Nel's New Day

February 2, 2019

How Facebook Damages Our Future

Love it or hate it, Facebook is ubiquitous around the world—making Mark Zuckerberg a multi-billionaire and helping elect Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) to the highest office in the United States. On Monday, February 4, it celebrates its 15th anniversary. With over 2.2 billion active users, Facebook has devastated people through the ability to “defriend” others and been the cause of millions of cyberattacks, especially among teenagers. A prevalence of violence, hate speech, and fake news has caused concerned people to look for solutions, but no one, not even creator Zuckerberg, knows how to counteract the negative aspects of Facebook.

Zuckerberg’s early use of social media was well known when he attended Harvard University, according to a piece by Claire Hoffman published ten years ago in Rolling Stone. In 2002, sophomore Zuckerberg got drunk after his girlfriend dumped him and hacked into the university websites. He downloaded female classmates’ photographs and put them next to ones of farm animals for people to rate which ones were more desirable. Pleased with himself, he blogged the process along the way. More than 450 people signed up before Harvard tracked the source and shut off Zuckerberg’s web access. In a hearing, he was accused of violating student privacy and downloading school property without permission. The praise he gained from his peers taught him a lesson that he recorded in a deposition:

“People are more voyeuristic than what I would have thought.”

After Zuckerberg launched Facebook, three classmates sued him, arguing that he stole their invention of a social-networking site after they hired him to code their creation. Zuckerberg liked the idea but dragged his heels in completing his agreement, finally telling them that they should get another programmer. He claimed that he probably didn’t start his own Facebook until after that, but he used his classmates prototype for Facebook. Zuckerberg also failed to tell his former employers that he officially registered the original Facebook site with his web provider before he told the three employers that he couldn’t finish the project. A fourth classmate said that he had already invented an online facebook. On his launch of his Facebook on February 4, 2004, he described himself as “Founder, Master and Commander [and] Enemy of the State.”

In Silicon Valley, Zuckerberg continued to take advantage of people. Former suite-mate Eduardo Saverin gave him $20,000 as a co-investor in Facebook but stayed in New York while Zuckerberg played and worked in Palo Alto. When they had a falling out, Zuckerberg sued Saverin, claiming that he froze Facebook’s bank accounts. Saverin sued, claiming that Zuckerberg never matched his $20,000 and that he used Saverin’s money for personal expenses. Zuckerberg transferred all intellectual-property rights and membership interests to a new version of the company in Delaware, unhinged Saverin’s stock from any further Facebook growth, and fired Saverin as an employee. Then, as now, Zuckerberg let no one stand in his way.

In 2007, Zuckerberg did lose one round—with his users. He sold advertisers Beacon, a program allowing them to put information about users’ purchasers on their Facebook identity. The ensuing revolt made him back off. At the same time, those close to him started to leave him. Lawyers accused Zuckerberg of hiding the code to create Facebook, and key data was missing when the hard drives were final found.

In 2015, a DDT-supporting data company, Cambridge Analytica, took personal data from tens of millions of Facebook profiles without their consent to collect voting patterns, supposedly at the request of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and for support of DDT during the 2016 presidential campaigns. Once again, Zuckerberg apologized for the “leak” that occurred when Facebook allowed a Cambridge University researcher to persuade users to share both their own and their friends’ user data. He said that Facebook stopped letting app creators access data about “friends” without their authorization, but the damage was done, damage that wasn’t discovered until after the 2016 election.

As users burgeoned, Zuckerberg used his “social media” to promote conspiracy theories and pass along misinformation, some of which greatly influenced voters. A Russian company bought Facebook ads for the 2016 presidential election. Zuckerberg enabled hate groups to proselytize, for example his selling ads targeting Facebook users self-identified as “Jew Haters.” Zuckerberg excused himself by claiming that users are self-reporting the data, seemingly ignoring his claim that his algorithms can detect and eliminate hate speech.

In one example of dangerous conspiracies promoted on Facebook, “Pizzagate” made up a story before the 2016 election that Hillary Clinton was running a child trafficking operation out of a Washington, D.C. pizza place. One believer showed up at the restaurant, waving a gun and demanding the children. The ridiculous and thoroughly debunked claim recently reemerged with an act of arson in the restaurant. Facebook’s mechanisms can radicalize users to support these conspiracy groups. Like gravitates to like, as Renée DiResta, a researcher of disinformation online, explains:

“Facebook’s recommendation engine says, ‘If you like pseudoscience, I’ll show you chemtrails and flat earth.’ Because of the increase of ominous conspiracies, you’re seeing groups around these conspiracy theories like QAnon or pizzagate being referred to people who would never search for them in the first place.”

Facebook’s “Suggested Groups” includes “Pizzagate Reports,” with this vivid photo-shopped image. From there, people are encouraged to move to groups such as “Real UFO Sightings & Strange Phenomenon,” “Official Flat Earth & Globe Discussion,” and “Q Angels.” While condemning misinformation and “fake news,” Zuckerman defends these groups, as well as Infowars, on his powerful social media. He said he would not ban Infowars although it shares “conspiracy theories or false news” and said that “there are things that different people get wrong—I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.” He plans to leave up offensive or deliberately inaccurate posts but downgrade them so that algorithms show them to fewer people. Although Zuckerberg claims that he’ll take down misinformation that incites violence, Pizzagate is still up, and the restaurant is still being threatened with posts on Facebook bragging about frightening the owner to readers’ praise.

Last year, investigators discovered that Facebook uses “ethnic affinity” (aka race) that then permitted advertisers to target or exclude users based on this category. This Facebook characteristic allowed advertisers to deny opportunities for housing and employment. Zuckerberg claimed that he couldn’t see the impact of this category, and backlash caused Facebook to stop using this category—supposedly. Facebook’s abetting racism is profitable because every user is a possible source of revenue for the corporation. The more users, the more ads, and the more user insight to generate money for Facebook.

As Zuckerberg promises to fix one Facebook scam, he creates another. Facebook is secretly paying people to install a “Facebook Research” VPN allowing the company to obtain all the user’s phone and web activity, like Facebook’s Onavo Protect app that Apple banned in June. That one was removed in August. The new Facebook approach may violate Apple policy because the social network can decrypt and analyze the users’ phone activity. Since 2016, Facebook paid users ages 13 to 35 up to $20 per month and more in referral fees to install this iOS or Android app. To hide its involvement with “Facebook Research,” Facebook documented the app as “Project Atlas” and administers the program through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound and uTest. Instagram and Snapchat ads for VPN run by uTest targeted teens 13-17 years old for a “paid social media research study” and promise compensation.

Apple blocked the app the day before Facebook promised to voluntarily pull it from Apple but continue to run the Android version. Collected data includes private messages in social media apps, chats from in instant messaging apps, photos/videos sent to others, emails, web searches, web browsing activity, and ongoing location information from tracking apps. It works whether users’ screens and the VPN are on or off. Facebook claimed that the program is to learn how people use their phones and other services. The spokesperson said, “We don’t share this information with anyone.”

Zuckerberg plans to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger, originally independent companies. The result may be more privacy issues because WhatsApp currently doesn’t require a person’s identity, just a telephone number. It also doesn’t store messages and keeps minimal user data. Disturbed by the change, employees at all these companies are leaving. Facebook will also have additional problems in finding and stopping illicit activity and disinformation. WhatsApp blocked disinformation before the Brazilian presidential election by limiting the number of times a message could be forwarded.

In the past, I’ve worried about negative effects of Facebook usage, especially on teens. Studies show problems with self-esteem, feelings of envy, dissatisfaction, narcissism, antisocial behavior, and aggressiveness. Those concerns have moved to fears about radicalization of the far-right and control of elected officials. And Zuckerman just keeps apologizing and raking in the billions with new scams.

August 17, 2017

DOJ Warrant: ‘There Should Be an Uproar over This’

Filed under: protests — trp2011 @ 10:43 PM
Tags: , , , ,

A recent guideline to surviving an authoritarian government comes from 80 years experience in surviving Polish resistance. The first directive is “assume all communications and activities are monitored.” As the author points out, surveillance roots out dissent, builds mistrust among people, and controls the actions of the general population. It forces everyone to monitor their speech and actions as if they are being constantly watched. This scrutiny escalated after 9/11 with the PATRIOT Act, but Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is raising it to a level in the United States that people had not thought possible.

For many decades, almost all people in the nation considered voting to be a right easily achieved if they are eligible according to age and a few other requirements. With a restrictive 2005 Indiana law upheld by the Supreme Court, people began to understand that voting might be a privilege mostly for white, financially comfortable people. Over half the states, including almost the entire South, have limiting ID laws; many of them also have other laws restricting over 5 million eligible voters at the polls. DDT is now cutting down voting since his new voting commission has requested detailed voter registration information from all the states. In Colorado alone, at least 5,000 people, some of them who had actively assisted in the voting process, have deregistered because of DDT’s demand for their records. They express fear at what he will do with the information.

[Note that DDT’s response to people’s request for privacy is to ask, “What do they have to hide?” What a question from a man elected president who refuses to release his tax returns and hides everything else he can about his administration.]

With his strong support of white supremacists, DDT and his DOJ are upping the ante on dissenters against his administration, going far beyond widespread ridicule about respected journalists and media outlets. Initially, AG threatened to subpoena journalists and force them to give up their sources before grand juries in lieu of prison. Now information has been released that the DOJ is trying to collect complete information about 1.3 million visitors to an anti-DDT website, #DisruptJ20.org, on DreamHost, regarding protests on DDT’s inauguration day.

John Borchert, deputy chief of the Felony Major Crimes Trial Section of the Justice Department, signed the search warrant on July 12 seeking “evidence about individuals who participated, planned, organized or incited the January 20 riot.” DOJ is demanding “all information that might identify the subscribers…including names, addresses, telephone numbers and other identifiers, email addresses, business information…and source of payment for services including any credit card or bank account information.” DreamHost said that the DOJ wants “the time and date of the visit, the IP address for the visitor, the website pages viewed by the visitor (through their IP address), and even a detailed description of the software running on the visitor’s computer.

Regarding the DOJ warrant, ACLU stated:

“One of the core principles enshrined in the Fourth Amendment is a prohibition on general searches — meaning, the government cannot simply go fishing for a wide range of information in the hope that some kind of useful evidence will turn up.”

DreamHost refused, stating that the users’ information “could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment. That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind.” The host already disclosed information relevant to the ongoing criminal investigation after 214 people were charged with vandalizing a car and breaking windows. DOJ now wants information about everyone who visited the site, however, not just the people who have broken laws. The warrant doesn’t say why or what will happen to the information on the 1.3 million visitors.

TechFreedom president Berin Szóka supports DreamHost’s refusal on the basis of the Fourth Amendment:

“The Founders outlawed general warrants precisely to prevent governments from harassing their political opponents en masse. If the DOJ can unmask over a million Internet users simply for visiting a website, without any further alleged connection to criminal activity, then no American is safe to use the Internet to access dissident speech. The fear of being unmasked — and subjected to harassment, or far worse — will chill the speech of millions more.”

Phishing for records of all visitors is comparable to getting search warrants for everyone in a city of 1.3 million if a criminal is suspected of residing there.

DDT is also accelerating his repression of dissent by increasing the severity of charges against the 214 protesters in Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Day 2017 to a felony level that includes inciting rioting, conspiracy to riot, and destruction of property. For many of them, prosecutors have no more proof than their presence at the protest and their black clothing, but they will go to trial—next March. If they fight the charges in court and lose, they could be in prison for 70 to 80 years, just for breaking windows or perhaps nothing. When Wilbur Ross came back from Saudi Arabia, he marveled that they faced no protesters. The sentences of prison and death there for protesting could be replicated in the United States. At least 18 states consider 30-plus bills to curb protests by increasingly severe penalties for demonstrators.

U.S. customs and Border Protection tried to get Twitter records in March for an account that supposedly shared material from federal employees who disagree with DDT’s policies. After Twitter sued, DOJ dropped the request. A woman was tried in May because she involuntarily laughed during AG Jeff Sessions confirmation hearing. She was responding to Sen. Richard C. Shelby’s (R-AL) statement about Sessions’ record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented.” The DOJ argument was that her laugh constituted “disorderly and disruptive conduct” meant to “impede, disrupt, and disturb the orderly conduct” of Congress. Last month, a judge threw out the conviction for Desiree A. Fairooz, 61, but ordered a new trial on September 1.

Robert Mercer, the billionaire who owns Breitbart and bought the presidency for DDT, also has Cambridge Analytica, the source that has profiles of 5,000 pieces of data on about 220 million voters in the U.S. and uses the information to target them through their emotions. Basically, it’s a propaganda machine. As a communications director Andy Wigmore said, “The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring.” Gaining detailed information about the 1.3 million is a great addition to Analytica. These records can be used to prosecute—and persecute—anyone who opposes DDT in a highly technological redo of the Joseph McCarthy witch hunts for “political dissidents.”

Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, said:

“The U.S. Supreme Court has said that forced disclosure chills speech. Visiting a website is First Amendment activity and this is quite troubling.”

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) told Sessions:

“When the government attempts to seize personal information, including email and physical addresses, for more than a million Americans who visited a website, it shows that the president is willing to use his Justice Department and the machinery of government to go after his political opponents.”

Even some Fox commentators don’t support DOJ’s actions. Judge Andrew Napolitano said talked about its “very serious constitutional problems.” He added that DOJ may have gone to a superior court for the warrant request, rather than a federal judge because “none of them would sign it.” Napolitano said, “There should be an uproar over this.”

DreamHost’s scheduled hearing tomorrow, August 18, in DC Superior Court has been postponed. Judge Robert E. Morin, who overturned Fairooz’s conviction, may be assigned the case some time in the future.

As Heather Heyer, the counter-protester killed by a neo-Nazi, said, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” We need to be outraged by the DOJ collecting information from protest websites.

There has been no mention of subpoenas for white supremacist websites setting up their violent actions in Charlottesville (VA) last weekend. Of course, The Daily Stormer has lost its domain name and access through U.S. hosts. Even Russia and China won’t give a home to its website. The group can go onto the dark Web, but not being indexed in popular search engines may cut down on recruiting–for a while.

 

April 9, 2017

Activism: Lists of ‘Not Normal,’ Accomplishments

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 7:17 PM
Tags: , ,

Activist Jen Hofmann is currently publishing a weekly list of suggested activities to resist the dreadful actions of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and his GOP minions in Congress. This is the link to her website for those who wish to keep up on what can be done.

This week’s list, as usual, includes an explanation of why people must not begin to think of DDT’s behavior as normal. In addition, she provided a list of successes for the past week. You can get more details here.

Not Normal – Avoid normalizing this presidency and #staywoke:

  • A normal president doesn’t lie 367 times within his first 80 days in office.
  • A normal president doesn’t sneak money from his business after agreeing not to. In fact, a normal president doesn’t run or own a business at all during his presidency.
  • A normal president doesn’t make money from waging war.
  • A normal president doesn’t bomb another country without Congressional approval.
  • A normal president doesn’t publicly support an accused sexual predator.
  • A normal president doesn’t revoke women’s rights in favor of corporate power.
  • A normal president doesn’t spend $24M on travel in the first 10 weeks of his term.
  • A normal president doesn’t take golf vacations for ten consecutive weekends.

Past “not normal” list:

  • A normal president doesn’t lie about a former POTUS.
  • The campaign staff of a normal president are not under FBI investigation for collusion with a foreign government.
  • A normal president doesn’t move a business partner into the West Wing.
  • A normal president doesn’t threaten congresswo/men for voting against his wishes.
  • A normal president talks to all Americans, rather than holding rallies for a small number.
  • A normal president doesn’t tweet his versions of events while a hearing is in progress.
  • A normal president doesn’t lie throughout an interview or say so little that is true.
  • A normal president doesn’t take land away from Americans.
  • Normal elected leaders care about the country’s safety more than the source of leaked information.
  • A normal Congressional committee is qualified to investigate treasonous behavior and has no questionable conflicts of interest.

Good news:

  • Court rules in favor of equal rights in employment for LGBT people.
  • Steve Bannon is off the National Security Council…and two qualified leaders, previously excluded, are once again attending the meetings.
  • Nunes “stepped down” from leading the House investigation on 45-Russia ties.
  • The Wall is looking increasingly less likely.
  • A lawsuit will proceed against 45 for inciting violence at a campaign rally.
  • Four senators (2 Dem, 2 GOP) present a bill preventing unwarranted searches of Americans’ devices at the border.
  • Some GOP leaders are starting to publicly support elements of the ACA.
  • The Department of Homeland Security withdraws its request for Twitter to release a user’s account information.
  • Jeff Sessions loses battle in attempt to bully Baltimore Police.
  • EPA staffer shares a piece of his mind on his last day on the job.
  • 8,000 millennial Democrats plan to run for office. (I heart this generation.)
  • Delaware Democrats win a swing vote and keep control of the legislature.
  • Cards Against Humanity founder will buy and publish Congress’ internet browsing data.
  • In response to a violent hate crime against a gay couple, men in The Netherlands are holding hands in public.
  • New Mexico becomes the 8th state to ban the practice of gay “conversion therapy.”
  • NY state becomes the first in the nation to provide legal assistance to ICE detainees.
  • NYC will raise the age at which youth are sentenced as adults from 16 to 18.
  • Nebraska court strikes down rule banning gay foster parents.
  • California court upholds innovative cap-and-trade program–a win for the environment.
  • Maryland will financially support its Planned Parenthood clinics.
  • Advertisers flee en masse from The O’Reilly Factor, and show oddly shortened.
  • California’s drought is declared over with snowpack at 164% above normal.
  • Renewable energy is taking over fossil fuels.
  • Due to public health concerns, KFC stops using chicken treated with human antibiotics.
  • TV satirists are covering 45 better than the news. Hilarious example.
  • Unemployment went down again and wage gains are up.
  • US women’s soccer scores a goal for pay parity.
  • Vermont’s New Farms for New Americans’ programs feed body and soul.
  • We’re still the majority.

And positive actions from the week before last:

  • We defeated the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, saving millions of Americans from suffering and premature death!
  • The rusty-patched bumblebee is now listed as endangered!
  • CA upholds stricter auto-emissions standards, despite 45’s efforts to lower them.
  • Fox stops repeating wiretap lies by pulling Napolitano off the air.
  • Alex Jones apologizes for fueling Pizzagate conspiracy theories.
  • The New York Attorney General takes on Trump.
  • VA governor vetoes bills that discriminate against LGBTQI Americans.
  • Conservative governors oppose 45’s damaging budget.
  • Syrian immigrants show love through food in their adopted countries.
  • Indian villagers knit pajamas for rescued elephants to stay warm in winter.
  • Three sacred rivers are granted legal status as people.

Ways that people can protect themselves from new guidelines permitting Internet Service Providers to sell personal information from subscribers:

  • Call your provider and opt out of having your information shared.
  • Pressure ISPs to have opt-in consent.
  • Use sites that encrypt the connection between themselves and your browser, usually identified with an “https” prefix to an address or a lock icon in the address bar so that the ISP sees only the domain name that you visit.
  • Use a VPN, Virtual Private Network, for a safeguard or other ISPs that respect your privacy.
  • Opt out of supercookies and other ISP tracking by checking your account settings under privacy, marketing, or ads settings.
  • Set your PC to use a third-party DNS provider such as Open DNS.
  • Tell your congressional representatives and senators that you want the privacy back.

Little by little! Thanks, Jen!

March 31, 2017

DDT: Week Ten

Other than the fallout from failing to pass Trumpcare and the increasing—and damning—news about Dictator Donald Trump’s (DDT) connection to Russia, the biggest news was his rollback to President Obama’s orders regarding the climate.

Climate: DDT ordered the EPA to repeal the Clean Power Plan by removing new limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants. He claimed that it was for the economy, energy security, and jobs, but the entire coal industry employs fewer people than Arby’s. DDT is preening, but the provisions weren’t to take place until 2022. In addition, a 2007 Supreme Court ruling found that greenhouse gases count as a potential air pollutant, requiring the EPA to regulate them. DDT’s order won’t reverse the decline of the coal industry that has fewer employees than clean energy. Coal’s enemy is natural gas.

Conflicts of Interest: Remember DDT’s blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest? Middle son, Eric, has corrected the blindness: he will apprise his father of his business’s progress every week. DDT’s daughter Ivanka Trump is following the same pattern: she has an office in the West Wing as “assistant to the president” but will continue to supervise her business. She is also being sued by Modern Appealing Clothing in an action for unfair competition. Just one more lawsuit against the Trump family as one of them uses their recently elected positions to make money.

Muslim Ban: U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii extended his order blocking DDT’s travel ban until the lawsuits goes through the courts. State AG Douglas Chin had argued that the ban’s message is like a “neon sign flashing ‘Muslim ban, Muslim ban'” that the government didn’t bother to turn off.

Trump University: U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in San Diego finalized the $25 million settlement in the Trump University litigation, giving a 90-percent refund to about 3,700 students. DDT can still appeal.

More Tweets?: Andrew Napolitano, missing from Fox network for two weeks after FBI Director James Comey denied his accusations, is back. The “legal analyst” stands by his misinformation that President Obama asked British intelligence officials to spy on DDT, a lie that led DDT to angrily tweet this information as fact. Hoping for a Supreme Court appointment from DDT, Napolitano, 66, has not been on the bench for over 30 years when he was a New Jersey Superior Court judge. He still is a 9/11 truther, a movement of conspiracy theorists who think that the explosions were permitted by the U.S. to curtail civil liberties and perhaps even done from within by controlled demolition.

No Condemnation for Killing by White Supremacist: Journalist April Ryan asked Press Secretary Sean Spicer if he had any comment about 28-year-old James Harris Jackson traveling to New York City and killing Timothy Caughman, a 66-year-old black man, with a sword. Spicer repeatedly refused to answer, saying that he was “not going to reference any particular case before the DOJ right now” and later said he didn’t “know all the details.” Spicer comments only on killings that can be classified as “terrorist” because they are not by white people. Jackson said he to New York “to kill as many black men as he could.”

To Russia with Love: The prevalence of DDT/Russia stories deserve an entire book, but a major story this week concerns Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) who is supposed to head up an investigation into the connection. After just the open hearing with FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) called off all meetings for the “Intelligence” Committee to protect DDT. The Senate Intelligence Committee is moving forward while Nunes and the White House are getting lots of bad press about getting information from the White House and then taking it back to the White House without telling any of his committee members. The most remarkable statement about Nunes’ behavior came from Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) when he said that Nunes did the right thing because the member of Congress “works for the president.” Later he said that he misspoke, which probably means that he shouldn’t have openly told the truth.

Licking His Wounds: Last weekend DDT sulked about his loss of Trumpcare with two days of golf in Virginia. Is Mar-a-Lago losing its appeal? DDT’s expensive resort has been sold out, however, because Gov. Rick Scott is being honored as Statesman of the Year. Today, DDT is back to playing golf on one of his properties when his calendar indicated that he was in a meeting. He has visited his own-branded properties at least once every three days, at least 18 percent of his time while part-time president. He criticized President Obama for always playing golf, but the former president didn’t get in a game until 65 days into his first term.

“Quite a Story to Tell”: The lawyer for former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn wants immunity to tell what he knows—sort of like Oliver North three decades ago. He doesn’t have any takers yet, but the question is whether he is trying to avoid prison. After all, he did say last summer than no one asks for immunity who isn’t guilty.

Changing Directions of Trumpcare: The direction of Trumpcare shifted in the high winds since House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) called off the vote on the bill last Friday. A week ago, Trumpcare was dead, and DDT blamed Democrats. By Saturday he accused the GOP Freedom Caucus of sabotage and swore he would get those representatives defeated in 2018. They weren’t impressed. By Monday, the House was considering bringing health care back, and DDT was talking about getting Trumpcare passed with the support of Democrats. Tuesday Pence was sent to Capitol Hill to bring back health care reform, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said it was over. Wednesday, Ryan clearly stated that he wouldn’t work with Democrats. “I don’t want that to happen,” he said. On Thursday, both Democrats and conservatives were at fault, according to DDT. By yesterday, Greg Walden, chair of the committee responsible for getting health care to the floor, said, “We’re approaching the Easter season. Some things rise from the dead.” I wonder what evangelicals think about comparing a House bill to Jesus.

Disappearing Privacy: Last week, Congress made billions of dollars for Internet Service Providers by allowing them to sell personal information about all their subscribers. DDT’s constituents—white men, Ku Klux Klan, etc.—are not happy with  their vanishing anonymity. They’re screaming the usual “attack on freedom” and asking if they can still support DDT if (when?) he signs the bill. Progressive activist Adam McElhaney has found a way to resist: he established a GoFundMe page, “Purchase Private Internet Histories,” to collect donations to buy the internet histories of everyone—legislators, executives, and their families—who supported the bill to repeal the FCC’s privacy protections–and provide easily searchable information. McElhaney said it will include “everything from their medical, pornographic, to their financial and infidelity.”

Indifference to Human Rights: The State Department dropped “human rights improvement” as a condition for the sale of fighter jets to Bahrain, abruptly reversing an Obama-era decision that required the tiny island monarchy curb its human rights abuses and its crackdown on dissidents.

Melania Trump’s Residence: New Yorkers are tired of paying for DDT’s third wife and son to live in Trump Tower’s gold-plated penthouse. Almost 500,000 people have signed a petition, “Make Melania Trump Stay in the White House or Pay for the Expenses Herself,” asking for her to be forced to leave because of their $50 million a year cost. Taxpayer expenses would go up at least $10 million if DDT were to spend weekends at his New York City home.

DDT’s Murders: After the terrible fiasco of DDT’s first sortie into Yemen, he turned the process of killing people in the Middle East over to the Pentagon, and they have taken off with vengeance. Earlier this month, a “precision” unstaffed drone bomb strike in Mosul killed 200 civilians, but the Pentagon wouldn’t admit this for weeks. The horrific disaster has now been covered up with the news about Russia and health care. Many of them died slowly because they were buried under the rubble. They stayed in their homes because they were told not to leave. It came from the fact that DDT “relaxed” the rules of engagement in the war against ISIS. The U.S. has dropped over 2,000 bombs on Mosul just in March and killed 1,500 civilians in Iraq and Syria. DDT said, “The results are very, very good.”

One area in which the gender gap is disappearing is between men and women disapproving of DDT. Approval among men dropped seven points in March, now down to 44 percent. Women are down to 34 percent approval with overall approval at 39 percent. The GOP dropped four points, and independents six. DDT’s support is below 50 percent among men, people over 50, married people, and all non-Hispanic whites. The Gallup poll of 37 percent has now dropped to 35 percent.

December 12, 2014

Holidays Take Privacy, Pensions

The torture report and then the fight over letting banks destroy the country again became the media focus during the past few days. At the same time, the week brought even scarier events than Halloween:

Congress passed a 47-page intelligence bill that increases the government’s warrantless surveillance powers. Despite protests from Rep. Justin Amash (R-WI) to stop the bill, it passed over the objections of 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans. Amash claims that the provision “grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American.” The Senate unanimously passed the measure which gives statutory authority for surveillance of private communications previously existing only under Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12333.

The intent of this executive order, just as the intent of the PATRIOT Act allowing for mass collections of domestic phone metadata, is foreign surveillance, but an unknown amount of U.S. data is “incidentally” tracked. There is nothing, however, to keep the NSA from collecting and storing all communication if it occurs outside the United States. Former State Department official John Napier Tye wrote:

“No warrant or court approval is required, and such collection never need be reported to Congress. None of the reforms that Obama announced earlier this year will affect such collection.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said that the language is “the exact opposite of what the House passed this summer,” requiring the NSA to obtain a warrant before reading Americans’ private messages that were collected through a program intended to target foreigners. Backers praise the measure because it limits communications data storage to five years with some exceptions, but that is typically the length of time these communications are kept at intelligence agencies.

President Obama had promised to reform the massive domestic spying, but a bill to begin a control of the government surveillance died in the Senate because of 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.

While Congress increased surveillance, the House failed to pass a bill unanimously accepted by the usually rancorous Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act would have made Freedom of Information requests easier with potentially faster response times. It called on all agencies to have a “presumption of disclosure” to all FOIA decisions and set up a central online method for FOIA requests under the Office of Management and Budget. The bill would also require agencies to release information publicly once it is released to individual journalists.

The Senate unanimously approved its version last Monday. If the House had endorsed the Senate version, the bill would have gone off to the president for a signature. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) did not explain why he wouldn’t bring the bill up for a vote, but it’s probably because the result would be increased transparency. It would reform Exemption 5, used—and abused—to protect inter- or intra-agency communications. Another change would be that government records withheld using this exemption can be de-classified after 25 years. The bill also includes a provision that says agencies must prove that actual harm will occur before they use many exemptions.

The failure demonstrates that Boehner will not allow any bill that Democrats support. Or maybe he wants everyone in the country under surveillance except for Congress.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is almost gone, but she had a parting shot—bombing Iran. At the White House holiday part for congressional members, she told President Obama that he should bomb nuclear facilities in Iran. When he didn’t immediately agree with her, she spread the word that he didn’t treat her well:

“And he got his condescending smile on his face and laughed at me and said, ‘Well, Michele, it’s just not that easy.’ And I said to him, ‘No, Mr. President, you’re the president, [Iran’s nuclear weapon] will happen on your watch, and you’ll have to answer to the world for this.’ And that was it and then I left. Merry Christmas.”

Secretary of State John Kerry reported that negotiations between Iran and six countries—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—may have an agreement by February or March. Conservatives want more sanctions on Iran which the president has said will destroy the talks.  Bachmann is also upset about military budget cuts, Guantanamo Bay prisoners releases, and the end of the CIA torture program.

Having failed to become president herself and no longer running for Congress, Bachmann plans to give speeches across the country and write op-eds before the 2016 election. Unlike Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, opponents for the 2012 presidency, Bachmann hasn’t declared her own candidacy—yet.

In another failure of privacy within the United States, two million cars, one-fourth of those on sub-prime loans, have GPS-based kill switches allowing the vehicles to be remotely shut off at any time. One woman was on a three-lane freeway when her car stopped; another woman who had left her abusive husband to go to a shelter was tracked down by a subprime lender.

Financial analysts estimate about a quarter of all automotive loans are subprime with that number climbing as consumer debt continues to rise. These loans can be highly lucrative for lenders, with interest rates that can be well over 20% sweetened by the late fees. Nearly 4% of all subprime auto loans are more than 60 days late, up by 3% from 2013. Wisconsin is the only state that presently bans these starter-interrupt devices.

Technology may play a part in apartment renters behind on payments. Electronic lock systems can remotely or automatically lock out the renters.

Conservatives are vying to see how petty they can be. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) suggested defunding Air Force One. Rep. Paul C. Broun (R-GA), who is gone from Congress in 19 days, asked Boehner to not call for the president’s traditional State of the Union speech. Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, encouraged this action:

“If I were John Boehner, I’d say to the president: ‘Send us your State of the Union in writing. You’re not welcome in our chamber.’”

When ousted House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other Congressional Republicans tried to block President Clinton from delivering his State of the Union address in 1999, his approval rating shot up to 69 percent. Boehner won’t take this action, however, because he’ll want to be seen sitting next to future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Another scary move GOP congressional members have threatened is keeping funds from Homeland Security, the source of Secret Service salaries. Many far-right federal legislators have threatened this because it also funds immigration services.

The cruelty of the GOP representatives is perhaps best illustrated by the provision in the House version of the $1.1 trillion spending bill to cut pension benefits for over one million retired and current truck drivers, construction workers, and other union workers. Multi-employer pension plans covering over 10 million people have struggled with major investment losses, putting a strain on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation which insures pension plans.

According to the House spending bill, plans projected to run out of money in the next 10 to 20 years can cut benefits to those under 80 years old. About 10 percent of the 1,400 multi-employer pension plans, covering over 1 million workers and retirees, meet this criterion. Current law prevents cutting benefits from those already retired, but troubled plans can reduce benefits that employees earn going forward and raise employee and employer contributions despite the fact that retirees have paid for their pensions through years of contributions. The bill requires participant and government approval for cuts, but plans could still make cuts if retirees vote against it.

Welcome to the lump of coal in your Christmas stocking, your reward for a Republican congress.

July 3, 2013

Whistleblowers & Privacy

When the Revolutionary War started 237 years ago, the issues had gone far beyond taxation. The British government had decided to rule the colonies through making appointments and then attempted to take over part of Quebec, threatening the Protestant population. In addition, it increased the level of income inequality through financial regulations that moved more wealth to the rich people and corporations of England. The real anger felt by the American colonists was toward Parliament’s corporate bailout and not taxation.

The British East India Company was given preferential treatment in import taxes and given a monopoly for their tea shipped to the colonies, undercutting colonial business. Thus the Revolutionary War had to do with  a protest over government policies that benefited one business entity to the detriment of other businesses and individuals.

Freedoms in the constitution were hard-won. Since then, people called “whistleblowers” have tried to preserve these freedoms that corporations and Congress have worked to abridge. These are some of the people who changed the trajectory of the country through their actions:

Peter Buxtun: This VD investigator exposed the 40-year Tuskegee syphilis experiment conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service to study the progression of untreated syphilis in rural African American men who thought they were receiving free health care from the U.S. government. After Buxtun went to the New York Times in the early 1970s, then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) called hearings, and the study was stopped.

Daniel Ellsberg: After serving many years in the military, Ellsberg released the “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times in 1971. This classified document explained how the Johnson Administration lied to the public and Congress about the extent of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam during the previous 15 years. After the revelation of secret bombing missions in Cambodia and Laos, as well as coastal regions of Vietnam, the view of the war shifted into a growing opposition until the last U.S. troops were sent home within a few years.

Karen Silkwood: After telling the Atomic Energy Commission in 1974 about the grave dangers for worker safety at the nuclear power plant where she worked, Silkwood mysteriously died. An  investigation into nuclear power plant safety followed that resulted in plant closures and better procedures for workplace safety. Her experiences were detailed in the 1983 film Silkwood.

Deep Throat: A mysterious government informant revealed the connection between the Watergate break-in and President Nixon’s attempts to put political enemies under surveillance. The 1972 leaks to Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein led to the president’s resignation. The events were chronicled in the 1976 film, All the President’s Men. Thirty-three years later, former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt announced that he had been the mysterious “Deep Throat.”

Linda Peeno: Managed care came under scrutiny after Peeno revealed in a Congressional hearing how “managed care” in the healthcare industry succeeded by depriving patients of necessary treatment. Her testimony in 1996 led to reforms that provided the foundation for Obamacare.

Jeffrey Wigand: The tobacco executive caused CEOs of Big Tabacco to appear before Congress, thanks to his leaks to CBS’s 60 Minutes. The companies were successfully sued, and the government began to regulate tobacco advertising. The events were used for the film The Insider. 

Jennifer Long: The first IRS employers to show the widespread misconduct within the Internal Revenue Service, she first faced the possibility of being fired in 1997 before Congress passed laws giving taxpayers new powers.

Kathryn Bolkovac: In the early 2000s, this police officer worked with the U.N. in Bosnia. While there, she found that members of the peacekeeping forces were involved in sex trafficking, exploiting local women, and often coercing them into prostitution. She risked everything to come forward and reveal the abuses in court, by suing her employer. The 2010 film The Whistleblower tells her story.

Joe Darby:  The U.S. Army Reservist leaked photos and proof of U.S. military abuse at Abu Gharaib Prison during the Iraq war in 2004. He gave that information to Seymour Hersh, a journalist and the CBS News TV show, 60 Minutes II. Darby moved his family to a new town our of fear from retribution.

Coleen Rowley: The FBI agent came forward in 2011 to make public the government’s lack of interest in crucial intel that the Minnesota branch of the FBI had provided about terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. Her testimony before the Senate and 9/11 Commission ultimately led to a drastic reorganization of the FBI’s structure.

Julian Assange and Bradley Manning: Wikileaks founder Assange worked with Army soldier Manning during the past two years to release thousands of classified diplomatic cables, probably the biggest leak of classified documents in U.S. history.

Edward Snowden:  Within the past few weeks, the NSA technologist  showed how millions of innocent citizens of with country are under surveillance by its government. The NSA is mapping their locations, tracking their friendships, and keeping logs of who they called. Snowden is the person who enlightened all of us about how government surveillance functions in this country.

The jury is still out on whether Snowden is a hero or a villain. Some people have erroneously accused him of treason, but his actions don’t fit the constitutional definition of “levying War” or giving enemies “Aid and Comfort.”  He isn’t protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 because people who work for NSA and the CIA are denied these protections. But the most that anyone could prove against him is most likely espionage for revealing classified information—the same thing that Daniel Ellsberg, considered a hero, did.

Because of Snowden’s actions, many people in the United States now have an inkling of how little privacy they have because of the NSA and the country’s fear of losing their mythical safety. Snowden has been criticized for leaving the country after his revelations, but if he had, he would have been in prison with no information about our loss of privacy.

Privacy is no longer a major issue with the majority of people in the United States unless it comes to registering guns. The only reason that gun-owners panic about a potential registration is that they think they might want to attack the U.S. government at some time—and that really is treason. People put everything about themselves, including naked photographs, on Facebook and think that they will be safer if the U.S. government knows every telephone call and email that they communicate.

The U.S. public has a fascination with voyeurism, starting with watching Allen Funt’s Candid Camera in 1948 and moving on to the 12-hour 1973 PBS mini-series An American Family in which a troubled family revealed all their problems on television. MTV’s The Real World in 1992 was followed by Big Brother that followed people into the bathroom. One of the contestants in Big Brother’s second season lost her cousin in the World Trade Center disaster but stayed with her audience rather than returning to her family. More than 300 reality shows are now airing, and YouTube gets millions of hits. People aren’t even making much money most of the time; they just want to be seen.

The NSA and the more naïve of people in the country claim that Snowden’s leaks help the terrorists, but many people before him have leaked information. With 854,000 people, almost one-third of them private contractors, having top-secret clearance, surveillance can’t be kept secret. After 2001, intelligence agencies began building 33 new facilities; the 17-million-square-feet is almost equal to three times that of the Pentagon. Over a year ago, James Bamford published a story telling about a clandestine $2 billion NSA data center being built in Utah designed to store “near-bottomless databases” that covers all forms of communication including Google searches and bookstore purchases.

Before 9/11, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy said, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” Why should anyone be surprised that Facebook and NSA’s surveillance program, PRISM, aligned in 2009, and Facebook’s chief security officer, Max Kelly, moved to NSA a year later. As early as 2008, an internal memo at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services suggested that their investigations exploit social networks. Even with protests from opposite corners of Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), nobody in leadership positions on either side wants to change the status quo.

Sens. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden have been questioning the NSA for two years, but as Frank Rich wrote,  “They have about as much of a chance of bringing change in 2013 as the former senator Russ Feingold did in his lonely opposition to the Patriot Act in 2001.” Only a leak stating that the NSA is tracking gun ownership might effect any change.

Oh, and the United States Postal Service is spying on you too.

Want privacy? Quit social networks; junk your cell phone; pay for everything in cash but don’t use ATMs; abandon all Google, tweeting, Amazon, Netflix, GPS, and Skype; and encrypt your email and communicate only with others who do. That’s a start. It’s a personality transplant.

So have a good Fourth of July tomorrow and think about your loss of freedom on July 5.

April 18, 2013

Shame on the House for CISPA Vote

Yesterday when the Senate voted against the first of nine gun legislation amendments, although the majority of senators voting in favor of it, two women shouted “shame on you” from the gallery. “Shame on you!” If Patricia Maisch and Lori Haas had tried to buy guns, they would have spent less than ten minutes in a background check. For shouting these three words, they spent almost two hours undergoing a check. Maisch disarmed Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, and Haas’ daughter Emily was shot twice during the Virginia Tech shooting.

Congress brought more shame down on themselves today through their vote on CISPA (Cyber Intelligence and Protection Act). The House passed this anti-privacy act by 288-127  with more “yes” votes than last year’s equally flawed bill. Although conservatives claim they want total privacy with gun ownership—even keeping the government from tracking gunpowder used in illegal bombs—they are perfectly willing to give up all privacy to their electronic communication without so much as a whimper.

The bill, passed by enough votes to override the president’s promised veto, now goes to the senate. If it goes into effect, the government can spy on people with even more ease that the Patriot Act gave them.

  • Companies can monitor user actions and share data with the government without a warrant.
  • CISPA overrides existing privacy law and grants broad immunities to participating companies.
  • Information provided to the federal government would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other state laws that could require disclosure.
  • If a company sends information about a user, the government agency does not notify the user, only the company.
  • Internet companies are protected from any legal liability after they hand over  data to the federal government.

The issue here is not security because the government would be allowed to use all private information for issues that have no relationship to cybersecurity. And there would be no accountability because the government would not have to tell anyone what they are doing. It overrules all existing federal and state laws by saying “notwithstanding any other provision of law,” including privacy policies and wiretap laws. Companies may share cybersecurity-related information “with any other entity, including the federal government.”

Of course, the reason for passing the bill is money. Some GOP lawmakers are being paid by companies that will get bundles of money from building CISPA surveillance software. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) admitted this in a tweet that he has since deleted: “House Intelligence Committee received 15 more times from pro-CISPA groups than anti-CISPA orgs.” He knows whereof he speaks after receiving $214,750 from special interest groups that support CISPA.

Passing CISPA will make Rogers’ wife very happy too. Kristi Clemens Rogers was, until recently, the president and CEO of Aegis LLC a “security” defense contractor company. She helped the company get a $10 billion contract with the State Department. The company describes itself as “a leading private security company, provides government and corporate clients with a full spectrum of intelligence-led, culturally-sensitive security solutions to operational and development challenges around the world.” Very important when the government needs to look at every piece of electronic communication from the general public in the United States.

The right to privacy has seriously declined in the past 40 years. Four decades ago, FBI agents couldn’t go undercover at any public meetings unless they were pursing an open investigation. A decade later they could do so with some restrictions. Attorney General John Ashcroft wiped out all these limits in 2003. This year, the Ohio Court of Appeals ruled that it was legal for the Trumbull County Children Services Board to require attendees of its public meetings to sign in before being admitted to the meetings. This is the state of surveillance in the United States.

The National Security Administration is already snooping into the private affairs of people in the United States to such an extent that the NSA doesn’t even know how many people are affected. When Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, tried to find out last summer how many domestic phone calls, text messages, e-mails, and other communications are under surveillance by government agencies, the NSA inspector general stated, “Obtaining such an estimate was beyond the capacity of [the] office.”

One amendment to CISPA requires the Inspector General and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to regularly report on how the government’s use of CISPA is impacting privacy. This is highly unlikely if they can’t even report on their existing surveillance.

According to the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

“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.”

But not electronic communications.

Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) used the excuse of this week’s Boston bombing to pass this bill. There has been no evidence that this attack was an act of cyberterror.  Yet it is his party that refuses to allow the government to track the purchase of gunpowder because of the NRA’s clout.

Sens. Jay Rockfeller (D-WV) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have introduced legislation to give Internet users the right to opt out of online tracking. The bill would penalize companies that do not obey the users’ requests. Companies would be required to destroy or make anonymous any personal data not necessary for the online service to function. Two years ago, a coalition of Internet companies promised to do this on a voluntary basis, but nothing has been done. These companies–or the ones that create surveillance software– will probably pay off conservative politicians to kill this bill.

Conservative politicians will continue to take money from the NRA to sell guns while they take more money to eradicate the privacy of people in the United States. They can get away with this because the media is focused on disasters and other government issues.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) went on seven television shows last week to address immigration, Face the Nation discussed the gun background checks, and This Week worried about the president’s budget, and Jay-Z’s trip to Cuba. State of the Union went North Korea.  And the Boston bombing and the Texas fertilizer plant plowing up has consumed the last four days of news.

The House is happy about this being temporarily ignored. The committee hearing on CISPA was in secret, and the vote before the House was rushed. Representatives managed to keep most of their privacy while they take away ours.

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