Sunday, June 29, 2014


PNN - &/29/14

Ed Bell                   7:17 - 7:47pm
Lilian Stajbaher    7:48 - 8:18pm 
Jack Seigel            8:19 - 8:55pm

Show for My Father

1. Farmers take their COWS TO TOWN
AFP, June 20, 2014: Angry Japanese farmers say their animals are poisoned by radiation — A cow from Fukushima arrives in front of the agriculture ministry in Tokyo. Farmers delivered the cow to demand the government to study why it and many other cows have developed white dots on their skin after the Fukushima nuclear plant went into meltdown. [...] Fellow Fukushima farmer Naoto Matsumura said: “What if this started happening to people? We have to examine the cause of this and let people know what happened to these animals.” The vast farmland in Fukushima has been contaminated by radioactive materials

EPR, May 14, 2014 (Emphasis Added): Serious and sometimes fatal birth defects are much more prevalent right here than anywhere else in the country. Benton, Franklin and Yakima Counties are being hit the hardest by neural tube defects, from spina bifida to anencephaly [fatal defect where large part of brain/skull is missing]. “it’s scary that the cause of this is such a mystery,” said Candelaria Murillo. […] Rate of babies being born without a brain in our part of the state is eight times the national average.
AP and other media outlets put the figure at “at least four times the national rate”. However, the Yakima Herald reports: “[Officials] issued a news release Jan. 30 announcing that eight cases of anencephaly had occurred in Yakima County in 2012. Typically [they] expect only one all year.”
NBC News, June 17, 2014: Health officials, scientists and other experts gathered to discuss the cause of an alarming local spike in the disorder [...] [Local residents] wanted to know exactly how long the problem had been going on, whether it could be linked to diet, occupation, geography — or the Hanford nuclear plant in nearby Richland. State officials reiterated their previous answers — no, no, no and no [...] “The next step is to interview the mothers and fathers of these babies,” [Allison Ashley-Koch, an anencephaly expert at the Duke University Medical Center for Human Genetics] said. “The challenge at this point is that many of these conceptions happened four years ago. So for parents to try and remember particular eating habits, environmental exposures and such is challenging.” […] “I believe it is an ongoing problem and I believe that the environment might have something to do with it,” Don Dufault said.

CNN, June 1, 2014: Nearly two years after the state of Washington was alerted to a possible cluster of babies born with severe birth defects, experts are speaking out, criticizing the state health department for not doing enough to save babies’ lives. [...] The Washington Department of Health has steadfastly refused to interview the parents of these babies and has failed to accept offers of help from world-renowned anencephaly experts. “It really looks like they’re dragging their feet,” said Richard Finnell, a pediatric geneticist and birth defect expert at the University of Texas. He said that to find the cause of the cluster, state investigators need to speak with the parents of children with birth defects [...] But the state has not contacted these parents. [...] A team of experts [...] offered help to Washington investigators back in February but hasn’t received a response. “We’re frustrated that they’re not moving more quickly to find the cause,” said Janee Gelineau-van Waes [...] an associate professor of pharmacology at the Creighton University School of Medicine [...] “It’s very intrusive to start knocking on doors of people who’ve had a pretty major trauma in their lives,” [state epidemiologist, Juliet VanEenwyk] said. “That’s the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard,” said Billy Petersen, reflecting the viewpoint of several families interviewed by CNN whose children have neural tube defects. “We want to talk to them,” he said. “We’d do anything to help find out why our baby died and help other families. We don’t want anyone else to go through what we’ve been through.”

4. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has built a sizable political profile — by espousing a simple idea: that the system is "rigged" against average Americans.

And you might be surprised who agrees with her: A whole bunch of conservatives.

According to a new Pew survey, 62 percent of Americans think that the economic system unfairly favors the powerful, and 78 percent think that too much power is concentrated in too few companies. The discontent isn't limited to those who share Warren's liberal ideology; 69 percent of young conservative-leaning voters and 48 percent of the most conservative voters agree that the system favors the powerful, according to Pew.

Although Warren seems an outlier in the legislative branch for her fiery discontent with inequality — and the role she says Wall Street plays in exacerbating it — the Pew survey suggests that the vast majority of Americans are at least open to her underlying premise.

Everyone, that is, except business conservatives. This faction has vastly different views of the American economic system than most Americans. Two-thirds of business conservatives think the economic system is fair to most people, and 57 percent think that large companies do not have too much power.

The demographics that bind business conservatives go a long way toward explaining why they diverge on this issue. The business conservatives that Pew surveyed were the most affluent of the seven political types they defined — 45 percent have family incomes above $75,000. Fifty-seven percent of business conservatives say they are interested in business and finance, and 68 percent invest in the stock market. No other type has them beat on these two measures.

Americans' political beliefs are generally grounded in how they see politics interact or interfere with their own lives. We can focus on the diner-embed model of analyzing politics day and night, but for most Americans, gossiping about how a next-door neighbor lost their house or a cousin got a promotion at Goldman Sachs is all they've got. Business conservatives think the economic system is fair; others who aren't as enmeshed in it disagree.

So does conservative discontent with the current economic system mean that the rest of Congress is going to hang Thomas Piketty posters on their office walls and head to Zuccotti Park? (Or vote for Elizabeth Warren?)

Don't count on it. Business conservatives' confidence in the economic system might differ from everyone else, but business conservatives are politically active enough to make a big impression on politicians. Seventy-one percent of the business conservatives surveyed by Pew say they always or nearly always vote in primaries. "Steadfast conservatives" are similarly active too, but they aren't quite as affluent as their conservative counterparts, and they don't donate nearly as much money.

5. TE Lawrence Right Again
What We Can Learn From Lawrence of Arabia (Moyers/Winship)

As fears grow of a widening war across the Middle East, fed by reports that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) envisions a region-wide, all controlling theocracy, we found ourselves talking about another war. The Great War – or World War I, as it would come to be called — was triggered one hundred years ago this month when an assassin shot and killed Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Through a series of tangled alliances and a cascade of misunderstandings and blunders, that single act of violence brought on a bloody catastrophe. More than 37 million people were killed or wounded.

In America, if we reflect on World War I at all, we think mostly about the battlefields and trenches of Europe and tend to forget another front in that war — against the Ottoman Empire of the Turks that dominated the Middle East. A British Army officer named T.E. Lawrence became a hero in the Arab world when he led nomadic Bedouin tribes in battle against Turkish rule. Peter O’Toole immortalized him in the epic movie, “Lawrence of Arabia.”

You may remember the scene when, after dynamiting the Hijaz railway and looting a Turkish supply train, Lawrence is asked by an American reporter, “What, in your opinion, do these people hope to gain from this war?”

“They hope to gain their freedom,” Lawrence replies, and when the journalist scoffs, insists, “They’re going to get it. I’m going to give it to them.”

At war’s end, Lawrence’s vision of Arab independence was shattered when the Versailles peace conference confirmed the carving of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine into British and French spheres of influence; arbitrary boundaries drawn in the sand to satisfy the appetites of empire – Britain’s Foreign Office even called the former Ottoman lands “The Great Loot.”

The hopeful Lawrence drew his own “peace map” of the region, one that paid closer heed to tribal allegiances and rivalries. The map could have saved the world a lot of time, trouble and treasure, one historian said, providing the region “with a far better starting point than the crude imperial carve up.” Lawrence wrote to a British major in Cairo: “I’m afraid you will be delayed a long time, cleaning up all the messes and oddments we have left behind us.”

Since 2003, as the reckless invasion of Iraq unfolded, demand for Lawrence’s book, “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” increased eightfold. It was taught at the Pentagon and Sandhurst — Britain’s West Point — for its insights into fighting war in the Middle East. In 2010, Major Niel Smith, who had served as operations officer for the US Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center, told The Christian Science Monitor, “T.E. Lawrence has in some ways become the patron saint of the US Army advisory effort in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

But then and now, Lawrence’s understanding of the ancient and potent jealousies of the people among whom he had lived and fought generally was ignored. In 1920, he wrote for the Times of London an unsettling and prophetic article about Iraq – then under the thumb of the British. He decried the money spent, the number of troops and loss of life, and warned that his countrymen had been led “into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information…. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It… may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are today not far from a disaster.”

Not for the last time in the Middle East would disaster come from the blundering ignorance and blinding arrogance of foreign intruders convinced by magical thinking of their own omnipotence and righteousness. How soon we forget. How often we repeat.



Using not on terrorists but fishing expeditions across Florida - an if your home town peace officers can't buy it - FDLE will lend it our - they could call it LEND A SPY

7. Surveillance Nation a new ebook by the Nation
Surveillance Nation is an intellectual feast for anyone concerned about the widespread abuses of privacy that Edward Snowden revealed just over a year ago. Among the selections included here: an editorial denouncing the federal government's original authorization of wiretapping, dating back to the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Diana Trilling's review of George Orwell's classic 1984; Fred Cook’s 1958 exposé of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI; Frank Donner's advice for the Church Committee in 1975 (with the evocative title "The Issue, of Course, Is Power"); Herman Schwartz's essay "How Do We Know FISA Is Working?"—from 1983; an astounding history of The Nation as seen through its FBI file; and more recent contributions by Christopher Hitchens, Eric Foner, Patricia Williams, Laura Flanders, Jonathan Schell, Naomi Klein, Chris Hayes and Jaron Lanier.

A year after Snowden's revelations, one thing is clear: to understand how the surveillance state can be dismantled, we must first understand how it came to be constructed. "If we want to preserve the liberties that are the foundation of a healthy democracy," Cole writes, "we must keep our eye on them as they keep their eye on us. No journal has done that job as effectively and consistently and for as long as The Nation."

This is a special pre-publication announcement to our community of readers and supporters: Surveillance Nation is available to you as an e-book or a paperback through eBookNation.

By purchasing this unique history, you will not only learn about The Nation's vital role in investigating and condemning abuses of power in the past… you’ll be ensuring that we can continue to do so in the future.

Join the conversation. Download an e-book or order a paperback today! And thank you.

8. CLG - recording a peaceful protest - becomes a TERRORIST ACT - 
say police in UK
Sheffield reporter threatened with arrest under anti-terrorism laws 24 Jun 2014 A reporter was threatened with arrest under anti-terrorism laws and forced to erase potentially important video evidence after filming a protest in Sheffield. The editor of the Sheffield Star has demanded an explanation as to why his reporter, Alex Evans, was warned off filming a protest against cuts to free travel provision for pensioners and disabled people by British transport police officers on Monday. Evans claims he was ordered to erase footage he'd recorded on his phone because he did not have permission to film on private property [!?!] inside Sheffield station. When he initially resisted the request and continued to film, he says he was told he could be arrested under terror laws.

9. CELLPHONE snooping limits on Police say Supremes 
Supreme Court limits police searches of cellphones 25 Jun 2014 Cellphones and smartphones generally cannot be searched by police without a warrant during arrests, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday in a major victory for privacy rights. Ruling on two cases from California and Massachusetts, the justices acknowledged both a right to privacy and a need to investigate crimes. The judges said police still can examine "the physical aspects of a phone to ensure that it will not be used as a weapon." But once secured, they said, "data on the phone can endanger no one" and the arrested person will not be able to "delete incriminating data." CLG - citizens for legitimate government

10. Like Lyndon said, their just advisors, what could go wrong?
50 caliber advise eh? - CLG
More U.S. forces arrive in Baghdad, two-star general leads effort 26 Jun 2014 Another 50 U.S. special operations forces have arrived in Baghdad under the newly appointed command of a two-star general as the U.S. military steadily ramps up an advisory 'mission' aimed at helping Iraq battle back Sunni militants [to protect oil refineries], the Pentagon said on Thursday. The Pentagon said the first of two planned Joint Operations Centers in Iraq had also become activated, bolstering its ability to oversee U.S. teams and gather information about the situation on the ground, including about Iraq's security forces.

11. DETROITERS - appeal to UN for access to WATER 
that has been denied to them by their representatives 

United Nations experts declared Wednesday that the city of Detroit's shut-off of water to thousands of residents who are unable to pay their bills "constitutes a violation of the human right to water" and may be discriminatory against African-Americans.

“The households which suffered unjustified disconnections must be immediately reconnected,” said UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston, and UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque, in a joint statement issued Wednesday.

“If these water disconnections disproportionately affect African Americans they may be discriminatory, in violation of treaties the U.S. has ratified,” said Farha.

The statement comes in response to last week's plea from concerned organizations for the United Nations to intervene to stop Detroit from denying water to its residents.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has been cutting off water to homes where residents have fallen behind on their water bills, escalating these disconnections in June to 3,000 a week. In a city with a poverty rate near 40 percent, and unemployment far above the national average, nearly half of all residents are behind on their water bills and tens of thousands of households are slated for water disconnection.

Meanwhile, the city is also aggressively hiking water rates, with the city council approving an 8.7 percent increase in water rates last week in addition to climbing prices over the past decade.

The aggressive water shut-offs are "indicative of broader, systematic issues resulting from decades of policies that put profits before people," declared Food and Water Watch, the Blue Planet Project, The Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and The Detroit People’s Water Board in a joint statement released Wednesday.

Many suspect that the drive to shut off water is part of a city plan, backed by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, to privatize the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

The disconnection of water is creating a "major" crisis across the city, warn the groups. “Two-thirds of these shutoffs are occurring in homes with children. In addition to not being able to bathe, prepare food and flush toilets, many are fearful that their children will be taken from them if they report any problems related to their water," reads the joint statement from concerned organizations.

They add, "We are relieved that the United Nations has issued a statement declaring these massive water shutoffs a human rights violation, but now what? Can there be any hope or even an expectation that poor, working families will be allowed to access water without giving up their first born child? Unfortunately, many in Detroit have lost all hope."

12. In Blow to Safe Abortion Access, Supreme Court Rejects 'Buffer Zone'
Justices unanimously side with argument that safe zones around clinics violate protesters' free speech
In a blow to safe access to reproductive health care services, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled (pdf) against a state effort to enforce a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics.
"This decision turns back the clock to the days when women were too intimidated by protestors to seek medical care," said Megan Amundson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. "Women’s health will suffer because of it."
Ruling on McCullen v. Coakley, the justices unanimously sided with plaintiff Eleanor McCullen who argued that the buffer zone established by the Massachusetts Attorney General violates her First Amendment rights.
"Today the Justices made it more difficult for states to protect their citizens," said Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Hogue noted that since 1991, anti-choice activists have committed eight murders and 17 attempted murders.
"The law was supported by public safety officials whose goal is to protect women, doctors, and clinic workers from the relentless harassment and intimidation that they face daily," she added.
The law was implemented in 2007 after reports of intimidation, including pushing and shoving, outside of a Planned Parenthood in Boston.
Following the news, reaction came swiftly online as women's rights advocates decried the court's ruling.
#protecthezone Tweets
As the ruling was handed down, women from across the country on Wednesday are meeting with lawmakers to push for the passage of the Women's Health Protection Act. The bill, which currently has over 150 co-sponsors in the House and Senate, protects women's health and constitutional right to safe abortion access and prohibits states from enacting laws that interfere with clinics' abilities to provide essential, safe reproductive health care.

13. Shredding the Fourth Amendment in Post-Constitutional America
By Peter Van Buren, TomDispatch
ere’s a bit of history from another America: the Bill of Rights was designed to protect the people from their government. 
If the First Amendment’s right to speak out publicly was the people's wall of security, then the Fourth Amendment’s right to privacy was its buttress. It was once thought that the government should neither be able to stop citizens from speaking nor peer into their lives. Think of that as the essence of the Constitutional era that ended when those towers came down on September 11, 2001. Consider how privacy worked before 9/11 and how it works now in Post-Constitutional America.
The Fourth Amendment
A response to British King George’s excessive invasions of privacy in colonial America, the Fourth Amendment pulls no punches: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In Post-Constitutional America, the government might as well have taken scissors to the original copy of the Constitution stored in the National Archives, then crumpled up the Fourth Amendment and tossed it in the garbage can. The NSA revelations of Edward Snowden are, in that sense, not just a shock to the conscience but to the Fourth Amendment itself: our government spies on us. All of us. Without suspicion. Without warrants. Without probable cause. Without restraint. This would qualify as “unreasonable” in our old constitutional world, but no more.
Here, then, are four ways that, in the name of American “security” and according to our government, the Fourth Amendment no longer really applies to our lives.
The Constitutional Borderline

Begin at America's borders. Most people believe they are “in” the United States as soon as they step off an international flight and are thus fully covered by the Bill of Rights. The truth has, in the twenty-first century, become infinitely more complicated as long-standing practices are manipulated to serve the expanding desires of the national security state. The mining of words and concepts for new, darker meanings is a hallmark of how things work in Post-Constitutional America.
Over the years, recognizing that certain situations could render Fourth Amendment requirements impractical or against the public interest, the Supreme Court crafted various exceptions to them. One was the “border search.” The idea was that the United States should be able to protect itself by stopping and examining people entering the country. As a result, routine border searches without warrants are constitutionally “reasonable” simply by virtue of where they take place. It’s a concept with a long history, enumerated by the First Congress in 1789.

Here’s the twist in the present era: the definition of “border” has been changed. Upon arriving in the United States from abroad, you are not legally present in the country until allowed to enter by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials. 

You know, the guys who look into your luggage and stamp your passport. Until that moment, you exist in a legal void where the protections of the Bill of Rights and the laws of the United States do not apply. This concept also predates Post-Constitutional America and the DHS. Remember the sorting process at Ellis Island in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? No lawyers allowed there.

Those modest exceptions were all part of constitutional America. Today, once reasonable searches at the border have morphed into a vast “Constitution-free zone.” The “border” is now a strip of land circling the country and extending 100 miles inland that includes two-thirds of the U.S. population. 

In this vast region, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can set up checkpoints and conduct warrantless searches. At airports, American citizens are now similarly subjected to search and seizure as filmmaker Laura Poitras -- whose work focuses on national security issues in general and Edward Snowden in the particular -- knows firsthand. Since 2006, almost every time Poitras has returned to the U.S., her plane has been met by government agents and her laptop and phone examined.

There are multiple similar high-profile cases (including those of a Wikileaks researcher and a Chelsea Manning supporter), but ordinary citizens are hardly exempt. Despite standing in an American airport, a pane of glass away from loved ones, you are not in the U.S. and have no Fourth Amendment rights. How many such airport searches are conducted in the aggregate is unknown. The best information we have comes from a FOIA request by the ACLU. It revealed that, in the 18-month period beginning in October 2008, more than 6,600 people, about half of them U.S. citizens, were subjected to electronic device searches at the border.

Still, reminding us that it’s possible to have a sense of humor on the road to hell, the CBP offers this undoubtedly inadvertent pun at its website: “It is not the intent of CBP to subject travelers to unwarranted scrutiny.” (emphasis added)

Making It All Constitutional In-House
Here’s another example of how definitions have been readjusted to serve the national security state's overriding needs: the Department of Justice (DOJ) created a Post-Constitutional interpretation of the Fourth Amendment that allows it to access millions of records of Americans using only subpoenas, not search warrants.
Some background: a warrant is court permission to search and seize something. As the Fourth Amendment makes clear, it must be specific: enter Thomas Anderson's home and look for hacked software. Warrants can only be issued on “probable cause.” The Supreme Court defined probable cause as requiring a high standard of proof, or to quote its words, “a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.”

A subpoena on the other hand is nothing more than a government order issued to a citizen or organization to do something, most typically to produce a document. Standards for issuing a subpoena are flexible, as most executive agencies can issue them on their own without interaction with a court. In such cases, there is no independent oversight.

The Department of Justice now claims that, under the Fourth Amendment, it can simply subpoena an Internet company like Facebook and demand that they look for and turn over all the records they have on our Mr. Anderson. Their explanation: the DOJ isn't doing the searching, just demanding that another organization do it. As far as its lawyers are concerned, in such a situation, no warrant is needed. In addition, the Department of Justice believes it has the authority to subpoena multiple records, maybe even all the records Facebook has. Records on you? Some group of people including you? Everyone? We don't know, as sources of data like Facebook and Google are prohibited from disclosing much about the information they hand over to the NSA or other government outfits about you.

It’s easy enough to miss the gravity of this in-house interpretation when it comes to the Fourth Amendment. If the FBI today came to your home and demanded access to your emails, it would require a warrant obtained from a court after a show of probable cause to get them. If, however, the Department of Justice can simply issue a subpoena to Google to the same end, they can potentially vacuum up every Gmail message you’ve ever sent without a warrant and it won’t constitute a “search.” The DOJ has continued this practice even though in 2010 a federal appeals court ruled that bulk warrantless access to email violates the Fourth Amendment. An FBI field manual released under the Freedom of Information Act similarly makes it clear that the Bureau’s agents don’t need warrants to access email in bulk when it’s pulled directly from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, or other service providers.

How far can the use of a subpoena go in bypassing the Fourth Amendment? Recently, the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a subpoena -- no court involved -- demanding that the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) turn over all information it has collected relating to abuses and mismanagement at VA medical facilities. POGO is a private, non-profit group, dedicated to assisting whistleblowers. The VA subpoena demands access to records sent via an encrypted website to POGO under a promise of anonymity, many from current or former VA employees.

Rather than seek to break the encryption surreptitiously and illegally to expose the whistleblowers, the government has taken a simpler, if unconstitutional route, by simply demanding the names and reports. POGO has refused to comply, setting up a legal confrontation. In the meantime, consider it just another sign of the direction the government is heading when it comes to the Fourth Amendment.
Technology and the Fourth Amendment

Some observers suggest that there is little new here. For example, the compiling of information on innocent Americans by J. Edgar Hoover's low-tech FBI back in the 1960s has been well documented. Paper reports on activities, recordings of conversations, and photos of meetings and trysts, all secretly obtained, exposed the lives of civil rights leaders, popular musicians, and antiwar protesters. From 1956 to at least 1971, the government also wiretapped the calls and conversations of Americans under the Bureau’s counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO).
But those who look to such history of government illegality for a strange kind of nothing-new-under-the-sun reassurance have not grasped the impact of fast-developing technology. In scale, scope, and sheer efficiency, the systems now being employed inside the U.S. by the NSA and other intelligence agencies are something quite new and historically significant. Size matters.

To avoid such encroaching digitization would essentially mean withdrawing from society, not exactly an option for most Americans. More of life is now online -- from banking to travel to social media. Where the NSA was once limited to traditional notions of communication -- the written and spoken word -- new possibilities for following you and intruding on your life in myriad ways are being created. The agency can, for instance, now collect images, photos, and video, and subject them to facial recognition technology that can increasingly put a name to a face. Such technology, employed today at casinos as well as in the secret world of the national security state, can pick out a face in a crowd and identify it, taking into account age, changes in facial hair, new glasses, hats, and the like.

An offshoot of facial recognition is the broader category of biometrics, the use of physical and biological traits unique to a person for identification. These can be anything from ordinary fingerprinting to cutting-edge DNA records and iris scans. (Biometrics is already big business and even has its own trade association in Washington.) 

One of the world's largest known collections of biometric data is held by the Department of State. As of December 2009, its Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) contained more than 75 million photographs of Americans and foreigners and is growing at a rate of approximately 35,000 records per day. CCD also collects and stores indefinitely the fingerprints of all foreigners issued visas.

With ever more data available, the NSA and other agencies are creating ever more robust ways to store it. Such storage is cheap and bounteous, with few limits other than the availability of electricity and water to cool the electronics. Emerging tech will surely bypass many of the existing constraints to make holding more data longer even easier and cheaper. The old days of file cabinets, or later, clunky disk drives, are over in an era of mega-data storage warehouses.

The way data is aggregated is also changing fast. Where data was once kept in cabinets in separate offices, later in bureaucratically isolated, agency-by-agency digital islands, post-9/11 sharing mandates coupled with new technology have led to fusion databases. In these, information from such disparate sources as license plate readers, wiretaps, and records of library book choices can be aggregated and easily shared. Basically everything about a person, gathered worldwide by various agencies and means, can now be put into a single “file.”

Once you have the whole haystack, there’s still the problem of how to locate the needle. For this, emerging technologies grow ever more capable of analyzing Big Data. Some simple ones are even available to the public, like IBM's Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness software (NORA). It can, for example, scan multiple databases, geolocation information, and social media friend lists and recognize relationships that may not be obvious at first glance. The software is fast and requires no human intervention. It runs 24/7/365/Forever.

Tools like NORA and its more sophisticated classified cousins are NSA's solution to one of the last hurdles to knowing nearly everything: the need for human analysts to “connect the dots.” Skilled analysts take time to train, are prone to human error, and -- given the quickly expanding supply of data -- will always be in demand. Automated analysis also offers the NSA other advantages. Software doesn't have a conscience and it can't blow the whistle.

What does all this mean in terms of the Fourth Amendment? It’s simple: the technological and human factors that constrained the gathering and processing of data in the past are fast disappearing. Prior to these “advances,” even the most ill-intentioned government urges to intrude on and do away with the privacy of citizens were held in check by the possible. The techno-gloves are now off and the possible is increasingly whatever an official or bureaucrat wants to do. That means violations of the Fourth Amendment are held in check only by the goodwill of the government, which might have qualified as the ultimate nightmare of those who wrote the Constitution.

On this front, however, there are signs of hope that the Supreme Court may return to its check-and-balance role of the Constitutional era. One sign, directly addressing the Fourth Amendment, is this week's unanimous decision that the police cannot search the contents of a cell phone without a warrant. (The court also recently issued a ruling determining that the procedures for challenging one's inclusion on the government’s no-fly list are unconstitutional, another hopeful sign.)

Prior to the cell phone decision, law enforcement held that if someone was arrested for, say, a traffic violation, the police had the right to examine the full contents of his or her cell phone -- call lists, photos, social media, contacts, whatever was on the device. Police traditionally have been able to search physical objects they find on an arrestee without a warrant on the grounds that such searches are for the protection of the officers.

In its new decision, however, the court acknowledged that cell phones represent far more than a "physical object." The information they hold is a portrait of someone's life like what’s in a closet at home or on a computer sitting on your desk. Searches of those locations almost always require a warrant.

Does this matter when talking about the NSA's technological dragnet? Maybe. While the Supreme Court's decision applies directly to street-level law enforcement, it does suggest an evolution within the court, a recognition of the way advances in technology have changed the Fourth Amendment. A cell phone is not an object anymore; it is now recognized as a portal to other information that a person has gathered in one place for convenience with, as of this decision, a reasonable expectation of privacy.

National Security Disclosures Under HIPPA
While the NSA’s electronic basket of violations of the Fourth Amendment were, pre-Snowden, meant to take place in utter secrecy, here’s a violation that sits in broad daylight: since 2002, my doctor can disclose my medical records to the NSA without my permission or knowledge. So can yours.

Congress passed the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) in 1996 “to assure that individuals’ health information is properly protected.” You likely signed a HIPPA agreement at your doctor's office, granting access to your records. However, Congress quietly amended the HIPPA Act in 2002 to permit disclosure of those records for national security purposes. Specifically, the new version of this “privacy law” states: “We may also disclose your PHI [Personal Health Information] to authorized federal officials as necessary for national security and intelligence activities.” The text is embedded deep in your health care provider’s documentation. Look for it.

How does this work? We don’t know. Do the NSA or other agencies have ongoing access to the medical records of all Americans? Do they have to request specific ones? Do doctors have any choice in whose records to forward under what conditions? No one knows. My HMO, after much transferring of my calls, would ultimately only refer me back to the HIPPA text with a promise that they follow the law.

The Snowden revelations are often dismissed by people who wonder what they have to hide. (Who cares if the NSA sees my cute cat videos?) That's why health-care spying stands out. How much more invasive could it be than for your government to have unfettered access to such a potentially personal and private part of your life -- something, by the way, that couldn’t have less to do with American “security” or combating terrorism.

Our health-care providers, in direct confrontation with the Fourth Amendment, are now part of the metastasizing national security state. You’re right to be afraid, but for goodness sake, don't discuss your fears with your doctor.

How the Unreasonable Becomes Reasonable
At this point, when it comes to national security matters, the Fourth Amendment has by any practical definition been done away with as a part of Post-Constitutional America. Whole books have been written just about Edward Snowden and more information about government spying regularly becomes available. We don't lack for examples. Yet as the obviousness of what is being done becomes impossible to ignore and reassurances offered up by the president and others are shown to be lies, the government continues to spin the debate into false discussions about how to “balance” freedom versus security, to raise the specter of another 9/11 if spying is curtailed, and to fall back on that go-to “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” line.
In Post-Constitutional America, the old words that once defined our democracy are twisted in new ways, not discarded. Previously unreasonable searches become reasonable ones under new government interpretations of the Fourth Amendment. Traditional tools of law, like subpoenas and warrants, continue to exist even as they morph into monstrous new forms.

Americans are told (and often believe) that they retain rights they no longer have. Wait for the rhetoric that goes with the celebrations of our freedoms this July 4th. You won’t hear a lot about the NSA then, but you should. In pre-constitutional America the colonists knew that they were under the king's thumb. In totalitarian states of the last century like the Soviet Union, people dealt with their lack of rights and privacy with grim humor and subtle protest. However, in America, ever exceptional, citizens passively watch their rights disappear in the service of dark 

Sunday, June 22, 2014


PNN 6/22/14

RWS……..…………………….  7:01pm
Jeanne Economos…..   7:16pm
Dale Slongwhite
Kip Rafferty……………      7:48 Jobs for Justice
Emine Dilek …………..      7:52pm
Gwen Holden Barry     8:30pm

0. Kit Rafferty, Executive Director, South Florida Voices for Working Families
Our facebook page is South Florida Voices for Working Families - the event is posted and they can message us.

Jeannie Economos -
As a follow up to the talk today, attached is a Get Involved page that gives people various ways they can support the better protections for farmworkers from pesticide exposure by making their voices heard to the EPA.  Also, here is the link directly to the EPA web page for the proposed new regulations for the Worker Protection Standard.

Also, folks can google "The Dirty Dozen: The Clean 15" to learn about the fruits and veggies with the most and least pesticide content.

1. Net Neutrality Will Require Us to Shine the Light on Internet Providers

A neutral Internet—one where Internet service providers (ISPs) can’t unfairly limit our access to parts of the Net, create special fast lanes for some services, or otherwise handle data in non-neutral ways—will require more than just rules that prohibit bad conduct. We’re also going to need real transparency.
Transparency is the crucial first step toward meaningful network neutrality. Without a detailed and substantive window into how providers are managing their networks, users will be unable to determine the reason why some webpages are slow to load. New services that hope to reach those users will have a harder time figuring out if there is some artificial barrier in place, and competitors won’t know whether and how they can offer better options (assuming some kind of competitive environment exists).
Fortunately, the FCC realizes how important transparency will be in ensuring a neutral Net. A key section of the network neutrality proposal released by the FCC last month asks for comments on how the agency should require Internet providers to disclose how they manage traffic over their networks. Here are some initial thoughts

2. OPEN HEARING  (so sue me?)
WHY WASN'T THE MEETING OPEN TO THE PUBLIC? This is what I wrote yesterday to the press...Just heard from a credible source that Herschel Vinyard, head of the DEP, is in Naples having private talks with each of the Commissioners late into the night. The whole point of filing a petition was to have government transparency and full disclosure in a public forum rather than secret talks. The County lawyer told the Commissioners that once they filed their petition that there could be no more discussion. Private talks could very well undermine the hearings and unduly influence what the Commissioners finally settle on as an acceptable resolution. The sun for shame, will not shine today.
Please confirm. Is Herschel Vinyard in town talking to the Commissioners? And if so, where and when?
Article posted here: State DEP head meets with Collier Commission chair, promises transparency on Immokalee oil well
Herschel Vinyard, the head of the state Department of Environmental Protection, traveled Monday night to Collier County, promising greater transparency and an open dialogue to address local concerns about issues at an oil well near Immokalee.
Vinyard met with Tom Henning, chairman of the Collier County Board of Commissioners, in a late meeting that was not open to the public.
“We want to find out how we can help folks in Collier County,” Vinyard said. “Our objective is to listen and develop partnerships. We want to be as transparent as humanely possible.”
The visit comes days after Henning and Collier commissioners rejected an invitation to meet with DEP officials in Tallahassee, and instead filed a legal challenge to the state’s consent order with the Dan A Hughes co., a Texas-based oil company that was caught using a drilling procedure without permission at a well south of Lake Trafford. The technique had never before been used in Florida and raised concern among state regulators about potential groundwater contamination and environmental damage.
In the days since the county filed its challenge late last week, the DEP has promised to provide additional tests for groundwater contamination at the oil well and, pending permission of the owners, on properties next to the site.
The state department had previously warned county officials that their challenge would delay essential groundwater testing until the legal process was resolved.
Vinyard said Monday that the tests will go forward as soon as possible.
“We’re not going to let any litigation hold us up from protecting the environment,” he said.

Herschel Vinyard, the head of the state Department of Environmental Protection, traveled Monday night to Collier County, promising greater transparency and an open dialogue to address local concerns about issues at an oil well near Immokalee.
Vinyard met with Tom Henning, chairman of the Collier County Board of Commissioners, in a late meeting that was not open to the public.
“We want to find out how we can help folks in Collier County,” Vinyard said. “Our objective is to listen and develop partnerships. We want to be as transparent as humanely possible.”
The visit comes days after Henning and Collier commissioners rejected an invitation to meet with DEP officials in Tallahassee, and instead filed a legal challenge to the state’s consent order with the Dan A Hughes co., a Texas-based oil company that was caught using a drilling procedure without permission at a well south of Lake Trafford. The technique had never before been used in Florida and raised concern among state regulators about potential groundwater contamination and environmental damage.
In the days since the county filed its challenge late last week, the DEP has promised to provide additional tests for groundwater contamination at the oil well and, pending permission of the owners, on properties next to the site.
The state department had previously warned county officials that their challenge would delay essential groundwater testing until the legal process was resolved.
Vinyard said Monday that the tests will go forward as soon as possible.
“We’re not going to let any litigation hold us up from protecting the environment,” he said.

3. IMMUNITY from War Crimes
The Department of Justice has filed a Grant of Immunity for war crimes against George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld. The filing for the immunity of war crimes was made with the United States District Court, Northern District of California San Francisco Division.
The filing is for procedural immunity in a case alleging that they planned and waged the Iraq War in violation of international law.
The Plaintiff in this case is Sundus Shaker Saleh, an Iraqi single mother and refugee now living in Jordan. She filed a complaint in March 2013 in a San Francisco federal court alleging that the planning and waging of the war constituted a “crime of aggression” against Iraq, a legal theory that was used by the Nuremberg Tribunal to convict Nazi war criminals
In her lawsuit, Saleh alleges that:
  • Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz began planning the Iraq War in 1998 through their involvement with the “Project for the New American Century,” a Washington DC non-profit that advocated for the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
  • Once they came to power, Saleh alleges that Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz convinced other Bush officials to invade Iraq by using 9/11 as an excuse to mislead and scare the American public into supporting a war.
  • Finally, she claims that the United States failed to obtain United Nations approval prior to the invasion, rendering the invasion illegal and an act of impermissible aggression.
“The DOJ claims that in planning and waging the Iraq War, ex-President Bush and key members of his Administration were acting within the legitimate scope of their employment and are thus immune from suit,” chief counsel Inder Comar of Comar Law said.
The “Westfall Act certification,” submitted pursuant to the Westfall Act of 1988, permits the Attorney General, at his or her discretion, to substitute the United States as the defendant and essentially grant absolute immunity to government employees for actions taken within the scope of their employment.
“The good news is that while we were disappointed with the certification, we were prepared for it,” Comar stated. “We do not see how a Westfall Act certification is appropriate given that Ms. Saleh alleges that the conduct at issue began prior to these defendants even entering into office. I think the Nuremberg prosecutors, particularly American Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson, would be surprised to learn that planning a war of aggression at a private non-profit, misleading a fearful public, and foregoing proper legal authorization somehow constitute lawful employment duties for the American president and his or her cabinet.”
The case is Saleh v. Bush (N.D. Cal. Mar. 13, 2013, No. C 13 1124 JST).

4. They caught their TITSA(s) in a Leak
Another secret trade deal has leaked to WikiLeaks and it looks as if it is one more effort to lock into law the interests of certain already-huge corporations above the interests of governments, their citizens and potentially competing businesses.
As with leaks from the secret Tran-Pacific Partnership negotiations, this leak shows that the largest corporations are working to bypass recent efforts by governments to rein them in by pushing through "trade" agreements that override their ability to write their own laws and regulations.
This time the leak is the "Financial Services Annex" of the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). It shows that the TISA negotiations are an effort to not only undo the minimal regulation of Wall Street that occurred after the financial crash, but to further deregulate financial markets worldwide. As WikiLeaks words it...
"Despite the failures in financial regulation evident during the 2007-2008 Global Financial Crisis and calls for improvement of relevant regulatory structures, proponents of TISA aim to further deregulate global financial services markets."
TISA is a huge "trade" agreement that covers the services sector, which includes audiovisual; finance; insurance; energy services; transportation, logistics, and express delivery services; information technology services; and telecommunications. TISA currently has 50 countries participating in the negotiations: Australia, Canada, Chile, Taiwan, Colombia, Costa Rica, European Union, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United States. (European Union includes: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and United Kingdom.)
Jane Kelsey, Law Professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, has provided a preliminary analysis of the draft. In Memorandum on Leaked TISA Financial Services Text, Kelsey writes that the secrecy "runs counter to moves in the WTO [World Trade Organization] towards greater openness," that the agreement appears to be "a new template for future free trade agreements and ultimately for the WTO" and that participating governments "will: be expected to lock in and extend their current levels of financial deregulation and liberalisation; lose the right to require data to be held onshore; face pressure to authorise potentially toxic insurance products; and risk a legal challenge if they adopt measures to prevent or respond to another crisis."
Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch put out this statement on the leak:
"If the text that was leaked today went into force, it would roll back the improvements made after the global financial crisis to safeguard consumers and financial stability and cement us into the extreme deregulatory model of the 1990s that led to the crisis in the first place and the billions in losses to consumers and governments.
"This is a text that big banks and financial speculators may love but that could do real damage to the rest of us. It includes a provision that is literally called 'standstill' that would forbid countries from improving financial regulation and would lock them into whatever policies they had on the books in the past."
This is one more leak showing that the giant corporations and the billionaires behind them consider themselves powerful enough to just ignore governments, and are negotiating among themselves the rules for world corporate domination in the 21st century.

1a CCR stands against further military action in Iraq, 
in solidarity with our partners and allies in Iraq and the U.S.
Call the White House today, at (202) 456-1111, and tell the Obama administration to resist calls for military intervention and focus on diplomacy.
Yesterday CCR released the statement below and, along with our partners in the Right to Heal Initiative, sent a letter to the State Department.
The two catastrophic decades of U.S. military action in Iraq should put to rest any delusion that further U.S. military involvement of any kind can foster a lasting resolution to the current crisis. Any plan for security and reconciliation in Iraq must begin by bolstering the voices of the millions of Iraqi civilians who have been caught between brutal abuses by ISIS and other fundamentalist forces and the U.S.-backed government alike.
A strong civil society exists in Iraq despite enormous odds, and there is sustained opposition to the sectarian political system at the heart of this crisis and formally entrenched under the U.S. occupation. With the support of the U.S. government, Prime Minister Maliki further institutionalized violent discrimination and escalated sectarianism. Heeding calls for U.S. military action does not address the underlying political problem, but it could bring further disaster for civilians already reeling from the devastating effects of his policies and the decade-long U.S. military intervention and occupation.
The U.S. should be making reparations to rebuild the country and address the health and environmental crisis and decimation of Iraq’s infrastructure brought on by the previous administration’s illegal war. The U.S. government, which has been bombing Iraq since 1991, is in no small part responsible for what is happening today.  Further violence against the Iraqi people would be just as illegal and just as devastating, whether it involved airstrikes, the deployment of troops, or the expansion of an unlawful drone killing program.

U.S. military drones have malfunctioned in myriad ways over the past decade, plummeting from the sky because of mechanical breakdowns, human error, bad weather and other reasons, according to a yearlong Washington Post investigation. 

Documents obtained by The Post detail scores of previously unreported crashes involving remotely controlled aircraft, challenging the federal government’s assurances that drones will be able to fly safely over populated areas and in the same airspace as passenger planes

3a. Study finds oil from BP spill impedes fish’s swimming. A new study has found that oil from the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico is impairing swimming in one of the ocean’s fastest fish: mahi-mahi. Miami Herald, Florida

The next breadbasket. Within a few minutes the one-acre plot in Mozambique, which had fed Flora Chirime and her five children, was consumed by a Chinese corporation building a 50,000-acre farm. Chirime’s situation is hardly unique. She’s one character in the biggest story in global agriculture: the unlikely quest to turn sub-Saharan Africa into a major new breadbasket for the world. National Geographic Magazine

7,500 gallons of oil spills in Colorado river. A storage tank damaged by floodwaters dumped 7,500 gallons of crude oil into the Poudre River near Windsor in northern Colorado, slickening vegetation a quarter-mile downstream, but apparently not affecting any drinking water, state officials said Friday. Associated Press

White House task force charged with saving bees from mysterious decline. Barack Obama is taking steps save honey bees from a mysterious die-off, ordering new research into the pesticides linked to the pollinators' collapse. The Guardian

Surprise: Drought may have helped Marin's young coho. A record number of Marin's young coho salmon are making their way out to sea and it may be the winter drought that helped boost the numbers, according to biologists. Marin Independent Journal, California

Runway plan may displace dolphins but they'll be back. The loss of marine habitat to a new airport runway will probably displace the population of Chinese white dolphins from north Lantau - but they will come back eventually, airport officials and their consultants say. South China Morning Post, China

Nicaragua’s Mayagna people and their rainforest could vanish. More than 30,000 members of the Mayagna indigenous community are in danger of disappearing, along with the rainforest which is their home in Nicaragua, if the state fails to take immediate action to curb the destruction of the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, the third-largest in the world. Tierramerica, Latin America

Economy trumps environment for India's rivers. Polluted rivers in India pose a major threat to agriculture and public health but there are few signs that costly efforts to tackle the problem are making headway. In New Delhi, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent since the 1990s to clean up the Yamuna river - but with little positive impact. Al Jazeera America

Curbing carbon could help improve air quality. The EPA's proposed CO2 regulations, designed to start a battle against the consequences of global warming, will produce a co-benefit, say researchers: Millions of people could breathe easier, especially those who live in the Ohio River Valley, where coal has long been king. Louisville Courier-Journal, Kentucky

Water war bubbling up between California and Arizona. The next water war between California and Arizona is coming soon. The issue still is the Colorado River. Overconsumption and climate change have placed the river in long-term decline. It's never provided the bounty that was expected – and the shortfall is growing. Los Angeles Times

Oklahoma fights EPA publicly, reduces emissions privately. While Oklahoma politicians denounce climate change mitigation efforts in public, the state has been quietly expanding its renewable energy portfolio and bringing down carbon emissions on its own initiative. MSNBC
Water Pressure: West Virginia, North Carolina vary in responses to river contamination. Another chemical spill. This phrase is becoming familiar for officials with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and residents living in the Kanawha Valley. But how does the state's response differ from that of North Carolina? Charleston WOWK TV, West Virginia
Japanese satellites enter orbit to monitor Fukushima, Chernobyl. A pair of small Japanese satellites for monitoring environmental changes around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and capturing images of areas around the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine were placed in orbit shortly after they were launched Thursday night from a Russian base. Kyodo News, Japan
Shell faces payouts in Nigerian oil spill case. The first judgment in what lawyers have said could be one of the world's largest ever environmental trials has ruled that Shell may have to compensate some communities for oil spills from their pipelines caused by criminals in the heavily polluted Niger delta. The Guardian
Gabes: Industrial pollution choking the region. In addition to a great variety of natural landscapes and an abundance of marine life, the city of Gabes also contains the largest industrial zone in the country. However, these factories add little to the local economy, and, in the process, cause great damage to the environment. Tunisia Live, Africa

TOKYO (AP) — Two Japanese farmers whose livelihoods were wrecked by the 2011 nuclear disaster staged a protest Friday at Tokyo's agriculture ministry, scuffling briefly with police as they unsuccessfully tried to unload a bull from a truck.
Masami Yoshizawa and fellow farmer Naoto Matsumura have remained at their farms to care for their own and others' abandoned livestock in areas where access has been restricted due to radiation fears since the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.
The two drove down from Fukushima, bringing the black bull in the back of a truck, to appeal for help with the livestock, some of which have developed unexplained white spots on their hides.
"Stop, stop, stop, stop," shouted a policeman in a blue uniform who climbed into the back of the truck and blocked the farmers from leading the bull onto the pavement in front of the ministry. "It's dangerous. Absolutely not!"

5. Silent Coup: How Enbridge is Quietly Cloning the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline   - -     Steve Horn DeSmog Blog
While the debate over the TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has raged on for over half a decade, pipeline giant Enbridge has quietly cloned its own Keystone XL in the U.S and Canada. 
It comes in the form of the combination of Enbridge's Alberta Clipper (Line 67), Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines.
The pipeline system does what Keystone XL and the Keystone Pipeline System at large is designed to do: ship hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of Alberta's tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) to both Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, and the global export market.
Alberta Clipper and Line 67 expansion
Alberta Clipper was approved by President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department (legally required because it is a border-crossing pipeline like Keystone XL) in August 2009 during congressional recess. Clipper runs from Alberta to Superior, Wis.

By: Anti-Capitalist Meetup Sunday June 22, 2014 5:20 pm

Major General Smedley D. Butler warned us “War Is a Racket”
By Justina, Anti-Capitalist Meetup

In 1935, US General Smedley Butler detailed in his “War is a Racket” the World War I racket he had served. It is now much, much worse.
Vice-President Richard Cheney and his fellow Neo-Cons originally lit the barn fires with their factually unjustified invasion of Iraq in 2003. Bush-Cheney then torched the secular, but Sunni sect based, ruling Baathist Party and applauded the decapitation of its brutal, but anti-al Qaeda leader, Saddam Hussein. (Saddam himself had originally been put in place by the US CIA in a coup, but thereafter fell out of favor with the US government because he dared to assert exclusive control of Iraq’s oil industry.)
Up to his ouster, Saddam had successfully kept the radical jihadists out of Iraq, which even the US intelligence agencies have admitted:
There was no al Qaeda-Iraq connection until the war; our invasion made it so. We have known this for nearly a decade, well before the murderous ISIS even appeared. In a September 2006 New York Times article headlined “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat,” reporter Mark Mazetti informed readers of a classified National Intelligence Estimate representing the consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” the analysis cited the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology: “The Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,’ said one American intelligence official.”

Now jihadis even more extreme than Al Qaeda, the ISIS, are an hour outside of Baghdad, threatening the capitol city and its Shia sect residents. Its Sunni sect population, a minority in Baghdad, is seemingly terrified of the reaction of the Shiite majority as well as the blatantly brutal, although Sunni ISIS. Likely everyone there is arming. (The NRA must be delighted.)
Upon dissolving Saddam’s army, the US then paid its private defense industry contractors billions to build a new Iraqi army in addition to building all the infra-structures for the US’s own army in Iraq, along with providing both all their attendant services. (Chaney’s Halliburton company did very, very well.)
But we went into Iraq to stop its “weapons of mass destruction” build-up (of which they had none) and end its supposed connection to Al Qaeda (which didn’t exist), right?
The oil and military industries, having lost their main justification for charging US tax payers for armaments and related oil profits with the dissolution of the USSR , then turned for solace to the independently bellicose neoconservatives within the Bush-Cheney administration, s to sever its connection with al Qaeda terrorists (which did not exist) cheer-leading for their disastrous (for human beings) invasion of Iraq. After all, Iraq had the oil that their industries coveted.
(Did Cheney and the other oil and armaments profiteers have the malevolent foresight to see that the invasion of Iraq could set the stage for continuing war among the mid-east’s religious and political sectarians for their further enrichment in the endless future? Or was that merely a lucky coincidence?)
Idle Hands Holding Guns and Bombs.
The disbanded Sunni military members left their jobs taking their arms, ammunition and bomb-building skills with them. A portion of these now unemployed Sunnis, put their skills to work blowing up Iraqi civilians in market places in Shiite neighborhoods as well as US soldiers in their multiple new and expensively constructed bases for the next few years.
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Notes on the New Populism
By: David Seaton Sunday June 22, 2014 4:00 pm

Classic left wing parties are missing the boat today, almost to the point of irrelevance, because the traditional “working class”, which was their power base, has been largely fragmented and is now practically powerless as the enormous “reserve army of labor” that globalization provides means that the worker´s principal weapon, withdrawing their labor, is no longer effective, increasingly even in skilled or jobs requiring higher education: if an American legal assistant is expensive, get an Indian lawyer in India to do the paperwork at a tenth the price per hour. But this has a certain “death spiral” effect.
The “killer contradiction” today is that while workers are no long needed more and more consumers are. Globalization has also brought on overproduction, a glut of consumer goods flood the markets.
How are unemployed or underemployed formerly middle class people, brought up on the idea of their right, even duty to consume, consume? Credit? Been there, done that.
So the real “revolutionary protagonist” today is the enormous, but increasingly declassé and naturally resentful middle class that was created before globalization. Some sort of populism, “us against the one-percent” is the only possible progressive game in town now. 
The challenge is to keep this populism international, progressive and not nationalistic-racist, reactionary etc. 
That is why Thomas Piketty work, “Capital in the Twentyfirst-Century” is a great help, especially among statistic loving Americans, in building objective political consciousness in the middle class for this struggle, which is really just beginning.

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes
By: Juan Cole Sunday June 22, 2014 1:59 pm
Welcome Anand Gopal ( (Twitter) and Host Juan Cole (Informed Comment blog - (Twitter)
No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes
Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living is a deconstruction of the American “War on Terror” as it pertained to Afghanistan. It is an argument that the US military allowed itself to fall into chasing phantoms, put up to search and destroy missions by tribal allies mainly interested in using the Americans to settle feuds and deflect rivals. They got drawn into what anthropologists call the segmentary lineage political system of rural Afghanistan.

In short, as Gopal tells the story, there was no Taliban activity in Afghanistan to speak of by 2002, but the US military machine required an enemy, and its clients among the men on the make in Karzai’s Afghanistan were glad to supply alleged Taliban (sometimes even tagging as such men who had spent a decade fighting the puritanical seminarians). In the course of these betrayals and injustices, the US managed actually to create a growing Taliban resistance to its presence in the country. The book is a 21st century Catch-22, and as with the original, is leavened by episodes of dark humor and profound irony.
Gopal’s vehicle for this canny take-down of America’s master narrative during the past decade is the stories of Afghans who lived through America’s longest war, in Pashtun provinces such as Uruzgan, Helmand and Wardak. We have heard more about Kabul and some of the Dari Persian-speaking areas (which are safer) than we have about these towns and villages.

He is alive to the fluidity of politics and even religion in village Afghanistan. One of his characters, Musqinyar, begins as a Communist and ends up turning to religion, but is assassinated by a pro-American police chief for protesting corruption. His widow seeks refuge with American troops, but knows they won’t accept that their own ally is lawless so she tells them the Taliban killed her husband. At that time in that place, there probably were no Taliban, but the US troops were sent in to arrest the men of entire villages on bad intelligence from self-interested supposed allies. Some chieftains were summarily shipped off to Guantanamo where JAG staff were puzzled as to why they had been arrested in the first place. Sometimes people were picked up by US troops for having a name similar to a prominent member of the Taliban and some of those ended up in Guantanamo. Afghans often have no formal papers like birth certificates and go by a single name, multiplying the possibility of such errors. The unfolding story is a comedy of tragedies.
One of Gopal’s major characters, Akbar Gul, begins as a member of the Taliban, then leaves the movement after 2001 and becomes a guest worker in Pakistan and Iran, then returns when President Hamid Karzai offered amnesty. He builds a new life as a cell phone repairman in his town in Wardak, but police shakedowns and corruption cause him to help begin a new insurgency in 2008. He discovers that he is ultimately actually acting for the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, which used the neo-Taliban to gain a foothold in Afghanistan just as they had used the “old Taliban” of Mullah Omar.

Gopal conducted lengthy interviews with his subjects over the years, getting them to tell him the details of their lives. Most of them end up politically compromised or dead. It is a riveting set of stories, but dark.

The corruption of the new order erected by the Americans affects the lives of all Gopal’s interviewees. Even the more appealing characters often are drawn into it. The US pumped billions into the fourth-poorest country on earth. Most of it went to military and security operations, but it often was captured by rural security entrepreneurs promising intelligence on “Taliban” or pledging to keep provinces safe, or undertaking phony infrastructure and development projects. Gopal speaks of ghost schools dotting the rural landscape, reported by the government and US spokesmen as populated by millions of students who were actually probably tilling fields, or if girls, secluded until married off early.
The US mistakes included the old one from Vietnam days of search and destroy missions that turned the population against US troops. The American authorities also acted unfairly, stigmatizing members of the Taliban who had committed atrocities but exonerating the old Mujahidin warlords. (Mass murderers sat in parliament or ran for high office, if their worst deeds occurred before 1996). In fact, many “Taliban” had been Mujahidin. Lacking good language and cultural knowledge, the US military often could not make the fine distinctions necessary to enact a less invidious set of policies.
The US-backing for corrupt local leaders who were little more than bosses of organized crime (crime in which the police were often implicated) made Americans increasingly unpopular. Entire provinces, like Wardak, went into rebellion and rejected being constantly mulcted. American allies treated the odd US insistence on holding frequent elections with contempt and resorted to ballot stuffing. As Obama began winding down the war, the insurgency was stronger than ever. But perhaps it was not, on Gopal’s telling, an ideological insurgency but a form of popular protest or a rejection of the dominance of one lineage over another.
NATO officials explained the relative calm in the provinces of the north by the lack of US troops and the inability of feuding clans to deploy them against one another. If this explanation is true, it could well be that the US departure in late 2016 will not kick off a revolution so much as finally allow things to settle down among jockeying clans who will no longer have high-tech Gurkhas at their beck and call.


Sunday, June 08, 2014

PNN 6-8-14 - The Jazz Kings

PNN - 6/8/14

RWS               7:01pm 


1. Another Reason to Rein in Big Banks: Student Loan Shenanigans
High interest rates and more than $1.2 trillion of student loan debt are not the only challenges facing the 40 million Americans with student loans. Student borrowers face intense hardships caused by the deceptive practices of loan providers and servicers, and those problems came under the scrutiny Wednesday of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protections.
Currently, student borrowers are automatically assigned to one of more than 50 loan providers or servicers, including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citibank. Because the federal contracts with these providers are up for renewal this summer, the Senate is investigating the scope and implications of the more than 2,300 complaints of loan providers and servicers compiled by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The grievances include crucial information not being available, changes in loan terms without consent and without apparent reason, and blatant lying by loan providers and servicers.
In his opening statements, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said he was concerned that “student loan servicers care more about maximizing profits than customer service.”

These companies’ actions prove his point.
Robert Geremia, a teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., still has outstanding student loans several years out of college. He said that he never received enough information about the long-term consequences of his loan before he signed for it. Because of this, he will pay over $10,000 in interest and fees.

There are no industry standards that dictate how much information these companies must provide to the borrower. Nor is there an agency solely dedicated to regulating these loan providers and servicers. Although the CFPB recently vowed to supervise the actions of the seven largest student loan providers and servicers, including Sallie Mae and Nelnet, most student loan companies are left unregulated. As a result, many student borrowers are wrongfully charged fees or left in default because of loan provider and servicer actions.

Even if student borrowers realize that something is amiss with their loan or loan provider, they have nowhere to turn and no one to advocate for them. Nancy Hoover, Director of Financial Aid at Denison University, said that graduates are increasingly seeking the help of their alma mater’s financial aid office, a department typically ill-equipped to handle their cases.
While the entire panel agreed that the degree of outstanding student loan debt is a detriment to the economy, Lindsey Burke of the conservative Heritage Foundation offered suggestions that would only compound the problem, including reducing the amount of federal Pell Grants available to students. When asked by Sen. Brown if she believed the loan provider and servicer industry should be regulated, she simply responded “no.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other Democrats disagree. Since last summer, Sen. Warren has been leading the charge on student loan reform. During the hearing she passionately reaffirmed her position that loan providers and servicers “must follow the law and not take advantage of people.”
Sometime this week, Senate Democrats are expected to propose a bill that would allow student borrowers to refinance their loans to lower, fixed interest rates. This would certainly help student borrowers, but it will not completely ameliorate the serious burdens that they face. Loan providers and servicers must be held accountable when they trick, cheat, lie or withhold information, or else their deceitful tactics will continue, and students will pay the price.

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2. Judge: NSA can keep deleting data it was ordered to retain

A federal judge in California withdrew a temporary order requiring the National Security Agency to retain the data it collects under a controversial and little understood section of the FISA Amendments Act after the NSA argued that being forced to hold onto the data would both be illegal and overwhelm its computer systems, rendering the United States and its allies vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
The decision, by District Court Judge Jeffrey White in Oakland, came as part of a long-running lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of AT&T customers who allege that their communications have been intercepted in bulk by the NSA, violating the First and Fourth amendments.
White’s Friday decision came at an emergency hearing called by the judge after EFF attorney Cindy Cohn said that recent emails she had exchanged with the government’s lawyer indicated that the government was discarding surveillance data it collects under Section 720 of the FISA Amendments Act, which Cohn argued was in violation of an order White made in March ordering the NSA to retain it.
At the heart of the dispute between the EFF and the government are two legal authorities central to the kind of NSA surveillance exposed in detail by former contractor Edward Snowden.
Unlike information the NSA collects under Section 215 of the FISA Amendments Act, which is commonly understood as the authority by which the NSA gathers US telephone “metadata” in bulk from major communications companies, Section 702 provides the attorney general and director of national intelligence authority to target non-Americans and access the content of their communications - everything from their Facebook messages to their web browsing history. Some US lawmakers have said that the NSA uses Section 702 as a “back door” to spy, without a warrant, on Americans’ communications that might be somehow connected to a foreign “target.”

Retaining data collected under Section 702, which is routinely deleted by hand or by computer programs in accordance with “minimization procedures,” could overwhelm the NSA’s computers, its lawyers and staff claimed in court filings on Friday before White made his decision.

“Any attempt at an immediate solution would unleash a series of consequences that the U.S. government cannot predict,” NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett said in a written declaration, claiming that White’s order to retain all information collected under Section 702 would be not only technically impossible but also illegal because it would violate minimization procedures. Those procedures are approved by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, though the individual orders tasking the NSA to spy on foreign targets are not.
According to Ledgett, the NSA maintains Section 215 telephone metadata on “a discrete computer systems architecture,” while Section 720 data resides “within multiple databases contained on multiple systems … constructed over many years at a considerable cost.” One consequence, tweeted the Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez, is that such an arrangement could make oversight and security more difficult.

At any rate, Ledgett argued, making the technical changes that would satisfy White’s order would normally take months of planning, and implementing them immediately could require suspending all foreign spying under Section 720, which he called the NSA’s “most significant tool” for disrupting terrorist attacks.
“Processing of communications indicating a potential attack could be delayed to the point where the attack has already occurred before the communication can be identified, analyzed, and disseminated,” he said. “As a result, analysts will be prevented from accessing needed data placing national security at risk.”
According to EFF lawyers, White withdrew his temporary order requiring the NSA to retain Section 702 data but will allow the two sides to argue the issue before making a final decision. But for now, at least, the NSA’s spying has been deemed too big to fail.

3. Louisiana Gov. signs bill killing lawsuits against oil and gas companies

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has flouted the advice of his own attorney general and scores of legal scholars by signing a bill which blocks a levee board’s lawsuit against oil and gas companies, who are accused of destroying the state’s coast.

"This bill will help stop frivolous lawsuits and create a more fair and predictable legal environment, and I am proud to sign it into law," Jindal said in a written statement Friday.

The law, SB 469, has thwarted a levee district in New Orleans’ East Bank – the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) – from pushing forward with a lawsuit introduced last July against 97 oil and gas companies for damage done to the state’s wetlands. According to the suit, the firms exposed New Orleans to catastrophic damage from hurricanes Rita and Katrina by dredging and cutting thousands of miles of pipes and canals through barrier islands and wetlands which, left intact, would have protected the coastal city, The Times-Picayune Newspaper reports.

“We are looking to the industry to fix the part of the problem that they created,” SLFPA-E vice president John Barry told the tri-weekly last year. “We’re not asking them to fix everything. We only want them to address the part of the problem that they created.”
Local republicans and energy heavyweights, however, viewed the lawsuit as frivolous and “illegal.”

"This bill keeps a rogue agency from misrepresenting this State and trying to raise money through illegal actions," said Senators Robert Adley and Bret Allain, who sponsored the legislation Jindal approved this week.
Adley, who has owned Pelican Gas Management Co. since 1993, was president of ABCO Petroleum from 1972 to 1993, is affiliated with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and has been the recipient of an estimated $597,950 in campaign contributions from companies, political action committees and individuals affiliated with, or controlled by, oil and gas interests, was incredulous at claims the industry had harmed the state.

"I think it's absurd to say that the oil and gas industry has damaged the coast," Republican Adley said. "They did what they were told to do, and a lot of what they have done has helped us, not hurt us."

Jindal himself is no stranger to oil and gas money, having received at least $545,000 in industry contributions “and most probably more,” according to the Louisiana Voice. Last year, environmental groups claimed that figure was nearly twice as high, saying oil and gas companies had donated $1,019,777 to his campaigns between 2003 and 2013.

Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, called the move a “huge victory for the oil and gas industry,” according to a statement released by the governor’s office.

Louisiana in deep waters

The victory for the oil and gas industry could be much more far-reaching in the years ahead. Critics fear the slipshod language in SB 469 will not only kill the flood authority’s lawsuit, but potentially scuttle other attempts to litigate against the energy industry.

Topping that list are government claims against BP, whose Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, killing 11 people and spilling 210 million gallons of oil in the worst marine oil spill in history.
On Tuesday, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell wrote Jindal imploring him to veto the measure, saying the “very broad and all-encompassing language” of the bill “may have other potential serious unintended consequences."

“No one can currently quantify or identify all of the causes of action which will be swept away if this bill becomes law,” the letter warns.
“In the coming years perhaps the proponents of the bill can tailor legislation more narrowly drawn which does not portend such a broad and vague attack on the abilities of the State, and most importantly, local governmental entities to protect their citizens.”

Seventy-nine law school professors also warned bill could interfere with state and local government claims against BP.
A seven-page legal assessment of the legislation cautioning Jindal not to sign SB 469 because it could have “adverse consequences” was compiled by Loyola Law School Robert Verchick and received the endorsement of legal scholars from California to Maryland, The Times (Shreveport) reported.
Steve Murchie, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network, said: “This legislation is governance at its worst: poorly written, for the worst of reasons, with no public benefit, and having potentially staggering unintended consequences. Governor Jindal, in his zeal to please the oil and gas industry and further his political ambitions, has abandoned the hundreds of thousands of Louisianans facing another hurricane season with inadequate storm protection and a disappearing coast.”

But Jindal’s executive counsel, Thomas Enright, said their arguments did not hold water.

“We are satisfied that the concerns expressed by your office are the same as those offered by the opponents of the bill during the session and that those concerns were properly considered and publicly debated at length,” he said.

4. Facebook Caves to Pakistani Government Censorship of Left-Wing Websites

LONDON — Facebook said on Friday that it had blocked users in Pakistan from access to the pages of a popular Pakistani rock band and several left-wing political pages, drawing sharp criticism from free-speech activists who accused the American company of caving in to government censors.
Members of the band, Laal, whose members have frequently spoken out against the Taliban, confirmed that their Facebook page, which had over 400,000 “likes,” had been blocked.
Following an outcry on social media and inquiries by reporters to the Pakistani government and to Facebook, the government reversed itself and Facebook restored access to Laal’s page.
But advocates said late on Friday that at least six other Facebook pages that promoted progressive debate in Pakistan and that had been blocked during the week remained inaccessible.

Related Coverage
“Facebook claims to be in favor of free speech, and talks about protecting political expression, but they are not,” said Shahzad Ahmad of the group Bytes for All Pakistan, which campaigns for Internet freedom and has gone to court several times seeking to lift government restrictions in Pakistan."For the sake of their own profits and business, they are caving in to anything the government demands.”

A spokeswoman for Facebook in London said the company’s policy was to adhere to local laws, and that it blocked the pages after receiving an official request from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, which regulates Internet content in Pakistan.

“While we never remove this type of content from the site entirely, like most Internet services, we may restrict people from accessing it in the countries where it is determined to be illegal,” the spokeswoman said, adding that questions about why specific pages were blocked were “best addressed to the authorities who issue these orders.”

The spokeswoman declined to be named, citing company policy.
Facebook was banned entirely in Pakistan for several months in 2010, during a controversy over a page that encouraged people to draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The company says it regularly weeds out pages that promote hate or extremism. According to a report published on its website, Facebook restricted access to 162 pieces of content in Pakistan between July and December 2013, and many more in some other countries, including India, where it restricted access to more than 4,700 pages in the same period.
But activists said on Friday that the latest blocks in Pakistan affected pages that spoke out against extremism, while several extremist pages in the country were left untouched.

“This is ridiculous,” said Taimur Rahman, the lead singer of Laal, speaking before the ban on his group’s page was lifted. “None of our content could be construed as anti-state or anti-religious, in any shape or form.”

The Facebook actions come at a time when freedom of speech is under increasing pressure in Pakistan. Extremists have been bringing criminal accusations of blasphemy against journalists, and the army has been cracking down on criticism of itself in the media. The government media regulator suspended broadcasts of the country’s most popular news channel, Geo News, on Friday and fined it $104,000, on accusations that Geo News had defamed the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.

Ale Natiq, 31, the administrator of the Urdu-language page Roshni Pakistan, speculated that the military was behind the blocking of the page this week. “We’re not anti-state or anti-religion,” Mr. Natiq said. “But we’ve been very vocal on the Baluchistan issue, which is sensitive to the military, so that might have done it.”
Several activists questioned why Facebook had not blocked other Pakistani pages that incite sectarian violence, religious extremism or hatred against minorities. As examples, they pointed to pages administrated by supporters of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a notorious sectarian groups that has supported attacks on Shiites; the sectarian militant group Lashkar e Jhangvi;and the Red Mosque, where a violent stand-off between extremists and government forces in 2007 left over 100 people dead, and where a recently opened library is named for Osama bin Laden.
“These pro-Taliban pages are spewing hatred, and we are the people they shut down,” said Mr. Rahman, the singer. “It’s insanity.”
Facebook officials say that they resist censorship as much as possible, but their leverage is limited in countries like Pakistan where the government imposes constraints with little public debate.

5. Wikipedia Founder: UK Needs US-Style First Amendment Law to Protect Whistleblowers

Wikipedia founder calls for new free speech laws at conference marking first anniversary of publication of Snowden files

Britain should introduce its own constitution with an enshrined right to freedom of speech similar to that of the US to ensure that whistleblowers can come forward, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has said.

He said that doing so would help prevent governments from cracking down on media organisations that wanted to publish potentially damaging stories.
"One of the big differences between the US and the UK is the first amendment, so the idea of smashing computers in the basement of the New York Times is basically inconceivable," he said, referring to the British government's demand that the Guardian destroy hard-drives used to store Edward Snowden's secret files.
"One of the important things about the US is that something like the first amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights is very difficult to change – whereas here, it's not so easy to construct something that's difficult to change. Parliament can ultimately change anything with a majority vote and that's that."
Wales was speaking to the Guardian on Saturday at a London summit marking the anniversary of the start of Snowden's revelations, which were first published in the Guardian and the Washington Post.

Saturday's day of action was billed as the biggest privacy event of 2014, with more than 500 people attending in east London.

The Wikipedia founder's call for a "British first amendment" echoed that of the Guardian's editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, who was ordered to destroy the hard-drives by the government under threat of legal action.

Rusbridger said no right to free speech is enshrined in British law and said that he felt a "sense of foreboding, that something bad would happen" in the UK in reaction to the Guardian publishing Snowden's material.

He said he had no such concerns about the US government because of the protections afforded by that nation's constitution.

"By forcing the reporting out of the UK to the US, the British government lost any handle on this story at all. So, I hope the British government will think about that in the future," he said.
Wales, Rusbridger and a host of other speakers addressed a packed Shoreditch Town Hall on Saturday on the subject of privacy in the wake of Snowden's revelations of industrial-scale spying by the UK and US governments.

The event has been organised by the Guardian and the Don't Spy on Us Campaign, a coalition of privacy, free expression and digital rights organisations which is urging the UK government to end the mass surveillance of the web and mobile phone networks by the British eavesdropping centre, GCHQ.

The day started with a video address from performer Stephen Fry, who called the government's actions in spying on its own citizens "squalid and rancid".
In a prerecorded address, he said: "The idea of having your letters read by somebody, your telegrams, your faxes, your postcards intercepted, was always considered one of the meanest, most beastly things a human being could do, and for a government to do, without good cause.

"Using the fear of terrorism that we all have, the fear of the unknown that we all share, the fear of enemies that hate us, is a duplicitous and deeply wrong means of excusing something as base as spying on the citizens of your own country," he said.

Fry added: "It's enough that corporations know so much about us and our spending habits, our eating habits, our sexual preferences, everything else.
"But that a government, something that we elect, something that should be looking out for our best interests, should presume without asking to take information that we swap, we hope privately, between ourselves is frankly disgraceful."

6. And So the Sale of Our Democracy Rolls On
Lost in all the noise -- and all the towering bad taste -- of the coverage of the Bowe Bergdahl story this week was the fact that the Senate began the long and laborious and (I suspect) utterly futile work of crafting a constitutional amendment to try and repair the damage done to democracy by the efforts of the current Supreme Court, in its Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings, to legalize influence peddling and to privatize general political corruption. Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico -- whose uncle I strove mightily to put in the White House almost 40 years ago -- brought a proposed constitutional amendment before the Senate Judiciary Committee that would reverse those decisions, and try to stem the flood of corporate and private -- and largely unaccountable -- money that promises to swell even further over the next several election cycles. 

As Amy Howe of ScotusBlog reported:
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) opened the hearing by describing the goal of the proposed amendment: "to repair the damage done by a series of flawed Supreme Court decisions that overturned longstanding precedent and eviscerated campaign finance laws." Leahy emphasized recent rulings in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, holding that the government may not prohibit corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections, and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, striking down aggregate limits on campaign contributions. In his view, the Court has "opened the floodgates to billionaires who are pouring vast amounts of unfettered and undisclosed dollars into political campaigns across the country." Leahy emphasized that he had "long been wary of attempts to change the Constitution because I have seen" such proposals "used, like bumper stickers, merely to score political points." But in his view, an amendment is necessary here because the Court's decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon were "based . . . on a flawed interpretation of the First Amendment."

Howe states quite correctly that this proposal does not stand a snowball's chance of ever becoming an actual constitutional amendment, but Udall's effort at least clarified the positions of both sides.

Leahy was followed by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the Committee's ranking Republican member. Leahy had previewed some of the key themes that other supporters of the amendment would echo in the hearing, and Grassley did the same for Republicans. He contended that, "today, freedom of speech is threatened as it has not been in many decades," and he observed that the proposed amendment would be the very first amendment in history to the Bill of Rights. Grassley warned of the amendment's potentially broad sweep, cautioning that it could, for example, allow Congress to eliminate campaign contributions altogether. "It's outrageous," he concluded, "to say that limiting speech is necessary for democracy."

(I would also argue to Senator Grassley that the Reconstruction amendments certainly were "amendments" to the Bill of Rights in that they ordered to states to abide by the original provisions of the Bill of Rights.)

And that is where the Supreme Court has left us. A debate over the preposterous notion that money is speech, and that more money means more speech, and this in a world in which the same court found reason to gut the Voting Rights Act so that it would be hobbled in the new era of big-money campaigning that the Court inaugurated in its other two decisions. 

The real joker in the deck is that the decisions -- and Citizens United, in particular -- are written so tightly that any legislative action to reverse them short of a constitutional amendment likely will fail. (And forget about state action. A century-old Montana law banning corporate contributions to political campaign was overturned by this same Supreme Court, which used Citizens United as a precedent for doing so.) However, this isn't the first time that Congress, and citizens, have attempted to propose a constitutional amendment to deal with the consequences of a Supreme Court decision in the field of campaign finance.

As Richard Bernstein recounts in Amending America, his study of the amendment process throughout American political history, in 1980, a group of Washington wise men put together something called the Committee On The Constitutional System, which proposed to update the work of the Founders and to "...identify the outmoded features"of the Constitution "separating them from the good and durable parts of the system." The CCS proposed a series of new amendments, including one that, as Bernstein puts it, would "amend the First Amendment to provide Congress authority to set campaign spending limits (overturning the Supreme Court's 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo). 

Granted, the CCS largely was nothing more than a high-class thought experiment, but its proposed campaign-finance amendment tracks Udall's proposed amendment almost exactly and, like Udall's, it addresses a Supreme Court decision that guaranteed more money sluicing through the system.
The Valeo decision, of course, was the first crack in the dam. In 1971, Congress passed the Federal Elections Campaign Act, which it then amended three years later in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, which had been financed by a slush fund of unaccountable campaign money. The law limited contributions by individuals and groups, and candidates themselves, as well as providing for a system to inaugurate the public financing of campaigns. It was challenged by a number of people, including then-Senator James Buckley of New York and former senator Eugene McCarthy. In an unsigned per curiam decision, the Supreme Court struck down provisions of the law in a muddled decision in which five Justices, including Chief Justice Warren Burger, dissented in part from the majority's opinion, but most of the dissents argued that the Court did not go far enough in respecting the role of campaign contributions as political speech. (This was the bug in the ear of Burger, who wrote that "contributions and expenditures are two sides of the same First Amendment coin.") The taproot of our present Citizens United-McCutcheon system can be traced back to Burger and his First Amendment coin. Reading the decision, philosopher John Rawls was particularly prescient. Rawls argued that the decision "runs the risk of endorsing the view that fair representation is representation according to the amount of influence effectively exerted."

So the current Court has struck down decades of precedent in the field of campaign finance, and it also has arranged things that the only real remedy is one that is impossible to achieve. The consequences of 40 years of trying to clean up the rot with which big money infects the structure of democracy has been a series of legal decisions that sanctified the rot with the most profound blessing the Constitution can provide. The consequences of those decisions have been entirely foreseeable. If Udall's Sisyphean effort does nothing more than draw all our attention to those simple facts, it will be quite worth the trouble.

7. Why Was the FBI Investigating Michael Hastings' Reporting on Bergdahl?
By Alice Speri, VICE Magazine

Three years into the disappearance of Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan, Michael Hastings — the journalist whose reporting cost General Stanley McChrystal his job — wrote a Rolling Stone story on the missing soldier, a piece which the magazine called “the definitive first account of Bowe Bergdahl.”
Hastings, who died in a car accident in Los Angeles in June 2013, had unparalleled access for that story.

He spoke to Bergdahl’s parents, who had by that time stopped talking to the press, following “subtle pressure” from the army, and he quoted from emails the young soldier had sent to them, documenting his growing disillusion with the war and the US military.

Hastings also spoke to several unnamed men in Bergdahl’s unit — soldiers who, we now know, had to sign a strict nondisclosure agreement forbidding them from discussing the soldier’s disappearance and search with anyone — let alone one of the top investigative journalists in the country.

But most controversially, Hastings’ piece revealed what has been the subject of much debate and vitriol over the last few days: That a disillusioned Bergdahl had actually abandoned his post and “walked away.”

At the time of the story’s publication, the media had all but forgotten about Bergdahl — who was released on Saturday after five years in the hands of the Taliban, in exchange for five Guantanamo prisoners. And, with the exception of some initial chatter, Hastings’ piece, which paints a deeply unflattering picture of Bergdahl’s unit and its leadership, hardly had the impact of some of his other investigations.

But someone did pay attention to it: the FBI.
That, at least, is what was revealed in a heavily redacted document released by the agency following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request — filed on the day of Hastings’ death — by investigative journalist Jason Leopold and Ryan Shapiro, an MIT doctoral student whom the Justice Department once called the “most prolific” requester of FOIA documents.

The document, partially un-redacted after Leopold and Shapiro engaged in a lengthy legal battle with the FBI for failing to fulfill its FOIA obligations, singles out Hastings’ Rolling Stone piece — “America’s Last Prisoner of War” — as “controversial reporting.” It names Hastings and Matthew Farwell, a former soldier in Afghanistan and a contributing reporter to Hastings’ piece.

The document also included an Associated Press report based on the Rolling Stone piece, and what it identifies as a “blog entry” penned by Gary Farwell, Matthew’s father — which actually appears to be a comment entry on the Idaho Statesman’s website.

“The article reveals private email excerpts, from [redacted] to his parents. The excerpts include quotes about being ‘ashamed to even be American,’ and threats that, ‘If this deployment is lame, I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan,’” the FBI file reads. “The Rolling Stone article ignited a media frenzy, speculating about the circumstances of [redacted] capture, and whether US resources and effort should continue to be expended for his recovery.”

The FBI file — as well as a Department of Justice document released in response to Leopold and Shapiro’s lawsuit — suggests that Hastings and Farwell’s reporting got swept up into an “international terrorist investigation” into Bergdahl’s disappearance.

A spokesperson for the FBI told VICE News that the agency does not normally comment on pending investigations and that it lets FOIA documents “speak for themselves.” The investigation was still pending as of last month, Leopold said.
According to the files — and a rare public statement by the FBI following Hastings’ death — Hastings was never directly under investigation by the agency, despite having pissed off a lot of people in very high places.
But it is not exactly clear why Hastings and Farwell’s “controversial” reporting made it into a criminal investigation that was already active before they even wrote the Rolling Stone story.
“Michael and Matt both worked really, really hard on that story, and I know for a fact that they did it in a way that completely angered the US military and the US government, and while other reporters were steering away from it, they were totally on it,” Leopold told VICE News. “The FBI was investigating this, whether they were investigating Michael or investigating the story, and there was a lot of fear around it, because they characterized the story as ‘controversial’ — whatever that means.”
“Then the question became, why was the FBI looking at this, what were they looking at?” Leopold added. “The FBI says Hastings was not a target of their investigation but his reporting was. How do you investigate someone's reporting without investigating them?"
Farwell declined to discuss the details of the file, but told VICE News, “I’m happy the FBI is reading Rolling Stone on the job.”
He had not known that his name, and his father's, showed up in the FBI's files until Leopold pointed it out to him. Leopold told VICE News: "When I showed Matt these files he was like, oh my god, this is basically outlining my conversations."

Farwell said: “When it first came out it was just Michael, and Jason was like, ‘Hey dude, this has your dad in it.’ And I was like, ‘Oh shit, they're talking about me in these redactions, that's weird.’ Anyway, I signed a privacy waiver and sent it out to Jason."

Entire paragraphs in the FBI documents remain redacted — leaving many questions about the scope of the investigation into the journalists’ work. But the un-redacted sections about Farwell characterize him as a 10th Mountain infantryman, who helped broker a meeting between Hastings and — presumably — some of the sources for the Rolling Stone story.

In his comment on the Idaho Statesman's site, also picked up in the FBI file, Farwell Senior comes to Bergdahl's defense after the Rolling Stone article sparked backlash against the soldier, of a similar sort that we are seeing today. He also credits his son for brokering Hastings’ meeting with the Bergdahls.
“I’m going to excuse that young kid for his choice of words, but I’m not going to excuse the leadership of his outfit, nor the misguided policies of our government in Afghanistan and elsewhere which have put our young people in harms way without a clear vision of what they are doing,” Farwell, himself a retired Air Force officer, wrote then. “It’s my hope this Rolling Stone article helps the Bergdahl’s get their son back and helps expose some misguided policies and conduct far above the pay grade of this young disillusioned soldier.”
Now that Bergdahl is free, the lid on Pandora’s box has been lifted.

“For five years, soldiers have been forced to stay silent about the disappearance and search for Bergdahl. Now we can talk about what really happened,” Nathan Bradley Bethea, who served in Bergdahl’s battalion, wrote in the Daily Beast on Monday. “I served in the same battalion in Afghanistan and participated in the attempts to retrieve him throughout the summer of 2009. After we redeployed, every member of my brigade combat team received an order that we were not allowed to discuss what happened to Bergdahl for fear of endangering him. He is safe, and now it is time to speak the truth.”

"Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down," Bethea stated.

Soldiers forced to silence for years have now taken their accounts — and anger — about the missing soldier’s ordeal to social media and the press. Republican strategists eager to turn Bergdahl into the next Benghazi have also jumped on the opportunity to offer critics of the young “deserter” up for interviews, as the New York Times noted today.

In the last few days, Bergdahl has been blamed with the deaths of “every American soldier killed in Paktika Province in the four-month period that followed his disappearance,” according to the Times — charges that the Pentagon dismissed as unsubstantiated. Today it was reported that the army will launch an inquiry into the circumstances of Bergdahl's disappearance and his personal conduct.

"The questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity," General Martin E. Dempsey said in a Facebook post today. "As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts. Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred."
A US Army investigation into Bergdahl's own conduct might appease or inflame his critics. But even before Bergdahl’s release, “the dam was getting ready to burst,” Farwell said.

“That was one of the weirdest things about the case, that everyone in the whole brigade was required to sign a pretty strict nondisclosure agreement that was enforced at a pretty high level, so basically if any of the people from that unit talked about Bowe, they thought they could be losing their careers,” Farwell said. "It was a blanket statement, ‘you will not talk about anything about this.'”

And while there is no suggestion — in the un-redacted bits of the FBI file on Hastings — that the agency was after any soldier who had taken his frustrations to the press, the fact that the FBI was looking into the reporters’ sources and methods raises at least the question.
Now, everyone wants to talk about it. But Hastings’ ever “controversial” reporting got to it first.

8. 'We Are Resetting the Net to Shut Off Mass Surveillance'
Online day of action marks one year since Snowden reporting began and calls for people to "take their privacy back" from prying eyes
To mark the one-year anniversary of the first reporting based on information revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden on June 5, 2013, privacy advocates, organizations, and technology companies all over the world on Thursday are participating in 'Reset The Net'—an online day of action in which participants pledge to take real steps to protect online freedoms and fight back against mass surveillance.

"We have the technology, and adopting encryption is the first effective step that everyone can take to end mass surveillance." —Edward Snowden

"Don't ask for your privacy," sounds the call issued by the campaign. "Take it back."

Coordinated by a broad coalition of policy organizations and activist groups, and initiated by Fight For the Future, 'Reset The Net' calls on websites, app developers, organizations, and individual internet users to promote what they call "privacy packs" so that people everywhere can have better access to online privacy and encryption tools.

On Wednesday, as a way to show its support for the day, internet giant Google announced new end-to-end encryption methods for its widely used Gmail service.

Websites, tech companies, and advocacy organizations of all stripes—including Amnesty International, Greenpeace, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Common Dreams and scores of others—have all signed on and pledged to improve their privacy protections for their members and users.

As just one example, Josh Levy, of media reform group Free Press, described what actions his group is taking in a blog post on Wednesday:

We’ve removed every third-party tracker from our websites. The standard Facebook and Twitter buttons that you find across the Web — the ones those companies use to track your surfing behavior whether or not you’re actually logged in to their services — are gone. In their place are buttons that let you preserve your privacy while you share our stuff.

In that same spirit we’ve removed Google Analytics from our site. While the service is helpful in telling us where our Web traffic comes from, it tracks your every move after you leave our properties. We find that behavior too intrusive. We’re now using Piwik, the free and open-source Web analytics software that respects the privacy of Internet users.

And Snowden himself released the following statement in support of the day and its mission:

One year ago, we learned that the internet is under surveillance, and our activities are being monitored to create permanent records of our private lives — no matter how innocent or ordinary those lives might be.

Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the US Congress fails to do the same. That’s why I’m asking you to join me on June 5th for Reset the Net, when people and companies all over the world will come together to implement the technological solutions that can put an end to the mass surveillance programs of any government. This is the beginning of a moment where we the people begin to protect our universal human rights with the laws of nature rather than the laws of nations.

We have the technology, and adopting encryption is the first effective step that everyone can take to end mass surveillance. That’s why I am excited for Reset the Net — it will mark the moment when we turn political expression into practical action, and protect ourselves on a large scale.

Join us on June 5th, and don’t ask for your privacy. Take it back

Yesterday was unbelievable. Together, we as everyday Internet users harnessed the power of the largest websites on earth and launched the biggest effort in human history to shut down mass surveillance on the web.

So how did we do it? Check out this infographic. We promise you will end up reading the whole thing and then feeling awesome.

There’s so much more to tell. We’re still tallying up the numbers and collecting all the amazing stories of how the Internet came together to defend itself.

And, we’re making the biggest announcement of all. Reset the Net was not just a single day of action. We’re going to continue this campaign as a longterm, concerted effort to directly  block dragnet government surveillance from as much of the Internet as we can.

Each month we’ll be announcing a new wave of participants who are helping Reset the Net, and escalating our demands on the largest tech companies to ensure that they’re taking the most meaningful and concrete steps they possibly can to protect our privacy.