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Editor, The Konformist
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Awesome Quotes: Glen Greenwald on MSNBC
"If the Democratic National Committee were to own a network and produce news programming designed to promote the party, it would look exactly like what MSNBC has become... MSNBC staffed their shows with not only hosts but regular guests who are the most loyal, reverent admirers of President Obama and who are single-handedly devoted to no real political principle or cause other than glorifying him and defending what he does... It's like watching televised Pravda at the height of the Brezhnev era."
Was Petraeus Borked?
ProPublica, Nov. 14, 2012
In 1987, when Judge Robert Bork was enmeshed in a partisan struggle over his Supreme Court nomination, a reporter for an alternative weekly in Washington, D.C., got a tip that the judge was a patron of a local video store. Michael Dolan went to Potomac Video, in the western corner of the capital, and asked the assistant manager for a list of videos the judge had checked out. "Cool," the assistant manager said. "I'll look."
Dolan's subsequent story, published in the Washington City Paper, caused a sensation, though not because of the judge's taste in videos, which, it turned out, was unremarkable. There were 146 rentals in less than two years, including lots of Hitchcock and Bond, as well as movies featuring Meryl Streep and Bette Midler. As Dolan wrote, "Despite what all you pervs were hoping, there's not an X in the bunch, and hardly an R."
After a bitter fight, the Senate rejected Bork's nomination. One thing everyone agreed on, however, was that Bork's privacy had been invaded. In 1988, Congress passed the Video Privacy Protection Act, making it illegal to release video lists without a customer's consent to anyone but law enforcement, and then only with an appropriate warrant. It is reasonable to note that the unusually rapid congressional action was perhaps aimed at protecting the privacy of Legislator X as much as Citizen Y. If a reporter could easily get the judge's video list, a senator's list would not be much harder to get, and would probably be a lot more lively.
Will the scandal surrounding David Petraeus, General John Allen, Paula Broadwell, Jill Kelley, and a shirtless F.B.I. agent turn into the same sort of eureka moment that Congress experienced when Bork was, as the saying now goes, "borked"? Although the lustful portion of the Petraeus scandal is hardly disappearing who else will be drawn into it, and when will we read the emails? attention is turning toward the apparent ease with which the F.B.I. accessed the electronic communication of Petraeus, Broadwell, Kelley, and Allen. The exact circumstances of how the F.B.I. got its hands on all this material remains to be revealed for instance, whether search warrants were obtained for everything but the bottom line appears to be that the F.B.I. accessed a vast array of private information and seriously harmed the careers of at least Petraeus and Broadwell without, as of yet, filing a criminal complaint against anybody. As the law professor and privacy expert James Grimmelmann tweeted the other day, "The scandal isn't what's illegal; the scandal is what's legal (or what the FBI thinks is legal)."
In recent years, a handful of privacy activists led by the A.C.L.U., the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and the Center for Democracy & Technology have filed lawsuits and requested official documents in an effort to reveal and challenge the government's vast surveillance powers. For the most part, they have not succeeded in changing things; the Petraeus scandal appears to show just how much surveillance the F.B.I. and other law enforcement agencies can conduct without a judge or a company telling them "no, you can't have that."
For instance, in its semiannual transparency report, Google announced this week that it receives more requests for user data from the U.S. government than any other government in the world, and that those requests rose 26 percent in the latest six-month reporting period, to nearly 8,000; the company said that it complied with 90 percent of the requests, either fully or partially. As Chris Soghoian, the A.C.L.U.'s principal technologist and senior policy analyst, wrote this week:
"The guest lists from hotels, IP [computer] login records, as well as the creative request to email providers for 'information about other accounts that have logged in from this IP address' are all forms of data that the government can obtain with a subpoena. There is no independent review, no check against abuse, and further, the target of the subpoena will often never learn that the government obtained data."
It's not just email. In July, Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, cajoled major cellphone carriers into disclosing the number of requests for data that they receive from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies: In 2011, there were more than 1.3 million requests. As ProPublica reported at the time, "Police obtain court orders for basic subscriber information so frequently that some mobile phone companies have established websites here's one with forms that police can fill out in minutes. The Obama Administration's Department of Justice has said mobile phone users have 'no reasonable expectation of privacy.'"
There's a particularly cruel irony in all of this: If you contact your cell-phone carrier or Internet service provider or a data broker and ask to be provided with the information on you that they provide to the government and other companies, most of them will refuse or make you jump through Defcon levels of hops, skips, and clicks. Uncle Sam or Experian can easily access data that shows where you have been, whom you have called, what you have written, and what you have bought but you do not have the same privileges.
The surveillance, which is being challenged in a number of suits, is conducted through an alphabet soup of laws, regulations, and loopholes, including the Wiretap Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (which extended the Wiretap Act to email, and added the Stored Communications Act for stored email), the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Patriot Act (which amended all the others). One of the remedies that's before Congress is a bill introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, to require that in most cases law-enforcement agents must obtain a search warrant from a judge before getting customer emails from an Internet company. It would also provide more guarantees that citizens be notified that their email is being surveilled. It's only a partial fix, of course; for instance, it does nothing about cell-phone surveillance.
Everyone has an opinion on what should be done, and one of the country's most famous judges is of two minds on the subject. "It seems to me we often hamper enforcement agencies so that they can't do their job, and when we aren't doing that we are cutting them loose so they can abuse their power," said Judge Bork, reached by phone at his home in northern Virginia. "Is there too much intrusion into private lives? I can't answer that very well, because sometimes there is, sometimes there isn't."
Until now, Congress has not stood in the way of the expanding surveillance, mainly because it was justified as part of the effort to prevent another 9/11. But the Petraeus case shows that among the people who have the most to lose from unchecked surveillance are the people who thought they would benefit from itgovernment elites who allocate the funding and make the laws and operate the bureaucracy of surveillance. Perhaps they will start worrying a bit more about becoming the next Petraeus or Bork. Our legislators, who are not all angels, now have real skin in the game, so to speak.
My Thanksgiving A Turkey Sandwich at WalMart
Sat, 24 Nov 2012
A Hug, for Courage.
I did not spend Thanksgiving evening with my wife and my five children. I spent it, instead, handing out turkey sandwiches to workers in WalMart. And showing my support for one brave soul who walked off the job in protest against exploitation.
WalMart "associates" make an average of just more than $10 an hour. That means that if they manage to get a full 40 hours a week - and many don't - they get paid $1,700 a month, before taxes. Somehow, that is supposed to pay for their food, shelter, clothing and medical care, and that of their children. Quite a trick.
In state after state, the largest group of Medicaid recipients is WalMart employees. I'm sure that the same thing is true of food stamp recipients. Each WalMart "associate" costs the taxpayers an average of more than $1,000 in public assistance.
How underpaid are WalMart employees? This underpaid: if every one of them got a 30% raise, WalMart would still be profitable.
WalMart employees in the United States are not unionized. WalMart has used every trick in the book to prevent its employees from organizing. In 2005, in Canada, WalMart closed a store that had voted to go union. Recently, in Orlando, WalMart fired an employee who had just talked about unionizing. When he came back into the store, many days afterward, to say hello to his former colleagues, they handcuffed him.
It's time to do something about this.
So on Thanksgiving, knowing that WalMart employees were missing dinner with their families, we walked into the local WalMart and handed out dinner to them. We gave them a paper bag that had three things in it: (a) a turkey sandwich, (b) a bag of chips, and (c) a letter explaining their right to organize.
There were two points to this. One was to inform the workers of their rights. And the other was to demonstrate to them, vividly, that they are not alone.
The WalMart manager had the police escort us out of the building. For handing out sandwiches. And for showing WalMart employees that they are not alone.
One brave "associate," who had had enough of this mistreatment, walked out with us. Which is her right, under the law, to protest WalMart's unfair labor practices. In fact, a while back, 200 employees walked out of a WalMart store, all at the same time. That really shook up the bosses.
By the way, she made sure that she finished serving her customer before she left. She's that kind of person. WalMart actually could use a few more like her.
I showed my support. I gave her a hug.
And so it begins. WalMart accounts for more than ten percent of all of the retail sales in the United States. It is the largest private employer in the world, with more than two million employees. And even though those employees comprise barely ten percent of its cost of doing business, WalMart exploits them mercilessly. Now WalMart employees are starting to organize, starting to fight back.
Who will win? I don't know. But I do know whose side I'm on. And I know that I'm not alone.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Why 'Black Friday' Has Dark Roots
November 23, 2012
Black Friday may not yet be a bigger holiday than Thanksgiving, but it certainly has a bigger marketing budget. Retailers may have needed it to overcome the term's long and negative history.
And that's well before you get to talk of striking Walmart workers, or violence involving impatient shoppers in recent years.
Older generations may still associate "Black Friday" with the stock market crash of 1929, which triggered the Great Depression. But the connotation of financial distress dates back even further, to the collapse of the U.S. gold market on Sept. 24, 1869.
"The term Black Friday survived to be used again and again for various disasters and unfortunate events, including a 1910 incident in England where police assaulted several hundred suffragettes at a protest," notes Richard Townley in The Washington Times.
What does any of this have to do with shopping? Perhaps nothing. But even the earliest references to Black Friday as a post-Thanksgiving retail spree were negative.
The term appears to have originated about 50 years ago among police in Philadelphia inconvenienced by downtown crowds kicking off the holiday shopping season. Those crowds added to congestion from traffic in town for the Army-Navy football game, which in that era was generally played in Philly the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Black Friday "was not a happy term," department store historian Michael J. Lisicky told CBS News last year. "The stores were just too crowded, the streets were crowded, the buses and the police were just on overcall and extra duty."
Even a sales manager at the department store Gimbels in Philadelphia back in 1975 acknowledged the term's negative connotation and link to traffic headaches. "That's why the bus drivers and cab drivers call today 'Black Friday,' " she told The Associated Press, while watching a policeman struggle with a crowd of jaywalkers. "They think in terms of the headaches it gives them."
"Prior to the mid-1980s, the term 'Black Friday' was always used for some calamitous event," columnist Paul Mulshine wrote in New Jersey's Star-Ledger. "All of that negativity makes sense. 'Black Friday' has a naturally gloomy sound to it."
Of course retailers have long since embraced it, holding that the "black" in "Black Friday" is borrowed from accounting, meaning they hope to get "in the black" for the year by dint of holiday sales.
Some accounts credit this meaning to Peter Strawbridge, president of Strawbridge & Clothier, a now-defunct retailer that was based in Philadelphia.
But it doesn't seem that Strawbridge himself liked "Black Friday" much.
"It sounds like the end of the world, and we really like the day," he told The Philadelphia Inquirer back in 1984. "If anything, we should call it 'Green Friday.' "
Jim Greer, Ex-Florida GOP Chair, Claims Republican Voting Laws Focused On Suppression, Racism
Jim Greer, the former head of the Florida Republican Party, recently claimed that a law shortening the early voting period in the state was deliberately designed to suppress voting among groups that tend to support Democratic candidates, the Palm Beach Post reports.
"The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates," Greer told the Post. "It's done for one reason and one reason only...`We've got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us.'"
The HB 1355 law, which was passed by Florida's Republican legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott (R) in Nov. 2011, cut the number of early voting days from 14 to eight. It was publicly sold as an effort to reduce voter fraud and to save money, but Greer says that this was simply a "marketing ploy."
Greer served as Florida's GOP chairman from 2006 until 2010 when he was forced to resign after allegedly stealing money from the party. He was arrested and his case is pending.
Scott's predecessor, Republican-turned-Independent Charlie Crist, resisted efforts from Republicans to shorten the state's early voting period, citing reasons that mesh with Greer's claims.
In an interview with The Huffington Post earlier this month, Crist said the new law is clearly aimed at curbing turnout among Democrats.
"The only thing that makes any sense as to why this is happening and being done is voter suppression," he said.
Crist added, "People have fought and died for our right to vote, and unfortunately our legislature and this governor have decided they want to make early voting less available to Floridians rather than more available ... It's hard for me as an American to comprehend why you don't make democracy as easy as possible to exercise for the people of our state. It's frankly unconscionable."
Greer also acknowledged that the effort to restrict early voting would directly affect turnout among Florida's African Americans, a demographic that consistently supports Democrats.
"The sad thing about that is yes, there is prejudice and racism in the party but the real prevailing thought is that they don't think minorities will ever vote Republican," he told the Post.
Greer went on to suggest that there was "absolutely nothing" state Republicans wouldn't do in following their "absolute obsession with retaining power."
Parts of HB 1355 were overturned by a panel of federal judges in August, partially due to its anticipated impact on minority turnout. The three judge panel ruled that a "dramatic reduction in the form of voting that is disproportionately used by African-Americans would make it materially more difficult for some minority voters to cast a ballot than under the benchmark law."
The court's ruling, however, only affected five of Florida's 67 counties -- those covered by the section of the Voting Rights Act cited by the court in its ruling. The vast majority of Florida voters were subject to the shortened voting period.
Despite lines as long as nine hours on Election Day in Florida, Scott said he stands by the new law. "Well I'm very comfortable that the right thing happened," he told WKMG Orlando after the election. He later promised to order a review of electoral issues.
Bradley Manning case heads back to court
November 27th, 2012
A U.S. Army private accused of leaking classified documents, many of which wound up on the WikiLeaks website, was back in court Tuesday.
At a pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland, lawyers for Private first class Bradley Manning and the military judge hearing his court martial addressed procedural issues surrounding the possibility he would plead guilty to minor charges.
One issue in play is whether a guilty plea would cause Manning to waive his right to a speedy trial on other counts.
The bigger issue for the week involves a bid by Manning and his attorneys to have serious charges dismissed on grounds that he was mistreated while in military custody. If that fails, they are seeking to have his sentence reduced on grounds that his treatment while he was held at Marine Base Quantico in Virginia was tantamount to punishment.
Much of Tuesday's hearing focused on the testimony of retired Marine Col. Daniel Choike, who commanded Quantico during Manning's detainment there.
Choike testified that he found out about 48 hours in advance that Manning was being transferred from a detainment facility in Kuwait to Quantico. Almost immediately, he realized that the brig at the base was not ready for a detainee like Manning. "No, Quantico was not a place for long-term pretrial confinement," Choike testified.
One of his concerns was that the base had no medical officer trained in psychiatry who could monitor and treat Manning, who arrived with a warning that he was a suicide risk.
Almost immediately after Manning's arrival, Choike started receiving e-mails from his immediate supervisor, Lt. Gen. George Flynn, who oversaw Marine Corps training, including activities at Quantico. Before the Manning case, Choike said, Flynn took little interest in any activities at the brig.
Flynn marked one e-mail to Choike as "high importance," pointing out that he wanted to make sure people involved in his detention knew that Manning was "at risk of taking his own life."
Choike testified that he e-mailed Flynn back, promising a weekly update on Manning's case. Shortly after that e-mail, he said he spoke to Flynn who told him not to send weekly updates because Flynn "didn't want details he wanted to make sure his guidance on the case was understood."
Manning's attorney, David Coombs maintains that listing Manning as a risk of suicide or personal injury led to him being forced to stay in his cell more that 23 hours a day, often being forced to sleep in the nude or stand outside his cell in the nude.
In spite of Choike's testimony that Flynn didn't want details, Coombs produced other e-mails where Flynn continued taking interest in the case, including an e-mail chain about the PBS investigative series "Frontline" requesting an interview with the person in charge of the brig and Manning's treatment there, said Chief Warrant Officer James Averhart.
"Gen. Flynn was interested in details that involved the media."
Flynn wasn't alone in his interest. Another e-mail cited by Coombs said Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, "wanted to be kept up to date on Manning."
Choike testified that Manning could have been taken of "Prevention of injury" (POI) status, in any given week had a three person board at the brig decided he was no longer a threat to himself. That would have meant he could get more clothes and sleep at night under a regular blanket as opposed to an anti-suicide blanket.
But Coombs produced a document that showed Averhart "directed" that Manning stay in POI status until a sanity board finished reviewing his case.
Coombs claimed that Averhart's direction was an order that had to be followed and that the weekly board meetings about removing Manning from POI status were meaningless. Choike testified that he considered Averhart's comments to be a statement, not an order.
Regardless of whether Averhart's comments were an order or not, Manning was never removed from POI status or maximum security detention until after he was moved from Quantico to a new facility run by the Army in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Averhart was removed as commander of the brig about two months before Manning was moved.
Manning is expected to testify later this week about his treatment at Quantico, according to some of his supporters who have been closely following the case.
The Army intelligence analyst is suspected of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified military and State Department documents while serving in Iraq.
Many of them ended up on the WikiLeaks website. WikiLeaks has never confirmed that Manning was the source of the information.
Charges against Manning, 24, include aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, transmitting national defense information and theft of public property or records.
He could receive a sentence of up to life, if convicted.
Manning's lawyer, Coombs, filed a motion last August to dismiss the counts based on a claim, Manning says, of illegally harsh treatment while held at the brig at the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia.
He was held there from July 2010 until he was moved to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth in April 2011, according to Jeff Paterson, a spokesman for the Bradley Manning Support Network.
Before the start of Tuesday's proceedings, about a dozen people protested outside Fort Meade. When the hearing began, about 30 Manning supporters, many wearing shirts that read "Truth," were inside the courtroom or a nearby trailer where they followed the proceedings on closed circuit television.