Tag Archives: law

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

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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.

The “Right to Work” for Lower Wages and Less Representation in Michigan

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The moneyed elites *ahem* engines of the economy are finally seeing success in Michigan, as a union-busting law effecting millions of workers is passed, kneecapping the fund-raising for union organizations by dividing workers against each other (Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks has a very thorough and accurate rundown). This is a boon to the “burden shifting” robber baron industrialists, as union membership in Michigan was finally starting to rise again, after a steady decline since 2007.

Contrary to all the paid advertising, several myths persist about how unions work. Nobody is ‘forced’ to pay union membership in Michigan. The law states they are only required to do so when the union provides a service such as contract negotiation and representation, but the new law would allow anyone to receive those services without contributing into the workers’ collective funds. Once again, the “Right to Work” has been misleadingly named and propagandized, and has also convinced some conservative workers that their hard-won unions are taking their dues and using them for some leftist political agenda. In fact, collected dues do not go towards political contributions, but on operational and legal expenses, while political money is fundraised voluntarily and separately. As stated, union membership is not a requirement to work, the only ‘choice’ or ‘right’ involved here is whether or not to accept benefits without paying for them, a practice that (as per the designs of the Paymasters) will drain resources and weaken or destroy any worker power.

Even more revealing is the brazen anti-worker language employed by objective Fox journalists, Liberals Unitereports (via I Acknowledge Class Warfare Exists):

On Monday, Fox News host Gregg Jarrett said that a woman who thought Michigan’s new “right-to-work” law was unfair could “go get a job elsewhere” if she did not like it.

Fox News host Martha MacCallum mentioned an earlier Fox News broadcast had featured a woman angry that the proposed anti-union law would allow workers to unfairly receive benefits who did not pay union dues.

“One woman, in a soundbite we had earlier, said ‘I don’t want to work with somebody who doesn’t have to pay what I have to pay.’ That is part of the outrage there,” MacCallum told co-host Jarrett.

“Then she doesn’t have to work. I mean, if she doesn’t like that, she can go get a job elsewhere, I suppose,” Jarrett responded. “But the point here is, it seems anathema to democracy to force somebody to join a union, to force somebody as a condition of having a job to join a union.”

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.

The Failed War on Drugs

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

As the financially and morally expensive Drug War rages on, it’s become all too obvious to most of us how futile the efforts of those ‘powers that be’ have been. Virgin Group’s Richard Branson sponsored a global survey that found over 90% of respondents around the world say the War on Drugs has failed. Technology giants like Google may even make a bigger difference when it comes to battling the big Mexican cartels, and Anonymous has even joined the digital fray. While still a very dangerous game (the cartels have been deadly and merciless in theirretribution against online critics in the past), it is clear that the current actions of our governments are not working. In fact, incompetencemixed messaging and/or collusion have only benefited the drug trade.

Since all the facts and figures can be overwhelming, here is a tasty infographic (sent by Camille Brockman) on the wasted tax dollars, inverse consequences, and cost to human lives:

Schrödinger’s Drone: The Assassination Program That Both Does and Doesn’t Exist

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Despite his many ’08 campaign promises and pronouncements after being inaugurated, Barack Obama’s may be the least transparent presidency in modern history, decreasing the fulfillment of FOIA requests each year, and prosecuting record numbers of whistle-blowers. Some of his past statements now seem laughably naïve (either for him or for us):

“For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over.”

~Barack Obama, January 21, 2009

Nowhere has this hypocrisy been more *ahem* clear, than with the administration’s ramped up drone program, which it alternately attributes and denies is being coordinated between the military and the CIA. The drone strikes which eyewitness and press reports have shown to take place (even at funeral processions and against those trying to give aid to drone strike victims) are veiled behind contradictory official reports, classifications, outright denials, and obfuscatory language. No accurate assessment of civilian deaths can be made, as the administration refuses to acknowledge any real numbers, and furthermore designates any drone strike victims as ex post facto militant combatants.

President Obama recently lied through his teeth to CNN, claiming that the preference was always capture and that strikes required a ‘strict, tight criteria’, while of course, sidestepping any accountability and offering no verifiable numbers or details. Glenn Greenwald and other journalists have done a stellar job of doggedly following these secret military maneuvers, including Eric Holder’s dismissal of due process, which can now be fulfilled by secret “internal deliberations by the executive branch”.

At the same time, government officials love to tout the successes of their drone strikes, such as the assassinations of Anwar al-Awlaki last year, and Abu Yahya al-Libi last June (which may have been a major factor in Al Qaeda’s revenge killings against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi this week). They want to have their cake, but also claim that the cake is a lie. Apparently, the drone program exists in a superposition of possible rest states. Probably shouldn’t trust unnamed sources, anyway.

ProPublica has recently collated the reporting of the secret drone war in a nifty, easy-to-use visual timeline.

Administration officials—often unnamed—frequently seem to celebrate drone strikes that kill suspected militants. But the administration has also worked against disclosures of less positive aspects of the CIA’s program, including how many civilians have been killed. We’ve laid out four years of statements by current and former officials discussing the CIA’s drone program, both on and off the record. (Most of these stories also include a “no comment” from the CIA or the White House.)Highlighted in red are the CIA’s legal stances refusing to even acknowledge the program in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

ProPublica‘s ongoing project is now available online for your perusal.

Related: How the Gov’t Talks About a Drone Program it Won’t Acknowledge Exists

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