Thursday, June 27, 2013

Spying on First Amendment Activity - State-by-State






United States law enforcement agencies, from the FBI to local police, have a long history of spying on American citizens and infiltrating or otherwise obstructing political activist groups. Political spying was rampant during the Cold War under the FBI's COINTELPRO, the CIA's Operation Chaos, and other program. 

[MAP]

Unfortunately, it appears that these old tendencies have once again come to the fore. Law enforcement agencies across America continue to monitor and harass groups and individuals for doing little more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights.

A thorough search and review of news accounts by the ACLU reveals that these law enforcement behaviors have taken place in at least 36 states plus the District of Columbia in recent years. Americans have been put under surveillance or harassed by the police just for deciding to organize, march, protest, espouse unusual viewpoints, and engage in normal, innocuous behaviors such as writing notes or taking photographs in public.
For example, in 2009, at least four troubling Fusion Center reports have come to light:

• The Virginia Fusion Center's Homegrown Terrorism Document:
http://www.infowars.com/media/vafusioncenterterrorassessment.pdf

• The Texas Fusion Center's Prevention Awareness Bulletin:
http://www.privacylives.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/texasfusion_021909.pdf

• The Missouri Fusion Center's Document on the Modern Militia Movement:
http://www.privacylives.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/miacreport_022009.pdf

• The Massachusetts Fusion Center's “Commonwealth Fusion Center's Standard Operating Procedures”
http://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/spyfiles/ma_14furtherinformation_attach_guidelinesforinvestigationsinvolvingfirstamendactivity.pdf

Nationally

• DHS Reports Warns of Veterans. DHS's "Right-Wing Extremism" Report warned that right-wing extremists might recruit and radicalize "disgruntled military veterans." (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/apr/14/federal-agency-warns-of-radicals-on-right/)

• DHS Report Warns of Environmental Groups. DHS's Contractor Eco-Terrorism Report described environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, the Humane Society, and the Audubon Society as "mainstream organizations with known or possible links to eco-terrorism." (http://www.unbossed.com/index.php?itemid=2546)

• DHS Keeps Calendar of Peaceful Protests. DHS's March 2006 "Protective Intelligence Bulletin" lists several advocacy groups that were targets of the Maryland State Police operations, including CODEPINK, Iraq Pledge of Resistance and DAWN, and contains a "civil activists and extremists action calendar" that details dozens of demonstrations planned around the country, mostly peace rallies. Federal Protective Services apparently gleaned this information from the Internet. There is no indication anywhere in the document to suggest illegal activity might occur at any of these demonstrations. The ACLU filed complaints in response to this improper intelligence gathering, and the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties concluded its review, determining that information like that will no longer be distributed regionally or nationally, and will only be distributed locally to those who have a situational awareness need for the information. (http://www.aclu.org/privacy/gen/39226prs20090401.html and
http://www.aclu.org/national-security/letter-aclu-dhs-office-civil-rights-and-civil-liberties-regarding-surveillance)

• FBI Lists Green Party as Target for Eco-Terrorism Investigation. The FBI Field Intelligence Group lists the Green Party as potential future target of eco-terrorism investigation. (http://gawker.com/5329187/fbi-agent-thinks-the-green-party-is-a-terrorist-group-with-nukes)

• DHS Reports on Nation of Islam in Violation of its own Protocols. In October 2007, DHS sent a report, "Nation of Islam: Uncertain Leadership Succession Poses Risks," to hundreds of federal officials despite the fact that Department guidelines had called for the files to be destroyed because the assessment of the group had lasted more than 180 days without uncovering evidence of potential terrorism. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/17/us/17disclose.html?_r=2&ref=todayspaper).

• FBI Spies on Activists Involved in First Amendment Activities and Mischaracterizes Civil Disobedience.The FBI improperly spied on American activists involved in First Amendment-protected activities, mischaracterized nonviolent civil disobedience as terrorism, and improperly placed activists on terrorist watch lists, according to a report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General (IG). The IG found the improper investigations were often opened based on “factually weak” or even “speculative” justifications and were sometimes extended in duration without sufficient basis. (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/21/us/politics/21fbi.html,http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/20/AR201009...,http://blog.washingtonpost.com/spy-talk/2010/09/fbi_cover-up_turns_laugh...,http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870398930457550419230689262..., andhttp://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-fbi-activists-20100...).

• Senate Security Will Use Internet Data Mining to Identify Lawmaker Threats. Senate Sgt. at Arms plans to contract with a private company to data mine the internet and social media sites to search keywords such as lawmakers names, and “slash” or “shoot” to identify potential threats. (http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/155881-senate-security-will-conduct-internet-data-mining-to-identify-lawmaker-threats)


Tuesday, June 25, 2013









The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil’



By JULIAN ASSANGE
Published: June 1, 2013



“THE New Digital Age” is a startlingly clear and provocative blueprint for technocratic imperialism, from two of its leading witch doctors, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, who construct a new idiom for United States global power in the 21st century. This idiom reflects the ever closer union between the State Department and Silicon Valley, as personified by Mr. Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and Mr. Cohen, a former adviser to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton who is now director of Google Ideas.

The authors met in occupied Baghdad in 2009, when the book was conceived. Strolling among the ruins, the two became excited that consumer technology was transforming a society flattened by United States military occupation. They decided the tech industry could be a powerful agent of American foreign policy.

The book proselytizes the role of technology in reshaping the world’s people and nations into likenesses of the world’s dominant superpower, whether they want to be reshaped or not. The prose is terse, the argument confident and the wisdom — banal. But this isn’t a book designed to be read. It is a major declaration designed to foster alliances.

“The New Digital Age” is, beyond anything else, an attempt by Google to position itself as America’s geopolitical visionary — the one company that can answer the question “Where should America go?” It is not surprising that a respectable cast of the world’s most famous warmongers has been trotted out to give its stamp of approval to this enticement to Western soft power. The acknowledgments give pride of place to Henry Kissinger, who along with Tony Blair and the former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden provided advance praise for the book.

In the book the authors happily take up the white geek’s burden. A liberal sprinkling of convenient, hypothetical dark-skinned worthies appear: Congolese fisherwomen, graphic designers in Botswana, anticorruption activists in San Salvador and illiterate Masai cattle herders in the Serengeti are all obediently summoned to demonstrate the progressive properties of Google phones jacked into the informational supply chain of the Western empire.

The authors offer an expertly banalized version of tomorrow’s world: the gadgetry of decades hence is predicted to be much like what we have right now — only cooler. “Progress” is driven by the inexorable spread of American consumer technology over the surface of the earth. Already, every day, another million or so Google-run mobile devices are activated. Google will interpose itself, and hence the United States government, between the communications of every human being not in China (naughty China). Commodities just become more marvelous; young, urban professionals sleep, work and shop with greater ease and comfort; democracy is insidiously subverted by technologies of surveillance, and control is enthusiastically rebranded as “participation”; and our present world order of systematized domination, intimidation and oppression continues, unmentioned, unafflicted or only faintly perturbed.

The authors are sour about the Egyptian triumph of 2011. They dismiss the Egyptian youth witheringly, claiming that “the mix of activism and arrogance in young people is universal.” Digitally inspired mobs mean revolutions will be “easier to start” but “harder to finish.” Because of the absence of strong leaders, the result, or so Mr. Kissinger tells the authors, will be coalition governments that descend into autocracies. They say there will be “no more springs” (but China is on the ropes).

The authors fantasize about the future of “well resourced” revolutionary groups. A new “crop of consultants” will “use data to build and fine-tune a political figure.”

“His” speeches (the future isn’t all that different) and writing will be fed “through complex feature-extraction and trend-analysis software suites” while “mapping his brain function,” and other “sophisticated diagnostics” will be used to “assess the weak parts of his political repertoire.”

The book mirrors State Department institutional taboos and obsessions. It avoids meaningful criticism of Israel and Saudi Arabia. It pretends, quite extraordinarily, that the Latin American sovereignty movement, which has liberated so many from United States-backed plutocracies and dictatorships over the last 30 years, never happened. Referring instead to the region’s “aging leaders,” the book can’t see Latin America for Cuba. And, of course, the book frets theatrically over Washington’s favorite boogeymen: North Korea and Iran.

Google, which started out as an expression of independent Californian graduate student culture — a decent, humane and playful culture — has, as it encountered the big, bad world, thrown its lot in with traditional Washington power elements, from the State Department to the National Security Agency.

Despite accounting for an infinitesimal fraction of violent deaths globally, terrorism is a favorite brand in United States policy circles. This is a fetish that must also be catered to, and so “The Future of Terrorism” gets a whole chapter. The future of terrorism, we learn, is cyberterrorism. A session of indulgent scaremongering follows, including a breathless disaster-movie scenario, wherein cyberterrorists take control of American air-traffic control systems and send planes crashing into buildings, shutting down power grids and launching nuclear weapons. The authors then tar activists who engage in digital sit-ins with the same brush.

I have a very different perspective. The advance of information technology epitomized by Google heralds the death of privacy for most people and shifts the world toward authoritarianism. This is the principal thesis in my book, “Cypherpunks.” But while Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Cohen tell us that the death of privacy will aid governments in “repressive autocracies” in “targeting their citizens,” they also say governments in “open” democracies will see it as “a gift” enabling them to “better respond to citizen and customer concerns.” In reality, the erosion of individual privacy in the West and the attendant centralization of power make abuses inevitable, moving the “good” societies closer to the “bad” ones.

The section on “repressive autocracies” describes, disapprovingly, various repressive surveillance measures: legislation to insert back doors into software to enable spying on citizens, monitoring of social networks and the collection of intelligence on entire populations. All of these are already in widespread use in the United States. In fact, some of those measures — like the push to require every social-network profile to be linked to a real name — were spearheaded by Google itself.

THE writing is on the wall, but the authors cannot see it. They borrow from William Dobson the idea that the media, in an autocracy, “allows for an opposition press as long as regime opponents understand where the unspoken limits are.” But these trends are beginning to emerge in the United States. No one doubts the chilling effects of the investigations into The Associated Press and Fox’s James Rosen. But there has been little analysis of Google’s role in complying with the Rosen subpoena. I have personal experience of these trends.

The Department of Justice admitted in March that it was in its third year of a continuing criminal investigation of WikiLeaks. Court testimony states that its targets include “the founders, owners, or managers of WikiLeaks.” One alleged source, Bradley Manning, faces a 12-week trial beginning tomorrow, with 24 prosecution witnesses expected to testify in secret.

This book is a balefully seminal work in which neither author has the language to see, much less to express, the titanic centralizing evil they are constructing. “What Lockheed Martin was to the 20th century,” they tell us, “technology and cybersecurity companies will be to the 21st.” Without even understanding how, they have updated and seamlessly implemented George Orwell’s prophecy. If you want a vision of the future, imagine Washington-backed Google Glasses strapped onto vacant human faces — forever. Zealots of the cult of consumer technology will find little to inspire them here, not that they ever seem to need it. But this is essential reading for anyone caught up in the struggle for the future, in view of one simple imperative: Know your enemy.

Julian Assange is the editor in chief of WikiLeaks and author of “Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet.”


The FISA court is acting like a legislature, and that’s a problem



"These documents look more like legislation than search warrants." 


By Timothy B. Lee, Published: June 20, 2013 at 5:27 pm

One of the National Security Agency’s key talking points since the PRISM program was revealed two weeks ago has been that its surveillance activities are subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In his latest scoop, the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald has revealed two of the documents the government submits to the court prior to engaging in surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

These documents are often compared to the warrants the government ordinarily needs for searches of Americans. But they’re dramatically different from a conventional search warrant. A warrant is supposed to “particularly” describe who will be targeted by a search. It will typically include a suspect’s name, as well as the address to be searched or the phone number to be wiretapped.

The documents released by the Guardian don’t look like that at all. The first document is nine pages long and explains in some detail the factors the NSA uses to determine whether a potential surveillance target is a “US person”—if the answer is yes, then the agency cancels the planned surveillance. The second document, also nine pages, describes what the NSA does if it accidentally collects the private communications of Americans.

These documents look more like legislation than search warrants. They define legal concepts, describe legal standards to be applied and specify procedures for NSA officials to follow. For example, the second document states that “a person known to be an alien admitted for permanent residence loses status as a United States person if the person leaves the united States and is not in compliance with 8 USC § 1203 enabling re-entry into the United States.”

But rather than being drafted, debated and enacted by Congress, the documents were drafted by Obama administration lawyers and reviewed by the FISC.

Congress is much better equipped than the courts to review this kind of quasi-legislative proposal. It has thousands of staffers and can spend months debating the details of a proposal. Members have the power to call witnesses and to amend legislation if it’s not to their liking. And they debate in public, giving academics, public interest groups and members of the general public an opportunity to point out flaws and suggest improvements.

In contrast, the FISC has only 11 members and a limited staff. In most cases it hears testimony only from the government, and only in secret. It must make decisions within 30 days. In principle it has the power to modify proposed orders, but it lacks the manpower and expertise to exercise this power effectively. The FISC’s secretive review process leaves no meaningful opportunities for third parties to point out flaws in the government’s proposal and suggest alternatives.

And once the courts sign off on these general targeting procedures, no one outside the executive branch performs the function traditionally performed by the courts: double-checking that the government actually follows the rules. The government has some internal oversight mechanisms, but no one in the judicial branch verifies that the individuals the government targets for surveillance are actual foreigners, as the law requires.

The Constitution specifies that Congress should write laws and that the courts should interpret them. The founders set things up that way for a reason. Allowing the executive branch to effectively write its own rules, get them rubber-stamped by a secretive court and then comply with them on an honor system is guaranteed to produce rules that are more favorable to the government and less carefully drafted than rules drafted the old-fashioned way.


Warrants issued by a secret FISA court provide the NSA with a HUGE loophole into domestic surveillance



The top secret rules that allow NSA to use US data without a warrant


Fisa court submissions show broad scope of procedures governing NSA's surveillance of Americans' communication

 Document one: procedures used by NSA to target non-US persons
• Document two: procedures used by NSA to minimise data collected from US persons


guardian.co.uk, Thursday 20 June 2013 23.59 BST

The documents show that discretion as to who is actually targeted lies directly with the NSA's analysts. 

Top secret documents submitted to the court that oversees surveillance by US intelligence agencies show the judges have signed off on broad orders which allow the NSA to make use of information "inadvertently" collected from domestic US communications without a warrant.

The Guardian is publishing in full two documents submitted to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (known as the Fisa court), signed by Attorney General Eric Holder and stamped 29 July 2009. They detail the procedures the NSA is required to follow to target "non-US persons" under its foreign intelligence powers and what the agency does to minimize data collected on US citizens and residents in the course of that surveillance.

The documents show that even under authorities governing the collection of foreign intelligence from foreign targets, US communications can still be collected, retained and used.

The procedures cover only part of the NSA's surveillance of domestic US communications. The bulk collection of domestic call records, as first revealed by the Guardian earlier this month, takes place under rolling court orders issued on the basis of a legal interpretation of a different authority, section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The Fisa court's oversight role has been referenced many times by Barack Obama and senior intelligence officials as they have sought to reassure the public about surveillance, but the procedures approved by the court have never before been publicly disclosed.

The top secret documents published today detail the circumstances in which data collected on US persons under the foreign intelligence authority must be destroyed, extensive steps analysts must take to try to check targets are outside the US, and reveals how US call records are used to help remove US citizens and residents from data collection.

However, alongside those provisions, the Fisa court-approved policies allow the NSA to:

• Keep data that could potentially contain details of US persons for up to five years;
• Retain and make use of "inadvertently acquired" domestic communications if they contain usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted, or are believed to contain any information relevant to cybersecurity;
• Preserve "foreign intelligence information" contained within attorney-client communications;
• Access the content of communications gathered from "U.S. based machine[s]" or phone numbers in order to establish if targets are located in the US, for the purposes of ceasing further surveillance.

The broad scope of the court orders, and the nature of the procedures set out in the documents, appear to clash with assurances from President Obama and senior intelligence officials that the NSA could not access Americans' call or email information without warrants.

The documents also show that discretion as to who is actually targeted under the NSA's foreign surveillance powers lies directly with its own analysts, without recourse to courts or superiors – though a percentage of targeting decisions are reviewed by internal audit teams on a regular basis.

Since the Guardian first revealed the extent of the NSA's collection of US communications, there have been repeated calls for the legal basis of the programs to be released. On Thursday, two US congressmen introduced a bill compelling the Obama administration to declassify the secret legal justifications for NSA surveillance.

The disclosure bill, sponsored by Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, and Todd Rokita, an Indiana Republican, is a complement to one proposed in the Senate last week. It would "increase the transparency of the Fisa Court and the state of the law in this area," Schiff told the Guardian. "It would give the public a better understanding of the safeguards, as well as the scope of these programs."

Section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act (FAA), which was renewed for five years last December, is the authority under which the NSA is allowed to collect large-scale data, including foreign communications and also communications between the US and other countries, provided the target is overseas.

FAA warrants are issued by the Fisa court for up to 12 months at a time, and authorise the collection of bulk information – some of which can include communications of US citizens, or people inside the US. To intentionally target either of those groups requires an individual warrant.

One-paragraph order

One such warrant seen by the Guardian shows that they do not contain detailed legal rulings or explanation. 
Instead, the one-paragraph order, signed by a Fisa court judge in 2010, declares that the procedures submitted by the attorney general on behalf of the NSA are consistent with US law and the fourth amendment.

Those procedures state that the "NSA determines whether a person is a non-United States person reasonably believed to be outside the United States in light of the totality of the circumstances based on the information available with respect to that person, including information concerning the communications facility or facilities used by that person".

It includes information that the NSA analyst uses to make this determination – including IP addresses, statements made by the potential target, and other information in the NSA databases, which can include public information and data collected by other agencies.

Where the NSA has no specific information on a person's location, analysts are free to presume they are overseas, the document continues.

"In the absence of specific information regarding whether a target is a United States person," it states "a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States or whose location is not known will be presumed to be a non-United States person unless such person can be positively identified as a United States person."

If it later appears that a target is in fact located in the US, analysts are permitted to look at the content of messages, or listen to phone calls, to establish if this is indeed the case.

Referring to steps taken to prevent intentional collection of telephone content of those inside the US, the document states: "NSA analysts may analyze content for indications that a foreign target has entered or intends to enter the United States. Such content analysis will be conducted according to analytic and intelligence requirements and priorities."

Details set out in the "minimization procedures", regularly referred to in House and Senate hearings, as well as public statements in recent weeks, also raise questions as to the extent of monitoring of US citizens and residents.

NSA minimization procedures signed by Holder in 2009 set out that once a target is confirmed to be within the US, interception must stop immediately. However, these circumstances do not apply to large-scale data where the NSA claims it is unable to filter US communications from non-US ones.

The NSA is empowered to retain data for up to five years and the policy states "communications which may be retained include electronic communications acquired because of limitations on the NSA's ability to filter communications".

Even if upon examination a communication is found to be domestic – entirely within the US – the NSA can appeal to its director to keep what it has found if it contains "significant foreign intelligence information", "evidence of a crime", "technical data base information" (such as encrypted communications), or "information pertaining to a threat of serious harm to life or property".

Domestic communications containing none of the above must be destroyed. Communications in which one party was outside the US, but the other is a US-person, are permitted for retention under FAA rules.

The minimization procedure adds that these can be disseminated to other agencies or friendly governments if the US person is anonymised, or including the US person's identity under certain criteria.

Holder's 'minimization procedure' says once a target is confirmed to be in the US, interception of communication must stop. 

A separate section of the same document notes that as soon as any intercepted communications are determined to have been between someone under US criminal indictment and their attorney, surveillance must stop. However, the material collected can be retained, if it is useful, though in a segregated database:

"The relevant portion of the communication containing that conversation will be segregated and the National Security Division of the Department of Justice will be notified so that appropriate procedures may be established to protect such communications from review or use in any criminal prosecution, while preserving foreign intelligence information contained therein," the document states.

In practice, much of the decision-making appears to lie with NSA analysts, rather than the Fisa court or senior officials.

A transcript of a 2008 briefing on FAA from the NSA's general counsel sets out how much discretion NSA analysts possess when it comes to the specifics of targeting, and making decisions on who they believe is a non-US person. Referring to a situation where there has been a suggestion a target is within the US.

"Once again, the standard here is a reasonable belief that your target is outside the United States. What does that mean when you get information that might lead you to believe the contrary? It means you can't ignore it. 

You can't turn a blind eye to somebody saying: 'Hey, I think so and so is in the United States.' You can't ignore that. Does it mean you have to completely turn off collection the minute you hear that? No, it means you have to do some sort of investigation: 'Is that guy right? Is my target here?" he says.

"But, if everything else you have says 'no' (he talked yesterday, I saw him on TV yesterday, even, depending on the target, he was in Baghdad) you can still continue targeting but you have to keep that in mind. You can't put it aside. You have to investigate it and, once again, with that new information in mind, what is your reasonable belief about your target's location?"

The broad nature of the court's oversight role, and the discretion given to NSA analysts, sheds light on responses from the administration and internet companies to the Guardian's disclosure of the PRISM program. They have stated that the content of online communications is turned over to the NSA only pursuant to a court order. But except when a US citizen is specifically targeted, the court orders used by the NSA to obtain that information as part of Prism are these general FAA orders, not individualized warrants specific to any individual.

Once armed with these general orders, the NSA is empowered to compel telephone and internet companies to turn over to it the communications of any individual identified by the NSA. The Fisa court plays no role in the selection of those individuals, nor does it monitor who is selected by the NSA.

The NSA's ability to collect and retain the communications of people in the US, even without a warrant, has fuelled congressional demands for an estimate of how many Americans have been caught up in surveillance.

Two US senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall – both members of the Senate intelligence committee – have been seeking this information since 2011, but senior White House and intelligence officials have repeatedly insisted that the agency is unable to gather such statistics.


Supreme Injustices




WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, ruling that Congress had not provided adequate justification for subjecting nine states, mostly in the South, to federal oversight.

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Wade Henderson, president and C.E.O. of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, criticized the decision on Tuesday.

“In 1965, the states could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.”

Chief Justice Roberts said that Congress remained free to try to impose federal oversight on states where voting rights were at risk, but must do so based on contemporary data. When the law was last renewed, in 2006, Congress relied on data from decades before. The chances that the current Congress could reach agreement on where federal oversight is required are small, most analysts say.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The majority held that the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965 and most recently updated by Congress in 1975, was unconstitutional. The section determines which states must receive preclearance from the federal authorities.

The court did not strike down Section 5, which sets out the pre-clearance requirement itself. But without Section 4, which determines which states are covered, Section 5 is without significance — unless Congress chooses to pass a new bill for determining which states would be covered.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the towering legislative achievements of the civil rights movement. Its central provision, Section 5, requires many state and local governments, mostly in the South, to obtain permission from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before making changes in laws that affect voting.

That means jurisdictions covered by Section 5 must get federal approval before they make minor changes to voting procedures, like relocating a polling place, or major ones, like redrawing electoral districts.

The Supreme Court had repeatedly upheld the law, saying that Section 5’s “preclearance requirement” was an effective tool to combat the legacy of lawless conduct by Southern officials bent on denying voting rights to blacks.

Critics of Section 5 say it is a unique federal intrusion on state sovereignty and a badge of shame for the affected jurisdictions that is no longer justified. They point to high voter registration rates among blacks and the re-election of a black president as proof that the provision is no longer needed.

Civil rights leaders, on the other hand, say the law played an important role in the 2012 election, with courts relying on it to block voter identification requirements and cutbacks on early voting.

Section 5 was originally set to expire in five years. Congress repeatedly extended it: for five years in 1970, seven years in 1975, and 25 years in 1982. Congress renewed the act in 2006 after holding extensive hearings on the persistence of racial discrimination at the polls, again extending the preclearance requirement for 25 years.

In 2012, a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected a challenge to the law filed by Shelby County, Ala. Judge David S. Tatel, writing for the majority, acknowledged that “the extraordinary federalism costs imposed by Section 5 raise substantial constitutional concerns,” and he added that the record compiled by Congress to justify the law’s renewal was “by no means unambiguous.”

“But Congress drew reasonable conclusions from the extensive evidence it gathered,” he went on. The constitutional amendments ratified after the Civil War, he said, “entrust Congress with ensuring that the right to vote — surely among the most important guarantees of political liberty in the Constitution — is not abridged on account of race. In this context, we owe much deference to the considered judgment of the people’s elected representatives.”

The dissenting member of the panel, Judge Stephen F. Williams, surveyed recent evidence concerning registration and turnout, the election of black officials, the use of federal election observers and suits under another part of the law.

Some of that evidence, he said, “suggests that the coverage formula completely lacks any rational connection to current levels of voter discrimination,” while other evidence indicates that the formula, “though not completely perverse, is a remarkably bad fit with Congress’s concerns.”

“Given the drastic remedy imposed on covered jurisdictions by Section 5,” he wrote, “I do not believe that such equivocal evidence can sustain the scheme.”

The Supreme Court had once before considered the constitutionality of the 2006 extension of the law in a 2009 decision, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder. But it avoided answering the central question, and it seemed to give Congress an opportunity to make adjustments. Congress did not respond.


Who are the True Patriots?



from an article by Robert Scheer

What a disgrace. The U.S. government, cheered on by much of the media, launches an international manhunt to capture a young American whose crime is that he dared challenge the excess of state power. Read the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and tell me that Edward Snowden is not a hero in the mold of those who founded this republic. Check out the Nuremberg war crime trials and ponder our current contempt for the importance of individual conscience as a civic obligation.

Yes, Snowden has admitted that he violated the terms of his employment at Booz Allen Hamilton, which has the power to grant security clearances as well as profiting mightily from spying on the American taxpayers who pay to be spied on without ever being told that is where their tax dollars are going. Snowden violated the law in the same way that Daniel Ellsberg did when, as a RAND Corporation employee, he leaked the damning Pentagon Papers study of the Vietnam War that the taxpayers had paid for but were not allowed to read. 

In both instances, violating a government order was mandated by the principle that the United States trumpeted before the world in the Nuremberg war crime trials of German officers and officials. As Principle IV of what came to be known as the Nuremberg Code states: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”

That is a heavy obligation, and the question we should be asking is not why do folks like Ellsberg, Snowden and Bradley Manning do the right thing, but rather why aren’t we bringing charges against the many others with access to such damning data of government malfeasance who remain silent?

Is there an international manhunt being organized to bring to justice Dick Cheney, the then-vice president who seized upon the pain and fear of 9/11 to make lying to the public the bedrock of American foreign policy? This traitor to the central integrity of a representative democracy dares condemn Snowden as a “traitor” and suggest that he is a spy for China because he took temporary refuge in Hong Kong.
The Chinese government, which incidentally does much to finance our massive military budget, was embarrassed by the example of Snowden and was quick to send him on his way. Not so ordinary folk in Hong Kong, who clearly demonstrated their support of the man as an exponent of individual conscience. 

So too did Albert Ho, who volunteered his considerable legal skills in support of Snowden, risking the ire of Hong Kong officials. Ho, whom The New York Times describes as “a longtime campaigner for full democracy [in Hong Kong], to the irritation of government leaders of the territory,” is an example of the true democrats around the world who support Snowden, contradicting Cheney’s smear.

But U.S. Democrats have also been quick to join the shoot-the-messenger craze, ignoring the immense significance of Snowden’s revelations. Take Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. [...] After years of covering up for the intelligence bureaucracy, Feinstein is now chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and clearly for some time has been in a position to know the inconvenient truths that Snowden and others before him have revealed.

Did she know that the NSA had granted Booz Allen Hamilton such extensive access to our telephone and Internet records? Did she grasp that the revolving door between Booz Allen and the NSA meant that this was a double-dealing process involving high officials swapping out between the government and the war profiteers? Did she know that the security system administered by Booz Allen was so lax that young Snowden was given vast access to what she now feels was very sensitive data? Or that private companies like Booz Allen were able to hand out “top security” clearances to their employees, and that there now are 1.4 million Americans with that status?

As with her past cover-ups of government lying going back to the phony weapons of mass destruction claims made to justify the Iraq War, Feinstein, like so many in the government, specializes in plausible deniability. 

She smugly assumes the stance of the all-knowing expert on claimed intelligence success while pretending to be shocked at the egregious failures. She claims not to have known of the extent of the invasion of our privacy and at the same time says she is assured that the information gained “has disrupted plots, prevented terrorist attacks. ...” If so, why did she not come clean with the American public and say this is what we are doing to you and why?

Instead, Feinstein failed horribly in the central obligation of a public servant to inform the public and now serves as prosecutor, judge and jury in convicting Snowden hours after his name was in the news: “He violated the oath, he violated the law. It’s treason,” she said.

Treason is a word that dictators love to hurl at dissidents, and when both Cheney and Feinstein bring it back into favor, you know that courageous whistle-blowers like Snowden are not the enemy.



talk at Jan van Eyck, part 2




 

 

 

 

 



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talk at Jan van Eyck, part 1

 

 

 

 

 



Video streaming by Ustream

Monday, June 24, 2013

A new center of the resistance in Greece



[...]
On the grounds, it looks like the bitter lessons were learned from the struggle against the government strike-break this year, when there was a lack of organized solidarity--plus there is the expertise learned from the "squares movement" in spring 2011. There is a massive physical presence to defend the strikers and the occupied building against the police, co-existing with outdoor assemblies, large discussions, collective kitchens and so on.

Of course, the center of the struggle is Athens, but the picture is the same in Thessaloniki, in the occupied building of the local ET3, which broadcasts programs about social struggles, or in any town there is an occupied ERT radio station that tries to continue broadcasting.

The issue of ERT had become a focal point of the struggle. Dozens and dozens of solidarity statements have been issued by unions and are read out at the occupied building. The shutdown was so provocative that even mainstream international media declared their solidarity with ERT--some French newspapers, for example, published with black front pages. Support demonstrations have been organized in London, Paris and other European cities.

There have also been solidarity strike actions. Under enormous pressure, leaders of the two major union confederations were forced to declare a 24-hour general strike on Thursday, June 13. The strike demonstration was called for outside ERT, instead of the traditional route to Syntagma Square in front of parliament, so tens of thousands of people were gathered outside the occupation. Media workers were on an indefinite strike for days, allowing only the broadcasting of the ERT program.

Many media barons organized scab operations and managed to publish their newspapers. As a response, striking journalists published the union's strike issue--a tactic used for the first time during a strike in 1975.

The most spectacular aspect, outside of the occupation in Athens, has been the unity in action among all the left-wing forces. There were thousands of demonstrators in the yard, but the heart of the mobilization was left-wing activists.

For the first time in years, you could see the party flags of SYRIZA and ANTARSYA, of the Communist Party-affiliated unions and of the anarcho-syndicalists and anti-authoritarians, waving side by side. Members of SYRIZA, ANTARSYA, the Communist Party and the anarchist movement were standing shoulder to shoulder to protect the occupation.

[...]

arctic ice tipping point

avaaz.org
Scientist Julienne Stroeve has studied Arctic ice for decades. Every summer she travels north to measure how much ice has melted. She knows that climate change is melting the ice fast, but on her last trip, she couldn't believe what she saw. Vast areas of Arctic ice have disappeared, beyond our worst expectations.

This is what the experts warned us about. As the earth warms, it creates many "tipping points" that accelerate the warming out of control. Warming thaws the Arctic sea ice, destroying the giant white 'mirror' that reflects heat back into space, which massively heats up the ocean, and melts more ice, and so on. We spin out of control. Already this year -- storms, temperatures -- everything is off the charts.

[...]

"David Gregory Wants Me Arrested for Writing This," by Carl Gibson



[...]
The corporate media is only following cues from its owners. "Meet the Press" is sponsored by Boeing, the same corporation that owns NSA contractor Narus, an Israeli company that makes the rapid interception technology used by the NSA. Boeing is also part of the corporate coalition for "Fix the Debt," a sham organization funded by Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson that aims to frame government debt as a Very Serious Problem, and Social Security and Medicare as the chief causes of that Very Serious Problem. This likely explains why Gregory was so eager to frame Social Security and Medicare as necessary sacrifices to deal with our debt, while completely ignoring the fact that companies like Boeing (and many other companieswhose CEOs are in the Fix the Debt "fiscal leadership council") pay NEGATIVE federal income tax ratesdue to a preferential tax code that their lobbyists helped write in the first place. But David Gregory is merely a propagandist for the inside-the-DC-beltway elite, not the main problem.

Since the Obama administration charged Edward Snowden with espionage (at the end of the day on a Friday, doing their best to bury the news as much as possible), the DC beltway elite have been chomping at the bit to extradite Snowden to the US, where he would likely be put in solitary confinement and tortured like Bradley Manning. As much as President Obama likes giving speeches defending his decisions on immigration and gun violence prevention, he's been silent on his decision to label Edward Snowden's leaks as tantamount to treason. Even though Snowden didn't work with a foreign government or sell the secrets of the PRISM program for millions of dollars to hostile entities, he's being given the same treatment as someone who did.
Politicians of both parties who vociferously defended the NSA's massive secret surveillance programs that treated everyday Americans as terror suspects are now lining up to call for Snowden's head. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) blew up at Russia for letting Snowden fly to Moscow from Hong Kong. Representative Peter King (R-Ia.), chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, said Snowden had "betrayed his country." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) was booed for calling Snowden a criminal at Netroots Nation in San Jose, an annual gathering of progressive activists who are usually sympathetic to the Obama administration and top congressional Democrats. Andy Borowitz rightly pointed out the irony of a government that got caught spying on ordinary Americans prosecuting one of its citizens to the fullest extent of the law for spying.

Greenwald is right in that the US government is waging a war on investigative journalism. He quoted New York magazine's Jane Meyer, perhaps best known for her exhaustive report on the billionaire Koch Brothers' financing of Tea Party organizations, as saying investigative journalism has been brought to a"standstill" under the Obama administration. This can be plainly seen in the Obama Department of Justice's seizing the phone records of AP reporters without their knowledge to try to track down one of their sources. The lack of substantive journalism in the world of mainstream journalism can be directly attributed to government intimidation of journalists through acts like those described above, and to government apologists in the media like David Gregory. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the corporate-owned media is supporting a corporate-owned government's narrative in an important story sparking international debate.

[...]


Friday, June 21, 2013

Michael Hastings, the FBI, and WikiLeaks: Death of Journalist Sparks Conspiracy Theories




What follows is an excerpt. For the full article, go to:


[...]

"Yeah," BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith confirmed to Daily Intelligencer. "Before his death, Michael told a number of his friends and colleagues that he was concerned that he was under investigation."

But other, less reputable sources have taken the speculation much further. "Vince Foster-like murder plot emerging in Los Angeles? Did the Obama administration knock off a star reporter?" asked one blog early on Wednesday, adding to existing conspiratorial Twitter chatter. Another wrote, "Admit it, Michael Hastings’ Death is Weird and Scary." Hours before revelations about a potential FBI investigation, InfoWars, the Alex Jones website that serves as a catch-all conspiracy-theory clearing house, mentioned Hastings's death with an editor's note: "Journalists who mess with government and military power often die under mysterious circumstances." None had more than conjecture.

The circumstances are these: "Police said a vehicle was southbound on Highland about 4:20 a.m. when it lost control south of Melrose and smashed into a tree," the L.A. Times reported. Video purports to show Hastings's Mercedes-Benz running a red light at a high speed minutes before the crash. "It sounded like a bomb went off in the middle of the night," a witness told thelocal news. "I couldn't have written a scene like this for a movie, where the engine flies from the car." Photos and video from the aftermath show extreme wreckage, and as of yesterday, the coroner had not officially identified the body because it was too badly burned.

But an automotive writer also fed the doubters:

I’m here to state that I’ve seen dozens of cars hit walls and stuff at high speeds and the number of them that I have observed to eject their powertrains and immediately catch massive fire is, um, ah, zero. Modern cars are very good at not catching fire in accidents. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which is an evolutionary design from a company known for sweating the safety details over and above the Euro NCAP requirements, should be leading the pack in the not-catching-on-fire category. Nor is the C-Class known for sudden veering out of control into trees and whatnot.

The crash is under investigation and there will be an official accident report (a toxicology report could take weeks). Whatever its findings, they can likely coexist with Hastings's mind-set at the time and a potential government investigation without representing something more sinister.

"He was incredibly tense and very worried and was concerned that the government was looking in on his material," said Hastings's friend and Current TV host Cenk Uygur. "I don't know what his state of mind was at 4:30 in the morning, but I do know what his state of mind was in general, and it was a nervous wreck." But Mother Jones editor Clara Jeffery put it plainly: "Ugh, the people posting Vince Foster style comments re Hastings death do a disservice to his no BS truth telling." Let's wait for the facts.

Update: The L.A. Times reports that Hastings, prior to his death, "was researching a story about a privacy lawsuit brought by the Florida socialite Jill Kelley against the Department of Defense and the FBI." The paper also notes, "Since Hastings's death early Tuesday, wild conspiracy theories have bloomed on the Internet implying that he was murdered by powerful forces wanting to silence him."

Update II: The LAPD tells the Times "there appears to be no foul play in the one-vehicle accident that killed journalist Michael Hastings ... Officials are trying to determine whether there was a mechanical problem with the car." His body has been positively identified by the L.A. coroner.

Update III: The FBI released a statement saying, "At no time was journalist Michael Hastings ever under investigation by the FBI."