the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The most basic of ideas at play is that the government should in no way be allowed to control what information the press can report to the people, and cannot place restrictions on journalists. One of the principal characteristics of any fascist state is the control of information, and thus the press is always seen as a check on government power that needs to be stomped on. Ask any surviving journalist in North Korea, or Saudi Arabia.
And so it is with terror we learn the United States Secret Service, in the name of security, is for the first time in our Republic’s history running background checks on thousands of journalists who plan to report from this summer’s Republican and Democratic Party nominating conventions.
Journalists who don’t pass the security screening process, for which of course there are no publicly-stated criteria and which has no system of appeal, will be denied credentials to cover the GOP convention in Cleveland, and the Democrats’ in Philadelphia. As the Daily Beast writes, this is the government deciding who can and can’t be a journalist, and through that process, heavily influencing what will be reported. Happytime government stenographers from CNN? Step right in, sir. Investigative, real journalists from The Intercept? Um, maybe not. Will a journalist from an “un-American” news source such as The Daily Worker be denied simply based on affiliation?
Oh, the issues are many.
For example, security clearances are typically denied to persons with an arrest record. Will that also apply to journalists who have been arrested in protest situations while exercising one or more of their First Amendment rights? Drug use is also often a negative indicator for a security clearance, so does that mean a person busted for a loose joint in college may not report from inside the convention hall?
The Secret Service denies that a protest arrest will lead to a denial, though admits that arrests for assault, or domestic violence, charges could. At issue is that such arrests can cover a very broad spectrum of behavior, determined at a very local level. For example, imagine an African-American falsely charged with assault in some mean Texas backwater. Note also, as in most security clearance processes, the standard is an arrest, not necessarily a conviction.
Obtaining security clearances also involves the “voluntary” turning over of personal information to the government, to often include associations, employment history, professional affiliations, fingerprints, financials and the like. If a journalist wishes not to hand over that information to the Secret Service, does that automatically bar him/her from playing his mandated role of informing the public? Apparently it does.
There is also the question of control of all that personal information. The Secret Services states on its website that it has a contract with the Ardian Group, a private contractor, “to capture that Personally Identifiable Information for credentialing production” (though the Service itself makes the actual yes or no decision to allow access.)
In a widely distributed “Dear Colleagues” letter, John Stanton, Washington bureau chief of BuzzFeed, asked the capper question: “Should the Secret Service have jurisdiction over the First Amendment?”
Incarceration of Americans has reached a point of commonality such that the children’s educational program Sesame Street has made a video telling kids about it, and offering some ideas on how to deal with it.
The video shows the host making the sad Muppet feel better by explaining that her father also went to jail, and teaches kids words like “incarcerate” and “law” that they may hear around the house when dad’s not around. The full video talks about writing letters, dealing with absence, seeing other children with both parents, and making prison visits and the rules for doing that. The broad message is classic Sesame Street: you are not alone in your problems, so reach out.
The whole thing is part of Sesame Street’s new initiative, Little Children, Big Challenges, aiming at talking about the grownup issues of a tough world that can’t help but find their way into children’s lives. Other videos touch on divorce, death, hospitalization and issues affecting military families. You can see clips from most of them on YouTube.
Maybe one day they can do one about living under constant government surveillance, or being denied healthcare. What are a world we are making for our children to deal with.
Espionage works like this: identify a target who has the info you need. Determine what he wants to cooperate (usually money.) Be sure to appeal to his vanity and/or patriotism. Create a situation where he can never go back to his old life, and give him a path forward where it favors his ongoing cooperation in a new life. Recruit him, because you own him.
The FBI appears to have run a very successful, very classic, textbook recruitment on the guy above, Matt Edman, to use his insider-knowledge to defeat one of the best encryption/privacy software tools available. Aloha, privacy, and f*ck you, Fourth Amendment rights against unwarranted search and seizure.
Edman is a former Tor Project developer who created malware for the FBI that allows agents to unmask users of the anonymity software.
Tor is part of a software project that allows users to browse the web and send messages anonymously. In addition to interfacing with encryption, the basic way Tor works is by bouncing your info packets from server to server around the Internet, such that each server knows only a little bit about where the info originated. If you somehow break the chain, you can only trace it back so far, if at all. Tor uses various front ends, graphic user interfaces that make it very easy for non-tech people to use.
Tor is used by (a small number of) bad guys, but it is also used by journalists to protect sources, democracy advocates in dangerous countries, and simply people choosing to exercise their rights to privacy because they are in fact entitled to do so and don’t need a reason to do so. Freedom and all that. It is up to me if I want to lock the door to my home and close the blinds, not anyone else.
Our boy Edman worked closely with the FBI to customize, configure, test, and deploy malware he called “Cornhusker” to collect identifying information on Tor users. The malware is also known as Torsploit. Cornhusker used a Flash application to deliver a user’s real Internet Protocol (IP) address to an FBI server outside the Tor network. Cornhusker was placed on three servers owned by a Nebraska man who ran multiple child pornography websites.
We all hate child pornographers and we all would like to see them crammed up Satan’s butthole to suffocate in a most terrible way. But at the same time, we should all hate the loss of our precious rights. Malware has a tendency to find its way into places it should not be, including into the hands of really bad dictators and crooks, and even if we fully trusted the FBI to only use its Tor-cracking tools for good, the danger is there.
And of course we cannot trust the FBI to use its Tor-cracking tools only for good. If Tor can be taken away from a few bad actors, then it can be taken away from all of us. Our choice to browse the web privately and responsibly is stripped from us. Encryption and tools like Tor are like any tool, even guns, in that they can be used for good or for evil. You never want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, especially when fundamental Constitutional rights are at stake.
Rough and unpleasant as it is to accept, the broad, society-wide danger of the loss of those fundamental rights in the long run out-shadows the tragedy of child pornography.