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Archive for June, 2006|Monthly archive page

Kos’ ActBlue Not My Progressive Cuppa Tea

In Misc., Netroots, US Politics on June 28, 2006 at 4:23 pm

Kos, of DailyKos fame, created a little whiles back ActBlue, an “online clearinghouse for Democratic action.” I like the idea of using the net to fundraisefor worthwhile candidates, but he added a page today that I’m not necessarily behind 100%. The new page lists candidates that, “have been tireless advocates and allies of the netroots. Their continued support will help ensure the long-term health and viability of a free, open, and healthy netroots. All members of this page are incumbents who have shown a commitment to blog participation, opposed efforts to regulate the netroots, and are proponents of net neutrality.”

I see the benefits of supporting the netroots, encouraging blog participation and fighting for net neutrality, but I don’t like the idea of backing electeds on a one-issue basis (in this case, netroots issues). The electeds listed thus far (Slaughter of NY, Miller of NC, and Conyers of MI) all would receive my general backing, but as this list expands, I’d be worried single-issue fundraising will make things more compicated than they need to be.

I believe that netroots campaigns are a powerful tool.  They must be defended as a tool for fighting for larger issues. For me, netroots issues aren’t the end-all but the desired end result is increased and open democratic participation — supporting a candidate simply because of their support for netroots activism is not the way forward.

I support your work, Kos, but I gotta disagree with ya on this one.

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C’Mere Ya Lil’ Bugger: Another Gov’t Laptop Swiped

In Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Terrorism, US Politics on June 28, 2006 at 3:57 pm

Note to self: Create new category on blog titled, “Jesus Christ, really? Again?”

WaPo blogger Brian Krebs reports that the FTC, the commission charged with enforcing safeguards for consumer privacy, has had two laptops with individual’s personal information stolen. He quotes the info, according to the the FTC statement was, “gathered in law enforcement investigations and included, variously, names, addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and in some instances, financial account numbers.”

Krebs quotes Brian Krenim, a firewall and software designer, discussing the sale of these data leaks and losses. “By the time you add up a million here and 900,000 there and 4 million over there, you’ve covered most of the credit-holding and wage-earning population of the U.S.,” Ranum wrote in an e-mail. “I’m sure my math is suspect, but I estimate that there are about 156 Americans whose personal information has not yet been compromised.”

Anybody wanna write an email to the company auditing the CIA/FBI/Treasury program intercepting global bank records and simply ask them to do nothing more than not bring our info home on laptops?

We can say something like, ‘I don’t like that you have this info, but at the very least leave it at the office! There’s no need for you to bring it home on a laptop. I get that ‘the terrorist masterminds’ are hard workers and eat/sleep/live destruction of our beloved country, but go home and enjoy our remaining freedoms — sleep with your spouce, goto church, watch SportsCenter or the new season of Entourage, cook some food, whatever, I don’t care… but, please, for the love of God and country, give the data crunching a break for the night and LEAVE THAT SHIT AT THE OFFICE!’ (Boldface text at your own discrection.)

P.S. If you would really like to get in touch with them: Booz Allen Hamilton, 8283 Greensboro Drive, McLean, VA 22102 or call (703) 902-5000.

Fed Election Comm. “Intimidates” Soft Money Donors

In Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Laws & Regulation, US Politics on June 28, 2006 at 3:09 pm

The Hill reports, “The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is being accused of attempting to intimidate soft-money donors to 527s by targeting the donors for questioning.”

The Fringe Right is clearly setting itself up as the collective martyr well in advance of the 2008 election, so they can have a long established paper trail concerning all the evil-doing at the FEC.

The new regulation, which took effect in January 2005, stated that 527s would be subject to regulation if, when seeking money, they “indicated” to donors that the money would be spent to support or oppose a federal candidate…

“I know for a fact that the FEC has subpoenaed donors who may have contributed to 527s in past election cycles and believe that technique is more rooted in preventing future donation to other 527s than anything else,” said Chris LaCivita, a former senior adviser to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and former head of Progress for America, both right-wing groups.

Another strategist connected with a prominent conservative 527 group, the Club for Growth, confirmed that the FEC is targeting donors.

“I’ve heard that lots of other groups have gotten subpoenas and requests for depositions of donors,” said David Keating, the executive director of the Club for Growth, which is tied up in litigation with the FEC. Keating said he was not talking about donors to his group.

Expect that these donors will hold their first full-scale press conference denouncing the America-weakening FEC featuring a Publishers’ Clearinghouse-sized box of Kleenex.

Privacy International Files Suit

In Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Terrorism, US Politics on June 27, 2006 at 7:35 pm

Privacy International filed suit against SWIFT, the financial industry cooperative clearinghouse which provided millions of private banking records to the CIA, FBI, and US Treasury Dept. According to the International Herand Tribune:

The complaints were filed in all 25 member nations of the European Union, plus Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Iceland. The group said it also filed a complaint in the semiautonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong.

“Swift appears to have violated data protection rules in Europe by making these transfers without the consent of the individuals involved, and without the approval of European judicial or administrative authorities,” Mr. Davies(the director of Privacy International) said. “The scale of the operation, involving millions of records, places this disclosure in the realm of a fishing exercise rather than a legally authorized investigation.”

Privacy International lays out seven points, each of which will necessarily be unpacked in the coming days and weeks:

There are a number of inconsistencies in the accounts so far.

  1. The U.S. claims that this is a narrowly focused programme that is compliant with the law, while the Belgian Government has concerns that the data is accessed without authorisation by a Belgian judge.
  2. The Bush Administration claims that it has been open with reporting this to Congressional leaders, but some found out as late as May 2006 once it became clear that the story was about to break.
  3. As with most cases of international co-operation, the country seizing the data, i.e. the U.S., is claiming universal jurisdiction while the regime responsible for protecting the data, the EU, is disavowing any responsibility.
  4. The U.S. claims that the data is only used for combatting terrorism, but then admits that it has shared data on other illegal transactions with relevant agencies.
  5. The U.S. claims that they only get access to specific data when it is relevant to an investigation, but this does not explain how they have been able to access to the entire database of billions of transactions.
  6. The U.S. claims that it the data is searched only when it is relevant to an investigation and then admit that there were possibly hundreds of thousands of such searches.
  7. The U.S. claims that it had briefed the international oversight bodies, e.g. G-10 bank central governors, but the Central Bank governors deny that they have jurisdiction over such activities and the Belgian Minister of Justice admitted that she heard of the transfers from the media.

These inconsistencies have severe implications for trust and confidence in the international finance sector. PI calls for an immediate halt of the transfers until essential questions regarding due process and privacy protections can be answered adequately.

New Page: Domestic Spying – Bank Info

In Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Terrorism, US Politics on June 27, 2006 at 12:49 pm

We’ve just launched a new page about the latest aspect of the Bush Administration’s broad domestic spying programs. The page will be continuously updated, so please let us know if you think there are any articles or resources we should include.

 

New page: Domestic Spying – Bank Info

And Here I Thought My Freedom to Shop Would Be My ONE Protected Liberty!

In Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Terrorism, US Politics on June 26, 2006 at 5:44 pm

A quick question:

 

 

I’m no lawyerly law guy or nothin, but how is it that limiting campaign contributions (ie, money) is limiting speech, but tracking my money isn’t like tracking my speech?

I didn’t get it, so through my good friends at Fox News I asked Sen Arlen Specter what he though. Arlen said:

“I think it’s premature to call for a prosecution of The New York Times, just like I think it’s premature to say that the administration is entirely correct. I think you start with the proposition that there is not the privacy interest in bank records that there is in a telephone conversation. And let’s find out more before we try to make a judgment here.”

 

Bad proposition, Arlen, bad proposition. I gotta ask his mommy to remind him that he should never assume, cuz we all know what he’ll make.

I’m told shopping got us through September 11. Regardless, I’m kinda bummed that the government now seems to know about my tandem addictions to cottage cheese and porn, which is totally unrelated to the GWOT. God only knows what this Administration is capable of if we no longer have the freedom to shop privately.

It begs the question:

If we’re no longer able to shop, how am I, an everyday Joe, able to battle the terrorists in my everyday life?

 

Net Neutrality Update

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2006 at 2:29 pm

The vote that was supposed to take place this last Thursday, June 22nd, on the issue of net neutrality was delayed.

While everyone works and waits to see what happens next, check out what some of the opposition to net neutrality has been doing according to Russel Shaw of ZDnet.

As AT&T continues its battles with net neutrality proponents on Capitol Hill this week, I thought it would be interesting to see where AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre has been spending his own money this campaign and election cycle.

I went to Opensecrets.org, and checked under “Whitacre.”

I found several donations, most of them to Net Neutrality opponents.

These personal $1,000 campaign donations from the controversial and outspoken AT&T chief have been to Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas); Rep. Michael McCall (R-Texas), and Sen. John Ensign (R-Nevada). Whitacre has written $500 checks to the campaigns of Sen. George Allen (R-Virginia) and Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-New Jersey).

Whitacre has also donated $1,000 to the pro-Republican Keep Our Majority PAC, and a like amount to Sen. John McCain’s Straight Talk America.

Also, thanks to Davey D for sending out this article/link on the topic.  The article is a good summary of the issue, meant to be sort of a rally cry before the vote on Thursday.  Since the vote was delayed, it still applies.  A couple interesting points from the article are below, even though you should read the whole thing.

Scott Goodstein of savetheinternet.com….points out that the U.S. telecom companies claim to be the most advanced in the world and that they need financial incentive in order to create faster speeds and innovations, but the U.S. is actually behind in development.

"There are actually 15 countries ahead of the U.S. in the percentage of its citizens who have access to broadband Internet access," Goodstein said by phone. "The highest speed in the U.S. is 1.5 megabits per second which is provided at a cost of around $30 per month. In France, users get 25 megabits per second for about $6 per month. In some Asian countries, customers are about to start to receive 1000 megabits per second. The argument that U.S. telecom companies need an end of network neutrality in order to provide more than 6 megabits per second is absurd. Its a money grab." He also points out that the telecom companies did not invent the Internet and that they "have been subsidized millions of dollars by U.S. taxpayers to provide universal broadband access, but have yet to deliver."

Possibly the darkest possibility if the Senate does not uphold net neutrality, is that telecom companies will outright deny access to certain voices. Telecom companies have been lobbying to assert a free speech right based on a United States Supreme Court ruling that first amendment speakers may not be compelled to provide a platform for a different persons speech. In other words, if the telecom companies do not agree with the position of a particular group or individual, they do not have to make that group or individuals position available to its customers

SWIFT Responds

In Economic Justice, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Terrorism, US Politics on June 25, 2006 at 6:25 pm

The response from the bank association that narc'ed the bank data to the Bush Administration:

To the SWIFT community:

There is an article in the June 23 edition of New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other US newspapers on terrorism investigations and the role of SWIFT. Let us begin by underscoring SWIFT’s commitment to the highest standards of integrity, confidentiality and availability of the messaging data we transmit on behalf of our members and users.

As you may know from the User Handbook and swift.com, SWIFT has a longstanding history, beginning in the 1990s, of cooperating with authorities such as central banks, treasury departments, law enforcement agencies and international organisations such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in their efforts to prevent misuse of the financial system. Our members support this policy.

The following is SWIFT’s official statement on the articles:

Statement on Compliance by SWIFT
SWIFT is the industry owned cooperative supplying secure, standardised messaging services and interface software to over 7,800 financial institutions worldwide. SWIFT is solely a messaging intermediary for transmitting secure and confidential financial messages between financial institutions. SWIFT is not a bank, nor does it hold accounts of any customers.
SWIFT takes its role as a key infrastructure of the international financial system very seriously and cooperates with authorities to prevent illegal uses of the international financial system. Where required, SWIFT has to comply with valid subpoenas. SWIFT’s compliance policy is published on http://www.swift.com.
In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, SWIFT responded to compulsory subpoenas for limited sets of data from the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the United States Department of the Treasury. Our fundamental principle has been to preserve the confidentiality of our users’ data while complying with the lawful obligations in countries where we operate. Striking that balance has guided SWIFT through this process with the United States Department of the Treasury.
SWIFT negotiated with the U.S. Treasury over the scope and oversight of the subpoenas. Through this process, SWIFT received significant protections and assurances as to the purpose, confidentiality, oversight and control of the limited sets of data produced under the subpoenas. Independent audit controls provide additional assurance that these protections are fully complied with.
All of these actions have been undertaken with advice from international and U.S. legal counsel and following our longstanding procedures on compliance, established by our Board.
SWIFT is overseen by a senior committee drawn from the G-10 central banks and has informed them of this matter.
SWIFT values the trust that our members have placed in us for more than 30 years and we will continue to work vigorously to protect and maintain that confidence.

What we have written should give our community a better sense of how seriously SWIFT takes its responsibilities and how we have tried to deal with these matters in the most professional manner. The SWIFT Board and Executive have done their utmost to get the right balance in fulfilling their obligations to the authorities in a manner protective of the interests of the company and its members.

Leonard H. Schrank, CEO, SWIFT

Yawar Shah, Chairman of the Board, SWIFT

Stephan Zimmermann, Deputy Chairman, SWIFT

While Your Were Sleeping: Pentagon Document Classifies Homosexuality as a Mental Disorder

In Sexuality, US Politics on June 25, 2006 at 4:26 pm

In case you missed it:

A Pentagon document that surfaced this week classifies homosexuality as a mental disorder, grouping it with retardation and personality disorder [full document in PDF here, or here for the brief list from p68]. The document has outraged medical professionals, psychologists, and members of Congress, who disagree with this labeling and its discriminatory undertones. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the American Psychological Association have both written letters condemning this classification, while nine members of Congress have asked for a full review of the document and policy.

The Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military (CSSMM) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which first called attention to this classification, points out that this document was re-certified as “current” in 2003, despite the fact that the APA removed homosexuality from DSM-IV-TR (the definitive guide to mental health classifications) over 30 years ago. Dr. Steven Samuels, a social psychologist who has worked with the military, suggests that this classification is not scientifically derived, but socially and politically motivated. According to CSSMM, he stated that, “to classify homosexuality with mental retardation, impulse control, and substance abuse, shows at best an ignorance of basic psychology and at worse a purposeful intolerance and discriminatory practice that is incompatible with the high values of the military.”

The Pentagon maintains a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with regard to closeted homosexuals and prohibits openly gay women and men from serving at all. Within the last year, 726 military members were discharged under the “don’t ask” policy, signaling the first increase in dismissals since 2001. In response to the recent criticism, a Pentagon spokesman said the document is currently under review.

For full supporting docs from the UCSB Center, click here.

Finance Expert: The Bank Data Spying Program Has Been Public

In Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Terrorism, US Politics on June 24, 2006 at 6:29 pm

From the Counterterrorism Blog:

 

Reports of US Monitoring of SWIFT Transactions Are Not New: The Practice Has Been Known By Terrorism Financing Experts For Some Time; By Victor Comras

Yesterday’s New York Times Story on US monitoring of SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) transactions certainly hit the street with a splash. It awoke the general public to the practice. In that sense, it was truly new news. But reports on US monitoring of SWIFT transactions have been out there for some time. The information was fairly well known by terrorism financing experts back in 2002. The UN Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Group , on which I served as the terrorism financing expert, learned of the practice during the course of our monitoring inquiries. The information was incorporated in our report to the UN Security Council in December 2002. That report is still available on the UN Website. Paragraph 31 of the report states:

“The settlement of international transactions is usually handled through correspondent banking relationships or large-value message and payment systems, such as the SWIFT, Fedwire or CHIPS systems in the United States of America. Such international clearance centres are critical to processing international banking transactions and are rich with payment information. The United States has begun to apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify suspicious transactions. The Group recommends the adoption of similar mechanisms by other countries.”

Suggestions that SWIFT and other similar transactions should be monitored by investigative agencies dealing with terrorism, money laundering and other criminal activity have been out there for some time. An MIT paper discussed the pros and cons of such practices back in 1995. Canada’s Financial Intelligence Unit, FINTRAC,, for one, has acknowledged receiving information on Canadian origin SWIFT transactions since 2002. Of course, this info is provided by the banks themselves.

While monitoring SWIFT-handled transfers is a useful tool in identifying and tracking certain suspicious transactions, its importance should not be overstated. The information in SWIFT’s hands is no better than the information which it is provided by the banks handling the transactions at both ends. And there is already an obligation on banks in the US and Europe to report all “suspicious transactions” The problem is that FINCEN and the corresponding FIUS in other countries have simply been overwhelmed by the enormous amount of transactions that are reported to them (see my earlier blog) Another problem is that European Banks are just getting around to providing (and requiring) information, such as names, account numbers and addresses of originators and recipients of transactions channeled or handled by them through SWIFT or other international transfer facilitators (see my earlier blog). And most banks outside of Europe, the United States and other OECD countries, still do not require, or verify, such information.

The fact is that there is really very little privacy today when it comes to the international transfer of funds. That is why criminal networks, money launderers and terrorist groups have increasingly turned to Hawalas and cash couriers for such transactions.

On this last point, about there really being very little privacy today when it comes to the international transfer of funds, I refer to yesterday's White House press briefing from which I quoted yesterday. At the briefing Tony Snow tries to plow over a question that simply lays out a simple point, namely, why does it matter that this program's existence has been brought to broader public knowledge? If terrorists financing experts would've known about SWIFT anyway, they would've found other ways to funnel money, and surely these experts weren't relying on the NY Times to find out that the info was being intercepted.

 

Q Well, given all that you're saying, and given the fact that it has been well known publicly that the government has endeavored to cut off the financial spigot, to use your term, why did the administration go to such intense lengths to stop the publication of something that people think is somewhat self-evident?

MR. SNOW: Because the means and methods by which we do it are not.

Q But the existence of this organization is no secret, either.

MR. SNOW: Are you kidding? Are you talking about Swift? When did you know about Swift before?

Q I'm talking about those in the —

MR. SNOW: — know about Swift before? (Laughter.)

Q While I don't, I can assure you that people in the financial community know.

MR. SNOW: I guarantee, you go talk to your local banker — you talk about —

The answer isn't found at my local bank branch. It's completely unfounded to say, as some administration supporters have, that "A productive and important investigative mechanism has been disrupted and greatly diminished" because this program has been brought to brighter public light. The financial experts funneling money for terrorists would have certainly known about SWIFT already, and, as the post above from Counterterrism Blog explains, they've already resorted to underground money transmitters (Hawalas) and hand-to-hand cash couriers.

 

The answer to the question, "why does it matter that this program's existence has been brought to broader public knowledge?" lies not in the exposure of the way the US has been attempting to track terrorist funding, but the simple fact that it's been happening.

 

Simply put, it's a twisted ankle for an administration that has two recent black eyes from the NSA surveilance program. They're beaten and bruised already, and by this program becoming more public, the program is not weakened in the slightest, but the Administration most certainly is.

 

Maybe we'll soon hear about the administration's legal justification for why it has been monitoring the health records of US citizens, in the hopes of tracking people that are attempting to obtain dialysis equipment to ship overseas to Osama bin Laden.

Snow: I Got Your Legal Authority, I Got It Right Heeeere

In Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Terrorism, US Politics on June 23, 2006 at 10:07 pm

So, on top of phone and emails records, we know the Bush Administration has been monitoring financial transactions of "suspected terrorists" Aside from this being the same language they used when they claimed only international phone calls originating in the US were being intercepted, we have a legal question about this. As posed to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow earlier today:

Q Why didn't the President seek congressional authorization for the program?

MR. SNOW: He didn't need to.

Q Why?

MR. SNOW: Because, why would he need it? Under what statute would he need congressional authorization?

Q On what legal — what is your legal basis for —

MR. SNOW: The legal basis — no, the legal basis here is that you've got an executive order and furthermore, if you want to get into the legal vagaries, I will send you over to the Treasury Department attorneys who have been working this.

Beautiful. Annnnddd regarding why the Administration pressured the NY Times from disclosing the story…

MR. SNOW: You're absolutely right, I do not know the specific statute, which is why I will present it to you.

Q But, again, why go to the extraordinary effort of trying to get news media to inform people what their government is doing?

MR. SNOW: Well, I'll tell you what, does CNN disclose what it does with the financial information or personal information of the people who log onto its website? Does The New York Times? Does The L.A. Times? Your organizations all collect personal data on people who use your services. But there's a second point —

Q Do you not understand the difference between private companies and governments, sir?

I'm just waiting for another government employee to lose thousands of records after illegally downloading them onto his laptop, bringing it home, and then having it stolen from his house (recent story). Or maybe just the info can get posted on a website (printed in tomorrow's Wash Post). 

We need this to be said bluntly: The hands of the US government are not a reliable place for sensative information about its citizens to be held.

 

This is gonna be a mess, I say, a go'dang mess.

Wresting Control from the US

In Economic Justice, International politics, International Trade, Laws & Regulation, US Politics on June 23, 2006 at 7:49 pm

On other internet-related news, there continues to be rumblings that ICANN, which currently is the US-controlled body that governs the internet, may have to cede some or even all of its power to a UN body. The UN Working Group on Internet Governance has laid out four options for the future governance of the internet:

 

 

Option One – create a UN body known as the Global Internet Council that draws its members from governments and "other stakeholders" and takes over the US oversight role of Icann.

Option Two – no changes apart from strengthening Icann's Governmental Advisory Committee to become a forum for official debate on net issues.

Option Three – relegate Icann to a narrow technical role and set up an International Internet Council that sits outside the UN. US loses oversight of Icann.

Option Four – create three new bodies. One to take over from Icann and look after the net's addressing system. One to be a debating chamber for governments, businesses and the public; and one to co-ordinate work on "internet-related public policy issues".

The UN Working Group recently set up a 46 member advisory group, that is one step in wresting sole control away from the US. The advisory group:

 

 

compris[es] representatives of government, the private sector, academia, technical experts and civil society, to help determine how it should be run. According to one member of the advisory group, Chris Disspain, CEO of Australia's Internet domain administrator, auDA, creation of the forum "marks a great opportunity for all the Internet's stakeholders from around the world to have a say on issues of Internet governance". According to Disspain, "The Internet works well at a technical level…However, there are many non-technical aspects of Internet governance that would benefit from multi-stakeholder input at an international level."

 

One ultra-conservative observer describes this battle for the governance of the cyber-commons by stating that if the UN is able to gain control of the internet from the United States, the international body will, "place it under the 'unbiased' control of China, Sudan, and Cuba." There is some serious outreach and public education that needs to be done on this issue.

This fight can not be placed in terms too grandiose. We must maintain Net Neutrality and urge for the overall governance of the internet be moved from the US to an accountable, transparent, democratic body.

The Internet As You Know it is in Danger

In Laws & Regulation, US Politics on June 22, 2006 at 10:14 pm

My blog partner keeley wrote an article earlier today about how the internet is having a major effect on the way people vote in elections, vote in polls, and how campaigns are run. This is huge, and it doesn't even count all the other ways the internet and communication have allowed people to express themselves and spread the word about issues that are important to them, polical or not.
But if certain companies have their way, all of that is about to change.

The issue is called Net Neutrality. Up until now, the internet has operated under the concept of Net Neutrality, meaning that people can write and read about whatever they want, i.e. blogs and message boards, etc. It also allows for people to create a presence on the internet cheaply or freely and be on an even playing field with big companies and politicians. But big companies are spending big money on lobby campaigns to have more control on the way people use the internet, while some politicians are giving in as well as realizing that the internet can be a threat to them.
Hip Hop journalist and activist Davey D has been writing a lot on this issue, and has become a big advocate for working to maintain net neutrality. Here is some of what he had to say in an open letter he wrote to the hip hop comunity about why people should care:

"Here's what's happening folks. The house has gone and passed the COPE bill and rejected proposals to insure Net Neutrality. Those who sided with the Comcast and Verizon are well aware that the ability of ordinary people to communicate to the masses is a problem because its been the only thing holding them accountable. For the last 5 years, the biggest stories about government corruption, corporate swindles, global warming and no weapons of Mass Destruction has come through Internet bloggers who were able to push an issue to the masses and force Fox, CNN and other News outlets to pay some sort of attention."

"Anyone who is an activist and championed causes ranging from Election fraud and Diebold Machines, police brutality Freeing Mumia, Global warming, Media Reform and Saving the South Central Farm in LA just to name a few this is will especially hit you hard, because the Internet and its neutrality provisions have enabled many of us to counter biased mainstream media outlets get information out about particular causes all over the world."

"Yesterday that ability took one step closer to coming to an end. The mantra being sung on Capitol Hill is Shut it down, Shut that shyt down and redirect traffic to a handful of places and media outlets that they can influence and control."

This is big. But as expected, it's not getting as much attention as it deserves. Below are a few resources to find out more, get you started, and get involved. Anyone who is interested in blogs, message boards, political news sites, open publishing, or any other tool that can be used as internet activism should look into this.

  • savetheinternet.com – major coalition working on the issue. They have frequent updates and a large number of resources. Check out their FAQs page about the issue.
  • Davey D's website. Check here for more articles and updates from the Davey D standpoint.
  • Hillary Clinton's letter to Allhiphop.com. Good quick read. I don't always like Hillary, but she got it right here.

Netroots Digging Deep

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2006 at 5:03 pm

A good piece in today's Guardian on the blogosphere's influence on the 2008 election:

Joe Lieberman has a fight on his hands. Until very recently, the three-term Democratic senator and former presidential candidate was cruising to re-election in Connecticut, his home state. But the 64-year-old grandee now finds himself in sudden danger of falling victim to a new political life form: the internet candidate.

Ned Lamont, a cable television entrepreneur, has come from nowhere to pose a serious threat, with the help of internet fundraising and anti-war bloggers outraged at Mr Lieberman's gung-ho support for the Iraq invasion.

Less than two months ago, the Connecticut senator was 27 percentage points ahead of Mr Lamont in the polls. By last week that had shrunk to six points, with seven long weeks to go before the Democratic primary election.

Over the weekend, in a sure sign of nerves, the Lieberman camp "went negative", producing a much-ridiculed attack advert in the form of a cartoon portraying the upstart as a bear cub running as a proxy for Republican interests.

What seemed at first to be a quixotic challenge to a Democratic titan is turning into an epic battle that could signal the direction the party will take.

It is a test of strength between the old way of doing politics built around a hierarchical party machine and the new campaigns fought by the so-called "netroots", who organise themselves and raise money on the web. The first netroots uprising was the Howard Dean insurgency, but when the former Vermont governor imploded as a candidate in 2004 the new politics lost some of its glamour.

If Mr Lamont stages an upset in the Connecticut primaries on August 8, it may signal the point of no return for American politics. "It will change the kind of person who goes into politics," said Arianna Huffington, who runs the political blog Huffington Post. "It will end the dominance of consultants who have been running campaigns in the same focus-group, poll-driven way that has taken the soul out of politics."

For the time being, this conflict between old and new is being fought out principally inside the Democratic party…

Read the rest of this worthwhile article here.

Bayer’s HIV Problems

In International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Laws & Regulation, US Politics on June 22, 2006 at 2:47 pm

From Reuters yesterday:

Bayer AG on Wednesday (June 21, 2006) said U.S. regulators approved its fully automated test for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The German healthcare company said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the test, called EHIV, which works by detecting antibodies to the virus. It is to be used on Bayer's ADVIA Centaur Immunoassay System. 

Lest we forget Bayer's shameful history relating to this disease, watch a very brief and very frightening MSNBC piece on Bayer's awful indiscretions.  Perhaps, at the very least, Bayer should offer millions of these automated tests to the nations which it knowingly and intentionally dumped the HIV virus on.

Here is more about that story from a May 2003 story in a leading French paper:

A division of the pharmaceutical giant Bayer in the 1980s sold a medicine to Asia and Latin America that carried a high risk of transmitting AIDS while it was selling a new, safer product in the west, The New York Times alleged Thursday…. The company also sought to save money by honoring several fixed-price contracts with the old product, which was cheaper to produce than the new, safer blood-clotting medicine, the daily said other company records suggest.

"These are the most incriminating internal pharmaceutical industry documents I have ever seen," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, who as director of the Public Citizen Health Research Group has been investigating the industry's practices for three decades.

In a statement to the daily, Bayer said Cutter had "behaved responsibly, ethically and humanely" in selling the old product overseas, adding that it did so because some customers doubted the new drug's effectiveness, because some countries were slow to approve its sale and because a shortage of plasma hindered mass production of the new medicine…

The New York Times said it was practically impossible to determine how many hemophiliacs in Latin America and Asia were affected by the company's sale of Factor VIII concentrate after February 1984 when the new product came out.

However, in Hong Kong and Taiwan alone, more than 100 hemophiliacs were infected with the HIV virus after using Factor VIII, and many since have died, according to records and interviews obtained by the paper.

Cutter also continued to sell the older product after February 1984 in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and Argentina, the daily alleged….

The Cutter documents were produced in connection with lawsuits filed by American hemophiliacs, which had gone largely unnoticed until the daily said it began asking about them.

In the United States, according to the Times, thousands of hemophiliacs were infected with AIDS from contaminated blood-clotting medicine.

 

Pastors for Peace

In Economic Justice, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Laws & Regulation, US Politics on June 21, 2006 at 9:44 am

Last night I went to an event in Northampton, MA that was hosting the Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba. This is the 17th year the organization, run under the umbrella of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, has pulled together this trip to bring awareness to the ugliness of the US led embargo against Cuba and to bring some humanitarian relief. All of this is done openly and without permission from the US government.

I and one of my best friends offered last night, and again this morning, to join this specific bus of the caravan going along the east coast of the US (there are many more buses traveling south throughout the country). If there is space on the bus, we will be joining the other travellers/ambassadors later this morning. This and the other caravans will meet in Texas, before passing through the border to Mexico and flying to Cuba for eight days in July.

I will be sure to keep people posted on the caravans progress, whether I am riding with them or not.

John Jay Offers Much Needed Opportunities to Prisoners

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2006 at 10:09 pm

I don't always turn to TV shows for information on social and political topics, but in an old episode of OZ i watched last night, one of the characters offered a thought provoking quote. The man, a prisoner, compares his own goals to those of a caseworker who aims to rehabilitate inmates by saying "You're trying to make this place better, i'm trying to destroy it."

While the two men disagree on the means to an end, they both agree that the state of the prison system is horrible. This leads me to the story of a program I read about in this weeks City Limits online magazine. A program that both characters could recognize the benefits of.

The program, called the College Initiave, was created by Episcopal Social Services in 2002 and picked up by John Jay College recently. This program offers a new way for incarcerated people to get an education – after they are released.

In the past, college programs for prisoners have been held within prison wallls. While these programs have proven to be very effective, much of the Federal and State funding for them has been cut back in the last ten years or so. The City Limits article outlines a brief history of this as follows:

"Efforts to educate prisoners got a boost in the 1970s, when post-secondary schools nationwide developed educational programs in prisons with the support of the federal Pell Grant, allowing incarcerated people to earn various degrees…"

"The results have been impressive: In a 2000 study conducted over three years, New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) reported that roughly 30 percent of women who didn’t attend college while in prison were re-incarcerated, compared to 8 percent of women who did attend college."

"Despite such evidence, federal funding for many prisoner college programs was eliminated by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act over a decade ago. More than 350 college programs established in prisons nationwide were shut down. New York followed suit and pulled state funds. Only a handful of college programs remain in New York prisons, including satellite programs of Bard College, Marymount Manhattan College, and Nyack College."

The College Initiative creatively offers similar possibilities for prisoners, but doesnt rely on these funding sources or college classes that take place within the confines of prisons. It reaches out to prisoners before they are released, helps them apply to college, offers a college prep program, helps them apply for financial aid, and in some cases even helps raise funds to assist prisoners in other aspects of their life while they pursue their degrees.

In a world where prisoners are released into society with little education, little to no job opportunities, broken links to community and family, and high rates of drug addiction and disease, a program like this offers a breath of fresh air. 

 

Here's a little background on prisoner reentry from The Urban Institute's review of But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry, a book by John Jay President Jeremy Travis (The full article can be found here):

"In 2002, more than 630,000 individuals left federal and state prisons, roughly 1,700 a day. Thirty years ago, just 150,000 men and women made a similar journey annually."

"In 1973, there were just over 200,000 people in state and federal prisons; in 2003, there were 1.4 million people. According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 5.6 million U.S. residents have served time in prison. At current incarceration rates, nearly 1 in 15 persons born in 2001 will be imprisoned during his or her lifetime."

"Former prisoners face significant hurdles as they exit prison. Most leave with low educational levels, extensive family obligations, prior criminal involvement, and poor ties to the workforce. This population is also contending with extraordinarily high levels of communicable diseases, chronic disease, mental illness, and drug and alcohol addiction. For instance, an estimated 16 percent of state inmates have a mental condition or have spent at least one night in a mental hospital or a mental health facility. Some 450,000 prisoners released each year abused drugs or alcohol before entering prison."

"Two-thirds of former prisoners will be re-arrested within three years of their release from prison, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly half will be convicted of a new crime, and a quarter will return to prison for these new convictions."

Cult of Personality

In Culture of Corruption, Laws & Regulation, US Politics on June 19, 2006 at 2:32 pm

homeland securityBennie Thompson had a strong post on The Hill's blog earlier today:

Why Did The Letter Come All Of A Sudden?
June 19th, 2006

The mysterious appearance of this letter, which details Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham looking to secure a contract for Shirlington Limousine with the Department of Homeland Security, on the day after the hearing and after intense media scrutiny would lead even the most trusting person to wonder what else is lurking in the catacombs of the DHS. This is all a bit too convenient. I can promise that this investigation will go forward and we will hold the top leaders of this Department accountable. If we can’t trust them to find a letter, how can we trust them to find a terrorist?
Posted by Miss. Dem. Rep. Bennie Thompson

For the background basics on Duke Cunningham's improprieties, check dKosopedia. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay sums up the Republican culture of corruption well with his take last week on Cunningham's actions:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) yesterday defended Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) after calls from congressional Democrats to investigate the Republican appropriator for selling his San Diego home to a defense contractor whose firm had received $65 million in federal funds in 2004.

“Duke Cunningham is a hero,” DeLay said during a press briefing Tuesday. “He is an honorable man of high integrity.”

World Bank’s Wolfowitz Picks Top Deputy

In International politics, International Trade, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Terrorism, US Politics on June 18, 2006 at 9:50 pm

ANA PALACIOThe Financial Times and Italy's API report that World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz has tabbed the first female Spanish Foreign Minister, Ana Palacio, as his top legal deputy. The API story explains:

Ms Palacio was the foreign minister in the Anzar government and supported the US intervention in Iraq. Wolfowitz, former vice secretary for Defence in the Bush administration, has always been seen as a bold member of the US government and at the Bank too is surrounded by leading conservative figures such as Robin Cleveland, Kevin Kellems and Suzanne Folsom. Ms Palacio has revealed to The Financial Times that she intends " to see that the law in the development process is respected", an issue than Wolfowits has always promoted as part of his policy against corruption. "Corruption – Ms Palacio explained – is the catalyst for the problems of governance".

So, we're all probably familiar with P. Wolfy [Straussian neo-con that had been plotting the invasion of Iraq years before September 11, 2001, etc etc etc], but a quick reminder on Ms Palacio may be in order. She is a trustee of the Canegie Foundation, supporter of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, was Chair of the EU's Committee on Citizen's Freedoms and Rights. This is likely a thank you for gift wrapping Spanish soldiers for the invasion of Iraq. I'd say to expect a similar appointment for an Italian loyalist minister, following Italy's recent beginnings of a pull out from Iraq.

Palacio may have put it best in her 2004 interview with the uber-conservative American Enterprise Institute:

My message to the United States is this: Never forget to empower your allies, because it’s very difficult today to be an ally of the United States in today’s Europe.

The World Bank: Movin' the battle from the warzone to the free trade zone, one appointment at a time.

No End in Sight for War in Iraq

In Uncategorized on June 16, 2006 at 12:49 pm

Yahoo news/Associated Press reports:

"The House on Friday [today] handily rejected a timetable for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq, culminating a fiercely partisan debate between Republicans and Democrats feeling the public's apprehension about war and the onrushing midterm campaign season."

"In a 256-153 vote that mirrored the position taken by the Senate earlier, the GOP-led House approved a nonbinding resolution that praises U.S. troops, labels the Iraq war part of the larger global fight against terrorism and says an 'arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment' of troops is not in the national interest."

While this doesn't come as a huge surprise, i'd just like to give a shout to Nancy Pelosi for the following quote

"Stay the course, I don't think so Mr. President. It's time to face the facts," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California answered, as she called for a new direction in the conflict. "The war in Iraq has been a mistake. I say, a grotesque mistake."

Just for fun, check out Nancy Pelosi's score on the League of Pissed Off Voters' scorecard.  This is a good tool for finding out where elected officials stand on a number of categories (based on their voting history).