Later On

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Archive for June 10th, 2013

Yes: Absolutely anything for profit: Banks edition

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Jessica Silver-Greenberg reports in the NY Times:

The pitch arrived, as so many do, with a friendly cold call.

Bruno Koch, 83, told the telemarketer on the line that, yes, of course he would like to update his health insurance card. Then Mr. Koch, of Newport News, Va., slipped up: he divulged his bank account information.

What happened next is all too familiar. Money was withdrawn from Mr. Koch’s account for something that he now says he never authorized. The new health insurance card never arrived.

What is less familiar — and what federal authorities say occurs with alarming frequency — is that a reputable bank played a crucial role in parting Mr. Koch from his money. The bank was the 140-year-old Zions Bank of Salt Lake City. Despite spotting suspicious activity, Zions served as a gateway between dubious Internet merchants and their marks — and made money for itself in the process, according to newly unsealed court documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The Times reviewed hundreds of filings in connection with civil lawsuits brought by federal authorities and a consumer law firm against Zions and another regional bank that has drawn even more scrutiny, First Bank of Delaware. Last November, First Delaware reached a $15 million settlement with the Justice Department after the bank was accused of allowing merchants to illegally debit accounts more two million times and siphon more than $100 million.

The documents, as well as interviews with state and federal officials, paint a troubling picture. They outline how banks profit handsomely by collecting a variety of fees while ignoring warnings of potential fraud and, in some instances, enabling dubious merchants to prey on consumers.

Anyone, young or old, can be targeted by unscrupulous marketers. But for a variety of reasons — financial worries, age, loneliness — older people are particularly vulnerable to what is known as mass market fraud, deceptive pitches that arrive by telephone, mail and the Internet.

The problems at Zions and First Delaware, where the banks became financial conduits and quiet enablers for questionable businesses, extend well beyond those two institutions, federal authorities say. Indeed, banks across the country, from some of the largest to smaller regional players, help facilitate billions of dollars of fraud each year, according to interviews with consumer lawyers and state and federal prosecutors.

Officials at the Justice Department say they are taking aim [apparently very, very careful aim—in fact, in the housing meltdown and foreclosure fraud, the DOJ never got off a shot. Eric Holder has many connections in the financial industry. – LG] at banks’ role in giving predatory lenders and fraudulent merchants access to the United States financial system. . .

Continue reading.

The elite can do what they want—and they increasingly do.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Business, Law

Anecdote from 16 Sept 2008

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This was before the election that put Obama in the White House for his first term. This was while the NY Times, and specifically editor Bill Keller, was holding back a story about the illegal warrantless electronic surveillance that Bush had initiated (and that Obama has expanded). This was when Obama was promising transparency, and hope, and to protect whistleblowers and all that.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 3:59 pm

Businesses want a surveillance state

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Rebecca Greenfield writes at the Atlantic Wire:

Privacy v Internet

Forget the guilt of having built the technology that allows the government to spy on its citizens’ private lives more than ever before — the biggest concern out of Silicon Valley about the NSA mess is that all this bad press could be bad news for the bottom line, so the entrepreneurs are all ganging up on Washington. The immediate (and very similar) statements from the nine major tech companies implicated in the PRISM data-mining leak all insist that they have a vast interest in protecting your data. Which is true, except that most of them also make tons of money off protecting and then selling that valuable data to advertisers. And since the same goes for pretty much every other handful of nine names in Silicon Valley these days, the last thing the data-driven tech industry wants is for the privacy freakout of the year to freak everyone right out of handing over their every digital move. This shakes down all the way to the core.

In the wake of the revelations that companies aren’t being so careful with all the data we give — 97 billion pieces of data were scraped by the NSA in one month, according to The Guardian — it appears that, after spending last week on apologies and denials, phase two of Silicon Valley’s self-defense is all about blaming government overreach. “Should you be afraid if AT&T has your data? Google?” Scott McNealy, the chief executive of Sun Microsystems, tells The New York Times‘s David Streitfeld and Quentin Hardy. “They’re private entities. AT&T can’t hurt me. Jerry Brown and Barack Obama can.” McNealy, known for his frank statements about privacy, wants to shift the focus elsewhere. Blaming tech companies, he says, “is like blaming gun manufacturers for violence, or a car manufacturer for drunk driving.” Of course, Americans do fault gun companies and car companies when their safety is compromised by the products of those industries, but the real problem, McNealy says, is “the scope creep of the government.”

Even the CEOs who have distanced themselves from PRISM have begun talking up more transparency from the government, not less data collection by tech companies. In addition to the statements from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Larry Page, both of which used some form of the word “transparency,” Box CEO Aaron Levie took a similar stance. “The most important issue here is transparency and our lack of visibility around how our data is being used,” he tells theTimes. “The government and the tech industry clearly will need to come together to create a better model for this.”

Here’s what that careful messaging really means: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 3:33 pm

Here is why transparency is absolutely essential: US State Dept edition

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Does it strike you that the US has become so imperial in its self-regard that it routinely massacres people who belong to other countries; members of the US government—troops and civil servants—literally burn, pillage, and rape and expect it all to be covered up. They get off scot-free just because they’re the rich kids with influence and the US doesn’t have to apologize to anybody! You know the type.

Well, they exist and they act in the name of this country. I wonder how the world really views us—beyond what we see in US media.

I ran “media” through my mind, and hit on movies as an interesting exception. Last night, for example, we watched No Country for Old Men, which more or less deliberately demonstrates the futility and destruction of the War on Drugs: besides the plot and grim scenes and total chaos that descends on all, which demonstrates the futility, the connection is also made explicit in a conversation between two sheriffs. The movie makes a strong statement.

Another movie that I watched was Peace, Love & Misunderstandings, a romcom with serious structural flaws but still interesting in various ways. For example, marijuana is openly displayed and used and grown (openly to the movie audience), and in few movies do you see a teen-age girl informing her boy friend, who’s smoking a cigarette, that it would be a lot better for his health if he smoked pot. All true, but striking to see it in the mass media so openly expressed in such a natural way: her concern for his health shows she’s already made up her mind, at least to move further in their budding relationship (and also pushing the relationship along, by making such a remark—and that shows that she’s in control and making her own decisions about where this is going to go). Marijuana has become safe to discuss and to point out tradeoffs: better for you than drinking or smoking, for example.

And in terms of the Imperial American misbehavior I mentioned above, I’m sure we’ll be seeing other examples of that—it’s just starting to break—and specifically more real-life examples of what now is a movie commonplace: the perfidy of those in power, the extreme and ugly stuff the government does (like torture people), the assurance of absolute impunity (to those who are members of the right groups) for wreaking extreme destruction—multiple deaths, explosions, destruction of buildings (you remember that one). I am describing a whole genre of movies, but it is also, as we know (if we read the news and face the facts) exactly how the US does act, except without heroics. Just business as usual, the natural prerogative of power. Just look at oil companies have treated South America, Latin America, Africa, … wait a minute: they doing the same thing to the US itself. And that also is reflected in movies—come to think of it, another Coen brothers film lays that out for us to see—another era but nothing really has changed in terms of power, greed, and destruction.

The thing is, we are all cooperating in denial. On can clearly see the strenuous (and obvious) effort to focus all  attention on Snowden and Greenwald, while working to ignore the elephant trumpeting loudly in the middle of the room: the information on the NSA programs and activities and the role of the President, the DOJ, and Congress in enabling that and concealing it all from the American people.

I do not for a single moment believe that the secrecy is for national security. Generally speaking, one wants to prevent plots, and by publicizing the breadth of information we have, we would reduce terrorists trying to create and coordinate plots through the use of handwritten notes—but how to get them from place to place, if NSA can track your flight and travel history and that of the people to whom you’re connected by, say, phone calls. And the people they’re connected to.

If NSA publicized it, any sensible terrorist (viz., the most dangerous kind) will realize that success can be achieved only by using NO modern technology: Amish terrorists, in effect (and don’t laugh: you remember the trial). And to achieve any sort of group effort then becomes simply impossible. So what you’re left with are the deranged, lone, gunmen, who are bad enough, but again: if they use modern technology, they will be detected.

All this is to say: I would think that you would publicize the hell out of the programs and capabilities and make sure every would-be terrorist knew what he was up against. I want T-shirts, for god’s sake! (Did you see that a T-shirt maker had to withdraw a T-shirt with the PRISM logo? Bad mistake. These NSA people are not thinking right—well, that’s pretty obvious.)

Back to Imperial behavior and feeling that one never suffers consequences (a blowback-free world!). Dashiell Bennett reports at the Atlantic Wire:

CBS News claims that several criminal investigations involving State Department employees, including at least one ambassador, were covered up or ignored in order to avoid embarrassing the diplomatic service. According to a memo written by the department’s Inspector General’s office, several members of the Diplomatic Security Service, which is in charge of protecting American diplomats overseas, were told to back off or stop investigating some of the cases, ensuring that no charges were ever brought.

Among the alleged crimes that were covered up: Reports of a “drug ring” near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, claims about a State employee in Beirut sexually assaulting foreign nationals, and agents on security details (including some who were protecting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) soliciting prostitues while on official trips. It’s also likely that foreign (and “hostile”) intelligence agencies were aware of the behavior.

In the most shocking incident, a U.S. ambassador in a “sensitive deployment” was believed to be eluding his own security detail so that he could “solicit sexual favors from prostitutes” in a public park. According to CBS’s well sourced John Miller, despite being recalled to Washington for scolding from his bosses, that person is still the ambassador.

It is worth noting that in all of these cases, no charges were ever brought forward and all the allegations might have all turned out to be nothing. However, no one knows for sure because the investigations were shut down before they could be completed. It’s also not the kind of story the State Department (or the Obama administration) needs after nine months of questions about their handling of Benghazi, a similar scandal involving the Secret Service, and the whole “non-stop spying on everyone in America” thing.

The memo was drafted as part of an Inspector General’s report on the DSS and originally contained eight specific references to criminal allegations. The final report was scrubbed of all references to specific cases.

Miller’s CBS News report also doesn’t say who could have influenced or shut down such investigations, but one former investigator who said he was told to stop an investigation claims it had to have come “from somebody higher than (Diplomatic Security).” Another former agent, who is now considered a whistleblower for trying to bring the report’s attention to Congress, says . . .

Continue reading. There’s a video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 3:01 pm

Extremely interesting defense against government intrusion

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James Fallows has an excellent anecdote from a reader:

I’m not referring to Edward Snowden (nor to the man* above) but instead to someone who resisted in a different, very quiet way, more than a decade ago. The account below comes from a person I have known for a long time, and it describes someone I also know. It’s worth reading both for the observations in the first half and for the personal story in the second. This reader writes:

I’ve been thinking about the recent leak investigations.  I’m usually very sympathetic to my  dad’s [ca. age 80] very liberal take on these sorts of things.  But I’ve been having a hard time getting too excited about it. To me,this is the inevitable result of the way that technology has developed.

Sadly, the tech visionaries who predicted that the internet would be revolutionary were correct, but not in the way that they expected.  We all want to be able to seamlessly move our work and online lives from desktop to laptop to smartphone to ipads.  Tech companies have given us this, and in the process have created vast warehouses of our digital lives that are assumed to have great value and you can bet that there is a constant effort at these companies to figure out how to monetize this digital storehouse.  So the NSA is simply getting a copy of the information that already is being saved to be mined for possible profit.

The companies, like Obama, assure us that they strip out identifying information.  The companies, like Obama, are asking us to trust them.  To me, the only way to change this threat to our individual liberties would be to make it illegal for any collection of our digital footprints by anyone.  And I don’t see this happening.

This brings to mind a story about XX [our mutual acquaintance] not long after 9/11.  He was head of the technical team at YY [one of the former Baby Bell companies] and he was getting pressured to set up digital taps based on secret government warrants shown to the company’s executives by government representatives where the company could only look at the secret warrant, but not make a copy or take any notes.  XX was bothered by the fact that once YY set up these digital taps, they were never turned off.  He also was concerned that there was no way even to validate whether these requests even came from legitimate government representatives.   And yet he wanted to keep his job.

So he told his bosses that he would be more than happy to have his team of engineers comply, but just needed to have the exact procedures written down so that they could keep accurate records because, “at YY, we are trained to document everything we do in writing very carefully to protect ourselves and the company.”

This didn’t make the government or the YY executives happy, so they flew him out to headquarters in [city ZZ] and basically tried to strong arm him into just doing it without asking any questions.   He stuck to his “I am very happy to do this, but  just want to protect my team and the company and make sure that we set up the same procedures here that we have for everything else we do” mantra.  When he went back home he sent an email to company lawyers who had called him in laying out what his understanding of what they wanted him to do and how he should document the work.

And that’s the last he heard and YY was one of the only phone companies that didn’t comply with secret government digital tapping requests that came to light during the Bush presidency.  Sadly, it seems that there are very few people like XX out there, so there you go…

If we finally are beginning the security-state “debate” that is many yearsoverdue, one crucial element to examine is the interaction among technological possibilities, institutional imperatives, and the pressure on individuals to say Yes or No. It is too much to expect everyone, or even most people, to do what this telecom-company employee did. Yet his quiet example should be noted.

* The picture is of course from the wonderful German movie The Lives of Others. If you have seen it, you’ll immediately understand why this image comes to mind. If you haven’t seen it, please check it out soon.
UPDATE A reader writes in response to this message:

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 2:07 pm

Interesting: Berlusconi may be even worse than we thought

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Lorenzo Bodrero reports from Italy:

Was Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to power founded on an “original sin” — a secret deal between politicians and the Mafia to stop its violence in exchange for political protection?

That explosive question is at the center of a trial under way in Palermo that observers hope will shed light on one of the murkiest and most tumultuous periods in recent Italian history.

The court is considering whether leading politicians and police officials negotiated with Sicilian Mafia bosses to end a wave of bombings in the early 1990s in return for favors.

Then, prosecutors allege, the dons of Italy’s most notorious mafia put aside their feuds and vendettas and agreed to wage war on the Italian government, effectively blackmailing the Italian state to submit to their will.

“The escalation of violence in 1992 and 1993 was aimed at pushing the state to come to a common understanding with the Sicilian Mafia,” wrote sociologist Alessandra Dino in the 2006 book “The Mafia and Anti-Mafia Dictionary.” “The violence was aimed at causing a political turnover.”

Although Berlusconi isn’t on trial, some believe the media billionaire benefited from the actions of his associates by taking power after the bombings and a series of corruption scandals brought down the old political establishment.

Historians believe the Cosa Nostra killed 40 people as part of its campaign between 1988 and 1992. The violence claimed the lives of some of Italy’s top anti-Mafia judges, along with their family members, staff members and friends.

Among the victims was judge Giovanni Falcone, who was blown up by a highway bomb near Palermo in 1992 along with his wife and three bodyguards. Two months later, another blast in Palermo claimed the life of Falcone’s close friend, prosecutor Paolo Borsellino, and his five guards.

The attacks also killed politicians and ordinary people and caused chaos in daily life as bombs went off in streets and public squares.

“The whole country was on its knees, we were just expecting a final shot in the head,” Turin prosecutor Giancarlo Caselli said. “We were an inch from becoming a narco- or mafia-state.”

A report by Palermo prosecutors claims that politicians and Mafia bosses held a series of secret meetings in 1992 and 1993 to end the violence before finally concluding an agreement in 1994.

They say officials initiated the pact, in which police promised to soften some anti-Mafia laws and ease prison regulations for convicted gangsters.

Among those on trial is Sicily’s former “boss of the bosses,” Toto Riina, his successor Bernardo Provenzano and three other dons. They’re accused of violence or threats against the state.

Prosecutors have also charged former government minister . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 1:54 pm

Posted in Government, Law

Why US newspapers do a lousy job of reporting on national-security issues

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Because either they’re frightened (or pressured) or they are in awe.  Natasha Lennard reports in Salon:

It was a U.K.-based newspaper (albeit its U.S. operation) and a writer based in Brazil (our old friend Glenn Greenwald) at the forefront of breaking the latest historic revelations about the sprawling NSA spy dragnet. For Janine Gibson, editor-in-chief of Guardian U.S., this is no accident given a poverty she sees in robust national security reporting in the U.S., underpinned by a misplaced patriotism. She told HuffPo:

[T]here is a lack of skepticism on a whole in the media on the issue of national security.” In the U.S., she said, there can be “a sense that it is unpatriotic to question the role that the security services play.”

Indeed, Gibson’s comments are supported by certain facts that emerged in Bradley Manning’s pretrial hearing. The private noted in a statement that he had attempted to approach the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Politico with his document trove — all of whom turned him away — before he provided WikiLeaks with the classified information.

However, it’s important to note that national security reporters’ acquiescence to the government aligns, too, with a government that is uncooperative, if not draconian, with journalists who refuse to fall in line. James Rosen of Fox News, for example, was listed as a possible “co-conspirator” in espionage in an FBI affidavit as part of a government leaks investigation. Julian Assange’s lawyer believes it is “more than likely” that the Justice Department has prepared a sealed indictment against the publisher for his role in making public information obtained by Manning.

It’s interesting to note, too, that in reporting on Glenn Greenwald’s role in reporting on the NSA leaked documents, the Times first describes Greenwald as both a “blogger” and an “activist.” Who gets to be an actual journalist, with attendant media protections from prosecution, is very much at stake here. The troubling pattern that we see emerging in this country is that “journalist” has come to designate a reporter who will fall in line, who won’t push to shine light on shrouded state operations. Sadly, as Gibson’s comments indicate, all too many U.S. national security reporters are happy to accept this designation.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Media, NSA

The NSA Black Hole: 5 Basic Things We Still Don’t Know About the Agency’s Snooping

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Justin Elliott and Theodoric Meyer report at ProPublica:

Last week saw revelations that the FBI and the National Security Agency have been collecting Americans’ phone records en masse and that the agencies have access to data from nine tech companies.

But secrecy around the programs has meant even basic questions are still unanswered.  Here’s what we still don’t know:

Has the NSA been collecting all Americans’ phone records, and for how long?

It’s not entirely clear.

The Guardian published a court order that directed a Verizon subsidiary to turn over phone metadata — the time and duration of calls, as well as phone numbers and location data — to the NSA “on an ongoing daily basis” for a three-month period. Citing unnamed sources, the Wall Street Journal reported the program also covers AT&T and Sprint and that it covers the majority of Americans. And Director of National Intelligence James Clapper himself acknowledged that the “collection” is “broad in scope.”

How long has the dragnet has existed? At least seven years, and maybe going back to 2001.

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and vice chair Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said last week that the NSA has been collecting the records going back to 2006. That’s the same year that USA Today revealed a similar-sounding mass collection of metadata, which the paper said had been taking place since 2001. The relationship between the program we got a glimpse of in the Verizon order and the one revealed by USA Today in 2006 is still not clear: USA Today described a program not authorized by warrants. The program detailed last week does have court approval.

What surveillance powers does the government believe it has under the Patriot Act?

That’s classified.

The Verizon court order relies on Section 215 of the Patriot Act. That provision allows the FBI to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a secret order requiring companies, like Verizon, to produce records – “any tangible things” – as part of a “foreign intelligence” or terrorism investigation. As with any law, exactly what the wording means is a matter for courts to decide. But the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s interpretation of Section 215 is secret.

As Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman recently wrote, the details of that interpretation matter a lot: “Read narrowly, this language might require that information requested be shown to be important or necessary to the investigation. Read widely, it would include essentially anything even slightly relevant — which is to say, everything.”

In the case of the Verizon order — signed by a judge who sits on the secret court and requiring the company to hand over “all call detail records” — it appears that the court is allowing a broad interpretation of the Patriot Act. But we still don’t know the specifics.

Has the NSA’s massive collection of metadata thwarted any terrorist attacks?

It depends which senator you ask. And evidence that would help settle the matter is, yes, classified.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., told CNN on Sunday, “It’s unclear to me that we’ve developed any intelligence through the metadata program that’s led to the disruption of plots that we could [not] have developed through other data and other intelligence.”

He said he could not elaborate on his case “without further declassification.”

Sen. Feinstein told ABC that the collection of phone records described in the Verizon order had been “used” in the case of would-be New York subway bomber Najibullah Zazi. Later in the interview, Feinstein said she couldn’t disclose more because the information is classified. (It’s worth noting that there’s also evidence that old-fashioned police work helped solve the Zazi case — and that other reports suggest the Prism program, not the phone records, helped solve the case.)

How much information, and from whom, is the government sweeping up through Prism? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 1:34 pm

Another of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Pestilence

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Helen Branswell has a Scientific American article reprinted in Salon:

Over the next few weeks officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) face a tough and politically charged call. The Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, begins July 9 and could draw as many as two million people from around the globe to the holy sites of Saudi Arabia in a pilgrimage called umrah. But a new disease, called Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, could threaten them.

Infectious disease control at mass gatherings is always a challenge, but this year even more so. Saudi Arabia is currently waging battle with MERS, yet it has released only the barest of details that scientists or public health officials could use to try to prevent its spread within Saudi Arabia or around the globe. In early May Saudi officials startled the world by announcing 13 new cases over the course of a few days. Since the start of May there have been 38 new cases worldwide—31 of them in Saudi Arabia—and 20 of the victims have died. With virtually no clues to draw on about where the virus lives in nature and how people contract it, WHO is trying to figure out what guidance to give those pilgrims, and the countries they will return to, about how to avoid infection and the international dissemination of a devastating new illness.

MERS triggers severe pneumonia and kidney failure in some cases. It is a cousin of SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, which broke out in mainland China in late 2002, spread from there to Hong Kong in 2003, and was then transported in the lungs of international travelers to Singapore, Hanoi, Toronto and other cities. Health officials do not want to pull out the big hammers used during the SARS outbreak, such as WHO travel advisories that urged the world’s citizens to avoid infected hubs such as Hong Kong and Toronto. On the other hand, no one wants umrah and the even larger hajj pilgrimage that will follow in October to trigger a pandemic.

The new virus was first isolated in June 2012. But its existence came to the world’s attention only weeks before last October’s hajj, when an Egyptian infectious diseases specialist who had been working in Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, Jeddah, reported that he had treated a man who died from an infection caused by a new coronavirus. Whether MERS has or can gain the capacity for sustained person-to-person spread is unknown. Kamran Khan, an infectious diseases physician who researches global flight patterns as a means of predicting disease spread, has had a worried eye on the Muslim religious calendar for some time. “We still don’t have a good idea where this (virus) is coming from, so taking measures to mitigate risks are constrained,” says Khan, who works at the Saint Michael’s Hospital Keenan Research Center in Toronto. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 1:32 pm

Donald Rumsfeld, who authorized torture, gets off

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The Supreme Court does some funny thinking. Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, et al. explicitly signed off on tortures they authorized, yet when subordinates down the line follow those guidelines, those who specified them and required their use are not held responsible. The buck stops way down the line. Yet Rumsfeld pretty clearly spread the idea that he was in charge.

What a disgusting bunch—and I include much of SCOTUS.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 1:15 pm

Those “thwarted terrorist plots”: less than meets the eye

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Marcy Wheeler explains in Salon:

Listen to defenders of the U.S. government’s recently revealed data collection practices, and you’re likely to hear claims about terrorist plots these sweeping activities have purportedly stopped.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., explained onABC’s “This Week” Sunday that in one of the signature uses of the dragnet collection of every American’s phone records, the NSA managed to track one of our own informants, David Headley, as he helped Islamic terrorists plan attacks. She did not mention that it did nothing to prevent the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, which killed 166 — and in which Headley had a role in planning.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called the effort to track Headley – which did manage to thwart Headley’s 2009 plans to attack a Danish newspaper – a success, in an interview with Andrea Mitchell. Such is the value of these programs, it appears, that top proponents of the program celebrate the tracking of a DEA informant gone bad as their main talking point.

“U.S. officials say Headley simply slipped through the cracks,” ProPublica reportedearlier this year in a blockbuster story on Headley. ProPublica describes competing claims about when the Drug Enforcement Agency, which first recruited Headley in 1997, stopped using him as an informant; DEA insists he was deactivated in 2002, while other sources say he remained a U.S. informant through 2005. What’s clear is that Headley spent the subsequent years leading up to the 2008 Mumbai attack traveling form Pakistan to India, casing out the terror plot.

Multiple warnings to the Indian government — perhaps based on the intelligence now being touted — failed to prevent the attack. “U.S. officials learned enough about his activities to become concerned, monitor him intermittently and pick up fragments of intelligence that contributed to the warnings to India,” reported ProPublica. At the time of the attack, Headley had returned safely to Lahore, Pakistan, and he even traveled between there, Chicago and Europe thereafter, planning another plot. In October 2009, the FBI arrested Headley in Chicago as he traveled to Pakistan to hand off intelligence for an attack on Denmark.

Before we start celebrating our finding an informant-turned-terrorist we lost as one of the successes that makes massive spying worthwhile, shouldn’t we first get an explanation for how our intelligence agencies lost track of Headley in the first place?

The flood of missed warnings about Headley’s increasing ties with Islamic terrorists did lead to an investigation led by DNI Clapper’s office in 2010, but the results of it have not been made public. Yet the embarrassment of having a former American informant play a key role in one of the biggest attacks since 9/11 doesn’t seem to have prevented Clapper and Feinstein from boasting of NSA’s success in his case.

Headley’s attacks are not the only ones cited by Feinstein and Clapper. Feinstein also cited the case of Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan immigrant to the U.S. who plotted to blow up the New York subway in 2009. FBI’s success in thwarting Zazi’s attack is probably the most serious publicly known example of a thwarted attack. To the extent the NSA’s programs played a key role, then, it is a significant success.

But even there, the claims appear fuzzy or overblown. Feinstein, for example, describes the success this way (emphasis added): “[Zazi] made the decision that he was going to blow up a New York subway, who went to a beauty wholesale supply place, bought enough hydrogen peroxide to make bombs, was surveilled by the FBI for six months, traveled to go to New York, to meet with a number of other people who were going to carry out this attack with him, and were arrested by the FBI, who has pled guilty and in federal prison.”

It’s an interesting use of the word “surveilled,” because according to sworn court testimony the lead that identified Zazi was an email account identified in a British terrorism case, which the NSA tracked. That account, not Zazi, was surveilled. Days, not months, before Zazi’s planned attack, he sent an email to the account asking for help making explosives, which led the FBI to uncover his plot.

PRISM — the direct access to Internet companies’ data, which Clapper’s office describes as a “computer system used to facilitate the government’s statutorily authorized collection of foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers” — appears to have been the means by which FBI conducted this surveillance. A New York Times source explains PRISM was the only means to access the email: “It was through an e-mail correspondence that we had access to only through Prism.”  But tracking the email account would have been legal under the FISA laws in place prior to 9/11. As such, PRISM seems to have made it easier to capture Zazi, but may not have been pivotal.

The claim PRISM helped to nab Zazi is new since these revelations. But Feinstein has long insisted that Section 215 — the dragnet collection program — had a role, too (she made that claim, in part, to support the reauthorization of the language used to conduct the dragnet collection in 2009).

That makes the Zazi case troubling too, because there is a good deal of circumstantial evidence that the government used Section 215 to identify people in Aurora, Colo., who had, like Zazi, purchased hydrogen peroxide and acetone, which (in addition to being common household chemicals) are precursors for the explosives Zazi used. The government described three people associated with Zazi in an affidavit justifying his detention, implying they were accomplices. Yet, these three unnamed people never appeared in the legal case again. They appear to have been completely innocent of any tie to Zazi’s plot. If so, then, in addition to being a success story, the Zazi case would also be a perfect example of how these tools can implicate perfectly innocent people as terrorists for something as innocent as buying hair care supplies.

At the very least, the fuzzy cases Feinstein and Clapper are boasting about demonstrate the need for far more transparency on these tools. If they’re justifying a gross incursion on American privacy, in part because they helped track down an informant our intelligence services lost track of — and created false positives based on hair bleach purchases — then we need to seriously reconsider their use.

Marcy Wheeler writes at and is the author of Anatomy of Deceit.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 1:10 pm

Cellphones, radiation, and profit protection

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Interesting article on Alternet by Brad Jacobson:

In her 2011 book Disconnect, [3] National Book Award finalist, former senior White House health advisor and internationally regarded epidemiologist Devra Davis revealed that the cellphone industry is knowingly exposing us to dangerous levels of electromagnetic radiation. No small problem when you consider that of the roughly 7 billion people on this planet, about 6 billion of us now use mobile phones.

In a recent analysis [4] for the Huffington Post, Davis examined the cellphone industry’s long-term strategy, devised in the early ’90s, to deal with studies showing cellphone radiation damages DNA: “war-game the science.” Noted in a 1994 Motorola memo, this strategy, wrote Davis, “remains alive and well” today, the latest example occurring just last month. When the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published newly detailed documentation for its yearlong 2011 expert review—which declared cellphone radiation a “possible human carcinogen” (same as lead and DDT)—the multi-trillion-dollar cellular industry responded by citing a new dubious [5] report out of Taiwan.

Davis, the founding director of the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology of the U.S. National Research Council, pointed out that the online abstract concludes “with some highly unscientific language that sounds as though it was crafted for the PR section of Foxconn, the Taiwanese producer of phones for Apple, Motorola, and Sony:

‘In conclusion, we do not detect any correlation between the morbidity/mortality of malignant brain tumors and cellphone use in Taiwan. We thus urge international agencies to publish only confirmatory reports with more applicable conclusions in public. This will help spare the public from unnecessary worries.'”

In a recent phone interview with AlterNet, Davis, founder and president of the Wyoming-based Environmental Health Trust [6], discussed the cellphone industry’s longstanding covert battle against inconvenient science, strategies it has learned from the tobacco industry, our chemical addiction to mobile devices, and simple ways we can limit our exposure without losing touch with civilization.

Brad Jacobson: You’ve written that the cellphone industry’s long-term strategy for responding to studies showing its products damage DNA is to “war-game the science.” What exactly does this strategy entail?

Devra Davis: The example in the 1990s, which is documented in my book, was that [University of Washington researchers] Henry Lai and Narendra N.P. Singh found significant evidence of DNA damage caused by cellphone light radiation comparable almost to the damage you would get from X-rays, which is ionizing. At the time, it was generally believed by some people that non-ionizing radiation, which comes from a cellphone, could not possibly be physically damaging because it was so weak.

Well, it’s true that non-ionizing radiation lacks the power to have damage. But its damage seems to come from its modulated signal. So every 900 milliseconds, if you have a cellphone in your pocket, it’s getting half of that radiation which is getting into you as it seeks the signal from the tower.

So the industry understood this could be of enormous consequences, so they did three things. First, they wrote to the university and tried to get the scientists fired for violating the rules of the contract that they were working under at the time. They then wrote to NIH [National Institutes of Health]—and all of this has been documented in my book and there’s been no lawsuits filed about any of the statements I’m making to you—and they accused the scientists of fraud for misusing funds to do the study. Then, when that didn’t work they actually had somebody meet with the journal editors to try to get the article accepted for publication unaccepted.

After those three things didn’t work, they also hired a scientist named Jerry Phillips to try to show they could not replicate their work. Fortunately for history, Phillips was an honest person. He replicated their work and when he insisted on publishing his work both he and Lai effectively stopped working in this field. They were no longer funded to do any more work in the field.

In case all of that wasn’t enough, as the coup de grace, a memo was written from Motorola to its PR firm saying we think we sufficiently “war-gamed” the science. [Direct quote from the 1994 memo [7]: “I think we have sufficiently war-gamed the Lai-Singh issue…”]

Where it gets really interesting now is that President Obama just nominated the guy who ran the CTIA [Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association] at the time this was going on to become the head of the Federal Communications Commission. His name is Tom Wheeler. He’s been a huge fundraiser for Democrats and Republicans, more Democrats than Republicans. And under his leadership at the CTIA (which has been written about by [research scientist] George Carlo in his book about this industry) a $27 million joint program was run to study health effects of cellphones. And that study, according George Carlo, was shut down when they started to produce positive results.

And that’s all in Carlo’s book [8], written with Marty Schram, who’s an investigative journalist.

BJ: What ever happened to Lai?

DD: He’s still a scientist [at the same university], just no longer working in that field. And if you Google his name and Seattle magazine, there’s a 2011 expose article [9] that he gave them. He’s still courageous enough to speak about it.

BJ: What are the typical flaws you’ve found in examining industry-touted studies, many of which are also industry-funded? . . .

Continue reading. Later in the interview:

. . . Every study that has actually examined people who have used phones for 10 years or more, and is well designed, finds a 50 percent to an 800 percent increased risk. So that is why the Israelis, the Finnish, the French governments have all issued warnings.

But in fact focusing on cancer has been a brilliant part of the strategy for industry. Because it’s not [just] about cancer that we have to be concerned. Cancer is one of the issues. But a much more important issue than cancer is reproductive damage, on the nervous system, on the brain and on sleep. Many of the negative studies that have studied people are only looking at cancer and not looking at these other things. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 12:13 pm

The corruption at NYU

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Pam Martens reports:

According to documents unearthed in a month-long search of public records, NYU Law School has created an array of nonprofits to funnel money into lavish perks for its professors. The money has been used by professors to buy multi-million dollar brownstones and condos in Manhattan and Brooklyn with portions of some loans forgiven over time. In some cases, even the interest charged on the loans has been reimbursed.

The decision to use nonprofit funds to enhance the lifestyles of a select handful of professors and administrators rather than assisting students is under investigation by Senator Chuck Grassley at the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. A referral has also been made by the NYU chapter of the American Association of University Professors to the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau which oversees nonprofit organizations.

From the hundreds of records examined, NYU, under the leadership of President John Sexton, looks like a real estate developer in drag as a university. According to its federal tax returns from 2006 through 2010 – just a five year period, its five highest paid independent contractors received over $568 million for construction work and an eye-popping $173 million to clean its buildings.

Last year, Newsweek magazine ranked NYU as the fourth least affordable university in the country with an annual on-campus cost of $58,858.

Sitting in close geographic proximity to the rapacious denizens of Wall Street, with a Board sprinkled with the chummy financial titans and chaired by their go-to legal counsel, Martin Lipton, it seemed only a matter of time before NYU would succumb to Wall Street’s brand of  crony capitalism as a business model.

NYU has also adopted the Wall Street catchphrase, globalism, with NYU campuses spreading to Abu Dhabi and Shanghai and international academic centers springing up in far flung locales like Buenos Aires, Prague and Tel Aviv.

In 2004, the NYU School of Law Foundation informed the IRS on its annual tax filing that its primary purpose which garnered it tax exempt status was to foster legal education and research “by awarding scholarships, making grants for educational purposes related to law, and supporting programs of the School of Law.”

But on December 9, 2004, the NYU School of Law Foundation made a $2,850,000 mortgage loan to one of its law professors, Richard (Rick) Pildes to purchase a 6 room, 3 ½ bath, luxury condo with views of the Hudson River.

That deal followed an earlier one with Pildes in 2001. On January 30, 2001, the NYU School of Law Recruitment Assistance Corporation gave a $200,000 mortgage loan to Pildes and magically made him a tenant in common with the nonprofit in a brownstone on West 10th Street. On October 29, 2004, the same nonprofit bought back Pildes’ 49 percent interest in the West 10th Street brownstone for $3,000,000, according to the public record it filed with New York City, even paying $42,000 in transfer taxes.

Catherine DeLong, listing herself as the Vice President of the Board of Directors of the NYU School of Law Recruitment Assistance Corporation, filed a document with the City stating that “There is not now, nor has there ever been a written contract of sale in connection with this conveyance.”

In response to an emailed request for clarification, Pildes says . . .

Continue reading. There is a lot more and it all smells bad.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Business, Education

Broadway Showbiz Spectacular

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I enjoyed this greatly:

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 11:35 am

Posted in Video

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Climate models are being proved wrong: They were much too optimistic

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Connor Simpson writes in The Atlantic Wire:

A new report from the International Energy Agency says global temperatures will rise twice as fast as projected if countries don’t act to slash their admissions soon. Released this morning, the IEA reportshows carbon diaoxide from energy emissions rose 1.4 percent globally last year, a new record, and puts the world on pace for a 5.3 degree Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) rise in global temperatures by 2020 if new steps aren’t taken. In 2010, a UN summit agreed the goal would be to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees by 2020.

“This puts us on a difficult and dangerous trajectory,” IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said in her statement. “If we don’t do anything between now and 2020, it will be very difficult because there will be a lot of carbon already in the atmosphere and the energy infrastructure will be locked in.”

So, who are the culprits most responsible for the world’s bad record so far? . . .

Continue reading.

I would guess we’ll see serious food shortages long before 2020. Famine, you’ll recall, is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 11:31 am

Everything the IMF wanted to know about financial regulation

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Sheila Bair, former chair of the FDIC, writes:

I was honoured when the IMF asked me to moderate the Financial Regulation panel at this year’s Rethinking Macro II conference. And while naturally, I delivered one of the more enlightening and thought-provoking policy discussions of the conference, I did fail in my duties as moderator to make sure my panellists covered all the excellent questions our sponsors submitted to us. Of course, this was to be expected, as panellists at these types of events almost never address the topics requested of them (I certainly never do), but rather, like Presidential candidates, answer the questions they want to answer. However, being the conscientious person I am, who accepts responsibility for my mismanagement (unlike some bank CEOs we know), I will now step up and answer those questions myself.

1) Does anybody have a clear vision of the desirable financial system of the future?

Yes, me. It should be smaller, simpler, less leveraged and more focused on meeting the credit needs of the real economy. And oh yes, we should ban speculative use of credit default swaps from the face of the planet.

2) Is the ATM the only useful financial innovation of the last thirty years?

No. IF bankers approach the business of banking as a way to provide greater value at less cost to their customers, (I know – for a few bankers, that might be big ‘if’) technology provides a virtual gold mine for product innovations. For instance, I am currently testing out a pre-paid, stored value card which lets me do virtually all my banking on my I-phone. It tracks expenses, tells me when I’ve blown my budget, and lets me temporarily block usage of the card when my daughter, unbeknownst to me, has pulled it out of my wallet to buy the latest jeans from Aeropostale. The card, aptly called Simple, was engineered by two techies in Portland, Oregon. (Note to mega-banks: ditch the pin stripes for dockers and flip flops. The techies are coming for you next.)

3) Does the idea of a safe, regulated, core set of activities, and a less safe, less regulated, non-core make sense?


The idea of a safe, regulated, core set of activities with access to the safety net (deposit insurance, central bank lending) and a less safe, MORE regulated, noncore set of activities which DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES have access to the safety net – that makes sense.

4) How do the different proposals (Volcker rule, Liikanen, Vickers) score in that respect?

Put them all together and you are two-thirds of the way there. The Volcker Rule acknowledges the need for tough restrictions on speculative trading throughout the banking organisation, including securities and derivatives trading in the so-called “casino bank”. Liikanen and Vickers acknowledge the need to firewall insured deposits around traditional commercial banking and force market funding of higher risk “casino” banking activities. Combining them would give us a much safer financial system.

But none of these proposals fully address the problem of excessive risk taking by non-bank financial institutions like AIG. Title I of Dodd-Frank empowers the Financial Stability Oversight Council to bring these kinds of “shadow banks” under prudential supervision by the Fed. Of course, that law was enacted three years ago and for nearly two years now, the regulators have promised that they will be designating shadow banks for supervisory oversight “very soon”. This was repeated most recently by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on 22 May 2013, before the Senate Banking Committee (but this time he REALLY meant it). For some reason, the Fed and Treasury Department were able to figure out that AIG and GE Capital were systemic in a nano-second in 2008 when bailout money was at stake, but when it comes to subjecting them to more regulation now, well, hey we need to be careful here.

5) How much do higher capital ratios actually affect the efficiency and the profitability of banks?

You don’t have to be very efficient to make money by using a lot of leverage to juice profits then dump the losses on the government when things go bad. In my experience, the banks with the stronger capital ratios are the ones that are better managed, do a better job of lending, and have more sustainable profits over the long term, with the added benefit that they don’t put taxpayers at risk and keep lending during economic downturns.

6) Should we go for very high capital ratios?

Yep. I’ve argued for a minimum leverage ratio of 8%, but I like John Vickers 10% even better (and yes, he put out that news-making number during my panel…)

7) Is there virtue in simplicity, for example, simple leverage rather than capital ratios, or will simplicity only increase regulatory arbitrage?

The late Pat Moynihan once said that there are some things only a PhD can screw up. The Basel Committee’s rules for risk weighting assets are Exhibit A.

These rules are hopelessly overcomplicated. They were subject to rampant gaming and arbitrage prior to the crisis and still are. (If you don’t believe me, read . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 11:21 am

Guantánamo’s influence on the US

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Victorria Brittain writes, via Informed Comment:

Victoria Brittain, journalist and former editor at the Guardian, has authored or co-authored two plays and four books, including Enemy Combatant: My Imprisonment at Guantanamo, Bagram, and Kandahar with Moazzam Begg. Her latest book, Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2013), has just been published.

A four-month hunger strike, mass force-feedings, and widespread media coverage have at last brought Guantanamo, the notorious offshore prison set up by the Bush administration early in 2002, back into American consciousness. Prominent voices are finally calling on President Obama to close it down and send home scores of prisoners who, years ago, were cleared of wrongdoing.

Still unnoticed and out of the news, however, is a comparable situation in the U.S. itself, involving a pattern of controversial terrorism trials that result in devastating prison sentences involving the harshest forms of solitary confinement.  This growing body of prisoners is made up of Muslim men, including some formerly well-known and respected American citizens.

At the heart of these cases is a statute from the time of the Clinton presidency making it a crime to provide “material support” to any foreign organization the government has designated as “terrorist.”  This material support provision was broadened in the USA PATRIOT Act, passed by Congress just after the 9/11 attacks, and has been upheld by a 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.  Today, almost any kind of support, including humanitarian aid, training, expert advice, “services” of all sorts, or “political advocacy” undertaken in “coordination” with any group on the State Department’s terrorist list, can lead to such a terror trial. The Court has never defined what “coordination” actually means.

In that Supreme Court ruling, Justice Stephen Breyer was joined in dissent by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Breyer proposed a narrower interpretation of material support: individuals should not be subject to prosecution unless they knowingly provided a service they had reason to believe would be used to further violence. At the time, the position of the dissenting judges was backed by key editorials in major newspapers.  In the three years since, however, more material support cases have resulted in long sentences with very little public notice or critical comment.

Pre-Trial Punishment

In the U.S. these days, the very word “terror,” no less the charge of material support for it, invariably shuts down rather than opens any conversation.  Nonetheless, a decade of researching a number of serious alleged terrorism cases on both side of the Atlantic, working alongside some extraordinary human rights lawyers, and listening to Muslim women in Great Britain and the U.S. whose lives were transformed by the imprisonment of a husband, father, or brother has given me a different perspective on such cases.

Perhaps most illuminating in them is the repeated use of what’s called “special administrative measures” to create a particularly isolating and punitive atmosphere for many of those charged with such crimes, those convicted of them, and even for their relatives.  While these efforts have come fully into their own in the post-9/11 era, they were drawn from a pre-9/11 paradigm.  Between the material support statute and those special administrative measures, it has become possible for the government to pre-convict and in many cases pre-punish a small set of Muslim men.

Take the case of Ahmed Abu Ali, a young Palestinian-American who is now serving life in the Administrative Maximum Facility, a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, and is currently under special administrative measures that restrict his communications with the outside world. A university student in Saudi Arabia, he was arrested in 2003 by the Saudi government and held for 20 months without charges or access to a lawyer. The Washington Postreported that the U.S. government finally asked for his return just as his family filed a lawsuit in Washington.

At the time, it seemed like a victory for the family and the various human rights organizations that had supported them, but on arrival Ahmed was charged with material support for al-Qaeda and plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush. The evidence to convict him came from an anonymous alleged co-conspirator and from taped confessions he made, evidently after being tortured in Saudi Arabia, a common practice there. The evidence of his torture was contested at his trial.  The case was described by a staff member of Amnesty International USA as “unusual in the annals of U.S. outsourcing of torture.”  An appeal of Ahmed’s 30-year sentence actually resulted in the imposition of an even more severe sentence: life without parole.

In addition, special administrative measures have been applied to him.  These were originally established in 1996 to stop communications from prison inmates who could “pose a substantial risk of death or serious risk of injury.” The targets then were gang leaders.  Each special administrative measure was theoretically to be designed to fit the precise dangers posed by a specific prisoner. Since 9/11, however, numerous virtually identical measures have been applied to Muslim men, often like Ahmed Abu Ali with no history of violence.

A question to Ahmed’s sister about how her brother is doing is answered only with a quick look. She is not allowed to say anything because special measures also prohibit family members from disclosing their communications with prisoners. They similarly prevent defense lawyers from speaking about their clients. It was for a breach of these special measures in relation to her client, the imprisoned blind sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, that lawyer Lynne Stewart was tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison in the Bush years.

Although these measures have been contested in court, few have ever been modified, much less thrown out. Those court challenges and evidence provided to the European Court of Human Rights by American lawyers have, however, provided a window into what one of them described as a regime of “draconian and inhumane treatment.”

Under such special administrative measures at the Metropolitan Correction Center in New York City, a prisoner lives with little natural light, no time in communal areas, no radio or TV, and sometimes no books or newspapers either, while mail and phone calls are permitted only with family, and even then are often suspended for minor infractions. Family visits are always no-contact ones conducted through plexiglass.

“The conditions have quite simply wreaked havoc on Mr X’s physical and mental well-being,” one lawyer wrote for the European Court of Human Rights, describing a seven-month period in which a prisoner at the Metropolitan Correction Center was allowed no family phone calls. Another highlighted his client’s lost concentration, which made it impossible to work on his case effectively. “Their world shrinks dramatically,” was the way Joshua Dratel, a lawyer who has represented several men under these measures, described the situation.

In cases where special administrative measures are in place pre-trial, such as the well-documented ordeal of American post-graduate student Syed Fahad Hashmi, lawyers have often been obliged to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 11:13 am

The School-to-Prison Pipeline Works!

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More on the S-P Pipeline in The American Prospect. Jamelle Bouie writes:

Criminal justice reform activists have long argued that the “school-to-prison” pipeline—the process that places children in the criminal-justice system for misbehavior in school—has a destructive effect on future outcomes. A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research gives a sense of just how destructive. According to economists Anna Aizer and Joseph Doyle Jr., juvenile incarceration—one result of getting caught in the pipeline—drastically reduces the probability of completing high school, and substantially increases the odds of adult incarceration. From the paper:

We find that juvenile incarceration reduces the probability of high school completion and increases the probability of incarceration later in life. While some of this relationship reflects omitted variables, even when we control for potential omitted variables using IV techniques, the relationships remain strong. In OLS regressions with minimal controls, those incarcerated as a juvenile are 39 percentage points less likely to graduate from high school and are 41 per- centage points more likely to have entered adult prison by age 25 compared with other public school students from the same neighborhood. Once we include demographic controls, limit our comparison group to juveniles charged with a crime in court but not incarcerated, and instrument for incarceration, juvenile incarceration is estimated to decrease high school graduation by 13 percentage points and increase adult incarceration by 22 percentage points.

One key thing to remember is that this has a dramatically disproportionate effect on African American students. If there’s one reliable fact about discipline in schools, it’s that if you’re black, you are more likely to face the harshest punishments. A 2012 report from the Department of Education gave the numbers on this: African American students accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once, and 39 percent of all expulsions, despite their much smaller population.

A second report, released earlier this year by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, found a similar result: of the one in nine middle and high-school students suspended in the 2009–2010 school year, 24 percent were African American, and they were mostly for nonviolent infractions, like lateness or violation of the dress code. Overall, African Americans are 18 percent of the total student population.The high rate of suspension for black students—and particularly black males—has unfortunate consequences when mixed with the growing police presence in schools nationwide. Since the 1990s, there has been a surge in the number of students—disproportionately African American—who have faced arrest or misdemeanor charges for nonviolent behavior. In one Mississippi school district, for example, 33 out of every 1,000 students were arrested or referred to a juvenile detention center.

When you consider that many of these students come from low-income environments—and the extent to which childhood poverty places immense stress on physical and neurological development—the entire dynamic is doubly unfair. We’re taking some of our most vulnerable students—the ones who need the most help—criminalizing them, and placing them at high risk for failure and incarceration.

We know where this leads—a large population of men and women, mostly black, who won’t have the skills to fully integrate themselves into their communities and broader economic life. And rather than try to account for that, we—by which I mean the broad swath of Americans—will look and say, “why don’t you have more responsibility for yourself?”

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 11:06 am

Posted in Education, Government, Law

Why doesn’t the 4th Amendment enjoy the absolute support given to the 2nd Amendment?

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Juan Cole asks an excellent question at Informed Comment:

The Second Amendment to the Constitution is interpreted by lawmakers and judges in an absolute manner. Every American, we are constantly told– even mentally ill ones like the shooter at Santa Monica College who killed 6 persons on Friday, hunting our children as though they were wild game– has the right to stockpile semi-automatic weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition. This bizarre attitude toward high-powered firearms is unexampled in the rest of the world outside perhaps Yemen.

A majority of Americans would like a less fundamentalist interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. But the arms manufacturers that pour millions into the coffers of Congress and of the National Rifle Association get a veto on gun legislation. At stake are billions of dollars in profits (the assault weapons that can be freely bought at Walmart sell like hotcakes).

In contrast, the Fourth Amendment is never interpreted in a fundamentalist manner. It says,

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Now, who you telephone, for how long and when, is a personal “effect” by any common sense definition. But the National Security Agency has requisitioned that information from Verizon, according to The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald. And your email is also the 21st century equivalent of “papers.”

Note that you can go to the Post Office and put a first class letter in an envelope in the hands of the government itself to deliver for you, and the government cannot open that letter without a warrant. I mean, it is actually in their custody, and they don’t have access to its contents. Because the Fourth Amendment is held by the judges to apply to first class land mail. Getting a warrant would require the government agents to be very specific about the letter they wanted to open, and to give pretty good evidence that a law is being broken.

But since the misnamed PATRIOT USA Act, the government is asserting that it can look at your email, telephone records, etc., without a warrant and at will. No precise specification. No evidence of wrong-doing. This scatter-shot snooping can take place even though your email has nothing to do with the government– you haven’t given it to them, you are typically a private person using a private company with an expectation of privacy.

If US Federal agents swooped into Google’s headquarters in SWAT gear and raided Google’s file cabinets without a warrant, the Republicans in Congress and the anchors at Fox would all have brain aneurysms. But if Federal agents swoop into Google’s servers and read the email of ordinary people, that seems to be all right. Our Constitutional rights increasingly only extend to Corporate citizens; the rest of us are second class.

I don’t think you have to be a fourth amendment fundamentalist to find this government intrusion unconstitutional and creepy

I am genuinely puzzled as to why the Fourth Amendment is no longer taken seriously, much less literally, by any significant faction in American politics. My hypothesis is that whereas the gun manufacturers clearly make big bucks off their weird absolutist interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, there is no set of corporations that would lose billions of dollars if the government snoops into your phone records or email traffic. Oh, Google might suffer versus Yahoo among consumers if the former let the NSA have access to its servers but the latter did not, but the government has neutralized that issue by dragooning both of them. (They deny it, but they are forced to deny it by the terms of the PATRIOT Act, which disallows victims’ disclosure of government bullying).

Since what counts in American politics is campaign dollars, there’s no real pressure for the Fourth Amendment. There are no corporate coffers at stake, only harm done to everyday citizens like you and me, and the system no longer serves us.

So we have to allow mentally ill people to have high-powered weaponry and to go on safaris hunting our children in our schools. But we can’t push back against Big Brother in our private communications.

Some will argue that fear of terrorism is at play here. But . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 10:59 am

Congress will protect us only if we vote that way

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Elspeth Reeve writes in the Atlantic Wire:

Most members of Congress are not outraged by the National Security Agency’s programs to collect all phone calls and emails. They are outraged that someone would expose the existence of those programs. Now that the leaker has gone public — Edward Snowden is still holed up somewhere in Hong Kong, with “way, way more” secrets — the campaign to discredit him as a nutcase or weirdo has begun.

The Sunday shows were busy, but that was just the start. On ABC’s This Week, Rep. Mike Rogers, who chairs the House intelligence committee, dismissed Snowden and The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald, who was on the reporting end of the leaks. “He doesn’t have a clue how this thing works. Neither did the person who released just enough information to literally be dangerous,” Rogers said. (Mike Rogers’ understanding of these programs has been called into question, too.) New York Rep. Peter King demanded an investigation into Snowden. On CBS on Monday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said yes, Congress would look at if any laws were broken — by the leaker. Cantor promised the investigation into Snowden would be “serious.” CBS’s Charlie Rose asked, “Isn’t the question how this person could have had access to this information? And done what he has done?” Cantor responded, “We need the answers, there’s no question about that.” Yes, we need answers, he said, not about the NSA programs — he defended those — so much as why a young-ish employee at Booz Allen Hamilton was in a position to expose them. “We have a contractor that has been hired … this 29-year-old, who’s now holed up in some hotel in Hong Kong claiming to be the defender of democracy somehow in the People’s Republic of China,” Cantor said, sounding a bit incredulous.

Half of Booz Allen’s 25,000 employees have a top secret security clearance. Ninety-eight percent of the company’s revenue comes from the U.S. government, and it specializes in intelligence technology. That means at Booz Allen alone, there are thousands of computer nerds with access to America’s secrets. Computer nerds tend to be more weird than your average congressman or focus-grouped network TV anchor. And it’s not impossible that Snowden is weird. It’s that the weirdness of his personality should be a secondary concern after the weirdness of the government creating a database of when, where, and to whom every single phone call in America was made.

But many in the media have picked up the focus on Snowden. “The man who stepped forward to say that he leaked this week’s bombshell national security documents is a 29-year-old computer technician who never finished high school and washed out of his Army training,” Politico’s Philip Ewing and Tony Romm report. “So how did a guy like that get access to America’s most sensitive secrets?” (The phrase “washed out of his Army training” means a lot coming from people who type on the Internet for a living. And let’s not forget that reporters think — rightly! — an English major entitles them to the nation’s most sensitive secrets.)

Snowden told The Guardian he enlisted in 2004 to join Special Forces, but was discharged when he broke both his legs in a training accident. An Army spokesman told Politico’s Stephanie Gaskell, “His records indicate he enlisted in the Army Reserve as a Special Forces Recruit (18X) on 7 May 2004 but was discharged 28 September 2004. He did not complete any training or receive any awards.” We don’t know what the differences in those dates really mean. It could be that Snowden signed on the dotted line in 2003, and went into basic training in 2004. The five-month stint in the Army could mean he got through basic training but was injured in advanced training. Or it could mean he was injured in basic training and it took a while to get a medical discharge. That said, it’s a sign the Army is scraping for dirt when it notes Snowden didn’t get any “awards.” When government officials start to tar Snowden, Slate’s Farhad Manjoo writes, remember, they’re the ones who hired him: “he’s the IT guy, and not a very accomplished, experienced one at that.”

Even those opposed to the programs Snowden has taken public don’t seem to have much confidence they will change. Sen. Rand Paul, the most famous libertarian in Congress, has written a fiery op-ed in The Guardian condemning President Obama for the massive surveillance, which he calls unconstitutional. But the Kentucky Republican does not appear to have much confidence anything will change: . . .

Continue reading. Maybe the US has moved too far to an authoritarian, corporate-run state to recover.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 10:53 am

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