Last week, the FBI arrested Robert James Talbot Jr., 38, of Katy, Texas. Talbot was the self-styled head of the American Insurgent Movement, which openly plotted to massacre Moslems at mosques and kill them with automatic weapons, sought to rob armored cars, and recruited followers to sow more mayhem. Talbot is a violent Christian fundamentalist who advertised his intention to murder people wholesale.
Kudos to the FBI for arresting this fellow, but as Death and Taxes point out, where the hell was the national panic that attends every arrest of a jihadi terrorist, no matter how cracked and improbable his plan happened to be? Nowhere to be seen.
Now, if this was a recognition by the press that lone kooks are not an existential threat to the world -- even if they are capable of committing horrible, isolated crimes -- I'd be standing up and cheering. But if Talbot had been a brown-skinned conservative Muslim who'd been arrested after planning to attack Christian churches in America with bombs and machine-guns, I suspect there would have been screaming front-page headlines and round-the-clock intensive CNN coverage for days, not to mention grim, determined reporting on Fox News.
Writing in Scientific American, Ashutosh Jogalekar bemoans the famously terrible state of the House Committee on Science, a farcical body stuffed with climate deniers and young Earth creationists. At a recent hearing, committee member Randy Weber (R–TX) implied that science couldn't really make claims about things that happened tens of thousands or millions of years ago, because it couldn't directly observe them. It's a terrifying position for a legislator who sits in a position of power over national science policy to hold.
Jogalekar claims the committee is turning into a national embarrassment, but as Chris Baker points out, any notion of the committee changing over time is an Evolutionist lie from Satan, because the committee are exactly as God created them at the beginning of time, 6,321 years ago.
Read the rest
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is one of many Republican legislators who've objected to a new policy at OSHA
that requires experts to disclose when they have been funded by parties with an interest in the outcome of regulatory proceedings. According to Alexander, he and his colleagues are "very concerned about OSHA's attempt to have commenters disclose their financial backers," because "the chilling effect the financial disclosure could have seems counter to the idea of robust inclusion of a diverse set of ideas and views to inform the rule-making." The current proceeding is about whether silica in cement poses a health hazard, and OSHA wants to know if the experts it's hearing from have been paid to have an opinion one way or another.
Prisoners in America's notorious communication management units (called "CMUs" or "Little Guantánamos") are making great strides in their legal action against the US government over the prisons' illegal status, the illegally discriminatory detention of people in CMUs based on their political or religious beliefs, and their inhumane treatment of prisoners.
In this long, excellent piece, Annie P Waldman tells the story of how the CMUs were opened illegally, without the requisite public comment period, and how they've been used as a gulag to punish political and religious prisoners -- more than 70 percent of those imprisoned in CMUs are Muslim -- under inhumane conditions.
Waldman profiles one of the CMU prisoners, Yassin Aref, who has only held his youngest daughter twice since she was five. A Kurdish anti-Saddam Iraqi refugee, he served as an imam after migrating to the USA, and was caught in an FBI terrorism sting in which he agreed to witness a loan involving an paid FBI informant who had told the counterparty (but not Aref) that the money originated with an arms sale. Aref is serving 15 years in the CMU under conditions amounting to
Aref is one of the CMU prisoners who are the named plaintiffs in a surprisingly successful lawsuit against the US government.
Read the rest
The Obama administration will unveil a plan to sunset the bulk collection of US telephone data by American spies. Instead, it will plunder data that the carriers are required to retain for 18 months (America's spies currently warehouse phone data for five years) on the strength of warrants issued by its secret, rubberstamp Foreign Intelligence "court." This won't take place for at least 90 days, and for those 90 days, the administration expects the "court" to renew the spies' power to harvest bulk phone data as it has until now (despite that fact that Obama's appointed independent commission concluded that this program is illegal). Spies will only be able to explore phone data within two "hops" of their persons of interest, rather than the "three hop" rule they claim they've followed until now. Civil liberties groups are very slightly cheered by all this news.
Read the rest
The day after a Snowden leak revealed that the NSA builds fake versions of Facebook and uses them to seed malicious software in attacks intended to hijack "millions" of computers, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg telephoned President Obama to complain about the NSA's undermining of the Internet's integrity.
As many have pointed out, it would have been nice to hear Zuckerberg taking the Internet's side before his own stock portfolio was directly affected, but better late than never. Zuckerberg's post on his conversation excoriates the US government for its Internet sabotage campaign, and calls on the USG to "be the champion for the internet, not a threat." Curiously, Zuckerberg calls for "transparency" into the NSA's attacks on the Internet, but stops short of calling for an end to government-sponsored attacks against the net.
In the end, though, Zuckerberg calls on companies to do a better job of securing themselves and their users against intrusive spying. It's not clear how that will work for Facebook, though: its business model is predicated on tricking, cajoling, and siphoning personal data out of its users and warehousing it forever in a neat package that governments are unlikely to ignore. I'm told that 90% of US divorce proceedings today include Facebook data; this is a microcosm of the wider reality when you make it your business to stockpile the evidentiary chain of every human being's actions.
Read the rest
DC resident Ashley Brandt was surprised to meet a TSA agent at Phoenix airport who didn't think that DC drivers' licenses
were valid ID, because DC isn't a state.
An anonymous NSA leaker revealed to the German magazine Bild am Sonntag that the agency has been spying on senior German government figures. The move is apparently a response to Obama prohibiting the agency from spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel (or other world leaders) without his authorization -- by spying on the people with whom Merkel communicates, the agency is still able to intercept a large fraction of her most sensitive communications without presidential authorization.
Two amazing facts about this story:
Read the rest
The top Obama administration officials working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership came to government from investment banks who will benefit immensely from its provisions, which severely curtail countries' ability to pass laws regulating banks and other corporations. These top advisors, who came from Bank of America and Citigroup, were given multimillion-dollar exit bonuses when they left their employers for government. For example, the US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, was handed $4M from Citigroup as a goodbye gift on his way into his new job.
This is standard operating procedure for America's financial industry, where the largest players all have contracts guaranteeing millions to employees who leave the firm for government jobs.
Read the rest
James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the architect of the Patriot Act, has repudiated his Frankenstein's monster -- though it took the NSA mass-spying scandal to do it (yo, James, where were you for the 10-ish years of horrors before Snowden's leaks?). He's told American spooks that if they keep on blocking reform to their habits, he'll lead an effort to tank the Patriot Act's spying provisions when they come up for renewal this June, and he sounds serious
: "Unless Section 215 is fixed, you, Mr. Cole, and the intelligence community will end up getting nothing because I am absolutely confident that there are not the votes in this Congress to reauthorize 215." (via Ars Technica
Ahmed Shihab-Eldin is a respected journalist who holds US citizenship. Every time he returns to his home in New York, he is detained for many hours by the DHS, subjected to humiliating questioning and detention without evidence or charge, because he fits a "profile" that seems to consist entirely of "brown dude with Arabic name who visits the middle east." He recently returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos and found himself detained for hours, despite having been assured that his name had been removed from the DHS's watch-list.
His story of harrowing treatment at JFK airport stands in sharp contrast to his experiences at checkpoints in the middle east, where security risks are much more immediate and more grave. As he points out, America has spent billions creating an aviation security system and system of border checks that have had no material impact on security, but have nonetheless enmiserated, alienated, and harassed millions of people who committed no crime and posed no threat,
Read the rest
Texas Governor Rick Perry has endorsed the idea of decriminalizing marijuana
. Note that this is not Colorado/Washington-style legalization (which would give Texas access to a flood of tax-dollars from a legal industry), rather, it's decriminalization, which means that you will get a ticket if you get caught with small amounts of pot. That deprives the state of tax revenue, but saves the state some money on the prison system, and allows police the all-important discretion to disproportionately hassle brown people and anyone they find suspicious. (via Reddit
Speaking at the World Economic Forum, Russian Head of Foreign Affairs Alexy Pushkov announced that whistleblower Edward Snowden's asylum would be extended
at the end of the year, and that Russia would not deport him to the USA.
The forthcoming report of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the arm's-length body established by the Congress to investigate NSA spying, has leaked, with details appearing in The New York Times and The Washington Post.
From its pages, we learn that the board views the NSA's metadata collection program -- which was revealed by Edward Snowden -- as illegal, without "a viable legal foundation under Section 215, implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value…As a result, the board recommends that the government end the program."
The report goes farther than the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies (whose recommendations Obama ignored) and even farther than the policies announced by the President himself.
The Board also found that NSA metadata collection didn't stop any terrorist attacks, and would not have been useful in preventing the 9/11 attacks.
Read the rest
The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Kurt Opsahl -- a brillliant digital civil liberties attorney who has been suing the US government and the NSA over spying since 2006 -- took to the stage at the 30th Chaos Communications Congress in Hamburg this week to explain in clear and simple language the history of NSA spying. Kurt lays out the tortured legal history of American bulk surveillance, showing how an interlocking set of laws, policies, lies and half-truths have been used to paper over an obviously, grossly unconstitutional program of spying without court oversight or particular suspicion.
If you're mystified by the legal shenanigans that led up to the Snowden and Manning leaks, this is where you should start. And even if you've been following the story closely, Opsahl gives badly needed coherence to the disjointed legal struggle, connecting the dots and revealing the whole picture.
30c3: Through a PRISM, Darkly - Everything we know about NSA spying