04/10/2015 archive

John Oliver Takes on Surveillance Reform

The battle over citizens’ right to privacy and the government’s mass collection of private data that has nothing to do with protecting the country from terrorist attacks, is coming to a head on June 1. That’s when the Patriot Act’s section 215, the provision of the act that the NSA used to authorize its bulk telephone metadata collection program, must either be renewed by congress or it expires. The problem is the lack of interest by the American public. In an extended segment of his HBO program, “This Week Tonight,” John Oliver found a subject that might pique their interest, “dick pics.” He presented his idea to Edward Snowden in a one on one exclusive interview.

So why all the trouble? In theory, Snowden’s revelations are old, they have proven to be either inaccessible or not titillating enough for the American public, and Oliver already covered the issue himself on the show in an interview with former NSA chief General Keith Alexander less than a year ago.

As it turns out, Oliver wasn’t satisfied. Using the June 1 expiration of controversial sections of the Patriot Act as a peg, Oliver decided to revive the conversation anew by highlighting one specific aspect of the surveillance issue that a majority of Americans could relate to.

And Sunday’s final product is earning Oliver plaudits across the Internet. In the interview, Oliver accomplishes several feats. He’s not only funny (Snowden apparently misses eating Hot Pockets, the sodium vehicle of the American freezer section), but also incisive and tough. [..]

But most notably of all, Oliver might finally have pinpointed a way to make the debate about surveillance accessible to a wide audience. By honing on one aspect of the government surveillance, the capacity for intelligence agencies to access “dick pics,” he captures the attention and summons the outrage of numerous passersby in a filmed segment in Times Square. Many of those interviewed can’t properly identify Edward Snowden or don’t quite recall what he had done, but all recoil at the thought of government access to intimate photography.

Thanks to John’s interview and the above viral video, which at this posting has

4,723,977 views, the movement to end mass surveillance has new life.

Privacy advocates experienced a major setback in November when a surveillance reform bill, the FREEDOM Act, died in a Senate procedural vote. But now they’re back, and with a new, simple question for Americans – Can they see your junk?

Playing off Oliver’s hilarious skit, one privacy activist built cantheyseemydick.com, which breaks down how each NSA program could be used to access private communications. Despite its flippant tone, the website offers simple explanations of complex programs that are difficult to understand.

On a more serious note, a new coalition of privacy groups led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today launched the Fight 215 campaign calling for an end to the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

EFF activist Nadia Kayyali told TechCrunch the organizations launched the campaign today because of the impending deadline, but they were very excited about the Last Week Tonight with John Oliver skit and the attention it has already brought to surveillance reform.

With this campaign, the privacy advocates have taken a direct stance, end the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. [..]

Even with the new public attention on surveillance reform, privacy advocates face an uphill battle in Congress. Although surveillance reform is an issue that does not fall squarely on party lines, reform efforts in the Democratic-controlled Senate last year were thwarted primarily by Republican votes. Now Republicans control both chambers of Congress.

As the June 1 deadline approaches, no one in Congress has laid out a comprehensive plan to address government surveillance this year. Kayyali attributes the lack of action on the Hill to uncertainty.

“I think a lot of people, including people who want to see good legislation passed, weren’t certain where to start from,” Kayyali said. “It’s hard to say what Congress is thinking.”

As members look to form that plan, Kayyali hopes the new campaign will send them a clear message.

EEF and thirty other civil liberties organizations have launched a call in campaign, Fight 215. They will help connect you to your representatives to tell them to end mass surveillance.

Call Congress Now

Urge them to end mass surveillance under the Patriot Act.

What to say


I’m one of your constituents, and I’m calling to urge you to end the NSA’s unconstitutional mass surveillance under the Patriot Act.

NSA surveillance illegally invades my privacy, along with millions of other innocent people, without making me safer.

Ending phone record surveillance is the first step to reining in surveillance abuses by the NSA. The time to put pressure on congress is now.


Nothing to see here.

Stingray spying: FBI’s secret deal with police hides phone dragnet from courts

by Jessica Glenza and Nicky Woolf, The Guardian

Friday 10 April 2015 10.49 EDT

Multiple non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) revealed in Florida, New York and Maryland this week show federal authorities effectively binding local law enforcement from disclosing any information – even to judges – about the cellphone dragnet technology, its collection capabilities or its existence.

In an arrangement that shocked privacy advocates and local defense attorneys, the secret pact also mandates that police notify the FBI to push for the dismissal of cases if technical specifications of the devices are in danger of being revealed in court.

The agreement also contains a clause forcing law enforcement to notify the FBI if freedom of information requests are filed by members of the public or the media for such information, “in order to allow sufficient time for the FBI to seek to prevent disclosure through appropriate channels”.

The strikingly similar NDAs, taken together with documents connecting police to the technology’s manufacturer and federal approval guidelines obtained by the Guardian, suggest a state-by-state chain of secrecy surrounding widespread use of the sophisticated cellphone spying devices known best by the brand of one such device: the Stingray.

The Florida agreement – obtained from the Hillsborough County sheriff’s office by the Guardian after a series of Stingray-related Freedom of Information Act requests sent over the past seven months – reads in part:

“The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will, at the request of the FBI, seek dismissal of the case in lieu of providing, or allowing others to use or provide, any information concerning the Harris Corporation wireless collection equipment/technology, its associated software, operating manuals, and any related documentation.”

The provision for pushing cases for dismissal rather than reveal information about Stingray capabilities and scope, he said, represented “the FBI’s consistent policy of making local police maintain extraordinary and extreme secrecy”.

This kind of sweeping secrecy has led to tense exchanges in courtrooms, and the crumbling of prosecution’s cases, as they attempt to maintain secrecy. City councils may even be unaware that the police departments they oversee are using the devices if the local force has signed similar agreements with the FBI.

Now, defense attorneys appear to be catching on to the practice. In Tallahassee, Florida, the ACLU has amassed a list of more than 300 cases where they believe Stingrays have been used to locate clients, and at least one Florida case recently came undone when defense attorneys began to dig into the involvement of Stingrays.

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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: Where Government Excels

As Republican presidential hopefuls trot out their policy agendas – which always involve cutting taxes on the rich while slashing benefits for the poor and middle class – some real new thinking is happening on the other side of the aisle. Suddenly, it seems, many Democrats have decided to break with Beltway orthodoxy, which always calls for cuts in “entitlements.” Instead, they’re proposing that Social Security benefits actually be expanded.

This is a welcome development in two ways. First, the specific case for expanding Social Security is quite good. Second, and more fundamentally, Democrats finally seem to be standing up to antigovernment propaganda and recognizing the reality that there are some things the government does better than the private sector. [..]

And in the real world of retirement, Social Security is a shining example of a system that works. It’s simple and clean, with low operating costs and minimal bureaucracy. It provides older Americans who worked hard all their lives with a chance of living decently in retirement, without requiring that they show an inhuman ability to think decades ahead and be investment whizzes as well. The only problem is that the decline of private pensions, and their replacement with inadequate 401(k)-type plans, has left a gap that Social Security isn’t currently big enough to fill. So why not make it bigger?

Paul Rosenberg: Listen, it’s still their f**king fault: Bush, Cheney, neo-con drivel, and the truth about Iraq and ISIS

We can’t believe we have to explain 9/11, ISIS and Iraq again. But as the right’s lies add up, here goes

Foreign policy is already looming much larger in the 2016 election than it did in 2012. When Obama ran for re-election, the inescapable fact that Osama bin Laden had been killed on his watch (after Bush had admittedly lost interest in him) essentially foreclosed any serious foreign policy challenge from the Republicans. Hence the profound silliness of their Benghazi obsession, and Obama’s cool, detached debate invitation to “Please proceed…” [..]

At the moment, Obama’s historic nuclear deal with Iran is center stage, but the much more widespread geopolitical problem typified by (though not limited to) ISIS has a much more pervasive political influence. Case in point: the emergence of ISIS, with its provocative spectacles of violence have unexpectedly renewed American’s willingness to send troops to fight overseas, completely forgetting that this was precisely bin Laden’s reason for 9/11 in the first place: to lure the U.S. into a “holy war” with Islam. Election year dynamics being what they are, there’s no telling how badly this could turn out. So before we go off and blow several trillion dollars recruiting the next wave of terrorists, perhaps it would be a good idea to reconsider what we did the last time around.

Heather Digby Parton: The NRA’s open-carry clustermuck: How its annual convention highlights the hypocrisy of the pro-gun movement

The gun lobby jumps through hoops each year to comply with the same regulations they would much rather dismantle

Reports of road rage incidents resulting in gun violence are on the rise. In fact, they are now so common that newspapers report them as if they are fender benders. [..]

New laws that allow the open carry of loaded guns in public places – and such laws are springing up all over the nation – have resulted in even more terrifying confrontations: For example, parents are forced to deal with gun activists brandishing their firearms in front of their kids in a public park, shouting: “Look at my gun! There’s nothing you can do about it!” Likewise, workers in businesses serving the public are forced to deal with customers blithely slinging loaded semi-automatic weapons over their shoulders, or casually leaning firearms up against tables. These owners have little recourse but to pray they don’t become the victim of one of the thousands of firearm-related accidents that occur all over the country every year.

But never let it be said that the gun rights zealots are totally rigid in their thinking and have no common sense at all. I have written in the past about the odd hypocrisy of gun proliferation advocates in Republican state houses who refuse to people the right to carry firearms in their work places, even as they pass laws making everyone else work in a world where an angry person with a gun might very well lose his or her temper and decide to make their point with a bullet.

Conor Lynch: Patriotic bullies of the war-hungry GOP: The truth about its obsession with American exceptionalism

Dick Cheney’s ridiculous claims about Barack Obama this week fit into a longstanding right-wing tradition

It is a well known fact that liberals hate America, or as the always rational Ann Coulter once said, “even fanatical Muslim terrorists don’t hate America like liberals do.” While I would estimate that Islamic terrorists probably hate America just a tad more than liberals, it is true that liberals tend to be less brazenly patriotic than god-fearing, flag-waving conservatives. According to Pew polls, 81 percent of “business conservatives” often feel U.S. pride, while only about 40 percent of “solid liberals” feel the same way. It seems like liberals are just not as infatuated with the idea of America as conservatives are. [..]

But here’s the thing: Criticizing the actions of America seems to be a whole lot more patriotic than sitting back and buying into false talk of American exceptionalism, when reality tells a different story. One does not have to constantly feel pride about one’s country to be a patriot, and carrying on that way can blind a person when their country is actually on the wrong side.

So, yes, conservatives do tend to feel more pride in America than liberals do. But what does this really tell us? Not that conservatives are any more or less patriotic than liberals, but that they are more likely to be fooled by nationalistic propaganda. A rational person looks at their own actions, or their country’s actions dispassionately, and is able to admit when they are wrong. Blind patriotism is never able to make such an admission, and will resort to fairy tales in order to defend indefensible actions.

There are a lot of fairy tales in the United States. But true patriots live in the real world; when they see a problem with their country, they seek to expose and to change it – not mask it with ardent deception.

Russel Simmons: Governor Cuomo, We’ve Had Enough!

We marched through the cold snow, the winter nights, the brutal winds, the shivering rain… for justice. For months, we have not let up. We refuse to let the death of Eric Garner be in vain, so we have made demands, organizations joined forces and thousands of young people took to the streets. I am beyond disbelief that even though there is a glaring problem with the policies of policing in New York City and in our country coupled with an inherently flawed justice system, not one new law has been passed since a father of four was choked out on a hot, summer day last July in Staten Island. Mr. Governor, not one. [..]

You have to restore faith within the criminal justice system here in New York State. Without action, everyday it is deteriorates more and more. The country is at a breaking point. With the death of Mr. Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina over the weekend, we are witnessing the end of the rope. You must lead. If you have any ambition for office beyond our home state, now is the time to show the nation that you can make a decision to protect the people and restore confidence in our criminal justice system. There is much you can do and need to do besides this, but this should have been done by now.

Robert Borosage: The Republican Congress Votes for Dynasty Over Democracy

Next week as Congress returns, House Republicans will address what they consider one of the nation’s most pressing problems: relieving the tax burdens on multimillionaires — not the 1 percent but the wealthiest 0.2 percent, two of 1000 — by eliminating the estate tax. Its repeal will cost $269 billion over 10 years, but Republicans find the cause so compelling that they would add that sum to our deficits rather than struggle with “paying” for it.

The bill, of course, has no chance of becoming law. If necessary, the president will veto it. It is a message bill. Conservatives love to rail against what they have been taught to call the death tax. Republicans want voters — or more importantly billionaire donors — to know that, even with inequality at record extremes, with the wealthiest 0.1 percent of families possessing as much wealth as 90 percent of American families, they are on the case, standing strong to defend the inheritances of the sons and daughters of the privileged few.

The Breakfast Club (Renegades)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

Peace talks conclude in Northern Ireland with Good Friday agreement; the Titanic sets sail; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ published; Comedian Sam Kinison killed.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.

Khalil Gibran

On This Day In History April 10

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

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.

April 10 is the 100th day of the year (101st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 265 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1970, Paul McCartney announces the breakup of the Beatles.

The legendary rock band the Beatles spent the better part of three years breaking up in the late 1960s, and even longer than that hashing out who did what and why. And by the spring of 1970, there was little more than a tangled set of business relationships keeping the group together. Each of the Beatles was pursuing his musical interests outside of the band, and there were no plans in place to record together as a group. But as far as the public knew, this was just a temporary state of affairs. That all changed on April 10, 1970, when an ambiguous Paul McCartney “self-interview” was seized upon by the international media as an official announcement of a Beatles breakup.

The occasion for the statements Paul released to the press that day was the upcoming release of his debut solo album, McCartney. In a Q&A format in which he was both the interviewer and the interviewee, Paul first asked and answered a number of straightforward questions involving the recording equipment he used on the album, which instruments he played and who designed the artwork for the cover.

The Daily/Nightly Show (Trevor Noah II)

Oh yeah, tweets.  So yesterday was Monday, last week (between time change, Basketball, appointments, and visitors I’m getting very, very confused).  By Tuesday the real blowback had started centered around 8 admittedly unfunny tweets Trevor Noah made-

Frankly I don’t understand insult or physical comedy at all.  The Three Stooges leave me cold and if you’re going to insult someone better it should be like Groucho Marx and not Don Rickles.

Well, Art is Art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.

And yet intellectually I understand there is an audience for Jackass and Andrew Dice Clay.

On Tuesday (last week) damage control started-

Some more measured and thoughtful criticism-

The latest is that he stole jokes-

Milton Berle stole every joke he ever told.

Sigh.  I must admit I really want to like Trevor, just like I want to like Larry.  Larry’s show has gotten much, much better now that he’s had a chance to work out the kinks in the format (monologue, bit, panel (now only 3), Keeping it 100) and I expect the same will happen with Trevor.

And it isn’t fair for us to expect that he will be the same as Jon-