• Archive of "Post-Constitution America" Category

    Let’s Get Uncomfortable, Election Edition

    November 15, 2016 // 43 Comments »

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    For the people now protesting, good for you to make your views known. It is important.


    May I also suggest you use the remaining time to protest Obama’s refusal to prosecute torture, curtail the NSA, fail to close Gitmo, his jailing of whistleblowers, his decision not to use his Justice Department to aggressively prosecute police killers of young Black men under existing civil rights laws, his claiming of the power to assassinate Americans with drones, and his war on journalists via gutting of FOIA?

    Because silence on those issues means Trump inherits all of that power.


    May I also suggest volunteering for some of: homeless shelters, LGBTQ and vet’s crisis lines, Planned Parenthood, Congresspeople who will work for these causes, ACLU, Occupy (who addresses the economic inequality that drove many Trump voters) and the like?

    And make a long term commitment, because many of those groups are used to people showing up for a few days after some bad event happens and then disappearing soon after.

    Please also unsubscribe from media that fed you false narratives for 18 months about those damn emails, the Clinton Foundation, pay-for-play, etc., leading to the election “surprise.” Check the election results. Apparently they all did matter and you should seek out new information sources so you are not fooled again.

    To educate yourself during the coming years, consider foreign media. Look at the range of choices and start reading. Many present a much more dispassionate and balanced view of America than our own corporate infotainment. FYI, the “Daily Show” is satire and comedy, light commentary at best. It is not news. A warning, though, that some of what you read will be challenging and make you think outside your own bubble.

    Stop embarrassing yourselves by claiming “well, Hillary won the popular vote.” True but irrelevant. We’ve had the albeit imperfect electoral college system for some 220 years. The fact that you recently discovered it when your preferred candidate lost does not impress. This election is the fifth time in U.S. history a candidate won the popular vote but lost the election.

    May I also suggest you read the full text of Roe v. Wade (not just Wikipedia!) so you are prepared to rebut in detail the various state-allowed restrictions, particularly the balancing tests, because that is where the attacks may likely come.


    Nothing wrong with “solidarity” and “raising awareness,” but stopping there, like wearing safety pins, like changing your Facebook profile photo, feels good, but working for real change hurts.

    ‘Cause talk is cheap.




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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    American Exceptionalism, Under God: Pledging Allegiance to the Homeland

    November 12, 2016 // 51 Comments »

    pledge


    Among the exceptional things about America is that, along with North Korea, we are one of a very few nations that have our schools begin the day with a pledge of allegiance.

    Unlike North Korea, however, our pledge also includes a reference to God. We do enjoy pretending all of this is optional because of “rights,” just as we pretend that the reference to God is perfectly “OK” in a nation that claims it is secular.


    (Fun Thing: Have your child substitute “Allah” for “God” in the pledge at school and see what happens!)



    Under God

    The pledge is a short expression of allegiance to the United States. Originally written in 1887, Congress formally adopted it as the official pledge in 1942 as the U.S. was entering WWII. On Flag Day 1954 the words “under God” were added, in time of the Cold War and McCarthyism.

    In signing the words “under God” into law, President Dwight Eisenhower said:

    “From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty… In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”

    The pledge is recited out loud, typically with one’s hand over one’s heart. Want an example of how the pledge is used as a vehicle for a whole range of “patriotic” indoctrination? Here.


    The Right Not to Pledge

    The most common place for reciting the pledge is in public schools. Teacher’s are not required, and in most cases do not, inform little kids they have a right to not participate.

    Most schools’ policy does allow students who otherwise learn about their rights outside of class to refrain from participating as long as they don’t interfere with other kids from doing so, generally interpreted as not protesting or acting in an affirmative manner and just standing with their damn mouths shut. There is a wide dollop of leeway on what constitutes “disruptive behavior,” as seen recently in the fury over some people’s decision to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem, another American ritual.


    This is all more or less in line with the landmark 1943 Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, where the justices voted 6-3 on behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing to stand for the pledge on religious grounds. The Court held that expelling the students, as was done in a West Virginia school, violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

    Justice Robert Jackson, who wrote the opinion, didn’t believe the government, including school officials, was constitutionally allowed to use punishments to make people say things they don’t mean:

    “To sustain the compulsory flag salute, we are required to say that a Bill of Rights which guards the individual’s right to speak his own mind left it open to public authorities to compel him to utter what is not in his mind.”

    Not every justice on the court agreed, however, Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote in dissent “freedom of religion did not allow individuals to break laws simply because of religious conscience… Otherwise each individual could set up his own censor against obedience to laws conscientiously deemed for the public good by those whose business it is to make laws.”

    And an exceptional free nation certainly could not have citizens running amok acting on their consciences.

    So How’s That Working Out for Ya?

    In late October, only 73 years after the Supreme Court decision, word apparently has not yet reached Florida, because a middle schooler in Tampa was kicked out of the classroom after refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

    Mark Dawson was yelled at by his teacher and made to leave the classroom after he refused to stand for the daily pledge at the ironically-named Liberty Middle School. A school spokesperson quickly admitted the teacher didn’t know the school district’s policy — as well as the actual Constitution of these United States — allowed for Dawson’s behavior.


    Or did they?

    Florida state law actually requires students to get written permission from parents if they want to abstain from the pledge.

    Although the Supreme Court holds that the Bill of Rights applies to minors, Florida says well, it sort of doesn’t. Florida state courts have upheld the local law by technically treating the matter as an issue of parental authority, as granted or withheld by the state legislature. The law operates under the assumption parents would make their kids stand for the pledge if they happened to be in the classroom at the time.

    Florida’s actions have not yet been tested before the Supreme Court.

    Do Other Countries Say Some Sort of Pledge of Allegiance in School?

    Despite America being “the essential nation” who serves as that “shining city on the hill” (we do have a lot of those kinds of expressions, don’t we?), America more or less stands alone in sort-of, kind-of, compelling/pressuring kids into stating out loud in the presence of their peers allegiance to the nation.

    North Korea also has its school kids say a daily pledge, but that’s a bad thing. The Guardian described the scene as:

    “They are barely seven years old, but these glum-looking children are already being drafted into a tyrannical regime hell bent on waging nuclear war with the world. Standing in arrow-straight rows, their faces are hardly the picture of happiness as they are forced to pledge their allegiance to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and call him ‘father’.”

    Yeah, yeah, I get it, different words, but basically the same idea: a stated pledge to a national symbol. Only kids in North Korea aren’t happy because, whatever, like the U.S., their country has nuclear weapons.

    Fun Fact: South Korea has a pledge, too. But not Canada, Britain, France or the other democracies of Europe.


    Exceptional Homeland!



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    How Did Donald Trump Win?

    November 9, 2016 // 22 Comments »

    unemployment

    It’s not about left and right anymore, not about Black and White. It is all about up and down. And it elected Donald Trump via a bumpy road. The next candidate to really figure it out will sweep into power.


    And what it is is stated succiently by former McCain campaign chief strategist Steve Schmidt: jobs, specifically the loss of jobs to technology and globalization, and the changes to our society that that is causing.

    The defining issue of our times, says Schmidt, is the displacement of workers, particularly those who traditionally held working class roles. America is watching a leveling down unprecedented in its history, a form of societal and economic devolution.

    “I think that’s going to be the new fault line in American politics,” Schmidt said. “And the voters, the Bernie Sanders voter and the Trump voter — like fish netting, the fish can swing through the netting from left to right very, very easily.”

    Schmidt focuses on Silicon Valley. “Let’s look at the Silicon Valley wing of the Democratic party and be clear about the partisan nature of all of these companies. We have these arguments about minimum wage — $12, $15. We’re 18 months away in this country from a robot in the window at the McDonald’s handing you your cheeseburger.”

    “The number one job for not-college educated men in America is driving something somewhere. So when we talk about an era now of driverless trucks, driverless cars, where do those jobs go? Where’s that displacement?” Schmidt continued.

    In essence, the growing irrelevance of American workers.

    What started with the globalization of the 1980s, the literal export of jobs to places abroad chasing cheaper labor, is transitioning into its next phase, the “export” of jobs into the hands of automation. Traditional employment once considered secure (albeit low paying) that cannot be physically exported because it needs to happen at a specific geographic location, such as with service tasks, is doomed as sure as those jobs that used to be done by steelworkers in Ohio but now are performed in Shenyang.

    Of course someone reading this will be mumbling something about to hell with those workers, let them get an education, retrain, whatever Darwinian crossed with dystopian curse they can conjure. The problem is long after you take away the jobs the people are still going to be there.

    And while no one in Washington really cares about what happens to those workers per se, as long as they can vote they will matter to politicians.

    It takes a special kind of demagogue, one with even more cynicism than usual, to fully exploit those workers’ literal fears for their lives, but s/he will emerge. Think of Trump as version 1.0, a kind of beta test. Trump likely never knew what he had within grasp, and spoke to this displaced group largely cluelessly and without the sophistication of a proper strategy.

    But the next Trump will have the “advantage” of another four years of economic displacement, a slicker media profile undistracted by Trump’s crude buffoonery, as well as advisors like McCain campaign chief strategist Steve Schmidt, whispering lines in his or her ear that sound like bastardized versions of Springsteen lyrics. The hate mongering, racism, and name calling will be toned down for wider appeal.

    Now there’s something to be afraid of.



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    Trump Versus Clinton: How the Hell Did We End Up Here?

    November 1, 2016 // 37 Comments »

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    You hear the expression “lesser of two evils” when people talk about how they will vote in November.

    Poll after poll shows a growing number of voters saying they will vote negatively – they’re against Hillary, so they’ll hold their nose and vote Trump, and vice-a-versa.

    It is also likely a large number of discontented voters will simply stay home on Election Day. Both candidates are among the most unpopular and least trusted in American history. One of them will end up in the White House.

    How did we get here? How is it the only two mainstream candidates left standing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?


    Hillary Clinton: All Appetite

    Hillary Clinton is the archetypal 21st century candidate’s candidate, a fully formed tool of the oligarchy. Whether she wins or loses in November, she is the model for the next era of American politics.

    Clinton sees The People as some mass to be pandered to and manipulated. She is simply a machine to gain power for its own sake (and money.) The One Percent tagged her early as exactly who they want to see in charge, someone who could be bought off, and she was nice enough to create her own vehicle to allow them to conveniently do that — write a check to the Clinton Foundation. As a bonus, it was also tax-deductible.

    If Hillary did not exist, it would have been necessary for the wealthy who control most of America to create her.


    The Once and Future Hillary

    That wasn’t necessary, as Hillary Clinton had spent her entire life preparing for this.

    By all accounts an intelligent, committed, feminist coming out of law school, she quickly fell into the TV classic 1950s role of dependent spouse, as “first lady” of Arkansas when Bill was governor, and of course, in the White House. Sure, she was given health care to mess around with during Bill’s first term, but when the issue crashed and burned, her role was reassigned to make safe speeches calling for more rights for women and girls. Safe in that she was allowed to pound the pulpit for those ideals in enemy territory like China, but not in countries like Saudi Arabia.

    She was the good wife. And good wives look the other way when hubby strays a bit, even to the point of having sex in the Oval Office. And that’s because Hillary knew the Democratic Party would owe her for not blowing things completely apart in a messy divorce certain to reveal even more bad news.

    First up was a Senate seat, a springboard for her presidential run.

    In November 1998 four-term incumbent Democratic New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced his retirement, opening a seat in a Solid Blue state. In early 1999 the Clinton’s bought a house in Chappaqua, New York (with “donated” money), all so that by September she was eligible to run as a “New Yorker.” While in the Senate Hillary was served up prime committee slots, and voted the safe votes (the Iraq War vote was safe at the time, of course, as everyone wanted to go to war. Nobody foresaw that one bouncing back the way it did.)

    By the time the George W. Bush era finally gave up, everyone on earth knew the next president was going to be a Democrat.

    So 2008 was going to be Hillary’s big moment, the first woman president, the one to clean up the Bush wars, who knows, maybe even score a Nobel Prize. But Hillary misread the degree of change Americans wanted, and in return for putting her plans on hold for another cycle or two, she settled in for four years as Secretary of State as a consolation prize. And have you heard? She sat in the Situation Room the night bin Laden was killed!


    Taking No Chances

    As the 2016 election approached, the Clinton’s took no chances.

    The favors Hillary accrued as Secretary of State via the Clinton Foundation were transformed into money and support. As she pretended not to run, Clinton packed her campaign war chest with big-money speeches. A happy “listening tour” (remember the Scooby Van?) was created to show everyone how human Hillary was. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz lined up the Democratic Party machinery. Designated schulp Martin O’Malley was set up as the loyal opposition so Hillary could create the appearance she was running against someone in the primary.

    Then, oops, Bernie.

    When Bernie Sanders came out of nowhere (as had Obama in 2008), Clinton again misread or did not care about how much change many Americans sought. As many long-suspected, and as we all now know after the hacks of the Democratic National Committee servers, the Party machinery was brought to bear against Sanders. The mainstream media was lined up to belittle, marginalize and ignore him. The millennial vote Sanders inspired was largely written off by Clinton. Bernie was reduced to a sad, little old man helping nominate someone at the Democratic Convention he clearly loathed.

    Add to that the flood of disdainful remarks talking points-prepped Democratic pundits spewed forth, announcing as one support for Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein is near-treason. A voter’s well-reasoned, act-of-conscious decision to support one of the two is held as nothing less than support for the Dark Lord.

    The Democrat machinery and the people who control it made Clinton the inevitable candidate. There was no one else who ever had a chance. America was told to suck it up and vote for her, whether they liked it or not.


    Trump Stumbles into His Role

    The Republican Party fully misunderstood its constituency, thinking one of a spray of robo-candidates would be good enough to simply run as Not Obama, Not Hillary.

    Each candidate on offer fell into the mold of ultra-mainstream, such as the why-am-I-here Jeb Bush, or the nut case category with Ben Carson. Ted Cruz couldn’t make up his mind, and vacillated between the two options. The plan was likely to meld the two wings into a ticket and scoop up as many conservative votes as possible.

    Whatever Trump may have really been thinking when he started his campaign, he stumbled on to something hiding in plain sight. Large numbers of Americans, mostly white and formerly middle class, were angry. They were really angry. They had been left behind as the country changed, left like an audience at a magic show who saw the trick done, but couldn’t for the life of them figure out how it had happened. These people knew they were getting poorer, they could not find decent jobs, and they wanted someone to blame.

    Enter Trump.

    He told them it was not their fault. It was because of Obama, it was the Chinese, it was the Muslims, the Blacks, the Democrats, NAFTA, immigrants, refugees, whoever they feared and hated, whatever they wanted to hear. He told them their racism and hate was valid, and gave them a place to express it as no one in the mainstream had ever before done in a modern campaign.

    Trump became a predator sniffing the wind. When he sensed people fed up with Hillary’s scamming for donations, he said he was self-funded. When he sensed people wanted change, he said he was an outsider. When voters tired of Hillary’s lawyerly answers and outright lies, Trump came out as plain spoken, even rude and crude — what candidate before had ever spoken of his penis size on the national stage?

    Weakness overseas? Bomb the f*ck out of them. Worried about China? Renegotiate. Tired of terrorists? Torture them, maybe kill their families. Problems with the economy? I can fix it, says Trump, and he didn’t need to explain how because while no one really believes it, they want to believe.

    Whole races and religions were condemned. People were bored with long think pieces and empty political language. Trump dished things out in 140-character Tweets. Voters made up their minds with the same tool they use to follow Beyonce.


    Trump Ascendant

    As a sign of Trump’s populism, and his popularity, he has garnered more small-dollar donations for the GOP than any other Republican candidate in history, and all that only since he seriously started asking for contributions in June. “He’s the Republican Obama,” Politico quotes one operative about Trump monetizing his Republican supporters.

    Like nearly every person in the media, and the Democratic and Republican parties, I suspect when he first started out Trump never expected the ball to bounce as it did. Running was an ego thing, an elaborate prank, performance art, something maybe good for business. No such thing as bad PR.

    But as others wrote him off, including the oligarchy, Trump learned.

    Every time someone said “well, that’s the end of Trump” after some outrageous statement, Trump learned he needed only to top himself in the next sound bite. People wanted him to be racist, they wanted him to be larger than life, and they didn’t care if he lied or exaggerated. Most of the media, still reporting his latest statement (birther, debates are rigged) as a bad thing, still don’t get it.


    Face It: They Are Us

    America will have Trump or Clinton in the White House for the next four years because they are us.

    Clinton is the ultimate end product of a political process consumed by big money. She is the candidate of the One Percent. She believes in nothing but the acquisition of power and will trade anything to get it. The oligarchy are happy to help her with that.

    Trump is the ultimate Frankenstein product of decades of lightly-shaded Republican hate mongering. He is the natural end point of 15 post-9/11 years of keeping us afraid. He is the mediagenic demagogue a country gets when it abandons its people to economic Darwinism, crushes its middle class, and gives up caring what happens to its minorities.

    Both candidates are markers of a doomed democracy, a system which somewhere in the past reached its apex and has only now declined enough that everyone, not just the boiling frogs, can see where we are. They’re us, people. We watched this happen, and we’ll be stuck trying to live with the results.

     

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    Police Want to 3D Print a Dead Man’s Fingers to Unlock His Phone

    October 22, 2016 // 24 Comments »

    print.resized


    I’ll unpack the Constitutional issues in a bit, but first, the technology.


    Michigan State University professor who holds six U.S. patents for fingerprint recognition technology was asked by police to help catch a murderer. The cops scans of the victim’s fingerprints and thought that unlocking his phone might provide clues as to who killed him.

    The professor converted the fingerprint scans and 3D printed versions of all 10 digits. He then coated them with a micro-layer of metallic particles to mimic skin’s conductivity. The final 3D-printed fingers aren’t finished, but they’ll be ready for police to try out soon.


    The potential Constitutional issues here are an amazing challenge to the Fourth Amendment’s assurances against unwarranted search, and the Fifth’s protections against self-incrimination. They don’t apply to this current case, as the prints in question comes from a dead man, but…

    In in 2014 a judge controversially ruled that (living) suspects can be required to unlock a phone with a fingerprint. While the Fifth Amendment protects the right to avoid self-incrimination and makes it illegal to force someone to give out a passcode, biometric indicators like fingerprints are not covered by the Fifth Amendment, according to the ruling. So, if your phone or other device is protected with a fingerprint, the current law says cops can compel you to open it. If the phone is protected by a PIN number, the cops cannot compel you to open it.

    The judge’s logic is interesting. He wrote giving police a fingerprint is akin to providing a DNA or handwriting sample, or presumably an iris scan or facial recognition, which the law permits. A pass code, though, requires the defendant to divulge knowledge, which the law protects against.

    It is not hard to imagine a future court ruling that all a bunch of nonsense and (hopefully) declaring the police cannot compel you to unlock your phone for them. But of course the cops can fingerprint you, and can have those prints 3D reproduced, and might be able to open your phone that way. So is or is that not Constitutional?

    And cool: if the police already have your iris scan, facial data or prints on file, they don’t even need to bother to talk to you about any of this at some point.

    In the age of Snowden’s revelations, big data and all sorts of electronic spy gear we have yet to learn about or invent, has technology finally outrun the otherwise pretty good record of the Bill of Rights for keeping up with the times?


    BONUS: Protect your phone with a strong PIN at the minimum.



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    How Soon Before Armed Drones Are Overhead in America? Time Now.

    October 13, 2016 // 44 Comments »

    drone


    Protocols exist allowing the president to select American citizens, without a whit of due process, for drone killing.


    Only overseas, he says, but you can almost see the fingers crossed behind his back. Wouldn’t an awful lot of well-meaning Americans have supported an aerial drone killing in San Bernardino, or at the Pulse club in Orlando? Didn’t many support using a robot to blow up a suspect in Dallas?

    How soon before armed drones are over our heads?

    Time Now.


    North Dakota just legalized its police departments to equip drones with Tasers, tear gas and rubber bullets. The state legislature will push for the removal of the non-lethal force provision in 2017.

    House Bill 1328 went into effect August 1. The original piece of legislation sought to ensure police obtained a search warrant to use a drone to gather criminal evidence. However, when a lobbyist with police ties was allowed to amend the bill, it was rewritten to specify that drones could carry anything except (’til next year) weapons capable of lethal force.

    Of course plenty of people have died at the hands of police using so-called non-lethal weapons, Tasers in particular. But even if that is not a concern, just wait until 2017, when the police will be able to fly weaponized drones.

    Over America. Or is it: Over, America?



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    A Government is Seizing Control of Our Election Process, and It Is Not the Russians

    October 8, 2016 // 72 Comments »

    Reichstag fire


    There is an attempt underway for a government to take control of our election process and throw the election to Hillary Clinton. It is not the Russian government. Mark this day — it is when we came to understand that the American government decided to elect a president.


    (Note: I understand in the minds of the mass media the most important issue in America today is Trump’s crude remarks, but there are indeed real things to be concerned about otherwise.)


    Here’s how:

    — Two days before the second presidential debate, the government of the United States officially accused Russia of a hacking campaign aimed at interfering in the U.S. election. In a joint statement, absent any specifics or technical details, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence stated “the recent [hacked email] disclosures… are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts… based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

    — The statement goes on to detail how only Democratic servers were attacked, meaning the American government is claiming that Russia is trying to throw the election to Donald Trump, plain and simple. It is left unsaid why the Russians would risk cyberwar with the United States to do this, as many have suggested Trump is a neocon in spirit whose loose finger will be on the nuclear button from day one. Clinton is much more of a political realist, comfortable with the business-as-usual of the past eight years that has gone in Russia’s favor in the Ukraine and Syria. She in fact seems like the stable known known, always a preference.

    — Though the first “Russian” hacks were reported in July, it is only 48 hours before the second presidential debate that the statement was released. It could easily have been held until Monday, there is no national security urgency for this to come out Friday. However, with the timing, Trump, essentially tied with Clinton in the polls, will now spend much of the debate defending himself. Since the statement includes no details, only accusations, it is hard to see how anyone could defend themselves. It would be near-impossible for Trump to come out ahead Sunday night; this is a near-coup.

    — Despite the certainty with which the U.S. government has accused Russia of trying to influence the election by hacking into secured email servers, the FBI maintains there is no evidence the Russians or anyone else accessed Clinton unsecured, unencrypted email server laden with actual classified materials, including during Clinton’s first trip to Moscow when she sent and received encrypted email over the Internet and WiFi.


    — In the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton broadly speculated that Donald Trump had paid no taxes. Days later, several pages of Trump’s tax returns, documents that had been sought unsuccessfully by the media for over a year, arrive at the New York Times, who front pages a story. In the Vice Presidential debate which followed, Trump’s running mate spent time on the defensive defending his boss’ deductions.

    — Clinton sent and received classified material on an unsecured, classified server. That violated the most basic rule of information security. She lied about it. She deleted emails and “lost” both the majority of her devices and many, many emails. The FBI and the Department of Justice, ahead of the Democratic nominating convention, found she violated no law. The Department of Justice granted broad immunity to key Clinton staffers, and allowed two of them to destroy their devices. No further investigation will thus be possible.

    — The State Department aided and abetted Clinton for over four years in hiding her private server, and avoiding her responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act and the Federal Records Act. Only under court order has the Department stopped slow-walking its “review” process to release emails publically. There has been no investigation.

    — Emails released show a tangle of interests among State Department decisions, the Clinton Foundation and access to Hillary as Secretary of State (“pay for play”). Clinton sought Pentagon and State Department contracts for Chelsea’s friend. There has been no investigation.

    — The State Department and White House coordinated to “crush” Clinton’s email coverage.


    If you can add it up any other way than direct interference by the White House, the State Department, the Department of Justice, the FBI and the intelligence community, it would be interesting to hear how that works. The comments are open to make a benign case for these actions.



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    Why Snowden the Movie Matters

    October 6, 2016 // 44 Comments »

    snowden



    I’ve reviewed Oliver Stone’s movie Snowden elsewhere, and it’s well worth seeing just as a movie. But of course the issues brought up by Snowden the man, and Snowden the movie, are more complex than fit into two hours.


    I had this hit home in a recent discussion with a friend who keeps insisting he has nothing to hide in his emails, phone calls, social media, etc., so why should he care if the NSA looks at all that?

    Friend, here’s why:



    NSA surveillance is legal.

    True, as was slavery in the U.S., the Holocaust under Nazi Germany, Apartheid in South Africa and so forth. Laws serve higher purposes. They can be manipulated for evil. That’s why we need checks and balances to protect us.



    Well, there are checks and balances in the system to protect us.

    The king of all checks and balances in this, the Fourth Amendment, has been treated by the government like a used Kleenex.

    As for the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Court (FISA), set up to review government requests for wiretapping, it approved all 1,789 requests submitted to it in 2012. The FBI made 15,229 National Security Letter requests in 2012 on Americans. None of those even require FISA rubber-stamping. And here’s DOJ trying to keep classified a court ruling that says it might have acted unconstitutionally.

    The first FISA ruling ever released in full came from Edward Snowden. Before that, no one outside a small circle inside the government had ever seen one.

    And you know who represents the “suspect” (i.e., you) in front of the FISA court? No one. You don’t even know they’re reviewing you.

    If all the NSA’s activities are legal, why not allow them to be tested openly and unambiguously in public, in front of the Supreme Court. After all, if you’ve done nothing wrong there is nothing to hide. Unfortunately, when Amnesty International tried to bring such a case before the Court, the case was denied because Amnesty could not prove it was subject to monitoring– that was a secret!– and thus was denied standing to even bring the suit.

    Unfettered surveillance violates both the Fourth Amendment protections against search, and the First Amendment protections on the right to peaceably assemble, online in this instance.

    Anyway, whatever, FISA. I’m not doing anything wrong, so why should I care? If you’re doing nothing wrong, then you’ve got nothing to hide!

    The definition of “wrong” can change very quickly, especially if you have no way to defend yourself, or even know you’re under suspicion. Are you really, really ready to risk everything on what is right and wrong today staying that way forever? Seems like a fool’s bet, given America’s witch hunts in the 1950s for communists, and Islamophobia today. Things do change.



    Well, I trust Obama on this.

    Good for you. There’ll be a new president soon. You also trust him or her? How about the one after that, and the one after that? Data collected is forever. Trusting anyone with such power is foolish.

    FYI, whether you trust Obama, Trump, Hillary or the next presidents, do remember your personal data is in the hands of the same people that run the TSA, the IRS and the DMV. Do you trust all of them all the time to never make mistakes or act on personal grudges or political biases? Do you believe none of them would ever sell your data for personal profit ever? That they have your information so well protected hackers will never get to it and dump it out onto the Internet?

    How about other governments? The NSA is already sharing your data with, at minimum, British and Israeli intelligence. Those are foreign governments that your American government is informing on you to.


    Distasteful as this all is, it is necessary to keep us safe. It’s for our own good.

    The United States, upholding to our beautiful Bill of Rights, has survived (albeit on a sometimes bumpy road) two world wars, the Cold War and innumerable challenges without a massive, all-inclusive destruction of our civil rights. Keep in mind that the Founders created the Bill of Rights, point-by-point, specifically to address the abuses of power (look up the never-heard-from-again Third Amendment) they experienced under an oppressive British government.

    A bunch of angry jihadis, some real and many imagined, seems a poor reason to change that system. Prior to 9/11 we did not have a mass-scale terror act (by foreigners; American Citizen Timothy McVeigh pulled one off.) Since 9/11 we have not had a mass-scale terror attack. More than 15 years in, we must accept 9/11 was a one-off, an aberration, and cannot be a justification for everything the government wishes to do.

    There is also the question of why, if the NSA is vacuuming up everything, and even sharing that collection abroad, this all needs to be kept secret from the American people. If it is for our own good, the government should be proud to tell us what they are doing for us, instead of being embarrassed when it leaks.

    After all, if you’re not doing anything wrong then you’ve got nothing to hide, right?


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    It’s Personal Now: Apologizing to My Daughter for the Last 15 Years of War

    September 30, 2016 // 24 Comments »

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    I recently sent my last kid off for her senior year of college. There are rituals to these things, and because dad-confessions are not among them, I just carried the boxes and kept quiet.

    But what I really wanted to say to her — rather than see you later, call this weekend, do you need money? — was: I’m sorry.

    Like all parents in these situations, I was thinking about her future. And like all of America, in that future she won’t be able to escape what is now encompassed by the word “terrorism.”


    Everything is OK, But You Should Be Terrified

    Terrorism is a nearly nonexistent danger for Americans. We have more of a chance of being hit by lightning, though fear doesn’t work that way. There’s no 24/7 coverage of global lightning strikes or “see something, say something” signs that warn about reporting thunderstorms. I felt no need to apologize for lightning.

    But terrorism? I really wanted to tell my daughter just how sorry I was she would have to live in what 9/11 transformed into the most frightened country on Earth.

    Want the numbers? Some 40 percent of Americans believe the country is more vulnerable to terrorism than it was in 2001, the highest percentage ever.

    Want the apocalyptic jab in the gut? Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said earlier this month the threat has not lessened. “Those people, those enemies, those members of that terrorist group, still intend – as they did on 9/11 – to destroy your freedoms, to kill you, kill your families, they still intend to destroy the United States of America.”

    All that fear turned us into an engine of chaos abroad, while consuming our freedoms at home. And it saddens me that there was a pre-9/11world her generation and all those who follow her will never know.


    Growing Up

    My kids grew up overseas while, from 1988 to 2012, I served with the State Department. For the first part of my career as a diplomat, wars were still discreet matters. For example, though Austria was a neighbor of Slovenia, few there worried the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s would spill across the border. Suicide bombers didn’t threaten Vienna when we visited as tourists in 1991. That a war could again consume large parts of the world and involve multiple nations would have seemed as remote to us vacationers that year as the moon.

    Even the big war of the era, Desert Storm in 1991, seemed remarkably far away. My family and I were assigned in Taiwan at the time, and life there simply went on. There was no connection between us and what was happening in the sand far away, and certainly we didn’t worry about a terror attack.

    It’s easy to forget how long ago all that was. Much of the Balkans is now a tourist destination, and a young soldier who fought in Desert Storm would be in his mid-forties today. Or think of it this way: either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump entering the Oval Office next January will be the fifth president in succession to bomb Iraq.

    On September 11, 2001, I was assigned to Japan, and like everyone, as part of a collective trauma, watched the terrible events on TV. Due to the time difference, it was late at night in Tokyo. As the second plane hit the World Trade Center, I made sandwiches, suspecting the phone would ring and I’d be called to the embassy for a long shift. I remember my wife saying, “Why would they call you in? We’re in Tokyo!” Then, of course, the phone did ring, and I remember running to grab it not out of national security urgency, but so it didn’t wake my kids.

    My daughter’s birthday falls on the very day that George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq. I missed her celebration in 2003 to stay at work preparing for the embassy to be overrun by al-Qaeda. I missed her birthday again in 2005, having been sent on temporary duty to Thailand to assist the U.S. Navy in setting up a short-term base facility there. When the naval officers mentioned the location they wanted to use to the Thai military liaison accompanying us, he laughed. That’s taken, he said, but you didn’t hear it from me, better ask your own people about it.

    Later, I would learn the location was a CIA black site where the country I then represented was torturing human beings.

    Looking back, it’s remarkable to realize that, in response to a single day of terror, Washington set the Middle East ablaze, turned air travel into a form of bondage play, and did away with the best of our democracy.

    Nothing required the Patriot Act, Guantánamo, renditions, drone assassinations, and the National Security Agency turning its spy tools inward. The White House kept many of the nastiest details from us, but made no secret of its broader goals. Americans on the whole supported each step, and Washington then protected the men and women who carried out each of the grim acts it had inspired. After all, they were just following orders.

    Protocols now exist allowing the president to select American citizens, without a whit of due process, for drone killing. Only overseas, he says, but you can almost see the fingers crossed behind his back. Wouldn’t an awful lot of well-meaning Americans have supported an aerial drone killing in San Bernardino, or at the Pulse club in Orlando? Didn’t many support using a robot to blow up a suspect in Dallas?


    Back in the Homeland

    The varieties of post-9/11 fear sneak up on us all. I spent a week this summer obsessively watching the news for any sign of trouble in Egypt while my daughter traveled there to visit some old embassy acquaintances. She had to risk her life to see a high school friend in a country once overrun with tourists.

    So, I want to say sorry to my daughter and her friends for all the countries where we Americans, with our awkward shorts and sandals, used to be at least tolerated, but are now dangerous for us to visit. Sorry that you’ll never see the ruins of Babylon or the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq unless you join the military.

    Arriving back in the U.S., my daughter called from the airport to say she’d be home in about an hour. I didn’t mention my worries that she’d be stopped at “the border,” a new name for baggage claim, or have her cell phone confiscated for having traveled to the Middle East. She was, in fact, asked by an immigration agent her purpose in going there, something that even the Egyptians hadn’t bothered to question her about. We don’t yet say “papers, please,” but we do refer to America as the Homeland.

    I also wanted to apologize to my daughter because she will never really know what privacy is in our new surveillance world. I needed to ask her forgiveness for how easily we let that happen, for all those who walk around muttering they have nothing to hide, so what’s to worry about. I wanted to tell her how sorry I was that she’s now afraid of the police, not just for herself but especially for her friends of color. I wanted to tell her how badly I felt that she’d only know a version of law enforcement so militarized that, taking its cues from the national security state, views us all as potential enemies and so believes that much of its job involves repressing our most basic rights.

    I’m sorry, I want to say to her, that protesting Americans can be confined in something called a “free speech zone” surrounded by those same police. I want to tell my daughter the Founders would rise in righteous anger at the idea of the police forcing citizens into such zones outside a political convention. And that most journalists don’t consider such a development to be a major story of our times.

    As I sent her off to college, I wanted to say how sorry I was that we had messed up the world, sorry we not only didn’t defeat the terrorists the way Grandpa did the Nazis but, by our actions, gave their cause new life and endless new recruits. Al-Qaeda set a trap on 9/11 and we fell into it. The prison American occupiers set up at Camp Bucca in Iraq became a factory for making jihadis, and the torture chambers at Abu Ghraib remain, like Guantánamo, an infomercial inviting others to pick up a weapon.


    The New Normal

    My daughter is not naïve. Like most of her classmates, she is aware of most of these things, but she has no point of comparison. What fish truly sees the water around it? And it’ll be even harder for her kids to try and do so. Her adult life has been marked by constant war, so much so that “defeating the terrorists” is little more than a set phrase she rolls her eyes at. It’s a generational thing that is too damn normal, like Depression-era kids still saving aluminum foil and paper bags in the basement after decades of prosperity.

    I’m truly sorry that her generation copes with this by bouncing between cynicism and the suspension of disbelief. That allows many to accept the idea that invading Iraq was a reasonable response to an attack on America by a group of Saudis funded by Saudi “charity donations.” And by now, “well, it wasn’t actually a crime” is little short of a campaign slogan for acts that couldn’t be more criminal. That’s a world on a path to accepting 2+2 can indeed equal 5 if our leaders tell us it’s true.

    We allow those leaders to claim the thousands of American troops now stationed in Iraq are somehow not “boots on the ground,” or in the newest phraseology, “ground troops.” Drone strikes, we’re told, are surgical, killing only bad guys with magic missiles, and never on purpose hitting civilians, hospitals, children, or wedding parties. The deaths of human beings in such situations are always rare and accidental, the equivalent of those scratches on the car door from that errant shopping cart in the mall parking lot.


    Cleaning Up After Her Dad

    If anyone is going to fix this mess — I want to tell my daughter — it’s going to have to be you. And, I want to add, you’ve got to do a better job than I did, if, that is, you really want to find a way to say thanks to me for the skating lessons, the puppy, and for me not being too mad when you almost violated curfew to spend more time with that boy.

    After the last cardboard boxes had been lugged up the stairs, I held back my tears until the very end. Hugging my daughter, I felt I wasn’t where I was standing but in a hundred other places; I wasn’t consoling a smart, proud, twenty-something woman apprehensive about senior year, but an elementary school student going to bed on the night that would forever be known only as 9/11.

    Back home, the house is empty and quiet. Outside, the leaves have just a hint of yellow. At lunch, I had some late-season strawberries nearly sweet enough to confirm the existence of a higher power. I’m gonna really miss this summer.

    I know I’m not the first parent to grow reflective watching his last child walk out the door. But I have a sense of what’s ahead of her. Fear is a terrible thing to be sorry for. And that can be scary.


    (Photo is for illustration only; it is not my daughter)



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    Department of Homeless Security

    September 23, 2016 // 37 Comments »

    homeless-man

    Busy weekend for terrorism. Nine people stabbed in a shopping mall in Minnesota (meh), and the big one in New Jersey/New York.

    It was there Afghan American Ahmad Rahami made up a bunch of pipe bombs and pressure cooker IEDs, distributed them in four separate locations, and set off two explosions. The one detonation in New York’s Chelsea area injured 29 people.



    What We’re Told Happened

    In the 15 years since 9/11, the United States has spent trillions of dollars on security, created a new cabinet agency that memorialized an odd term of reference to America, the Department of Homeland Security, and convinced far too many Americans that they had to choose between security or freedom, safety or privacy. Along the way our air travel experience is now a form of bondage play.

    And we are watched.

    For example, the city of New York boasts it has more than 8,000 cameras pointed at Manhattan streets. The NYPD calls it the city’s “Ring of Steel.”

    Images from those cameras feed into the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center. Officers there also keep track of biological, chemical, radiation, and shot-spotter sensors (which detect gunfire), throughout the city.

    Data from the cameras and the detectors, as well as 911 calls, license plate readers, and crime databases is fed into a map-based Domain Awareness System, which analyzes information. The NYPD also has a “Dashboard” system that receives alerts on unattended packages, stolen vehicles crossing tunnels and bridges, and suspicious odors of hazardous materials.

    In addition, the Lower Manhattan Center maintains a “vehicle of interest” listing to track vehicles utilizing license plate readers, and can go back 30 days to find suspect vehicles. More than 200 license plate readers within the city triangulate information with GPS systems.

    That is a helluva lot of watching, all keeping us safe. Except it didn’t.



    What Really Happened

    What really happened is a guy built multiple explosive devices, and deployed them in public areas, without being detected. All that stuff above, plus the NSA, FBI, DHS, CIA, et al, missed him.

    No one got killed and no one was seriously injured only because of two factors: an inept terrorist and America’s homeless.

    Ahmad Rahami had a string of pipe bombs lined up along a marathon run route. One went off early (the start of the race was delayed) and the others failed to explode. If Rahami had used a command detonator triggered by the runners or himself, not a timer, and/or if all of the bombs had exploded when people were around, it would have been carnage.

    One of Rahami’s Manhattan bombs failed to go off, even after two passersby shook it out of the suitcase Rahami had hid it in. His other bomb was set on a timer and randomly no one happened to be in its kill zone went it went off.

    One is reminded of America’s other inept terrorists: the underwear bomber who couldn’t get his bomb to explode, the shoe bomber who couldn’t get his bomb to explode, and the Times Square car bomber who couldn’t get his bomb to explode. We’ll throw in the Minnesota mall guy, who failed to seriously injure anyone despite his multiple stabbings of unarmed people.

    As for the bombs planted at a New Jersey train station, they were found by two homeless guys who were looking to steal (the media now uses the word scavenge because they’re heros) the backpack one of the explosives was tucked into.



    How to Respond

    The response the day after the New York bombings was swift — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo deployed an additional 1,000 New York State Police and National Guard people to Manhattan’s bus terminals, airports, and subway stations. The NYPD turned out in force in similar locations, with officials boasting Manhattan on the Monday after the weekend explosions had more security personnel on its streets than at any other time in New York history.

    Of course all of the previous security did not stop the bomber, and he did not target any bus terminals, airports and subway stations. Nor has any other terrorist.

    So maybe it is time for a better solution.

    The homeless guys who found the bomb at the New Jersey train station were rewarded by social services finding them a place to stay and getting them signed up for food stamps. Someone set up a GoFundMe page for the two that has raised $16,000. A kind citizen even gifted both men new backpacks, as the bomb backpack was blown up by police. They are happy guys.

    So why not deputize our army of zombie homeless into terrorist hunters? The poor dudes are out on the streets all the time in all sorts of weather anyway, and they’re always digging in trash cans. If the homeless know that free housing and food stamps await them if they can bring in some terrorist booty, well, the terrorists don’t stand a chance.




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    Florida Forces Students Without Parent Note To Stand During Pledge, National Anthem

    September 21, 2016 // 14 Comments »

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    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).


    Florida, 2016

    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.



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    Oliver Stone’s New Movie ‘Snowden’ Tackles the Myth

    September 14, 2016 // 40 Comments »

    snowden


    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.






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    U.S. Blocks Former British Ambassador From Entering America to Honor CIA Whistleblower

    September 5, 2016 // 24 Comments »

    craig murray



    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.






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    I Do Jury Duty

    August 18, 2016 // 11 Comments »

    jury

    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.




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    Trouble Follows When the U.S. Labels You a ‘Thug’

    August 16, 2016 // 13 Comments »

    hillary and putin.resized

    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.”

    Madeline Albright found Somali thugs and thugs in the Balkans for her era’s wars.

    More Thugs

    There are also North Korean thugs, Iranian thugs and Ukrainian thugs. And Sudanese thugs and Panamainian thugs.

    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?

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    Apple Patents Remote ‘Kill Switch’ for iPhone Cameras

    August 10, 2016 // 16 Comments »

    apple


    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.”



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    Waiting on Putin, The Dream Candidate

    August 5, 2016 // 14 Comments »

    putin


    It’s interesting that accusations that Putin is trying to swing the election to Trump peaked, for now, in the midst of the Democratic Convention, and distracted nicely from what was revealed in the hacked emails. Hmmm.

    Putin was then ushered off stage, to be replaced by the Wrath of Khan and their son, who died in Iraq 12 years ago. I wonder now when Putin will be brought back. He will of course be brought back, being far too good a bad guy to waste in this most obscene of elections.

    Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was no global enemy for America to face down. 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 president down in the polls to morph into a war leader.


    A lot of people had a lot of power and money in play that demanded some real bad guys. An attempt was made in the 1980s to make narco-lords the new major threat, but they were too few in number to sustain the meme, and too many American loved their dope. Following 9/11, the bad guys were “the terrorists.” The Bush gangsters anointed Saddam a WMD threat and christened Iran and North Korea as part of an Axis of Evil.

    The Iraq War was ultimately very unpopular, and is never-ending. Meh. Bin Laden never launched a second attack on the U.S., and the Taliban had no poster child leader like him to snarl at for 15 years. Iran and North Korea just make a lot of noise. The United States made an effort to label others — Gaddafi, Assad, Islamic State — global enemies worthy of perpetual war, but the Middle East in general has turned into a quagmire we all want to really wake up sober from.


    Washington really needs an Arch Enemy, a guy who looks like a Bond villain with nuclear weapons he’ll brandish but never use.

    Putin.

    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 will require America to buy more military hardware, plus discover new places like the Baltic states to garrison. It might even straighten out a NATO confused about its role regarding global terrorism.

    Forget Trump and Clinton; Putin is the political-military-industrial complex dream candidate.



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    Let’s Understand Why We’re So Finished Economically

    August 3, 2016 // 26 Comments »

    krugman

    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.



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    Who the Muslim Father’s DNC Speech Really Pandered To

    July 31, 2016 // 37 Comments »

    khan


    Last Thursday night, speaking at the Democratic National Convention, Khizr Khan paid tribute to his son, U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq on June 8, 2004, after he tried to stop a suicide bomber.


    As for every parent, husband, wife, brother, sister and friend who lost someone any war, I grieve with them. I am sorry for the Khan’s loss. I am a parent and can all too easily be sent to thinking about the loss of a child.

    So go ahead and hate on me. But of the almost 7,000 American families who lost sons and daughters in the last 15 years of American war of terror, why did the Democrats choose a single Muslim family to highlight?

    No one knows how many hundreds of thousands (millions?) of non-American Muslims were killed as collateral damage along the way in those wars. Who spoke for them at the Convention?



    I found the Democrats’ message shallow. It was pandering of the most contemptible kind, but not as some say simple pandering for Muslim votes from those alienated by Trump’s rhetoric.

    The Democratic pandering was to an America that wants to believe we have good Muslims (who express their goodness by sending their kids to fight our wars) and “they” have the bad Muslims (who express their badness by sending their kids to fight their wars.) The pandering was to the cozy narrative that makes the majority of Americans comfortable with perpetual war in the Middle East and Africa.


    MORE: At one point Khan challenged Trump, “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.” True. But let us also remember the Clinton family sent no one to war. Their daughter did not serve any more than any Trump kid. Bill and Hillary served exactly as many days as Trump and Melania. Khan should have been more inclusive in his condemnation.

    I would also like to ask Khan how he reconciles his son’s death with the fact that only a few years later Iraq is still deep in war.

    Trump is an ass and I do not support him in any way. I am particularly troubled by his hate speech directed at Muslims, and Mexicans, and everyone else he hates.

    It is not disrespectful to discuss these things. Khan choose to put himself and his son’s death on television to serve a partisan political purpose. We need to talk about what he talked about.





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    The Secret Rules That Allow the FBI to Spy on Journalists

    July 28, 2016 // 31 Comments »

    spy


    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.




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    Cleveland Police to RNC Protesters: Don’t Hide Your Faces (Facial Recognition)

    July 21, 2016 // 27 Comments »

    Anonymous


    Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams issued a warning to an undisclosed number of masked protesters outside the Republican National Convention: “If you are a member of a group that causes you to have to hide your face, then you probably need a different cause.”


    Police claim they have received at least a dozen calls related to concerns about the small groups of black-clad “anarchists” with masks.

    So why is Chief Williams so concerned about the face masks? Too early for Halloween?

    Nope, facial recognition.


    Law enforcement aggressively employs facial recognition technology at events such as the Republican National Convention to identify “persons of interest” and to catalog new persons of interest. Masked faces don’t play as well with the technology (though newer tech can get around some limitations, and iris scan tech needs only to see your, well, eyes. More below.)

    With facial recognition, a computer digitizes an image of someone’s face in a way that makes fooling the system difficult, stuff like measuring the distance between eyes, the angle of one’s nose, ear lobe shape and other tough to alter things.

    Like this:




    Reports suggest in addition to public gatherings where people are enjoying their First Amendment rights to assemble and speak, airports scan passengers, hotels scan lobbies, stores scan aisles, casinos scan their gambling floors and many police street cameras are tied into the systems.

    A publicly-known example occurred after the Boston Marathon bombing of April 2013. The subsequent Boston Calling music fest was subject to heavy use facial recognition surveillance, one guesses in case there were more Tsarnaev brothers out there. Law enforcement in the UK used facial recognition technology to scan the faces of thousands of attendees at the Download music festival without their knowledge.


    And, oh, yeah, those iris scanners.

    Iris scanners have quickly moved from the realm of science fiction into everyday public use by governments and private businesses.

    Iris recognition is rarely impeded by contact lenses or eyeglasses, and can work with blind individuals as well. The scanners can catalog up to 50 people a minute without requiring the individuals to stop and stand in front of the scanners.

    Information gathered from iris scanners or facial recognition in multiple locations can be sent to a central database that can be used to track an individual’s movement throughout the city, or to determine which individuals in the database associate together.

    So hippie protesters, have a great time in Cleveland! Actually, the cops will know if you are having a good time, because they are watching.




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    Summer Convention Fun: Keep an Eye (Ear) Out for the LRAD

    July 20, 2016 // 8 Comments »

    lrad

    With the Democratic and Republican conventions entering normal earth atmosphere, it’s time to get ready to rumble!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    Both conventions promise excellent violence in the streets, especially in Cleveland, where a toxic slosh of Trump Brownshirts, anti-Trump protestors and the always blood-thirsty Cleveland PD will meet head-to-head-to-head in “free speech zones,” public parks and perhaps the streets themselves.

    Now even the cops in Ferguson and Baltimore knew they couldn’t just outright fire live rounds (yet) into the crowds while the cameras were there, and maybe the Clevo cops know it too. So what’s a law enforcement officer interested in violently dispersing a crowd to do? Of course there are your standard tear gas rounds, night stick charges, and rubber bullets but that’s all so… 2015.

    So why not use a real 21st century weapon, the LRAD. Watch for it in Cleveland, or at a protest near you.



    Weapons of War

    The LRAD was first deployed for use in Iraq, and quickly found its way onto Navy and commercial ships sailing amongst Somali pirates. The bad boy is a sound cannon.

    The LRAD company prefers to label its product a tool to broadcast messages and pain-inducing “deterrent” tones over long distances. The device produces a sound that can be directed in a beam up to 30 degrees wide, and the military-grade LRAD 2000X can transmit at up to 162dB up to 5.5 miles away.

    Fun fact: A jet engine at 100 feet is 140dB. Sound at 180db will cause tissue damage.

    But of course the LRAD is non-lethal, so its maker says that anyone within a 100 meters of the device’s sound path will experience extreme pain. The version generally utilized by police departments (the LRAD 500X) is designed for short bursts of directed sound that cause severe headaches in anyone within a 300 meter range. Anyone within 15 meters of the device’s audio path can experience permanent hearing loss.

    Permanent hearing loss begins at 130dB, and if the device is turned up to 140dB, anyone within its path would not only suffer hearing loss, they could potentially lose their balance and be unable to move out of the path of the audio.



    First Amendment… Never Heard of It

    So basically, put one of these on a truck and you can clear out a street pretty effectively. And the great thing about such a handy First Amendment-denying tool is that it is indiscriminate. It blasts the breath out of unruly hippies, legitimate journalists, peaceful protesters, happy tourists on the sidewalk, just everybody equally. Sorry about those who were exercising their Constitutional right to protest, because NOW HEAR THIS MOTHERF*CKERS!

    The LRAD device has been used on several occasions against activists in the U.S. The first documented was in Pittsburgh during the G-20 summit in 2009. The Pittsburgh police used it again following the Super Bowl in 2011. The LRAD was used against Occupy protesters in Oakland and New York. New York brought their LRADs out again for the Black Lives Matter marches.

    One Pittsburgh protester sued, saying the LRAD used against her made fluid leak out of her ear, and produced dizziness, nausea, and headaches. The city ultimately settled the suit for $72,000.

    Make no mistake here: this is a weapon of war, developed for the battlefield, that is now being used on American streets against Americans.


    BONUS: The LRAD Corporation announced earlier this month that the LRAD RXL model has been recognized as “Best Acoustic Hailing Service” by the Government Security News 2016 Airport, Seaport, Border Security Awards Program. The LRAD DS-60 was named as a finalist in the “Best Mass Notification System” category.





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    FBI, Police ‘Visited’ Activists’ Homes Ahead of the Republican National Convention

    July 19, 2016 // 10 Comments »

    knock


    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.



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    At Cleveland Repub Convention, ‘First Amendment Zones’ Will Detain Protesters Far Away From Trump

    July 18, 2016 // 9 Comments »

    free speech


    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.



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    A Man Burned The Flag And Got Arrested for ‘His Own Safety’

    July 16, 2016 // 8 Comments »

    flag


    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!



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    Hillary Clinton, Her Email and a Body Blow to the Freedom of Information Act

    July 13, 2016 // 11 Comments »

    vintage-man-confused


    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.



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    Why it Matters the Dallas Police Used a Drone to Kill Someone in America

    July 9, 2016 // 16 Comments »

    dallas


    The Dallas police ended a standoff with the gunman who killed five officers with a tactic that is unprecedented: it blew him up using a robot.

    This represents the first time in American history that a drone (wheels for now, maybe wings later) was used to kill an American citizen on American soil.


    I get it, I get it.

    The Dallas sniper had killed five cops. He was prepared to kill as many more as he could. He was in a standoff with police, and negotiations had broken down. The Supreme Court has made it clear that in cases such as this, the due process clause (i.e., a trial before execution in this instance) does not apply. If not for the robot bomb, the Dallas police would have eventually shot the sniper anyway. They were fully in their legal rights to kill him. None of those issues are in contention. I am not suggesting in any way the cops should have invited the sniper out for tea.

    I am suggesting we stop and realize that in 2016 the police used a robot to send in an explosive to blow a person up. I am unaware that such a thing has happened in Russia, North Korea, China, Iran or other places where the rule of law is held by the few in power.

    Weapons of War

    The robot represents a significant escalation in the tools law enforcement use on the streets of America. Another weapon of war has come home from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. In the isolated case of the sniper, dead may be dead, whether by explosive or rifle shot. But in the precedent set on the streets of Dallas, a very important line has been crossed.

    Here’s why this is very bad.

    As in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is clear that an escalation in force by the police can only serve to inflame a situation, and trigger a subsequent escalation among those who will then seek to defend themselves against robots sent against them. In America’s wars, the pattern of you use a drone, I plant an IED is all to familiar. Will person being blown up by the cops likely soothe community tensions, or exacerbate them? Did the use of other military weaponry calm things in Ferguson, or encourage the anger there to metastasize into other locations?

    More Force Sooner?

    And will robots increase or decrease the likelihood cops will employ more force sooner in a situation?

    “The further we remove the officer from the use of force and the consequences that come with it, the easier it becomes to use that tactic,” said Rick Nelson, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former counterterrorism official. “It’s what we have done with drones in warfare. Yet in war, your object is always to kill. Law enforcement has a different mission.”

    Who is Responsible?

    With a drone, it becomes easier to select the easier wrong of killing over the harder right of complex negotiations and methodical police work. Police officers sign up accepting in some ways a higher level of risk than soldiers, in that cops should be exercising a much more complex level of judgement in when and how to use force. Simply because they can use deadly force — or can get away with it — does not make it right. A robot removes risk, and dilutes personal responsibility.

    For example, if an individual officer makes a decision to use his/her personal weapon, s/he takes on full responsibility for the outcome. In the case of a robot, the decision is the product of a long chain of command extending far from whomever has a finger on the switch. The same is true for America’s drone army abroad. The shooter and the decider are far removed from one another.

    Who is responsible? What if we start to believe no one is?




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    Thomas Jefferson’s Ghost Visits the White House

    July 5, 2016 // 26 Comments »

    jefferson.resized

    “Who the hell are you?” said a startled Barack Obama, clad only in his Kenyan flag boxers.

    “Easy Barack, chill. Wait, sleeping alone? Awkward. Anyway, I’m Thomas Jefferson, or at least his ghost. Every once in awhile I get bored haunting the attic at the White House and come down to visit, see how the wonderful democracy we created is doing. Add any new rights to our Bill of Rights recently?”

    “Um, it sort of hasn’t gone that way. Except maybe for the Second Amendment, lots of solid growth there,” said Obama.

    “Yes, yes, even upstairs we’ve heard the gunshots. You realize we intended that so Americans would be ready to serve as citizen-soldiers when called up to form militias, right? We never wanted a large standing army, and figured if every stout yeoman farmer retained a musket that would pretty much cover it. I’ll check my notes, but I am pretty sure we never intended the Second to end up arming unhindered homophobic maniacs, or angry white guys who hate abortion in the name of a Christian God, with bazookas.”

    “Sure, Tom, we may have made a misstep or two, but we had a couple of Democrats stage a sit in on the House floor to demand gun control,” said Obama.

    “Hmmm. Sitting down when they should be standing up for something? And why weren’t you with them, Barack?”

    “Um, I had Hamilton tickets, couldn’t make it.”

    “Oh, jeez, Hamilton, again. Where the hell’s my musical? Anyway, how are the rest of the Amendments doing?” Jefferson said.

    “Well, Tom, we had to make a few… adjustments. Time of war and all.”

    “Good God, did a foreign army invade Boston? Damned Canadian troops cross the border? British Men o’ War in New York harbor? What is this war?”

    “Well, 15 years ago some guys killed about half as many Americans who have died in the wars we started since then. That’s kinda it, really,” said Obama. “Been basically riffing off that ever since.”


    “And?”

    “And so we pretty much trashed the Fourth Amendment and now spy on all Americans 24/7. The First Amendment, especially the right to free speech part, that hasn’t held up well, either,” said Obama. “And you have to take your shoes off at the airport but none of us remember why that is anymore.”

    “But Barack, a well-informed citizenry, secure in their persons and papers, who can assemble to speak truth to their government is essential,” Jefferson said. “Actually, that’s kinda the whole thing.”

    “Sure, we have free speech zones at all the big events now, and CNN holds TV townhalls with pre-selected questions. Got that covered. But don’t ask me about due process. I kinda kill American citizens abroad with drones now. Yeah, so there’s that. You know what a mic drop is, Thomas?”

    “OK, OK, I glanced at a newspaper on my way down here, and at least there is some good news. I see that you finally corrected the biggest mistake we made with the Constitution, and got rid of slavery. Indeed, I see now that most Americans are even saying how much Black Lives Matter. That is a very nice sentiment,” Jefferson said.

    “Thomas, maybe you better sit down and I’ll explain…”




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    Burn It All Down

    June 29, 2016 // 10 Comments »

    Reichstag fire

    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.




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