Category Archives: big brother

Fun fact: Texas legislators regulate dildos

Oh the deliciousness. According to the March 2014 Harper’s Index*:

Maximum number of dildos a Texan may legally own : 5

I guess it isn’t surprising that the Texas Legislature took the time to examine such an urgent issue. The late Molly Ivins . . .

. . . called the Texas Legislature the best free entertainment in Austin. “Naturally, when it comes to voting, we in Texas are accustomed to discerning that fine hair’s-breadth worth of difference that makes one hopeless dipstick slightly less awful than the other. But it does raise the question: Why bother?” she wrote in a 2002 column.

* No linkee – it’s behind a pay wall.

What if it was Bush? How would I feel?

ccccccccccccccccccThe 2014 World Press Freedom Index is out. Nasty news – again – for the old U-S-of-A where we’ve been sliding into the badlands ever since 9/11. And where my President and his Attorney General have some ‘splainin’ to do. Which will not happen with this President or any future President unless we get really really lucky.

Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example . . . Freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a disturbing retreat from democratic practices.

This has been the case in the United States (46th), which fell 13 places, one of the most significant declines, amid increased efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks. The trial and conviction of Private Bradley Manning and the pursuit of NSA analyst Edward Snowden were warnings to all those thinking of assisting in the disclosure of sensitive information that would clearly be in the public interest.

US journalists were stunned by the Department of Justice’s seizure of Associated Press phone records without warning in order to identify the source of a CIA leak. It served as a reminder of the urgent need for a “shield law” to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources at the federal level. The revival of the legislative process is little consolation for James Risen of The New York Times, who is subject to a court order to testify against a former CIA employee accused of leaking classified information. And less still for Barrett Brown, a young freelance journalist facing 105 years in prison in connection with the posting of information that hackers obtained from Statfor, a private intelligence company with close ties to the federal government.

The United Kingdom (33rd, -3) distinguished itself in the war on terror by the disgraceful pressure it put on The Guardian newspaper and by its detention of David Miranda, journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner and assistant, for nine hours. Both the US and UK authorities seem obsessed with hunting down whistleblowers instead of adopting legislation to rein in abusive surveillance practices that negate privacy, a democratic value cherished in both countries.

At least the UK was spared the shame of our double-digit decline in press freedom. USA!

It’s so ugly and we allow it

This clip is from QI, a British panel show, hosted by Stephen Fry.Fry asks the participants “where one percent of Americans can be found.” You and I know the answer is ‘prison’. But the contestants did not. Watch then – as they learn and draw their conclusions.

Wisconsin won. Well, the godly gentlemens did anyway.

Calling Wendy! Calling Nina!

Governor Scott Walker put pen to paper yesterday and proudly inflicted mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasounds upon Wisconsin ladies because that’ll get the women’s vote fer-sure!

BOVfoNQCcAAFh12

Taking the silly to new heights

A revealing moment in an exchange on Charlie Rose last night. His guests were the Editor and primary reporter from the Guardian there to talk about Snowden and the NSA leaks. At one point, Rose asked the reporter “so do you just call Snowden when you need to ask questions?”. She looked at him as though he were not wearing pants and replied “Um, we just text.” A telling moment.

Then this morning, I saw this:

The Army admitted Thursday to not only restricting access to The Guardian news website at the Presidio of Monterey, as reported in Thursday’s Herald, but Armywide.

Presidio employees said the site had been blocked since The Guardian broke stories on data collection by the National Security Agency

Same thing.

It looks like the villagers* are aboard

Aye aye sir. Now keep me on the Rolodex, ya'hear?

Aye aye sir. Now keep me on the Rolodex, ya’hear?

If there were any doubt at all about corporate (not to mention entirely self-absorbed) media playing the apologist when one’s place in the social pecking order in D.C. is at stake, let this exchange settle it – David Gregory and his cohort are only too glad to jump aboard the USS Patriot. And salute.

“Meet the Press” host David Gregory asked columnist Glenn Greenwald why he shouldn’t be charged with a crime for working with NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

Greenwald was on to discuss his source’s Sunday morning flight from Hong Kong to Moscow. (It is unclear where Snowden will ultimately land, though reports have suggested he is headed to Venezuela.) At the tail end of the conversation, Gregory suddenly asked Greenwald why the government shouldn’t be going after him.

“To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” he asked.

Greenwald replied that it was “pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies,” and that there was no evidence to back up Gregory’s claim that he had “aided” Snowden.

Keep speaking truth to power Glenn. You’re on the right side of this one. (There’s video at the link.)

*And who are ‘the villagers’? See here.

Image

Jes sayin’

As it is, so it’s ever been.

The massive NSA scoop of Verizon records (and others probably) is well timed – for us

  • UPDATE: Seems this program has been going on for years through two administrations and the authorization is renewed, almost automatically, every 90 days. Some nat’l security reporters point out that this has been reported on before and is the result of the big FISA public debate of a decade ago, but it disappeared from the public conversation. (We really need to do better than this.)

Not all things are the same: not all whistle blowers are honorable, but the tradition of revealing secret government activity to the press . . . that will always be the essential ingredient if the press is to fulfill its most important mission. Our press is charged to:

Speak truth to power

Connor Friedersdorf makes that point today:

The Unknown Patriot Who Exposed the Government’s Verizon Spy Program

In praise of whistle-blowers whose risky disclosures of official wrongdoing make the nation stronger rather than weaker . . .  “The order was marked TOP SECRET//SI//NOFORN, referring to  communications-related intelligence information that may not be released to noncitizens. That would make it among the most closely held secrets  in the federal government”
This leaker is no doubt fully aware he/she has committed a crime but got the priorities exactly right. So to some unknown person – well done.

Steve Coll hints at something . . .

free pressFrom one of our best investigative journalists, here’s Steve Coll, today in The New Yorker:

It seems likely that Holder or his deputies have authorized other press subpoenas and surveillance regimes that have not yet been disclosed. The Justice Department has acted belligerently even in cases where no grave harm to the public interest has been demonstrated, or where, as in the A.P. case, the leaks under suspicion have served to publicize the Administration’s successes. . .

He allows that the increase in investigations by Justice in recent years may relate to this:

 Obama inherited a bloated national-security state. It contains far too many official secrets and far too many secret-keepers—more than a million people now hold top-secret clearances. Under a thirty-year-old executive order issued by the White House, the intelligence agencies must inform the Justice Department whenever they believe that classified information has been disclosed illegally to the press. These referrals operate on a kind of automatic pilot, and the system is unbalanced.

But ultimately, Coll says:

. . . The media are not just watchdogs barking at the White House and the C.I.A. The First Amendment aspires to a fuller compact among citizens, including between journalists and confidential sources, that is premised on the self-evident truth that secrecy and concentrated power are inherently corrupting.

Yup.

Eric Holder needs to go

It’s the right response to the AP/Fox abuses.

I never liked him anyway. He heads a Justice Department that didn’t bring a single fraudster bankster to trial.

Don’t slam the door on your way out fella’.

UPDATE: Lois Lerner too.

Security or civil liberties – what’ll it be?

boston policeIn an earlier post, I quoted (and agreed with) Ron Paul in his expression of concern about the militarized nature of the response to the Boston bombings. In the comments, I responded to a polite challenge from jamesb who put forward a common question: “If those two young men had walked into a house and held someone hostage with bombs…..”

I replied:

james, there will always be dilemmas confronting us when we try to balance state security with civil liberties. Which, as a society, do we decide is most in need of protection? Hostage crises, for instance, have happened throughout history, whereas the US Bill of Rights stood alone for centuries as an enormous step forward for mankind.

“Jonathan Turley, a Constitutional lawyer, says it best at his blog in a post titled “The Pavlovian Politics of Terror”:

“My greatest concern is that the Boston response will become the accepted or standard procedure . . .

. . . as a thousand papercuts from countless new laws and surveillance systems slowly kill our privacy, we might want to ask whether a fishbowl society will actually make us safer or just make us feel that way.”

Jim  Wheeler agreed:

Legislation enacted out of fear is fraught with peril, e.g., The Patriot Act.

Just wanted to put this out there.

Wherein I agree with Ron Paul, as any good liberal should do on occcasion

In the eyes of many, I’m sure the police actions in Boston were appropriate because we’re at war with terror, or terrorism, or terrorists. Whatever. I don’t deny the threat but I abhor the notion that this is ‘war’. Anyway, take it away Ron:

Former Rep. Ron Paul said the police response to the Boston Marathon bombings was scarier than the bombing itself, which killed three and wounded more than 250.

“The Boston bombing provided the opportunity for the government to turn what should have been a police investigation into a military-style occupation of an American city . . .  This unprecedented move should frighten us as much or more than the attack itself” . . .

Paul said the scenes of the house-to-house search for the younger bombing suspect in suburban Watertown, Mass., were reminiscent of a “military coup in a far off banana republic.”

Not sure about that coup part, but certainly it looked like a military action.

“Forced lockdown of a city,” he wrote. “Militarized police riding tanks in the streets. Door-to-door armed searches without warrant. Families thrown out of their homes at gunpoint to be searched without probable cause. Businesses forced to close. Transport shut down.”

(Heads up WPressers . . . our blog platform ain’t allowin’ no pictures today. Or maybe WP is just picking on me?)

Until 1974. They did it until 1974.

Between 1929 and 1974, the North Carolina Eugenics Board sterilized thousands of men and women without their knowledge or consent, most of whom were poor, black, disabled, institutionalized, or undereducated. According to TPM, an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 of them are still alive, and 146 of them have been found and verified. After years of working with victims to come up with an acceptable solution, the state’s House, led by Republican speaker Thom Tillis, proposed paying $50,000 to each of the living victims of the state’s foray into messing with the gene pool. A total of $10 million was set aside for currently known and to-be-discovered victims.

Upon reflection however, today’s Senate Republicans would rather not do that. After all, it was just sterilization.

Sen. Don East said, “I’m so sorry it happened, but throwing money don’t change it, don’t make it go away. It still happened.”

Sen. Austin Allrand  “I’m not so sure it would lay the issue at rest because if you start compensating people who have been ‘victimized’ by past history, I don’t know where that would end.”

After all,  these people were ‘feeble minded’ and illiterate guardians signed their X’s, so it was all legal.

Elaine Riddick Jessie is an African-American woman who, as a 14-year-old girl in 1968, was forcibly sterilized by the Eugenics Board of North Carolina, which argued that she was “feebleminded” and “promiscuous.”

Prior to the sterilization (at age 13), Jessie had been kidnapped, molested, and raped.

The South rises again.

Let me just say “vagina”. Also, “vagina”.

In case the troglodytes in the Michigan legislature can’t hear us, I’ll make my own voice a little louder:

Vagina.   VAGINA.   VAGINA!

The national security state: go along now; nothing to see here

A tidy little depository

There is an astonishing and superbly researched in-depth story at Wired Magazine about the one million square foot facility now under construction in Utah for the National Security Agency.

It’s very disturbing. And it’s in full view (well, not exactly full view – the photograph accompanying the story is by “Name Withheld”, suggesting that such stories have consequences) to any media organization that cared to look. Few do.

A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.

So much for the outcry and so much for Congress. The NSA moves forward under its own gargantuan authority and can barely be challenged any more.

Your tax dollars at work suckers.