Tag Archives: justice

Love and Destruction

heartPLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Funk United
Light My Fire – Minnie Riperton
The Atmosphere Routine – Mr. Dibbs
Love And Happiness – Al Green
Do Your Thing – Isaac Hayes
Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-On – Leonard Cohen
New Comer – W. Rockman
Munchies for Your Love – Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Velvet Voyage – Klaus Schulze
Why – Gemini (Birthday Song)
Take It All Away – CAKE
I Blame You – They Might Be Giants
Debonair – Afghan Whigs
Djed – Tortoise
You To Thank – Ben Folds
Spent on rainy days – Bright Eyes
Options – Pedro The Lion
Hogin’ Machine – Les Baxter
The Dean And I – 10CC

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-16: Love Songs by The Stranger on Mixcloud

It’s a good thing Fox “News” credibility has been steadily dwindling, falling by 9 percent in three years, and is now at a four-year record-low. These are the idiots are are trying to kill jobs, keep the minimum wage low, and encourage the toxic philosophy of companies laying off employees to dodge taxes.

 makes an excellent point about those long lines in stores when the fat cats decrease hours and increase layoffs to avoid paying fair wages and health insurance:

Were they being “penny-wise and pound-foolish” and costing themselves business today as well as in the future?

Because this misunderstands taxes. Taxes are not a “cost” as Marco Rubio said. Taxes are on profits. A company pays taxes after all costs — including wages and salaries — are deducted from revenue. The fact of the company paying a tax at all means they have the right number of employees serving their customers and meeting demand so they make a profit.

It is the poorly-managed companies that employ too few people who are not going to do well enough to pay taxes. (I doubt very many companies are employing too many people. What are they doing, having them sit around reading the paper?)

Obviously being profitable — which means that they pay taxes — does not cause a business to lay people off or reduce hours. When Rubio says taxes make companies “pass the costs on to their employees through fewer hours, lower pay and even layoffs” he is just wrong.

For the minimum-wage employee an increase means an immediate increase in demand at all the places he shops. Millions of people with a bit more money to spend because of a minimum-wage boost would certainly mean more hiring, because more customers would be coming through the doors. A well-run business employs the right number of people, period.

And while the Republicans are so interested in the drummed up controversy over the public debt, it ignores the debt that Wall Street hasn’t paid back to the American taxpayers, despite their astounding bounce-back and profits. Of course they face no criminal charges, but what about the$245 billion of TARP funds spent on banks, with only $26 billion received in settlements. 

And while their predatory practices effect the poor, and people of color, the most, governments and private enterprise seem all too willing to collude on bringing back debtor’s prisons.

Via In These Times:

A 2010 report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lays out the breadth of this problem. Titled “In For a Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtor Prisons,” the report examines how “day after day, indigent defendants are imprisoned for failing to pay legal debts they can never hope to manage. In many cases, poor men and women end up jailed or threatened with jail though they have no lawyer representing them.”

Meanwhile, Obama is increasing domestic drone surveillance, and clamming up when asked any questions about these (or related) policies or programs.

Via Mother Jones:

During a Google+ “Fireside Hangout” Thursday evening, President Barack Obama was asked if he believed he has the authority to authorize a drone strike against an American citizen on US soil.

He didn’t exactly answer the question.

“First of all, I think, there’s never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil. And, you know, we respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards in terms of how we conduct counterterrorism operations outside the United States. The rules outside the United States are going to be different then the rules inside the United States. In part because our capacity to, for example, to capture a terrorist inside the United States are very different then in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan.

But what I think is absolutely true is that it is not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we are doing the right thing. I am the head of the executive branch. And what we’ve done so far is to try to work with Congress on oversight issues. But part of what I am going to have to work with congress on is to make sure that whatever it is we’re providing congress, that we have mechanisms to also make sure that the public understands what’s going on, what the constraints are, what the legal parameters are. And that is something that I take very seriously. I am not someone who believes that the president has the authority to do whatever he wants, or whatever she wants, whenever they want, just under the guise of counterterrorism. There have to be legal checks and balances on it.”

Even with Rand Paul on the job, so serious questions are being asked of John Brennan in his confirmation hearings, despite concerns about civil liberties killing Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA in 2008.

  • Why Did the President Kill a 16-year old American Teenager?
  • Are there ANY Qualifications for Authorizing Death Sentences?
  • Why did the Obama administration wait until election season to codify rules for assassinating people?
  • Do you see a problem with “signature strikes?”

So why didn’t Obama just say, “no, the president cannot deploy drone strikes against US citizens on American soil”? Because the answer is probably “yes.”

Even so-called “liberals” like Dianne Feinstein are dead wrong on the issue, both morally and factuallyShe stated that civilian casualties caused by U.S. drone strikes each year has “typically been in the single digits.”

According to an extensive report by researchers at NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School, disputed the line coming from the White House and from Feinstein on Thursday. The report cites statistics from the U.K. based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), which found that from June 2004 to September 2012 U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan killed between 474 to 881 civilians, including 176 children. The BIJ relies on newspaper accounts and its own independent researchers in Waziristan.

The Stanford/NYU study backs up such figures with evidence of the trauma of living under drones strikes, based on “interviews with victims and witnesses of drone activity, their family members, current and former Pakistani government officials, representatives from five major Pakistani political parties, subject matter experts, lawyers, medical professionals, development and humanitarian workers, members of civil society, academics, and journalists.” Even if the BIJ’s lowest estimation of 474 civilians in Pakistan alone were accurate, Feinstein’s figures would still be far off the mark.

Washington Post offers data from the Web site Long War Journal, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen killed a combined 31 civilians in 2008, 84 in 2009, 20 in 2010, 30 in 2011  and 39 in 2012.

The New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, says that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan alone killed at least 25 civilians in 2008, 25 again in 2009, 14 in 2010, six in 2011 and five in 2012.

Hell, let’s give the drone pilots medals while we’re at it! They might get sore asses from sitting down all day!

Among self-described liberal Democrats, fully 77 percent endorse the use of drones against terrorist targets. On the question of killing Americans in drone strikes, Democrats approved of the use 58-33 percent, as did liberals, 55-35 percent.

A separate Pew study from October 2011 found that 87 percent of Americans support “increasing the use of unmanned drones,” including a majority of Democrats who said it was a “good thing.”

This is due to the false dichotomy of the blind theology set up by militant drone hawks. Either robot death from the skies, or boots on the ground?

“Drones are a lot more civilized than what we used to do. I think it’s actually a more humane weapon because it can be targeted to specific enemies and specific people.” ~Sen. Angus King’s (I-Maine)

[Drone strikes] inflict fewer civilian deaths than bombing campaigns, boots on the ground or any practical alternative.” ~New York Times columnist David Brooks

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes calls the other alternative.

“We can be a nation that declares its war over, that declares itself at peace and goes about rigorously and energetically using intelligence and diplomacy and well-resourced police work to protect us from future attacks”

But the dogma doesn’t allow for such creative problem-solving when singular destruction is narrowly employed. And secret, no less!

All the more reason that Yours Truly can’t wait for our civilization to be destroyed by alien life, life-destroying asteroids, or rather, exploding meteorites.

At least that wouldn’t be politically-motivated. It would be a mercy. A labor of love. Ahh.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-16: Love Songs by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

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Austere Warnings

sun ra

Danger signs abound reminding us of the context of our austere, violent, unequal world. Politically-motivated reasoning disenfranchises voters, consumers, workers, people of color, the impoverished, whistleblowers, dissenters, journalists, and any citizen who wants their free civil rights.

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Duke Ellington
Sunshine Of Your Love – Ella Fitzgerald
Other Planes of There – Sun Ra And His Solar Arkestra
Pinetops Boogie Woogie – Pinetops Perkins
Big Chief – Professor Longhair
I Smell A Rat – Big Mama Thornton
Drunk – Jimmy Liggins & His 3D Music
RL Burnside – Boogie Chillen
Bass Solo – Larry Graham
What About You (In The World Today) – Co Real Artists
fruitman – kool and the gang
Acid Lady – San Francisco T.k.o.’s
Message From 9 To The Universe – Jimi Hendrix & friends
Get Off Your Ass And Jam – George Clinton & Parliment Funkadelic
Look What You Can Get – Funky Nassau
Symphonic Revolution – Mandrill
It’s A New Day – The Skullsnaps
Do The Sissy – Albert Collins
Sunset – Yusef Lateef
Goodmorning Sunshine – Quasimoto
Crosshairs – DANGERDOOM
Chemical Calisthenics – Blackalicious
Spiritual Healing – Dälek
Bounce – Jay Dilla
Lazy Confessions – The Moldy Peaches
Lonlon (Ravel’s Bolero) – Angélique Kidjo

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-02: Austere Warnings by The Stranger on Mixcloud

Even the jobs numbers belie the myth, with Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz noting that “the jobs deficit—the number of jobs lost since the recession officially began plus the number of jobs we should have added just to keep up with the normal growth in the potential labor force—remains nearly nine million.” With certain politicians stamping out that growth to the labor and middle classes, the labor market will not fill that gap until the end of 2021.

The conservative-led drive in Congress for more federal budget-cutting will reduce demand, stifle growth and choke off job creation, at a time when we need much higher levels of investment and jobs growth.

This jobs deficit is directly affected by the blind austerity hysteria (or austeria, eh? eh?), with our U.S. economy lagging in response to the declining markets in Europe, suffering a costly recession inflicted by misguided austerity policies.

I can’t repeat it enough: cutting government spending in a weak economy costs jobs.

Via The Campaign for America’s Future:

  1. Austerity costs jobs. More than 20 million people are in need of full-time work.  While corporate profits are at record heights as a percentage of the economy, wages are at record lows and falling.  cuts in government spending and hikes in taxes on working people cost jobs.  Government workers and contractors get laid off.  Small businesses feel the pinch as the afflicted tighten their belts.  Interest rates can’t go lower; business doesn’t get any more confident.
  2. More austerity is already being inflicted. Last quarter’s decline took place before the tax hikes agreed to in December’s “fiscal cliff” deal.  The increase of tax rates on the top 1 percent will have little effect on demand, since someone making over $400,000 can afford the hit.  But the end of the payroll tax holiday cost the typical family 2 percent of their income, with the change visible in their January paychecks.  For a family earning $50,000, that represents a $1,000 loss of income
  3. Even more austerity will soon come. House Republicans devoted their retreat to reordering the fiscal hostage crises they have planned for the next five months. – the sequester, they believe, will give them greater leverage to extort deep and unpopular cuts in spending, particularly Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
  4. The deficit hawks are delusional. Out-of-control inflation hasn’t broken out.  Investors are not panicked.  They are still willing to park their money in U.S. bonds for essentially no real return. One reason is that the deficit isn’t out of control.  As the Congressional Budget Office reports, the annual deficit is down by 25 percent since 2009.    It is coming down faster than any time since the demobilization at the end of World War II.   Our mid-term debt is essentially stabilized as a percent of gross domestic product.  Our long-term debt projections are completely a question of fixing our broken health care system.
  5. Stop the austerity hysteria. Stop paying tribute to the austerity lobby. return to sensible governance.  Repeal the sequester – deep across-the-board cuts are idiotic. Commit to growing our way out of the hole we are in. Invest in areas vital to our economy and to our people.  Pay for those commitments in ways that makes sense.  Put people back to work and watch the deficits come down.  Crack down on overseas tax dodges. End the obscene subsidies to Big Oil, Big Pharma and Big Agra.

But Obama is not and will not be our savior on this subject. He has flip-flopped enough on the issue of Too-Big-to-Fail banks and money in politics enough to appear entirely culpable.

Like many presidents before him, he is using the guise of ‘nonprofits’ to turn what was once lucrative campaign cash into unlimited corporate donations. Just as he has ‘devolved’ on SuperPACs, Citizen’s United, special interests, and other contributions. At this point, it is no longer questionable or dodgy to call him a Wall Street co-conspirator, as the President rakes in massive Wall Streetcontributions and paying back donors with immunity from prosecution.

He hasn’t prosecuted a single banker and has appointed a scandal-plagued Wall Street defense lawyer to head the SEC. He has whined that he has been blocked by the intransigent Congress, but still refuses to exercise executive function (you know, his fucking job) in areas that he does have direct influence.

Via Salon:

A president, for instance, has the unilateral power to at least propose tough Wall Street regulations, even if Congress is too corrupt to pass them. A president, likewise, has the unilateral power to nominate genuinely independent regulators, even if a Wall Street-dominated Senate might try to halt such a nomination. In short, a president has the unilateral power to at least force a serious fight over these issues — and Obama has refused to even do that. Instead, he championed bailouts and a Wall Street “reform” package that let the banks off the hook, and he has appointed Wall Street pals like Lanny Breuer at Justice andMary Jo White at the Securities Exchange Commission.

The ‘President is weak and blocked’ defense doesn’t make much sense either in the context of one of the most powerful presidents in recent history, on leveraging reforms, increasing the surveillance state, national security and foreign policy.

In fact, this Treasury Department has approved excessive salaries for the very same executives of the very same financial firms that received taxpayer funds as part of the 2008 economic bailout of Wall Street.

The news comes in a report authored by the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which said that “Treasury approved all 18 requests it received last year to raise pay for executives at American International Group Inc., General Motors Corp. and Ally Financial Inc,” according to the Associated Press.

14 of the requests for executive pay raises were over $100,000, and the biggest raise was $1 million. All this while employee and consumer protections are set adrift and ignored, or worse; the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are set upon and impugned by cruel Republicans. The unemployed are even cannibalized by the major banks taking their cut wherever they can get it.

Via AllGov:

A new report (pdf) from the nonprofit group National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) says Americans out of work are paying millions of dollars in unnecessary fees as part of receiving their unemployment payments. This is because many states encourage or even require the jobless to use bank-issued payment cards to access their funds.

The NCLC found that many states, like Arizona, make it difficult for residents to sign up for direct deposit with the state government. And in at least five states—California, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland and Nevada—direct deposit is not an option at all.

The consumer group contends that this situation is illegal under federal law prohibiting states from requiring benefits recipients to open an account with a specific bank, such as JPMorgan ChaseU.S. Bancorp and Bank of America.

But ignore the hypocrisy. Congress does whatever it wants, breaking the very laws it legislates, or at least, exempting themselves at the expense of the fleeced classes.

And while those Chief Execrable Officers in Congress “battle“, they hope to silence large swaths of the voting population. It isn’t enough that they overlook the poor and favor those who can afford hefty bribes, they still want to entirely disenfranchise the hated plebes with voter ID laws. There is much that can be done to prevent this tampering, but injustice is frequent.

Because the status quo machinery cannot be stopped. Even when outspoken cogs decry the monstrousness of it, they make such admonitions within the context of authoritative paradigms.

Via Danger Room:

Ben Emmerson wants to be clear: He’s not out to ban flying killer robots used by the CIA or the U.S. military. But the 49-year-old British lawyer is about to become the bane of the drones’ existence, thanks to the United Nations inquiry he launched last week into their deadly operations.

Emmerson, the United Nations’ special rapporteur for human rights and counterterrorism, will spend the next five months doing something the Obama administration has thoroughly resisted: unearthing the dirty secrets of a global counterterrorism campaign that largely relies on rapidly proliferating drone technology. Announced on Thursday in London, it’s the first international inquiry into the drone program, and one that carries the imprimatur of the world body.

If the facts show that the US is committing war crimes, then so be it, that is what he will unearth.

And AlterNet:

A military judge overseeing September 11 pre-trial hearings revealed Thursday the government had censored them from outside the courtroom, and angrily ordered that this stop immediately.

The proceedings at the high-security, high-tech courtroom due to host the trial of five alleged plotters in America’s worst terror attack are heard in the press gallery and in a room where human rights groups and victims’ families sit, with a 40 second delay.

This is done so a court security officer, or CSO, sitting next to the judge can block anything deemed classified.

On Monday part of the proceedings were censored when the discussion touched on secret CIA prisons where the suspects were held and abused.

The judge said he was surprised and angry that the censoring mechanism was activated from outside the court, without his knowledge.

And the only official who has been officially punished for the illegal CIA torture program was the whistleblower who talked about it.

Via Glenn Greenwald:

John Kiriakou is not a pure anti-torture hero given that, in his first public disclosures, he made inaccurate claims about the efficacy of waterboarding. But he did also unequivocally condemn waterboarding and other methods as torture. And, as FAIR put it this week, whatever else is true: “The only person to do time for the CIA’s torture policies appears to be a guy who spoke publicly about them, not any of the people who did the actual torturing.” Despite zero evidence of any harm from his disclosures, the federal judge presiding over his case – the reliably government-subservient US District Judge Leonie Brinkema – said she “would have given Kiriakou much more time if she could.” As usual, the only real criminals in the government are those who expose or condemn its wrongdoing.

This is why whistleblowing – or, if you prefer, unauthorized leaks of classified information – has become so vital to preserving any residual amounts of transparency.

“when our sources are prosecuted, the news-gathering process is criminalized, so it’s incumbent upon all journalists to speak up” 

~the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer

“People are feeling less open to talking to reporters given this uptick. There is a definite chilling effect in government due to these investigations.” ~Washington Post

“the president’s crackdown chills dissent, curtails a free press and betrays Obama’s initial promise to ‘usher in a new era of open government.'” ~Bloomberg report

So the powerful call for more cyber-warfare, more government surveillance of the citizenry, and to privatize that surveillance state the way they are privatizing everything else in our rapidly corporatizing fascist nation.

The comfy relations between the private sector and law enforcement poses a risk to the rights and freedoms of the individual. But authoritarians accept government power as inherently valid and government claims as inherently true. It’s easy for them to accept the secrecy, and to punish defiers as traitors.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-02: Austere Warnings by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Full Third-Party Debate

Agree or disagree with any or all of these third-parties, but it’s a travesty that they haven’t been able to make their voices heard on such important issues on the national stage, especially considering the broad support they’ve garnered. And democracy is in serious trouble when a third-party candidate is arrested and chained instead of allowed into the presidential debates. Jill Stein (Green Party), Rocky Anderson (Justice Party), Virgil Goode (Constitution Party) and Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) seem to be the only candidates willing to address the concerns that have come to the forefront of our national dialogue after over a year of protest and activism; topics like climate change, civil liberties, NDAA, Citizen’s United, campaign finance, term limits, corporatization and the war on drugs.

Via RT:

Organized by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation, and moderated by the respectfully stern and seemingly-immortal Larry King, the debate was lively and attended by raucous applause, with questions submitted via social media. RT interviewed the candidates beforehand, and broadcast the event live and on their website. Read more there for short bios of each presidential hopeful.

The ‘finalists’, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, will debate again in Washington DC on October 30th. Democracy Now! had previously hosted a more informal set of debates between the candidates in recent weeks.

Rapid Increase in US Electronic Surveillance

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The United States government has revealed information about the Justice Department’s use of warrantless internet and telephone surveillance of American citizens (known as “pen register” and “trap and trace” records). And even though they are legally required to do so, the documents were not released until the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit with a Freedom of Information Act claim:

Via Ars TechnicaRTWIRED’s Threat Level:

Pen registers obtain, in real time, non-content information of outbound telephone and internet communications, such as phone numbers dialed, and the sender and recipient (and sometimes subject line) of an e-mail message. A trap-and-trace acquires the same information, but for inbound communications to a target. These terms originally referred to hardware devices law enforcement could attach to the phone network to capture information about (but not the contents of) phone calls.

Today’s telephone networks have the ability to capture this information without any special equipment. And the government has expanded the concept to include other forms of communication such as email.

The legal standard for conducting this kind of non-content surveillance is less stringent than the rules for conducting a wiretap. To get a wiretap order, the government must convince a judge that it is essential to an investigation, but judges are required to sign off on pen register orders when the authorities say the information is relevant to an investigation. No probable-cause warrant is needed to obtain the data.

“Because these surveillance powers are not used to capture telephone conversations or the bodies of emails, they are classified as ‘non-content’ surveillance tools, as opposed to tools that collect ‘content,’ like wiretaps,” Naomi Gilens of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project explains. “This means that the legal standard that law enforcement agencies must meet before using pen registers is lower than it is for wiretaps and other content-collecting technology.”

The statistics uncovered by the ACLU show a striking increase in the frequency of government surveillance. Here is the number of orders issued by the government over the last 12 years:

Statistics: The American Civil Liberties Union

In 2001, the DoJ issued only 5,683 reported “original orders.” (.pdf) Fast forward to 2011, the latest year for which data is available, the number skyrocketed to 37,616 — a more than sixfold increase. Though these can be used to track e-mail, the vast majority are used to get information on mobile phone users’ phone calls and texts.

Consider that last year mobile carriers responded to a staggering 1.3 million law enforcement requests — which come from federal, state and local police, as well as from administrative offices – for subscriber information, including text messages and phone location data. That’s according to data provided to Congress that was released in July. The nation’s major phone providers said they were working around the clock and charging millions in fees to keep up with ever-growing demands.

Not surprisingly, the number of people affected by such orders has jumped as well – consider the below chart on the number of people who the DoJ got information about using trap-and-traces and pen registers.

Statistics: The American Civil Liberties Union

As the Naomi Gilens points out, “more people were subjected to pen register and trap and trace surveillance in the past two years than in the entire previous decade.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in ongoing litigation, claims that the National Security Agency, with the help of the nation’s telecoms, is hijacking all electronic communications.

The new statistics also show a large spike in Internet surveillance:

Statistics: The American Civil Liberties Union

While the growth rate for Internet surveillance is high, such surveillance still accounts for a tiny fraction of pen register and trap-and-trace orders overall. In 2011, only about 800 of each type of order was issued for Internet traffic, compared to almost 20,000 of each type of order for telephones.

While it’s useful for the public to have these statistics, they give just one small piece of the overall surveillance puzzle. For example, these statistics likely don’t include cell phone location tracking by law enforcement. They also omit government access to emails stored by third party providers. And they entirely exclude the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program under the FISA Amendment Act. While hard numbers are hard to obtain, what little evidence we do have suggests that all of these forms of surveillance have been increasing.

Why is the government spying on us so much more than it did just a decade ago? The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were surely one motivating factor. But it can hardly explain the sharp increase in the last two years. Another important factor is likely just supply and demand. As information technology in general has gotten cheaper and more powerful, the technology to capture and store large amounts of intercepted data has also gotten cheaper. So economic constraints that limited the amount of data the government could collect in the past has become less and less of a constraint.

Feel Good

Good news, everyone!

In the wake of so much depressing and oppressing mainstream media, I thought I’d dedicate this week to some of the redemptive and hopeful items in our culture/class/info war. Appropriately, some happy-time feel-good music to make you move your feet!

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Will Bradley and the Ray McKinley Band
Cheek to Cheek – Billie Holiday
Lambeth Walk – Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli
Stomping At Decca – Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli
I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm – Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli
I’m Perfectly Satisfied – Jack Hylton And His Orchestra
Feelin’ High And Happy – Gene Krupa
Here Comes The Sun – The Beatles
A Felicidade – Louiz Bonfa
Joy – Sun Ra
The Tide Is High – The Paragons
Rock-A-Hula Baby – Elvis Presley
Satisfy My Soul – Bob Marley
Surfboard Antonio – Carlos Jobim
Happy Together – The Turtles
Windy – Association
The Warmth Of The Sun – Beach Boys
Papa Gene’s Blues – Monkees
Love And Happiness – Al Green
Joy – Issac Hayes
Da Funk [Armand Van Helden Remix] – Daft Punk
19-2000 – Gorillaz
Tropicana – RATATAT
Satisfaction (Club Mix) – Benny Benassi
Besame Mucho – Dave Pike
You’ve Made Me So Very Happy – Blood, Sweat & Tears

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-05-19: Feel Good by The Stranger on Mixcloud

Romney is having trouble staying on message, buffeted from all sides for his forced radical right social obligation, his “experience” as one of the wealthy elites we love-to-hate, a job-destroying corporate raider at Bain Capital in the 1980s, and his record of status quo pandering not much unlike Obama’s.

Romney is trying to pivot from the incendiary social issues that dominated GOP primaries to the economy, which polls show is his strongest suit, Obama’s biggest vulnerability and the No. 1 election issue.

He wants to “reward job creators” on Day One as president, which is code for “job-destroying greedy plutocrats.” He would also approve the Keystone oil pipeline regardless of environmental impact and start rolling back Obama’s health overhaul to leave millions at the mercy of a corrupt insurance industry.

Both of these are steps away from the science and the economic evidence.

He also found himself having to refudiate a conservative independent group’s $10 million TV ad campaign recalling Obama’s ties to the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. It would have raised off-message race and religion issues.

After staying mostly quiet through the Republican primaries, Democrats are kicking off a new campaign to convince voters that Mitt Romney earned his fortune by exploiting workers at Bain Capital.

Formerly finance-friendly politicians are frenetically trying to straddle this hard line between populist appeasement and corporate donorship.

The Obama campaign has insisted repeatedly that its beef with Romney is about his specific business dealings and not private equity in general. But it can sound like a pretty thin distinction at times, especially to prominent Democratic donors who’ve worked in private equity themselves and are sensitive about being vilified as greedy corporate raiders.

Steve Rattner, who co-founded the Quadrangle Group, a successful private equity firm, hardly a fan of Romney in most circumstances, defended Bain Capital on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” as a model company and called Obama’s attacks “unfair” (though he did disagree with Romney’s claim that private equity creates jobs).

In a case of awkward timing, Obama attended a fundraiser Monday hosted by Tony James, a top executive at the world’s largest private equity firm, Blackstone Group. Like Rattner, James is on the record defending private equity from Obama.

But if President Obama is politically vulnerable on the weak recovery of the economy, Romney will be increasingly vulnerable in the presidential race for embracing Paul Ryan’s plan – if the Democrats make clear the dangers it poses for the vast majority of Americans, the servants at Romney’s “marvelous” policy buffet. Declaring the presidential race starkly as a “make-or-break moment for the middle class,” Obama told Associated Press editors in April that in the much-different budgets he and Ryan have proposed, voters face a “choice between competing visions of our future [that] has [not in recent memory] been so unambiguously clear.”

The Ryan-Romney plan is further to the Right – and more hurtful to average Americans – than anything from Ronald Reagan or Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, Obama said. Calling it “thinly veiled social Darwinism,” he argued that his “centrist” approach has historically drawn support even from Republicans, from Lincoln to Eisenhower, who saw government as a way to “do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.”

The Ryan budget will not only fail to do what it claims, but in most cases will do just the opposite. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman put it, the budget is “the most fraudulent in American history.”

Under the guise of cutting deficits and protecting health and retirement security, Ryan-Romney would change federal health insurance to reduce federal costs but only by shifting the burden back to individuals – especially the aged and poor – not by increasing efficiency. The budget would raise the eligibility age for Medicare in the future and replace Medicare with vouchers, turn over Medicaid to the states with inadequate, declining block grants, and invalidate most of the Affordable Care Act, including its expansion of Medicaid. As a result, as many as 27 million people would lose Medicaid coverage (according to the Urban Institute), and 33 million uninsured will not gain insurance promised through the Affordable Care Act.

These are the sorts of injustice that show where reform is necessary.

Powerful elites like Jaime Dimon have been working for years to destroy financial reforms, with a set of insidious tactics, recently outlined by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone:
  • STEP 1: STRANGLE IT IN THE WOMB
  • STEP 2: SUE, SUE, SUE
  • STEP 3: IF YOU CAN’T WIN, STALL
  • STEP 4: BULLY THE REGULATORS
  • STEP 5: PASS A GAZILLION LOOPHOLES
Two years ago, when he signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, President Barack Obama bragged that he’d dealt a crushing blow to the extravagant financial corruption that had caused the global economic crash in 2008. “These reforms represent the strongest consumer financial protections in history,” the president told an adoring crowd in downtown D.C. on July 21st, 2010. “In history.”

The new law ostensibly rewrote the rules for Wall Street. It was going to put an end to predatory lending in the mortgage markets, crack down on hidden fees and penalties in credit contracts, and create a powerful new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to safeguard ordinary consumers. Big banks would be banned from gambling with taxpayer money, and a new set of rules would limit speculators from making the kind of crazy-ass bets that cause wild spikes in the price of food and energy. There would be no more AIGs, and the world would never again face a financial apocalypse when a bank like Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.

Most importantly, even if any of that fiendish crap ever did happen again, Dodd-Frank guaranteed we wouldn’t be expected to pay for it. “The American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes,” Obama promised. “There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts. Period.”

And though Paul Volcker has said Jaime Dimon should give up his banking license, others are calling for him to stand trial.

Let’s put JPMorgan Chase chairman, president and CEO James “Jamie” Dimon on trial. Mr. Dimon has a reputation for being the sagest guy on Wall Street and an expert at managing risk. JPMorgan emerged from the financial crisis not just unscathed but secure enough to step in and rescue Bear Stearns when the government asked it to. (He gets very mad when you say that his bank got bailed out by the government, and he insists that the government made him take all that free money.) Then his bank somehow accidentally lost billions of dollars last week, whoops! And he is really embarrassed, but not embarrassed enough to fire himself. So, let’s put him on trial and force him to explain what good he and his bank are.

The FBI has opened a probe into trading losses at the biggest US bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co. The SEC is investigating the massive lossDimon might have to be hauled before Congress to answer questions.

“Wouldn’t it have been better if that $2 billion had been used for almost anything in the world besides shady mega-bank gambling that no one understands?” And, “Doesn’t it seem you guys could save a bit of money on salaries and so forth while still achieving basically the same results if you replaced your chief investment officer with some old people who play video slots all day?”

It seems like America was actually doing pretty well with there not being any such thing as credit-default swaps, which JPMorgan invented, in the 1990s, right before investment banks were allowed to merge with retail banks and do whatever they wanted with everyone’s money.

Also did Dimon lie during his first-quarter earnings call last month, or did he have no idea what sort of things his chief investment office was up to (even after their actions were reported in the press)? If he didn’t have any idea, shouldn’t he maybe step down to run a smaller bank, where he can keep a closer eye on everything? Dimon said initially that the stuff that lost all the money wouldn’t have violated the Volcker Rule, even though it plainly violates the spirit of the Volcker Rule but also he’s not sure if the bank broke any laws?

President Barack Obama said on Monday that the huge trading loss at JPMorgan Chase, demonstrated the need for Wall Street reform.

 So what can be done? In the 1930s, after the mother of all banking panics, we arrived at a workable solution, involving both guarantees and oversight. On one side, the scope for panic was limited via government-backed deposit insurance; on the other, banks were subject to regulations intended to keep them from abusing the privileged status they derived from deposit insurance, which is in effect a government guarantee of their debts. Most notably, banks with government-guaranteed deposits weren’t allowed to engage in the often risky speculation characteristic of investment banks like Lehman Brothers.

But with many lawmakers personally invested in JPMorgan Chase, can we expect any real change to be made in Washington?

Senators Minimum Maximum
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D) $1,000,001 $1,000,001
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D) $100,001 $250,000
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) $52,003 $130,000
Sen. Tom Coburn (R) $17,003 $80,000
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) $15,001 $50,000
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) $15,001 $50,000
Representatives Minimum Maximum
Rep. Leonard Lance (R) $250,001 $500,000
Rep. Jim Renacci (R) $213,937 $213,937
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr (R) $100,001 $250,000
Rep. Peter Welch (D) $100,001 $250,000
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D) $50,001 $100,000
Rep. Mike Conaway (R) $50,001 $100,000
Rep. John Boehner (R) $30,002 $100,000
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R) $30,002 $100,000
Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) $17,003 $80,000
Rep. Connie Mack (R) $17,003 $80,000
Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R) $15,001 $50,000
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D) $15,001 $50,000
Rep. David McKinley (R) $15,001 $50,000

One of the most dogged Wall Street reformers on Capitol Hill says there’s a small but golden opportunity to close key loopholes in the 2010 financial reform law,

“We have felt like there’s two of us against hundreds of Wall Street lawyers working on this all day, every day — and that the public was disengaged from the issue,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said “Now the public is engaged. There’s a chance here — because the rules are supposed to go into effect in July — there’s a moment of possibility, we’re trying to do all we can to press it forward, say ‘seize this moment and get the rules right.’ Because once they’re put in place it’s very hard to change them.”

Merkley, along with Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), were the primary authors of the so-called Volcker Rule, meant to forbid federally insured banks from speculating with depositor money. But the regulators tasked with writing and implementing the rule, under pressure from the financial services industry, wrote exemptions into the draft that, if finalized, would allow firms to continue making the risky trades that got JP Morgan into trouble.

*******************************************

Meanwhile, from the Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) condemns a preemptive police raid that took place at approximately 11:30pm Wednesday in the Bridgeport neighborhood, and instances of harassment on the street, in which Chicago police are unlawfully detaining, searching, and questioning NATO protesters. The Bridgeport raid was apparently conducted by the Organized Crime Division of the Chicago Police Department and resulted in as many as 8 arrests.

According to witnesses in Bridgeport, police broke down a door to access a 6-unit apartment building near 32nd & Morgan Streets without a search warrant. Police entered an apartment with guns drawn and tackled one of the tenants to the floor in his kitchen. Two tenants were handcuffed for more than 2 hours in their living room while police searched their apartment and a neighboring unit, repeatedly calling one of the tenants a “Commie faggot.” A search warrant produced 4 hours after police broke into the apartment was missing a judge’s signature, according to witnesses. Among items seized by police in the Bridgeport raid were beer-making supplies and at least one cell phone.

“Preemptive raids like this are a hallmark of National Special Security Events,” said Sarah Gelsomino with the NLG and the People’s Law Office. “The Chicago police and other law enforcement agencies should be aware that this behavior will not be tolerated and will result in real consequences for the city.”

In another incident, 3 plainclothes police officers unlawfully stopped, handcuffed, and searched a NATO protester on Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive at approximately 2pm today. According to the protester, he did not consent to a search and there was no probable cause to detain him. The police also photographed and questioned him about where he was from, how he got to Chicago, how long it took, what he was doing here, where he was staying, who he was with, and how long he was planning to say in Chicago. The protester refused to answer any questions and was eventually released.

The NLG has received reports that at least 20 people have been arrested so far this week, and two people are still in custody, not including the Bridgeport residents who are still unaccounted for. One of the protesters currently being detained, Danny Johnson of Los Angeles, has been accused of assaulting a police officer during an immigrant rights rally on Tuesday afternoon. However, multiple witnesses on the scene, including an NLG Legal Observer, recorded a version of events that contradict the accusations of police.

During the week of NATO demonstrations, the NLG is staffing a legal office and answering calls from activists on the streets and in jail. The NLG will also be dispatching scores of Legal Observers to record police misconduct and representing arrestees in the event the city pursues criminal prosecutions.

And while these affronts to civil liberties enrage and outrage (as they should), while we report and protest, remember, these reactionary authoritative actions will only cost the system more when they inevitably lose.

The good news, according to Noam Chomsky, is that Occupy has created solidarity in the US.

The NYPD has lost its first Occupy Wall Street Trial. This case could have been a slam dunk for the NYPD, had it not been for one thing: the video showing police claims of disorderly conduct during an OWS protest to be completely untrue.

Hundreds have been arrested during the Occupy Wall Street protests, but photographer Alexander Arbuckle’s case was the first to go to trial – and after just two days, the Manhattan Criminal Court found him not guilty.

Arbuckle was arrested on New Year’s Day for allegedly blocking traffic during a protest march. He was charged with disorderly conduct, and his arresting officer testified under oath that he, along with the protesters, was standing in the street, despite frequent requests from the police to move to the sidewalk.

But things got a little embarrassing for the NYPD officer when the defense presented a video recording of the entire event, made by well-known journalist Tim Pool.

Pool’s footage clearly shows Arbuckle, along with all the other protesters, standing on the sidewalk. In fact, the only people blocking traffic were the police officers themselves

His lawyers said the video proving that testimony false is what swayed the judge, and the verdict a clear indication that the NYPD was over-policing the protests.

The irony of the case, however, is that Arbuckle was not a protester, or even a supporter of the Occupy movement. He was there to document the cops’ side of the story. A political science and photography major at NYU, Arbuckle felt the police were not being fairly represented in the media.

Also hearteningly, in a surprising letter (.pdf) sent on Monday to attorneys for the Baltimore Police Department, the Justice Department also strongly asserted that officers who seize and destroy such recordings without a warrant or without due process are in strict violation of the individual’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The letter was sent to the police department as it prepares for meetings to discuss a settlement over a civil lawsuit brought by a citizen who sued the department after his camera was seized by police.

In the lawsuit, Christopher Sharp alleged that in May 2010, Baltimore City police officers seized, searched and deleted the contents of his mobile phone after he used it to record them as they were arresting a friend of his.

The right to record police officers in the public discharge of their duties was essential to help “engender public confidence in our police departments, promote public access to information necessary to hold our governmental officers accountable, and ensure public and officer safety,” wrote Jonathan Smith, head of the Justice Department’s Special Litigation Section, who cited the Rodney King case as an example of police abuse caught on camera.

federal judge in New York has given the go ahead for a class action lawsuit to move forward against the city’s police department over allegations that its ‘stop-and-frisk’ program has continuously allowed officers to discriminate against minorities.

In a ruling made Wednesday by US District Judge Shira Scheindlin, the pending suit against the NYPD, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others was granted class action status.

When asked for his take on Judge Scheindlin’s decision, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly told the New York Times that he had no comment because the litigation was continuing, but offered one quip: “It is what it is.”

Elsewhere in her ruling, Judge Scheindlin says that the NYPD’s arguments in favor of the program appear “cavalier”and display “a deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.”

In a statement offered to the AP, the law office for the city of New York says, “We respectfully disagree with the decision and are reviewing our legal options.”

Another federal district judge, the newly-appointed Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York, issued an amazing ruling: one which preliminarily enjoins enforcement of the highly controversial indefinite provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act, enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last December. This afternoon’s ruling came as part of a lawsuit brought by seven dissident plaintiffs — including Chris Hedges, Dan Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, and Birgitta Jonsdottir — alleging that the NDAA violates ”both their free speech and associational rights guaranteed by the First Amendment as well as due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

In a 68-page ruling, US District Judge Katherine Forrest agreed on Wednesday that the statute failed to “pass constitutional muster” because its language could be interpreted quite broadly and eventually be used to suppress political dissent.

“There is a strong public interest in protecting rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Forrest wrote, according to CourtHouseNews.Com. “There is also a strong public interest in ensuring that due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment are protected by ensuring that ordinary citizens are able to understand the scope of conduct that could subject them to indefinite military detention.”

The Manhattan judge therefore ruled in favor of a group of writers and activists who sued US officials, including President Barack Obama. They claimed that the act, which was signed into law on December 31, makes them fear possible arrest by US armed forces.

The ruling was a sweeping victory for the plaintiffs, as it rejected each of the Obama DOJ’s three arguments: (1) because none of the plaintiffs has yet been indefinitely detained, they lack “standing” to challenge the statute; (2) even if they have standing, the lack of imminent enforcement against them renders injunctive relief unnecessary; and (3) the NDAA creates no new detention powers beyond what the 2001 AUMF already provides.

The court also decisively rejected the argument that President Obama’s signing statement – expressing limits on how he intends to exercise the NDAA’s detention powers — solves any of these problems. That’s because, said the court, the signing statement “does not state that § 1021 of the NDAA will not be applied to otherwise-protected First Amendment speech nor does it give concrete definitions to the vague terms used in the statute.”

The court found that the plaintiffs have “shown an actual fear that their expressive and associational activities” could subject them to indefinite detention under the law,and “each of them has put forward uncontroverted evidence of concrete — non-hypothetical — ways in which the presence of the legislation has already impacted those expressive and associational activities” (as but one example, Hedges presented evidence that his “prior journalistic activities relating to certain organizations such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban” proves “he has a realistic fear that those activities will subject him to detention under § 1021″). Thus, concluded the court, these plaintiffs have the right to challenge the constitutionality of the statute notwithstanding the fact that they have not yet been detained under it; that’s because its broad, menacing detention powers are already harming them and the exercise of their constitutional rights.

But even after a federal court deemed the NDAA unconstitutional, the US House of Representatives refused to exclude indefinite detention provisions from the infamous defense spending bill during a vote on Friday.

An attempt to strike down any provisions allowing for the US military to indefinitely detain American citizens without charge from next year’s National Defense Authorization Act was shot down Friday morning in the House of Representatives.

A colleague asked me how the government could blatantly disregard the courts (those that have not been stacked or bought). There’s not much they can’t do, and it’s getting a whole lot worse. With Big Brother street lamps, “incidental” drone spying on American citizens, and the US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) as well as the  Department of Homeland Security (DHS) considering collecting DNA from kids. Soon all of this information may be collated at the NSA mega-base in Utah.

“Even though information may not be collectible, it may be retained for the length of time necessary to transfer it to another DoD entity or government agency to whose function it pertains.”

You could just hack into the systems yourself, as can be easily done with CCTV, for example. But this says little of citizen empowerment, since about half of those that utilize this cyber-espionage will be criminals, and not protesters.

But don’t let all that make you feel bad. There are many groups out there (such as the EFF) fighting against such injustices. Join the fray. You’ll feel a lot better.

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

John Rawls and American Society in the 21st Century

Note: This paper has the added advantage of not being about abortion.

John Rawls, 20th Century American philosopher, died November 26th, 2002. Rawls was a man who believed in the American system, the government, the bicameral legislature, the judicial system, and most of all capitalism. An attack on American soil, such as the September 11th attacks, was also an attack on all the ideals that he, and most of us as Americans, hold dear.
After reading his biography, I pictured Rawls to be sitting on his porch listening to bluegrass or perhaps even smooth jazz, smoking a pipe. Apple pie cooling on the window sill. His son Opie is playing America’s favorite pastime, baseball, and Aunt Bea is in the house packing fireworks for the fourth of July. There is a Rockwell painting above the mantel, which itself is adorned with football trophies and war medals. Just below the mantel are hung stockings from Christmas, because who in America has time to take down Christmas decorations when a Tom Hanks movie is on television ever other week? It’s the American dream. Mr. Television, Milton Berle, Road To movies, Captain America comics and other such clichés.
I bet France hasn’t got as many clichés!

Despite Rawls’ belief in democracy, in the American government, he may not agree with the steps taken by President Bush after September 11th. Part of the American experience is self-sufficiency, individuality. At least in the realistic sense that we are as self-sufficient as can be expected in a group mentality. We rely on others for our electricity, groceries, even water. But contributing members of society can provide for themselves and their families without fear of government intervention or an oppressive New World Order.
Individual accomplishments set people above and beyond in Rawls’ ideal society. The poor are poor through a set of unfortunate circumstances, sure, but the rich are rich because they worked an honest, hard life to get there. The harder you work, the farther you’ll go. In that sense, Rawls is clearly conservative. He believes in helping the poor, in fact he thinks it’s morally necessary, but it shouldn’t be federally mandated.
(And while we’re discussing deontological ethics, would federally mandated welfare really be more morally responsible?)
The Institute for American Values has discussed the American ideology in 1998’s report, A Call to Civil Society.
First and foremost is the conviction that all persons possess transcendent human dignity, and that consequently each person must always be treated as an end, never as a means.
Also, because our individual and collective access to truth is imperfect, most disagreements about values call for civility, openness to other views, and reasonable argument in pursuit of truth. Hey, that’s why I’m writing the paper, right?
Finally is the freedom of conscience and freedom of religion – the twin freedoms which many people, from George Washington to today’s finest historians, believe to be the foundation and precondition of all individual freedoms.

“What is most striking about these values is that everyone can participate. Because they apply to all persons without distinction, they cannot be used to exclude anyone from recognition and respect based on the particularities of race, language, memory, or religion.”
So in the light of these beliefs, it would seem logical that acts taken by the Department of Homeland Security recently would seem atrocious to Rawls. Databases on citizens detailing credit history, criminal history, and work history, not just available to law enforcement or creditors but any average citizen. The detaining of non-citizens and residents due to the possibility of terrorism based solely on race or religion.
Even though Rawls believes that a strong government should govern the people (what a crazy thought), he also believes in checks in balances, that most of the work should be done not by the lawmakers but by you and I. Attending town meetings, voting, and writing our congressmen or women. The happy medium between government regulation and self-rule. But you don’t need a lesson in civics.

Given the threat of terrorism, the nation must now determine the proper balance between freedom and security, liberty and lockdown.
During a news briefing in December at the White House, Steve Cooper, CIO at the Department of Homeland Security, said privacy issues would be one of the five guiding principles used to develop the administration’s cybersecurity protection strategy.
The VISIT program (which will take digital fingerprints and photographs of foreign nationals entering and exiting the country) proposed by the DHS, came coupled with a Privacy Impact Assessment. It explains the flow of data from department to department.
“Getting the balance right between security and privacy will be a pendulum,” Cooper said. But at least they’re trying, right?
Good invasions of privacy…
Bad invasions of privacy…
In May, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft released the FBI from the requirement that surveillance and collection of personal data be based on probable cause. Acts taken by Homeland Security in their search for terrorists and domestic espionage may trample on the rights of those home and abroad, some believe. However, large technological strides have been taken, and the personal information collected, so far, has brought many a notorious villain to justice.
Of course, many people wonder where this trend will eventually lead? Secret warrants, secret courts, black helicopters and Martians in tubes beneath Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Tracking collars on our necks and UPC tattoos on our hands. The mark of the beast.
Ever see that TV show The Prisoner?
The proposal to form a National Counter Terrorism Center, one more organization that will collect and database the information on American citizens and residents, seems to come straight out of George Orwell’s 1984.
James S. Gilmore, one of the main opponents of the government control, has formed the Gilmore Commission (what a modest fellow), for the purposes of countering and reporting to the Congress and the president on matters of invasions of privacy. Gilmore has admitted that incidents in the past, such as the Red Scare, warranted federal action. The difference today, he says, is that “we have the technology to watch everybody all the time, intercept all communications all the time.”
And, as with most large websites, the Homeland Security website has included a Privacy Policy. It mentions the use of internet cookies, IP ranges, if someone links to the site, et cetera. The usual fare. In the context of such a large government organization, however, I cannot help but smile.
Conspiracy, much?

Let’s look at the opposite sides of the argument. Are small compromises in freedoms regrettable but necessary? And what about the larger rights that we as human beings, and not just Americans would be forfeiting if we ignored the problem of terrorism altogether? Is the right to keep your internet history clear from the public eye really more important that the right to sleep unabashed on an airplane? The right to go to school, work, or simply walk the streets without fear of a plane dropping on your head, or a suicide bomber jumping from the crowd and screaming “Jihad!”
To many Americans, the failure to uphold rights may seem an abstract concern in the face of the very concrete exploding threat posed by terrorist attacks.
And what rights are we really giving up? We can still say what we want, own as many guns as we want, worship any way we want if at all, and get the education we desire. Dear God what will we do if we can’t get our double mocha lattes with an injection of overpriced arrogance or our Sears catalog?
I’ll come back to that.
Many people cry foul at the alleged invasions of privacy that government agencies are taking. Conspiracy theories range from the subtle but realistic Big Brother threat involving monitoring what songs you download to the ultimate conspiracy theory; that September 11th itself was a government coup. Normal, sane people scoff at such allegations. There is nothing to be gained! And what threat do fourteen-year-olds pose if they download Garth Brooks songs off of Kazaa? Why would the FBI even care? They (mostly) don’t.

Yes, it’s true and it’s sad how many people of Middle-Eastern descent have been wrongfully prosecuted in this country after September 11th. But keep in mind that all of the high-jackers on all of the planes that day were of Middle-Eastern descent. Racial profiling? Maybe. But if a man with a six-inch boil on his forehead mugs me in a parking lot, and the police lineup contains a man with a six-inch boil on his forehead, you better believe I’m picking out the guy with the six-inch boil.
Ok. Stupid comparison. But ignoring the semi-logical answer of “we’re suspicious of Middle-Easterners because most terrorists are Middle-Eastern”, answer me some other questions… Why doesn’t every American duck and cover when they see a teenager in a grocery store wearing a black trench coat? Would these people accept mail from a grizzled white man from Michigan who lives in a cabin? Are Japanese allowed to fly crop-dusters over Hawaiian soil?
Let’s face it. Some terrorists are Middle-Eastern, and some Middle-Easterners are terrorists, but one obviously doesn’t necessitate the other.
People in America have problems with Venn diagrams.

What exactly is the problem? Recently, the Human Rights Watch organization wrote a report detailing infractions against people in this, our very own country.  Most of those directly affected have been non-U.S. citizens, but that doesn’t negate their basic human rights, or those afforded to them even as aliens in this country.
Separate chapters detail the unjustified secrecy of the government’s practices, including: “the secret incarceration of post-September 11 detainees and immigration proceedings closed to the public; custodial interrogations without access to counsel; arbitrarily prolonged confinement, including detention without charge; and the deplorable conditions-including solitary confinement-as well as the physical abuse to which some detainees have been subjected.
Immediately after the September 11 attacks, the Department of Justice-through constituent agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)-began a process of questioning thousands of people who might have information about or connections to terrorist activity. The decision of whom to question often appeared to be haphazard, at times prompted by law enforcement agents’ random encounters with foreign male Muslims or neighbors’ suspicions. The questioning led to the arrest and incarceration of as many as 1,200 non-citizens, although the exact number remains uncertain. Of those arrested, 752 were charged with immigration violations.
Using immigration law violations as a basis for detention permitted the Department of Justice to avoid the greater safeguards in the criminal law-for example, the requirement of probable cause for arrest, the right to be brought before a judge within forty-eight hours of arrest, and the right to court-appointed counsel. While the alleged visa violations provided a lawful basis for seeking to deport these non-citizens, the Justice Department’s actions constituted an end run around constitutional and international legal requirements governing criminal investigations.
While an immigration law violation may justify deportation, it does not in itself justify detention after arrest. The INS has the legal authority to keep a non-citizen confined pending conclusion of his or her deportation proceedings only if there is evidence of the individual’s dangerousness or risk of flight. Whereas most persons accused of overstaying their visas, working on a tourist visa, or other common immigration law violations are routinely released from jail while their cases proceed, the Department of Justice has sought to keep “special interest” detainees confined in the absence of evidence that they were dangerous or a flight risk. Their release from jail has been contingent on government “clearance,” that is a decision that they were not linked to nor had knowledge about terrorist activities.
An example from the same report:
Tiffanay Hughes, a U.S. citizen, and her husband, Ali Al-Maqtari, a Yemeni citizen, were searched and detained at an army base in Kentucky where she was a recruit on September 15, 2001, for no stated reason. She said that two days earlier, when she went to pick up her orders in Massachusetts, an officer told her repeatedly that she could not wear a hejab, a headdress used by many Muslim women. She protested and said it was a religious symbol. She said that the officer replied, “Don’t let people know that you’re Muslim. It’s dangerous.” Hughes believed that her identification card photo, in which she was wearing the hejab and which was allegedly posted at the army base guardhouse when she arrived there, and her speaking a foreign language (French) with her husband may have raised suspicions. Hughes was followed by three officers everywhere she went for almost two weeks while at the army base. The army encouraged her to take an honorable discharge, and she did so on September 28. Her husband was detained for fifty-two days, mostly in solitary confinement. He was charged with an immigration violation for ten days of “unlawful presence” in the United States while he changed from a visitor’s visa to a visa sponsored by his wife. He had been released on bond.”
Its not just the government’s mentality that provides racial discrimination since September 11th. Additionally, there have been reports of violence against people of Middle-Eastern descent. Hate crimes such as the murder of Ali Almansoop, an American-Yemeni native and hardworking father of four, spark a sense of dismay at the extremes that some people will take their hatred concerning the attacks. Septemer 10th was a normal day. The next day, we were all shocked and certainly outraged, but the majority of us didn’t pick up a gun and murder discriminately.
Despite this, there are more Middle-Eastern victims of terrorism than there are American victims. Not to minimize American deaths, but more innocent Middle-Easterners have been blown up than voluntary suicide bombers. But that’s a different rant, we were talking about America, I believe.
“Abdo Ali Ahmed, 51, a Yemeni shopkeeper, was killed in Reedley, California, on Sept. 29 after receiving a death threat and a hate note deriding his ethnicity. Ahmed was a father of eight who had lived in California for 35 years.”
I bring this up, not because it is the fault of the Justice Department or the president. Quite the contrary, I will connect this evidence later to show how the government may be even more necessary due to this hateful mentality.
However, hopefully these murderers don’t represent or speak for all of us. Though we can discount these lone nuts as lone nuts and repress the hatred imparted upon us by former generations, we cannot overlook the violence, and we certainly cannot discount the outrages committed by our very own government.
Overstepping the boundaries? Without a doubt.
In some cases, the Department of Justice detained people of interest to the Once de Septembre investigation by obtaining arrest warrants for them as material witnesses, which is a perfectly legal responsibility on the parts of law enforcement agencies. Some individuals, however, may have been detained because their names resembled those of the alleged hijackers. “The only thing a lot of these people are guilty of is having the Arabic version of Bob Jones for a name,” said Bob Doguim, an FBI spokesman in Houston. Muhammed is the most popular name on the planet, by the by.
Whatever the reasoning, the problem is real and… unless I’m mistaken in the completion of this overused phrase… the problem is now.

But I am not writing all this to convince you that the actions of the Department of Homeland Security are unethical. I’m sure that we’re all aware of that by now. I’m not writing to begrudge the government or ramble about Civil Rights infractions. In all honesty, I don’t even care that terribly much. I mean, let me be honest about this because it’s the ethical thing to do. It may be the only ethical thing I do because I love to laugh at the misfortunes of others. I think George Burns said it best with “Tragedy is when I stub my toe, Comedy is when you fall into an open manhole and die.” Also known as Schadenfreude. So I revel in the stories of people like the following:
On November 1, 2001, two FBI agents went to the workplace of a Palestinian civil engineer in New York City. They informed him that they had received an anonymous tip: that he had a gun, which was not true. The engineer suspects that a contractor with a grudge against him sent the tip to the FBI. Five days later, INS agents came to his workplace and arrested him for overstaying his visa. The man’s visa had indeed expired but he had applied for an adjustment of status; he was therefore legally in the country. He received a visa extension from the INS office in Vermont while he was detained. He was incarcerated for twenty-two days before being released on bond.
I laugh at that because it is not my tragedy, its my comedy. Perhaps that is part of the problem with America in the 21st century, but I digress.

To re-iterate. This paper is about Rawls’ possible reactions and thoughts on both Once de Septembre and our nation’s reactions. That in mind, what would he have to say specifically concerning the detainees in the wake of… the tragedy.
If terrorism is such a threat to our opulent way of life, which we all hold dear, then maybe the ends do justify the means.
But perhaps the dismissal of the rights of the few end up hurting the whole. Part of our mindset that makes us American is the recognition of the importance of the rights that are the foundation of American democracy. Indeed, rather than weakening national security, protection of civil liberties is a hallmark of strong, democratic policies.
Rawls would certainly agree. In his 1971 book, A Theory of Justice, Rawls sketches a complex and well-defined notion of how a liberal democratic state could make a positive impact in terms of being redistributive–that is, how such a state could insure that its members were provided with basic rights and more or less equal opportunities. Justice means that the same fundamental liberties are given to all citizens and it means ideological neutrality of the state. In later works, including Political Liberalism, Rawls deals with the thorny issue of cultural pluralism, and how a liberal state could hope to incorporate the life-plans of many different cultures under one roof.
Ah, the blissful veil of ignorance. Sweet bliss!
I mean, how is a Yemeni shopkeeper supposed to work hard and honest and get rich if he’s dead or deported? That being the case, when we set a precedent in history (which was really set with the detainment of Japanese during World War II, but who‘s counting?), it not only undermines the rights of a thousand non-citizens now, but possibly millions of thousands of American babies born in… the future!! Will these futurebabies be put into camps for the menial labors that benefit the rich and the few? Will rights such as freedom of speech and due process be suspended under fears that radicals will blow up not only themselves but others around them?
I don’t know what to believe anymore!! (Note: When you flip flop this quickly it’s not called flip-flopping, its called inner turmoil.)
True. There is no great conspiracy. The Illuminati and the Zionists didn’t work out a plan to make the Muslim community look bad by crashing airplanes into the symbols of economic trade in America. Bush isn’t reviewing his Napoleonic plans for world dominion while stroking a white furry cat. John Ashcroft doesn’t have ACME blueprints on how to stop the artists and liberals and attach ACME tracking collars on all the writers and poets.
And let me tell you something that may blow your mind. And this is coming from a self-described libertarian. I do not believe that the infringements on privacy or constitutional rights were intentional or malicious. I believe that the Department of Homeland Security has taken precautions to do what they think is necessary to ensure our safety. They have been walking on eggshells to tread a fine line between Martial Law and a world driven by terrorist fear.

Let’s take a look at some of their accomplishments taken straight from their very own Homeland Security website:
At the top of the list are improved border functions, which have resulted in better service, shorter delays and tighter security. Homeland Security Deputy Secretary James Loy said the border inspection process was unified to speed the free flow of goods and people, and to keep terrorists and criminals out of the United States. In addition, the department also took measures to enhance aviation security. Loy has said that in less than a year 50,000 newly trained screeners, air marshals, along with state of the art technology helped make airline travel safer and more secure.
The department also took a closer look at the Internet-based Student and Exchange Visitor Information System to maintain current information on non- immigrant students and exchange visitors coming and going to and from the United States.
He said the system has ensured that foreign students are not delayed upon entry and those “posing as students” or seeking entry to fraudulent schools are stopped in their tracks. Last fall 300,000 students were successfully cleared for study through the program, while some 200 others were sent home, he said.
Another department initiative has been expansion of its Container Security Initiative in an effort to ensure the 20,000 containers entering U.S. ports every day are safe. Loy said the department has increased inspections at ports around the world.
He said the department will install U.S. VISIT program equipment at the nation’s 50 busiest land ports as well as deploy aerial surveillance and expand CSI to more seaports around the world. The US-VISIT system is a DHS program that uses biometric identifiers such as fingerprints from visitors to assist border control officers in making admission decisions. The system also helps the department verify the identity of incoming visitors and confirm compliance with visa and immigration policies.
The department will phase in a system over the next three months that will provide secure real-time cyber connectivity among all 50 states and territories. In addition, a network of secure video conferencing capability between governors’ offices will be in place by July, he said.
The department also plans to build on existing programs to share information, because “pieces of information that were never important before have all of a sudden become important,” he explained.
Also the department is working on a solution for better information sharing and communication, as well as interoperability in equipment and training, among first responders and state and local levels.
Another priority lies in further protecting U.S. borders. Loy noted that every year 500 million people, 130 million vehicles, 2.5 million rail cars and more than 11 million containers are processed at borders across the country. “The challenge of developing a fully integrated border and port security system in the context of a global economy amid a global war is huge,” he said. “And yet the consequences of not achieving this goal is even greater.”

And let’s not forget that we went all the way to Iraq to shove flashlights down Saddam Hussein’s open craw. Now that’s what I call… Texas Justice!
It’s obvious to most, (excepting those that are set in their government hatin’ ways), that Walker Texas President and his council of Good Old Boys are actually working for the American populace, for better or worse.

Let’s return to Rawls for a moment. For though he may be dead… uh… well hell, the paper’s about him, anyway. Rawls describes his ‘Great Society’ as needing three specific things in order to operate successfully towards his Thomas Moore-like Utopia. He sees a need for government regulation and lawmaking. Although Rawls may not be happy to the extent that these regulations have been taken, it’s certainly better than the alternative. A lackadaisical government who sees a righteous injustice and replies with an apathetic “feh.” By comparison, we can assume that Rawls would be content, if not actually happy, with American society in the 21st century.
The other two requirement for the ‘Great Society’ however, don’t measure up by any means or stretch of the imagination. The second need, he says, is a reasonable acceptance of the norms and values of others. Along with the hate crimes mentioned earlier and the obvious racial tensions in many parts of the United States to this day, there are religious close-mindedness, sexual harassment, shortsightedness when it comes to lifestyle choices, and a general veneer of hatred still perpetuated to this day. Beyond that, many Americans cannot accept the beliefs of other world cultures. Eat dog? Barbaric! Not eat beef? Close-minded! Communist? Atrocious! The French? Well… maybe I agree with them on that.
The third and most important prerequisite for the ‘Great Society’ is perhaps the saddest of all since we aren’t achieving it. It ties in closely to the second, it seems to be the perfect balance to the first. It’s the responsibility of Americans to take a hand in their own system. Many members of the population fall far short of their expectations in Rawls’ theoretical utopian democratic society. The same people who sit at home and complain about the invasions of privacy or mistreatment of the elderly or school shootings… they may not even vote. Hell, they may not even stay on the phone long enough to answer all the questions on the Gallup Poll. The responsibility falls on our shoulders alone to take an active role. The value of public deliberation is not only important to increase personal reflection, but to ensure that each has a voice in the system.

If the people who don’t have a voice get deported, and if the people who do have a voice don’t bother to show up to any rallies, perhaps the Justice Department is justified in overstepping its boundaries. Maybe they’re not so much exceeding their authority as they are simply picking up the slack.
Would Rawls approve of the government’s actions? More importantly would he approve of the actions or inactions of the American society as a whole? Do we, through inaction, forfeit our rights? Throw up our hands and say, “let Josh Ashcroft take care of it, Hogan’s Heroes is on!”
I’d like to think that John Rawls hasn’t given up on the American Dream. That is, the American Dream to work hard and have the best society in the world, one that every other country would actually want to model itself after… voluntarily. Not the American Dream where a 40% voter turnout is high, 60% of Americans overweight is low, and the driving morality depends week to week on gas prices.

Or have the terrorists truly won?

BIBLIOGRAPHY

A Call to Civil Society. New York: Institute for American Values, 1998.
October 2001.

Black, Jane. “Privacy Progress at Homeland Security.” BusinessWeek. January 8th, 2004.

Bohman, James, and William Rehg. Deliberative Democracy. MIT Press. Nov. 7, 1997.

Decker, Kevin S. “John Rawls.” http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/1643/rawls.html. 2001.

Hanania, Ray. “Arabs and Muslims killed after September 11th related violence” http://www.hanania.com/hatevictims.html

Hanania, Ray. “Response to September 11th Driven by Bias Not Reason” http://www.hanania.com. Sept. 9th, 2003.

Kymlicka, Will. Liberalism, Community & Culture. Oxford Press, NY. March, 1991.

Pogge, William. Realizing Rawls. Cornell University Press. December, 1989.

“Presumption of Guilt: Human Rights Abuses of Post-September 11 Detainees” Human Rights Watch. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/us911/USA0802.htm

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. 1971.

Rawls, John. “Kantian Constructivism Moral Theory,” Journal of Philosophy. September 1980.

Rawls, John. Political Liberalism. 1993.

Sample, Doug, Sgt. 1st Class. “Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Lists Accomplishments” American Forces Press Service. Washington. Feb. 25th, 2004.

Sandel, Michael. Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy. Belknap Press. April, 1998.

Verton, Dan. “Homeland security approach to privacy challenged.” Computerworld. http://www.computerworld.com/securitytopics/security/ privacy/story. March 7th, 2003.