Category Archives: Government

Counting the days to Chelsea Manning’s freedom

Originally posted at the Massachusetts Pirate Party blog.

I learned recently from Susan McLucas, a long-time local activist for Chelsea Manning, that president Obama commuted Chelsea’s sentence. She will be released from prison on May 17th. I think I speak for most, if not all, Pirates that we are very happy and relieved that Chelsea will be free in four months.

Thanks to everyone who kept up their support for her and indeed increased it. I personally appreciate the effort of the Chelsea Manning Support Network, Evan Greer, Fight for the Future, Susan McLucas, Veterans for Peace, Pirate Parties and their supporters world-wide, the EFF, ACLU and the millions of people who advocated for her freedom.

Chelsea emerging from prison on May 17th will be a glorious day. However, our support for her must not end on that day. She will continue to need our help from those engaging in character assassination whether trolls or politicians. After so many years in prison and solitary confinement, being a free again will come with its own challenges.

So savor this day and the days ahead, for this one act relied on the support of so many and yet again proves that we are more powerful together.

Solidarity forever.

Save us from Libertarians helping us make better decisions

I was reading the latest Naked Capitalism daily links roundup when I came across a Washington Post review of a book by Jason Brennan entitled Against Democracy. It is everything you would expect from a Libertarian enamored with Plato’s Republic.

Our present government is more republic than direct democracy; more ancient Rome than ancient Athens.  No matter to the author, the wrong people get a meager bit of input into electing our representatives. Most people don’t understand the big issues of the day or are biased by emotion.  We need Vulcans who can vote rationally and dispassionately.

Never mind that we have such people, men really, who vote in unaccountable courts setup by trade agreements and have a tendency to vote in favor of the rich and powerful, especially in favor of corporations. Courts that our present administration wants to expand with agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Brennan wants to replace the feeble democracy we have with election by the knowledgeable.  He even suggests that we have a test to determine who could enter this elite club.  What could go wrong?

To his credit, Ilya Somin, the Washington Post reviewer, a Professor of Law at George Mason University who writes books that extoll “Why Smaller Government is Smarter”, does point out some of the obvious problems with Brennan’s thesis while maintaining that Against Democracy is a “powerful challenge to the conventional wisdom about democracy”.

Yet, Somin and Brennan, as should be expected based on their ideology, leave out the money primary that limits our choice in most elections to those candidates which are acceptable to the 1%.  With the Citizens United ruling allowing the rich (some not even US Citizens or permanent residents) to influence elections in secret, why even bother to limit the franchise to only the capitalist class’ best and brightest?

The president and congress are overwhelmingly made up of millionaires with college degrees.  Government policy from taxes to regulating markets to labor policy have gone the way Libertarians wanted.  Yet, the economy has bumped along rather poorly for most since the 1970s, income inequality has increased dramatically and the effects of global warming continue apace and are becoming blindingly obvious.

Limiting the vote to knowledgable citizens is just a recipe for rule by those with property and would result in us enduring more Libertarian failures.


Interviewed by the Weekly Dig about Galvin, third parties and real FOIA reform

I was recently interviewed by the Weekly Dig about Secretary of State Galvin’s statement that a vote for a third party is a waste. Obviously I disagree with him. You should read the whole article, but here is a choice quote:

“Massachusetts needs the breath of fresh air that only third parties can provide … We need a government that automatically puts public records on the web, where the public can easily find and review them. We need a government that carries out the people’s business in sunlight, not behind closed doors.”

Another Global War on Terror Toxic Legacy

Our disposable society example #807.

It looks like the US’ major military involvements seem to poison US soldiers and the civilians of the countries we fight.  Agent Orange in Vietnam.  Gulf War syndrome in that war. Now the US government has covered up the burning of toxic waste in open pits at US miltary bases by private contractor Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR), a former subsidiary of Halliburton.

Since the illness’ effects are delayed, respiratory issues or cancers, the VA won’t cover it. Iraqi and Afghan civilians, like the Vietnamese, are just left to suffer.

Of course, outsourcing the burn pits to private contractors allowed them to cut costs by cutting corners:

Did the military’s use of private contractors like KBR in some ways help to facilitate this crisis?

KBR operated many of the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are some regulations for contractors, but they’re not nearly as stringent, and the penalties are not nearly as harsh for contractors as they are for soldiers. So these contractors were super-careless with these burn pits. There were burning anything and everything in them, and they didn’t care and they didn’t think they could be held accountable.

They’ve grown to the point where they feel that the government can’t operate without them. These companies have that arrogance. Contractors that were operating the burn pits in Iraq were actually told by their headquarters, “If they’re going to investigate us over these burn pits, don’t worry about it. If we pull out, they can’t run this base.”

Unsurprisingly, the Obama administration hasn’t been helpful to whistle-blowers on this issue. Thankfully, in the documents that Chelsea Manning leaked is information about how the US military was aware of the burn pit health hazards.

The GWoT just keeps giving.

First they came for an iPhone 5c

Posting here and at

The FBI got a judge to order Apple to create a custom iOS version so they can decrypt the work iPhone 5c of Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters. They want Apple to push out a custom version that will disable the delays between wrong pin entries and the ten wrong pin tries and the phone gets wiped security feature. Apple is fighting it.

This Tuesday the Pirate Party is joining with Fight for the Future to protest the judge’s order. We will meet at 5:30pm at the Apple Store, 815 Boylston Street in Boston. Join us and stand up for your privacy and right to keep your data encrypted and secure.

Considering that ISIS didn’t know about the attack, it is doubtful there is much on the phone that will help them get other leads. The FBI can already request the metadata (who was called, when, how long, from where) for Farook’s communications using the phone or any other service the shooters used. The mobile phone providers are always willing to provide that information, often for a fee. Whatever other info they need, the NSA has likely gathered it with their mass surveillance program. FBI could use the NSA’s data to identify what other information they need and then get a subpoena to get the data legally, though unconstitutionally.


It isn’t as if the Federal government hasn’t used parallel construction in the past.

The phone was owned by Farook’s employer, the San Bernardino Health Department, and someone there reset the phone in an attempt to gain access. Had they not, the FBI could have backed up the data to Apple’s iCloud service and gained access to it. It isn’t clear who made the decision to reset the password.

Which is all good for the FBI, because it gives them the excuse they need to force Apple to modify iOS to make it easier to break into, and set a precedent for getting a backdoor in any phone, even newer ones. Once those backdoors are there, anyone can take advantage of them whether the security services of other countries, criminals or abusive ex-boyfriends. That process may already have begun with China.

So please come out this Tuesday and join the Pirate Party, Fight for the Future and others to protest the judge’s order. We will meet at 5:30pm at the Apple Store, 815 Boylston Street in Boston. The more people who stand up for privacy and encryption, the stronger is our message.

More articles to read on this subject:

Disposable military dogs

Our disposable society example #806.

Looks like the military’s practice of discarding soldiers applies to bomb-sniffing dogs used in Iraq and Afghanistan according to an NYPost investigation. Robby’s Law allows military dog handlers to adopt the dogs they worked with, but “hundreds of handlers [are] still searching for their dogs — and the Army, the Pentagon and K2 Solutions [are] covering up what happened, and what may still be happening.” Of course the military mercenary private contractor is blaming the military since the dogs are owned by the military, but it isn’t clear who really owns the dogs.

Soldiers suffer:

“I guess I had PTSD before, but I never really noticed till I gave Fistik up,” Kornse says. “I started having nightmares. I never experienced that before. She made ­everything better for me — that’s the best way I can describe it.”

And the dogs suffer:

“All of these dogs have PTSD,” Scarborough says. “Squires said that to me.”

“Half of the dogs were on human Prozac and Xanax,” kennel master Greg Meredith tells The Post.

And so may the public:

None of the people who sought to adopt was vetted. None was asked what they planned to do with the dogs, or if they were capable of dealing with a dog with war wounds. None was asked whether they had small children.

Someone made money off of these dogs and the dogs sacrificed for our expeditionary wars. Apparently it is too much to ask that they find people who need them and can take care of them.

The fraud of voter id laws

John Oliver has a supremely funny take down of voter id laws as a solution to a problem that does not exist. In one study there were 31 incidents out of over one billion votes cast.

Voter id laws are a Republican tool to limit the number of votes by people of color, the poor and the young. It is gerrymandering the electorate on a wide scale and will lead to disenfranchising millions of voters. Or as Brecht said:

Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Supreme Court Kills 4th Amendment On-line

Posted this at on 2/27/2013.

Yesterday the Supreme Court killed our 4th Amendment right to privacy on-line. In a 5-4 vote, they ruled that the ACLU and other plaintiffs did not have standing to bring their case challenging the FISA Amendments Act that allowed warrantless wiretapping. Since they concluded that “a fear of surveillance does not give rise to standing” and such warrantless government surveillance is secret, no one can challenge the Constitutionality of such surveillance. This Catch-22 is a recipe for unchecked government power.

We now know that the NSA’s secret domestic intelligence program has a name: Ragtime. According to a new book, Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry, about three dozen NSA officials have access to Ragtime’s surveillance
data. Additionally, a small number of people in the NSA’s general counsel’s office review the list of citizens surveilled to make sure they have connections to al-Qaeda.  While Ragtime may only be able to process 50 different data sets at one time, the facility
that the NSA is building in Utah will likely increase that number as well as allow the NSA to store larger amounts of our communications for increasingly longer periods of time.

Doubtless some will say that the existing NSA safeguards are enough to protect innocent people from getting caught up in a government dragnet. However, recent surveillance of the Occupy movement, COINTELPRO and Watergate show government officials will use their power to go after even peaceful dissent. The 4th Amendment was a check on that power. A check that five members of the Supreme Court, many of whom claim to want to return the Constitution to the original intent of the Founding Fathers, feel we don’t need on-line.

It is up us to protect our privacy and overturn such unjust and undemocratic laws.  We cannot trust those in power to do it.

The world the plutocrats wish for us

Naked Capitalism is rapidly becoming my favorite blog on economics & finance issues.  Yves Smith (pseudonym) and her fellow bloggers always bring insights and clarity to the post-2008 financial crisis world.  Even though I read it almost daily, I missed this article (no doubt due to the title), and only became aware of it via the Dollars & Sense blog

It succinctly expresses my own views of the world that our plutocrats and their supporters envision for us and have been working since the 1970s to achieve bit by bit.  Throw in increasing government and corporate surveillance, laws like SOPA & CISPA and corporations increasing attempts to enclose the internet commons for their private profit, and we have a vision of a future where all but a few are slaves.  A future that may not be all that different than the ancient Roman Republic during the Servile Wars, only with means of control that are totalitarian in all but name.

I need to go support Naked Capitalism, but I hope you will find that Yves Smith's words clarify the reality we all face.

“My sense is that the widespread sense of gloom, the increased level of aggression in many walks of life (and on the Internet) isn’t just due to the lousy state of the economy, although that certainly isn’t helping. In the last year, it has become increasingly evident that a very ugly set of changes that will have broad social impact is moving forward with surprising speed.

“We are in the midst of a finance-led counterrevolution. The long standing effort to roll back New Deal reforms has moved from triumph to triumph. The foundation was laid via increasingly effective public relations efforts to sell the Ayn Randian world view that granting individuals unfettered freedom of action would produce only virtuous outcomes, since the talented would flourish and the rest would deservedly be left in the dust. In fact, societies that have moved strongly in that direction such as Pinochet’s Chile and Russia under Yeltsin, have seen plutocratic land grabs, declining standards of living (and even lifespans), and a rise in authoritarianism or (in the case of Colombia) organized crime. Those who won these brawls did flourish, but at tremendous cost to society as a whole.

“In the US, the first step was making taxation less progressive. A second, parallel measure was deregulation, particularly in financial services. Together, they fostered the growth of an uber wealthy cohort that increasingly lives apart from middle class and poor citizens. The rich can thus tell themselves they have little to gain from the success of ordinary people. And, perversely, the global financial crisis has worked to the advantage of the financial elite. As former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson described in a May 2009 Atlantic article, the US instead suffered a quiet coup, with the top end of the financial services industry becoming more concentrated, and more firmly in charge of the political apparatus. And you see more vivid evidence of the financial takeover in Europe, where technocrats are stripping countries of their sovereignty and breaking them on the rack via failing austerity programs, so as to avoid exposing the insolvency of French and German banks. In the US, the events of the last year are less dramatic but no less telling, including a coordinated 17-city paramilitary crackdown on Occupy Wall Street, a “get out of jail almost free” settlement for the mortgage-industrial complex, and an election where the two candidates are indistinguishable in their enthusiasm for cutting Medicare and Social Security, and murder by drone.

“The implications of gutting social protections are far more serious than they might appear. Dial the clock back eighty years, and most people lived in or near the communities they grew up in. They could turn to extended family, or other members of the community for support if they suffered a serious setback. Informal social safety nets stood in the place of the government provided ones we have now.

“Broadly shared prosperity and government safety nets are essential underpinnings of a modern, mobile society. The American nuclear family isn’t just an outgrowth of the automobile era; it’s also the result of union jobs in an industrial economy helping create a wage foundation, and the high confidence most men (in those days, it was men) had in continued employment, and the existence of social protections if something bad happened (Social Security’s disability programs have raised entire families, for instance) made it viable to move far from one’s hometown in pursuit of opportunity.

“But as the population has become more mobile, the role of community, and their local support mechanisms, has faded. Yes, when people get desperate, they might still move in with a parent or child. But anecdotally, that seems far less common today than it was a few generations ago. So when government provided social insurance programs are gutted, the broader social impact is much greater than taking us back to the era right before they were implemented. Michael Hudson has described the changes under way as neo-feudalism. We are moving towards the sort of stratified society we had not in the 1920s, but in the early Industrial Revolution with a landed aristocracy, a small haute bourgoisie, some well remunerated craftsmen, and a large agricultural/servant class. In other words, the effort to roll back the New Deal is in fact going much further, in terms of reinstitutionalizing class stratification, lack of mobility, and a resulting large new “lower order” that will live in stress and often squalor. A new, more brutal society is being created before our eyes, and it seems such an incredible development that many people are still in denial about what is happening.”

From: Launching the NC 2012 Fundraiser