#muschniwogdowis of the day: “parallel construction.”

It is simply an invariable truth in the history of politics, in the history of government, that whenever a new power is acquired in the name of some threat, it always — not sometimes, not often, not usually —it always extends beyond its original application, beyond its original justification.
Glenn Greenwald (video @36:30)

Hey kids, it’s time to revisit the World’s Bestest Ever and Most Useful Ever Acronym Ever: #muschniwogdowis! And it will continue to be the bestest ever and most useful ever acronym ever until it is no longer true that Most US Citizens Have No Idea What Our Government Does Or Who It Serves.

Today’s fun topic is “parallel construction.” It comes to our attention via this piece in The Daily Beast:

AT&T Is Spying on Americans for Profit, New Documents Reveal
The telecom giant is doing NSA-style work for law enforcement—without a warrant—and earning millions of dollars a year from taxpayers.

Continue reading

IRIS ♥ BARRETT BROWN.

barrettbrown2

I vaguely knew of Barrett Brown. If you had asked me about him I would have suggested he’s someone tangentially related to Anonymous? Or maybe it was Wikileaks.

I could picture him from clips in documentaries, and I knew he had been prosecuted and imprisoned; for what, though, was never entirely clear to me. It turns out it was never entirely clear to the state either, but regardless, rather than face a Texas jury and a potential sentence of over 100 years [?!] for “crimes” that had journalists from all over the world shrieking in horror, Brown took a plea deal on lesser charges and is currently serving 63 months in prison.

Lucky for me (and now for you), I recently stumbled across some of his writing at The Intercept, and decided to dig a little deeper. Brown is an accomplished journalist, satirist and author; he co-wrote Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism, Intelligent Design and the Easter Bunny, a book comically skewering anti-evolutionists. He has written for the Daily Beast, Vanity Fair, The Guardian and other publications, and most recently The Intercept.

Also, this might be of particular interest to mah fellow godless heathens:

Brown served as the Director of Communications for Enlighten the Vote, an atheist PAC that provides financial and strategic assistance to political candidates that advocate strict enforcement of the Establishment Clause.

But while none of that was of particular interest to the agents in charge of protecting our Free Country™—with the exception of reviewing for The Guardian some rather revealing leaked emails— this most certainly was:

[Brown] founded Project PM, a research collaboration and wiki, to facilitate analysis of the troves of hacked emails and other leaked information concerning the inner workings of the cyber-military-industrial complex. Project PM aims to operate a wiki in order to provide a centralized, actionable data set regarding the intelligence contracting industry, the public relations industry’s interface with governments, the infosec cybersecurity industry, and other issues constituting what the project’s members regard as threats to human rights, civic transparency, individual privacy, and the health of democratic institutions.

Uh-oh.

As I noted recently, believing that “freedom of speech” is a cherished principle in these United States, or that the rule of law operates here, or that the US is a democracy, or that the permanent power factions in DC  (i.e. the deep state) even value the concept of democracy for anything other than the ease with which they can exploit it, is a mistake. A really big mistake. And in fact, I doubt Barrett Brown believes any of that himself. But I’ve come to believe that he very much values those principles, even if America’s Owners demonstrably do not.

That alone would be a very good reason to read his writing of course, but there are better ones: he is brilliant, fearless and really fucking funny.

Brown’s official statement following his sentencing will give you some idea of his smart-ass wit:

“Good news! — The U.S. government decided today that because I did such a good job investigating the cyber-industrial complex, they’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex. For the next 35 months, I’ll be provided with free food, clothes, and housing as I seek to expose wrongdoing by Bureau of Prisons officials and staff and otherwise report on news and culture in the world’s greatest prison system. I want to thank the Department of Justice for having put so much time and energy into advocating on my behalf; rather than holding a grudge against me for the two years of work I put into in bringing attention to a DOJ-linked campaign to harass and discredit journalists like Glenn Greenwald, the agency instead labored tirelessly to ensure that I received this very prestigious assignment. — Wish me luck!”

And some assignment it has turned out to be. Throughout his incarceration Brown has produced a series of hilarious and eloquent missives documenting the lawless shenanigans, petty tyrannies and farcical buffoonery presently manifest in every facet of our injustice system. He pulls no punches on the judge, prosecutors, FBI investigators, prison guards, wardens, DOJ officials, or indeed any agent of the state involved in his case or imprisonment. Brown doesn’t entirely spare himself, either. He is candid about his neurotic foibles and quixotic obsessions, his history of drug addicion and mental health problems, and the explicitly non-violent though “admittedly ill-conceived” threat he made in a YouTube video to investigate and dox the FBI agent who, in an attempt to coerce Brown into cooperating with the Feds against Anonymous, threatened to indict Brown’s mother for obstruction of justice (and eventually did).

Of another charge related to the video, Brown said:

A separate declaration I made to the effect that I’d defend my family from any illegal armed raids by the government, while silly and bombastic, was not actually illegal under the threats statutes. To judge from similar comments made by Senator Joni Ernst, it would not even have necessarily precluded me from delivering the G.O.P.’s recent response to the State of the Union address.

Hahaha.

But Brown isn’t quite as tough on himself as his critics are—and I don’t mean the DOJ.

Brown is a complex and problematic figure. He is not accepted by traditional journalists who don’t agree with the lines he blurred by participating in digital activism. Nor was he ever fully recognized by some members of Anonymous who resented his attention-grabbing public persona. They called him a “famewhore” more often than not, and Gawker’s Adrian Chen has called him a “a megalomaniacal troll.”

Unlike the Aaron Swartzes of the world, Brown is not a sympathetic character. It is difficult to martyr him. He’s been accused of being egomaniacal, paranoid, and stubborn. He is a recovering heroin addict. He chain-smokes more than the average Russian Bond villain. He’s unapologetic.

But if Brown is convicted, the ramifications for digital journalism and information sharing could be significant. The case raises serious questions about what we can legally share in the digital space, and where the government is willing to draw a line in the sand. Brown’s case could also set a precedent criminalizing actions like linking, which the New York Times, The Guardian, the Washington Post, and any other outlet that links to stolen files would be guilty of as well.

Even Chen, one of Brown’s most outspoken critics has said, “the charges against Brown give me shivers as a journalist.”

Of course it is not necessary to like the guy personally to appreciate his work and the sacrifices he has made on behalf of it, willingly and otherwise. Frankly, the fact that “traditional journalists” renounce someone is nothing short of a resounding endorsement, given what passes for our esteemed Fourth Estate these days. But even his most dedicated haters agree that Brown’s prosecution should be terrifying—and not just to media types either, but to all citizens of the Free World™. And to hear Brown tell it (and you should, you should definitely go hear Brown tell it), we don’t even have the whole picture.

But what should worry Americans most is not that the various frightening aspects of this case can fill a rather wordy article. What should worry them is that this is not even that article. The great bulk of the government’s demonstrable lies, contradictions, and instances of perjury are still sealed and thus unavailable to the public. Other matters are just now coming to light, such as the revelation, two days before my sentencing, that the D.O.J. had withheld from my defense team sealed chat transcripts from the Jeremy Hammond hacking case which contradicted its key claim that I was a co-conspirator in the Stratfor hack. And there are still other aspects of all this, such as the F.B.I.’s seizure of my copy of the Declaration of Independence as evidence of my criminal activity, that I blush to even commit to print, lest I not be believed, even despite the F.B.I. itself having now confirmed it.

One might wonder, as I do, whether Barrett Brown is either exceedingly foolish, or principled and, you know, brave. Truth be told, I have often wondered where that line exists, assuming it even exists at all. Maybe he is a megalomaniacal attention-seeker, and none of us could stand being in the same room with him for ten seconds. But even that would not preclude him from being exactly what he appears to be: an extraordinarily gifted writer and observer whose sole aim is to provide the rest of us with edifying dispatches from the darkest crevices of the sick and dying empire in which we find ourselves. (Lard knows Tom Friedman ain’t gonna do it, people.) Maybe it’s so exceedingly rare any more that we encounter the kind of adversarial journalism necessary to sustain a functioning democracy that Brown’s work stands out like a blinding beacon (if you’re like me and would prefer to know the truth about the state), or a big red bulls eye (if you’re the state and would prefer that no one know these truths). Either way, reading him is such a delicious pleasure that I have collected links to much of his work here, for the infotainment of us all.

The Guardian (Dec. 2010 – Jul. 2013)

Vice (Aug. 2013 – Dec. 2013)

D Magazine (Jan. 2014 – Jun. 2015)

Daily Beast (Jan. 2015: one article, immediately post-sentencing)

The Intercept (Jul. 2015 – present) Incidentally, Brown just won the National Magazine Award for his column in The Intercept. On February 1 when the award was announced, he was being held in solitary confinement, and not for the first time.

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For more about Brown’s case and/or to contribute to his legal defense fund, go to freebarrettbrown.org. You can also write to him:

Barrett Brown #45047-177
FCI Three Rivers
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 4200
Three Rivers, TX 78071

If you’d be inclined to send him a book his Amazon wish list is here (though it doesn’t appear to be updated as of this writing). But for fuck’s sake people, whatever you do, do not send him any Jonathan Franzen novels.

IRIS BARRETT BROWN.

Ask Iris: Should Anti-Abortion Activists Be Allowed to Harass Preschoolers?

[CONTENT NOTE: harassment.]

Q: Should Anti-Abortion Activists Be Allowed to Harass Preschoolers?

A: No.

THE END.

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This really should require no further explanation whatsoever. But since I’m snowed in because of a motherfucker of a blizzard, and my WIFI still seems to be working (so far…), I think I’ll spend a few minutes expounding upon “No.”

Anti-abortion activists should not be allowed to harass preschoolers.

Anti-abortion activists should not be allowed to harass anyone, and no one should be allowed to harass preschoolers.

No one should be allowed to harass anyone.

THE END.

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Jeezus, those winds are howling, and the view from my window is a complete whiteout:

whiteoutview

LIVE! FROM NEW YORK! IT’S…WINTER STORM JONAS!

I have a nice hot pot of coffee and a temporarily content kitty (is there any other kind?) so…hey, what the hell?

Some background.

A new Planned Parenthood clinic is currently under construction in Northeast DC, right next door to a school.

Over the past several months activists opposed to the clinic’s construction have been “purposely and aggressively menacing” school children as young as 3 years old with graphic images and language, causing “severe emotional stress,” according to a lawsuit filed in DC Superior Court by the school in December. Teachers have had to keep students inside at recess, and…with a larger crowd and a number of prominent antiabortion figures expected on account of the annual March for Life [sic], administrators decided to cancel school altogether.

The school closure cost [Bill Harper, parent of a 5- and  7-year-old students] $80 in extra childcare fees, but he was most angry about how the recurring demonstrations have disrupted the day-to-day educational experience for the students. “The whole school is focused on preventing the children from being terrorized. They’ve had to redesign the community,” he said, gesturing to black cloth draped across a fence to hide a playground. He told me that teachers sometimes have to take students on a long detour to reach the gymnasium across the street without encountering protesters. To Harper, they aren’t just a nuisance but a safety concern: One of the defendants named in the lawsuit, Robert Weiler Jr., was previously convicted of plotting to bomb an abortion clinic and shoot doctors in nearby Greenbelt, Maryland.

Why this particular terrorist wasn’t locked up for lifetime is perhaps a subject for another post, but I would be remiss if I did not make a few points about the d00d here.

“From all indications, it appears he was acting alone,” said Gregory K. Gant, the special agent in charge of the ATF’s Baltimore field division.

He’s a white terrorist, you see. And as we all know, white terrorists operate in a cultural void, and in any event they are uniquely impervious to violent rhetoric and ideologies. Also, we must be careful not to implicate a white terrorist’s race, nationality and/or religion in producing such terrorists: he is simply “Lone Wolf” No. 194,801.

Agent Gant also said this:

“In some ways, it could have been a bigger threat because it wasn’t something we were tracking, and we didn’t see it coming.”

Surveillance state: FAIL. While the state is quite keen on deploying counterterrorism tactics to infiltrate and monitor citizens opposed to U.S. economic policy, immigration policy, harmful trade agreements, union-busting, racial profiling, the death penalty, Israeli violence against Palestinians, endless wars, etc., white terrorists operating on US soil just aren’t people law enforcement would ever thinks to track. I mean, gosh, how could anyone possibly ever see anything like this coming?

But I digress. Back to the Forced Birth Bozo Brigades.

The lawsuit describes the protests as a form of coercion, intended to draft parents and administrators into a campaign to block the clinic from opening next door. The antiabortion activists “have promised they will ‘be back every week’ if the students and parents do not take action against the Planned Parenthood health center,” the complaint alleges. Protesters have shouted at children to “Tell your parents they kill kids next door.” In November, an activist named Jonathan Darnel sent an e-mail to school administrators that read, “I am not threatening you. Nevertheless, if you are failing to challenge Planned Parenthood, I feel a moral obligation to alert the community (including the parents of your students) myself…. I’m sure you don’t want to see me, my antiabortion friends and our graphic images any more than we want to be in your neighborhood.”

Defendant Larry Cirignano was at the protest on Thursday, wearing a banana-yellow tie stamped with the words “choose life.” I asked him if he was at all concerned for students who were disturbed by the images and messages he and other demonstrators present to them. “I’m worried more about the kids who are in the pictures,” he responded. “It’s sad that the school and parents didn’t think they should get involved.” Gesturing at the group waiting to hear [David Daleiden, the shitweasel behind the recent deceptive video campaign intended to take down Planned Parenthood] speak, he said, “Most of these people aren’t from around here.” Cirignano said he’s being represented by Mat Staver of Liberty Council, who also represents Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis.

These are just fantastic people: respectful, kind, informed, tolerant, exactly the kind of community exemplars you would definitely want to have around small children.

What to do about it.

As the lawsuit winds its way through the courts, it is worth remembering that the US Supreme court struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone law around women’s clinics—ones that were already open and operating, not construction sites. The justices so ruled from the safety and sanctity of their very own buffer-zone protected place of work.

scotusbarrier-500x598

As I noted at the time, that decision was unanimous—thus rendering the entire Supreme Court as currently constituted not just a bunch of flaming hypocritical @$$holes, but complicit in providing material support to terrorists.

As that’s how the state of affairs stands, I propose a simple strategy of tit-for-tat. To wit: picket the schools where the protesters’ children attend. Hold up giant posters picturing women killed and imprisoned as a result of anti-choicers—most prominently the photo of Geraldine Santoro taken at the scene of her death from a self-abortion attempt.[WARNING: extremely graphic violent image, NSFW.] Shout in the kids’ faces “Your parents want to kill mommies!” “Your parents like killing poor mommies!” “Your parents want to put poor mommies in jail!”

Stop when they stop.

Why no one will do this.

Because it’s fucking horrible, that’s why—even though it is, apparently, legal. Pro-abortion activists like to think of ourselves as better people than our enemies. And of course we are, demonstrably so: you don’t see us going around firebombing right-wing churches and shooting anti-abortion ringleaders, do you? We are certainly “above” directing such reprehensible tactics at innocent children, or frankly at anyone at all.

And therein lies our dilemma. Just think for a moment about what it actually takes for conservatives to change their minds, and not just about this issue but about anything. Global warming, for-profit healthcare, creationism, gun access, immigration, the unbroken record of failure of right-wing economic policy and governance, take your pick. Evidence is not enough. Epic calamities are not enough. Personal calamities are not enough. Experts who know what they’re talking about are not enough. These people cannot be reasoned with, and yet they are winning. There is no denying that their tactics, however reprehensible, are nonetheless effective.

It’s quite the conundrum, no? It certainly leaves me contemplating whether I ought to rethink that “No.”

__________

I hope this edition of Ask Iris has been helpful.

Have a nice day.

Monday funnies.

Two things made me giggle:

1. A high school kid hacked CIA Director John Brennan’s AOL account. He also hacked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s Comcast email, and says he listened to his voicemails too. When they catch him they’ll probably throw the book at him (cyberterrorism!), which is not funny. Like, at all. But as these two surveillance state kingpins have instant access to pretty much every single thing we do, the kid’s stunts are more than a little hilarious, no?

2. ‘Pharma Bro’ Martin Shkreli getting pwned on Twitter. For example:

LMAO.

palacehappyface

Brave New World.

amazonrecs Allegedly “inspired” by my recent browsing history—a 3 lb bag of apples that I am quite sure I never viewed (I’d buy Greenmarket apples, hello?)—Amazon has helpfully suggested the following products for me:

an 8 oz. bottle of coyote urine
1,500 live ladybugs
a $600 stage fan with wireless remote (“Great for blowing fog!”)

And now that I have actually viewed these items, OMFG I cannot wait to see what product suggestions Amazon will have for me next! How about a big rubber fish head mask? Glow-in-the-dark toilet paper? An iPhone case made out of astroturf? Ooh! Ooh! A Donald Trump board game!* The possibilities truly boggle the mind.

Another thought occurred to me, and I really have to check myself here because it sounds more than a little paranoid. See, I’m pretty sure Amazon.com employs some of the most sophisticated software available to generate product suggestions. These programs keep track of everything I’ve ever viewed and purchased from Amazon of course, and probably every other online transaction I’ve ever made and website I’ve visited, my Facebook posts and Tweets, what I ate for lunch today, plus whatever else can be hoovered up by Big Data bots. Naturally, Amazon also tracks what its other customers bought after they viewed a three pound bag of apples, and all of this information is compiled and analyzed for the purpose of generating ads for those products and services I am most likely to purchase. That’s its entire raison d’être: to extract the maximum amount of cash from the Palace treasury as efficiently as possible. And somehow, all of this data mining and number crunching has culminated in a prediction that I just might be in dire need of a $10 bottle of coyote piss.

Are you with me so far? Okay good.

The United States government presently deploys thousands of federal, state and local organizations to engage in domestic surveillance for the purpose (allegedly) of counterterrorism—although as Loyal Readers™ well know, these programs are spectacular failures in this regard, and one never needs to look very far or wait very long for even more evidence of this rather critical fact that is never, ever mentioned in media coverage. Based on what we know for certain, surveillance agencies such as NSAC use big data analysis just like Amazon does, except that instead of generating tempting ads for coyote pee, the objective (again, allegedly) is to discover terrorist suspects and so-called “clean skins.” That is,

“people with no known affiliation to terrorism or crime, needles in a giant haystack that don’t necessarily look like needles. Or people who aren’t needles at all, but who might become needles in the future and thus warrant observation today.”

In other words, the data sets and search algorithms are different, but the underlying concept of predictive software is the same. But how good is the government’s technology at identifying potential terrorists: does its software serve up better or worse results than Amazon’s coyote secretions?

The question is more than academic. Because what’s at stake here is much bigger than the potential US market for coyote urine (how do they even gather that by the way…?). It’s the likelihood that any one of us can be designated a potential terrorist threat by the state, based on data that may not even be accurate: recall that I neither searched for nor viewed (much less purchased) a bag of apples in the first place. It’s one thing to write fun blog posts about Amazon’s bizarre product suggestions, but just try arguing that the government’s data is wrong at your military tribunal.

And it’s not just the false positives that matter, it’s the misses. Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, a 24-year-old Jordanian national born in Kuwait who visited the Middle East last year, just shot up a military recruitment center in a Chattanooga strip mall before attacking a Naval reserve center seven miles away, killing four Marines and wounding three others. He used an AK-47 style weapon‎ and had a fuckton of ammo in 30-round magazines. Yet before the shooting, none of his activities generated surveillance alerts or investigations by law enforcement?

All of which is to say—yet again—that mass surveillance is worse than useless, at least for its purported purposes.

Hey, does anybody have any good recipes for coyote pee?

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*Yes, these are all actual things sold on Amazon. Our civilization is imminently doomed, FYI.

Still more proof that the NSA debate is total bullshit.

Anybody remember when Bushco proposed to implement a “Total Information Awareness” program to track everyone and everything all the time? Even in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks citizens balked at mass domestic surveillance, and that is really saying something, my friends. I watched in dumbfounded horror as New York City liberals—liberals!—soiled themselves and coughed up excuse after excuse for the evisceration of civil liberties, authoritarian law enforcement tactics and flagrant violations of the constitution and the Bill of Rights that upturned centuries of foundational US law. But going Big Brother on all of us? Well that was a step too far.

It would surprise exactly no one that Bushco went right ahead and did it anyway until Congress shut it down, and then reconstituted it immediately. Nor should it come as a shock to anyone that under Obama the program was renamed and recalibrated with an essentially unlimited mission, to include all “national security threats…to the United States and its interests.” (And we all know what that encompasses.) This time around, the agency would be different:

neither solely a part of the intelligence community (IC) nor solely a law enforcement agency (and yet both), it skirts limitations that exist in each community, allowing it to collect and examine information on people who are not otherwise accused of or suspected of any crime.

Ladies and Gentlemen and People of Other Genders and/or No Gender Whatsoever: I present to you the National Security Analysis Center (NSAC), “an obscure element of the Justice Department that has grown…into a sprawling 400-person, $150 million-a-year multi-agency organization employing almost 300 analysts, the majority of whom are corporate contractors.” NSAC is just another one of dozens of government agencies conducting mass surveillance on US citizens suspected of no crime—and is therefore not subject to any purported limitations placed on the US Department of Defense’s NSA.

[T]he Center can not only gain access to the full gamut of intelligence databases of the U.S. government [including NSA’s], but also query and retain information contained in law enforcement and commercial data.

Using big data analysis to discover non-obvious and even clandestine links, the Center looks not just for suspects, but for what the counter-terrorism world calls “clean skins”—people with no known affiliation to terrorism or crime, needles in a giant haystack that don’t necessarily look like needles. Or people who aren’t needles at all, but who might become needles in the future and thus warrant observation today.

Pre-crime, anyone?

If you have a telephone number that has ever been called by an inmate in a federal prison, registered a change of address with the Postal Service, rented a car from Avis, used a corporate or Sears credit card, applied for nonprofit status with the IRS, or obtained non-driver’s legal identification from a private company, they have you on file.

I for one am glad at least someone is monitoring me because I forwarded my mail when I moved PLUS I used my Macy’s card to buy Christmas presents. Who knows what evil terrorist shenanigans I could be contemplating right this very minute? Or next week or next month or next year and what about that huh?

skaredThe linked article concludes:

An internal document provided to Phase Zero describes the Task Force as organizing “data from many divergent public, government and international sources for the purpose of monitoring the electronic footprints of terrorists and their supporters, identifying their behaviors, and providing actionable intelligence to appropriate law enforcement, government agencies, and the intelligence community.” And their supporters. And their supporters. And their supporters. How many mouseclicks away is your name?

None. And if you’re a US citizen, the same is true for you: we are all terrorists now. See you all at Guantánamo! OMG I hear the weather’s great!

More proof the NSA surveillance debate is a total sham.

AP did some good investigative reporting and published this story yesterday:

FBI behind mysterious surveillance aircraft over US cities

By JACK GILLUM, EILEEN SULLIVAN and ERIC TUCKER
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is operating a small air force with scores of low-flying planes across the country carrying video and, at times, cellphone surveillance technology – all hidden behind fictitious companies that are fronts for the government, The Associated Press has learned.

The planes’ surveillance equipment is generally used without a judge’s approval, and the FBI said the flights are used for specific, ongoing investigations. In a recent 30-day period, the agency flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states across the country, an AP review found.

“The FBI’s aviation program is not secret,” spokesman Christopher Allen said in a statement.

And technically this is true: as the AP piece notes, “A 1990 report by the then-General Accounting Office noted that, in July 1988, the FBI had moved its “headquarters-operated” aircraft into a company that wasn’t publicly linked to the bureau.” But then the spokesweasel says this:

“Specific aircraft and their capabilities are protected for operational security purposes.”

Also:

The surveillance flights comply with agency rules, an FBI spokesman said. Those rules, which are heavily redacted in publicly available documents, limit the types of equipment the agency can use, as well as the justifications and duration of the surveillance.

Got that? The existence of the FBI’s aviation surveillance program is not secret. However, everything about the FBI’s aviation surveillance program is secret. But not to worry: they are complying with their own secret rules that they made in secret.

Then the spokesweasel says:

Allen added that the FBI’s planes “are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance.”

O rly?

The FBI does not generally obtain warrants to record video from its planes of people moving outside in the open, but it also said that under a new policy it has recently begun obtaining court orders to use cell-site simulators.

A cell-site simulator, in case you were wondering, mimics a commercial cell tower, thereby tricking cell phones in the region into providing identifying information, even if the phone is not in public or actively using a cellular network (i.e. on a call or texting). This technology can effortlessly sweep up thousands of identities. So while the official FBI spokesweasel says its planes “are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance,” it turns out that other official spokesweasels interviewed by the AP say that use of cell-site simulators is “rare.” So which is it, nonexistent or rare? And rare compared to what? Capturing HD video of the public without warrants? Get your shit together, official spokesweasels!

President Barack Obama has said he welcomes a debate on government surveillance, and has called for more transparency about spying in the wake of disclosures about classified programs.

Hahaha. Sure.

The Obama administration had until recently been directing local authorities through secret agreements not to reveal their own use of the devices, even encouraging prosecutors to drop cases rather than disclose the technology’s use in open court.

TRANSPARENCY!!!11!!!

A Justice Department memo last month also expressly barred its component law enforcement agencies from using unmanned drones “solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment” and said they are to be used only in connection with authorized investigations and activities. A department spokeswoman said the policy applied only to unmanned aircraft systems rather than piloted airplanes.

According to my Ladylogic™, that means piloted aircraft can indeed be used solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment.

“Aircraft surveillance has become an indispensable intelligence collection and investigative technique which serves as a force multiplier to the ground teams,” the FBI said in 2009 when it asked Congress for $5.1 million for the program.

“Force multiplier” is a military term. Hell, I’m actually surprised they used the words “ground teams” instead of “boots on the ground.” Of course all of this technology comes out of our disastrous War on Terror generally, and drone use specifically. In other words, America’s Owners (Military-Industrial Weasel Division) have seen to it that domestic law enforcement is a lucrative and booming market for their war toys, which necessarily means that the US public is the intended target. Need I remind anyone that virtually all of this is paid for by taxpayers? Or that we are all terrorists now in the eyes of the state?

Among many other salient facts apparently lost in the NSA reform “debate”—like the fact that none of these domestic surveillance programs work for their alleged purposes—is that NSA is only one of many local, state and federal agencies, including the FBI, funneling surveillance intel to fusion centers. Loyal Readers™ should not be surprised to learn that a two year Senate investigation into fusion centers “could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot.” But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been very busy treating enormous swaths of the citizenry as threats to national security: anti-war and peace activists, Muslim lobbyists, abortion rights activists, environmental groups, third-party voters and motorcycle clubs. The Maryland State Police put anti-death penalty and anti-war activists in a federal terrorism database; a foreigner with an expired visa who had been caught shoplifting shoes at a Neiman Marcus was added to the list of “known or appropriately suspected” terrorists. The right isn’t spared*, either: fusion centers have tracked Tea Party groups, a Second Amendment rally, Ron Paul supporters and pro-lifers.

Tl:dr: The idea that even the most radical, ACLU-endorsed reform of NSA’s activities will in any way hinder the surveillance state is laughably absurd.

As is often the case, David Bowie, Brian Eno and Trent Reznor perfectly sum up my view:

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*This should go without saying, but in case it does not: as much as I hate conservatives—and I do, I really, really hate conservatives—I do not want them subject to blanket surveillance either. There are constitutional law enforcement methods of investigation that cannot possibly be less effective (or any more expensive) for preventing terrorism than mass surveillance, with none of the downsides. Unless, just maybe, that is not actually what these programs are designed to do…? Oh, I forgot to mention: another source of the intel sent to fusion centers is “the private sector.” I’ll let you ruminate on what exactly that might entail, but I’m pretty sure they rhyme with Oldman Hacks, A.B. Organ Face, Crank Love Numerica and ShittyStank.

OMFG WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE REAL SOON!!!11!

YOU GUYS!!!

Patriot Act provisions have expired: What happens now?

Washington (CNN) As a new day comes to Washington, the U.S. government now officially finds itself with fewer tools to investigate terrorism.
The Senate entered a debate period late Sunday on the Patriot Act that pushed beyond the midnight deadline. With the debate ongoing, that effectively ends the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program.

President Barack Obama and government officials spent last week warning of serious national security consequences…

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said last week the United States would face a “serious lapse” in national security.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement on Friday the United States “would lose entirely an important capability that helps us identify potential U.S. based associates of foreign terrorists.”

“Serious national security consequences,” people. And it’s not like James Clapper would ever lie! I’m very concerned, though, that government officials muttering “national security” no longer casts a magic spell that causes everyone to shit themselves and unconditionally agree to lawless violations of the constitution and all manner of un-American fuckery to Keep Us Safe™.

I kid, I kid. As Loyal Readers™ know, none of this shit keeps us safe, and I’m not convinced it was designed to do so. It hasn’t even kept the White House lawn safe from a d00d with a lawn chair strapped to his ass. In fact, if you bother to slog through that CNN article I quoted above, near the bottom you will find this gem:

As it stands, several official review boards — including a presidential review group and a government privacy oversight board — found that the bulk metadata collection program was not essential to thwarting a single terror plot.

BOOM.

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I will never, ever miss an opportunity to demonstrate unequivocally to shrieking liars like the president and the citizens who get their “news” from mainstream media and think they’re informed: the surveillance programs do not work for their alleged purposes, and they are being used on targets that have nothing to do with terrorism whatsoever. The following two points should appear in every single piece of serious reporting about U.S. surveillance programs:

Terrorist attacks have indeed been thwarted—not by NSA surveillance, but by ordinary citizens.

  • Despite NSA’s massive surveillance operations, Richard Reid, the would-be “Shoe Bomber” managed to get a bomb on board an American Airlines flight to Miami. When he tried to set it off, passengers smelled smoke, subdued him and bound him up. Hello? NSA? Hello?
  • Then, with their amazing and vast surveillance powers and a heads up from CIA, US intelligence officials actually let suspected al-Qaeda collaborator Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab board a flight to the US. They were planning to let him into the states, too: they knew he was coming, and refused to let his visa be revoked. Unfortunately, he had a bomb in his underwear on the flight. Passengers subdued him, too. Thanks again, NSA.
  • Then there was Faisal Shahzad, the would-be “Times Square Bomber.” A t-shirt vendor noticed smoke coming out of an awkwardly parked SUV and alerted a mounted police officer, who called for assistance. The area was safely cleared and the bomb was defused. Law enforcement investigated over the next few days and narrowed in on Shahzad as the prime suspect. They put his name on the No Fly List (which even a known al-Qaeda collaborator wasn’t put on). Still, Shahzad was nonetheless able to buy a ticket to Dubai with cash at JFK airport, and board the plane. The flight was a few minutes from takeoff before the authorities caught up with him. The plane returned to the gate and he was arrested without incident.
    T-shirt vendor: 1. NSA surveillance: 0.
  • Even lawn chair copter d00d announced his exact plans a year ago on his blog, then in his hometown newspaper, and in a video posted online by The Tampa Bay Times. And the Secret Service only investigated him because they were tipped off… by a concerned citizen.

The Boston bombing case should have unplugged the entire surveillance state apparatus immediately and permanently. The U.S. government was tipped off twice about Tamerlan Tsarnaev by the Russian Federal Security Bureau. He had been on a terrorist watch list watch for eighteen months before he and his brother set off bombs that killed three people and injured 264 others at the scene. WHERE THE FUCK WAS THE NSA. I’ll tell you where they were—which brings me to point 2.

While NSA is very busy not stopping terrorists, their programs are used for other purposes.

First, it’s important to note than none of this surveillance is limited to the NSA, either. For years NSA, FBI and CIA agents would sit around all day playing World of Warcraft, Second Life and a bunch of mobile app games, based on some cockamamie rationale about their ability to flush out terrorists by playing online video games. This wasn’t just a handful of rogue dudebros, either: there were so many agents playing that they had to set up “deconfliction” groups just to make sure they weren’t accidentally spying on each other. It would be hilarious if only this were all they ever did. But it isn’t.

To the extent all of this domestic surveillance has ever had anything to do with terrorism, it has been an epic fucking failure. To the extent it doesn’t have anything to do with terrorism, shouldn’t we be talking about that? I’ve written before:

And what possible coherent justification can there be anyway, for laws and powers supposedly targeting only suspected terrorists not to be used against ordinary citizens suspected of minor crimes? That is the very reason to object to unconstitutional surveillance in the first place: because we already know how this movie ends from, you know, all of history—including the recent history of the United States. That is what governments invariably do whenever they can get away with it: entrench their own power and suppress dissent.

And you have to give the media points for sheer gall for reporting on the Chinese industrial espionage story without mentioning NSA’s industrial espionage.

Anyway, despite the alarmist headlines today—only moments ago I got a notification from The Washington Post with the chilling title “The NSA’s call logs go dark”—there isn’t even a fucking story here: the Senate is expected to restore the expired Patriot Act authorities in a couple days. Unless we all die from terrorist attacks in the meantime, obviously.

Have a nice day.

palacehappyface

Major Award: Protestor Pilot of the Week.

It’s only Wednesday but we feel quite confident calling it early: Doug Hughes is the recipient of Perry Street Palace’s highly coveted Major Award® for Protestor Pilot of the Week:

On Wednesday, Hughes, a 61-year-old mailman from a small town on Florida’s Gulf Coast who dearly wants campaign finance reform, flew his fragile little ultralight gyrocopter through some of the most closely protected airspace on the planet and landed it on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. He called it Project Kitty Hawk.

Project Kitty Hawk. Hahaha. Awesome.

He said he felt compelled to do what he could to halt corruption in the nation’s capital. He attached a big U.S. Postal Service insignia to the aircraft fuselage, loaded it onto a trailer last Friday, and drove north. He would not go postal, but rather airborne, to deliver 535 letters to members of Congress urging them to tighten the rules on money in political campaigns.

 …

Hughes, who was spurred to political activism by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision striking down limits on campaign donations by corporations and unions, wrote on his blog that he hoped his “special delivery” stunt would “change the narrative” and bring voters together to insist on “honest government. . . . Corruption in Washington, D.C. has robbed the U.S. citizens of the representative government that is our birthright.”

The letters Hughes was carrying said he was “declaring a voter’s rebellion.”

doughughesflyingOMFG this guy.

While Loyal Readers™ may recall a righteous rant or two on the surreal horror show we all now live in known as the land of Citizens United, I offer this as a refresher:

[The] shitweasel majority on the high court overturned a century of precedent and decades of campaign finance reform laws, essentially holding that corporations = people, and corporate cash = protected speech under the First Amendment. These twin delusions are massive affronts to democracy, logic and reality, so easily debunked even a young child could do it…

‘Cause here’s the thing: corporations are not people.

CORPORATIONS. ARE. NOT. PEOPLE.

For one thing, unlike people, they can potentially live forever. That makes them immortal. You know, like vampires. Or possibly tardigrades. But definitely not like people…unlike people, corporations cannot be put in prison for the crimes they commit:

prisonpopincrease[h/t Sally Strange via Cory Booker]

So these “people” are immortals who are never subject to the same rules of law and justice as everyone else. Is any of this starting to sound to you like a zombie movie yet?

With Citizens United, the right-wing douches on the Supreme Court were only getting started. And in truth, America’s Owners hardly needed the Supreme Court’s imprimatur: neither the banksters nor the defense industry have ever been in any real danger of losing control of the US treasury or foreign policy, at least not in my lifetime. Now, though, in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, not only are corporations people, they can actually be religious people, they can be laughably wrong and willfully ignorant religious people, they can enforce their laughably wrong and willfully ignorant religious views on their employees, and they can ignore laws they don’t like. Unlike, say, actual fucking people. (And no, the Lizard People like Dick Cheney and his ilk do not count—the fact that these creatures have not been dragged before a tribunal at the Hague and locked up in jail forever only further illustrates my point about actual fucking people.)

Therefore, we hereby bestow upon Doug Hughes the Perry Street Palace Major Award® for Protestor Pilot of the Week:

doughughesmajorawardWe sincerely hope that Mr. Hughes succeeds in sparking his voters rebellion. Indeed, we applaud and support any person who risks life, limb and certain arrest in nonviolent protest of gross injustice, evil and/or epic ratfuckery. (After landing at Capitol Hill, Hughes just sat in his open cockpit for a minute until Capitol Police surrounded him; he was arrested without incident). But we have exactly zero optimism that this grand gesture is anything but futile. When future generations of the United States (if indeed there are future generations of anything remotely resembling the United States) look back on the travesty that is government in our age and wonder what the fuck we were doing instead of marching around DC with pitchforks*, they will find in the pages of The Washington Post the heroic story of one Doug Hughes, and come to realize #notallcitizens.

Speaking of The Washington Post, it should surprise no one that the critical context and enormous implications of Mr. Hughes’ spectacular stunt are barely touched upon, let alone critically analyzed and professionally mocked. The Washington Post is the very definition of “establishment media,” and thus we can expect never to see anything printed in its pages beyond the stifling, narrow range of permissible discourse that so well serves the conservative, corporatist and corrupt status quo.

Of course, the failed Fourth Estate is one reason why the Palace has the Many Tens of Loyal Readers™ it does. From the same article:

Air defense systems did not detect the copter as it entered restricted airspace above Washington, according to a North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesman. No one tried to stop the gyrocopter, which sounds like a lawnmower and looks like a flying bridge chair.

Air Force Maj. Jamie Humphries, a NORAD spokesman, said the authorities are investigating why NORAD was not made aware of the gyrocopter until after it had landed on the Capitol grounds.

“We are trying to determine the why, but I can say we did not scramble assets,” he said.

Jeezus Haploid Christ. If you would be so kind to indulge me, please allow me to call your attention to two very relevant facts.

Fact 1: The United States spends more on defense than the next eight countries combined.

usdefensespendingApparently $640 billion is simply not enough to stop a d00d with a lawnmower chair strapped to his ass from landing on the Capitol lawn. I mean come on, this shit mocks itself, people! Defense: yer dooin it rong.

Of course in Federal Government Speak, “defense” does not actually mean, you know, defense; it means something else entirely, an inconvenient fact made even more painfully obvious by this very story. What is truly surprising is that as of this writing The Washington Post has yet to print an op-ed by someone arguing that this latest mailman gyrocopter incident only proves the urgent need to triple the “defense” budget.

Fact 2: Doug Hughes, Winner of Perry Street Palace’s highly coveted Major Award® for Protestor Pilot of the Week, is Surveillance State FAIL No. 6,427,336. (Or something close to that number—frankly it’s hard to keep count.)

You see, Mr. Hughes announced his exact plans a year ago on his blog, then in his hometown newspaper, and in a video posted online by The Tampa Bay Times.

doughughesDoug Hughes, being awesome.

Further:

Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said that in October 2013, “a concerned citizen” told the agency about someone who wanted “to land a single manned aircraft on the grounds of the United States Capitol or the White House.” Leary said Secret Service agents in Florida interviewed Hughes the next day and conducted “a complete and thorough investigation.”

Then about a year ago:

after Doug Hughes published his plan on his Web site, a Secret Service agent in Florida questioned both Hughes and a friend of his, Mike Shanahan, the Times reported. Hughes told the agent that he did own a gyrocopter, which he kept at a small airport in Wauchula, Fla., and that he had been planning a dramatic gesture to focus attention on campaign finance reform.

The Times said the same agent visited Hughes’s workplace, the post office in Riverview, Fla., a couple of days later and asked co-workers about him. But there was no further contact from the Secret Service, Hughes told the newspaper.

See, this is what we Super Savvy Media Types® call “burying the lede.”

The United States has long been assembling a vast and unaccountable domestic surveillance apparatus; one that, despite the justifications and claims lies to the contrary by our highest government officials, has never prevented a single terrorist attack. Unlike The Washington Post, we have called attention to this inconvenient (and highly fucking relevant) fact at every opportunity. For example:

What we do know is that terrorist attacks have indeed been thwarted—by ordinary citizens. Despite NSA’s massive surveillance operations, Richard Reid, the would-be “Shoe Bomber” managed to get a bomb on board an American Airlines flight to Miami. When he tried to set it off, passengers smelled smoke, subdued him and bound him up. Hello? NSA? Hello?

Then, with their amazing and vast surveillance powers and a heads up from CIA, US intelligence officials actually let suspected al-Qaeda collaborator Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab board a flight to the US. They were planning to let him into the states, too: they knew he was coming, but refused to let his visa be revoked. Unfortunately, he had a bomb in his underwear on the flight. Fortunately, passengers subdued him, too. Thanks, NSA.

Then there was Faisal Shahzad, the would-be “Times Square Bomber.” A t-shirt vendor noticed smoke coming out of an awkwardly parked SUV and alerted a mounted police officer, who called for assistance. The area was safely cleared and the bomb was defused. Law enforcement investigated over the next few days and narrowed in on Shahzad as the prime suspect. They put his name on the No Fly List (which even a known al-Qaeda collaborator wasn’t put on). Still, Shahzad was nonetheless able to buy a ticket to Dubai with cash at JFK airport, and board the plane. The flight was a few minutes from takeoff before the authorities caught up with him. The plane returned to the gate and he was arrested without incident.

T-shirt vendor: 1. NSA surveillance: 0.

For a more recent and far more devastating example, consider the Boston Marathon Bombers. The U.S. government was tipped off twice [!] about Tamerlan Tsarnaev by the Russian Federal Security Bureau. He had been on a terrorist watch list for eighteen months [!!!] before he and his brother set off bombs that killed three people and injured 264 others at the scene. Way to go, NSA. Really.

All of which is to say that in at least these four instances, the NSA’s invasive surveillance did not, in fact, Keep Us Safe™.

Again, the only thing surprising here is that as of this writing The Washington Post has yet to print an op-ed arguing that this latest mailman gyrocopter incident proves the urgent need to triple the surveillance budget, too.

So hearty congratulations to Doug Hughes, Citizens United protestor, pilot and patriot, who simultaneously protested the twin grotesqueries of US “defense” policy and its enormous, worse-than-useless surveillance state, however unwittingly.

Today we drink to you, sir. Although frankly we were going to drink anyway. See: ALL OF THE ABOVE.

red&whitewinecheersCheers.

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*The answer to the question of what the fuck we were doing instead of marching around DC with pitchforks is no doubt complex, but I’m pretty sure a sizable part of it is “watching men’s sporting competitions.”

Recent reading.

library4

Does Alan Grayson Want War With Iran? Naiman, R., The Huffington Post (Apr. 2015). [Alan Grayson is trying to break up with ME?! WTF. –Ed.]

Scientists: Psychedelic drugs ‘safe as riding a bike or playing soccer’. Richardson, H., Newsweek via Raw Story (Apr. 2015). [Also, IIRC waaaay more fun. –Ed.]

Psychologists Have Uncovered a Troubling Feature of People Who Seem Nice All the Time. Shim, E., Mic (Jun. 2014). (“people holding left-wing political views were less willing to hurt others. One particular group held steady and refused destructive orders: women who had previously participated in rebellious political activism such as strikes or occupying a factory.”) [Don’t get any ideas, people. I WILL TOTALLY FUCK YOU UP!!!11!!! –Ed.]

Researchers Discover Fossils Of A New Species Of Terror Bird. Thompson, B., Daily Science Journal (Apr. 2015). [h/t Vanina]

terrorbirdIris can haz dis terra berd nao plz.

First Hologram Protest in History Held Against Spain’s Gag Law. Baker, J. Revolution News (Apr. 2015). [Wow, Spain. –Ed.]

Meet Walnut, the crane who fell in love with her zookeeper. Hillenbrand, S., The Verge (Apr. 2015). [Awesome weirdness, PLUS weird awesomeness. –Ed.]

Long-Awaited ‘Jump’ In Global Warming Now Appears ‘Imminent’. Romm, J., Think Progress (Apr. 2015) [Today in WE ARE SO FUCKED. –Ed.]

Boycott, Divest and Sanction Corporations That Feed on Prisons. Hedges, C., Truthdig Apr. 2015). [h/t SJ]

U.S. secretly tracked billions of calls for decades. Heath, B., USA TODAY (Apr. 2015). [GTFO. –Ed.]

Fracking Town’s Desperate Laid-off Workers: ‘They Don’t Tell You It’s All a Lie’. Nieves, E., AlterNet (Mar. 2015). (“The boom and bust in North Dakota has trapped people there, with little hope of work or escape.”) [But…but…JOBS! –Ed.]

28 Majestic Owls Caught On Camera. Earth Porm (Apr. 2015).

owl-photography-27__880Yes.

Racism at Core of Native Teen Suicides in Pine Ridge. Fenton, D.A., Colorlines (Apr. 2015). (“Let’s be clear. These events tell Native children one thing: “Your lives are not valued. You do not have a place in the world beyond the reservation.”) [Fucking hell. –Ed.]

6 Ways to Keep Terrorists From Ruining the World. Wong, D., Cracked (Jan. 2015). [Suggested re-title: “6 Ways to Keep EVERYONE From Ruining the World.” –Ed.]

Thousands dead, few prosecuted. Kelly, K. and Kindi, K., The Washington Post (Apr. 2015). (“Among the thousands of fatal shootings at the hands of police since 2005, only 54 officers have been charged, a Post analysis found. Most were cleared or acquitted in the cases that have been resolved.”) [TW: police violence.]

A letter from Mary Lucia. Lucia, M., The Current (Apr. 2015). [TW: stalking and harassment.]

VeinViewer Means No More Poking People Relentlessly to Locate Veins. Goyal, N., Industry Tap (Apr. 2015).

veinviewerIris can haz dis vane veewer nao plz.

Bystander Effect Also Found Among Five-Year-Olds. Jacobs, T., Pacific Standard (Mar. 2015). (“Little kids will help an adult, but if they’re in a group, they’ll wait to see if someone else volunteers first.”)

Hundreds of illicit oil wastewater pits found in Kern County. Cart, J., Los Angeles Times (Apr. 2015).

The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust. Maughan, T., BBC (Apr. 2015).

13 Outrageous Acts By Drug War Cops Just This Week. Smith, P., AlterNet (Apr. 2015). [TW: police violence]

Guatemalans deliberately infected with STDs sue Johns Hopkins University for $1bn. Laughland, O., The Guardian (Apr. 2015). [TW: human rights abuses, hostility to autonomy and consent.]

Tales from the Trenches: I was SWATed. Harper, R., Randi-io (Apr. 2015). [TW: harassment and abuse.]

235 Anti-Choice Bills Proposed in State Legislatures Since January. Wilson, T., RH Reality Check (Mar. 2015). [*spit* –Ed.]

The “Special Snowflake” Syndrome of American Conservatives. Rachel191, Daily Kos (Apr. 2015).

How the U.S. spends more helping its citizens than other rich countries, but gets way less. Swanson, A., The Washington Post (Apr. 2015). (“Premature death for women in the U.S. is about on par with Mexico, which spends just $858 on health care per capita compared with nearly $8,000 per capita in the U.S.”) [VERY interesting. –Ed.]

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PLZ NOTE: Acquisition of links and/or bon mots for the Palace Library does not imply the Palace’s 100% agreement with or endorsement of any content, organization or individual.