Saturday, March 18, 2017

15.12 - Update: government spying on citizens

Update: government spying on citizens

Finally, last week I also talked some about privacy in a digital age, specifically, government intrusions into that privacy.

Here's another aspect of that.

Court records have revealed that the FBI has recruited and paid technicians at Best Buy's Geek Squad to do deep scans of the hard drive of computers brought in for service and report anything they find that seems sketchy to them.

Defenders of the practice argue that when you bring in a computer for service, you allow the technicians access to your hard drive and if they find something criminal - kiddie porn is the example invariably thrown up - it's their obligation to report it.

Which is all true and all completely irrelevant because here we are not talking about accidentally finding criminal material, we are talking about people actively looking for it - and no, contrary to what I have seen claimed, except for some potential unusual circumstances, you do not have to actually examine the content of de-allocated sectors on a hard drive in order to service it. You may see something is an image file or a text file, but you do not have to view the image or read the text to do your job - unless your job is to be a paid snoop for the feds.

Two bits of advice: encrypt your data and don't go to Geek Squad.

15.11 - Update: repressing protest

Update: repressing protest

Next up, last week I referred to my Rules for Right-wingers, with #18 being "If you lose by the rules, change them." I listed a number of recent attempts by right-wingers to change the rules to shut down public opposition to their regimes.

Turns out I missed one.

Arizona has seen some progressive victories lately through the use of citizen initiatives, including an increase in the minimum wage and a paid leave measure in November. So the reactionaries in control of the legislature want to make it harder for such initiatives to get on the ballot.

One measure would ban campaigns from paying petition gatherers by the signature, which would sharply increase the cost of mounting a petition campaign by removing any incentive for the gatherers to maximize the number of signatures they get. GOPpers claim this is to prevent fraud but since signatures are validated before a measure is approved for the ballot, that is obvious nonsense.

Another proposal, which could be an even bigger hurdle, is to require that for a measure to quality for the ballot, in each and every one of the state's 30 legislative districts the petitions must have signatures totalling at least 10% of the vote for governor in that district.

Finally, there is a provision in the state constitution that the legislature can't alter a voter-approved law in a way that would undermine the law's intent. The GOPpers are trying to get rid of that provision.

15.10 - Update: DAPL

Update: DAPL

Some updates on things I've talked about recently.

First, I said just a couple of weeks ago that "the stench of corruption ... continues to thicken" around the drive to build the Dakota Access pipeline, the DAPL. It just thickened some more.

When the Army Corps of Engineers released an Environmental Impact Statement about the project last August, it included a controversial conclusion regarding environmental justice issues that "the proposed [pipeline] would not disproportionately affect identified minority or low-income populations."

It now turns out, based on court records, that the source for that bit of supposed analysis was not the Corps of Engineers. It was the pipeline's builders, Dakota Access LLC and its contractor, HDR Inc.

And how did the corporation reach that oh-so-convenient conclusion? Not by examining the economic status of the Standing Rock Sioux and the impact an oil leak could have on the community's drinking water and agriculture, but by making comparisons with other low-income communities in the state. And because the pipeline would "cross less than the overall state average of 12 percent of impoverished populations," that, they said, meant the pipeline does not disproportionately impact low-income populations. And if that wasn't enough of a slammer, the report also argued that the route would impact one percent fewer Native Americans and Alaska Natives than a previously considered route.

So, see? No problem of environmental justice!

In other words, the corporations didn't look at actual potential environmental and cultural impacts, they just looked at population sizes as if that was the whole issue.

Then that self-serving corporate assessment was largely wrapped into the Army Corps impact statement.

This whole thing just stinks.

15.9 - For the Record: vibrator company tracks product use

For the Record: vibrator company tracks product use

For the Record, here's something just in case you hadn't heard about it.

A company called We-vibe sells a vibrator that can be remotely operated via a smart phone "so you can be together even when you're not," as they say in their ads.

What they didn't say either in the ads or when some customer bought the thing is that the app involved would send to the company's servers the date and time it was used, how and for how long it was used, and the registered users' email addresses.

The company has agreed to a nearly $4 million settlement in a class-action suit.

15.8 - For the Record: best country in the world?

For the Record: best country in the world?

For the Record, maybe the US isn't #1 after all.

When people tell me the US is the best country in the world, I always ask what is the seventh best - because to say we're the best, you have to have some kind of objective standard.

Well, it turns out that every year US News and World Reports puts together such a list. It worked with the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a consulting firm to develop on a set of standards based on how each country is perceived by the world at large.

The US, it develops, ranked, yes, seventh on the list this year, a drop of three slots from last year. And it ranked that high because of scoring high on power, entrepreneurship, and cultural influence - in other words, the military, corporations, and Hollywood. Outside of those three, it ranked no higher than 16 on any other measure.

God bless America.

15.7 - For the Record: resistance continues

For the Record: resistance continues

Three brief items filed under our occasional feature, For the Record, where we cover something quickly to make sure it gets mentioned.

First, For the Record, the resistance continues.

On March 14, a movement called Resist Trump Tuesdays turned out hundreds of people in places including Kansas City, Medford, Oregon, and 250 in snow and cold in Racine, Wisconsin as well as other places around the country. And several thousand turned out in Nashville TN on March 15 in response to an appearance there by TheRump to promote his "kill public schools" plan.

Carry it on.

15.6 - Clown Award: TIME magazine

Clown Award: TIME magazine

Our third runner-up is Steve Fitzgerald, a state senator in Kansas. A woman was dissatisfied with the response he gave to her concerns about recent anti-abortion-rights legislation in the state - so she donated money to the regional chapter of Planned Parenthood in his name.

The organization sent him a thank you and he responded with a letter calling Planned Parenthood "heinous," saying this was worse than having his name associated with Dachau, and shame on everybody for attempting to "blacken [his] name."

I think you're doing a pretty good job of that on your own, Stevie-boy.

Our second runner-up is Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.

On March 5, he spoke in support of Alabama's voter ID law. Now it's bad enough that voter ID laws address a non-existent problem - voter impersonation at the polls - with the actual intent of suppressing the minority vote, but he made this statement at the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma, Alabama, during a service to commemorate the 52nd anniversary of the "Bloody Sunday" march when police attacked nonviolent civil rights marchers on the city's Edmund Pettus Bridge.

On the other hand, in 2016, Merrill claimed that automatic voter registration would "cheapen" the work of civil rights leaders - because, apparently, respecting them means making it as hard as possible for minorities to register - and he called Confederate symbols on government buildings a monument to "a way of life that makes us special and unique." So this is par for the course for him.

Our first runner-up takes us from one dark part of the universe to another: Wall Street. You likely know of the iconic statue of the charging bull there. As you may have heard, there is a new statue there, that of a young girl defiantly facing off against the bull. It was placed there just before International Women’s Day by State Street Global Advisors, the world's third-largest asset manager, as a call for companies to include more women on their boards.

A laudable goal and the statue has already become a favorite of visitors to the street.

So the day after International Women's Day, this happens: Some wall street lacky-type who an onlooker described as right out of central casting, proceeds to hump the statue while his friends cheer him on.

Crude, boorish, simulated sexual violence. Always good for a laugh.

Quick Footnote: Apparently some people were disturbed about the photo being posted on social media. According to eyewitnesses, he did this not only in front of his friends but about 15 to 20 onlookers. He's got no business complaining.

Footnote to the Footnote: When "Inside Edition" covered this story, they blurred the creep's face. I didn't.

What, who, would be worse, more clownish that that? The answer is our winner: "Time" Magazine.

Amal Clooney is an accomplished, international human rights lawyer who made a powerful speech to the UN General Assembly on March 10 calling on the world body to investigate human rights crimes by ISIS in Iraq, especially against the Yazidis, a religious minority who ISIS regards as devil worshippers to be wiped out. She specifically called on Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to send a letter to the Security Council so it can vote to begin investigating those crimes.

And how did Time decide to tweet about this story? Just look to the left. Yup. That way.

They weren't the only ones, but while we might - emphasize might - expect it from outfits like "Entertainment Tonight" or "E! News" or tabloids like The Mirror in the UK, to see it from as establishment and mainstream a publication as Time just serves to emphasize how deep-rooted and pervasive sexism in our media really is.

"Time" Magazine: You have really proven yourselves to be a complete miniature car full of clowns.

15.5 - Ya Gotta Just Laugh: TheRump supporters think ad for sci-fi series is real radio station

Ya Gotta Just Laugh: TheRump supporters think ad for sci-fi series is real radio station

This is an occasional feature, filed under the heading of Sometimes all you can do is laugh.

On its streaming TV service, Amazon is running an adaptation of a 1962 novel called The Man in the High Castle by noted sci-fi author, the late Philip K. Dick. It's an alternative history story in which the Allies lost World War II to the Axis at least partly because Germany got "the Bomb" first. The story is set in 1962 and the US has been divided into an eastern zone controlled by Germany, a western zone controlled by Japan, and a lawless neutral zone between. There, a fledgling resistance movement is trying to get started.

As part of the advertising for the show, Amazon set up a website called featuring three looped streams supposedly from three pirate radio stations that are part of the show's fictional world. The company also set up a sponsored hashtag on Twitter, #ResistanceRadio.

Well, apparently a number of TheRump supporters heard about this and without even looking at the site, without doing one bit of thinking or checking, stomped over to Twitter to complain about the "liberal bias" of this non-existent station and to fume about "lefty loonies" who "would rather USA fail then admit Trump does anything good" and are "resisting facts like Trump is President."

It's true: sometimes all you can do is laugh.

15.4 - Footnote: even TheRump is for "clean water"

Footnote: even TheRump is for "clean water"

Last week I mentioned that among the achievements of the movement of the '60s was to change, perhaps not by much but certainly permanently, our society's sense of its relation to the environment.

Consider as evidence for that the fact that even TheRump has to talk about wanting clean water and hasn't proposed doing away with the Clean Water Act itself so we could go back to the days of Lake Erie being dead, the Cuyahoga River catching fire, and living in Boston meant you really did have to love that dirty water.

Small moves may be small moves - but they are moves.

15.3 - Not Good News: TheRump goes after clean water rules

Not Good News: TheRump goes after clean water rules

But even "sorta" Good News is better than Not Good News, and we have some of that, too.

Specifically, we have the intent of TheRump to turn back the clock on clean water by undoing the so-called Clean Water Rule.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 protects the "waters of the US" - major water bodies like large streams, rivers, bays and other coastal waters, along with streams and wetlands that flow into them - from being destroyed or polluted, or at least polluted without federal oversight and control.

The question always has been just how extensive is that reach, that is, just how far does the definition of "waters of the US" extend?

The issue came to a head in 2006 in the case Rapanos v. United States, involving a developer who wanted to fill in wetlands to build a shopping center. It resulted in a messy 4-1-4 split at the Supreme Court, with four right-wing justices taking a very narrow view of what the law covered, four others taking a more expansive view, and Anthony Kennedy trying to stake out a middle ground. In the absence of a majority, the controlling view became Kennedy's, who said that waters with a "significant nexus" to those clearly covered by the Act were themselves covered.

Which leaves another problem: What constitutes a "significant nexus?"

The Obama administration tried to answer that question with a rule-making effort that took over four years to get from a draft in 2011 to a final form in 2015. Relying on scientific research, the final Clean Water Rule said the law's protection extended to what are called "intermittent" waters, those that flow only certain times of the year, such as during snow melts, and "ephemeral" waters, those that flow in response to a weather event such as a rainstorm, provided they have other features of streams, such as banks and a bed.

The support for this position lies in the fact that according to the EPA, upwards of two-thirds of US stream miles are intermittent or ephemeral and that about 117 million Americans draw all or some of their water from public drinking water systems that depend at least partly on such sources and that such waters, along with the headwaters of streams, are hydrologically connected, that is, they do have a "significant nexus," with those larger streams and rivers clearly covered by the law.

The Clean Water Rule has never gone into effect because it was blocked in federal court while a suit against it proceeds, meaning those waters remain without protection.

Which is bad enough, but it gets worse.

On February 28, TheRump issued an executive order that not only indicated that the administration will no longer defend the Clean Water Rule in court but ordered the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, the two agencies involved in interpreting and enforcing the Clean Water Act, to review and revise the rules.

And not just in order to, as was expected, roll back the Clean Water Rule, but to adopt the standard used by the right-wing justices in the Rapanos case, one not only weaker than the standard the Obama administration proposed but even weaker than the one the Bush administration adopted in the wake of Rapanos.

That is a standard which not only would exempt intermittent and ephemeral streams from protection, but would even strip protection from wetlands that lack a direct surface flow consistently connecting them to perennial streams or lakes - those that always have water - even though many wetlands have their connection to those streams and lakes through underground flow or via aquifers. It would also deny protection to the headwaters that are the sources of those perennial streams. All, apparently, under the insane notion that water does not flow downhill and so you can pollute or damage upstream without affecting downstream.

The silver lining in this dark cloud is that the Clean Water Rule isn't going away any time soon. TheRump's order allows the EPA to begin the lengthy rulemaking process - but the whole process is something which the New York Times suggests could take more time than he has left in his first term.

Even so, this is clearly an indication of the attitude the White House cabal takes to issues of environmental protection and likely presages future assaults on environmental regulations.

And that, most certainly, is not good news.

15.2 - Good News: more support for drug importation bill

Good News: more support for drug importation bill

We have one other bit of Good News which I am calling "sorta Good News." Good News with a question mark, if you will.

A few weeks ago, I told you about an attempt by Sens. Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, and some others to allow pharmacists to import drugs from Canada - and how despite attracting the support of a dozen GOPpers the measure failed because 13 Dimcrats voted against it.

One of that demon's dozen, Cory Booker, took the brunt of the heated reaction because of his status as the liberal hero du jour.

Well, the Good News part is that Booker is co-sponsoring a new version of the bill along with Sanders and Amy Klobuchar - as are three others among those who voted against it before. That means that if all the GOPper support from before holds, they have 50 votes and a real chance of passage, at least in the Senate.

Booker, as a politician who sits in their office dreaming of being president someday will, insisted that the criticism had nothing to do with his change of heart. It was, he insisted, that he won inclusion of additional safety standards in the bill, because of course it goes without saying that the protection of the American public was his real concern, not the boatload of campaign contributions he has gotten from the pharmaceutical industry.

Still, he is on the right side now. But this is where the Good News becomes the "sorta" Good News. Some of those so-called "safeguards" are actually loopholes for Big Pharma. Two in particular stand out, one relatively minor, the other important:

The minor one is that that foreign sellers can only sell drugs manufactured in an FDA-registered facility. That would effectively limit things to reimportation of drugs made in the US and exported to Canada. That's not a significant limitation, since most of the drugs that would be involved would fit that description - that is, most of the meds would be ones that are being reimported. That again raises the question about the supposed need for additional safety regulations since we are talking for the most part about US-manufactured drugs (not to mention the implied slam against Canada's own standards), but leave that aside.

The other requirement is that foreign sellers of drugs would have to be certified by the US Secretary of Health and Human Services. That would means that the White House could effectively totally block the importation of meds from Canada simply by not getting around to certifying any such foreign sellers or by finding fault with every application for certification.

All of which means that the move to allow for the importation of medications from Canada is back on track - but with enough PSs and footnote to make Big Pharma smile. So yes, I would have to call this "sorta" Good News.

15.1 - Good News: victory for voting rights in Texas

Good News: victory for voting rights in Texas

We start the week with some Good News in an area where in recent times there has been too much bad news: voting rights.

Two weeks ago, I was able to tell you about a voting rights victory in Virginia, now I can tell you about one in Texas. On March 3, a three-judge panel of the federal District Court for the West District of Texas ruled that several of the state's gerrymandered federal election districts discriminate against minority voters and so violate the Voting Right Act and the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution.

This could result in a new map for the 2018 elections that could give minority voters more clout.
Crucially, the court ruled that Republicans intentionally engaged in racial discrimination when they drew their map. That finding could be grounds for placing Texas back under Justice Department "preclearance" for voting law changes under the Voting Rights Act.
This case has been going on since 2011; in fact arguments were completed in 2014. It dragged on so long that at the end of December, the plaintiffs filed a brief asking the court to make a decision. It dragged on so long that when the decision was released late in the day on March 10, even court watchers "were caught off-guard" because "people had almost given up on the case," according to Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center's Democracy Program.

The ruling, which Texas will doubtless appeal to the Supreme Court, was split, with the third judge arguing in a dissent that dripped with overt hostility toward the Justice Dept. that the case was moot even though the majority noted that issue had already been dealt with and accepted without reservation the state's claim that the district lines had nothing to do with race or ethnicity but were about maximizing the chances of electing a maximum number of GOPpers and a minimum number of anyone else (which is supposed to make it okay because the Voting Rights Act does not specify that as a cause for action).

Happily, the majority didn't buy it.

There are similar cases, two of them, regarding North Carolina making their way through the courts which could impact the 2018 elections. Hopefully, at some point we will have good news about those, too.

What's Left #15

What's Left
for the week of March 16-23, 2017

This week:
Good News: victory for voting rights in Texas

Good News: more support for drug importation bill

Not Good News: TheRump goes after clean water rules

Footnote: even TheRump is for "clean water"

Ya Gotta Laugh: TheRump supporters think ad for sci-fi series is real radio station

Clown Award: TIME magazine

For the Record: resistance continues

For the Record: best country in the world?

For the Record: vibrator company tracks product use

Update: DAPL

Update: repressing protest

Update: government spying on citizens

Sunday, March 12, 2017

14.4 - Privacy and the CIA

Privacy and the CIA

Finally, a few minutes on something I haven't talked about in a while: privacy in a digital age.

This was prompted, I expect you realize, by the release of a trove of CIA documents by WikiLeaks revealing a slew of agency's hacking techniques and programs.

This is, the group says, the first in a series of releases it's calling "Vault 7."

The title of the first release is "Year Zero," and the nearly 9,000 documents describe clandestine methods for bypassing or defeating encryption, antivirus tools, and other protective security features intended to keep the private information of citizens and corporations just that: private.

Experts who checked out the material said it appeared to be genuine.

The documents provide an overview of the scope and direction of the CIA's global covert hacking program, its malware arsenal, and dozens of "zero day" weaponized exploits against a wide range of US and European company products, including the Apple iPhone, Google's Android, Microsoft Windows. and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.

According to the group's press release, the CIA can also "bypass the encryption of WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Wiebo, Confide, and Cloackman" and the documents described ways of tricking various anti-virus programs into allowing malicious code to be injected into a computer. In other words, if the CIA wants to know, it will find out, no matter what you do to protect yourself, because "All your secrets are belonging to us."

What's more, there are indications that the CIA was working on ways to infect the vehicle control systems in by modern cars and trucks, which could, at least hypothetically, enable the agency to take over vehicles on the road and stop them - or direct them to where the agents wanted them to go.

What's not included are the actual hacking tools themselves. WikiLeaks said it planned to avoid distributing such information until a consensus emerges on how to deal with such software, although the group indicated the next day it may well release the information to technology and software corporations so they could construct patches against the CIA's methods.

It's worth recalling here that the NSA has for some time had a unit called "Tailored Access Operations," the very mandate of which is to enable the spooks to hack any computer, anywhere, any time. "Getting the ungettable" is the NSA's own description of the unit's duties. So this isn't actually a new field for the spooks and may involve the crudest sort of inter-agency rivalry and jealousy: Is the CIA just resentful of having to depend on the NSA for some intelligence operations or jealous of the NSA having a capacity it doesn't?

Meanwhile, the poor relation among the techno-spooks, the FBI, is still whining about encryption.

At a cybersecurity conference hosted by Boston College on March 7, FBI director James Comey declared that "There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America."

That, he said, "is the bargain. We made that bargain over two centuries ago to achieve two goals: privacy and security. Widespread default encryption changes that bargain. In my view it shatters the bargain."

That is, the inability of the FBI to penetrate modern encryption on our phones, our ability to keep our private information actually private, is destroying the ability of the noble and guiltless surveillance state to keep us safe and secure.

James "I must know all" Comey
The fact that his remarks come just a day after the Wikileaks document dump gave them a rather surreal quality, but he soldiered on, grousing about how many devices the agency had obtained and been unable to penetrate during the last quarter of 2016. Those devices, he declared, were linked to an array of criminal, counterintelligence, and terrorism investigations - but did not bother to declare how or even if the inability to access those devices impacted those investigations.

But here's the center of it for me: Comey denied that he is advocating for weaker encryption or for so called encryption backdoors into our phones. Oh no, he insisted that, contrary to pretty much everyone in the technological and computer fields, firms can retain access to a person's communications while also providing strong encryption.

That doesn't even make sense! How can a company provide strong encryption while still being able to access our communications at will? What kind of encryption is that? What kind of privacy is that if it can be breached at will?

Comey acknowledged that Americans have a reasonable expectations of privacy in their homes, cars, and devices. Big of him. But then he went on to spin a dark tale of a criminal world forever hidden from the FBI's view - while at the same time saying both that sophisticated criminals, nation states, and spies have had access to encryption technology for decades, and claiming that its the fact that encryption tools are now widely available which is the problem.

Which means, really, that the problem he's pointing to is us. Ordinary folks. Everyday folks. We're the ones who benefit from that wider availability of encryption. Not the sophisticated criminals, nation states, and spies; he said it himself, they've had access to it all along. We're the ones who can better protect our secrets. Which means we're the ones in James Comey's cross-hairs. Because the one thing the state cannot abide is the people being able to keep secrets, for the people to be able to know anything the state does not.

14.3 - Clown Award: Ben Carson

Clown Award: Ben Carson

Next up is the Clown Award, given on a regular basis for some act of meritorious stupidity.

I want to say at the top that I try to stay away from the obvious targets, I really do; I don't want to spend our time pointing and laughing at the same fools others are already pointing and laughing at. But sometimes, the clowns are so clowny that they just push themselves, they just launch themselves, at you.

And this week I felt like I was under siege, with three flying bodies coming my way.

Okay, first up. On March 7, TheRump took to Twitter to say that, quoting because it's important, "122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!"

He then posted the same thing again from his official White House account.

Not my president
And of course it was wrong. Only eight of those released under Obama had "reengaged." The others were released by George Bush.

Asked about this, Sean Spicer said "Obviously the president meant in totality the number that had been released." Except, of course, that's not what he said - he said, quoting again, "released by the Obama administration."

But wait - who's the clown here? TheRump for his typical boneheadedness or our favorite Melissa McCarty impersonator for the lamest attempt at a save imaginable?

Maybe we'd better move on to Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
Um, Sean Spicer?

When asked on March 7 about if the GOPpers ruination of the Affordable Care Act would result in fewer Americans having health insurance coverage, Rep. Chuff said "Americans have got to make a choice. Instead of getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest in their own healthcare. They've got to make those decisions themselves."

So not only can everyone afford a new iPhone, but it's up to us to choose: an iPhone or health care. Because apparently they cost the same amount.

How far out of touch do you have to be to say something that stupid? And how stupid do you have to be by trying to cover yourself the next day by saying you "didn't say it smoothly" but what you really meant was that people should be "responsible" - in other words, we're not?
Jason Chuffitz

How stupid to you have to be to say that people should be "self-reliant" and if you have a preexisting condition you should "invest" in "a health savings account," and so, what, just save up to get it taken care of?

How out of touch, how stupid, do you have to be? You have to be Jason Chaffetz.

Oh, but when it comes to being out of touch, he can barely hold a candle to our winner. So this week the Big Red Nose goes to the man who thinks Joseph built the pyramids to store grain, the Big Bang is a "fairy tale," and that the Affordable Care Act is the worst thing since slavery, Ben Carson, a man who was a successful neurosurgeon and so just can't be as much of a dunderhead as he seems to be and yet he is.

The man himself
On March 7, taking over as new head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he gave a speech to agency employees. During the speech, he talked about immigrants, saying "They worked not for themselves, but for their sons and their daughters, their grandsons and their granddaughters, that they might have an opportunity in this land."

And then came this: "There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder, for less. But they too had a dream that one day, their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters...might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land."

You heard that right: Ben Carson described slaves as immigrants seeking a better future for their descendants.

I truly can't think of a thing to say, so I'll defer to the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, which denounced Carson in a statement which ended this way: "We condemn your statement, and suggest you try this one instead: Black Lives Matter."

To which I can only add: Ben Carson, clown.

14.2 - A call to action

A call to action

And you know what else they are, besides an outrage?

They are a call to action. A call to keep on keepin' on.

A lesson from the old guy
There's a lesson to be learned from the dreaded '60s: In the 1950s, the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, known as HUAC, intimidated and silenced a good deal of potential opposition with the political blackmail of "hearings" and "investigations" designed to accuse people of being in the Communist Party or knowing someone in the Communist Party or of once being at a party at the same time as someone who once knew a communist; it didn't matter how tenuous the connection was as long as they could claim one existed. But as the McCarthy era ended, HUAC fell into disrepute. (Yes, the McCarthy hearings were in the Senate and this was the House, but as McCarthyism fell, it took some other unsavory characters along with it, and HUAC was one.)

In the '60s, there was an attempt to revive the committee under its new name of the House Internal Security Committee to investigate what was known as the New Left, the radical opposition to the Indochina War.

The hearings were a farce, a total failure for the Committee. Why? Because the witnesses they called, including, foolishly for them, people like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, simply refused to be intimidated.

"What is your relation to the Communist party?"
"Those old line, stiff-necked, no fun hacks? Yuck."
"But isn't it true that you have worked with the Communist Party?"
"Yeah, sure, where we agree. Why wouldn't we?"
"Isn't it true, in fact, that you are a revolutionary who wants to overthrow the system?"
"Isn't it true - wait, what?"

No, of course those are not real quotes but they do reflect the spirit. That refusal to be intimidated, that determination, in other words, just to keep on doing what you were doing the way you were doing it, to be neither stampeded nor hobbled by what the state wanted or expected of you, that is one of the things that made the movement of the '60s so powerful. And yes, it was powerful. It was, as I have written before, powerful enough that over a several year span it was able to limit and finally stop a war, force one any maybe two presidents from office, bring the nuclear power industry to a virtual standstill, change our society's perception of half its population, and shift - perhaps not by much but surely permanently - that society's sense of its relation to the environment.

The important point, the lesson, of this excursion into nostalgia, is that in the face of attempted suppression, our best response, our best tactic, our best way is to just keep on going.

And we have been.

February 16 was "A Day Without Immigrants." Restaurants, grocery stores, food trucks, coffee shops, diners, and taco joints in cities across the country shut down either because they didn't have enough staff or, in some cases, in solidarity.

The effect was strongest in the restaurant industry, where immigrants make up the majority of the 12 million people employed in it, but the construction industry, which also employs large numbers of immigrants, also felt the impact - as did some employees, who were fired for taking part in the action. Whether those firings were legal remains to be seen, but it would be a hard fight. Which makes solidarity with immigrants even more important.

Speaking of solidarity, on February 18, thousands of folks marched in Los Angeles under the banned "I Am a Muslim, Too" in a day of solidarity with immigrants and refugees, protesting TheRump's Muslim travel ban.

The next day, something over 1,000 came to Times Square in New York with the same message.

The day after that, in 28 cities across the country Presidents Day became "Not My Presidents Day" as thousands of people participated in marches and rallies to declare that TheRump does not speak for us. Not just in the obvious places like New York, Washington DC, and Los Angeles, but in places including Atlanta, Austin, Rapid City, South Dakota, Nashville, Indianapolis, Concord, New Hampshire, Santa Barbara, and others.

Crowd sizes ranged from dozens to several thousand to over 10,000 in New York.

Yes it's true, and it was noted some places, that the turnouts didn't come close to the historic levels of January 21. But that's not important; it's the persistence that's important. Not, again, that there has to be some march every single day or even every single week, but that there be a constant rumble of opposition, of resistance to the course on which the deeply reactionary cabal in the White House would place us.

A quick sidebar here as a personal comment: Some on the left don't like the "Not my president" idea, with some saying it's too divisive and others saying "He is the president, like it or not." From my point of view, I say yes, he did win by the means we use - it's not the means I would use and I note I have been against the Electoral College since I was in grade school and that's not an exaggeration - but he did win by the way we now count it. He is legally the president and has all legal authority of presidency and so in that legal sense, yes, is my president. But I will continue say that TheRump is not my president to make it clear that he does not speak for me.

Since I became politically involved, there has been no president that I fully embraced. I have respected some more than others, have opposed some more strongly than others - but this is the first time that a presidency has seemed so across the board offensive, so persistently indifferent to the needs of the many not only here but around the world, so insistently determined to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted, so unreservedly favoring the powerful over the powerless, the rich over the poor, the corporations over the people, so eager to embrace bigotry, this is the first time an administration has seemed so utterly devoid of redeeming virtues, and so the first time I have chosen to say "not my president." Because he does not speak for me.

Anyway, getting back to the topic and moving on to the big deal of late: March 8, International Women's Day and the "A Day Without A Woman" - the women's strike. This was a day of action including over 400 local events in 50 countries around the world, women rising to declare their independence, their worth, and their dignity and to proclaim their futures as full and equal beings.

Part of the purpose was to show women's impact on society and the economy and one impact here in the US was immediate and obvious: Entire school districts in some states had to shut down because without women - who account for 87% of US elementary school teachers - they just didn't have the staff to stay open.

The marches, protests, and rallies in the US addressed a range of issues including LGBTQ rights, support for Planned Parenthood, workplace harassment, health care, the "gag rule" that says that foreign nonprofits providing abortion services forfeit aid from the US government, and more - including, of course, equal pay and a living wage.

According to the US Census Bureau, women make up more than 47% of the workforce and are dominant among registered nurses, dental assistants, cashiers, accountants, and pharmacists. They make up at least a third of physicians, a third of surgeons, a third of lawyers, and a third of judges. Women also represent 55% of all college students.

But at the same time, American women earn only about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. And that difference persists across all levels of education, as the chart to the right shows. It indicates with each level of education from less than a high school diploma through an advanced degree, the average of what a man can expect to earn (dark blue line) and the average of what a woman can expect to earn (light blue line). Note particularly that a woman with an advanced degree can expect to be paid less than a man with a bachelor's.

We have a long way to go. But women around the world are saying "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around" - so we will get there.

So long as we keep on keepin' on.

14.1 - Outrage of the Week: making it harder to protest

Outrage of the Week: making it harder to protest

I said last week that the Outrage of the Week was a teaser because I didn't have time to cover it more fully and that I would make 1st order of business this week. So I'm doing exactly that and our first item is the Outrage of the Week.

I'll start with a quick reminder from last week. I started by referring you to my Rules of Rightwing Debate, number 18 of which reads: "If you can't win by the rules, change them."

I always use voter suppression as a great example of this. The right wing knows it can't win if the mass of the American public votes, so it has been engaged in a years-long effort to make it harder and harder for people to vote at all - particularly the poor, minorities, and the young; that is, the ones least likely to vote reactionary.

But now the rules they are trying to change are quite literally those of the First Amendment.

Faced with outraged citizens and ongoing protests big and small, faced with outraged constituents at town halls, the GOPpers are trying to make it harder and harder to engage in legal protest of any kind.

In the days immediately following the historic protests of January 21, GOPpers in at least six state legislatures were moving to try to block or at least minimize public opposition by criminalizing peaceful protests and sharply increasing penalties for nonviolent civil disobedience. In at least three of those cases they proposed to forgive crimes committed against protesters so long as they were done "accidentally."

The number of states considering such laws quickly grew to eight then to 10 and now stands at at least eighteen: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington either have considered or are now considering such bills.

There are proposals to ban the use of masks, to increase penalties for trespass on so-called "critical infrastructure," which seems to mean some area where the particular state does not want to allow protests, even one that would make heckling a government official a crime.

But others go far beyond that:

Last week, I told you about the proposed law in Arizona that would expose all participants in and organizers of any demonstration where any property damage occurred to racketeering charges, which involve penalties not only of a year in prison but seizure of personal property and assets. That bill passed the state Senate but died in the House, but it is not the only example of trying to financially crush protest.

Michigan is working on a law to restrict mass picketing. This is more aimed at labor unions, but could be applied to any action that is a series. If a demonstration is deemed an "illegal" mass picket, penalties for taking part would shoot up to $1000 per person per day and $10,000 per organization per day. What's most interesting is that it's hard to find a real definition of what makes a mass picket illegal; it seems to come down to if the target of the picket can convince some judge that there are more people picketing than necessary to make the point.

In another tack on the same line, in Minnesota, a proposed bill would allow localities to charge protesters for the costs of policing the protests.

Also in Minnesota, keeping the traffic flowing is more important than the ability to nonviolently protest: A bill there would triple the fine for taking part in a blockade of a roadway from $1000 to $3000 and lengthen the prison term from 90 days to a year.

An early version of a bill under consideration in Indiana called on police to clear any roadway blocked by protesters within 15 minutes by "any means necessary."

That's not good enough for Iowa and Mississippi, where proposals would make blocking a highway a felony, subject to up to five years in prison.

That's nothing, says North Dakota: We would exempt a driver from liability if they injure or kill a protester taking part in a blockade of a street or highway - provided only that it was done "accidentally," as if they hadn't noticed the traffic backup or this large group of people in the road.

That bill failed to pass out of the House by what in a sane world would be the shockingly close vote of 50-41. But meanwhile, Florida and Tennessee have bills with the same "kill a protester, no problem" idea under consideration.

Now, it's important to note that not all of these efforts succeeded or will succeed: A number of them never got out of committee, some others failed to pass, some others got through one house of a bicameral state legislature only to die in the other. Maybe ultimately none of them will pass.

It is also true that a number of these bills, even were they to be passed into law, would not survive a Constitutional challenge.

That doesn't change the fact that these bills have been introduced, considered, debated, supported at least by some. It doesn't change the fact that there is a concerted push to find ways to respond to protests not by embracing their message, not even by considering if they may have a point, but by shutting them down, silencing them by silencing those that would take part in them by threatening them with such severe consequences that they are intimidated from taking part, by, to use a more legalistic term, "chilling" their speech.

And if you have any doubt of that, just remember that Douglas McAdam, a Stanford sociology professor who studies protest movements, notes that this is hardly the first time for this. For example, when the US labor movement became active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of laws were created "to limit or outlaw labor organizing or limit labor rights."

For another example, in the 1950s, southern states responded to the emerging civil rights movement with "dozens of new bills outlawing civil rights groups, limiting the rights of assembly," and more, "all in an effort to make civil rights organizing more difficult," McAdam said.

Even the wild, laughable charges about "paid protesters" are nothing new.

So yes, this is nothing new, rather, it's what you should expect when the voice of the people rises to challenge the reactionaries. It is their natural reaction, their knee-jerk response, to look for ways to shut us up and shut us down, to make us go away.

But the fact that this is not new doesn't change, in fact it underlines, the fact that these bills comprise an assault on the right to assemble. And it doesn't change, in fact it underlines, the fact that they are an outrage.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

What's Left #14

What's Left
for the week of March 9-15, 2017

This week:
Outrage of the Week: making it harder to protest

A call to action

Clown Award: Ben Carson

Privacy and the CIA

Sunday, March 05, 2017

13.11 - Outrage of the Week: GOPpers attack First Amendment right to assemble

Outrage of the Week: GOPpers attack First Amendment right to assemble

This is our other regular feature: the Outrage of the Week.

This is going to have to serve as a teaser for next week, since I am almost out of time. But I will say this now with the understanding that I am going to make it my first order of business for next week.

You may recall that just a couple of weeks ago I gave you my Rules for Rightwing Debate, that is, the rules the wingers follow in avoiding factual engagement on issues.

One of them is "Rule #18: If you can't win by the rules, change them."

A great example of this is voter suppression. As I mentioned earlier, the right wing knows it can't win if the mass of the American public votes, so it tries to make it harder and harder for people to vote at all.

But now the rules they are trying to change are quite literally those of the First Amendment.

Faced with outraged citizens and ongoing protests big and small, the GOPpers are trying to make it harder and harder to engage in legal protest while at the same time increasing the penalties for any act of nonviolent civil disobedience, trying to scare people off from such dramatic but peaceful protests.

Perhaps the worst example is that on February 22, the Arizona state senate actually passed a bill that makes participating in or helping organize a protest that turns into a quote riot unquote subject to criminal racketeering charges, facing a year in prison and seizure of personal assets including such as your car and your home.

Note this, because it's important: In Arizona, a "riot" is described as "two or more people using or threatening force or violence in a way that disturbs the peace." The bill expanded that definition to include any event where there is property damage. Which means that at any demonstration where two people say throw rocks through a window, everyone present could be arrested for "participating in a riot." People trying to organize a protest could be arrested and charged under racketeering laws just for the planning, if the cops decide the planned protest could lead to such "rioting."

This bill, which became known as the "Plan a Protest, Lose Your House" bill, is so extreme that some sanity prevailed and the Arizona House will not take it up, killing it (at least for now), but the state Senate did pass it.

And other kinds of attacks on the right to assemble are being undertaken in at least 18 states.

Run that around in your head for a while. More next week - when it will still be an outrage.

13.10 - Footnote: Seattle cuts ties to Wells Fargo over DAPL

Footnote: Seattle cuts ties to Wells Fargo over DAPL

As a Footnote, to that, there have been various bits of fallout from the protests, with one more coming just recently.

On February 8, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to cut ties with banking giant Wells Fargo over its business practices and particularly over its role as a lender to the Dakota Access pipeline project.

When the current contract between the city and the bank expires in 2018, it will not be renewed and there will no new investments in Wells Fargo securities for three years.

The bank currently manages the city's accounts, processing about $3 billion annually on an average daily balance of $10 million.

There are other efforts to, if you will, vote with your dollars. For example, individuals have withdrawn some $58 million in deposits from banks associated with the project, the Norwegian bank DNB sold its share in the project after finding that the natives' concerns were not being adequately addressed, and the city of Minneapolis is considering the possibility of cutting ties with banks invested in the fossil fuel industry in general and the Dakota Access Pipeline in particular.

None of that may seem like much compared to the size of the banking industry - but like the man in the movie said, small moves, small moves.

13.9 - Update: Dakota Access Pipeline

Update: Dakota Access Pipeline

Now for an Update regarding something we have talked about a couple of times: the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL.

The first thing to note is that North Dakota state police, with armored vehicles and riot gear and with guns drawn, have forcibly shut down the Oceti Sakowin encampment, the main encampment established to protest the pipeline and its potential impact on the drinking water and the sacred lands of the Standing Rock Sioux.

The excuse, the one that is always employed in such cases, is that it was done for the safety and protection of those in the encampment. Not, of course, for the protection of the profit of any corporation.

On February 15, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed an emergency evacuation order claiming the risk of spring floods was justification to accomplish what they had desired to do all along: drive the people out. The order set a deadline of February 22 for everyone to get out or get arrested.

With just 200-300 of the earlier thousands of protesters still in the camp as the deadline approached, the remaining occupants burned down a number of the structures in what was described as a ceremony of departure as the people marched out, chanting and beating drums.

About 50 refused to leave, preferring nonviolent civil disobedience and arrest rather than submission in order to express their opposition to the order and their continuing opposition to the pipeline.

This bringing down of the hammer comes in the wake of TheRump signing executive actions last month to advance and accelerate approval of the DAPL by streamlining the regulatory process for construction and shortening any environmental review - and at the same time, we need to mention because it will doubtless come up later, tried to put the Keystone XL pipeline back in business.

That was followed up by TheRump canceling an an environmental-impact review mid-stream and the Army Corps of Engineers granting the final easement for pipeline construction beneath Lake Oahe without the usual two-week waiting period before an easement can be acted on.

This does not mean the fight is over, although if I'm to be blunt it looks pretty grim right now. But the spiritual occupation continues even if in a less dramatic way: New encampments are popping up on private land in the area, including one the Cheyenne River Sioux had earlier set up about a mile - or 1.5 kilometers - from the main camp.

And the fight in the courts goes on. On February 14, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a new challenge to the project, arguing that the canceling of the environmental review is illegal, the waiving of the waiting period for the easement is "arbitrary and capricious," and the process "wholly disregard[s] the treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux."

Meanwhile, the stench of corruption over this whole thing continues to thicken. For one thing, it came out in November that TheRump had as much as $1 million invested in Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, in 2015. In May 2016, the most recent information available, he still had as much as $50,000 invested in the company, along with as much as $250,000 invested in Phillips 66, an oil company which has a one-quarter share of Dakota Access.

And now it has emerged that when on last October 25 the Governors of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa sent a letter sent to the Army Corp of Engineers demanding approval of DAPL, they were quite literally working on behalf of Energy Transfer Partners: The letter contained only minor alterations from one provided to the governors by the LS2Group, a PR firm contracted by the pipeline builders to promote the project.

So right now things don't look so bright - but we need to keep on keepin' on. There is no other way.
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