Daily Archive: 06/14/2013

Jun 14 2013

The 4th Amendment Need Not Apply

At Crooks and Liars, Suzie Madrak points out an important fact about private government contractors, the Fourth Amendment does not apply to them:

This has been an ongoing scandal in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Attorney Susan L. Burke represented several groups of plaintiffs (including Abu Ghraib detainees and female soldiers who had been sexually assaulted) in lawsuits in which she tried to overturn the civil immunity of government contractors. She has not been successful, and the federal government continues to subcontract with private companies to do things that would be illegal if they did them themselves. So keep that in mind as you read these NSA stories.

She highlights an interview with 70’s whistleblower, Chris Pyle at Democracy Now, who disclosed the military’s spying on civilian politics and worked for three congressional committees to end it.

Pyle discovered the Army and CIA were spying on millions of Americans engaged in lawful political activity while he was in the Army working as an instructor. His revelations prompted Senate hearings, including Senator Frank Church’s Select Committee on Intelligence, ultimately leading to a series of laws aimed at curbing government abuses. Now teaching constitutional law and civil liberties at Mount Holyoke College, Pyle says the NSA is known for attacking its critics instead of addressing the problems they expose.



Full transcript can be read here

CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Yes. The forerunner of the PRISM system that Snowden disclosed was called Trailblazer. It wasted $1 billion on private contracts. It replaced a much less expensive system called ThinThread, which had more privacy protections and had been developed inside the government. Now, the reason that private contractors get this business is because members of Congress intercede with them with government agencies. And we now have a situation where members of the Intelligence Committee and other committees of Congress intercede with the bureaucracy to get sweetheart contracts for companies that waste taxpayers’ money and also violate the Constitution and the privacy of citizens. This is a very serious situation, because it means that it’s much more difficult to get effective oversight from Congress. [..]

CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Well, we all want to protect the security of the country. We all want to protect the Constitution. But when government agencies are totally unaccountable, we can’t do that. Members of Congress do not go to those briefings, even if they’re offered, because once you go to the briefing, then you can’t talk about what you’ve been told, because it’s classified. So the briefing system is designed to silence Congress, not to promote effective oversight.

Members of Congress don’t want to spend time on oversight. They’re too busy raising money. New members of the House of Representatives this winter were told by the Democratic Campaign Committee that they should spend between four and six hours a day dialing for dollars. They have no time to do the public’s business. They’re too busy begging for money. President Obama himself attended 220 fundraisers last year. Where does he get the time to be president when he’s spending so much time asking wealthy people for money to support his campaign? [..]

CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Well, it’s true. The NSA doesn’t want to hire people like you and me. We don’t know enough about the Internet. That said, it’s important to note that the vice chairman of Booz Allen happens to be Mike McConnell, who was former director of NSA and of national intelligence. There is a revolving door between high government positions and private corporations, and this revolving door allows these people to make a great deal more money upon leaving the government, and then being rented back to the government in a contractor capacity. And that’s part of the corruption of the system. [..]

CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Well, yes. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, only binds the government, doesn’t bind corporations. That’s a serious problem. The reason we have privatization of prisons, in some ways, is for governments to escape liability. They put the liability on the private corporations that run the prisons, and they just charge their liabilities as an operating cost.

(All emphasis by Suzie.)

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, only binds the government, doesn’t bind corporations.

Got that? This is the key to the rational behind privatizing everything from schools and prisons to national security. Keep it in mind as you read anything about the NSA whistleblowing and Edward Snowden.

DSWright at FDL News Desk hits the nail on the head, Freedom isn’t free:

The National Security Agency along with the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies of the U.S. government has been swapping information with private companies. In exchange for private companies giving the intelligence agencies information on their users, the private companies receive access to classified intelligence. The Corporate State indeed.

   Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said.

   These programs, whose participants are known as trusted partners, extend far beyond what was revealed by Edward Snowden, a computer technician who did work for the National Security Agency. The role of private companies has come under intense scrutiny since his disclosure this month that the NSA is collecting millions of U.S. residents’ telephone records and the computer communications of foreigners from Google Inc (GOOG). and other Internet companies under court order.

No wonder the tech firms did not complain about spying on American citizens, they were getting compensation in the form of access to classified intel. So now Wall Street gets to see classified intelligence? No wonder there were no prosecutions, they’re on the team. Too Big To Fail, Too Big To Jail, and too important to National Security. The National Security Agency along with the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies of the U.S. government has been swapping information with private companies. In exchange for private companies giving the intelligence agencies information on their users, the private companies receive access to classified intelligence. The Corporate State indeed. [..]

No wonder the tech firms did not complain about spying on American citizens, they were getting compensation in the form of access to classified intel. So now Wall Street gets to see classified intelligence? No wonder there were no prosecutions, they’re on the team. Too Big To Fail, Too Big To Jail, and too important to National Security.

Quid pro quo, as well, as liability protection, all on the tax payer’s dime.

Jun 14 2013

You Can’t Patent Mother Nature

In a rare unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that human genes cannot be patented:

The case, AMP v. Myriad Genetics, revolved around Utah corporation Myriad Genetics’ exclusive patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which, when mutated, lead to a very high risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Because Myriad was the first to identify the BRCA genes, it patented them, charged exorbitant prices for BRCA testing, and then aggressively prevented any other labs from offering the same test. In 2009, a coalition of plaintiffs including the ACLU, Breast Cancer Action and a number of scientific organizations, researchers and patients sued Myriad, claiming that it had no legal right to hold patents on the BRCA genes.

In a majority decision written by Clarence Thomas, the court affirmed the plaintiffs’ claim that because DNA is naturally occurring, it “lie(s) beyond the domain of patent protection.” In so deciding, the court effectively reversed decades worth of policy by the US Patent and Trade Office, which has granted thousands of gene patents, many of which should now be rendered invalid.

The Court refuted Myriad’s claim that because it had put a lot of time and money into locating the gene, that it therefore deserved a patent: “extensive effort alone is insufficient” to make something patent-worthy. Basically, just because you tried really hard doesn’t mean that you deserve a multi-billion dollar legal monopoly.

This is great news for women, men, doctors, scientists and the world in the fight against breast and ovarian cancer. In a New York Times article about the impact of the ruling, other research companies said they would begin offering genetic testing which would bring down the cost and availability of the test, as well as, other tests held by patents:

Some experts say that other genetic tests that are exclusively controlled by a patent holder include the test for spinal muscular atrophy and the test for an inherited form of deafness.

Dr. (Sherri) Bale of GeneDx said the deafness gene also caused a skin disease. Her company is allowed to test for mutations that cause the skin disease, but if it discovers a mutation for hearing loss, it cannot tell the doctor. Instead, a new blood sample has to be drawn and sent to Athena Diagnostics, which controls the testing for the deafness gene. Dr. Bale said the court’s decision should eliminate the need for that arrangement.

It is often said that patents cover 4,000 human genes, or about 20 percent of all human genes, meaning the decision could have a large impact.

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now, in a discussion of the ruling, were joined by Judge Robert Sweet, the senior federal judge for the Southern District of New York who originally invalidated Myriad Genetics’ patents; Lisbeth Ceriani, one of the plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit. In May 2008, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer; and Sandra Park, a senior attorney with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and a lead counsel on the case.

“With the ruling today, we fully expect much better access and much better options for patients, as well as for scientists who want to look at different parts of the genome,” Park says. “They no longer now need to deal with patents on the thousands of genes on our genome when they’re engaging in their scientific work.”



Transcript can be read here

Jun 14 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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Paul Krugman: Sympathy for the Luddites

In 1786, the cloth workers of Leeds, a wool-industry center in northern England, issued a protest against the growing use of “scribbling” machines, which were taking over a task formerly performed by skilled labor. “How are those men, thus thrown out of employ to provide for their families?” asked the petitioners. “And what are they to put their children apprentice to?”

Those weren’t foolish questions. Mechanization eventually – that is, after a couple of generations – led to a broad rise in British living standards. But it’s far from clear whether typical workers reaped any benefits during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution; many workers were clearly hurt. And often the workers hurt most were those who had, with effort, acquired valuable skills – only to find those skills suddenly devalued.

So are we living in another such era? And, if we are, what are we going to do about it?

New York Times Editorial Board: Clarity on Patenting Nature

In a unanimous ruling (pdf) on Thursday, the Supreme Court correctly resolved one of the most important and complex disputes in a generation involving the intersection of science, law and commerce. The justices held that human DNA isolated from a chromosome cannot be patented because it is a product of nature. [..]

The court’s decision is a narrow one, recognizing the distinction the patent system must make between natural phenomena like DNA and the invention or discovery of “any new and useful … composition of matter.” The court held that synthetic DNA that is created in a laboratory is new and distinct from DNA and therefore patentable.

Shamus Cooke: Who Killed the Syrian Peace Talks?

The long awaited Syrian peace talks – instigated by power brokers Russia and the United States – had already passed their initial due date, and are now officially stillborn.

The peace talks are dead because the U.S.-backed rebels are boycotting the negotiations, ruining any hope for peace, while threatening to turn an already-tragic disaster into a Yugoslavia-style catastrophe…or worse.

The U.S. backed rebels are not participating in the talks because they have nothing to gain from them, and everything to lose.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Fighting For Our Classrooms, and For the Human Beings Inside Them

It seems as if the same battle is being fought in every aspect of American society. On one side are the forces of egalitarianism, economic opportunity and self-determination. On the other is a well-funded and entrenched elite bent on hijacking our media, our political process and our institutions for their selfish ends.

Sadly, the classrooms of this country haven’t been spared.

The Wall Street crowd wants us to think of education in terms of means – which usually means finding ways to spend less – rather than ends.  But when it comes to education, the “ends” are our children. And the means we choose for them, either consciously or through indifference, reveal who we really are as a people.

Norman Solomon: Clarity From Snowden — But Murky Response From Progressives in Congress

House Speaker John Boehner calls Edward Snowden a “traitor.” The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, labels his brave whistleblowing “an act of treason.” What about the leadership of the Congressional Progressive Caucus?

As the largest caucus of Democrats on Capitol Hill, the Progressive Caucus could supply a principled counterweight to the bombast coming from the likes of Boehner and Feinstein. But for that to happen, leaders of the 75-member caucus would need to set a good example by putting up a real fight.

Right now, even when we hear some promising words, the extent of the political resolve behind them is hazy.

Robert Reich: The Two Centers of Unaccountable Power in America, and Their Consequences

There are two great centers of unaccountable power in the American political-economic system today — places where decisions that significantly affect large numbers of Americans are made in secret, and are unchecked either by effective democratic oversight or by market competition.

One goes by the name of the “intelligence community” and its epicenter is the National Security Agency within the Defense Department. If we trusted that it reasonably balanced its snooping on Americans with our nation’s security needs, and that our elected representatives effectively oversaw that balance, there would be little cause for concern. We would not worry that the information so gathered might be misused to harass individuals, thereby chilling free speech or democratic debate, or that some future government might use it to intimidate critics and opponents. We would feel confident, in other words, that despite the scale and secrecy of the operation, our privacy, civil liberties, and democracy were nonetheless adequately protected.

Jun 14 2013

On This Day In History June 14

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on image to enlarge

June 14 is the 165th day of the year (166th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 200 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1777, during the American Revolution, the Continental Congress adopts a resolution stating that “the flag of the United States be thirteen alternate stripes red and white” and that “the Union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”

The Flag Resolution of 1777

On June 14, 1777, the Marine Committee of the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which stated: “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.” Flag Day is now observed on June 14 of each year. A false tradition holds that the new flag was first hoisted in June 1777 by the Continental Army at the Middlebrook encampment.

The 1777 resolution was most probably meant to define a naval ensign, rather than a national flag. It appears between other resolutions from the Marine Committee. On May 10, 1779, Secretary of the Board of War Richard Peters expressed concern “it is not yet settled what is the Standard of the United States.”

The Flag Resolution did not specify any particular arrangement, number of points, nor orientation for the stars. The pictured flag shows 13 outwardly-oriented five-pointed stars arranged in a circle, the so-called Betsy Ross flag. Although the Betsy Ross legend is controversial, the design is among the oldest of any U.S. flags. Popular designs at the time were varied and most were individually crafted rather than mass-produced. Other examples of 13-star arrangements can be found on the Francis Hopkinson flag, the Cowpens flag, and the Brandywine flag. Given the scant archaeological and written evidence, it is unknown which design was the most popular at that time.

Despite the 1777 resolution, a number of flags only loosely based on the prescribed design were used in the early years of American independence. One example may have been the Guilford Court House Flag, traditionally believed to have been carried by the American troops at the Battle of Guilford Court House in 1781.

The origin of the stars and stripes design is inadequately documented. The apocryphal story credits Betsy Ross for sewing the first flag from a pencil sketch handed to her by George Washington. No evidence for this exists; indeed, nearly a century had passed before Ross’ grandson, William Canby, first publicly suggested it. Another woman, Rebecca Young, has also been credited as having made the first flag by later generations of her family. Rebecca Young’s daughter was Mary Pickersgill, who made the Star Spangled Banner Flag.

It is likely that Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, designed the 1777 flag while he was the Chairman of the Continental Navy Board’s Middle Department, sometime between his appointment to that position in November 1776 and the time that the flag resolution was adopted in June 1777. This contradicts the Betsy Ross legend, which suggests that she sewed the first Stars and Stripes flag by request of the government in the Spring of 1776. Hopkinson was the only person to have made such a claim during his own lifetime, when he sent a bill to Congress for his work. He asked for a “Quarter Cask of the Public Wine” as payment initially. The payment was not made, however, because it was determined he had already received a salary as a member of Congress, and he was not the only person to have contributed to the design. No one else contested his claim at the time.

Jun 14 2013

Around the Blogosphere

 photo Winter_solstice.gifThe main purpose our blogging is to communicate our ideas, opinions, and stories both fact and fiction. The best part about the the blogs is information that we might not find in our local news, even if we read it online. Sharing that information is important, especially if it educates, sparks conversation and new ideas. We have all found places that are our favorites that we read everyday, not everyone’s are the same. The Internet is a vast place. Unlike Punting the Pundits which focuses on opinion pieces mostly from the mainstream media and the larger news web sites, “Around the Blogosphere” will focus more on the medium to smaller blogs and articles written by some of the anonymous and not so anonymous writers and links to some of the smaller pieces that don’t make it to “Pundits” by Krugman, Baker, etc.

We encourage you to share your finds with us. It is important that we all stay as well informed as we can.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

This is an Open Thread.

Our friend Cassiodorus at Voices on the Square, has the eighth article in his series This is a conservative country.

The PPACA FAQ project is up and running at Corrente, along with lambert‘s marathon rant on the ObamaCare Clusterf**k.

Corrente‘s DCblogger is keeping an eye on the Koch brothers with a link to the web site Koch Watch and libbyliberal remembers Germany 75 years ago. Also Rainbow Girl is keeping tabs on NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. On his way out after a 12 year reign, he’s making a land grab of public real estate for his wealthy subjects.

Dean Baker at his blog Beat the Press asks Why Does Reform of Fannie and Freddie Have to Mean More Profits for the Banks? He also points out that Home Prices are Not Affordable and we are Fighting Corruption in the Pharmaceutical Industry With a Water Pistol.

At FDL Action, Jon Walker reports on today’s Supreme Court ruling that Your Genes Are Safe From Being Patented. Also:

Bradley Manning’s trial has recessed until Monday, you can read FDL The Dissenter, Kevin Gosztola‘s Live Up Dates here and here. Also from Kevin:

At the FDL News Desk, DSWright reports:

Marcy Wheeler, at emptywheel, reports on that members of the House Intelligence Committee confirm that while these surveillance, data mining program are not secret, but revealing them will kill us all.

From the environmental bloggers at Grist:

From Mike Masnick at TechDirt, it’s about time somebody challenged this:

Also from Mike:

At Esquire’s Political Blog, Charles Pierce asks a simple question of the government: Tell Me What Is Being Done In My Name. So would we all. Follow the hashtag #InMyName on Twitter to demand to know.

The last words go to All In host Chris Hayes who reports on the continuing “War on Women” by Republicans:

Jun 14 2013

Just What We Need

You see, things are getting a little hot on the domestic front what with IRS-gate (probably no there there),  AP/Fox-Gate (it’s bad to spy on reporters), NSA-gate (Hey, no big.  We’re spying on everybody!), and the various policy failures (No Grand Bargain for YOU!  Mr. Deficit- he dead).

So we need a distraction.  Something that will revive that good old mindless U-S-A! U-S-A! chanting spirit.

I’ve got it!  How about another Middle Eastern war?

U.S. Confirms Syrian Government’s Use Of Chemical Weapons

By Hayes Brown, ThinkProgress

Jun 13, 2013 at 5:54 pm

The United States on Thursday confirmed that the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its own people, ending weeks of uncertainty over precisely who had unleashed the deadly agents.



That uncertainty apparently no longer exists within the U.S. intelligence community. According to a statement from the White House, the intelligence community now with a high-degree of confidence “estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks.” The White House also indicated that the United States is “going to make decisions about further action on our own timeline.”



President Obama has long called the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime a “red-line,” one that would be met with unspecified consequences if it were to be crossed. The determination that the line has been crossed has led to the Obama administration finally deciding to provide more and greater types of support to the Syrian rebels in their attempts to overthrow Assad.

On a call with reporters, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama has decided to give the rebels “military support,” but refused to directly say whether the U.S. had decided to arm Syria’s rebels, saying he was unable to detail every type of support the Syrian rebels will be receiving. Rhodes stressed, however, that this aid would be “responsive” to the requests of the Syrian Military Council and that it would be “substantively different” in “both scope and scale than what we have provided before.” The Obama administration has mulled arming the rebels for months now without pulling the trigger, instead insisting on only providing non-lethal aid.

Gee, didn’t we arm Osama Bin Ladin and Saddam Hussein?

What could possibly go wrong?