Monthly Archives: January 2013

Unraveling Myths

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Obama Reagan by Fruelund

Pervading and damaging myths persist in the collective national dialogue; that either political party are rational actors, that the president’s second term will be filled with progressive policy objectives, that the economy will fix itself in an unregulated free market, that the deficit is the most important problem to tackle, that severe cuts to the middle class and impoverished are the only things that can help, and that intellectual honesty and American values drive the biases and decisions of either side.

Instead we are demagogued by contrarian hypocrites, unscientific loons and immoral proselytizers. The inconsistencies within their own parties, and even within their own philosophies and speech, impel us to believe that they are not merely incompetent, but complicit in the ongoing devastation of democracy.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-01-26: Unraveling Myths by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
Hall Of The Mountain King/Louie Louie – Half Japanese
Maybe I Know – Lesley Gore
King Kong – Frank Zappa
Çarsamba – Mustafa Özkent
Montana – Pere Ubu
A Few Words In Defense Of Out Country – Randy Newman
Hard Times – Baby Huey
I Will Pray – Conexion
But I Was Cool – Oscar Brown Jr.
Ghostwriter – RJD2
Forest Crunk – Aesop Rock
Golem II: The Bionic Vapour Boy – Mr. Bungle
Telekinesis – Lemon Demon
Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song – The Dead Milkmen
The Grand Delusion – Bad Religion
Square – Boom Bip & Dose One
Ich Mache Einen Spiegel – Popol Vuh
2-2 – Brian Eno
I Have Been Floated – The Olivia Tremor Control
Sunday In Richmond – Danny Cohen
Cossack Song (Polyushko Polye) – Leningrad Cowboys
Bubamara (Vivaldi version) – Emir Kusturica & No Smoking Orchestra
I Love A Day Like This! – Black Cat Orchestra
Un Grand Sommeil Noir (Original 1906 Version)
Volcanoes – Islands

Many journalists are debating where President Obama’s second term will be better or worse, but his legacy is already being determined. He will most likely spend the rest of his time in office cementing the weak accomplishments of his first term; a watered-down health care law, a weak economic recovery, and a slow withdrawal from foreign wars.

He has made new promises in his Inauguration speech, namely immigration reform and climate change, but there are many reasons to be skeptical.

Salon lists some of the past quotes that tell us we should ‘check our optimism‘:

  • Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, berated liberals as “fucking retarded” for daring to try to press congressional Democrats to back the health care promises Obama himself made.
  • Obama deployed his official spokesman to tell reporters that liberals working to hold the president to his campaign promises “ought to be drug tested” because they are “crazy.”
  • Obama’s reelection campaign sent out an email slamming Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman as a “political rookie”
  • Branded LGBT activists as “naive”
  • Obama adviser denigrated liberals as the “internet left fringe”
  • A “senior Obama adviser” labeled those supporting a public health-care merely“the left of the left.”
  • Obama’s national security adviser slammed civil libertarians questioning the president’s extra-judicial drone war as “Cheeto-eating people in the basement working in their underwear.”

In truth, the candidate who promised more transparency and accountability has been the least transparent and accountable presidents in modern history. And the corporate influx of money did not end with his election; he continues to collect special interest dollars (at least $500 million) to go towards his ‘legacy projects.’

And though it was a right-wing idea, Obama seems all-too-willing to entertain prospects of putting armed police in every school. You know, because right-wingers are so upset about a police state and all. The chilling effects we’ve already seen from such actions have made the school-to-prison pipeline for minor offenses all the more viable, disproportionately affecting children of color.

Which, along with many other examples, is why Cornell West had some choice words on Obama’s decision to take the Oath of Office on the MLK Jr. Bible.

Not that neoliberal hypocrites like Obama hold a monopoly on twisting the vision of MLK to their own ends, as both anti-contraception right-wingers and even militaristic warmongers advocates have ignored the real message and meaning of Martin Luther King, Jr. to further their own dark goals.

Because the man was a radical. He didn’t condone the status quo that sees wages stagnating and middle and lower classes being crushed by a widening gap, (even as the economy has doubled over thirty years).

There are those with evident tactics to cheat middle class workers (i.e., you):

  1. Boost productivity while keeping worker wages flat.
  2. Build up a financial industry that has no maximum wage.
  3. Keep accumulating wealth created by the financial industry.
  4. Tax yourself as little as possible.
  5. Lend out your excess money to people who can no longer afford a middle-class lifestyle.

We have a financial services industry that defrauds, cheats, lies, steals, anything to maintain that upward mobility of capitol and wealth. But what can be done?

Oxfam International released a statement titled “The cost of inequality: how wealth and extreme incomes hurt us all.” In it, the anti-poverty organization cites the World Economic Forum’s recent report labeling “severe income disparity” as one of the top global risks for 2013, and offers several suggestions for curtailing wealth accumulation, including closing tax havens worldwide, setting a global minimum corporate tax rate, and limiting the size of bonuses. The goal, the report says, is “to end extreme wealth by 2025.”

According to the organization, the top 100 billionaires earned enough money in 2012 “to end world poverty four times over.” the growing economic gap between rich and poor won’t be alleviated unless extreme measures are taken. The real challenge lies with governments “willing to risk angering their wealthiest citizens in order to improve life for the poorest.”

We are told that the bankers are too important to jail, we see our Commander-in-Chief failing to dole out any modicum of punishment for the serious problems these fraudsters have wrought, and in fact continues to nominate and appoint more of the same Wall Street enablers who thrive in a ‘revolving door’ of backscratching and bribery between public office and backroom dealing.

This is exactly what center-right status quo gets us. This is the shell game of having the right-wing extremists appear as an insane alternative to the Beltway moderate wisdom.

To give the man a little credit, it must be an awful lot of work to unravel decades of toxic Reaganomic Republicanism. He is now able to do so by exposing their internal inconsistencies, leaderless sophistry, and partisan fractures.

Republican libertarians have never got along with social conservatives, who want to impose their own morality on everyone else.

Shrink-the-government fanatics in the GOP have never seen eye-to-eye with deficit hawks, who don’t mind raising taxes as long as the extra revenues help reduce the size of the deficit.

The GOP’s big business and Wall Street wing has never been comfortable with the nativists and racists in the Party, who want to exclude immigrants and prevent minorities from getting ahead.

And right-wing populists have never got along with big business and Wall Street, who love government as long as it gives them subsidies, tax benefits, and bailouts.

They appear to assuage themselves with myths about a nonexistent spending crisis, or that the government should have some fixed (usually small) size, in the hopes that such rhetoric will bind them against their severe differences on core social and financial issues.

But their contagious craziness not only enters the national dialogue, but takes center stage for both parties, its lip service becomes ‘serious discussion’ on the floors of Congress, and even the American public becomes distracted and dissuaded from real issues by the noise:

According to Pew Research Center’s annual policy priorities survey, released on Thursday, 72% of Americans identified reducing the federal budget deficit as a top policy priority for Obama’s second term, a far cry from January 2009, when only 53% of Americans labeling the budget deficit as a top priority.

And this new Congress has been plenty full of noise; already this year pushing extremist distractions to allow relatively sane (but still dangerously conservative) legislations to squeak through unnoticed. So far the sophomoric, moronic voices have clamored:

  • to impeach the president because he wants to reduce gun violence
  • that gays are too powerful to get equal rights
  • that women should not be in combat in the military
  • to give citizens the same weapons as the military
  • questions at the Secretary of State about right-wing conspiracy theory
  • claiming “Welfare Moms” wanting to commit fraud are to blame for gun violence
  • that Obama only upholds the “Soviet Constitution” (?)
  • that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11
  • to vote to leave Hurricane Sandy victims out in the cold
  • to jail rape victims for ending their pregnancies because they would be “evidence of a crime”

All during record-low approval ratings, because, so it seems, there are no fucks to be given. They already know, on the Right at least, that their only path to winning is to rig the rules in their favor. To legalize cheating and gaming of the electoral system with a malapportionment of votes, and perhaps even win them the White House (and other contests) with the minority of votes.

Add to all this an ongoing drug war that both enables drug atrocities while disabling scientific efforts to stop it, and the rising governmental ‘need’ for information on the citizenry, and you’ve got a dangerous set of myths and misconceptions on a grand national security scale.

Stark challenges all, but we shall rise to them.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-01-26: Unraveling Myths by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

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Al-Jazeera Buys Current TV, Pundits’ Heads Explode

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Current TV was sold to Al-Jazeera English for a reported $500 million dollars. Eliot Spitzer has quit his show, while the Young Turks made a point of saying they are independent, and thus owned by neither organization.

Time Warner Cable opportunistically jumped at the chance to drop Current with the ‘change of ownership’ clause in their contract. Time Warner contends it was not a political move, but cited ‘lack of demand’ and their already-streaming online free content as factors. According to the New York Times, Time Warner Cable wrote: “We are keeping an open mind, and as the service develops, we will evaluate whether it makes sense, for our customers, to launch the network.”

The point has been made at AlterNet that Time Warner subscribers are hit with the cost of political organizations they may not even want, with FOX charging $1 per month for its content and MSNBC 20 cents.

It is difficult to take seriously, however, claims that anything regarding Al-Jazeera in America (which would be called Al-Jazeera America) are not at least somewhat politically-motivated. FOX fraudsters called Al Gore and his Current TV a litany of names from ‘failures’ ($500 million worth of fail) to hypocritical assertions of tax avoidance, even implications of American betrayal and of being *gasp* unpatriotic!  FOX has a long history of blind stereotyping and anti-Muslim hatred, xenophobic fear-mongering and jingoistic bias; they reveal too much of themselves by calling the internationally award-winning Al-Jazeera English news agencies Anti-American terror mouthpieces: “Al Jazeera, known as the network of the Arab Street, is also known for taking anti-American, anti-Israel and pro-terror positions.” Absurd allegations from arguably the most morally bankrupt propaganda companies in the media.

The Huffington Post reminds us that this partisan vitriol is nothing new;

The Bush administration condemned Al Jazeera for its Arabic-language network’s coverage of the Iraq War and broadcasting of al Qaeda tapes, even targeting its headquarters in Baghdad during the Iraq War. Perceptions that the news organization, which is funded by Qatar’s government, is anti-American continue even as U.S. political leaders such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have praised the network’s reporting abroad.

Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera English, acknowledged to The Huffington Post in August 2011 that “in the United States of America, there were myths and misconceptions that needed to be tackled about what Al Jazeera stood for and what Al Jazeera English stood for and stands for.”

On Wednesday, Al Jazeera management expressed confidence that there’s strong demand for its programming in the U.S., which already accounts for 40 percent of the viewership of its streaming English-language network.

The talking heads at FOX are exploding so fast at news of the sale, you’d think terrorists had managed to creep in.

Bill O’Reilly has lambasted Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Arab Spring for its ties to the government of Qatar; which would have been a legitimate criticism if it wasn’t embedded in such an an us-vs-them framing, and combined with a factually inaccurate post-9/11 terror angle. It is also particularly silly considering FOX’s parent company’s second-biggest investors is Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a nephew of the Saudi king. FOX’s biggest investor and founder is, of course, an Australian. Those damn international interests at work!

Glenn Beck went so far as to claim Al Gore had chosen to sell to Al-Jazeera over red-blooded American patriots such as himself. Unfortunately, Beck’s story is beset with inconvenient truths; he didn’t have the money for the purchase, didn’t intend to raise the money, was not a serious buyer, and happens to be at the opposite end of the philosophical universe as Gore. Beck then admitted that he thinks “global warming is nonsense”, and said that Al-Jazeera “hates America” while he himself loves it. Just loves it up in a cup.

Via The Young Turks:

Most of the ‘America hatred’ stems from Al-Jazeera’s coverage in the Middle East, including reporting on and showing the released tapes of Osama Bin Laden. Because a new agency should, you know, ignore or lie about what is going on in the world, especially if it concerns international affairs, the War on Terror or national security. How ridiculously pathetic is our own myopic national news when it has to be stated: “Content with an Arab perspective is not necessarily anti-American.”

Progressive online source Salon has even more on the possible biases and more possible openness of new points-of-view that would come from Americans getting that sweet cable access:

Juliette Kayyem, the national security and foreign policy columnist for the Boston Globe and lecturer at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, told Salon that the impression of Al Jazeera as an anti-America, anti-Israel newsroom was misleading. On a visit last month to Doha’s Al Jazeera campus, she noted, the reporters seemed more than anything young, ambitious and innovative. (Failing to break into the U.S. market meaningfully with Al Jazeera English, the network had been streaming through YouTube for interested U.S. viewers.) They were unconcerned about ownership issuing marching orders: “The monarchy knows Al Jazeera is a good brand for the monarchy,” said Kayyem. “And the more they mess with Al Jazeera, it’s not a good brand.”

Which is not to say that Al Jazeera has magically shed a point of view. “I suspect as viewers get to know the content,” said Al Tompkins, the Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting, “they will develop filters through which to watch the journalism, in the same way thoughtful viewers filter Fox or MSNBC and so on.” He cited Britain, Canada, South Africa and Denmark as states whose government-funded networks did good journalistic work.

For the record, can we just acknowledge that every media source has some bias somewhere along the political gradient, with many much worse than others? I can appreciate the alternative views from liberals at RT, for example, and still realize that they go easy on their own right-wing president Putin, who just granted a tax haven to the wealthy. I can enjoy the Chris Hayes and Ed Schultzes of MSNBC, and also see their news cycle asapologism for Obama‘s war crimes. I don’t need to suspect every local story from every minor FOX affiliate to be branded and approved by the GOP, especially if I’m watching FOX Sports.

Once again, it just requires constant calibration of your bullshit detector, which can only be helped by more information, not less.

The Genetic Killer

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Another proposed “solution” to the mass shootings in America is sure to upset many camps; privacy advocates, mental health care advocates, and even those calling for the heads of the murderers. Soon we will have the results of genetic analysis of Adam Lanza, which may be used by scientists to model genetic predispositions of violence, or by defense attorneys in their pleas. This controversial science is being criticized from all sides, condemned as “misguided and could lead to dangerous stigmatization.”

via Vaughan Bell at Mind Hacks:

But the request to analyse the DNA of Lanza is just the latest in a long line of attempts to account for the behaviour of individual killers in terms of genetics.

Perhaps the first attempt was for a case that bears more than a surface resemblance to the Sandy Hook shooting. In 1998, a 15-year-old high school student called Kip Kinkel killed both of his parents before driving to school and shooting 24 students, one of whom died.

In his trial a child psychiatrist argued that Kinkel had “genetic loading” that made him susceptible to mental illness and violence.

His appeal also relied upon this angle. His lawyer argued that “owing to a genetic predisposition, and therefore through no conscious fault of his own, the defendant suffers a mental illness resulting in committing his crimes.”

Perhaps for the first in decades, an appeal to genetics was used in an attempt to explain the killer’s behaviour.

The genetic arguments became more sophisticated with the trial of serial killer Cary Stayner where a psychiatrist and geneticist presented a genealogy of the his family showing how mental illness and violence ‘ran through the family’.

By the time of the trial of murderer Stephen Mobley, the defence based part of their case on molecular genetics – suggesting that Mobley had a version of the MAOA gene that made him susceptible to violence.

It’s worth noting that none of these appeals to genetics have been successful in the courtroom but it’s interesting that in light of the tragic events in Sandy Hook there has been, yet again, a look towards genetics to try and make sense of the killer – this time presumably based on the yet more advanced technology of whole DNA sequencing.

On this occasion, however, the reasons seems less related to issues of legal responsibility and more for scientific motivations, supposedly to better understand the ‘DNA of a killer’.

As the Nature editorial makes clear, this is foolish: “There is no one-to-one relationship between genetics and mental health or between mental health and violence. Something as simple as a DNA sequence cannot explain anything as complex as behaviour.”

There is a valuable science of understanding how genetics influences violent behaviour but analysis of individual killers will tell us very little about their motivations.

It does, however, reflect a desire to find something different in people who commit appalling crimes. Something that is comprehensible but distinct, alien but identifiable.

This may give us comfort, but it does little to provide answers. In the midst of tragedy, however, the two can easily be confused.

While I have mulled the utility of psychopathy testing before (mostly to weed out serial killers and white-collar criminals), I certainly don’t want to demonize mental illness. I also don’t want to see this turned into a genetic witchhunt, with public registries that would affect hiring, insurance rates, or result in other forms of discrimination or revocation of rights. Not only is it unknown for sure if Adam Lanza (or even James Holmes, for that matter) suffered from mental illness or disorder, but depending on the definitions, as many as 1-in-4 Americans might fall into this camp. This framing also narrowly and unfairly decides what is “normative,” always a dangerous proposition for society.

This sort of ‘registration’ might end up much worse for our liberty and democracy than any gun registration, by orders of magnitude. Especially if, as indicated by our elected leaders and the NRA, we are more concerned with tracking and banning these individuals than providing resources and help.

It sets a scary precedent, but it is also the observable evidence-based realm of science. Should we even go there? What do you think?

Read the artice in Nature, and follow Mind Hacks for more in-depth analysis of complex psychological and neurological issues.

Digital Culture Killed My Dog

anonymous-16114-400x250This week, aaronJacob and I examine the state of the digital world, wondering whether our state of technological growth is a good thing or a bad thing, much the same, or if that growth is perhaps a little overstated. Is it making us mentally unstable? Does it help us escape or confirm our biases? Does new technology annihilate old modalities? We’ll spend our electronically-scored time delving into as many aspects of our collective computer culture and online ouvre as we can in two hours, everything from viral videomemes and remix art to pitched copyright battles and very real cyberwars, piracy and hacktivism to censorship and surveillance. Not to mention the insidious, darkest corners of the web; conspiracy, violence, cyberbullies, trolls,  and even hauntings.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-01-19: Digital Culture Killed My Dog by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Galaxee Trance
Katamari on the Swing – We Love Katamari Soundtrack
my favorite james taylor song – (8BitPeoples) yuppster
Hard Reset – Eats Tapes
Gimme the Mermaid – Negativland
Circumlocution – The Quiet American
Human After All (Alter Ego Remix) – Daft Punk
Scratch Bass – Lamb
Slow This Bird Down – Boards Of Canada
Verbal (Prefuse 73 Dipped Escalade mix) – Amon Tobin
Roboshuffle – Kid Koala
Spread Teamer – Yip-Yip
Super Mario Bros. Dirty Mix OC ReMix – A Scholar & A Physician
Spy vs Spy II (Drunk n’ Basement Mix) – 8-Bit Weapon
Lavender Town – Pokemon
Clocktown Backwards – Majora’s Mask
Wood Man Theme – Mega Man 2
Town (Day) – Castlevania 2
Hydrocity Zone Act 1 – Sonic the Hedgehog 3
no more memory – cyriak
Return of the God – Dreadnots
A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld – The Orb
CHange FRom ONe FOrm TO ANother – The Royal You
Upgrade (A Brymar College Course) – Deltron
Sattellite Surfer – F/i

January 18 marks an online holiday: Internet Freedom Day, or#InternetFreedomDay. The day a massive online protest successfully defeated the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA). But as the EFF points out, we must remain ever-vigilant against such threats:

  • Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership
  • Demand Patent Reform
  • Reform Draconian Computer Crime Law
  • Protect Cell Phone Location Data
  • Stop new Internet Surveillance Laws

We recognize the value of fair use when artists are free to express their creative, political and social statements by repurposing and remixing such classics:

Whatever new aesthetic form our digital art takes, such as data moshing or augmented reality. Heck, there is even value to preserving the nature of piracy in some regard.

So while our leaders are trying to convince us that foreign entities and idealistic individuals are to blame for the viruses and espionage around the globe, but in reality our own massively overpowered governments are spying and prying into our personal affairs, unleashing damage and persecuting the free every day.

In response to a FOIA request, the FBI sent the ACLU of empty and redacted pages (PDF), providing zero insight into what this policy actually is. The FBI says that information is “private (privileged) and confidential.”

“The Justice Department’s unfortunate decision leaves Americans with no clear understanding of when we will be subjected to tracking—possibly for months at a time—or whether the government will first get a warrant” ~Catherine Crump, an ACLU staff attorney

All this while human rights monitors document the rise in surveillance and censorship technology being exported from America to other (arguably) more repressive nations.

Human rights monitors have documented the use of US-manufactured Internet surveillance and censorship gear in 21 countries, some with checkered human rights policies such as Syria, China, and Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan, Bahrain, China, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela. Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The technology isn’t subject to US State Department export restrictions except to countries such as Syria, Iran, and North Korea (all on an embargo list).

So while we idly worry about threats to our online privacy, diligent crusaders and information liberators are actively targeted by government prosecutors.

Reddit co-founder and internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz tragically committed suicide on January 11, 2013. He had been arrested and charged back in 2009 for having downloaded a massive cache of documents from JSTOR., and was facing up to 13 felony counts, 50 years in prison, and millions of dollars in fines. MIT and JSTOR had already settled over the ‘Terms of Use’ breach, but prosecutors only dropped the charges after his death.

Prosecutors allege that Swartz downloaded the articles because he intended to distribute them for free online, though Swartz was arrested before any articles were made public. He had often spoken publicly about the importance of making academic research freely available. His actions were criminalized under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), an act was designed to prosecute hackers.

JSTOR did acknowledge it was “deeply saddened” by the Swartz tragedy.

“The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge,” the organization wrote in an unsigned, undated statement. “At the same time, as one of the largest archives of scholarly literature in the world, we must be careful stewards of the information entrusted to us by the owners and creators of that content. To that end, Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011.”

Law professor Lawrence Lessig, a friend and mentor to Swartz, wrote a post called “Prosecutor as Bully”:

The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a “felon.” For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge. And so as wrong and misguided and fucking sad as this is, I get how the prospect of this fight, defenseless, made it make sense to this brilliant but troubled boy to end it.

Fifty years in jail, charges our government. Somehow, we need to get beyond the “I’m right so I’m right to nuke you” ethics that dominates our time. That begins with one word: Shame.

They don’t prosecute Wall Street for destroying the world’s economy, they don’t prosecute HSBC for laundering billions for the drug cartels and terrorists, and they don’t prosecute war criminals. But they’ll prosecute Aaron Swartz, Bradley Manning and other activists.

Some Senators are demanding answers:

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introducedAaron’s law,” which would reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that was used to prosecute Swartz. Another member of the House Judiciary Committee, Darrell Issa (R-CA), said he wanted to investigate the actions of the US Attorney who authorized the prosecution, Carmen Ortiz of Massachusetts.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) sent a letter this morning to Attorney General Eric Holder, suggesting the case against Swartz may have been retaliation for prior investigations of Swartz, or his use of FOIA.

But US Attorney Carmen Ortiz released a statement defending her prosecution of Aaron Swartz, calling it an ‘appropriate handling of the case’, even though many are claiming that it may have prompted the 26-year-old’s suicide.

“At no time did this office ever seek – or ever tell Mr. Swartz’s attorneys that it intended to see – maximum penalties under the law,” Ortiz said. She claims she would have recommended that the judge offer a deal that came with six-month prison sentence in a low-security setting.

Elliot Peters, Swartz’s lawyer, said that prosecutors planned to argue for a seven to eight year prison sentence if their client had rejected the six-month offer.

So while Zoe Lofgren’s terrific changes are a good start, the EFF vowed to continue Aaron’s work and ‘attack‘ the obsolete, vague, and abused computer and communications laws:

EFF vows to continue his work to open up closed and entrenched systems that prevent ordinary people from having access to the world’s knowledge, especially the knowledge created with our tax dollars… to attack the computer crime laws that were so horribly misused in the prosecution of Aaron.

First, [to] ensure that when a user breaks a private contract like a terms of service or other contractual obligation or duty, the government can’t charge them criminally under the CFAA or wire fraud law—two statutes the Justice Department used against Aaron.

The second set of changes ensures that no criminal liability can attach to people who simply want to exercise their right to navigate online without wearing a digital nametag. It ensures that changing a device ID or IP address cannot by itself be the basis of a CFAA or wire fraud conviction.

Meanwhile, a group of online archivists released the “Aaron Swartz Memorial JSTOR Liberator.” The initiative is a JavaScript-based bookmarklet that lets Internet users “liberate” an article, already in the public domain, from the online academic archive JSTOR. This is in the hope that free knowledge can be taken from behind academic paywalls and put into the public domain, to liberate information and do to publishing what has already been done to other forms of media.

But as Swartz’s and other “hacktivist” cases demonstrate, you don’t necessarily have to be a hacker to be viewed as one under federal law. Are activists like Swartz committing civil disobedience, or online crimes?

  • Publishing Documents – Accessing and downloading documents from private servers or behind paywalls with the intent of making them publicly available.
  • Distributed Denial of Service  – Some web activists have pressed for DDoS to be legalized as a form of protest, claiming that disrupting web traffic by occupying a server is the same as clogging streets when staging a sit-in. A petition started on the White House’s “We the People” site a few days before Swartz’s death has garnered more than 5,000 signatures.

“Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) is not any form of hacking in any way. It is the equivalent of repeatedly hitting the refresh button on a webpage. It is, in that way, no different than any ‘occupy’ protest.”

  • Doxing – Doxing involves finding and publishing a target’s personal or corporate information.
  • Website Defacement

As we’ve seen, hackers can be a lot more benefit than harm, and the internet, if it is to be the most democratizing system on the planet, must allow for radical transparency of information. Even if you disagree with much of it, or find the bulk of it stupid or offensive. Reactionary censorship and oppression are never righteous, or even permanently effective, solutions.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-01-19: Digital Culture Killed My Dog by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

“whether we know it or not, all of us are being influenced by the net. The machines have changed everything in our lives. As you know, if you use the internet, there is a tremendous evil available at your fingertips. Do not- DO NOT allow the machines to take control over your lives. Don’t do that.”

~Bill O’Reilly

“the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.”

~Ted Stevens

The Worst Do-Nothing Congress Since the 1940s

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The 112th Congress, which opened on January 3, 2011 and ended January 3, 2013, was not only one of the most unpopular in history (less popular, in fact, than cockroaches, traffic jams and Nickelback), but it was also one of the laziest.

Perhaps lazy isn’t the right word… Obstructionist? Divided? Constipated! That’s the word I was looking for. The current US Congress would rather lie in a pool of its own partisan shit than stand for principled progress for the American people, who used to be their constituency some thirty years ago.

Of the more than 3,900 bills introduced, by the end of the year only 238 had been adopted, a passage rate around 6%.

From David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff from AllGov:

It is worth noting that 32 of the successful bills involved the naming of post offices and other buildings, while many others were of similar import.

Only 61 real bills went to President Barack Obama’s desk for signing, and he signed them all. This paltry productivity has put the 112th Congress on track to be the least productive in recent history. Even the 80th Congress, branded the “do-nothing” Congress by President Harry Truman in 1948, passed more pieces of legislation (those lawmakers passed 906 bills that became law).
Congressional efficiency peaked in the election years of 1956 and 1958, when Republican President Dwight Eisenhower worked with Democrats, who held slim majorities in both houses of Congress. In 1956, 638 bills were signed into law and in 1958 620. Eisenhower did veto 23 bills in 1956 and 39 in 1958.

The 104th Congress (1995-1996) previously held the ignominious distinction of being the least productive session of Congress, according to the U.S. House Clerk’s Office, with 333 bills passed.

Of course, we know that most of the legislation they do propose is slanted in favor of corporate interests and against the people, and that conservative groups like ALEC actually write most of the text themselves, which lawmakers then copy and alter slightly to appear as their own work. So… exactly what are we paying these people for?

This Congress is one of the most polarized since the Civil War and Reconstruction (which may also explain some of the underlying motives). House Republicans have spent nearly as much time trying to repeal and filibuster (115 times) the bills that they don’t like rather than propose and adopt those that they do. They have blocked raising the minimum wage and the Violence Against Women Act, and voted to repeal Obamacare more than 30 times, while both sides have agreed to allow the President to indefinitely detain and wiretap American citizens without warrants. President Obama, for his part, has vetoed a total of two bills.

Public Policy Polling found that the current Congress has an abysmally low favorability rating of  9 percent, with 85 percent of voters having a negative view. Among the other things more popular with Americans than Congress: lice, Brussels sprouts, NFL replacement refs, colonoscopies, root canals and carnies.

Which leads me to an obvious solution: we should just elect carnies to Congress. It would still be bad, but the economy is already run like one of those crooked games of chance, and at least there’d be more cotton candy. And if you can guess the weight of Chris Christie, they’ll pass relief funding for your state!

And if I were one of those congressmen, I’d be especially embarrassed to be considered worse than Nickelback.

Perpetual War Without End

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

As we enter another year of drone strikes, cyber-warfare, espionage, pre-emptive strikes, funding of coups, instigation, and still those combat boots on the ground, many Americans are shaking the daze of election-year, fiscal debt lies, and popular culture distractions from their minds. Just how long are we going to be embedded in the Middle East? Why does it seem we are moving on to parasitically do the same in Africa? Are these theaters of war par for the course? Have we been witnessing a new Vietnam? Fed up citizens everywhere are sick of the deaths of civilians, the war crimes, the cover-ups, the secrecy, the lies.

Glenn Greenwald, one of the few tirelessly crusading journalists left, rounds up the talking head hypocrisies and obstinate thinking of our leaders and policies associated with the War on Terror. Like the War on Drugs, this ideological jihad has no specific end date; it can’t possibly by definition. The declared national security objectives make it theoretically and practically impossible. The reality is, of course, that they are accelerating. So if the parade of conflicts (IraqAfghanistan,YemenEastasiaEurasiaEastasiaEurasia) is as infinite as the human penchant for bloodletting and violence, then can it even be called a war? And if it isn’t a war, what is it, and what the hell are we doing to our fellow humans with our death from above?

Excerpts from Glenn Greenwald’s column at The Guardian:

The polices adopted by the Obama administration just over the last couple of years leave no doubt that they are accelerating, not winding down, the war apparatus that has been relentlessly strengthened over the last decade. In the name of the War on Terror, the current president has diluted decades-old Miranda warnings; codified a new scheme of indefinite detention on US soil; plotted to relocate Guantanamo to Illinois; increased secrecyrepression and release-restrictions at the camp;minted a new theory of presidential assassination powers even for US citizens; renewed the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping framework for another five years, as well as the Patriot Act, without a single reform; and just signed into law all new restrictions on the release of indefinitely held detainees.

Does that sound to you like a government anticipating the end of the War on Terror any time soon? Or does it sound like one working feverishly to make their terrorism-justified powers of detention, surveillance, killing and secrecy permanent? About all of this, the ACLU’s Executive Director, Anthony Romero, provided the answer on Thursday: “President Obama has utterly failed the first test of his second term, even before inauguration day. His signature means indefinite detention without charge or trial, as well as the illegal military commissions, will be extended.”

There’s a good reason US officials are assuming the “War on Terror” will persist indefinitely: namely, their actions ensure that this occurs…

There’s no question that this “war” will continue indefinitely. There is no question that US actions are the cause of that, the gasoline that fuels the fire. The only question – and it’s becoming less of a question for me all the time – is whether this endless war is the intended result of US actions or just an unwanted miscalculation.

It’s increasingly hard to make the case that it’s the latter. The US has long known, and its own studies have emphatically concluded, that “terrorism” is motivated not by a “hatred of our freedoms” but by US policy and aggression in the Muslim world. This causal connection is not news to the US government. Despite this – or, more accurately, because of it – they continue with these policies.

They act ignorant of blowback precisely because they are counting on it to maintain the status quo of the ongoing conflict. Either that, or they’re hoping that once all their tactics are fully “normalized”, they can toss any contradictory information down the memory tube. Read or subscribe to Glenn Greenwald’s daring coverage here.

Smart Guns Don’t Kill People

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Technologist and New York Times columnist Nick Bilton explores the development of ‘smart guns‘ designed only to work with the owner’s grip or palmprint. These biometric devices are not entirely new, but are still unable to make it into the marketplace. Smart gun tech may have appeased the most idealogical contenders of either side of the debate on Sandy Hook and other gun massacres: they would not have prevented the killers from being able to use any of the firearms in question, but allowed the original owners to keep them without any infringement of their rights.

Nick Bilton via the NYT’s Bits Blog:

For example, the iGun, made by Mossberg Group, cannot be fired unless its owner is wearing a ring with a chip that activates the gun.

But you would be hard pressed to find this technology on many weapons sold in stores. “The gun industry has no interest in making smart-guns. There is no incentive for them,” said Robert J. Spitzer, a professor of political science at SUNY Cortland and the author of four books on gun policy. “There is also no appetite by the government to press ahead with any kind of regulation requiring smart-guns. These safety options exist today.”

But gun advocates are staunchly against these technologies, partly because so many guns are bought not in gun shops, but in private sales. “Many guns are bought and sold on the secondary market without background checks, and that kind of sale would be inhibited with fingerprinting-safety technologies in guns,” he said.

I called several major gun makers and the National Rifle Association. No one thinks a smart-gun will stop a determined killer. But I thought Smith & Wesson and Remington, for instance, would want to discuss how technology might help reduce accidental shootings, which killed 600 people and injured more than 14,000 in the United States in 2010. The gunmakers did not respond, and neither did the N.R.A.

A Wired magazine article from 2002 gives a glimpse of the N.R.A.’s thinking. “Mere mention of ‘smart-gun’ technology elicited sneers and snickers faster than a speeding bullet,” the magazine wrote. It quoted the N.R.A.’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, as saying, “Tragic victims couldn’t have been saved by trigger locks or magazine bans or ‘smart-gun’ technology, or some new government commission running our firearms companies.”

TriggerSmart, an Irish company, has patented a childproof smart-gun. One feature is a “safe zone” that can be installed in schools and acts as a force field, disabling any TriggerSmart gun that enters a designated area. Robert McNamara, the company’s founder, has been trying to persuade gun makers to adopt the technology. He isn’t having much luck. “One gun manufacturer told us if we put this technology in one particular gun and some kid gets shot with another gun, then they will have to put them in all guns,” he said.

“We believe we could have helped prevent the Newtown massacre.”

You’ll notice how quickly the NRA equates reasonable proposals like smart gun technology with outright bans and government seizure. The impediments reveal the true, insidious nature of despicable groups like the NRA, who don’t care about human beings unless they have a large pocketbook. They don’t lobby for gun owners, but for large gun manufacturers; gun owners are the window dressing, support for them is incidental, tertiary, and superficial.

This is not the sole solution in a)the rampant problem with hundreds of thousands of unregistered guns, b)the irresponsibility of gun policy in this country, which can be well-regulated without violation of rights, or c)search of a problem, depending on your stance. Obviously ‘smart guns’ would not do anything about illegal guns or second sale or heirloom firearms, which account for a large percentage of sales and crime. This is the problem with most of the proposed legislation and ‘fixes’ from the left; they disproportionately affect responsible gun owners and not criminal use of guns.

Wayne LaPierre, no better than Diane Feinstein, used the tragedy as a pulpit to distract towards everything else besides his own moneyed lobby. It was the culture. It was vidyuh games (thanks, Jack Thompson). It wasHollywood. It was Jon Stewart. It was *as always* the atheists and gays. It was those damn mentally infirm. Hold! For a moment, my heart skipped a beat, would the NRA take an official and humanitarian position on our crumbling mental health care infrastructure? Would they promise millions in direly needed aid to prevent tragedies wrought by unfortunately afflicted people (and not their guns)? No, of course, the NRA’s position is that the mentally unfit should be registered, locked down, locked up, controlled, banned, pushed, filed,stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. So the people themselves can be infringed upon and violated, but a material possession like guns cannot? Riiiight.

They are unforgivable hypocrites at best, and monstrous profiteers at worst; they have done their part to arm the mentally illAnd in 2007, the NRA fought to allow suspected terrorists of having guns.

My eyes began to glaze over and drool formed around the zombified corners of my mouths as gun advocates praised ideas like putting more guns in schools, more armed guards in our police state children’s vicinity, arm the teachers and principals, FUCK IT, ARM THE KIDS THEMSELVES! None of this makes any goddamned sense, of course, when we look at instances of armed people (including cops) who make shootings even worse by playing hero and spraying more bullets in our combat zones public spaces, often getting themselves and others injured or killed.

And while I don’t believe that there is any NWO scheme to take the guns out of our cold dead hands, I do think that Democrats view it as an easy P.R. win. Another insincere and empty gesture, fully knowing that the final legislation will be watered down, ineffective, meaningless and probably contain a few provisions for special interests and corporations. It might even contain a payout for the NRA, if they play their cards right. Whatever bill is passed will expire or be struck down a few years later, and the whole dance can begin again. The whole hysteria, you’ll notice, is great for gun sales.

Neither LaPierre, Feinstein, nor any other mainstream pundit is proposing any combination of rational and evidence-based approaches to guns or mental health. Even Obama’s statements about making mental health care more easily accessible were lacking any resolution, detail or conviction. They are all knee-jerk reactions based on ideological bias and false, dystopic views of how the world really works.

As FactCheck.org points out, it is a complicated issue with seemingly contradictory statistics and no clear answers. There is academic disagreement and dubious causation for what is happening in America, where gun manufacturing and sales are up, but violent crime and crimes committed with guns are down. However, “non-fatal gun injuries from assaults increased last year for the third straight year“, so there are other factors. We don’t know if there are more gun owners, or more of the same people buying more guns. And still the maniacal massacres continue. Include suicides in the number of gun deaths, and the whole story changes. Gun deaths may outstrip falling rates of automobile deaths by 2015.

I’m not an advocate for any sort of ban at this point, but conflating handguns to assault rifles is like apples to oranges. Or comparing guns to fists and hammers. Or small businesses to multinational corporations. Or fracking done in the 50′s to fracking done today. Ad nauseam. It’s absurd. Guns still account for over double all other murder weapons in the US combined.

I’m sure to ruffle feathers on both sides of the aisle whenever I talk about guns, but I just don’t see the problem with treating them like automobiles. Responsible people register them, irresponsible people don’t. If you want to keep it in your garage and not use it, don’t register it and don’t take it out. If you want to take it out and not pay a hefty fine or punishment, then register it. They only get banned when they get used irresponsibly.

So guns don’t kill people. Smart guns don’t kill people. Sane and insane people use guns to kill lots of people (more people than other weapons can in a single shot), including themselves. And those in power each have vested interests in not being reasonable.

Perhaps the best coverage of the shootings in 2012 was summed up in The Onion’s headline: Fuck Everything.